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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Time to Cheer

A couple of Sunday's ago I had just finished preaching through 2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1, a passage where Paul challenges the church to break away from allegiances with the world; to be different and set apart, to be holy.  An observant brother approached me with a great thought afterwards which went something like, "It can be hard to pursue holiness because when you do, not everyone wants to be around you." Unfortunately, he's right.  When we follow Christ and make the choice to live the way He asks us to, people - including Christians, can respond less favorably than we'd like.  Maybe not everyone but enough that it can have an effect.

The person wanting to follow God may conclude that they need to stop watching certain kinds of movies, or TV shows, or complaining about their spouse, or engaging in locker-room conversation, or drinking, or using foul language (not to be confused with fowl language - which is for the birds).  I know that some people who makes these sorts of choices do so with an attitude is less than gracious and filled with self-importance.  Those people are not the real deal and are seeking glory instead of trying to give it.  There are other people, though, who are genuinely desiring to love God, to be excellent before Him.  Why would any of us do anything to discourage that?  Are we just uncomfortable with our own choices?  Do we resent their ability to live differently?

So here's my encouragement for today:  encourage people when they make choices in an attempt to please and follow Christ.  Maybe they've tried the same thing before and failed and you are skeptical that it is going to stick this time but speak encouragement anyway.  The Holy Spirit may not have brought you to the same conclusion at this time and that is okay.  Cheer them on, celebrate with them as they break free from old things and embrace new.  And maybe, maybe consider following their lead.

"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." ~ 1 Corinthians 11:1

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." ~ Hebrews 12:1

Friday, December 20, 2013

Culture Wars

At the risk of using an early 90s reference, remember the Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown battle over her choice to be a single mother?  Yup, those were the days.  I never really watched that show but I remember pretty much everyone talked about it.  (For those of you sitting there going "huh?" here's a quick summary of the show... yes it is Wikipedia - don't judge ;)

Folks tend to get upset at something or other about their TV programming: too much skin, too much violence, too graphic, bad referees (no Pittsburgh, we haven't forgotten), the liberal agenda,  and the conclusion of Lost.  I actually have a theory about why we all get red-faced-angry when a man with a long beard has a strong opinion about a tender issue and The Man removes him as a result.  It's called, "Too many people disagree with me."

It really isn't more complicated than that.  Yes, there are legitimate issues of censorship and freedom of speech.  A certain level of hypocrisy about tolerance seeps through the pores of this story as well, and yet I'm fully convinced that this isn't really about that.  This is about previously unchallenged values now challenged.  It is about trading places with the minority; seeing another ideal ascend in the minds of the masses.  It's about losing something.

Cultural wars are complex and dicey things; how can you even tell when one side is winning?  And which side are you on?  And can you flip sides for different issues?  - Sheesh!  I need ice-cream!

Jesus didn't seem to spend a lot of time trying to fix his culture, he spent a lot of time healing people, loving people, teaching people, laughing with people, and challenging people.  He also taught a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven.  He used different illustrations to describe it like yeast and a mustard seed (among others), things that affect their surroundings and grow.  He spoke plainly about eternal judgment.  He called his followers to love neighbors and enemies alike and then demonstrated exactly what that looked like.  He was comfortable giving someone an answer they didn't expect or like (rich young ruler).  He reserved outrage for those who abused power or took advantage of the weak.

My point in observing all that, is to remind us of a few very important things.  Society is temporary and as a result, so are culture battles.  The Kingdom of Heaven, on the other hand, is eternal.  We should never confuse the two.  Sometimes, the way we stand up for our beliefs speaks louder than what we actually believe.  This isn't always a good thing and when outrage takes the place of truthful, loving conversation, we are not representing our King well.

For all you Duck Dynasty fans out there, you may feel angry about recent events, maybe upset enough to write a well thought out letter detailing all the reasons why A&E should change their decision.  I get mad at my TV too.  If you do, please remember who you represent.  I would also challenge you to consider spending some of that energy reaching out with gospel intentions to those around you.

Time is short, the King is coming soon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Basis for Belief

There are a lot of really thoughtful people out there writing about interesting subjects.  While I don't read every blog that is linked to my facebook feed, I do enjoy reading what others are laying down.  Advice about life, perspectives on current events, understanding Scripture, personal stories, political ideas, and thought provoking "takes" on just about anything; this is the land of blogs.

A little while ago I found myself bouncing from one clever/chastising/epiphany-inducing blog to the next.  Okay, so maybe my tongue did just slip into my cheek for a moment there, but I sincerely mean that these writers brought fresh perspectives to their respective subjects.  They had an edge; my heart and mind pricked towards different thinking, even if just a little.  I value the person who has the courage to step over the expected boundary to get my attention and present truth.  But when is it just an attention grab?

Have an opinion already right?!  Isn't this one of the key elements of effective blogging?  I get it, if you don't push a button, or at least the envelope, you're piece gets lost in the abyss.  All of us expressive types clamoring for a few minutes of attention - so that we can change the world... or something.

Here's the thing, if you want to be entertaining, then be entertaining!  If you want me to experience a paradigm shift, then show me the foundation your particular soap box is resting on.  Theories and opinions will fill the computer screen up quickly and pop in the reader's eye.  Truth, on the other hand, is not nearly so cooperative.  It is stubborn and unyielding.  It may be discovered or seen from different angles but it doesn't vacillate.  It will, however, outlast twitter.

This isn't just about what we write.  This is about the core of our faith; our basis for belief.  If we are followers and imitators of Christ, wouldn't it seem appropriate for us to read and understand the same teachings He did?  Wouldn't it make sense for us to form our belief system around the Scriptures that reveal Him to us?  Why do we believe what we believe?  It isn't enough for us to be well intentioned, compassionate and thoughtful (although we should be those things).  We must also be careful to consider the truth of the matter greater than what we'd prefer the truth to be.

I'm not suggesting that every blogger who follows Jesus should only write about the Bible or "church stuff".  The thing we all need is for the whole counsel of Scripture to under gird, anchor, and otherwise steady the fluidity of our thoughts.  We need these wonderful writers to keep talking about every aspect of life!

My encouragement to you, reader (and possibly writer), is to keep God's counsel close to your heart and mind as you consider the poignancy of others.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " ~ Matthew 4:1-4

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2Timothy 3:16, 17

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. ~Psalm 119:105

Thursday, November 7, 2013

This Is Different

The other day I took our soon to be 14 year old son to the store to get some black shoes for band.  On the way he asked, "So how much does it cost to get your driver's license?"  I explained the basic process involved for a new driver with the knowledge (written) test, actually learning to drive, and taking the road test.  I admit I smiled a bit when he responded with disgust at the news of having to pay for each of those things.

He's learning to count the cost; this is different.

Last night I picked up that same soon to be 14 year old son from his soccer practice.  They got to practice under the lights at the high school which makes everything cooler even if it was raining and cold.  As we got into our car there was another father and son getting into theirs.  They were with a different team that had also been using the field to practice and they were a little older group but I heard the son say, "Dad can I drive home tonight?"  I looked at him and realized that he's only marginally older than my son, which means that it's only a marginal amount of time before we'll be doing the same thing.  And I'll be praying he stays within the margins.

He's getting all "adulty" and stuff; this is different.

I can whip up condensed soup. Top Ramen noodles, mac 'n cheese, toast, eggs, and even cereal like no one's business.  Sadly, this is about the extent of my culinary repertoire - unless you count the barbecue menu but seeing as it is no longer grillin' season (or so they say), my list of "Dad's specials" would fit nicely on a bookmark you might use in your copy of  Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 1 by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Luisette Bertholle.  It isn't that I can't, it is more that I haven't.  I've been blessed to have a wife that can eyeball a chicken and a bag of rice and somehow come up with dinner.  Her world is changing as she pursues this adventure called "I will be a nurse!" and as a result, so is mine.  The frozen section at Costco is my friend but I still need to break down and do at least do some stuff from "scratch" - even if I don't itch.

Sometimes I look at the pantry and take stuff out that isn't called cookies; this is different.

Our lives aren't necessarily harder but they are busier and they are definitely changing.  I'll bet yours is too.  As things in life shift it is so good to know that God is faithful; He is our solid rock!

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
~Psalm 18:2

For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.
~Psalm 117:2

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Different Thing

If you didn't read yesterday's post regarding integrity, then please do!  It will give context to today.

The truth is that there is something distinctly different between Sunday morning me and every other day me.  The Lord.  He faithfully shows up, takes an inadequate guy and ministers to whoever needs and wants to receive it.

Sometimes I preach pretty well.  Sometimes I just do my best.  God seems to take my crayon scribbles and translate them into something a lot better.  If you've been encouraged or convicted or nudged or comforted during a service just know that it's Him far more than it's me.  I know because I am confidently aware of His presence during that time, as if He's carrying me.  When I prepare during the week I may spend a lot of time considering how I should communicate; weighing pros and cons and sorting things out.  I know Jesus is with me during that study time, prompting, leading, reminding, and instructing me.  On Sunday it increases, or changes, or whatever... I just rest in Him.  He's just that awesome.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Same Guy?

A few weeks ago, September 7th actually, I had the honor of speaking to the congregation at Temple Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon.  My brother-in-law, Jeremy Taylor, was being installed as their pastor and he invited me to take a small portion of the service.  It was so cool to be there for him, my sister and their 3 kiddos for a few reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I could drive down to see them and back again in the same day!  A very nice change  from them being in Ohio.  They've gone through a lot in the past year or so but it is clear that their next chapter of ministry and life has come.  Sweet.

One of the things Jeremy emphasized at one point during the service that stuck with me is his desire for integrity; to be the same guy at home as at church.  The people in the room really seemed to respond when he communicated that, they knew he meant it.  I think most people would agree that being consistent in character should be a given.  I also think most people recognize that actually being the same person in private as you are in public takes commitment, and is therefore valuable.

I am so blessed to have a group of friends who happen to be pastors too.  We talk about stuff like this, not all the time, but we talk about it.  The goal is always that the husband & father match up with the minister.  We disseminate truth but we can be in danger of not receiving it.  So, we do our best to address it and encourage each other in life as well as ministry.  I love these guys.

There will always be some things that aren't exactly the same between the guy you see on Sunday morning and the man who tries to live what he preaches.  Hopefully, prayerfully, they're consistent though, recognizable without much difficulty. 

Tomorrow I'll share with you one thing that stands out as a major difference for me.  It needs its own space, and yes, it's a good thing!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's The Prize?

There are likely no two consecutive hours in the rest of the week more hectic than the ones preceding a Sunday worship service for a young family.  Depending on the age of the children, the clothing culture of the home and/or church, the size of the family, and what everyone did the night before, there can be varying amounts of protest, frustration, refusal, whining, warning, putting-my-foot-down, and "outside voices" being used inside.  Adding to the irritation of the morning are the underlying expectations that come with modern sainthood and the myth that "good" church families have it all together.  Finally, the family arrives at the parking lot and after only a few motherly touch ups the morning crazies have been vanquished; the finish line is in sight.  Happy faces on, time to rock this thing.

Making it to church is a fine goal to be sure.  Whether you're a young, busy family or a busy single person or a busy couple or busy grandparents, your time is valuable and choosing to attend your local church on a regular basis takes effort.  Hopefully the effort and choice to come results in a precious time with the Lord and with others who follow Jesus. 

Attending church is not the prize.

If church attendance was my aim as a pastor then I'd make the experience easy on the ears, eyes and heart as possible.  Nothing to substantial or convicting and just enough controversy to make it interesting.  Get as many people in the doors and do whatever it takes to keep them there.

If church attendance was your achievement then disappointment and frustration would replace the hope that got you there in the first place.  Showing up doesn't make you any more holy or Christian than you were before.  It doesn't magically resolve all your issues.  I'm not saying that God can't use a service to radically change you, He does that all the time!  I'm saying that He wants to spend 168 hours a week with you, not just one.

Living every moment with Christ is the prize!  When Jesus said, "remain in me..." in John 15 I really don't think He meant for us to compartmentalize our relationship with Him or put boundaries up to make sure we don't get too close.  I think Jesus said that stuff because He actually meant it because He actually thinks we're worth lovin' on.  Big time.

So... attend your local church service, or gathering, or whatever it happens to be called.  It won't be a waste of your time but don't let that be the end of it for you.  It's not for Him.