Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Resolutions are so 2014, or, why you fail at improving yourself

We love to make new commitments to some sort of new "us-es" every year about this time.  Standing of the precipice of a fresh start there is this compulsion to say, "This year will be different."  Yet, all the studies about these well intentioned resolutions(citation needed) seem to indicate that we pretty much break them all by the time the first week has rolled by. 

Try going to the gym on January 2nd(not the first because the "resolutioners" will be hung over on the 1st) and see how packed it is.  Compare that to the 22nd of January.  You will notice something very interesting.  The gym is very sparsely populated in comparison.  If you are a regular gym goer to-er you hate the first week of a new year because a bunch of knuckleheads will be horning in on your space not knowing how to properly use any of the equipment, nor will they re-rack what they use. 

People quit on their resolutions so easily because; 1) They set unrealistic goals for themselves(never ran since 8th grade gym, this year...MARATHON), 2) It is nice to admit to having a problem that you should fix without actually doing anything(because, hey, knowing is half the battle and just admitting to it makes me a better person....right??) and most importantly, 3) Each time we fail we accept that we are failures and so stop trying lest we get reminded of our failures.

This final one is the most important one to understand.  Our fear of failing, of feeling worthless and unworthy, makes it easier to just quit.  If we quit, we never failed.....or something like that..... How many times have you told yourself, or, heard from others;

I could lose the weight if I tried, but I am fine like this.....

It was a silly idea anyways, I don't have time for that......

I have better things to do.....

At the bottom of each of those statements when it relates to our put aside resolutions is a heart that is desperately worried about being perceived as a failure.  Each time we don't achieve IMMEDIATE success or results we believe that we CAN'T do it.  And in fear of confirming it, we drop it. 

Our broken hearts cry out for affirmation and encouragement.  But the world, and our perception of failures, cause us to shut down. 

Did you know that after each night a fresh morning awaits?  No matter how far you fell yesterday, today is now, and tomorrow is gone.  In Lamentations 3:22-23 we are told, "The Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are NEW EVERY MORNING"  And in 1 Corinthians 6:11 we are reminded, "And that is what some of you WERE.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of Jesus" 

As you face this upcoming year...get ready to fail.  Maybe tonight.  Most likely before the end of the first weekend of January.  But here is the promise.  It doesn't matter.  Your failures, your sins, your mistakes, those were what you WERE.  Each fresh day is a reminder that the faithfulness of the Lord is great, that his mercies are FRESH every morning. 

Don't miss that....FRESH EVERY MORNING.  There is no qualifier attached to that.  It isn't, "Fresh every long as you did pretty good yesterday."  The hope of the Gospel is that in Christ we are no longer our failures, even the ones that just occurred.  New mercies are here, and new hope has sprung forth. 

So in 2015, don't make a New Years resolution.  Because you will fail.  Make a resolution each moment to keep going even when you fail, because each moment you are standing on the precipice of something wonderful and new. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jesus, the Demon

My son has a pretty arbitrary standard for whether or not he likes you....Do you do what HE wants.....  He is a very opinionated and strong willed child(clearly from his mother...) and he has little patience for things that aren't exactly what he wants.  Everything that goes in opposition to his desires creates the most dramatic responses. 

If he does not get what he wants he will go to the nuclear option immediately.  Phrases that he uses way too often are, "You're the worst", or, "I don't want you as a daddy anymore".  While we work on correcting this behavior, it is a very insightful look into our own hearts. 

I know that you probably don't tell people they are the worst if they won't give you a piece of candy....but you do get angry and reject people who do not live up to your arbitrary standards.  We view the worth of a person by the degree to which they please us.  When we honestly examine our emotional responses to people, negative and positive, they are deeply interwoven with how we perceive their actions and their affects on us. 

Ultimately, this heart attitude is a defining characteristic of our response to God, the Bible and Christ.  We ask ourselves, "How does this make me FEEL?"  When we perceive something being in contradiction to how we feel, or, what we want, we become belligerent towards God.  Or, we just ignore Him all together.  While we generally like the concept of a Holy Deity who loves us and has a plan for us, we want that love and plan to be shaped by our desires.  And when it conflicts with those self-centered priorities we say, "you're the worst".

Often the core issue for people's rejection of the claims of Christ and the reliability of Scripture comes from a place of strong personal disagreement and rejection of Truth claims that are in opposition to personal preferences.  I can't count the number of times I have heard the argument against God and the Bible based upon a personal disagreement on "this" issue.  Never is there a willingness to engage in the possibility that a finite, subjective and personal preference is potentially incorrect and mistaken in contrast to the possibility of a perfect and Holy creator King of all the universe. 

My son doesn't yet concede the possibility that it is likely NOT a good thing for him to have MORE candy.  He wants what he wants, and I am his enemy(even though briefly) for being an obstacle to him obtaining his selfish desires. 

In John 8 Jesus finally throws down the gauntlet.  First, he has spent the last few days telling everyone that all their hyper-religious behavior is of no real value, then he calls them children of the devil, and finally, strike three, he claims to be the great, "I AM".  And at this point they decided that it was time to kill this offensive fellow.(vs 58-59) 

As Jesus is doing and saying all of this they respond by saying that Jesus is clearly demon possessed.(v 48)  They don't like what they hear, they don't appreciate that he calls them on their behavior that they are selfishly convinced is the "right" and "righteous" way to behave.  So they become antagonistic towards him.  Their rejection is based upon a purely emotional response to being told that what they like and what they want isn't "ok".  Who is he, they think, to tell us that there is a right way to come to God, and that OUR way is not it??

Either Jesus is who He claims to be(The Great I AM) or he is not.  If He is, we need to humble ourselves, because no matter how firmly we hold onto our preferences and beliefs we are standing in opposition to the Most High.  You might REALLLLY want that piece of candy right now, but at what cost?

Reality; we are like toddlers who are told "no". 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Who's Your Daddy?

I have a confession.  A struggle.  A great shame.  I am my father's son.  I talk just like him, I walk like him, I look like him(but obviously a much handsomer version).  The way I process information and respond is a carbon copy of my dad.  There is virtually no way I could convince anyone who knows both of us that I am not his son. 

Now, I am just kidding.  I think my dad is great and I look up to him in so many ways.  One of my greatest disappointments as a child was when I discovered that my dad couldn't be President(he wasn't born here).  All the problems we have would have been easily solved by my dad! 

In part, a lot of the ways I am similar to my dad are genetic.  I didn't choose to have such masculine and attractive facial hair.  But in many ways our similarities were born not out of genetics, but love and respect for my dad.  He was my model in so many ways.  And consciously and subconsciously I mimicked what I observed because I valued him and wanted him to be pleased with me.

Our lives become living reflections of what we value and love.  There is no hiding what is important to you.  It is literally written all over your "face".  If you were to say you place the highest value on "this" but act in ways directly contradictory to those ways....then you don't really mean it.  No one would ever say that I think running long distances is important.....I clearly don't look like I run long distances...and...I never actually run.....No matter what I might say about the matter does not change the reality.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been laying out a very clear challenge to the Jewish leaders who have become enamored with their own self-righteous behavior.  As chapter 8 is wrapping up I think the most important practical application is presented. 

"If God WERE your father, you would love me"- John 8:42

He does not say, "If God were your father, you would DO something".  He makes the central point that love for God and Jesus is the driving force behind our kinship with Christ. Earlier in the passage he does start by saying that if they were really his disciples they would follow his teaching.  But lest we confuse the issue, and the order of importance, he clarifies that it is LOVE for God that drives behavior. 

To be very clear, he says FIRST--Truly being his disciple......LEADS to SECOND---Following his teaching.

Acting a certain way does not MAKE you a disciple of Christ and a child of God.  Loving God is what makes us a child of God....AND that love changes how we act. 

When we reverse the process we do not create beloved children, but whitewashed tombs. 

There are so many ways that I am like my dad.  And most of them just happened as a natural response to my love for him.  I didn't say as a five year old, "I need to WALK and TALK this way SO that daddy loves me".  BECAUSE I love my daddy I desired to do so.

So what do we need to ask ourselves?  When we look at our lives, our behaviors, etc, do they reflect plainly how deeply we love the Son?  Or, do they reflect how much we love ourselves, and, this world?  Love as a motivator needs not be given a list of do's and don'ts.  But when they aren't a natural outpouring of who we are....we have to look deeply at our hearts. 

Sometimes it is good for a dad to copy a son..... I am pretty sure if my dad understood computers he would do stuff like this to me as well.....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Good isn't Good Enough

My son has reached the age where he has been taught the classic, "Stop, Drop and Roll" technique for addressing being on fire.  This is a good thing.  If my son ever finds himself in a situation where his pants have begun to burn and smolder, it will be very beneficial for him to know what to do.  Not to mention it is fun to watch him demonstrate his SDaR technique in our living room.

Valuable as it may be, SDaR misses a very important point that ultimately is much more vital to my sons survival.  Practically speaking, the likelihood of my five year old spontaneously catching fire while playing on the swing set is highly unlikely.  What is much more probable is that while we are sleeping there is an electrical fire that starts somewhere in our house.  With our house ablaze my son may very well find some sort of fire on his clothes.  And if that is to occur....he has to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!! 

If you were to find yourself in a burning house all the SDaR in the world will not save you if you do not first get out of the source of the fire.  No matter how effectively and rapidly you roll back and forth on the floor you will eventually burn up.  Get away from the fire, and THEN deal with your smoldering pants.  To reverse that vital process is the height of absurdity. 

In the Gospel of John the ministry of Jesus really gets going when he comes to the Festival of the Booths and calls out all the hyper religious people for being great rule followers who are still destined for destruction.  The Jewish religious establishment prided itself on doing all the right things the right way, but Jesus tells them it is all for naught.  Their behavior is not going to stave off destruction. 

Clearly he was a popular fellow......

Behaving morally, ethically, kindly, etc, are all nice and commendable things.  My preference is to have neighbors who do NOT rob me in the middle of the night and set my house on fire.  The reasons that they do not behave in such a manner are, in some ways, immaterial to me.  If my neighbor believes he is being monitored by aliens who will shoot him with space lasers if he mistreats me, the end, self-centered result is that my day to day life is more pleasant because I have a neighbor who acts appropriately. 

Good behavior is our Stop Drop and Roll.  In a vacuum it is a good thing to know and put into practice.  But what if we are ultimately in the middle of a blazing inferno? 

In John 8 Jesus is beginning to get to the crux of his argument.  That these moral and good behaving people cannot follow Jesus and are going to die in their sins(verse 21).  To understand the context of what Jesus is saying we must recognize the context of the environment that Jesus is stating this.  Everything about this Festival is in proclaiming how righteous and good they all are because of how they follow all the rules.  Their self-styled "goodness" is based on the belief that following the clearly laid out rules justifies themselves in the eyes of God.  They treat religious law as a sort of road map that guarantees that they will arrive at their desired destination. 

With that sort of imagery in mind Jesus says, "You cannot follow where I am going".  Which means, "There is no human road map that you can control and manipulate that will save you".  What will save them?  Believe in the Son of Man who will be raised up(verse 28).  Through the finished work of Christ on the cross(the raised up Son of Man) we can be saved from death.  There is no other way.

If you are sit in a burning house your inevitable life trajectory is destruction.  Before you do anything else, get out!  The natural state of our lives is death.  No matter what good we do, what rules we adhere to, what ethically justifiable behaviors we practice, we are headed to a fire. 

Does this mean that "good" behavior is pointless?  Of course not.  Even if you get out of the burning house you still have to deal with the embers before they cause you damage.  But if you reverse the process of salvation first, THEN regeneration(Holy("good") lives), you aren't doing anything at all.  Rolling around on the ground won't get you out of the house.  Getting out of the house makes the rolling around effective. 

You will never be good enough to get out of the fire. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is Mark Driscoll Bigger than the Cross?(aka, what Church should I go to)

What makes a good church?  Why should you go to "this" church instead of "that" church? 

The Gospel.

Let me be more clear.

The message that we are sinners.  Lost and dead in our sin.  Christ came and died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins.  Through his FINISHED work on the cross we can have life and this is the power of God.  And the cross PREACHED is alone the power that a church has to share.  (I Corinthians 1:18)

Everything flows from that.

Paul says in Galatians 1:8 that if anyone is preaching something OTHER than the Gospel of Christ crucified they are under a curse. 

So what about churches and people teaching things that you disagree with regarding secondary issues?  In Philippians 1 Paul shares about two types of people; 1) Those who preach Christ humbly, and, 2) Those who preach Christ for personal gain.  And how does he respond to these "false" teachers?  He rejoices that the Gospel is preached. 

So why doesn't he get more tough on these self-centered teachers?  I believe it is because of what he says in 1 Corinthians;  Only the cross has power.  Either we, in our clever words and window dressings, have the ability to change lives, or, the redemptive finished work of Christ on the cross changes lives. 

Let me illustrate this in a silly way.....

If I have a goal to teach someone how to read there are a number of different ways I can present it.  Some we could argue are better than others.  Some techniques might even be fairly absurd.  But even if I teach my son that the way to read is to hold a book in one hand while tugging on his ear with the other, does he learn how to read?  Yes.  We can all agree that my added ear tugging was unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful, but, if he does learn to read, he will probably realize that the ear tugging is superfluous to the process and eliminate it on his own.  Yet the essential and life changing goal has been achieved.  He can now read.  And he will be able to read for the rest of his life.

If Christ is preached, and the cross is visible, most, if not all, of the superfluous ridiculousness that people may add will eventually take a back seat.  Because it is not our power that changes lives, but the power of God. 

Does this mean we ignore absurdity?  No.  But we too often focus on the absurdity and not the power.  The way we criticize other churches is often done in such a way that we are subtly claiming that because they have added some "ear tugging" they aren't really alive in Christ.  If the central message of a church is Christ Crucified, than let us rejoice in the Gospel.  Which isn't the same as saying that we should all go to that church and participate in "ear tugging". 

In the course of the Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill saga(look it up yourself) a common refrain I hear is how "this" is the sort of thing that causes people to leave Christ.  Let me say that again.  When my son discovers that my "ear tugging" technique was stupid he will never read again........

What power do we preach?  Our own?  Or the Cross?  If we preach the Cross, regardless of the reasons or the technique, than our own failures and mistakes have no effect on the power of God.  Unless you believe that a single man, or church, can supersede the power of Christ. 

Say whatever you want about Driscoll and his innumerable problems, but he preached the Cross.  There are literally thousands of stories of people who came to the cross through the message of the Gospel that was preached.  There surely was a progressive growth of "ear tugging" secondary doctrines that began to bleed into the life of Mars Hill, but the cross was always preached.  And like Paul, I rejoice for the lives that were saved because of CHRIST! 

And we should also weep for the people who were hurt by the secondary issues.  This is a fine line that we must struggle to maintain.  But we can not lose perspective that while we have a responsibility to address sinful behavior(ala Paul vs Peter), we cannot begin a process of claiming that the power of salvation comes from any one teacher's perfect motivation and technique. 

When we look for a church to go to we must begin and end with the question, is the Cross preached?  If it is, than weigh carefully the secondary issues.  If it isn't, it is not a church.  Even if it gets secondary issues right.   

Reminder...preaching the Gospel does not give you a pass for sin....

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sin, Judgement, Grace

My five year old son loves to play a "game" with his little sister.  He will snottily ask her a question that has an obvious answer that he knows she will get incorrect.  When she inevitably fails the pop quiz he will snap "no, you're wrong!!"  Obviously we are working on correcting it.  But it is an interesting illustration of our human nature....An unhealthy part of our psyche enjoys proving people are wrong and that we are right. 

Very few things feel sweeter than a good old fashioned, "I told you so".  It isn't just enough to be right, we like to bask in the gloriousness of our rightness while rubbing other peoples faces in their wrongness.....Especially when we perceive someone's being wrong as a personal affront of some sort.  You probably don't think of yourself as being a snotty 5 year old tricking his sister, but ask yourself how you feel about people who defend a diametrically opposed political position.  WE LOVE to see them be wrong.  And if we have a good clickbait article to illustrate it we will find some way to slyly post it in the social media world so that they have to see it....

Legalistic morality is the dressed up and articulated version of the "told you so's".  Religious Laws are a tool that are used as hammer to bludgeon those who do not live up to the standards that we appeal to.  While the Law in general serves a helpful purpose in structuring and protecting culture, it does not develop people who live naturally within the framework illustrated by the Law.  It, quite frankly, does not change hearts.

Will my son stop tricking his sister with his questions because he wants to be loving and encourage her to feel good?  Or, does he stop tricking her because he doesn't want to put his nose in the corner anymore?  If the only reason we do what is right is to avoid something that is bad, are we truly doing what is right?

The Law is a trap that is used to produce guilt. 

In the Gospel of John chapter 8 a woman is brought to Jesus

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him."  John 8:4-6

Is a law against adultery a good thing?  Sure.  But do we hear from these Teachers a broken heartedness over the damage of this sin on her family or the family of the person she sinned with?  No.....Do they seem personally broken up about having to confront such a difficult situation?  No....They were just giddy(I say that because of the preceding context that we know these men were previously brainstorming a way to get rid of Jesus) at this golden opportunity to trap Jesus.

The Law was not being used for the woman, it was being used for their selfishness.  It wasn't an opportunity to correct a harmful behavior, but a chance to prove that THEY are the righteous ones. 

Those who are most comfortable with appealing to the rules are often those who do so to assert their specialness because of how they perceive that they themselves measure up in comparison. 

Jesus makes an appeal that cuts to the heart of our "gotcha" attitudes.  

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” -John 8:7

Those who want to harness the hammer of the law need to recognize that it will be equally upon them.  The Law does not give freedom to anyone.  It enslaves everyone.  Jesus is making very clear to us that the their are no degrees of condemnation that the Law brings with it.  

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” - John 8:9-11

The Law exists.  It is true.  But it does not change us.  Grace and love are the tools that change our hearts.  When Jesus came He fulfilled the demands of the Law and offered Grace to all who accept it.  When we don't accept it, we make a claim that we would rather live with the Law.   When someone says that they think they are going to heaven because they are a good person they are appealing to the prison of the Law as their hope.  They are hoping that they can do enough good to avoid punishment.  

The irony is that one of the oft used criticisms of Christianity is that Christian's use the threat of hell to get people to behave.  Yet by divorcing ourselves from the Grace of Christ the only reason we have to behave is to avoid punishment.  Either in this life or the next.  Why should the atheist "act" good?  Because there are "consequences".  Why should the generic spiritual person "act" good?  To avoid consequences.  Only in Christ are we told we can be fully loved even when we break the "Law".  

Let me say here for the record...if anyone tells you that you should be a Christian so you don't go to hell, they are not telling you about Christianity.  They are just telling you the age old performance based story of the Law dressed up with some "Christ-yness".


Having the Law doesn't change the Heart

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Gospel Doesn't Care if you Fail Today

We have developed a pretty extreme standard of evaluation for success.  Specifically, that it must happen immediately.  This is influencing nearly every aspect of our lives. 

What are some of the most popular television shows over the last few years?  Reality competition.  American Idol, the Voice, Project Runway, etc.  They all promise something very similar.  You, yes you, are a diamond in the rough.  Overnight we will discover your God given talent, launch you into the stratosphere and you can bask in the glow of your own brilliance for the decades to come. 

Perhaps you would never try out for something like this, but when we look at our culture today we see this same insipid attitude permeating every nook and crevice of societal thought and progression.  Recently I was reading about how the Millennial Generation was struggling post college.  The dream careers they had been promised were not materializing.  One particular character was profiled in a NYT's piece who was currently living in his parents basement.  Now, he had been offered a well paying job right out of college(50k+) but it wasn't REALLLLLYYY what he saw himself doing to "change the world" and "live his dreams".  So, instead of contributing to society, he was playing Xbox in his parents basement......

Do you remember layaway?  It used to be the common method of purchasing something you needed or wanted.  You made a long term disciplined commitment to putting away a set amount of money towards the eventual purchase of the item.  Today we just carry credit card debt with huge interest rates.  We want that big screen TV today, not in 12 weeks.  So what if I pay 20% more than it is really worth.  My life is poorer if I have to wait.....

It is what we desire from our politicians today.  I have a problem, however I define it, and it should be fixed.....immediately.  The long term costs of fixing the problem today do not factor into whether or not it is actually a good idea, fix it for me this very moment!  And the politician who promises the most quick fixes gets my vote......

Can you name any successful weight loss programs that advertise that if you stick to our plan for the next 2 years you will do great????  Or, are the ones that are out there promising 10 minutes of exercise 3 times a decade.......

In the Gospel of John chapter 7 Jesus has been rubbing everyone the wrong way.  He has called out their self-centered hypocritical religiosity and basically ticked off all the big wigs in Jerusalem.  No one is clamoring for more of this criticism.  They are actually plotting to try to kill him.  So, the next day, since it wasn't working out very well, JC went on vacation.....I mean....He came right back and kept at it. 

During Jesus' Earthly ministry He experienced arguably more setbacks than victories.  Not to mention an entire community would turn against Him and cheer for His execution.  You might argue that He did all of that because He knew what was going to happen in the end.  But, you and I, we clearly aren't God, we don't really know about tomorrow. 

And that, my friends, is our problem.

Could you die tonight in a freak ceiling fan accident?  Of course.  But by focusing on the limited reality of our temporal existence we accept a false premise that our lives are measured, and therefore, valued, by finite circumstances.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross instead points to the reality that every moment of our lives is a beautiful facet in the tapestry of our eternally designed purpose.

We have become prisoners to the tyranny of the moment.  The seduction of the quick fix.  The comfort of the easy solution.  What makes us feel good today becomes the highest standard of our subjective morality and evaluation of value.

The Gospel is not concerned with the immediacy of the moment, but in the reflection of an Eternal God.  Even in the suffering and the failure of a moment eternity beckons us forward.  When we make decisions from a perspective of self we make limiting choices that disconnect us from a larger picture.

When Jesus returns to Jerusalem in chapter 8 the teachers of the Law bring an adulteress to Jesus to judge.  They point out her clear sin, and, the clear punishment.  Black and white and in response to the immediate moment they demand "judgement".   The law, the tyranny of the moment, demands us to value each other's personhood by our most recent success or transgression.  The Gospel tells us that we are more than our failures.  Sin locks us into being defined by our moments.  The Gospel frees us to be shaped by Christ's love. 

Though you may die tonight, the life God has made you for, and the life you are called to, is one that sees the moments of your life as part of an ever continuing whole.  Are you looking to feel good today, or be met in love and grace forever?  There is a reason that the Gospel message is to come and die, to pick up our cross.  Living for yourself shrinks your experience and joy to a mere moment.  Living in Christ extends it to everlasting.

Even when you make a terrible mistake, you are never a mistake


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Partially Seen, Fully True

"For now we see through a glass, darkly"-1 Corinthians 13:12

We do not know the future.  Regardless to what the tabloids and 1-800-pyschic commercials may tell you our ability to fully discern the future is pretty much impossible.  In the 13th chapter of Corinthians Paul is imploring his readers to live lives defined by sacrificial love.  And the motivation and encouragement for such love is the picture of the eternal hope we have from the receiving of the greatest sacrificial love that was freely given on the cross. 

But Paul uses this phrase to illustrate the reality; We can barely make out what that future looks like from our current vantage point.  Yet our hope in what we can see can be rooted in its being fully true.  While the absolute clarity of tomorrow's promise is dimly seen, the markers we pass along the way in the present point us towards the future moment when it will not be seen darkly, but in glorious light.

If we are indeed imprinted with the DNA of eternity as image bearers of God, then we will have an innate sense of seeing eternity through the dimly lit glass of our present.  And it would stand to reason that the experiences of our lives would leave markers and evidences of this eternal design.

Over the past few weeks we have been studying the book of Ruth at church and it concludes with a genealogy.  While genealogies are typically boring affairs and most of us fly right past them when we come across them in the Bible I think they serve two important purposes...

1- They place the narrative of Scripture in history.  The names mentioned are not just mythology, but traceable individuals and families that point to the reliability and historicity of Scripture.  While they are not always written to be an "exact" account of a family tree, they do not make up people to fill in the gaps. 

2-  Genealogies serve to illustrate the on going story and purpose of human life that extends beyond our finite personal mortal coil.  Dogs do not care who their great grand dog is, nor, do they care who their great grandchild dog is.  Nor do other animals.  Yet humans are intimately aware and find value in such family connections.  For good and bad we see and intrinsically desire an observable place on the timeline of eternity.

If we are indeed made in the image of an eternal God than this is logical.  And, it would be logical for Scripture as a reliable testimony to the character, person and nature of God, to contain elements that point towards these truths. 

If we are nothing more than a pile of accidental DNA than death, lineage, family, etc, would have little influence on our state of emotions.  The only value we would place on life, and ours specifically, would be for personal enjoyment and the impetus to procreate our DNA in some form.  And when those two standards(enjoyment and DNA passage) become limited, or, eliminated, it would be reasonable to no longer value such a life. 

But even at our societal worse we cannot fully embrace such folly. 

As much as we try to deny it we are powerfully affected by things that happen to people out of our sphere of relationship.  Genocide is heartbreaking.  Murder is shocking.  Death is feared.  But in a society that is hell bent to disassociate ourselves from the eternal nature of life we try to philosophically justify evaluating the value of life by subjective standards that diminish the beauty of life as a whole.

I recently wrote about two significant indicators of this cultural "evolution".  Society is trying to have its cake and eat it to.  We intrinsically sense a need to value life objectively, yet we try to justify valuing it subjectively when it suits some limited moment.  This is the fertile soil of a culture of death. 

Either ALL LIFE is of significant value that is not possible to be measured by some sort of "standard"


NO LIFE is intrinsically valuable and worthy of protection.  It is only subjectively so as long as the math lines up.....

We cannot know what the future holds because we see through a dimly lit glass.  There is no fool proof formula that proves that it all "works out".  But our internal selves, as affirmed in Scripture, point us towards the truth that life has a value that is impossible to measure.

When Ruth and Boaz got married they didn't do so because they were promised some great future if they would just do something difficult.  They did what was right and what honored God and life.  Through a dimly lit glass they chose life and a future knowing only that moving forward with God was the only way to see what would one day be on the other side.  They never saw what came of their marriage(King David and Jesus), and oftentimes neither will we.

But God does.

Just because you can't see the future, doesn't mean it doesn't exist

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Gives Life Value?

Utilitarian philosophy is influencing our culture much more than we probably realize.  In a very short nutshell---it is simply the idea that the value of choices, things, people, etc, are deeply tied to their "usefulness".  This is shaped by some evolutionary and naturalistic assumptions that measure choices by the tangible benefit they provide for the "species". 

As this thinking has subtly seeped into our collective conscience we have begun to accept and practice thoughts and behaviors that even 100 years ago would have been generally reprehensible.  As the modernity of the 20th century reached its zenith forced sterilization, abortion, locking mentally challenged people away for their entire lives, etc, began to become acceptable(if "hidden") practices.  If you want some more information just google, "Eugenics". 

You might argue that we aren't acting so brazenly anymore.  When was the last time you heard about someone being forcefully sterilized?  While it might be true that we don't have national programs actively designed to pre-emptively deal with these "unsavory" genetic wastrels, the internal philosophy that gave rise to such policies has become deeply entrenched in the way we approach our valuation of life.

In the past few months we have seen witness to two stories that publicly exhibit this mindest;

29 year old Brittany Maynard is choosing suicide due to receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

A mother has publicly stated that she wishes she had aborted her adult son with down syndrome.

Wait wait wait you say!!!!  How can I "judge" their decisions???  I haven't walked in their shoes!  I don't know their struggles!!!

You are right, I do not know either of these hurting women personally.  But if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and, kills its young like a's a duck. 

What is on clear display in these stories(and the thousands of related ones we DON'T hear about) is that we have accepted a philosophical school of thought that measures value by extremely utilitarian standards.  For Brittany, her life loses value, and therefore, purpose, to continue on, when she reaches a point of no longer being "her".  For the mother of a downs child, her child does not contribute in a material way to her life and her family and so it would have been better to have killed him before he was born. 

Are we forcefully executing people society deems "unworthy"?  No.  But we have bought into a belief that life has a very limited value that it is subjectively evaluated. 

In the case of Brittany some people have argued that she should hold on because beautiful things can happen even at the end.  While this may be true, I think it is accepting the terms of debate established by the subjective morality proponents.  Namely, that life has value when it "accomplishes" something.  It is holding up another false measuring stick that compares and contrasts tangible benefits to tangible costs. 

Either life, and the living of it, has intrinsic and immeasurable value beyond our limited scope of observation, or, life is nothing more than a series of mathematical equations.  Once we as a society accept someone's subjective standard of what makes their life valuable, we have accepted that all of life is subjectively valuable.  And therefore, some life is more valuable than other lives. 

And, if we accept that premise, who is the final arbiter that decides which lives are of greater and more important value than others? 

When we accept the argument that "this" life is worthy to be eliminated, than the standard by which ANY OTHER LIFE can be potentially ended has been established. 

Life is an immeasurably complex, beautiful and eternally imprinted experience that can never be measured by limited contemporary standards.

This mother thinks she should have killed this son..........

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Don't Be Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Yet most of us will be forgotten.

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

If not, why not? 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Theological Truth and Behavioral Lies

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

He is a huge Buckeye fan!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

True Love in a Romanceless Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romance is conditionally offered.  Love is unconditionally provided. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

How Do We Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still a better love story than Twilight

Thursday, October 2, 2014

You Don't Really Love People

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says,

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

Let that sink in......

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

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


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Country Club or Hospital

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

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

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

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

When you are hurting where can you go to weep? 

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

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

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

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

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

They listen, empathize, and, HELP.

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, September 20, 2014

When We Make Bad Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What choices will you make?

If you know it, you love it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Group Think and Peer Pressure

We lack the strength of our convictions.  In so many ways, in so many places, we substitute individual thinking(and risk taking) for the safety of "group think".  When instead of personally defended facts and figures we lean on the ambiguous concept of "consensus" we are abdicating our responsibility to be independent moral agents and thinkers.  And here is the great inherent risk in such cowardice; Agreeing with the group will not protect you when your individual choices come home to roost. 

If everyone says that drinking bleach is good for you, there is no healing to be found when you lie in a hospital bed and say, "But but but, the "experts" said it was ok". 

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living".   How much of life today is not worth living!  Sitting in our comfortable bubbles we expect others to do our thinking for us.  If something a bunch of people say sounds good to us, it is good enough.  Whether scientifically, politically, personally, religiously, we are in a constant tension of trying to pretend that truth is created by trending hashtagged phrases on social media.

And it is killing us.

Internally and externally. 

Here is the thing about truth;  It has no problems with being questioned!  If you question someone, or, something, and the response is mockery, ridicule, and general offendedness, then it should be a red flag that truth may not be found in such claims.  Stop asking yourself, "What do others believe?" and start asking, "What is true?"

In John 7:48 the Pharisees are furious that people are listening to Jesus.  Does one of their leaders stand up and say, "Here is my 5 point argument, with Torah footnotes, that show in detail why Jesus is a crazy person, feel free to critique my points!" ?  No, they say, "Do any of us leaders believe him??  Of course not!!!" 

No one is willing to put their individual name on the line.  They just hide behind their group think.  They never seem to want to respond to anything Jesus specifically states, they just keep arguing that the "consensus" by those who "know better" is that Jesus is a crazy person. 

We are made as individuals.  We are responsible to respond to truth claims as individuals.  Either Jesus is the son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, or, He is not.  There is no arguing about what other people might think.  Too often we defer our personal responsibilities by arguing about peripheral details.  Like, "What about aborigine Joe from 4000 BC?", or, "But 'those' people don't act very nice(in my opinion)". 

You, and you alone, have to address who Christ is.  Or, not.  Again, it is you and you alone who is responsible.

Don't drink bleach because someone else said it was ok.  And, don't avoid bleach because someone else said you should.  The double edge sword is if you make any decision because someone told you to, you will eventually question the reasoning.  If a friend tells you to not drink bleach and that is the only reason you don't, what if you find out that friend is a liar?  You might throw out his reasonably good point of not drinking bleach.

Make your own decisions.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rabble Rousers in the Church

If you follow the Christian Sub-Culture you probably know who Mark Driscoll is, and, the church he started, Mars Hill.  You probably are also aware that the whole thing is currently imploding. 

A quick overview....
- Driscoll founded Mars Hill about 20 years ago as a basically brand new Christian in the most unchurhed city in America(Seattle)

-  With a brash and engaging style Driscoll oversaw explosive growth that quickly led to him being the new "IT" guy in evangelicalism. 

-  He wrote a number of "best sellers" that detailed the churches growth and his theology.  These books were treated as "Church Growth Manuals" for many young pastors coming up who wanted to emulate MD's success. 

-  MD oversaw a church planting network(Acts 29) that has planted hundreds of churches world wide in just over a decade. 

-  In the last two years the bloom has fallen off the rose as destructively unhealthy leadership by MD and his "executive" elders has come to light. 

A couple of general thoughts and reminders....

- The Bible is littered with flawed people who would be kicked out of most churches for their sinful behavior if they were doing it today.

-  God still used these broken sinful people for His purposes...not that He ever gave a pass for their culpability, but His sovereignty ruled over the sin.  God even chose a murderous adulterer(King David) to be the line through which the Messiah would come. 

- Even our greatest sins and failures do not limit the redemptive power of the Cross.  As Paul says, as long as Christ is preached.... EVEN when it was done for selfish ambition!!!

Personal Responses and Convictions......

- If Acts 29 or Mark Driscoll have been a blessing to you in any way at any point....GREAT.  We are capable of benefitting from God's work, even when the vessel that delivered it is tragically flawed.  We don't stop reading the Psalms because David was a pretty screwed up guy.

- Who are you attaching yourself to?  Our celebrity driven culture is excessively unhealthy.  When we begin to follow man instead of Christ, we are setting ourselves up for a fall.   Even if Driscoll did not have any of these problems, we should have never been so undiscerning by how much "worship" we were giving him.  And this includes anyone else out there.  Whether it is your favorite theologian, or, your local pastor.  They are flawed people that God can do great things through, but everything they do and teach must be weighed against the Cross and God's word. 

Moving Forward....

So what now?  I hope a lesson we can draw from all of this is that sin that is allowed to fester becomes more and more damaging with a far greater fall out.  To borrow from a good law enforcement statement, "If you see something, say something".   One of the red flags at Mars Hill was when they bylaws were changed in a way that consolidated "absolute" power with Mark Driscoll.  This is unbiblical.  Should Elders lead the church.  Absolutely.  Is it an authoritarian unaccountable paradigm.  Never.  If you are a part of a church, and leadership is unaccountable, treats members as a bunch of little children who have invalid for the hills. 

In John chapter 7 the Pharisees are furious about what Jesus has been saying and how the people are seemingly "buying into it".  They say, that mob, they know nothing!!  Only these high and mighty self-righteous guys are able to really know what is going on.  Everyone else is a bunch of idiots.  But it was actually the "mob" who got what was really going on! 

Read your bible, test everything you hear according to God's word.  Love and trust your leadership, EVEN when they make mistakes.  But don't excuse sin and mistakes just because someone is a leader.  Nip it in the butt.  And if it doesn't change.  They can't be leaders.

Use this image to ask yourself how your leaders are doing

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.......