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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. 


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