Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Real Men of Jesus Continued, Week 2: We're only human

The scripture we read during Mr. Overaggressive Church Softball Player was from Luke about Peter cutting off the high preist's guard's ear and how maybe that kind of action is not appropriate in Jesus' eyes. But I want to use this Blog for another scripture passage, John 6:16-21...Jesus and Peter walking on water.

I was approached by a church member after this week's sermon who didn't think I was giving Peter enough credit (which I disagree with, but the focus was Peter's faults so I'll give it to him), and I should uplift the disciple more.

I agree again. One of my favorite scripture stories is that of Peter stepping out of the boat to go meet Jesus on top of the crashing waves. Talk about overaggressive...

No person in their right mind gets out of a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee to try and walk on water. But then again, no person in their right mind leaves a moderately successful fishing business, tax collecting business or otherwise to follow Jesus either. Carrying that forward, no one travels to Juarez to build houses amongst all this violence either.

The point is that our aggression is to be used for the Kingdom. We are to be daring, adventurous, willing to go meet Jesus in the scary and dark places, where we might possibly drown, with faith that Jesus is the light to guide us through. Does this mean we'll come out unscathed or alive? No...not in earthly terms. But it does mean we'll be living into the Kingdom of God the way we were meant to.

All that is the popular sermon on this scripture passage, but the part that I see as important is the burn out part. There's a part where Peter looks down and realizes, "Shoot! I'm walking on water" and he becomes afraid and starts sinking. Two things in this. It became about fear and safety rather than pursuing Christ, and he lost focus.

One of the general problems we have in churches is that we have some of the greatest, most ambitious, most intelligent people who want to serve Christ, and do in an awesome way. But they start to be the only ones who raise their hand, while the less ambitious people sit and watch, in faith that those people will get their jobs done. Eventually these people get burnt out...they look down...and realize they've been walking on the water this whole time.

The only thing that kept them going was their tunnel vision on Christ. They had a goal, and no amount of turbulence or trouble was going to derail them. No amount of tiredness would slow them down. But we're human. We have limitations, no matter how steeped in Christ we are.

I think Peter just lost focus for a little bit. It doesn't take anything away from him as a great man of Jesus, he just got tired and lost focus. It's training ourselves to always look up at Christ that gets us through.

It's also about the other disciples stepping out and helping him get all the way...rather than staying in the boat where it's safe.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Real Men of Jesus Continued Week 1

Each week, after the sermon I'll have a follow up blog to consider and respond to, hopefully keeping our mission of becoming Real Men of Jesus in the forefront of our minds.

To hear the full sermon leading into this, go here: http://www.mysumc.podbean.org

Today's - Read Luke 22:54-62 - Peter's betrayal of Jesus

The night before I preached I read the focus scripture passage again, just for one last bit of inspiration that God might want to give to me, and as God always does, there it was.

I'd been focusing on Peter denying Jesus, the shame involved in that, and how we do that all the time, but what I failed to focus on the first 100 times I'd read the passage was that even though Peter kept denying that he knew anything about Jesus...other people recognized that he was a Real Man of Jesus.

That says something. To think that I could go out into the street and flat out say, "I hate the TCU Horned Frogs!" and no one would believe me would be quite a testament to my loyalty and love for my alma mater. What if all men lived and worked this way? A way in which no one would ever believe you didn't love Jesus and seek to follow him in all things.

Translate that to what we talked about Sunday morning. What in your life screams, "I don't love, respect or honor my wife and kids?" Is it the magazines you read, the jokes you make, the schedule you keep?

I believe a Real Man of Jesus follows through on his commitment to love his wife and kids before all others, respecting them, loving them and showing them the utmost devotion in all aspects of his life...yes...even when they're not around. I've heard the blowing off steam excuse before, and there's a lot more healthier ways of doing that, AND ways that don't let your wife know you still want to sew your wild oats.

Live life on purpose. Live life so that no one would ever, ever believe that Jesus and your family were not the two most important things in your life at all times. No matter how hard you try to deny it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Forced to Slow Down

I'll admit it...I've barely done any work in 3 days.

After Monday I figured I would miss Tuesday, but at worst I'd be back in on Friday. Nope. As people around the country can attest, it's crazy to go anywhere in this weather. It's fun to tromp around and sled, but nuts to drive if you don't have to.

So thinking I'd only miss one/two days of work I packed just the normal stuff to come home. Not much, but enough to put a sermon or lesson plan together if need be. Then...the worst happened. E-mail went down.

So for 3 days I have texted and called people, and made use of Facebook, but when it came down to it...there wasn't a ton that NEEDED to be done. And how do I know that? Because the joy of my daughter coming to collect me from the computer at home so I'll chase her down the hallway is much more important than a blog post (she's napping now by the way). The time to spend with my wife planning our vacation or just watching TV together is more important than what the worship theme will be 2 weeks from now.

The snow and ice...have forced me to slow down. And I've liked what I've seen.

Granted, the stress of having to complete tasks and get the ship rolling again will be tough and the stress involved with the "do we have Upward Basketball Saturday or not question" is tough, but for 4 days now I have focused on family, realized words my daughter can say that I hadn't heard before and regained empathy for what my wonderful wife does every day.

Today we took turns walking in the snow since my daughter didn't want to go play and after slipping twice I began to walk slower and slower. My usual pace of about a million steps a minute became a steady gait and I did not have my cell phone, ipod touch or computer to weigh me down. In the moments going out I thanked God for the nature I hadn't paid attention to in a long time. I prayed for those people in my church and I prayed for those who God wanted us to reach. I prayed with sadness for those without heat or food during this time.

And on the way back I saw my house and I thanked God for heat, shelter, food and water. I thanked God for a beautiful, intelligent wife who I have spent more time with in the last 4 days then the last 2 weeks. I thanked God for a daughter and another daughter on the way who can light up the room in an instant.

What was I doing before I took a walk, you might ask? Cursing the snow and the cold weather for not letting me do what I wanted to do.

It's amazing how those things you think are in your way, can provide small reminders of the way things should be.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Obadiah: Family Matters

I think 99% of people glance by Obadiah in the Bible, but for me it's always been intruinging because I was part of a children's musical about this very book of the Bible. Now that I read it...I'm trying to figure out how they made the subject appropriate for children!

The whole book is a scathing prophecy about the Edomites who, essentially, are a group of Israelites. The Edomites are the descendents of Esau...the same hairy Esau who lost the battle of wits with Jacob for the birthrights of the eldest son in Genesis.

The Bible is a funny book in a lot of ways, because you would think that the trickster Jacob would get punished. After all, he is the one who sticks his hand out of the womb so that he'll "really" be first, and then tricks his older brother out of his birthright. But it's Esau who ends up being the bad guy..the sap. The Edomites are looked upon in modern vernacular as "losers."

The scathing prophecy about the Edomites concerns their revenge, having helped the Babylonians through the backdoor and wipe out the Israel army, resulting in the exile of the Israelite leaders.

At the core, it's a family feud. It's a family member who has been scorned and wants revenge. This isn't what God ever commands. The laws of the Old Testament are meant to serve as a calming factor so that emotion doesn't run over, and Jesus strictly commands against revenge.

Why? Because God claims us all as family. We are to love and support each other as we would our own blood relatives, and revenge has only one aim, and that is to prove you are better than someone else.

The Edomites aren't punished for being who they are...they are punished for their hatred of the people that put them there.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Bridge Boot Camp - What are We Training For?

I got an e-mail today that I'd been waiting on for 2 weeks. It was the first e-mail that I'd received questioning my usage of the military training known as "boot camp" as a metaphor for Christian discipleship training...as well as the entire idea about using military references in general in worship.

I always appreciate e-mails (positive or critiques) and figured this would come, because as soon as I put on a military outfit to go preach...I wondered if I was being authentic. I will admit I don't believe there is anything that is a Christian war or deserves holy battle in this world. There are some wars for good causes, but no war that I believe God jumps for joy at. And as Christians, we ought to realize that as well. That when we are serving in the military we are serving a country. We are not blowing stuff up for God.

However, when we came up with the idea of boot camp in Bridge Planning Team I loved the metaphor. I've studied the work ethic, devotion and blood, sweat and tears that military recruits go through to become part of the marines, navy, air force or whatever and I'm envious that our churches don't do the same thing. The devotion of a soldier is something to be admired for certain. I would love for people to be craving so bad to be a church member that they would do ANYTHING to get in...because they want to celebrate the love Christ has for them so much!

Fortunately, Christ's love doesn't cost us anything. It's a free gift and that's why churches typically don't make people box each other or run the mile in under 8 minutes to get in. We ask you to commit, try to encourage you, try to follow up and hope that we can facilitate your own faith growth through sermons, care, fellowship, study, service, etc.

We can't be a military boot camp. It's just not the way Christ was.

But Jesus demanded a lot. So did Paul and all the early Christians. Do you know that it was a 3 year process just to get baptized at one point?

So that's what we're doing in The Bridge Boot Camp. We're training you, building disciples from the ground up so that we'll be ready for all that life has to offer us and stay strong in our faith. It's a changing of mind-set, similar to the military, to thinking about the we and refocusing your view of the world. From a me or world point of view, to a God point of view.

So if you're confused...don't worry. We're not sending you out to battle. We're sending you out to make disciples and be disciples. Some might call that a battle. I simply call it joyful service.

The battle has been won. We're simply telling everyone.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What about now?

I was recently driving back from Oklahoma City, and just after turning east on Hwy. 82 off of I-35 I noticed a church advertisement... "this is the church that started at Pentecost." Obviously the intent was to say that they are full of the Spirit or they are not caught up in modern day church bureaucracy (or so they say...).

I will admit that the church that exists in 2nd chapter of Acts is appealing and I'm certain a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that we can aspire to. However...what if it stopped there? What if this church on Hwy. 82 really is just exactly like that church...would they know what we know from the Pastoral Epistles? From Romans? Would they have missed out?

So often we idealize the past as "golden ages" or "the good old days" because things seemed so much simpler. Even in the sermon series I did on Acts recently I kept talking about the Apostolic model of church as our goal, but if we stopped somewhere in the journey of Acts, we'd miss out on so much. We might miss out on Peter's vision that God has made all things clean, so we are free from dietary laws of the holiness codes of old. We might have missed out on all of the church conflict in Corinth, so we might not know how to handle our own conflict.

Even further, we would not have experienced the saints who have come before us and gone on who perpetuated the faith and love we know from God.

I believe we look to the past for great stories and examples that guide our wisdom, but who is to say that wisdom stops? In the same vein, who is to say that God stops? I really believe that we think the past is better because we already know what happened and we can find the positive. Even in the Great Depression era we praise the people of America for their spirit of togetherness and never-say-die attitude.

It seems that the present day and even worse the future are unwritten. It seems as though unpredictability and uncertainty are our biggest fears, so we long for the past...even in the Church.

But if we take resurrection seriously, with Christ's final coming, isn't the future more glorious than anything that happened on Pentecost? They both share wonderful things, but this is the final chapter and a life of peace on earth with Jesus is at hand...what's not to love about that?

So what about now? Why can't today be great and why can't God be doing some of His best work in us today? I invite you to listen for it amongst the noise, and if you need help, I'd invite you to listen to it amongst the silence. Today is the day the Lord has made...rejoice and be glad in it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

For those who want one more hour in the day...

I was notified that I hadn't updated my church blog in a while, and I might add by one of the least likely readers. Although, I'm glad it's been useful, or as he put it...interesting. And if he is reading this, thanks!

I'd say the biggest reason why I do not blog as much anymore is lack of time. I originally aimed for once a week, but that has turned a little more like once a month now. It's not that I'm not full of extremely intelligent, articulate witty things to say (we all KNOW that to be true), it's that I haven't made the time to do it.

So what's the difference in making time and having time?

1) We all have time for whatever. God gave it to us. There is exactly enough time in the day for what we need to do.
2) Making time refers to you creating. Creating is the image of God. What you choose to make of your day is your gift to God. Having time is almost recognizing the time as an entitlement instead of God's gift.

I think many of us could give good excuses for not doing things such as blogging, cooking more, exercising...worship?...and other things of note (ok...not so much blogging), but in reality I could blog every day if I were more disciplined. And no, I'm not asking someone to come beat me or put me in time out when I don't blog.

Discipline means ordered, committed. If I am disciplined in my life, I will make the time for what is important rather than listening to my latest whims. Trust me, I'm not the most disciplined person in the world...far from it...but if I didn't have any discipline I would have a closet full of ipods, ipads, imacs, tv's, video games and all of the other latest and greatest that I can't live without.

As it turns out...I only have two of those things. Because I know if I had them I'd never communicate face to face with anyone. I know they would suck me in. Doesn't mean I don't want them...just means I don't need them.

What in your day do you need and what do you need to let go of? You are the maker of your day with God giving you the time to do so. What important aspects of life are you missing out on by feeling like you don't have enough time.

You have enough time. It all depends upon your priorities.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wait, Is that a Christian?

Reading through Acts in preparation for the sermon this week I stumbled upon a passage that I hadn't noticed before. Acts 2:7 comes after the Holy Spirit has swept through the room and the crowd has started speaking in many different languages, and a great crowd has gathered to hear what the thunderclap and light show was all about. But an interesting comment is made by the awed crowd, "Aren't these all Galileans?"

In essence..."they shouldn't be talking to me" or "why can I suddenly relate to them?"

Beforehand the disciples had selected leaders and community members from amongst those they trusted and who had been around the whole time with Jesus, but all of a sudden God has given the ability to speak to anyone and everyone in a way they can relate to. (And to think people thought they were just drunk)

I really wish there were people who were stopped in astonishment anywhere in the world and said, "Wait...aren't those Christians?" I would love to hear of more surprising, shocking acts of love, proclamation and mercy, and even acts of holiness and piety in everyday life that would stop people in their tracks and wonder if those are the same Christians who meet in the building down the street and self perpetuate themselves.

I remember in high school watching one of my friends drink a Coke (with full caffeine) and having another one of our friends comment, "Aren't you Mormon?" And another time in college while hanging out with a Muslim friend who uttered a certain four letter word, only to have a Christian (who regularly used those words) comment, "aren't you a Muslim?" out of astonishment. Wouldn't it be great if people were surprised by our behavior, our message and our acts of love, instead of Christians simply blending in to cultural norms? I'd love to be seen as bizarre in this world. I think I'd have good company in scripture and Christian history. What's the quote, "well-behaved women rarely get remembered." I think culturally conditioned Christians rarely get remembered.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spiritual Disciplines in Dodgeball

I've long questioned why in the world we play dodgeball in churches. It's violent, there's usually someone that gets angry...I haven't quite worked out how we're working for justice, mercy, peace or making disciples.

But...it does get people in the door. In this way I've found it to be valuable and just a good time.

Tonight, however, I found it to be spiritually helpful.

Our team got whooped...and I mean whooped bad. Games are timed to last 45 minutes. We lost 7 games and there was still 24 minutes on the clock. Lost 7 games and won 2 in a little over 20 minutes. I'll accept that the other team was probably more athletic, threw harder and maybe a little more organized than ours...so I wasn't upset about losing, I was upset at one of the other players.

Sports brings out the best and the worst in humanity. Lately it seems that the worst, however, has been glorified as competitive, gamesmanship, call it what you will. Tonight, I needed the holy spirit and got it.

Another player on the opposing team may have been just goofing off, but got a lot of our players really upset when he would point his finger at our players and taunt them or yell or whatever else he would do, and I'll admit that the pastor, me, was infuriated with this young man. I lost control of rational thinking. Typically I would have made excuses for him, but I just wanted to pelt him with a dodgeball to make him be quiet and leave the game, but something strange happened.

As I retrieved a dodgeball from the back wall and went up to throw I felt compelled to not throw at this young man, but to throw at one of the other players, so I did. What's strange about that is that I wasn't in danger of being hit by them or they weren't available targets to hit...I simply felt like I couldn't throw in anger. The holy spirit disciplined me.

The word discipline is not like you hear in the principles office. It is not a punishment. It is withholding action that is detrimental so that one's life will be lived more righteously. When we talk about the spiritual disciplines of fasting, praying, giving money and others we are typically describing behaviors that involve going out of the way of what we WANT to do, in order to do things we NEED to do for the health of our spirit. When we abstain from food, Facebook or cell phones we are showing that God is really all we need. We we pray, we are setting aside valuable time and showing trust in the God who listens and responds.

Had I thrown the dodgeball out of anger I believe I would have been sinning. I would have lost control of myself and played sports to defeat my opponent and shame him at the same time.

Sports is not about defeating your opponent. Sports is about accomplishment, doing it right, having fun and playing the game correctly. Victory in dodgeball or any other sport requires discipline, knowing how to play the right way as to not detriment yourself or your team.

Had I lost control and thrown the ball out of anger I would have given in to selfishness, pride, anger and other attributes that turn a fun game/life into a disaster in the making.

As it happened...we won that game, and I got the other guy out on that throw. Turns out my own agendas aren't quite as important as the team's after all. I wonder if our lives with God are the same way?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Problem with "Free"

April 15th was crazy. Not because I hadn't filed my taxes yet but because of the masses of free and discounted stuff being given away! Unfortunately my daughter was sick, but as we were leaving the doctor's office I noticed a coupon for a free hamburger at Scotty P's just down the road. This would be capatalized on, as would the free pizza from Mr. Jim's and the free coffee from Starbucks.

All in the name of tax day relief. I'm glad these businesses have my back, I always knew they cared.

It was crazy, we waited almost an hour for a 5 dollar hamburger, just because it was free. Even crazier, we had food going bad at home in our refridgerator that we had worked hard to prepare and was probably healthier. And truth be told, in college and other places, I've seen crazier and more dangerous behavior done for free stuff.

After waiting 30 minutes for my free small (very small) pizza, which was...okay...I got to thinking about the nuttiness that offering something for free will get you 20 times more visitors than any normal day. Did these businesses simply care about me this one day because I was ever so stressed about my taxes? Probably not.

But they have an advantage that the church does not. The church has to offer grace for free, there's no other way to do it. Grace for us comes at a cost that we don't have to pay, because God already declared it done through Jesus Christ. It's hard to claim that you are serving God and make people pay for grace at the church.

Businesses make people pay for their stuff every day, which I suppose in our world adds value to the importance of the product. If I have to pay for it, then I'm more invested in it. When the good is given away, it's amazing, because what once cost $5 is now nothing...what a deal!

And I think...

We're giving away grace, love, peace, justice, hope every day, all day FOR FREE!!! And I wonder why people are chomping at the bit to get in the door. Some people claim the church demands too much money, which we ask for 10% of income as a tithe. That's 90% that is spent on hamburgers and coffee. Some people claim the church is invalid in today's society, which will never be the case, but I hope that will not come in the minds of the world. I say never because the church is the body of Christ and will eternally be linked with the eternal one...and I'm guessing that'll last a lot longer than Mr. Jim's pizza.

So the only two reasons I can think of are:
1) Churches aren't doing a good enough job communicating the free stuff
2) We haven't invested enough as individuals in the churches we love, for the church to truly make a difference in our and other's lives.

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. Perhaps there is no such thing as free grace either. Perhaps when you receive the free grace of God, with no strings attached, there is nothing you can do but go out and serve God with your whole being.

The problem with free...it messes up comfortable in this case.