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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." 

 

 


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