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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?  


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