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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.  



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