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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.  


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