Thursday, September 30, 2010

No needy persons among them

Acts 4:32-35 (TNIV) -

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

My thoughts -

I was speaking to a friend last night who proclaimed that if the church did it's job the government wouldn't have to care for the needs of the poor. I'm not sure I completely agree with that. I'm not sure our churches have the resources to do that and I'm not sure that, even if they did, that would get the government off the hook in caring for the needs of its citizens.

That said, if our churches acted like the early church here we'd stand a chance. The church wants to have a prophetic voice. The church wants to speak on issues of cultural sin. We seem to have a special interest in sexual matters. But our we doing our job? Are we caring for the needy? Are we being the hands and feet of Jesus or merely the mouth of conservatism?

At our best I'd say we genuinely care for the souls of people. But do we care for the body? Can we separate the two?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Everyone is a minister

I've been thinking a little bit about what I posted earlier. I think a big key to a successful ministry is empowering the laity. If our churches are not empowering laity they are conditioning them to consume ministry rather than to minister.

When I started attending Trinity Hill they had a slogan (maybe we still do, I haven't checked in a while). It went something like: "Trinity Hill: Where Everyone is a Minister". I liked that. Still do. It may not be true in practice but it is a nice ideal.

As I reflect on the church I grew up in and how I came to know Christ I think fondly of the staff persons that ministered to me. We had some wonderful pastors and I was blessed by the ministry of two great youth pastors. But the people I remember most fondly and have the closest relationships with even to this day were laity. They volunteered their time to build relationships with us as teenagers and to help us develop into young Christian men and women. They were the life blood of those ministries. They still are.

Staff people can come and go but the lay leadership is the life blood of the church. Without lay leaders we're just throwing money at our problems and hoping someone can come in and solve them for us.

Everything in common

Acts 2:44-47 (TNIV) -

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

My thoughts -

"And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Sounds pretty good. So does the "enjoying the favor of all people" bit. How do we get in on this action? We won't have to "sell property and possessions" to do it, will we?

Maybe this model is crazy and outdated by a couple thousand years but the lack of stuff didn't hurt the church in this passage.

Would we have more credibility if we had less stuff? I've posed these questions to myself often of late. We have an awful lot of stuff. It's nice stuff, too. Beautiful buildings, stained glass, grand pianos, organs, projectors, sound systems, computer systems, guitars, drums, multi-purpose rooms, TVs, DVD players, and so much more. We have youth pastors and senior pastors and children's pastors and music ministers. Could we still be the church without these? Could we still reach people for Jesus if we couldn't financially support our programs and staff positions.

Would we have a more prophetic voice about caring for the needs of the poor if we spent less on our buildings and programs and more on caring for the poor?

I hear all the time that attendance and giving is down pretty much everywhere. Is there a new reality we're going to have to face? I hear the church is dying. Do we need a new way of being the church?

Do we need a really old way of being the church?

I don't have the answers. We're humming along okay for now, at least where I am. At least as far as I know. But most of what we do at church, while good, is not essential. We don't need multiple services in various styles to reach people. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities. I am certain that, if we do our mission to the best of our ability with God's help we will continue to reach people. Even if that means we have to do it with less stuff. Even, and especially if that's what it means.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Existential musings from the seat of a bicycle

I passed a Coroner's van on the bike ride to work this morning. Normally, on bicycle, I am acutely aware of my own mortality. The presence of the Coroner did not diminish this any.

I'm not sure it's accurate to say that I fear death necessarily. I have accepted it as inevitable, a consequence of living, and I price I must pay for the privilege of existing here. I certainly respect death's power and, at present, am in no hurry to experience it. I enjoy living. I enjoy my life. I like it here. Job, in his suffering, longed for death as an end to his pain, both physical and spiritual. I accept that some day, on balance, death may feel preferable to life. There are some pains that are so great you don't know how you can survive them or why you would want to. I am not in that place now. I am here now and happy to be so. There's no sense dreading some future suffering. I can only live in the present. That's the blessing and the curse of time. I've only got access to now. The past exists only in memories that have been tainted, degrade and corrupted by my own biases and the passage of time. The future exists only as speculation. All I've got is right now.

It is difficult to believe in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus without having some belief in eternity. I don't necessarily belief that belief in God demands belief in eternity, or the human participation in it. I certainly, as a mortal, don't have a firm grasp on the concept of eternity. I believe in the possibility, even the probability of life after death. Paul states in Romans 8 that he is convinced that not even death can separate us from the love of God. I may not "know" this in an academic sense, but I too am convinced. I just have no real concept of what life after death, if it makes sense to call it life at all, looks like. What does, in its own way, make sense to me is the absence of time in eternity.

Time, to the mortal, is an oppressive force. At least it is to me. As I age I feel it passing by more quickly, tainting my enjoyment of every precious moment. Time declares the presence of mortality. It says, in every enjoyable moment, that this cannot last. Maybe in suffering time would be considered a friend. Unfortunately time is not experienced as constant, but seems to pass quickly in pleasurable moments but slowly in pain causing you to experience that pain far longer than you experience joy. Eternal existence with the presence of time doesn't feel like an existence I want any part of. Even absent mortality could you imagine how boring it would be to exist in time interminably? Talk about getting into a rut! No thanks, time.

Maybe I'm not thinking this through well enough. I'm not God. Maybe time is necessary and without it existence would be too chaotic for us to process in any kind of meaningful way. Thank God these decisions on how to run eternity are not up to me!

In dealing with concepts of eternity we have to deal with our concepts of heaven and hell. Hell as a place of eternal torment created by God to punish infinitely those who did not make the correct choices in this finite life doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The punishment doesn't fit the crime. If you believe in a fair and just God it becomes very difficult to account for hell in the way we traditionally describe it. Heaven as a family reunion in the sky has a nice appeal to it but it I have a hard time with that, as well. I don't dispute the possibility that heaven is what we hope for as a continuation of all of the good and none of the bad things from this life into the next. If it is, though, why not just start there? Why exist here at all? Why would God create a world with suffering in it, test us all in that world, and the if we pass promote us to a much better one? This is a loving God? It just doesn't make sense to me.

Job, in his suffering, experienced what I think of as hell. He experienced a very real absence of God in his life. Where he once had a good relationship with God that relationship was fractured and he longed for its repair. To me that it hell. It is readily available in this life. We don't need to go looking into the next for it. The reconciliation with God and restoration of his relationship with God was heaven. His understanding of God and the universe and his place within it changed, he accepted things as they were and was relieved of his suffering. He felt the presence of God in his life once again. The material blessings that followed were a bonus.

I don't know that it makes sense to look for heaven and hell in eternity when both are right here. I trust God with eternity and our place, if any in it. I believe the roll of Christians is to find those that are in hell now and bring them into heaven. The help alleviate physical, mental, and spiritual anguish and restore relationships with God. What the consequences of this in eternity are is solely up to God.

That I believe any of this now doesn't mean I'm right. There's so much I need to learn. There's so much I don't understand. I think that goes for all of us. I just wanted to share a little bit about what I was thinking. I'm just rambling here and I apologize for that, but I'm trying to refine my thoughts on the matter. Thank you for enduring this.

My servant Job will pray for you

Job 42:7-8 (TNIV) -

7 After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

My thoughts -

How humbling it must have been for Job's friends to have to sacrifice a burnt offering and have Job pray for them after they spent all of this time lecturing Job on his supposed sin.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More on gentrification

I met a nice handicapped man named Jerry this morning. He was sitting in his front yard with his dog. As I passed by he introduced himself to me and we had a nice little chat. As I left Jerry's house I couldn't help but wonder if he's next; if his home will be the next to be knocked down in the name of progress.

I've got more questions than answers at this point. I don't know how to solve problems like these. There really isn't a good solution. At least not one that's easy. These houses are inadequate. There's no question about that. But they're also affordable. Not "affordable" as in a middle class family can live there cheaper than they could live in Hartland. They are affordable for the poor. For those living off of minimum wage jobs, disability, and Social Security.

I think a big first step in solving this problem is getting people to care about it; to care what happens to people like Jerry. Jerry is easy for us to ignore; and we want to. He's not pretty. He's not smart. He's not capable of doing much for us. We won't even encounter him unless we're walking down the street in his neighborhood. That's where he is. And often, it isn't where we are. We are nice and comfortable in our suburban utopian bubble.

As I'm typing this I have to acknowledge that I'm part of the problem, too. I have divided my world into two categories: us and them. It's easy to do. But it shouldn't be that way. There shouldn't be an us and them. There shouldn't be an "other". It's just us.

We are called to love our neighbor like ourselves. Not to love them AS MUCH as ourselves, but in the same way. Jerry's needs are my own. Jerry is me. Jerry is one of us. Jerry is uniquely made in the image of God, the same as I am; the same as you are. Jerry is part of the Kingdom of God, the same as I am; the same as you are. Once we see Jerry as one of us, once we see Jerry's problems as our own I think we can start to address them with the urgency they require.

I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how long it will be until Jerry is kicked out of his home. I don't know where he'll be able to go if and when (and if the rest of the neighborhood is any indication there is no "if" here) he is kicked out. But it is important.

Upcoming gigs this weekend

HiGain will be playing gigs Friday and Saturday (9/24 and 9/25) in Frankfort. Friday we will be playing at the Dragon (located at 103 W Main St) starting at 9:30 (warming up for Velvet X - an awesome band) and Saturday we will be playing the Frankfort Harvest Festival (in Riverview Park) at 8:15. The Festival goes from 1:00 to 10:00 and there will be a ton of live music, food, and other stuff. We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I take a break every couple of hours and walk back through the neighborhood behind my office. I was offered smoke breaks when I first started and, although I don't smoke, I decided that was a horrible reason not to be allowed a break. So every 2 or 3 hours I go for a little walk to clear my head.

The neighborhood I walk through is not one of the nicer ones in town. It is mostly populated with small shotgun houses in various states of disrepair. You will periodically see the one of the old shotguns torn down and, since we're close to campus, nicer, newer, larger housing built in its place for students to move into with their parents' money. To the casual observer this may look like progress.

If you walk the same places around the same time every day for long enough you start to become part of a community. Most people around here may not know my name but they smile and wave as I walk by and often remark that I'm always walking through here. Once, an older gentleman waved me over to help him with something.

The man was retired and living off of Social Security. He was concerned because he received a letter in the mail regarding his Social Security benefits but was unable to read it. Or, at least, he was unable to read it well enough to understand it. He wanted me to read it with him and go over, exactly, what it meant. This was what he had to live off, after all. It was, essentially, a matter of life and death to him.

I happily read the letter with him and let him know that it meant that he was going to be getting a little more money. He was so happy he hugged me and treated me as if I were the one who was giving him the money. We struck up something of an informal friendship that day. I have, since then, always made sure to stop by and say hi as I'm passing by.

Today was a little different. As I approached the man's house I noticed all of his belongings were in the front yard. They weren't just littering the place. They were very neat and orderly. The man explained that this was because a friend was getting ready to pick them and him up. The landlady had sold his house. He had to leave.

The house is a horrible little thing. It's in disrepair. More than once as I passed by he would complain to me that the landlady wouldn't get anything fixed. But the price was right. He didn't have much money and the rent was cheap. You can't find very many places for that cheap. In fact, he had been unable to find any other place locally that he could afford. He told me he would be moving in with his sister for a while until he was able to find another place.

The house was sold, he said, to a developer. It is going to be demolished soon and more student housing will be built where it was. It will make the neighborhood look better. Property values will go up just a little. And a man will be out of his home.

There's only so many places poor people can live. We may not like their houses. We may not like their neighborhoods. They're not pretty. In some instances they're falling down. New housing looks a lot better. Well off white 20 somethings are more attractive than 70 year old illiterate retirees. But they've also got more options in life.

Let's not forget the human cost to "progress". Each one of these houses that are knocked down and rebuilt dislocates a person who was living there; a person who may not have any other options.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.

Job 14:7-17 (TNIV) -

7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.

8 Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,

9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.

10 But human beings die and are laid low;
they breathe their last and are no more.

11 As the water of a lake dries up
or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,

12 so they lie down and do not rise;
till the heavens are no more, they will not awake
or be roused from their sleep.

13 “If only you would hide me in the grave
and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
and then remember me!

14 If someone dies, will they live again?
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.

15 You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.

16 Surely then you will count my steps
but not keep track of my sin.

17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
you will cover over my sin.

My thoughts -

I love this passage. Maybe that's because I struggle with some of the same things that Job does. Obviously a big question for all of us mortals is whether there is life after death. Job has a somewhat mixed hope for this. As he sees God as his tormentor (and not without reason) the notion of, in death, going to "be with God" would not be a particularly comfortable one.

But what if God allowed him to hide away in the grave for a little while? Then what if God forgot all about God's anger with Job and remembered him as a beloved creation? What a wonderful concept! All sins forgotten; no further sin counted; renewal, hope, and rebirth. How wonderful would that be?

And that, too, is our hope. We may not have the acute suffering of Job to remind us how fragile and fleeting the things of this life are, but we do recognize our own mortality. We know this won't last. And we hope in God for renewal. I find it very encouraging that, in all of his suffering, Job can still express this hope.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Family Bike Ride

Click on this picture to see an album of pics from our trip to the Legacy Trail.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An end without hope?

Job 7:4-21 (TNIV) -

4 When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.

5 My body is clothed with worms and scabs,
my skin is broken and festering.

6 “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
and they come to an end without hope.

7 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.

8 The eye that now sees me will see me no longer;
you will look for me, but I will be no more.

9 As a cloud vanishes and is gone,
so those who go down to the grave do not return.

10 They will never come to their homes again;
their places will know them no more.

11 “Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep,
that you put me under guard?

13 When I think my bed will comfort me
and my couch will ease my complaint,

14 even then you frighten me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,

15 so that I prefer strangling and death,
rather than this body of mine.

16 I despise my life; I would not live forever.
Let me alone; my days have no meaning.

17 “What are human beings that you make so much of them,
that you give them so much attention,

18 that you examine them every morning
and test them every moment?

19 Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?

20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
you who watch over us all?
Why have you made me your target?
Have I become a burden to you?

21 Why do you not pardon my offenses
and forgive my sins?
For I will soon lie down in the dust;
you will search for me, but I will be no more.”

My thoughts -

I've experienced the kind of agony that keeps you up all night. I've closed my eyes and been unable to rest or sleep for fear of the horrible things I see. I've longed for anything and nothing to make it stop. There is nothing you can say to someone who is suffering like this that will make it better. There are no magic words of comfort and healing. What can you say? What can you do?

Job goes so far in his anguish that he wants to be "no more", not to be comforted by God but to get away from God. How do you handle the kind of pain that wants to turn away from God? There is no potential comfort left. Job says his days come to "an end without hope".

There's a lot of suffering everywhere and I have no idea how to "fix it". Really, we can't. We can only work to love those who suffer and to be available. It seems like a pretty powerless, insignificant thing. But that's what we've got.

Love with prayer and presence. Listen without judgement. Hope without reason.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?

Job 2:7-10 (TNIV)

7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

My thoughts -

That's some serious faith right there. How can Job possibly accept this? All of his wealth has vanished. His children have been killed. Now his health has been taken from him. Job is suffering more than ought to be possible to endure. I hate to agree with the wife, whom Job calls foolish here, but why not just curse God and die? What could he possibly have left to live for?

And his response?

"Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

I'm dumbfounded. We live in a culture in which our athletes have no trouble at least offering a token praise to God for their success but how many in the losing locker room believe that God wants them to fail? How we are blessed and cursed in this life is a mystery to me. If we credit God for the good do we blame God for the bad? I think Job does well to just accept it.

Monday, September 13, 2010


For the next few weeks I will be studying Job for my morning devotional time. There will most likely be few, if any, posts here during that time.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bad religion

Mark 14:56-65 (TNIV) -

56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’ ” 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

My thoughts -

What would cause someone to mock another person, to beat another person, to spit on another person, and to condemn another person to death? Unfortunately for far to many the answer to that question is their religion.

Jesus was killed in the name of God. Jesus himself being God incarnate makes this somewhat ironic. But it never ceases to amaze me how much hatred our God of love can inspire.

It's September 11 and some of us religious people are celebrating it by doing stupid stuff in the name of God. There's a pastor down in Florida who wants to burn a bunch of copies of the Quran to mark the occasion. He's even crazy enough to believe that moderate Muslims shouldn't have a problem with this, only extremists would. It takes a special brand of narcissistic fanatical lunacy to not be able to see that when you do something that pretty much everyone in the world agrees is vile they're not the "extremist", you are.

But fanatical lunatics don't need a special occasion to be crazy. We've got religious people blowing up clinics, murdering doctors, telling us who God hates, spewing vile bigotry and homophobia, and flying planes into buildings all the time.

If you think God is telling you to hate your neighbor, here's a tip:


God is love. If you feel called to hate that's not God's fault. That's your religion.

And it's a bad one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nearing a milestone; looking back

As the weather has turned a bit cooler the last couple of days I am reminded that Autumn is coming and I can't help but look back to this time last year. In late September/early October of last year a started a little personal improvement project. I was overweight, depressed, and crippled with anxiety and doubt. My world was spinning out of control and I knew I had to do something different.

Shannon had this crazy idea that we needed a treadmill. I was against it at first. I thought it was a waste of money. I thought we'd never use it. I thought it would just sit in the living room and eventually become something of a clothes rack. We bought it anyway. And I used it. I started off pretty slow. I think the first run was a half mile before I decided I'd rather die than continue. Slowly I built up speed and endurance. By Thanksgiving I was to the point where I could run the 3 miles from my house to my parents' house. In fact, I did so for Thanksgiving dinner. I was gassed at the end but felt good about the accomplishment. I ran on the treadmill throughout the Winter and then once Spring came I started running outside again.

Over the next few months I progressed from running 3 miles to running 10. By May I was able to run 10 miles in about an hour and a half. I had gone in that time from 220lbs with a 38in waist to 180lbs with a 33in waist. I was literally in the best shape of my life. But my knees and feet would ache for days every time I ran. So in May my brother and his wife decided that I should take up biking instead and even gave me a bike.

I started commuting to work on bike right away (Mansfield had been on me for quite a while to do so, anyway) and also riding more for exercise on the weekends. I've gone in that time from biking a few times a week for a total of about 30-40 miles to biking every day for about 20-25 miles a day. Again feeling great, both about myself and about not using as much gas. (I drive on Thursdays and Sundays to church and that's about it.)

But the physical changes are only a part of the story. I've been in the church pretty much all of my life. I have believed in God from about the time I was able to have any kind of concept of the Divine. Those beliefs have changed some over the years. They have evolved a bit. But my Spiritual life had been kind of stuck on idle for a few years. I didn't have any kind of regular prayer and devotional life. I had become frustrated with life, frustrated with myself, bitter, angry, confused, unhappy, and generally a bit of a pill to be around. So about the time I started working on physical self-improvement I decided to make a concerted effort to work on Spiritual self-improvement.

The only time I had to run was in the morning before work. I would wake up early and, depending on the weather, either get on the treadmill or head outside for a run. I noticed that running had a very quieting affect on my mind. All of the voices swirling around telling me everything that was wrong with me, everything I had to be worried about, everything I had to be stressed about, they all seemed to stop during that time. My head was clear. I decided that if I could get up early and run and clear my mind I could get up even earlier and use the run as a way to prepare myself for prayer and Bible study.

I began setting aside about an hour each morning as devotional time. I was very intentional about it. I set up a routine. I tried not to miss any days. I tried to not only read the Bible but to prayerfully consider what I was reading and to see what changes in my life Scripture demanded. I tried to consider more what following the example of Christ looks like in my daily life.

So, how's that going? Quite well. It's a process. I am not perfect. I still struggle at times with anger. I still expect more out of others in my life than I do myself and still have a tendency to blame others for my own failings. I'm still far too good at being judgmental and not nearly good enough at loving my neighbor. I know my faults. I'm working on them. I have become, over the last year, a much better father, husband, and person than I was before. I'm much happier and have a much better outlook on life. I hate my job less and generally try to do it better. I shouldn't be surprised, really, that an effort to live a life more in line with the will of that which created and sustains all life has yielded a much more fulfilling life.

Hopefully this time next year I can look back and smile at how much better things have gotten over the year that passed.

Lord, save me!

Matthew 14:22-33 (TNIV) -

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

29 "Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

My thoughts -

I love Peter's initially response to Jesus walking on water. I don't know if he was testing this "ghost" to determine if it really was Jesus or if he figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do the impossible and didn't want it to pass him by. Either way he told Jesus to tell him to come do it to. That's something I'd never do. I have a hard enough time swimming while observing the rules of the natural world. I'm not about to try to break them in the water.

No, maybe Peter got himself in a bit over his head. I mean, it's cool at first. He's walking on water. But he's WALKING. On WATER. And there's this wind and these waves and he's WALKING on WATER. But not for long. He's scared. That may not be a strong enough word. He's terrified. And sinking.

"Lord, save me!"

I wonder how often our mouths out-pace our faith. We get ourselves over committed and then don't trust God to help us complete what we have set out to do. I'm not about to try to walk on water. That would be crazy. But I might try to get up early every morning for devotional time. I might try to give more to the poor; to give more time and money to the church; to tithe like I know I should; to commit more of myself to do missions; to share God's love with people I don't know; to live simpler; to fast regularly.

I might try any or all of these things and find that there are waves and wind. I'm tired, and keeping up with them feels like work. I might find other things to spend my money on. I might fall into the trap of trying to keep up with my neighbors. I tried, Jesus, but I just can't do this. It was crazy. I got caught up in the moment. I didn't really mean to get myself into this. I'm drowning.

"Lord, save me!"

God, gives us the faith to trust you in everything and to follow your will no mater how crazy it may seem.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not one stone here will be left on top of another

Mark 13:1-2 (TNIV) -

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

My thoughts -

We've got buildings. Some beautiful, some more utilitarian. We've got stuff. Some of it shiny, flashy, new and improved; some of it the same old stuff we've had for what seems like forever. We've got doors that close and lock to protect our stuff. We've got renovations, remodeling, and rebuilding projects to maintain and improve our buildings. We take great care in caring for what we have in this world. But it will not last.

What is a church? If we make our churches about the stuff we have we're building on a foundation that will crumble. If we make our churches about the beautiful sanctuary, the stained glass, the awesome Media Shout presentation, the big screens, the headset mics, the electric guitars, the pipe organs, the choirs, or any of the "trappings" of church we are not building on the eternal. These things will pass. They're just stuff. Not one stone here will be left on top of another.

The church is where we gather to worship God and to learn how to know and to do God's will. The people who make up the church are to be the hands of Christ in this world. Insofar as we are accomplishing that we are doing our job. The rest is just decoration. It's not that there's anything wrong with that, but it is not our mission to have the best choir in the county. It is not our mission to have the best praise band in the city. It is not our mission to have stained glass so beautiful people travel for miles and miles to see it.

Not one stone here will be left on top of another. Our "stuff" won't last.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Love God, love neighbor

Mark 12:28-34 (TNIV) -

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

My thoughts -

This seems simple, right? What's the most important thing to do? Love God. Also, love your neighbor. If whatever you do is weighed by asking yourself "how is this loving God and my neighbor?" it's going to be very difficult for you to do wrong.

I also love how Jesus was asked what the one most important commandment is and yet he answered with two. It makes sense, though. How can you love God without loving others? I don't think it's possible. If we are to love God with everything we've got then we have to love those whom God has created. To love God but not love our neighbors would be impossible.

We have a way of making simple things much harder than they have to be. Jesus has distilled the law into a pretty easy thing for us to grasp here. Love God. Love neighbor. Done and done.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Eternal perspective

Mark 12:18-27 (TNIV) -

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

My thoughts -

Although the Sadducees did not ask their question honestly I think it does point to a fundamental issue that we have. We get so tied up in the logistics of the unknowable sometimes that we forget to trust the Creator of the Universe with the workings of Creation. We want to understand the eternal when we ourselves are trapped in space and time. We have no way to comprehend eternity and yet we quibble over the details.

I believe that when we get to Heaven we will marvel at just how confused we were. A lot of things that seemed so important in this life will be inconsequential when we are no longer prisoners of time and mortality.

I'm looking forward to that. But, as always, not yet. There's plenty left for me to do here. I'm in no hurry. I've got all of the time in the world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

False advertising

Mark 11:12-14, 20-21

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

My thoughts -

Jesus was hungry. The fig tree was there. It should have had fruit. It didn't. It offered him hope but it was a false hope. It let him down. Jesus destroyed it.

Do we bear fruit? Do we have spiritual food for the hungry or are we, like this tree, filled with only false promise?

If we have all of the trappings of the church, with our organs, choirs, stained glass, etc. but nothing to nourish those who desperately want to grow in Christ with then we offering nothing but false advertising. We look like we should bear fruit. Our branches are covered in leaves, but we have nothing.

What kind of Christians are we producing? Are we producing the kind that love to go to worship, dress up in their finest clothes, be seen by the right people, look happy and well put together, and sing along with the beautiful music, or are we producing the kind of Christians that follow the example of Christ and go out and care for the needs of the poor, the lost, and the suffering? Are we more interested in growing the church or growing the Kingdom of God?

Are we bearing any fruit?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Careful what you ask for

Mark 10:35-45 (TNIV) -

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

39 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

My thoughts -

Jesus did like to turn our idea of greatness on its head, didn't he. James and John wanted to be great. They wanted to sit at the right and the left side of Jesus in glory. They, of course, had no idea what they were asking for. Even when Jesus asked if they could drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism they had no clue what that meant.

Of course, they both did end up drinking from Jesus's cup. They were both martyred. This may seem like an odd success story, but I think we view success wrongly.

No one should go into ministry because of what they can gain from it. No one should use the name of Jesus to seek fame and fortune. This is not success, no matter how big your congregation is, how many people listen to your radio program, how many people see your service on TV, and how many influential people seek your "spiritual guidance".

To serve Jesus is to offer yourself humbly as a sacrifice to care for the needs of God's children, especially to poor and disenfranchised. Serving Jesus is messy, disruptive, subversive, and an affront to those with power in this life. It's uncomfortable and it just might cost you everything.

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Help me overcome my unbelief!

Mark 9:14-29 (TNIV) -

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."

19 "You unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

23 " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes."

24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

29 He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer. "

My thoughts -

Verse 24 may be my favorite verse in the Bible. The father here is desperate. His son in suffering and there's nothing anyone seems to be able to do about it. He took the boy to Jesus's disciples and, not only could they not help him, their attempt seems to have devolved into a shouting match between them and some teachers of the law that has attracted the attention of a large and growing crowd. It's bordering on pandemonium.

Now the boy has been brought to Jesus and the father has explained the situation. Given how this whole process has gone up to this point the father says, understandably, "if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

IF you can do anything.

There's doubt in that sentence. There's doubt in a lot of desperate situations. There's doubt in a lot of this life. There's doubt in our suffering. We feel alone and helpless. We have lost control and we need someone to save us; to have pity on us.

Jesus answers this doubting "if" with, "Everything is possible for one who believes."

And now, the boy's father's response, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

There's a lot of faith in that statement.