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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.  

 

 


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