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I’m a history buff…I really enjoy “historic trivia”, as you know: interesting but useless information.  Of course, I can’t seem to remember Birthdays, Anniversaries, my license plate number or important stuff like that…but let me read about Queen Victoria’s cousin’s dog and I’ll remember that till the day I die!

Guess what happened today in 1860?  Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. We at Central are kind of connected to this event.  There is a newspaper, in our collection of historic items stored upstairs, on which the front page not only lists our “charter” but also has a schedule of the LINCOLN/DOUGLAS DEBATES in neighboring Illinois, in case anyone wanted to travel by train to get there.

For all the greatness the patina of time has put on Lincoln, I have some southern ancestors who considered Lincoln the “anti-christ”, vilifying him for using scripture to condone aggression…as if that hadn’t been done before.  I’m not sure I agree with that side of my family, however,

God’s name gets used to justify acts that are Godly or not.

Poor God.  I think He can take care of Himself, but truly…He gets blamed for some really stupidly human things.

The scripture was used to argue that all planets revolved around the earth (including the sun) and anyone who taught differently was a heretic.

The scripture was used to argue that the earth was flat, that Jews were evil, that anyone of dark skin didn’t have a soul, that slavery was ordained by God, that women were not allowed to lead or speak in church or anywhere else…and we all know what the scripture is used to argue against these days.

Poor God.

In all of the effort to justify our own prejudices and keep the world around us from growing, from expanding, from changing…we use God as our excuse, and translate the Bible into our own “language”…we use His name in vain as we stamp it on all of our agendas with their conditions and clauses that keep people we don’t like at arms’ length.  It’s been happening for centuries and we still do it…even in church.

Part of the problem is that most of us have a picture of God that is too small.  We have a box that we put Him in, and He won’t be kept in a box.  When He behaves beyond the definition that we have kept in our hearts, we question whether that is really Him.  Is His grace really that large?  Is His Kingdom really that expansive?  Is His love really that unconditional?  Is His reality and His universe really that infinite?

Praise God.

The answer, of course, is to give God back His good name.  That’s what PRAISE is, it is “telling Him who He is”, not because HE needs to know, but because WE need to be reminded.  PRAISE gives Him back His good name.  PRAISE is to be done in front of other people.  PRAISE Him, in front of the people, for the fact that He is NOT the one who says:

“Grace is only afforded to those who go to church.”

“Love is only given to those who follow the rules.”

“Your heart might be in the right place, but if you make the wrong decision or make one too many mistakes I won’t love you anymore.”

No, He’s the one who says, “My grace is sufficient.”  “God so loved THE WORLD…” and “man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.” He is the God who does not “label” us, but “loves” us.

The scripture is just one witness to God.  There are many others: the congregation, the Spirit, nature…for example.  And all of those witnesses, combined, still don’t encompass the entirety of God’s being.  So who are WE to label HIM?  Who are WE to decide who He loves, or what He blesses?

Hopefully we, at Central, have gotten beyond the place where we use the scripture to do anything but find a foundation, a beginning of a wonderful friendship with the One who created and preserves us, who fills us with His own breath and shows us (when we are able to see) His Kingdom on earth, as we follow Him.  Let us never misuse His words to argue our own agenda because we have chosen to be the judge of our fellow travelers on earth.  Let us never assume that God fits into our little box of godliness.  Let us always seek for the wonderful, the surprising, and the untamed God that truly allows us to learn for ourselves that the earth is NOT flat, that it is part of a wonderful universal dance that HE put in place, and that there is more to this life than we will ever know until we sit down to dinner in the age to come.

Let us celebrate the God who doesn’t own a “label-maker”, but loves us because of who HE is, not who WE are.