Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Increase or Decrease?

In the Gospel of John, chapter three, we have the account of John the Baptizer's disciples coming to him and informing him that many of the people who John had baptized were now following Jesus. It seems from the passage that there was a bit of jealousy among John's followers.

John's response was that any position a person had was given to that person by God. He stated that he had already told them that he was not the Messiah,  but was sent to be a messenger for the Messiah. He went on to say that he was happy to see Jesus being made much of, just like the best man at a wedding receives his joy from the happiness of the bridegroom. John then made a statement that can be instructive for us as we seek to follow Jesus. He said, "He must increase. I must decrease."

That statement goes against everything we have been taught by the culture around us. Even Christianity has succumbed to the thinking that it is all about us. The recent statement by a mega-church preacher is simply a clear admission of what is the basis for much of the teaching that goes out in evangelical churches and over the airwaves. Of course, those churches are full and those preachers have a huge following because we like to hear that we are at the center, that God's purpose is to make us happy, that the most important thing is becoming a better person.  We make celebrities of those who tell us these things and put them on a pedestal.

When John was preaching at the Jordan River, his message was not one of happiness, prosperity, and becoming a better you. It was a message to the people to prepare them for the arrival of the King. John told the people that they needed to change their minds about the way to live and follow this Messiah. Everything was now to be oriented around the King. This message is still for us today.

The gospel is not accept Jesus as personal Savior so you can escape earth in a rapture and stay out of hell. It is not come to Jesus so he can give you all your desires. The message is that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised King, who has inaugurated his kingdom and who will one day restore all things. Follow this King. Give up your desires, your petty things of this world, and live a new life that puts the King up front. The King calls us to die, and in that death find the full life that he promises.

It is in the upside down nature of the Kingdom that the way to fulfillment and wholeness is in abandoning our lives and grasping onto the life of the one who is the Life. May John's attitude be ours as well.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

It's that time of the week again! Things have cooled down a fair bit here in the sunny South. The fall festivals are underway and the election ads are in full swing. I, for one, will be glad when the elections are over and we don't have to listen to all the half truths.

Enough political ranting. Here are the links:

Kansas Bob on doubt and faith.
Four lies about persecution.
Melissa Crutchfield on contentment.

Confronting temptation.
Chaplain Mike on leadership.
Jon Acuff on empathy.
Growing down.

Erik Guzman on pain.
Grace > performance.
Good post from Keith Giles.
A prayer.
Zack Hunt on 3 words.

We broke it.
Ty Grigg on children.
Beer and the Bible.
John Frye on judgment day.
Not of this world, but....

Have a blessed week!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Blast From the Past: The Screen in the Corner

This was first posted on November 11, 2010.

In What Good is God?, Philip Yancey tells the story of the brave young woman who helped spark the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The opposition candidate, Victor Yushchenko, having already faced an attempt to poison him, had a 10 percent lead over the government candidate on election day. The government then tried to steal the election.

The state-run television reported the election results in favor of the state's man. What the authorities forgot was the small inset in the lower right hand corner of the screen, where a young woman provided sign language interpretation for the hearing-impaired. While the announcer was trumpeting the defeat of Yushchenko, this courageous woman was signing, "I am addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine. Don't believe what they are saying. They are lying and I am ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our President!" No one in the studio understood sign language. The message spread like wildfire and within days a million Ukrainians descended on Kiev and demanded new elections. The government was forced to give in, and Yushchenko became president.

Yancey makes the point that this is what the church should be, a small screen in the corner announcing that what the big screen is blaring is a lie. Those who control the big screen are telling us that our worth hinges on how we look, how much we make, what we wear, or what we do. As we look at the screen we see the bright and the beautiful, the rich and the famous, the powerful, those who are famous for simply being famous. The message is that we should strive to be just like them. That is the message we see on the big screen. Unfortunately, the message that is exported to the rest of the world is that everyone in "Christian" America is rich, spoiled, and decadent. And we wonder why so many hate Christianity throughout the world.

We have a perfect example of the small screen in the One we claim to follow. The big screen of first century Judaism told folks that the healthy, wealthy, and wise were the ones who could expect God's favor. The kingdom of God was reserved for them. Along came Jesus, proclaiming that the kingdom was open to the downtrodden, the poor, the outcasts, the very ones that were seen as unworthy. His kingdom would not be built on military might, or on wealth, or on religious tradition. It would be built on love, and the ones on the bottom would enter before the movers and shakers of society. This message is even more revolutionary than the one which sparked the Orange Revolution.

The problem is that much of the church has either tried to control the big screen or has put up an imitation screen. We have our version of the rich and famous. Just watch Christian television. Take a look at the shelves in Christian bookstore, or the speaker lineup at any conference. Many of those people are fine folks with good ministries, but I don't think you could argue that there is not a cult of personality out there. We just don't do a very good job of broadcasting that subversive message that our Lord proclaimed.

Although there is still a great deal of "big screen Christianity," there are those who are working in the corner, spreading the revolutionary message of a kingdom that doesn't come with great fanfare, but arrives quietly and spreads like yeast, working its way through. It's a kingdom that is built on sacrificial acts of love, not displays of might. Its subjects lay down their lives for each other, rather than using them to climb the ladder.

May their tribe increase.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Living in a Broken World

A young wife loses her husband, a child loses a parent. An elderly parent leaves this life. A middle aged man loses his job and sees no prospects ahead. Marriages struggle. Church leaders struggle with the demands of ministry while others succumb to the temptation of celebrity. In some corners of the world, believers are imprisoned and killed simply because they follow Jesus.

Anyone who thinks that because we are Christians, our lives are supposed to be sweetness and light, needs to wake up to the reality that we live in a broken world. Sometimes, life sucks. Things don't always go the way we think they should and we are sometimes left wondering. At times, the stuff of life can be overwhelming. We are tempted to give up and despair. Words of comfort fall on deaf ears. I don't have any words of wisdom. I don't have any explanation for most of what happens. I definitely don't want to spout out empty platitudes that may do more harm than good.

There is one thing I believe, and hold on to. I believe that God is good. When things don't make sense, God is good. When the stuff piles up, and the pressure gets unbearable, God is good. When everything seems to fall apart, God is good. As I've gotten older and been through a few things, I am certain of less than I used to be. At the same time, I have become more certain of the goodness of God, more certain that my Father loves me and desires to do me good, even though I may not understand what that good might be. Unlike people I have known who said they were trustworthy and failed to follow through, my Father can be trusted to do what is loving and what is good.

Take heart, friends. God is a loving Father who knows what it is like to suffer. His heart is good to you, and he knows the end from the beginning. Even though it is hard, trust God's heart. Trust his love and his grace. Trust that, though we currently live in a broken world, your Father is redeeming and restoring all things.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

The weekend links post is back after a week off. We had a wonderful time out in California for our daughter's wedding. Thanks for asking. It has become Fall here in the sunny South. The temperatures are cooler and it's almost time to go to a few of the many festivals that are held this time of year.

Here are some of the good links for the week:

Good post from Kansas Bob.
Interesting. What do you think?
A good piece of satire.
Good post on domestic violence.
You know you want to do this.

I guess you can't be happy in Iran.
Looks like an interesting book.
Getting it right.
I never thought of this.
Becoming a realist.

A force more powerful.
Good words from Steve Brown.
Cautionary tales from Mars Hill.
Gathering, going, and....

Golden rule, narrow gate.
Making great art.
Sugar or fat?
Rich Little on certainty.

Have a blessed week!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed over 2,000 lives. World Vision is a part of the effort to curb the virus. Check this out to find out more information.

Friday, September 12, 2014

To Jennie On the Eve of Your Wedding

When you came into our lives we knew that the day would come when you would fly from the nest and begin a new chapter in your life. That day is upon us and we could not be any more proud of you or any happier for you. You have brought so much joy into our lives and it is wonderful to see how God has blessed you.

We are so proud of the woman you have become, and we are so pleased that God has brought you and Charlie together. We think he will be a good husband, who will love you as Christ loved the Church.

Jennie, we pray for God's richest blessings on your marriage, as you travel through life together. May your lives be filled with joy and love. May the Father draw you close to him and fill you with his grace and love. We love you so much!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

This week's links post is condensed. We have a lot to down today to get ready to fly out tomorrow for our daughter's wedding in California next Saturday.

A different look at the prodigal son.
Increase and decrease.
Zack Hunt is refreshed.
Good post from Keith Giles.

Four myths.
Addicted to busyness?
Missing message.
Looks as if the Scots may be independent.
Dan Siedell on suffering and art.

That's all the links for the next couple of weeks. Hope you are blessed.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Blast From the Past: Who Is Your Pastor?

This was originally posted on February 28, 2012. With all the stuff happening with some very high profile preachers, it is still relevant.

Alan Knox points to a post over at More Than Cake, titled, Paparazzi Pastors Leading a Celebrity Church. There is an increasing trend among Christians today to follow what can best be described as "celebrity pastors," whether those people be in a local church, another city in the same state, on the other side of the country, or halfway around the world. In the post there are listed a number of ways how these folks gain such a following.

It is dangerous when we try to "follow" someone who we don't know, someone who is not a part of our daily lives. We know nothing about how they are living out what they are preaching, or if they even are living it out at all. The only thing we see is a carefully choreographed performance designed to make the speaker look good. Such performances can be inspiring, but there is very little instruction as to how it shakes out in the day-to-day. There are certainly no examples of how to follow Christ. Those must come from seeing each other in action.

As Alan states, "If you do not know someone – or are not growing to know someone – and if you never see them in a context other than speaking in front of a group of people, then that person is not shepherding (pastoring) you, regardless of what title the person may take for himself or be given by others."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Undiluted by Benjamin L. Corey

This is my first attempt at a book review, so be gentle.

Benjamin Corey and I grew up in very similar environments. The difference between us is that he had his evangelical fundamentalist paradigm turned upside down while in seminary, while it didn't happen to me until I was a few years older. Corey begins his book with this statement:
As Christians in America, we're often lulled into the false belief somehow we have a monopoly
  on the pure and undiluted version of the message of Jesus. Unfortunately, we don't. Christianity
     by nature has a tendency to blend in and become obscured by the cultural influences that surround      it ---such has been the case for nearly 2,000 years of Christian history.
     Our experience is no different.
He then proceeds to tell how his world was turned upside by what he calls the undiluted message of Jesus. 

Corey's premise is that Christianity as we know it is not what it was meant to be in the beginning. He makes the case that we have watered down the message of Jesus into something that fits our lifestyle, our economics, our politics and our personal comfort. In each chapter we find an area where our version of Christianity has lessened the original message and how going to back to what Corey calls the undiluted message of Jesus changed his life. 

This is not an easy book to read. As the author states, "In doing so (recovering the undiluted message of Jesus), you might experience a few deaths." How many deaths will depend on how tied to cultural Christianity one may be. I found myself challenged to think about where I wasn't simply following Jesus, and reaffirmed in ways I had already left diluted ways of thinking behind. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who is willing to take a good hard look at what they believe and why. Some may not like what Corey has written. Some may even dismiss him as another one of those "liberals." I have found through the years that it is best not to dismiss things out of hand, but rather to see what is there that is worth keeping and depending on the Spirit to guide me. You may not agree with everything in this book, but there is much there that is worth keeping. At the very least, Corey will make you think. And that's good. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

The fighting between Israel and the Palestinians has had a huge negative impact on the ones who are innocent - the children. World Vision continues to work to help children in that part of the world.

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...