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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.  

 




January 12, 2015, 8:21 AM

Starving Souls - part 2



For Part 1 - Go here: Starving Souls

Here’s a truth you can rely on:  I like food.  Boy, do I like food.  Many people can point to genetics or a sedentary lifestyle in their battle against the bulge, but not me.   I point to pizza, cheese dip, and tortillas in all shapes and sizes.  I can confirm that I do not know what it is like to go “hungry.”  Sure, I’ve been a part of the occasional “fast,”  some even stretching 30 + hours.  But thats not what I mean.  I have never been even remotely close to starving, at least in the physical sense.  Food has always been there for me (which is maybe why I like pizza so much… even when its bad, pizza is still pretty good and has never let me down. I’ve even had a pizza in Northern Russia, it was weird……..but gooooood).  And that about sums up my struggles with dieting and weight control.  

I am not ashamed to admit all that, as there really is no hiding the physical nature of the battle against over-eating.  I am, however, ashamed to admit that I have starved myself spiritually.  I fight to never skip a meal, but the battle to satisfy my soul in pursuit of God?  Yeah, that can wait until tomorrow.  Tomorrow turns into the next day, and the next day turns into next week, and before I know it my soul has gone months without nourishment.  

Its easy to diagnose and fix the problem when I’m physically hungry.  My stomach growls and I respond by placating it with pizza, lest it get angrier.  My soul doesn't have as quick of a response to hunger pangs like my stomach.  It may be days before I fully realize greed and bitterness have taken up residence, and that I’ve been starving my soul.  Starving our souls is much simpler than going physically hungry, at least for a majority of us, as we sit comfortably reading this.  It doesn't take much effort and requires next to no discipline, unlike dieting.  We just get busy pursuing what satisfies us… and thats it.  Those pursuits that distract us may not even be the problem, and are almost always justifiable:  being able to provide for our families and make sure the ones we love don't go hungry. 

But what about those pursuits that aren't always justifiable in the balance between starving our souls and satisfying our sinful nature?  I propose a simple question to ask that will close the debate faster than a pizza delivery: Will the things I’m pursuing answer me when I call out to them?   This is the same test Elijah offered to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in  1 Kings 18.  “Why does your god not answer you?  Perhaps he is sleeping!”  They cried louder and louder, seeking a response.  They hungered for something that was unable to answer them, and gave zero indication that it could satisfy their desires.  

To those who crave money and financial peace above all, does your wealth answer when you cry?  To those chasing a hobby at the expense of people, will it answer when you call?  I’m not saying they do not bring pleasure, as that is the very essence of a hobby.  Nor am I asking if they help pass the time.  Can the pursuits of our lives return the love and attention we spend on them?  Will they pity and care for us in our despair?  Will they ever tell us how much we matter to them?  

No and never.  

Solving this problem and winning this battle, on the surface sounds like a complex formula involving bad habits and a lack of discipline.  The solution, though, is simple:  pursue God today.   Offer your soul the nourishment it needs.  No, it wont take long.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving, not waiting until things fall apart and we cry out in requests to God.  Dive into a devotional every morning that sets a thought on you for the day.  This doesn't need to be heavy, nor time consuming reading.  My choice is one that literally takes 3 minutes to consume.  Remember Jesus every time you sit down to eat, as a family or by yourself.  It takes seconds, and it satisfies our soul AND our stomach.  

Don’t starve your soul.  

 

 

 




January 5, 2015, 9:00 AM

If it matters here, it better matter there.



We started step one into a sermon series journey yesterday (1/4/14)  that will push through the difficult topics of church stagnation, evangelism, and the important need for all that believe to believe out loud.  To summarize quickly:  Church, the Tabernacle, or the Temple were never meant to be the source or center of faith development in God's people.  From the beginning, God wanted to "dwell among his people... (Exodus 25:8), and the Tabernacle was that place.  It was meant to be a solidarity in the Kingdom, meaning ONE building.  The stories and the learning of faith that grew belief happened at home, away from the Tabernacle.  The only practical event that happened at the Tabernacle for the average Israelite was the dropping off (and sometimes the slaughtering) of a sacrifice.  Home is where belief took hold, and the stories became identity.

Moving that timeline up a few years, we have created a system of holy places that we allow God to reside in.  They are usually ornate, well maintained, and look very different than the homes we populate.  Within the walls of "Church" we spend our time with God... and then we leave, turning Joshua's statement about his family's belief ("As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." - Joshua 24:15) into something much more manageable:  "As for me and my house, we will go to church regularly..."  

While regular attendees, consistent giving, and a pool of volunteers are the hope and dream for every preacher, there has to be more to what the Body of Christ is held accountable to.  Familiar faces are a welcome sight every time I get up to preach.  But if that pool of faces never changes, it speaks to a stagnation in the outreach of the Body, and a limit to what we are capable of doing in our community.  We receive the blessing of gathering together every week, growing in our time together.  For what purpose?  If it is to make us feel good, or as if we have completed some checklist or appeased our conscious because that's what good Christians do (we've thrown Hebrews 11:25 around enough to know that good Christians always go to Church!), we're missing the point!  THAT'S where this series is going, and I hope we get there together.  

To run back to the title of this blog (sorry it took so long to get there), I want to throw out a couple statements to be evaluated by each of us in light of the bigger picture presented by the series: 

 - Agree or Disagree: Every Church service (the Sunday morning type) needs to contain the following:  Prayer, Worship, Communion, and Teaching from the Bible.   

 - Agree or Disagree: The Church needs an excellent Sunday School program to teach our children the essentials of Faith and growing up in the Lord.  

I'm assuming most, if not all, will agree with both of these statements (so do I, in case you were wondering where this series or blog were going).  There is nothing wrong with either of these statements being expected or even demanded from every institution professing itself to be a gathering of believers.  Lets turn it on its head though and address it through the premise of the series:  If you expect or demand these actions when you go to Church, it is fair and just for us (ministers, church leaders, etc...) to expect and demand them in your home as well.  

What is expected at Church must be expected at home.  Prayer must be fluid, moving, and relevant; not just perfunctory and rote (before meals and bed).  Worship is a lifestyle, not a song.  Your radio dial and speech patterns speak more to your tastes in worship than the song selections or instrumentation on Sunday.  Communion means something far greater than a once-a-week, momentary remembrance of the powerful sacrifice of Christ.  It is an immersion into a life of grace, making every meal an opportunity to remember and be thankful.  And teaching the Bible, knowing the stories, and setting a foundation in scripture is vital to the existence of the soul traveling this dark world.  One or two sessions a week is not going to light anyone's path, nor set it straight.  There is no further evidence needed to the content of teaching (or lack thereof) at home than when a book is called out for everyone to turn to, and the first stop for a student is the Table of Contents or the question:  "Is that in the Old or New Testament?"  

If it happens here, it must happen there.  

This is stop #1 on the journey.  I hope we stick together through this, and I pray that our future together looks unfamiliar and a lot more like Jesus. 

 




December 29, 2014, 10:56 AM

'Tis the Season to be Patient



I really hope the Christmas decorations lining the houses in the neighborhood start coming down this week.  Its over, time to move on...  But what are we moving on to? If you're a student, the next thing you've got to look forward to is Spring/Easter break, which is a few agonizing months away.  Sure, there's Valentine's Day, but unless you're trying to woo someone, there's no reason for breaking out ANY seasonal decorations until Independence Day.  What a drag.  

We get a bit spoiled with the whole Christmas/New Years holiday tidal wave.  If we play our cards right, that's three to four workdays muted by holidays.  If we're really lucky, its a whole week off.  Its easy to say we're at the peak of holiday festivities right now. You know what the problem with being at the peak of something is though, right?  Eventually we have to come back down, into the valleys.  

And most of the time, those trips through the valley last a lot longer than any peak experience.  

Its down in the valleys where most of life happens.  The routines of life are created in valleys:  wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, rinse/repeat.  If we are not patient, surviving those seasons will destroy our outlook on faith.  The valleys fill first when it rains.  The valleys often lie in the shadow of the surrounding peaks.  It takes serious effort to thrive in the valleys, and even more effort to climb to the peaks when that time comes, because no matter how low they are, we get comfortable slugging away in the valley. 

Jesus was not exempt from this cycle of life and the changing of seasons.  Some days he was overwhelmed by life in the valley and sought some time away to refocus.  Often times, the valleys kept pace with him and waited not so patiently for his return.  One of these moments occurs right after the Transfiguration.  Jesus and his three closest guys climbed out of the valley and experienced THE mountain top moment of moments.  Jesus was transformed, looking more like the deity portion of his makeup than ever, joining in conversation with Moses and Elijah.  First, how cool was this?!  If I want to have a serious conversation in-person with someone who is far away, there are travel costs and time.  Jesus gets to chat with two of the Greats, in-person, on Earth!   Its very cool, but that's not the reason why I bring it up.

After this amazing moment passes, Jesus and his guys have to leave the mountain top and join the mess of the masses in the valley.  Peter suggests they stay up there permanently, which in hind-sight, was a tremendous idea.  Matthew 17: 14 - At the foot of the mountain a large crowd was waiting for them. . . 

No rest, no time to relive the power of what just happened. Just a crowd jostling to get close to Jesus.  A father crying out for Jesus to interject into the horrible situation of his demon-possessed son.  Disciples who were unable to cast out that demon, and their insistence to know why their power failed.   Thankfully, Jesus entered the valley willingly, and knowing every step down the mountain took him one step closer to the cross.  He patiently endured the seasons between mountaintops. 

We're entering just such a season now.  We'll slog through a couple months of bitter cold and the ever-present threat of the next big snow storm.  Christmas and New Years will leave us for another 51 weeks.  Will we keep moving forward, patiently walking closer and closer to the cross?  Its a long walk, and a seemingly endless valley.  But Jesus walks with us down here, quietly leading us into the shadow of the cross and into the blinding light of the the resurrection.  




December 15, 2014, 10:35 AM

Redefining Christmas



It cant be helped that this season becomes all about the gifts.  Commercials push the newest and best on us relentlessly, as well as throwing the "you deserve this" card at every turn.  Jewelry, cars, toys, gadgets... "YOU NEED THIS."  

Truth:  No We Don't.  

What has happened, often slowly enough that we don't even realize its happened, is we've become entitled.  "You're right Lexus, I not only NEED that car, I DESERVE that car."  Thanks to the onslaught of Christmas, we've realized just how much we don't have.  Yes, I'm putting a lot of blame on media, advertisers, and marketers.  But the reality is, we've allowed them to take control.  And the message we let them preach has become engrained as our own personal mantra:  "I deserve this."  

Look back to childhood, and those dreaded words:  Just wait till Christmas.  Those words are a nightmare to children everywhere. Essentially we (Parents) are telling the kiddos: "You're getting that toy for Christmas, but you can't play with it until December 25th."  TORTURE!!! Especially if its October 22nd.  Patience is forced upon us.  I struggle with patience and delaying gratification as much, if not more , than anyone else.  If I see something I want, I am inclined to not wait it out.  I buy it.  Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.  I need, I need, I need.  And yes, I was the kid who sniffed out the presents wherever they may have been hidden.  

- Lets multiply that feeling by 400 years.  

The promise was promised.  Deliverance and salvation were on their way.  Now don't open till Christmas.........400 years from now. Truthfully, there wasn't even a promised date to point to, just an open ended promise of a deliverer.  

Remember when the present you longed for for months (after being told to wait until Christmas) wasn't really all that great?  All that build up, and the toy is officially discarded by 2 pm on the 25th.  

- Lets multiply that feeling by 400 years.  

Waiting for a deliverer, waiting for someone, anyone to vanquish the Roman plague.  And he arrives in a blanket, surrounded by pack animals.  

- Forget making it to 2 pm.  

For too many, the waiting didn't pay off, and the gift was cast off.  "We've waited 400 years for this?"  "At least the Promised Land had milk and honey!"  What Jesus brought front and center was the spirit of God as the giver.  He gave us the Messiah not only as a gift, but as one who would help us redefine what we have to offer the world around us.  Yes, we unwrapped Jesus and found ourselves staring at responsibility and sacrifice.  

"Did God leave the tags on?"  

Its time to redefine the season, opening our eyes up to the intention behind the gift of the Christ.   

 

 




December 8, 2014, 10:00 AM

If it werent for Christmas . . .



We'd be on the outside looking in.  

Growing up we didn't even try and mention the word "Christmas" in Church.  To be completely honest, to this day I'm still not fully sure why. Part of me is convinced it was believed to be step one on the slippery slope to becoming Catholic, which was fear 2-b on the list of things we avoided at all cost (2-a was clapping which lead to becoming Pentecostal).  We quietly celebrated Christmas at home and with family, keeping it where it belongs, which is nowhere near a Church building.  

Which sounds a lot like what "religion" would look like had we not been graced with the presence of Jesus in the first place.  Without Christmas (the season we celebrate the Birth of Christ) we would all be on the outside looking in.  Practicing religion would look different: First we'd look at all the things we've got (our "flock"), chose the best, take it to the Temple, hand it to a priest, and........go home.  Only the priest and his helpers would be able to advance our offering past the courtyard.  If we were poor, we'd be stuck haggling in the courtyard trying to trade up to an acceptable offering.  

Because Christ allowed himself to become human, we can avoid some or all of that tedium and practice our religion fully in the presence of God wherever we are, whenever we want.  Because of the manger we can relate to God.  If that is the case, why are we still on the outside looking in?  

The 400 or so years prior to Jesus' arrival was marked by.....  well, by nothing in particular.  There was political unrest.  The rise of a few strong voices trying to make sense of things.  The thriving prophetic scene went eerily quiet.  Sure there was a revolt or two, but neither resulted in any major changes to the landscape.  Rome became Rome.  The Pharisees became the Pharisees (amongst the other religious/political parties).  Religion became orderly to the extreme within the already impersonal and orderly nature of worshipping God. Lists were made, and expectations about that list followed shortly thereafter. Different groups had different lists, which themselves created different expectations.  All muddling together to create a religious scene that did little to inspire.  Historians describe this time in Israel's history as the period in which "God withdrew His hand."  

And then Christmas happened.  God's hands became inseparable from this world.  The religious landscape was changed drastically, often dramatically.  An infant released a servant from a lifetime of waiting; and caused another to sing with joy.  A 12 year old boy perplexed the teachers in the Temple of Jerusalem.  And the man he became is still working today.  

Does Christmas change us?  It should.  It should be a time, a season that reminds us that God reached into this world, touching it like never before.  Nothing has been the same since, do we act like nothing is the same?  There is political unrest.  A few strong voices are trying to make sense of things.  Prophets, true messengers without hidden agendas of wealth or power, are rare.  Yes, there have a been a few revolts, but not much changes because of them.  Rome is still Rome, and the US is still the US.  Church is still Church (amongst the other religious parties of the day).  

We need Christmas now, just as much as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and everything in between needed Christmas some 2000 years ago. What will change this world is those who understand the season living Christmas every moment.  The world needs Christmas.  Not in the form of a fancy present, or convincing argument.  But in the form of a kind word and act, understanding and empathy, and unconditional love and mercy.  

 

 




December 1, 2014, 11:38 AM

Stomping on the Gas Pedal



As we closed out our service yesterday (11/30/14) I challenged the congregation to rip the governor off the engine that has been slowing us down and walk into the world full tilt on displaying the Fruit of the Spirit.  To clarify this challenge I need to walk you back about 15 years and remember fondly the experiences of "the Church Van."  I've driven many Church vans, even buses, but this one has a special place in my heart.  It had a governor on it.  This wonderful feature inhibited the van from driving faster than 55 mph.  Ever.  No matter the highway, no matter the circumstances, it was not going to go faster than 55 mph.  

Needless to say, I asked many times to have it removed.  The speed limits were 65 on most of the highways nearby and therefore we were outmatched by even the heaviest and slowest semi-trucks.  I eventually got my wish.  Not through the removal of the device....but because the van keeled over and died one cold, lonely night.  

Sad story of a van not waking up one winter morning aside, the point I wanted to make was about this governing device that slowed the engine.  Its a concept that we have all used at some point or another on ourselves when it comes to displaying the character of Christ to those around us.  In some instances, its a good thing (i.e. NOT saying what something that would only hurt the other person).  Other times though, we're inhibiting ourselves from properly expressing outwardly characteristics and evidences of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  

We've put a speed limit on love.  Indeed, we have categorized situations, circumstances, and people that we use a governor on to limit just how much love we show at the moment.  Looking through the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control) we can probably identify situations, circumstances, and people that we've limited every one of them with.  In some circumstances we've ignored patience and self control all together!  No governor needed with those, they never get started in the first place.  

Our call is to be a people who have stomped on the gas pedal, pushing the output of the Church and ALL the characteristics of Jesus to the max.  Yes there are situations that require prudence and restraint.  Yes there are times when all of the Fruit of the Spirit will need to be controlled in their output.  However, those situations are few and far between and cannot be the norm.  Our calling is to be running wide open, throwing the love (and all the other Fruit too) of Jesus into every situation we're in.  

The only thing stopping us from accomplishing this is Us.  Period.  Take the governor off and step on that gas pedal!  




November 17, 2014, 11:00 AM

Freeze Tag



Remember that game?  Freeze Tag.  In case you don't, here's a refresher for the rules.  

  1. Some one is "It."  This person runs around trying to tag people, who are subsequently running away. 
  2. When a person is tagged they must FREEZE in place, in the location where they are tagged.  
  3. A person can only move again if they are tagged by someone who is not "it."  
    1. Variations include different actions required for unfreezing someone
      1. crawling between the frozen person's legs
      2. singing a song together at the top of their lungs, etc...
  4. The game is over when everyone has either been frozen, or everyone just quits because running is hard.

The biggest variable to the game is the presence, or lack thereof, of BASE.  This is the biggest variable because there was always that kid who never left base!  If they did, they would move like two steps away, shake their hips tauntingly while waving their hands in the air, yelling: "Look at me!! I'm off of Base!!"  However, if "It" ever ran in their general direction, they would scurry back over to Base and wait for the moment to pass.  

Yeah, nobody really liked that kid.  

Lets take this vivid description of a childhood game and throw it smack-dab into our lives.  We're all playing a game of tag right now, and Sin is "it." We're being chased (or in the worst case scenario, we're chasing Sin), with the threat of being frozen in place.  The problem is, Sin runs really, really fast and we get tagged a lot.  Its in our nature to play this game with Sin, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we're running at this very moment.*  

There are things that unfreeze us, allowing us to continue the game.  Sometimes we're convicted by a rousing blog, other times its a time of confession or sharing amongst peers.   The problem is, we keep running after those moments and the game continues.  Sin never relents.  

In this game, Base is also a variable that can change the dynamics of the entire rule-set.  In the game of Freeze Tag with Sin, Jesus is Base.  He offers that one place wherein we can stay that keeps us immune from the relentless pursuit of Sin.  The problem is if you remember,  we've already painted that kid with a negative brush, making them look like someone who doesn't want to have any fun or run around like everyone else. Does that image still apply?  We want to say "NO", because we're good Christians who talk a good game and want to keep up our holy appearances.  The reality of culture speaks differently thought.  We have words we hold back to describe that kid: Goody-Two-Shoes, Mr. Holier Than Thou...  It's weird, it really is that we speak of our desire to win the game versus sin, but judge negatively those that are actively doing as such.  In this case it probably stems from jealousy or a need to be seen as cool, with a good reputation rather than from malice or bitterness.  

Moving past that bunny trail, lets look at what it means for Jesus to be our Base.  We have to look deeper than painting Jesus as a magical location like we use a tree in the game of tag.  There is no physical place we can call Sanctuary and be completely safe from being tagged. Nor will there be someplace where we can move a few steps away from, wagging our hips and hands at Sin tempting it to just try and get us while we're "here."  

There is no physical place we can find ourselves in to keep us safe.  The place we need to find ourselves is In Christ.  Paul, when he speaks of reconciliation and safety from sin, talks about being In Christ and what happens when we're there.  1 Corinthians 5: 17  - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (NIV). When we're In Christ we are safe.  When we're In Christ we are transported to another kingdom, to a realm in which we are safe from being frozen.  

So how do we find ourselves In Christ?  First off, Jesus took the first steps when he climbed on the cross.  Bearing our sins there, he created with finality, Base...our safe place.  The steps we take next are those that determine if we're In Christ.  Are we walking closer to the cross or further away? Do the pursuits of our lives, our dreams lead us into situations in which we can be the Ambassador we're called to be by Paul shortly after in 1 Corinthians 5?  If the decisions we make every day put us in a position in which we have to hide something in order to be a proper representative of Christ, well we're still in the game and far from Base.  If we can be transparent with our desires, career goals, academic initiatives, hobbies, etc... and not hide anything from the world that will tarnish what we claim on Sunday, its a pretty good indicator that we've found ourselves on Base.  

Sin will not give up.  Sin will keep running, pursuing us.  I overheard a conversation and statement made by a truly great (and I mean, GREAT) Christian man, Otis Gatewood one Sunday while I was in college.  He was asked:  "When does temptation stop?  When will lust lose its hold?" Otis replied:  "Not Yet."  At this time, Otis was in his late 90s.  NOT YET!!!  Talk about discouraging news!  Otis followed his statement with some hopeful thoughts, because we all looked extremely discouraged:  "Christ is more powerful than lust."  This man was not frozen by sin, waiting for someone, some thing to unfreeze him.  He was firmly planted on Base and was one of the most amazing servants to the Kingdom I've ever seen.  (For more on his life, see this transcript of his funeral.  Of note, check out the story of him and his meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev).

Are we In Christ?  If so, wag those hands and hips all you want at Sin.  You can even stick our your tongue and yell "neener neener neener."  Being safe allows us such frivolities.  I'm betting though, when we find ourselves In Christ we wont have time to taunt, we'll be looking around desperately for others who've been frozen and try to tag them so they'll be free to join us on Base. 

 

*Adapted from a sermon by Andy Timm, 10/12/2014 - Macomb Christian Church 

 




November 10, 2014, 10:22 AM

Having trouble waiting that long...



"All the stolen voices will someday be returned.  The most beautiful sound I've ever heard."  - U2 - The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).  

Someday.   I don't think I can wait that long.  (A heads up:  this blog is going to say "I" a lot. Its a universal message that I'm going to be focusing inward, using personal example to make a broader point... hope it doesn't turn you off to reading further.)

When it comes to the newest gadgets, I want to preorder them before they come out so they show up at my doorstep the day of release. When it comes to food, I prefer it be prepared for me by a nice person who hands it through a window in a bag that opens widely at the top.  I preorder every book from my favorite author months in advance, so the day its released it shows up on my reading app before I even stumble out of bed.  Don't get me started on how I react when the computer doesn't respond immediately to the simple click or command I gave it within nanoseconds.  Even with batteries, I keep a couple of the rechargeable kind fully charged and ready to go so I don't have to wait for the set I've run down to build back up to full charge.  I can swap the others in and keep plugging away at the bad guys in the newest Lego video game.  

Truth:  I hate waiting.  And it may just be my downfall someday.  Because "someday" is way too long to wait for God's promises to come true.  I've built my little world around immediate gratification (all the while preaching patience to my children).  I pray these words with all the zeal I can muster:  "Come Lord Jesus"; (or if you're in to brevity: Maranatha), all the while building a life plan that stretches well past retirement.  

The attitude I carry with me for immediate gratification has a direct link to the trouble I have with gratitude and the ability to see something greater than the circumstances right in front of me.  I quite literally preached yesterday morning (11/9/14) that we need to be able to look at our circumstances like Jesus does ("What do we have to work with?"), which will lead to gratitude.  Here I sit Monday morning still stewing over some junk that threw itself into the mix on Saturday!  

Gratitude is the furthest thing from my mind.  The last thing I want to do is look around me and find out what I've got to work with.  

Truth:  God is bigger than my circumstances.  God is bigger than my disappointments.  God is bigger than my expectations.  I'm not sure what Jesus' mom had in mind when she told him to take care of the wine at the wedding in Cana in John 2: 1 - 11.  Perhaps she just meant for him to pool the disciple's resources and go buy some more (I doubt it).  No matter her expectation, Jesus provided something far beyond. He was faithful to her expectations, and rewarded that trust by exceeding them.  

Do I trust Jesus enough to lay my barrel of circumstances at his feet, trusting him to transform my distracted and frustrated heart?  The right answer is Yes.  The true answer is maybe.    From my perspective, the circumstances we're facing are a little heavier than a wedding party running out of wine (after all they were plenty drunk already... thus the surprise when the wine wasn't watered down).  If I'm to find some gratitude, I must start looking at my circumstances from Jesus' perspective.  For him, the water barrels were not the issue.  He had no problem with the request his mother made about transforming the water into wine.  Jesus looked at the circumstances from his perspective as the Son of God, and understood it could cause a ruckus if his power was revealed at that moment.  I'm sitting here looking at a water barrel, or five loaves and two fish and wonder how on earth they will be of ANY help in solving today's problems.  Jesus is looking further out, and far deeper inside than a silly barrel or a basket of food of what I think are problems.   His mind is on my heart, on what we've got to work with (a barrel and a small meal) and creating something miraculous.  

Are we going to trust Jesus enough to allow him to work with all of our circumstances (not just the blessings) to do something awesome?  

Maybe someday...

 




November 3, 2014, 10:06 AM

Hungry



We sang a new-ish song (to us) yesterday(11/2/14), upon my request entitled Hungry.  There is/was a purpose to this being the song that followed the sermon as it begins bridging the gap between sermons in this mini-series:  Full to Empty - Gratitude.  The reason I asked for it lies in the very first words sung:  "Hungry I come..."  (here's a good link to the song on YouTube).  

Its been a long time since I've been at the point of "... falling on my knees, offering all of me."  In fact I cant even remember the last time I was genuinely hungry to the point of praying/asking God for deliverance!  As we discussed in our conversation on gratitude yesterday, we have gotten into the habit of approaching the Cross already Full, leaving very little room for the God of All Creation to move in us.  

If our schedules are so full already, how can we even consider giving more time?  Our budgets are maxed out, there's just not enough left to be generous.  All of a sudden, this note on gratitude starts looking a whole lot like a sermon on money and generosity, doesn't it?  Lets clear up that confusion then:  its not.  I'm not attacking anyone's busy schedule (mine's just as crazy as everyone else's), nor am I even peeking into the checkbook to see where your money is going (our's is as tightly relegated as everyone else's).  The concept of gratitude has to work FAR earlier in our priorities than busy schedules and the money we spend/save.  

Amy Voskamp, in her introduction to the book One Thousand Gifts says this: "We were born with clenched fists..." Meaning, gratitude and generosity do not typically come as a standard feature on your base-model human.  Think of all the teaching that goes into SHARING for our children!  We have to be taught selflessness, and if not, the person that turns out is pretty well rotten.  

If we start, step one, priority number one with gratitude, our schedules being full does not limit our willingness and ability to help.  Time no longer holds us hostage.  When gratitude is our foundation our pocketbooks and registers are no longer the first thought/fear when asked for a donation or tithe.  Its a hard rewire for us because we're taught from the beginning that if we don't get good enough grades and a good enough job we might actually be uncomfortable at some point and THAT'S BAD!!!  

Creation, and the story it tells us is all about being grateful, no matter how you read it.  God planned to save us, the first time by giving us everything we need.  When that wasn't enough for us he put a plan into place to deliver us instead into a painless eternity.  There is pain along the way, but the promise of painless eternity is coming and will be fulfilled.  That alone should be enough to squeeze gratitude from us, no matter the circumstance.  

 

 




October 27, 2014, 10:00 AM

Is that really fair to God?



We talked about pain, suffering, and the fallacy of God putting those things on us yesterday in our sermon (10/26/14).  I want to spend a little bit of further time examining the simple question of "Why do we hurt?"  

The temptation we have, which is driven by centuries of doctrine and teaching is to assume that God is a part of it all, and that the pain serves a purpose in our lives.  We try and console ourselves with the thought that we must be being taught something by this trial.  And if we just endure through the end, we'll finally see the purpose of this pain and hardship brought about or allowed to happen by God.  

The problem with this is thought is that it paints God with a broad stroke of being a deity set about to punish, burden, or cause suffering on his flock with one hand and blessing us with good stuff with the other.  We cannot call him the Good Shepherd and then accuse him of leading us into a pasture that has no job, no food, no green pastures. Those pastures are a part of living in a fallen world.  And living in a fallen world means that there are places and aspects of life here that stink.  Sometimes it hurts, and that has nothing to do with God, the Good Shepherd, or a lesson we have to learn.  

So, before I get burned at the stake here, let me speak to where God IS concerned in those areas of our lives:  How we respond to the pain, the suffering, and the pastures where the pickings are slim.  More on this in a couple paragraphs. 

Now, back to the pain and suffering bit.  The pain and suffering we experience today are essentially the ripples of poor choices made a long, long, long, time ago.  Right?  When man fell we were ALL thrust into the harsh elements of life outside the perfection of the garden.  We were shoved face to face with disease, manual labor, scarcity, psychological disorders, hard childbirth, and ultimately death.  When Cain killed Able, he dropped a really big stone into a calm pond.  Adam and Eve had to live with the ripples and the wake that his poor choice caused.  Could they blame God for that?  Could they shake their fists at God and wonder what lesson he wanted them to learn through Cain's actions?  No.   Cain made a stupid choice, Adam and Eve experienced pain because of that choice.  God had nothing to do with the cause of their pain.  When we discovered ways to lengthen our lives through medicine we invited our seemingly constant battles with cancer and the like into existence.  Those are not God (or even satan) inflicted maladies, they are ripples in the pond of medical advancement and our ability to identify and treat through medicine those things that were mysteries in the past.  

What I am NOT saying is that God doesn't care about us when we suffer. That was never said, nor expressed.  God cares very much for his creation (Us).  However, God does not cause us pain, nor does he have a grand lesson we need to learn from every stubbed toe, financial mess, or hunger pang.  When we plant our feet firmly in the identity of Christ, we plant our feet on a hope of that eternity WHEN THIS LIFE IS OVER.  We used Paul a lot in our sermon yesterday, looking quite specifically at the pain he endured while serving under God's call.  Specifically we worked through 2 Corinthians 1: 8 - 10.  Bad people, who made bad choices were the cause of Paul's pain, suffering, and torture.  Not God.  

Paul understood that sometimes it hurts, and what's important is what we choose to do with the pain.  If we curse God for the pain, blaming him for all the bad stuff happening in our life we come dangerously close to heresy.  What is essential is for God's people to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit living in us) when things are good AND bad.  Look again at 2 Corinthians 1: 9 + 10.  There was hope that God would rescue them from the pain and hurt.  Within that hope was the understanding that it may not happen until after they had died !!  

We can learn much from pain.  And yes, there are indeed lessons that will be made obvious to us through times of scarcity and lacking.  But those are not great mysteries that only reveal themselves in those times.  Jesus was very clear about how well we would be cared for when things get tight financially (Matthew 6).  The lessons and principles upon which we should be staking our hopes were clear from the beginning, they shouldn't come as a surprise when life throws us a curve ball.  God has been teaching us how to embrace Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self Control from the very beginning; not just in our times of trial, want, or lacking.  

Pointing our fingers at God, or  expecting God to reveal something new and magnificent from present day suffering just isn't fair to God and the amazing presence he has been to us from the beginning.  Aren't we more precious than the sparrow? 


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