Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You Probably Don't Really Know

One of the fun things about being a parent is watching your kids grow up and discover and learn about the world and how it works.  There are very few times in life where you exhibit an unshakeable confidence in your own abilities than when you are 4 years old.  A common conversation with my son is me trying to explain to him how to do something.  His retort is an exasperated, "I know dad."  Even when he doesn't. 

Apparently this attitude gets worse as children grow reaching its crescendo of snottiness in high school.  Luckily, around a kids early 20's, they realize how stupid they are and start begging for advice and help. 

When I was a teenager I wasn't walking with God and hated going to church to listen to my pastor dad drone on about the Bible.  In college, God got a hold of me and radically changed my life.  Not long after that I was home over a weekend and was completely flabbergasted by how good my dad's preaching actually was.  It was amazing.  I had only been gone for a few months and he had finally figured out how to preach effectively.  He must have taken some extra classes or something..... 

At lunch that day I half-jokingly said that if only he had preached like that a few years ago it could have really been good for me...... 

I was an idiot.  I am still an idiot.  My problem, like all of us, is that I am too often overly confident in knowing things.  And I don't even know what I don't know. 

Are you comfortable with where you are with God?  You're an idiot.  Philippians 2 reminds us that we are to work out our salvation with "fear and trembling".  This doesn't mean that you should be afraid of God like you are of clowns or debt collectors.  It paints a picture that our relationship with God, our salvation through Christ's finished work on the cross, is one of constant pursuit. 

When do marriages often have problems?  When spouses take each other for granted.  They stop working to know and enjoy the specialness of the unique and beautiful person who has chosen to walk life with them.  Take your wife for granted for too long and she might not be your wife for much longer.

We think we know God.  We think we have this whole Christianity thing figured out and we get our established patterns and what we "know" all lined up and managed in a comfortable way.  And then we coast.  Coast right to our demise.

In John 7, starting in verse 25, Jesus is responding to everyone trying to figure out if he really is the messiah.  Jesus says, you don't know me because you don't know God.  The impact of this statement is that Jesus is speaking in the temple, in the midst of a huge religious celebration(Feast of the Tabernacle) where everyone is congratulating themselves on being such good followers of God's commandments.  This is the time Jesus says, "Your party is a lie, because you really have no idea who God is"(my phrasing.....obviously)

The Christian life isn't a story of arriving.  It is the road map for a journey.  When we start to celebrate our arrival we have bought into a lie that the story for us is over.  This lie has two profoundly damaging effects on us;

1- We stop trying and descend into spiritual malaise and are mired in unhealthiness

2- People who are trying to struggle through the journey are made to feel like they have failed in some way because they aren't "there" yet. 

The second problem is the most pernicious.  How many of your friends and family feel spiritually burned out and failed because of this lie?  This is where hurtful phrases like, "Just try harder, pray a bit more, be HAPPY", do their worst work.  Because these statements are shaped by the idea that if only the struggler would do these things then they could also arrive to the place you are.........Lazy, unexamined complacency.

Stop pretending you know.  Start struggling with fear and trembling within the truth that you do NOT know God as well as you think you do.  But have hope that the road map is there and invites you to journey forward.


Sometimes we just have to be reminded of the basics.......

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How we can finally have a Saved by the Bell reunion

Disclaimer:  This is not a post about the Bible.  If you are interested in those posts, all my other posts will meet that need...this is something I have been thinking about for a while and didn't have a good place to post about it.

At the top of nearly every list of the greatest tv series in the history of the world is Saved by the Bell.  When you honestly evaluate modern television it is impossible to not see the profound influence of SBTB on virtually everything out there.

Breaking Bad:  School Employee engages in shenanigans with trouble making student that at times appears altruistic, but often is just a selfish pursuit of personal gain.

House of Cards:  Main character regularly breaks the fourth wall to converse with the audience.

Two and a Half Men:  Girl crazy male actors find themselves in a series of hijinks in the attempt to get a "date"

Firefly:  A group of friends who in the real world would have no business being friends find themselves in a series of adventures together, often attempting to help and save others.

Battlestar Galactica:  Screech's robot pal is clearly an early cylon.

Pretty Little Liars:  High school stuff.  Sometimes it gets too real for even high school though!

 
 
Clearly this list could go on forever.  But that isn't my point.  What is important is how do we get a reunion to finally happen.
 
 
There is only one serious obstacle.
 
Another thing this show created
 
 
If you are out of the loop...lets just say...Dustin/Screech has burned a few bridges. 
 
 
There is no doubt in my mind that if Screech was taken off the table the other actors would jump at the chance to reprise the greatest roles ever created for television.  So, how do we write a reunion show that eliminates Screech and has a semi-plausible reason to bring the characters back together?
 
Screech's funeral!!!
 
Due to not being a professional script writer, let me just give you the main idea for the plot.....
 
Each of the other characters are given a brief moment on screen where we can get a sense of what they have been up to...
 
Zach:  Sports agent
 
AC:  P90x type of program he is the face of
 
Lisa:  Fashion Designer
 
Jessie:  Doctor
 
Kelly:  Kindergarten teacher
 
Obviously each of them will be shown to be successful, but unfulfilled.  It will be obvious that though they have professionally succeeded, they don't have people to share life with.  They are lonely. 
 
And this lonliness hits home when they each receive a letter from Screech's mom about his tragic robot related death(something he built malfunctioned or something).  So off they go back to Bayside for the funeral.  (Mr Belding is obviously officiating the funeral).
 
When they all arrive they of course rekindle their friendships and are having a good time reminiscing about childhood.  Then they find out from Mr Belding that some big evil corporation is buying up the deed for the school and is tearing it down to build a....ummm....toxic waste dump.....
 
So they gang gets to work on finding a way to save their old school and help Belding keep his job...something something something....Zach and Kelly fall in love again and get married(Mr Belding obviously officiating) and everyone decides to move back home since their careers are flexible. 

Let's make this happen. 
 
 
See, they already like to avoid Screech!



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Doing to Know

There are thousands of self-help manuals available for us today.  My favorite is a set of books from the "For Dummies" series.  That is basically how I feel about most things that I currently do not know how to do.  One of my great weaknesses is that I am quick to not do things that I don't know how to do.  But the problem is just reading instructions doesn't suddenly make me capable.

You can't learn to ride a bike by reading about it.  It requires you actually getting on the bike and pedaling.  And when you eventually learn, it is a skill that really never leaves you.  The subconscious mind integrates the sense of balance and propulsion in the permanent recesses of your brain so that it actually becomes impossible to remember what it felt like to NOT know how to bike. 

All the books and well diagramed instructions do not suddenly make you an expert, or, even capable of completing a task.  Practice and repetition are the only tools we have available to us to go from non-bike riders to Lance Armstrong(I wanted to pick a non-drug user...but seriously, who knows a clean biker....let alone another biker at all.....)

How would you respond to someone refusing to learn to ride a bike until they had read enough books and grasped all the nuances of balance and physics?  This is clearly an absurd demand to make before you get on a bike and start trying.  It is wildly unhelpful to set such a high bar of "understanding" without actually engaging and experiencing the thrill of actually riding a bike.  My son was really stand offish about his bike for almost a year.  Just in the past month he discovered how much fun it is and now he wants to do it every day.  For the longest time he avoided it because it seemed scary.  All the explanations in the world didn't change his mind....then...he actually tried it. 

Understanding God, grasping the Gospel, engaging with Scripture is a daunting task.  Even Paul in Philippians talks about how even he struggles with the mystery of how he, a sinner, gets to participate in the Gospel of the Cross.  Yet we often keep God at a distance because we don't "get" everything.  Before we come to Christ we want every nuance and detail explicitly spelled out.  And until it is done to OUR satisfaction...no dice.

If we really lived out that mindset in our lives we would be a bunch of non-bike riders.  Even as we watch others fly by us on their magical two wheeled contraptions we would refuse to even put hands to handle bars. 

In John 7:14-24 Jesus is teaching at the Temple and causing quite a commotion.  Everyone wants to know where He gets off speaking with such authority.  What does Jesus respond?  "If anyone desires to do God's will, they will know whether the teaching is from God or I am speaking on my own authority"(John 7:17). 

The pre-requisite for knowing God's will is the desire to do God's will.  The practical engagement of this is found in the "action" of desiring to do God's will.  Meaning, if you desire to do God's will, then you WILL do God's will.  Jesus is expanding the understanding of God's will and revelation to people and as they feel challenged by it, he puts the burden on the listeners.  If they want to know if what they are hearing is true, they have to be first engaged in doing what they already know to be true. 

If you expect all your questions and problems to be answered in nice concise ways BEFORE you engage....you are going to miss the boat.  When doubts assail you and your heart is struggling, do what you do know.  Can I answer the question for you about what happened to the ancient Australian Aborigine from 3000 BC?  No.  But does the lack of an "adequate" answer justify the jettisoning of what else you know is true?  Of course not.

To know how to ride a bike, you have to get on it and find out that it is good.  To know God's will and His truth you have to engage with what you do know and you may just may be finding yourself flying down the road with the wind in your hair. 

All the books in the world with all the answers in the world will not help you know what is true if your heart does not first desire to know God's will. 



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Party Pooper

Who doesn't love a good party?  My son is turning 5 in about a month and has been making special requests for his birthday for about....ummm.....11 months now.....  He has decided he wants us throw him a surprise party.  He wants me to take him for a walk and when we get back everyone yells "surprise".  I am not sure if his concept of "surprise" is a completely developed one yet.....

Rarely do we have pointless parties.  Either it is a birthday, a celebration of some event, a holiday, etc.  And the party itself becomes shaped by the specific event that is being recognized.  You don't hand out birthday presents at a Halloween parties, nor do you give everyone a Christmas present during your birthday party. 

If you are the host of a party, especially a specifically themed party, you can take great offense at people ignoring the type of party it is.  When hosting a costume party it is a bit off putting if your friend shows up without a costume because they think the idea is "dumb". 

The way in which we want things to be gives us a sense of comfort.  When people don't follow the "rules" we can tend to get frustrated and anxious.  A party is one thing, but when our sense of how life should be, or, when our plans are found thrown apart we can get very defensive and angry.

In the beginning of chapter 7 in the Gospel of John Jesus is invited to come to Judea for the Festival of the Booths.  Because that way lots of people can be impressed by him.   Every year the longest, and arguably biggest, Jewish holiday celebration was this festival(also known as Sukkot). 

Sukkot was a week long holiday where the Jews would build temporary shelters that they would dwell in and eat in for the course of the week.(this is still celebrated today, but people don't live there for a week and generally just eat a single meal during the week inside their booth)  This was to celebrate the Harvest and a reminder of the Exodus.  During the festival they would make blessings to all the ends of the earth to recognize God as sovereign over all of creation. 

The key blessing phrase they would speak was, "Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah."

Jesus refuses to go along with the plan to make a big appearance at the Festival since the hearts of his brothers in encouraging him to come was not based on His divinity, but in the sense of getting a bigger following.  And Jesus plainly states that it is not yet his time.

So his brothers go on ahead of him, and Jesus "sneaks" in later.  He goes into the Temple and begins to teach.  And what does he teach...That no one lives up to the Law.  The main blessing is what?  That God's commandments(and following them) is what sanctifies people.  And Jesus says, your party is a lie.

Jesus didn't want to come to the party on the parties own terms.  He was here with a diametrically opposed purpose and message.  The Jews(and you and I) can't hope in God's law as the source of being made righteous.  We don't even live up to the standards we claim to celebrate. 

Our life is the party we design for ourselves.  We set up the decorations and the snacks in the way that is most reflective of what we want to communicate to the world.  Namely, that we are pretty ok people and we are doing just fine.  Jesus comes into your party on His own terms and says, "Who are you fooling?  You are broken, lost, hurting, and no matter the public show you make, this party simply is hiding that internally, what you claim and what is true about you are not really in alignment."

After tearing into the hypocrisy he ends with a simple question for each of us.  "Are you angry because I make a whole mans body well".  See, they want to fix themselves their own way, and Jesus says, it doesn't work.  I am here doing the work that you claim you want done, but you are angry because I am not doing it your way. 

We claim we want our lives to be a certain way.  But doing it our way isn't actually getting us there.  And Jesus says, I am the one who can do it...but guess what....it isn't going to be your way.  And we get angry.

What we have done is made an idol out of the way we want things to be done.  We claim that we want a specific result.  Whether that is peace, joy, happiness, etc.  But it turns out what we really want is not those things, but to do it our way.  We sacrifice what we claim to want on the altar of following the script we want for our lives. 

Jesus says, quit doing it your way.  I am the one who will make you whole. 


Sometimes a ruined party is a much better story.....


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When Following Jesus is Hard

Could it be that God is willing to compromise your immediate happiness for something greater? It's called redemption!
        - Paul Tripp

Statistically speaking, you and I will never win the lottery.  You have a better chance of dying in a plane crash.  Yet people buy millions and millions of tickets every year. 

Why?

Because quick and easy money is the dream.  40 years of dedicated work of 40+ hours a week and a job that doesn't fulfill your greatest passions is....NOT easy.  We see the dream of retiring with a nice house, solid income and golfing and we want to get there now.  The vast majority of Americans have less than 5,000 dollars in savings.  Is it because they don't make any money?  Nope.  We buy more and more stuff that we don't need, but want RIGHT NOW. 

Our self-centered and short-sighted lives avoid difficulty and long term planning and focus on the pleasures of right now.  Often at the expense of long term responsibility.  Every work out and diet plan offers us immediate results with little effort.  Try selling a 2 year weight loss plan that includes a lifetime of changed eating habits and daily committed exercise. 

 
 
Our spiritual lives are influenced greatly by this pernicious attitude we have accepted into our mindsets.  We think of religion, faith, Jesus, all as tools to have our "best life now".  If we don't get an immediate payoff in the form of greater "peace", increased "happiness", all of our questions "answered", lots of "fun".  Well.....then it is not for us. 
 
The perception is that Jesus is supposed to be our great Holy Vending Machine in the Sky.  We add Him to our lives and everything should just be worked out.  Whenever we feel challenged or confused, the expectation is we just need to twist and contort Jesus and the Bible to better accommodate our desires so we can keep the good times rolling. 
 
In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, we see this play out.   Not in the privacy of ones own home and mind, but in the midst of fellowship with the Son of God Himself!
 
Jesus has been rocking it with amazing miracles and feeding the people.  The crowds are growing, everyone wants to be a part of this.  It is easy to visualize.  You hear about this guy doing miracles AND handing out free food to everyone.  Of course you would show up for the party! 
 
But then Jesus changes up the tone.  He begins to talk about how He alone is the Bread of Life(directly contrasting with the Jewish understanding of God) and how everyone must partake of His flesh and blood if they are to truly have eternal life....this was somewhat less successful than the miracles and feeding part of the show....
 
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
        - John 6
 
When Jesus was spoon feeding them and showing them a good time, they were all about it.  When he started challenging them and inviting them to participate in something a lot more difficult than sitting around and being served, people hightailed it out of there.
 
Jesus than turns to Peter and says, "Will you leave too?" 
 
Here is the moment where each of us have to be ferociously honest with our lives and heart.  We want so much for God to just give us stuff, to make life make sense, to have everything work out in our favor RIGHT NOW!  Many of us will turn away when the bells and whistles are no longer entertaining us.  And Jesus says, "Will YOU turn away as well now that the show is no longer rocking for your personal enjoyment?"
 
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life"
         - John 6
 
This world will throw you lots of baubles and immediately gratifying gifts.  The distractions can be without number.  And, let's be honest.  Following Jesus is rarely the formula for having a bunch of fun right now.
 
But here is what Peter gets, that we desperately need to understand.  Everything in life can be a distraction from the truth.  The truth that everything is going to burn and be found wanting.  The fun you have today at the expense of tomorrow will break your heart.  And even if following Jesus can seem hard, it is the ONLY place where true life LIVES. 
 
All the things we do to distract and fill ourselves up with are lies that set us up for the ever increasing sense of emptiness that will take over our hearts. 
 
Following Jesus can be hard.  But it is ultimately harder when we do not. 
 
When you compromise to get something now, you will always lose it later
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Waiting and Acting

My wife and I have wildly different personalities when it comes to getting things done.  On one far end of the spectrum you have me, the cautious personality.  Not knowing exactly how to do something causes me to lock up and do nothing until I know more about it.  For those who know me, it will come as no surprise to hear that I am the worst handyman in the world.  My wife recently asked me if I could try to fix our hose roller upper thingy(I think that is the technical term).  The thought of doing something that I don't know how to do has caused me to not even think about it....for two weeks.....My wife is saint like in patience.....

On the other far end of the spectrum my wife likes to jump without looking.  She may have no clue what she is doing, but she is going to, by force of will, fight her way through it.  Even if she ends up breaking something.  Which has often happened. 

These differing approaches to life have been no small source of conflict in our marriage.  She gets frustrated with my constant waiting to act until I "know" more....and I become a stress ball when she decides, at midnight, that she is going to cut a hole in our basement door......without first measuring it for a potential kitty door.....

There needs to be a balance in life between these positions.  Running head first into a problem can often lead to head trauma.  Sitting on your hands too long can cause you to miss the window of opportunity. 

When the Gospels end Jesus has given the disciples all the "information" they need and gives them the universal Christian marching orders to "go and make disciples".   So....game on....?  Nope....they go and "wait". 

In Acts 1 Jesus' final words was to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.  And so they go and wait on God.

As a Pastor, husband, father, and amateur chicken farmer I am really good at "knowing" the right things to do.  I would be perfectly competent to compile all the pertinent information and data into a reasonable instruction manual for anyone to operate in these capacities.  If you would ask me what should be the first 5 things a Pastor should do in leading a church, I could quote you chapter and verse the tried and true formulas of "success". 

If the best information is so readily available why do so people experience "failure" at the virtually same rate they experience success in their marriages and ministries?

We act with the right information at the wrong time.

To illustrate this let me take a hypothetical scenario from my own marriage......My wife is currently in the final few weeks of pregnancy.  She is tired, can't sleep great, sore, etc.  And like most pregnant people with two small children to deal with as well, she can get a bit ummmmm.....irrational......(don't hit me).  Say my beautiful bride forgot to do something she said she would do, and then later she is feeling exhausted and emotionally frayed and is expressing her burn out to me.  Who thinks it would be a good time to bring up her mistake????

If you said yes....welcome to the couch.....

The information is correct, and in most contexts addressing the problem is probably a good thing.  But the wrong timing is destructive! 

The disciples have all the information they need to preach the Gospel, but they need to wait on God's timing.  In Acts 2 we get the amazing story of the Holy Spirit causing them to preach to the crowds that can each hear the message in their own native tongue.  The event is so powerful that vast crowds place their faith in Christ. 

What would have happened if they hadn't waited on God's timing?

Surely they would have still experienced success.  The Gospel does not come back empty.  But the powerful testimony of Christ resurrected would have not been infused with the very real and present power of God Himself.  It would have been just the words spoken by mere men.  In God's timing it became not the disciples testimony, but the active and visible work of a risen Savior. 

In the church "industry" there is no small number of self-help books and leadership manuals that promise greater returns on your ministry investment.  Many of them directly contradicting the others in their proffered operational paradigms and practices.  And, don't get me wrong, the information and insights they provide can be extremely beneficial to grasp and utilize.  But....we have a tendency to take that information and then apply it through the lens of our own planning and understanding. 

To take a silly example that many people may have experienced in some capacity.  We know studies show that unchurched millenials appreciate contemporary music more than an organ and hymns.  Armed with that information churches will often start exclusively doing contemporary music.  One church that I have dealt with dropped traditional music in their older church(median age 45+) and started contemporary style worship.  Which frustrated the older and faithful members. 

So did they at least reach the young and unchurched?  Nope.  Their idea for contemporary music was singing along with 20 year old CD's of songs that were "cool" in the mid-90's.  Not exaggerating.  So they frustrated their older people, and looked embarrassingly idiotic to the young people that did find their way in the doors on a Sunday morning. 

The information wasn't wrong, they just mishandled it and mistimed its application. 

How do we get our timing right then?  Whether in ministry, marriage, careers, or, family?

The backdrop to the miracle in Acts 2 is that the believers were gathered TOGETHER, seeking God's will.  It doesn't explicitly state they were praying.  But we know from the New Testament testimony that prayer and worship communally was what believers did when they got together. 

There will rarely be a time when you get some audible instruction to "go".  But your timing will not be right if you aren't worshiping and praying with God's people and seeking their fellowship, encouragement and advice. 

Whether you are trying to nail down the right time at home or in church....who are YOU praying with?  Who are YOU waiting with?  Who are YOU seeking counsel from?

Do you want to get your calendar aligned with God's? 

Be with His people.

Getting the timing right will profoundly shape your future


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Visible Christian Life

What does it look like to be a Christian?  Beyond the simple answers, like...fruits of the spirit....believing in Jesus.....repentance....etc?  But what are some of the markers of the natural outflow of a Christian's life that go beyond the internal and "personal"?

Contemporary Christian practice has become seemingly synonymous with individualism.  Which basically becomes, "I prayed a prayer this one time, I believe in Jesus...#winning"(I love dated references....)  And from that moment on this person is self-confident enough to then proceed to live exactly how they want.....on their own.  

But is this idea of "Me and JC are good, so that's all I need" really accurate? 

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you--Titus 1:5

Paul is writing a follow up letter to his co-laborer Titus about what to do post-evangelization in Crete.  Paul's ministry was to go all over the Roman world and proclaim the Gospel.  Many people would respond in faith to this message and at that moment become "Christians". 

In today's culture we do the Gospel proclamation part, and then.........um.......not much.  What does Paul instruct Titus to do?  To put "Order" to this new group of Christians.  What does order imply?  Clearly defined structures and systems.  It does not imply a loosey-goosey every man for himself post-conversion experience.  The assumptive position that Paul takes here(and through out the NT) is that Christian's would associate together in some manner of "ordered" community.

To be clear, he does not say, "Make sure these folks have a "church" so that they can finally REALLY become Christian".  Instead, he writes with the expectation that becoming a Christian naturally leads itself to deliberate(orderly) community with defined structure and consistent and accountable fellowship. 

To ignore this plain faced obviousness that is found throughout the New Testament is to deny the validity of the New Testament as an accurate revelation of God and His call to His people. 

Perhaps that last sentence offended you.  Good!!  Let me explain it slowly.....Either the Bible is reliable as a full testimony of God and the Gospel or it is not.  If it is NOT reliable, then, by all means, interpret it anyway that you choose to do so.  If it IS, then what it says to us is important! 

Find anywhere in the New Testament where the assumption for the Christian life is NOT shaped by an orderly community with established leadership(Elders) and I will concede my point......

Found it yet.....no?????  Ok, lets proceed....

The second part of this passage from Titus describes the responsibility of Elders;  1)  To be above reproach(to put it in short form), and, 2) To teach and defend the Gospel message from error and falsehood.  3)  Bring discipline to those who are teaching falsehood.  And this discipline has two purposes; 1- To protect people from untruth, and, 2- To bring the false teachers to repentance!

So, back to us and our Christian lives.......

A Christian's life is outwardly displayed by first belief and repentance.  Belief in Jesus and repentance from sin.  Where things like the fruit of the spirit can be great measurable markers of this.

The second aspect of outwardly displaying the internal reality of a Christian is participation within an "ordered" community.

Does perfectly exhibiting these two aspects MAKE someone a Christian.  Nope.  But will a Christian display these behaviors in their life.  Yep. 


This is going too far the other way......