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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.  




September 19, 2016, 8:09 AM

Maybe John Lennon was right...



You may recall that in 1966 John Lennon of the Beatles made an infamous remark that had dire consequences here in the US.  He said:  "We're (the Beatles) more popular than Jesus, now."   There is much more to the quote, in which he is discussing the diminishing influence of Christianity in the UK which makes the statement less potent and controversial.  But the entire statement wasn't printed five months later here in the US, only the quote that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.  

Lets look at the whole quote:  "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."  The London Evening Star - "How Does a Beatle Live?" -- March 4, 1966.

It was the response received in the United States that pushed the Beatles to extinction, no longer performing live shows and becoming a studio-only band.  Taken out of context, they deserved every bit of anger... it is an egotistical and arrogant statement to make.  Within its context, there should be a higher level of alarm... 

Because he's right... in a sense.  

The world wins in the popularity contest.  Sacrificial living is not the norm, nor does it get the press like living large, living the American dream.  This is not to say that the Church will ever fade, that is not going to happen.  But it needs said that we've let the world win our hearts, even if we count on Jesus handling our souls.  

The ordinary people around Jesus did make his message a little harder to hear.  Peter was denying him; John was declaring that Jesus loved him best; Thomas doubted...  Not to mention what disciples and followers of Jesus have done to his name in the centuries that have followed.  Why would the world, unbelievers choose the Church over money, or comfort?  We dont. 

Jesus is not worried about the results of a popularity contest, he never was or will be.  It seems like the Church has become satisfied with being Runner-Up though.  That only changes when we do, when we shift allegiance to this failing world onto the hope that lasts eternal.  

Luke 9: 23 - 26  23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. 

 




September 12, 2016, 8:13 AM

Hot or Cold isnt the same as Conservative or Liberal **



That's a mouthful.  Especially for a blog title that's supposed to grab our attention and quickly dispense a point.  But I'm sticking with it.  I read a social media post this past Saturday evening that refuses to let me be, so I'm using this format to discuss it a bit with you.  My political knowledge and leanings are minimal at best... mostly I'm annoyed at how the election high jacks the news for months and months on end.  In other words, I am not going to blow your mind with some political insight.  

I do want to talk about how it affects our faith though, or at least how it affects our behavior.  Its a hot topic for sure, and some buzz words come forward every four years that "help" us determine which side we stand on:  Liberal and Conservative.  At the very core, those are decent enough descriptors for political leanings... and I would say I lean definitely towards what is typically the conservative stance.  

However... However... the words are being abused greatly; With one being almost solely used to describe one political party or another.  Once you are labeled as one, there's no changing or going back without repercussions.  It like voting the party line, selecting the box for all Republicans or Democrats on the ballot.  There's no room for real action there.  

How about those labels when it comes to our belief systems?  It is inherently assumed that the conservative outlook is the biblical stance.  And liberal is the worldly or errant place to be.  To quote the article I've read:  "there is nothing Spiritual, in and of itself, of conservative or liberal position on anything." **  We want to prove ourselves literate and subject to scriptural doctrine....... but what if we've missed the point based on our concern more to be conservative than actually act like Jesus?

Let me explain that last thought:  Jesus and the Pharisees were quite similar, and had a lot in common.  I am guilty of making them the butt of a joke, or antagonists in a lesson.  Their contributions to faith and religion cannot be overlooked.  Without them, Christianity would not have had the foundation for growth, nor the political shelter to operate freely within the Roman occupation.  They were instrumental to the birth and growth of the Christian movement...... even if they fought it.  

One could establish (quite convincingly) that they were the conservative arm of the faith system.  They protected the Law, down to the letter.  Entering the scene was a man who challenged some of that system, pushing its limits at every turn.  Why?  Why did he do this?  Was it to enrage them to the point of playing their part in his crucifixion?  No.  Was it to play a political card, challenging the established order of things within Roman occupation?  No.  Was it simply to be different?  No.  

Jesus was labeled "liberal" because instead of pushing Law he pushed Love.  And that made him a raging liberal.  He challenged their system by including everyone.  He challenged their ideas of what purity meant by touching the untouchable, healing sinners, and dining with the outcasts.  Everything he did pushed his agenda:  Love.  Now lets not get confused here, he did not come to abolish the Law.  He held to the Temple rules for purity... he just didnt extend them beyond those walls.  (Washing hands, utensils, etc...).  

We need a new position, or party to stand with:  Jesus.  And we need a new agenda:  love.  

** inspired by thoughts from Bobby Valentine, 09/09




September 12, 2016, 8:12 AM

Hot or Cold isnt the same as Conservative or Liberal **



That's a mouthful.  Especially for a blog title that's supposed to grab our attention and quickly dispense a point.  But I'm sticking with it.  I read a social media post this past Saturday evening that refuses to let me be, so I'm using this format to discuss it a bit with you.  My political knowledge and leanings are minimal at best... mostly I'm annoyed at how the election high jacks the news for months and months on end.  In other words, I am not going to blow your mind with some political insight.  

I do want to talk about how it affects our faith though, or at least how it affects our behavior.  Its a hot topic for sure, and some buzz words come forward every four years that "help" us determine which side we stand on:  Liberal and Conservative.  At the very core, those are decent enough descriptors for political leanings... and I would say I lean definitely towards what is typically the conservative stance.  

However... However... the words are being abused greatly; With one being almost solely used to describe one political party or another.  Once you are labeled as one, there's no changing or going back without repercussions.  It like voting the party line, selecting the box for all Republicans or Democrats on the ballot.  There's no room for real action there.  

How about those labels when it comes to our belief systems?  It is inherently assumed that the conservative outlook is the biblical stance.  And liberal is the worldly or errant place to be.  To quote the article I've read:  "there is nothing Spiritual, in and of itself, of conservative or liberal position on anything." **  We want to prove ourselves literate and subject to scriptural doctrine....... but what if we've missed the point based on our concern more to be conservative than actually act like Jesus?

Let me explain that last thought:  Jesus and the Pharisees were quite similar, and had a lot in common.  I am guilty of making them the butt of a joke, or antagonists in a lesson.  Their contributions to faith and religion cannot be overlooked.  Without them, Christianity would not have had the foundation for growth, nor the political shelter to operate freely within the Roman occupation.  They were instrumental to the birth and growth of the Christian movement...... even if they fought it.  

One could establish (quite convincingly) that they were the conservative arm of the faith system.  They protected the Law, down to the letter.  Entering the scene was a man who challenged some of that system, pushing its limits at every turn.  Why?  Why did he do this?  Was it to enrage them to the point of playing their part in his crucifixion?  No.  Was it to play a political card, challenging the established order of things within Roman occupation?  No.  Was it simply to be different?  No.  

Jesus was labeled "liberal" because instead of pushing Law he pushed Love.  And that made him a raging liberal.  He challenged their system by including everyone.  He challenged their ideas of what purity meant by touching the untouchable, healing sinners, and dining with the outcasts.  Everything he did pushed his agenda:  Love.  Now lets not get confused here, he did not come to abolish the Law.  He held to the Temple rules for purity... he just didnt extend them beyond those walls.  (Washing hands, utensils, etc...).  

We need a new position, or party to stand with:  Jesus.  And we need a new agenda:  love.  

** inspired by thoughts from Bobby Valentine, 09/09




August 29, 2016, 8:47 AM

A Lost Artform



Encouragement.  

I'm in the office chewing on the thoughts presented excellently in yesterday's sermon by Dan Dozier (08/28).  Why is Barnabas so important to the story?  Because the art of encouragement has been nearly lost.  

How much easier is it to offer criticism or complaint?  So much so that we've created extra words to justify our complaints and criticisms: "Constructive Criticism."  When we add the extra to it, we feel like we're actually helping and not piling our own frustrations on our target. Nevermind the source of criticism, there are so many dark places we hold tightly too that breed negativity.  What is concerning is the lack of restraint and filter present in the lives and hearts of Christians that should catch those comments before they make their way to the vocal chords.   

I'm not pushing an environment in which complaints are never spoken, or concerns get left unattended to.  Every organization needs to face its failings and shortcomings.  What concerns me as I chew on the topic is the lack of concern shown towards individuals, the lack of restraint we show towards someone we disagree with.  I've created a new Rule for Life in the past few years:  Avoid the "Comments" section anywhere on the internet.  Within the anonymity of the internet, people unleash every hateful and spiteful word they can think of into any and every situation.  2016 has been a hotbed of attacks towards individuals both for both good and bad actions (and I'm not even thinking of the election yet!). 

How important does Barnabas become right here, right now?  We need him.  Desperately.  Instead of leading with "what I dont like about....", Barnabas lead with hope, loyalty, and love.  Without those we would not have the Gospel of Mark.  Without those, John Mark might have fallen to the wayside after Paul's rejection of him.  I'm not taking sides in that dispute, I'm simply pointing to the power of Barnabas' actions.  

Have you taken the role of Barnabas?  Or are we more comfortable putting people in their place and letting someone else mop up the mess?  We shouldnt even need to have this conversation at Church, or in the Christian realm at all.  But here we are.  The world needs encouragement, your family and friends need Barnabas.  Is that you?  

Acts 11: 22 - 26 22When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch.23When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord.24Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.

25Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul.26When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)

 




August 22, 2016, 8:57 AM

On Principle...



Ever had someone discipline you, or throw something back in your face simple “on principle?”  Its a way of saying: “I’m doing this because of the principles that drive me to action.”  If you act unjustly, its justice that drive the principles of discipline.  If you act immorally, its the principles of morality that are lost.  If you suffer because of the state of the economy, its those financial principles that govern you.  We are driven by our principles.  See this definition:

principle

--noun--

1 a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning 

     Dare I ask what serves as the foundation for your system of belief or behavior for a chain of reasoning?  

During the Revolutionary War, it was the principle of freedom for all man that kept our young nation believing in the Cause.  What guides you to get our of bed each morning?  What drives you in the decisions you make financially?  What pushes you to decide which way to go individually?  As a family?  As the Body of Christ?  

    Church, we must find ourselves governed by the example and words of Jesus Christ.  Sure, there is nothing in the Bible about which TV shows to watch.  There is nothing in the Bible about whether or not we should allow our children to date.  We face cultural battles every day, with a world that is changing faster than we can keep up with.  The Bible does address something very important though:  our identity.  When we base our identity on the words and example of Jesus Christ we will be guided by a principle that allows for cultural change, for modern thought, for growth and adaptability.  When you make your principles this: 

Matthew 22: 37 - 40

There is nothing that will fall outside your Bible frame of perspective!!! 

--Why should I give?  Simply on principle. 

--Why should I love?  Simply on principle. 

--Why should I engage this world with an attitude that states that I don’t belong here and therefore will not cling to its laws, its chains, and its beliefs?  SIMPLY ON PRINCIPLE!! 

Lets find ourselves burdened with the compassion of Jesus.  Lets find ourselves taking this world by storm…. Simply on Principle.  

Stop chaining yourself to the past, to your faults, to others expectations… Grow into the expectations (and principles) of Jesus Christ.  

Matthew 22: 37 - 40  37Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38This is the first and greatest commandment.39A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”




August 15, 2016, 8:40 AM

For Man or For God?



I've spent time these past few weeks with Paul, reading his letters and thinking about his life. It is unique in the sense that we get nearly all of his time in ministry chronicled for us.  We get to read his personal letters and get glimpses into his faults and encouragements.  Even when he is under arrest and chained to a Roman guard, Paul lets us in.  I want to try and sum up his life in one statement: 

He lived every moment to the satisfaction of God.  

Sounds nice doesn't it?  It would make a pretty good book that sets our hearts at ease and puts a smile on our face to think that we too could live that way.  But it isn't a good book, nor does it have a pretty cover.  You wont find Paul's "Living for God" book in the self-help section.  You'll find it amongst the books dedicated to the martyrs.  

Unless we're teaching a series on them, we typically avoid those shelves.  Paul lived every moment for God, and not for man.  Now, that is not to say that he didn't struggle and sin; we get a first-person confession of those moments from Paul.  Every time though, just like with David, there is repentance and forgiveness.  So even in those moments of failure and sin, he is clearly focused on God.  

Here's the point:  Who do you want to please more: Man or God?  

Our voices on Sunday morning sing songs of praise and allegiance to God...  our lives and actions speak of different allegiances.  This is not a call to drop everything and run to a 3rd world country.  This is NOT a call to drop a career and head to seminary.  This IS a call to live and breathe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Paul met Priscilla and Aquilla, they were making tents.  He didn't come into their lives by standing on a street corner with a bullhorn, he worked with them.  His influence through that process brought us powerful members of the missional community.  

Paul lived for God, his audience of One.  That meant there were people who didn't agree with Paul.  He was ok with that.  That meant there were people who wanted Paul out of the picture.  He was ok with that.  Paul had people actively teaching against his teaching.  He was ok with that.  His audience was God, and that was who he was trying to please. 

For God, or for Man?  Who is your audience? 

Philippians 1: 20 - 22   20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better




August 8, 2016, 9:47 AM

Why Saul isnt the Main Character in His Own Conversion Story



I, like everyone else who occupies a 21st Century Church, owe a lot of thanks to Paul.  He embraced his calling and vision and literally ran with it to the end.  Because of his work, we are who we are.  Thank You Paul, you deserve the three chapters in The Story... But I'm done talking about you.  

We need to look closely at Ananias.  Closely, expertly, taking in the details and emulating him.  Simply put:  We are called like Ananias and not like Paul.  Yes, there are exceptions, and those people make the best of their calling to missions.  The rest of us have our feet planted where they're planted... And we are not without a powerful calling.  

"GO!  Go to Straight Street and lift up the man sent here to drag you away in chains."  Ananias was called to love someone, plain and simple.  Ever wonder what God is calling you to do in your life?  Look no further than Acts 9.  Dont skip over the parts where Saul is cowering alone in a house.  Look for him sitting there blind, hungry, despondent...  And then look for the person who helps him.  

The trouble is, until God takes the matter into his own hands, no one helps Saul.  No One.  FOR THREE DAYS.  

Saul was praying.  Saul was begging.  Saul was hurting.  And no one helped him.  Ever hear the parable of the Good Samaritan?  Boom, life imitating art right there.  Every one of us walked on the other side of the road.  Now we have good reason/excuse to do so, there was no way to be sure once Saul was set on his feet that we wouldn't lash out again.  No one wanted to be the one to restore a tyrant to strength.  
But the calling of every Christ-follower was ignored for those days: Love.  Seek out those who need compassion, food, water, clothing and attend to them.  The crux of our salvation rests on us reaching our hands out the Saul (Matthew 25).  Everything rests on our ministering to him... and we walk on the other side of the street.  

The calling of Ananias is our calling.  Have you heard it? 

Acts 9: 10 - 16 10 Now there was a believer[b] in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied. 11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers[c] in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

 




August 1, 2016, 8:03 AM

The biggest hurdle to reaching the world...



Is us.  

Our ego, our pride is the biggest hurdle for the world receiving the Gospel.  Its a hard lesson, but we've been prepping for this moment from the very beginning of The Story.  The Kingdom of God, the kingdom that Jesus was preparing us for in his time here was placed in the hands of the apostles... and it took serious power to overcome their pride and ego.  They were critical of his decisions to go into Samaria, every Jew was.  Peter, even after witnessing firsthand the power of the Holy Spirit and receiving a vision from God that Gentiles are ok, struggles with reaching out to Cornelius and his family. 

After Peter (PETER!!  The cornerstone of the new movement, THE most visible apostle) did this he was dragged before a council to answer for his actions.  Yes, he had to explain himself for responding to God and the Holy Spirit's promptings.  He had to explain that he saw God move in the dogs of Samaria.  While Peter's ego was taken care of (look into his letters later in the New Testament to see the change of his heart!), the majority struggled with the concept of the Gospel being for everyone.    

Are we fighting the same battle?  Yes, the Gospel is for us.  Yes, the entire story was written and acted out for us.  Yes, we have received the gift of Salvation from the Cross.  And yes, so it was our neighbors and enemies.  Across the street, around the corner, on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings... All receive the same gift we have.  

Imagine the impact on the world if we put our own pride aside and went into the corners of our own personal Samaria.  




July 25, 2016, 9:12 AM

Surprise!



In The Story - Adult Study book, Randy Frazee uses the example of a Jack-in-the-Box in his introduction to this week's chapter study.  I immediately related to this because I am both fascinated by the fact that they still make those toys, and their popularity throughout history.  You are basically paying to be scared.  If you watch the movie: Elf you know how I feel about them!   What's interesting is that we keep cranking the handle, listening to the music, and jump a little bit when the top pops open... EVEN THOUGH we know exactly what is going to happen!  

I think there is a similar reaction every year/time we talk about the Resurrection.  We know the story, we know what is going to happen, and yet we act surprised when it plays out the exact way we expected.  The Resurrection is more than just a good annual sermon topic, or something we use to make Easter special... it is THE reason we have hope.  Death was defeated, and that changes everything.  

We need to stop cranking the handle and wondering if the same thing happens this time through the Gospels.  I dont want to see the Church handle the Good News like the disciples did in John 20.  They hid behind locked doors AFTER they met Jesus... Fear ruled them.  When he shows up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they are surprised (just like a Jack-in-the-Box).  

We serve a living Savior.  Living.  Alive.  Powerful.  

That changes us...  Now let go of the handle and live a resurrected life. 

Acts 1: 6 - 11 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”




July 18, 2016, 8:40 AM

The Path of Least Resistance



Lets not start this blog entry with any confusion: I am lazy.  I do not like pain.  I actively work to avoid pain and work to keep things as streamlined and efficient as possible.   Making that clear is important because what we're talking about this morning is going to sound a lot like an angry soapbox rant.  It isn't.  This is for me as well. 

      The American Dream has replaced/stolen the heart of Christianity.  

We used to be about compassion, generosity, service, accepting the marginalized, and caring for the poor.  Now we're about bigger buildings, being blessed, comfort, and material wealth.  (Yes, those are blanket statements... forgive me for needing to make a big splash here).  
    I say "we" and "used to" in the prior sentence in light of the professed model for our movement today: the First Century Church.  Back then the movement was about inclusion (Gentiles) and meeting the needs of the group over the individual.  Today we cant seem to get Black and White churches together for more than a 5th Sunday Singing.  

The American Dream has become our mantra, goal, and vision.  (I feel the need to repeat: I am guilty of this...).  We push to make our buildings more comfortable for the upper class, which automatically makes it uncomfortable for the lower class.  The nicer we look the more they stick out.  We dont want challenged to push our boundaries of love and generosity, we want to be secure in our blessings and made to be hopeful that rich people CAN enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  

We want America to be great again, but only if it means we get our power back.  We want the political system to work FOR us instead of equally between us and those we label as tax collectors and sinners (there's some First Century Church for ya!).  In other words, we want the path of least resistance.  We want to be accepted, appreciated, welcomed, empowered, and universally loved without having to earn it.    

The path of Christ, the path of his followers walks in another direction.  Exclusion, suspicion,  alienation, and pain.  Now it isn't always this dreary of an outlook.  Joy and Peace are two great promises we've been given... but remember those come no matter the circumstance.  

America is already great.  It never ceased to be great.  But lets not get confused in this politically charged landscape:  We are citizens of a greater place, and mere aliens here.  

1 Peter 2: 11 - 12  11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.




July 11, 2016, 8:20 AM

Fade to Gray



A while back (whenst I was in college, which is getting further and further away) my favorite Christian band Jars of Clay released a song entitled Fade to Gray.  The rhythm drives and the tone of the song is on the heavy side, which I immediately liked.  The lyrics, however, took a lot longer to sink in.  

The gist of the song is that the longer you look at Jesus the more the black and white fade to gray.  Growing up in a conservative faith system, there was no such thing.  There was only right/wrong; black/white; C of C/Not C of C.  If you even thought of blending something with the firm belief system, YOU became what was wrong and needed a not-so-subtle correction.  

But then we read the story of Jesus and see his interactions in the dirt and mire of Earth, and we witness firsthand the blending of the black and white of law vs. religion into gray.  

Compassion trumps Law every time.  

And we're not sure how to handle that.  In his letters, Paul does an excellent job of drawing lines as far as church discipline, orderly worship, etc...  Too often though, there is little room for compassion and what we glean from his work is rigid, inflexible, and off target.  

Compassion trumps Law every time.  

Drawing lines pushes us away from Jesus, not closer.  The Pharisees discovered this frustration every time Jesus healed on the Sabbath, a firmly drawn line of law.  When Jesus spoke of what makes a person unclean, he blurred the line of Faith and Law by exposing the heart of both.  And it looked like a gray area.  

As we watch the news today, tomorrow, next week, we are going to see a lot of black and white statements.  AND, we're going to be tempted to take a stand on either side, throwing projectiles at those that chose the other side.  We're not just talking about the hot topic issues of gun control, race, the police, etc... We can use this discussion to fuel change when we get into office politics, bullying, jealousy, broken relationships.  

Compassion pushes us into the gray area in between opinion and fact.  Compassion trumps both.  When we love as Jesus loves, the black and white of our opinions and beliefs begin to blend into something greater:  Grace.  Mercy.  Forgiveness.  You wont find any of those standing on one side of a line with a stone in your hand.  

Matthew 15: 10 - 14  10 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” 13 Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14 so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”




June 27, 2016, 8:21 AM

Wanting to Tell God How it is...



I admit, as a teenager I REALLY did know it all.  I held all the pieces.  If you tried to correct me, I not-so-gently told you how it REALLY was and put you in your place.  In all seriousness, I'm not kidding.  I am ashamed of some of my actions and arguments and behaviors as a younger Chris.  Because the truth is far more painful than any delusion I held on to:  I knew almost nothing

Still don't. 

Which is what brings me to the title of this blog entry:  Our scope of knowledge is limited to what we experience, limited to our own time, to our own understanding.  Which in the grand scheme of the universe equals almost absolute zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  So why do we feel like we have enough depth of knowledge to instruct God about what is good for us?  I'm not throwing any of us under the bus as dissidents or anything of the like.  I'm speaking to the general human arrogance that we know what is best for us.  

Lets put it into a realm a little closer to home:  Golf.  Now I don't golf.  Did it once, lost 4 balls on the first hole, went ahead and called it quits.  However, lets pretend we're together on the golf course.  I've brought along my caddy: Jack Nicklaus.  Yes, the Golden Bear is my caddy.  First tee, I walk over to my bag (held up by the incomparable Jack) and instead of grabbing the driver he holds out to me I grab my putter.  He protests, but I ignore him because I think I can make this 300 ft drive with my putter.  

NO ONE (even if you have no idea about golf's history) would ignore Jack's suggestions on ANY course.  You would fail. 

We have something greater than the best golfer in history on our side: the Creator of the universe.  And he is handing us the tools to survive the day.  His hands reach out to us offering love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness... and instead of grasping those we reach for judgment, condemnation, and gossip.  

"God, you don't know what they've done to me." "God, I just cant love that person right now."  "God, I cant forgive them..."  

He already knows what They've done.  He knows what we've done.  And he has given us all the tools we need to make it through today, tomorrow, and into eternity.  Love.  Love people unconditionally.  Yes, you might get hurt but it is how Jesus lived.  Forgive.  Yes, it means you don't get to get even, but it is how Jesus lived (and died).  Give selflessly.  Yes, you might end up giving more than you receive, but that's how Jesus gave.  

Its time to stop telling God what is best for us.  He already knows.  And he's made it very clear:  Love God; Love People; and Serve Both. 

 




June 20, 2016, 9:00 AM

The Makings of a Good Bedtime Story (and Why the Bible is not one)...



There is a particular theme that is prevalent in a good bedtime story:  peace.  When a parent reads a bedtime story to their child or grandchild they want the content to settle, comfort, and not raise any questions.  (i.e. "But dont polar bears eat penguins, daddy? Why are these ones cuddling and sleeping with them?  Is it so they can eat them after they fall asleep?").  So yes, a good bedtime story needs to quench the questioning spirit of a child. 

Which is why the Bible does not make for a good, "lets get settled and not ask questions" bedtime book.  Jesus came into the midst of a cultural period run by lawmakers, micro-managers of faith and practice, ruled by a tyrant (Caesar), and away from any spotlight due the birth of a king.  The scene he enters is the barely managed chaos if Israel existing within Roman rule.  So many questions!!  

"Why wait until then, Mommy?" "Wouldn't it have been better to be born powerful instead of poor?" "Why does Herod kill so many babies?"  "What does eaten by worms look like?"  (Ok, that last one comes from me, hopefully not a child).  

The story of Jesus entering the world turns everything we think we know on its head and forces us to relearn the meaning of peace, deliverance, and hope.  Today we still find ourselves hoping that the lawmakers, micro-managers of economy and belief will make decisions that benefit us.  We find ourselves in a world ruled by tyrants, all of which take different looks and roles to fit the bill.  The Church exists in the barely managed chaos of the Kingdom of God existing within a culture that rules with an iron fist.  

And even though the parallels are eerily similar we find ourselves looking to the powerful to lead us on.  We sing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus but look everywhere but where he is to find him!!  He's in the quiet places, where his soft, compassionate words are barely heard over the cries of the marginalized and weak.  He is in the corner of the break room, in our neighbor's back yard listening to another argument that seems to destroy yet another relationship.  He's in the streets of countries we fear even setting foot into.  He's in the shelters we've erected to hide the homeless.  

Every time we open the Gospels we see Jesus in places that make TERRIBLE bedtime stories!!!  Because his definition of peace is one we've forgotten, and misinterpreted.  Peace doesn't mean security on earth.  Peace is security in Heaven.  When he faced the swords, whips, and curses of an angry mob he was at peace.  Even while praying in the Garden, asking for deliverance out of fear, he was at peace.  Because he has redefined the very core of the word.  

We need to redefine it ourselves, in front of our children and families; In plain sight of the neighbors and coworkers.  Redefine peace. Find yourself comforted by finding Jesus amongst the lepers, hugged by prostitutes, invited to parties by well-defined sinners.  And when the questions come about "Why?" and "When?" we can answer without a quaver in our voice or a question in our hearts.  

Goodnight, sleep well, and be at peace. 

 

Matthew 10: 32 - 34  32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven. 34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

 




June 13, 2016, 10:45 AM

Building vs. Deconstructing



There's a big difference between building something and tearing it down.  ("thank you Captain Obvious.")  

But there's a question within that statement that needs asked:  Which are you actively involved in?  

If you're not working on building something, you're adding to the natural decay and degradation of whatever structure you're occupying.  In simpler form:  our mere presence on this earth wears it out... we can either work to replenish/rebuild it or keep eroding it.  The same concept applies with relationships, organizations, and yes... church. 

So are you building or wearing something out?  Nehemiah made his way back to Jerusalem and witnessed 50,000 people simply living amongst the rubble...  There was no active plan to rebuild the wall, to end the disgrace of the city.  Their presence in the city simply added to the mess and did nothing to change/better the situation. 

Nehemiah came in with a vision to rebuild, to end the disgrace, and reestablish the identity of an entire nation.  You either got on board or jumped ship.  Good thing for Israel: the people got on board after their eyes were opened to the needs at their very feet. 

So what is it going to take for us to have our own eyes opened to the glaring needs in front of us?  Are we reaching into the lives around us with the love of Christ?  (not judgment or condemnation!)  Are we rebuilding a ministry that serves the marginalized and poor from within the walls we've set up in our building?  

Or are we content to live among the rubble around us? 

Nehemiah 2: 17 - 18 17But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!”18Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.




June 6, 2016, 8:36 AM

They Would have Succeeded



Do you ever wonder why the Tower of Babel project was stopped?  Was it because of the pride of the people wanting to make a name for themselves? No, that isn't it.  Was it because of the arrogance of thinking they could reach the Heavens?  Nope.  

It was because they would have succeeded in making their names great, uniting themselves as a powerful nation, and relied on only one thing as they moved ahead: themselves.  They Would Have Succeeded!  Reread Genesis 11: 6.   The tower of Babel was going to be a success!  The people gathered together, communicating and working together with one language and came up with a plan.  What was there to stop them?  They were a force to be reckoned with!  God Himself put an end to it, all the while giving them a sweeping vote of confidence and a huge compliment before doing so! 

Here's the point of that short, historical foray into the O.T.: we too can be successful at doing something great.  I'm not saying we need to get our bricks and mortar ready for a bigger building.  There's a more important aspect to this story:  The People Were United.  

Working together made them a powerful force.  Were their goals a bit misguided?  Yes.  Ephesians 4: 3 – 6 informs us that we can be united, and tells us that we MUST be united!  That’s the first step, we must work together as one body, with one faith, under one God, just as the people in Genesis 11 worked and united together! 

What are we wanting to build?  If our hearts only cry out for the physical things around us (wealth, safety, comfort, or shelter) then we can absolutely unite and build something beautiful and "great" by the world's standards.  But what happens when our hearts cry out for the things God's heart cries out for?  When submission, generosity, compassion, and heartfelt love unite us, what can we build then?!  

Its called: "The Church."  And it wont make our names great, they'll most likely be forgotten.  What we build will make God's name great among all who see and hear.  

Ephesians 4: 1 - 6   1Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.




May 29, 2016, 3:25 PM

Wake Up!



 A quick hit from the main reading from this week's sermon/The Story - in Ezra 1:5 it is written that the Levites and Priests needed their hearts stirred by God to return home.  This is the same language used to describe the stirring of heart God did with Cyrus, the pagan king.  It seems that captivity had caused more than a few hearts to fall asleep, or at least lose their passion for returning home.  

70 years away from home could do that to a people group... However, 400 years didn't seem to have an effect on the Israelites' cries for deliverance in Egypt.  Regardless, the hearts of those that should have been leading the prayerful charge to return home were sleepy.  

Is your heart awake?  Are we sleeping on the promises God has made to us concerning our eternal rewards?  What behaviors need revived in us?  Evangelism is one.  Accountability, integrity, and patience are a few others that come to mind.  

Ephesians 5:14b "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you."




May 23, 2016, 8:38 AM

Out of the Furnace



I once went swimming in some hot springs, in the middle of winter, at roughly 7000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.  It was amazing.  There was literally a pile of snow on the "pool deck" from where the caretakers had cleared a path for us to jump in.  The experience was very cool (no pun intended) as the water kept us perfectly warm (hot even) despite the frost that was building up on our hair, eyebrows, and beards.  

Here's the big problem with that:  we had to get out of the pool.  Which meant submitting our entire bodies to the punishing wind and temperatures of a Colorado winter.  The walk from poolside to lodge was brutal... Quite an experience; we went through all extremes of temperatures from stepping outside, jumping in the water, a few of us dove into the snow bank near the pool, got warmed up again in the water, then ran inside to dry off.  I think I will name the experience:  "A Flat-lander's Guide to Getting Hypothermia."  (on sale today!).  

We were comfortable in the hot springs... but we couldn't stay there forever.  I wonder what it felt like for the three guys thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar!  Not a hair burned, so we have to guess that the fire was a comfortable experience.  Throw in the fact that JESUS joined them (!!!!!!) and you've got a really neat experience to pass on to the kiddos.  Much like I believe Daniel totally snuggled up to some lions over night in the den, ordered pizza, and watched some Full House reruns.  

Regardless of how we imagine the experience, the three guys had to walk out of the furnace.  On the inside there was Jesus (!!!!!!) and complete immunity as no one could get close to them. On the outside there was captivity, service to Babylon, a pagan king, and members of the royal court who wanted them dead.  Which would you rather have?  I think I'd stay in the furnace too.  Maybe order up a fiery chariot to join the flames and hitch a ride with Jesus (!!!!!) back to Heaven.  

 But alas, it was not meant to work that way.  They had to leave the comfort of the furnace and face the world around them.  So do we.  Our influence might be veiled, or hidden completely, but there are individuals who are needing a taste of God's mercy in their lives and its our job to deliver.  Just like Peter's request to build little houses for Elijah, Moses, and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, our hope of keeping ourselves away from the world will be denied.  In that instance, Jesus knew there were hoards of people waiting for them at the foot of the mountain.  

Your fiery furnace might look a lot like your bed, house, or the silence you offer to people around you.  Walking out of those safe zones is torturous.  For others the furnace looks a lot like our churches, the places we occupy on Sunday mornings (and if you're super holy: Sunday nights, too).  That's a dangerous statement to make, I know... but its scarier to admit that its true.  We get comfortable with Jesus in our safe place from the world, tell him how much we love and want to serve him... Then walk away heads down and hearts turned inward.  The world needs us!  Not with protest signs or shouts, but to quietly love, pray, and serve.  

When Daniel faced the music of prayer being kicked out of Babylon, he went to his room and prayed quietly.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood quietly at the back of the service when everyone in the kingdom bowed to the statue (they weren't in front waving their arms, drawing attention to the fact that they disagreed with the political regimes of Babylon!).  And when faced with the fiery furnace, they quietly put their confidence in God.  When they walked out they didn't (as I totally would have) do a touchdown dance celebration or trash talk their victory and how awesome their God is.  They went about their business of serving Babylon.  

Its time to leave the furnace and get back to the business of loving God and loving people.  

Isaiah 43: 1 - 2   1But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 2When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.




May 16, 2016, 9:32 AM

Lost the Plot



Have you ever gotten into a book, a BIG book, and forgotten where things were supposed to be going?  Sometimes its poor character development; Other times though its just the sheer volume of information that confuses us (I'm looking at you Lord of the Rings).  That's all well and good with a book, because you can always flip back a chapter or two and regain your footing.  

Its not that easy with life when we lose the plot. Maybe its a career that hasn't panned out like we'd hoped.  We've lost the plot of our own dreams, and turning back a few pages could cost us seniority or salary.  Relationships can get into the same loop as well, losing the foundation of what brought people together in the first place.  Healthy relationships will be able to weather those moments and survive a quick detour to refresh ties.  

Spiritually speaking, losing the plot can have far more dire consequences (I'm looking at you Israel and Judah).  The most frustrating things about working through the complex chapters of Israel's demise at the hands of the Assyrians and Judah's demise at the hands of Babylon are that they could have fixed the problems quickly and simply.  Every prophet God sent to the people had the same message: "RETURN TO GOD!!"  If they obeyed, God delivered them (see the book of Judges for a practical example of this).  

But they lost the plot.  

Israel and Judah's kings found themselves surrounded by everything the Lower Story has to offer:  excess, pleasure, and comfort. Idolatry spoke to their carnal desires and required very little integrity and accountability.  Creating your own plot is a lot easier than being transformed by the Upper Story.  It is frustrating though that no matter the hardships or struggles placed on kings and people, they refused to be transformed, to conform to God's instructions (which were not new by any stretch of the imagination, having been around for centuries).  Even a toddler will learn, eventually, that negative discipline can be avoided by changing one's behavior patterns.  

Have we lost the plot as well?  Does Church engage culture?  Do we embrace the message of Christ, the example of Jesus, the powerful sacrifice of our Savior?  Our plot has become comfort, sustaining what is known so we can comfortably postulate about the unknown.  When we forget our mission we create a path that suits our own Lower Story ideals instead of God's Upper Story vision for his people.  The vision of the Church has always, ALWAYS been about growing God's kingdom and not our own.  

Which plot are we following? 

Matthew 6: 33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.




May 9, 2016, 8:43 AM

To Whom?



Who gets the message God needed sent in Isaiah 9? Who needed to hear about the light in the darkness that was the coming Messiah?  

In the text, the message needed sent to sinners.  And not just any sinners, but the worst kind of sinners:  the ones who knew better than to be sinning in the way they were (idolatry).   Yes, Israel, you needed the hope of the coming Messiah.  They were about to be laid siege by the Assyrian army and were literally on the doorstep of annihilation.  The next few days and weeks were going to be a trial they would not survive; at least survive in the sense that they had a kingdom, land, and identity to call their own. 

As they were taken into captivity (which if you set that side by side with what happened to the Northern Kingdom, captivity is the better option) they needed to hear something that would give them a handhold, a foundational grip to grasp in the coming generations of slavery.  This is what was given: 

Isaiah 9: 6  6For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of fPeace.

Now Israel had its fill of child-kings.  Some were good, most troubled.  This was the promise of an eternal kingdom resting in the arms of a child, a son.  This was enough.  This message sustained them.  

No, there wasn't a timeframe.  No, there wasn't a direct link to when this government would be set in place.  And no, there was no guarantee they would actually see all this come to light.  But the promise was enough.  

This message of hope (Jesus) is not obsolete, nor did it expire.  It rings true today.  So who needs to hear it?  Isaiah took it to a place struggling with idolatry, disobedience, and empty religious practices.  Where do we need to take it?  

Each of us is called to share the hope of Christ.  It may be a tenuous grip we have, but regardless, it is the only real hope we have. To whom are we sharing it?  

Isaiah 6: 8 - 9 8Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” 9And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people . . .

 




May 2, 2016, 8:36 AM

Elijah's Question



1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.

While there is no question mark at the end of Elijah's cry here, it is in the form of a question that stretches FAR beyond that single moment.  Make Your Choice.  

And the people were silent.  

The same question shows up again and again in various forms:  "...choose this day whom you will serve."  "Let the dead bury their own..."  "Peter, Do you love me?"  "I wish you would be hot or cold..."  (All paraphrased by Chris).  

I'm afraid of my own answer, because I too have been silent; hoping the conversation will turn to other areas like church attendance, church offerings, and church participation (how many tables and chairs need to be put away to assure one's place in heaven?).  And while I would try and march out a truly dazzling display of earthly works to try and prove my allegiance, Jesus looks deeper and his question pushes past the physical.  Just like he did with Peter in John 21, he asks a question meant to cut deep, to our very soul.  "How long will you waver?"  

I'm confident that I would answer the same as Peter did every time.  I too would be hurt when he asks again, and crushed when he asks a third time.  Because I know what he knows:  My heart has been torn in two by the treasures of this world.  

How long will we waver?  

Matthew 6:21  21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.


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