Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Blast From the Past: Being Real

This was first posted on November 15, 2010.

A few years ago, there was a thread on titled "Which story are you in?" As I thought about what story I was in at the time, I thought of one of my favorite all-time stories - "The Velveteen  Rabbit". The story is about a stuffed rabbit who becomes real because of the love of a little boy.

As I thought about all that has transpired in my journey the last few years, I thought how God's love is making me "real." The process has not been without pain. In the story the Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit that becoming real may hurt but that when you do become real you don't mind the hurt. So it is with being formed into the image of Christ - the hurt pales in comparison to the final result, so in some sense you really don't mind it.

The Skin Horse also said that while you might not seem real to others, the one that matters is the one that is causing you to become real through their love. Again that has its parallel in the process of becoming like Jesus. You come to the place where the only one whose opinion of you matters is God.
Obviously, I have a long way to go in the process of becoming real. But God is working.

What story are you in?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

World Vision Wednesday

In case you were wondering (and even if you weren't), here are five facts about world hunger that are important to know.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Blast From the Past: Those Who Love Little

This was first posted on April 21, 2009.

In chapter 7 of his gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus at a dinner party at the home of Simon the Pharisee. During the dinner, an immoral woman comes into the room and washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then anoints them with very expensive perfume. Of course Simon is appalled that this wicked women would dare to interrupt his event, and wonders why Jesus is allowing her to do this to him. Jesus then tells a parable of two men who were forgiven debts, and makes the point that the one who has been forgiven much will love much.

There are a couple of things that strike me about this account. The first is the attitude many who call themselves Christians show toward Jesus. In that time period, it was a common courtesy for a host to provide water to wash the feet of his guest, removing the dust of the journey. It also was customary to give a kiss of greeting and anoint the head of the guest with oil. By doing these things the host showed that he valued his guest and was glad for the visit. Simon did none of those things for Jesus, displaying an attitude of indifference, at best. Simon seems to think that Jesus is very fortunate to have been invited to a dinner at the home of an esteemed religious leader.

It seems that many, by their actions and attitudes, give the impression that Jesus is lucky to have them on his side. The statement by Jesus that we can do nothing without him is forgotten completely, or is explained away. I have heard folks talk about how great it would be if certain talented and famous individuals would become Christians and how much all their fame and talent could do for God. How many have given in to the idea that because I am doing all these things for God, he owes me? We wonder how God can let trouble into our lives when we have worked so hard and been so faithful.

This attitude also comes out in the way we treat others. We withhold forgiveness.We denigrate those who don't see eye to eye with us. We judge others who don't appear as spiritual as we try to. We place a premium on looking good in front of people, and spend a great deal of energy creating masks to hide our brokenness. So much of what we do is designed to put everyone, including Jesus at arms' length from who we really are. At some point we forget just how much we have been forgiven.

By contrast, the immoral women was not interested in hiding who she was. She knew she was a sinner. She knew that Jesus was the only one who could help her, and she was desperate to get to him, no matter what anyone thought. If she had any masks, she left them at home. She not only did for Jesus what Simon should have done, she lavished her attention on him. Many would probably say that she went a bit overboard with her worship. She not only sacrificed an expensive possession, but she also sacrificed any shred of dignity she may have had left. All because she realized how much she had been forgiven.

May we all be reminded of the great love God has shown us in Jesus and the great forgiveness he has given us. May we love greatly.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

The government is back in business, at least until the next time. It seems that the only thing that remains to be seen is which party will suffer the most in the next election. It seems that both parties are more concerned with their side winning than the good of the country, so I think my vote is going to go to someone who is not an incumbent. On a lighter note, the sunny South is a beautiful place to be. The leaves in the higher elevations are at their peak, and those in the lowlands are beginning to turn.

On to the links:

Living with wonder.
Scot McKnight on standing vs. sitting.
As it turns out, we should eat more bacon.
Some kind of wonderful.

Wayward Son on time.
A call to meditation.
Arthur Sido pleads for humility.
Best modern churches in the UK.
T.E. Hanna on a pernicious temptation.

More on the NSA's activities.
Dan Edelen on feeling like an imposter.
"Arts church".
Zack Hunt on taking a sabbatical.
What is prayer?

Keith Giles on the gap.
Who am I?
Chaplain Mike on facing aging.
Is it edible?
Mike Erich on waiting.

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Hallowed Be Thy Name

Jesus tells us that we can call the God of the universe, Father. He is our loving, gracious Father. Jesus then directs us to ask for God's name to be hallowed, or lifted up. I think this is an important part of the prayer that we sometimes forget in the course of our day-to-day. Our aim is to live our lives out in light of this prayer, rather than just repeating it from time to time.

If we pray for God's name to be hallowed, we are praying for that name to be made much of, to be lifted up and glorified. As the Westminster Catechism states, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The Psalmist tells us that creation itself declares the glory of the Creator. Everything and everyone is made to bring glory to God.

Sometimes we ask for God to be glorified, but we are not sure that we really want that. Sometimes God is glorified in things that we would consider tragedies. It is hard to look at the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or anything else we would see as negative and see any way God can get glory through it. We can easily see glory for the Father when things go our way, but when it all hits the fan we act as if God's name is irrevocably damaged. I can think of many times when I questioned how in the world God could get any glory from things that happened.

It has been a hard lesson to learn, but it is true that the Father can be glorified through any and every thing. He is God, after all. Romans 8 tells us that God works in everything, even the messes in our lives, for the good of those who love him. This good could be directly for the person who is going through the stuff, or it could be for the body of Christ as a whole. Either way, God is glorified, whether it's through an individual becoming more like Christ or a group of Christians being strengthened by what the individual has gone through.

We are taught to pray that our Father be glorified. We need to understand that that glory may come through trouble in our lives. At the same time, we can be encouraged that the one who loves us with a perfect, inexhaustible love can and does redeem everything.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

World Vision Wednesday

The country of India was recently hit by a massive cyclone. While the loss of life was not as large as it might have been, there is still a great deal to be done to restore the area. World Vision is there, helping to rebuild. For more, check this out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Failing? Maybe. Failure? No!

I'm beginning to notice a sort of mini epidemic. Lately, I've heard a fair amount of folks state that they feel like a failure, that they feel as if nothing they do means anything. To quote author Steve Brown, that is " from the pit of hell and smells like smoke." When we begin to feel that we are failures who can't do anything right, we are listening to the wrong voices. We are listening to lies direct from the father of lies.

I know what is is like to feel like you can't do anything right. I know what it's like to feel like a failure and wonder if the people in your life would be better off without you. I know what it is like to give up because, "it doesn't matter anyway." I have listened to those lies. Even now, some of those feelings rear their ugly heads from time to time. It's not a good thing, and can harm us and those around us.

One of the things God has taught me over the years is the lesson that those of us who are followers of Jesus are beloved children of the Creator of the universe. We are not only children, but we also have the inheritance of a son. Everything Jesus has, we have in him. We are the dwelling place of God, his temple. Our Father has began a work in us, and he will finish that work in us. God works in everything in our lives for the good of those who love him, and he will conform us to Christ. Because of what Christ has done, we cannot be failures. God is working in us and that work will not fail. We have the word of the King on that!

Will we fail at things? Yes. Will we royally screw up sometimes? Of course! We must remember that making a mistake or failing at something is not necessarily sin. Sometimes it's a lack of knowledge or  skill. Other factors may be involved. One thing it is not is a reflection of our character, of who we really are as a son or daughter of God. It does not change how the Father sees us, or how much he loves us.

When we do sin, it still doesn't change who we are in Christ.  We shouldn't beat ourselves over the head. We confess ( agree with God that it was wrong), turn away and continue to follow our Savior. As Martin Luther said, we are to sin boldly and trust God more boldly. We are to live our lives fearlessly free, not always looking around to see where we might stumble. Many of us were taught to always be worried about sinning, being careful to stay as far away from the cliff as possible. That leads to a performance based religion which caused us to try and get our identity from what we did and how well we did it. Thankfully, our Father doesn't treat us that way. Our identity comes from God, who calls us his beloved. We don't have to perform to please our Abba. As Scripture say, the righteous fall seven time and get up each time. I read that as saying we fall and keep on getting up, no matter how many times.

Take courage. Live life as one who is free, free to make mistakes, free to fail. In Christ there is no such thing as a failure. Who you really are is not based on how well or how badly you perform. Take risks! Be bold! Your Father's got this.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

Fall has fell here in the sunny South. Leaves are changing and falling, the air is filled with the scent of wood fires, and the days and nights are getting cooler. The government is still shut down. God is still in control.

Here are a few of the links of the week:

Begin today. 
A hot mess.
Weakness and strength.
Criticizing your pastor.

Rebecca Trotter on mountain climbing.
Matt Appling on being good enough.
Alan Knox knows how to do a Bible study.
Meghan Tschanz on living with wonder.
Jeff Dunn on surprises.

More than we need.
Tending hope.
Bad news and an attitude.
Always a neighbor.

Have a blessed week!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Our Father

In our Sunday evening gatherings, we have been looking at what is commonly called the Lord's Prayer. It is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. The text is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Growing up, it was rare for me to hear this prayer in church. It was seen as something those ritualistic churches did in a rote manner and came close to a "vain repetition." I believe I missed out on something that is a good thing for us to do in our personal and corporate prayers.

Jesus begins the prayer with, "Our Father in heaven."  We are told many times in Scripture that God is our Father. We are born into God's family and we are adopted into the privileges of a son. More than that, we are told that we can call the Creator of the universe, "Abba" or "Papa." We have an intimate relationship with God. Unfortunately, many do not have good memories of their fathers. Some were abusive, or harsh. Others were absent. Some have a hard time with the concept of God as Father. I have heard that the best way is to think of the absolute best father one can imagine and realize that God is infinitely better than that. He is the perfect Father who never abuses, who is always there, and who loves his children with an inexhaustible love.

Luke goes on in his gospel to describe our Father as one who always gives us good things. When my children were growing up, I desired to give them good things and they knew that if they asked for something, I would give it to them if I was able. I didn't give them everything they asked for, because I knew some things were not good for them to have. If they asked for food, I certainly wouldn't have given them dirt or rocks. In the same way, our Father gives us good things. Does he give us everything we ask for? No. If we ask for something that is not going to be good for us, or something that is going to cause harm to others, God usually denies those requests. Just as I knew better than my small children what was good for them (at least part of the time), our Father knows far better than we what is good for us and for his kingdom. Because he loves us, we can and should trust him to give us exactly what we need.

God is our Father in heaven. In the midst of asking and receiving from him, we also remember that he is God, and we are not. He has made us his children and given us his Spirit to guide us, but God is the  final authority on how we live and on what he grants us. God is not a cosmic candy store where we can just put in our order and expect results. We often don't know what is best, but God does. We don't know how things are going to turn out many times, so we can become fearful and feel that the Father really doesn't have a good heart toward us. If we remember that God is a loving, gracious, Father in heaven, and that he knows the end from the beginning, we can trust him no matter what and be grateful for each and everything he gives us, even when it seems as if he is giving us things that are not good.

Trust your Heavenly Father. His heart is good to his children and we can trust him absolutely.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

This has been a good weekend here. Friday was Jan's birthday. We celebrated by spending the evening with a couple of friends at a blues and jazz festival here in town. On Saturday we traveled up to the North Carolina mountains where we spent time at an art festival and saw a gorgeous sunset. In other news, the government shut down continues, and it doesn't look like it will end any time soon. Regardless of your political persuasion, real live human beings are being affected. Pray for those who have lost income or services. Pray for a quick end to the impasse.

On to the links:

Tithing $50,000,000,000.
50 amazing mosques.
Chipped cups.

Good post from Kellen Gorbett.
Kansas Bob on knowing God.
Melody Joy and chickens (or not).
Mike Bell is still an evangelical.

Our desire and God's will.
Walking on water.
Pictures of humility.
A beautiful story.

KC Procter on creating and consuming.
John Frye on Jesus at the margins.
Zack Hunt on zombies.
Mike Erich quotes Martin Luther.

One small thing.
10 airplane myths.
A mandate for grace.

That's it for now. Have a blessed week!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

World Vision Wednesday

Refugees from the Syrian crisis face many challenges. Among them is continuing the education of the children. For more on this check this out

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Repost: Commitment

This was originally posted on January 24, 2008.

In The New Christians: Dispatches From the Emergent Frontier, Tony Jones writes:
"Just ten percent of Americans are not affiliated with a church or synagogue, and another five percent hold a faith other than Judaism or Christianity. That leaves eighty-five percent of Americans who can write down the name and address of the congregation with which they are affiliated. Yes, that bears repeating: eighty-five percent. There are about 255 million church-affiliated Americans.What can be questioned is the level of commitment that Americans have to their churches. They may know the address, but do they know the doctrinal statement? Or the denominational affiliation? Do they care? The answer to the last question is most decidedly no. American Christians care less and less about the denominational divides that are so important to their seminary-trained pastors."

He is answering the notion that America is becoming more and more secularized by stating that the majority of Americans are spiritual, but without the concern with denominational teachings that divide. I think to some degree that is true, especially with those who consider themselves emerging. The emerging conversation definitely cuts across denominational lines.

The statement, "What can be questioned is the level of commitment that Americans have to their churches", raises a different issue. Looking at the fact that eighty-five percent of Americans are associated with a church (or synagogue), I question the level of commitment that American Christians have to Jesus.

We are called to be salt and light. Salt flavors and preserves, and light allows us to see. When a great deal of what passes as the "Christian" arts is nothing more than cheap knock-offs of what is already out there, and when much of the preaching is really self-help philosophy wrapped in Scripture - where is the flavoring? When we are more concerned with beginning more programs and building bigger buildings than we are with the homeless, the poor, and the hurting in the neighborhoods surrounding those buildings - where is the preservation?

We say we have the light, but instead of going and shining that light into the darkness, we want people to somehow stumble out of the darkness into the light inside the walls we have put up to protect the light.
We have become so afraid that somehow the corruption in society will overcome the salt, or that the darkness will overcome the light that we have put ourselves in a ghetto where we are safe within its walls and from which we lob scud missiles at those outside - with the same effect.
We say we believe that God has called us out of darkness into the light, that he has saved us by his grace, that grace gives us the power to follow Jesus and that God is forming us into Christ's likeness. We say that Jesus told us to go and make disciples. We claim to follow the King of Kings. Yet we live in fear. Fear of the culture capturing and corrupting us, fear of screwing up, fear of somehow not quite measuring up.
We are loved by the Creator of the universe! His word tells us that this love is perfect and that perfect love drives fear out! If we belong to Jesus, our day-to-day life, not just our salvation, is by God's grace and not our feeble effort! Our Father loves us and accepts us just as we are, and will change us and make us grow. He will not leave us in our current state. Yes, there are commands in Scripture for us to follow. We are not absolved of all responsibility. But the power is from the Holy Spirit.
As we focus on Jesus Christ and the amazing grace that God has given us, we will desire to follow Jesus closer and closer. We will, as the Jewish rabbis used to say, be "covered in the dust" of our Rabbi. As we become more like Christ we will truly be salt and light. We will mess up from time to time. We will fall. When we do, we just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, agree with God that we screwed up, and turn away from it and move on. I believe it was Martin Luther who said, "Sin boldly, trust God more boldly still." Walk with Jesus and trust him to guide your steps.

Moving On

It's been a while since I've written here. Life has been happening the past few months. I have decided to start fresh, so I'm mo...