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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.


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