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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?    

 

 

 


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