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Archive for May, 2010

*Just so you know, this is probably the last post in this series for a while. I’ll come back to it but wanted to break out and write about a few other things also.

I remember standing with my friend David and about 10 other pastors from the Central Illinois area (my place of residence prior to Parkview). We were meeting as the Lincoln-Area Ministerial Society, and David was leading us in a Taize worship service. Taize is a community in France and you can read all about it in the link but it was a fairly moving prayer.

We then started praying from the Lutheran prayer book – because David is Lutheran and we were in his church – and he began his prayer from the book with this line,

Almighty God, holy one – holy three…

I looked up and looked around and wondered if anyone else was thinking what I was.

Wow.

One of the most baffling things about God and the Bible is the discussion about the Trinity. If you’re not familiar, it goes something like this.

God is God.

Jesus is God.

Holy Spirit is God.

Easy enough, right? Yes, as long as you say you believe in three gods. But we don’t, we believe in one God with three different personalities – the Trinity. Holy ONE, and Holy THREE.

It doesn’t much matter how you think this happens or whether you ever understand it (here to tell you – still baffles me!) but the key thought is this: God was willing to confuse the stink out of us to show us a way of loving us.

God the Creator, the source of life loves us enough to rescue us even when everything in us wants to rebel against Him.

Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, shows God’s love for the world through showing the path to true life and then dying so we could walk it without the fear of death.

Holy Spirit, the stand-in for Jesus that lives within us, shows us the way of God’s love by teaching us what Jesus would have us do and giving us the courage to walk without the fear of death.

It may not make sense, but it changes the world.

I’d appreciate your prayers this weekend as I’ll be preaching the kick-off sermon for “What Would Jesus Hate, part 2”. I’ll be talking about “Religious Rip-offs” and it has been a tremendously challenging time of praying and preparing.

Would love to see you there this weekend!

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Our daughter is great – 3 years old and starting to see the world in crazy new ways.

She’s smart. But she’s still gullible.

I’m convinced that most of parenting is done through the art of diversion, bait and switch, and all in a God-honoring, Christ-like manner of deception.

“Daddy, I want that _______!”

“Oooh, B, look over there a doggy!”

(move object of desire – B is locked into the doggy, crisis averted)

So, here’s the hard pill to swallow – we don’t grow out of this type of gullibility necessarily.

Even as adults, we’re distracted by shiny stuff, and the shiny stuff becomes far more complicated. Houses, careers, financial security, etc. None of which are overtly evil, but when they take the lion’s share of our attention they can be very destructive. Jesus understood this, and so he says

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:25-27)

This passage is in the context of Jesus talking about what the world will look like when God’s reign, His Kingdom, is starting to bust out all over.

That’s what we’re supposed to be about. Living the Kingdom. Letting go of the worry for the sake of God’s care for us in the face of a world that says “Hunker down, make sure you get yours.”

And even though the passage is in the setting of Jesus talking about the pursuit of stuff, we’d be nuts to think that our whole life isn’t affected by worry.

For our kids.

For our safety.

For our futures.

These can be shiny objects that distract us from one singular idea – an idea that could lead to tremendous freedom and life beyond our understanding. And here it is:

If we are walking behind Jesus, there is nothing we need that He will not provide. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. Economically. Nothing.

And, on the flipside: Our worry basically says that we don’t believe the previous statement.

Now I understand that this isn’t the easiest thing, and we grow into trusting God more and more, but ultimately we live to look away from the shiny stuff. We live to put it in context and in its place in relationship to God. What does this look like? How is this part of our growing up and heading out? Here are some practices:

Sabbath – to rest from working means that we trust God to give us what we need even when we aren’t working for it. Sabbath is just an intentional time of rest that says, through each event, that God is the most important thing and I’m going to celebrate the gifts (my family, my health, nature, etc.) He’s given me. 

Sabbath rejects the shiny object that says we’re in control of the universe. Sabbath says that I’m not important enough to be working and Blackberried every minute of every day. I’m not God.

Generosity– giving stuff away implies that there’s nothing we can give that won’t be replaced. This may mean money, but more than that it means time and space. For some, giving money isn’t a problem but for some protecting their time is a shiny object. Generosity as a practice gives us the opportunity to say that God is truly the one who provides our needs and He won’t call us to give if He isn’t willing to do the same.

Generosity rejects the shiny object that says we need to store up our time and resources “just in case.” God is the provider, as we pray “Give us TODAY our daily bread…”

So, what’s the shiny object that has your attention? Can you practice Sabbath and generosity in some small way today? What would your life look like with these things as regular rhythms?

Could the Kingdom of God be waiting to break through in your family, job, and neighborhood and the catalyst for that breakthrough is your movement from the shiny objects onto Jesus, the World’s true King?

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Talking to different church people, asking them what the goal of following Jesus is, you’ll get a lot of different responses.

To be transformed into the image of the invisible God.

To grow in maturity and faith until we imitate the Savior.

To become fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

To be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.

All of these are great definitions, but I think we can boil it down to one simple phrase.

To stop being a jerk.

I have to say that I borrowed this phrase from a conversation with another pastor but honestly this is where everything is heading. To stop doing things that alienate people, to stop giving the world tremendously rough edges (and not for God-inspired reasons), and to become someone that draws people toward them because of the impact Jesus has had on them is important because “jerks” can’t do this. What is a jerk, exactly?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “jerk” as 4 a : an annoyingly stupid or foolish person b : an unlikable person; especially : one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded.

Sadly, there are more times than not when this definition could also be used for the word “Christian.” Why is this? I think it’s because we miss out on the goodness of a particular theme in Scripture – freedom.

Often the Christian jerks we know are totally oblivious to the freedom God has injected into their lives – the freedom to love, to forgive, to celebrate, to welcome, and to leave fear behind because of the resurrection of Jesus. Freedom doesn’t mean no rules, but it means guidance that exceeds rules. The Spirit of God leads people, so that we no longer need as many “do’s” and “do not’s”. More on that later.

In John 8, Jesus is talking to some fairly self-righteous people about slavery and freedom. These folks believe that because Abraham is their great-great-great-great (on and on) grandfather that they’re good to go – they don’t have to worry about sin and frankly they’re much better and more holy than those “other people”.

Jesus tells them, “You’re slaves.”

They say, “Huh-uh! We’ve never been slaves!”

He says, I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

Jesus basically says “You’re acting like jerks because you think that you’ve got the market cornered on God and everyone else needs to get with the program. Stop it. I’m the Son of the true ‘family’, and if I set you free then you are truly free. Not because of who your daddy is, or whatever privilege you think you have because of your DNA. It’s because of me that you stop being jerks.”

This is the danger I see sometimes in people who are growing in their relationship with God – getting so strong that you begin to look at other people who think differently or are at a different stage and actually looking down on them for what they do.

Or even worse, looking at certain things that really don’t matter (I’d think you were a Christian, but you don’t believe in a millennial reign of Christ prior to the end of days like I do…) and making them standards for acceptance into the “circle.” We call that the “older brother” effect here at Parkview – like the brother in the prodigal son story who thinks that he’s always “stayed at home” with God and obeyed all His rules– why would you welcome these dirty sinners back home who don’t believe in predestination or abstaining totally from alcohol, etc. etc.?

This is what it means to be a jerk. Not to believe in predestination or abstinence or creationism but to ignore the fact that Jesus hung out with pagans, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. and just let His free and beautiful life affect them all. To act like we have it all together and bash other people on the head with our self-righteousness. Or, to attend church and profess faith but treat our employees like animals or treat our spouse like hired help and be bitter and angry about everything in our life.

How does this transformation from jerk-hood to freedom occur? It happens through John 8:31-32:

Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’

Growing up and moving out means becoming less of a jerk for the sake of showing the world a free, beautiful, and overflowing life. It means listening to Jesus and letting Him determine what’s important and what’s not, and free us to live as if we believe those things are important too. If this is still muddy, let me try and clear it up for you with something from Paul.

Jesus’ teachings are given to us through Scripture but also through His Spirit that teaches us what it means to be like Jesus here and now. The fruit of that is listed in Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5 (and really the whole letter) has one central theme – freedom – that seems to make sense here.

The fruit of the spirit are very un-jerk-like traits. They are the kind of traits that fly against what most people see as survival tactics, even as Christians, for combating the world around us.

So, when debating evolution or abortion – are these fruit coming through or do we slip into political rants and personal attacks?

When debating prayer being removed from schools, do we express faithfulness and peace in knowing that whether we pray in school or not, the important thing is to pray?

The world needs to see less jerks, especially from the gang that follows Jesus. Plus, as we work to let these fruit come out of our lives then we will grow in our faith in ways that we couldn’t imagine.

So are you a jerk? I am still working through my own jerk-ness, but I hope to let this post affect me in that area today.

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