Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blast From the Past: Free!

This was first posted on February 24, 2011.

I read a couple of posts this morning that started the wheels turning in my head (that's what the squeaking noise was). The first post was by Dan Edelen here, and the second was by Jeff Dunn and is found here.

As one who grew up and served in conservative Christian circles, I have constantly bumped against walls that were put up to keep us from engaging in certain behaviors, or to make us do other things. I've always been anti-legalism, and over the years cultivated an image as a bit of a rebel. Unfortunately, the image was many times driven by a desire to do what I wanted rather than what God wanted. I was more anti-legalism than pro grace.

I am learning that a reliance on God's grace and love is what should define my life. The posts mentioned above are part of that learning. I am learning that Romans 7:5-6Galatians 2:19-21, and Colossians 2:20-23 are good passages to live by. I am learning that my Father loves me no matter what I do or don't do. I am learning that Jesus took away all my sins: past, present, and future. Not only that, but the power of sin has been broken by Christ.

Sin is no longer the defining force in my life. I still sin, but I also have a Savior that has freed me. When I do sin, it's not because sin is controlling me. It's life. It's part of being a man who is still learning how to follow Jesus and live in God's grace. Fortunately, my Father doesn't condemn me, he is not disappointed with me. He sees me as his beloved son. He teaches me and leads me, and continues to fill me with his love.

I'm learning that I am not in control of my life, God is. No matter hard I try, I can't please God more. I can't do things that are going to influence God to bless me. It's not up to me.
I'm learning that I am a dead man. I have died to sin and its power. I have died to this world. I am dying to the opinions of other people, because the only opinion that counts is that of the One who calls me child. That last one will take some time.

I want to be as Jesus, who only did what the Father told him to do. Jeff Dunn says that folks accuse him of being "all grace." I'll gladly accept that label. Dan Edelen writes, "Anymore, the only rules I impose on myself on this walk of faith are, am I loving the Lord, and am I loving other people." That sounds good to me. Jesus himself said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others, and that everything else hangs on that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Who Is Our Shepherd?

In John 10, we have the account of Jesus presenting himself as the good shepherd. We don't usually have a lot of contact with shepherds, but they were a part of the culture in the first century. Kings were often pictured as shepherds, taking care of the needs of their people. The Jews carried the concept of God as their shepherd. They also saw their leaders as shepherds.

In this passage, the focus is not on the sheep, but is on the Shepherd. Too often, we tend to take our eyes off Jesus and become wrapped up in ourselves, in our interests. We do this as individuals, and also as communities. We do what we do out of a desire to make things better for us. Programs, buildings, schedules, etc. are often built around what we think are our needs. Can you imagine a flock of sheep standing around making decisions about where they are going to graze next? No, they trust the shepherd. They know in their little sheep brains that they are under the rule of the shepherd. He is the one in charge, and all they have to do is trust him and go where he leads them. Jesus is the ruler. He is the one in control, not us.

Jesus is the good shepherd. We can trust him because he lay down his life for us. That is what a good shepherd does. Not only did he lay down his life, he took it back up again. He has defeated death, so it holds no terror for us. We are absolutely safe in the care of our Shepherd. Nothing can harm us. In contrast to Jesus, there are bad shepherds out there that sometimes draw us away. These bad shepherds would be anything that takes our eyes off Jesus and what he has done for us. They could be things like wealth, pleasure, fame, sinful habits. Bad shepherds can also be good things like church activities, our favorite preacher or teacher, family, friends. It is good to ask ourselves from time to time if what we are following is the good Shepherd or a bad shepherd.

Our good Shepherd takes care of us individually and collectively. Jesus states that he calls his sheep by name. He knows our names. He knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves. Each of us who belong to him are his sheep and we follow him. We also follow our Shepherd together. When sheep follow their shepherd, they don't wander in one by one. While they are individuals, they follow the shepherd as a group. It is when a single sheep gets away from the flock that it is in the most danger. We are no different. We are best served when we follow Jesus together with others. Jesus is the head of a body, not just a collection of body parts. We need community because it is in community that we help each other follow Jesus.

Bad shepherds, whether they take us completely away from our Shepherd or convince us that we can follow him all on our own, are thieves that have only come to steal, kill, and destroy. Our good Shepherd calls us to follow him, to be a part of his flock. In following Jesus, we find a life that is full and abundant. Not in a way that the bad shepherds promise, but in knowing that we are being cared for by a loving, powerful King who is in control.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Happy All the Time?

I remember different times in my life when I heard people say that Christians are always supposed to be happy all the time, or at least give the appearance of being happy. The rational behind this was the desire to "keep a good testimony." In other words, it was to make those outside of the faith think that, because we had Jesus, we never got down or discouraged. This was an attempt to show that Christianity "worked" and was worth trying. There are still those who preach that today, as well as those who preach that if anything negative happens to you, it is nothing but an attack from satan and can be thwarted by positive thinking and speaking. Neither of these ways of thinking match up with what Scripture tells us.

All through the Bible, there are instances where God's people mourned and lamented. There was mourning for their sins, and there were lamentations when bad things happened. The Psalms are full of prayers that are cries to God for help in trouble and tragedy. I can't recall any passages in Scripture that command us to be happy all the time. What you do see are warnings that we will suffer, that life is not going to be a walk down a tree lined lane into heaven. Look at the people Jesus hung out with. They were folks who had a hard life, who were the downtrodden and oppressed. Jesus never told them to put on a happy face because following him made your life problem free. He never told them to make positive pronouncements that would make them better. In fact, Jesus told those who wanted to follow him that they had to give up everything and die in order to follow him. Honestly, giving up my desires, my wishes, my life, is hard. It doesn't always make me a smiling, happy person. Sometimes I do it with a frown and a grumble.

The idea that we need to put on a happy face as a good testimony is also wrong. We do a disservice to the cause of Christ when we give the impression that Jesus makes everything peachy. We are afraid to show grief because we are supposed to believe. We are afraid to get angry because our life is supposed to be wonderful. We ask each other how we are doing, and then don't give an honest answer because we don't want folks to think that we're not trusting God. So, we tell everyone that our lives are wonderful, while families fall apart, faith is shattered, and lives go down the tubes. And then we say, "I never knew. They seemed so happy." It is not the presence of a smiling face and assertions that everything is great that testifies to the grace and glory of God. It is when we are able to say through the pain and the tears, "I believe God is good. I don't know why this has happened, and I hurt, but I know my Father cares for me." A smiling face can hide deep despair, while asserting trust in God through tears shows a depth that can only come from the Spirit.

When we are open about our pain and heartache, we open the door to comfort from those who have been through similar things. We come to see that we are not alone. This helps us to see that our Father really is in control and really does love us. This can bring deep, abiding joy. It is this joy that shows that following Jesus is worth it.

Maybe you are going through some tough things right now, and your pain is more than you can bear. God knows. He experienced imaginable grief at the cross. Don't be afraid to let your hurt show. Be honest to the Father about how you are feeling. Find some brothers or sisters that you can be open and vulnerable with. Let God use them to bring you comfort and grace. We are children of a good, loving, perfect Father and we are on this journey together. Take the masks off. Don't be afraid.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

As we enter into a season of celebrating and feasting, it's easy to forget that there are folks in our own country who go hungry on a daily basis. There are ways you can help. For more information, check this out.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

The elections are over, and the real winners are those of us who don't have to sit through any more campaign ads. Now that we're not sending any troops to Iraq, 1500 more advisers have been sent there. Anyone remember Vietnam? Enough soapbox. Here in the sunny South, it's leaf raking season. The leaves have reached their peak, and are now covering everything.

On to the important stuff:

Lacey Carpenter asks a question.
Good article from Preston Sprinkle.
Such a waste.
Ordinary?
Good post from Keith Brauneis

This is a great story.
Just go play.
Linda C. Smith on faith.
Josh is moving.
Good thoughts from Todd Hiestand.

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary on being blessed.
Spiders!
Challenging words from Jared Wilson.
John Frye on the Bible.
Zack Hunt asks a good question.

What does "kingdom" mean?
Mike Bell on temptation.
One of the more interesting t-shirts I've seen in a while.

Have a blessed week!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

I know it's a bit early, but if you are looking for a Christmas gift for that person who has everything, check out World Vision's gift catalog.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Blast From the Past: Back Roads

This is something I wrote a little over eight years ago. It still is true.

I love back roads. When I travel, I would rather take back roads than the interstate any day. I enjoy seeing what lies in those places that most people just zoom by in their hurry to get to their destination. I like exploring and am usually willing to go out of my way to see what I can see.

What is interesting (to me anyway) is that my journey following Jesus seems to be taking me on the back roads. I know people who knew right from a young age what God was going to have them do. I thought I knew, at least in my senior year of high school. One year of Bible college, then two years learning the printing trade. One year turned into five, a youth ministry emphasis turned into a teaching and coaching gig at a Christian school, where I met my wife. After leaving that school, the plans were to get a job in the federal government. Of course, that was the time when the government had a hiring freeze. One year, a son, and a low paying job later, God told us it was time to go someplace else.

A move to Cincinnati brought further adventures. The twelve years we spent there brought a daughter, success in coaching, another job loss, and more education (both formal and informal). After some difficult times the Lord moved us again. This time to Rock Hill, SC.

The place God put us in was in a Christian school where I had applied for a job seventeen years earlier. During my time there I learned how to coach some different sports and how to teach some different subjects. All along God was taking me down some spiritual paths that I had never explored before. I also had the privilege of coaching both son and daughter and watching them grow up. Then, God decided it was time to take another back road.

After leaving that school, I was sure that the road was going to lead to the fulfillment of a long-time dream. I found out that road was closed, and I had to take a detour. The road God put me on led out into the desert, to a dry and empty place where He could teach me more of the things he had already started. After wandering around for a while, I stopped and settled in for what looked like a long stay. The desert school turned out to be sometimes hard, sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating. It was a one-to-one teacher to student ratio, and I had the full attention of my Rabbi. I learned that many of the things I had been taught were not right, that many of my ideas and presuppositions needed to be scrapped. I learned what is really important, what is really essential to following Jesus. I became a disciple of my Rabbi, and finally understood what a disciple really is. Finally it was time to leave the desert.

My journey is still taking twists and turns. But I'm finding out that, even though it may be hard and frustrating at times, I am enjoying exploring some of the back roads and trails that Jesus leads me on. Sometimes I lag behind, sometimes I try to run ahead. But, I am learning that the best way is to follow the Rabbi so closely that I am covered with the dust from His feet. Life is an adventure.

May God bless you on your journey.