Saturday, December 14, 2013

No Room

It wasn't a vacation.  It wasn't a business trip.  It wasn't a quick weekend getaway.  They had made the trip to Bethlehem to pay taxes.  The trip was somewhere around 80-100 miles and would have probably taken them over a week.  Mary was pregnant.  It was rather late in her pregnancy when a woman is ready to get this over with.  I imagine her feet hurt, her back hurt, and she was wishing this trip was one she did not have to take.  While, traditionally it is thought that they arrived in town at night just as she was ready to give birth, they could have actually  been in town for a bit before this happened.  There isn't really any details as to how long they were in town.  Scripture just tells us that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.

Back in the day, there was no such thing as a Holiday Inn or a Hilton.  No to find the best deal in town.  Generally, one would stay with relatives.  Because both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, and Bethlehem was the known as the "City of David," I don't think its a stretch to assume that both probably had relatives in town.  Distant relatives who would love to put them up for a night or two.  The word "inn" referred to a guest house or guest room in a house.  While traditionally we get a picture of Joseph going to the local "Inn" for a room, it is probably more accurate to picture him knocking on the door to a great uncle's home or 2nd or 3rd cousin's home.  The town would have been full of people in town for the same reason Mary and Joseph had come to town. While on another occasion this family might have a spare room, on this day the house was full.  Its quite possible that they had people sleeping in places they normally didn't sleep just to try to accommodate people.  I don't think the "inn keeper" was rude or uncaring.  On the contrary, I think his house is full because he is caring and accommodating.  He has no room in his guest room, because he has already put some people up for the night. Perhaps he insisted on accommodating Joseph and Mary as well but the best he could do was his stable.  Though he had no room in his house, the least he could do was offer them a roof over their heads even if it meant sleeping with the livestock.

Maybe the picture in my head is completely off, but it just seems to me that if the "inn keeper" would have been an unsympathetic jerk, he would have never offered them the stable. I just picture him as a good guy.  A guy who sees a pregnant woman and doesn't want to send her away.  While he's unwilling to give up his bed, he figures he's got to do something.  He doesn't want to put any of his other guests out, but here's a pregnant woman standing in front of him who is about to give birth at any moment. The stable's not exactly the Hilton but hey at least its got a roof. 

I've judged this guy for years.  But, I'm not sure what I would do in his shoes.  I mean sure if I know this baby is the Son of God, I'm getting my sleeping bag and heading to the stable myself and I'm giving them my bed.  But he's not privy to that information. He has no clue that this baby is God in the flesh. As far as he is concerned this is Joseph, his 3rd cousin twice removed from his father's side of the family who he has only met once at a family reunion.  He's not going to shut the door in their face.  No, he's gonna make room for them somewhere.  It's not much, but it'll do.  It's probably not going to be a "silent night" and it's certainly going to need a little air freshener, but it's better than sleeping on the streets. 

Before we judge this man too harshly, let's step back a bit.  I mean, how different are we than this guy?  We're busy.  Our to-do lists are a mile long.  Our calendars are full.  We've got places to go and people to see.  And there stands Jesus knocking on the door to our heart.  We're good people.  We'll make some room for Him somewhere, right?  We'll give Him an hour here and an hour there. Maybe 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. Sure, its not the best, but it'll do right?  If nothing else we'll give Him an hour on Sunday.  Unless something more important comes up.  He'll understand though.

Why we sit back and judge the inn keeper, we are doing the same exact thing.  We are relegating Jesus to the stable.  We are fitting Him in, giving Him the leftovers.  Then we sit around feeling good about ourselves because we made a place for Him.  What's sad is that unlike the inn keeper, we know who He is.  We are sending The Lord of all Creation to the stable with a sleeping bag and some air freshener, and we feel good about it.

Jesus doesn't want to fit into our lives.  He wants ownership.  He doesn't just want to be first, He wants to be the only pursuit of our heart.  The goal is not to fit Him into our busy schedules, its to put Him at the center of it all.  Rather than an hour here or an hour there, He wants to be Lord of every hour.  He wants to be Lord of every area of our lives.  Its not about reading your Bible, going to church, and praying ritualistic prayers.  It's about an ongoing relationship with the Creator of the Universe where we acknowledge Him in all that we do.  Jesus wants to inhabit every second of every day.  He wants to be Lord of our work and Lord of our play.  He wants to be Lord of the weekday and Lord of the weekend.  He wants to be Lord during football season and Lord during March Madness (sorry sports fans I couldn't resist).  He wants to be Lord of the TV and Lord of the dinner table.  He doesn't want a part of our lives so that we can sit back and feel good about ourselves.  He wants complete ownership.  The stable won't do.  It's not good enough and we all know it.  He deserves the best bed in the house.  He deserves the owner's bed.

He's at the door knocking. Can we make a decision to forget about the stable?  Can we determine that its not even an option?  Can we make a decision to rearrange whatever needs to be rearranged to truly accommodate Him.  Can we truly allow Him to be Lord of our lives instead of just saying it?  I'm sure the inn keeper felt good about himself that night as he made a place for Mary and Joseph.  I don't want to feel good about myself offering my King the stable of my life.   As He stands there knocking on the door, I refuse to declare, "there's no room!" I long to get to a place where I take the stable and give Him my bed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Will Not Shut Up!!!

"Shut up!!" That's what they were told.  Well, maybe that's a bit of a paraphrase but they were severely warned to stop saying what they were saying. Was it hate speech? Not exactly.  They proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ to a man who had been crippled for over 40 years and he was healed.  That's it.  Well, that was the beginning at least.  A miracle had been performed that was certain.  There was no denying it.  A man had been crippled for over 40 years and instantly he was healed.  Everyone knew beyond the shadow of a doubt this was a miracle.  Day after day, this man sat at the gate begging for money, but this day he encountered two men who would radically change his life forever. Unaware of who these men were and what they could do for him, this crippled man asked Peter and John for money.  Money wouldn't fix his problem.  Sure, it might help sustain him for a day or two, but money couldn't buy him a new set of legs that worked properly.  No amount of money could make this crippled man walk.  He counted on the chance that when others would see him, they would have mercy on him and throw some change in his cup. Peter and John don't reach for change though. Instead Peter makes this declaration, "Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."

I'm sure Peter and his counterpart John didn't intend to rock the boat this day when they awakened.  They didn't set out to stand on a soapbox.  This day was probably not that much different than any other day.  But when they saw this man, rather than throw some loose change his way, they determined to deal with the root issue in his life.  They healed him in the name of Jesus and things just began to snowball.  People in the community knew this man who was healed.  They saw him day in and day out at the gate begging.  Naturally, when he was healed by the hand of these two men, it drew attention.  A crowd gathered and Peter used this as an opportunity to explain how this man was healed.  He used this as an opportunity to declare the truth about Jesus and how he was crucified and raised from the dead.  He simply declared the truth.

The religious leaders of the day were outraged and they had Peter and John arrested.  Like everyone else, they knew this man who had been healed.  They too, had seen him day in and day out begging at the gate.  They themselves could not deny the miracle that had taken place, but...... Herein, was the problem.  But, it was by the power of this man named Jesus.  On one hand we have a notable miracle that cannot be denied but on the other hand is this man named Jesus.  A man they had crucified.  A man they had declared was a false prophet.  A man they denied was the Messiah.  In order to be on board with Peter and John, they would have to admit they blew it.

So, naturally instead of jumping on board, they determined to continue doing what they had been doing since the first time they heard about this Jesus.  They determined to suppress the truth.  They warned Peter and John and demanded that they cease speaking of this Jesus.  They threatened them and basically commanded them to shut-up. Isn't this amazing?  These men know the truth, but determine to suppress it.  Even though this truth healed a man crippled for more than 40 years.  A man, they themselves could do nothing for except fill his cup up with some pocket change.  Even though this truth had the power to change peoples lives, they insisted on attempting to suppress it.

After being threatened, Peter and John refused to keep quiet.  They continued to speak the truth in a culture that fought them every step of the way.  They determined to speak the truth regardless of the risk involved. As a result, that truth set people free.  That truth healed people.  That truth saved multitudes. Yes, while that truth faced major opposition, it changed countless peoples lives.

Today we live in a culture that desperately wants to suppress the truth much like the culture Peter and John found themselves in.  While here in America we aren't being faced with arrest (we'll see how long that lasts), one would have to be blind not to see the increased opposition to the truth of the Gospel.  The spirit behind the ideologies of "political correctness" and "tolerance" is no different than the spirit that drove the religious leaders in Peter's day to conspire to squash the truth.  The results of a culture that insists on suppressing the truth are detailed in chapter 1 of Romans and they are devastating. I must admit all the consequences listed in that passage you can clearly see on the rise in our culture today. Check it out for yourself (Romans 1:18-32).  It's important for believers to understand what is going on. There is an agenda here but it is not political, its spiritual.  The enemy is dead set on suppressing the truth.  He's been on this campaign since the day he met Eve in the garden.  He understands that the truth has the power to set mankind free, so his strategy is to squash that truth.

The body of Christ need not be rattled by the enemy's strategy.  It only needs to recognize it and follow in the footsteps of those early church leaders.  When pressured to shut up, they refused to do so.  They spoke the truth and lived the truth.  Sure, it was risky, but as a result, the lives of multitudes were transformed. We live in a culture that desperately wants to suppress the truth.  We see it everywhere.  We can either allow this world to squeeze us into its mold or we can determine to speak the truth.  We can either sit down and shut up or determine to proclaim the truth that alone has the ability to set people free. You can do what you want, but as for me, I WILL NOT SHUT UP! It's not because I'm looking for a fight.  It's not because l need a soapbox.  It's not because I want to simply rock the boat. I refuse to shut up because I know that the truth sets people free. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jesus Could Just Snap His Fingers And BLAM!

"Jesus could just snap his fingers and BLAM! It would be done!" I stood there listening to my 7 year old boasting of all that Jesus could do.  He's a bit animated so his eyes were wide open and arms were in full gesturing mode.  I felt as if I was watching a miniature version of  myself.  He went from scenario to scenario with each one becoming greater and  greater.  BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He hammered each one with this exclamation for dramatic affect.  To each BLAM, I simply nodded in agreement.  

Later I got to thinking, "what's happened to us?"  I remember as a child, having that kind of faith.  I believed God could do anything.  No, let me rephrase that, I KNEW God could do anything.  No task was too big.  No problem was too big.  No issue too insignificant.  God could do anything!

Then I grew up. I grew up in a world that doesn't think about God like that.  I grew up in a world that wants desperately to minimize who God is and what He can do.  It's a world whose philosophy  elevates man and his abilities while diminishing God and His abilities.  It's a world that can't quite wrap their brain around this concept of an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Being.  So they reject Him.  Maybe not everything about Him, but parts of Him.  They paint a picture of Him that's not completely accurate.  They downsize Him into a manageable ideal.  And as they do, the BLAMs disappear.  What they are left with is a "god" who has little resemblance to the One we read about in Scripture.   

This isn't just on the outside of the church.  It's an epidemic inside her walls.  Perhaps our "god" looks a little different than the worlds but does it really look like the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  Does He resemble the God of Elijah and Elisha? We pray prayers hoping for a "BLAM," but not really convinced we'll see it. We pray about things and then continue to worry about them.  We ask God to take the weight of things for us, then we pick them back up and load them on our shoulders again.  Why? Because we've grown up.  And as we've grown up, we've slowly put more trust in ourselves than in Him.  Our actions prove we are more confident in our ability to carry the weight of our world than His ability.  Just like the world, we've elevated ourselves and shrunk our concept of God. And we walk through life with a major "BLAM" deficiency.

As I listened to my son on that day, I was hanging on every word.  And as I did I thought to myself I want be like him.  I want to recapture that kind of faith.  A faith that knows.  A faith that's convinced.  A faith that doesn't waver.  A faith that isn't "grown up" but is as strong as a little child's.  A faith that knows that Jesus could just snap His fingers and BLAM!   

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Time Is Here!

I love this time of year!  Well, at least for the most part.  I must admit there are things about this season that get under my skin, but still it is my favorite time of year.  How could I not get excited about the time of year we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  Now, for those of you who understand that Jesus was not born on December 25th and find it necessary to let me know, I already know that.  I am less concerned about the when and more concerned about the "Who." In my house we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We have a Christmas tree, we exchange gifts, we watch Christmas movies, we're thankful for what we have, and Jesus is the center of it all.  

I know we live in a culture that seems to forget the true meaning of this season every year.  Perhaps I have an idealistic memory of the past, but I seem to remember a time when this time of year was not so crazy.  A time when Christmas wasn't about standing in line waiting for a store to open so we could save a buck.  A time when Christmas wasn't about fitting all the parties I must attend into my schedule.  A time when a baby in a manger didn't offend somebody.  A time when the word "Christmas" didn't incite a political debate.  Sometimes I'm left scratching my head and wondering how in the world we ever got here.

Looking back at that first Christmas, it seems that we are not that much different than those who lived during that time.  No, they didn't hit the malls late on Thanksgiving Day, but they were clueless to the fact that they were right smack dab in the middle of the greatest event in the history of the world.  Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day for not being able to discern the season they were in.  While that was some 30 years after his birth, that truth holds true for the season of His birth as well.  God was up to something.  Something absolutely incredible and most of the world was so caught up doing life that they completely missed what was going on.

Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, retailers, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and everything else can help us lose track of what this season is all about if we aren't careful. While Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, we'll find ourselves stressed out and burned out during this time if we fall into the pit our culture digs for us. 

Nine months prior to His arrival, Gabriel came to announce His birth to the virgin Mary.  From that moment on she had a constant reminder that Christmas was on its way.  While the rest of the world failed to recognize the season they were in, because she was pregnant with this Christ Child, she never lost sight of it.  Christ was in her and everyday she was reminded that Christmas time was here. 

The world will always miss it.  They'll always find something else to center this season around.  Because Christ is not the center of their world, how could we ever expect Him to be the center of this season for them.  But as Believers we have Christ in us.  Like Mary, we have Him living in us reminding us that Christmas time is here.  Reminding us of a special day when God came to earth in the form of a little baby.  A baby who would change our destiny.  A baby who would save our lives. The date on the calendar is irrelevant.  What's important is that He came and that we celebrate His coming.

This season, I'll venture out a time or two to shop for those I love.  That's a huge sacrifice for me because I don't like to shop during the non-Christmas season.  I'll put up our Christmas tree.  I'll put lights on the house. I'll watch Christmas movies with my family.  I'll go to Christmas parties.  I'll sit in front of the fire with my wife, Lori.  I'll spend time with family and friends.  And all the while I'll try desperately to make sure that Jesus is the center of it all. But that's not something unique to this time of year.  While Christmas is a holy time for me, so is January thru November.  If I could I'd leave up my Christmas lights year round.  But I'm the light of the world.  What's more important is that I keep my light on year round. That includes this season. 

Christmas time is here.  Yes, a Child was born.  A Savior, a King was given.  God has come to us.  In the middle of all the hoopla, that's what I'll be focused on this season!      

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I'm Thankful For...

I’m thankful for a God who’s real
I’m thankful for a God who always has been and always will be
I’m thankful for a God who is my refuge and my hiding place
I’m thankful for a God who is my defender
I’m thankful for a God who is my deliverer
I’m thankful for a God who rescued me
I’m thankful for a God who didn’t allow my sin to dictate my destiny
I’m thankful for a God who redeemed me
I’m thankful for a God who didn’t allow my sin to eternally separate me from Him
I’m thankful for a God who saw my fallen state and refused to leave me there.
I’m thankful for a God who didn’t ignore my sin or sweep it under a rug
I’m thankful for a God who dealt with my sin once and for all
I’m thankful for a God who chose an old rugged cross to purchase my salvation
I’m thankful for a God who chose to pour out His judgment, for my sin, on His Son
I’m thankful for a God who paid the ultimate price to save me
I’m thankful for a God who was willing to send His Son, His only Son, to die in my place
I’m thankful for a Savior who was beaten and bruised for me
I’m thankful for a Savior who was wounded for my transgressions and bruised for my iniquities
I’m thankful for a Savior by who’s stripes I’m healed
I’m thankful for a Savior whose blood doesn’t put a Band-Aid on my sin
I’m thankful for a Savior whose blood washes away my sin and cleanses me from all unrighteousness
I’m thankful for a Savior who insisted on becoming my sin
I’m thankful for a Savior who not only carried all my sin to the cross but He nailed them there
I’m thankful for a God who extended mercy to me…someone who didn’t deserve it or earn it
I’m thankful for a God who refused to give me what I deserved
I’m thankful for a God who insisted on giving me what I did not deserve and could not earn on my own.
I’m thankful for His amazing gift of grace
I’m thankful for a God who raised my Savior from the dead
I’m thankful that I’ve been resurrected with Him into new life
I’m thankful that His victory over death has granted me that very same victory
I’m thankful for a God who has given me absolute and complete victory over sin and death
I’m thankful for a God who refused to reject me
I’m thankful for a God who has chosen me to be a Son
I’m thankful for a God who has chosen to adopt me into His family
I’m thankful for a God, the Creator of the Universe, who has chosen to be my daddy
I’m thankful for a God who wants to be in relationship with me forever
I’m thankful for a God who’s not far away on some distant planet
I’m thankful for a God who’s right here with me
I’m thankful for a God who never leaves me nor forsakes me
I’m thankful for a God who loves me without condition
I’m thankful for a God who knows me best, yet loves me most
I’m thankful for a God who loved me at my worst and accepts me just as I am
I’m thankful for a God who loves me so much He refuses to leave me just as I am   
I’m thankful for a God who won’t leave me alone and won’t facilitate my flesh’s desire to be coddled
I’m thankful for a God who has clothed me in His righteousness
I’m thankful for a God who is my Provider
I’m thankful for a God who supplies all of my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus
I’m thankful for a God who has made me more than a conqueror
I’m thankful for a God who always causes me to triumph
I’m thankful for a God who has made available to me all things that pertain to life and godliness
I’m thankful for a God who is my Comforter, my Counselor, and my Advocate
I’m thankful for a God who leads me, guides me, and instructs me
I’m thankful for a God who is concerned with every little detail of my life
I’m thankful for a God who has a plan and purpose for my life
I’m thankful for a God who is my source of peace and joy.
I’m thankful for a God who empowers me to live righteously
I’m thankful for a God whose faithful
I’m thankful for a God who is unshakable and unchanging
I’m thankful for a King whose kingdom knows no end
I’m thankful for a King who sits on the throne forever
I’m thankful for a King who rules with justice and integrity
I’m thankful for a King who has all authority and all power
I’m thankful for a King who has gone to prepare a place for me
And I'm thankful that one day very soon, this King, my King, will split the eastern sky and return as King of kings, and Lord of lords!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lesson Learned

tim stone - fly fishing
Finally, I got it right.  Not every time but at least a few times.  I had waded out into the river with my fly rod.  I was less interested in catching a fish and more interested in just casting this thing right.  From 10 to 15 feet, I had it down pretty good.  But whenever I tried beyond that it was truly an adventure.  In the past, I had hooked my hat, hit my sunglasses with the fly hook, and tangled the line many times.  So, here I was determined to get this thing right finally.  Just like every time before, I struggled.  I just couldn't cast my line further than a few feet without making a mess of the line.  Then, I looked down river to see two veteran fly fishermen.

One was an elderly man who started on the shore line, casting with absolute perfection.  It wasn't long and like me he was knee deep in the water casting like I only wished I could.  I watched him.  I studied his form. He was like a conductor, directing a symphony.  Back and forth he waved his fly rod and his line flowed through the air in a flawless rhythm. I began to mimic his moves, trying to reproduce his perfect form.  I would mess up, then watch him again, then give it another shot.  Over and over I repeated this process until finally my 15 foot cast turned into 25 feet,  then to 30 then to  40.  It wasn't perfect every time, but by the time I was done, I was doing it right more times than I was doing it wrong. I went from being frustrated to having a blast.  Time and time again I cast that line out there without ever even considering catching a fish. 

After an hour and half, I made my way back to the shore.  I collected my gear and as I walked to my car I glanced several more times at my "mentor" and his flawless form.  I didn't get his name. I didn't even officially meet him.  There was too great a distance between us to carry on a conversation.  He's probably even completely unaware that he played the role of teacher and mentor that day.  Yet, he did. He taught this beginner fly fisherman how to cast a fly line.

After that experience, I'm left thinking how many times in life have I missed those opportunities to learn from those around me?  In my younger years I was convinced I was so smart and just didn't value many opportunities to learn.  As I grew older, I just failed to recognize the opportunities I had around me to learn. As I read the gospels, I think the disciples were much like that.  They missed so many opportunities to learn.  Jesus, was constantly in teaching mode.  Unlike my "mentor" that day, Jesus was aware there was a group constantly watching Him.  Often He would present a truth to them orally, then follow that up with a hands-on lesson.  Many times they missed both learning opportunities.  For instance, Jesus miraculously fed the multitude.  He pulled off what seemed to be absolutely impossible.  The disciples were wowed by it, but didn't really learn much from it.  Again, Jesus miraculously feeds the multitude.  Again, the disciples are wowed by the miracle but didn't learn much.  Later on, they were in the boat with Jesus and concerned that they had forgotten to bring enough food for themselves to eat.  Do you see the humor in that?  Jesus, has pulled off an incredible miracle twice, by feeding thousands of people with an amount of food that was incapable of feeding even the 12 disciples.  Yet, the disciples are worried that on this occasion that they don't have enough food to eat.  Needless to say, they struggled to learn the lesson that feeding our bellies was no problem for Jesus.

I laugh when I read that story, but I often see myself just like them.  I've missed so many lessons along the way that are right there in front of my nose. The disciples walked with Jesus.  Along that journey they were constantly blown away by all the things He did.  Jesus was indeed a miracle worker.  But, beyond that, He was a teacher, mentor, and guide.  His intent was not just to "wow" the disciples, it was also to teach them.  It was to help change the way they thought, the way they lived, and how they viewed God.  Jesus made a practice of putting the truth right in front of their noses for the purpose of teaching them something. He was less interested in "wowing" them and more interested in changing them.    

I was "wowed" by this veteran fly fisherman.  But, that alone did little for me.  I could have left that afternoon with this complete since of awe over this man's ability to command a fly line.  However, I would still be a frustrated fly fisherman with a complete inability to cast a line further than a few feet.  The disciples were blown away when Jesus fed the multitudes, but were somehow worried that their cupboard was bare.  Wowed but unchanged?  That's not God's idea. God indeed wants us to be in awe of Him, but He also wants to grow us, stretch us, and teach us right smack dab in the middle of those moments of awe. I'm no longer a frustrated fly fisherman poser.  I can cast that fly line with my Wooly Bugger on the end of it and put it where I want to put it.  I loved being wowed by that veteran fly fisherman but I'm more excited with the fact that I've been changed.  Now, time to catch some fish!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hey Solomon, I Found Her

I'm an extremely rich man. Now, if you saw my bank account, you might try to argue that statement. I seldom have much left at the end of each month.  So if wealth is only determined by dollars and cents then using the term "rich" to describe me would be a huge statement of faith or a complete lie.  But wealth is determined by much more than bank accounts and monetary assets.

"Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies." I'm rich because I've found that virtuous woman.  I've found that woman whose price is far above any of this earth's riches.  No, that's not hopeful thinking.  It's not a declaration of faith.  It's a statement of fact.  As I read the rest of this description of a virtuous woman laid out in Proverbs 31, I can't help but think it was written with my wife, Lori, in mind.

I'm not sure how she does all she does. On any given day she gets more done than most do in a week.  She wakes early in the morning and has coffee with Jesus before anyone else is awake.  She teaches our two boys at Stone Life Academy. She makes sure the clothes are washed, dishes are clean, pantry is full, and everyone is fed.  Somehow she finds the time to be my partner in ministry and run our home business, Lone Star Soap Barn. I'm exhausted just listing some of the things she does.

She's an incredible mother. She celebrates her boys victories big and small.  She believes in them, encourages them, and inspires them.  She doesn't spend her time trying to make them who she wants them to be but strives to discover who God has made them and partners with Him in helping them become who they are.  She cuddles without coddling and loves without condition.  Her boys think the world of her and if asked they'll tell you she's the best mom in the world.

As a wife she has no equal.  She knows me best yet somehow manages to love me most. That alone is an amazing fete.  She's my biggest fan, my closest confidant, and my best friend.  She honors me in every possible way.  She encourages me when I'm down, tells me the truth when I need to hear it, and gives me grace when I fail. She makes me feel as if I can do just about anything.  She sacrifices constantly for me and never complains about it.  She listens when I need to talk and gives me space when I need it most.  She understands me better than anyone else yet wants to know me more.  She actually likes hanging out with me.  Who I am today is largely because of her.  I think her name must mean "grace" because I definitely don't deserve her yet God has blessed me with her anyway.  Like her boys I think the world of her and I'll let you know straight up, she's the best wife in the world.  

This week we'll celebrate 13 years since we made our lifelong commitment to one another.  I remember that day so well.  When I saw her walking down that aisle she took my breath away.  Now, 13 years later she still takes my breath away. 

King Solomon's mom knew what she was talking about when she declared that this "virtuous woman" was worth more than rubies.  He spent a lifetime in search of her.  Hey, Solomon I found her! Indeed she's worth more than all this world's riches.  Is it any wonder why I feel as if I'm the richest man in town. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Maybe Jesus Would Be In Favor Of Obamacare

I know, I know, you think I've fallen off my rocker.  But before you start making death threats, just hear me out.  First, I'm not real sure just how much the Great Physician concerns Himself with a socialistic healthcare program, but I'm certain He gives it less attention than we do.  That being said, I've been thinking along the lines of WWJD.  What would Jesus do?  What would He think about this whole debate.

Several years ago, I was watching television with my dad when this commercial came on television that was advertising a specialty tool.  It was the kind of commercial that claims an item is worth $500 but if you act today you can get 2 for only $19.95.  Not sure exactly what the cost was, but you get the picture.  This particular tool came with a free cordless drill.  Because I was not a cordless drill owner at the time, I told my dad that was a great offer.  Not only would I get the one of a kind tool, but I would get a cordless drill as well.  I remember his response well. "Son, its a piece of junk."  We continued to dialogue about it with me claiming how great this deal was and him repeating how it was nothing but a piece of junk.  I'm not sure if it was for my birthday or Christmas, but during one of those events I opened my present from him and there it was.  This one of a kind tool and the free cordless drill.  He was laughing and still claiming, "Its a piece of junk."

He was right.  Both the tool and the drill are completely worthless.  I actually still have both of them to remind me that sometimes the things we want aren't at all what we think they'll be when we get them.  My dad was pretty good at communicating lessons like that.  Like the time he let me shoot his .30-06 for the first time when I was a kid.  After warning me of how much it was going to kick and trying to talk me out of it, he gave me what I asked for.  Had he not caught me, I would have been flat on my back on the ground.  I handed him back his rifle and asked for the .22.  Lesson learned!

Thousands of years ago, Israel wanted a king.  It was not in their best interest, but they insisted.  So, God gave them a king.  A lying, insecure, people pleasing, prideful, cowardice king.  A king who refused to honor God.  This was only the beginning of spiral downward for them.  While they did have some good kings in the mix, this idea of a king that they insisted on was their way of rejecting God. Some of their kings sacrificed children to idols, ruled harshly, killed innocent people, and persecuted God's prophets.  If you'll follow their history, this led them down a road of destruction and bondage.

Prior to giving them a king, God warned them of the dangers to come.  He was extremely detailed in what the future held for them if they chose to go down this road.  He even told them that there would come a day when they would cry out to God to save them from this king and He would not listen.  In other words, He was letting them know that once they start down this road there is no turning back.  They were so head strong on this, however, and insisted on having a king.  So, they got what they wanted. I think its interesting that while the majority of the people wanted a king, there were some who opposed the idea.  Unfortunately for them, the majority got what they wanted.

In 2012, the majority of our nation voted for an administration that introduced this socialistic program of "affordable healthcare."  The negatives of this program have been carefully laid out for anyone wanting to understand them.  Still, the majority of Americans voted for an administration that is headstrong regarding the implementation of this program.  I'm just wondering if, like He was with Israel concerning their desire for a king, God is okay with giving the American people what they want.

I don't know, perhaps I'm completely in left field on this one.  I know we have a healthcare system that's broken.  When we had our first child we were cash payers.  We prepaid the cost of having our baby at the hospital but my wife, Lori, had to stay an extra night in the hospital.  Just before leaving the hospital we were hit with a bill of a little over $500 that had to be paid prior to leaving the hospital.  When I went downstairs to take care of it I was told that since we were cash payers this had to be paid before we left or we would receive a bill in the mail in excess of $8,000.  I looked at the lady in disbelief and asked if they took American Express.  Yes, its a broken system when as a cash payer I pay $500.00 but if I had insurance, my insurance company would be billed $8,000.  That being said, fixing our broken system with another broken system is ludicrous.  That's like spraying Febreze in a pig pin.  It doesn't fix the stink!  

I used my cordless drill once because it doesn't work.  With a fully charged battery it will not screw a single screw into a piece of wood.  It was free, but it's a complete piece of junk.  I've discovered through the years that a lot of times, things I want, when I get them, I wish I never had them. I'm wondering if the affordable healthcare program will be one of those things to the masses.  I also wonder if this whole healthcare thing would be a complete non-issue if the church was healing the sick like we were told to do by the very One we claim to follow? Perhaps, Jesus would answer the healthcare debate by laying hands on the sick. Perhaps, that's how we should answer it.  Of course its a lot easier to stand on a soap box than walk through a hospital ministering healing to those who need it.       

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I Want To Walk Away Changed

I had a God encounter.  No, there wasn't a burning bush or thundering and lightning.  No goose bumps, no holy shakes, and no, I didn't end up face down on the floor.  It was just me in a crowd of people determining to connect with God.  I don't know about you, but I don't need another sermon for the sake of just hearing another sermon.  I don't need another worship service where I'm impressed with great musicianship and songs that simply move me emotionally.  I didn't come to hear a like-minded preacher say things I agreed with so that my theology could be validated.  I wasn't there to be entertained,  I wasn't there to perform some religious ritual so that I could feel better about myself.  I'm done with that kind of approach.  I'm broken.  I've got issues.  There, I said it.  Man, does that feel good!  While I would like to admit that I'm perfect, I live with myself and I can tell you straight up, I'm not.  I came that day to be changed.

So, there I sat with my head bowed down as the service was drawing to a close.  I prayed a simple prayer that I often pray.  "God, what are you saying to me right now? What's the one thing you are trying to get me to understand, right here and right now?"  Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church had preached primarily on pride and I was pretty convinced that did not apply to me.  So, thinking I had little reason to worry about this particular vice I asked God, "Are there areas of pride in me?"

Before I get to His answer, let me just say I wanted to know the truth.  I knew what I believed, but I wanted to know the truth.  I needed to know the truth. It is only in knowing the truth that we can find true freedom.  I don't need someone to sugar coat things with me.  Regardless of how it stings, I understand that change only happens when we know the truth and respond to it accordingly.

In Luke 18, we are told of a rich young ruler who approached Jesus one day.  He was a man who came to Jesus wanting to know what he had to do in order to have eternal life.  As you read his story, you find out in the end that he walks away from Jesus "very" sad.  Think about that for a moment. He has an encounter with God, and walks away sad. I find that interesting.  He came to Jesus seemingly in search of salvation but didn't find it.  This is Jesus, the Savior!  How can this be? How can someone come to Jesus and not walk away with the assurance of salvation?

In the following chapter we are introduced to another rich man whose name is Zacchaeus.  Unlike this rich young ruler, Zacchaeus walks away from his encounter with Jesus a changed man.  All of a sudden he wants to make things right with everyone he's wronged.  In an instant he goes from only thinking of himself to having compassion on those less fortunate than him.  Isn't that interesting?  One man walks away sad while the other man walks away changed.

From the context it appears that the rich young ruler is a pretty good guy.  Actually he seems to be a great guy.  Zacchaeus on the other hand, not so much.  I get the sense when reading the story that the rich young ruler struggled to find fault in himself.  Zacchaeus on the other hand had no problem understanding his "sinner" status as he was surrounded by people who would remind him constantly.  Could it be that the rich young ruler was more interested in convincing Jesus how deserving he was already of this eternal life?  Did he really want to change or was he there for a pat on the back?  Zacchaeus was a crook.  A sinner to the core.  A man hated and despised by most everybody.  Perhaps even himself.  Could it be that this man climbed a tree in order to see Jesus because he was crying out for change in his life?  Could it be that he hated who he was and what he did?  I'm not sure, but one thing I know is that when he did encounter Jesus, his heart was radically changed.

Two men encounter Jesus and the results are as different as night and day.  I've been like that rich young ruler more times than I care to admit.  Well, except for the rich and ruler thing.  I've come to church or approached God with this desire to have Him sign off on my good works.  I've come with an attitude that I've got things together and are quite deserving of a Divine pat on the back.  I've come wanting affirmation and validation for my righteous lifestyle choices.  I've come longing to hear a message that inspires me and pumps me up.  I've shown up some places that, unlike Jesus, facilitated my desire to be coddled.  And while I might not have walked away sad, I was still unchanged.  What an absolute waste of time.

I determined not to waste time on this day.  I refused to be like the rich young ruler.  So, humbly I asked God, "Are there areas of pride in me?" The answer?  A resounding yes.  Ouch!  I could see it clearly though.  There was no denying it.  I could walk away sad or I could walk away changed.  I chose the changed route.

While I'm a pastor, I also place my self under the authority of a few pastors.  So, let me speak as a sheep for a moment.  Pastors, don't beat around the bush.  Don't skirt around the truth.  Shoot straight with us.  Don't facilitate our desire to be coddled.  Challenge us.  Push us.  Call us up to a higher level.  Step on our toes.  Compel us to get off the fence. Speak the truth! Please, for eternity's sake, speak the truth! I need it.  We need it.

Perfection needs no changes.  I'm not there.  The older I get the more I realize how far away I still am on this journey. Sometimes I have wrong heart motives.  Sometimes I struggle to love others.  Sometimes I struggle to completely trust God.  Sometimes I ________________ (fill in the blank).  With every God encounter I long to walk away changed. I need to walk away changed.



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Yep, I Hit The House

I heard it hit the house.  It hit it hard.  I stood there in disbelief as I tried to figure out just how in the world I hit the ball that far off course.  I mean I'm not exactly Tiger Woods on the golf course.  Actually the only similarity you might find is that both of our names start with the letter T.  While most of the time I find myself hitting from the trees along the right side of the fairway, on this rare occasion I yanked one to the left.  This golf course is located in a neighborhood so there are houses lining the golf course.  So, as I set up to hit my second shot there was a home located about 25-30 yards to my left.  The house's location to the ball took it completely out of play, so I thought nothing of the house. There was absolutely no way I could possibly hit this house.  It was not a difficult shot as the only issue was a large oak tree slightly left of where I needed to hit the ball. I pulled out my 3 hybrid and lined up to hit the shot.  Remember most of the time my shots go right.  However, for some reason on this hole I hit two shots in a row to the left.  Yep, that oak tree that was to the left?  It took a direct hit.  As I braced myself for the ball coming back at me, I heard it hit the house that was completely out of play.  To make matters worse there was a lady sitting out on the patio.  Her scream made me think not only did I hit her house but her as well.

My first thought was that thought you get as a little boy when you hit a ball through someone's window. "RUN!!!" "Run, Tim, Run and don't look back!"  Unfortunately at my age and current athletic state, running was not an option.  I couldn't blame it on my golfing partner as he was in the golf cart.  I had no option but to approach the lady.  So with tail tucked I set out to retrieve my golf ball.  She met me half way with golf ball in hand. I apologized half a dozen times, assuring her that I am not that bad, but that stupid oak tree was the real culprit here.  With heart rate still racing, she handed me the ball and told me that was a first for her.  Now, before I go any farther let me just say that I did not hit her with the ball.  I came really close, but thank God I missed.

I don't know how many golfers play that hole every day but multiply that times 365 and that is a massive number of golfers over the course of a year.  Perhaps some have nailed her house while she was not sitting out on her shaded patio, but I was the first to hit her house with her sitting out there? Of course I was because her house is completely out of play for each and every level of golfer.  Yet, somehow I managed to hit the ball that far off course.

Along my Christian journey, I've felt that far off course a few times.  No, it wasn't intentional, but there I found myself nowhere near where I should be.  Where I wanted to be.  Where I was trying to be.  Let's face it, we all miss the target a lot as we play this course called life.  Our efforts at loving one another and forgiving one another, much of the time look like that misdirected golf ball.  Our attempts at obeying God fall way short of where we expected to be when we teed off.  If we'll be honest with ourselves, our motives, thoughts, and desires are often nowhere near the fairway.  Just like my errant golf shot, we often find ourselves doing things or saying things that leave even ourselves scratching our heads.  How in the world can we be this far off course when we are desperately striving to hit our shots down the middle of the fairway?

There are a lot of reasons. I don't know that much about the golf swing to know exactly what I did wrong on that pathetic shot but I'm sure it involved my left elbow, wrists, follow through, swing plane, and what I was thinking before and during the swing among other things.  So it is when we miss it in life.  It could be any number of things.  It could be the result of our approach, our habits, or how we think.  It could be the product of what we think about God, how we see ourselves, or how we view others. Past wounds, unforgiveness, and fears all affect what we do and why we do them.  And sometimes the enemy plants himself, much like that oak tree, in the way to assist us in getting completely off course.

In golf when you make a bad shot, you take a penalty stroke and take a drop.  You're not eliminated.  You just continue to play on.  I did just that.  Unfortunately, I did horrible on that hole.  But, it wasn't just because I hit the ball bad.  Its because I couldn't get that shot out of my head.  Every time I approached my next shot, I was thinking about that pathetic shot.  So, I hit another bad shot. And then another one. And then another one.

Regardless of how off course we find ourselves on our journey, we've got to learn how to forget about the past and play on.  We need to be less concerned about how we got here and more concerned about how we play from here on out.  God is great at forgiving us and extending grace to us.  We need to take notes from Him on how to forgive ourselves and to accept His grace that redeems our past. That bad shot did not define me as a golfer.  I'm not Tiger Woods but I'm also not as bad a golfer as that shot would like to define me as. When you find yourself in the trees on your journey, or on the fairway to a completely different hole, remember that your current location does not define you.  Yep, you are way off course, but take a deep breath, forget about how you got there, take your drop and get back in the fairway.

Now, if you find yourself continuously in the woods as you journey through this life, addressing the issues that consistently get you that off course is a must.  Sometimes that requires a different set of eyes that can see things we are blind to.  Find a believer, a counselor, a minister who can walk you through those issues.  As you humble yourself in that way you'll discover that you end up in the fairway a lot more than you used to.  You won't have to try really hard to hit it straight. You'll hit it straight because its in you to hit it straight and you've decided to deal with the issues in your life that cause you to get off course.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Read The Fine Print

I like to watch America's Got Talent.  I'm not sure what the attraction is for me, but I enjoy watching the show most of the time.  After watching this year's finale, my wife noticed the fine print rolling at that end of the show.  So, I backed it up and paused it long enough to read it.  Moments earlier I watched as they announced the winner thinking, there's a new millionaire.  I know that Uncle Sam will get a huge hunk of that million, but before taxes that's what the winner wins.  Or, is it?  All season long the show mentions that the contestants are competing for a million bucks and a show in Vegas.  However, when you read the fine print, things are not as you assume them to be.

Kenichi, this year's winner does not get to take home a million.  Not even close.  His million dollar payout is done through an annuity over the course of the next 40 years. So, what does that look like in dollars and cents?  About $25,000 per year before taxes.  He can elect to take a lump sum payout, but that is somewhere around a third of the million promised.  And that too is before taxes.  Now, I know that the exposure one gets from that show can equal huge dividends in the years to come, but they do not instantly become a millionaire as the show would like each of us to think.

Now, I really don't care how much they win.  I'm thinking a $25,000 annual addition to my bank account would be a really good thing.  The point I'm making is that a lot of times there are things we assume to be true that just aren't true.  It's only after a closer look that we find out the real truth.  I don't know about you, but I like knowing the real truth.  I can't stand fake, fraud, or deception. I hate hype and manipulation.  I despise white lies, black lies, and every other colored lies.  I just want to know what's real and what's true.

Ever since I was a kid I've been a "seeker."  Let me explain what I mean.  When I was a child I remember having conversations with my Dad prior to entering a store.  "Now Tim, don't touch anything!  I mean it.  Keep your hands to yourself and don't touch anything!"  Those pre-store speeches were the product of my inability to inspect anything from a distance.  I had to touch it.  I had to feel it.  I wanted to know what it was made of and how it worked. Around the house, I would take things apart not because they were broken but because I wanted to see what was inside.  Stereos, televisions, computers, watches, cars, cameras, and many other things fell prey to my desire to get a closer look.  Often, I wasn't able to put them completely back together which would result in a different conversation with Dad.  To this day I still struggle to keep my hands off of stuff when I enter a store and I find myself occasionally taking something apart just to see what's inside.

This "seeker" thing in me also manifests in my desire to get the "real" story when I see a movie based on a true story.  I have to know just how historically accurate they are.  Although I'm often disappointed in the "Hollywood" version once I know the truth, at least I can't rest good at night knowing the truth. So, when I say I'm a seeker, what I mean is that at the very core of who I am, I need to know the truth about a thing.  I'm never content to take something at face value.  I want to go deeper.  I don't want to just put my feet in the water, I want to jump in.

So it is with my journey with God.  I'm not content to just hear about Him.  I'm not ok with hearing somebody else tell me what they think or believe about Him. I want a hands on, first hand revelation of this Creator of the universe.  Don't get me wrong, I value those who know this God and I love hearing them share their encounters and experiences and the truths they have learned about Him.  What I'm saying is that's not enough for me. I'm not content with second hand knowledge when I know I can get much closer than that.  Much like walking down the aisles of those stores and seeing something on a shelf.  I can't help myself, I've got to get a closer look!

Religion, tradition, and culture paint a picture of God that is not at all accurate.  If we simply accept that picture as an accurate portrayal we'll miss what is real and what is true about Him.  We have to move past all of that.  We have to be willing to slow down and get close enough that we can see the fine print.  From my experience I can tell you that as I've determined to take a closer look, there is much about God that I once thought was true that I no longer do.  Assumptions I've made about Him in the past have given way to the truth as I've determined to move past the fluff of religion, the traditions of men, and an increasingly deceptive culture.  God is real but we'll never really know Him if we allow anyone or anything other than the Holy Spirit to reveal Him to us.

I'm sure that many don't really care about how the whole million dollar payout is handled by America's Got Talent. To be honest it's completely irrelevant to me except for my unquenchable desire to know the truth.  I just had to put the TV on pause and read the fine print.  In the same way many are content with their concept of who God is and what He's like.  They are less concerned with knowing the real truth about Him as they hold tightly to assumptions about Him that they are convinced are true.  I can't approach my journey with Him that way.  I have to put things on pause every now and then and evaluate what I believe about Him and why.  Are they assumptions?  Are they true?

The truth is that Kenichi will get his money for winning America's Got Talent.  He'll just get it in a completely different way than most who watch the show assume he will.  Knowing that truth is not life changing for any of us.  However, not knowing the truth about who God is and what He's like?  That's a completely different story.  It's the difference between freedom and bondage.  It's the difference between life and death.  Choose to slow down and get close enough to read the fine print!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Devil Has Many Voices

You've heard from God.  You know it.  You're convinced.  You've found a promise in Scripture that relates to you right where you are.  Or maybe that word came in your quiet time with the Lord.  Perhaps, it came through the words of a friend or minister.  Regardless, something in you came alive.  Hope was renewed.  You were strengthened to get up and go another round.  Then....

There's always a then.  Most of the time it blindsides us.  We fail to see it coming and "boom" there it is, from out of nowhere.  A voice that opposes everything that God just spoke to you.  Like a right hook from a heavy weight boxer it causes us to stagger and stumble.  We quickly try to remind ourselves of what God has just spoken to us, but this voice of the enemy is unloading like a machine gun that has an endless supply of ammo.  Over and over and over this voice screams its unrelenting lifeless jargon in an attempt to rob us of every ounce of hope.

The enemy's voice takes a lot of different shapes and comes at us from all kinds of angles.  In the Garden of Eden, it came through a serpent.  With Joseph it came through his brothers who sought to destroy him.  With Moses, it came from his own feelings of inadequacy.  With David, it came from an insecure king who sought to kill him.  With Job, it came through his wife and friends.  With Jesus, there was a time it came through his friend Peter.  The truth is the enemy has many voices.  Regardless of what shape it takes, it has one goal and that is to cause us to doubt what God has said.

We should not think it odd when the enemy's voice speaks.  Jesus explained to us, that immediately after the Word is sown into our hearts, the enemy comes to steal it (Matthew 13).  Rather than being blindsided, we would do well to heed the words of Jesus.  The right hook is coming!  Look for it! Expect it!  Be ready to duck, block, and then hit back.  I think it's interesting that when Jesus was tempted by the enemy in the wilderness that following his attempt to trip up Jesus, Scripture tells us that he backed off and waited for a "more opportune time."  The enemy picks his moments.  He waits and when he sees the opportunity to strike, he unleashes his fury.  Be ready for it!

This past spring I planted a garden.  I worked hard to prepare two raised beds.  I planted squash, strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, black beans, and several other things.  The first thing to produce fruit was my strawberry plants.  They had strawberries all over them.  And just as they started to turn red something happened.  I went out one day and the same plants that had fruit on them the day before were completely barren.  As I looked around I noticed that birds had eaten my strawberries.  Every last one of them!  In order to get strawberries, I was going to have to do something to keep the enemy at bay.  So, I put up bird netting and ever since the birds have been denied access.  Chalk up a victory for me! I've learned a lot from my little gardening experience.  There are critters that want to damage everything I plant.  If you think that simply planting a seed is all there is to insuring that eventually you'll have fruit, you are completely mistaken.  There are bugs, squirrels, birds, racoons, and many other critters that have to be kept away from the plants in order to see a harvest.

So it is with the Word of God.  If you think that simply hearing the Word of God guarantees a harvest, you'll probably never see it.  The Word of God has a real enemy. While the Word of God is designed to produce fruit in our lives, the enemy has a strategy to thwart that process.  If he can't rip the seed out, then he'll show up at another opportune time to attempt his abortion. Expect him. Once, I saw that birds had stolen my strawberries, I didn't sit back and think it wouldn't happen again.  I expected it.  I prepared for it.  I took the necessary steps to make sure that the "enemy" to my strawberries would never destroy that fruit again.  In the same way, we must understand that each and every time the Word of God  takes root in our heart, there is an enemy lurking in the shadows waiting for the right moment to destroy it.  He'll come speaking words of doubt and unbelief and he'll use any voice he can to spew his garbage.  He'll use our friends and family.  He'll use our own internal voices tainted with wounds from the past.  He'll use our fears of rejection or our own insecurities to promote his deceitful agenda.  He'll leave us hopeless, frustrated, and most importantly doubting the very thing that just hours ago we were so confident that God clearly spoke to us.  

When you read the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the biggest temptation they faced was not to eat the fruit.  It was to doubt the Word of God and believe another.  Eating the forbidden fruit was just the evidence that they had given into that temptation to doubt what God had said.  We face that temptation every single time God speaks to us.  Get ready for it.  Prepare yourself.  The devil has many voices and he'll be speaking to you soon. "Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil, goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). When he throws his right hook, have your counter punch ready and declaw the sucker!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jesus Refused To Feed The Hungry

Jesus refused to feed the hungry.  I know what you're thinking, the Bible says he fed 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 on another.  You are exactly right, there were times when he did feed the hungry.  However, believe it or not there was an occasion where Jesus refused to feed the hungry.  Kind of messes up our view of a benevolent, compassionate man who went around just taking care of the poor and needy among humanity.  Now, before you start to post some negative comments, hear me out.  I'm not saying we shouldn't help those among us who have needs.  However, I think if we are going to do it in the name of Jesus, perhaps we should first know Him and understand what He did and why He did it.  Otherwise in our attempts to truly help people we may actually be hindering them.   

After feeding the multitude one day, Jesus leaves and goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  A large number of those that He fed the previous day followed Him. They showed up with the expectation that once again Jesus would miraculously feed them all.  However, they were confronted with the harsh reality that the soup kitchen was closed.  No, it wasn't because of a lack of funds or food donations. Jesus refused to feed them because loving them demanded something more than filling their bellies. Think about it for a moment.  How many times do we throw money at a problem and just want it to go away?  It's the American way.  We donate here or there and feel good about ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for our generosity.  We helped feed a homeless person or we gave them a blanket or a pair of socks.  It certainly makes it easier to look in the mirror each morning knowing that we've done our part to help the less fortunate among us. 

Several years ago, I was doing some ministry in the inner city of LA.  We were handing out sandwiches to the homeless.  I remember so well getting off the bus and seeing a lady sitting on the sidewalk.  Starting up a conversation with her I said, "How are you doing today?"  She responded, "How the #@*!# does it look like I'm doing? I'm homeless!"  (Note to self: never open a conversation with a homeless person with that question).  My response?  "Want a peanut butter sandwich?"  She took two.  I know we were only suppose to give one to each person, but I was thinking two sure made me feel better after our exchange.  The truth is that handing her a sandwich was easy. It made me feel good about myself for helping her.  Plus, it sure did away with the awkwardness caused by my pathetic attempt at making small talk.  It's been more than a decade and I've never seen that lady since.  I came home to the comforts of my suburban life and took up life where I left off.  I had done my "christian duty" of loving the least of these.  At least that was what I had tried to convince myself.

Really, I handed someone a peanut butter sandwich and I can call that loving someone?  Actually, I think you can, but I know well that with that woman that peanut butter sandwich offered me an out.  It afforded me a moment to move on to the next person.  I fed her belly that day, but I did nothing that could be truly equated to loving her.  Jesus fed the multitude one day, but when they came back for more food the next day he refused to feed them.  Filling their bellies wasn't the real issue with them and He knew it.  Jesus went to the root, and ran them all off.  He had a conversation with them that was uncomfortable but it went much deeper than the surface issues in their life.  The woman I met that day was hungry but that wasn't why she was homeless.  The "why" though would take much more from me than a nice greeting and a peanut butter sandwich.  The "why" might have meant that I take a seat on the curb next to her in spite of how she smelled, how she looked, or how many walls she had built up around her.  She responded to me that day in the way she did, not because she was hungry.  Sure, she got her belly filled but once I left, she was still bitter, angry at the world, and still homeless. While loving her didn't require me to find her a new home to live in, certainly it required more of me than a peanut butter sandwich. 

For Jesus, loving the multitude that day wasn't feeding their bellies, it was looking beyond their growling stomachs and determining to offer them more than some fish and bread.  I don't want to belittle the idea of meeting the needs of the less fortunate among us but it is imperative for us to look beyond the surface.  Otherwise, in our attempts to love people we'll fail to truly love them.  Do we really want to pat ourselves on the back when we've done what really amounts to putting a Band-aid on a severed artery?  It's true that the hungry need food but if we only focus on filling the natural belly while ignoring what is spiritual and of eternal significance we've missed the point.  Jesus was much less interested in meeting the physical needs of the crowd that day and more interested in meeting their real needs.

I think we struggle with this area because meeting real needs means we run the risk of being rejected.  We want people to love us, not reject us.  Offering a hungry person food increases our chances that hungry people will love us.  Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't instruct us to go into the world and try desperately to get people of love and accept us.  On the contrary, He instructs us to love people. However, loving people is much more difficult than getting people to love us.  Loving people requires much more than feeding a belly.  That part is easy.  Feeding them takes a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread.  There's not one among us who can't pull that off.  Truly loving them though might mean some stink is rubbed off on us. It might require a few more minutes of our time.  It will require us to step way out of our comfort zone.  It will require us to look beyond the surface issues in their life and determine to dive into the deep end with them.  It will require us to speak the truth while running the risk at being rejected by them. Simply put, we have to be more focused on loving people than being loved by them.

In loving people, let's determine to follow Jesus' model.  It's ok and completely appropriate to feed their bellies.  At the same time, let's not pretend that we've done our job of truly loving them until we as the church go beyond what the government or some humanitarian organization can do.  The mandate of the church is not to simply become an agent of humanitarian aid.  Our call is a much higher call.  We are to love humanity beyond meeting a their basic needs. While feeding their bellies let's make sure we are doing it with eternity in mind.  What a tragedy it would be for us to offer someone some bread to feed their hunger while neglecting to offer them the Bread of Life to feed their true hunger.  Jesus closed the soup kitchen for a day, but He never closes the kitchen that offers mankind food to feed his spiritual hunger.  In all we do, let's make sure we are really feeding the hungry what they truly need.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A king Is Born!

Much of the world stood on pins and needles as it anticipated the arrival of a new King.  They had been waiting for this moment for a long time.  Finally, the moment had come and everyone was captivated by all the excitement.  Then the announcement was made, "A new King is born! A new King is born!" Emotions went through the roof.  Some jumped for joy, some cried, some clapped their hands, and some shouted from the rooftops as they celebrated this new King.  No, wait I think I'm getting my stories mixed up. Jesus' birth wasn't anything like that.

This week much of the world has waited with great excitement anticipating the arrival of a new addition to the royal family.  And finally we heard the word that the new heir to the throne was born.  Every photographer wanted desperately to be the one to get the first picture of this new king.  Media outlets from all over the world had reporters and camera operators standing by to bring us the news live because this child was royalty.  Never mind that the throne he has to stand in line for is one with little  power or authority.  Forget the fact that great grandma still maintains a firm hold on that throne and this new heir still has grandpa and dad ahead of him.  A new king is born!  Let's all get excited!

Ok, so perhaps I should tone down the sarcasm a bit.  But, I can't help but contrast this moment with that of Jesus' birth.  The King of kings, King of the universe, the King whose kingdom never ends, was born one night and most of the world couldn't possibly have cared less.  The masses weren't following this moment waiting for the announcement.  The town in which He was born made no place for Him.  He was so insignificant to those in Bethlehem that nobody offered Him a room for the night.  Apart from His parents and a few wise men from a distant land, nobody had a clue as to who He was. Quietly, the King came into the world He had created and hardly anyone knew He had arrived.  Like any proud father, His Father in heaven had to announce the birth of His Son, so while the world slept through this monumental moment, all of heaven celebrated.  And to a handful of shepherds hanging out in a field, God sent word to declare,  "He's here!  He's here!  He's here!"

So, the birth of "The King," goes by with few to notice it and no fanfare from the masses.  Still to this day, much of the world fails to recognize who this Jesus is.  "He was just a man," some say.  Others think He was nothing but a fable.  But one day this King will be back and all the world we see Him then.  A world who failed to recognize Him the first time, will not struggle to recognize Him this time.  His return will not go unnoticed by the masses.  While many will still reject this King, multitudes will celebrate His return. This next time, He'll get the fanfare and the praise He deserves. And every other king, queen, prince, princess, emperor, ruler, leader and potentate will bow their knee to His throne.  For His throne is above every other and unto Him alone belongs all power, might and authority.

I am really excited for Prince William and Kate on their new addition, but don't expect me to join in all the hoopla.  For goodness sake, I'm an American, so my red, white, and blue DNA kind of opposes the whole monarch thing.  More importantly though there's another King who I'm expecting to return.  So, while the world's eyes are all turned toward jolly ole England, mine are set to the eastern sky.  -- Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse.  And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fined linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:11-16 NKJV).  --  Now, that's my KING!  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Search My Heart, Oh God...

I will admit when it comes to the Zimmerman/Martin case, I have not followed it with the interest of many others.  That being said, I don't live under a rock either.  Because of that, I know much of the details surrounding this tragedy.  I'm still a bit puzzled as to why it became such a national story but I'll leave my theories on that for another time and place.  Over the course of the last few months as I witnessed much of the hoopla surrounding this case and now the aftermath of the verdict play out on my television screen, I'm reminded how ugly human nature can be.

Tainted by a media, who rarely can tell a story without some type of slant, agenda, or bias, many made judgments one way or the other long before there was ever a trial. Oops, did I make a judgment about the media there? In the court room, the idea is that the jury will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Then based on that "whole truth," they can rightly judge someone.  Unfortunately, much of the time each lawyer only wants one side of the truth and is more interested in winning than justice being served.  Oh wait, that kind of sounds like a judgment call on my part as well doesn't it?  Sorry about that.

The fact is that we are often so quick to rush to judgment.  Something happens and immediately we have an opinion on the matter.  Never mind that we don't have the whole story.  It is indeed tragic that a young man lost his life.  I would not want to be in his parent's shoes and navigate through life in the aftermath of this huge loss.  I can not begin to imagine what they are going through.  At the same time is it right to condemn Zimmerman when I have no clue as to what exactly happened that night?  I know there was a lot of evidence presented at the trial, but we will never truly know the whole story, the whole truth of what happened that night.  Did he overreact that night?  Is he a racist?  Did he watch too many John Wayne movies or Dirty Harry movies growing up?  Was he afraid?  Did he fear for his life?  What was going through his mind that night and if he could replay the event would he do anything different? I pray I am never in a position such as he was that night.

Was this a just outcome?  I don't know.  Do any of us really know?  I mean sure you may lean one way or another, but is this really an easy call here?  One with no doubt either way?  From the chatter following the verdict, it would appear many are convinced their own judgment regarding this case is the right one.  Things have been said and been done, that have left me scratching my head.  The anger and hatred that is being spewed speaks volumes about the content of our hearts.  Sure, we can mask it really good when things are going the way we want them to, but throw something like this out there and the garbage in our heart rises to the surface.

Human nature, or "the flesh" is a truly ugly thing. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks of the works of the flesh and none of them are things anyone should embrace, especially believers.  Yet, how many of us want to stand on our soap box because we are convinced we are right. We want to spew venom because the world certainly needs our venom in the mix, right?  Paul links hatred, anger, wrath, and causing division with things like murder, idolatry, and witchcraft.  In other words, he indicates there is no difference between them.

Issues like this are always good gut check moments.  They always serve to reveal what's below the surface.  Much of the time there are things there we have no clue are there until we encounter moments such as this.  Many times we justify our thoughts, speech, and actions rather than recognizing them for what they are... works of the flesh that have no place in the life of a believer. Many have reacted and will continue to react in ways that are consistent with the content of their heart.  As a believer we are challenged to allow God to search our heart and remove anything that is not consistent with His nature.  Of course, that will change our dialogue and how we respond in times such as these.  Scripture tells us that Jesus made Himself a man of no reputation.  He was not interested in standing on a soapbox, proving He was right, or defending His position.  He was determined to make sure that the world saw His Father in Him.  We would do good to take His lead in reflecting the nature and character of God to the world.  If you're with me then let's pray together, "Search my heart, Oh God and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Man, Did He Tick Some People Off!

He read something written centuries earlier.  After reading it, He closed the book and sat down.  With all eyes fixed on Him, Jesus declared that this prophetic word declared by the prophet Isaiah was speaking of Him.  I imagine there was a moment of silence immediately following where you could have heard a pin drop as everyone tried to make sense of what just happened.  They couldn't bring themselves to believe it.  Although something about Him seemed to confirm this truth, they struggled to accept it.  Jesus goes on to speak some other truths and before you know it He has ticked them all off.  So much so they want to kill Him right then and there.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, stirs up conflict here. This is not just a little disagreement. They want to KILL HIM! This is not an isolated event in the life of Jesus. Time after time He speaks and it results in men so angry to the point they want to kill Him. Reading these accounts in the Gospels makes one realize that Jesus didn't come to pacify people and walk on egg shells.  He came to speak the truth. He wasn't ugly about it, but He wasn't a passive pansy either.  He presented the truth and allowed man the freedom to accept it or reject it.  In doing so, this truth caused major conflict.

How could it not?  We are talking about the collision of two opposing kingdoms.  Of course, there is going to be conflict. By why can't we all just get along? Yeah, right! This assumption that we can maintain the peace is completely absurd. The kingdom of this world is set against the kingdom of God. It is in complete contradiction to the kingdom of God.  It is impossible for them to coexist without major conflict.  God's Word is truth.  It's absolute truth and that truth always faces opposition.  When the truth is presented it requires that one get off the fence and take sides.  Truth requires a decision to accept it or reject it.  There is no middle road when it comes to the truth.  While the world wants desperately to create some gray areas, there are none. It is a black and white world and those two sides are at constant war with one another.        

There's the belief in Christianity that all Jesus did was walk around hugging everybody and wiping away their tears.  He's often pictured as this really nice guy who encouraged everyone just to get along with everybody else.  While those ideas somewhat represent His character, they are anything but complete. Sure, Jesus had mercy and compassion on the woman caught in adultery, but then He spoke directly to her sin and told her to quite doing it. How about the time Jesus healed a man who had been sick for 38 years by the pool of Bethesda?  Naturally, he loved the man enough to heal him, but then He tells him to sin no more (John 5:12).  He doesn't sweep the major issue under the rug.  While it was important for this man to be healed, the bigger issue was his spiritual well being. Jesus did not come to deal with surface issues, He came to crush the root.  Jesus, Himself, makes the statement that He didn't come to bring peace, but He came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34).  Scripture tells us that He came to destroy the works of the devil.  Jesus didn't come to be a nice guy, He came to wage war.  He came to bring light into a dark world.  A dark world that wanted no part of the light.  He came to destroy the kingdom of darkness.  While the Jews were expecting their Messiah to overthrow the Roman government, He actually came to make war with a kingdom much more powerful.  He came to speak the truth and to open the eyes of humanity.  Eyes that had been blinded by deception.  But, when He spoke that truth, many didn't want to hear it.  They didn't want their eyes opened.  They fought Him at every turn. They mocked Him. They rejected Him.  Some said He was crazy.  Others said He had a demon. There were times He was literally run out of town (Mark 5:17, Luke 4:29).  There were times He had to escape in order to prevent from being killed (John 10:39). I think many have this concept that it was only the religious leaders of the day that rejected Him, but that's not true.  Many rejected Him.  Sure, there were many that followed Him, but multitudes rejected Him and everything He had to say.

There was a spiritual climate in the day of Jesus that just wanted Him to back down.  It wanted Him to stop rocking the boat and stop stirring up conflict.  It was ok, if He wanted to be nice to people but they wanted no part of Him if He was going to get up all in their business. How dare He shine light on the darkness they had embraced!  How dare He speak to the corruption in their heart or reveal the corruption in their culture! They wanted Him to just sit down and shut up.

Today, truth faces that same kind of opposition.  Just like in the days of Jesus, there is a spiritual dynamic within our culture that wants us as followers of Christ to just keep to ourselves.  It permeates throughout our culture at every possible turn.  If we aren't careful, we'll bow to that demonic ideology thinking its actually of God.  After all we need to love our neighbor right?  While its true that we need to love our neighbor, I think its vitally important to reevaluate what loving our neighbor really means.  What does that look like?  Jesus loved humanity enough to tell them the truth.  We aren't loving anybody when we dance around the truth for fear of ticking them off.  No, we don't need to be jerks, but speaking the truth is a part of loving people.  It's risky though.  It takes boldness and it could lead to us being completely rejected.  Let's face it, it's much easier to keep quite and determine not to stir up conflict.  But, that isn't love.  Loving people demands that we speak the truth even when its unpopular, uncomfortable, and counter-cultural.

Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and all the rest of the apostles had a long history of ticking people off.  Their motive wasn't to stand on a soap box or make people mad, but they cared enough for humanity to speak the truth.  That truth wasn't condemning but it did present mankind with the choice of life or death.  As followers of Christ we are living in a dream world if we think for one minute that everyone is going to love and accept us or the message we bring.  If we aren't ticking some people off, then we are probably doing something horribly wrong.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is The Church A Mirror Image Of Him?

I remember when my two boys were born.  I would hold them in my arms and try to find a mini me in there somewhere.  As they've grown, it has become very easy to see myself in them.  Some of those things make me want to stick my chest out in pride.  Other things make me want to blame someone else in their family ancestry. The simple fact is the fruit has not fallen far from the tree.    

On the day of Pentecost, some 2000 years ago, Jesus gave birth to the church. As I read the stories of the early church, it is not difficult to see a resemblance of Jesus in what they said and did.  They looked like Him. They reflected His character and nature to a world that needed to see it.  They carried the light into a darkened world.  They shared the truth with a world shrouded in deception. They shared the love of the heavenly Father.  They did exactly what the church is suppose to do.  They were His hands and feet.  They served as a visual image to the world of who God is and what He's like.   

The church is the "body of Christ" and as such is to reflect Him to the world.  In its search and pursuit of God, the world should be able to find Him easily within the context of the church.  But is that the case today?  Is the church today a mirror image of Him? Well, because the church is made up of people the truth is sometimes we get this right and sometimes we are an extremely distorted image of who He truly is.  Sometimes we look like Christ and sometimes we look more like the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus' day.

There are several reasons why the church gets this wrong so often.  At the top of that list is the simple fact that many within the body of Christ have a distorted view of who God is.  When that is the case, its impossible to offer the world a healthy image of Him.  For instance if I see God as someone who is tolerant of sin, then I don't really know Him.  Tolerant?  Are you kidding me?  Check out what your sin did to Jesus and then ask yourself, "is God tolerant when it comes to sin?"  Yet, if that's how you view God, then you'll treat sin as something that is not that big of a deal.   In doing so, you've just showed the world an image that looks nothing like Him.  God declares that He hates sin.  He hates it!  That's some pretty strong language.  Perhaps we should start hating sin the way He does.  I'm thinking the first sin we should start hating though is the sin in our life.  If we'll set out to do that, then we won't have the time to worry about the sin of others.  On the other hand, if you believe that God is just waiting for us the mess up so He can unleash His fury on us, you don't really know Him either.  His fury, that we deserved, was released on His Son.  However, if you hold this view of God, then you'll look more like the disciples who asked permission to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans.  Jesus' response to them was, "You have no idea what spirit you're of!" I can just picture Jesus looking at these men after they uttered those words with a look of disbelief.  "Are you kidding me?"  "Consume them with fire?" "I'm walking out life with you guys, and you have no clue who I am" "No, I'm not going to consume them with fire, but I just might consume you!"  Ok, so perhaps I'm taking a bit too much liberty with that passage, but I hope you see the point.  Jesus was saying to these disciples that they were not acting like Him at all.

Another huge reason we present the world with a perverted image of God is we as believers are lousy at loving one another within the church.  Let's face it the church is a great place to get wounded.  Of course it is.  Have you ever thought that just maybe that's God's grand design. It's only in the context of community and family that we truly learn to love.  It's much easier to love those who are distant.  It's a completely different ballgame to love someone in a more intimate setting.  Those that are close enough you can smell their bad breath and body odor.  Those that are close enough that you see all their faults.  Those that are close enough to get on your last nerve.  It's here in this setting where offenses take place and we are given the difficult challenge of dealing with those offenses.  Unfortunately, many within the body of Christ opt not to deal with them.  They either sweep them under the rug and pretend they don't exist or they cut and run.  That only leads to unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, and hurt. Yeah, that's a great reflection of Him.  Hurt people hurt people and because we have an epidemic of hurt people in the body of Christ, we have become great at perpetrating that hurt.

Loving people though demands we address wounds and offenses.  Truly loving others can be difficult.  What am I saying? "IT IS" difficult at times.  That's why we often fail miserably at it.  I'm thinking divorcing churches has to be about the same divorce rate we see in marriages today.  We would rather just leave than deal with it according to Scripture.  God forbid we do that.  In many churches there are leaders who struggle with this so they facilitate this behavior among those they lead.  Let's face it, the reason why we find it difficult to share the love of Jesus with the world is we refuse to truly love one another within the body of Christ. Notice I used the word "refuse."  We have a choice here.

There's a lot going on in the world right now.  Much of what's going on, leaves me scratching my head.  And no, I don't need Head and Shoulders.  I'm just thinking that perhaps our best approach as the church is to determine to love Him first.  In loving Him, I'm talking about getting to know Him.  Become acquainted with His nature and His character. In doing show, we'll be better equipped to truly love those within our church community.  We will also be much better at showing the world an image of Him that is much more accurate.