Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Don't Be Forgotten

Upon the tumultuous sea of human experience the common shared impulse is to defeat the march of time and to last forever.  Whether through the endowing of personal legacies, or, the collective pursuit of cultural timeless towers we all find ourselves investing in a future that will outlive the oldest of us. 

The Pyramids have stood for thousands of years, nations pride themselves on the longevity of their history, the earliest collective human endeavor recorded in the Bible was to build a great Tower so that their name and people would last forever.  The men who shook nations are remembered for millennia, the inventions that changed life as we knew it influence each successive generation to come. 

Here comes some bad new...You will not build a pyramid.  You will not establish a new nation that will stand for centuries.  And if you are reading this you probably are not working on the next great invention.  What is your lasting legacy?

In Ruth chapter 4 we are introduced to a new "important" gentleman.  While Ruth has previously approached Boaz as her Kinsmen Redeemer there is another legally more appropriate person that must first be addressed.  Being an honorable and righteous man Boaz goes to the city gates(the place where business takes place) and waits for this man. 

But there is a very important point to take note of regarding this person.  Though he plays heavily in the narrative of chapter 4, and is even given a speaking role in the story, his name is never mentioned.  He is forgotten, an afterthought, a bit character that is listed in the movie credits as "man at gate". 


I would argue that it is because he refused his calling.  He had a moral and legal obligation to Naomi and Ruth to take on Ruth as his wife and to start a family with her and provide and protect her for the rest of her life.  But it would have potentially put him out, so he declined. 

While you are probably not weighing the pros and cons of marrying a young widowed pagan woman who is currently taking care of her widowed mother-in-law, you do have a calling in your life.  You are made in a beautiful and wonderful way.  You are unique and gifted in ways that no one else has ever been.  God has called you to Himself for a purpose that is much more than you can envision.

Yet most of us will be forgotten.

Have you ever asked yourself, "What is it that God is calling ME to"?  Have you ever sat and talked with other believers about the decisions in your life so that you can prayerfully seek God's will with your brothers and sisters?

If not, why not? 

God is probably not calling any of us to build a Pyramid, or, found a nation.  But the simple call to honor God and serve others who God has brought into your life are the foundations of a lasting legacy.  Boaz didn't marry Ruth to birth a King.  He married Ruth to honor God and to love a woman in need.  And their grandson was King David, and their many great grandsons later was Jesus. 

Boaz didn't wake up that morning to change the world.  He went forward to do what HE SHOULD do in the moments before him. 

What about you?  What small moments do you need to seek God first, and you last? 

Not all Pyramids leave a lasting legacy.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Theological Truth and Behavioral Lies

I have a good friend that I think the world of.  But there are a few....small....issues that he has.  He is a bully, a drunk, he made a pass at my wife, he is a criminal, he tortures small animals, and, well, a bunch of other stuff like that.  To be honest, I am fairly embarrassed when people start talking about all of his faults with me.  When they really press me about why I continue to allow this behavior to continue and why I never stand up to him I luckily have a fantastic answer that shuts those "haters" right up!

He is a huge Buckeye fan!!!!

Sure, he is a bad guy, but at least he cheers for the right team.  Now, if he happened to cheer for a more Northern school, clearly I would have a completely different approach to dealing with him.  But as long as I can pencil him in for being for the "Right Team" then I am fairly comfortable on ignoring the rest........

Mark Driscoll has recently resigned from his position at the church he co-founded amid a swirl of controversy and confusion.  Without trying to bullet point all the sordid details here, the question we have to ask ourselves in the midst of all of this is; "How did it get to this???"

Knee Jerk reactionism is possibly the single worst way to develop Theological or Doctrinal positions.  Whenever we create a position, or promote a "champion" as a reaction to an observed "problem" we run a great risk of making bad decisions in our haste and desire to correct the problem. 

For the Orthodox(I recognize this is a loaded, yet undefined in this context, word) Church the 20th and 21st centuries in America have been a trying time.   At the beginning of the 20th century topics like; Biblical Inerrancy, Biblical Sexual Ethics, Creation, etc were virtually unchallenged.  If you had asked someone in 1900 if they knew of any churches, or, pastors, who taught that the Bible wasn't trustworthy, or, that salvation wasn't from Christ alone, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who taught in opposition to that.  Today, you could throw a stone out your window and hit someone who listens to a Pastor, attends a Church, or reads "academic" material, that reject these historically consistent positions. 

With the advent of the internet and social media these fringe views began to exponentially increase.  For many traditional Christians there was a great desire to see someone effectively articulate a message and Theology to combat this.  Enter Mark Driscoll.

Whatever you may think of him, he was effective.  In many ways he created the new media template for Churches and Ministries as he forged a path through the wilderness of secular culture and began reaching people previously thought unreachable.  He was young, "manly", irreverently funny, hip, and Theologically Pure. 

And that last one is the problem.....

Now that the cover has been pulled back many people have come out of the woodwork to claim that they knew all along that he had some serious problems.....yet why didn't they do anything?

Because he was on "their team".  He was spreading their message more effectively than anyone else, so they didn't want to mess it up by dealing with little things like, manipulative behavior, temper tantrums, abusive leadership, etc. 

Sure, he was a bad buy in many ways, but come on!!!  He loves the Buckeyes!!!!!

Now I am a nobody....I think the only person who regularly reads this is my mom.....Hi Mom!!!  But if you happen to stumble across this blog let me challenge the Church to something.

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Theology IS important.  But as we look to develop and entrust our churches and ministries to the future leaders, let us hold theology in one hand and the Fruits of the Spirit in the other.  If a man can articulate appropriate Doctrine, but he does so through anger and a lack of grace, HE IS NOT QUALIFIED.  People do not need a good spokesperson for Theology, they need humble servants who live as loving members of the body. 

When you look for a church, and look for a pastor, look for the fruits of the spirit being clearly visible in their life.  Do not accept anything less. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

True Love in a Romanceless Marriage

Why did you get married?  If you aren't married, what are the reasons you would want to be married?

If you read Nicholas Sparks books(please please don't) you would probably answer something about love, romance, fate, etc.  The common dream is that we find some perfect person who will give us continuous butterflies in our stomach and satisfy our deep desires for romantic intimacy.  If you can only find that perfect Prince(or Princess) your story book life will begin and you can live happily ever after. 

Marriage has become a strangely one sided affair.  Yes, I know it involves two people.  But the basic assumed premise of a successful marriage is that YOU are in some way satisfied by the person you are married to and the circumstances you find yourself in.  And when either one person or both individuals no longer feels this way the marriage comes to an end. 

While many may bravely soldier on under these conditions for a period of time the foundational narrative of personal satisfaction overrides other senses.  In my relatively young life I know a number of my peers who have been divorced.  In not once instance were there occurrences of abuse, infidelity, criminal behavior, etc.  They were all cases of, "We(or I) are no longer in "love" with that person". 

No wonder people keep waiting longer and longer to get married!  When you are contemplating committing your life to another person against the backdrop of a culture that says marriage is about love alone when we know how fleeting such emotional feelings can be, the risk seems too great.

In Ruth chapter 3 we have the story of Ruth basically using cultural and religious obligations to convince an older man(Boaz) to marry her.  Our modern sensibilities balk at this story.  Where is the love we ask?  The romance?  The passionate kiss in the rain after they both discovered how much they truly needed each other!!?!?!

The book of Ruth is a foreshadowing of the story of Christ and His Bride(the Church).  The picture of what a marriage is in Ruth is a radical departure from our modern concepts.  Yet it is a picture of the most important love we can ever observe and experience. 

Marriage is not based on "romance", but Love.  These are wildly different concepts.  Starting with Love can, and often, develops romance, romance is not a natural step on the progression to Love. 

Romance is something you feel.  Love is something you do, regardless of feelings.

Romance is an outflow of attraction.  Love is not based upon attraction.

Romance is a temporary event or condition often sourced in impulse.  Love is a permanent act of the will.

Romance is conditionally offered.  Love is unconditionally provided. 

The message of the Gospel is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  And the maintaining of our relationship with Christ is not dependent upon us, or, our actions, but completely based upon the character of Christ. 

How would it feel to know that your Eternal destination was dependent upon your "wining and dining" God through your own "appeal".  And, if for whatever reason, God grew tired of you, or you were no longer up to snuff, He said, "You know, it's not you, it's me.  We have just grown apart.  Sorry".............

The True Love Boaz and Ruth experience is not trying to find some perfect person to compliment their personal preferences, but to instead commit life to service to the other.  This is an act of the will, not the impulsivity of feelings.  Christ offers us the Gospel not because we satisfy some sort of romantic need in His life, but because He has chosen to be our Agape Lover and Guardian Redeemer.  Our appearance, intelligence, personality, etc, have no bearing on the stability of our marriage to the Lamb. 

Ask yourself, "Am I looking for a romantic marriage, or, am I looking for sacrificial Love that serves the other, and not the self?"  When the years go by, the kids and jobs come and change.  When the decades tire you out and exhaust your patience.  Which will sustain you?  A whirlwind trip to Paris, or, a spouse who is committed to give the best of themselves to you regardless of the circumstances?

The modern marriage is not a picture of the Gospel.  The Gospel is a picture of Marriage! 

Old couples don't get there because of how many romantic dates they took, but how many unromantic days they stayed.

Friday, October 3, 2014

How Do We Love

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
C.S. Lewis

The modern definition of love is most often used in the context of feelings that you feel for someone.  If someone makes you feel good and is attractive you have all the ingredients for "love".  And if you realllllly have these strong feelings for someone, and happen to also want to have sex with's love....let never the two be split asunder! 

Shockingly, today, we have an ever increasing number of divorces, children born out of wedlock, affairs, etc.  When "feelings" become the arbiter we have established an amorphous and unstable standard on which to base relationships and our conceptions of love. 

There is a reason that marriages often dissolve between years 5 and 10.  For most people the butterflies of fresh love have been replaced by the mundane nature of daily living coupled with the stresses of children, bills, careers, and new "attractive" people.  When we place romance as the pinnacle of the value of a relationship we will soon find ourselves without good reasons to continue.

This perspective also influences the approach we take to all relationships.  It is easy to speak with eloquence about how much you love others and what a good person you are for caring about their experiences.  But when push comes to shove we would much rather talk about our ambiguously defined feelings than make practical commitments to showing love to someone else when it doesn't translate to achieving something for ourselves. 

Instead, I challenge us to approach love as a deliberate act of the will that puts others first regardless of how we may "feel" about it.  As CS Lewis said in the opening quote choosing to act love outwardly will shape us inwardly.  I have been recently studying the book of Ruth and I think there are three lessons that we can draw out about the practical expressions of giving love to others.

-----if you haven't read, or, recently read, the Book of Ruth, read the first two chapters to get the context for what I am saying here-----

Ruth is a pagan foreigner(boo), recently widowed(boo), living with her widowed mother-in-law who, with her husband, ran from the promised land some years earlier(more boos).  For all practical purposes Ruth is person non-grata in Israel when she shows up at the field of Boaz to hopefully pick up some scraps so she doesn't starve to death.  There was nothing about her that eligible bachelor's in ancient Israel would find "attractive".  Yet, Boaz displays great love towards her.

1-  He speaks kindly with her(Ruth 2:11-12).  Boaz was a busy, respected and successful man.  He could simply have ignored her and no one would have noticed or cared.  He was under no obligation to be kind to this strange pagan foreigner.  But he goes out of his way to seek her out and speak affirming and encouraging words to her.

You and I are surrounded by people who no one would even notice if we didn't take the time to notice them.  Being a loving person is about showing love to those who you have no "reason" to love.  You can say you love your neighbor, but when is the last time you sought them out to share an encouraging word, to ask how they are doing, to pray for them?  We are not loving people if we only give kind words to those who are easy and convenient for us to be kind to.

And to be even more personal, when is the last time you also deliberately spoke with kindness and encouragement to the people in your life?  Like your spouse?  If you only say, "I love you" when you want loving is that?

2-  He shares his life(and a meal) with her(Ruth 2:14).  Boaz doesn't just say something nice and then goes about ignoring her.  He invites her to sit with him, to eat with him, to show real care for her.

Speaking kind words is important, but, they are also easy.  Who do you need to go out of your way to show practically in a real and tangible way that you love them?  Don't say, "I love you....but please don't spend any time with me"

3-  Boaz goes above and beyond and makes a personal sacrifice to help her(Ruth 2:15-16).  Instead of just the bare minimum of letting Ruth have whatever scraps are left, Boaz provides for her from his own personal harvest!

Love, real love, leads to sacrifice.  If you want to practically put love into practice, are you willing to cost yourself something in the process? 

Do you want to truly love people?  Stop feeling stuff about them and start giving of yourself for them regardless of how you feel.  Because just doing stuff for people you "like" is easy and not really very loving at all.

Still a better love story than Twilight

Thursday, October 2, 2014

You Don't Really Love People

Are you a kind, loving, friendly and welcoming person?  Who would honestly say "no"?  In general we like to think highly of ourselves.  In all honesty it would be pretty debilitating to walk around thinking poorly of yourself.  It's a natural survival mechanism that we utilize to view ourselves in a mostly positive light. 

Guess what?  You need to stop thinking so positively about yourself. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean start beating yourself up about the things you do.  But the reality is we too often refuse to look at ourselves realistically.  And when we refuse to do, we stop growing as a person. 

I knew a guy who thought he was a great writer(he wasn't).  He even wrote a series of books he wanted to get published.  No one would touch him with a ten foot pole.  Did he start taking classes, join peer review groups, start editing and re-working his manuscripts?  Nope.  In his mind they were perfect exactly the way they were.  Everyone else was just an idiot.....

The biggest barrier to being truly loving and caring people is the belief that we already are.  If that's true, why are so many people lonely, sad, hurting and broken? 

People are hurting because we evaluate how loving we are through the lens of the people who are easy for us to love.  Let me say this very clearly, if the only people who think you are friendly and caring are the people you aren't that friendly and loving. 

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says,

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Let that sink in......

Who in your life is it not natural and easy to love and treat with kindness?  Who is a challenge to reach out to and invite into your house to share life with? 

Unless you are showing ACTIVE love to them you are just doing that which is easiest for you.  And that isn't love at all.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Country Club or Hospital

When we were kids my sister and I would often spend time at my dad's church office.  They had this super powerful electronic stapler that we were clearly and strongly instructed to not get near or touch due to the potential of bodily harm that such a device posed for two little kids.  These instructions had a clear understanding that failure to follow the rules would carry with it dire consequences. 

Due to the fact that I was always super obedient and the perfect child(and the favorite one which is clearly demonstrated and confirmed by our mother....) I followed this rule.  My squirrely little sister on the other hand....well....lets just say she was not as perfect as I was(and am).  One day she happened to stick her thumb into the opening, causing the stapler to launch a staple right through her nail and thumb.  Realizing that she had broken a rule that carried consequences she kept it to herself and quietly whimpered in the corner holding(and hiding) her thumb. 

For a few hours that day she kept it a secret, avoiding our parents and clearly being sad.  Finally, upon going back home my mom held her and asked her what was wrong.  My sister tearfully said she didn't want to say because she didn't want to get in trouble.  After some convincing and promising that she could tell mom anything, she finally revealed the heinous injury.  In the blink of an eye she was rushed to the ER to have it removed. 

The worst part is that she didn't even get in trouble.  I though at least a few spankings were in order.....because I love my sister and wanted her grow up to be a responsible adult!!  But we did learn a valuable lesson; when you are hurt mom and dad are a safe place to share your hurt and you won't be "hurt" more for sharing what happened.  Even if your pain was due to your own choices!

When you are hurting where can you go to weep? 

Sadly, for too many people, Church is the last place you think of.  Even if you go there for help it is common to have help be given with a heaping dose of judgment.  You are already hurting enough, and the last thing you want is someone telling you that you are just getting what you deserve. 

Here is the worst part about churches and pastors presenting that sort of attitude to people;  The whole message of the Gospel, which the Church is called to proclaim and practice, is that in Christ we don't get what we deserve.  Instead of hearing "Come all you who are yoke is easy and my burden is light", people hear, "Come all who are screwed up and we will give you a bunch of burdens to pile on to your exhausted shoulders".....

Many churches today are glorified Country Clubs where you come to look good and show people that you are checking off all the right "behavior" boxes.  Struggles, pain, frustration, questions and hurts make people uncomfortable.  We are here to smile, shake hands and keep up appearances. 

Christ's church is not a country club, it is a hospital.  It is SUPPOSED to be a place where people who are broken can come to be loved and have their pains treated.  How would you feel if you walked into a hospital with a broken arm and the staff looked at you like you had the plague and said, " know this is your own fault....helping you is going to be a bit inconvenient for us today.." 

When you arrive at a hospital they ask you what brings you there that day, they listen to you, they address your concerns, they do everything in their power to put you back together.  They don't ridicule you and blame you. 

They listen, empathize, and, HELP.

Many churches talk at you, judge you, and never want to help. 

Let me challenge you if you lead in a church, or, are a part of a Church.  Are you trying to maintain a country club, or, are you serving a hospital.  If your church feels a lot more like a country club, you are doing something wrong. 

When people need help, but they don't feel safe asking for help, it gets worse.  In the book of Ruth we learn about how a family runs from Israel to Moab because of a famine.  In Moab everything goes horribly wrong.  Then we find out that back in Israel, the whole time, they had a family member who was wealthy.  Why didn't they ask for help before they ran away?  We don't know. 

But this story plays itself out every day in our communities.  People are too embarrassed and afraid to ask for help.  And sadly ,things get a lot worse as they hide their pain and heart aches. 

Is it your fault that people are too afraid to ask you for help?  If no one is asking you for help, it probably is.  What are you going to do about it?


Saturday, September 20, 2014

When We Make Bad Decisions

Not sure if this is just me.....but I have a tendency to sometimes make bad decisions.  Bad decisions fall into two categories;

1)  Knowingly doing something stupid/inappropriate/harmful/irresponsible/etc.  It is common to "know" what one should do, but then doing the opposite.... There is no excuse for this...but we all find ourselves in this camp from time to time.

2)  Decisions that are good decisions, but, end up badly.  For example;  Choosing to take an unsinkable ship across the Atlantic for its maiden voyage...falling in love with a young woman, and giving her your spot on a floating door....In general, none of those decisions were necessarily bad...but why Jack, why??? 

Regardless of how we end up where we end up, our natural reaction is to say, "Why me??"  For a Christian this can be quite a challenge because we wonder why God would have allowed "this" to happen to us. 

The book of Ruth is an interesting story snuck into the early books of the Old Testament.  On the surface it is not a historical narrative detailing the exploits of heroic patriarchs of Israel, heck, the main character isn't even Jewish in the first place! 

The story starts with a fellow named Elimelek who gets worried about a famine in Israel so he runs off to Moab.  A couple of important points to this; 1)  Famine in the promised land is generally tied to Israel's sin.  We know this was during the time of the Judges, which is a period in which Israel was constantly turning their back on God.  So, instead of dealing with the consequences, Elimelek runs away.  2)  This was the PROMISED LAND!!!  Even today Jewish people contend for their place there.  But Elimelek chose to not trust God and ran away.  3)  The Jewish people were not to intermarry with the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  We see in the first chapter that Elimelek has his sons marry Moabite women(one of them being our main character Ruth).

In a nutshell, the background of the story of Ruth is; A man choosing to run from God, not trust God and sin by breaking fundamental rules God laid down for his people.  Yet here it is.  A whole book of the Bible dedicated to telling the story of a non-Jewish woman who shouldn't have even been around if Elimelek had simply honored God and trusted Him. 

But there is more.  (SPOILER ALERT)  Ruth goes on to marry a Godly man named Boaz back in Israel and she is part of the line that brings us King David and....JESUS!!!   

Elimelek knowingly and willingly made bad decisions.  And, he had bad things happen to him(he and his sons ended up dying in Moab) yet Ruth is one of the most significant people in scripture and was used by God in a miraculous and beautiful way.  We cannot miss this!

God does not MAKE bad things happen to you.  Whether by our individual choices(running from God), or, the fallout of the collective fallenness of creation that has produced a broken world that bad things are sadly common(death), bad things happen because this world is broken.  And in the midst of the tragedy and heartache God stands over it and works all things towards His promise, and, our ultimate hope. 

In the midst of things outside of her control what does Ruth choose to do?  Go to God and God's people.  Her sister-in-law chooses to go back to Moab after the death of her husband, and we never hear about her again.  Ruth chooses to follow her mother-in-law back to Israel knowing that choosing Yahweh over what she was familiar with did not immediately lend itself to a whole lot of definitive "hope" for the future. 

Our lives are shaped by bad choices and bad circumstances every day.  And in that moment of hurt and frustration we have a choice.  Either, we run from God and towards worldly comfort, or, we run towards God and eternal hope.  And the most amazing things about the hope that is found through Christ is that even our tragedies can become our crowning achievements when they are laid down at the cross.  Everything that brings us Ruth was a series of terrible choices and circumstances, but it is exactly because of these things that Ruth is a testimony to God's faithfulness and ultimate promise. 

People like to say "everything happens for a reason".  And there is SOME biblical truth to it.  But we abuse it.  All of these things can happen to us that are terrible, and the only way they can have a truly beautiful "reason" that recreates them into something meaningful is when they are given new life through the only one who can give life to that which was once dead. 

What choices will you make?

If you know it, you love it!