Friday, October 12, 2012

Dumber Than a Box of Rocks


Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. 
(Psalms 96:11-13 ESV)

One of my favorite expressions to use to show the stupidity of something is to say that such-and-such is "dumber than a box of rocks."  I don't know why that phrase resonates with me more than any other way of expressing contempt; it just does.

God also turned the same phrase against me while reading and meditating over Psalm 96 the other day.

For context sake, Psalm 96 is considered a "worship psalm" because it is stuck in a five chapter section of the book of Psalms where all five chapters have worship as a central theme.  Indeed, this psalm starts out with the command to "sing to the Lord a new song!"

But if you spend any amount of time in this psalm, you see that by the time the psalm ends, the theme becomes Christ's return:
"he will judge the peoples with equity." (verse 10)
"for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth" (verse 13)
"He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness." (verse 13)
But the part that really convicted me is the transition from verse 11 to verse 13.  The psalmist paints a picture of  nature being excited at the Lord's return.  And it made me wonder if I am just as excited.

The earth rejoices, the sea roars, the field exults, and Christ himself warned the leaders of the day that if the people were hindered from worshiping him, even the rocks would cry out (Luke 19:40). But do I sing with the same passion? Do I wait expectantly for that day when he comes in the skies?  Am I fired up to see him face to face?

Some days yes; but honestly most days probably not.

And that makes me sad, knowing that I am indeed dumber than a box of rocks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Milkbones and the Bread of Life

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger....  (John 6:35 ESV)

My dog loves treats.  I'm guessing she's not unique.

My wife plays a game with her, usually several times a day. where she takes treats and hides them around our bedroom.  Brandy then explores all over the room, sniffing out each place where she knows a treat has been left before.  It's funny how a dog who can remember where a treat was hidden once can't remember anything else, but I digress.

Eventually, accepting the fact that all of the treats have been eaten, she goes into the"roll around, rub against all the furniture (and mommy) phase of the game" until, you guessed it:

She wants another treat!

All this while her bowl of dog food remains uneaten and untouched, as still as when it was last filled.

And I watch her play, and realize that we are no better when it comes to God.

We'd prefer to hunt out tiny fractions of treats than fill ourselves with the more nutritious "bowl" of divine kibble.

Before you think I've lost it (or even if it's too late), hear me out.  How many of us spend more of our energy reading little devotionals, "liking" verses on Facebook, or relying on promise boxes rather than sitting and deeply drawing from the well of God's word?

Jesus said He was the bread of life, and He would fill us forever.  Why don't we stuff ourselves with Him rather than settle for the crumbs that fall from human hands?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Christian Intoxication Part II

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."  Jesus to His disciples, John 15:5

If you read last week's post, you know that I have been hit squarely in the face by a video sermon we watched at our church two weeks ago by a man named Pete Briscoe.  Pete quoted a commentary writer as referring to the Apostle Paul as a "Christ-intoxicated man."  That phrase continues to haunt and challenge me, and as I ruminate on it, I am finding more and more ways in which devotion to Christ parallels alcohol or drug intoxication.  However, let's all agree first that just as parallel lines never meet, Christ-intoxication and alcohol-intoxication never meet, i.e. they are unrelated and independent of one another. 

As a quick review, last week I made three comparisons.

One, Christ-intoxication is a choice.  It does not happen by accident.

Two, Christ-intoxication begins with something small, just as alcohol-intoxication begins with that first drink.

And three, Christ-intoxication requires replenishment.  One does not stay drunk on anything forever unless they continue to "drink" of it.

Now, moving on to more comparisons, I note number four: Christ-intoxication makes us do things we would not normally do if not Christ-intoxicated.  Story after story could be told about someone who did or said something totally out of character during a wild night of boozing.  In the light of day, when sober, that person or his friends excuse it under the umbrella of alcoholic impairment.  Similarly, the Christ-intoxicated man or woman does and says things that they would never do apart from Christ.  As the verse above teaches, apart from Jesus Christ we can do nothing ministry related.  It takes Him, ingested and filling us, to accomplish anything fruitful.  And the "drunker" we are, the more out of character we will be, until just like Otis from the old "Andy Griffith Show", our Christ-intoxication indeed becomes our character.  It becomes who we are!

Five, the Christ-intoxicated man or woman craves only more Christ.  Those who have been inebriated know that at some point during the evening, the drink becomes the major focus.  We believe that we feel better and better with each drink until, as alcohol will do, our bodies are shut down and we can drink no more.  The Christ-intoxicated person craves more Christ and more Christ, until HE shuts our bodies down in death, and welcomes us to our eternal home with the words "well done good and faithful servant."

Six, and last (for today anyway), Christ-intoxication is much more fun with other "drunks."  People have noted forever that it is unhealthy to drink alone.  Indeed, some see that as the first sign of a problem.  In much the same way, the Lone Ranger Christian who never wants to be around other Christians has a problem.  And it's just as dangerous if not more dangerous than the alcoholic's issue.  True Christ-intoxication feeds off of others' Christ-intoxication, and the Christ-intoxicated person not only wants to be around others, she LONGS for it.

Those are today's thoughts.  There may or may not be more coming.  In the meantime, do you have any thoughts about this??

Friday, September 14, 2012

Christian Intoxication

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit" ~Ephesians 5:18

This past Sunday evening, our church began a video-based series encouraging us to "Lead Beyond Our Walls."  As we prepared to begin this series, I admittedly watched this week's (and the others) video several times.  But one phrase from Sunday night continues to ring in my ears.

The preacher in the video, Pete Briscoe (Sr Pastor of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Dallas) quoted a commentary writer in his summary of the Apostle Paul.

The writer characterized Paul as a "Christ-intoxicated" man.

Wow.  Would that be said of me.

And as I go through my week musing over this phrase- what it means, how to become one, how to apply the thought to my own life- several ideas come to mind.

One- just as with alcohol, intoxication is a choice.  People seldom get drunk on accident.  Oh we might start innocently, "limiting" ourselves to one or two drinks, but eventually and often, the drinker allows one drink to become two and two to become four until they are drunk.  Similarly, being intoxicated in Christ

Two- drunkenness begins with one drink.  This seems obvious, until the whole "it's not a sin to drink" argument starts.  But skipping that argument and getting back to the one at-hand, just as drunkenness starts with one drink, Christ intoxication starts small.  Those who would seek this type of life need to start somewhere- a quiet time, a bible study, something that will head you down the path to more.

And this leads to three, or my big realization yesterday.  Just as alcohol intoxication requires more and more alcohol to stay drunk, Christ intoxication needs a constant renewal of Christ in us.  We cannot expect to remain Christ intoxicated by "drinking" of Him once a week anymore than a drunk can expect to remain drunk only drinking once a week.

In conclusion, might we now paraphrase Christ's words of the last being first by toasting "bottoms up!"?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Remember....

OK, I admit it.  One of my favorite movies is "The Lion King."  So I'm a sucker for good animated movies.  Can you blame me?

Bluraymufasa.jpgSo as I'm trying to decide what to write on today, thoughts of last night's small group meeting come to mind. 

We started a study on 1 Peter, and without adding all twelve verses that we read, Peter writes to remind his readers (who are exiled and homeless by the way) that regardless of their circumstances, regardless of their losses and suffering and need, they have so much in Christ to be joyful over that their trials are really nothing.

In short, remember.

And the bulk of our discussion was on this very point. 

How do we remember what we have in Christ when our co-worker is fighting against us or our child is crying or our spouse is being difficult or we get cut off in traffic or we fret over the future of our nation or the kids are sick or I hurt my arm or..or...or...

Peter's answer is simply to remember.

Remember His great mercy (1 Peter 1:3).

Remember we have an inheritance waiting for us (verse 4).

Remember that our salvation is being guarded and awaits us (verse 5).

Remember that our trials will only last "for a little while" (verse 6).

Remember that our trials will result in "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (verse 7).

Remember.

God, help us to remember and not forget the awesome blessings we have in Christ.








Friday, August 17, 2012

The Ultimate Twitterer

I got back on Twitter this week.

I know, you all have longed for the day when I might again share my wit, insights, and wisdom in 140 characters or less, so rejoice!  Your day has come!

On a side note, wouldn't it be great if we could limit one's speech to 140 characters?  But I digress.

Throughout the week, I have entertained (mostly myself) with various comments, observations, and the ever popular "retweet", where one can pass on the wit, insights, and wisdom of someone else.  I even learned how to link my Twitter account to my Facebook account, so now such pithiness can easily be shared with a larger audience.

And as I sat to write today, it occurred to me that the Holy Spirit is the Ultimate Twitterer.

I know I just lost some of you.  Some have simply moved on. Some have deleted me as a friend, follower, etc. on all of your various social networks.  And some are now praying for my soul.

But hear me out.

Isn't that how the Spirit works?  Doesn't He often remind us, lead us, and teach us in small digestible bites?

Thinking about how your brother needs to get his act together like you have?  Psst- Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (106 characters including spaces).

Thinking about how hot that girl/guy at the next table is?  Psst- everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (103 characters with spacing)

Thinking about how you really ought to do something but you don't want to?  Psst- whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (74 characters with spacing)

Worrying about the future? Psst- dont b anxious abt ur life wht u will eat or wht u will drink or abt ur body wht u will put on.Isnt life > food & the body > than clothing? (140 characters exactly.  What, the Spirit can't abbreviate??)

You get the picture.  While some deride the use of technology in the Church and lament some perceived loss of personal interaction, in a very basic way God uses a similar philosophy.  He often communicates with us in short reminders to set us back on the right path.

Maybe that's why Jesus used the image of the sparrow in Matthew 6.  Cuz sparrows "tweet"!

C U soon,
Matt 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Jesus Christ and Chick-Fil-A

"Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant." ~ Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

Ah, a chance to anger both sides of this issue.

I heard a very disturbing quote yesterday.  Alderman Joe Moreno of Chicago has set himself as arch-enemy #1 of Chick-Fil-A.  Whether for conscience sake or because a large part of his ward is comprised of gay voters, you can be the judge.  But in response to a blog by Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, Moreno said,
“It’s unfortunate that the cardinal, as often happens, picks parts of the Bible and not other parts,” said Moreno.   "For the cardinal to say that Jesus believes in this, and therefore we all must believe in this, I think is just ingenuous and irresponsible. The God I believe in is one about equal rights, and to not give equal rights to those that want to marry, is in my opinion un-Christian.”

I don't even know where to start picking at this quote, so I'll let you the reader parse it.

What does occur to me, however, is how quick we are to choose for ourselves how God thinks, and how often we believe God thinks exactly as do we, regardless of the witness of Scripture.

In Alderman Moreno's view, Jesus must approve of gay marriage, because he does.  I'm not sure which parts of the bible he think supports his view (perhaps he reads Scripture the same way as President Obama), but obviously Jesus approves, because Jesus is a good guy, and the Alderman is a good guy, and all good guys believe the same things.

But Christian beware!  We often do the same thing.

This firestorm started because Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A's CEO forecasted judgment on the USA for the growing approval of gay marriage.  In an interview on the radio show "The Ken Coleman Show," Cathy stated the following opinion:
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage...I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about."
Do I believe that God punishes nations that ignore Him?  Yes, I think the Old Testament and more recent history shows this to be the case.  But I don't think any of us are in a position to declare God's intentions outside of Scripture.  This goes for Christians who believe they have special insight into God's will as well as politicians who do.

The above verse tells us that not even Jesus saw equality with God as something to be grasped.  Yes, of course elsewhere He was very certain of the fact that He Himself was God.  But let this verse serve as a reminder to us all that while Jesus may be able to speak for God, we are not, at least when the words are not straight from Scripture.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bigotry in the Public Square

big·ot 
[big-uht] 
noun
a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.
 
Those loyal readers of this blog (all three of them) had to know that sooner or later I would respond to the current Chick-Fil-A controversy.
 
For them and any welcome newbies, if you don't know what's going on, the most current outrage sweeping the nation is regarding recent comments by Dan Cathy, President and CEO of the fast-food chicken restaurant known not only for their cuisine but for their catchy billboards.  On July 16 he was quoted in the Baptist Press as saying the company was "guilty as charged" of adhering to traditional beliefs about marriage. 
 
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit." Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
 
(For the record, the interview was 99% about the success of the company and its core beliefs, with only three sentences discussing families. And the words "gay", "homosexual", "lesbian", or "LGBT" are not once printed.)

The outrage over Mr. Cathy's stance was predictable, if not sad.  Well, maybe not predictable, as rather than just condemnation from the usual suspects, he has faced the wrath of the enlightened from all around the nation.

Politicians from LA to Chicago to Boston have lined up to prevent Chick-Fil-A restaurants from opening, rallied protesters and organizers, and have issued terse statements.

"Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
 
That statement just chills me as a Christian and native of the Windy City.  To boldly state publicly that the values of the city of Chicago are anti-God should be a wake up call to us all!
 
But rather than try to defend Chick-Fil-A (I'll let the Bible do that), I want to ask my readers a simple question.
 
In this whole controversy, just who is the bigot?

As I put at the head of this post, Dictionary.com defines the word bigot as "a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion."
 
In this whole fiasco, who should be seen as "utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion"? 

Is it Mr. Cathy, who runs a company that obeys the laws of this nation and does not discriminate against employees or customers who hold differing views?  Indeed, I'm sure that he and many within the company pray for them.  They may also pray that the hearts and minds of those customers and the culture at large change, but in the meantime still provide tasty, reasonably priced food.

Or is it people like Chicago Alderman Joe Morino, who has vowed to stop the restaurant chain from expanding into his ward.  Is it Mayor Emanuel who supports the Alderman's attempts to prevent the company's growth?  Is it other politicians who have promised that Chick-Fil-A will never open in their cities?

Is it the very progressives themselves who will fight for the free expression of those with whom they agree, while seeking to stifle those with whom they differ?

Will the real bigots in the audience please stand up?

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Change the World

Got your attention with that title, didn't I?

Some of you already know this, but I spent last week  in St. Louis in the company of 160 adults and teenagers fixing up houses as part of World Changers, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It's Mission Statement is simple:
World Changers seeks to provide Christian youth and adults with opportunities to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others through practical learning experiences that teach servant-hood and personal commitment to missions.
Now that's very professional and clinical, so let's cut through all the fancy talk and talk about what really happened.

The world changed.

Wait, you didn't notice it?

I don't mean that mountains crumbled, or temperatures cooled (ya, right), or politicians suddenly respected each other and worked for the common good.  I mean lives were changed- some forever.

An 8th grader in our group led FOUR neighborhood children into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

A high school sophomore girl noticed people living and working in the street, and now that she's noticed them, she talks to them.

A teen aged boy realized that there is a difference between doing the religious rituals of some church traditions and really living and working for and with Jesus.

Adults came to new appreciation for teenagers, and vice-versa.

People shared their stories, their gifts, their food with each other and with strangers.

We worshiped and we worked.  We swung hammers and opened bibles.  We prayed and we painted.

We sweated but God worked.  And when God works, the world changes.

But maybe the most practical change (forgive the word; I know all of this is practical) was the reason we paid money to work for strangers.  When asked why we would do this, we were given a GREAT answer.

We're doing this because we love Jesus.  Can I tell you about Him?

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Ultimate Giver

I don't know why it still amazes me so, but it amazes me how the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to encourage...even using verses that in my tiny little human mind don't fit.

Most recently it has been John 3:16.

If you are unaware of this verse, this is how it goes:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (Forgive the KJV; modern translations still don't sound "right" to me lol)

A couple of weeks ago I felt that I needed to spend some time in the Gospel of John, just sort of getting back to basics.  I recommend this to everyone once in awhile, as our growth tends to lead us into more and more complicated matters.  It is good to occasionally just get back to basics and reacquaint ourselves with Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word....the Word was made flesh...behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world... all awesome verses and concepts in their own right.

And then I got to chapter 3, and as I got closer to verse 16 I had to stop. And think. And pray. And think some more.

Then this morning on Facebook, I found this video clip, calling the verse "the greatest verse in the bible":



This one, simple verse has hit me over the head in many ways the past few days, and now I'm starting to think I might understand why.

And I think it has to do with healthcare.

If you have been in a coma in the last couple of days, you may have missed the historic US Supreme Court ruling that allows the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare" to more forward.

When I read the news, my initial reaction was a combination of dismay, disgust, and anger.  I thought, and still do, that the court's reasoning allows the government virtually unlimited power, and though the opinion offered by Chief Justice Roberts left some vagueness to allow for a future reigning in, I'm unclear how anyone can make the argument to reign in Congress' now unlimited ability to regulate behavior via the US Tax Code.

John 3:16

The government may now be allowed to deny us rights that in the past we thought we had by virtue of being citizens, and the government may now position itself to give us all sort of benefits, but as a Christian I cannot forget that the ultimate Giver is God Himself.  He gave His son.  Why?  So that His death would provide me with eternal life.  How?  By believing in Him.

Whatever the future holds for this nation, let us not stop believing in Him.




Friday, June 15, 2012

Facebook: the 21st Century Rescue Note


I'll send an SOS to the world
I'll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle ~ Sting

OK, first, any chance to refer to lyrics from the Police is a good thing.

Second, I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg had any idea that one of the primary purposes of his invention would be as our 21st century, high tech version of the proverbial message in a bottle.

For my younger readers (if there are any), the message in the bottle idea is that when stranded on a deserted island, one would write their plea for help on a note, stick it inside a bottle, seal the bottle, throw it in the ocean, and wait until the bottle washed up on shore somewhere.  Then when it did, it would then be found, and the finder would immediately send help.

This medium has been replaced by Siri.

Or by Facebook, for those who refuse to give their life to the giant fruit deathstar.

I confess that occasionally I have been guilty of this too, my heart's cry finding no other outlet but my status update, silently urging the world (or at least my "friends") to laugh with me, cry with me, express outrage with me, or confirm my sometimes narrow view of things.

Why is this? 

How have we become a society that is too guarded to share with our most intimate friends and family, yet open enough to share the same things with strangers?

Why do we feel comfortable ranting and raving about issues with others who have no involvement, yet refuse to confront or discuss the matter with those with whom we have the issue?

When exactly did the invisibility of the internet replace the healing power of conversation?

Is this blog just another example?

I'll let you be the judge.

Friday, May 25, 2012

God's Dominoes

If you've spent any amount of time in ministry- any amount at all, in any ministry at all- you've probably asked yourself these questions.

Am I making an impact?

Does what I'm saying or doing matter?

Are lives being changed?  Does my being here make any difference?

I confess that I ask myself these questions all the time.  It's so easy to think your efforts are worthless when you see blank expressions.  It's so tempting to think you're ineffectual when it looks like people aren't worshiping as you think they should.  It's seems obvious sometimes to think that you're not getting through when you see people continue down the same destructive paths that you just finished preaching or teaching about.

Am I making an impact?

And then sometimes, though you might want mass transformation, God allows you to see one.  One person transformed.  One person publicly showing their love for Christ.  One person hearing what you said and vowing, in tears, to change.

Someone once famously said that they didn't know what art was, but they knew it when they saw it.  What is it in our minds or hearts that keeps us from knowing the fruit of our ministry even when we do indeed see it??

Yesterday, for no known reason, I was reminded of the story of Edward Kimball.  Kimball was just a man, hardly to be mentioned among names like D.L. Moody or Billy Graham.  Yet, that is exactly where the complete canvass of history puts him.

Kimball served humbly as a Sunday School teacher at the Congregational Church of Mt. Vernon in Boston, MA.  Among the students in his class was a rambunctious teenager whose initial application for church membership was turned down, even after he accepted Christ.  Referring to this student, Kimball wrote,

"I can truly say, and in saying it I magnify the infinite grace of God as bestowed upon him, that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday School class; and I think that the committee of the Mount Vernon Church seldom met an applicant for membership more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth, still less to fill any extended sphere of public usefulness."

This rambunctious teenager was D. L. Moody, whose amazing work as an evangelist led him to England, among other places.  While in England, Moody preached at a small chapel pastored by Dr. F. B. Meyer, a brilliant man who did not focus on Jesus.  After hearing Moody preach, Meyer was convicted by the Holy Spirit and changed his entire approach the gospel, affecting all those who heard him.  One of those who heard the "new" Meyer was a man named J. Wilbur Chapman.

In time, J. Wilbur Chapman influenced the famous evangelist Billy Sunday; then Billy Sunday influenced a man named Mordecai Ham. 

And one day, at a tent revival near Charlotte, NC, Mordecai Ham preached the gospel to another rambunctious teenager- this one named Billy Graham. That day Billy Graham gave his life to God and began a relationship with the Lord that has sent him around the world, leading millions to Jesus Christ. 

One website I looked at called this "spiritual dominoes."

I like that.  If you were to focus a camera on the first domino in a long procession such as the one below, it would seem so insignificant.  However, when viewed in full, we are awed by the artistry of a well done domino display.

I wonder if that's what it will be like in heaven.  Will we be allowed a glimpse of what our impact truly was?



Friday, May 11, 2012

An Encouraging Word. No, I Really Mean It!

Today, a non-political post. And today, a word of encouragement for all my pastor friends.

We actually can be happy even when every last church member isn't what we think they should be.

If you're like me, you frequently miss the "doers" while you focus on the "non-doers."  You fret and worry and pray over those who aren't as faithful as you'd like, or don't serve like you want, or otherwise don't live up to your standards.

But you know what?  The Apostle John didn't think that way.

In 2 John 4, the apostle writes,

I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father (emphasis added).

What a liberating verse!  To think that this apostle, one of Jesus' inner three, the one whom tradition holds survived being burned in oil before being exiled to the Greek isle of Patmos could write to a church leader that he rejoiced greatly that some in the church were obedient simply stuns me.

It stuns me because I'm not sure I know any pastors who consistently think this way.

Not to whine or brag, but the bible says that pastors will be held accountable for their flocks.  I take that warning very seriously, as do the others I know.  And because you can't really do this without caring for people, it pains you when you see God's children living lives of unfaithfulness.

John knew the warning, and in John's letters (OK maybe not so much in Revelation) you see his love for people ooze from the seams.

Yet, he could report that knowing that some people lived according to God's word made him rejoice.  And not just rejoice, but rejoice GREATLY.

Lord, help me see those around me who love You and keep Your commandments, even before I see those who don't.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The New Face of American Christianity

"[Michelle and I] we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated." ~ President Barack Obama, May 9, 2012

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?"~ Jesus Christ, Luke 6:46, 1st century

I am admittedly sickened this morning.

I am sickened by the President's use of God's Word to promote what God repeatedly condemns.  I am sickened by the President once again playing fast and loose with specific instructions, commands, and principles that seem to be clear in the Bible.

It saddens me when a man who calls himself a Christian can so blatantly and defiantly choose to ignore God's Word to further his own agenda, be it political or simply self-satisfaction.

This "Christian" man has repeatedly chosen so called "pro-choice" judges, justices, cabinet members, and czars, all in the name of "compassion." Where exactly the compassion is in not only allowing but funding a mother to kill her unborn child, I have no idea.

This "Christian" man has repeatedly tried to use Jesus as an example in his crusade to redistribute wealth by force.  Yes, Jesus said much about providing for the poor.  But nowhere is it implied that government should be the arbiter on how these efforts should be funded, and nowhere does Jesus say that government should forcibly take money from some to give to another for the sake of "fairness."

This "Christian" man seldom attends church, ostensibly because of the hassle of the security needs, his busy schedule, and his desire not to disrupt things for other church goers.  These concerns are apparently insignificant though when there is a round of golf to be played, or a fundraiser to attend.

Now, this "Christian" man, in an effort to appease a portion of his political base, has publicly announced his support for same sex marriage, even somehow managing to credit Jesus with the idea!

Egypt.  Babylon.  Persian.  Greece.  Rome. Spain.  England.  All world powers who fell for many reasons.  Yet the United States continues to pretend it will never happen to us.

We have long since given up the moral high ground financially as we continue to be a credit driven society and government.

We now seem hell-bent (good word choice!) on giving up any moral high ground we may have ever had.

God help us.

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill." ~ Psalms 2:1-6

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wow

No rebukes this week.  No complaints.  Not even any sarcasm (probably).

Just one glorious proclamation:

"but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
(Romans 5:8 ESV)

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.

Most people probably still know that Good Friday is the day that Christians set aside to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Different denominations have different traditions for celebrating it, but all would agree that there is something special about the day.

But why is this so special?

Taking a look at the above verse a phrase at a time should just totally blow our socks off, that's why.

but God shows his love for us - Most people probably take this for granted.  Though people argue against God's wrath, no one (except those who deny the very existence of God) argues against God's love.  But looking at Romans 5:8 in context shows us just why this very first phrase is amazing.  As near as verse 1, we see:

"since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 5:1 ESV)

If we have peace with God by being justified by faith, we must therefore be at war with him when we choose not to have faith.  BUT GOD SHOWS HIS LOVE FOR US.  Wow.  What a concept, that even though we choose to rebel and fight against him, he still loves us!  Wow.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners - God didn't wait for us to get our act together.  He didn't withhold his love while we tried in vain to clean ourselves up.  He didn't sit passively by while we overcame our addictions, left our sinful lifestyles, or changed our attitudes.  WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS he showed his love for us.  Wow.  When we were completely unlovable, God loved us anyway.  Wow.

But unrevealed love is really no love at all. So...

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us - God sent his son, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the one through whom all things were made, Lord of lords and King of kings, to die for us.  Why?  To show us that even though we were steeped and sick in sin, God loves us.  Wow.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So not only did God show us his love by sending Christ to die for us when were still sinners, but this verse says that God made Jesus into sin itself!  God punished sin and not the sinner by unleashing his wrath on the sinless Jesus Christ.

Wow.  Just.  Wow.

If you've read this and it resonates at any level, take time now to go to God and

(A)dmit that you're a sinner

(B)elieve that Jesus wants to forgive you and can save you from your sins, and

(C)onfess him as Lord.  In other words, tell God that you now agree that Jesus is Lord, and that from now on you will allow him to be lDo it now, before anything can come up to keep you from doing it!  It's the most important conversation you will ever have, for your very eternity depends on it.

Praying that you all have a "Wow" Easter!
Matt

Friday, March 23, 2012

Once Again, I'm Tired

I find myself tired a lot lately.  Maybe it's a sign of my age, or just general crankiness.  I don't know.

I don't mean physically tired.  I mean mentally tired.  I mean Spiritually tired.  I mean emotionally tired.

The latest thing that is taxing me (other than taxes in general) is this:

I'M SICK AND TIRED OF THE WORLD DEFINING CHRISTIANITY

Note: If I knew how to make that last sentence flash in neon lights, I would.  I'm totally sick and tired of being told what being a Christian means.

This came up recently as Tim Tebow again was in the news.  It seems he's always the poster child for people to decide what it does and does not mean to be a Christian, or maybe more precisely how a Christian is or is not to act.

Believe it or not, but the Bible actually has quite a bit to say on what Christianity is. But I guess actually reading the book would be too much work, so it's easier to just make up your own definitions.

Definition #1- real Christians should be more tolerant.  If God is love, then Christians should realize that everyone is just fine the way they are. 

Response: Umm, false.  In the 3rd chapter of the 1st book of the Bible (i.e. REALLY early in the book) we find this little concept called sin.  Sin is so serious that it sent the entire world into a tail spin which will not end until Christ returns.  This is a message that needs to be told!

Definition #2- if so-and-so is a Christian, they wouldn't be so "sinful."  Christians are all hypocrites because none of them are as perfect as they say they are. 

Response: Umm, once again false.  One, if you know of a Christian who calls him or herself perfect, please send them to me.  I'd love to meet someone like that!  Two, because Christians are not perfect and remain human, they will sin.  Our goal is to become less sinful, but until we reach heaven there will be times when we don't measure up.  We rely on God's grace, through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross when we sin, confess, and repent.

Definition #3- Tim Tebow (and others) should keep their faith to themselves. 

Response: The Bible teaches the Christian that we are to tell the world of the good news of Jesus Christ; that without Him you cannot know peace with God, but that through Christ you can be a son or daughter of the Almighty.  I understand that it's uncomfortable for a non-Christian to hear about Jesus.  However, that does not make it the Christian's responsibility to keep this good news away from them.  If I'm asleep during a movie, I probably don't want anyone to wake me up by yelling, "fire!"  But if it saves my life I'll be grateful.

Definition #4- Christians should all be poor.  

Response: Christians should not worship money or the things that money buys, but having money in and of itself is not sinful.  If we hoard it and don't give to the Church (as taught in the Bible), to the poor and downtrodden (as taught in the Bible) or care for our families (as taught in the Bible), then we are not living as Christians should.  But assuming that a Christian uses money in God honoring ways, if God blesses and he/she has money left over, then he/she can celebrate with a clear conscience.

I could probably go on, but by now I hope you get the point.  If you are a Christian and as tired as I am of these types of arguments, we need to ask for patience and grace to realize that the non-Christian may not be malicious.  They may just be ignorant.  If you are a non-Christian, I ask you to simply do some research before you go on the attack and tell us how we fall short of your standards for a Christian.  Honestly, your standards for my faith mean less than nothing to me anyway.  God's standards for my faith are what I need to focus on.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sustaining, Celebrating, and Starting Life

How cool would this title be if "celebrating" started with an "S"?

Remember that I'm a Pastor, and along with my ordination certificate came an obsession with alliteration.

Alliteration aside, this has been my week.

After searching the corners of my mind for a topic to address this week, I looked at my calendar to see if anything sparked an idea.  After all, part of the whole blogging experience is sharing one's life, right?

And here is what I found.  My week could be summed up by the words "sustaining, celebrating, and starting life."

Sustaining Life- this past Tuesday was our 19th wedding anniversary.  Our life may not be perfect, and maybe it's not the life YOU want, but it suits us pretty well.  And you have to admit that these days for a marriage to last 19 years it takes some pretty serious sustainability (keep an eye out for a future post on inventing words).

Nineteen years brings a lot of change, and it takes commitment to keep it going.  I gladly say that in many ways the word "commitment" seems inappropriate, as it makes it seem like I had to white-knuckle my way through, and that is far from the case.  I honestly love my wife and enjoy being around her much more than anyone else I know.  But to sustain a marriage does take commitment.  You have to remember that "til death do you part" means sticking it out through job changes (and more job changes), moves, wallpaper removal, torn up lawns, flooded basements, house additions, house sales, house purchases, wisdom teeth removals, ER visits, funerals, weddings, dog messes, dog deaths, etc., etc., etc.  What is the secret?  I'm not entirely sure, but check back with me at the end of this post.

Celebrating Life- Wednesday night/Thursday morning our church family said a final goodbye to a long-time member, servant, and brother. Deacon Ira Queener met His Lord, and I attended his visitation Wednesday night and his funeral Thursday morning.  I never had the opportunity to know Ira, as he was in failing health and resided in a nursing home when we moved down here, but there are few people in this world of which you never hear a bad word.  By all accounts, Ira was a faithful servant of Christ for many years, served anyone in need, and fully lived the life he was given.  So although his death is a somber event, in many ways his funeral was a celebration of his life.  Perhaps not in the balloon and iced cream sense of the word "celebrate", but certainly in the sense of the "we are all so glad to have known him" sense of "celebrate."

Starting Life- finally, last night we attended a fund raising dinner for Mosaic Pregnancy and Health Centers, a local facility that provides counseling and healthcare to women facing unwanted pregnancy, with the two-fold aim of sharing the gospel with them and swaying them to allow their baby to live.  The event was a very classy affair, with Pam Tebow (mother of QB Tim Tebow) acting as the keynote speaker.  Whether from Mrs. Tebow or any of the other speakers, we heard amazing stories of babies who were allowed to live, women who were helped and needs that had been miraculously provided.  I for one came away with an unbelievable awe of how powerful organizations like this can be.

So what's the common thread that has run through the tapestry of my week?  Jesus Christ.  With Christ in our marriage, we both have not just the will but the desire to love one another, not only in the good times but maybe even more so in the bad. With Christ in Ira's life, he had not only the will but the desire to serve others and make a lasting impact on those around him.  And with Christ at the center of Mosaic's ministry, they have not just the will, nor just the desire, but also the ability to reach out and help those young mothers who have been fed a line of evil nonsense that tells them their only option is abortion.

When I looked at my calendar on Monday, all I could think was "good God."  Looking back, all I can think is "what a GREAT God!"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Isn't the Gospel More Offensive?

Boy I've stepped into it lately.

At least twice I've waded into Facebook battles over the current contraception argument.

If you've missed it, in January Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced a government enforced mandate that would require all employers, including religious institutions to provide free birth control to its employees.  Predictably, the Catholic Church (and others) protested, arguing that it would force them to violate Church teaching.  Three weeks later the Administration changed its mandate to require insurance companies to cover these costs, in their view thus insulating religious institutions from being put into such positions.  When this change failed to satisfy the Church and Conservatives, the Administration deftly made the argument into pro vs anti-women rather than religious freedom vs entitlement.

And immediately the pill hit the fan.

Whatever your view on this, the question from my title remains.  Why isn't the gospel offensive enough to generate such controversy?  Why does the idea of who pays for birth control more controversial than ideas such as heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, and religious exclusivity and tolerance?

Can it be that Christians have done such a poor job of getting the message out there that the world no longer pays attention?  Can it be that we've been so bad at explaining the truth that the world no longer believes truth exists?

I don't know the answer.  I just know that I get no arguments when I post about Jesus (even from my non-Christian friends) but I see battles reminiscent of Gettysburg when I question the facts of the birth control battle.

I'd be happy to hear any thoughts that anyone has.

Friday, March 2, 2012

God Left His Anger at the Foot of the Cross

Isn’t it funny how God speaks to us through His word?


How many times have I read the book of Colossians?  Hundreds? Thousands? Yet this morning as I sat, bible in hand, dog in lap, one phrase struck me as if it was something totally new and completely unexpected.  In my mind’s eye I almost see it like one of those news scrolls at the bottom of the TV screen.

For in (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV) 

As a worship leader, I almost always plan at least one song each Sunday that refers to the cross (and frequently several songs).  We sing of the forgiveness we find at the cross.  We sing of the power of the cross.  Yet I had never really made the connection between God’s wrath and the cross.

Now hear me out!  Intellectually I knew it.  Intellectually I believed it.  One of my favorite verses in all of Scripture is Romans 5:1-

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But this morning as I read, I could actually picture God’s anger dissipate with each drop of Jesus’ blood that hit the ground.  As Christ’s blood flowed out, so too did God’s wrath.

What a tragically gruesome but magically awesome thought!

As the Easter season sneaks up on us, think about this and see if maybe your worship doesn’t change.  I don’t mean switching services, but will the songs we sing (in either service) be a little bit different?  Will the gospel that we hear be a little more real?  Will the love we preach be a little more personal?

The most cruel, unjust crime ever committed calmed wrath and induced love.

Shouldn’t that impact how we look at, sing of, listen to, and talk about the cross?

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Hierarchy of Rights

OK, doing something now that I almost never do.  I'm writing down my thoughts with no particular plan or organization in mind.  So bear with me if this seems random or disorganized.

That said, I am really proud of the title I came up with.  Sounds so "founding fathers," doesn't it??

Anyway, a couple of things have popped up in the news recently that are really sticking in my craw.  Funny thing is, in my mind anyway, they are completely related and are being placed at various places in an unwritten hierarchy of rights.

First, a definition. Dictionary.com defines hierarchy as "any system of persons or things ranked one above another.  So a hierarchy of rights is a system of deciding which rights are more important than others.

Stick with me, I promise it will get more interesting.

Admittedly we rank and/or limit our rights all the time.  The classic example is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.  I may have the right of free speech and free expression, but my "right" to yell fire is limited by others' right to not get trampled trying to escape a burning building.  Had I planned this blog better I'd probably have more, perhaps more humorous examples, but that is all that comes to mind right now.

We can accept such limitations and rankings because they clearly make sense.  No one can reasonably claim that my right to yell fire outweighs the personal safety of the other theater goers.  But what about when the rights are more philosophical?

Say, religious vs. reproductive.

Making big headlines last week was the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to stop funding Planned Parenthood.  Komen's stated policy was that it would not fund organizations which were under investigation.  At no time did they ever say that their decision was permanent, leaving the door open to resume funding once the investigation was over.  And never did they imply that the funds would be redirected to any unworthy cause.

Still, the firestorm was at once predictable, misguided, and tragic.

Komen was quickly painted as a fanatical right-wing organization that allowed politics to color its decision.  Missing from the rhetoric was the millions of dollars that Komen gives to multiple breast cancer clinics and research organizations.  Included only were the doomsday scenarios of women who would be denied access to mammograms and other medical care because poor, poverty stricken Planned Parenthood (2009 net income $106 million) would not be able to provide the care, having been unfairly treated by the Komen kooks who so callously held back money.

Because of the heat that Komen faced, they reversed their decision a few days later, stating that they would change their policy to specifically only stop funding over criminal investigations.  NOTE: it is important to note that the investigation that started all of this was a congressional investigation over whether Planned Parenthood used federal funds for abortions, which is a violation of U.S. law, making it indeed a criminal investigation.  But hey, why confuse the public with the facts?

This week's hierarchical debate is based on the Obama Administration's decision to mandate that all insurance companies, even those whose religious convictions prohibit it, fund birth control.  The White House maintains that it believes that it struck a proper balance between a woman's "right" to contraception and the beliefs of the Catholic Church (which has been the most vocal opponent).  As of this writing it is being reported that the White House is reconsidering it's decision and is considering a compromise.  But I can't imagine where the compromise might be between "Thou shall" and "Thou shalt not."

Both of these stories entail a shuffling of the hierarchy of rights.

In the hierarchy of women's healthcare rights, the right to an abortion (hideous as that is) trumps the right of an organization to make its own choices regarding funding.  True, Planned Parenthood argues that they keep their abortion funding separate from their other healthcare funding, but isn't that rather like saying that I keep my meat separate from my vegetables on my plate?  As my father used to say, "it all goes to the same place anyway." 

Granted this was not a government intrusion, but society and the media can legislate without legislating.

In the hierarchy of rights vis-a-vis contraception, the White House in making its decision decided that a woman's right to free birth control outweighs the church's right to discourage what it considers sin.

Why is all of this so important to a man who has little chance of getting breast cancer, will likely never take birth control pills, and doesn't give to any of the above causes?

A quick review of a third, less reported news event of this past week gives an answer.  In an interview with Egyptian TV, sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said,

"You should certainly be aided by all the constitution-writing that has gone one since the end of World War II. I would not look to the US constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary… It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the US constitution – Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?"


This is relevant because we seem to be entering an era where the government believes they can decide just what our rights are.  And ranking what we see now as rights is always the first step in eliminating the lesser ranked ones.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I Hate the "I Hate Religion" Guy

OK, Hate is a strong word.

And OK, I don't hate the guy.

Gotta be provocative with the title, ya know?  Otherwise you probably wouldn't have clicked to read this.

But I really think I do hate the video.  In case you haven't seen it yet, here it is.  In the last few weeks it's gone viral (yes, an overused term) and presently has over 17 million viewers on YouTube.


I admit, my initial reaction to his thoughts (once I got past him aiming his ire twice at Republicans but not at all at Democrats) was a qualified "amen."  After all, on the surface he makes a lot of sense.  Jesus did spend much of his time arguing against archaic rules and regulations that had been twisted by man, making in essence a self-service gospel without the power of God.  But after thinking (and thinking) about it, the way he makes his case and the words he says can so easily go without challenge.

I mean, did Jesus really hate religion?  Or did He simply hate what man had done to religion?  There is a difference, you know.

God instituted a religious order when he ordained the Temple system of the Old Testament.  He declared rules with the Ten Commandments.  He commands corporate worship directly in Hebrews 10:24-25 and indirectly throughout Scripture.  So to say that Jesus hates religion is really to say that Jesus hates what God designed.  And that of course is ridiculous.

Perhaps a better argument can be made in this video, which I just saw this morning for the first time.  Being new, it has significantly less views on YouTube, but I think makes a much stronger biblical case, if albeit a less flashy, hip one.


Listen, the Church has gotten many things wrong, from the crusades of the 1000s to the Catholic Church's indulgence system of the 1500s.  Way too frequently we still see news stories of funeral protests, abortion clinic bombings, racism and miscellaneous hatred, and when we see these things it's hard to believe that Jesus has any room for institutional faith.  And the church's insistence of using the term "personal Savior", though well intended, has the unintentional consequence of implying that Christianity is just between me and Jesus, and that's all that I need.

But au contraire, mon frère!  Christ loves the church and died for it.

I know, you're probably saying that the "I hate religion guy" (for the record, his name is Jefferson Bethke) tries to differentiate between the Church and religion, even saying (briefly) that he loves the church.  But how many people will watch him and not get that?  How many will use his thoughts to validate their hatred for the church, while they supposedly cling to Christ?  How many will see this as some sort of tacit approval to ignore the teachings of their pastors, while they claim that Jesus hated religion so they should too?

In an interview posted on Churchleaders.com, Bethke  all but admits that his position is not very well thought out, and comes from a narrow view of "religion."  We all have such blind spots, but we must learn to focus on what we read (especially online) and consider the words and the implications as well as the sentiment, before jumping to the conclusion that this is something that must be shared with the world.  I applaud his intentions.  I fear his consequences of his work.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just When Did Rules Become Optional??

OK, forgive me if I sound un-American - or at least old fashioned - for a moment.  But when exactly did it become wrong to do the right thing?  When did obeying the rules become an optional exercise?

The patriot in me wants to believe it's a holdover from our colonial fathers dumping tea into Boston Harbor.  But lest we forget, those same folks wrote up maybe the greatest man-made document ever written: the US Constitution.  But these days even that is optional (more on that later).

Seriously, when did it become OK for mob rule to rule the mobs?

Occupy _____ (fill in your location) exists to protest those whom they believe did not obey the rules of society, if not the rule of law. But in so doing, their protests frequently break the law and disrupt the lives of those who try to live by the rules.

Thousands of foreign nationals can stream across our borders without obeying the rules of immigration, and then are celebrated and defended for doing so.  From a practical standpoint little can be done now, and sending them back would be cruel and unrealistic, but pity the fool who dares imply that perhaps they should not be here in the first place.

Fox News, that defender of all things American, routinely broadcasts stories of patriotic men and women who, in "damned the torpedoes" fashion, insist on their rights to wear a pin or display a flag even after they are made aware that the rules of their employer or subdivision prohibit such acts.  Once again, the rules don't apply if someone thinks that in breaking them they accomplish some greater good.

Lastly, and perhaps most egregious, rules no longer apply to our politicians (if they ever did in the first place).  With the advent of internet news, we hear more and more reports of instances where laws have been written to apply to the average citizen but not the politician.  For example, the public is forbidden from trading on inside information or getting special stock deals, but congress does so routinely, as first reported last year by 60 minutes:


And the most current example of disregard of rules (disclaimer: the day is still young), our President, yes that man who swears to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" now chooses to ignore the Constitution and the resistance he gets from congress by appointing recess appointments when congress isn't in recess.  This is hardly new, as from day one he has appointed cabinet level positions without calling them cabinet level positions, thus getting around that pesky Senate confirmation process once again. 

The beauty of this nation has always been that it is a nation of laws.  Alexander Hamilton once said that our most sacred duty and greatest source of security was "an inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws."  And it is this constant in our culture that has not only defined us, but protected us from would-be despots of either party.  

When did rules become optional?  It's hard to tell whether the people follow our leaders or our leaders follow us.  But once "we the people" decide we will only obey the rules that we ourselves like, nothing is left to consider constant but chaos.  For what you may consider wrong, I may consider noble, and if given the chance I may just impose my will on you, regardless of any rules against it.
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