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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.  




July 21, 2014, 10:18 AM

Coincidence? I Think Not...



This blog thought is a simple one... How awesome is our God!  

I am a cynic by nature, which probably doesn't surprise anyone.  I was raised to see the negative first, then be surprised when something worked out.  Its a frustrating existence to always assume the answer is going to be "NO", and it should not then be surprising how little one asks for when it is already assumed to be denied.  I wish this had instilled a stronger work ethic within me, but alas I simply grew a streak of cynicism to counter the general lack of hopefulness.  

Well, as you expect things to, this train of thought turns to matters of faith and belief.  It is difficult, if not tremulous, to balance being a natural-born-cynic and a faithful believer in God.  The two trains are often competing to be the filter through which thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are strained.  One of those realms that strike the cynical portion of my brain is the realm of "coincicence."  Things happen, and whether the outcome is fortuitous or disastrous, there is a timing to them that always rings further than the moment.  Meaning, there are greater things happening than just the moment or "thing" that occurred that connect to greater streams of actions or thoughts.  Perhaps the most relatable example of this would be that for a few weeks perhaps, you could be struggling with a certain habit or frustration in your life, looking for something and anything to shed some light on the struggle.  It just so happens that the sermon that Sunday morning speaks directly into your issue and heart, opening the door to resolution and change.  

Is that coincidence?  I think not.  My perspective on that situation (which has happened too often to even be considered in the state or even the continent of coincidence) as a preacher is to simply point to the sheer awesomeness of God and crush that little portion of cynicism in me to a pulp.  When I write my sermons I intentionally clear my mind of specific ministry moments and characters from the 'real world.'  I do this so that it cannot be assumed or interpreted that I am preaching "AT" someone.  That is "Preacher Code, Rule #1" for me.  I will not preach a sermon to you that I do not need to hear myself.  Period.  So the person, heart, habits, sin, frustrations, or joys that make themselves evident in the sermons I preach stem simply from my heart, which is longing to squish the cynic with unmitigated belief and explore the wide-open world of God's love.  When this wrestling connects with someone else, the battle commences between cynic and believer.  The cynic says "coincidence", while the believer is shouting (with relief that the sermon worked) that God is Awesome!  

This past week (July 13 - 19, 2014) I was able to spend the week working at one of my most favorite places on the planet: Gasconade Christian Service Camp.  I taught a class based on the "This" sermon series I preached a couple months back at Red Bridge.  Taking the core concept of "why do we do 'THIS'" and turning it towards the hearts and emotions of teenagers proved to be a challenge, but it was so worth it.  What I enjoyed most was the room I gave myself to be transparent in my own struggles and growth from learning to belief.  Well, the stories from my childhood and teenage years that I shared were just simple, and in my own mind rather trite, examples of how I got it wrong or was fed the wrong things.  The intention was for these short glimpses into my formative years to take the backseat to the powerful message of how Jesus grows in us a heart to love Him and therefore seek Him in all things, especially those we practice with regularity in the Church setting.  However, it became a regular occurrence during our post-class break times that the stories I told were resonating with a few of the campers.  I use the word "resonating" with great emphasis, because what poured from them were tears of "someone they could finally relate to."  I was shocked, and stunned that a few of these campers could never relate to someone like this before, more or less through my rather lame flashbacks in a 30 minute class about the Lord's Supper!!!    

Coincidence?  I think not.  

There are a couple things I'm taking away from this experience at camp, and so often with sermons:  1) God is Big.  And when I say Big, I mean BIG!!  His ways, his thoughts, and his timing are so far beyond anything we can comprehend that it should not surprise us when anything good happens.  His love and mercy connects us so completely that our lives, joys, and struggles cant help but intersect.  Because He Is, the mere idea of coincidence can be thrown out the window.  God is too Awesome to leave things to mere happenstance.  And 2) you are never, ever, EVER alone.  No man, woman, or child is an island.  Period.  We are too connected to the creative majesty of God to assume that what is happening within us is a singularity of thought or event.  Even the smallest, or trite moments of our lives can and will resonate with others because God is too big and loving for us to experience this drab existence outside of heaven alone.  

So join me in squishing the cynic to the side and letting even him revel in the power of God.  

 




July 7, 2014, 9:44 AM

The World Without Us



One of my favorite blogs is the Church and Culture site (link below), written by author, preacher, and theologian James Emery White.  While most of his posts tickle my brain in the good way, the one I'm referencing in the title of this blog and commenting on here has taken hold. The premise he presented was:  "What would the world look like without us?"  This is not an Its a Wonderful Life type question, or even one to aggravate the thoughts of suicide... it is directed at those of us who claim Christ as our King, and attempt to live up to the charge of being The Salt of the Earth.  What would our world look like without us? 

On a global scale, much has been said and proposed what the Earth would look like without human influence and consumption (see the links in the original blog).  In fact, within years, our very memory would be wiped from the land if we were gone.  That seems like a small amount of time to undo what has taken centuries to build.  I wonder, how long would it take to erase the memory of me from the environments I consume everyday?  

Does our influence matter?  Even more so, does our Christ-like influence matter?  Would wrongs go unforgiven if we were removed?  Would justice be unserved if we disappeared?  Is peace possible without us?  I am not so proud to think my influence stretches globally, but I wonder how my sphere of influence would be impacted by my absence (and I'm speaking to those outside my immediate family).  If the offering I contribute to society is so quick to be erased, perhaps the salt I offer just isn't strong enough. 

We are called to be the Salt of the Earth directly, no confusion or misinterpretations can change the direct words of Jesus in Matthew 5... that is not the seasoning type of salt, but the preserving element.  The Earth, without those gifted with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, would rot.  Simply put.  We are sent, commissioned, approved, and empowered to preserve everything that is beautiful and holy on this planet.  

Are we doing as such?  Are we keeping joy fresh?  Does peace ring through our relationships and words?  Are we patient enough to allow God's timing to roll forward?  Do simple acts of kindness flow from our fingertips and those areas we treasure most?  When we respond to the fallen world, are we good and gentle?  As time pulls us apart, in hundreds of directions, are we faithful to the Truth?  Will anger and impulsive anxieties be thrown to the backseat as we exert self control over those outburst that bubble under the surface?  And does love trump the law, every time (it did with Jesus)?  

More than the requisite flowers on my grave site, I want to know that the impact I have on this world is one that preserves and lasts long after the memory of me fades.  

 

Here's the link to the Church and Culture website




June 24, 2014, 9:04 PM

AZ Mission Trip report, day 2



Day two report: we are tired, sunburnt, and we smell a little off. But dinner was fantastic and our time around the table with the 3:18 team is always uplifting and refreshing. 
The work today went well, and we were nicely precise with building the front wall with window and door framed in. The roof is complete and sitting on the ground right in front of the shed. A few of the Apache guys who have worked with 3:18 in years past are going to help us lift and place the roof (needless to say, it weighs A LOT). 
After that we spent about an hour filling water balloons for our time in the park for Bible Club. Bible club is a couple hours we spend teaching a lesson, playing games, doing crafts, and general running around with about 30 children from the neighborhood. The team was great, giving piggyback rides galore and playing catch and jumprope over and over and over. 

Thanks for praying. Keep it up, we have two solid days to come. 




June 23, 2014, 9:00 PM

Day 1 AZ update



It always seems like the first day is the hardest, most tiring, and most sun burning. Today didn't disappoint in that department! We are all tired, and burned. But the work is rewarding and there is a sense of fulfillment when we see a structure standing where none stood before. 

Our first construction task is building a shed for an Apache woman who lost her husband this past January. She wants to keep as many of his things as she can, in turn keeping him close as well.  The current storage she is using is falling apart, leaky, and unstable. 
As we build, in  a community so impoverished and falling apart, it amazes me to see the generosity shown from those with truly nothing to give. Our lunch today was prepared and served to us by the woman we were helping....and it was delicious!  There isn't much work I wouldn't do if the offer of fry bread was on the horizon. Add in beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato and you have an Apache Taco. Amazing. 

Tomorrow we are aiming to complete the shed, needing a roof, door, window, and siding. It's a tall order for one day of work with inexperienced construction workers, but we'll get it done. 

Thanks for supporting us. Pray for the family we are working with, she is still in mourning, being too young to be alone. The shed is a small thing we can help with, being more an extension of the love the 3:18 team has for her than just another outbuilding. 

 




June 16, 2014, 2:00 PM

AZ Mission Trip 2014



On June 21st, a group of 9 from Red Bridge will be heading West on a trip of semi-epic proportions.  We are making the journey to Globe, AZ and San Carlos, AZ to work alongside 3:18 Ministries as they live and serve among the San Carlos Apache Nation.  Culturally, economically, and socially this is at its very core a mission trip similar to that of one to a third world country... All without leaving our borders.  Our country's history, as colorful as freedom is, has not been kind to Native Americans.  No short term mission trip can fix that on its own, but there is no boundary to sharing the love of God no matter the differences in the shades of our melanin.  

3:18 Ministries, specifically Tory and Kara Satter, have been building relationships in Globe and San Carlos under the umbrella of 3:18 for over 10 years now.  Robert and Liz Crews have recently joined the team in Globe.  Their ministry has taken them through the rollercoaster of grown and broken relationships, adoption, heartbreak, and overwhelming joy.  Our goal is simply to partner in those relationships, expressing a compassion and grace to a nation that has received very little.  

Here is a rundown of the specifics of the trip:

Departure from Red Bridge - 6 AM - Saturday, June 21st. -- Arrive in Albuquerque, NM. 

Depart Albuquerque, NM - 9 AM - Sunday, June 22nd --  Arrive in Globe, AZ for Dinner with the Satters and Crews.

On Monday through Thursday we will begin each day with breakfast at the Satter's home and then drive to our worksite on the Reservation.  Each trip, one way, is approximately 20 miles, with the beauty and starkness of the AZ desert lying between the cities of Globe and San Carlos.  The work sites are new homes for families selected by the Tribal Council, through assignment with 3:18.  The materials and supplies are all furnished through the Reservation, and the families are chosen based on need.  The houses we help build, while meager by our standards, can easily be considered luxury in comparison to the living conditions prior for each family. Last year we did finish work (adding trim and painting) on the exterior of two houses.  We dont know yet what we're doing this year, as 3:18 has not received the specifics on projects or funding.  There is a chance we could be laying footings for a new home, or adding the finish work on an existing project.  

We finish up our work around 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon, with a short time of preparation and rest before we head back onto the Reservation for Bible Club.  This is a two hour period spent in a park with neighborhood children.  The hours will be spent on teaching a simple and lasting Bible story (this year is Joseph), making a craft that the children can take home to remind them of the message, snacks (!!), and games.  This time is spent face to face with the modern Native American culture.  The children's homes are often dysfunctional, making our goal a few hours of relief and unconditional acceptance and love.  The big finish and easily the biggest hit of the day is the water balloon launcher (a slingshot that shoots water balloons high in the air, spattering the entire group).  We leave soaked and exhausted.  

Each night concludes with a home-made dinner at the Satter's home, and down time to collect our thoughts (and shower... which are well earned by this point of the evening).  Of course, we cant get to bed too early, so there is typically a rousing game of kickball in the housing church's gym to close out the day.  

As of this writing (Monday at 2:17 pm), we have raised $2500 towards the trip.  Your generosity is amazing and appreciated.  We are very close to reaching our goal, with roughly $1200 more needed to cover the entire trip.  Thank you for showering us with your support, and believing in our efforts.  We covet your prayers for safety, protection, and effectiveness as we travel and serve.  I will try to keep you updated through the church email/facebook/blog pages so you know what we're up to and where we're at in the country during our travels.  

See you on the 29th!!  

Chris and the AZ Team. 

3-18ministries.blogspot.com

Lauren Roberts, Ashley Moore, Grayce Wise, Leila Effertz, Robin Roberts, Chris Wise, Nathan Mushinski, Aaron Mushinski, and Caleb Mushinski.  




June 9, 2014, 10:36 AM

I need this...



Make a list of things you "need."  This could be a fun mental activity, or a potentially devastating moment that exposes our deep-seeded insecurities.  (Boy, that got heavy really quick, didn't it?!).  I start out that way because I just caught myself explaining to an 8 year old why I NEEDED to finish reading an article about the NFL and the football season that is still 3 months away from beginning.  If you're not into sports, or sports analogies, you understand her confusion and insistence for dismissing the content of the article.  If you're a parent you understand that I was distracted from meeting the needs of a child.  If you're into cynicism and reality, you'll see that she just wanted attention for what she thought was important in that moment.  But what I really needed was to finish that compelling article.  

I think its rather apparent how quickly a conversation about "need" can dive into a heart and soul matter.  There are so many voices these days telling us exactly what we need, what we're missing, and what will make us really, really happy.  Commercials are prolific at pointing out those areas in our lives that are lacking.  It only takes 30 seconds for me to be shown just how much my social life is missing while I abstain from social drinking.  Cartoon Network has the privilege of exposing all of the missing links to happiness in our children by using advertising for toys and video games.  Daytime television (talk shows and game shows) are rich with commercials hitting that target audience and pulling at the strings of retirement benefits and health risks.  Spend some time with the Food Network and HGTV and you'll see all the other areas we're missing out on culturally.  

Even when we push media and advertising out of the picture, there are other voices telling us exactly what we need. I remember these sentences and the weight of the "needs" placed on me:  "You need to get a job."  "You need to get better grades so you can get scholarships to go to more school and get more grades so you can get a job."  "You need to avoid these foods."   No, I'm not equating those societal expectations with the drivel of advertising.  But understand that everyone has a picture of exactly what you "need."  There are articles beating down our doors (and news feeds) about things like vaccines, GMO's, the latest and greatest tech advances, the most recent grievances of the government, and so on and so forth.  

Everyone has an idea of what we need and the problem is that we believe them.  All of them.  Well, most of them.  I have trouble balancing my spiritual needs list with my physical needs list.  Everything on my physical needs list equates to making life simpler, convenient, and comfortable.  When I'm addressing those, I'm happy and have everything I need.  But when the Jesus-Informercial comes on (sermon, blog, etc...) I am immediately skeptical about just how much I need what is being peddled.  I treat the latest manual for identifying Christ in my life just like I do those commercials about the stuff that will "instantly transform any surface on your car to BRAND NEW!!!"  Maturity?  That's just a ploy to get me to give more.  Integrity?  That is merely a commercial for honesty and admitting guilt.  Generosity?  You just want me to give something to the poor, right?  I don't need those things... They make life uncomfortable and work in direct opposition to my idea of what life is supposed to be about.

I can't help but see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 - 7 as Jesus' "Needs List for Believers."  He speaks very plainly about the need for maturity and integrity.  "Let your Yes be Yes..."  He tells us about needing transformed hearts, and investing in things where rust, moth, and thief are impotent.  All are in direct opposition to what I think I need.   How can we balance Jesus' needs list with our own?  Simple, we cant. The two cannot coexist.  Within that concept and truth Consumer Christianity and the Prosperity Gospel are exposed to their roots.  Our faith journey has tried to balance itself with the world's imagery of contentment and acceptance.  Remember how quickly The Prayer of Jabez swept through the Christian culture?  It was a wildfire.  All from one obscure line and prayer in the Bible.  It caught fire because it spoke to the need for contentment and comfort in all of us.  It was the spark that has grown into the new-gospel: "God wants you to be happy and blessed and most likely rich."  If those things aren't happening for you, just pray harder, faith more, and believe better which will effectively convince God just how much you NEED that stuff.  

You know what I need?  I need to remember how to trust, despite my cynicism and doubt.  I need to remember how to share.  I need to remember how to pour out integrity and compassion........right after I finish reading that article.  




June 2, 2014, 11:30 AM

God is Bigger Than...



Me.  

You.  

Us.  

My Problems. 

Your Problems.  

My Joys.

Your Joys. 

Cancer.

Divorce. 

Sin. 

Hopelessness. 

If you agree, nod your head vigorously.  If you don't agree, head back into the Bible for a while until you get a clearer picture to the scope of God. I'd suggest Genesis 1:1.  "In the beginning was God..."  

That is pretty much all that is on my mind at this moment.  Seriously, just God Is.  I imagine that was the intent behind his message of "I AM" to Moses and the slaves in Egypt.  Yes, they were in slavery.  Yes, life stunk.  Yes, they were fighting for their very survival breath by breath and moment to moment.  But "I AM."  Thats the message they needed to hear first, last, and forever. 

Whatever has you groaning.  "I AM."  Whatever you think of Church right now,  "I AM."  Whatever is going to happen at work this week,  "I AM."   Whatever...  "I AM."  

 




May 27, 2014, 3:05 PM

A Poor Choice of Words



“Thats a poor choice of words.”   Surprisingly enough, I’ve heard this said to me before.  I know,  you’re shocked.  Another common occurrence with me is when telling a joke in a noisy situation, or in a crowded room…  and when its time for the punchline, which I want to give proper expression and emphasis to, the noise fades and my voice rings loud and clear.  Naturally, every eye locks on me, and boom… embarrassment.  There’s not really a moral to that story, I just wanted you to share in my awkwardness.  

Moving on, I think we have made some poor choices with our use of words.  There is a weight that words carry, and once used, they can hardly be removed.  Randy Harris, in his book God Work - Confessions of a Standup Theologian, offers a glimpse into the power of words and labels.  I will paraphrase here:  If you decide to name your son Bubba, you can be assured he will never rise to the role of Head Curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris.  You may expect great things, but there is a weight to the language you have used in assigning him that moniker.  **

Traversing through our series on “This:” we have looked passively on the weight of the words and labels we have used to describe some of the most influential and important concepts in following Christ.  We have words like Worship and Baptism that are labels to specific things we “DO” as Christians.  And continuing on this line of thinking, there is a danger in assigning those things as words we can throw around as… well, as things.  

“I went to Worship this morning.”  I reply with:  “Thats a poor choice of words.”  When we label what we do on Sunday mornings as “Worship” it allows us to DE-label everything else we do as Worship as well.  Our steps and breath become things we can do outside the realm of worship, as opposed to living and breathing Christ.  Labeling Sunday morning as Worship lets us categorize that hour or so as our Worship for the week, and our thoughts are then given free range the rest of our days.  Its just a poor choice of words.  

The same goes with the idea of changing the tone of Baptism away from Immersion.  That has nothing to do with the process of baptism and everything to do with being covered from head to toe in the character of Christ.   “I was baptized when I was 16.”  Thats what I might tell you when you ask when I became a Christian.  Unfortunately, that phrase is devoid of a proper labeling of the lifelong commitment I’ve made to know and be known by God.  Because if all I have to offer is the date, time, and locale of my baptism to offer as the proof of my dedication to Christ, its just not enough.  Its a poor choice in words.  

My drivers license has all the information you’ll need to know if I can drive a car.  However, it gives you no clear indication of whether I can actually drive a car well enough in traffic.  Sure, the fact that I have a license carries some weight, but it cannot provide you the experience necessary to trust me behind the wheel.  I have to give you something more than just a few words to express that trust from you.  And thats where my story, my life, my outward expressions of a life in Christ make all the difference.  

I’m not going to ask to see your drivers license.  But I may ask to see the character and holiness of Jesus made evident in your words and actions outside the walls of our nifty building.  

**You should read the entirety of his book, its fantastic… I may even let you borrow it, if you promise to be careful with it!!  




May 19, 2014, 11:42 AM

Tying it all together



I have a question.  Actually, I have lots of questions, but thats not for today’s blog.  I have a question for you, the reader:  “What is really worth getting upset about?”  

I will confess that my temper flares more with inanimate objects than with real people and things.  Seriously, I have thrown more screwdrivers and pliers than I’d like to admit because they just didn't work the way they weren't supposed to in the first place.  Yes, you read that right, I get mad at the tool for not doing something it shouldnt do in the first place.  And don't get me started on extension cords.  

<Deep inhale… deep exhale…>  Ok, I’ve calmed down a bit.  

Back to the question now…  What is really worth getting upset about?  I woke up late Saturday night/Sunday morning with a clear-headed, common-sense related revelation:  I wondered why we are so intent on the details and specifics and miss the big picture.  I couldn't wrap my head around why there is so much nitpicking, when the reality of most of our concerns equate to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  

We forget THIS.  We miss the beauty of the forest by picking on one or two trees that are seemingly blocking our path to greater peace and joy.   The THIS in our instance is Jesus; Plain and simple, Jesus.  The Jesus who takes children on his knee when everyone else was shooshing them and pushing them aside so he could deal with the “adult” issues.  The plain and simple Jesus who simply talked with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, not throwing her and her tribe under the bus, but offering peace and comfort in a time when they were being overlooked.  

I wonder if we would be in wonder at the simplicity of Jesus’ ministry, or if we would be on the side of the Pharisees trying to squeeze the law into every act and moment of life.  As we’ve walked through half of our series on “THIS”, we’ve looked at the core of the Lord’s Supper and Worship.  As we rediscover these sacraments, it is startling that the writers of the New Testament were not caught up in the “how” but the “why”.  The “why” was always Jesus.  

The intent for a relationship with Christ is simplicity.  Yes, there are nuances and battles, but the reality is that WE bring the nuances and battles into the relationship.  Jesus brings love and a surprising level of tolerance for our inadequacies and weaknesses.  All the baggage that comes with following Christ is baggage checked at the gate of human expectation.  The Pharisees had regulations, Jesus has forgiveness.  The Pharisees expected perfection, Jesus expects compassion.  

At every turn, within every accusation of blasphemy and deceit to the law, Jesus countered with compassion.  That was his THIS.  Loving people became so much more important than getting everything right.  Compassion trumps law…  EVERY time.  Thats what ties it all together.  Thats why we do THIS.  We have Communion every week because of Jesus.  Plain and Simple.  There is no law that dictates its format, and lets be honest with ourselves, historically that law that we say dictates how its supposed to be done has been interpreted different ways.  We worship because of Jesus.  Plain and Simple.  Because God IS, we offer ourselves to him.  Because God loves us, we respond back.  No law or format can dictate how that happens.  It happens from overjoyed hearts, not check-lists or formatted, scheduled services.  

Back to our original question:  what upsets us?  The law upsets us.  The format upsets us.  The “how” and “why” that we think is important upsets us.  What should upset us is the lost focus of THIS.  When we take our eyes off Jesus and place them on us and “them” we lose THIS.  And THIS is why we do anything at all.  

 




May 12, 2014, 2:09 PM

Its all about This



Lets just start with the ending:  no amount of religious activity will ever replace an insincere heart.  Stories abound in Scripture of people trying to mask the true wishes of their hearts with outward expressions of religiosity.  Saul and his jumping of the gun with the sacrifices he was told to wait on...  Ananias and Sapphira and their generosity-iced greed...  Its almost embarrassing to us to read these accounts of people trying to pull one over on God or the Apostles.  But remember, we have the whole story.  Its easy for us to see them and their futility. Its not so easy to be a witness to our own.  

The Pharisees spent their entire lives creating ritual and rule to mask the lack of spirit.  It became all about the practice of religion that redeemed them, and took the heart of the matter out of the equation.  What is the heart of the equation?  "This."  

In the commercial age of churches and media-fed religion, we've rediscovered the comfort of religious activity.  The more public and vocal, the better.  Its a relief to check that off the weekly "to-do" list and move on with other, more desirable pursuits.  We mask our insincerity for being fully known by Christ and knowing Christ fully with busyness and activity that appears to be energized from a moving spirit of sacrifice and submission.  We like to categorize and compartmentalize our beliefs within the realm of what we've done or not done... For example, today I have not murdered anyone.  BOOM!  Achievement unlocked.  13, 505 days and counting of being right with God.  Everything changes when Jesus brings us to the foot of the cross and asks us to not just be those who dont murder, but to be those with the heart not to be angry.  

We can play the same game with lust, envy, addiction.  Well, I havent stolen anything today...doing pretty good.  When Jesus enters the picture though, everything changes.  The drastic change in expectation and the depth of replacing religious activity with knowing and being known by Christ is painted perfectly in Micah chapter 6.  

6 What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him?
Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?
7 Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?
8 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

The passage begins with the simple question: "What does God want from me?"  Human nature kicks in with the valuation of things, yearling calves... rams and rivers of oil.  This is folly, because no one has this amount to give.  Does God ask that much of us?  Does he ask for the ungiveable?  It gets worse and more absurd when the price of appeasing God makes us all into Abraham offering Isaac.  Is that what God wants?  

No.  Simply put, no.  He wants us to walk with Jesus.  Understand his justice and righteousness and practice that.  He wants us to echo the mercy and grace flowed over us onto those we encounter.  And top that off with the humble nature of Christ.  Not seeking more, more, more of me, but less of me and more of him.  

No sacrifice can satisfy God's desire for a loving heart.  No offering will ever placate him in place of honesty, integrity, and compassion.  He has shown us what is good... He has shown us This.  

 

 




May 5, 2014, 11:13 AM

Whats so extraordinary about the extraordinary?



http://tinyurl.com/mba5opy

Because sometimes we jump.......and fall flat on our faces.  I think Christians, or modern day Jesus seekers, equate extraordinary with perfect.  If we're going to do great things, we have to be great.  While there is a caveat to this that does require excellence and purity in our lives, we cannot ever assume God's expectations of us are really that simple:  Be perfect.....or ELSE!  I read a little section of scripture in my sermon yesterday from Matthew 11: 28 - 30.  Within that section, Jesus talks about his willingness to yolk himself right alongside us.  Yes, we yolk ourselves to Jesus and take his burden on our own shoulders, but the yoking goes both ways.  We choose to join Jesus, and Jesus says "YES!  I'm IN!!!  Lets Do This!"  

The extraordinary life looks a whole lot like real life.  Being yolked with Jesus makes Tuesday mid-morning look a whole lot like the last 37 Tuesday mid-mornings:  Meetings.  Classes that dont seem to end.  Menial tasks in cubicles.  And Jesus is still all-in, yolked right there with us, in our lives that sometimes look anything BUT extraordinary.  

And He Loves It.  

When we take on the burden of Jesus, we bring to the table all our weariness, baggage, guilt, shame, sin, imperfections, attitudes, basically the lump sum of us. Jesus grabs hold of those things and hands us back his burden:  Love.  Love that shows itself in patience and kindness in the face of a world that is anything but to us.  

I know what you're thinking right now:  "patience is not a light burden..."  I know.  But think about that yolk, think about what makes the relationship with Jesus so extraordinary.  He takes OUR burdens off of us.  When two oxen are tied together, the weakness of one is masked by the strength of the two.  Jesus shoulders the burden of our weaknesses, which frees us up to take advantage of our combined strength.  

So if you're fighting to find even a small measure of the extraordinary in your life, things like patience, kindness, removing pride and jealousy... what burden are you shouldering that makes them so difficult to add?  The lack of contentment will make jealousy almost impossible to banish.  Arrogance and the need for recognition or empowerment will make the release of pride and boasting impossible.  Mistreatment of the innocent, or at least the desire to take advantage of others for your own gain will make Justice unattainable.  Sweeping the evidence of your sin under the rug (or under the tent in Aichan's case in Joshua 7) will only make your burden, or adding any of the characteristics of Jesus, unbearable.  

Are we yoking ourselves to the world, our desires, our vision of extraordinary and wondering why following Jesus is just so difficult and time consuming?  If we're attached to the world, then yes, following Jesus is hard.  Are the challenges to live an extraordinary life within our routines just too challenging and time consuming?  Check the other side of your yolk.  I'm betting its not Jesus looking back at you, but the weight of all the baggage we bring along staring us right in the eyes.  

 




April 28, 2014, 2:32 PM

Finding the Extraordinary in the Mundane.



Routine.   

Routine = comfort.  I hate being taken out of my routine.  A lot of us fight actively to maintain our routines.  Why?  Because they make us comfortable, they are calming, they are known.  When things get a little off we respond in kind with stress, crankiness, or engage the environment around us will all the sensitivity of a dental drill.  We are creatures of habit.  I once had a high school teacher (back in my days of assigned seating in the classroom) tell our class that he does not find a need for assigned seating.  He let us choose our seats from day one, never once asking us to return to that seat or arrange ourselves differently.  The crazy thing is, we never changed or switched seats for the entire year.  Every day we all went right to that seat we chose from the beginning.  We like our routines, our habits, the mundane details of our daily existence.  

This shouldnt be blowing anyone's mind.  This is human nature.  This is a part of the story we are living that began with Creation.  It was through his routine, his daily walk through the Garden in the cool of the evening with Adam and Eve that God noticed something off.  It was through his routine travels as a shepherd that Moses was introduced to God's voice in the burning bush.  David was pulled from his routine, to be anointed King, after which he immediately went back to just that.... his routine and his sheep.  The Apostles were found and called from within their daily routines, in the middle of the workday.  

Within these stories I see God doing extraordinary things with those who were doing ordinary things.  Its within those ordinary things though, that we see the beginnings of something extraordinary.  It took Moses 40 years of shepherding to break the control and power Egypt gained over him. Only when he embraced the ordinary life of a shepherd did he hear the voice of God.   Adam and Eve got into trouble when they found themselves unfaithful to the routine, breaking the faithful habits of a life lived in relationship with their Creator.  Trouble found its way in when David was not present with his army in the Spring, when Kings were oft to go to war (you know, shaking off those winter blues with a good old-fashioned battle). Instead, he broke from that routine and found himself staring down into the bathtub of Bathsheba.  

Within our lives, much seems mundane, typical, average, ordinary.  We read the stories of the Apostles and find ourselves watching these men to amazing things, make awesome commitments, and flip the world on its head.  That is extraordinary.  And we just cant relate or keep up with them.  However, we never would have gotten their story if they were unfaithful in their routine, in the mundane, average, and ordinary.  It is within that routine of their lives that we find the makeup of true disciples.  Within the mundane we learn who Peter really is, and how we can grow into a leader.  In the habits of James and John we see what makes them so passionate.  It is within Matthew's routine that he encounters Jesus, and is never the same again.

When we think about the great things we should be doing for the Kingdom of God, its easy to be swept away with the enormity of Salvation, repentance, and sin.  Its easy to find ourselves caught in battles only with those high-profile sins and habits that get a lot of attention (addiction, lying, murder, etc...), and even easier to find ourselves oblivious to the routines in which we are "stuck" in every day.  Are we finding God and his calling in the mundane areas of our lives?  Are we hearing his voice in the ordinary?  Its the mundane details of our lives that make up most of our identity, isnt it?  Work.  School.  Our Commute.  Traffic.    

Are we faithful there, so we can be called to something greater?  When we do become faithful in the mundane, places like the grocery store, gas station, and office cubicle become more than areas of routine.  They become places where God thrives!  God's voice is calling out among the noises around us.  He is reaching out for us in the relationships that only exist because of our routines.  The extraordinary is ready to happen...  but only if we show ourselves faithful in the ordinary.  

 

 




April 21, 2014, 11:42 AM

Lost among the hurt and misunderstanding



I can see the hurt in Mary's eyes when she turns away from the tomb.  I can see the confusion and frustration in Peter's face when he turns back home after seeing the empty tomb.  I hear the broken hope in the voices of the disciples on their way back to Emmaus, when they gave up and decided the past three years were good, but now gone.  I can even hear the desperation in Judas' screams as he tries to take back a mistake.  

How can I see/hear these things?  Because I own a mirror.  Because I read emails and letters.  Because I have an office that is sometimes used for counseling, or just sounding off.  Because I have ears and eyes.  But mostly because I work with people.  People trying to find hope and a path in a world that is very, very messy.  

Its easy (relatively) to speak, write, teach, and preach about the Resurrection because it doesnt involve the nastier details of the prior weekend.  Its a simpler sermon to preach because it brings hope, and we get to talk about stories of reconciliation and healing (Peter is exhibit A/1).  Jesus' words after the Resurrection often start with "Peace be with you..." and not admonishments or rebukes.  The Resurrection brings everything Jesus taught into a reality not felt prior to his death.  "Oh... THATS what he meant!!! I GET IT NOW!!!"

And yet we still see the hurt, hear the confusion, and lose hope.  

Things arent going to go our way.  And thats confusing to us when we just know we're doing the right thing.  We are going to be misunderstood by those who dont get it, or who dont understand how we process this world.  We are going to be pushed into boxes that will confine us, and make us feel either powerless or hopeless.  Sometimes we are going to be the ones who blind ourselves.  Forgiveness will elude us.  Peace will abandon us.  Compassion and generosity will be lost among the more familiar emotions and passions of our souls.  In other words: we will miss the Resurrection.  

The Resurrection brings a burden to those of us who believe, and we just cant seem to balance this burden with the one taken from us on the Cross.  With the cross we are relieved of our sin, guilt, and old self.  With a risen Savior we must have answers to the hard questions ("Do You Love Me?") and we must respond accordingly.  The Cross changes us... the Resurrection expects us to grow.  Change is difficult, Growth feels like Mission:Impossible.  Before the Resurrection, Peter and Mary were changed.  They were confronted with either forging ahead without Jesus, or returning to the way things were.  I'm going to guess by the fishing and bag of spices that they hadnt quite worked out the "ahead" part, and were opting to rejoin what was known and comfortable.  

When they come face to face with the risen Jesus, they were moved past the decisions of change and it became about who they were going to grow into becoming.  For Peter is was growing out of the foot-shaped mouth and into the leader of the Jerusalem Church.   

Change is easy, growth is hard.  Change happens overnight, or even right in front of our eyes.  Watch Mary's eyes opened with hope and understanding at the mention of her name.  See the fear in Peter's eyes when he is told to "Feed My Sheep."  Change happens quickly, growth takes time.  Sometimes forgiveness and reconciliation takes years, generations even.  Should we abandon hope? No, if we do we will have missed the Resurrection.  Difficulties will stall us at what feels like the starting line.  Should we give up the race?  No, if we do we will have missed the Resurrection.  People will treat us unfairly.  Friends will leave us.  Mentors will disappoint us.  The world will misinterpret us.  Should we give up or just head back to the fishing boat?  

No.  We dont want to miss the Resurrection.  

 




April 14, 2014, 11:53 AM

There's Money in the Tax Booth.



I dont want to make this into a silly competition, but my tax booth is WAY bigger than your tax booth.  Really.  Folks, I get paid to do this.  You have to (well, you dont really HAVE to) listen to me preach and write about all of the things you're supposed to do, then do them in your free time during the week.  And even with the way things work in this relationship, I think I've got more excuses than anyone else as to why I'm not available to display the Christ-like characteristics in my every day life than anyone else.  Its backwards.  For the non-paid ministry peoples (99% of you), free time is when you finally get to take a break from thinking about all of things you HAVE to do and finally get to think about the things you WANT to do.  I enter the scene with my nasally voice asking you to spend that valuable free time doing more stuff you HAVE to do. Sigh.  Does it ever end?

Its no wonder we're so good at making excuses.  

I wish Matthew (Levi) would have at least offered one or two excuses why he couldnt leave his tax booth.  I'd feel much better about preaching his story if he gave us a couple good one liners.  Nathaniel at least gives us a snarky comment to begin his calling.  Levi just walks away.  Ok, so he doesnt just walk away, he walks away and invites Jesus over to his house for a lavish and expensive party/meal.  All this without one word of explanation to anyone why he's leaving the tax business.  Not one letter of resignation to the Roman Officials he was responsible to.  And not one word or excuse to Jesus about there being money in the "tax booth" business and ZERO money in the "following Jesus" business.  Talk about showing availability.  

If anyone earned the "right" to make an excuse it was Levi.  Seriously, Peter left fish to follow Jesus.  "So I leave the pole here?"  "No, You can bring the pole."   Yes there were family issues, but we see Peter's house and visit his home multiple times in the three year journey.  I dont recall ever hearing about Levi's home or visitations.  He walked away from everything.  Thats availability.  

That level of availability is the lesson I pull from the life of Levi.  He becomes available to hearing Jesus call him.  He changes his behavior.  He adjusts his allegiance.  Earning potential is disregarded.  I'm not sure how it worked, but I cannot imagine the divorce rate from Roman taxation being very high.  These booths were franchises, set up by the Roman governors to keep the revenue flowing in.  There was always money in the tax booth.  Levi walked away from obligation and into a potentially dangerous realm of desertion.  There were people who's pockets would get a little less fat when he quit padding them with a little extra here and there.  I've seen how that story ends (not directly of course, but in movies which are the next best thing to reality).  

And there is not one excuse to be heard.  

Are we showing ourselves available to the voice of Jesus?  I imagine we hear him loud and clear... because we are all familiar with that beauty of a feeling called "GUILT."  We know what we're being called to do, and yet we have an excuse ready to go to prove just how unavailable we are.  The biggest issue I have with our society's level of unavailability is the fact that we're not being called out of our tax booths at all.  We're simply being called into characteristics that should meld seamlessly with our souls and everyday lives.  

Forgiveness is not a full time occupational change.  Its a characteristic of a person showing themselves available to the mercy of Christ.  But there's an excuse for that.  

Generosity is not an occupation choice.  Its a piece of who we are, often becoming something we can do more of the more we actually work and earn.  But there's an excuse for that.  

We're very good at being unavailable.  We've got these tax booths after all that need our attention and investment.  And when we are occupying our tax booths, we become unavailable to those things we MUST be doing.  This past week I called our congregation to physically write down the things the would be available to do this week.......and it was beautiful.  Tax booths are being walked away from as I write this on Monday morning. 

What tax booth has your attention, time, resources, and needs walked away from this week?  It may be a broken relationship that needs pride removed and grace inserted.  It might be a wrong from decades past that has been allowed to camp out, unforgiven and not forgotten.  It may in fact be a habit that has turned itself into a sin that is keeping you locked away from the healing mercy of Christ.  

We all have those franchises that we think need kept up, or kept secret, and that keep us unavailable.  But there is amazing news:  Jesus went right from calling Levi out of his very own booth and walked into his home to eat with him.  Jesus walked right into Levi's mess and loved him, and his friends.  Yep, Tax Collectors and Sinners were welcome to the table with Jesus.  

Levi became available from that moment on to the voice and tender burden of Jesus.  What is keeping us chained to our booths this week?  The money?  The pride?  Safety and Assurance?  Or all of the above?    

 

 

 




April 7, 2014, 4:10 PM

The debate: to blow stuff up, or be the one who gets blowed up?



So who would you rather be:  Peter or James/John?  

We're talking pre-Pentacost apostles here... James and John with the power to rain fire down on a Samarian village, and Peter with the edge on being the punch line of Jesus' most pointed teaching.  It sounds like a rather obvious choice doesnt it?  James and John embody everything that we envision in ourselves as Christians in our current culture.  Bold.  Powerful.  Passionate.  And nearly always Right.  

Peter on the other hand was nearly always wrong, or at least on the wrong side of the "moral of the story is..."  He gets publicly lambasted as "satan", his faith gets pointed out as weak, and he ultimately opens his mouth at the worst possible time declaring promises he would never keep.  That is FAR from where we envision ourselves in our tribes these days, isnt it!  

Think about this, and bear with me for a second as this may get uncomfortable, we've turned Christianity into one big protest.  We're against this; We're FOR that; we believe in this; and expect you to respect our rights to that.  And lo and behold, if the world doesnt recognize us and validate our opinions, we are ready to wipe them off the map in a holy rain of fire that they will never forget.  Yep, sounds a lot like what James and John were ready to do with that town in Samaria that wouldnt provide housing and food for a flock of Jews cutting through their territory on their way away from Mount Garazim (where the Samaritans at least hoped Jesus would acknowledge was sort of a legit worshipping place) and into the den of cultural and genetic prejudice and hate in Jerusalem.  Yes, they were totally in the wrong and deserved that fiery rain.  

I say a lot of that tongue-in-cheek, and with a sardonic tone to my voice (of which you cannot hear... well, I'm not even speaking it audibly, but I hope you picked it up).  Tie that James and John attitude to today and just watch when our Christian bubbles get pushed on a little bit by a wicked world.  Facebook explodes with fiery raindrops; articles are written decrying a world that wants to be heard but doesnt want to hear US!!  Thats the whole point of the world, folks.  They dont know Christ.  They dont know compassion in the form of a man laying his life down on the cross, bearing everyone's sin.  Why do we expect anything more from them?  Oh yeah, its the Sons of Thunder complex we've got.  We sing songs about Mansions Just Over the Hilltop and Crystal Seas and crowns we'll earn when we lay down our trophies at last.  We hear all about the rewards we'll earn (and think we deserve) and forget the point of the whole matter.  Reread Matthew 19, in which Jesus speaks to his disciples of Thrones and honor, only to remind them that the whole point of those thrones and that honor is to lift up those without either in this world.  

Jesus calls us to lay our lives on the line for the sake of Love.  We're not going to be martyrs, but there are much more painful things we could lose:  reputation, comfort, wealth, pride.  Thats what James and John were facing when that village shut their doors.  And instead of realizing that a fallen world doesn't react like we want it to, they figured it deserved to be shamed, destroyed, publicly decried for just not getting what Jesus was all about.  Silly Samaritans, how dare you.  

Then there is Peter.  Oddly quiet during that encounter in Luke 9.  Personally, I think he’s a little relieved that someone else said was he was thinking and got rebuked for it for a change!  

Move ahead a few weeks, years, and maybe a decade or two…  James is dead, killed by Herod.  John is writing, and so is Peter.  They’ve witnessed something horrible, followed by countless instances of the miraculous.  Often the miraculous occurred by their own hands.  They’re changed men.  John speaks of Love, and how the outward expression of love must be the defining characteristic of a Believer.  Peter is breaking down walls with Gentiles of all people.  He still speaks boldly, and he has faced abuse and prison because of it.  Neither of them are the same as they were when walking alongside Jesus.  

Why?  

Because they witnessed something in the Garden that rocked every bit of self-esteem and pride they held so dear:  “Your Will, Not Mine.”  

Because they saw the power to wipe out a nation (the world even) being arrested, beaten, spit on, then ultimately hung on a rough piece of wood.  He was conscious enough to know exactly what was happening, and conscious enough to do something about it……..but he didnt.  They saw submission.  Not just to authorities or someone stronger, but submission born out of love and compassion.  

They witnessed Jesus rising and speaking to his friends, those who ran and deserted him, as friends.  Instructing them, loving them, feeding them… and even loving Peter back into the fold with quiet questions.  

They were changed by Love.  They were changed by what we’re calling the “Extra” in our current series.  And when the “Extra” was added to their ordinary, we find ourselves looking at Disciples.  

What has changed you?  Sure, we know about baptism and repentance.  But has that really changed anything?  We’ve grown up being told to chase the American Dream…….. and we still are.  There’s nothing wrong with freedom and justice, but when it comes at the expense of morals, integrity, generosity, and compassion… we’ve lost our way and turned ourselves into Sons of Thunder, ready to bash anything that gets in our way. 

What defines us?  Our opinions?  Our Wallets?  Or the extent to which we will go to love someone who probably is never going to deserve it?  

I want to be like Peter.  I want my pride to be all blowed up.  I need my life broken to the core by Jesus, so that I can rise from the ashes of what I want and find myself wanting only Christ, and making Him known.  

Yes, I’d rather earn the nickname “Rock” than “Son of Thunder”.  What about you? 


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