"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wisdom like Wise Men

Last week was my sister’s birthday.  I forgot.  I normally do.  Have you ever missed a birthday that you really shouldn’t have missed?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”Matthew 2:1-2

These are men from far away.  It is most likely that these were not Jewish men—not a part of God’s chosen people.  Yet, the irony is they are pointing out to the people of Jerusalem that the king of the Jews has been born, and the people of Jerusalem are completely unaware!

But look how they respond!

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.Matthew 2:3

There was no air of excitement.  No belated-birthday cards.  Though the people were anticipating the coming Messiah, they were comfortable with the way things were.  When new kings come along, things get messy, and so instead of being excited like they should be, they were disturbed.

Herod had been ruling for 35 years, and he was jealous!  He didn’t want ANYONE to have the title of king but him.

So, he calls The leading priests forward to find out where the king is to be born, not so much so he can help his visitors out, but so that he can find this child and kill him (…murder was one of Herod’s favorite past times)!  He tells the Wise men to report back to him so that he too can go worship the child.   He has no intention of worship, but rather of violence.

 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:6

So they find out that the child will be born in Bethlehem.

I love road trips—the epitome of modern day adventures.  I think the story of the wise men would make a pretty great road trip movie.  They have this goal of finding this king.  They don’t know who he will be, or where he will be, but they step out in faith.  They follow this star as their GPS, and it keeps on showing up when they need it.

Though all of Jerusalem should be celebrating with them, worshiping with them, seeking out this child with them…the Wise men go alone.

This has been a long journey.  We find out later in the chapter that the star first appeared to the Wise men 2 years ago.  They have given up there time and energy to find this king, when Jesus’ own people hadn’t acknowledged him.  Finally they find him.

He’s not in the stable we see in nativity scenes or Christmas pageants.  They place the wise men there to condense the story, but Matthew clearly mentions a “house” rather than stable, and “child” rather than baby.  Jesus was probably one or two at this time.  

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:9-12

I wonder what the Wise men were thinking when this king they were seeking for years is in the home of peasants, not recognized by anyone else as the king he truly is. 

They fall down and worship him. 

In a small village, in the home of a carpenter and his young wife, they bring extravagant gifts.  What a stark contrast, laying these gifts before the child.  Wrapped in these gifts was the identity of the holy child.  Gold, because he is a king, frankincense, because he is divine, and myrrh—used to anoint a body for burial.  From the very beginning, Christ’s life pointed towards the cross.

The Wise men gave their best to him.

Herod on the other hand, decided that he would kill all the baby boys two years and under in all of Bethlehem in order to wipe out this new born King, Jesus.  (Spoiler alert: Jesus escapes)

The Wise men pursued Christ, bowed in worship and gave their best to the king.
Herod, in pride, destroyed others to hold up himself as king.

What are your pursuits?  Who or what receives your worship?  For what do you offer your best?  Who is king in your life?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A peculiar gift in a strange package

This past week for youth group, we did a white elephant gift exchange.  I like these exchanges because they are complete surprises.  Often, the box or wrapping paper gives no clues as to what lies inside.  During the Christmas season, gifts can so quickly and easily become a distraction from Jesus—the true reason we celebrate.  This year, I want to invite us to look at our gifts as a reminder of Jesus.  When Jesus came down at Christmas, he became God’s ultimate White elephant gift to humanity—a peculiar gift—the fullness of God, eternal and holy—wrapped up in the flesh of a helpless infant.  We did not know the greatness of the gift we received.

This is such a spectacular truth—Jesus Christ: fully God and fully man—that we don’t really know how to fathom it, and so we take Christ’s birth and make it something worthy of a Hallmark greeting card.  After all, he was the son of God!   We paint this picture: the stable is neat and tidy—no manure caked in the hay. Mary is pristine, beautiful, and solemn; not a teenage girl desperate, terrified, sweaty, and screaming in pain.  Joseph is a carpenter…with a minor in midwifery…and knows exactly what he’s doing when he delivers that baby.  He couldn't possibly be a desperate man praying for God’s help in a healthy and safe delivery; scrambling to find some rag to wrap the baby in and something sharp and clean cut the umbilical cord.    The star in the sky casts a perfect spotlight on Jesus as he lies in a plush manger crib—no dried animal slobber, wooden slivers, or jabbing straw to be found.  Jesus is a perfect, beautiful baby, complete with heavenly, glowing aura.  There is no afterbirth.  He is not sticky and wet.  “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…”  Ok, let’s brush off some of the glitter and push aside the tinsel.  Let’s be realistic.  There was no “silent” night.  Jesus was a baby. A human baby.  Exiting the balmy 98.6 degree climate of his mother’s womb out into the chilly night, breathing air for the first time into his lungs, I am sure like every baby, Jesus put those lungs to good use, screaming and waling… and waking up an animal or two. 

This peculiar night when the Holy Lord came into the world as an infant…was a profoundly human event.  It was messy, scary, dirty, and lowly.  There was pain and uncertainty.  It’s as if God went out of his way to point out just how human Jesus was.  Being born in a stable, and laid in a manger, he made himself even more vulnerable than most.  In all of the chaos, it was not a silent night…but it was a holy night.  This little baby boy, crying in a manger, sticky with afterbirth…was Holy God!  Multitudes of angels sang in worship at his birth.  Prophets foretold his coming.  He shall be called Immanuel—“God with us”!

Unique amongst all, Jesus alone existed before his birth.  “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” John 1:14.  He chose to be born as a human and dwell amongst us.  He chose to leave the glory and splendor of Heaven, giving up power and becoming a helpless baby.  He chose to be born to a teenage mother with an unbelievable story of being a pregnant virgin by the power of God.  Who would look with favor on that family?  He chose to be a homeless wanderer, despised by the religious leaders of his day.  He chose to face a criminals death on the cross—all of this for our sake.  Jesus said that he came to serve, not to be served—that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Not only did he choose to live our experience, he also lived this life with the ultimate purpose of dying for our sake.

Jesus understands life.  He knew trial and temptation—and he conquered them through his power.  He is God.  Demons fear him.  Angels adore him.  He holds all authority, yet chose to surrender his life for our sake.  Because he is man, he can relate to us—cry with us, feel our pains, joys, happiness and sorrow.  But because he is God, he can conquer our pains, our sin—he can save us because he has the authority!

Job longed for a mediator; someone who could stand on his behalf before God.  God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.  If only there were a mediator who could bring us together, but there is none.” Job 9:32-33.  Jesus became that mediator!  Augustine said, “He is mediator between God and man, because he is God with the Father, and a man with men.  A mere man could not be a mediator between God and man; nor could a mere God.  Behold the mediator: Divinity without humanity cannot act as a mediator; nor can humanity without Divinity; but the human Divinity and the Divine humanity of Christ is the sole mediator between Divinity and humanity.” 1 Tim 2:5-6 says, “ For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”

John Calvin said that as God alone, Christ couldn't feel death, but as man alone, he couldn’t conquer it.  So he coupled both natures together.  He faced death…and conquered it, so that we might be free!
 If Jesus had not become man, we would have no one to relate to—no one who has faced our trials and triumphed, no one to put our hope in, but we are made holy by Christ.  For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” Hebrews 10:10

Jesus made the greatest gift exchange—he became human…so that we might become holy.  He chose us so that we could choose him.  He gave us his very life.  Will we give ours in return?

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shepherd and the Lamb

It’s a cool evening.  You are sitting on the gentle slope of a hill overlooking your flock of sheep.  You hear the soft murmur of an occasional sheep’s bleating, there is a slight sent of sheep manure in the air, but you are used to it.  You warm yourself by a small fire, the flames cast a gentle dancing glow in the star light as you and your friends share stories and laughter around the fire…

  I shared this story with the youth group my first year here at the church.  It was right at this point of the story that I screamed.  Everyone jumped.  Startled, they wondered what was going on.  Even so, I’m sure it was only a fraction of the fright and confusion the shepherds faced that first Christmas when all of a sudden an angel of the Lord appeared to them!  

 … “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Luke 2:10-14 

                Why did God send Angels to the shepherds as the first proclaimers of the Messiah?  I think God can relate pretty well with shepherds.  In fact God calls several shepherds in the bible into places of leadership.  God calls Moses, a herder of sheep to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.  God calls David, a protector of sheep to rule over the nation of Israel.

We are a lot like sheep…and that’s not a flattering comment.  I’m not talking about how cute and gentle we all are!  Sheep are dimwitted, vulnerable animals that would run to their deaths if it weren’t for their shepherds watching them.  No one ever talks about the great authority and power of a sheep.  They just weren’t created that way.

God can understand shepherds, because he is a shepherd.  There is a reason the bible refers to us as sheep. We, like sheep have gone astray.  That’s what Isaiah 53:6 says.  We are foolish people who run to our own deaths without the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our Great shepherd. 

I wonder—did God first announce the arrival of Jesus to these Shepherds, because Jesus would be our shepherd?  And not just that…Jesus would be our sacrificial lamb!
The Jewish people would sacrifice lambs for their sin.  It’s interesting to think that perhaps even some sheep in those very shepherds’ flocks would be used as offerings.   Jesus Christ became the perfect offering—once for all—the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, so that when we believe on him we are saved!

I think that’s why the angels came to these poor, lowly shepherds—because Jesus is the great shepherd and the sacrificial lamb.

Look how the shepherds responded to the angel’s message! 

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.Luke 2:15-17

They ran off and told everyone!  Their Messiah had been born.  He had come at last!  Who was watching there sheep? 

I’m guessing they didn’t care.

What can we learn from the shepherds?  Does the truth— that Jesus has come and died for us, and that our messiah reigns on the thrown of heaven—does that excite us?  Are we sharing this with the excitement and vigor of the shepherds?  Do we recognize Jesus as our shepherd?  Are we following his leading as our authority?   May we be filled with the excitement and joy of an angel-startled shepherd this Christmas season!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gratitude through suffering

A couple old friends bumped into one another one afternoon walking down the sidewalk.  The one friend was distraught.  There was sadness in his eyes, and he looked as if he were on the verge of tears. 

“What’s wrong friend? 

“My uncle just passed away four days ago…”

“Oh No!  I am terribly sorry to hear that.  You must have been very close.”

               “Well, no.  I hardly knew him.  But he was very wealthy…and three days ago I went to my mailbox, and discovered he left me a check for $40,000!”

               “Wow!  That is great news!  That’s a lot of money…”

               “You don’t understand…two days ago, I went to my mailbox…and discovered a check for $100,000.

               “That’s a phenomenal blessing!”

               “Yeah well, yesterday I went to my mailbox and I found a check for a quarter of a million dollars.”
               “A quarter of a million!  You are the richest man in this city!  You are right I don’t understand.  What in the world could you be so sad about?”

               “Today I went to my mailbox…and found nothing.”

               It is easy for me to scoff at the "poor" rich man.  However, taking a moment to examine my own heart as we celebrate this Thanksgiving week, I’m reminded that I spend much of my life thinking the same way the newly wealthy man in this story did—overwhelmed with blessing, but completely ungrateful.  As blessings continue to come my way, I live with a sense of entitlement.  It is good for us to be reminded to express gratitude for the good gifts God gives us.  But what about the things God takes away? 
               If we were to make a few adjustments to the story—subtract all the money and leave two friends meeting on the sidewalk, one distraught over the death of his beloved uncle—what do we do with a story like that on Thanksgiving day?  For some this holiday season—the happiest time of the year—is full of deep pain and sorrow.  So, how do we find gratitude—joy—in the midst of pain?

               In Phil 4:4-7, Paul writes, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

               These words are powerful, full of joy, thanksgiving and peace.  Paul wrote these words from prison.   How is it that Paul could be so positive?  This does not come from Paul’s strength, but the strength of the one who lives within him—he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit!  Because of this, Paul is able to look beyond his shackles and cell walls to see the bigger picture.  He remembers where his hope is found.  Rejoice in what? Not circumstance!  His circumstances are far from comfortable.  No, he is rejoicing in the Lord and remembering that “…the Lord is coming soon.” 

               Philippians is an amazing book—an amazing peek into the heart of a man who has found his hope in the bigger picture of God’s work.  That is why he is able to say things like “To live is Christ, and to die is gain”—if I live, I get to serve Christ and his church, if I die, I get to be with Christ in Heaven—It’s a win-win situation!   He talks about the privilege of suffering for Christ, and he always funnels it back to this hope we have—3:20 “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.  And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”  This is why Paul can honestly say that he has learned to be content in all circumstances—whether he has much or little “For he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength”

               Pains, sorrows, discomforts, misfortune—all these things plague us, and can become unbearable, unless we take a note from the book of Job and see that God’s picture is bigger than ours.  

This life is not about us—it’s all about God.

               During the Thanksgiving season it is appropriate to turn to the story of Pentecost in Acts 2.  In a moment I’ll tell you why.  When I hear the word “Pentecost” my mind immediately jumps to the remarkable story— 50 days after the resurrection of Christ, 10 days after his ascension, 120 believers are praying together when they hear the sound of a mighty windstorm, tongues of fire rest on their heads, a magnificent filling of the Holy Spirit empowers them, and they begin speaking in different languages.  What a moment!   But before Pentecost became what we know it to be, to all those present that day, it was something else.  Pentecost was a festival…to celebrate the harvest, and thank God for his great provision!  Sounds a bit like Thanksgiving!

               The amazing thing about this particular Pentecost was that God was bringing in a new type of harvest through the power of his Holy Spirit—a harvest of souls onto himself.  By the work of his Spirit through the teaching of Peter and 120 believers speaking in the tongues of all the men, women and children present—the church grew from around 120 to 3,000 believers in one day!

               God brought a new meaning to Pentecost that day.  Yes, it is good to celebrate and thank God for his provision.  But when the crops fail, and the harvest is weak, and all seems at loss, we can look at the bigger picture.  The same spirit that came down and empowered the people during Pentecost—bringing thousands to salvation in Christ, is the same spirit that indwells believers now!  The same Spirit continues to bring in a harvest of souls.  God’s bigger picture is always at work.

               Habakkuk the prophet tried to grasp God’s great picture.  The people of God had turned their backs on their creator and willfully lived in sin.  The wicked outnumbered the righteous and Habakkuk asked why God stood idly by. 

               Doesn't it feel like that sometimes as we suffer?  “ Aren't you going to do anything about this God?  God responds.  Don’t worry about it.  I got this situation under control.  I’m raising up the Babylonians, yeah, you know, those Babylonians—that cruel, ruthless lot of people—they are going to come along and conquer the world.  They will be Israel’s punishment.

               Habakkuk’s response:  “Wait…huh?  But God, they are even more evil than we are.  Are you going to let them get away with this forever?”

               God responds, “No.  they rely on their own strength and worship the idols they have made with their own hands.  No, one day they too will face the consequences of their actions and face my judgment.

               In all of this, God reveals to Habakkuk that he has a bigger picture—that he is in control.  One of my favorite verses is found in Habakkuk.  Chapter 2:14 “For the time will come when all the earth will be filled, as the waters fill the sea, with an awareness of the glory of the Lord.”  God is in control.  One day everyone will know his glory.

               And then Habakkuk trusted God’s goodness.  He remembered God’s deliverance in the past and he had faith that this same severe hand of punishment that would fall on his people would be the hand of grace that draws them back to himself, and he prayed this phenomenal prayer:

Habakkuk 3:17
 “17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Things were not good, and they were about to get worse.  But God is a God who saves.  “I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”

Though we may suffer, God invites us into hope.  “Rejoice in the Lord Always!”  We have much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


This past week we had a guy named Jim Mead come share at our church.  As Jim recounted to us his battle—fighting the trials of a stroke that left him with 20% of his cerebellum, a battle that should have left him incapable of functioning in any normal way (this guy is a living, breathing, walking miracle) —he reminded us that we each have a giant to face.  The reality of any giant is that it is bigger than we are (hence the name giant), and so it is impossible to conquer.  With our elbows on the table they will win the arm wrestle hands down every time—they simply have more muscle.  Many of us live a defeated life with giants taunting us, and crushing us under their weight.   There is a playground reality that brings hope.  Though the giants are the biggest, strongest bullies on the school yard, our daddy can beat them up!  In the famous words of Veggie Tales “God is bigger than the boogeyman”.  God always stands taller than our giants, and though we cannot muster the strength, will, or wisdom to win on our own, when we rely on God rather than our own punches, we, like David, can cut off the head of our giants.

I love Jim’s quote.  “Israel said Goliath is too big to hit, David said Goliath is too big to miss."  He walked into battle through a sea of cowering Israelites to stand before a giant who could quite literally rip his arms off, and yet, he was completely confident of his imminent victory.  Why?  1 Samuel 17: 46-47 reveals to us the heart and mind of the young shepherd boy. 

 Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head… everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”

Moments later, David stood over the body of a defeated giant.  Jim pointed out to us some truths from this story that can encourage us in our own giant battles.  First, David had learned to trust God with smaller giants—lions and bears—so when the big one came, he had confidence in his God.  Second, he believed that the cause before him was greater than the giant.   There was too much at stake—the giant had to be defeated.  If David didn’t believe in his cause of upholding the name of God, he never would willingly face the giant.  Lastly, he knew God could win.

I think what comes next is equally significant.  As David stands over the body of a dead giant—we are reminded that there is a whole army of philistines in front of him.  There’s also a whole army of Israelites behind him.  The battle has been won—the giant defeated—but the war is not over.  The cowering philistines ran…and Israel conquered.  There are two inspiring truths that can be gleaned here.  First, David’s boldness of faith—his belief in the cause, and assurance of victory—inspired a whole army into battle.  Secondly, it took a whole army to win the war.  God calls us to trust in him to defeat our giants, but he also invites us to fight the wars in community alongside bothers in arms.  I never have to face my giants alone.  My God is bigger, my cause is greater, and my victory is imminent.  When I win the battle, I have brothers to help fight the war. 

To our giants let us declare:  “This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I remember crawling through the stuffy, dusty tunnels of booby-trapped jungle temples, amidst ancient idols and artifacts, and through hanging webs.  Really, I was crawling under my bed, amidst lost toys and dust bunnies, and through draping bed sheets.  I was seven.   Under a bed is not nearly as suitable a place for an aspiring archaeologist adventurer as an ancient jungle shrine complete with shrieking monkeys, dangling vines, rolling boulders, and danger lurking around every corner.  I think every little boy that watched Indiana Jones imagined the adventure of being an archaeologist.  In actuality, there is a lot less guns, Nazis, flying darts, women in peril, and invisible bridges in true archaeology.  But it’s near impossible for a child to think about treasure, and not associate it with adventure and mystery, isn’t it?  I think the reason we are compelled by stories of explorers and pirates seeking out treasures is because the adventure is just as valuable as whatever is hidden six feet below the x.  Adventure is part of the treasure…it’s a package deal! 

At some point in life most of us stop crawling under furniture in search of adventure and untold treasures.   We hang up the fedora and the whip and turn in our treasure hunting for treasure making.  We give up adventure for security, mystery for comfort.  Adventure is good…enjoyed from the coziness of our couches with plenty of popcorn in hand.  We just don’t want the uneasiness of living it ourselves.

I think Jesus was an adventurer.  He left the comfort of Heaven to come to dusty earth, gathering a few adventurers to trek with him.  He was the living word, pointing towards the Father—our hope and our treasure.  He warned not to store up treasure here on earth where moth and rust destroy—these present comforts will not last—but to store up treasures in heaven.  There is no treasure on this planet that won’t one day be sitting in a junk yard.  Relationships are the only thing eternal.  As we bring the truth of Christ to the people around us, we are opened to unfathomable adventure.  We get to become part of their journey towards God—the treasure their hearts ache for.  As they accept Christ, we are storing treasure in heaven—eternal souls united to Christ.    God and his kingdom is our treasure, and the adventure is sharing Him, and trekking the journey of discipleship.  Will you be a seeker of eternal treasures, or the maker of temporary trinkets?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Divine Discontent

Lay’s potato chips most famous slogan was “Betcha can’t eat just one!”  It’s true.  The salt and crispy crunch compels me back for more every time.  Resistance is futile.

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at three conditions of the heart—discouragement, delight, and complacence.  Though I find my moments of discouragement and delight to be few and far between…I’m all too familiar with complacence.   Looking through scripture, I see many people who were anything but complacent towards God.  In fact, I would say they were divinely discontent.  Like with potato chips, they weren’t satisfied with a little taste of God— they wanted more and more and more of him!  Look at David’s words throughout Psalm 63 “…O God, you are my God…earnestly I seek you…my soul thirsts for you…my flesh faints for you…your steadfast love is better than life… I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night…my soul clings to you.

Whoa!  Who talks to God like that?  This isn’t so much the reverent “God is my Lord” kind of language, nor is it “God is my friend” kind of language.  This prayer...sounds a bit like a love letter!  I got some really great friends, but my soul doesn’t cling to them.  This is the bride crying out for the bridegroom kind of language!  There is intimacy here.  The scriptures are full of this kind of passion towards the Father. 
In the book of Daniel chapter 6, on the urging of his government officials king Darius had signed a decree making it illegal by penalty of death to pray to anyone—human or heavenly—other than to the king himself. 
“ 10…But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.”

Doesn’t it almost seem like he’s flaunting it!  Like the Jr. High couple who’s nauseating PDA is displayed for all to see, so Daniel blatantly displays his love for his God—pushing all caution aside!  Even knowing the consequences could mean death, he will not turn his affections away!
As the apostle Paul sat in prison, he wrote these words of passion.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

Both of these men held an eternal perspective thinking beyond the confines of current, earthly life towards the eternal glory awaiting them.  If they lived, they lived for God, if they died, they died for God.  Either way, it was all for God.

There are people outside of biblical history that have this overwhelming passion for more of God too.
Augustine said“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.” 

Puritan John Owen said “O to behold the glory of Christ. ...Herein would I live; herein would I die; herein would I dwell in my thoughts and affections. . .until all things below become unto me a dead and deformed thing, no way suitable for affectionate embraces.”

1 6th century monk Brother Lawrence once wrote, “I have had at times such delicious thoughts on the Lord that I am ashamed to mention them.”

Did that one make you blush a little?  I don’t know what that quote means, but there is a passion in it that is infectious!  These men loved God desperately!

Romans 8:21-23 says,

21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

 Even creation longs for God’s redemption!  It groans for Him!

 I’ve borrowed much of these quotes and passages from a sermon series by Matt Chandler that I’ve listened to near a dozen times because of one haunting question Chandler asks.  Men and women in the bible passionately longed for God, historical figures outside of the bible desperately craved God, and even creation groans for Christ’s return.  So the Question:

  Why don’t I? 

Where is my divine discontent?  Why don’t I long for more and more of God?

If I was sitting next to these guys in the grand stands cheering God on, they’d be those guys with the face paint, crazy wigs, jerseys, big foam hands, signs, and noise makers.  They’d be standing up, spilling their pop and dropping their hot dog screaming at the top of their lungs for God!  I’m the guy wishing it wasn’t so cold outside, distracted by the peanut vendor.  Even the trees of the field are clapping their hands!  I’ve been outdone by a tree.  That’s embarrassing.  Who wants to be that guy?  I see something that these men have that I don’t, and I want it!

I believe there are three reasons why there seems to be a disconnect between the constant, passionate pursuit of God we’ve seen in these people, and the lethargy I so often find in my own life.

First, I’ve allowed idols to blind my passion for God.  Have you?  ATV’s, PC’s, RV’s, TV’s, MP3’s…stuff distracts us from God.  I don’t know that anyone intentionally sets out to put something on a pedestal before God…things just sneak there.  And most idol stuff starts out pretty innocent.  The danger is when our things, passions, pursuits, relationships, and ideals become non-negotiable—when they supersede Christ in our life.  When we say, you can take this, this, and that, but God…this stays.  This is more important to me than you. 

In Matthew 19, a young man came to Jesus wanting to know what good deed he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus shared with him some commandments he would have to keep.

20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus pointed out that maybe this young man didn’t have the commandments down as well as he had thought.  He had broken the first…his possessions becoming idols in his life.  God incarnate invited him into a journey, and the young man turned away.

  The second reason we lack passion for God is pride.
The latter half of James 4:6 says,

…“God opposes the proud
    but favors the humble.”

 He opposes the proud because they don’t need him—they have got everything under control.  In fact, they are the ones who have the answers for everyone else…and how dare anyone offer them any counsel! 

Romans 1 speak about pride.

21  "Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks (NOTE: this is blatant pride right here).   And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like (NOTE: there’s this distorted view of God…lets come back to that). As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols…

24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.”

                This is how God responds to our pride…he allows us to give our hearts over to our idols, so that instead of finding the joy of God, we are blind to his glory and complacent in our commitment to him.
The final reason we lack passion for God is the reason I believe we turn to idols and pride in the first place.  …We don’t really know who God is.

I have spent much of my life worshiping a God who has called me to manage my sin and get my act together so he could accept me rather than worshiping the God who has already made me new, embraces me, and invites me to delight in him.

I’ve believed that though I’m a Christian by title, I’m still the same scoundrel I’ve always been.  God’s usually disappointed in me, and expects me to fix myself.  In reality, I’m a new creature, bonded with Jesus.  He loves and enjoys me, and is maturing me and making me new.

Chasing after idols becomes easier and safer than leaning into the arms of a God who looks at us with disgust.  Let me point you to a different God.

There was a man with two sons.  The man loved his sons immensely, lavishing his wealth upon them.  One day the youngest son with prideful arrogance demanded from his father his inheritance.  “Dad, I don’t want to wait til' you’re dead to have my fun.  Give me my money now.”

The wise father allowed his foolish son to make his own mistakes.  He gave the boy his money.  Soon the son was living the high life—everything money could buy—food, fun, a girl for each arm…but after a while the well of money went dry…along with all the land.  Famine hit.  The once wealthy Jewish boy was feeding pigs to survive…and sneaking a slurp from the slop bucket himself.  How did it come to this?  In pride, he forgot the love of his father.  The love of idols blinded his mind to the great memories of times at home.  Now, all those thoughts were flooding back.

He knew his father would be disappointed.  He could no longer be considered a son…but maybe a servant?  Anything would be better than this! 

As he trudged home, covered in dried pig slop, His Father was already watching for him.  How many days had he stared at the horizon?  When his father saw him, he ran to his son, embraced, and kissed him—no mention of shortcomings, no sting of judgment in his eyes.  Instead, he wrapped his son in robes; put the family ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet.  He prepared a feast, and celebrated the life of his son!

This son was certain his father would disown him…that he’d only be accepted with begrudging pity and even then, as nothing more than a hired hand…someone who had to earn love back.  This is how many of us look at God.  We are his “hired hands.”  We had better manage our sin so as not to disappoint God.  But the truth is that the prodigal son never stopped being the Father’s son!  In his return, the Father embraced him without judgment, and with perfect love.  What the son thought he’d have to earn, the father freely gave.

Christianity is not sin management, it is grace acceptance. Sin management leaves me focused on myself and my short comings. Grace acceptance leaves me focused on the insurmountable glory of Jesus Christ with the burning desire to give my all to Him.

This God of Grace, this is my God.  This is the kind of God I can be passionate about.  This is the God my soul longs to cling to.  A God of beautiful grace, a God of forgiveness, a God that runs to me when I have fallen short.

A God that leaves me with such delicious thoughts… I’m ashamed to mention them.

If you would like to explore these topics further, I invite you to check out these resources I used.  Matt Chandlers sermon series "Heart Matters"  and the book The cure by Truefaced.com

The "Holier than thou" mask

Masquerade balls I’m sure are fun, but Sunday mornings at church is not the place to hold them!  The past 2 weeks I’ve been examining some of the masks we put on.  Here is our last—the  “holier than thou” mask. 

This mask is the most dangerous of all, and here is why.  The person wearing this mask is most likely completely unaware of it!  These people don’t get what everyone else’s hang ups are…because they are doing just fine all on their own.  Those of us wearing this mask might think we are better than others.  I know that when I’m at my worst, I quite easily slip on this mask.

Jesus shares a parable concerning this mask.

A Pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. 
This was the Pharisee’s prayer:

…‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ (Luke 18:11-12)

The tax collector on the other hand…

… stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

And Jesus’ response was…

 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

After Matthew (tax collector turned disciple) threw his party for Jesus, the disciples, and a few “notorious sinner” friends, the Pharisee’s had some words to say.

… “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

“Holier than thou” mask wearers apart from the Holy Spirit opening their eyes to the truth, are trapped in their masks…because they don’t believe they are wearing them.

“Only the sick need a doctor.”  What great news for you and me…that Jesus seeks out those who know they are sick, and desire to be healed…and clothes us not in some cover up mask…but in his grace.
Adam and Eve masked their sin with fig leaves until God covered them with the first animal killed for the sake of man’s sin—its blood being shed.

Jesus became the ultimate covering—shedding his blood on our behalf and covering us with his unfathomable grace!

Are you still wearing the fig leaves?  Get rid of them.  They aren’t doing the job…you just look silly.  Wrap yourself in God’s beautiful grace!

To explore this further, check out “The Cure” by TrueFaced.com, and Matt Chandler’s sermon “The diagnostic and the cure”—a sermon on Galatians.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The "Doing Just Fine" Mask

Last week I wrote about the “Mr. Fix it mask” that we so easily can wear.  This week we will deal with mask number two

2.            The “Doing Just Fine” mask

With the “Doing Just Fine” mask, attempting to keep things neat and tidy trumps out true authenticity and honesty.  So we tell others that things are great—couldn’t be better, all is swell…when all the while we are hurting, struggling, and lonely.  Those of us in this place can’t find the cure…so we hide the sickness under a masked smile.

I know this mask too.  I used to hate the word “Pastor”.  To some people a pastor is supposed to be an uber Christian—a notch above the rest.   I used to think that myself.  The trouble was I had become one…and I knew that wasn’t the case with me.  I knew I was arrogant, selfish, lazy, dishonest, and lustful.  And I was also a pastor.  I was struggling with sin and pains I didn’t think a pastor should struggle with.  So I hid my pain, and put on a good face…and it ruined me.  I was spiritually bankrupt, and I felt helpless.  This was one of the desperate and depressing seasons of my life.

The danger in an identity of striving to keep up appearances is that others feel compelled to put on an act as well in order to keep up with ours.  This can happen in churches—everyone hiding behind fake smiles… at the ultimate cost of authentic relationship, love and trust.  It becomes a bunch of actors putting on a cheesy drama together.

Many Christians, rather than authentically being the church…are just playing church.  Those outside of the church can see right through it.  They don’t desire what we claim to have because the spirit of God is not in fake relationships.  Our fake smiles drive away those we are called to reach!

When we openly admit we don’t have it all together, not only is that attractive to those we are called to reach (…who already know we don’t have it all together), we give Jesus something that he can work with.  Pastor and writer Bill Hybels points out how Jesus looked past short comings and straight into people’s potential.  He was able to see who they could become with a surrendered heart.  I love the story of Jesus calling Matthew to be his disciple.

Matthew 9:9-10
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

Tax collectors were not the most respected of all people.  In fact, they were quite despised.  They gathered money for the Roman government from their fellow Jews…and they’d collect extra to line their own pockets.  Selfish backstabers!

This is the type of man whom Jesus is calling—asking Matthew to leave a lucrative career. Matthew is to fed up to pretend he’s alright.  Striving after money has left him empty and unsatisfied.  He knows Jesus is the answer, so he embraces the grace outstretched to him and immediately follows Jesus!  
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.

What does Matthew do next?  He invites his friends!  I imagine the conversation going something like this  “Guys, I’ve tried this tax collecting gig…I made a lot of money at the expense of a lot of relationships.  I burned a lot of bridges, and the truth is…I hurt.  But Jesus looked past all of that, and invited me to be his disciple!  You got to come meet this guy!”

Matthew Escaped the “Doing Just fine” mask, and discovered he could be clothed in grace.  His authenticity and acceptance of the gift of grace compelled others to throw down the masks and reach out for grace as well.

To explore this further, check out “The Cure” by TrueFaced.com, and Matt Chandler’s sermon “The diagnostic and the cure”—a sermon on Galatians.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The "Mr. Fix It" mask

I could never understand how no one ever pegged Clark Kent as Superman.  I mean really?  All Clark Kent had to do was remove his thick rimmed glasses, and strip down to his blue and red skivvies, fly around in a cap, and no one could tell the two identities apart?  Though superman didn’t wear a mask of fabric to hide his identity, he still wore a mask.  His mask was an entire persona!  Mighty bullet stopping Superman could don a fedora, put on a reporter’s suit and the glasses, change his posture…and become the mild mannered reporter.  No one expected that guy to be more powerful than a locomotive!

That’s the power of a mask—no latex or fabric is needed to hide our identities—we’ve been doing that on our own since the beginning.

After Adam and Eve sinned they sewed up some fig leaves, and Adam responded to the call of the Father with, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (see Genesis 3:6-10)

                This was the very first case of sin management.  Adam and Eve sinned, and in panic, tried to cover it up.  They tried to fix the brokenness.  And when God—the one who can redeem them—call’s out—they hide.  This is what sin does to us.  Rather than address our nakedness (sinfulness) and take it to the one who can heal us, we attempt to keep up the appearance that all is well—and cover it up.  So we sew up some fig leaves to hide our broken identities… 

What do these fig leaves look like for us?  The book The Cure pegs three types of masks we tend to wear.  I will address all three in the next three weeks.  Here is number one.

1.            “Mr. Fix it” mask

Under this mask, we strive to find whatever it is that is preventing us from experiencing the abundant life others seem to have.

So…maybe we start trying harder.  We muster up all our strength to perform better.  Make strategies of change.  Kick those bad habits, be more kind, more knowledgeable, more wise.

I wore this mask.  I asked Jesus into my life when I was 5 or 6…but growing up, I often wondered if “I was really in the club.”  Did I really belong to Jesus?  I am still screwing up an awful lot.  When I thought about God, I often thought of him as being disappointed in me.  In my mind, I was the son bringing home the test with a D- to my heavenly Father, striking out at bat with my heavenly Father in the bleachers, or sitting in the principal’s office when my heavenly—and disappointed—Father got the call.  You could define it as an “I’ve done all this for you, and this is how you repay me!” understanding of God.   God was disappointed so I had better earn his love.  And so, I tried harder…for years.  But I couldn’t be good enough.  It’s an unreachable ceiling.   It will leave you tired and frustrated. 

Worse, it leaves us focused on our shortcomings rather than the person, work and grace of Jesus Christ.

I realized how serious this had become a few weeks ago when paging through a book in my bible.  I had a lot of the “convicting” verses in my bible underlined—the things I wanted to try to do better—but very few of the verses describing the beautiful grace that Jesus demonstrated in paying for my sin were highlighted on the pages (if any).  As a result, I read Scripture more focused on myself and my shortcomings then on Christ and what he has done for me.

Paul dealt with this mask in the book of Galatians.  Some Judaizers were preaching a message disguised as the gospel that wasn’t the gospel at all.  They had added to it saying that it was necessary to practice certain Jewish customs in order to be a Christian.  This is no different than when we try to earn God’s favor by the things we do—trying to earn what is freely given.  The true gospel is that we are saved by grace alone!

Galatians 3:2-3
2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Renowned Pastor of the Village Church, Matt Chandler, gave this brilliant analogy concerning the Law of God…and trying to earn our right standing through it.  Matt had cancer.  He had an MRI which revealed the severity of his illness.  Though the MRI could point out what was wrong…it had no power to make him healthy.  He still needed the cure.  God’s law reveals to us that we are not alright—things are not the way God designed them to be.  The law has no power to make us right.  Only Jesus can bring the cure.

The reality is that Jesus paid it all.  ALL.  We are passive recipients.  Christ does two things for us—he places his righteousness on us so that we are seen as holy in the eyes of the Father, and in turn he takes the Father’s wrath upon himself.  This is the most unfair, yet glorious exchange in the history of the Universe.  If I punch someone in the teeth, they don’t give me 50 dollars.  It’s ludicrous!  That’s why for some the gospel is seen as offensive, and to others it’s seen as foolishness! 

I can try to earn this un-earnable grace by doing my best to change my sinful ways.  I can tip the waitress a little more, say a kind thing to the stranger, and read all the self- help books to deal with my pesky bad habits.  I might look pretty good for a while, but that’s simply behavior modification…and anyone who’s gone on a diet, or workout routine knows that behavior modification doesn’t stick.  It just attunes my heart and mind to focus on my shortcomings.   My behavior isn’t the issue so much as my heart is.  Instead I can focus my energies and attentions on Jesus, the giver of the unbelievably unfair and ultimately stunning exchange of grace—marvel in the beauty of the gift—and in placing my focus on Christ and basking in his grace…I begin to look a lot more like him. 

To explore this further, check out “The Cure” by TrueFaced.com, and Matt Chandler’s sermon “The diagnostic and the cure”—a sermon on Galatians.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Lessons from a Magazine Cover

Super market magazines are annoying with their cover models of fake, unreachable, perfection.  These annoying, deceiving magazines can teach us as Christians something incredibly valuable.  We too can present a fake image, falling into the trap of displaying the airbrushed, and glossed self.   A fake plastic Christmas tree made to look perfect.  The spotless bedroom with all the junk shoved in the closet.  How tempting to hide our dirt under the rug.  We put up firewalls and blockers to hold away eyes that could see the real us.    Satan deceives us into living the fake life, utterly afraid to reveal (or admit we have) our ugly sides.  And here is the depressing irony:  as we try to look as perfect as we can, hiding our faults from those we call brother and sister—we are simply comparing ourselves to their fake perfection!  Like a record gone bad, it’s a rut impossible to escape from on our own.    When we choose to present an air glossed self, we perpetuate a norm of false perfection—a danger zone in which all are fake, and dying—inadvertently choosing to give up life.  This doesn’t just harm us—it harms the ones God has called us to reach!

 How hard it must be to join the church when it is made into a place for demigods—when only those who have reached a certain level of "godliness" are welcome.  But the church is not a theater...it’s more like a hospital.  Many of us have grown accustomed to our masks…we’ve become pretty comfortable with them, and can put on a decent show.  We play the thespian with the church as our stage.  But one danger in living to keep up appearances is that we forget our real purpose.   We might begin to expect the world to come running to us, instead of sending our ambulances out to them, and when a dying person does come crawling to our doors, because we have an image to maintain, we worry and whisper about the blood they are getting on the carpet.

Another danger is this.   John Lynch, author of The Cure, offers this scary insight.  When we wear a mask, no one sees the real us.  Therefore, it’s our masks others learn to love—not us.

I never liked fake Christmas trees. They have no fragrance. Sure, with the real thing, there are some bare spots, and the needles fall, but they are real!

Living as an airbrushed person is a dangerous and empty life to live.  So why do we so easily succumb to the fear of being real? Why do we lie to each other and to God saying that we are ok, or try to make ourselves lovelier then we are? That didn't go well for Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5).  I offer these rebukes to myself as much as to anyone.  I love the church, and I especially love my church!   I count it a blessing to be one with the bride of Christ. This is a reminder to us all, to wash off the makeup, remove the corset, stop holding our breath, and just let the belly hang out. No more wigs, no more toupees, just the real deal. We all have our ugly parts. We all have bad haircuts. We all have toe fungus, gray hairs, and strange rashes in strange places, but we are real. If we are brothers and sisters in the beauty of Christ, let’s be real with each other relying on his beauty rather than our airbrushes.  I like this reminder from John Lynch--you are beautiful, because Christ’s grace covers you…not some mask.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Evangelism and the Macgyver Deception

Many people in my church look at me as the young guy…but to the youth group—I’m old.  I had an instance this past week that revealed this truth to me when I asked the students if they had ever heard of MacGyver.  No hands went up.  I feel great sorrow to know there is a generation that is completely unaware of one of the greatest action heroes of cinematic history!  When I was seven years old, there was nobody cooler.  He had the coolest leather jacket, the most fashionable mullet of the early nineties, and he could foil any bad guy’s plan with a stick of gum, a toothpick and a tube sock.  I remember one episode when he staple gunned a guy to the ground.  How cool is that.  

I don’t know how many occasions it happened (…my memory fails me…I was seven after all), but MacGyver often found himself in sticky situations trapped in a room with a time bomb counting down.  In those moments of great pressure—when every second and every decision counted—MacGyver would pull out a paper clip and defuse the bomb with one second left on the clock.  

If any of you are like me, you look at evangelism with what I like to call the “MacGyver” deception.  You may get the sense that it would be a really good thing…maybe even what God is asking you to do…to share your faith with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member.  But it seems pretty intimidating.  After all, eternity is at stake here.  The pressure is on!  You may feel that if you don’t say just the right things, in just the right way, at just the right time, you’ll trip the wrong wire and a bomb will go off!  Hey, we’re not all MacGyver, afterall!  Maybe they’ll get angry at you for bringing up that “religious” stuff.  Maybe they’ll ask a question you can’t answer.  Maybe there’ll be some ridicule.  Maybe your mind will go blank.  These are the kind of bombs I get afraid of.  

I have decided that I really want to share my faith better.  I believe God wants me to as well.  I want to take the Great Commission seriously in my life.  Not just out of a sense of duty, but because I believe that is where God brings us our greatest joy.  I don’t want to look back over my life with regrets.  

The youth group and I have started going through a campaign by Bill Hybels called, “Just Walk Across the Room.”  It is transforming the way I look at evangelism.  Sharing our faith doesn’t have to be scary—there are no bombs, just relationships.  All we have to do is listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit who lives within each and every person who has given their life to Jesus.  He may simply prompt us to go say hi to the new neighbor next door, or to put our arm around a hurting friend.  He may challenge us to build up a friendship with a new person.  And then, in his timing, he may prompt us to share the gospel with these people.  We don’t need to manufacture a moment…just let God provide, and obediently follow his prompting.  I don’t need to be able to spout an impromptu three point sermon on the atoning work of the incarnate God through the process of justification, regeneration, and sanctification manifesting in the life of a surrendered soul (watch your co-workers and neighbors scratch their heads in that moment!).  I just need to be willing to start a relationship.  I can do that!  If I believe that I have received the greatest of all possible gifts, then I can share what Jesus has done in and through me…in fact, I’ll want to! 

There will be no bombs.  But as you witness people surrendering their lives to Christ for the first time, I guarantee there will be some fireworks!  Experience the joy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wake up, O sleeper!

My cell phone began buzzing to wake me up early Saturday morning.  I groggily lifted myself out of bed.  Every Saturday there is an internal battle that rages within me.  My pillow beckons for a few more minutes, but a group of guys is waiting to meet with me at the church.  They are my lifeline for the week—my accountability, encouragement, and spiritual support.  It’s time to get up. 

As I lifted myself out of bed, I heard something brushing up against my apartment door.  “Strange,” I thought.  “I wonder if that has anything to do with the racket I heard in the hall last night?”  After doing everything I need to do to get ready, I headed for the door.  I’m lucky I didn’t trip.  There, curled up on the floor in front of my doorway, was a man passed out, fast asleep.  I paused for a moment, not really knowing what to do.  This is the first time a drunk man has ever slept at my door…I wasn’t sure the proper protocol of response.  I stepped over him, locked my door and left my apartment.  Outside the apartments, one of my friends sat at a bench waiting for me.  “There’s a drunk guy in front of your door.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.” 

I drove to pick up the third member of our party.  This guy has only been a Christian for a short while.  Our group has been reading through the book of James.  He asked me earlier in the week if we could get together sometime and read a chapter together because he was having a tough time understanding what it meant.  When he hopped in my car, and I shared with him my bizarre morning encounter his response was, “you should have invited him to our group—I would have!  I’ve dealt with tons of drunk guys before.”  I responded the way a pastor would be expected to respond.  “That’s a good idea.  I should have done that.”

 That’s when he said, “It’s kinda like what we’ve been reading in James.  Faith without works is dead.   You wanna go back?” He asked.  I really didn’t.  That internal battle began raging once more.  I knew it was the right thing to do.  After heading to the church to grab a doughnut and some juice so we could serve the drunk some breakfast in…bed, we headed back to  my apartment to wake the slumbering man up.

The story would be better if the guy was still there, accepted our invitation and gave his life to Jesus that morning.  Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity.  He was gone.  Though he was gone, the lessons of the morning weren’t.  I learned that a “veteran” of the faith can learn a lot from a baby Christian who is eager to apply God’s word to his life. The drunk guy wasn’t the only one sleeping that morning.  My eyes didn’t see the opportunity God placed right before me.  The guy who didn’t understand James was the one who filtered the situation of the morning through the lens of God’s word, saw an opportunity, and applied it.  If I keep hanging with this guy, this baby Christian will make me into a true Christ follower yet!  God’s word is a message to obey, not just to listen to (James 1:22).  How many opportunities have I missed because I wasn’t ready to live the Gospel I have heard. 

Never again do I want to trip over an opportunity.  God literally placed someone at my doorstep.  Hopefully next time, I’ll be able to share a more exciting conclusion to an opened door.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jesus is no infomercial

Jesus words can be lots of things—instructive, convicting, encouraging…and also confusing.  There are many times I’ve read the words of Jesus and wondered what he meant or why he said them. 

In Matthew 12:15-16, we are told there were large crowds following Jesus.  And why not?  Jesus was a miracle worker—a great teacher.  Where ever Jesus went, there was bound to be a great show—and some great benefits!  As these large crowds followed Jesus, he healed the sick among them.  But on this occasion he did something worthy of head scratching.  After healing the crowds, he warns them not to say who he is.  Why is this?  If Jesus is the son of God, the promised Messiah, why didn’t he want anyone proclaiming this truth?  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus calls us to do?

What is Jesus revealing to us in this moment?  I think what we can take from this is that when and how the truth is presented is just as important as the truth itself.  It would be easy for the crowds to proclaim this healer as their king—the promised Messiah.  But, likely they would be proclaiming him their king because of the benefits that a healing, miracle working, king can bring to his kingdom.  The Roman rule was a heavy oppression on the people of Israel.  How nice it would be to have a miracle working Messiah to ease their burden.  Perhaps they could make Jesus their king of comfort.

First question: have you ever ordered something from an infomercial?  Second question: if you answered yes to the first, have you ever ordered something from an infomercial again?  When it comes to the promises of TV products…I’m a bit skeptical.  Often the products we see on TV don’t end up being the thing we had hoped for.  So, when Jesus quieted the crowd, I think he was turning off his own infomercial.  Though the voices might rightly proclaim who he is, their idea of what that meant was mistaken.  They would be giving some false advertising.

 Jesus wants us to worship him as the son of God.  He wants us to know who he is, and to know him personally, but Jesus never came to be a king of comfort—and he certainly doesn’t want us to proclaim him as the king of comfort.  When we worship Jesus as the king who gives us all the blessings we want—we begin to worship the blessings and not the one who provides the blessings.  Jesus won’t always heal us.  He won’t always give us our desires.  He won’t fit into our box of what we feel a Messiah should be.  Jesus wasn’t what the people were expecting…he wasn’t what they had hoped for.  No, he was far greater than that.  What Jesus did come to do was bring a new kind of Kingdom.  He came to transform our hearts and our desires and to turn us towards God…not towards a more comfortable life.  Jesus turned off the infomercial because he had something better to give then what was expected—not a product—instead he gave himself.

Who is the Jesus you proclaim?  Is he Jesus, the provider of comforts, or Jesus, the transformer of lives?  Which Jesus have you given your life to?  One’s an infomercial worth turning off, while the other is new life, adventure, and truth.  If you’ve got the wrong Jesus, maybe it’s time to change the channel.