Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kids in the Worship Service

Recently I was involved in a discussion about kids in the worship service; should we have Sunday school classes, can small kids gain understanding more fully in the service with their parents than they could from having their own class of, let's say, 3-5 year olds?

Though I am not the expert, per se, I do feel like I missed a pretty good opportunity to make some observations that might have been helpful at the time.

So here they are-
Can kids hold still that long? While in Ethiopia, Teresa and I had the privilege of moving an entire small orphanage from Addis Abba out into a rural village area. We loaded all the beds and things on a flatbed and all the kids onto the bus. We had no idea that the trip would take us 10 hours. Yes, 10 hours on a bus with kids that barely spoken English.

There was much debate within the leadership as to what we should do for food and water. We Americans, there were 3 of us, thought that we should feed them breakfast, after all their last meal was last night, and then take some food and lots of water with us. the Ethiopian leaders were so "mean". They didn't want to give them breakfast and only thought that we should take a few bottles of water and a couple of sleeves of crackers. We
followed their lead.

10 hours on a old, beat up bus is a long time. Add to that kids who are throwing up and that makes it all the longer. No diapers, barely any water or food and 1 single "bathroom" break in a 10 hour trip.

Even the kids who were throwing up barely cried because that was not acceptable. I couldn't understand what they were saying but basically, "Buck up, sit down and don't fuss". Did I mention it was 10 hours? T held an 11 month old almost the entire time and I had an 18 month old. I actually was harder on me to sit still than it was for them.

Yes- when trained, kids can sit still for 1 hour.

Should kids even be in the service? Are they getting anything out of it? Would they be better off somewhere with a group of kids? Well, let's think about how Jesus did it- He's a good example of ways to do things.

When He was young the entire community went up to Jerusalem to worship. Jesus got left behind and it wasn't like He was trying to sneak around behind His parent's back. They were busy with other kids and family members and forgot Him- that must mean that the Jews thought that the entire family should worship together.

In the OT there was a sacrificial system that must have required people to stand in some sort of line to offer their sacrifices. When mom sinned did she leave her kids home or were they in line with her half the day? Were they getting anything out of standing in line, watching the graphic
killing of animals? God must have thought it was ok for them to be there as it doesn't seem like there was an Sunday school area for them there.

Oh, and Jesus, as a teacher, gathered 4000-5000 men together with their families and taught them for the better part of a day out on the hillside. Maybe it looked something like this. Notice- there are no restrooms, water fountains or jungle gyms.
Were the kids listening too? Did they send the kids to another area? It certainly doesn't seem like it since Jesus used the lunch of a "YOUNG BOY" to feed the entire group. How would that have been possible if the kids were separated off in another area that was more age appropriate? Kids were still kids back then, but maybe we have just let them have their way too much

Lastly, worship is supposed to draw us nearer to God. When Jesus was teaching and the disciples saw that the little children were "bothering" Jesus they were trying to push them away. Was that towards their area where they wouldn't distract the adults in their worship? Was that so they could be better taught by their moms or someone else?

How did Jesus respond to that pushing away? He said , "Bring the little children to me". Don't push them away but rather bring them closer.

If Jesus thought it was ok for the kids to get up and go to the bathroom in His long talk on the hillside, if He thought it was ok to have them closer to Him when He was teaching rather than farther away, then maybe there is something good about having them around. Maybe they can hold still and maybe they can really learn something valuable from that time.

Jesus did things with a purpose and perfectly and so it was no mistake that this is the way the system was set up. Maybe we are just trying to hard to make it comfortable for us to sit still and not be distracted and maybe the kids actually can sit still and learn if we get past our issues and teach them that going to the worship service is different than going to playland at McDonalds.

All this was just keeping up all night and I wish I would have said it in the moment, but maybe this is better. Love to hear your response.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The New Best- Whatever

I have a Cookbook and it looks just like the one on the left. I received it from a friend, as a gift, some years ago. I assume the reason they chose this particular one was very specific. Maybe it was the title. Maybe they read it from cover to cover, some 800 pages, and thought I would like it. Maybe they already have this one, they'd made 1 dessert that was amazing and said "Chuck will love this dessert, I'll get it for him". Maybe they think I am a proud person and only will look at something if it says "Best" on it.

I didn't prejudge their motive in giving it to me; I was/am thankful for the gift and enjoy many things about it.

What's in the Book Matters and so is What's Not.
There a many words in this book, a few pictures and literally thousands of recipes tested. There is NOT a recipe for everything that you might ever want to cook, but rather the book covers the basics of what we, as Americans, might want to cook and find difficult to cook really well. Every French, Italian and Chinese recipe is not listed here, but if you want to know about cooking the BEST Hamburger, Prime Rib or Thanksgiving Turkey, this is your book.

As I stated earlier, there are some 800 pages, in this book and there are really not that many foods selected for so many pages. I could be upset that for having such a large cookbook they could have given me at least 1200 recipes, but there are probably not even 600. That's not the point of this book.

Is it REALLY the BEST?
How can someone say that about anything, especially in America, where we have a better X for everything that hits the street?

Let's talk TURKEY!

I am going to use a turkey as an example for this post.

This Thanksgiving I decided to butcher my home-grown turkeys to eat; we named them "Thanksgiving" and "Christmas". Don't even start with me about, "How could you kill your own turkeys?" blah, blah, blah. Someone killed yours if you ate turkey and frankly, it was kind of fun, in a "fulfilling" sort of way- pun intended.

Naturally, since we went to the work and expense of raising and then butchering our own birds, I wanted to have the BEST way of cooking the birds. Yes, I said "BEST". In the cookbook they have literally experimented with 50-60 birds to wind up with their recipe. I generally cook 1 turkey in November and 1 in December each year and I want each one of those to be really good. I don't want to buy a bird and experiment with a different failed recipe each time to finally end up with a great turkey when I am 75. Enter the TEST KITCHEN chefs.

In the book they talk about fresh, frozen and home-grown and organic birds. They talk about brining, deep frying, tenting, stuffing, optimal bird weight, seasonings, internal temperature and even resting before carving. That's a lot of info just to cook a bird. They go through the myths that your grandma taught you and even the science of many parts of their process. As an aside- do you know why a hamburger gets fat on the grill and almost turns into a meatball? Do you know a simple way to combat this? I do-because they told me.

You just think you're so Smart!

When I read the recipes and the foundational info connected to each recipe I could think the above. I mean, I've cooked some turkeys and some of them have turned out pretty stinking good. In fact, I've cooked some frozen turkeys, because they are like $.25 per pound around Thanksgiving, and some of them were really good, so don't go telling me that a frozen turkey will never be as good as a home-grown, fresh bird. (Stomping my feet and acting all childish.)

Doesn't that sound sort of stupid? I can look through the cookbook, read all the background for each recipe, understand better what the chefs are trying to aim for and then disregard everything they have said because "my mom told me that this was the best way and her turkey was pretty good most of the time". Great- throw away the cookbook and do it your way. Haven't we missed the point of the book by this time?

Sometimes there is a BEST.

In America we seem to have this idea that everyone should get a ribbon for participation or that to say something is BEST means that everything else is C.R.A.P. There's BEST and all else is not 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 8th place, but 1st and "off the scale terrible". You win the Superbowl- OR you suck, even if it was a 35-34 double OT game. I'm not sure why we think that. There is a clear winner- they are BEST. There are clearly those in 2nd and 5th and they too are probably good or even great but not BEST; at least not that day. If you come in 2nd, try to do better tomorrow. If you come in first- the same applies.

Back to the cookbook. The turkeys we cooked this year were REALLY good. Were they the best ever? I think so. Did we follow EVERY letter of the "rules" of the recipe? Nope. The birds were bigger than they said were optimal- stupid birds ate too much:). Oh, does that mean that I can't use any of the principles outlined in the cookbook? Nope. If the turkey was frozen because I didn't want to wait until 2 days before Christmas to butcher the 2nd one, does that make it "less good" than the one on Thanksgiving. Maybe, but it's better than getting one that was frozen 10 months ago that was full of hormones. Make sense?

Throwing out Babies and Bathwater.

Hopefully you can see the point of the post thus far. As is my usual tendency- there is a spiritual point to this.

We have been talking a lot about liturgy in our worship lately. There is also some talk as to whether what is being said means that everyone else's worship is "bad". Can there really be a right way? God sees our hearts more than our actions, right? He sees both and there is some guidelines to our worship. Some foundation has been laid as to why we are doing things the way we are doing them; like the science and testing done by the chefs in the book.

If God has placed men in authority over a given church body, as leaders, and His Spirit is directing those men to introduce "new" things to us in the worship service, it seems there are a few ways to respond. I was going to add those responses but you can fill them in for yourself.

We should NOT ignore the "chefs" who have tried to help us understand why they believe this "recipe" will produce the best worship experience for this local body. If we do that then should we even have elders?

I don't have time, personally, to try out every form of worship combo that is being tried today, let alone in the past 2000 years, so I'd like to follow some people who have my best interest at heart, are taking their responsibilities seriously and are willing to step out an lead; not just stay stuck, in fear, that "we've always done it this way and we better not rock the boat".

Let's go and try to be the BEST worshippers we know how to be. Let's do that without saying that all others are in 7000th place, are heretics or all all going to Hell. Let's understand that there are ways to draw nearer to God in worship, which means there are things that cause us to move farther away. Let's follow the Book and the leaders given to our local portion of the Body. Let's do it with joy and make the loudest "BOOM" we are able, be pleased with the noise we are currently making but not satisfied that there is no way to make it louder.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Viewing Death

Words AND Works Make a Difference

We, in our churched circles, often hear about dying to self and while that is good to say- words- what does that really look like-works?

When someone says "Die to self"-DTS- what does that look like? Does it look the same to you today as it did last week? Since we have been going through a series on corporate worship I have been thinking about how that might look different to others on any given Sunday morning.

Dying is NOT comfortable.

One thing that "Die to Self" does not look like is sleeping in to whatever time you like and not going to church. DTS actually takes planning sometimes. Planning to get up early on Sunday so you and I can have our hearts ready to give to others. Staying up late on Saturday and being too tired on Sunday to give of ourselves is not DTS.

Dying looks Different.

For one person DTS might be that they need to talk more and to the person right next to them in the pew it might mean they need to talk less. Because DTS is not comfortable and God calls us to give of ourselves we may need to do what seems like the hardest thing for us to really know what it means to DTS.

Getting dressed up can be a form of DTS- not comfortable wearing a tie- wearing a tie is then dying to self. We all dress for comfort but whether it is for the comfort of ourselves or others is DTS.

Singing can be a form of DTS. Making a joyful and yet not so beautiful noise is DTS. The Bible does not tell us to make a beautiful noise but it tells us many places to sing, make melody in your hearts and make a joyful noise. Out of the overflow of our hearts to God comes songs of thanksgiving to Him and if we are too worried about not being able to sing beautifully so we don't sing at all, that is not DTS.

Sitting in a different place might be DTS. Maybe you aren't comfortable sitting towards the front. Move up anyway. Maybe you are moved to say "Amen" but that seems like a distraction- DTS. Maybe you are thinking about raising your hands in worship but no one else is doing it. Maybe many others want to do the same and so it wouldn't be a distraction at all next week.

Hopefully you are getting the point. DTS is not something we actual do well or often, but as we work through what it means to be One Body maybe this will help us understand that each person's DTS can look different but in DTS we give life to others and in the end to ourselves.

Jesus was our Example.

Jesus stayed up all night preparing to Die. Jesus came to earth, out of the comforts of Heaven to die. Jesus did the hardest thing for a perfect God-man to do- He took on our sin. Jesus died to bring us life and in His dying the Father exalted Him.

If Jesus would have just said "I love you" without showing His love for us in dying for us, it would not have been enough. Words do make a difference and those words lead us to works; works that God has perfectly planned for each one of us to do and then perfectly equipped each of us to do through the Spirit.

If we are walking in the Spirit we are ready to DTS, we're equipped and we have the grace to do it, now we just need to let go of our life and give it up for others. Easier to say, in words, than to do, with works.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A New Set of Tracks

What's your Deal?

For many years I have been thinking about the difference between sharing my faith by some program, like DE or EE, using a bunch of verses and a canned script, or by telling my own personal story of how God grabbed ahold of me and changed me. There are differences of opinion on this subject and some say that you need to give a chain of verses and get people to recite a prayer, while others say that this kind of thing should be much more relational and less Bible verses.

In reading Acts 22 this morning Paul asked to tell his conversion story and it wasn't well received. I don't see any verses in the passage, I know that now it is all verses, but no OT verses, and all he did was tell about who he was before, what he was doing and what happened that made him so different today; his story.

There was something different about Paul now that was very irritating to many around him, not because he was being a jerk, I mean he was killing people before and he was well received so maybe that's one clue, or because he was constantly reciting OT passages to them but because he was different than he was before. Paul was often in the Synagogue and in houses talking about Scripture, explaining to others what a certain passage meant, but when asked "What's your deal?" he gave his testimony instead of a long list of verses. Why do you suppose that is?

A Changed life is Hopeful

I don't have all the answers to all the questions that people have about the Bible; Paul was obviously in a much better place to refute objections than I am. I can't explain every question that the Bible raises, but I can tell of the hope that is in me. I can tell you that God did something in me and it's made me look at life much differently today than I did some years ago.

Everyone has something that they are looking forward to, maybe you want to call them goals and maybe you don't; some call it a "bucket list" and others are not that organized, but we all have something that causes us to get up in the morning and keeps us up later at night. God can change your bucket list and take everything that has no meaning and replace it with very meaningful things; things that have purpose. Paul understood this and so do I.

Who's the Hero?

In Paul's recounting of why he was different than before, there is only one "hero" in the story and it wasn't Paul. All Paul could say was that before God got ahold of his life, he was on one track and then, by no intention in himself, he was on a completely different track and the One who changed his course of direction was God.

It seems that people often want to point back to things that we have done in our conversion but if it were up to me, dependent on me, I would still be on the old track. God not only took me off that track but made it so that the new track is a much more enjoyable track to be on than was the old.

How does something like that happen? If my desires were the same as they were previously then everyday I would wake up and be miserable on the new tracks, but God changed my heart and that is why life is worth living and that is why life is full of hope. I no longer have my hope centered around things on earth and my hope is in what is to come.

Sure I have things I would like to accomplish today and tomorrow and this year, but if I don't see them accomplished my life in not wasted, because that is not why I live and breath any more. I don't know how that all happened but I know that God did something specific to and in me and HE changed my life and I never want to go back to the way it was before.

That's not a verse and I am not the "hero" of the story but God changed ME and I am glad He did even though I am not sure of all He did or even exactly when He did it all, but He did change me and that gives me hope, because if He can change me I know He can change you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Father's Care in View

As a dad it is my job to provide for the family that God has given me. As dads we should take that responsibility seriously while yet understanding clearly that it is God that gives the means for us to provide. Often we get these 2 things out of perspective and think it is us, the dads, who are doing the providing; that is until the means we are given to provide is diminished or taken away completely.

So as I sit here are write and pray for the kids who are all the way across the continent I am reminded that it is not I who am the sole provider, it is not Ian who is not in charge of what happens, it is not required of us to be able to keep vehicles running on a shoe string budget, but rather it is God Who keeps things running, or NOT, and it is He Who alone is the provider of all we need.

So what kind of lessons does God teach us in times when we are not really able to provide for ourselves? What kinds of things do He want us to get?

I think, first off, that He is interested in us getting this idea- like the children of Israel in the wilderness. They actually had money and yet God placed them where the money was useless to provide for their daily needs. The ONLY thing they could do was to follow God's plan and receive what He gave.

The second thing is that we should be watching for what He does. I want to help the kids but at this time I really don't have the menas to do that and it doesn't matter bc God does have the means. He not only has the means but He is eager to give and wants to be recognized and thanked for His provision.

So today, as I pray from the other side of the US, I am humbled that God can provide much better than I and that He WILL provide in His time and perfectly for the needs of those that I love so much.

What an awesome God we serve and it is amazing to watch Him work in ways that only He can. Wait but get ready to worship because He provides more than we can ask or imagine and I have a pretty big imagination.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Leadership Expose'- Where's Nathan?

Massive Leadership Issues

As I watch the news, read some blogs, see some FB posts, follow some Twitter feeds and live life it seems there is an epic leadership disconnect going on today and the Church is not exempt, in fact maybe the Church is leading this decline.

Where are the Nathans in the world today who will stand up to these men and say, "Enough is enough. Either you do what is right or you will need to step down"?

Today our positions of leadership are filled from the inside, bottom up, so that every leader seems to have a bunch of dirt on the people below him and is willing to use that dirt to remain at the level he has attained no matter how ugly it might get; no matter who he needs to throw under the bus.

Biblical Model

Matthew 18:15-17 clearly defines how we are to deal with sin in the Church and it is not talking about just the pew sitters; it is SIN in the Church.
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

So, if I see someone do something that looks like sin to me, I am to go to that person, by myself, and in the spirit of Gal. 6:1, a spirit of meekness because it could be me next time, I am to confront them on this issue or concern. If they blow me off and say I am wrong and recriminate me, then I am to take 2 or 3 others with me and attempt to win the brother again; again, in the spirit of Gal. 6. If after this is done and there is still no repentance or humility, then I am to take it to the church, whether that be the leadership of the church as a whole is part of this question.

Today's Model

What it seems like is happening all too frequently in the Church today is that maybe the first to steps of Matt. 18 are being done but as soon as there is no repentance the playing field gets really messy. The "officials" come in to the aid of their favorite "players" and change the rules, don't make them play by the same rules that the Bible outlines and then even start to lobby penalties against those who were originally following the Biblical model.

How can this be? Where are the leaders who require leaders to be REAL leaders? Where are the men who will not turn their backs and say "I didn't see anything wrong", when in fact they absolutely know something is wrong but they are afraid of losing something and so rather than risk losing a position or a paycheck they look the other way, or even cover up the sin by lying? Where are they I ask?

Nathan's Example

Nathan was in a pretty tough spot. Nathan had to go tell the most beloved king of his country "You are that man." Do you think that is what Nathan was wanting to do when he got up that morning? Do you think he was thinking "This will be easy"? Do you think that maybe he was thinking he might lose his HEAD?

It doesn't matter what we might lose. If we know what the right thing to do is and we don't do it, that in itself is sin. Many leaders today know exactly what the right thing to do is and yet they look the other way. Many sheep will leave the Church and never look back because of how they have been treated by leadership.

It's interesting to me that early in Matt 18 there is a section on causing "little ones" to stumble. There is a "Woe to you" for causing others to stumble and do you suppose it could be directed at leadership? The Pharisees were pretty good at changing the rules, causing people to stumble and elevating themselves and their associates and Jesus called them a brood of vipers.

The Goal

The goal of Matt 18 is to win the brother. "Winning" takes on many forms and winning them might come in the form of them seeing their sin, repenting from that sin, losing their job and having an amazing impact on the Church for many generations in a different capacity. Winning is not letting their sin go on and on, never saying anything about it and hoping that someday God sends someone to say something. He already did and when you look in the mirror you're looking at him.

Nathan wasn't looking around for someone to do his job; he went and did it. In meekness and humility we are to go to our leaders and try to win them towards becoming more like Christ, to be better leaders and better sheep.

I am concerned for those leaders today that are not willing to lose something here on earth to do the right thing because God will always make it right! Be a friend and a brother to your leaders and do what God has called you to do; with respect, honor and meekness, but go do it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fighting Christians

"Fight the good fight of faith." 1 Timothy 6:12

True Christianity is a fight!

True Christianity! Let us mind that word "true." There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday and call themselves Christians. They make a "profession" of faith in Christ. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die.

But you never see any "fight" about their religion! Of spiritual strife and exertion and conflict and self-denial and watching and warring--they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness. True Christianity is "a fight!"

The principal fight of the Christian is with . . .
the world,
the flesh, and
the devil.
These are his never-dying foes! These are the three chief enemies against whom he must wage war. With a corrupt heart, a busy devil and an ensnaring world--he must either "fight" or be lost!

To be at peace with the world, the flesh and the devil--is to be at enmity with God and in the broad way that leads to destruction! We have no choice or option. We must either fight--or be lost!

It is a fight of universal necessity. No rank or class or age can plead exemption, or escape the battle--all alike must carry arms and go to war.
All have by nature a heart full of pride, unbelief, sloth, worldliness and sin!
All are living in a world beset with snares, traps and pitfalls for the soul.
All have near them a busy, restless, malicious devil.
All, from the queen in her palace down to the pauper in the workhouse--all must fight, if they would be saved.

We may take comfort about our souls, if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine Christian holiness.

The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians, is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare--its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests--of all this they appear to know nothing at all."
(J.C. Ryle, "The Fight!")

This is very true and I would like to just add that there is a fight for joy in all this. We are fighting all these things every minute of every day, but we also must have joy in this fight or what unbeliever would want to join the fight?

I also didn't like the term "Never-dying foes" because these all will die and we are more than conquerors of all these things, which should help us in our fight for joy. But I did like his overall idea behind the post.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Danger, Danger

Danger Ahead
Reading the Exodus narrative is an amazing journey if you take your time and let your mind imagine all the things that were happening along the way. It is also a terrifying reminder of how wicked the heart can be.

God's Patience

It is strange to me that Moses argues with God and yet God still uses him and even gives him a provision for his weakness in being the spokes person. I'm not really sure why God listens to whiny/complaining people but He has a plan and it obviously included Moses in all his weakness and trepidation.

I love that God tells Moses what to say and actually what Pharaoh is going to say and do in response to what Moses says. We have God's Word to go back to and see His faithfulness through previous generations, Moses could look back on his own history of how he was saved from an early death and yet God knew that he needed the extra measure of grace in this time.

God is Serious

Hardness of heart; what a terrible place to be found. As I read through the narrative and God says that Pharaoh hardened his heart and then God hardens his heart I was struck with the realization that I know people like this today. Certainly God is not showing His power after the morning message by swarming our city with gnats, flies, frogs or boils but He does send people into our lives to shake us up and cause us to listen.

God doesn't send a Moses to each of us today but we have His Word and we should have godly people around us that can hold us accountable. If someone comes to us and tells us they are concerned about something in our lives, we should consider it. Since God isn't giving the plagues to us anymore maybe the "plague" is more than one person making the same or similar statements. If we ignore God's use of people and His Spirit our hearts are becoming hard just like Pharaoh's.

God is the Provider

The Jews were the slaves to the Egyptians and it was only 1 generation ago that Joseph had been 2nd in command to Pharaoh and provided for the entire Egyptian and Jewish nation. In one generation the whole thing came tumbling down and yet God allowed the Jews to leave Egypt far richer than they had entered.

They came in on wagons and carts with no food. Many had given everything they had just to get the food they needed to live and while they were leaving Egypt the Egyptians gave them loads of treasures- they held them up without a gun or sword.

That gold would skip a generation in its usefulness because they were in the wilderness for 40 more years and that entire generation was not allowed to go to a place where the money was needed, but rather God would provide for them all they needed in the wilderness. But before they got there God had one more serious miracle to show them His power as well as to show Pharaoh what a hard heart will get you.

God always Wins

Chasing them into the wilderness after he had let them go is a good sign of a very hard heart, I mean he had just seen every first born of everything be killed in one night. Really do you think you're gonna win this one? He's mad and he's gonna prove his point to those wicked Jews. We've seen this in history since.

So if all that is not enough here's the proverbial straw. Pharaoh no doubt had seen the Red Sea in it's normal state; the way you can see it today and every other body of water on the planet. He had just seen God clean his clock in 10 different ways plus the plundering that the Jews had done without lifting a finger and yet when he comes to the edge of the sea that is parted shouldn't there have been a really large warning sign there?

Again, the hardness of ones heart is so evident. God plans things in our lives for a purpose and we can either learn and grow from them or we can harden our hearts and push forward no matter the warnings we are given. May that never be me and may that never be you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Snake in the Grass

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The Set Up
I have a friend who for years has been telling me and many other that he is a Christian. So if we use the criteria above how would others know whether what he is saying is true or not? Jesus drops the analogy of fruit and words into the same paragraph, so I am taking this to mean that they are somehow linked. Jesus- talking to Jews in front of their very religious leaders is making a very poignant statement and you probably could have heard a pin drop in the dust until the "vipers" started hissing.

Good and Bad Trees and Fruit
If you have a tree that is diseased sometimes the only way you can deal with it is to tear it out and start over again. Sometimes you can treat it for a few seasons and bring it around. A good gardner or orchardist would know which trees have issues and be watching them. It goes without saying that a gardner is not thinking about ripping out a tree because it is producing good fruit though.

Evil People Exude Venom
It is also interesting to me that Jesus immediately goes from good and bad to words."How can you speak good, when you are evil?" Jesus was not looking for an answer here. So, think again whom He is talking to. These were men who quoted Scripture, were in church all the time, looked very religious and prayed in front of the masses anytime they had opportunity. Was Jesus saying that Scripture was bad? No. Was Jesus saying that going to church was evil? No. He must have been giving the idea that those "good things" coming from their mouths were tainted with venom- like they shouldn't be trusted.

Over Flowing
Jesus' next words are "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." He is wrapping a lot of things into one paragraph; fruit, words and the heart. So, trees are known by their fruit, words and fruit are linked and both of those are linked to the heart. If the tree is bad it produces bad fruit, no matter what words are coming from it. Bad trees, no matter what they say can't produce "good" words. Jesus has to be telling us to watch out for people who look good, say things that appear to be good and yet are really snakes.

There is abundance in all our hearts. We become like what we love or Who we love and this fills up our hearts. If I love American muscle cars and I read about them all the time and go to car shows and have a couple in my garage, guess what, I am going to be talking about them a lot. Those cars are filling up my heart and out of the abundance of my heart I want to speak. It is not work for me to speak about those cars- it flows out of me. You can insert whatever is your fight; sports, food, sewing, books, movies, work or God.

Unrestricted Flow
A person who is truly a "good tree" will have abundance flowing out from their heart to others. The Word implanted and watered will be growing up into a fountain of living water and the outflow will be psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as they are making melody in their hearts towards God. This is not work or effort- it just will come out. When something comes up it will often be directed back to God and His attributes and Word.

I digress for a moment- This is not some kind of manufactured love for God followed by religious pride, like the Pharisees and a quick way to tell is by where is the focus of the story. Is it "God did this even when I was not trusting" or "I had so much faith and I prayed for the last 20 years about this and finally I got what I asked God for"? Look at these 2 statements. "God is faithful" and "I just had to have faith".

Inspecting Fruit
We hear all the time- "Don't judge me"- but isn't this what Jesus is calling attention to right here in this paragraph? Wasn't He telling others to watch out for the "vipers" around them that said one thing and must have been doing another? Wasn't He calling them to be very careful around the snakes? He was saying all that as well as telling us to examine our own lives, hearts, fruit and words.
If "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" then shouldn't it be that if we are "good trees" bearing "Good fruit" that there should often be spiritual abundance coming from our lives and mouths?

Back to my friend. Saying you're a Christian without ever talking about spiritual things should be a red flag. If our hearts are to be overflowing and there is seldom overflow in spiritual things then I think we are getting the answer as to whether the tree is good or bad- no matter what the tree is claiming.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What's your Stinking Deal?

Get out of the Game
This year we are hearing so much about the amazing selflessness of a guy named Tim Tebow. Here's a guy who could have been aborted but he wasn't. He could have listened to the press that he was never going to amount to much and certainly wouldn't make it in the NFL because "He doesn't throw well" or "He's the wrong size". Who's that talking anyway? Wh's trying to take him out of the game?

He could choose to listen to all the critics but thus far he is not interested in coming out of the game or the spotlight either on the field or off. He's got a platform and he's gonna stay on it and use it as much as is possible.

What about you?
I think that there are many who think that they don't have that kind of platform so what's the use? Maybe you want to have a huge influence/audience and if God doesn't give that to you then you are fine not doing really anything. Really? Wouldn't that be similar to saying "I never am going to make a million dollars in a year so what's the point of working and providing"?

Doing What Tebow Can't!
So, let's say that I can encourage you to get up out of our funk and connect with some people and do something that Tim Tebow can't do- influence your friends personally. Just think about the influence that you have on others. Are you waiting for someone else to come and do your "work" for you? When you are hanging out with your friends and family, when you're talking about spiritual things and encouraging spiritual growth in others and asking for accountability from others you will start to gain influence and really start to make an impact. A knife actually needs a steel and a steel has little use if there is no knife. Which are you?

A New Year
We have a new year and so how about trying to really engage others that are already in your life? One at a time, one hour or day at a time you can make a difference in someone who might be waiting for your encouraging words or actions and you just never know- you might have a life long relationship that starts from just that.

Ready, Set, GO!

You will Learn About Life When you Play the Game of Life

So- you don't think Tebow can play football. He certainly knows how to play life.

"I've come to believe in Tim Tebow, but not for what he does on a football field, which is still three parts Dr. Jekyll and two parts Mr. Hyde.

No, I've come to believe in Tim Tebow for what he does off a football field, which is represent the best parts of us, the parts I want to be and so rarely am.

Who among us is this selfless?

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster's), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.

Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?

Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.

For Tim Tebow's take on being named America's most popular athlete, click here.

"Here he'd just played the game of his life," recalls Bailey's mother, Kathy, of Loveland, Colo., "and the first thing he does after his press conference is come find Bailey and ask, 'Did you get anything to eat?' He acted like what he'd just done wasn't anything, like it was all about Bailey."

More than that, Tebow kept corralling people into the room for Bailey to meet. Hey, Demaryius, come in here a minute. Hey, Mr. Elway. Hey, Coach Fox.

Even though sometimes-fatal Wegener's granulomatosis has left Bailey with only one lung, the attention took her breath away.

"It was the best day of my life," she emailed. "It was a bright star among very gloomy and difficult days. Tim Tebow gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine. He gave me the strength for the future. I know now that I can face any obstacle placed in front of me. Tim taught me to never give up because at the end of the day, today might seem bleak but it can't rain forever and tomorrow is a new day, with new promises."

I read that email to Tebow, and he was honestly floored.

"Why me? Why should I inspire her?" he said. "I just don't feel, I don't know, adequate. Really, hearing her story inspires me."

It's not just NFL defenses that get Tebowed. It's high school girls who don't know whether they'll ever go to a prom. It's adults who can hardly stand. It's kids who will die soon.

For the game at Buffalo, it was Charlottesville, Va., blue-chip high school QB Jacob Rainey, who lost his leg after a freak tackle in a scrimmage. Tebow threw three interceptions in that Buffalo game and the Broncos were crushed 40-14.

"He walked in and took a big sigh and said, 'Well, that didn't go as planned,'" Rainey remembers. "Where I'm from, people wonder how sincere and genuine he is. But I think he's the most genuine person I've ever met."

There's not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow, and I've looked everywhere for it.

Take 9-year-old Zac Taylor, a child who lives in constant pain. Immediately after Tebow shocked the Chicago Bears with a 13-10 comeback win, Tebow spent an hour with Zac and his family. At one point, Zac, who has 10 doctors, asked Tebow whether he has a secret prayer for hospital visits. Tebow whispered it in his ear. And because Tebow still needed to be checked out by the Broncos' team doctor, he took Zac in with him, but only after they had whispered it together.

And it's not always kids. Tom Driscoll, a 55-year-old who is dying of brain cancer at a hospice in Denver, was Tebow's guest for the Cincinnati game. "The doctors took some of my brain," Driscoll says, "so my short-term memory is kind of shot. But that day I'll never forget. Tim is such a good man."

This whole thing makes no football sense, of course. Most NFL players hardly talk to teammates before a game, much less visit with the sick and dying.

Isn't that a huge distraction?

Stephanie Taylor- Not everything Tim Tebow does on one knee is controversial. Ask Zac Taylor.
"Just the opposite," Tebow says. "It's by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn't really matter. I mean, I'll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it's to invest in people's lives, to make a difference."

So that's it. I've given up giving up on him. I'm a 100 percent believer. Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too.

Remember the QB who lost his leg, Jacob Rainey? He got his prosthetic leg a few weeks ago, and he wants to play high school football next season. Yes, tackle football. He'd be the first to do that on an above-the-knee amputation.

Hmmm. Wonder where he got that crazy idea?

"Tim told me to keep fighting, no matter what," Rainey says. "I am."

By Rick Reilly

Friday, January 13, 2012

Love Miles Apart

I have some friends who's son is in the Army and is in Afganistan right now. For us the time goes by pretty quickly because we are busy with all kinds of things and life moves along. I am pretty sure it isn't moving as quickly for him there. As I was walking and praying for them this morning I was reminded of a few things.

I'm in the Lord's Army

This young man has a guitar with him and has some sheet music to practice with. The music is praise and worship centered and so he is doing just that; playing, praising and worshipping in a tent half way around the world. Remember, he's in the Army. The Army is not busting out at the seams with young people who are committed to Christ anymore than the balance of the population here in the States is. He's truly in a hostile environment in more ways than one.

As he was playing some of the guys who room with him were taking a video and making fun of him and then they posted it on FB for all their friends to see and I presume they are wanting their friends to join in the mockery.

To the "Rescue"
As a parent I know this would make me upset and in his case, his parents were not very happy about what had happened and would like something to be done to take the posting down or whatever. "Just don't leave it there as a reminder that someone is picking on my son". I completely understand.

The Precedent
A precedent is something that has been done before that establishes and determines the way things will be done in the future. As I was thinking about this situation this morning and praying for their family to be strong I was reminded that The Father sent His Son to "another part" of His world to be an ambassador to some hostile people. From The Father's perspective what must have been His feelings of making the situation right as He watched the created ones treat His most loved Son with such disregard and hatred? How did He not just come down and "handle the situation" right then and there? What patience.

The Son too had to be undergoing some intense pressure to not want to call those 10k angel to rescue Him from the hands of people who should rightfully have been falling down at His feet, but He didn't. He endured for the joy set before Him all that we gave to Him and yet w/o sin.

So as I think about those mistreating my friend, think about how his family is feeling, think about the ways I have been mistreated and have mistreated others, I am thankful that God is patient and that The Son was willing to carry out the mission all the way until the end- which was death for Him- only to be buried and raised. He gives the phrase "I'll be back" new and glorious meaning and when He comes back He'll then make it all right.

Punch in the Throat

Have you ever been punched?
The other day my friend was dancing around in their house with all the kids and his wife, small as she is, and she accidentally kneed him in the nose. That really hurts. I told him that should bring a new appreciation for when you see an MMA guy get punched in the nose 50 times in a row. When you're messing around or in an environment of sports you somewhat expect to get banged around; it's not a great surprised. But if you get punched and you're not expecting it that's another story.

Not too long ago I went to a game. I was hanging out visiting with some friends and there were people coming and going. A friend of mine for the last 15-ish years walked into the game as we were all standing there. As they walked by I stuck out my hand to greet them and said "How are you doing?". The response was a punch in the throat. They refused to shake my hand and only said "No thank-you".

We shoot our wounded.
It seems that in the church today often times when we are upset with others instead of going to them we just write them off, talk bad about them, turn our backs on them or just shoot them and leave them for dead- because after all "They are dead to me" doesn't work too well if you don't treat them like they are really dead, right?

As Christians we should be accustomed to being ill treated; like less than a friend and more than an enemy. There should be people that we expect will give us this sort of treatment. I expect it bc they have come to me and told me their issues and I understand where they are coming from but I still disagree. We are not seeing eye to eye on any number of things. The surprise is when the last time I saw my friend there was nothing said and I had no idea there was anything between us.

Brotherly Kindness
I am not saying that I have all the answers. I am not saying that I don't sin. I am not saying that there is perfection in my direction right now, but aren't we told in Gal. 6:1 that if we see someone caught in a sin- I have to assume that in order for someone to treat others so hatefully that they think I am personally in sin- that it is the job, the responsibility of the more mature one to go to that person and attempt to restore them in a spirit of meekness?

Hatred and meekness are not the same things. Did this person really think that the way to win me back, as a brother, was to not be willing to shake my hand? Is punching someone in the throat the best way to start a dialoge? Isn't the Gospel all about restoration of enemies? Jesus didn't come to earth to punch us in the throat as a way of get us to submit to His authority.

Yet Without Sin
Jesus is our Supreme Example in all things and this too is a good reminder. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He, unlike me, was without sin and didn't deserve any of the ill treatment we gave Him. He was oppressed and afflicted and yet He didn't even open His mouth. He didn't call anyone to defend Him against an indefensible humanity He created and yet He came to save those that hated Him. He was a servant to death on a cross for US.

The Perfect Example
May His Spirit empower us to live and love each other even when we disagree. May He enable us to absorb those punches and still be joyful, as He was. The mockery, the spitting in His face, the crown of thorns, the cross and death were real and they were painful for real. He left us His Word as a guide in times like these and these vv remind me of how I am supposed to live.

Heb. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do not Grow Weary

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.