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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.”


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