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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.  

 




November 25, 2013, 10:01 AM

It has become....Self Aware


Any good science fiction reader will understand the terrifying nature of the title of this blog.  There are countless stories of a dystopian future involving machines, computers, or robots that have become "self-aware" and want to eradicate those pesky humans.  Unfortunately, this is not a science fiction story, nor will it deal with angry robots or computers seeking ways to eliminate us.  For those of you looking for that, I apologize and give you permission to continue your leisurely internet browsing.  If you were hoping for something a little more meaty, then please keep reading.  

I'm a little worried about the concept in my title, not because of its fictional implications, but because of the power it has over our churches.  We are not self-aware, and its to our detriment.  For many, church is something so rote or routine that it takes little to no brain power to participate in.  We have the pieces down to an art, or worse: a habit.  We wake up at the same time, which we have worked out down to the second how much time it takes us to shower, tuck in our shirts, get the kids up, feed them breakfast while we gulp down a cup of coffee and make sure everyone gets out the door with both shoes on so we can arrive at church with it all together.  We allow ourselves those precious seconds and panic ensues if something goes wrong in that pattern of activity.  

But we make it... every week.  Walking through the doors with a smile (fake or real, doesnt matter as long as its a smile). We know where the bulletins are, we know where our friends sit, and we know where we sit.  The start time is always the same, and it usually means we begin by standing together.  Then we move into a reading, a prayer, and communion which means we put on our thoughtful face... you know, the face that means we are thinking about how hard it was on the cross.  We hear a sermon, listening for the cues that he's finally wrapping up, and we shake hands on our way out to our well thought out lunch location.  

We have this down to an art form.  Operating in the realm of "Christianity and Religion" without letting it mess with any of the precious internal workings of our lives.  This is the moment where, if you're satisfied with that level of belief, that you continue your leisurely internet browsing elsewhere because we are about to become self-aware. 

You had your chance!  We must wake up, church.  Religion has become a habit, one that we can participate in without even thinking about it anymore, much like our taking out the trash schedule, and commute to work.  We only wake up when things go wrong.  And then, when things go wrong, we pay attention until we're through the traffic jam and can get back to our regularly scheduled programming.  When God began this relationship with his people (yes, all the way back in the beginning) he courted a partner that would involve themselves in the dance.  He doesnt want someone who just stands there with slack jaw and blank eyes waiting for the song to end.  He was looking for someone who would dance.  

If we are going to be that partner in this life, we must become self-aware.  Has our pursuit of God become merely religion?  Meaning a habit, something we can pursue with mindless efficiency?  Or will be open our eyes, engage our brains and become aware of our surroundings and the deterrents we have put in place to encountering God in this crazy dance of life?!!!  WE must become the self-aware machines rampaging through the barriers that have limited us for so long... God is waiting to be re-discovered around every corner.  




November 18, 2013, 1:26 PM

at the Rock-Bottom Cafe


Good Day Reader.  

I like to celebrate winning.  Some people may call it "Trash-Talking", but I prefer to call it "Pointed Celebration!"  What is really happening is that I like to win, be on top, prove myself smarter or better than everyone else.  Its all about ego, pride, and domination.  Churches like to be on top too.  To be the biggest, most progressive, most inclusive, most attended, most beautiful and modern facilities...  The list goes on.  It has become a part of our culture as the Body of Christ to compete with each other, whether its spoken directly or not.  We like to be top dog.  

Lets go further with this and look inside our own heads:   "I'm glad I'm not like her...."; or "My kids are so much more behaved than theirs.";  or even "At least I dont struggle with sin like he does."  There is a hierarchy in place, spoken or not, in churches.  Those that are best dressed, and have it all together are placed on pedestals.  We dont intend to marginalize, but its in our nature to do as such.  

As we continue our thoughts from Sunday's sermon (11/17), when we fall to the default, or very basic character of Christ in our lives this becomes a non-issue.  Looking through the interactions between Jesus and pretty much everyone, we see him existing in the margins, connecting with people no matter their place or social standing. As we build our lives, marriages, families, and ministries we must reach into those margins and model our rock-bottom foundation on the character of Christ.  The storms will come, and are most likely already here.  We will go toe-to-toe with cancer, divorce, failure, rejection, financial ruin, bullying, disappointment, and a slew of other storms that threaten our foundations.  If we are built on sand, or the foundations of culture, popularity, acceptance, or even doctrine (not theology) we will fall (like the foolish man's house going SMASH).  

However, being at the very rock bottom, foundationally speaking, provides us the strength we need to not only survive the storms, but thrive.  Important SIDE NOTE:  we are never promised happiness in the storms, prosperity despite the storms, instant healing in the storms... we are simply promised the "get to the other side" through the storms.  That may mean a life of deformity, oppression, sacrifice, and unfulfilled dreams.  It may not be a pleasant journey, but it will be a successful one when the destination is reached (in our case, Heaven!!!!!).  

Which takes us forward to next week.  Finding ourselves at rock bottom, and being thankful for it.  Turn to Luke 18: 9 - 14.  I confess that while I have not prayed like the Pharisee here, I have had thoughts and intents like the Pharisee.  Forgive me please, I'm still in recovery.  I dont want to be at rock bottom because, well, it isnt popular enough or sensitive enough to my fragile ego!!  Its too easy to look around and wish I were a mega-church pastor, with a twitter feed that resembled your most beloved celebrities.  Its easy to look up from rock bottom and assume I'm being punished or oppressed, or missing opportunities.  And in that I take the character of Christ and brush it aside for pride.  

Church... I fear for us if we cannot become self-aware, knowing the devastation we have wrought in our plights to avoid rock bottom.  We have created idols of success and fertility in other institutions.  We have secularized our financial beings.  Leadership has become about reputation or financial savvy more than about shepherding and pastoring.  Rock bottom has become what happens to churches who get it 'wrong' and close their doors.  Rock bottom is to be avoided, not celebrated like in the parable of Christ in Luke 18.  

I am a recovering Pharisee.  Please join in me in my quest to check my ego at the door and thrive in the character of Christ... at rock bottom.  

 

 

 




November 7, 2013, 9:08 AM

Play Like Champions Today...... and SkyMall.


Its not often I get to work SkyMall magazine into a blog title, so I jumped at the opportunity! I was perusing said magazine whilst waiting for that magical clearance of 10,000 feet to re-engage the book I was reading electronically on a recent flight.  This sign caught my eye:  "Play Like Champions Today" signed by the great Lou Holtz from Notre Dame Football (item #SSM184).  A sign like this hangs above the exit of the Notre Dame locker room for players to tap on their way onto the field.  Its a simple reminder that if you want to be a champion, you play like a champion, no matter the month, score, or opponent.  

I wondered what would happen if I hung a sign like this on the way out of the auditorium at the church I serve in KC.  Well, lo and behold, I visited a church that had just such a sign hung above its main door that very week.  I spotted it from afar and had to make the trek back there to read its inscription.  It said:  Leave to Serve.  I then knew what I would find on the other side of the door, and my suspicions proved true: Enter to Worship was pasted above the door to motivate upon entry.  

My curiosity was piqued and I decided that I needed to see if this sign elicited any response, or attention at all.  Neither did.  In fact, I noticed another alarming tendency:  while this door was used for an entry, I saw few using it to exit.  I wonder if this sign did indeed have an impact on the people, much like the decree to Play Like Champions Today does to the football players at Notre Dame.  

I do believe this sign creates conflict among those passing under its command.  If you jump up and hit the Champions sign, you are declaring to everyone that you WILL play like a champion and that your team can count on you to elevate your game to that level. If you dont play like a champion, you have lied to your teammates.

What are we saying if we walk under the sign telling us to Serve and do nothing? After all, when we walked in we were totally fine with the Worship part.  In fact, we have very strong opinions about how good we are at worshipping and how others obviously missed the part where their worship was declared wrong.  We take pride in our ability to gather on time, walking in with high expectations of what is going to be presented.  We enter expecting great things....... but are those expectations being realized on the way back into the World?  Are we walking away from our well-dressed, orderly gathering to take the energy and passion of a limitless and loving God outside these attractive and safe walls?  

Nope.  We're not.  In fact, we're probably looking for another door, with a less descriptive charge on it.  Maybe a "Leave with Good Intentions" sign would be the exit we want.  I'm betting we'd have a ton of traffic under the "Just Leave, and Maybe Get a Bite to Eat" door, as that affirms in us to do what we were going to do anyways.  

The sign thing has pushed a greater concern into the forefront of my mind, and it has nothing to do with a sign.  It has everything to do with us and how we view the Church, our Leadership, and our role in both.  I cant tell you how many times, how many conversations have revolved around a question or statement like this:  "I wish this church would just ____________________."  Or a question like this: "Why cant someone here ___________________?"  These are verbal clues to a greater problem staring down the throat of the Western Church.  
We are viewing our Church, our Leadership like shopping malls; places we go to window shop and occasionally plop down some money on what we think is a solid investment.  Afterward we walk away wondering what windows will be there next week for us to peruse, and whether or not we should go find another mall with different windows for us to discover.  

To be plain: the health of the Church and the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven cannot be left up to the power of church staff and a small group of men judiciously elected.  If we want a healthy Church, what are we doing to create a healthy church with healthy ministries?  If we want a community to know us what are we doing to model the Bride of Christ to them (outside of looking dapper on Sunday mornings)?  

If you find yourself asking questions like "Why doesnt this church just _________________?"  Or "Why dont the elders ______________________ instead of asking for someone else to do it?";  Perhaps the next question should be: "What am I doing to Play Like a Champion Today?"  
 




October 14, 2013, 10:44 AM

Inadequate


Good Day Reader!  Its been a while since I've sat down and threw some of my thoughts at you.  For some, this is a good thing, for the rest: thank you for being patient as my wandering mind has been occupied with building remodels and retreat sermon building.  

Today I want to talk about my feelings of inadequacy.  THAT sounds like fun, doesnt it?!  It isnt fun, but I know we'll get somewhere here in a second or two, so stick with me.  

The profession I am in is one where I am called to share God's Word with people, interpreting it and crafting sermons into digestible and (hopefully) interesting segments.  Who am I to undertake such a great task?  Who am I to think that my interpretation and calling to interpret is greater than yours?  It isnt.  Ever.  Period.  Totally.  For Realz.  (insert whatever definitive you like here: ________).  This understanding of my limited understanding makes me feel inadequate and unworthy to be the mouthpiece of God.  Why Me?  Couldnt he have found someone with a voice that is broader, stronger (both figuratively and literally), and doesnt have that weird breathy tone that mine does?  

Yes, yes he could.  

BUT (there's always a but with these things) there is something that needs to be remembered about the character of God:  He LOVES me.  Period.  Totally.  For Realz.  

This past weekend I got to speak and present to an amazing group of teenagers and adults at a retreat with the focus: Reckless Abandon.  I was asked to bring 4 messages that would be a spark for those in attendance to live a life recklessly for God.  Sounds easy, there are many, many examples of folks in the Bible who laid it all on the line.  

I thought about all the typical stories and characters one in my position could use to be relevant and successful in getting a message across.  Instead of one of the "easy" ones grabbing a hold of my imagination, I had a story work its way into my mind and grab a hold of me so tightly that there was no denying it.  So, instead of preaching about heroes who built arks, became kings of Egypt, walked on water, or spent their life spreading the gospel, I spent four sermons talking to teenagers and adults about a prostitute.  

Yes...You heard that correctly, a prostitute.  Grab your Bible and turn to Joshua 2.  Keep your finger there and get to Matt 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; and James 3:25 too.  Rahab.  This woman moves from a wildly successful prostitute in Jericho to Great-Great Grandma of David.   She had a house built into the wall, in view of the gates and entry into the city, a place of importance and much influence.  The King of Jericho also knew exactly where to find her, which alludes to a higher end of clientele.  This woman was good at what she did.  I guarantee she was confident, and had no feelings of inadequacy when it came to her place in the order of things in Jericho.  

And then two spies show up.  Men from Israel, the nation that has been a plague on the countryside of Canaan.  Taking every town, wiping out kings, and claiming the land wherever they set foot.  Jericho knew what was up, and knew what was coming.  The spies get into town and for some reason (we wont got into the why or what of it) they end up at Rahab's residence/business/house.  And because of a story that she has heard about something God did 40 years ago, she immediately changed allegiance, stepped out on faith with a God she did not know, made the choice to believe, and lived through the destruction of Jericho.  

But thats not the point of this blog.  God shows up, big time.  Jericho falls.  Rahab is spared along with her family.  God's people hold their end of the bargain and she is brought out alive.  Imagine with me the walk back to Israel's camp after Jericho is taken.  The army is ecstatic having witnessed (again) God's power.  They have the plunder of the town and blood on their swords.  The mood is jubilant as they are welcomed back.  

And at the back of the line, walking quietly, eyes down is Rahab.  She is covered in the dust of the town she knew.  She is in shock after witnessing God's power. Where did she sleep that night?  What did she eat?  Did anyone offer her water?  I can only imagine the whispers she heard as people realized there was a group of people pulled from the wreckage of Jericho.  "What are they doing alive?"  "Did we forget to cut their throats?"  

This woman was not Jewish.  She was a prostitute, and the last of her city to be alive.  You want to talk about feeling inadequate?  She did not belong.  She did not have a clue about Jewish culture, tradition, dietary restrictions, laws, commands, or the any of the story.  

And God loved her.  

God showed himself reckless as he opened his arms and surrounded this woman, her past, her future. Everything was wrapped up in his embrace.  His love outshone her inadequacy, and she found herself in the spotlight of grace.  How do I know this?  Read Matthew 1:5.  This woman finds herself included into the nation of Israel, the tribe of Judah, and into the most important genealogy EVER.  Read Hebrews 11.  This woman is listed right next to ABRAHAM as an example of faith.  

If you ever feel inadequate, non-existent, out of place, or just downright down, look no further than a prostitute who found herself surrounded by the arms of God.   

While I feel inadequate to tell the story of God, I know that there is one thing that makes that feeling of inadequacy shrink into the background.  God loves me.  


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