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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? 




March 31, 2014, 11:43 AM

Why the Andrew costume is so dusty and forgotten...



Imagine standing between Peter and John whenever Jesus was speaking, or asking questions, or doing anything directed towards the apostles.  We know Peter's personality, and we get a peak at Johns ("the disciple Jesus loved...."  sigh), and I wonder just what level of fun it was being sandwiched between those two.  Into the picture steps Andrew.  He is the one disciple always grouped closest to Jesus, but seemingly always pushed out when Jesus wanted his closest friends with him.  

Why was he there?  He is always listed near the top, and was the first to be called into discipleship with Jesus.  I think he's there because of this one crazy concept that haunts every church today:  Unity.  Or maybe we need to make it more about sanity than just unity.  Among the brashness of Peter, the ego of John, the thunderous nature of both James and John, the political activism of Simon the Zealot, and the Roman apologist of Matthew the Tax Collector we have the calming and unifying presence of Andrew.  

And thats why Unity (sanity) is so hard.  

No one ever picks Andrew as the apostle they want to be in the classroom skit.  He doesnt have any of the good parts.  He simply stands there next to Peter (who has ALL the good lines).  The big moment is introducing Peter to Jesus, then pointing out the young man with the 5 loaves and 2 fish.  When we play Church, too many claim the roles of Peter and John and leave the role of Andrew to collect dust with the other costumes in the drama closet.  (He's stuck in the box with Boaz, Old Samuel, Aaron, James the Less, and the Ethiopian Eunuch).  

This is not a preacher telling congregants/parishioners to suck it up and do/give more.  This is an observation from a study into the apostles, and the simple truth that we dont ever hear Andrew gripe or complain about his role or exclusion from those pivotal moments shared with the Inner Three.  We simply get him painting a picture of unity (sanity) by connecting people with Jesus and not getting caught up with all the hoopla.  He emphasizes what is most important (getting people to Jesus) and lets others wrestle with the silly things (who will sit at your Right hand Jesus?).  He understands that Jesus is the X-Factor for making ordinary things extraordinary.  

All of this is done from the background, from behind the curtain, where things seem to really matter to Jesus.  Salvation came to Zacchaeus at home, when confession and repentance was done in the presence of Jesus alone.  We have to assume that the fruit of that repentance made itself known quietly through new-found humility and generosity from Zach's tax booth.  When tears were used to wash Jesus' feet, when perfume was "wasted" on anointing Jesus at a party (among sinners, no less), and when a sister is rebuked for missing the point...  its in those moments that we find the characteristics of Andrew coming into the light, displayed by Jesus.  

 This is where Unity (sanity) is cultivated.  The media or Hollywood cannot be the fuel for our country's revival.  Mega-Churches are not the soil where revival is born.  Those places are the playground for Peter and John.  And while important and powerful places for discussion and action, revival has its roots in much more humble places:  our homes;  our schools; in line at Walmart when you're in a terrible rush; at work when the boss is being a nincompoop.  When we display our desire for the character of Jesus to be on display in our lives, we can slip into the background.  When our words bring comfort and peace, and do not add fuel to the fire, we let Andrew speak.  When our presence takes tension down a few notches and not up, towards the boiling point, we are Andrew.  I wish we got to see more of Andrew in the Gospels.  Wait, I just wish I got to see more of Andrew when I look in the mirror.  I'm too busy trying to get my fake beard to look more like Peter's.  

 

 




March 24, 2014, 11:26 AM

Typical



The Status Quo.  

Ordinary. 

Mediocre. 

Right down the Middle. 

 

Be honest, none of those models of operating are getting it done.  We will not accept mediocrity from others, why do we find it acceptable from ourselves?  If your server at a restaurant is mediocre, you make your frustration clear in the size of the tip you leave.  If a Doctor's care is ordinary, we see a second opinion.   If all that our lives have to offer our neighborhood, schools, or workplaces is only the status quo, the ordinary, or any level of mediocre response to the amazing presence of God in our lives, they are going to look elsewhere (if they continue to look at all).

When Jesus chose the apostles, the people he kept closest to him during that 3 year assault on everything "ordinary", he understood that ordinary or mediocre wasnt going to cut it.  Here's where we find hope in that:  he took ordinary folks and made them extraordinary, not the other way around.  Jesus could have sought out the best, most popular, and prettiest folks to be his Plan A.  Instead he intentionally picked the fallible, weak, and unknown.  If that doesnt give you hope, we need to check out egos at the door.  We are fallible, weak, and unknown.  We dont garner tv time with our opinions.  We are not being photographed doing inane things like taking out the trash.  We are known by those around us, those that we have let into our sphere of influence.  Other than that, the world passes us by without as much as a blink.  

And Jesus is perfectly fine with that.  Are you?  

While seeking promotion and wealth are encouraged from day 1, Jesus asks for us to seek humility and faithfulness from day 1.  Think about it, if you are seeking promotion and wealth, what differentiates you from the rest of society?  Nothing.  But seeking God, seeking first His Kingdom takes us to a whole different level of success and notoriety.  Once Peter got that, he became the undeniable leader of the expanding First Century Church.  Until that moment, he struggled with pride and the desire to be greater in the eyes of the world.  

Are we ready to break the spell of the typical?  

 

 

 




March 17, 2014, 10:23 AM

The Lent Equation.



To start: I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic.  While my heritage is just as conservative and regimented, I have never been subject to Latin verse or ornate robes (a real bummer).  In fact, growing up if anything was even remotely related to Catholicism, it was immediately deemed wrong and to be avoided.  Except Fat Tuesday, we always celebrated that one for some reason......  However for the rest of the events around that time (Ash Wednesday, Lent, Friday Fish Fry, etc...) I was taught and accepted the practice of thinking less of people for participating, actually wondering how they thought they were pleasing God by participating in these archaic and doctrinally wrong practices.  I can recall a specific individual praying directly against those practices in multiple church services I sat through growing up.  It has taken decades of tedious work by God on my heart to finally break through that shell of prejudice and shortsightedness to finally begin to see the beauty and dedication behind a simple marking of Ash on a forehead and 40 days of purposeful fasting.  

Indeed, I have come to accept and appreciate the pageantry of these acts of worship, fancy robes and all.  Will they ever show themselves in our tribe?  Probably not, and thats ok.  But that doesnt stop me (or us) from appreciating the beauty of a heart pointing itself towards God and the sacrifice of Jesus whether or not its got our doctrinal stamp of approval.  Its the facebooky thing to do this time of year to proudly post your chosen sacrifice for Lent...  Ironically, one of the most popular is fasting from facebook itself.  <The addiction of social media, and the fact that it has wormed its way into our consciousness and habits like the dreaded midnight binge of mint chocolate chip ice cream drowned in chocolate syrup is a topic for another long post...>  I havent given anything up for Lent in years, and much like my attitude from younger days, I find myself looking down on people who have.   Sure, there are some people who do something very honorable and give up things that will actually make life harder for the 40 days, but most of the offerings to Lent are pithy, minute offerings that have no weight to them.  And I walk right back into my judges chair, gavel in hand and start condemning these offerings in the name of my religion.  Its a vicious cycle that I cannot seem to break. Perhaps I should have thought to give up cynicism for Lent? 

To finally get to a point:  Lent is important.  Its important because it brings the suffering of Christ into our reality, out of the ethereal world in which we habitually contain it.  Even if its only for 40 days, pointing our hearts towards Jesus and seeing even a portion of his earthly battle realized in us is a valuable exercise in faith.  Those stories we preach about, and teach our children every Sunday are dangerously close to becoming simply that... stories. Some of them we treat like they're straight from the Brothers Grimm and only use to teach moral chastisement on children while ignoring them ourselves.  Zacchaeus?  We have left him in the realm of fable, being just a short man who wanted to see Jesus.  We've forgotten the words of Jesus declaring "Salvation has come to this house today..." ONLY after Zach promises to deplete his own fortune (4 times every cent he's stolen!!!), repent of his greed, and embrace the poverty of honesty.  Thats not just a story for children, its a relevant tale modeled for our societal propensity for greed and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  When these stories become our reality, we begin to see the powerful need for things like Lent, fasting, and the Cross.  

Here's my Lent Equation: Him > Me.  Less of me, More of Him.    

There doesnt need to be any stamp of approval or pageantry to  make that equation valuable to your life.  Whether you spend 40 days each Spring honoring the suffering of Jesus, or you do it one day a week in every season, Less of Me and More of Him is an equation that applies at all times. Here's where I really dont like the Lent equation:  when I'm called out to give more.  Thats not a new equation, (i.e. More of Me...), its me being willing to give up those things I wish I had more of (time, money, even joy and happiness).  Am I willingly offering of myself to the betterment and relief of others?  Less of Me means I hold my tongue.  Less of Me means patience.  Less of Me...  

What is your Lent Equation?  




March 10, 2014, 10:59 AM

A Unicorn, A Pelican, A Crocodile's Entrails, and the Plants in My Office...



Yesterday (3/9/14) was a treat.  We got to hear and experience the beauty of music from a gifted group of singers (Harding's Chamber Singers).  I'm not an expert in music, nor can I identify the specific complexities of what made the arrangements and parts so beautiful.  What I can identify is the emotional beauty and connect I had with dynamic voices united to glorify God.  It was outstanding.  If you missed it, I'm sorry for all the adjectives I've just thrown out about the event, you missed out for sure!  

One of the songs presented by the Chamber Singers stuck with me long after it's closing notes, and unfortunately it is not because of the beauty of the composition or its performance.  Dr. Kelly Neill introduced the song, Unicornis Captivatur​, as a song that displayed the ability of certain monks to see the glory of God in everything from fantasy and those imaginative places we create to the harsher realities of real life.  Having the emotional depth of a middle school boy, I couldnt help but giggle at the lyrics.  I mean, how cool is it that this group was singing a beautiful composition that included the words: "The hydra enters the crocodile, Deprives it of its entrails, kills it, then comes back alive"?!!!  It doesnt need to be said that this was my favorite moment of the concert!  Apparently, Latin makes even the guts of a large reptile sound beautiful.  

Silliness and grossness aside, what struck me was the chorus that planted itself between each of the verses.  "Sing Alleluia..."  Crying out praises to God who is the victorious lion! The composer of this work echoes the profound nature of those that seek God, seek to praise God, and ultimately see the Glory of God everywhere.  Much like the plants in my office who stretch themselves with every fiber of their being to reach the sunlight streaming through the window.  

I love having plants in my office.  I dont know why, as I typically avoid having plants at home, nor have I ever shown a propensity for gardening. Currently I have two plants, both simple shades of green and of your average house plant variety.  They show no dynamic characteristics other than those shown by every other house plant in front of every other window.  Yet I find in these two normal plants something extraordinary.  They reach for the sun.  While they do what all plants do: growing, pushing deeper into the soil, establishing a root-base, and turning my hot air into breathable O2, they are always stretching South.  I've turned them around so they dont lean one direction and grow crooked, but to no avail.  No matter which way I turn the pots, the plants lean toward the window... always.  

Here's the lesson I'm drawing from all of these caveats:  in the midst of everything are we stretching ourselves towards God?  While the Unicorn is captured, or while we hunt down that elusive state known as financial security, are we stretching with arms wide proclaiming Alleluia?  While we work tirelessly to establish ourselves in this world are we stretching our hearts to God with his praises on our lips? 

I fear we only reach out casually in whispers of Alleluia.  The fantasies of life distract us to the point that we forget the true source of contentment and fulfillment.  We reach out with extended arms for the joy of reputation and security in the fleeting comforts the world has to offer.  We cry Alleluia at the appropriate and scheduled times, when our voices are drowned out by the bustle of the crowd around us doing the same thing.  In everything, we must be crying and shouting Alleluia.  Because the Lion of Judah has been victorious over sin and death.  

I'm thankful I've never had to experience the entrails of a crocodile up-close-and-personal.  Hopefully if that day ever comes, I can do so with the cry of Alleluia on my heart and lips... Because God is there, wrapping himself around me.  




February 24, 2014, 9:28 AM

Face to Face



I've had a line from one of the songs we sung yesterday (2/23/14) running on loop in my head the past 20 hours or so (Thanks Reuben!!).  Its from the song Faithful Love, and in the chorus we sing:  "I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is his name."    A song stuck in one's head is not something to sneeze about, more or less write an entire essay on...  Its all the other stuff thats been engaging my brain this weekend that makes this line pop to the forefront.  

In my daily travels through blogs, commentaries, and outposts on Faith, Ministry, and Theology, I've run across a scathing set of articles written against a mega-church pastor who has skirted our newsfeeds recently for a particularly extravagant house purchase/financial decision.  Dont worry, I'm not going to add to the fodder, I merely want to explain the convoluted thought process in my brain.  I started along this path because one of the articles dealt with children, and the messages being presented to the children of that church.  The message is "We trust Pastor _______ and the vision God gave him, completely." Now, on the surface this looks harmless and like a way to build support and trust in the leadership.  The problem became when the message was delivered in a coloring book to the children's ministry featuring only pictures of Pastor _______ and The Code (their church's vision elements), and looked more like brainwashing than innocent coloring-in-the-lines!  

Through all of these ramblings and alarm bells going off in my head, I was still singing that line from Faithful Love.  What does Jesus look like?  Where have I seen him face to face in display of love?  Is it in this young and upcoming Pastor _______ who is obviously a charismatic and influential leader?  Is it in the face of the preacher on television who has thousands and tens of thousands of supporters who follow him unquestioningly?  If thats where I'm to see the face of Jesus, why doesnt my heart leap every time I hear their voices?  Why dont I throw my money at the television when they ask for more, more, more?  Why do I hear alarm bells going off every time I hear the term "New York Times Best Selling Author of _________" when they're introduced?  

I think its because I'm looking for the face of Jesus in the wrong place.  I read another blog on Sunday morning that not only had a different set of alarm bells going off in my head, it had pictures of diseased people that made me want to scroll even faster through to the end of the webpage.  It spoke of a Western civilization criminal imprisoned in a third world country.  This man was incarcerated for a minimal period of time, however the prison in which he served his time was also the permanent home of the outcasts of society.  These outcasts were not fellow criminals, they were lepers.  In what was the ultimate form of culture shock, the man was forced to live his daily prison routine among those who were given sanctum in this prison because they were shunned from every other place.  

This seemed to those charged with punishing his crimes, fitting for the white-collar character of this man and for his white-collar crimes on the poor and destitute.  They were right.  He felt as though he was being tortured and punished far beyond the scope of his crime and tried his best to avoid any and all contact with these pariahs.  Eventually though, he found himself being befriended by and in turn befriending a woman who was disfigured, crippled, and ravaged by disease.  He described later what he had found in the face and eyes of this woman:  Jesus.  After weeks of avoiding his fellow "inmates" he began to see them differently.  In their gnarled hands he found solace and comfort, more so than he ever found in holding the smooth hands of women he sought so eagerly in the past.   When cleaning their wounds he found peace, a peace far beyond anything money could have provided.  

What this man found was the face of Jesus.  And Jesus didnt look anything like me, you, or the young mega-church pastor who claimed to be the next best thing to hearing from Jesus himself.  Jesus looked like someone I would shield my children from if we encountered them on the street.  Jesus looks like someone who didnt take a hot shower this morning before putting on freshly washed and ironed clothes.  Jesus looked like the people Jesus himself said were the most important in Matthew 25: 31 - 46.  What was the ultimate in revelation for the man imprisoned, is that he found himself looking like Jesus to his fellow inmates.  Yes, Jesus began to look a lot like a white-collar criminal who was guilty of taking money from those who had little to none to take.  When he touched them without flinching, he looked like Jesus.  When he helped them walk just a few steps closer to the well, he looked like Jesus.  When he picked them up out of the dirt, brushed them off, and placed them back in their ramshackle cots, he looked like Jesus.

And that scares me.  It scares me because I dont look anything like Jesus. 

The man, once released from his incarceration and free to resume his life, found himself longing to remain with his friends.  He saw Jesus face to face, and was forever changed.  Needless to say, he did not resume a life of white-collar crime.  He came home and began looking for the face of Jesus at home, in the faces of executives and CEO's, the homeless, the affluent, and the destitute.  When he looked for Jesus, he found him... and When he found him, he began to look like him.  

I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is his name.  I just wish I saw him staring back at me when I look in the mirror.  

 

 




February 17, 2014, 2:34 PM

Limited time offer, act now before it's too late.



I'm "home" at this moment in Detroit and its part of the nature of the beast that when visiting with my parents I assimilate into their routines a bit. One of those routines is the old school television shows on for most of the morning. Today it was Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger back to back.  This post isn't about those shows, but, boy, the drama sure does play out differently in the happy land of black and white.  I'm writing today because I happened to get caught up watching the commercials. 

They are, in my opinion, more poisonous and greedy than any offering we get during our prime time programming.  Yes, we can complain about the immorality and scandalous nature of the images we see, but they are NOTHING to the targeting and manipulation of your daytime, old folk, medicated crowd. 
The commercials are an intended marketing to the gullible or the desperate. 

To the observant, that appears to be just what it is: marketing to the gullible and desperate. I could see through the flashing letters, the "heartfelt testimonies", and the call-now, limited time offer urgency. It's a baiting tactic to create a lack of security and confidence that only "they" or their product can provide. 

  • If you or someone you love have ever gotten sick from something, there is probably a lawsuit you can be a part of and profit. Just call. 
  • If you're on Medicare, you can get them to pay for everything you don't need. 
  • If you're on this prescription, you are eligible for another medication that will fix all the problems the first one caused. It's a vicious, money making cycle. 

And that was just ONE commercial break. One. There are at least three during each thirty minute program. 

To the unobservant, it looks like they really, really care about your well being and will only be able to help if you CALL NOW!!! I'll admit, that cane that stands on its own and can adjust to whatever terrain you're on, looks pretty sweet. 

My imagination ran, as you expect it to, to the church. 
For lack of a better term, we are a commercial for our faith, for our salvation, for our level of faith. We provide the world a window into our very own moral system, and to what extent we think our product will help to the casual observer.  Within each commercial break, we are provided the opportunity to showcase what we've got.  Are you selling something that creates an urgency? Or are we one of those commercials that is dismissed immediately because of its ridiculous and "crafted" nature? 

 When given the opportunity (things stink, or take a sudden and unexpected turn) how do we approach those who have not chosen our path? Meaning, are we trying to sell them a faith that looks like it solves everything, while holding back the reality behind what we're selling: we don't really believe in its effectiveness either.  There is a danger to saying Jesus is the fix-all solution and then showcasing just how much we doubt that after the commercial break ends.  We need to be buyers and sellers of the same product we use on a daily basis. 

Perhaps it is because we are selling, most often unknowingly, a half-hearted faith that speaks about its effectiveness but the reality is far from it's intended practical and daily use. The commercials the church could make would look nice and orderly, much like our Sunday services, but the reality of most lives would speak to another message all together: we don't really believe most of this stuff either. Sustenance and reliance in God makes a great song, but looks really hard and impractical outside the walls of the church. 

Church, it's time for some truth in advertising. And that means we don't just make better commercials, it means we back up the commercials we've already made. 




February 10, 2014, 2:48 PM

Unlikely heroes.



It takes quite a laundry list of characteristics to be considered the hero.  I remember once, while working the bus ministry as a teenager I happened to be in the right place at the right time as the bus had to hit the brakes sharply.  In that fraction of a second I reached out and grabbed a young'n who was in the aisle and stopped him from flying forward into who knows what calamity (we werent going very fast at all).  Well, it must have looked worse than it really was because after we regained our footing, Matt, one of the adults working on the bus with me made the statement:  "you're a hero."  He meant it wholeheartedly, and meant to honor me for reaching out and making sure the young rider wasnt hurt.  I heard him say it and thought "nope, I am most definitely NOT a hero. In fact, I didnt really do anything at all except stop myself from falling over.  The kid was part of holding me up."  Of course, reveling in the glow of the glory being heaped on me, I never spoke up against his account and my story was regaled upon others as soon as we arrived at the church.  

As it all blew out of proportion, I felt even more self conscious about how much the hero I wasnt, and it actually hurt my self esteem more than it benefited me.  It took a good long time and a lot of reading to understand that who I am and the characteristics I have are enough for someone to genuinely consider me a hero.  Yes, its God who thinks I'm a hero (and you too), which oddly enough makes it even harder to believe sometimes.  Its like asking your mom if the picture you drew is good or not.  It may be the worst looking, poorest drawn horse she has ever been forced to witness, but she is going to say its the best purple and pink-spotted horse she's ever seen.  God's the same way, but not in the patronizing way, in the trusting and believing sort of way.  

Look back at the people HE CHOSE to be the heroes of our favorite Bible stories: Noah.  Now, yes, Noah was an exemplary human and faithful to the core.  So much so that God saw him as the ONLY faithful human on the planet.  Noah did some amazing things, its after the flood that we find anything really to criticize or draw his resume into question.  He wants to get drunk.  He wants to get drunk so much that he plants an vineyard, waits to harvest it, then makes wine from what he has harvested, gets drunk in a cave, passes out naked and ends up cursing one of his sons.  That as premeditated of sin as I've ever seen.  Talk about perseverance though...  

Abraham lied, blatantly lied to protect his own skin while putting his wife in harms way.  Isaac deceives Abimelech, and plays favorites with his sons.  So much so that he creates a rift in their relationship that results in treachery.  Jacob is a scoundrel.  Moses was impulsive, and on multiple occasions was ready to throw in the towel on the promised people.  Aaron lead the people in worshipping the golden calf, then brazenly lied about it to Moses! ("we threw the gold in the fire and POOF!  Out came this calf!!  Its a MIRACLE!!!).  Rahab was a prostitute. Sampson was........ well, Sampson was pretty much a jerk to everyone.  

But all of them, ALL of them heroes.  All of them celebrated in Sunday School and sermons.  Why?  Because God does amazing things with people he thinks are heroes.  And this comes back to my statement above: you're the hero.  Now in light of the list of characters above, that may not make anyone feel better about themselves.  That was not my intent.  My intent is to give us hope.  Hope in the fact that God can do amazing things with anyone.  God can feed the hungry with the hero that walks in your shoes.  God can comfort the mourner with the hero that looks back at you in the mirror.  God can even stop a little boy from bonking his head on the floor of a church bus with a dopey teenager who was only trying to keep himself from doing the same.   

Will you be the hero your story deserves?  Walk in the light, seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and become the hero that was created the day your were born.  




February 4, 2014, 2:07 PM

The Airplane Safety Speech



I've been chewing on this thought since hearing it presented at the ICOM last November, and I want to walk through it here with you.  Why do we still have the airplane safety speech before EVERY flight??  I know its federally mandated and required, but cant we just move on since no one is paying attention?  When's the last time YOU listened attentively to the whole thing?  I'm guessing we paid moderate attention to it the first time we flew, but when it gets to the part about how to buckle your seatbelt... yeah, time to see whats going on in the Skymall.  Its almost like you can see the hopelessness behind their eyes as they pick up (again and again) the pieces of the seatbelt, and pretend they're showing us something fantastic and new each and every time.  And lets not forget the stylish display of the deflated life vest that clashes so well with their sharp uniforms and nice hairdos.  

What would happen if we started to take that bit of instruction seriously??  First, we would probably shock the socks off our flight attendants.  I'm sure they're used to the bored stares of the people watching them buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt that my 3 year old could operate without instruction.  Imagine them seeing attentive eyes, alight with interest when they show us how to put on an oxygen mask and how to inflate that life vest!  Oh the thrill that would come from a round of applause for an exceptionally performed safety display!  We could institute a rating system, with penalties for bored resuscitations, and bonus points for the dramatic flair.  

Back on topic...  We check out because we dont think that speech applies to us.  If you really thought you were going to need the information on the airplane safety placard, would you have gotten on the plane in the first place?  NOPE.  We dont think we will crash, therefore rendering the safety information null and void.  I'm not saying you need to approach every flight as if it were your last... dont get me wrong.  I have perused many a Skymall magazine during the safety speech, and only touched a safety placard when I need to shove it to another of the row's pockets to make room for my stuff.  There is a really good message in how we treat that information.  

This is how a lot of us receive and treat the Gospel these days too.  Yes, preachers are like flight attendants, repeating what sounds like the same message over and over to blank stares and nodding (off) heads.  We have the safety protocol that is necessary to survival ready to go each week, often with a creative wrapping to gain interest.  The problem is, most of us dont think that applies to us.  Its like when the flight attendants address those seated in an Emergency Row, when we dont see a door to our right or left we check one more thing off our list of things to NOT know.  Its not my problem see, there's no door here.  Find another row to spend your time preaching at.  

Dont think I'm trying to play the pity card, and "woe is me" for us poor, old preachers.  This is a message to all, whether you're the one speaking it or not:  it applies to you.  Those things that Jesus thought were important?  Yeah, they're important  The message you hear every week asking you to live a Christ-like life everywhere?  That's as important as knowing that your seat bottom can be used as a floatation device in the case of a water landing.  The call to be compassionate and generous to the weak, widowed, orphaned, and poor?  That was important enough to Jesus to be the deciding factor between being a condemned goat and a saved sheep.  

So please return your seat backs and tray tables to the upright position.  The time is now for the Church (thats you and me) to show the world just how important and relevant the Word is to us.  And lets offer a ray of hope to our dedicated men and women flight attendants next time we fly by acknowledging their message and concern for our safety in the case of an emergency with interest and appreciation.  




January 27, 2014, 9:50 AM

I was provoked into doing this.



I have read a couple blogs this morning, both sent to my email box, both VERY high on my priority to read list, and both provoking emotion from me today.  I will provide links to both at the end, so you can see my "source" material for this mornings blog rant.  

What are we provoking from the world?  In the Church and Culture blog James Emory White speaks of Christian groups being labeled as "anti-gay hate group activists."  Now, I know I'm speaking to the choir here, but we are not that... right Church?  Sure, we are opposed to homosexuality and ALL sin, but we are not out there provoking the world into classifying us as a hate group are we?  Are we?.............  

My reluctant response is this:  yes we are.  This response we are receiving from the world has been provoked from some source, it did not materialize from nowhere.  Someone, somewhere, somehow has placed it in the media's mind that we are a hate group that only exist to condemn people while we ride our sparkling white horses into heaven.  No, I'm not accusing you or I of being extremists, but I am wanting to draw our attention to what reaction are we provoking from the world by our outward expressions of faith?  Mind you, if you are not provoking anything from the world in response to your faith, maybe you arent presenting any signs or symptoms of faith in the first place!  

We are called to provoke Love from others, using what we've been blessed with to draw love out of others (Hebrews 10: 23-24).  There are certain relationships that I have that I am guilty of provoking anything BUT love from...  Sometimes that was intentional, other times its merely a by-product of simply existing (my neighbor comes to mind).  This guilt hangs on me, and is shameful, because that is the representation of Christ that I am outwardly to this person.  I am provoking hate and resentment, not love or good works.    

What are you provoking from your neighbors, coworkers, fellow students, and peers? 

 

The second blog that provoked an emotional response from me was one entitled Got Church?  Now, I was not drawn in by the cheesy title, in fact I expected it to be another "we need to be gathering together and prioritizing Sunday mornings" blog... but it is so much more than that.  I was drawn to a quote my friend Jonathan Trotter made on facebook about what level of love or contempt I am creating in my children for the Church.  If our kids grow up listening to us talk about the church, if they end up getting their theology about the church from the backseat of a mini-van, what will it be? Will it be about beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Will it be about God's Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or will it be about something else entirely?

What our children think of "church" is directly related to how we think of "church."  How our children will feel about Church after we're gone is directly related to how we feel about Church while we're together.  Are we building and growing a generation that will remain or are we already claiming them as lost? 

Check out the blogs below, and be provoked.  

Church and Culture -- Defining Hate

Jason Micheli -- Got Church?




January 20, 2014, 10:33 AM

10 reasons why Peter is my favorite Bible character of all time. (you know, outside of Jesus...)



-- I will die for you Jesus, even if EVERYONE else does, I will never deny you!! - Matt 26: 33, 35 - its nice to see that Peter understands the situation.  Jesus has just told them plainly that he will be deserted; and Peter decides its his place (again) to argue with the Son of God. 

-- "The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table.  Simon Peter motioned (elbowed) to him to ask "who's he talking about?" - John 13: 23 -24.  This one makes me think that Peter has learned a little bit about keeping his mouth shut!  "Pssst John, YOU ask him who he's talking about! You're the disciple that Jesus loved after all..."  Anyone else wonder if Peter was assuming it was going to be him and that he was about to endure another "teachable moment?"

-- "A curse on me if I'm lying - I dont know the man." - Matt 26: 74.  He certainly takes his oaths very seriously.  Honestly, I may have actually thought less of him here if he didnt go all the way in and step knee deep in his own pride, arrogance, and short-sighted ego.  

-- "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  - Matt 16: 16.  Even he gets it right once in a while!  What do they say about a dead clock?  Even it gets the time right twice a day?!  This statement from Peter, in the midst of a shifting culture concerning Jesus (from rabid support and acceptance to desertion and suspicion) is profound enough for Jesus to stamp our future on it.  

-- "They tax the people they have conquered."  - Matt 17: 26.  Doh!!!  It had just been asked if Jesus paid the temple tax... and Peter makes this statement about those who are taxed having been beaten and under control of the government!  How does Jesus reply?  He manifests a coin in the mouth of a fish and sends Peter out to get it.  Peter, just so you know, there is no power or authority greater than Jesus.  What was going through his mind as he dug a large coin out of the mouth of a fish?    

-- "How many times should I forgive someone?  Seven???"  - Matt 18: 21.  I like that Peter threw out a number, which I'm assuming he thought was a VERY generous amount of forgiveness.  I only wish I could have seen his face when Jesus drops the 490 on him.  "oh.........  ok."

-- He was a slow runner. - John 20: 3.  I cant blame him for this, but as one who has rarely outrun a speeding tortoise, this gives me hope.  (and way to not rub it in John..... oh wait, you put it in the NEW TESTAMENT that you run faster than Peter, nevermind).  

-- "I'm going fishing!"  - John 21: 3.  Again, I cant blame the man for this outburst...  he was locked up, scared to be arrested, afraid of pretty much everyone...  He runs back to what he knows, and thats fish.  I wonder if he was thinking about whats next? Meaning, do we just go back home now that he's gone?  The best part?  As soon as he comes up with his "plan" everyone else jumps on it!  "We'll come too!"  

-- "I shouldn't be doing this..... but since God sent me I'll come in." - Acts 10: 28 - 29 (my paraphrase).  Peter responds to God's call to go to Cornelius, but he cant leave it at just face value.  Before stepping foot inside, he tells everyone just how wrong it is for him to even be there!  Now, I know he followed God's call and that he baptized the entire house... but what message was he sending at that moment?  I'm betting there was a servant or two thinking: "thank you so much Peter for the reminder of just where we Gentiles stand with the loved and chosen Jews!"  

-- "who was I to stand in God's way?" - Acts 11: 17b.  Through it all, and every lesson learned, Peter finally gets his head around the mission and power of God manifested in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  When he sees the house of Cornelius filled with the Spirit (prior to baptism, by the way...), there can be no denying.  This is a testimony of hope for hard hearts and the plain stupidity that fills those of us trying desperately to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples.  So often we are the ones standing in God's way, because we're making foolish decrees, swearing boldy about how great and right we are, or just trying so hard to blend into the world around us.  

Thank you Peter for giving this slow running, short-sighted fool hope!  




January 13, 2014, 11:33 AM

Wondering where all the answers come from



I am inundated with questions as a father, husband, and preacher.  It just seems to be a fact of life to be asked questions.  "Why is the sky blue?"  "Will you help me with this?"  "Do you think its scriptural to _____________?" 

Where do the answers for these questions come from?  Because I sure dont have all of them.  I like to read blogs and articles, most of them propose answers to various issues, polls, and problems... but what if they're wrong?  What if we're wrong?  What if the answers we thought we knew are based on partial knowledge, bad historical decisions that got passed down, or are simply based on 100% speculation and assumption?!  What if?

What if in trying to find answers we can stand on, we've forgotten the questions we were supposed to be answering!!!!  In the midst of the storm, instead of asking "why is this happening to me?" maybe we need to remember the question:  "Why are you afraid?" (Matt 8:26).  When we cant find our way out, up, or through life's mire: "Do you believe I can make you see?" (Matt 9: 26).  When we have to try and balance what we know God wants us to do and whether his promises will actually stand: "Why did you doubt me?" (Matt 14: 31).  

Maybe more than all these questions, what comes as the root of the problem is that we've forgotten the answer to one of the most important questions Jesus ever asked:  "Who do you say that I am?"  (Matt 16: 15).  How have we answered that question?  Most of the time we choose doctrine or rules to try and answer that question.  For example, Jesus you are the Lord of THIS church, with THIS name, and with THESE beliefs.  We have begun to define Jesus by how we answer all other questions about all the other things we have thought are important enough to distinguish us......but what if the question that holds the key to figuring out all the other questions is to simply identify Jesus' place and identity within our own places and identities?  

So who do we say that He is?  Are we saying he is a mean-spirited dictator who wields his condemning judgment on those who disagree with us or sin differently than us?  Are we defining Jesus as a God ignorant of the poor and hurting by marginalizing the poor and hurting?  Do our actions (or lack thereof) paint a picture of God who is content to check off his weekly attendance and communion register and be dismissed while we pursue our own desires and passions the rest of the week?  

"Who do you say that I am?" I know how I want to answer that question, its connecting the answers in my heart with the "answers" in my head that proves that I havent answered that question how I know I should.  I long to walk with God through the garden in the cool of the evening... I long to stand on the edge of the Red Sea with an army behind me and knowing there will be a miracle in front of me...  I wish I could see the waves and feel the wind of the storm while we cross the lake (and Jesus sleeps in the back of the boat), knowing I'll get to the other side and enjoying the ride of my life!  

I wish I could answer that question with the peace of knowing the blood dripping from the cross alleviates me from guilt, the need to judge, the arrogance of pride and envy, and the uncertainty of the reaching hands of Grace...  But my life consistently proves otherwise. I'm too caught up answering all the wrong questions to make certain I've answered THE question.  

Whats your answer? 

 

 




December 30, 2013, 11:15 AM

too many titles came to mind, so I'm calling it: "Part 2"



There was some good football on yesterday (12/29/13), with many teams needing to win or go home.  Unfortunately, I was distracted through most of my attempts to watch said football.  First, because family and friends... and it was an excellent afternoon of both.  Second, because I couldnt help but regret some things I wish I'd communicated clearer in my sermon.  This second thought was cemented in the commercials that blast us with their messages and sales pitches every few minutes during a game.  I found myself watching in a detached manner the unbridled joy the people in our commercials felt when using a product.  Cars could jump on trains, beer was the missing ingredient for a rock concert being truly epic and not just a run of the mill event, food helped families sit together around the dinner table and actually smile at each other without a single cell-phone being present.  

If all that were reality, oh how our spending would change (or would it??).  Cars would be purchased with grand adventures in mind; dinners prepared that pleased everyone; insurance would be purchased without any worries of denied claims; and money invested with reckless abandon in a stock market that makes everyone rich.  Deep down, I think we understand that we are being lied to and lead on because reality looks a lot different in real life than it does on TV.  Driving your truck over rocks and through streams of flowing water voids the warranty.  Those miracle drugs that will cure everything that ails you have side effects a mile long.  Any investment you make, despite the market outlook, is made at great risk and "results may vary."  And sometimes, the best part of waking up is not necessarily the fact that you have coffee, its that you were able to walk to the bathroom under your own power.  

So, as preachers are so apt to do, I draw our focus from commercial media and marketing to us, the church**.  If we were to fashion some commercials that advertised us, what would they look like?  We would be hugging our children (who were smiling and hugging us back after running and jumping into our arms); we would be handing out blankets and coats to the homeless in the snowy months; there would be shots of us raising our hands in worship corporately; For sure there would be images of people rising out of a baptistery being greeted by crying parishioners; And dont forget the images of a preacher delivering the most intense but beautiful sermon ever while "In the Arms of an Angel" plays in the background.  

Yes, we would build up the same expectations for the world that fast food companies do to us. We see images of skinny people eating Big Macs and thinking not a second thought of the aftereffects of eating a calorie infested, cholesterol raising monstrosity. The only aftereffect of eating a Big Mac in the commercial is smiling... and probably some beach volleyball.  We would hand the world the image of God's people in a commercial and invite them to join our community, promising life together, smiles, unconditional acceptance and love, the fruit of the spirit so ripe and overflowing in us that there would be no way to escape our joyous exultations.  Our homes would be portrayed as places where Bible study is central, not an afterthought.  Prayer was done at times not associated with meals or beds.     

If that is what we'd want the world to see, what are we delivering as those who follow Christ in the real world?  Do the Fruit of the Spirit make cameo appearances at the expected times only?  Are we living up to the expectations the world has of us?  I'm going to say no, because the "popular" opinion, or at least the one that gets the most airtime has us pegged as hypocritical, holier-than-thou zealots who are more apt to swing the hammer of judgment and condemnation than apply the balm of forgiveness and mercy.  

The product has to match the advertisements... otherwise we're just as guilty as your average fast food joint, promising the moon but delivering some rocks pulled from under the porch.  

 

**Now, lets be clear and define "church" because there might be some confusion.  One view makes it looks as though I'm really after butts in pews, and call that church growth.  No.  The church I refer to here is the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, the ekklesia (def. the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth; the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven).  As one who works for an institutional church, my language lends itself to the jargon most closely associated with the position.  So, knowing that, we can look further than just church attendance as my end goal, but the reinvigoration of the individuals who constitute the Body of Christ globally.  




December 16, 2013, 11:38 AM

Where does Church Growth come from?



*Preamble to this blog series:  I am not an expert (at anything, really).  I am not offering a program, or formula for church growth in this series of blogs.  I am going to offer my opinions formed from 15 or so years of congregational ministry, and ideas formed from reading various books by "experts" and those who have successfully helmed churches to growth in number, effectiveness of ministry, and evangelism.*  

  It sounds almost childish to ask any question about where something comes from, doesnt it?  I recall both asking and hearing the "where do babies come from?" question, and the response was always the same:  "go ask your mother."  So when I ask the question of church growth, I cant help but be reminded of the innocence of a child genuinely seeking to understand something that eludes their ability to understand... and all I've gotten back in response is "go ask someone else (an expert)."  
  A popular movement in our group was the "church growth" wave of the 90's and 2000's.  Experts were brought in to evaluate and consult with leaderships, throwing statistics around and suggesting concrete rules to follow that will grow every church.  Some of that may have worked with your church, but the few that I've worked with that have been through that process (before my time with them) have either not seen the expected growth from following those principles, or have settle back into the habits prior to those statistic-led suggestions.    

  Lets converse on this concept for a few blogs, shall we?  Because if we're not in the business of growing, we are in the business of dying; And no one wants to admit that.  Quickly, let me define "being in the business of dying" because it sounds a bit too morbid for me to just leave hanging out there.  As individuals and as institutions, we must be active in growth or development, and breaking through the status quo of simply existing.  We can never be satisfied with having arrived at our destination when religion or spirituality is involved (whether that is relationship with Christ, with attendance numbers, or financial giving goals) while on earth, because nothing here on earth can serve as a proper destination for one seeking to follow Jesus.  Period.  If we feel like we have arrived, or are passing the torch on to someone else (younger, more energetic, or interested), we have settled into the business of dying.  

  Look around next Sunday and see if there are any signs of new life amongst your gathered group of regulars.  Most likely there will be some people whom you do not know personally because they are in a different age group than you, or because socially you havent mixed with them.  But those people, despite your unfamiliarity with them, have probably been around enough for you to at least garner some recognition.  Most likely what you will see when you look around is a group of people that you are very familiar with, and can share at least some of their story if asked.  This is not an attack, this is simply an observation on our communities that are intended to be growing, but have reached a level of stagnation.  

  Take the opportunity next to look at the leadership of your church.  Put aside disagreements or loyalties and ask yourself if you believe they honestly want the body of believers meeting where you are to grow.  I can speak with authority on this:  there is not be a single preacher, elder, deacon, or board member who desires their congregation to fail, be stagnant, or die off.  Every one of us wants growth.  There may be varying reasons for that desire (pride, financial security, empty pews, etc...), but the desire is there in every single one.  Peeking inside closed meetings, almost every conversation revolves around church growth.  "How do we get more people involved?"  "How do we fill empty pews?"  "How can we get our congregation to give more?"  All of these have a basis in church growth.  We need/want more people, money, participants, servants, volunteers, leaders, children, families, ministries, missions.  You name it, church growth is involved.  

  So where does this growth come from?  The obvious fallback answer is often:  "we pay our minister to do those things."  Is there any preacher out there who doesnt want their congregation to be healthy, growing, and thriving?  Sure, there are some exceptions, but lets dismiss those as sick or extraneous and talk your average preaching/lead minister.  We ALL want our congregations to be the best.  When we gather as preachers we brag about you, the best things about you, and we spin tales of how we are ALL on the brink of revival and explosive growth.  Stories and suggestions are shared with what works for this group, and that group.  We look longingly at those folks whose churches are growing, hoping some of that will rub off on us and our flocks.  Every preacher wants their church to grow, and they work hard to see that happen.  

  If we accept that fact (that your leadership wants and works for church growth), then why arent all of our churches growing?  Why arent all parking lots full on Sunday morning?  Why do we have empty chairs and rows unoccupied?  Let the excuses flow.  Let the well reasoned arguments of why things arent working right now fill in the blanks here: ______________.  We have buzz words like "we're not in a season of growth right now" to help us feel better about not growing.  "Maybe the congregation just isnt on fire yet for the message."  "We're laying the infrastructure for massive growth in the future."  It all comes down to this:  we're not growing, we're dying.  

  Church growth does not happen from the top down in 90% of churches.  There are some that will grow because of the presence of a dynamic preacher and people will be drawn to them.  Those mega-churches are the exception.  Much like professional athletes, those leaders are the minority, given singular gifts and intellect.  Church growth happens from the bottom up.  It happens in relationships formed outside the walls of our sanctuaries.  Our churches grow where life happens:  on the baseball fields, in the cubicles, when we treat our servers with respect and generosity, when we pray as a family at the table, when we smile when we are cut off in traffic... Church growth happens when the Kingdom of God shows up in the unexpected places...  And the population of this messed up world see the quiet love of a God shown in kindness, forgiveness, and generosity of those who believe.  When the fruit of the Spirit becomes how we respond to this world, we will begin growing the Kingdom of God the way it was meant to be grown.  Not with statistics, but through the character shown to us in the life of Jesus.

  Everyone expects the preacher to act holy all the time, sharing the Gospel in every circumstance and every conversation, and baptizing those people into active, giving participants on a regular basis.  If he's not doing that, why should I?  Yes, that is part of our calling, to share the Gospel.  But we also have to spend time in the office.  Preaching is not easy, and takes time to prepare.  Remember, more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  Your preacher regularly tackles the #1 fear of our nation on a weekly basis.  I'm not offering an excuse, but hopefully showing you a glimpse into the time and effort that goes into making every Sunday something special and meaningful so we can do the same thing next week.  We are one person on staff, with only two hands, 24 hours a day to give to you and our families...  If its left to just me, I can only do so much and I will inevitably let you down.  

If we leave church growth up to the experts, or those paid to minister, we are limiting ourselves to the power of one or two people in the midst of a crowd.  Church growth is in the hands of the crowd, the mass of people who gather regularly to hear those one or two speak into a mic, but live and operate outside those special walls.  What are you doing to grow the church?  If all we have to offer is regular attendance and an occasional hour or two of service to a specific project, we are offering nothing more than a pittance to the growth of the Kingdom.  The civil rights movement would have died had it been left solely in the hands of just MLK.  He was amazing, but the power of his message was truly felt and realized when the crowds took it and ran with it.  The power of the movement came when everyone else took his message and demanded response.  If it were left to one, it would have failed...  

The power of your church's growth is in your hands.   

 

 




December 9, 2013, 11:46 AM

Running Scared (or a "White Knuckle Ride" part two)



I am afraid of the dark.  I am afraid of spiders.  I am afraid of what people think of me.  I'm afraid that every word I mutter sounds as stupid or is as stupid as I think it is.  

Now its your turn.  What are you afraid of?  Write it (them) down.  Really.  Do it.  For yourself to read only. 

 

Whew. Its nice to have that out in the open.  Lets me be honest:  I'm a little ashamed by those first two fears.  I'm 37.  I've been mugged.  I've seen cancer close up.  And yet being alone in the dark scares me.  Dont get me started on spiders.  There are two responses to seeing a spider:  it dies, or I leave.  We cannot coexist indoors.  

Be warned, this article spends a lot of time here at the beginning on me (chris).  If you arent interested in getting inside my flawed psyche, advance down to the "enough about me" paragraph.  

I work HARD to not let those two control me.  I've stepped up as a father into the role of "Chief Spider Killer."  I've used my bare hands to squish a few.  My heart races, yes... but I control the temptation to run and scream like a child.  Its become a little easier to control the whole dark thing,  too.  I simply work to avoid situations where I would find myself alone in the dark.  

But I cant control you.  I cannot tell you what to think of me, nor should I.  And that scares me.  It scares me so much that I let it control me.  If I think someone is unhappy with me, or that I will soon face criticism, I will worry and stress and start to shut down.   I am afraid that I have become a full-time representative of the "Easier Said than Done" department.  I have countless phrases, slogans, and speeches dedicated to how easy and plain it is to follow Christ.  Those get wrapped up into sermons, blogs, and the sharing of articles written by other people much smarter than I.  What purpose do those words have?  They are fuel for a life further built on the guilt of never living up to the standards set by millions of pulpits the world wide.  By the way, this blog is another one.  

Fear wins.  Fear hurts.  Fear hits me where it counts, which also happens to be the same places that hurt the most.  Do you know who gave fear this power over me?  Me.  

I let your thoughts rule my own.  I let your heart take mine hostage.  Sure, I can put up a brave front and act like it rolls off my back.  Trust me, it doesnt.  I think that every week will be different.  But its not.  Its the same drivel that sounds like last week's drivel.  "Do this, and you'll be more like Christ."  Forget the fact that life in between takes everything I explain so fluently and flushes it into the sewers.  

Enough about me.  Lets talk about what you're afraid of.  What controls you? Fear of the unknown?  Fear of failure?  Fear of rejection?  Fear of being alone forever?  Yes, we're getting to the meat of it now.  Fear wins.  Because we let it win.  Fear lets us ignore the world and focus inward, on that precious real estate of our egos, pride, and self-worth.  Why should we care for others when we have so much attacking us?  What can we offer anyone else when we cant even protect ourselves?  

Jesus, dont you care that we are about to die?  How can you sleep at such a time as this?  Surely you've noticed that you are SOPPING WET!!!!  The boat is half full of water, the other half is full of panicky people!  Fear won over the hearts of the Apostles in Mark 4.  Fear stripped away all that they had learned and experienced so far at the feet of Jesus and threw it into the wind and waves threatening their security.  

What was learned in the sunshine disappeared during the storm.  When threatened, the entire house built on the authority of Jesus, fell.  

What has threatened your delicately built house of cards?  I've witnessed first hand the power uncertainty (fear) has over long held beliefs and traditions.  Remove or challenge one piece and the house totters.  Fear enters and it is believed that everything else will follow suit and crumble.  Therefore, the grip is tightened and the slack taken up.  Grace is pushed aside for the sake of aggressive defensive positions. Forgiveness or peacemaking is shoved aside for shouting and desperate cries to the back of the boat.  Fear wins.  

We cannot be threatened by Truth sticking its nose into our delicately arranged lives.  For when Truth enters, what it replaces becomes solid ground, a foundation built on Christ and nothing else.  That cannot be shaken, no matter how big the spider, or how solid the darkness becomes.  If you are threatened by Truth, what you are holding on to is fear.  We ARE going to make it to the other side.  This storm WILL pass.  It may take us to the end of our days, but calm waters are ahead.  

The truth is:  spiders are more afraid of my bumbling size than I am of their creepy eyes and legs.  The dark is simply the absence of light.  Hitting the switch exposes that what I'm really afraid of is what the dark exposes in me:  fear.  

 




December 2, 2013, 11:30 AM

White Knuckle Ride



Revisit with me a topic from two weeks ago (11/17 - sermon audio on this site).  Lets talk about riding out the storm.  In Mark 4: 35 - 41, Jesus and his closest friends hop in a boat to "go to the other side of the lake."  Jesus himself declares that this trip will take them to the other side.  Read into this with me, reader:  HE TELLS THEM THEY WILL MAKE IT TO THE OTHER SIDE.  This is the word of God being declared in all authority, truth, and confidence.  "Gentlemen, we are going to land over there... but before then, I'm taking a nap."  Jesus takes a cushion with him, because he knows that the trip is going to be a success.  Let me be clear, THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE IT ACROSS!!!  There should be no confusion about what was going to transpire, which was a departure and landing of an intact boat with all its passengers. 

Enter the storm.  Boom.  Crash.  Flash. Gust.  Whoosh.  Splash.  

Exit any and all confidence, faith, belief, and trust in Jesus. 

The storm took away all ability for solid believers to apply what they learned in the sun to times in the storm.  Imagine a different scenario with me:  What would the ride have looked like if they accurately heard and interpreted Jesus' statement that they would make it to the other side and trusted in the fact that the Son of God was riding along with them?!  

The storm would have turned into a roller coaster ride and not a ride to certain death!  Sure they would have had white knuckles as they gripped the sides of the boat and held on for dear life.  But the confidence they had in the presence of Jesus would have turned terror into thrill. I'm betting Peter would have been screaming his lungs out AT the storm:  "Is that all you got?!"  Thomas would have been in the back saying: "I cant believe that guy..." and shaking his head disapprovingly.  The others would not have been as vocal, but I'm sure they would have been slapping each other on the back and yelling:  "That was a big one!!!" when the boat pitched and yawed.  Yes, this ride would have been scary and exhilarating and looked all together different with a small bit of belief.  

Lets apply this:  the storm is coming.  Maybe its already here.  Cancer stinks.  Divorce stinks.  Death stinks.  Finances in general stink.  Health Insurance (or lack thereof) stinks.  Watching a child rebel stinks. Walking into a dead end job morning after morning stinks.  Being sick stinks.  Homework stinks.  Dieting stinks.  Mortality and our failing physical bodies stink.  

The storm is here in all its glory and ferocity, and its called "Life."  Here's the challenge and question:  Are you holding on, white knuckled, eyes wide, mouth open KNOWING you are going to make it to the other side?  OR are you throwing your hands up in despair because the storm has masked all those sermons, online devotionals in your email inbox, and the truth of living a life in Christ spent mostly in the sunshine?  

Its not an easy ride, nor am I discounting the garbage this broken and fallen world has thrown at you.  But Jesus is right there in the boat with you.  He wont always calm the storm, but he's in the boat with you.  He has compassion and mercy to spare.  He has a promise hanging over us; the promise of eternity of a new Heaven and a new Earth.  Its a trip getting there, and its gonna look a whole lot like we're in the tiny, under-equipped boat that leaks... but we're going to make it to the other side.  Just hold on, keep your eyes open, and let out a scream or two along the way.  

 


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