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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.  




June 22, 2015, 9:30 AM

Excuses



'Tis but a short blog: 

No more excuses.  

 

Ok, it will be a little longer than that.  I need to follow up on some sermon thoughts yesterday (06/21/15), and reiterate something vital that doesn't get nearly the amount of press it deserves from Romans 1.  It is verse 20:  "So they will have no excuse for not knowing God."  

Paul is speaking of people outside the realm of regular attenders and those in the "know" who have made worship and seeking God part of their routine.  He speaks here of all people who gobble up air on this planet.  Everyone is without an excuse for knowing God based on the glory (and fact) of creation.  The power exhibited in creation speaks to the magnificence of God.........and removes every excuse there is to knowing Him.  I like how blunt Paul is here.  There is no room given to arguments of evolution (Micro or Macro), old-Earth vs new-Earth...  Its simple:  God is, and has given us everything we need to see Him.  

So whats our excuse? That question is to those who do "know".  How do we explain the marginalization of things like evangelism, accountability, and forgiveness within modern Christianity when the evidence of our Creator is so plainly stated that even people who sleep until 2pm on Sunday can see and know him?  We've thrust reputation, financial security, and infrastructure to the top of the priority list for Church and as individuals.  And we have excuses at the ready for why we don't reach our neighbors, seek unity among believers, and live in peace with those we with whom we disagree.  

While the target of Paul's language was non-believers... We're not off the hook.  No more excuses.  




June 15, 2015, 10:09 AM

Just Like Jesus...



If I were to ask, in the general assembly of any Church during any regularly scheduled meeting:  “Who here wants to be like Jesus?”  I guarantee every hand would go up.  

Your hand included.  And mine too. 

And then we feel better about ourselves because we’ve just made a public proclamation about ourselves that fits within the box we’ve built for Western Christianity.  And we walk out the doors and look nothing like Jesus.  

We sang O To Be Like Thee yesterday in our regularly scheduled assembly, and it has got me thinking.  It too is a public proclamation that we want to be just like Jesus.  The song speaks (in the very first verse, which we never avoid… the 3rd maybe, but never the 1st) of forfeiting all of the treasure’s of earth GLADLY so we can be just like Jesus.    

Still want that song in next week’s selections?  Yeah, me neither. 

Because when we’re just like Jesus we forfeit things that earth claims as its best treasures!  There are things like winning, being right all the time, pride, reputation and fear, and lots of STUFF!  Are we willing to forfeit all that?  If we do even partially forfeit some of that, the world looks at us funny.  And we don't like it when the world looks at us funny.  

When we raise our hands, and sing the song and claim our desire to be just like Jesus we are saying that we will forgive unconditionally.  We are proclaiming that our will is secondary to a God we’ve never physically seen.  When our hands fly up in profession of faith, we are stating very plainly that we see the worth in the poor and destitute, and want to honor them with our generosity and compassion.  

Jesus hugged the leper.  Dined with sinners.  Adored children.  Ignored cultural and racial barriers.  Exalted women.  Protected the innocent and rebuked the hypocrites.  His hands were dirty and his stomach often empty.  

That hand still in the air?  Yeah, me neither.  

 




June 8, 2015, 10:29 AM

Everything I need to know I learned from..........a Squirrel......?



Stick with me on this one... but we're going to start this week's blog talking about the squirrels in my front yard.  This Spring, we've noticed three new additions to the usual crowd around the trees.  They're smaller than the others and have a much more playful spirit to their daily routine.  Before you think I'm advocating squirrel-rights or harboring those pesky, lawn-destroying, dog-annoying rodents, I'm not.  We simply are able to observe them every day outside one of the large windows perched delightfully in front of a couch/recliner.  

I am, at different times, entertained by them; annoyed by them; and perplexed by them.  The entertainment comes when, especially the young ones, get into a fit of frivolity and chase each other up/down/around the tree.  They jump on each other and seem to enjoy themselves greatly.  That is cheap entertainment.  All of it turns to annoying when they dig in and around wires for landscape lighting and make holes much bigger than any squirrel needs in the mulch and the "nicer" portions of the area around the house.  If I were a squirrel, I'd have a very systematic approach to digging holes.  There would be quadrants and neatly spaced dig sites in which the optimized hiding and retrieval of nuts would happen.  It seems random is the modus operandi of our furry friends.  

Finally, I find myself perplexed by our furry neighbors.  And I'm fully aware this is where I might really lose you (as if that hasn't happened already, its a theology blog about squirrels).  Do squirrels mind the humidity (this humidity is torture on my tail!)?  Do they ever wish the lawn was mowed a little neater and closer to the ground to better the digging and harvest?  Have squirrels ever thought to themselves:  "I think THAT branch over there would be a better location for our nest, but since we're already here I guess we'll just make do" (all the while constantly staring longingly at the better branch nearby).  Are squirrels ever tired of the constant interruption to their routine when I walk out the door and they scatter like the wind? Judging by their approach to digging, they cant seem to find their way back to the holes they started before interruption.  

I often find myself observing the Church in the same way as I do the squirrels (it keeps getting weirder and weirder with the squirrels).  Often entertained and pleased, but at times perplexed.......and dare I say it, annoyed?!  There is such delight in a body of believers who let themselves worship with abandon.  Maybe its the right song and just the right time, or the lyrics that punch right into the moment.  No matter, when that chorus hits there is nothing better than listening to the voices of a hundred people throwing themselves into the arms of God.  This moves far past enjoyment and becomes a moment when I see past the grime of earth into the holy places.  What joy there is!!!  

But that always comes to an end.  Every song has an end note, and the proper punctuation so we know how long to hold that last refrain.  And we look back down at our own hands and wonder why we stopped digging.  The focus on the best things turns to a focus on the "Important" stuff like doing our job, and building our portfolios, and writing something that matters.  We get back to digging and the fleeting moment of joy vanishes like a light breeze.  Instead of peering through the veil to the holy places we screech to a halt and peer into the emptiness of our worries.  Today dawned bright and new, but our eyes turn to the other branch, wondering if we wouldn't be happier over there.  When we gather on Sunday morning, yes it may be my bright-eyed naivety showing here, but we gather for the important stuff, united by the singular desire to seek God.  And then we get interrupted.  We forget what we were doing here, and instead of doing what is important, we remember the complaints; the worries; the pain.  And we run off to try and remember where we buried them. 

The potentially misread intention here, it seems, is to tell you to not work hard and provide and sing your days away while ignoring responsibility.  Nope.  I would never say that, nor would I assume you are not doing so.  The thoughts I've shared have bloomed from the singular focus of one of God's unique creations, the squirrel; and the inability of God's most precious creation (Us) to focus on THE most important things for more than a few minutes a week.  What sermon could I preach that would return our focus to the roots of our first and most precious love?  What song could we sing that would pierce our souls to the songs sung by the Heavenly Host at the moment of our conversion and commitment to eternity?  It certainly wont happen in a blog about squirrels.  

I pray for the Holy Spirit to invigorate the Church today with a focus befitting our Creator.  And I pray for the entitlement we harbor to vanish into a passion to see God glorified in every thing we do.  Whether you're busy running around a tree playing tag, digging holes in the earth to lay cable or sewer lines, or laying down roots that will hold us into eternity...  remember the important things, those parts of this life that matter.  And next time you get the chance, sit and watch the squirrels.  

 




June 1, 2015, 8:57 AM

Settling in...



From Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:  (emphasis added) 

O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetterBind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

We've been wandering since day 1.  Sure, "In the Beginning..." there were boundaries, but we were created to be free.  When the gates were closed, we continued to be free to wander... and that spirit of roaming has been our tendency since then.  We teach our children of the great explorers and visionaries who sought to touch the very boundaries of the earth.  They learn of the women and men who pushed the boundaries of gravity, elevation, and free-fall.   

But that's not the wandering we're singing about above.  We've been free to explore, even having from the get-go a Tabernacle created to be mobile.  

The wandering that requires our hearts to be sealed in the the courts above is the wandering of hearts that have nothing to do with terrain, physical borders, or flaming swords guarding the way back in.  We could stay in the same place, attend the same church, eat at the same restaurant after church every week and still be a wandering soul without constraints.  The distance and boundaries we must be leery of are those of the wanderings that create distance and boundaries between us and God.  

A question posed in the Sermon yesterday was about our roots.  "What holds us to the ground?"  Trees of even the greatest height can be thrown about if their root system is shallow or stunted.  We have idioms in our language sets that speak of being "Uprooted" and conversely "Laying Down Roots."  Those speak to the wandering of our feet, not our souls.  Too often we're too caught up in our physical dimensions and boundaries to remember to plant our souls in a place they will grow.  

Psalm 1 speaks of the benefit of a tree that is planted by the water.  The fruit of that tree is lush and vibrant.  The roots are solid and entrenched in solid ground.  Winds will not avail those trees.  Drought will not push them to their limits. 

Doubt has no effect on that tree.  Attacks of faith and devotion to greater truths merely flow through the branches like a gentle breeze.  Worry

is pushed to the places Jesus told us to place them.  Not because freedom to wander is removed, but because the wandering NEVER takes

us from our Roots.  

 




May 18, 2015, 9:15 AM

In-Between



We know where we began.  "In the Beginning, God..."  

We have hope where we'll end.  "...So that whosoever believes will have everlasting life."  

During the In-Between... well, we've gotten confused.  

 

Is it about money, respect, reputation, happiness, Eat-Drink-Be Merry?  All of those pull at us until we choose one, much like a college guidance counselor pesters us to decide on a major.  We spend our time during the In-Between trying to figure out where we came from and where we're going to the point that we miss what we're to be doing right here and now.  

Salt.  Light.  Growth.  Just to name a few.  These are concepts put on the table by Jesus, followed up later by his Disciples...and much later by the Saints and Theologians of nearer times.  There have been debates, conflicting commentaries, agreements, and seminars built around these concepts.  All because we've gotten distracted, confused, and misguided. 

Salt is the preservation of our society.  Will the world continue to turn without Religion, or more pointedly, Christianity?  Sure.  Chaos will reign as each mouse scrambles to get higher and higher at the expense of every other being, but the world will indeed continue to turn.  The place for those of us who've carried the mantle of Christ though is to be the preservation to the rotting meat of culture, society, morals, ethics, and most importantly: Hope.  From the beginning of this illustration from the Sermon on the Mount, the saltiness came from the character of Jesus completely.  Today we've added other seasonings to the mix... you know, for flavor.  That way, if someone doesnt like one flavor, they can choose from the array of salts on the shelf.  In the same way individuals have gotten distracted by money, reputation, etc... Churches have followed suit.  Countless words are spent every day on trying to realign the character of Christ-Followers and Churches to what is most important. (And yes, I see the irony of that statement's presence here in a blog).   

Light.  We've taken the call of being the Light of the World and put a fashionable, palpable shade over it.  What once was a bare bulb that exposed the darkness of corners and pushed shadows to their furthest limits of existence have become places where darkness not only creeps but occupies more than corners.  We all wear a shade over the light of Christ, proving that we can be attractive AND Christian.  Or we can be cool and holy at the same time.  The assumption has become:  the world wont look our way unless we prove ourselves worthy for their attention.  Oddly enough, the world isnt looking for shades, its looking for hope, relief, and peace.  All those come from the Light of the World and need no further augmentation.  Everything we do must be to present that light, in all its blinding glory.  The good news is that the light shines through us in countless ways and styles.  

And Growth.  Just like flowers, trees, bushes, plants of all kinds:  if you're not growing, something's wrong.  Even trees that have met their height max continue to grow and present new branches that spread wide beyond the base.  We're not to be about the numbers, really... financials and attendance are not the only signs of growth in an institution.  Most importantly is the growth that occurs on an individual basis in the lives of those attached to said institutions.  We cant grow (affect permanent change and development) as a group until we're there as individuals. No, we dont grow at the same rate, which is why we're strongest when united.  If you ever feel like things just arent moving ahead in the group, look closer at the individuals who make up the group and see if the growth hasnt been arrested there.  

 

This is what makes up the In-Between... and its hard work.  But we cant just look back to the beginning, and hope for the end.  We're called to faithfulness in the In-Between, which are shaped by the beginning, and hopeful to the end.  

 




May 11, 2015, 8:32 AM

Missing the Point.



I wrapped up a sermon series yesterday, and tried my best to boil down our purpose here on earth to one thing.  Ambitious?  Yes.  Successful?  Probably not, but ne'er have I had a sermon that I thought accomplished much anyway.  

 

Its interesting that Jesus could boil his purpose down to one thing:  to Serve.  Hear me out here, because he does this in Matthew 20: 25 - 28 -- "For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."  He came to serve.  Yes, it was profoundly powerful service, ending by bearing the weight of our sins on The Cross.  As a whole, the essential piece of his purpose and mission was to serve. 

 

This should not be blowing anyone's minds, because Jesus was ALWAYS serving other people, reaching into their lives and bringing light to the darkness, joy to mourning, and love into all circumstances.  No better example of this is when Jesus washes his Disciple's feet in John 13.  John writes that Jesus knew All Things were given to him and under his authority.  ALL THINGS!  He was the Word, He was there before time began.  And the next thing he does is take off his robe, get to his knees, and washes the feet of his friends.  

 

This is the lesson Jesus needed to teach before he was gone.  His words were forgotten (he'd been telling them he'd rise from the dead for years, they didnt get it).  After all, post-Crucifixion, the Disciples hid themselves because they had no clue which way to go because Jesus was dead.  The lesson he needed to teach them that they would remember was to Serve.  Service.  Service through humility and sacrifice.  

 

He speaks to them of what greatness looks like.  He speaks to them the power of humility and service without the expectation of reward or acceptance.  I mean, how awkward was that moment when Jesus washed their feet?!  Imagine the silence enacted in the room when the Disciples realized what Jesus was doing!! They made eye contact with each other, hoping one of them had a clue.  Only Peter spoke up about how weird it was that Jesus offered himself as the lowest servant to them.  

 

And then we walk out of churches thinking "I got nothing from that this morning."  We avoid neighbors because we know they're going to ask to borrow our hedge trimmers again.  We fiddle with our phones to avoid eye contact.  We fill our schedules with fluff and wonder why time runs out to do the important things.  We expect Heaven, but offer the base minimum requirements expected to earn it.  

 

There is almost nothing sacrificial about our lives these days.  We give out of excess.  We schedule service opportunities.  We program our faith development into 13 week sessions.  We pour our communion meal into singe serving cups with easily grabbed portions of bread.  Our faith costs us nothing, but we expect a full refund at Judgement.  

 

Our lives have boiled down to one thing:  comfort. 

 

And we've missed the point.  




April 20, 2015, 9:55 AM

Turn Signals



Why do we have turn signals in our car?  

That's a real question, as it seems there is a general lack of knowledge of their purpose in the population of....well, everywhere.  They are there to indicate which way we're going.  Why?  So the cars behind don't slam into us when we hit the brakes without warning.  So the cars to the side of us will know when we're changing lanes.  And so the cars across from us will know if we're heading straight through the intersection and four-way stop, or turning.  Its not complicated.  

They are there to be a simple indicator of direction.  Unlike the days of yore, whereas we had to stick our whole arm out the window to indicate our intentions of turning, stopping, or heading straight on.  The concept of indicator lights is not difficult to explain or understand, and can be pulled into other areas of life.  Books have plot twists, and literary devices to amp up our attention levels to what may be coming next.  Movies will change the tone of the soundtrack to indicate something scary is nearby.  Video games usually provide ample prep stations for a "boss" fight.  The same can be said of us and the direction we're headed.  We give indicators of what is important to us and the direction we want our lives headed.  

If we spend more time with our work than our family, its an indicator of where we're going.  If we get more upset at the injustice of our coffee shop being out of our favorite creamer than the injustice of what is happening to believers in the Middle East, its an indicator of where we're going.  If we dismiss the poor, lost, or unclean in favor of those that can "contribute," we've lost our way and have given off a clear indicator of what is important to us.  

We all have turn signals, and indicator lights to let the world know exactly where we're going......... And the world sees them loud and clear. And they are making their choices just as loud and clear:  "No, Thank You."  

Much attention is being given to the migration of Millennials and other identifiable cultural groups FROM church.  They're running in droves.  Why?  I believe its because we've given them a clear indicator of where we're going and they don't want to be on that path.  Our turn signals indicate lines being drawn, boundaries being erected, and limits being placed on grace.  Volumes and volumes are being written about what the church needs to do to fix the migration.  We're facing the issue of dwindling numbers (money, attendance, involvement).  We've gone from just using turn signals to throwing on our Hazard Lights.  

The time of accusation is over, its time to self-examine.  What direction are we going?  Do we have clear understanding of the fact that we cant help but indicate where we're going, both when we're walking toward the cross, and away?!  

Simply put:  Are we giving the world a good reason to follow us?    




April 13, 2015, 9:00 AM

Company Policy



Yesterday's Sermon (found here: 4/12/15) began with an illustration from my time serving as a busboy at a local, Detroit restaurant.  I distinctly remember the training video I was expected to watch and emulate in my duties cleaning up after customers.  I watched with eager eyes as I got to share tips with the wait-staff, if they so desired... Meaning if I did a good job and took care of their areas, they would hook me up with a bigger share of their tips.  It was a solid procedure that inspired a camaraderie and solid teamwork.  It is telling though, that as soon as I was done with the corporate training video, I was told "how we really do it."  I was given a crash course on how this local establishment interpreted the corporate policy and how they cut the corners to "get it done quicker."  I was torn for about a second, but ultimately went with the diluted process.  

Go grab your Corporate Policy Manual right now, and turn to Matthew 5 - 7.  Yes, its your Bible, and it should not only stand in on our procedures and policies, but how we treat customers, coworkers, and those stubborn and pesky "extra-grace-required" customers (you know who I'm talking about... if you don't, its you).  Jesus began his ministry by installing a new policy and procedure, following it up with a practical guide on what it looks like when you actually do the things he talked about.  The disciples struggled with it, especially Peter, and they often were looking for ways to cut corners. For example: 

  • Peter:  Matthew 18: 21 - 22.  Peter wants clarification on Jesus' forgiveness policy, and thinks he's got it down by offering up mercy SEVEN times!  Now before we blast Peter any further, whens the last time you or I forgave anyone completely ONCE, more or less SEVEN times for the same infraction?  Jesus clarifies that the new policy and procedure is unlimited forgiveness, a grace that lasts for an eternity. 
  • James + John: Luke 9:54.  James and John wanted to wipe a town off the map for slighting Jesus and his followers lodging and provisions.  They didn't want to just cut corners, they wanted to go all Old Testament Jericho on the town and wipe them out.  Jesus' new policy and procedures trumped this as well and grace was given.  

Our relative distance from Jesus does not dilute his message even further (as Peter and others tried to do, even in his presence).  In contrast, his message must be addressed closer to home, in finer detail despite cultural differences and centuries past.  Eventually we are going to get a visit from Corporate, and if we have pushed the policies and procedures to the side we will be called out on it.  

We have too many opportunities these days to ignore policy, and dilute procedure.  In fact, among our denominations we have found our own ways of instituting policy and procedure to the point that the Corporate Manual is at the center of contention.  And within that contention we have diluted and cut corners on all the wrong things.  Instead of focusing our thoughts on the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus and the expectations for us to do the same, we focus our attention on the little things that drive us apart.  Why do we think there are so many different churches within blocks of each other in EVERY town in EVERY state?  Even the churches with the same name cant seem to get a long because we've decided to look at the little things and cut corners on the big things.  Imagine the unity we could find when we cease to cut corners on grace, and instead dilute down the minuscule principles we so delicately stand on?!  Imagine the cross-cultural relief we could find when the example of Jesus reigns, rather than the examples of the Pharisees who so loved to draw lines in the sand!!  

Imagine the answer Jesus would give us when we approach him with our tiny concerns (7 times??).  Imagine the bigger issues he would expose in us.  Imagine what "church" could look like when we actually follow company policy.  

 




April 6, 2015, 9:00 AM

It Would Have Been Enough



There's a song/anthem that is a part of the Passover Seder, entitled Dayenu.  The translation is: "It would have been enough."  There is a progression through the song that speaks to the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  Beginning with: "If he had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgment against them; Dayenu."  

It would have been enough.  

That moment in the Seder is done as a responsive reading, with the leader speaking of the actions of God, and the people replying: "It would have been enough."  We did that reading during our Seder on Good Friday.  We spoke the words echoed from the beginning of the traditional Passover celebrations.  We said:  "It would have been enough."  

But would it? 

I found myself listening to that cynical voice that pipes up annoyingly, at the worst possible times.  It was saying:  "It is never enough."  The story proves that the little voice was right.  Throughout the journey from Egypt, to the Red Sea, to Mt. Sinai, through the desert, and ultimately into Canaan, it was never enough.  The song is being sung today in an attempt to reconcile a history in which we, God's people, are not satisfied with a promise.  We are only satisfied with tangible blessings, with Manna in the shape of our favorite meals.  

We have to change our level of contentment; or better: we need to understand the very concept of contentment.  Paul wrote about being content while in chains, having been beaten.  Was he content with his circumstances, or the promise he knew God would fulfill? Peter sang in worship after being beaten, then thrown into a dark, rotten prison and chained hand and foot.  I'm positive he was not praising God for his circumstances, but for the greater promise of eternal relief.  Job fell to his knees in mournful worship after losing everything.  Again, it was not his circumstances that prompted his attitude, it was the promise of God to deliver.  

It would have been enough. 

Will the promise of eternity be enough for us to worship through pain, loss, despair, ruin, and bitterness?  Israel cried for centuries, waiting for a Messiah.  And within those 400 years there were 400 moments where they collectively spoke:  "It would have been enough." 

 

 




March 30, 2015, 9:44 AM

Who is it about?



Jesus.  

If our desires are not set on Jesus, we need to adjust. 

If our complaints are not about bringing us closer to Jesus, we need to adjust. 

If our worship is not about glorifying Jesus, we need to adjust. 

If our opinions vary from those of Jesus, we need to adjust.  

Its not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit who needs to move for our comfort's sake, its us.  Always us.  

As a body of believers, we cannot expect to figure things out ourselves then expect Jesus to meet those needs or fill those roles.  Our job is to find Christ, model him in our own lives, and help others to seek him out.  That is the purpose of "Easter" weekend and all the events that come with it.  Sure, they dont look traditional, but through the process the goal is to help people find Jesus.  Organizationally, we need to be seeking Jesus.  If we do that, the how and what will fall in to place and not need the scrutiny of the past (meaning we can look ahead at the awesomeness of what we can become, not be chained by "thats how we've always done it).  

This season is about an empty tomb, not what we think about the empty tomb, or even how much we think we should think about the empty tomb.  Its about the fact of the Resurrection, which gives us hope.  If we cant find Jesus in this season, He is not the one who needs to adjust.  Its always us.  

 

 


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