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March 7, 2016, 8:37 AM

Out on a Limb.



I dont take risks.  I play it safe.  Because of this sensibility, I have yet to suffer a broken bone, or other risk-induced malady.  Sure, I dream of sky diving, and climbing Mt. Everest; but lets be honest, I've no plans to write those in on my schedule.  

Is that a bad thing?  Nope.  I like not having to deal with a broken arm or leg.  I like being comfortable.   There are other areas we are prone to not take risks in either.  Places that would result in things far more lasting and impactful than a broken bone, or some bruises:  Living faith out loud.  There are a lot of things I really like to talk about.......in church, in small group, and in my home.  But I am hesitant to live those same ideals out loud, outside the zones of comfort and safety I've set up. 

When we follow Jesus we make, looking realistically, some pretty dramatic and outrageous claims.  "Dying to self."  "All to Jesus I Surrender.... I Surrender All..."  "I am mine no more..."  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  

All of these roll from our lips quickly, easily, and often in the form of a song we've sung for decades.  Do they roll out in our actions just as easily?  

Honestly:  Its hard to live these concepts to their fullest.  We cant help but sprinkle our own experiences, biases, and interpretations into them.  For example: I cant help but look self-centered when I'm trying to be extra generous or compassionate. 

As we continue through The Story, we paused this week with Ruth and her book that is placed both perfectly and awkwardly between Judges and 1 Samuel.  It is a calm story that shows what loyalty and redemption looks like (without swords, amazing feats of strength, etc...).  I've overlooked it for too long.  Within its pages are the actions, words, and heart of Jesus.  Boaz breaks down the barriers of conflict, hate, prejudice, and war by showing love and acceptance.  He elevates a poor widow from a beggar to cherished wife among the legacy and line of Jesus.  

Boaz lives the message of the Christ (whom he had no concept of outside of the sacrificial system installed in the law at the time) out loud, walking out on a limb to redeem someone through love.  

We know Christ, honoring him every week, remembering the power of the Cross.  Will we live that knowledge out loud?  

James 1: 22 - 25   22But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.23For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.24You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.25But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.  NLT




February 29, 2016, 9:38 AM

Occupying Space



I have held on to the very first cell phone I ever purchased.  Today it serves as a toy for the girls, but its also a neat little reminder. Let me describe it to you:  Its blue, which is pretty cool.  Not that this makes it better, but its still pretty cool.  It is a variant on the "flip phone" idea.  There is a portion of it that flips down,  but all it does is cover the buttons when in your pocket.  The technology is outdated, and it was only good for one thing:  phone calls (what a waste, I know).  It is long dead, with no charger in sight that attaches.  It is either good for being a toy phone, or a paper weight, thats all.  

So why am I telling you about my first cell phone?  Simple.  Because it reminds me of James 2: 14 - 16.  I'll wait as you click on that link and read it.  

Is your faith like a cell phone with a dead battery?  
Is your faith like a kleenex box that is out of kleenex?
Is your faith like a stapler with no staples?
Is your faith like a pen without ink? 
Is your faith like a pencil with no lead?

James cuts right to the core of the matter by telling us that our faith must lead us to DO something.  

Are we acting like Christ-Followers?  Are we doing the things that will identify us as those looking forward to eternity in Heaven?  Can the world see anything different about us besides our Sunday morning habits?  If we aren’t showing the world who Jesus is through our actions, we might as well close the doors of the church, board up the windows, and turn the power off because it isn’t doing anybody any good if all we do is occupy space!!!  The beauty of what we need to show the world is this:  IT'S US!  Not us dressed up in superhero costumes that portray Christians as perfect, or overly righteous.  We need to show the world that we've been redeemed and saved, and that we're fighting off the temptations and sins we were chained to not so long ago.  

The point: we need to be showing the world SOMETHING.  We have the Holy Spirit.  That alone marks us as different, not of this world.  We spend time every week remembering the Cross and how far God went for us.  That must fuel the rest of our week to remember how far we will go in faith to share that love.  

My challenge is simple:  DO!!  No more acknowledging Jesus in our worship on Sunday and then going mute shortly thereafter.  No more paying special attention to the clothes we pick out for Sunday and ignoring the neighbors who are LOST.  No more showing generosity during the offering, but remaining compassion-less to the needs of missions and the poor.  

No more impractical, unpracticed faith.  Lets show ourselves more useful than a dead cell phone.  

James 2: 14 - 17  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.




February 15, 2016, 9:46 AM

Your Own Personal Jericho



If you know a story well enough and have read the book more than once, its hard not to look ahead at what’s coming instead of concentrating on the right now.  I’ve fallen trap to this in books I like to reread, and come to realize I’ve “read” three pages but haven't really digested a single word.  

This blog is dedicated to doing just that, and instead of trying to go back, we’re going to let our imagination run a bit to what's ahead.  For The Story, what’s ahead is Jericho, and the obstacles that look similar in structure, manpower, and stability.  Israel, having now entered the Promised Land, has to wipe it clean… 

Into the scene comes Jericho.  A seemingly insurmountable obstacle to winning the day.  We're not going to spend much time on this moment in here, but look at the grander scale of what Israel was about to face.  Problems that were real, touchable, and right in front of them.  On the trip so far, most of the issues were from perceptions, or emotions, or just plain immaturity.  Canaan gave them a real, in your face problem to solve.  And, to finally give them some credit, they took the challenge and ran through it. (Mostly).  

Here's our point today:  Every one of us has a Jericho to face.  There are challenges put in front of us (sometimes by God, mostly by us) that are directly in our path to Heaven.  We have a choice:  tackle the issue, or change course and either run or avoid it.  It shouldn't NEED to be said, but I will:  Which approach do you think God prefers?  Obviously, the same tact that Israel had to take with their issues:  face it head on, with the strength and power of God on our side.  

Unfortunately, our Jericho looks very different than a city.  Most of the time it looks like forgiveness or reconciliation, or humility. Those sound (or type) as small things... but when we're standing nose to nose with a relationship that has gone sour, there are times we wish we were walking around a fortified and defended city 13 times instead.  

Face your Jericho, head on, with the promise of God behind you.  And just like Jericho, when we address things with God's character and strength, they will be reduced to a pile of forgotten rubble behind us.  

Want a cool epilogue to the story?  Once Canaan was mostly wiped clean, Caleb looked around and his eyes caught a region in the mountains that weren't scrubbed completely of inhabitants.  Instead of kicking his feet up and enjoying the spoils of the Promised Land and letting someone else (younger) take care of the issue, he demands Joshua assign him and his tribe to THAT region.  

Joshua 6: 2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.
Joshua 6: 27a So the Lord was with Joshua . . .




February 8, 2016, 9:12 AM

Dont Open That Cellar Door...



I watch movies.  A lot.  So it should come as no surprise that I quote them, think about them, and use them as illustrations often. This is one of those moments.  

There are a few movies that I love so much that I can watch them over and over again, and never get tired of stepping back into the stories they tell.  The best of those stories engage my imagination every time, and leave me wanting to step back into that world when the credits roll.  Unfortunately, not all of those movies that I love are happy, everybody wins in the end type stories.  And when I watch a movie for the hundredth time, knowing bad stuff is going to happen I have caught myself willing, pleading, wishing that the characters on screen would make a better choice.  

Seriously.  I'm hopeful that the story will change and offer suggestions (sometimes out loud).  "Don't try and take out that machine gun nest, Captain Miller."  "Gandalf, speak up about your relationship with the eagles."  

Today I'm saying this:  "Israel, don't forget what God did for you two months and 40 days ago!"  They're about to jump with both feet into 40 years of wilderness wandering.  And I wish the story would change.  Havent enough generations been lost in the captivity?  Do we need to watch another one perish in the desert, so close to Canaan?  

Unfortunately, we cant change their story.  The wilderness is coming.   We can, however, change our own story.  When you make a choice today, tomorrow, etc... you can choose your own adventure!  God gives us the freedom to do so, to choose.  It just so happens he makes it very clear which way he wants us to go (think: pillars of cloud and fire; or Fruit of the Spirit).  

Dont make everyone reading your story after you're gone sit and wish you'd not opened the cellar door.  Choose to follow where God leads.  

Joshua 24:15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."​ (NIV)

 

 




February 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

A thought about the desert



This week we're foreshadowing the sermon for February 14th, chapter 6 of The Story.  

We're going to start walking with Israel in the desert this week though.  Bring your walking shoes and a shady hat.  

 Do you know what was in the desert while Israel wandered around for 40 years?  (Don't say: "sand").   Their hearts.   

Yes, I know their hearts were inside their chests when they walked, but we're obviously talking about deeper things than just internal organs.  Their hearts were in the desert, and not in the Promised Land.  Following this logic, or at least the premise of the statement, their treasure was also in the desert.   

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Matthew 6:21 

We cant speak for everyone in the wandering band of Israelites, but we can speak for the ones who complained and made their grievances known to Moses and God.  They left their treasures in Egypt:  food, shelter, comfort.  The comforts they thought they had overshadowed the fact that they were slaves.  When they left those comforts in Egypt, finally "free" what became clear is that their hearts never made the trip.   

The complaints were tolerated for a while, and God provided a clearer image of himself and his desires on Mt. Sinai.  They pledged themselves to righteousness, and the Law.  But their hearts weren't in it.  Their treasures were in the wrong place, even on the side of a mountain inhabited by God himself!  

And for 40  years they had to live with the reality that they would never find peace and contentment because they treasured the wrong things.   

Which desert are you walking through right now?  




January 25, 2016, 10:50 AM

Finding Good at the Bottom of the Well



As we're progressing through The Story we find ourselves walking alongside Joseph this week.  And if we're honest with ourselves (always a good idea) walking in his path is difficult.  Sure he ends up in the best place possible.  But in order to get there he had to be betrayed, thrown in a well, sold into slavery, betrayed again, thrown in prison, then left to rot there for at least two years.

That's not a path I recommend anyone walking.  

What I want to focus on here is what happens in between these monumental, character shaping events in Joseph's journey from the bottom of a well to the top of Egypt's food chain:  Joseph learns and leans on his strengths.  He serves.   

Now, before we talk about that, I have to ask the question: "Do you think he knew his strength was service before he was thrown in the well and sold as a slave?"  Probably not.  When he was at home, being blessed by super colorful coats, he probably didnt have to do much on his own at all.  His dad used him as a messenger for the group of brothers who were out working hard in the fields with sheep.  But I digress...

He serves Potiphar so well that he is given as much freedom as the position could afford.  He does not reap the benefits of his tireless work, Potiphar does.  But he serves tirelessly.    In prison, after being put there wrongfully, he serves.  He gives everything he has to make the situation better, or as "better" as prison could be.  He serves so well that the warden doesn't have to worry about a thing.  Again, Joseph doesn't reap the rewards for his hard work, but he continues to serve.  

No matter where you or I find ourselves today, serve.  Find a place where you're good at something and DO IT!  Benefit someone else by your efforts, even if you don't see a single benefit from it.  If you're already doing that, keep it up!  We may never see the astronomical rise that Joseph did here on Earth.  But we are promised something great after our time here is done. 

Serve.  

 




January 18, 2016, 9:08 AM

He has all the best ideas.



I had an original idea once.  Well, original in the sense that neither I nor anyone around me had heard of it before.  So I made it happen: Human Carpetball.  We played it so much in 3 years of camp, everyone got tired of it and my original idea is now tired and old.  That's it, I'm all out of ideas.  3 good years of a sweet game, that is my legacy.  

What is truly amazing every time I open the Bible is that God's ideas were/are so original, out of the box, and unique that they will never be replicated again.  Ever.  I would NEVER think of building a nation the way he did with Abram and Sarai.  Especially after the trouble everyone got into just a few chapters earlier in Noah's time.  At some point I would have rethought the whole Man/God relationship and stuck with a couple box-turtles or something.  

His idea though was to keep us around.  Despite the heartache.  Despite the pain and regret (at times).  Despite the future cost (Jesus), he kept us around.  Knowing me the way I do, I question his decision.  Knowing me the way he does, he never questions his decision.  

After all of it, we're still his favorite idea.  We're worth the price he paid.  We're his best idea.  

Live like it.  




January 11, 2016, 9:39 AM

What does God hope you see?



For a few minutes last night the small group I have the privilege of leading had a conversation that centered around the expulsion from the Garden of Eden as an act of Grace, not anger or punishment.   The idea was, naturally, a struggle because we are on this side of the Garden and want back in.  Therefore, the act of keeping us out feels like punishment, and we miss the Grace of God.  Because we see from our perspective. 

God was exhibiting grace by keeping Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life.  The event that lead to expulsion was that they gave into temptation and gained the knowledge of evil (I believe they already knew what good was, having been in the presence of God).  Imagine the temptation immortality would hold after learning how hard life was outside the confines of perfection!  No sickness, no fear of being killed...  And a never-ending life in sin.  While we still see death as painful and the worst thing to happen to us, God knew it had to happen and be a part of a fallen world outside the Garden.  He was exhibiting the grace of protection, relief, and hope of returning to the perfection of the Garden (Heaven) by kicking Adam and Eve out.  Grace. 

Ok, so all that is really just a sub-text to the main point of this blog, but I wanted to make sure you got some closure for the conversation we had in small group (which will now become a shameless plug to get yourself into a group!!).  What do we see in our Bible stories?  Most of the time we look at either the BEST or WORST of the characters present and either want to be like them, or do everything we can to NOT be like them.  We see discipline and God being unfair when kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden.  We see Jonah being served his just rewards for having the audacity to run from God.  Israel gets what's coming to them after all those years of disobedience and pagan worship.  Ananias and Sapphira's execution over lying to the Apostles is held over our own heads as a warning.  The woman caught in adultery is push back into the streets over and over again because we cant help but judge the sins of others.  

All of these stories exhibit something we miss most of the time:  God's Grace.  THAT'S what he wants us to see.  In our eyes it looks like judgment, an open act of war upon a nation, quick justice without a fair trial.  That's what we see when we look with our own eyes.  The story of God's redemptive act of saving us speaks more about his ability to forgive and offer grace than it does about his wrath and temperament.  We've just not looked hard enough for his Grace. 

We use scriptures to bash each other over the head, levying God's perceived judgment... We establish fiefdoms where we are king, levying God's wrath upon others.  OUR way is the ONLY way... so much that we've created names, signs, denominations that do all the explaining for us.  Drive East on Red Bridge Rd from State Line and you will see all the church signs you'll need to get this concept before you even get into Grandview.  Take your pick, we've all got our own property and the right way of doing things. 

We've missed the point, and we need to change the sign.  We've set up shop like Jonah, sitting on a hill waiting for God to finally enact his justice on everyone else...  The sign must change.  Judgment is no longer our job, enacting God's wrath and justice is not our job.  

We need to find a new way to read the story:  Grace.  And then we need a new advertisement for the church:  God's Grace Found Here.  Read The Story.  Rediscover how far God has gone for us.  Then echo that Grace.  

Because: 2 Corinthians 12: 9 - 10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.​




January 3, 2016, 4:33 PM

The change we dont need to make



Wait, a church article about NOT changing?  Weird.  From a preacher who likes change?  Even weirder.  

Church is a place where the past is cherished.  Tradition has shaped who we are, in almost every way.  Almost.  Culture has taken its turn on us too, and from culture we have the truth that everything changes. 

Everything changes, there is no stopping it, nor is there any place to stand in which you can deny it.  Change happens EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.  But we're not talking about that.  Lets spend some time on those things that should never change.  In a relationship, change can be good or bad...... or really both.  There are some routines that I refuse to change in the relationships I have with family.  If I am home, I put the girls to bed.  Thats how it is, and thats how its going to be.  No change.  Other things we change all the time.  Some routines are really more for comfort, or out of habit and are not exempt from change. 

Lets take that idea and look at us, Church.  We have our routines, our comfort zones, and traditions.  Some denominations are more defined than others in tradition, but almost all have defining features that have become untouchable.  Stirring the pot a bit, there is only one thing that cannot change:  Jesus.  Now, he doesnt change, I'm not talking about the unchanging nature of God.  I'm talking about how we treat him, and the pieces of us that focus on Christ.  

When we are focused on Christ and the salvation he gives us, we are in THE place we need to be.  So here's my premise and question:  Where are you when you come to church?  Are you actively seeking to be among a people who cherish belonging to Christ?  Or have you made coming to church a tradition, a habit, a checkmark on a check-list of faith activity? If thats the case, everything needs to change.  If you do not come to a place that brings you into the presence of Christ, you need to change.  

When we focus on Christ, nothing can change.  Are there pieces we have taken out of focus?  Do we have some habits that are only in place because WE like them, or think they belong.  Sometimes we squeeze Jesus into our own traditions so we can demand their permanence.  Stop it Church.  Find yourself serving the audience of One, find your hope in the audience of One, find yourself only in Christ.  And once we're there, we can rest assured that nothing should change.  Until then, lets talk change. 

Psalm 62: 1 - 2 (NLT)

1I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him.

2He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.

 

 




December 14, 2015, 8:42 AM

Who is this whole "Christmas Thing" about anyway?



There is something powerful about this time of year, Christmas that is, that brings out a desire in me to explore the best of Christianity.  For most, Christmas is a time of celebration and rejoicing.  For others it can be a time of remorse and pain.  No matter which camp you're in this holiday season, the power of the birth of Jesus transcends our own mortal feelings or regrets around Christmas.  In other words... (swallows hard before typing the next words)... Christmas isn't about us.  

Don't get me wrong, Christmas is FOR us completely.  Without the birth of Christ, we're hopeless.  But really, Christmas is about God and God alone.  For centuries, or at least as long as us humans have been around before that fateful evening in Bethlehem, God was united completely and wholly.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Complete.  Heaven was their place, eternal and unblemished.  

Then in one small moment amidst the centuries of human existence, Heaven was divided for the first time.  God watched as a part of himself was placed gently on this earth.  Feet that were always clean became dusty.  Hands that created the seas and mountains were suddenly holding hammers and getting splinters.  A body once clothed in the splendor of the sun now carried around clothes with stains and tatters.  For the first time ever, for 33 years at least, Heaven was incomplete.  

All for us.  

Yes, we are the focus and reason for the journey from the manger to the Cross.  Yes, our sin is what drove this wedge into perfection.  And yes, it is all for us.  But everything, everything in this season points to God.  

Not us.  

We've taken THE moment that begins our redemption and salvation and swung the arrow of attention backwards, onto us.  I've spoken often and candidly about how I have drug this season through the mire of my own greed and ignorance.  I took a moment of peace and joy and turned it into commercials and extravagance highlighted by shiny bows and cool wrapping paper.  The biggest problem with this devaluation of the manger is that no present, no bow, no mere gift can contain the heart of the Christmas season:  forgiveness. 

At times forgiveness comes wrapped in a small box, in a quiet request that heals a relational rift.  Other times, no major headline on every news feed is big enough to handle the volume we need to express in asking for forgiveness.  And yet, God's forgiveness was complete enough it could be held in a food trough, cooing softly, eyes taking in the wonder of his own creation for the first time as a part of his own creation.  

Yes, this moment was for us.  But do not get confused about the meaning and heart of Christmas... its for us, but it is all about God.  This year, let every gift you unwrap be done remembering that moment.  Let every regret pass through the understanding of how far God went to redeem us.  Let every celebratory toast and hearty song be a moment we use to remember that we're all following that star that leads to Bethlehem.  

Matthew 2: 9 - 11 9After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.10When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!11They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (NLT)




December 7, 2015, 9:21 AM

Christmas Past



I think Linus said it best when he quoted from Luke 2 in A Charlie Brown Christmas TV special.  "...For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord..."

That about sums it up.  I've read many commentaries on that specific Christmas special, and most of them pointed to the controversy around Charles Schultz's INSISTENCE that this quote be included.  Right before Linus speaks his monologue, Charlie Brown asks:  “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” 

I ask that same question quietly in my own heart and head every year.  Truth be told, I'm not looking around wondering if Christmas' true meaning has been forgotten.  I'm looking in a mirror, or quietly reflecting on my own soul's state of being.  I buy presents for the family (and myself, of course).  I help decorate the tree (or at least I'm the one who hauls it upstairs and sets it up in the corner).  I listen, begrudgingly, to Christmas music wherever I go and in our living room.  I read a book entitled One Wintry Night (link below) to my children every Christmas that tells the bigger story to Christmas from Creation to the Cross.  

And yet I need reminded what Christmas is all about.  The long trip from Heaven to Bethlehem.  The long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem! The sleepless night in a cold shelter built for animals (who have fur).  The anxiety of impending birth and the stress of doing as such on the road, in said cold shelter for animals.  A crowd of shepherds intruding noisily on the post-birth serenity of healthy mother and child.  The violent outrage of Herod, his orders of murder impeding on the joy of hundreds of families.  

All this for me and you.  All of this because God loves us THAT much.  Please remember what Christmas is all about.  Let our souls cry freely as we peek into the manger.  Let our hearts sing praise along with the shepherd who witnessed the musical abilities of Heaven's Host.  Remember that Christmas is about sacrifice, giving because we love, and remembering the one Silent Night that has given us countless other nights of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men.  

Luke 2: 8-14  KJV:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

 

*A book I highly suggest for this season:  One Wintry Night




November 30, 2015, 8:53 AM

The Church Abides... the Church Abides, man.



I was blessed with a stirring conversation yesterday (11/29) that has shaken a few ideas loose in this knotted brain, and I want to let them fall out on you here.  A man I've always considered extremely wise, and close to God revealed to me that he has had a breakthrough and discovered that all the wisdom he was chasing, and success he had garnered was worthless.  There was a broken heart at the source of this discovery, and a new life was awaiting him.  Here's what put him in the new place:  

He discovered the difference between Striving, and Abiding.  And now I desperately want that too.  

Our culture pushes us to strive, in ALL areas.  Seriously, even our babies have expectations put on them with the percentile growth charts.  Its not up to us, but the sense of pride when our children occupy the 90% percentile in head size only points to one thing:  I HAVE A BIG HEAD.  (that was meant literally and figuratively).  After that its all about good grades and striving for the utmost success in school.  One must get good grades so that only the best colleges will accept you, during which you strive to succeed so that the best jobs are available.  Once a job is procured, we are pushed to strive for promotion, earning potential, and retirement savings.  All so that when we die, we are comfortable and surrounded by the weeping throngs of loved ones we've left behind.  

Is that all necessarily bad?  No, not completely.... in the cultural context.  However, we have let that Strive-mentality work its way into Church culture as well, and into our personal faith and spiritual development.  We push numbers, facilities, and exponential growth exercises that will show the world that we are a Church on the right path.  We Strive for success in the religious culture of our day.  

And we've missed the point.  We work like ants to try and please God in the best way possible (according to our limited minds), and the message he is calling us to is this:  Abide in Me.  We do not have to please God.  He is delighted with us.  We do not need to stretch ourselves to find him, he's right here with us.  He has not, nor will not leave our side.  Through the highs and lows, he simply wants us to Abide in him.  Here's what that looks like:  40 years of hiding out in a foreign land, tending the flocks of your new father-in-law after killing a man in Egypt.  It looks like years of running and fear of a murderous king who is ruining your betrothed kingdom.  It looks like standing next to your pregnant girlfriend (by the Holy Spirit, no less) when the world wont believe you, but you trust God's plan regardless.  

The world rises and falls around us.  The tides threaten to sweep us away at every step.  The expectations of our culture bear down on us unrelentingly.  We are pushed to strive for greater things, always moving ahead.  When we fail, we think ourselves alone in a pit of misery.  When we succeed we just know we've climbed the mountain.  And through it all, God is at our side calling us, quietly, to Abide in Me.  

The trophies and respect of the world will all fade.  But the audience of One, the attention and presence of God never waivers.  
Which are we seeking to please?  Our own goals and strivings?  Or the calming, loving, forgiving presence of our God?  




November 16, 2015, 8:40 AM

Is it ever personal enough?



When Jesus speaks, it is to us.  

Sure, there are those moments when he addresses an individual and their specific situation or question that are quicker to dismiss than others.  But know that when Jesus speaks, every time, it is to us.  He gets up in our business; Makes it personal; Knocks the smug look of detached self-righteousness from our faces and tells us how it is.  

It is so easy to dismiss commands based on the distance geographically, historically, and culturally from then to now.  In fact, most of what Jesus spoke could be categorized as dismissable if we wanted to play the game that way.  "He was talking to THAT group of people at THAT specific time about THAT specific issue."  See how easy it is to push commands and teachings to the side?!  Surely he wasn't talking to me!!

Yes, yes he was.  The power of the Bible extends to us in almost incomprehensible ways.  Simply glancing at the text shows us a story of redemption, engaging and packed with adventure.  Stepping in closer we discover a very intense love story between God and man, despite man's best efforts.  And if we dive into that story, we discover something powerful:  a very personal and relevant message that transcends time, culture, and location.  Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we have to believe and read his commands as if they were being spoken into our very ears.  His message hasn't changed, nor will it change simply  because the calendar has.  

He still wants us to be humble, patient, standing strong under persecution (not whining about every little thing), and being generous.  He wants us to pray for our leaders and pay our taxes, even if we disagree with policies or practices.  He calls us from our sin, leaving no stone unturned (or table for that matter) when it comes to exposing the worst of us.  And when he does expose the darkness, he brings it into the light...  

If we expect the Cross and redemption to transcend time and be relevant to us today, we have to realize that every command and instruction are still relevant as well.   This changes everything.  Do we think the things Jesus thought important to be important to us?  Are we prioritizing the things that Jesus prioritized?   Or have we decided to pick and choose our options, sitting comfortably waiting for him to come and pat us on the back?  

Is it ever personal enough for us?  All of it is personal.  Which changes the way we read the Gospels.  Really, it changes everything.  




November 9, 2015, 8:27 AM

Dangerous Waters Ahead



I've never been in a situation in which I've had to respond to the sign that warns of Dangerous Waters Ahead.  Probably because I've spent minimal time in a boat.  More or less time in a boat in places in which we would encounter just such a sign.  I begin this week's blog that way because I feel as though there is a need for warning about the upcoming sermon in our series through The Fruit of the Spirit.  We're talking about Self Control this coming week.  *insert ominous music here

Of all the Fruit, this one hits us in the place it hurts most, and it gets personal very quickly.  While Love is the canvas on which all the other Fruit are painted, Self Control is the brush they're painted with.  The world (non-believers) has a very different approach to what self control is; which we can see in the early stages of the law in the Old Testament:  Don't Murder.  Boom!  I have exhibited 39 years of self control.  The irony is that through further discourse and questioning, even "don't murder" had caveats and exceptions and loopholes.  

Without giving too much of the sermon away, I want to explain why Self Control is so important.  Without Self Control, love is simply lust, or infatuation.  Self Control takes the positive aspects of all the Fruit and places them in the realm of the Holy Spirit's influence.  Patience, without Self Control is simply plotting or biding one's time.  Do you see how this matters and if we don't paint each of the Fruit with Self Control they become cheap, simplistic, and carnal? 

So we're going to get personal, and dive head first into Self Control.  The context for this Fruit is very simple (unlike Love, Joy, Peace, etc...).  We find Self Control in all the places we expect to find it.  There is no mystery.  

Grab a hold of those paint brushes, grip the sides of the boat, because if we don't we will lose control very quickly.  Dangerous Waters Ahead indeed. 

 




October 26, 2015, 9:40 AM

Every Knee and Every Tongue



EVERY knee?  EVERY tongue?  Really?  Every as in ALL?  Hmmm.  God, would you be satisfied with 64.3% of knees and tongues?  

I've been thinking about John 3: 16 today.  And yes, I know what you're thinking: "shouldn't he be thinking about John 3:16 every day?"  Yes, yes I should; and so should you.   What's interesting is the profound nature of the name of Jesus, or at least the way we address him in churchy conversations: Jesus Christ.  We don't call him Jesus THE Christ, or Jesus Messiah, or even Jesus of Nazareth.  We've gotten comfortable creating and using the shortened moniker;  And we've removed the power of his name from changing everything, every day.  

There seem to be varying degrees of power his name has on us, depending on our situational awareness.  For example, his name can be the cue to open our eyes because the prayer is nearing completion.  His name gets honorable mention before we eat.  On the better side of our habits, his name gets passionately sung and proclaimed during our times of worship.  

And yet, according to Philippians 2: 9 - 11 his name is the cornerstone of our very existence, and has the power to drive every knee to bow and every tongue to confess.  Every knee and every tongue?  In a moment of confession, I don't remember the last time I bowed to my knees in reverence.  Should we take it completely literal and read the text as if we HAVE to bow to our knees in order to show reverence?  I don't think that's what Paul was saying.  I see his directive shooting straight to our hearts, straight to the makeup of our very beings.  Do we hear, speak, and revere the name of Jesus completely, down to our very soul?  

My fear is that we've diluted the power of Jesus' name with our sin, our apathy, and the fear of what society will think of us.  We dilute the name of Jesus down to being an identifier of our preferences and habits (a nametag, or sign on a building) and not THE identifier that is the source of those behaviors and habits.  

Jesus is our cornerstone and foundation.  What we have, what we believe, and what we are rests on his stretched shoulders. John 3:16 is the Truth and source for who we when we're gathered with the Body of Christ, and everywhere else.  

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.  At the name of Jesus every tongue confess.    Do yours?  

 




October 19, 2015, 9:26 AM

Forgetful.



From what I'm told, and everything I'm experiencing, memory loss is a growing problem.  For years now I've made lists when heading to the grocery store.  First, because its a good accountability trick ("Is it on the list?  No?  Then we're not getting the Extra-Large Family Sized bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups").  And Second, it frees up a spot in my brain to concentrate on important things and letting me stop repeating the list of needed items over and over and over and over.  

These days, no matter how many times I repeat it to myself, I am forgetting more and more.  This week I forgot patience when I left the house to get groceries.  After that was forgotten, come to find out I picked up anger and intolerance instead.  THOSE weren't on the list!  

So yes, I like grocery lists.  For the simple reason that I am forgetful.  

This week our shopping list looks like this:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.  Don't forget the milk, eggs, and bread either.  

When we walk out of our house, this list MUST be in our hands.  When we walk INTO our house we must return with them in full measure.  What's startling and concerning is how often we leave them at home when walking into one of our safest places: Church.  Gossip is a plague.  Grudges are a curse.  Impatience has no place amongst the fellowship of believers.  There will never be universal happiness or acceptance when this many people are involved.  Change happens without asking for our permission.  People will make mistakes, and forget their own list of Fruit sometimes.  We all need the accountability of our own list though, to cover those moments of lapse.  Jumping onboard the complain-train when it settles into the station is unacceptable within these walls.  That train needs derailed by patience, love, joy, and kindness.  

No, we're not going to agree on everything.  No, that does not give us an excuse to forget who we are.  And no, that does not change who God is or how he feels about us.  Unlike us, he doesn't need a list in his pocket.  




October 12, 2015, 9:01 AM

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses



My favorite excuse while growing up was:  "Scooter did it."  Scooter was the cat, and he often did knock things over and even bumped pictures off the wall in the hallway chasing shadows.  It was easy, really, to just point at him and blame the cat.  He couldn't talk, wouldn't try and defend himself.  In fact, he would purr a bit at the attention, then walk away knowing he was immune to retribution.  

I still kind of wish I had a Scooter around these days to pin my mistakes on.  It was so easy to just throw things on him and walk away unscathed (me, not the stupid cat).  These days I have to deal with that pesky, nagging, good-for-nothing sense of responsibility.  What a drag. 

What types of things do we need excuses for these days anyways?  Simple:  the Fruit of the Spirit.  More specifically, for NOT having the Fruit of the Spirit.  When we don't show the measure of Love expected from a Christian, there is always an excuse. Patience, or the lack thereof, also brings out our best excuses and reasons for lacking.  I'm targeting Kindness in this blog, looking at our amazing ability to justify simply not being nice to each other.  

The kindness of God, expressly demonstrated in the life of Jesus, had no boundaries.  Jesus, simply put, was nice.  He took children on his knee when otherwise busy teaching important stuff.  He stopped his whole motorcade (donkey-cade??  parade? you get what I mean) to address the ravings of outcast lepers.  He honored the requests of Roman soldiers, Pharisees coming to him in the dark of night to avoid suspicion, and foreigners who occupy the do-not-fly list (Samaritans).  Sometimes he showed frustrations (thats putting it nicely) when facing the Pharisees and their..... silliness.  But at no point did that frustration draw a line in the sand where his kindness, forgiveness, or eternal compassion did not apply to them.  

Of all the people to walk this earth, Jesus had more opportunity to offer an excuse and draw a line in the sand than anyone, ever.  He knew thoughts, motives, traps, and sins within everyone he encountered.  And despite knowing ALL that, he was nice.  Kind.  Patient.  I wish there were more pictures of Jesus painted with a smile or laugh, because I'm pretty sure he did that way more than staring off into the distance, devoid of emotion on his face (this is the pose most painters portray him with).  

Jesus was nice.  And he didnt make excuses.  

Are we nice?  Because we make excuses to not be nice.  I really, really love to hear this phrase:  "With all due respect....." because it is always followed by a disrespectful statement.  It also works in reverse by adding: "Bless their heart" AFTER a moment of venomous commentary.  We chalk it up to being honest, or I cant help myself, or my favorite: the devil made me do it

Lets erase the line in the sand that marks our boundary to kindness.  No more excuses for being mean.  Make your life a clean slate in which there are not even opportunities to be mean.  Instead, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. . . (Ephesians 4: 32)




September 28, 2015, 9:57 AM

Peace, Perfect Peace



Shhhhh.  Listen quietly for a moment.  What do you hear?  In my office I hear the bustle of children heading into a classroom; A fan I have on in the background; The ticking of a clock; and the plunking of keyboard keys.  If you're in a office there's most likely a telephone ringing, and other sounds of business.  If you're at home, life there has all sorts of unique noises.  In other words, we are never really in a place of quiet rest.  Sure, when we sleep its quiet, but only because our bodies are shut down.  Noises and distractions and the bustle of life never cease.  

Which is why we must ignore the world's definition of peace and seek something greater.  As usual, Christian thought and belief points us in a counter-cultural direction when seeking answers.  We run to the example of Jesus, the writings of Paul, and the struggles of the early Church to discover our course.  What do they say about peace?  

First:  Peace is not discovered in the quiet and still.  When Peace arrives in the Biblical texts, there is usually chaos and uproar.  Something has broken, causing distress, and God moves.  What comes to my mind immediately is Jesus calming the storm.  This story has some unique applications to us that may be overlooked (but may come to mind if you recall a sermon or two in which I've used this story).   

Jesus arrives for the trip exhausted and needing rest.  He seeks peace of his own, away from the needs of the world.  There is a cushion ready for him, which is the first example of this story having more to it than what we usually extract.  Jesus was planning on making it to the other side, intact and alive.  No matter the weather, sailing conditions, visibility, Jesus was so confident in making it to the other side that he actually set up an area to nap.  

The storm breaks and he is woken up, sees the terrified eyes of his disciples and calms the storm.  I've been woken up by frantic children many times, in various states of distress.  Sometimes the emergency is handled and rest returns easily.  But other times....  other times the distress of others makes rest and sleep impossible to recover.  Jesus calms the storm, faces the wonderment of his friends, then has to teach them a lesson about faith.  He never gets back to sleep as they arrive shortly thereafter to a crowd waiting for them.  And within that moment of distress, and being called from sleep, and realizing that the rest he desperately needed was not going to come, he continues to show compassion, mercy, and peace. 

Within the chaos and distraction Jesus not only finds peace, but he spreads it willingly.  Which leads to our second point:  True God-given Peace does not lead to "rest" or "quiet."   For the disciples, their time with Jesus lead them to Peace.  The peace to accept that the world was going to reject them, threaten them, imprison them, and ultimately kill them.  Despite the threats they continued to preach, teach, and break down barriers.  The peace of God in their lives looked more like waging war with the world than it did finding rest and a quiet place to sit a spell.  

Peace, Perfect Peace is not rest for the weary, or comfort for the distressed.  It is the peace that allows us to understand that something greater is coming, this world will fade, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.  No, that doesnt paint a picture of green pastures and bubbling brooks.  It looks more like the Valley of the Shadow of Death as David wrote in Psalm 23.  Even though we walk through those valleys, we have Peace.  Peace because God was.  God is.  And God will be.  

 




September 21, 2015, 9:03 AM

In All the Wrong Places



Remember that song:  Lookin' for Love in All the Wrong Places ?  Looking far beyond its menial topic of dating, it is a testament to all of the places the world attempts to find itself fulfilled.  Relationships.  Money.  Comfort.  The song serves as a warning to those seeking fulfillment, that "love" can be found, but only in the right places.  

As Christians, or at least as those whom regard regular attendance as important, we can identify places where love can be found easily and readily.  We know what love is, and what a genuine level of love looks like.  We can point to things like The Cross, Communion, and most of our worship songs.  In other words, we've been looking for love in all the right places.  

But Joy on the other hand is a different story all together.  I will prioritize Joy right up there with Love on the list of attributes necessary for a Christ-Follower to have/exhibit.  Paul speaks often of contentment, the feeling that no matter what the world throws at us, we are joyful and able to rejoice in the promises of Christ.  

Here's the problem:  We're looking for Joy in all the wrong places.  

The biblical context for finding Joy is probably why we don't pursue it:  Trials, Suffering, and The Cross.  (James 1:2; Acts 5:41; Hebrews 12: 2).  That's why Joy is so hard to find.  That's why we struggle with contentment.  (Speaking to me first and foremost).  We look for Joy in the places where happiness lives.  Happiness is temporary, Joy is eternal.  We will not carry our trophies to heaven and trade them for their face value... hoping ours is enough to have a lake-side view of the Crystal Sea.  We will be looked over for scars, and signs of sacrifice, and giving when it hurt.  This world's trophies have no eternal trade-in value.  No matter how many times we sing that song, they remain what they are:  trophies awarded for earthly pursuits.  

In Psalm 118 we get this very famous and much used exclamation about joy:  "This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it..." sounds a whole lot nicer driving an oversized SUV to a drive-thru coffee shop on our way to the gym after dropping kids off at school than it does sitting behind bars, having been beaten to within an inch of our life. 

We put that quote/verse on Bible covers and carry it proudly through our comfort routines.  And yet Joy eludes us.  We're all seeking for the bigger, better deal.  We stress over the threat of financial ruin.  Our stomachs turn in the ever changing winds of the country's political landscape.  Our Bible cases say: "REJOICE" but our eyes seek the pleasures of this world.  

We're looking in all the wrong places.  




September 14, 2015, 8:51 AM

New and If



Two words that show us how much God understands us.  Here's a hint, he knows us well... and has taken appropriate levels of teaching to accommodate that understanding of us.  Thus those two words:  New and If.  

Here's the context of those two words:  John 13: 34 - 35.  He gives his disciples a "New" commandment:  actually loving each other.  Which sounds a bit redundant.  Isn't that what Jesus was teaching them from the beginning?  What was so new about this idea?  Nothing was "new."  This has been the message God has been trying to get through our noggins since the beginning of time.  And since the beginning of time (think: Cain and Able) we've shown him just how much we don't get it!!  

Jesus was speaking ahead to what the disciples were about to go through.  He was warning them, through a positive instruction, that their love for each other will be tested.  Tension was going to bring out their worst.  Persecution and doubts and questions would stress their relationships to the breaking point.  Preserved through history is one of those moments between Peter and Paul (Galatians 2)!  Things got difficult.  His commandment (the New one) was spoken and reaffirmed at this moment as a reminder that the world was going to be watching them closely.  And if they wanted to prove their faithfulness to The Christ, they needed to love each other; which points to our second highlighted word: "If."  

That is from verse 35 in John 13.  IF you love each other, the world will know.  Not "when" ....... "if."  Its a little heartbreaking to hear this.  Yes, I may be reading too much emphasis into this translational sentence bridge.  But maybe I'm not.  God knows me.  And he knows how swayed I am by circumstance and emotion.  Too often my circumstances (a bad thing just happened) or my emotions (my response to that bad thing) play too big of role in how I respond to people.  I put the "if" in Jesus' statement.  I put the "new" in his expressions of love.  

Because its MY fault he had to carry the load of sin on the Cross.  Period.  

The words "new" and "if" are in there because Jesus knows us.  Yes, we're going to struggle and at times fight his command to love.  But he loves us anyway.  Those words do not negate the Cross, nor will they ever.  Our goal is to remove them from our vocabulary.  The only thing we need is Love for each other.  And WHEN we do that, it changes everything.  




September 7, 2015, 10:54 AM

Do we Live There?



Our goal is Heaven, right?  Our instructions are clear:  live as though that is our goal.  

So now what do we do?  If history is our guide, not much changes. 

For most of Western culture, the answer is:  continue what we're doing.  We chase the American Dream of success and profit, and invest properly.  We buy more than we need, and then use a storage unit to hold it all.  We occupy so much space here that there is no easy way for us to relocate more or less drop it all and take up residency where God calls us.  Our habits remain the same, and we consume spirituality in the same fashion that we consume from restaurants.  We say we live for Heaven, but our actions speak otherwise. (Remember, I speak first and foremost into my own life.  There is no finger wagging here).  

A while back, I remember seeing a few of the questions someone has to answer on the test to gain US citizenship.  It was passed around because way too few of us (US citizens) could even answer enough to pass entry into our own country.  There is no Pass/Fail test to get into Heaven, but there is a required knowledge base and some actions necessary to enter into that state of salvation.  

Following up the thoughts from yesterday's sermon:  Are we running the race, pursuing the finish line of Heaven as if we're going to win?  Paul urges us on in 1 Corinthians 9, and supplies the motivation we so desperately need.  Weekly attendance is not enough training to win the race.  The meat of our journey towards Heaven occurs when we take the good news into those places it is unwelcome, unspoken, or ignored completely.  

Do we appear as though our feet are planted in the unseen realm of Heaven?  Or are we indiscernible from the rest of society with feet planted firmly on the ground?




August 31, 2015, 9:15 AM

That Default Setting



Every machine has a default setting.  When the power goes out, back to default.  When there's trouble, reset it back to default.  I've done a factory reset on my iPad and iPhone multiple times to get things smoothed back out when glitches start popping up.  

Every human has a default setting.  When things don't go our way, back to default.  When there's trouble, back to default.  When we feel that emotional swell and cant help but exclamate, that's our default breaking through.  There are times when those who know true joy cant help but smile, and praise.  In a smaller sense, some people have a goofy laugh that we hide and are embarrassed when it escapes unbridled.  But for others, the default setting is much darker. 

Anger.  Hate.  Jealousy.  Greed.  Prejudice.  

This should not be a surprise.  We cant help but tell our own story, and show our default settings.  Because life is hard.  Life rarely goes our way all the time.  I'm the first to admit that I've struggled with the default setting of anger.  I prefer throwing inanimate objects to release angry energy than sitting quietly and talking through what the issue could be.  

This is a very serious problem, and one that was not ignored by Jesus and the early Church.  Racism between Jew and Samaritan was a ridiculously huge problem in Biblical times.  It was on the level of degrading an entire nation and avoiding stepping foot within their borders at the cost of a day's travel and crossing a river twice instead of once at its easiest point.  The early church struggled with assimilation of the two cultures even after God had torn the veil and barrier down.  

Watch how the Pharisees reacted to almost everything Jesus did or said.  They tore their clothes in anger, plotted ways to trap and ultimately kill him.  That is not a default setting of love, but of hate.  

Where do we begin and what is our default setting?  Our goal is to mimic and present Christ to this world.  If we do so with partially veiled contempt or disgust, we show a God not of love, but hate.  If our first reaction in traffic is to honk, yell, and gesticulate rudely, we need to adjust our default.  

The best news is that God is always ready and willing and able to work on our hearts.  He has the balm for an angry soul.  He painted the picture that can soothe the biggest jealousies.  And he bridged the gap that spans the widest doubts.  

Its time to reset our default.  

 




August 24, 2015, 9:38 AM

Are You Sure? Really? Every time? Sigh........Ok.



How often, when you hear a fantastic claim, or a boasted feat do you ask the person:  "Really?"  As if to imply they are making it up.  Or what about those times when someone gives you a command or suggestion and you reply with:  "Really?  Are you sure?"  I see this one with children, especially when they're sent as messengers of Mom and Dad.  "Dad said that?  Really?  Are you sure?"  

We like to hear from people, but at our core we're almost always skeptical.  Sometimes its easier to doubt and assume the message was for someone else, or to be ignored for five more minutes instead of acted upon immediately.  

How many times have we caught ourselves saying "Really?  Are you sure?"  to Jesus?  I'm betting none of us would admit to it, because that's not what Church-people do (admit to doubting or questioning Jesus).  While we don't say it, we do live it.  

See, Jesus made some fantastic claims in his time.  One cannot dive into scripture without getting the words of Jesus laid out before us, profound indeed.  How often though do we brush over the harder stuff and move on to the things that aren’t as life changing, that aren’t as “in your face”?!!  “Really Jesus, did you seriously mean for me to forgive EVERYONE???  EVERY TIME???”  Yeah, we question Jesus’ words and teaching all the time.   Not out loud, because we don't do that.  What do our lives say? 

Read Mark 8: 34 - 38  

If ANYONE, yes anyone wants to follow Jesus we must follow these instructions.  Period.  I’m pretty sure he meant every word.  I’m pretty sure we were included in his statement through the inspiration and God-Breathed work of the Bible. So where does that leave us? 

Living your faith through every aspect of your life is both simple and terrifyingly complex.  God never, ever asks to be your #1 priority. He simply wants to be your God, Father, Abba.  Making him just a priority puts him on the same level of taking out the trash, trying to exercise more, or picking up milk on the way home from work.  God’s presence in our lives must permeate and coat all the other aspects.  Once he is given his rightful place, following becomes simple.  We become teachers who teach because we want to grow and educate children to become the best they can be.  We become employers who want the best for our business and our employees because we love people as God loves people.  We become parents who want to see our children grow into healthy, successful, God-fearing adults!  See how cool that is?!!!  It allows us to live in his footsteps wherever we are!  It allows us to see a mission field in our backyards, in our cubicles and offices, in the grocery store, on the basketball court, EVERYWHERE!!!  It takes the complexities of scary things like evangelism and living our faith and makes it a part of all the things we already do.  

When God is more than a priority, or something we can check off each day on our to-do lists, we discover that loving God and loving People is a pretty simple endeavor.  When we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, we become exactly what he created us to be in the first place!!!  We become a people who forgive, who love unconditionally, who reach out instinctively with compassion, who fear God’s opinions of us more than any persons.  The world no longer has a sway or vote in the matter.  The world no longer receives the judgmental hypocrisy that the media paints the church with.  The world receives Jesus, and the love he exhibited on the Cross.  

And while the world receives a profound gift, it loses something as well.  It loses citizens whose feet used to be firmly planted here.  When we deny ourselves and follow Christ, we become rebels, aliens, and citizens of a kingdom and realm far from this world.  So wear your heart on your sleeve.  Let your instincts guide you to act as the Holy Spirit prompts.  And live as though we don't live here.  Our citizenship is above.  




August 17, 2015, 10:05 AM

Fishing looks like hard work



Believe me when I say "I'm no expert on fishing."  I'm not.  I think I've been fishing a half dozen times in my life, and enjoyed it once.  But from my perspective on fishing, it seems like hard work.  Now, to be clear, I'm talking about the kind of fishing where your supplies are centered around a large net and not a large cooler.  It takes dedication to the craft, and repair to the supplies, and a tolerance for that fishy smell.  In the New Testament, we find most of our fishing encounters on the banks of the Sea of Galilee.  This lake has 22 species of fish, enough to support a region's livelihood.  

Then there is the Dead Sea.  It is a lifeless expanse of salt-water.  We have some encounters there too, but none involve fishing...  because there's no fish.  Which I guess is a good thing if you really dont like that fishy smell.  If I had to choose which lake I would spend time on, I think (having not been to either) I would want a lake teeming with life, even if I dont like fishing.  

Here's the problem, we HAVE to fish.  We are called to fish.  Our job as Christians is to fish.  Which means the choice we must make is to commit to the effort to fish.  I'm not advocating for anyone to throw their plans in the air and plan a fishing trip this weekend.  I'm referencing Jesus' call to a group of men on the shores of the Sea of Galilee: "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."

These guys knew the dedication it took to support a family by fishing for a living.  They could repair a net, and they adjusted their sleep schedules to work around when the fish were best placed for catching.  It was not a comfortable living, but one that paid the bills.  He called them to the same level of activity, dedication, and discomfort when they followed him.  

We are called to the same level of activity, dedication, and discomfort when we follow Jesus.  Fishing has become recreation, but in Jesus' eyes it is the passionate pursuit of what makes the Kingdom of Heaven real in this world.  Are we willing to step into a life that requires our effort to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, in which we take our nets to where the fish are swimming?  Or are we floating around waiting for the fish to come to us, in our lavish buildings and regularly scheduled programming? 

This is the power of the choice between the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.  We want life, and the blessings of Christ.  But only if we can float along.  

 

 




August 10, 2015, 10:12 AM

Does it Matter?



Here's a fun question to chew on this morning:  Does anything we do really matter?  For example, we recycle at our house.  But for all I know, the stuff we put into the blue bin is treated the same way as the garbage that sits beside the blue bin.  I just don't see it making a difference because it goes somewhere I'm not and is treated by people I don't know, in a way that I don't understand.  Sure, recycling makes me feel better about myself and how I'm treating the earth.  But is it enough?  Is it making a difference? 

I feel the same way, at times, about how I treat people, how I react to this world, and whether or not acting like Christ actually makes a difference to anyone.  I'm going to confess a bit of misdeed on my part here to you:  This past weekend we were in a hotel whilst attending a wedding.  Each morning, the lobby and dining area were filled with people I would never see again.  On Saturday, there was a particularly long line for the cinnamon roles and other tasty foods, with no clear place for the line's beginning or ending.  It was a jumbled mess in need of a polite hand to set right.  I thought about being that polite hand and stepping behind someone and waiting patiently.  That's good isn't it?  That I at least thought about being polite.  Instead, I rationalized that because I would never see anyone of these people again, I'm going to cut into the line at the center and grab what I want.  If someone thought me to be rude, no big deal right?  I'm just a blip on the radar of life, gone in an instant (with two cinnamon roles in hand of course).  I made no eye contact and made sure that if anyone was upset with me, I didn't acknowledge it anyway.  

Back to our question:  does it really matter?  Someone may have been upset with me for a minute, but I'm sure it didn't linger.  What harm was done?  Yes, I'm relating my moment of indiscretion of cutting in line for cinnamon roles with living for Christ.  Stick with me a bit longer.  I was able to justify my own needs above anything else, including people.  Would my attitude have changed if the group was a familiar one?  Absolutely.  The after affects of my actions would have made me think twice about how I was perceived and how everyone walked away from the encounter.  What does it matter though?  No one knew me, and no one marked my face down as someone they need to deal with later.  Even better, no one even knew I was a Christian at all, so no harm was done to the image of the Church or Jesus.  Right?  

Wrong. 

It matters, and harm was done, because I chose me above others.  Even in as simple and stupid of moment like cutting in a disorganized line, it matters.  No, there was no lasting damage to others.  And no, Jesus' name wasn't sullied in their hearts or minds.  The damage was done IN me, not on them.  I cant help but think of Paul's clear instructions about our attitudes and decisions we make on the most minute details in Romans 12:3.  "Don't think too highly of yourself..."  And the attitude of Christ that Paul chronicles nicely as an example for us in Philippians 2: 5 - 8.  

Even if I never saw one of those people again, how I thought of myself and how highly I exalted myself above others matters greatly in the realm of spirituality, faith, and obedience.  It matters because God knows our hearts.  God wants the best from us, in the form of service and humility.  ALL THE TIME.  

How we treat others and this world is a great indicator of how highly we think of ourselves and how high we elevate Christ.  Every moment matters.  Maybe not in their lives, but in our own.  

 


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