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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.‚Äč




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.  

 




August 3, 2015, 9:19 AM

Romans 4 Simplified



Its always an interesting state of mind I find myself in after preaching, week after week.  Most weeks I stand there, facing front while the song is being sung and I pray:  "God, forgive me for messing that all up... again."  Almost every week the flood of things I should have said come rushing in.  And then, on the rare occasion that things turn out well (in my own mind), there is a peace that comes. 

As I've walked through the first 4 chapters of Romans this Summer, its been a rarity to walk away from the sermon feeling confident that the message got out the way it should have.  I blame Paul.  

Really, its all his fault.  Romans is a tough, tough book to break down into bite-size pieces, more or less to have those bite-size pieces work as cohesive and presentable thoughts.  He starts by telling us we're doomed (which always makes for a "fun" sermon... unless you like the brimstone style).  There's good news after that in Jesus.  But even the good news comes with subplots, "however" statements, and interjections that are off topic.  This week's focus was on the exceptions or exclusions of justification.  Which in itself, sounds like something that will take hours to explain.  In an effort to simplify, we used the example of a picture from Alex Haley's office (author of Roots) of a turtle on a fence post.  If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post,  you know he had help getting there.  

We are the turtle in this illustration, and in Paul's explanation, we're on a fence post of divine proportions.  And we've done nothing to get ourselves up there.  Paul warns us all, then, that we cannot boast or be prideful about our place on the fence post.  I cant speak for everyone here, but I don't think I've ever had the problem of being overly proud of anything I've done to contribute to God's gift of salvation.  In fact, I'm constantly in awe of God's patience and extended willingness to love me despite me.  But pride and boasting were obviously a big problem in Rome, and needed some attention.  

So here's what I wish I had said about Romans 4:  If Abraham had nothing to boast about, then neither do we.  Abraham knew he was a turtle on a fence post, having been blessed by God and everything was owed to God in return.  Even Isaac.  Abraham was never found assuming he could earn more favor with God by obeying.  Abraham obeyed because he loved God, and that's what those that love God are supposed to do.  This was no reward based system of obedience (if I do this, then God will do that).   

And yet we either find ourselves on a fence post and too often assume it is because we've got things figured out better than anyone else; or because we've attended more services than anyone else; or we've memorized more verses than anyone else; etc... etc...  I grew up knowing that "Good Christians" obey the rules because we fear what would happen if we don't.  I was taught that we serve or give because we're storing up those treasures in heaven and jewels in our crowns.  That mansion just over the hilltop sounds really good, someday when we can trade in our crosses for a robe and a crown.  If I don't "do" enough here, I wont have anything yonder over the Crystal Sea. 

What Paul is saying, in its simplest form, is that Jesus makes us right with God.  Our response to that justification (being made right) is to do good.  To serve, give, love, forgive, work, etc... (all that stuff is what he sums up as "the law").  Our good work doesn't earn us bonus points, it is an outward expression of our deep love for what Christ has already done.  Which is place us squarely on the fence post of justification.  




July 27, 2015, 9:23 AM

One of the perks of being Jesus: Calling us Fools.



There is a moment in the book of Luke that is startling to say the least.  I use the word "startling" because throughout the story of Jesus, he does amazing things that cement the truth that he is divine and we're not.  He rarely takes an action or has an outburst akin to something I would find myself saying/thinking.  The startling exception is Luke 24:25.  This moment sounds like something I want to yell while driving and have just gotten cut off.  "You Foolish People!!"

This rings my bell and sticks out because it is so rare to hear Jesus lay into someone in such a raw way.  In this instance he is talking to two walking companions after the messy weekend of the Crucifixion.  Everything they had thought about Jesus was put into question as they saw his body broken and buried.  They knew the teachings and the prophesies, but seeing the lifeless body of Jesus put all that into doubt.  He hits them hard, and we read this section of the resurrection account with detached interest, dont we?  The road to Emmaus makes a great sermon.  But instead of reading it with detached interest, we're going to put ourselves into the story.  

And Jesus just called us fools. 

Its painful to hear this, and Jesus begins a statement with “You foolish people!”  OUCH!  Cant you just call us slow?  What about dull?  But Foolish?  He just told me not to call anyone a fool in Matthew 5:22.  In fact, if I did I would be in danger of the wrath of the courts if I did as such.  I guess being the Son of God has some perks, like free reign to call us foolish.  

What hurts most is that he’s right on.  He has us pegged.  Foolish.  Painfully Foolish.

Before we cut Jesus off and try and defend ourselves, albeit showing ourselves more foolish, lets let him finish what he has to say:

“You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.  Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 

See, these guys on the road to Emmaus didn’t have the full story yet.  Jesus had died, and as far as they knew, was still dead.  They didn’t have the appearances, they didn’t have the letters of Paul.  They probably had only SEEN physical copies of the Old Testament Scripture in Church, and incomplete at that.  But we know they KNEW the story, they knew the promise of a Messiah, they knew their role in the Kingdom.  

But they were still foolish.  Because while they knew the story, they were missing something greater than knowledge.  What was missing was the child-like belief and trust in God's plan, God's will, and God Himself.  Jesus had promised again and again that he would rise, defeat death, and show this world a kingdom the likes it had never seen.  Connecting those dots to his death and ensuing resurrection was difficult, but not something that should have ever been in doubt.  

Its easy to say now that they all should have known better.  Truth be told, we ALL should know better!  How much do you know?  How much have you been taught?  How many sermons have you heard?  How many cleverly alliterated blogs and bulletin articles have you read?  

But we are still foolish, aren’t we?  Because we forget, we disregard, we ignore, we live our lives oblivious to the power surrounding us.  We are foolish to forget.  We havent connected the dots.  What we do today echoes into our eternity.  Not just the part we play on Sunday mornings and the occasional mid-week gathering.  Today matters!  

This is your reminder:  DON’T FORGET!!  DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE POWER THAT HAS REDEEMED YOU!!!  Remember the story, remember the journey, but most of all: prepare for taking your next steps surrounded by the power and Spirit of God. 

 




July 20, 2015, 9:38 AM

Its a Trap!!!



What trap you say?!  A tiger trap, ala Calvin and Hobbes?  Those are easy to avoid, just don't grab the tuna sandwich hanging over a patch of straw!  Maybe its quicksand we're trying to avoid.  That's easy to spot as well.  Truth be told, I thought it would be a much bigger issue in my adult life, based on its presence in childhood adventures.  Even mousetraps are easy to avoid getting our fingers snapped.  JUST DON'T TOUCH THEM!!!  

So what trap are we speaking of here?  Following David's sermon yesterday (July 19, 2015) and the theme from his sermon on May 3rd, 2015, the trap we must avoid is the trap of falsehood, being inauthentic, avoiding the reality of our true selves.  There are two pieces of this that I want to talk about here:  First is the temptation to hide our emotional state.  Saying "fine" when asked how we're doing, when in reality we're on the planet farthest from.  This trap is dangerous because it separates us on a personal level with each other.  Too often, even if we're not the one placing ourselves on the island of "fine" we want others to just be "fine" so we can move on with our own lives and busyness.    

The second trap is far more dangerous and isolating; It's the trap of hiding our sin and struggles from each other.  I say its "far more dangerous" than the personal disconnect of our emotional game of hide and seek because this trap of isolating our sins to the deepest corners of our hearts, in the dark shadows of our inner thoughts and minds keeps us from opening ourselves to God AND each other. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, the first great knowledge they discovered was Shame.  They were not given a greater understanding of time, space, or even love.  It was shame that they learned first, and shame that kept them hiding behind a bush when God came walking near.  Sin created a dark place in Adam's heart that didn't exist prior to his exploration into the world of temptation and discovery.  When that corner of his heart woke up, he no longer was transparent and authentic with God.  

We've been hiding behind a bush ever since.

When Jesus summed up all the laws and prophets into two basic commands, there is a word he included that needs expounding upon and examination:  ALL.  As in ALL your heart.  ALL your soul.  ALL your mind.  ALL your strength.  

There is no gap in ALL that allows for hidden corners.  If we're still hiding behind a bush, we've created a place where we think God doesn't see us, and we're not loving God as he commands.  What does loving God with ALL of us look like?  It looks like a walk in the Garden in the cool of the evening.  It looks like a building project of epic proportions while every other person on Earth laughs and mocks (the rain's coming people!!).  It looks like a young man being anointed King, and then running for his life while the current "king" makes a mockery of his charge.  It looks like two arms being stretched across a rough hewn log, nailed in place.  

It looks like a church full of people who not only come to worship with abandon, but to love each other as well.  Flaws, birthmarks, dark spots on our hearts and all.  If we hide behind a facade of nicety to our neighbors, or behind nice clothes and passionate worship in a nice building, we're no better than Adam and Eve trying poorly to escape their inevitable discovery behind a bush.  

The shame of Adam and Eve broke God's heart.  He created them (and us) to live a life free of that burden.  No one needs be contained on the Island of Fine.  We're all in this together.  

 

 




July 6, 2015, 10:10 AM

Glory. Honor. Immortality.



Glory.  Honor.  Immortality. 

That's my goal in this meager life.  I wrestle with it daily.  

If you weren't present for the sermon yesterday (July 05, 2015), then you're thinking my ego has finally run unchecked and I'm seeking prosperity and fame.  Good thing I have a frame of reference and can't let you run too wild with that accusation which isn't entirely false.  There are two words that hold much more power than any other in our realm of religion and spirituality:  Submission and Sacrifice.  

These two words, in their very essence and root, speak of things like Love, Grace, and Hope.  Without all the ingredients like those great things, submission and sacrifice cannot exist.  They are bigger than any one thing and paint a picture far more beautiful than any human thought or emotion.  They paint the picture of the Cross.  The Cross is the one moment in human history that transcends all human emotion and ambition.  It is the ultimate and unmatched example of the sheer force of submission and sacrifice.  

And we're called to emulate that.  

Our calling, which is layered deeply, as a church and individuals is to seek the Glory, Honor, and Immortality of the Cross.  (Romans 2: 4 - 9a).  No, there is no way to actually carry the same weight the Cross bore in forgiveness and mercy.  However, we can all carry the burden of the Cross' purpose and intention: Loving God, and Loving People.  When he allowed the Cross to happen, Jesus showed himself submitting and loving God unconditionally, no matter the hurt and pain.  And every moment of the Cross was for us.  

Jesus did not seek Glory, Honor, or Immortality for himself.  Everything pointed to God being glorified, honored, and made known forever.  

That is our call as we take up our cross and follow him.  Not so we can show the world just how heavy a cross we can carry without buckling.  Not so we can get pity or sympathy for the pain on our backs from the splintered wood.  And certainly not so our name is remembered long after we're gone.  Our call is to seek Glory, Honor, and Immortality for God's name.  That sounds all well and good, and makes for a positive sermon point.  We can't leave it there, though.  Making God famous MUST make its way into our routines.  We must find ourselves giving God the glory and honor when our day is perfect, and when our day looks a lot like a flash flood of despair and lament.  

I really like how Paul finishes I Corinthians 13:  "But these three things remain:  Faith, Hope, and Love.  The greatest of these is Love."  He speaks to what remains after we're gone:  the faith we kept, the hope we spoke, and the love we gave.  All of those can be summed up by how far we submitted and sacrificed ourselves to the Glory, Honor, and Immortality of the Cross.  

My reputation may suffer.  But if God is glorified through my integrity, then I'm on the right track.  My name may not carry the weight I think it should, but if God's name DOES receive the honor it deserves, I'm on the right track.  And if God's power and influence in my life and those closest to me last long after my body is broken down, then I've found the right kind of immortality.  




June 29, 2015, 10:21 AM

Its not as bad as we think.


Isaiah 31: 1  What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.

"What sorrow..."!!!    That sorrow includes the despair we feel when laws dont go our way (i.e. the Supreme Court ruling this week), or when our government decides tax laws need adjusted for non-profit entities like churches, or when we feel like media coverage is painting religion with a bias, or this, or that, etc... etc... 

Its easy to allow ourselves to sink into depression over our interpretations of how far gone our country/government/laws have gone in the past 60 years.  When we look back its always through rose-tinted glasses that make it appear we're too far gone to make any recovery to the country we knew and loved in the days it seemed everyone was a Christian.  The prophet Isaiah's message rings true throughout the centuries that have passed since his words were recorded in a scroll to be shared with Israel.  

Lets be reminded of what they were going through at that time:  CAPTIVITY!  They weren't just subjects to a government who didn't take their beliefs or traditions into account.  They were slaves to a country that only thought of them as worms, a people who deserved to be conquered and taught a lesson in "true" power.  To add insult to injury, a select few of the best and brightest from Israel were even made powerful members of the government system, which included them as an integral part of the conquering machine.  What hope remained if the even best became a part of the problem!?  

Isaiah had to actually remind Israel to STOP hoping in the power of Egypt, in an armed attack that might free them from oppression and restore them to a country all their own, ruled by their own beliefs and opinions.  Yes, THAT Egypt.  The one that had held Israel captive oh-not-so-long ago for an oh-so-long 400 years.  

Sigh. 

Israel needed a reminder of the real power in the Universe:  the Creator; Our Savior, the LORD and Holy One of Israel.  No amount of oppression, policy, slavery, captivity, or law would remove the LORD's power or majesty.  And yet we think every time a school board makes a decision, or the Supreme Court makes a ruling that we're experiencing the demise of religion as we know it.  We've forgotten, again and again, who holds power and dominion over our souls.  Its not Rome, Babylon, or any of the branches of government in the good ole USA.  

Lets save the weeping and gnashing of teeth for the issues that are really plaguing our country and world.  Issues like homelessness, starvation, abuse, the sex-slave industry, and any other mistreatment or abuse of the innocent.  Lets let the world be the world, pretending that they have any power.  All the while we serve the LORD and claim a citizenship in an eternal realm where we wont have to fret about moral rulings, redefinition of marriage, or death and loss of any kind.  That's more powerful than any manmade law, and stronger than a million chariots.  


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