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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.  


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