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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? 




October 20, 2014, 12:06 PM

Where's God?



When the money runs out.  

When pain is greater than hope. 

When the outlook for the future makes the past shine like a beacon. 

Where is God when it hurts? 

He is where he was when the money was plentiful and the want was minimal.  He is where he was when there was no pain and life was full of hope.  He is in the future, as bleak as it may seem as well as in the past.  He is.  

This morning (10/20/14) has been a symphony of ups and downs.  The first meeting was in planning for a funeral service, the second for a wedding.  During our services yesterday we had an announcement of praise from parents expecting another child.  To top all of that off, I have a cold.  In other words:  I'm having a hard time seeing past the end of my own nose to find a bigger picture.  

Trying to see God working in every aspect of life proves troublesome if we only allow him to work in the good or happy times.  Often we relegate God to being "Good, all the time.  And all the time, Good."  But what about when we just dont feel it?  Meaning, what about when the pain or loss or messiness of life overrides our ability to see God working?  Does that mean God has gone from Good to Bad?   

When God seems far away, its not God who's moved.  God remains.  Unfortunately our circumstances push us aside more times than we think they do.  We allow the waves of life to throw us around.  I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty.  Trust me, these notes are more for me than anyone else.  We have to speak honestly about ourselves through the positive and negative.  Even though we're promised that everything will work out for good in the end, we have to remember that its the ending that's good, not so much the journey.  

 




September 22, 2014, 10:44 AM

Fancy Business Cards



I like having a good looking business card.  Apparently, this is essential in some circles as judgment is passed immediately upon viewing of one's business card.  If it is not dramatic, bold, clean, and powerful, then you are dismissed in lieu of the next business card who is indeed dramatic, bold, clean, and powerful.  Recently, a renowned computer hacker and security specialist released an image of his newest business card... its a lock-picking set, emblazoned with his contact info.  Talk about bold and ............. just plain cool. Not to be outdone, I've decided to choose a new particularly cool design for my own business card, hoping to express all of those features about me in one 2" x 3.5" piece of paper.  If it was left to that, I'd be the most dramatic, bold, clean, and powerful preacher-guy in the world!  Unfortunately, we all know that just isn't true.  

As we move into more pertinent thoughts, this blog will tie both last week's ramblings (found here) and this past week's sermon (9/21/14) together.  Check em out if you havent already. 

The Pharisees had truly awesome business cards.  These guys had history, power, tradition, sweet threads, and the expectations of a nation to throw around.  In fact, they didnt even need to hand you a physical card, they wore it!  You could see/feel/experience their power before they actually entered the room.  They were the ultimate display in political and religious influence of the day.  And when Jesus entered the scene, his business card made theirs look........pathetic.  Can you imagine, if we can take a moment, the business card Jesus could hand you?!  Talk about a statement!  He could go with simple, and hand you a card that bore only the image of a blood-stained cross, or an empty tomb.  He had the credentials to present the most cool, dramatic, powerful, and bold business card imaginable.  

What he offered though was a hand to the sick.  A kind word to the beaten and weary.  Hope for the hopeless.  Honor to the humble.  A stumbling block to the arrogant.  His business card had dirt all over it.  

What Jesus gave WAS the Kingdom of God, in the flesh.  Instead of showing the world how awesome he was on the surface, or by handing someone a business card that spoke of how awesome he was, he simply WAS awesome.  Much like the issue in Mark 12 in which Jesus tells us that belief (or looking awesome on the outside) gets us CLOSE  to the Kingdom of God, it does not deliver us all the way.  We must BE, or DO in order to fulfill what Jesus meant, means, and will accomplish.  THAT is the Kingdom of God.  And it is much more powerful and bold than a fancy business card. 

So what are we showing the world?  Are we handing them a sparkling outward appearance (our own version of a business card), and a group of people who dress well and gather regularly on Sunday mornings all the while the life we live is FAR from the message our business card speaks?  This is the very core message that Jesus had for the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  Great business card, lousy on the inside.  The cleanliness of the Pharisees did not extend inward, to the heart and soul.  

Better than any cool looking business card, lets offer the world something tangible that points to the Kingdom of God, and proves that we've got it (and arent far from it, ala Mark 12).  Things like generosity and forgiveness go a lot further than any power displayed on a piece of paper.  




September 15, 2014, 11:41 AM

Close... Or maybe Not Far... or Maybe just WAAAYYYY Off.



Something caught my eye not too long ago in scripture that has been festering in those back recesses of my brain that are not occupied by useless movie factoids, fantasy football stats, and the piece of my brain telling me that I'm hungry even though I've just eaten.  
Its Mark 12:34. "Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God". . .  

Why "not far"?  I mean, that's like saying "Close, but no cigar" to someone.  "You ALMOST got it, but we know that almost only works in horseshoes and hand grenades."   But this time its the Son of God saying that.  I feel that if Jesus says you were "close, but no cigar", you weren't really close at all.  

This stuck with me not because of the humor I pull from Jesus holding his fingers up, about an inch apart, to show this man how close he was; but because it translates into the nature of my own heart and the ideals I hold so dear about living out my faith.  What sets this statement up from Jesus is the most pivotal statement he makes throughout his time on earth: The Greatest Commands.  He takes all the Law, all the Prophets, all the history of the Jewish nation and sums it up in two statements:  Love God, Love People.  

While this is a very serious statement, at a very serious time, the response from the guy who asks Jesus in the first place is rather hilarious.  "I agree with you."  The way its said though brings to mind an arrogance, much like the newest Geiko commercials.  "Hmmm, 15 minutes could save you 15% or more..."  "EVERYONE KNOWS THAT..."  I see this guy responding:  "well, yeah Jesus, everyone knows that."  

And Jesus looks him in the eye and says:  "You're CLOSE... but not there yet."  What was he missing?  Why wasn't he right on with the Kingdom of God?  He understood the very foundation of faith, and that God expects our hearts not just our sacrifices.  I think that's WAY more than just close.  And when I start trying to defend his answer and justifications I expose my own flaws.  What the man was missing was the outpouring of that belief and love of God.  Its never OK to just claim belief and faith in God and ignore what comes next:  actually doing something.  

I think I would find myself in the same boat as the Pharisees, wanting everyone to recognize just how much they believe, and how authoritative they are in knowing exactly what to believe.  The problem is, I would find myself in the same boat when Jesus spoke to them about just how far they are from the Kingdom of God.  Most were "way off."  

When it comes to believing, I've got it down pat.  I believe REALLY well.  Its acting on that belief that becomes obtrusive to my life's other pursuits.  Jesus addresses this over and over, even starting with it in his first sermon in Matt 5.  If I'm to be the salt of the earth and light of the world, that means I've actually got to do what salt and light do.  I can tell you all day about being salty and lighty, but unless its done for the benefit of the world, its useless and good for only being trampled underfoot. 

So how big is the gap between Jesus' fingers when he looks us over?  Are we not far from the Kingdom, or would he have to pull out the yard stick?  

 

 

   




September 8, 2014, 10:00 AM

Wanna Arm Wrestle?



Unless you're really strong that is... because I don't want to get hurt.  I guess I'm sensitive that way.  I do remember though, the strength of one's arms being a huge deal in middle school and probably into high school. Boys would challenge each other to arm wrestling matches, or just haul off and punch each other........because they're boys.  It was, and I'm guess it still is, important to exert dominance and power over each other, and what better way to do so than mercilessly twisting the arm of your adversary in an awkward way that causes pain and discomfort to the point of yelling? 

Assuming we're all past that phase, why hasnt arm wrestling gone out the window with other such fads as tube socks with the colored stripes at the top and mesh crop tops?  Its a simple answer, we still want to go out and prove we're strong enough.  

But with whom are we wrestling?  Surely not our neighbors, or the other parents on the kid's soccer team!  

We're taking God's hand into our own, flexing our muscles, maybe making a tough-guy face, and then pulling with all our might.  Unless you're Sylvester Stallone in the 80's classing Over the Top, this scene is ridiculous.  1) there is NO way we're winning that match; and 2) the is NO way we're winning that match!  Yet we still try.  We think our arms are strong enough to compete,  And trust me, no 80's rock ballad is going to pump us up enough to come close to budging God's arm. 

Awesome (and very cheesy) movies aside, we're obviously talking about more than just a battle of arm strength here.  We're talking about a battle of wills, submission, willingness to sacrifice, and seeing the bigger picture.  Which, if you're versed at all in your Sunday School stories, is nothing new at all.  For centuries and generations now, mankind has embraced the battle of wills and expressing to God just how much more we know about our current situation than he.  And for centuries and generations God has rolled his eyes, let us make our choices, and used his strong arms to embrace us anyway.  When we reach across the table, challenging him to an arm wrestling match, he politely declines and waits for us to see things from his perspective.  

Yes, that means we fail.  Yes, that means we make ginormous mistakes.  And yes, we sin.  Through every battle of wills, and every moment of our expressed superiority to the situation God is always there with his arms ready to hug and embrace, not wrestle.  An atheistic culture would say that must be a sign of weakness in the All-Powerful God.  Compassion is always viewed as weakness by those who deny the redeeming power of the Cross.  When God stretched his arms wide to be nailed to wood, it took more strength than I can ever imagine possessing.  And it takes supreme strength for God to withdraw his arms from an arm wrestling match, only to hold them wide for an embrace after the mess is made.  

Lets take a moment or two to look specifically at one of our usual arm wrestling matches:  Money.  Sounds like fun.  (that was sarcasm).  When Jesus spoke about these matters in the New Testament, he was painfully clear.  Painfully Clear.  He gave the proper investment scheme that will reap the best reward:  Matthew 6: 19 - 34.  There is nothing in there about retirement plans, the specific amount we're supposed to tithe, or even how much we should save out of each paycheck.  Its not a numbers issue, its all a heart issue.  Why do we treat so casually something that Jesus took very seriously?  Why do we wrestle every penny FROM God (with carefully laid out justifications) when every penny is going to fade away to dust?  Why does the concept of 10% look so foreign and intimidating to Western Churches (who give, on average a whopping 2% nationally)?  

Because we've thrown out our arms and all the strength and intimidation we can muster and waited for God to grab a hold and show us once and for all what he wants from us.  My favorite response from Jesus about the money junk was when Peter got worked up about needing to pay the temple tax and Jesus sent him fishing.  This is the physical representation of God rolling his eyes at Peter trying to get into an arm wrestling match over income levels, taxation without representation, and liquid assets.  "Yes Peter, I get how important it is to you.  Go catch a fish and look inside its mouth... you'll find the tax in there."  This is about as far removed from a serious response to Peter, who obviously thought money very important at the moment.  Jesus fed 5000 with a few loaves and fish, maybe he can work the same magic with my bank account!!  

This is not a call to poverty, but a call to drop the charade of flexing out muscles in front of God.  Drop the arm wrestling posture and open our arms up to the matters found essential by God (and where you'll find his arms most active right now.)  Matthew 25: 31 - 46. 




September 1, 2014, 12:11 PM

I wish. I wish. I wish.



I use those words WAY too much.  They had become such a problem in our house we installed a new rule stating that anyone who used those words had to write in a Gratitude Journal.  I've caught myself a few times saying the words and looked around guiltily to see if the gratitude police was watching (the middle child).  Its funny, because page 1 is full... but we've tapered off because now we're more careful about being grateful for what we have and not longing for things we dont.  

I'm going to break the rule and spend some time wishing here in this blog and then wrap things up with a thought on contentment (this follows the theme of last week's blog, check that out here: Holy, Holy, Holy...)

I wish I could be witness (through instant replay) to God working his imagination in creation.  
   Think about that... being able to watch God create the giraffe and duckbill platypus.  Imagine the thought process he was going through when those things came to be!  They're silly creatures, and it takes a God with a sense of whimsy to create like that.  Think about the whimsy and love he put into the creation of us!!!  

I wish I could have witnessed the conversation David had with his sheep after he was anointed the next King of Israel by Samuel, then shuffled back into the pastures to watch his father's sheep.  
   "I wasnt even brought out there in the first place!!! And now I'm stuck with the sheep again!!  I'M THE KING!!!!  Arent there servants for stuff like this?"  Now, we know the character of David well enough to know that he knew his place in God's plan well enough to follow along with God's plan.  Do you think he practiced being king to his sheep?  (I would).  "You there... the fluffy one.  I Knight thee Sir Fluffy, Knight of the Green Pastures."  

I wish I could have seen Ezekiel's siege of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 4.  If you've not read that chapter recently, get to your Bible and read it!!  
   This is one of those long moments where I would question God's plan.  If you think thats out of line, read Ezekiel 4.  God's message was not to be communicated in a stirring speech or sermon.  This time Ezekiel got to send a message by lying in the dirt for over a year.  Tied up, cooking over dung, decrying Israel's disobedience the whole time.  

I wish, I wish, I wish.  Every time I throw that out there, what I'm really saying is: "I'm not happy with what I've got right now, and where I'm at right now."  I wish I was there.  I wish I knew that.  I wish I could...  All those statements have replaced this one:  I Will.

Far bigger than being content, we use wishful thinking to throw our own responsibilities onto others.  "I wish the Church would..."  "I wish they would..."  "I wish my family was..."   

The better statement is "I will make my family better by..." "I will help the Church by..."  Taking responsibility for our discontent engages us in the present, and turning discontent into activity that grows, benefits, and blesses.  David could have held a grudge against his brothers, father, and even Samuel for not pulling him away from the sheep and assigning him more kingly duties.  He even gets sent on errands later on when his brothers head off in military service to Saul.  "Aren't there servants for these things?"  

I wish I didnt have to...  I wish I was somewhere else...  I wish so-and-so would just...  I wish, I wish, I wish.  

I wish we were more content with seeing God in his creation right now.  Yes, even in the people who we dont like.  I wish we could be content with our role in the kingdom (not as king, but servant) and not pine for grander, more honorable duties.  I wish, I wish, I wish. 

And now I have to write in the Gratitude Journal. 

 




August 25, 2014, 11:47 AM

Holy, Holy, Holy. And how that might not be enough for us...



There are moments in worship services that just blow me away and send the good kind of chills up my spine.  I'm reluctant to say it, but these moments are rare for me.  I'm often in planning mode, or checking the order/slides/notes to make sure its running as well as I can control (which is limited) and getting my head ready to preach.  This week though, I had a moment that didn't just blow me away, it left a mark on my soul.  We sang On Zion's Glorious Summit early in the service, and if I could have, I would have gotten up and laid down a sermon right then and there.  What hit me is the final portion of the song, in which we slowly recount the song of the angels: "Holy, Holy, Holy."  

The voices around me were beautiful, and the parts rang true, making a sound as close to heaven as I can imagine.  There was no rush to get through, and the final notes echoed for a breath.  Those words rested on my heart, and it was about 1:30 in the morning that the thoughts finally registered as to why.  The question I woke to was this:  Would I really be content to sing that for eternity?  

If you're like me, the question can be easily dismissed with a "sure."  After all, when we're in Heaven, we wont have to worry about anything much, right?  I mean, GOD is right THERE!!!  But I moved deeper into the question and thought of a few other songs we're familiar with, and I began to be haunted by my own understandings of what being contented in eternity means.  Remember these choruses:  "I've got a mansion just over the hilltop."  "Till my trophies at last I'll lay down."   And what about the images we hold closely of gold-paved driveways, and crystal seas?  

What if?  What if there wasn't a single mansion, crown, trophy case, gold brick, or crystal body of water to be seen anywhere?  Would we start looking for the suggestion box and a golf pencil to throw out some renovation suggestions?  We would start the suggestion kindly, probably with a "To start, I'm REALLY glad I'm here and not.......you know <points down>..."  After we get the gratitude out of the way, the real issue would present itself:   "BUT, I'm looking around and maybe I missed my turn.  Where's MY mansion? I didn't put up with Sister So-and-So for three decades to be shuffled along into just another apartment complex or homeless all together."  

Examining this idea leads us to the Lord's Prayer.  As the model for prayer and communication with God, we find this very issue being addressed.  If we are willing to pray for God's will "to be on earth as it is in heaven..." we must be willing to find ourselves content on earth with what we will find ourselves content with in heaven.  Finally able to abide in the presence of God, completely joined with our creator is THE completion of all eternity.  We will find ourselves content for eternity without the gold, mansions, trophies, and crowns because God Is, and we will be with the I Am.  If we want on earth as in heaven, then we must find ourselves content with singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" to honor the magnificence of God as we stare into the face of a world being torn down around us.  We must find ourselves able to find contentment with God no matter what this world holds.  

One of my favorite authors for challenging me and getting me to think outside the box is Peter Rollins.  I've read a few of his parables during some sermons, and one that is coming to mind resides in The Orthodox Heretic with the title of the parable being Mansions.  It imagines a time with Jesus describing Heaven to some of his disciples around a fire.  He uses magnificent words to describe just how wonderful it will be, playing on the grandiose ideas present in the poor and working class folks who follow him.  They all drift into sleep thinking of all the glittering gold and towering mansions that await them as their reward.  It isn't until everyone is asleep that one disciple decides to brave out loud the thoughts rolling silently in his head.  He declares to Jesus that he isn't really drawn to the glamorous things like gold and mansions, and he wonders if there will be a place in heaven for one like him; one content with simpler rewards.  Jesus looks at him with a twinkle in his eye and tells him that indeed there is a place.  He speaks of a small, one-room shack on the outskirts that has holes in the roof that allow one to see the magnificence of the stars and glory of heaven.  In a whisper Jesus tells the man:  "that's where you'll find me, and you're welcome anytime."  

Can I be content with singing praise to the I Am knowing there isn't a mansion, trophy, or crown in it for me?  Can we find joy in worship even if we're broke?  




August 18, 2014, 12:01 PM

The Heart of God



In the sermon yesterday (8/17/14) we talked about the characteristics that show through the heart of God.  In the blog today we're talking about the one characteristic that never shows itself in God's heart.  To summarize the sermon and get us on the same page (don't you wish I'd just do this on Sundays and save us all a bunch of time!!??), the heart of God is simply love for his creation.  Far beyond the human levels of love, God SO loved us that he gave us Jesus.  The best example is the simple differences in love that we show to those we consider mere acquaintances and the love we pour on our own children.  Through his entire existence, God has showed us that he SO loves us, culminating in that ultimate sacrifice of Jesus.  THAT'S what pours from the heart of God every living, breathing, and existing moment of our lives. 

So what is is that cannot pour from the heart of God?  Simply put: selfishness.  From the beginning God gave Adam and Eve everything.  There have been postulations that placing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden was unjust, or even unfair; but can we really say that if we look at just how much God gave them?  They literally wanted for NOTHING!!  Even within the presence of the Testing Tree there was evidence of God's selflessness.  He had to know there was a chance his creations would choose poorly and abandon him.  God was willing to put himself completely out there, laying it all on the line for Adam and Eve, even to the point of knowing he might be heartbroken.  

God repeatedly puts his heart on the line, and into the hands of humans throughout the stories in the Bible.  He trusts us, and sometimes we reward that trust... other times we abuse it.  Perhaps no bigger promise was made than the one God makes to Abraham.  God puts all his eggs in one basket with Abram.  Its backwards in my mind then to have Abraham's test of faith come much later in the story.  If it were up to me, I'd hold back the promise until I was sure Abraham was completely trustworthy.  God doesn't.  He withholds nothing from Abram, even with the lies and deceit that occur in the midst of Abraham's travels.  

Selfishness is not a characteristic that has any presence in God's hearts.  Does it own a piece of our own?  Its human nature to look out for ourselves, #1 per say.  But if we allow ourselves to embrace selfishness, we are not able to truly pray "May Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."  If we really want God's will to be done, we have to eliminate our selfishness from the equation.  

Family takes on a deeper meaning when any trace of selfishness is removed.  Try having an argument when you've eliminated your need to look out for #1 and seek the best for others first.  

Church looks more like its intent when selfishness is removed.  It would no longer be all about us, but about the glorification of God in the lives of others.  Sure, we try and do that anyways, but what about when the glorification of God in the lives of others distracts or annoys us?  We feel the need to complain or move on to other churches where it meets all of our expectations. 

Watch the eyes of people when you put them first, at the cost of ourselves.  It happens so rarely in our culture that people sometimes dont even know how to react!  

More so, watch what happens to our hearts when we sing along with God's selflessness.  Its not all about me, you, or us.  

May Your will be done in me as it is in Heaven.  

 




August 11, 2014, 2:42 PM

A Painting of God



What does God look like?  Thats one of those eternal questions that is only answered after we have exhausted our time here on Earth.  At least in the physical, "I am LOOKING at God" sense.  Moses was gifted with the presence of God and was given the chance to glimpse the passing essence of a physical manifestation of God on Mt. Sinai.  Outside of that, God the Father has remained in the background so to speak.  

When Jesus hops onto the scene, we get our first complete glimpse of a member of the Trinity.  God smiled and frowned.  God spoke.  God cried.  There, in the face of Jesus, were all the emotions of God shown on the canvas of those he made in His image.  And that image, and those emotions are no longer present in the physical realm of earth.  

What are we left with if we want to see the physical manifestation of God?  Hopefully not just those pictures of Swedish-Jesus.  You know, the ones where he has blue eyes, blond hair (with highlights of course), and looks handsome and rugged at the same time as he stares into the distance.  Nope.  No picture can do him justice.  

What we have left on earth to display the physical presence and emotion of God is the Church.  When the Church (thats the people, not the building) displays love: the world sees God's love and smile.  Conversely, when the Church lashes out in anger, or condemnation, we typically do not see God's righteous anger over injustice, we see an angry God who doesn't really love the world (unlike what we're told in John 3:16).  

We paint a picture of God by the choices we make, the words we use, and the lives we live.  Does the God you paint with your life show forgiveness and compassion?  Or, is he vindictive and unjust in his prejudices?  

Simply put: God looks like us, Church.  Or rather, we are the picture of God to the world.  Does he look happy?  Indeed, the picture being painted of God by those folks at Westboro Baptist is of a God who's love is conditional and very limited in its scope.  

Are we painting with the same brush?  I really hope not.  But if thats to be true, our lives must be rich with the character, heart, face, hands, and feet of a loving God.   




August 4, 2014, 10:45 AM

When God is Silent, Part 2



This is a follow-up to my sermon on 8/3/14 - "When God is Silent" (click the title to be taken to the audio).  

I regret not being bolder in my sermon and saying that I have never physically heard the voice of God in my life.  I regret not saying it because I regret not being able to follow up with this:  "And I'm Fine With That."   I have not been prompted to go here, there, or anywhere.  I've not been told to talk to a particular person at a particular time, or whether to take a particular job or to keep looking....and I'm fine with that.  

While I have not heard God's affirming voice when I'm in the middle of a decision, I have felt the confidence of his affirmation to the choices I've made after prayer, study, and consideration of making decisions the right way.  I've seen the hand of God as I look back at choices I've made.  The best, and perhaps the most convincing example of God's invisible hand and inaudible voice comes in the form of the most difficult year of my adult life.  At the time, I was not fine with the direction of my life, having been dismissed from a church ministry position. THAT wasn't part of the plan.  That was not what I expected to hear from God.  The year afterward was spent in a job that was NOT for me.  In a city that was NOT the best place for our family.  I was wrestling with a lack of confidence in myself and therefore treating myself poorly, which in turn WAS the worst thing to do to our marriage.   Where was God's hand and voice in all of this?  Exactly in the same place he is today, yesterday, and eternally:  right by my side.  Looking back through that hazy mist and the very real possibility of leaving ministry forever I see God.  Yes, in the mess of that year I see and hear God, in his silence at that moment.  

In that year we heard God more clearly than ever before......and didn't know about it until we had moved on and recovered.  While the righteous actions and motivations were missing from my life, the mantle of fellowship, hospitality, and compassion were being held up by those around us.  God's voice was being made audible in the caring prayers of a group of elders that I did not (and really still don't) know.  It was being heard in the voice and care of a Doctor who treated Reese's allergies, giving us the first night's sleep in 6 months.  

If it weren't for that time when I assumed God had gone silent, I never would have known how to hear Him clearly ever again.  As we read deeper in scripture we discover a message spelled out to us as clear as the clearest day.  We are given the filter through which all decisions must be run through.  God has provided the step-by-step instructions on how to deal with problem people, horrible bosses, injustices at home, struggling marriages, and hopeful dreams for tomorrow.  

God has spoken louder and clearer than ever before, had it all written down, and ensured it to be carefully preserved for us to peruse at our leisure and at times of peril.  Never has God's voice been clearer than when the vocal chords of Jesus worked to express the words of God. And from those vocal chords came all the words from God I will ever need to hear:  Love God, Love People.  (Matthew 22:37 - 39).  

If we're waiting for more, we wait in vain.  If we want the picture focused better than that, we wait in vain.  If we expect God to explain the expectations of Christ-Followers further, we wait in vain.  While we think God silent these days and the voice of the world overpowering, we simply have turned our ears to the wrong direction, missing the whispers amidst the shouting.  

And yes, Love God + Love People applies to everyone and everything.  It sounds almost TOO simplistic of a response to apply to what we interpret as a life far more complicated and complex for such simplicity.  But look back at the simple answer God often gives to those facing troubles and things way above their pay scale:  I Am.  That's it...I Am.  Job asked for more and boy, did he get more.  He got God's explanation of just how "I AM" the I Am is.  Job 38 - 39; 41.  You want more?  God doesn't need to give us any more.  Because he is the I Am.  He always has been and always will be.  That's enough assurance that his promises stand and that everything we hope he will deliver he will deliver.  God has already spoken...  clear enough to last for centuries.  Maybe if we're struggling to hear him today we need to quit talking enough to hear what he has already said, plain as day:  Love God, Love People.   

Deep down I KNOW that I don't need to hear another word from God in my lifetime.  Sitting on my hands and waiting for him to speak clearly to me specifically to do something specific for the kingdom is a waste of the resources, power, Spirit, and directions he has already given.  What I need is the confidence to trust what I've already heard.  Because I was put in just such a place for just such a time as this.  (Esther 4:14)

 




July 28, 2014, 11:19 AM

One concept that is missing from the book of Esther... Big Time.



We're wrapping up a series on Esther here at Red Bridge this coming Sunday.  It is curious the varied responses I've gotten throughout the series and the rather blunt and negative paintings I've displayed on the characters of Esther's story.  Through it all the general anxiety I've created is that we want to cheer for the characters in this book, placing them on the pedestal of hero while ignoring some of the harsher bits of apathy or lapses in character.  But when it comes right down to it, when the rubber meets the road, the characters leave little to cheer for without some digging and generous applications of grace.  

Allow me one more sweeping critique of this story and it's characters before we wrap things up Sunday (8/3/14) with what I believe is the pivotal lesson to be learned from Esther.  Here we go... buckle up one more time:  There is zero presence of forgiveness in the story of Esther.

Instead of forgiveness and grace we see bitter rivalry and prejudice.  These characteristics show themselves in Mordecai and Haman, leading to the near destruction of the Jewish nation.  We cannot expect Haman to exhibit any godly characteristics, as his story and history is devoid of grace.  Mordecai, however, should know better.  He is familiar enough with the story of the original captivity, the wanderings in the desert, the attempts to claim the Promised Land and ALL of the failings of Israel to understand that there are bigger things to worry about than a grudge.  

If I were given the liberty to retool the story of Esther, the one thing I would incorporate into the characters would be the addition of giant robots that wipe out Persia and return it to the peaceful nations that existed prior to the conquest and captivity.  I guess that's why they didn't let me write anything.  In reality, the last thing I need is another reminder of how much I lack in the grace-giving department.  Instead of giant robots, the one piece that I would really add is that of forgiveness.  More than God's hand showing up and saving the day ala Daniel.  More than a mighty miracle that reshapes everyone's belief system in one fell swoop.  I want to see how forgiveness and grace can reshape the story of Esther. 

The story of Esther, far removed from my own existence and experiences, is a pleasant place to start with wishing for more of God's grace to be shown.  It is far more unpleasant to want to see more of God's grace expressed in my own life circumstances.  When grace rules the day, anger is pushed out.  Impatience is not allowed to rule our attitudes.  Prejudices and grudges disappear, fading away in the shadows of peacemaking and forgiveness.  I really wonder how the story would have reshaped itself if Mordecai treated Haman with the respect and impartial care he chose to offer Xerxes (remember Mordecai saved Xerxes' life despite the captivity and enslavement of his people at the hand of Xerxes).  

What I really wonder, far more than with the story of Esther, is how the Church's story would look if we infused our lives with forgiveness and grace.  In a global scale, would we see an end to prejudice, or would we even care anymore?  If we echoed God's grace in every action, word, and breath we wouldn't worry about the angst of others, we would've already forgiven them!  Focusing in closer, what would our neighborhoods look like if we were the people known to forgive and accept?  Red Bridge would become known for its people and their acts of grace that glorify God, rather than being known as the "one across from the big Baptist Church" (with the typical response being: "Oh, I didnt know that was a church building.")  

To end this thought with how we began: How would the story of Esther change? Esther's story would look a lot more like Daniel's story if we infused it with grace and forgiveness.  So would mine.  So would yours.  And so would Haman's.  


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