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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.  

 


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