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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.  




July 27, 2015, 9:23 AM

One of the perks of being Jesus: Calling us Fools.



There is a moment in the book of Luke that is startling to say the least.  I use the word "startling" because throughout the story of Jesus, he does amazing things that cement the truth that he is divine and we're not.  He rarely takes an action or has an outburst akin to something I would find myself saying/thinking.  The startling exception is Luke 24:25.  This moment sounds like something I want to yell while driving and have just gotten cut off.  "You Foolish People!!"

This rings my bell and sticks out because it is so rare to hear Jesus lay into someone in such a raw way.  In this instance he is talking to two walking companions after the messy weekend of the Crucifixion.  Everything they had thought about Jesus was put into question as they saw his body broken and buried.  They knew the teachings and the prophesies, but seeing the lifeless body of Jesus put all that into doubt.  He hits them hard, and we read this section of the resurrection account with detached interest, dont we?  The road to Emmaus makes a great sermon.  But instead of reading it with detached interest, we're going to put ourselves into the story.  

And Jesus just called us fools. 

Its painful to hear this, and Jesus begins a statement with “You foolish people!”  OUCH!  Cant you just call us slow?  What about dull?  But Foolish?  He just told me not to call anyone a fool in Matthew 5:22.  In fact, if I did I would be in danger of the wrath of the courts if I did as such.  I guess being the Son of God has some perks, like free reign to call us foolish.  

What hurts most is that he’s right on.  He has us pegged.  Foolish.  Painfully Foolish.

Before we cut Jesus off and try and defend ourselves, albeit showing ourselves more foolish, lets let him finish what he has to say:

“You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.  Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 

See, these guys on the road to Emmaus didn’t have the full story yet.  Jesus had died, and as far as they knew, was still dead.  They didn’t have the appearances, they didn’t have the letters of Paul.  They probably had only SEEN physical copies of the Old Testament Scripture in Church, and incomplete at that.  But we know they KNEW the story, they knew the promise of a Messiah, they knew their role in the Kingdom.  

But they were still foolish.  Because while they knew the story, they were missing something greater than knowledge.  What was missing was the child-like belief and trust in God's plan, God's will, and God Himself.  Jesus had promised again and again that he would rise, defeat death, and show this world a kingdom the likes it had never seen.  Connecting those dots to his death and ensuing resurrection was difficult, but not something that should have ever been in doubt.  

Its easy to say now that they all should have known better.  Truth be told, we ALL should know better!  How much do you know?  How much have you been taught?  How many sermons have you heard?  How many cleverly alliterated blogs and bulletin articles have you read?  

But we are still foolish, aren’t we?  Because we forget, we disregard, we ignore, we live our lives oblivious to the power surrounding us.  We are foolish to forget.  We havent connected the dots.  What we do today echoes into our eternity.  Not just the part we play on Sunday mornings and the occasional mid-week gathering.  Today matters!  

This is your reminder:  DON’T FORGET!!  DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE POWER THAT HAS REDEEMED YOU!!!  Remember the story, remember the journey, but most of all: prepare for taking your next steps surrounded by the power and Spirit of God. 

 




July 20, 2015, 9:38 AM

Its a Trap!!!



What trap you say?!  A tiger trap, ala Calvin and Hobbes?  Those are easy to avoid, just don't grab the tuna sandwich hanging over a patch of straw!  Maybe its quicksand we're trying to avoid.  That's easy to spot as well.  Truth be told, I thought it would be a much bigger issue in my adult life, based on its presence in childhood adventures.  Even mousetraps are easy to avoid getting our fingers snapped.  JUST DON'T TOUCH THEM!!!  

So what trap are we speaking of here?  Following David's sermon yesterday (July 19, 2015) and the theme from his sermon on May 3rd, 2015, the trap we must avoid is the trap of falsehood, being inauthentic, avoiding the reality of our true selves.  There are two pieces of this that I want to talk about here:  First is the temptation to hide our emotional state.  Saying "fine" when asked how we're doing, when in reality we're on the planet farthest from.  This trap is dangerous because it separates us on a personal level with each other.  Too often, even if we're not the one placing ourselves on the island of "fine" we want others to just be "fine" so we can move on with our own lives and busyness.    

The second trap is far more dangerous and isolating; It's the trap of hiding our sin and struggles from each other.  I say its "far more dangerous" than the personal disconnect of our emotional game of hide and seek because this trap of isolating our sins to the deepest corners of our hearts, in the dark shadows of our inner thoughts and minds keeps us from opening ourselves to God AND each other. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, the first great knowledge they discovered was Shame.  They were not given a greater understanding of time, space, or even love.  It was shame that they learned first, and shame that kept them hiding behind a bush when God came walking near.  Sin created a dark place in Adam's heart that didn't exist prior to his exploration into the world of temptation and discovery.  When that corner of his heart woke up, he no longer was transparent and authentic with God.  

We've been hiding behind a bush ever since.

When Jesus summed up all the laws and prophets into two basic commands, there is a word he included that needs expounding upon and examination:  ALL.  As in ALL your heart.  ALL your soul.  ALL your mind.  ALL your strength.  

There is no gap in ALL that allows for hidden corners.  If we're still hiding behind a bush, we've created a place where we think God doesn't see us, and we're not loving God as he commands.  What does loving God with ALL of us look like?  It looks like a walk in the Garden in the cool of the evening.  It looks like a building project of epic proportions while every other person on Earth laughs and mocks (the rain's coming people!!).  It looks like a young man being anointed King, and then running for his life while the current "king" makes a mockery of his charge.  It looks like two arms being stretched across a rough hewn log, nailed in place.  

It looks like a church full of people who not only come to worship with abandon, but to love each other as well.  Flaws, birthmarks, dark spots on our hearts and all.  If we hide behind a facade of nicety to our neighbors, or behind nice clothes and passionate worship in a nice building, we're no better than Adam and Eve trying poorly to escape their inevitable discovery behind a bush.  

The shame of Adam and Eve broke God's heart.  He created them (and us) to live a life free of that burden.  No one needs be contained on the Island of Fine.  We're all in this together.  

 

 




July 6, 2015, 10:10 AM

Glory. Honor. Immortality.



Glory.  Honor.  Immortality. 

That's my goal in this meager life.  I wrestle with it daily.  

If you weren't present for the sermon yesterday (July 05, 2015), then you're thinking my ego has finally run unchecked and I'm seeking prosperity and fame.  Good thing I have a frame of reference and can't let you run too wild with that accusation which isn't entirely false.  There are two words that hold much more power than any other in our realm of religion and spirituality:  Submission and Sacrifice.  

These two words, in their very essence and root, speak of things like Love, Grace, and Hope.  Without all the ingredients like those great things, submission and sacrifice cannot exist.  They are bigger than any one thing and paint a picture far more beautiful than any human thought or emotion.  They paint the picture of the Cross.  The Cross is the one moment in human history that transcends all human emotion and ambition.  It is the ultimate and unmatched example of the sheer force of submission and sacrifice.  

And we're called to emulate that.  

Our calling, which is layered deeply, as a church and individuals is to seek the Glory, Honor, and Immortality of the Cross.  (Romans 2: 4 - 9a).  No, there is no way to actually carry the same weight the Cross bore in forgiveness and mercy.  However, we can all carry the burden of the Cross' purpose and intention: Loving God, and Loving People.  When he allowed the Cross to happen, Jesus showed himself submitting and loving God unconditionally, no matter the hurt and pain.  And every moment of the Cross was for us.  

Jesus did not seek Glory, Honor, or Immortality for himself.  Everything pointed to God being glorified, honored, and made known forever.  

That is our call as we take up our cross and follow him.  Not so we can show the world just how heavy a cross we can carry without buckling.  Not so we can get pity or sympathy for the pain on our backs from the splintered wood.  And certainly not so our name is remembered long after we're gone.  Our call is to seek Glory, Honor, and Immortality for God's name.  That sounds all well and good, and makes for a positive sermon point.  We can't leave it there, though.  Making God famous MUST make its way into our routines.  We must find ourselves giving God the glory and honor when our day is perfect, and when our day looks a lot like a flash flood of despair and lament.  

I really like how Paul finishes I Corinthians 13:  "But these three things remain:  Faith, Hope, and Love.  The greatest of these is Love."  He speaks to what remains after we're gone:  the faith we kept, the hope we spoke, and the love we gave.  All of those can be summed up by how far we submitted and sacrificed ourselves to the Glory, Honor, and Immortality of the Cross.  

My reputation may suffer.  But if God is glorified through my integrity, then I'm on the right track.  My name may not carry the weight I think it should, but if God's name DOES receive the honor it deserves, I'm on the right track.  And if God's power and influence in my life and those closest to me last long after my body is broken down, then I've found the right kind of immortality.  




June 29, 2015, 10:21 AM

Its not as bad as we think.


Isaiah 31: 1  What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.

"What sorrow..."!!!    That sorrow includes the despair we feel when laws dont go our way (i.e. the Supreme Court ruling this week), or when our government decides tax laws need adjusted for non-profit entities like churches, or when we feel like media coverage is painting religion with a bias, or this, or that, etc... etc... 

Its easy to allow ourselves to sink into depression over our interpretations of how far gone our country/government/laws have gone in the past 60 years.  When we look back its always through rose-tinted glasses that make it appear we're too far gone to make any recovery to the country we knew and loved in the days it seemed everyone was a Christian.  The prophet Isaiah's message rings true throughout the centuries that have passed since his words were recorded in a scroll to be shared with Israel.  

Lets be reminded of what they were going through at that time:  CAPTIVITY!  They weren't just subjects to a government who didn't take their beliefs or traditions into account.  They were slaves to a country that only thought of them as worms, a people who deserved to be conquered and taught a lesson in "true" power.  To add insult to injury, a select few of the best and brightest from Israel were even made powerful members of the government system, which included them as an integral part of the conquering machine.  What hope remained if the even best became a part of the problem!?  

Isaiah had to actually remind Israel to STOP hoping in the power of Egypt, in an armed attack that might free them from oppression and restore them to a country all their own, ruled by their own beliefs and opinions.  Yes, THAT Egypt.  The one that had held Israel captive oh-not-so-long ago for an oh-so-long 400 years.  

Sigh. 

Israel needed a reminder of the real power in the Universe:  the Creator; Our Savior, the LORD and Holy One of Israel.  No amount of oppression, policy, slavery, captivity, or law would remove the LORD's power or majesty.  And yet we think every time a school board makes a decision, or the Supreme Court makes a ruling that we're experiencing the demise of religion as we know it.  We've forgotten, again and again, who holds power and dominion over our souls.  Its not Rome, Babylon, or any of the branches of government in the good ole USA.  

Lets save the weeping and gnashing of teeth for the issues that are really plaguing our country and world.  Issues like homelessness, starvation, abuse, the sex-slave industry, and any other mistreatment or abuse of the innocent.  Lets let the world be the world, pretending that they have any power.  All the while we serve the LORD and claim a citizenship in an eternal realm where we wont have to fret about moral rulings, redefinition of marriage, or death and loss of any kind.  That's more powerful than any manmade law, and stronger than a million chariots.  




June 22, 2015, 9:30 AM

Excuses



'Tis but a short blog: 

No more excuses.  

 

Ok, it will be a little longer than that.  I need to follow up on some sermon thoughts yesterday (06/21/15), and reiterate something vital that doesn't get nearly the amount of press it deserves from Romans 1.  It is verse 20:  "So they will have no excuse for not knowing God."  

Paul is speaking of people outside the realm of regular attenders and those in the "know" who have made worship and seeking God part of their routine.  He speaks here of all people who gobble up air on this planet.  Everyone is without an excuse for knowing God based on the glory (and fact) of creation.  The power exhibited in creation speaks to the magnificence of God.........and removes every excuse there is to knowing Him.  I like how blunt Paul is here.  There is no room given to arguments of evolution (Micro or Macro), old-Earth vs new-Earth...  Its simple:  God is, and has given us everything we need to see Him.  

So whats our excuse? That question is to those who do "know".  How do we explain the marginalization of things like evangelism, accountability, and forgiveness within modern Christianity when the evidence of our Creator is so plainly stated that even people who sleep until 2pm on Sunday can see and know him?  We've thrust reputation, financial security, and infrastructure to the top of the priority list for Church and as individuals.  And we have excuses at the ready for why we don't reach our neighbors, seek unity among believers, and live in peace with those we with whom we disagree.  

While the target of Paul's language was non-believers... We're not off the hook.  No more excuses.  




June 15, 2015, 10:09 AM

Just Like Jesus...



If I were to ask, in the general assembly of any Church during any regularly scheduled meeting:  “Who here wants to be like Jesus?”  I guarantee every hand would go up.  

Your hand included.  And mine too. 

And then we feel better about ourselves because we’ve just made a public proclamation about ourselves that fits within the box we’ve built for Western Christianity.  And we walk out the doors and look nothing like Jesus.  

We sang O To Be Like Thee yesterday in our regularly scheduled assembly, and it has got me thinking.  It too is a public proclamation that we want to be just like Jesus.  The song speaks (in the very first verse, which we never avoid… the 3rd maybe, but never the 1st) of forfeiting all of the treasure’s of earth GLADLY so we can be just like Jesus.    

Still want that song in next week’s selections?  Yeah, me neither. 

Because when we’re just like Jesus we forfeit things that earth claims as its best treasures!  There are things like winning, being right all the time, pride, reputation and fear, and lots of STUFF!  Are we willing to forfeit all that?  If we do even partially forfeit some of that, the world looks at us funny.  And we don't like it when the world looks at us funny.  

When we raise our hands, and sing the song and claim our desire to be just like Jesus we are saying that we will forgive unconditionally.  We are proclaiming that our will is secondary to a God we’ve never physically seen.  When our hands fly up in profession of faith, we are stating very plainly that we see the worth in the poor and destitute, and want to honor them with our generosity and compassion.  

Jesus hugged the leper.  Dined with sinners.  Adored children.  Ignored cultural and racial barriers.  Exalted women.  Protected the innocent and rebuked the hypocrites.  His hands were dirty and his stomach often empty.  

That hand still in the air?  Yeah, me neither.  

 




June 8, 2015, 10:29 AM

Everything I need to know I learned from..........a Squirrel......?



Stick with me on this one... but we're going to start this week's blog talking about the squirrels in my front yard.  This Spring, we've noticed three new additions to the usual crowd around the trees.  They're smaller than the others and have a much more playful spirit to their daily routine.  Before you think I'm advocating squirrel-rights or harboring those pesky, lawn-destroying, dog-annoying rodents, I'm not.  We simply are able to observe them every day outside one of the large windows perched delightfully in front of a couch/recliner.  

I am, at different times, entertained by them; annoyed by them; and perplexed by them.  The entertainment comes when, especially the young ones, get into a fit of frivolity and chase each other up/down/around the tree.  They jump on each other and seem to enjoy themselves greatly.  That is cheap entertainment.  All of it turns to annoying when they dig in and around wires for landscape lighting and make holes much bigger than any squirrel needs in the mulch and the "nicer" portions of the area around the house.  If I were a squirrel, I'd have a very systematic approach to digging holes.  There would be quadrants and neatly spaced dig sites in which the optimized hiding and retrieval of nuts would happen.  It seems random is the modus operandi of our furry friends.  

Finally, I find myself perplexed by our furry neighbors.  And I'm fully aware this is where I might really lose you (as if that hasn't happened already, its a theology blog about squirrels).  Do squirrels mind the humidity (this humidity is torture on my tail!)?  Do they ever wish the lawn was mowed a little neater and closer to the ground to better the digging and harvest?  Have squirrels ever thought to themselves:  "I think THAT branch over there would be a better location for our nest, but since we're already here I guess we'll just make do" (all the while constantly staring longingly at the better branch nearby).  Are squirrels ever tired of the constant interruption to their routine when I walk out the door and they scatter like the wind? Judging by their approach to digging, they cant seem to find their way back to the holes they started before interruption.  

I often find myself observing the Church in the same way as I do the squirrels (it keeps getting weirder and weirder with the squirrels).  Often entertained and pleased, but at times perplexed.......and dare I say it, annoyed?!  There is such delight in a body of believers who let themselves worship with abandon.  Maybe its the right song and just the right time, or the lyrics that punch right into the moment.  No matter, when that chorus hits there is nothing better than listening to the voices of a hundred people throwing themselves into the arms of God.  This moves far past enjoyment and becomes a moment when I see past the grime of earth into the holy places.  What joy there is!!!  

But that always comes to an end.  Every song has an end note, and the proper punctuation so we know how long to hold that last refrain.  And we look back down at our own hands and wonder why we stopped digging.  The focus on the best things turns to a focus on the "Important" stuff like doing our job, and building our portfolios, and writing something that matters.  We get back to digging and the fleeting moment of joy vanishes like a light breeze.  Instead of peering through the veil to the holy places we screech to a halt and peer into the emptiness of our worries.  Today dawned bright and new, but our eyes turn to the other branch, wondering if we wouldn't be happier over there.  When we gather on Sunday morning, yes it may be my bright-eyed naivety showing here, but we gather for the important stuff, united by the singular desire to seek God.  And then we get interrupted.  We forget what we were doing here, and instead of doing what is important, we remember the complaints; the worries; the pain.  And we run off to try and remember where we buried them. 

The potentially misread intention here, it seems, is to tell you to not work hard and provide and sing your days away while ignoring responsibility.  Nope.  I would never say that, nor would I assume you are not doing so.  The thoughts I've shared have bloomed from the singular focus of one of God's unique creations, the squirrel; and the inability of God's most precious creation (Us) to focus on THE most important things for more than a few minutes a week.  What sermon could I preach that would return our focus to the roots of our first and most precious love?  What song could we sing that would pierce our souls to the songs sung by the Heavenly Host at the moment of our conversion and commitment to eternity?  It certainly wont happen in a blog about squirrels.  

I pray for the Holy Spirit to invigorate the Church today with a focus befitting our Creator.  And I pray for the entitlement we harbor to vanish into a passion to see God glorified in every thing we do.  Whether you're busy running around a tree playing tag, digging holes in the earth to lay cable or sewer lines, or laying down roots that will hold us into eternity...  remember the important things, those parts of this life that matter.  And next time you get the chance, sit and watch the squirrels.  

 




June 1, 2015, 8:57 AM

Settling in...



From Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:  (emphasis added) 

O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetterBind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

We've been wandering since day 1.  Sure, "In the Beginning..." there were boundaries, but we were created to be free.  When the gates were closed, we continued to be free to wander... and that spirit of roaming has been our tendency since then.  We teach our children of the great explorers and visionaries who sought to touch the very boundaries of the earth.  They learn of the women and men who pushed the boundaries of gravity, elevation, and free-fall.   

But that's not the wandering we're singing about above.  We've been free to explore, even having from the get-go a Tabernacle created to be mobile.  

The wandering that requires our hearts to be sealed in the the courts above is the wandering of hearts that have nothing to do with terrain, physical borders, or flaming swords guarding the way back in.  We could stay in the same place, attend the same church, eat at the same restaurant after church every week and still be a wandering soul without constraints.  The distance and boundaries we must be leery of are those of the wanderings that create distance and boundaries between us and God.  

A question posed in the Sermon yesterday was about our roots.  "What holds us to the ground?"  Trees of even the greatest height can be thrown about if their root system is shallow or stunted.  We have idioms in our language sets that speak of being "Uprooted" and conversely "Laying Down Roots."  Those speak to the wandering of our feet, not our souls.  Too often we're too caught up in our physical dimensions and boundaries to remember to plant our souls in a place they will grow.  

Psalm 1 speaks of the benefit of a tree that is planted by the water.  The fruit of that tree is lush and vibrant.  The roots are solid and entrenched in solid ground.  Winds will not avail those trees.  Drought will not push them to their limits. 

Doubt has no effect on that tree.  Attacks of faith and devotion to greater truths merely flow through the branches like a gentle breeze.  Worry

is pushed to the places Jesus told us to place them.  Not because freedom to wander is removed, but because the wandering NEVER takes

us from our Roots.  

 




May 18, 2015, 9:15 AM

In-Between



We know where we began.  "In the Beginning, God..."  

We have hope where we'll end.  "...So that whosoever believes will have everlasting life."  

During the In-Between... well, we've gotten confused.  

 

Is it about money, respect, reputation, happiness, Eat-Drink-Be Merry?  All of those pull at us until we choose one, much like a college guidance counselor pesters us to decide on a major.  We spend our time during the In-Between trying to figure out where we came from and where we're going to the point that we miss what we're to be doing right here and now.  

Salt.  Light.  Growth.  Just to name a few.  These are concepts put on the table by Jesus, followed up later by his Disciples...and much later by the Saints and Theologians of nearer times.  There have been debates, conflicting commentaries, agreements, and seminars built around these concepts.  All because we've gotten distracted, confused, and misguided. 

Salt is the preservation of our society.  Will the world continue to turn without Religion, or more pointedly, Christianity?  Sure.  Chaos will reign as each mouse scrambles to get higher and higher at the expense of every other being, but the world will indeed continue to turn.  The place for those of us who've carried the mantle of Christ though is to be the preservation to the rotting meat of culture, society, morals, ethics, and most importantly: Hope.  From the beginning of this illustration from the Sermon on the Mount, the saltiness came from the character of Jesus completely.  Today we've added other seasonings to the mix... you know, for flavor.  That way, if someone doesnt like one flavor, they can choose from the array of salts on the shelf.  In the same way individuals have gotten distracted by money, reputation, etc... Churches have followed suit.  Countless words are spent every day on trying to realign the character of Christ-Followers and Churches to what is most important. (And yes, I see the irony of that statement's presence here in a blog).   

Light.  We've taken the call of being the Light of the World and put a fashionable, palpable shade over it.  What once was a bare bulb that exposed the darkness of corners and pushed shadows to their furthest limits of existence have become places where darkness not only creeps but occupies more than corners.  We all wear a shade over the light of Christ, proving that we can be attractive AND Christian.  Or we can be cool and holy at the same time.  The assumption has become:  the world wont look our way unless we prove ourselves worthy for their attention.  Oddly enough, the world isnt looking for shades, its looking for hope, relief, and peace.  All those come from the Light of the World and need no further augmentation.  Everything we do must be to present that light, in all its blinding glory.  The good news is that the light shines through us in countless ways and styles.  

And Growth.  Just like flowers, trees, bushes, plants of all kinds:  if you're not growing, something's wrong.  Even trees that have met their height max continue to grow and present new branches that spread wide beyond the base.  We're not to be about the numbers, really... financials and attendance are not the only signs of growth in an institution.  Most importantly is the growth that occurs on an individual basis in the lives of those attached to said institutions.  We cant grow (affect permanent change and development) as a group until we're there as individuals. No, we dont grow at the same rate, which is why we're strongest when united.  If you ever feel like things just arent moving ahead in the group, look closer at the individuals who make up the group and see if the growth hasnt been arrested there.  

 

This is what makes up the In-Between... and its hard work.  But we cant just look back to the beginning, and hope for the end.  We're called to faithfulness in the In-Between, which are shaped by the beginning, and hopeful to the end.  

 




May 11, 2015, 8:32 AM

Missing the Point.



I wrapped up a sermon series yesterday, and tried my best to boil down our purpose here on earth to one thing.  Ambitious?  Yes.  Successful?  Probably not, but ne'er have I had a sermon that I thought accomplished much anyway.  

 

Its interesting that Jesus could boil his purpose down to one thing:  to Serve.  Hear me out here, because he does this in Matthew 20: 25 - 28 -- "For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."  He came to serve.  Yes, it was profoundly powerful service, ending by bearing the weight of our sins on The Cross.  As a whole, the essential piece of his purpose and mission was to serve. 

 

This should not be blowing anyone's minds, because Jesus was ALWAYS serving other people, reaching into their lives and bringing light to the darkness, joy to mourning, and love into all circumstances.  No better example of this is when Jesus washes his Disciple's feet in John 13.  John writes that Jesus knew All Things were given to him and under his authority.  ALL THINGS!  He was the Word, He was there before time began.  And the next thing he does is take off his robe, get to his knees, and washes the feet of his friends.  

 

This is the lesson Jesus needed to teach before he was gone.  His words were forgotten (he'd been telling them he'd rise from the dead for years, they didnt get it).  After all, post-Crucifixion, the Disciples hid themselves because they had no clue which way to go because Jesus was dead.  The lesson he needed to teach them that they would remember was to Serve.  Service.  Service through humility and sacrifice.  

 

He speaks to them of what greatness looks like.  He speaks to them the power of humility and service without the expectation of reward or acceptance.  I mean, how awkward was that moment when Jesus washed their feet?!  Imagine the silence enacted in the room when the Disciples realized what Jesus was doing!! They made eye contact with each other, hoping one of them had a clue.  Only Peter spoke up about how weird it was that Jesus offered himself as the lowest servant to them.  

 

And then we walk out of churches thinking "I got nothing from that this morning."  We avoid neighbors because we know they're going to ask to borrow our hedge trimmers again.  We fiddle with our phones to avoid eye contact.  We fill our schedules with fluff and wonder why time runs out to do the important things.  We expect Heaven, but offer the base minimum requirements expected to earn it.  

 

There is almost nothing sacrificial about our lives these days.  We give out of excess.  We schedule service opportunities.  We program our faith development into 13 week sessions.  We pour our communion meal into singe serving cups with easily grabbed portions of bread.  Our faith costs us nothing, but we expect a full refund at Judgement.  

 

Our lives have boiled down to one thing:  comfort. 

 

And we've missed the point.  




April 20, 2015, 9:55 AM

Turn Signals



Why do we have turn signals in our car?  

That's a real question, as it seems there is a general lack of knowledge of their purpose in the population of....well, everywhere.  They are there to indicate which way we're going.  Why?  So the cars behind don't slam into us when we hit the brakes without warning.  So the cars to the side of us will know when we're changing lanes.  And so the cars across from us will know if we're heading straight through the intersection and four-way stop, or turning.  Its not complicated.  

They are there to be a simple indicator of direction.  Unlike the days of yore, whereas we had to stick our whole arm out the window to indicate our intentions of turning, stopping, or heading straight on.  The concept of indicator lights is not difficult to explain or understand, and can be pulled into other areas of life.  Books have plot twists, and literary devices to amp up our attention levels to what may be coming next.  Movies will change the tone of the soundtrack to indicate something scary is nearby.  Video games usually provide ample prep stations for a "boss" fight.  The same can be said of us and the direction we're headed.  We give indicators of what is important to us and the direction we want our lives headed.  

If we spend more time with our work than our family, its an indicator of where we're going.  If we get more upset at the injustice of our coffee shop being out of our favorite creamer than the injustice of what is happening to believers in the Middle East, its an indicator of where we're going.  If we dismiss the poor, lost, or unclean in favor of those that can "contribute," we've lost our way and have given off a clear indicator of what is important to us.  

We all have turn signals, and indicator lights to let the world know exactly where we're going......... And the world sees them loud and clear. And they are making their choices just as loud and clear:  "No, Thank You."  

Much attention is being given to the migration of Millennials and other identifiable cultural groups FROM church.  They're running in droves.  Why?  I believe its because we've given them a clear indicator of where we're going and they don't want to be on that path.  Our turn signals indicate lines being drawn, boundaries being erected, and limits being placed on grace.  Volumes and volumes are being written about what the church needs to do to fix the migration.  We're facing the issue of dwindling numbers (money, attendance, involvement).  We've gone from just using turn signals to throwing on our Hazard Lights.  

The time of accusation is over, its time to self-examine.  What direction are we going?  Do we have clear understanding of the fact that we cant help but indicate where we're going, both when we're walking toward the cross, and away?!  

Simply put:  Are we giving the world a good reason to follow us?    




April 13, 2015, 9:00 AM

Company Policy



Yesterday's Sermon (found here: 4/12/15) began with an illustration from my time serving as a busboy at a local, Detroit restaurant.  I distinctly remember the training video I was expected to watch and emulate in my duties cleaning up after customers.  I watched with eager eyes as I got to share tips with the wait-staff, if they so desired... Meaning if I did a good job and took care of their areas, they would hook me up with a bigger share of their tips.  It was a solid procedure that inspired a camaraderie and solid teamwork.  It is telling though, that as soon as I was done with the corporate training video, I was told "how we really do it."  I was given a crash course on how this local establishment interpreted the corporate policy and how they cut the corners to "get it done quicker."  I was torn for about a second, but ultimately went with the diluted process.  

Go grab your Corporate Policy Manual right now, and turn to Matthew 5 - 7.  Yes, its your Bible, and it should not only stand in on our procedures and policies, but how we treat customers, coworkers, and those stubborn and pesky "extra-grace-required" customers (you know who I'm talking about... if you don't, its you).  Jesus began his ministry by installing a new policy and procedure, following it up with a practical guide on what it looks like when you actually do the things he talked about.  The disciples struggled with it, especially Peter, and they often were looking for ways to cut corners. For example: 

  • Peter:  Matthew 18: 21 - 22.  Peter wants clarification on Jesus' forgiveness policy, and thinks he's got it down by offering up mercy SEVEN times!  Now before we blast Peter any further, whens the last time you or I forgave anyone completely ONCE, more or less SEVEN times for the same infraction?  Jesus clarifies that the new policy and procedure is unlimited forgiveness, a grace that lasts for an eternity. 
  • James + John: Luke 9:54.  James and John wanted to wipe a town off the map for slighting Jesus and his followers lodging and provisions.  They didn't want to just cut corners, they wanted to go all Old Testament Jericho on the town and wipe them out.  Jesus' new policy and procedures trumped this as well and grace was given.  

Our relative distance from Jesus does not dilute his message even further (as Peter and others tried to do, even in his presence).  In contrast, his message must be addressed closer to home, in finer detail despite cultural differences and centuries past.  Eventually we are going to get a visit from Corporate, and if we have pushed the policies and procedures to the side we will be called out on it.  

We have too many opportunities these days to ignore policy, and dilute procedure.  In fact, among our denominations we have found our own ways of instituting policy and procedure to the point that the Corporate Manual is at the center of contention.  And within that contention we have diluted and cut corners on all the wrong things.  Instead of focusing our thoughts on the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus and the expectations for us to do the same, we focus our attention on the little things that drive us apart.  Why do we think there are so many different churches within blocks of each other in EVERY town in EVERY state?  Even the churches with the same name cant seem to get a long because we've decided to look at the little things and cut corners on the big things.  Imagine the unity we could find when we cease to cut corners on grace, and instead dilute down the minuscule principles we so delicately stand on?!  Imagine the cross-cultural relief we could find when the example of Jesus reigns, rather than the examples of the Pharisees who so loved to draw lines in the sand!!  

Imagine the answer Jesus would give us when we approach him with our tiny concerns (7 times??).  Imagine the bigger issues he would expose in us.  Imagine what "church" could look like when we actually follow company policy.  

 




April 6, 2015, 9:00 AM

It Would Have Been Enough



There's a song/anthem that is a part of the Passover Seder, entitled Dayenu.  The translation is: "It would have been enough."  There is a progression through the song that speaks to the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  Beginning with: "If he had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgment against them; Dayenu."  

It would have been enough.  

That moment in the Seder is done as a responsive reading, with the leader speaking of the actions of God, and the people replying: "It would have been enough."  We did that reading during our Seder on Good Friday.  We spoke the words echoed from the beginning of the traditional Passover celebrations.  We said:  "It would have been enough."  

But would it? 

I found myself listening to that cynical voice that pipes up annoyingly, at the worst possible times.  It was saying:  "It is never enough."  The story proves that the little voice was right.  Throughout the journey from Egypt, to the Red Sea, to Mt. Sinai, through the desert, and ultimately into Canaan, it was never enough.  The song is being sung today in an attempt to reconcile a history in which we, God's people, are not satisfied with a promise.  We are only satisfied with tangible blessings, with Manna in the shape of our favorite meals.  

We have to change our level of contentment; or better: we need to understand the very concept of contentment.  Paul wrote about being content while in chains, having been beaten.  Was he content with his circumstances, or the promise he knew God would fulfill? Peter sang in worship after being beaten, then thrown into a dark, rotten prison and chained hand and foot.  I'm positive he was not praising God for his circumstances, but for the greater promise of eternal relief.  Job fell to his knees in mournful worship after losing everything.  Again, it was not his circumstances that prompted his attitude, it was the promise of God to deliver.  

It would have been enough. 

Will the promise of eternity be enough for us to worship through pain, loss, despair, ruin, and bitterness?  Israel cried for centuries, waiting for a Messiah.  And within those 400 years there were 400 moments where they collectively spoke:  "It would have been enough." 

 

 




March 30, 2015, 9:44 AM

Who is it about?



Jesus.  

If our desires are not set on Jesus, we need to adjust. 

If our complaints are not about bringing us closer to Jesus, we need to adjust. 

If our worship is not about glorifying Jesus, we need to adjust. 

If our opinions vary from those of Jesus, we need to adjust.  

Its not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit who needs to move for our comfort's sake, its us.  Always us.  

As a body of believers, we cannot expect to figure things out ourselves then expect Jesus to meet those needs or fill those roles.  Our job is to find Christ, model him in our own lives, and help others to seek him out.  That is the purpose of "Easter" weekend and all the events that come with it.  Sure, they dont look traditional, but through the process the goal is to help people find Jesus.  Organizationally, we need to be seeking Jesus.  If we do that, the how and what will fall in to place and not need the scrutiny of the past (meaning we can look ahead at the awesomeness of what we can become, not be chained by "thats how we've always done it).  

This season is about an empty tomb, not what we think about the empty tomb, or even how much we think we should think about the empty tomb.  Its about the fact of the Resurrection, which gives us hope.  If we cant find Jesus in this season, He is not the one who needs to adjust.  Its always us.  

 

 




March 23, 2015, 9:23 AM

Ultimately, Everything Jesus Did.......



Was out of love.  

That was his motivator.  God's love began his journey (John 3:16); and God's love completed his journey (Luke 23: 34; 43; 24: 50 -51). 

What motivates us?  We speak of wanting to follow Jesus, and we sing of Surrendering All...  But why?  Heaven.  We live this way to gain a reward.  We establish boundaries so we don't stray too far from the center, which we assume keeps us in God's grace, therefore allowing us into Heaven.  So even within the most Christ-like actions we squeeze into our schedules, we are seeking benefit.  (I'm writing this with eyes turned inward, just a heads up so there is no confusion or accusation inferred).   

If eternity was no longer in the picture, would we still live this way?  That question cuts down to the very core of our souls and into the decision we've made to follow Christ.  In asking that question we have to understand the reality of Jesus' motivation:  He loved us so much that he died on the cross for our sins.  That means when we forget, he still died.  When we bank on grace and give in to temptation and sin, he still died.  When we are wrecked with guilt after falling off the wagon again, and again, and again, he still died for us.  When we simply ignore the commands and guidelines set before us and choose to live for worldly gain and wealth, he still died for us.  

His motivation was love.  No matter what our motivation is, has been, or will be.  That means he died for Barabbas, who was freed from death row in Roman prison and was never heard from again.  That means he died for thieves, scoundrels, and the nastiest sorts of people.  Because he loves us.  

If I want to do what Jesus did, then I have to figure out what motivates me.  Its a hard question to ask and its an even harder change to make. We're told from nearly day one to look out for #1 (me, myself, and I).  Do well in school, get good grades so you can get into a good college, so you can work hard and get a good job, so you can put enough away into retirement, so you can be comfortable until you die.  If one of those steps is ignored or prioritized poorly, that person is identified as trouble, or a slacker.  The American Dream is all about us, and leaves very little room for Love, Mercy, Forgiveness, and Compassion.  

I cannot imagine any of the stories of Jesus even existing without those four components being in play long before he was born in Bethlehem.  The shift needs to happen where Christ-Followers and Churches take the desire for reward out of the equation and take up the mantle of doing What Jesus Did because we are motivated by the same thing:  Love.   

 




March 16, 2015, 9:29 AM

Recognizing Jesus



There have always been conversations or questions about what Jesus would look like if he were to show up right here, right now.  Would we recognize him?  Would he be in our church?  If no, where would we find him?  Who would Jesus be drawn to in today's culture and society?  I'd really, really, really, really, really like to say that Jesus would make an appointment to meet me in my office and gently discuss the things that are important to him and how they mesh with the things that are important to me.  Then we'd hug and he would say "keep up the good work!"

I think thats everyone's hope when it comes to imagining what a visit from Jesus would feel/look like.  We would want a pat on the back, an understanding nod, and perhaps a "grant me whatever I desire" moment like James and John tried in Mark 10:35.  

Here's the problem with that.  I have to come to grips that I would most likely have to go searching for Jesus, and might not recognize him when and if I found him.  When Jesus was walking through Jericho on his way back to Jerusalem and the most intense week of his life, he stopped in for the night with an outcast and lowest of the low: Zacchaeus.  When Jesus was in Judea he could be found in lodging and dining with unmarried women without prestige or power in Mary and Martha, not to mention Lazarus was always hanging around, seemingly without a family himself.  We're not going to spend time talking about his time in Samaria, or Leper colonies, or with Roman officials.  

Then we find Jesus in Mark 5.  In the unlikeliest place, meeting the unlikeliest person...  He's walking near some burial caves (a cemetery, in the ancient sense) and is approached by a man who for all intents and purposes wasn't just outcast, he was exiled because of the demons he had.  And this is where we find Jesus, and this is where we find beings that not only recognize him but bow to him.  I'm assuming bowing to Jesus was against their will......because they're demons.  We don't have to create a back story for them, they're the bad guys.  They recognize him, honor him, and bow before him. 

When he walked through Jericho, everyone was there to honor him.  But many were not only surprised by his choice to dine with Zacchaeus, they were offended, angry, and scathing about that choice.  They did not recognize the mission of the Messiah, nor did his mission match their expectations.  

Does my mission match the mission of Jesus?  Do the goals, plans, and foundation of our church match the mission of Jesus?  Are we finding ourselves in the places where Jesus would be recognized immediately?  Or are we left wondering why he hasn't made an appearance in our perfectly sculpted and tended houses/offices/buildings?  I'm afraid that we wouldn't recognize him, because I'm afraid we would not be looking in the right places.  




March 9, 2015, 10:58 AM

Coming to Jesus with a Loaded Question...



We are experts at asking loaded questions.  "Can I ask you a favor?"  We like to put an innocent smile with that one, then drop the bomb of needing help carrying a 900 lb treadmill down a flight of rickety stairs.  We always approach those situations by trying to paint it with bright, cheery colors.  The reality though is far from bright and cheery.  Its usually when we have the hardest tasks ahead that we mask the request in guilt or false joy.  The same goes with a child asking for something they know they wont get, like a cookie right before dinner.  The request is loaded, and sometimes they've even got well thought out research and statistics as to why a cookie does no harm right before dinner. They're all loaded questions though, loaded with guilt, manipulation, or just outright selfishness.  

And we're really good as asking them.  We do the research and know exactly which angles to approach from when we want to manipulate or gain favor.  We have a fear (which is often justified) that if rejected, the door is closed permanently to that idea.  Which is why, when its a subject of faith or blessing, we run to those moments where Jesus responded with a "Yes."  When Jesus says "No" we tend to either run away, or try and find the exact reasons why.  Sometimes the question isn't a matter of Yes or No, sometimes its a matter of "you already know the answer to this one."  Which we interpret as a "no."  

Even when Jesus turned someone down or rejected their idea, he left the door open for something good to happen.  When we run to the Gospels to find inspiration, or confirmation of our own ideas we find ourselves seeking out those moments when Jesus granted someone's wish like a finely tuned genie.  "Jesus, heal my servant."  "My daughter is sick." "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!"  Which we (naturally) interpret as Jesus wanting to grant every wish and request WE ask of him.  If he doesn't, we assume we've either been abandoned, or have done something to cause him ilk or disappointment with us. ("I got stuck at every red light on the way to work, what did I do to deserve this God??"). 

Sometimes though, God says "No."  There were people who wanted to be a part of what Jesus was doing, and he denied their requests.  If it were me, I'd be happy to have as much support as I could muster.  But Jesus turned them away, telling them he doesn't have a warm place for them to sleep, or that they need to sort out their priorities first (even when it comes to funerals, etc...), and the worst:  that they would have to sell everything they own and give it to the poor before being a true disciple.  

I really think these requests of Jesus were made with hidden agendas or selfish intent.  Therefore they were denied.  And on the flip side, the pleas for Jesus to heal a loved one were met with an immediate, positive response.  Historically (looking through the O.T.) there are some other famous denials from God:  David was told not to rebuild the Temple; Moses was denied entry into Canaan; etc...  

The first point I'm trying to get to here is that sometimes we need to hear "No", even when we're on our knees with nowhere else to go.  If we only ever heard affirmation, we would become spoiled and entitled.  Looking at some of the trends in the Prosperity movement, some have already arrived at the entitlement and spoiled stage, expecting God to bless us unequivocally.  When Jesus denied someone's request, they were encouraged to sit down and figure out what needs addressed before he could affirm them.  For some it was a shift in priority, for others it was a drastic lifestyle change.  For all it was a call to self examine.  

Secondly, things aren't always going to go our way.  At Church, decisions will be made that we don't immediately agree with.  At work, our bosses may install a policy that frustrates us.  At school, our children are going to witness bullying, secular teaching, and be isolated if they publicly exercise their faith.  Does any of that mean we're abandoned or no longer blessed by God?  Absolutely not!  These are not instances where God has denied our request.  These moments are not about a Yes or No.  They are about discovering the passions we have inside us to either live for Christ, or for the world.  If all the obstacles are stacking up in front of us, maybe we're on the wrong path and seeking the wrong end.  But be warned, sometimes the right path has all the obstacles stacked up in front of us as well.  Asking Jesus to remove all the hard stuff will probably result in a "No."  

When we already know what we're supposed to be doing (Matt 22: 37 - 40) maybe the best thing to do is stop asking questions, and start loving.  




March 2, 2015, 9:41 AM

Whats the worst thing that could happen?



Nothing. 

 

That's the worst that could happen.  Because if nothing changes, then nothing changes.  Yes, I'm being intentionally alliterative and cryptic here.  I have two plants in my office, both of which came into my possession one year ago.  I monitor them regularly for one thing:  growth.  If they stop growing, or discontinue to show signs of growth I must address all the factors that I believe are causing it.  The worst thing I could do for my plants, which I have an attachment to, is nothing. If I ignored them, they would die.  If I neglected them, they would die.  

So goes your soul; your faith; your belief; your church.  The worst thing that can happen is nothing.  Neglect, or a lack of being proactive will wither a soul.  What am I proposing?  Simple: read your Bible.  Often, and regularly.  Engage the story of Jesus, and then emulate that story in your own life.  The ONE thing that NEVER happened after an encounter with Christ:  nothing.  Every person who had interaction with Jesus responded somehow, and most of the time it was positive.  (At the top of the negative list is that one time the rich young man walked away downtrodden because of his encounter with Jesus).  

The one thing that didn't happen was nothing.  If we engage with that story regularly, something will happen... growth.  If we turn our attention inward first to our belief, our faith, and our souls, we will discover plants that need tended.  That is essential to the life of all believers.  It is synonymous with the most important commandment:  Love God....and that's pretty cool!  Because when we discover the needs of our souls, we discover the need for God and the desire and passion for God in all the dark and empty places.  We will love him more.

When we tend to our souls, faith, and belief we will then naturally begin tending to those aspects of our lives outside ourselves.  No longer will we struggle trying to fit in service or selflessness, because Loving People is the natural extension of internal spiritual growth.   The cycle of growth moves us in the natural circle of Loving God and Loving People...  Which in turn brings others into that cycle (that's the whole: make disciples command from Matt 28).  

So what's happening in your soul?  Something?  or Nothing...  Because what's happening in there is a clear indicator of what will (or wont) happen out here.  




February 23, 2015, 10:47 AM

Ok with not getting an award?



I watched the Academy Awards, nearly every minute.  Why?  Because I love movies?  Sure, thats one explanation.  The other explanation is that I love to imagine myself being up there, getting an award, giving a rousing acceptance speech, and ultimately getting showered with accolades from my peers.  Yep, thats why I watch.  

Anyone else willing to admit that? 

And when the awards are handed out, if our names never show up in a gold-laced envelope, are we okay with that?  One of the reasons I am so hopeful for an eternity with Jesus is the silliness his disciples engaged in repeatedly over awards and recognition.  They didnt ask for a gold statue or a trophy, these guys were asking for POWER, thrones, and honor (Mark 10: 35 - 37; Matt 10: 20 - 28 among others).  Every time, Jesus responds by letting them know that the award goes to the "least of these," the "servant," the last in line.  And further, the award is nothing tangible here on earth, its eternal.  

Are we okay with that?  If I were to ask anyone this at church, 100% would answer: "Yes, I'm okay with that."  Because thats the right answer.  If thats our answer, are we actually living like we're okay with that?  We want our eternal reward, whether you're all about a mansion, robe, and a crown or not, we're in it for Heaven.  That should translate into our decision making, our hobbies, relationships, pursuits, and goals.  We have to teach our children how to handle bullying and how to deal with self esteem because the world chooses to promote self and gain power as reward.  We pine for promotions and raises so we can be assured we're worth something to our companies and employers.  We come JUST short of asking Jesus for that throne and gold crown, all the while watching him hug a leper, take a child on his knee, and cross cultural and economic barriers in an attempt to exalt the weak and powerless.  

Dont get me wrong, I'm preaching to myself here.  My ego is as big if not bigger than anyone else (I've made public speaking my career, that has to say something).  Ambition and the drive to succeed is different than seeking the world's favor, but we have blurred that line so much that it incorporates itself into nearly every decision churches are making (leadership, buildings, advertising campaigns, capital gains, savings accounts, etc...).  

I wish to be found in the trenches when Jesus comes looking for me.  But first I have to quit practicing my acceptance speech. 

 




February 16, 2015, 9:55 AM

Waiting for a New Umbrella



"What does God want me to do?"  

That's a common question asked within the Christian community.  We close our eyes, fold our hands, and wait for an answer.  Allow me to interject into this scene:  We need to open our eyes, limber up our hands, and get moving.......because He's already given us the answer.  

Using the verbiage from yesterday's sermon (2/15/15) it seems as though we spend so much of our time waiting for God to provide us a new umbrella that we forget about the one we've already got.  That umbrella is sitting in the corner and gathering dust from lack of use.  We want, and most often expect, a new revelation from God every time we get to a crossroads or decision making moment.  That's like expecting a new umbrella to appear every time it starts to rain.  

If every time you get to a point where you're unsure what God wants you to do, understand that he has already given us every bit of knowledge, direction, coaching, and revelation we will need to make the choice that God would approve of.  If you're having to ask where that knowledge, direction, coaching, and revelation is...well, we've got bigger problems.  When you peek inside God's story of us (the Bible) you will find that God has been pretty clear what he expects from his people.  Love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness.  Yes, that 70 x 7 was for us, too (Matt 18:22).  

When I worked exclusively with teenagers, I often was the sounding board for this question:  "Does God want me to go to ___________ University, or __________ Christian University?"  Every time my answer was "Yes."  Their response was often:  "But that's a multiple choice question, not a Yes or No question."   The truth is: God wants you to serve him, be merciful, forgiving and compassionate no matter where you are.  What type of school you go to will not change that, nor does he need to provide additional behavioral instructions for your school choice.  

The same principle applies to us, right here and now.  Does God want me to work hard even though my boss doesn't acknowledge my contribution to the company?  Yes, yes he does.  Colossians 3:17.  The list of questions we ask goes on and on, yet God's instructions remain consistent:  Love God and Love People.  Always.  Every time.  Period.   

We need to quit waiting for further prompting from God to serve, to help, to love and start serving, helping, and loving.  He's not going to give you a new umbrella every time it rains.  The one we've got will do just fine.  




February 9, 2015, 9:00 AM

My shoulder hurts



So I held a suitcase for the entirety of the sermon yesterday (2/8/15) and my left shoulder is a bit sore this morning.  And before you give me grief over being a sissy I want to justify my pain for a second.  This was no modern, ergonomic, lightweight, professional traveler's suitcase.  The suitcase I was holding was made more for decoration and looking fabulous than for practical use.  In the modern days of carefully weighed and measured bags, this one tips the scale at nearly 15 lbs.  (I know, I know, you still think I'm a sissy).  I could use this suitcase as a stepladder, or a tv stand.  Its a sturdy beast.  

Now, hopefully I've tipped the scale into the realm of pity instead of scorn.  But its not enough pain to alter my routine or push me towards the medicine cabinet for relief, but its there nonetheless.  If you're wondering why I would throw myself so recklessly into such a lesson, let me explain.  We all carry baggage with us, everywhere, all the time.  We have the baggage of expectation, of routine and habit, and of our desires.  That baggage typically prompts us to work hard and chase our careers.  Other baggage can include the weight of peer pressure, family pressures, or guilt from unmet societal expectations.  All these are carried with us on a daily basis, rarely being shrugged off.  In fact, most of these bags are permanent marks on our souls, memories, and personalities.  

There are other bags though that are not meant to be permanent.  These bags are the ones we (knowingly or not) pick up and attach to our lives in the form of sin.  Unlike the other bags we mentioned already, which SHOULD grow lighter with time as expectations are met and success looms nearer, these bags grow heavier with every breathing moment we carry them.  A lie never remains little and innocent.  It feeds and grows until the weight isn't only noticeable, its a nuisance.  

So the question needs asked:  what bags are you carrying right now that need dropped?  Sure there are the obvious burdens like sin; but what about guilt or a grudge?  Are there pieces of our personality that indicate we have more bags on our shoulders than we know?  If you complain constantly and your attention runs immediately to the negative of any situation, you're carrying a burden that has started to eat your soul.  If you've got that chip on your shoulder that drives a feeling of disrespect, its baggage.  You get the point. 

Drop em now before they drag us into our graves.  Drop them now before relationships we cherish are dragged into nonexistence. 

Lets drop our bags and pick up the burden of hope that God has been offering since the very beginning.  Its a burden that is light, easy, and contagious. 

 

 




February 2, 2015, 11:00 AM

After These Messages, We'll Be Right Back...



Good Day Reader,   I'm sorely tempted to write a drawn-out, play-by-play recap of the spectacular Super Bowl played last night (2/1/15).  Unfortunately that would be a waste of your time as there are countless other articles chronicling the crowing of the far superior Patriots as champs.  My thoughts, as I tear them away from football and sport, wander next to the commercials which will be the meat to our potatoes in this weekly musing.  Every year there is as much build up to the advertising as there is to the game, with revenue going through the roof for a 30 second spot.  This year was a perfect storm for the marketing gurus as the game itself, the stories surrounding the game, and the final score being so close that we did not know who would win until there were 20 seconds remaining, had people glued to the television set.  

There were the usual suspects making appearances:  beer, cars, food, movies, and insurance.  However, with only three or four exceptions that I can count, the theme for the commercials took an unexpected turn.   Gone were the old-standard themes of debauchery and exploitation, replaced this year by sentimentality and even guilt.  Its not often that I'm thrust into a commercial induced funk over household accidents and the potential loss of a child (better get more insurance). In fact, I cant remember being so confused by the messages of the commercials.  On one hand we were empowered to overcome all obstacles (while buying a car) and to cherish the time spent with family (while also buying a car); and on the other we were being sold burgers, more cars, and lingerie with sex and sexual innuendo.  

The messages ranged from love to consumerism without the mere blinking of an eye or flinch at the conflicting signals.  Where is the mean in all this (the center, the middle)? In an even bigger question:  where are we in all this?  The needs, the blatant manipulation, and push for us to consume has not and will not change.  And while the commercials either need to shock us into paying attention, or tell us a story we wont forget (lost puppies), we need to find the solid ground on which to place our feet.  Why?  Cant we ignore them and operate in our own little world?  Sure, if you want to slip into obscurity and irrelevance faster than the Sham-Wow.  

As followers of Christ we cannot ignore our culture, nor the messages being sent by our culture.  We MUST respond, and it is HOW we respond that will define us.  We must be consistent.  Steady.  Reliable.  (sounds like a truck commercial). 

If we are tossed about by whatever threatens us, our message is inconsistent and is therefore diminished.  If we swell up in indignation and let the whole world know just how trashy they are (and we aren't), our message will be dismissed amongst the acceptance messages.  We must be steady. Consistent.  Reliable.   All of that means one thing:  We Must Love. 

Christ's love transcends commercials, products, fads, skirt lengths, sexual orientations, political parties, pacifism, war.  It is consistent when dealing with those that should know better (Peter) and those who don't (the woman caught in adultery in John 8).  Jesus loves Zacchaeus even though he's been cheating God's chosen nation.  Jesus loves Judas even though he will betray him.  Imagine the commercials for those guys and those situations!!  

Looking ahead, we will face a culture that dismisses us, diminishes our message, even mocks our Creator.  How will we respond?  I hope the same way we were taught:  with love.  

Every time. 

 




January 26, 2015, 10:43 AM

How to live the de-cluttered, minimalistic, simple life we've always wanted.



This morning I took my van into the shop for the second time in as many weeks.  After dropping the van off, I took my eldest dog to the Vet for surgery.  (An abscessed tooth, don't cry for her, Argentina... she'll be back up and at em this afternoon).  We fought the flu this past week.  Sunday was Sunday, with a frenetic morning of activity.  And as I sit and write this, I'm hoping the week ahead is a lot less full.  I'm doubtful, because life doesn't work like that.  

This is your time now to chime in about your week/weekend/schedule.  Fill in the blank here with all the stuff that has you running in circles: __________________________________________________________________.  (Grab a  blank piece of paper to really write everything out).  

Busyness is inevitable.  Its just the nature of things, and no matter how hard we try, we will most likely find ourselves caught up in it long before we become aware enough to escape it.  So no, this is not a blog about de-cluttering your life, or minimalizing your schedule.  Its a warning about the big picture, no, the BIGGEST picture when it comes to being self-aware.  

Can we still hear the voice of God?  

Lets take ownership of something:  we've allowed God's voice to be diminished amongst the others.  I'm not accusing us of eliminating his voice, or even making it less of a priority.  We HAVE allowed it to mix with the others, which in turn has started the process of doing exactly what I wasn't accusing us of in the prior sentence.  So what are we missing, or at least starting to diminish?  God's voice is steadily calling out the same message:  Love God, Love People.  That is Jesus' best summary of the Bible's message, and it is intended to be the resonating theme and filter through which every aspect of the Christ-following life must be passed.   

However, his message has been filtered through too many other things and is losing its luster and poignancy.  When left to filter through the American Dream, we Love God and Love People only if it does not interfere with our pursuit of good grades, respectable income, and healthy retirement benefits.  We Love God and Love people in Church if they survive the filter of adequate dress, cleanliness, and foreknowledge of our schedule/practices.  At work we apply God's call for our lives in a manner that either improves our earning potential, or keeps us anonymous enough to protect that delicate balance of job security versus swimming against the ethical and moral stream.  We preach integrity and devotion, but we filter it through the daily planner and hope there is time for it.  

I long to be in Isaiah's shoes, standing in the Temple and hearing God's voice clearly.  I hope to be able to say with a steadiness in my voice that belies my apprehension:  "Here am I, send me."  Or rather:  "Here am I, send me to love someone today..."  

 




January 19, 2015, 9:39 AM

I think I'll stick with the song, its way easier.



I had a worship moment yesterday.  I have to say that because those moments are few and far between, especially as our service winds on closer to the sermon.  What's even rarer about this moment is that it occurred during the singing of a hymn, not a new-style, emotive song.  I've sung this song hundreds of times in my meager 38 years, but there was something this time that stuck with me and broke me out of my sermon-focused stupor enough to grab a pen and jot the lyric down:  

"Grant that all may seek and a find, Thee a God supremely kind."  

What struck me is this:  How will anyone know if God is kind or not if we don't show them He is kind?  It takes me back to Romans 10: 14-15 in which Paul asks how anyone can believe in him (Jesus) if they haven't even heard about him!!    Its one thing to sing about it, and HOPE people find a really cool, kind God...  Its another thing altogether to actually model that kind of God to people.  Because Jesus is not physically walking around and being the ultra-cool, and ultra-graceful representation of God, the world is left to look at the next best thing:  Us.  They're looking at us, those who have staked our claim by wearing his name.  

I think I'll stick with the song, its way easier. 

Because if I want people to KNOW that God is supremely kind and not judgmental and angry, then I have to prove it by being kind and not judgmental or angry.  If I want people to KNOW that God is loving and merciful, I have to be loving and merciful.  

I think I'll stick the song, its way easier. 

If we refuse to model the character of God, then our opinions about culture and the denigration of the world are impotent and invalid.  Only when we offer this world a fair representation of the full character of our creator can we then engage in any offering of our judgment on that world.  Too often we skip right over the offering of grace and mercy and jump directly into the desire to manifest a plague of frogs on our political/spiritual/physical rivals.  

When we're talking about us (including within the songs we sing together every week) God is kind, full of blessing, and looks at us with eyes watering because he just loves us so much.  Those eyes flash to angry though when we speak of how God must be looking at the world outside our walls.   "This country is falling apart."  What if God's eyes look more mercifully on the world, and flash with frustration on us because we've misrepresented his supreme kindness?  The world is falling apart because those he left in charge of ministering to it have faltered, retreated into holy places, and tried waiting out the storm like Noah.  

Because singing the song is easier, I can no longer sing it without first begging for forgiveness.  I pray for God's supreme kindness to be evident in everything I do, so that ALL may seek and find Him in me...  and You... and Red Bridge.  

 


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