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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?


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