Saturday, March 29, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

This weekend is the last one in March, and hopefully the last one with any kind of winter weather. It's warming up here in the sunny South, and many folks are planting gardens of various kinds. Some have already put their plants in. The NCAA tournament is in its next to last weekend. Who do you think will take the crown?

Moving right along, here are the links of the week:

Good post from Andrew Camp.
Great story!
Michael Schulson has an interesting take on college basketball.
Happiness is not the goal.
Eric Carpenter on the biggest divider.

Peace in Jesus.
Secrets of airline travel.
Spurgeon and cigars.
Matt Redmond wants to be this kind of pastor.
Good post by Jared Wilson.

Religious despair.
Promises, promises.
Things Jesus never said.
James Duncan on celebrity pastors.
Mary on true beauty.

Good post from one of my former players.
Keith Giles on signs and wonders.
Ed Czyewski on Revelation.
Chris Lautsbaugh on living right.
Arthur Sido on American conservatism.

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Worth What God Paid?

I once heard a preacher ask his audience if God was getting out of them what he paid for them. In other words, was God getting his money's worth. I've been thinking about that idea a bit. Knowing the context of the sermon, I'm sure this preacher was asking his audience if they were "living right," if they were doing all the right things that a Christian should do, if they were being a "good testimony."

In one sense, the answer to that question could be, "no." The price that was paid to redeem us is far beyond anything we can ever repay, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to insure that God is getting a good return on his investment. The good news is that we don't have to repay God, or do anything to make sure we are worth the sacrifice. This frees us to simply live our lives, knowing that  God is not checking a ledger to make sure returns match up with costs.

In another sense, the answer to the question is, "Yes!" The work that Jesus did on the cross redeemed us, and brought us into the family of God. That work gave the Father many sons and daughters on which he can lavish his love. It was with joy that Jesus went to the cross, not trepidation that we somehow would screw up and cheapen his sacrifice. He knew that what he did would reconcile us to the Father and make us co-heirs with him.

Because of what Christ did on the cross, we are now united to him. He is in us, and we are in him. We died with Christ, and we are raised with him. We are new creation. When the Father looks at us, he sees us in Christ, therefore he sees beloved children in whom he is well pleased. God knew exactly what he was getting for his "investment," and decided in ages past that it was worth it. While it is not yet clear who we really are, and while we don't always act like it, the truth of the matter is that we are cleansed, redeemed children of the Creator of the universe. We are united with Christ and there is absolutely nothing that can tear us away from that.

So, yes. Because we are in Christ, you and I are worth every bit of the sacrifice that the Father made on our behalf. May we live in that reality in our day-to-day.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blast From the Past: Twenty Centuries Later

This was first posted on April 1, 2009.

It seems that the twenty first century American culture we are living in is similar to the first century. In Palestine, the Jewish religious culture was very comfortable and settled in their ways, much like the church in America. The Romans let them run their religious system, and for the most part they didn't make waves. While looking for the Messiah to come and rid their world of all the evildoers, they were content practicing their version of what had been passed down from Moses. The people at the top of the spiritual pecking order controlled who worshipped, how they worshipped, and where they worshipped. The Roman culture of the day was very religious. So religious in fact, that they were very accepting of the various gods being worshipped, as long as those who worshipped also accepted the idea that Caesar was lord. Pleasure and comfort was the ultimate, for those who could afford it.

Into this world stepped Jesus. During his time here on earth he proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was here, and that he was the King everyone had been waiting for. He was not recognized by the religious elite because he didn't fit the mold of what they thought the Messiah would be. They were scandalized that he invited the poor, the downcast, the "sinners" to join the Kingdom. They thought they were the gatekeepers. When the religious leaders took Jesus to Pilate, the only charge they could bring that affected Pilate at all was the charge that Jesus was claiming to be a king other than Caesar. What may have been the tipping point for Pilate was when they told him that he was not loyal to Caesar if he let Jesus go. Their statement, "We have no king but Caesar," indicates that they were willing to remain in bondage rather than accept God's rule.

As the church began to spread and carry out the command to make disciples, they ran into a culture that quickly became hostile when it was evident that these disciples of Jesus didn't fit into the mold. They didn't just go along to get along. When asked, or told, to sacrifice to the gods or to Caesar, they 
refused. Their response was that Jesus is Lord, and Jesus only. There was no sense of taking the message of Jesus and the Kingdom and simply adding it to the "Roman Dream." The message of the
early Christians was that the Kingdom of God had come and all the other kingdoms of this world were nothing. This message caused them to be ostracized, to be shut out from participating in the economic and political life of many towns. Eventually this message caused many of them to lose their lives. This message also turned the world upside down.

I look around at the cultural landscape in America and see many of the same things. I see a church that, in many ways, has become quite comfortable here. So much of what is proclaimed in churches across America is nothing more than a self-help gospel. Many, if not most of the titles in Christian bookstores deal with how to get what you want, how to be a better __________, how to have your best life now, or how to be a better you (what happened to being like Christ?). Much of the church has been co-opted by political parties on both sides, and we have come to equate Christianity with America. We have lost our ability to speak truth to power because we have lusted after power.

At the same time, those who follow Jesus face a wider culture that is increasingly hostile to the idea
that there is only one King, and one Kingdom over all. I have read commentators who write about the way America is becoming like Europe. I think that is true, but I also think that a culture where a clear line is drawn between those who are disciples of Jesus and those who aren't is preferable to one where the message of the Gospel is hidden in all the layers of institutionalization that have been added over the centuries.

Maybe we can, once again, turn the world upside down.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Hospitality of the Shepherd

In our Sunday evening gathering a couple of weeks ago, we were in Psalm 23. This is a familiar Psalm to many folks, and is a great source of comfort and encouragement. It is full of the imagery of a shepherd who takes good care of his sheep. As our shepherd, the Lord takes good care of us. We looked at the particular idea of God's hospitality to us, and how we can be hospitable in the same way.

An hospitable host makes sure her guests have everything they need, whether that be food or a place to stay. Because God is our shepherd there is nothing that we lack. There is no want. As our host, the shepherd provides a restful, safe place for us. Our time with him is restorative and builds us up spiritually. In the same way, we are called to be people who provide for the needs of others so that, as far as possible, there is no lack. Others should feel safe and at peace with us, and our time together is to be a time of restoration and strengthening.

When the Lord is our host and guide, we can go anywhere without fear, through the worst of circumstances, even death itself. We know that he is with us. He doesn't take us into those things and then leave us to fend for ourselves. Even though it may be hard for us to see at the time, out Father is there with us and is leading us. He comforts us, because there is nothing that we face that he hasn't been through in some way. As people of hospitality, we are to comfort others. Sometimes that comfort may take the form of simple presence, as we let them know they are not alone. Sometimes we can offer a word because we have been through something similar.

The last two verses of the psalm speak to me the most. Our shepherd does more than just give us what we need and lead us. He provides a lavish banquet for us right in the face of our enemies. He fills our cup to overflowing. He anoints us with oil so that it runs down all over us. His grace and mercy isn't just there for us. It follows us. I think you could say that it relentlessly pursues us. And then, our shepherd promises us that his lavish care for us will continue in his house forever! We have
an eternal home where we will continually feast with our Father and our Elder Brother.

As folks who have received a taste of this, we should be the ones who are generous in our giving to others. I have heard it said that Christians should throw the best parties and bring the finest wine. While there will be times of fasting and mourning, our times together should be times of feasting. We are people of the resurrection! If that's not a reason to celebrate, then we are sad people indeed. We should be people who invite our neighbors to join us in our feasting. Our caring and giving for others should be lavish, as the Father's is to us. We who have been given much should also give much.

Think of what it would be if the flock of the great Shepherd took the hospitality poured out on us and extended it to those around us.


World Vision Wednesday

World Vision disaster relief experts have identified the top humanitarian crises to keep an eye on in 2014. To see what they are and find out how you can help, see this.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Blast From the Past: Christian, Follower, or...

This was first posted on March 26, 2009.

I've been reading The Great Omission by Dallas Willard, and some thoughts have been stirred. I became a Christian at an early age, so you could say that I grew up Christian. In the circles I was a part of the definition of "Christian" was someone who had prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into their heart and who assented to a particular set of beliefs. Those who had not said "the prayer" or didn't believe as we did were seen as not Christian, or at the most, not a very good one. We were taught that America was "a Christian nation," and that some folks wanted to deny our Christian heritage and take it away from us. Our job as Christians was to live a good moral life, and stay away from those who didn't. At the same time we were to be a "good witness" to those we were staying away from. We were to tell them that they were sinners and that if they said the prayer, they too could become Christians and live good moral lives and then go to heaven when they die.

As I grew into young adulthood, I slowly began to realize that others beside fundamental Baptists could be Christians as well. They still had to assent to a set of beliefs, but my definition of those beliefs narrowed a bit. I still saw salvation as a moment in time and the Gospel as only a way to get into heaven without it necessarily affecting your life very much. The interesting thing about this is that while I still held to many of the ideas of my childhood teaching regarding God and the Bible, many areas of my life would give some people reason to doubt my own Christianity. I had succumbed to the idea that having a home in heaven when I died was the only thing that mattered, so how I lived here in this life wasn't really important. Of course, I tried to make sure that certain people didn't find out certain things. After all, I had a reputation as a Christian to protect.

The term "Christian" has come to mean something far different from what it originally meant. Depending on who you talk to, "Christian" can mean a politically conservative American, or someone who leans to the left. It can mean someone who is not Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist. Many hear the term and think of a person who is mean spirited, narrow minded, and arrogant. Many who call themselves Christian are simply part of the culture of Christendom that has grown in the West over the past few hundred years. So, to separate from that mindset, I have been calling myself a follower of Jesus.

While I still like the term "follower of Jesus," especially as opposed to "Christian," I'm beginning to think that even that is not descriptive enough of what I am, or at least what I am trying to be. Dallas Willard writes about how the concept of discipleship has been ignored by the Church, or at best relegated to a group of super spiritual folks who want to "go deeper." Willard makes the point that the Great Commission given by Jesus is a call to make disciples. In first century Palestine a disciple was one who apprenticed himself to a rabbi. The disciple made a commitment to learn from the rabbi and had a goal to relate to God in the same way the rabbi did. It was more than just learning information. It was being with the rabbi and watching him, how he dealt with people and situations. It was becoming like the rabbi, not just learning about the rabbi. A saying from that time was, "Follow the rabbi. Drink in his words, and cover yourself with the dust of his feet." The idea was to be so close to the rabbi that when people saw the disciple they saw the rabbi.

That is what I want. I want to to learn from Jesus, to spend time with him and see how he relates to God. I want to obey what he teaches, and follow him so closely that folks see him through me. I want people to see the hope that is in me, so I can tell them about Jesus. I want to be like Jesus. I've got a long way to go, but that is my desire.

So, just call me a disciple of Jesus.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

This weekend is an important one for those who are Irish or who wish they were, and for anyone named Caesar or Julius. Monday is St. Patrick's Day and Saturday was the Ides of March. Conference basketball tournaments finish up this weekend and the fun begins! In other news, the UN has said that Russia's actions go against UN principles, while the Russians have answered that doing what they want doesn't violate their principle of doing what they want.

Anyway, here are the links:

Stephen Mattson on some things he wishes he knew.
At least he's honest.
This is good!
Lent with Bob Dylan.
Where John's story begins.

Dan Edelen on "Christian answers."
Paul Tripp on grace.
Chaplain Mike on quiet.
Peter Leithart on hope beyond frustration.
Erik Parker on praise bands.

What is the size of your heart?
Tennis racquets and Christian identity.
Kaleidoscope mosque.
Notes from the edge.
Zack Hunt has his own brand of madness.

Bats in the belfry. Really.
Another possible casualty of the Ukranian crisis.
Questioning the just war assumption.

So, if April showers bring May flowers, what do March showers bring? I think the answer is mud. Just mud. Have a blessed week!





Friday, March 14, 2014

Yet Another Lesson

I've written before about some of the things God has taught me through my interactions with the students with whom I work, and with friends. This morning the Father had another one lined up for me. I have been asking for more intimacy, for open ears to hear what he has for me, and for open eyes to see what he is doing so I can join in. Today, for some reason I was starting to wonder if some of the things that I do are worth it. This is something that pops into my head from time to time.

One of my students came in this morning and told me that he had left his binder at home. Essentially, he had nothing that he needed for the day. My initial reaction was what consequences need to happen to remind him to bring his stuff to school. I brought it to the attention of my lead teacher, and her response was to give him paper and a pen. On the way to his class, I was still thinking, "How can he forget his stuff? Why can't he be more responsible?" As we walked down the hall, I felt the Father say, "How many times do you forget?"

It's true. I often forget who I am in Christ. I forget that Christ lives in me. I forget that my Father knows the end from the beginning, and is working to reconcile all things to himself, using even my puny efforts to advance his kingdom. I forget that I am not called to save anyone or do anything on my own. I am simply called to abide in Christ and let him produce fruit in me as I seek to follow him. Any good that comes from what I do, as a teacher, husband, father, or friend is up to God, not me. I am not responsible to bring about any change. I am only responsible to be faithful to what God has called me to. I forget that my Abba loves me with an inexhaustible love that goes beyond my understanding. I forget that his grace is given to me simply because he loves me, and that I can't earn more grace or blow it so badly that I lose grace.

What is interesting is that God didn't berate me for forgetting those things. He didn't treat me like I would have treated the student. He graciously reminded me of those things which I too easily forget, and reminded me that he gives me everything I need for each day, just like the teacher gave paper and a pen to the student. Abba doesn't treat me like a forgetful student, but as his beloved son in whom he is pleased. Thank God for his grace and love!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Church

The other day, a friend posted something on Facebook to the effect that the church needs to detox from religion and awake from its spiritual numbness. This is a common thought among many who feel the church has drifted away from what God intended. As many of you know, I have been critical of church in many ways, and I would agree with my friend's statement. Having said that, I want to focus on what I think is a solution, or at least what is being done correctly.

I want to make a distinction between the Church as the body of Christ and church, as a local assembly or institution. The Church was given a mission. If we are in the body of Christ, we are commanded to love God by following Jesus, to sacrificially love others as Christ loved us, and to make disciples who also love God and love others. That is what we are called to do. How that will play out can and will vary according to time and culture. The basics remain the same. I believe that the church at times has done an excellent job of fulfilling the mission. There have been times where the church has failed miserably. There have always been local assemblies that have done what they were called to do, and there have been local assemblies that have failed. We tend to think of the first century church as the ideal,  but a good bit of the New Testament was written to correct problems in various churches. The local assemblies of the early church had some serious problems, ranging from division over leadership to major sexual sin. Down through the centuries church history has been up and down, as assemblies and institutions have drifted away from the mission. The Church, however, has always been there, advancing against the gates of hell and bringing the kingdom of God to bear.

Things are really not much different today. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. The church in the West has gone of the rails in many ways. Part of the reason is Christianity has become Christendom, and the mission of the Church has been lost in the mission of one side or other of the political aisle. We have been caught up in culture wars, building empires, gaining "influence," and divisions over personality, tradition, or practice. Much of what is done is not very different from
what a number of other organizations do. Many gather each week to hear a motivational speech, or a
diatribe telling them how they must try harder and do better.

What I believe the church needs is not more preaching on 5 steps to be a better __________________, more ranting about getting rid of the "sin" and getting "right with God," or more talking about influence in a particular kingdom of this world. I don't care how big your church may be, how wonderful you're weekly speaker is, or how many programs you have. If you are not making disciples who go out and give the good news of God's grace and what Christ has done, you've lost me. I believe that the church needs to be reminded of what we were without Christ, what Christ did for us on the cross, and what we now are because of that amazing grace of the Father. We need to be taught what it means to follow Jesus as we walk through our day-to-day and try to love God and love others. We need to be in each other's lives, not just one or, at most, two days a week. We need to be discipled and taught how to disciple others. We need to live life together in a community that is gospel-centered and concerned with joining Jesus in the mission of reconciliation. We need to see, and be, examples of sacrificial love for our neighbors. We need to rest in what Jesus has done, not in
what we do. These things can be done in a variety of local assemblies, from a mega-church with missional communities within the church, to a house church that is out and about in their neighborhood, to everything in between. The assemble can be part of a denomination, or an independent. Traditional or contemporary, or some mixture. As I have learned, you can find the Church within the church.

I take comfort in Jesus' declaration the hell itself will not stand against his Church. Not because we are such great folks, but because we are the body of Christ. It is Christ that lives in us, and it is Christ
that is accomplishing the mission that the Father gave us. Does that mean we will always get it right?
Nope. It does mean that God can redeem even our poor efforts to do his will. The Church is there. It always has been and always will be. I do believe that the time is coming when the church as we know it will fade away, and the Church will be much stronger.





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

In this post on the World Vision blog, Nathaniel Hurd writes about some things you can do to observe Lent, if you're not currently doing anything.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Blast From the Past: God's Camera

This was first posted on October 2, 2008.

Yesterday, I saw a sign in front of a church that read, "Smile, you're on God's camera". I wondered what was meant by that. Growing up, I always was given the impression that God was up in heaven watching what we were doing and grading us on our actions. This would determine whether God was pleased with us or not. I was always told that I couldn't hide anything from God in an attempt to keep me doing things I shouldn't. This worked, some of the time. Most of the time I didn't even stop to think that God was watching, so my "little hands" weren't careful what they did; my "little eyes" weren't careful what they saw; and my "little feet" certainly weren't careful where they went.

I don't believe that's what the Psalmist intended when he wrote, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" It is true that there is nowhere we can go that takes us out of God's presence. It is true that God knows our every thought and deed. But I believe that David wrote these words in Psalm 139 as praise to the God who was always with him and would always take care of him, not as a complaint that God was always watching so David couldn't get away with anything. I am not saying that God is not watching or that we can get away with anything, I just don't believe that's the thrust of this Psalm.

God is not sitting "up" in heaven taking a picture of us so he can hold it against us - "Look what you did". Jesus redeemed us, every bit of us, including the times we screw up. Anyway, does anyone really doubt that God already knows when we sin? Does he need to "watch"?

Now if the message on the sign meant that God was taking my picture just as any proud father enjoys taking pictures of his children, because he loves and enjoys them; well, I can live with that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a couple of weeks for Weekend Wanderings. I hope you didn't miss it too much. It seems like winter is slowly releasing it's grip here in the sunny South. Hopefully things will start to thaw out in the rest of the nation as well. Russia is flexing its muscles in Crimea, and it doesn't look like things are going to settle down any time soon. Pray for the folks in Ukraine. It's time for the annual insanity during the fourth month of the year. I guess I can go ahead and say March Madness, since not enough people read my blog to get me in any trouble with the NCAA. The tournament should be interesting as there doesn't seem to be a dominant team. Should be fun.

On to the links:

Good article.
Buzzer beater. Three times. Against the same team.
Top 100 things people are giving up for Lent. And tweeting about it.
Disney posters.
Rejection.

In case you're planning on booking a flight.
Here are 31cleaning tips.
The risks of loneliness.
Chaplain Mike reviews All is Lost.
Wayward Son on Noah.

Ministry beards.
Unity or uniformity?
40 must-see photos from the past.
Questions.
Ghost ship.

Andy Stager on being contradictable.
Is your church average?
These photos are pretty cool.
Emily Wierenga on the gospel.
Hannah Brencher on the gospel.

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thoughts on Lent

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and our church held a service, with ashes and everything. It was the first time I had ever participated in such a service, having been raised in a tradition that pretty much ignored everything before Easter. The service was beautiful, and challenging. As I think about the season of Lent, a few things come to mind.

Lent is a way of remembering the journey of Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. It was for our sin that he died. It is always good to keep that in mind. Lent is also a season of sacrifice, of giving something up. That sacrifice can be anything from food to television, from smoking to the internet (if you've given up the internet, it'll be a while before you read this). The problem with giving things up is that it can become an exercise in self-righteousness and self-justification.

Lent is a time of remembering that we came from dust and will return to dust. In other words, we're going to die. As someone who believes that Jesus has redeemed our bodies along with our souls, this remembering comes with the knowledge that we will be resurrected, with real bodies as well as souls.  This union of body and soul comes in when we give up something physical in order to focus on the spiritual. For instance, if we give up food, we can remember that Jesus is our source of life. Unfortunately, this too can become an exercise in legalism.

I believe Lent can best be observed as a time of repentance. Not as an exercise in self hatred but as an acceptance of the fact that, on our own, we can not love God or others as we ought. We can't live this life on our own. In Luke 9, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross. On his way, he calls others to follow him. They make various excuses, and Jesus tells them that they have to give up everything in order to follow him. Jesus calls us to follow him. Follow him to the cross, the place of death. He calls us to come and die.

The good news is that when we die, we find that it is then that we truly live. We live in Christ and he
lives in us. When we give it all up, we realize true freedom. As Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." When we give it all up we have nothing to lose because we have everything that we cannot lose. As we follow Jesus to the cross, we know that we have also been raised with him.

This Lent season, we remember. We give up, not because we need to "do," but because Jesus has already "done."



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

This Is Your Life. Or Not

Imagine a scene. You are a Christian who is standing, or sitting, with all of the other folks who have believed on Jesus down through the centuries. You are waiting in anticipation, when suddenly, up in the sky, your life is being played out. Every good thing you have ever done and every bad thing you have ever done is all out there for everyone to see, including your thoughts and motives. As some of the sins you have committed are shown, you begin to hang your head. The tears start to flow as you realize how disappointed God is in what you have done. You know you'll still get into heaven, but there are an awful lot of tears God will have to wipe away.

Sound familiar? It does if you grew up in dispensational fundamentalism. I can't tell you how many times that was used as motivation to get us to behave and do what was right. After all, we wouldn't want the whole world to see the shameful things we've thought and done. We were admonished that we didn't want to get into heaven by the skin of our teeth. For most of us, I think that worked for awhile. At some point though, some of us didn't buy into it enough to keep us from doing things we weren't supposed to be doing. There are still some who live their lives always looking over their shoulder, always worried that they are going to commit some sin that will later leave them ashamed before God.

I have come to believe that Scripture teaches something far, far different. I do believe that believers sin, because sin is still present with us. I do believe that we need to confess those times we sin, to God and to others. What I don't believe is the teaching that there will be some sort of cosmic movie that will display all the bad stuff we've done. While Scripture does indicate that there will some sort of reckoning for what we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, I see nothing about all of our deeds being displayed in some sort of celestial multiplex.

Instead, I see a number of places that tell us who we are and what we have in Christ. We are united with Christ. We are in him and he is in us. Because of this union, everything that Christ has, we have.
We have his righteousness, and when our Abba looks at us he sees beloved children with whom he is well pleased. Because of the cross, our sin is no longer an issue between us and God. All of our past sins, all of our present sins, and all of our future sins are under the blood. We are told that we will one day stand without shame before God. Christ has finished the work. There is nothing we need do except believe it.

Performance based religion says, "Do, so you will stand acceptable before the Father." The gospel says, "Done. You are acceptable, because Christ is acceptable. Welcome home." Believe the gospel and throw away the movie ticket. You won't need it.

A Poem: Home Again

I wrote this one a couple weeks ago. HOME AGAIN It’s been said that you can’t go home again I decided to see for myself, so ...