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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.  


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