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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.  


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