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April 17, 2017, 8:57 AM

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes...



Change is only hard when it leads to growth.  Everything changes around us with little to no input from us. We don't get to have a say in the weather, the headlines, the traffic signals, etc...  Life moves ahead whether we're ready or not... and we adapt. 

Sometimes we adapt by changing our routine.  Don't like the traffic on one route? Try another. But sometimes we're powerless to affect any real change and we must either then resign or carry on. Rain can dampen most plans, even just walking to or from your car, but an umbrella helps us adapt. 

All that being said: when is the last time our faith caused us to change......anything? We've got our Sunday morning routine which we hold tightly to. No change there. Is that the limit of the effect of our belief system?  One or two hours a week? That is hardly worth writing home about. 

The Resurrection, which most of the Christian world celebrated yesterday with Easter, has to have a bigger effect on us than just another Sunday within the 52 total Sundays we go to church in a year. 52 days... Actually, 52 - 104 HOURS within those 52 days. There are 8760 minutes in one year (365 days).  When 104 hours is spent in faith-filled pursuits... that's just over 1% of the hours we are given each year.  

He has risen... and it changes Everything.  Everything.  Not just 1% of everything.  Everything.  How we wake up.  How we go to sleep.  And every moment in between. 

He has risen.  He has risen indeed.  What has it changed in you? 

John 20: 19 - 23 19That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.20As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!21Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”22Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”




April 2, 2017, 1:13 PM

Camping... blech



I have memories of camping from my younger years.  They're not good memories, so we'll just leave them there.  But I want to talk about the idea of camping... more so the idea of preparing to go camping. 

If you haven't gone camping, good for you... let's just leave it at that.  If you have gone camping, you probably will understand what I'm talking about.  Camping requires WORK! A LOT of work.  And that's BEFORE you even get in the car.  Because when you go camping you have to prepare for every contingency and every possible event happening.  If you don't prepare and take it with you, you either go without or find yourself fashioning a windbreak/rain cover from dead branches and beetle carcasses. Then there are the basic human necessities of life.  If you don't prepare for those before camping... well, we won't talk about that. 

And THEN you have to figure out how to get all that stuff in the car along with the family, the dog, and the bikes.  All that so you can be a "Happy Camper."  

No thanks. 

Here's my point, which I hope is a lot simpler than my description of camping:  Being prayerful and worshipful requires work and effort to make happen.  You need to prepare accordingly, because if you forget or get too busy or don't prepare you will find yourself either overwhelmed by what the world throws at you, or you'll be so unprepared that you give up within minutes of trying to counter whatever it is that has distracted you.  When Jesus speaks of a life lived in accordance with his words and teachings, he likens it to building a house.  I've not built my own house, but I've seen them built. It doesn't happen in a day, or even a week.  Building a lifestyle of prayer and worship takes time.  But it is time you MUST invest or you will be washed away when the storms come.  And they will come.  

Be prepared.  Practice a lifestyle of prayer and worship... And make sure you pack bug spray. 




March 27, 2017, 8:42 AM

Nouns and Verbs



The English language is confusing.  There-Their-They're.  Four-For-Fore.  Two-To-Too.  You get the point. Amidst all the messiness of figuring language out however, there is one concept we should have no problem with: Nouns vs. Verbs. 

A Noun = a person, place, thing, or idea. 
A Verb = Action!  

If you need to go back to Schoolhouse Rock, do so now.  (Verb, that's what's happening!). 

We start with that groovy language lesson because it is essential we remember the difference between the two concepts. And even more importantly, that we PRACTICE the difference between the two.  I believe dcTalk said it best when they told us: "Luv is a verb."  (YAY! for bonus links and 80's videos).  

Worship, our topic yesterday in the Believe series (03/26/17), needs redefinition and classification.  Do you treat it as a Noun or a Verb? I am guilty of doing both, but I fear a leaning towards the Noun.  "We're headed to Worship today."  Now that can be both, but we are most likely dictating that it means a specific place and time in that sentence.  Think about this: Do you use that sentence on ANY other day than Sunday?  Doubtful.  Therefore, it has become a noun. 

Worship, while grounded in music and song, is not a scheduled event or something that fits in our busy schedules.  It is a lifestyle, much in the way we're instructed to make prayer a living part of our being.  (1 Thessalonians 5: 16 - 17).  So which will it be?  Noun or Verb? 

Lets figure out a way to make this sentence: "We're going to Worship today" something that fits EVERY day, not just Sunday. 

Psalm 95: 1 - 7 1Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. 2Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. 3For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. 4He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. 5The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. 6Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, 7for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.




March 13, 2017, 8:53 AM

Boil it All Down



I watched an interesting and disturbing video this week about what happens when you boil Coca-Cola down so that all that remains is the sugar.  The video wanted to show the comparison of sugar content between regular Coke and Coke Zero.  Yikes (the picture attached is the end result with Coke on the left, Coke Zero on the right). 

In the time-lapse video a 20 oz bottle of Coke was heated so that all the water evaporated, what was left was a thick sludge of caramel-colored sugar.  That was what remained when all the extra was cooked off.  Sugar.  Lots and Lots of sugar.  The whole point of the video was to enlighten us why drinking sugary beverages is BAD.  Point taken.  

Here's a thought that we can pull from a science-y video like that:  what will remain of us if all the extra was taken away?  What would be left to show the world after the layers and layers of disguises, hobbies, pursuits, and titles are stripped away?  The heart of Jesus' teaching is for us to strip away those layers and expose our very soul to the world.  Think about the bullet points from the Sermon on the Mount: Don't even be angry with someone; Don't even have lust in your heart; Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  Jesus is boiling layers away, layers that we use to disguise the sludge we keep inside.  

Who are the blessed ones in the Beatitudes?  Those who are stripped down to the bare bones of grief, dependence, persecution, humility, and contentment.  What will expose this world to the light of Christ?  Our very lives when the baskets are pulled off, creating a light for everyone to see.  

What remains when the mask is removed?  Is it love?  Faith?  Hope?  Paul speaks of those elements that last for eternity, while everything else fades with the passing of time.  Take a look at the Cross this week.  In those final moments, Jesus was stripped of everything this earth could offer him.  Clothes were ripped off and gambled over; Skin flayed from bone; Dignity destroyed by false accusations and mocking captors.  And in those moments of exposure, he offered compassion.  He forgives us for our betrayal.  He welcomes a thief into paradise because of a kind word. He seeks to protect his mother and friends.  What everything boiled down to was love. 

Are we being transformed into his likeness?  Can we allow our earthly pursuits and passions to be boiled away into the insignificant vapors they are? Don't grasp too carefully to something that will evaporate in the heat of judgment.  

Matt 6: 31 - 34   31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’32These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.33Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.




February 27, 2017, 8:51 AM

Looking Like Jesus



Here is the story that I didn't use in the sermon time yesterday that you need to hear:  

In his book Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli tells the story of a guy who was once mistaken for someone. His name was Daryl, and he was a new volunteer youth worker at his church. During their monthly nursing home visit, Daryl leaned against the back wall between two residents of the home who were in wheelchairs. At the end of the service, someone grabbed Daryl's hand. Startled, Daryl looked down and saw a very old, very frail, and an obviously very alone man. The man had no expression on his face, and his mouth hung open. Daryl doubted the man could hear or see anything at all.

As everyone got ready to leave, Daryl realized that he didn't want to leave the old man. Caught off guard by his feelings, Daryl leaned over and whispered, "I'm, uh, sorry that I have to go, but I'll be back. I promise."
Without warning the man squeezed Daryl's hand and then let go. On his way out the door, Daryl heard himself say to the old man, "I love you," and he thought, Where did that come from?

Daryl became a regular at the nursing home visits. Each month it was the same routine. Daryl would sit in the back next to Oliver, the old man, and hold his hand. At the end of the service, Daryl would say, "I'm sorry I have to go, but I'll be back next month. I love you." Oliver would squeeze Daryl's hand, and then Daryl would leave.

On Daryl's sixth visit the service started without Oliver. Daryl recognized that it sometimes took the nurses a while to get everyone wheeled out to the program. But halfway through the service Daryl became alarmed. He went to the nurses' station and was led to Oliver's room. In his 42 years of life Daryl had never before seen someone dying, but he could tell that Oliver was near death. Slowly he walked to the side of the bed and grabbed Oliver's hand. When Oliver didn't respond, tears filled Daryl's eyes.

It wasn't long before the youth director stood in the doorway to tell Daryl it was time to leave. An emotional Daryl said to Oliver, "I'm sorry, Oliver, I have to go. I love you." Just then Daryl felt a slight squeeze. Oliver had responded!
Tears flowed as Daryl stumbled out of the room, almost bumping into a young woman in the doorway. He said to her, "I'm sorry, I didn't see you." She responded, "It's all right, I've been waiting to see you. I'm Oliver's granddaughter. He's dying, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Daryl sadly responded.

Oliver's granddaughter went on to explain that she and her grandfather were very close. When the doctors told her he was dying, she came immediately. As she was with him the night before, he'd woken up, alert and bright-eyed, and asked her for a favor. He said, "Can you say goodbye to Jesus for me?"
Confused, she said, "But, Grandpa, I don't need to say goodbye to Jesus for you. He'll be the next person you see." Then Oliver closed his eyes, smiled mischievously, and said, "You don't understand. Jesus comes to see me every month, and He might not know I've gone."

Those were Oliver's last words.
Oliver's granddaughter asked the nurses what he meant. That's when they told her about the youth group that came and the guy who held her grandpa's hand. Then she said to Daryl, "I never thought of Jesus being as chubby and as bald as you, but I imagine that Jesus is very glad to have had you be mistaken for Him."*

I would love for everyone from Red Bridge to be mistaken for Jesus this week.  Live his character, live his words and actions, BE the Church and Body of Christ.  

*Adapted from Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality, (Grand Rapids, M.I.: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 103-105.




February 20, 2017, 10:16 AM

Ordering Pizza... The delivery man cometh



I'm an expert at ordering pizza.  I can push a few buttons on my phone (using the app of course, who wants to actually call and order something?) and pizza will magically show up at my door.  Once I ordered pizza and the delivery person never showed.  My life was ruined.  

We are also experts at praying for God to work in us, for us, or through us.  But expect it all to be done without us.  

We've begun to treat God like a delivery man...  we pray, he shows up.  We never leave the couch. 

Remember Israel's 400 years of captivity?  They prayed for deliverance.   Cried out for generations to be freed.  When God showed up (amazingly and powerfully), they complained about how much work it took to be delivered.  

A simple point that is sourced in our Key Point from this week's (02/19/17) Believe theme of Church is this:  If we believe the Church is God's main avenue for accomplishing his purpose today, then we must believe that we will have to actually do something to accomplish his purpose TODAY.  We cannot order up a few prayers for the unfortunates and marginalized and expect God to deliver them.  We must get off the couch and do something about the unfortunate and marginalized.  

We want God's kingdom to grow in KC.   Which means we, the Church, the Body of Christ are the intended way for this to happen.  That does not happen inside our walls.  It happens where life happens.  When we follow Christ at work, school, and home.  When we pray for kingdom growth then work for kingdom growth.  

James 2: 14 - 17  14What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have cfaith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of cfaith save anyone?15Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.




February 13, 2017, 9:29 AM

I Am Because We Are



I was introduced to a philosophy not too long ago that finds itself running to the forefront of my mind as I think about our series: Ubuntu.  Loosely this can be translated: "I am because WE are."  It is a philosophy that gives us our identity because of our humanity, together we are... alone I am not.  

When we talk about faith and belief, the concept of Ubuntu works in this realm.  Christianity, at its core is not something that is meant to be done alone.  One of the first things Jesus did when taking those steps in ministry was to gather people to him.  If anyone, ever has not needed help it was Jesus.  He had a direct line and connection with God, all the companionship anyone ever really needs.  But he did not walk alone; He surrounded himself with....  people like us.  

It is repeated often that the larger gathering those who follow Christ is labeled: "The Body of Christ."  Paul calls us "one body with many parts."  This is a group effort.  Our bodies are a system of systems, organs, and cells that work together to keep us alive.  My favorite thing to hear from someone who does not attend a Church is: "I love God, but not the Church."  Or: "I'm a spiritual person, I dont need a church body to worship."  So on and so forth with the excuses for not attending a weekly gathering.  

The truth is, you cant have the Head without the Body.  This whole idea was not set up to be separate. We're in this together.  Like it or not, we need each other.   

We can also flip that concept on its head: We are because HE is.  Without the head, there is no body.  We exist to serve the one who formed us, to worship the one who saves us.  We are hopeful because HE IS HOPE.  

We're diving deeper into this idea this week........ when we gather as the Church!  See you there! 

1 Corinthians 12: 14 - 17 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?




February 13, 2017, 9:27 AM

I Am Because We Are



I was introduced to a philosophy not too long ago that finds itself running to the forefront of my mind as I think about our series: Ubuntu.  Loosely this can be translated: "I am because WE are."  It is a philosophy that gives us our identity because of our humanity, together we are... alone I am not.  

When we talk about faith and belief, the concept of Ubuntu works in this realm.  Christianity, at its core is not something that is meant to be done alone.  One of the first things Jesus did when taking those steps in ministry was to gather people to him.  If anyone, ever has not needed help it was Jesus.  He had a direct line and connection with God, all the companionship anyone ever really needs.  But he did not walk alone; He surrounded himself with....  people like us.  

It is repeated often that the larger gathering those who follow Christ is labeled: "The Body of Christ."  Paul calls us "one body with many parts."  This is a group effort.  Our bodies are a system of systems, organs, and cells that work together to keep us alive.  My favorite thing to hear from someone who does not attend a Church is: "I love God, but not the Church."  Or: "I'm a spiritual person, I dont need a church body to worship."  So on and so forth with the excuses for not attending a weekly gathering.  

The truth is, you cant have the Head without the Body.  This whole idea was not set up to be separate. We're in this together.  Like it or not, we need each other.   

We can also flip that concept on its head: We are because HE is.  Without the head, there is no body.  We exist to serve the one who formed us, to worship the one who saves us.  We are hopeful because HE IS HOPE.  

We're diving deeper into this idea this week........ when we gather as the Church!  See you there! 

1 Corinthians 12: 14 - 17 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?




February 6, 2017, 8:02 AM

Who Am I? I'm 24601



This blog entry is going to bridge between two lessons in the Believe series, The Bible and Identity in Christ.  

I start with our topic this past week (2/5/17), The Bible, which spoke into the pointed need for a Christ-Follower to be immersed in the Word of God.  The text and scriptures WILL guide us and shape us and enlighten us.  We can find ourselves with paths made straight, and discovering God's character completely by digesting the Word of God.  The heart of the sermon and lesson was the oft-repeated mantra: Read Your Bible. 

If you wander in the undiscovered or unmapped places of the world, you better have a compass that points true North.  When we wander this world of undiscovered temptations and unmapped paths, we better carry something trustworthy and true with us.  We cant find our way home without the Story.  No amount of spiritualization of our lives will overcome the need for a biblical center.  

Which leads us to our second point:  Who am I? We have many identifying features we pull out when asked that question: "I'm a ______ (occupation); I'm _______'s child; etc... etc...  We keep these labels handy so we can quickly disseminate enough information to another to either find common ground or explain why we're qualified for a specific task.  

What identity do we fall to when we're asked a moral question?  The "24601" number is a reference to Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.  He is faced with just such a moral question.  He is a wanted man, having been paroled from a jail sentence, he is marked with the stigma of being a criminal.  Pursued by a relentless force bent on imprisoning him again (criminals never change in his eyes), Jean has created a new identity.  On to his quandry:  He is told that a Jean Valjean has been captured in Paris and will face trial.  The real Jean Valjean has the choice:  be free, finally, OR do not let an innocent man face the wrath of his poor choices.  

The scene from the book/play/movie is amazing and powerful and enlightening.  Which would you choose?  Is your identity shaped by Christ and his Story?  Or are we carving our own paths of moral ambiguity?  

I'm 24601.  




January 30, 2017, 8:56 AM

The Oddity that is Heaven



In our adult class yesterday (1/29/17, and yes this is a shameless plug for you to attend), we spent some time simply talking about the places that are Heaven and Hell.  It was an excellent discussion that went down many paths, and sparked a lively hour of learning from each other.  Enough advertising, as I have another thought about Heaven that I want to explore here. 

-- Heaven is going to be.... odd... for many of us.  

Let me explain further:  We all have visions of what an eternal place of joy and comfort looks like.  We've heard talk of mansions, streets of gold, and harps galore.  But I'm not sure that's where our focus should be at all.  Sure, it will be nice to escape the depravity and pain this world has to offer in abundance.  Sure, we will finally get to reap the benefits of sacrificial generosity and compassion.  However, those should not be our focus (Yes, that includes wanting more "jewels in your crown").  

Heaven will be about relationship.  Even more so than our (finally) perfectly intimate relationship we get to have with God, our Father and Creator.  Heaven will give us a chance to explore relationships we never considered having here on earth.  For example:  David and Uriah will be in Heaven together...........eternally.   The man that David had murdered AFTER impregnating his wife will reside in the same ethereal plane for all eternity.  And because of what I know about God and his promises, you won't hear a word of dissent from either.  

Which relationship will surprise you the most when we get there?  I'm afraid we've dismissed so many people from being granted that ultimate expression of God's grace that finally being set free from our worldly judgments and exclusions will make Heaven a very odd experience indeed. 

I'm okay with that.  Are you?  If you answered YES to being okay with Heaven being odd, what relationships down here do we need to address before we even get to that point?  Heaven is eternal, our time here is much shorter.  Don't waste any more moments excluding someone from your own graces, when God's grace is already reaching into the darkest places.  Let us serve the "least of these" while we still have the chance.  No law will ever allow us to ignore the marginalized, disenfranchised, or lost.  We are the vessels in which God's grace is manifest here, lets make the most of our short time. 

Matthew 5: 17 - 20   17“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.19So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

 




January 23, 2017, 8:33 AM

So What?



The book of James was very present in the sermon yesterday, we just didn't talk about it!  So lets do that here.  

Our big question was "So What?"  Since we've established our belief in God, what are we going to do about it?  Orderly attendance and a routine Sunday schedule is not enough evidence in our lives to prove our lives are really, really changed by our belief system.  If we follow the formula that James presents to us in the New Testament, then we are either convinced we're doing enough to exhibit our level of belief or we choose to ignore both sides of James' good works/faith equation.  

Over and over again James presents his equation, 'If you claim to be religious, have faith THEN you will display it OUT LOUD."  

God's presence in our lives is a game changer.  (Understatement of the Day).  We are changed by the Creator of the Universe in us.  He is our God, our Father, our Personal God.   So what? 

Does it change anything other than Sunday morning?  That is not sufficient enough of faith expression to prove anything other than a slightly guilty conscious or the need for routine/habitual Church attendance based on a flawed belief system that has been beaten into us that attendance is enough.  

Is attendance and participation important?  YES, ABSOLUTELY!  You cant have the Head (Jesus) without the Body (the Church).  But living your faith for one or two hours a week only leaves another 166 hours devoted to __________.  

James 2: 14 - 17  14What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have cfaith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of cfaith save anyone?15Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.




January 16, 2017, 11:51 AM

Ask a Better Question



Should you really be asking "Is there a God?"   If you know NOTHING about God and faith and belief, then yes that is a good place to begin.  However, if you are a regular member, attending weekly and understanding the basic tenants of belief then it is not a good place to start.  You should already be past that.  

When we read Scripture, that question's answer is implied...  Scripture assumes Yes, and moves on.  Scripture doesn't answer "Is there a God?" it paints a picture of his character.  

The better question you need answer is this:  "Who is God?"  To answer that you need to dive into the Bible and discover how his character is drawn up by his interaction with this world, starting with Adam and Eve all the way through to John's Revelation.  He shows us who he is, what he loves, what he doesn't like, and what promises he is waiting to fulfill.  All you need to do is read and discover it.  

That sounds simple, doesn't it?  If it were so, I believe there wouldn't be nearly as many denominations and varying sects of faith.  We carry with us our own answer the the question (Who is God?) with us every time we open the Bible.  Too often that allows us to pigeonhole what we read and what we learn about God.  If God is angry, or better yet if you're angry, finding those stories where is wrath is evident is easy.  If you're hoping for a Teddy-Bear God, finding his moments of compassion and mercy are easy.  

The problem is we cant pick and choose which characteristics we like most and define God, the Creator of the Universe by them.  We must see his entire picture and be shaped by that.  Does his justice AND compassion shape your understanding of his character?  I hope so, because we are called to treat this world the same way we are taught by God in the text.  All of the text, not just our favorite verses.  

My challenge for kicking off the Believe series this week is to Think about God every day.  Make sure your heart is tuned into his character intentionally in the routine of life.  See where God works and plays, and where his compassion shines through (I'm betting we'll be surprised).  See where his justice reigns.  See everything God created for you and be in wonder.  

Think about God...  because I know he's thinking about you.  

1 Chronicles 16:9a   9 The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.




January 9, 2017, 8:58 AM

What I know vs. What I love



I know lots of things.  Most of them useless.  

I love a few things.  All of them vital to my existence.  

Which do I pursue with vigor?  What I know.  

These past two weeks our sermons have been shaped by the thoughts presented in James Smith's book You Are What You Love.  And we will wrap that up right here by summarizing both weeks.   If life were really about just what we KNOW, then imagine all the troubles and issues that would disappear!  Obesity would be put on notice practically overnight.  Because we KNOW we need to eat our veggies, exercise, and avoid junk food.  So many issues and risks we take would vanish.  

And yet we continue to sin,  Even when we KNOW better.  We know the consequences of sin (death).  We know that sin separates us from God.  We know the guilt we feel when we give in to temptation.  And yet......... we sin.  We KNOW better.  

If we are what we know, then why aren't we better people?  Why aren't we better Christians?  Why does forgiveness come so difficult to us?  Why does giving feel like pulling teeth sometimes?  Why do we keep ourselves formed into little cliques and safely within our constructed buildings instead of evangelizing the world so desperate for the Good News?  We KNOW better! 

Because we are not what we know.  We are what we love.  And we love comfort, convenience, and ourselves.   And what we love shapes us, forms us, and determines our identity.  We sing loudly the songs we love.  We grumble when the songs aren't the ones we like.  We love our routines, but get frustrated when someone sits in our seat.  During the week we passionately pursue what we've chosen to love.  

When we follow Jesus we inevitably get pulled into situations in which our comfort is threatened.  Imagine if the disciples knew completely what they were getting into when they dropped their nets and followed Jesus!  What they knew was about to be in direct conflict with the one they chose to love.  Dont go sailing in storms is a solid nugget of knowledge.  Dont travel through Samaria was drilled into their brains by centuries of cultural prejudice.  Dont touch lepers, in fact stay away from them completely was just common sense at the time.  

And yet the heart of Jesus, and the love they had for the Rabbi put them into situations of direct conflict with they knew.  

What do you know that has kept you from pursuing the heart of Christ today?  What knowledge has been passed down through time to keep you from chasing the Cross in light of chasing comfort and convenience?  

Is it about what you KNOW or what you LOVE that is going to shape you today?  




January 2, 2017, 8:55 AM

A Distracted Heart



My phone has been really buggy recently, and its got me more distracted than usual. 

I am also having trouble getting decent reception on my television since I mounted it on the wall, away from the windows.  

Within two weeks I had to replace the batteries in both vehicles.  

On top of ALL that, something I ordered online arrived at my house (after two-day shipping, of course) broken, so I had to wait another week or so until I could sort it all out. 

You could say my life is pretty difficult right now.  Or you could say I'm being silly and getting distracted by stupid, meaningless stuff.  No matter which path you choose, there is a stark reality we need to address: We've all gotten pretty distracted. 

There are things in this world that need our attention.  And there are things in this world that GET our attention.  Unfortunately, those don't match up very well. 

Our current sermon series (part 1 found here) is looking at the desires of our heart... because the desires of our hearts is what defines us.  Too often we think, therefore we are...  Not so true.  Just because we "know" something, doesn't mean anything changes.  What changes us is what we "want" and therefore go and get.   I know I should eat more vegetables and less pizza.  But I want to eat pizza, therefore I eat too much pizza and not enough vegetables.  

If our lives were determined by what we "know" then I would be a world class athlete (in all sports), a high profile movie critic, and a successful business man.  But what I am is determined not by what I know, but by what I've shown myself to want.  (which is pizza).  

So what do you want?  

Because what we want defines us.  

John 1: 35 - 37   35The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples.36As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the iLamb of God!”37When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.




December 19, 2016, 9:09 AM

What makes us different?



Big question:  Are we any different?

Sure we have a routine that makes our weekends look different.  Sure we have a category in our closets with the title of "Church Clothes." But it it enough? 

The same question can be asked about the Christmas holiday:  Is it any different?  According to culture, Christmas is a time to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!!!  Which doesnt sound any different than any other holiday in which we need to decorate, get season-appropriate cards, etc...  

Big answer:  Yes, we're different because of Love.  Christmas is different because of Love. 

God showed us our value in Christmas.  God became vulnerable on Christmas.  God paid a cost far above the return value for Christmas.  

Because he loves us.  That makes this holiday different than any other, except maybe Easter Sunday which celebrates the same valuation of sinners worldwide with the sacrifice of the Cross being front and center. 

While we may disagree on Christmas trees, whether or not we should celebrate on the 25th... we have to acknowledge the reason behind this holiday and what makes it different.  Jesus.  Its not about questions or the details... its about the Messiah.  

And that makes all the difference in the world.  

At least for a few weeks of the year.  What we do with the rest is up to us. 




December 12, 2016, 8:45 AM

The Best Kind of Present...



Is the one you didn't know you needed, but shows itself so useful later on that you never knew how you lived without it.  

I have opened my share of dud-gifts in my life.  I'm sure you have too... We've made a niche of ugly Christmas sweaters, so much that they are now popular and hard to find at thrift stores.  Fruitcake.  I don't need to explain that one further.  

They're almost a stereotype, the gift that is just poorly thought out...  But lets not dwell on the disappointing gifts... what about those that are so useful that they make up for all the sweaters and socks.  Sometimes its a gadget you didn't know what as useful as you thought.  Maybe it was something for the kitchen that makes preparing your favorite dish more efficient.  Whatever it is, I hope you've had the surprise of that kind of present.  

Not to be so simple and trite, but Jesus is that type of present for us.  Is he the gift expected?  No, we've been through this before.  He was not royalty, not born into a family that had political sway, nor was he adopted into such place (think: Moses and Egypt).  This was the gift we needed, but not the gift we wanted.  

This gift created the tension of sacrifice vs. self-preservation.  Because of the gift of Jesus brought about the conflict of dying to self as opposed to gaining reputation and fame in this world.  And as far as I can tell from human nature, no one asked for that!  "Dear Santa, please make me uncomfortable this year with what I believe and how I behave."  Nope.  

And yet there are centuries of believers who've put their trust in the gift of our Messiah.  Its time to unwrap that gift.  

Luke 1: 29 - 37    29Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.30“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.32He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.33And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.36What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.37For nothing is impossible with God.”




December 5, 2016, 8:43 AM

Counter-Culture



A quick hit blog for Christmas:  What would a commercial for the birth of Jesus would look like today?   

If it were left up to executives or travel agencies, Bethlehem would be absolutely void of stables or sparsely apportioned inns.  There would be comfortable beds (plenty of them), people on staff to take care of every need you could think of (even giving birth) at all hours of the night.  Not a food trough in sight. 

And yet the travel agency of Rome demanded attendance in Bethlehem.  Late arrival?  Tough.  Third trimester?  Tough.  Prophecies of a new-born king?  No big deal.  

The star that lead to our Savior then still leads us today.  Into a place of sacrifice that blesses.  To a place where discomfort produces faithfulness.  To a place that is a travel agent's worst nightmare.  

Will you make the trip?  

Luke 2: 1 - 7  1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.7She gave birth to her efirst child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

 




November 28, 2016, 9:00 AM

Balance.



There is a theme in my ministry (sermons) that I cant help but speak at almost every opportunity:  Live the Story.  

Here's the meat behind that concept:  we must act as though we are Christ-Followers at every moment, not just when in the presence of other Christians.  To give you (the reader) the context, I was a youth minister for the first 12 years of my career, and this theme was shaped out of that decade of experiences.  

Too many times I would experience the absolute best of a student, see changes and hear positive responses to the call of Jesus.  Commitments were made, and faith seemed to be the driving force of behavior.  And then I see social media comments, stories told from friends, and parents asking me why I haven't taught little Joe about the dangers of _______ or _______ (insert your favorite teenage rebellion or sin).   It became such a pattern that I could predict certain behavior trends in certain individuals (think: the last night of camp where the emotion of the week overwhelms tired minds).  

Yes, I became jaded.  Yes, I adjusted quickly how I taught and the expectations I had.  No longer was attendance the highest goal (Yay! You made it this week!).  No longer was mountain-top confession and repentance the goal of weekend trips (CIY does this to great effect). 

What became the focus of ministry and teaching was the valleys, those points when real life was happening.  In the classroom, when the parents aren't home, when they were alone with their boy/girl-friend, when depression and anxiety ruled the day.  That mentality has crept into my time as preaching minister... In the times when we're not dressed up and at church is where the heart of faith is grown. 

Because there is a truth that we need to face:  The behavior of children is taught and cultivated at home.  Behavior patterns need reinforced in order to "stick."   Yes, genetics and hereditary features can come in to play... but we cant use that as an excuse.  Racism is taught. 100%.  Prejudice is taught.  And weak faith practices are reinforced by practices and behavior outside the Church.  

Our time together in Christian activity (1 or 2 hours a week, tops) cannot be what balances, or even redeems us.   What proves a heart seeking to follow Christ is shown in actually following Christ.  We wrapped up a small group series recently entitled: Not a Fan.  The premise is this:  "Are you a fan of Jesus?  Or are you a Follower?"  Because following Christ happens in the valleys, in real life, when we're alone and the minister isn't around to keep his eyes on us.  

Lets change the world by teaching the world through consistent, Christ-like behavior where ever we are. Especially when we're not at Church. 

Colossians 3: 16 - 17  16Let the message about iChrist, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.17And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.




November 21, 2016, 9:08 AM

A Blessing for Thanksgiving



May our hearts be as full as our stomachs. 

May our family be as welcome as the dessert table. 

May our joy shine as clear as our passion for football on Thursday afternoon. 

As we gather, wherever we are, let the light of Christ shine through our gratitude and thankfulness for our salvation.  

1 Thessalonians 5: 18   18Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

 

Be blessed in this season of Thanksgiving.  




November 14, 2016, 9:07 AM

Bears, Endures, Believes, and Hopes



Those are the characteristics of what Love Does.  Love, one of the eternal elements of belief that will remain when all else fails (alongside faith and hope - 1 Cor. 13).  This all stems from a worship moment I had yesterday, when my brain decided to take a left turn during a song.  Instead of focusing on the heart of the song, I got bored with my prescribed 4 notes and spend time looking at the words...  What does Love do?  It Bears all things.  It Endures all things.  It Hopes all things.  It Believes all things.  (At least according to The Greatest Command).  

What can love bear?  It is not a muscle.  Yet Love bears the years we spend in grief, the hours of our heartbreak, the lifetime of our pursuit of the perfect relationship with Christ.  Love can carry the heaviest weight we have:  time.  

What does love endure?  It is not an object to punish.  Yet love endures our vain pursuits, our desires to be thought of well by the world, the days we spend seeking a better reputation.  Love endures our distracted hearts, drawing us closer and closer to Christ. 

What does love hope for?  Completeness.  Unity.  Love hopes for things far beyond our imagination... Love hopes for the very heart of God to be realized here on Earth. 

What does love believe?  The best of us.  Just like Jesus. 

The story that John tells in 1, 2, and 3 John is of the power Love has over this world.  It is the identifier of a follower of Christ.  It is what separates us from those without the Holy Spirit.  

What can we endure?  Not much...  but the love of God will endure eternally.  

1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 7  4Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.6It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.7Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 




October 31, 2016, 9:02 AM

Reversing Worship



In my sermon yesterday (10/30) I mentioned a trend that worship has taken that needs to stop - Bottom Up worship.  Let me walk through the idea:  We show up on Sunday morning (or your appointed time) and tell God what we think.  The songs/sermon/scriptures are chosen to be uplifting to us, and if they aren't we walk away unsatisfied, or unfed.  Prayers are expressed for our problems, the sick, the needy, the Country.  Everything focuses on us, and if it doesn't we look for a place that will meet our needs (or our children's needs, etc...).  
Now, yes, this is a blanket statement about the state of worship, and the state of "church."  Yes, I am a part of the system that has both created and cultivated this mindset.  So Yes, the fingers are pointing in ALL directions as we dive into this thought and challenge!  

This form of worship expression (Bottom-Up) creates virtues out of things that were never really virtues to begin with:  attendance, authenticity, habit, and consumerism.  When worship is all about US, just showing up is a virtue, is a celebration, is reason to think we've got something right in the world. After all, how many people dont make an effort on Sunday morning to gather in fellowship and worship?  Just showing up is not a virtue.  Neither is authenticity.  Many, many, many worship leaders (and preachers too) seek authenticity in their services.  Here's what it means:  "God, I REALLY mean what I'm singing and saying and praying right now.  Really, really."   

Why seek authenticity?  Because we're not authentic, by nature.  And when it comes to worship, we feel the need to convince our neighbors in the pew, the preacher, the worship leader, and God that we really mean it this time when we sing I Surrender All.  

Authenticity is not a virtue.  Neither is consumerism, or your habits.  Those are traits of a soul wrapped in the comforts of culture.  

So what SHOULD worship look like?  To be simple, its a Top-Down experience.  Yes it is VERY appropriate to speak/sing our hearts to God and tell him exactly what we're feeling and dealing with.  But that is not the focus of the experience.  What God has to say is what is important.  NO, that does not mean the sermon is more important than anything else.  God's Word incarnate in communion, in the call to live sacrificially and generously, and the example already given by Jesus are what TOP-Down worship looks like.  We cant really be waiting around for a new, fabulous, get rich quick, grow your church with one easy step program message to arrive every week.  God has already spoken his heart for his people, and has set the table for our worship experiences.  

He uses his word to speak of the virtues he seeks:  patience, love, compassion, generosity, sacrifice...  none of which look anything like the virtues we've made of our expectations of worship today.  When David prayed and sang through the Psalms he cried his heart out for deliverance and peace... but was willing to wait for God's will and timing and work to be done WHEN GOD WAS READY.  He displayed a Top-Down worship: --  "Here's what I'm feeling, God...  You are God, I'm not...  I submit to your will."   That sounds a lot like Jesus' prayer in the Garden before the episode of the Cross.  

Habakkuk got the same message across to God in his written works late in the OT, and well into the captivity.  "God, look at the ruin and mess and loss that used to be your people, Israel.  Restore us!!  But not on my time....in Yours."  (Chris' Paraphrase).  God speaks to Habakkuk (and us) with comfort and the expectation of God's virtues: patience in affliction, compassion to those in charge, repentance to wickedness, and a love of God's laws.  Israel was reformed by reversing worship... We can do the same.  

Habakkuk 3: 16 b - 19   I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us. 17Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! 19The eSovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.




October 24, 2016, 9:01 AM

Why is the Good stuff always the Hardest?



I feel like (and this is selfishness talking here) that Jesus could have made the REALLY important stuff we are supposed to do as Christians a whole lot easier.  Forgiveness is really, really difficult.  No matter how well you forgive a wrong, forgetting it is another matter all together.  Repentance is really, really difficult.  Habits are hard to break for a reason, we're built with them in our very nature and fiber as beings.  So stopping one is not an easy prospect.  

Confession, thats an awkward and uncomfortable prospect.  Peacemaking means we get thrown under the bus at times, not being able to fully realize the fruit of our efforts (of having them be reciprocated even).  

Why is all this stuff, the IMPORTANT stuff, really difficult?  Well, Selfish Chris, its not difficult.  You've made it difficult.  

We have trained ourselves to avoid something that makes us look less.  Can you imagine if someone labeled you "James - the Less" today?  We'd have a fit!  The act of Confession means we've made a mistake in which we need to take accountability.  Forgiveness means we need to put ourselves second, shuffle our priorities to include those of others.  Peacemaking means we dont get to say those witty comebacks we've been practicing in the shower.  

We've been trained to THRIVE in those moments that make ourselves bigger, stronger, more dominant.  Jesus calls us to the back of the line, to the bottom rung of the ladder... to the places where confession, repentance, and forgiveness THRIVE.  

For me, golf is difficult.  You know why?  Because I've played it twice in my life.  I know that if I played it regularly, I'd get better... exponentially.  Maybe forgiveness and confession are so hard for us because we've never really done them.  I bet if we try, and practice the characteristics of Jesus more they wouldn't be so difficult.  In fact, I bet the Church could get pretty good at them.  

 




October 17, 2016, 8:56 AM

Honestly...



Honesty.  Honesty is a dangerous trait, not to mention very uncomfortable to encounter.  We tend to like the glossed over, sugar coated, quick hit responses to life.  "How are you?" "Fine."  "Good to hear, see you later!"  

Sunday morning (or whenever you gather for a worship service) is no exception to the rule.  We like the glossed over, comforting messages of a community that looks like it has it all together.  Yes we're a flawed people with sinful natures... just don't show it when we're all dressed nicer than average and sitting in orderly rows preparing to worship and commune with our Creator.  

Then David shows up in the Psalms.  And boy is he honest.  We hear him cry out in anguish, we hear him shout with joy.  He questions God, he accuses God, he feels abandoned by God, and we read it all.  He holds nothing back from how he feels and how he communicates that to his Father, OUR Father.  Do you ever want to look up to God and say: "He doesn't speak for me necessarily! I think you're doing a great job!"  

We are uncomfortable with that level of honesty, not that it would surprise God.  He's seen and heard it all before, not to mention seeing fit to have it printed for all time in the text of the Psalms.  Truthfully, I think we think God only wants to hear the exaltations and the "We're fine, thanks for asking" songs from us.  We choose inspirational snippets of text to adorn our walls and Bible-covers.  

David's honesty is the first step (in my opinion) to true worship and forming a purer relationship with God.  His heart is contrite, he holds nothing back ("I am a worm...").  Confession and repentance are foundational pieces of David's character.  Are they even the tiniest portion of our character?  

We cant pretend to have it all together on the outside, worshipping with "abandon" while writhing in agony internally.  God does not desire those types of sacrifices.  He wants a contrite (Honest) heart, profession a desperate need for his strength, compassion, and mercy.  That is the first step in finding ourselves immersed in Worship.  The first steps towards becoming a people after God's own heart.  

Psalm 13: 1 - 3

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.




October 10, 2016, 10:00 AM

Coming home to a clean house



We just got back from a trip North and there is something relevant here I wanted to write about:  Coming home to a clean house. 

I need to be transparent here:  I do not like cleaning up.  BUT I like coming home to a messy house after a vacation even less, so cleaning is the plan.  However, I need you to know that my definition of cleaning up is WAY different than those with higher standards (my wife).  For me, a room is clean if I can stand in a doorway and not see the mess.  No, I do not condone sweeping things under the rug, but I'm usually pretty content with toys in the right pile, and general orderliness. 

That doesnt usually work though, and only adds to the general disorder of things when someone with standards actually tries to clean up after me.  Their eyes are trained to see the mess, seek out the dust in the corners and leave the room actually.........clean.  Whereas I like to leave the room.......... sort of clean. 

Do you wonder if thats what Jesus sees when he looks at us?  He is coming back.  That is truth.  We have staked our entire faith existence on the fact that we know he's coming back.  What is he going to find?  His standards are high.  The dark corners WILL be exposed and any things we've swept under the rug will be brought into the light.  

Are we still trying to keep those habits and sins in the dark, where we think they'll never see the light of day?  Do we live as though we'll have another day to tidy up?  I'm not one for doom and gloom, but there's a reality that has to be faced concerning our laziness for confession and repentance.  "It will wait..." "There's always tomorrow... (insert the rest of the Annie lyrics here)."  

There is NOT tomorrow.  There is no time to wait.  Jesus' message to his disciples was to face those dark corners immediately and to not fall into the trap of the Pharisees (whom took pride in their outward appearance but were ignorant to the darkness inside).  

The time for sweeping up is now. 

 




September 26, 2016, 10:51 AM

Another Thought on Strength...



Big Question:  If the promise of Heaven or the threat of Hell were stripped away… how would you live?  

Would your life continue to be defined by such concepts as integrity, or generosity?  Would your character change if you knew you weren't “storing up treasure?”  This answer, at least in one instance, was answered with the behavior of Moses after on of his brief forays into impatience with the stubbornness of Israel.  He is told he will not enter the Promised Land.  

The carrot was taken from the end of his stick, he was left to wander the remainder of the 40 years in the wilderness with no relief in sight.  Everyone else would eventually make it into Canaan… he would not.  He now dealt with the transgressions, complaining, and general whininess of the people for NOTHING!!!!  (yes, I’m speaking from a lower story perspective).

But he continues to lead.  He continues to stand between God and man.  He continues to walk Israel closer and closer to the promise he will never receive. Why? 

Because there is so much more to how we love God than just our words or songs.  There must be action, response, and movement involved.  Moses kept walking.  

How ‘bout us?  Would we continue?  

I think we’ve got the Heart and Soul of love well handled.  Well, to be honest, there are industries built upon our grasp of the heart and soul of love:  Christian Music, Worship groups, Christian Radio.  Every one of those resources gives us countless ways to connect with the emotional and internal aspects of God.  If that were enough, well, things would be a lot easier.  

James takes that issue on with his letter late in the New Testament — James 2: 14; 17  What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can't that kind of faith save anyone?… 17 So you see, faith by itself isn't enough.  Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 

We could explain away Moses’ actions as dedication or integrity… but that would not be giving him enough credit.  He added the strength into loving God.  Does your life exhibit strength in your walk?  Or are we content with singing a happy song and leaving the loving to emotional outpouring? The world needs us to serve.  It doesn't have to be leading a nation into freedom… it may be loving one person through a empty tank of gas.  One small movement at a time leads us to our own Mt. Nebo…… and peace.  But only if we add every ounce of our strength to worship and faith.  


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