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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.  

 

 


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