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August 31, 2015, 9:15 AM

That Default Setting


Every machine has a default setting.  When the power goes out, back to default.  When there's trouble, reset it back to default.  I've done a factory reset on my iPad and iPhone multiple times to get things smoothed back out when glitches start popping up.  

Every human has a default setting.  When things don't go our way, back to default.  When there's trouble, back to default.  When we feel that emotional swell and cant help but exclamate, that's our default breaking through.  There are times when those who know true joy cant help but smile, and praise.  In a smaller sense, some people have a goofy laugh that we hide and are embarrassed when it escapes unbridled.  But for others, the default setting is much darker. 

Anger.  Hate.  Jealousy.  Greed.  Prejudice.  

This should not be a surprise.  We cant help but tell our own story, and show our default settings.  Because life is hard.  Life rarely goes our way all the time.  I'm the first to admit that I've struggled with the default setting of anger.  I prefer throwing inanimate objects to release angry energy than sitting quietly and talking through what the issue could be.  

This is a very serious problem, and one that was not ignored by Jesus and the early Church.  Racism between Jew and Samaritan was a ridiculously huge problem in Biblical times.  It was on the level of degrading an entire nation and avoiding stepping foot within their borders at the cost of a day's travel and crossing a river twice instead of once at its easiest point.  The early church struggled with assimilation of the two cultures even after God had torn the veil and barrier down.  

Watch how the Pharisees reacted to almost everything Jesus did or said.  They tore their clothes in anger, plotted ways to trap and ultimately kill him.  That is not a default setting of love, but of hate.  

Where do we begin and what is our default setting?  Our goal is to mimic and present Christ to this world.  If we do so with partially veiled contempt or disgust, we show a God not of love, but hate.  If our first reaction in traffic is to honk, yell, and gesticulate rudely, we need to adjust our default.  

The best news is that God is always ready and willing and able to work on our hearts.  He has the balm for an angry soul.  He painted the picture that can soothe the biggest jealousies.  And he bridged the gap that spans the widest doubts.  

Its time to reset our default.  

 




August 24, 2015, 9:38 AM

Are You Sure? Really? Every time? Sigh........Ok.


How often, when you hear a fantastic claim, or a boasted feat do you ask the person:  "Really?"  As if to imply they are making it up.  Or what about those times when someone gives you a command or suggestion and you reply with:  "Really?  Are you sure?"  I see this one with children, especially when they're sent as messengers of Mom and Dad.  "Dad said that?  Really?  Are you sure?"  

We like to hear from people, but at our core we're almost always skeptical.  Sometimes its easier to doubt and assume the message was for someone else, or to be ignored for five more minutes instead of acted upon immediately.  

How many times have we caught ourselves saying "Really?  Are you sure?"  to Jesus?  I'm betting none of us would admit to it, because that's not what Church-people do (admit to doubting or questioning Jesus).  While we don't say it, we do live it.  

See, Jesus made some fantastic claims in his time.  One cannot dive into scripture without getting the words of Jesus laid out before us, profound indeed.  How often though do we brush over the harder stuff and move on to the things that aren’t as life changing, that aren’t as “in your face”?!!  “Really Jesus, did you seriously mean for me to forgive EVERYONE???  EVERY TIME???”  Yeah, we question Jesus’ words and teaching all the time.   Not out loud, because we don't do that.  What do our lives say? 

Read Mark 8: 34 - 38  

If ANYONE, yes anyone wants to follow Jesus we must follow these instructions.  Period.  I’m pretty sure he meant every word.  I’m pretty sure we were included in his statement through the inspiration and God-Breathed work of the Bible. So where does that leave us? 

Living your faith through every aspect of your life is both simple and terrifyingly complex.  God never, ever asks to be your #1 priority. He simply wants to be your God, Father, Abba.  Making him just a priority puts him on the same level of taking out the trash, trying to exercise more, or picking up milk on the way home from work.  God’s presence in our lives must permeate and coat all the other aspects.  Once he is given his rightful place, following becomes simple.  We become teachers who teach because we want to grow and educate children to become the best they can be.  We become employers who want the best for our business and our employees because we love people as God loves people.  We become parents who want to see our children grow into healthy, successful, God-fearing adults!  See how cool that is?!!!  It allows us to live in his footsteps wherever we are!  It allows us to see a mission field in our backyards, in our cubicles and offices, in the grocery store, on the basketball court, EVERYWHERE!!!  It takes the complexities of scary things like evangelism and living our faith and makes it a part of all the things we already do.  

When God is more than a priority, or something we can check off each day on our to-do lists, we discover that loving God and loving People is a pretty simple endeavor.  When we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, we become exactly what he created us to be in the first place!!!  We become a people who forgive, who love unconditionally, who reach out instinctively with compassion, who fear God’s opinions of us more than any persons.  The world no longer has a sway or vote in the matter.  The world no longer receives the judgmental hypocrisy that the media paints the church with.  The world receives Jesus, and the love he exhibited on the Cross.  

And while the world receives a profound gift, it loses something as well.  It loses citizens whose feet used to be firmly planted here.  When we deny ourselves and follow Christ, we become rebels, aliens, and citizens of a kingdom and realm far from this world.  So wear your heart on your sleeve.  Let your instincts guide you to act as the Holy Spirit prompts.  And live as though we don't live here.  Our citizenship is above.  




August 17, 2015, 10:05 AM

Fishing looks like hard work


Believe me when I say "I'm no expert on fishing."  I'm not.  I think I've been fishing a half dozen times in my life, and enjoyed it once.  But from my perspective on fishing, it seems like hard work.  Now, to be clear, I'm talking about the kind of fishing where your supplies are centered around a large net and not a large cooler.  It takes dedication to the craft, and repair to the supplies, and a tolerance for that fishy smell.  In the New Testament, we find most of our fishing encounters on the banks of the Sea of Galilee.  This lake has 22 species of fish, enough to support a region's livelihood.  

Then there is the Dead Sea.  It is a lifeless expanse of salt-water.  We have some encounters there too, but none involve fishing...  because there's no fish.  Which I guess is a good thing if you really dont like that fishy smell.  If I had to choose which lake I would spend time on, I think (having not been to either) I would want a lake teeming with life, even if I dont like fishing.  

Here's the problem, we HAVE to fish.  We are called to fish.  Our job as Christians is to fish.  Which means the choice we must make is to commit to the effort to fish.  I'm not advocating for anyone to throw their plans in the air and plan a fishing trip this weekend.  I'm referencing Jesus' call to a group of men on the shores of the Sea of Galilee: "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."

These guys knew the dedication it took to support a family by fishing for a living.  They could repair a net, and they adjusted their sleep schedules to work around when the fish were best placed for catching.  It was not a comfortable living, but one that paid the bills.  He called them to the same level of activity, dedication, and discomfort when they followed him.  

We are called to the same level of activity, dedication, and discomfort when we follow Jesus.  Fishing has become recreation, but in Jesus' eyes it is the passionate pursuit of what makes the Kingdom of Heaven real in this world.  Are we willing to step into a life that requires our effort to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, in which we take our nets to where the fish are swimming?  Or are we floating around waiting for the fish to come to us, in our lavish buildings and regularly scheduled programming? 

This is the power of the choice between the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.  We want life, and the blessings of Christ.  But only if we can float along.  

 

 




August 10, 2015, 10:12 AM

Does it Matter?


Here's a fun question to chew on this morning:  Does anything we do really matter?  For example, we recycle at our house.  But for all I know, the stuff we put into the blue bin is treated the same way as the garbage that sits beside the blue bin.  I just don't see it making a difference because it goes somewhere I'm not and is treated by people I don't know, in a way that I don't understand.  Sure, recycling makes me feel better about myself and how I'm treating the earth.  But is it enough?  Is it making a difference? 

I feel the same way, at times, about how I treat people, how I react to this world, and whether or not acting like Christ actually makes a difference to anyone.  I'm going to confess a bit of misdeed on my part here to you:  This past weekend we were in a hotel whilst attending a wedding.  Each morning, the lobby and dining area were filled with people I would never see again.  On Saturday, there was a particularly long line for the cinnamon roles and other tasty foods, with no clear place for the line's beginning or ending.  It was a jumbled mess in need of a polite hand to set right.  I thought about being that polite hand and stepping behind someone and waiting patiently.  That's good isn't it?  That I at least thought about being polite.  Instead, I rationalized that because I would never see anyone of these people again, I'm going to cut into the line at the center and grab what I want.  If someone thought me to be rude, no big deal right?  I'm just a blip on the radar of life, gone in an instant (with two cinnamon roles in hand of course).  I made no eye contact and made sure that if anyone was upset with me, I didn't acknowledge it anyway.  

Back to our question:  does it really matter?  Someone may have been upset with me for a minute, but I'm sure it didn't linger.  What harm was done?  Yes, I'm relating my moment of indiscretion of cutting in line for cinnamon roles with living for Christ.  Stick with me a bit longer.  I was able to justify my own needs above anything else, including people.  Would my attitude have changed if the group was a familiar one?  Absolutely.  The after affects of my actions would have made me think twice about how I was perceived and how everyone walked away from the encounter.  What does it matter though?  No one knew me, and no one marked my face down as someone they need to deal with later.  Even better, no one even knew I was a Christian at all, so no harm was done to the image of the Church or Jesus.  Right?  

Wrong. 

It matters, and harm was done, because I chose me above others.  Even in as simple and stupid of moment like cutting in a disorganized line, it matters.  No, there was no lasting damage to others.  And no, Jesus' name wasn't sullied in their hearts or minds.  The damage was done IN me, not on them.  I cant help but think of Paul's clear instructions about our attitudes and decisions we make on the most minute details in Romans 12:3.  "Don't think too highly of yourself..."  And the attitude of Christ that Paul chronicles nicely as an example for us in Philippians 2: 5 - 8.  

Even if I never saw one of those people again, how I thought of myself and how highly I exalted myself above others matters greatly in the realm of spirituality, faith, and obedience.  It matters because God knows our hearts.  God wants the best from us, in the form of service and humility.  ALL THE TIME.  

How we treat others and this world is a great indicator of how highly we think of ourselves and how high we elevate Christ.  Every moment matters.  Maybe not in their lives, but in our own.  

 




August 3, 2015, 9:19 AM

Romans 4 Simplified


Its always an interesting state of mind I find myself in after preaching, week after week.  Most weeks I stand there, facing front while the song is being sung and I pray:  "God, forgive me for messing that all up... again."  Almost every week the flood of things I should have said come rushing in.  And then, on the rare occasion that things turn out well (in my own mind), there is a peace that comes. 

As I've walked through the first 4 chapters of Romans this Summer, its been a rarity to walk away from the sermon feeling confident that the message got out the way it should have.  I blame Paul.  

Really, its all his fault.  Romans is a tough, tough book to break down into bite-size pieces, more or less to have those bite-size pieces work as cohesive and presentable thoughts.  He starts by telling us we're doomed (which always makes for a "fun" sermon... unless you like the brimstone style).  There's good news after that in Jesus.  But even the good news comes with subplots, "however" statements, and interjections that are off topic.  This week's focus was on the exceptions or exclusions of justification.  Which in itself, sounds like something that will take hours to explain.  In an effort to simplify, we used the example of a picture from Alex Haley's office (author of Roots) of a turtle on a fence post.  If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post,  you know he had help getting there.  

We are the turtle in this illustration, and in Paul's explanation, we're on a fence post of divine proportions.  And we've done nothing to get ourselves up there.  Paul warns us all, then, that we cannot boast or be prideful about our place on the fence post.  I cant speak for everyone here, but I don't think I've ever had the problem of being overly proud of anything I've done to contribute to God's gift of salvation.  In fact, I'm constantly in awe of God's patience and extended willingness to love me despite me.  But pride and boasting were obviously a big problem in Rome, and needed some attention.  

So here's what I wish I had said about Romans 4:  If Abraham had nothing to boast about, then neither do we.  Abraham knew he was a turtle on a fence post, having been blessed by God and everything was owed to God in return.  Even Isaac.  Abraham was never found assuming he could earn more favor with God by obeying.  Abraham obeyed because he loved God, and that's what those that love God are supposed to do.  This was no reward based system of obedience (if I do this, then God will do that).   

And yet we either find ourselves on a fence post and too often assume it is because we've got things figured out better than anyone else; or because we've attended more services than anyone else; or we've memorized more verses than anyone else; etc... etc...  I grew up knowing that "Good Christians" obey the rules because we fear what would happen if we don't.  I was taught that we serve or give because we're storing up those treasures in heaven and jewels in our crowns.  That mansion just over the hilltop sounds really good, someday when we can trade in our crosses for a robe and a crown.  If I don't "do" enough here, I wont have anything yonder over the Crystal Sea. 

What Paul is saying, in its simplest form, is that Jesus makes us right with God.  Our response to that justification (being made right) is to do good.  To serve, give, love, forgive, work, etc... (all that stuff is what he sums up as "the law").  Our good work doesn't earn us bonus points, it is an outward expression of our deep love for what Christ has already done.  Which is place us squarely on the fence post of justification.  


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