Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hate Going to Church?

A lot of people I know--many of whom profess to be Christian--hate going to church.

In Acts, Luke writes of the early church, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts" (2:46).  Every day!?  It seems like a lot of people can't handle once a week.

You don't want to go to church?  There's a problem there.  Maybe it's the church--it just isn't doing what the church is supposed to do.  Maybe it's you--you just aren't really that big into all this Jesus stuff.  Either way, there's something missing.  If you truly believe the problem is with your church, do something about it--fix your church, or find a better church, or supplement your church with a small group or something like that.  If the problem is you...get fixed.

It Just Takes A Moment

Rahab was a prostitute.

If you have selected prostitution as your profession, you have made some terrible decisions in your life.  Rahab had.  Had Rahab continued on her journey the way she had been living, things would have just gone from bad to worse.  She would have been killed and no one would remember a thing about her or that she had even existed.

Instead, in a single moment, she changed course.  By deciding to cooperate with God's people, she saves her own life and the lives of her family members.  She became part of the community of God's people.  Not only is she remembered for helping the spies, she also makes her way into the genealogies of David and Solomon, but also in the genealogy of Jesus.  The Son of God carried her DNA.

Prostitution is one of those careers that no one wants to be in.  Bad circumstances and bad choices lead people there, and bad circumstances and bad choices keep people there.  Rahab probably felt trapped.  A lot of us feel trapped now and then.  If we keep our eyes open, there's no telling when we will have that moment--our moment to do the right thing, to embrace the plan of God, and let God work in our lives to improve things.

Any moment can be a good moment.  It may not be that life-changing once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity moment, but it can still be a moment that makes life better.  Perhaps, in this moment, you can choose to accept God's call on your life.  Perhaps, in this moment, you can choose to improve your marriage.  Perhaps, in this moment, you can extend an extra bit of time to love your kids, or start exercising, or eat healthier.  Life is full of choices.  Choose to make the most of this moment.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Considering Job

This ties in directly with the previous post.

"Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.  And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason" (Job 2:3).

Do you maintain your integrity in the face of troubles?  Could a holy God describe you as "blameless and upright"?  Could a fallen man even describe you (honestly) as "blameless and upright"?  That's kind of a high standard.

Reach for it.

Are You Living It?

In 1 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul writes, "You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed."

Wow.  That's pretty ballsy.  I don't know too many Christians that are willing to actually say, "Hey, look at me, I'm living the way I've been telling you that you are supposed to live."  That takes some guts, because we all have our moments and fall short of what we expect of ourselves and what God expects of us.

What if your goal today was to simply live today in such a way that you could speak like this about today?  Can we live like that for one day?  I think that's doable.  And if we can do it for one day today, we can probably do the same tomorrow.  One day at a time, and pretty soon it's a habit.  Why don't we do this?  It would be hard.  Even more importantly, it would pretty much have to rank quite high on your priority list to do it.  I guess that's why people don't.

Maybe that's why so many people think Christians are hypocrites.  Maybe they're right.

Don't be a hypocrite.

Waiting For It

"The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.'"


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Responding to Jesus

In Matthew 2, we read about the Magi and Herod, both searching for Jesus.  Both believed, and both wanted to find the baby, but they went about it very differently and for very different reasons.

A truth that is demonstrated here is that anytime we are exposed to God in any way, we will always be changed in some way.  How we are changed is largely up to us.  We can either draw closer to God, or we can rebel against him.  The Magi faced the truth, and devoted their time to finding Jesus to be closer to him.  Herod, in response to the same truth, felt compelled to find Jesus to stop him from ever becoming king.  Herod didn't want to himself be closer to Jesus--he just wanted to make sure no one else did, either.  His response is paranoid, fearful, aggressive, and violent.

Herod was obviously a nasty guy.  What kind of king orders all male babies under the age of two to be killed (verse 16)?  Can you imagine how you would feel and how you would respond if a government leader sent that order out in your community?  They don't have to--in this country, we murder our own babies when they are inconvenient, and no one has to force us to do so.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Be Strong and Courageous

It's not too many of who actually hear God speaking to us.  Still, God doesn't change, and good advice is always good advice.  When God put Joshua in charge of the nation of Israel, he gave Joshua some pretty clear instructions.

"Be strong and courageous...Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law...meditate on it...Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:6-9).

Did you ever notice in school that if your instructor says something two or three times that it was going to be on the test?  The same thing is true in Hebrew literature.  Repetition indicates truth and importance.  In these four verses, God tells Joshua to "be strong and courageous" three times.  That's because it's important!

Too many of us just aren't courageous.  We worry a lot.  And, the habit of lacking courage actually makes us weak.  God wants something far better for you and for me.  Has he not commanded us?  Be strong and courageous!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A List of Nasty Traits

"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:28-31).

See that, kids?  Disobeying your parents is on the same list as murder.  Be good!

Job's Prayer

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:21).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That's Some Plan

Most people list genealogies as some of the most boring passages of scripture.  I have learned to appreciate them.  The genealogy of Jesus is the specific example that isn't as boring as it may seem.

You see, as we read through the genealogy, a lot of those names we have heard before in the Old Testament.  There are some really great people in there.  There's David and Solomon, and there's some lesser-known good guys in there, too, like Hezekiah and Josiah.  It's really a testimony of how God has been at work all throughout history to prepare for the coming of Jesus.

They aren't just good guys in Jesus' genealogy, though.  There's some bad guys.  There are some stories tied in there that are rather despicable.  Solomon's mom was the woman that David had an affair with, remember?  Don't even get me started on Tamar.  This is significant, too.  God has a plan for all of us--even if we are failures.

After the genealogy ends, Matthew begins to tell the Christmas story.  After hundreds of years of God planning for this, things still weren't silky smooth and worry-free.  Joseph considered leaving Mary during the pregnancy.  That's a lot of drama.  And the next time someone asks you if you were born in a barn--don't worry about it--Jesus was.

I see some lessons in that genealogy.  First, God has a plan for each of us.  No matter how good of a job we've done to screw it up, God can still use us.  Second, things aren't always neat and easy, and that's okay.  It isn't an indictment that we've screwed up or that we aren't in the will of God--stuff just happens.  Finally, culture is over-rated.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

10 Commandments of Small Groups

I've been thinking about what small group ministry should look like.  What if we applied the Ten Commandments to small groups?  I think it would look something like this:

  1. You shall have no other gods.  Small groups should be focused on God.
  2. You shall have no idols that distract you from God.  That includes your cell phones, televisions, and grandfather clocks.
  3. You shall honor the name of God.  That includes being sincere and truthful when talking to and about God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath.  Your group should have regularly scheduled time set aside to meet together.  Meeting "whenever we can" will soon translate into meeting "never."
  5. Honor one another.  (Jesus said that those who do the will of God are his brother and sister and mother.  Honoring one another is to keep the commandment to honor our parents.)
  6. Have an attitude of reconciliation.  (This is the opposite of murder.)
  7. Nurture healthy relationships.  (This is the opposite of adultery.)
  8. Allow each member of the group to share their thoughts and gifts as they are comfortable to do so.  Don't force it or try to one-up one another.  (This is the opposite of theft.)
  9. Speak with love.  This means offering truth, encouragement, and confidentiality to each member of the group.  (This is the opposite of giving false witness.)
  10. Appreciate and respect what each member brings to the group.  (This is the opposite of covetousness.)  

This blog may or may not include original thought. It was severely influenced by Gareth Weldon Icenogle's Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: An Integrational Approach.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Putting Yourself Out There

As a kid, I got to spend a lot of time with my grandparents over the summers.  I would go for a week at a time, sometimes with my brothers, sometimes with cousins, sometimes with both, and sometimes with neither (but never with my parents).  This is a great experience for a kid.  I highly recommend it.

During those visits, I really got to know my grandparents.  You can project yourself to be whomever you want to project yourself as for a day or two, but over the course of a week (and several weeks in a single summer), day in and day out, your true self will shine through.  I got to discover the authenticity of my grandparents.  Those totally awesome people on Thanksgiving Day?  They're like that 24/7.  I also got to learn their stories.  They told me about growing up, courtship, working in an orphanage, raising children (which is more entertaining when those children are your dad, aunt, and uncle)...all sorts of stuff. 

One of the stories my grandma told me was about when she and my grandpa first started dating.  Apparently, my grandma had a nasty habit of dumping guys for sport.  Well, not for sport.  Basically, she was happy with single life and didn't want some guy to mess that up.  (I can relate.)  What changed when she met my grandpa?  Nothing, really.  Her mother (my great-grandma) told her that she couldn't break up with my grandpa unless she had an actual reason.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I never asked if my grandpa knew back then that my grandma had been a serial break-up artist.  I got the impression that he didn't, but I should have asked him.  I wonder now if he would have pursued her if he had known the high probability that she was going to hurt him.  Would he have put himself out there and taken that chance?

I think he would.  There's two reasons I think my grandpa would have risked his heart to pursue my grandma:
  1. Grandma is that awesome.
  2. Grandpa was that awesome.
Love is crazy like that.

That got me thinking.  Jesus put himself out there for us.  He knew what it would cost him.  God keeps on extending grace, even though He knows full well that more often than not, we're going to hurt him--and we all have.  That's some crazy love right there.

What's the appropriate response to a crazy love like that?  Crazy love is the only response to that.  If you aren't a fanatic about your response to God, I daresay you're not doing it right.

How do you know if you're loving God like you should?  Jesus said outsiders would be able to tell by the way we love one another.  That means it's our turn.  Have you put yourself out there to extend crazy love to someone today?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I Agree with Katy Perry.

Confession: I like Katy Perry.

I know she's some kind of she-devil, but Katy Perry is good looking, and her music is fun.  I know I'm supposed to be all up in arms because she sang "I Kissed A Girl" (and she liked it!), but, um, I kissed a girl--and I liked it, too.  Did you know that Katy Perry is a pastor's daughter, and that before she started her career as "Katy Perry" she was a Christian artist under her real name, Katy Hudson?  Yeah...she's all kinds of messed up now.  Still, even though she kissed a girl and she thinks ur so gay, I like a lot of what she has to say.

As an ultra-conservative Christian, I'm supposed to be repulsed by that video somehow.  I mean, there's like homo love and a fat girl in her undies.  I'm not.  Granted, I don't really want to see homo loving (I don't really want to see hetero loving, either.  Most people just aren't attractive enough to make the view enjoyable), nor do I really want to see big folk in their skivvies.

The thing is, we're supposed to love people.  Even if you think, for example, that homosexuality is a sin, shouldn't we be still be more offended when they are made to feel isolated, rejected, and unloved than when they act on what is in their heart anyway?  Seriously, is this how Jesus would treat people?  If they feel isolated, rejected, and unloved, then they are in the same position (just unhappy).  The real difference is in us--we are the ones doing wrong.

There's pretty much no denying, if I think someone is gay, I'll probably be the first to say so, and if I think someone is fat, I'll probably be the first to admit that, too.  There's no value statement attached there.  People are still valuable, regardless.

What Katy Perry is singing about in "Firework" is really what the life of Jesus is all about.  God has this incredibly high view of who we can be--who we should be.  Each of us is unique.  Each of us hold the potential to be great.  Through God, we can reach that unique potential.  Jesus came to get us there.

If we cannot manage to love one another, can we really call ourselves followers of Jesus?

Happy Christianity

I am increasingly aware that the key to being a happy Christian is learning to laugh at all the other churchy people.

Please don't make me explain it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shut Your Mouth

I know "Shut Your Mouth" isn't a title anyone expected in the title of one of my churchy blogs, but I said it.  I also know that probably most of my readers will think I am being funny or dramatic or something, but I am not.

I am increasingly tired of a culture that wants to tear everyone down.  We wrap it up as "good clean fun" and "friendly teasing" and all that.  I call bull-crap.  There is nothing good or clean or fun or friendly about it.  It's mean and nasty and I'm done with it.  I'm not saying I'm perfect, but I am going to give you all permission to hold me accountable and set me straight.  And if you can't handle controlling yourselves, I have one simple message:

Shut your mouth and read 1 Thessalonians 5.

Be self-controlled (verse 8).  Encourage one another and build each other up (11).  Respect those who work hard among you (12).  Hold them in the highest regard.  Live in peace (13).  Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone (14).  Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else (15).  Be joyful always (16).  Pray continually (17).  Give thanks in all circumstances (18).  Avoid every kind of evil (22).

Is that too tough?  Can't manage that?  Then just shut your mouth.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seven Things I Hate About Church

I have absolutely no reason to submit this post now, which makes it a great time to do it.  This is something I wrote quite a while ago when discussing why so many men in America dislike going to church.  Enjoy!      -mike

In all honesy, I am a man that does not really like church. (I have been known to say things like, "I love Jesus, but I am no fan of his leprous bride.") I cannot speak for everyone, obviously, but here are some things that I do not like about church:

1. People pretend to care. I do not honestly mind if they care about me or not, but the fraud bothers me.
2. I am asked personal questions by people I barely know.
3. People assume that I am a hugger just because they are.
4. We sing songs that have no value in either the music or the lyrics.  These songs are just lousy music, and only a Christian could love them (because they are vaguely spiritual).
5. "Testimonies" are offered that are not really testimonies at all. Sometimes this comes in the form of someone who talks for minutes about how terrible their life is and then conclude with something spiritual, such as, "but I know God will bring me through" or something, which would be a lot more meaningful if the person had not first convinced us that their problems are the focus of their life. Others are incoherent altogether. Some are merely some person who for whatever reason want to share the lonely thought that has ventured into their head before it dies of loneliness. I am embarrassed for the person giving the "testimony" and I am embarrassed for myself for having listened to it.
6. Too many sermons are focused on proving the preacher's eloquence or academic skills, rather than on delivering the Word of God with authority.
7. If you allow yourself to be open to people in the church, often times those good Christian people will take the opportunity to hurt you in ways you would have never imagined.

Emphasis on number seven.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Father, Let Me Dedicate

Father let me dedicate all this life to Thee
In whatever worldly state Thou would have me be
Not from sorrow, pain or care, freedom dare I claim
This alone shall be my prayer, glorify Thy name

Can a child presume to choose where or how to live?
Can a father's love refuse all the best to give?
Let my glad heart, while it sings, Thee in all proclaim
And, whate'er the future brings, glorify Thy name

If Thou callest to the cross, and its shadow come,
Turning all my gain to loss, shrouding heart and home;
Let me think how Thy dear Son to His glory came,
And in deepest woe pray on, “Glorify Thy Name.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

First Love

A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'"
"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Luke 18:18-25, NIV

I hate stuff.  I think stuff is anti-Christianity.  Usually, if I voice any opinion that even remotely suggests this opinion, I am assured that stuff is okay, as long as that stuff doesn't come first in your life.  If Jesus is your "first love," they say, all this other stuff is okay, too.

Are you sure?

I think it is worth mentioning that Jesus does not want some casual, half-effort relationship with you.  He died for you.  He wants that kind of commitment from you.  We are not talking about a once-a-month-guys-night-out friendship here.  We are talking about a singularly-focused, every-moment-is-about-you relationship.

Is it okay with Jesus if you love your stuff, so long as you love him, too?  If Jesus is first, can you have whatever stuff you want?  Is your wife okay with your mistress, so long as your wife is still your "first" love?


Saturday, April 17, 2010

How Can I Know I Am Saved?

We have tried to make this question the crux of Christianity: how can I know I will go to heaven?  The more appropriate question would be: how can I know I am saved? 

Either way, if you ask you are likely to get something along the lines of, "Have you ever prayed and accepted Jesus as your Savior?"  Maybe a little more or less theological-sounding, but that's essentially what people are looking for.  They are trying to remind you of that time when you were six years old and you repeated some prayer after some preacher and declared yourself "saved."

"Saved" isn't quite what it's cut out to be. 

Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'" (Matthew 7:21-22, NIV). 

In Hebrew literature, repetition indicates significance and sincerity.  When these folks say, "Lord, Lord," it indicates that they have known about and professed Jesus for a long time.  It isn't like the kid who is caught climbing on the kitchen counter reaching into the cookie jar when his mom walks into the room and he says, "Hi, Mommy!" as if he isn't doing something wrong.  This is the kid who cuts the curtains apart and tries to sew the parts into a dress, and runs out to meet his mom when she gets home from work: "Mommy, Mommy, look what I made for you!"  Well, sorta.  These folks have been prophesying in Jesus name.  They have been driving out demons.  They performed miracles.  They are certain of their eternal security.

The problem is, their eternity isn't secure at all.  Jesus concludes, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (verse 23).  Oh, crud.  What went wrong here?  What about the prophesy and miracles and whatnot?  None of that stuff matters to Jesus.  He's not impressed. 

Well, if none of that stuff matters, what is Jesus looking for?

First, Jesus precedes this bit of information by drawing an analogy between people and fruit trees.  "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them" (verses 18-20).  A Christian can be recognized by his or her behavior.

Jesus concludes his reply to those who said, "Lord, Lord..." by saying, "Away from me, you evildoers!"  EVILDOERS.  If you are still doing evil, you are not following Christ...and probably not going to heaven, either.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jesus Junkie

If you are interested in becoming a Jesus Junkie, you should try this new reading program starting today (4/11/10).  It's nothing original of mine, it's a plan created by Grant Horner, and I've put the PDF explaining the whole thing on my web site here for your review.  Basically, it divides the Bible into ten (completely unequal) sections, and you read one chapter from each section per day.

The ten sections are:
  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  2. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  3. Romans; I & II Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Colossians; Hebrews
  4. I & II Thessalonians; I & II Timothy; Titus; Philemon; James; I & II Peter; I, II, & III John, Jude, Revelation
  5. Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
  6. Psalms
  7. Proverbs
  8. Joshua; Judges; Ruth; I & II Samuel; I & II Kings; I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
  9. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habukkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  10. Acts

The PDF has bookmarks you can print and cut and put in your Bible, and that'll probably help keep it straight.  If you're not only a Jesus Junkie, but also a computer junkie, you can sign up online to help you keep up with the reading plan.  Simply create an account and enroll in the Prof. Horner's Bible Reading System.  Add me as a buddy; my user name is themikelyonsshow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's the Point?

If I asked you, "What's the point of your life?" you might give me any number of answers.  You might tell me about what you hope for your children, what you are doing in your hobbies, or your career. 

Now, what if I asked you, "What is the point of a business?"  I don't care what your business is, what it sells or what service it provides.  Regardless of market share, return on investment, or anything else, a business exists for one purpose: to make money.  No business exists for any purpose except to serve its creator by producing money. 

A hobby exists to serve you by bringing you pleasure.  A garden exists to serve you by producing food.

When you create something, whether it is a business, a hobby, a garden, or just about anything else, you create it to serve you.  God created you for a purpose.  What do you suppose that purpose is?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Selective Listening

I titled this entry "Selective Listening" and now I am going to talk about reading, not listening.  You can deal with it.  To start, here are a couple of Bible passages that I think most Christians are fairly familiar with.
10 This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."
Jeremiah 29:10-14

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
 17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
 18"Which ones?" the man inquired.
   Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
 20"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
 21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
 22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
 23Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Matthew 19:16-24

What I want to know is, why is it that when we read Jeremiah 29:11, we cling to it as a personal promise, but when we read Matthew 19:21, we say "Oh, that was a specific command for someone else" or "Jesus didn't really mean that" or whatever. 

Bull crap.

The Jeremiah verse also says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  We don't exactly have a line-item veto here.  You can't sit there and tell God, "I want the part about prospering and hope and a future, but I can do without this seeking you stuff."  Most of us aren't even thinking about asking, "What do I still lack?" because we aren't even sure we have to honor our parents and do all that.  We're in negotiations or something.

As Christians, we are supposed to try to become like Christ.  Christ didn't have any earthly possessions besides the clothes on his back.  All of the apostles gave up everything they had to follow him.  Who are we to think that we can follow Christ and not give up anything? 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day.  The question for today, then, is are you focusing your energies on loving someone who will never love you back in the way that you deserve, or are you loving the one who has always loved you in a way you could never deserve?

If you are looking to love someone that will never love you back
I don't know.  I really feel like there should be a Tiger Woods joke here, or maybe some commentary regarding narcissism.  Regardless, hopefully I'm not talking about your boyfriend.

If you are looking to love someone that has always loved you
Jesus is still alright with me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Correct but Stupid

Maybe you've heard this or something like it.  It usually is a Christian talking to a non-Christian (usually an atheist), and the Christian will say something like:
"Suppose you're right.  Suppose there is no god.  We go through life, and that's it.  There's no heaven, no afterlife, nothing.  So, you were right and I was wrong--it doesn't even matter.  But suppose I'm right.  Suppose Jesus is the Son of God.  We go through life, and then we face judgment.  I was right, and you were wrong--and it makes all the difference!"

I suppose the logic is sound, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the dumbest arguments ever made for Christianity.

First, why would you say, even for the sake of argument, that there is no god?  If you are a Christian and you have a personal experience with God, why would you even entertain the idea that there isn't?  Think about it.  You wouldn't say, "Suppose there's no such thing as snow..."  I know there is snow.  I keep having to shovel it off the sidewalk and brush it off my car.  People who live in warmer climates may not have ever seen snow, and they might find the idea difficult to wrap their brains around it, but that doesn't change the fact that snow is real and undeniable.  You can't make a valid point based on a completely asinine premise. 

Second, you're making the wrong argument altogether.  Christianity isn't about--or it shouldn't be about--escaping the eternal flames of hell.  There's plenty to look forward to in the afterlife, but this life is pretty good, too.  The angel announcing Jesus' birth says, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."  It's kind of a big deal!  Having Jesus in your life gives you joy that you can't get anywhere else.  To the atheist, your joy should be obvious and completely unreasonable.

If you don't know for a fact that God exists, you're missing out on the life that God has planned for you.  You're missing out on completely ridiculous joy that should be yours.  And if you aren't missing out, you should be making better arguments.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sign, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

I read about a shopping center in England where there were stairs adjacent to the escalators.  Researchers posted colorful signs that stated, "Taking the stairs protects your heart."  The result was that the number of people who chose the stairs doubled.

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that taking the stairs is the better option for your health.  I also think it doesn't take a brain surgeon to understand that the increase in the use of the stairs had everything to do with the presence of those signs.  So I doubt it takes a rocket surgeon, then, to understand what this verse is all about:

"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates."
Deuteronomy 6:6-8

God's word is kind of like those signs at the shopping mall.  The truth in God's word is available for our own benefit.  God gave it to us because He loves us and wants the best for us.  Like those signs, we might know (at least on some level) the truth behind those words, but it's easy to not even think about them on our own if we never read them.  That's why God tells us to keep his words in front of us every day and throughout our day.

Notre Dame football players, when they exit the locker room and head down the tunnel towards the playing field, see a sign that says, "Play like a champion today."  There's a reason that statement is on a sign hanging in the staircase to be seen by every player at every home game rather than simply mentioned at freshman orientation.  The Notre Dame football program wants to immerse its athletes in a culture of excellence.

What do you immerse yourself in?  What do you spend more time looking at: Facebook, the television, the inside of the fridge, Sports Illustrated, or your Bible?  Are you surprised by the results?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Random (In)Justice

Ten of Joseph's brothers played a role in him being sold into slavery.  Years later, they have to go to Egypt to buy grain--and even though they don't know it, they are buying grain from Joseph.  Of course, Joseph knows who they are, and he messes around with them a little bit.  When the brothers visit the first time, without Benjamin, Joseph tells them they must return with their other brother.  To make sure they come back, he keeps one brother in prison until they return.
"He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes."
Genesis 42:24
Why Simeon?  Or, from Simeon's perspective, "Why me!?"  Sure, Simeon was guilty for what they had done to Joseph, but he wasn't any more guilty than the other nine (except maybe Reuben, I suppose).  Regardless of what he had done before, this was hardly fair.  The other nine were able to return with grain to their wives and children.  Why Simeon?

The worst part is that when the brothers returned home and told what had happened to them, Jacob doesn't want them to return!  He completely gives up on Simeon, and considers him as good as dead.  Instead of having the brothers return immediately to Egypt so that they can prove their innocence and have Simeon released from prison, they wait.  They wait until they have run out of food, and the only other choice is to accept starving to death.  Only then do they return to Egypt.

Meanwhile, Simeon is rotting in prison.  I don't know what conditions Simeon may have been subjected to.  The Bible doesn't address the topic.  If I had to guess, I would think that Joseph would see to it that his brother was not mistreated in any way, but it still must have been miserable.  And Simeon must have asked why he of all ten had to be the one to be imprisoned in Egypt.

What did Simeon do to deserve this?  Well, he'd done some nasty things in his life.  He deserved prison and more.  Of course, he didn't do anything (as far as I know) that Levi didn't do. 

We all deserve everything we get and a whole lot worse.  The Bible says that Jesus bore the weight of our sins on the cross.  He died because of our sins.  Your sins.  My sins.  In short, I killed Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  You did, too.  Whatever bad happens to us, it doesn't even approach that which we deserve.  Except for the grace of God, what we all deserve is furious wrath from heaven.  Life isn't fair--and that's a good thing.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete, not lacking in anything."
James 1:2-4

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thirty Years

If you know who Donny Osmond is, you know the story of Joseph.  As a young man with a lot of potential, he ran his mouth a bit too much and irritated the snot out of his brothers.  They wanted to kill him--and life just went downhill from there.  They sold him into slavery.  He went to work for Potiphar and things were looking good until Potiphar's wife got mad at him and lied, which led to Joseph being sent to prison.  In prison, Joseph works for the warden and interprets dreams for a couple of Pharaoh's servants, but he is still in prison without having done a single thing to deserve it for at least two years after interpreting those dreams.  Joseph has held firm to his faith in God, and his life still sucks.

You know what comes next.  In one day, Joseph goes from prison to being second in power in all of Egypt to only Pharaoh himself.   

"Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Genesis 41:46). 

The text indicates that Joseph was seventeen when the strife between him and his brothers really began to heat up.  I suspect that Joseph being sold into slavery came at that age or soon thereafter.  That means that on his thirtieth birthday Joseph had spent his entire adult life--more than a decade--as a slave and/or prisoner.  It would have been pretty easy for him to develop a rotten attitude about life, but the story is clear: Joseph's faith remained in tact, despite the adversity he faced.

If Joseph had been wrapped up in his circumstances, even when called into Pharaoh's palace to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, what would have happened?  First, God probably would not have given him the wisdom to interpret them, and back into the dungeon he would have gone.  Second, if God had granted him the wisdom to interpret them, he may have been unwise with his gift.  Instead of telling Pharaoh the meaning of the dream, and then telling him what to do about it, what if Joseph had simply said, "Sounds like you're screwed"?  His displeasure at how life went the first thirty years of his life would have robbed him of all God's blessings that he ended up receiving over the next ninety.

We must take the long view on life.  It's easy to get overwhelmed by the circumstances of the moment.  God takes the long view, and therefore we should, too.  We have to keep our eyes on the Father and trust him to deal with the rest.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I Don't Care If You Care

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
- Mark 12:29-31

Love your neighbor as yourself.
 - Leviticus 19:18

Pullin' out my big black book
Cause when I need a word defined that's where I look
So I move to the L's quick, fast, in a hurry
Threw on my specs, thought my vision was blurry
I looked again but to my dismay
It was black and white with no room for grey
Ya see, a big V stood beyond my word
And yo that's when it hit me, that luv is a verb 

 - "Luv is a Verb" by DC Talk

Sometimes, it seems like we feel satisfied by a warm fuzzy feeling in our heart.  Simply caring about something makes us feel like better people.  We're concerned about poverty, and that makes us better people than the people that do not.  We hope for world peace, and that makes us more pure in heart than the war-mongers.  We have clever ways to articulate our views--such as calling people "war-mongers."  All of that makes us feel good about ourselves.  Look at me.  I'm such a good person.

None of that matters a bit.  It doesn't matter if you care.  It doesn't matter if you voice concern.  If you do voice your concern, it doesn't matter how effectively, articulately, or loudly you express that concern.  It's worthless.

You see, we have been commanded to love.  Love, as DC Talk nicely points out for us, is a verb.  You know--an action word.  That is to say, we have been commanded to act.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Calming the Storm

Alright, so here we go...my attempt at sermon notes without having actually taken any notes.
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" 
Mark 4:35-38

Possible causes of storms in our lives:
  •  Bad decisions
  • The enemy
  • Living in a broken world

Things to remember when you are in a storm:
  • You are in the storm by God's appointment.
    It was Jesus' idea for the disciples to get in the boat that day.  He know the storm would come.  He had them there for a reason. 

  • You are in the storm with His presence.
    During the storm, the disciples feared for their lives, but Jesus was there with them the entire time.  Being in the stern, He may not have been visible, but he was present.

    "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  Hebrews 13:5

  • You are in the storm for His purpose.
    Remember, it was Jesus' idea for the disciples to be in that boat.  It was his idea for them to go through the storm.  But, there was something to be gained from it.  When we face storms in our lives, perhaps God will intervene on our behalf, or maybe He won't, but he has our best interests at heart.

    "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete, not lacking in anything."  James 1:2-4

"He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet!  Be still.'  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."  Mark 4:39

Sometimes Jesus will calm the storm in our lives.  Sometimes, He calms us instead.  Either way, He says "Quiet!  Be still." 

"He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?'"  Mark 4:40

Monday, January 4, 2010

Your Will

I'm an NIV guy. I don't really know why. I suspect that I just like it because it is the version I am most familiar with and so I am comfortable with it. However, even twelve or thirteen years ago I recognized that I could increase my understanding of the scriptures by studying multiple versions. Here is a great example of that.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (NIV). I like the way the Contemporary English Version says it, as I think it more clearly communicates the meaning of the verse. In the CEV, verse 13 says, "God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him."

Do you realize what that means?  When you allow God to work in your life, He doesn't ask you to do a bunch of stuff that you don't want to do.  That doesn't mean that you wouldn't make other choices for yourself, but it does mean that you will want to do as He says.  Part of that is because God changes your heart to want the things that He wants for you.  However, I also think that it is because the deep-seated desires of your heart are part your design--the design God made you with.

Most of us struggle with the idea of giving God our lives.  I think we get this idea in our heads that Christianity is all about giving up everything that we want in this life for the sake of a better after life.  I only think that's half true--there is a better after life.  However, true Christian living is a pretty good life in and of itself.  Even if there were no after life, living in the will of God is a better existence here on earth than we could ever experience otherwise.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


In a completely unrelated expedition across the vast Internet, I came across a sign from a club that boldly stated, "MEMBERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR GUESTS."  I believe we are responsible for our neighbors.

As Christians, I believe we too often only want to be responsible for ourselves.  Some of us don't even want to "push" our religion onto our own children.  That's ridiculous.  Even the devoted atheist Penn Jillette will tell you that if you believe people are going to hell, you have a responsibility to try to prevent that.  He asked in a YouTube video, how much would you have to hate someone to believe that another person is going to spend eternity in hell and not bother to at least try to prevent it?

Jesus said, "if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). 

Do you hate your neighbor?

It has become popular for legislatures to introduce laws that require people to act.  In these cases, failure to act becomes a criminal offense.  The reasoning is clear: if you see someone in need, it is wrong to refuse to help them.  If you see someone that needs medical attention, and won't even dial your cell phone to get help for them, that's obviously wrong.  If you see a criminal act occurring, and you have the ability to simply step in and stop the offender from doing it, and you choose not to, you are equally guilty because of your negligence. 

Jesus also said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). 
 Today you will have the opportunity to do something for Jesus through someone around you.  Will you extend love?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

God's Love

I seriously doubt that anyone can grasp God's love.  I thought I understood love before my daughter was born.  From the first moment I saw her, though, I understood love in a completely new way.  It was as if I had never loved anything or anyone before, my love for her was so much greater than any other love I knew.  I know in my head that God's love is vastly greater than any love any person could have, even for their own precious child, but it's hard to imagine.

I recently read a story about a young Franklin Graham.  Franklin, the son of Billy Graham, was apparently quite rebellious in his youth.  According to the story, one day Franklin burst into an executive board meeting to ask his father for money.  Franklin had come in off his motorcycle.  Unshaven, dirty, and dressed in his leathers, Franklin was not exactly what I would call Billy-Graham-material.  However, Billy Graham, without hesitations, proudly introduced Franklin to each member of the board.  Whereas many of us would have been embarrassed, Billy Graham's love for his son outweighed any other emotion he could have had.

God's love is like that.  He loves us so deeply and so completely, that even though He knows everything about us--all our secrets, our mistakes, and even our very thoughts--He still loves us enough to die for us.  "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Even on your worst day, you are still God's child, and He loves you more than you can imagine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Faith or Deeds?

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

James 2:14-18

Where does character lie?  Is it in our faith, or is it in what we do?  Are we considered righteous if we have faith without deeds?  Of course not--James makes that obvious: "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." 

What if we have deeds without faith? 

Some would argue that is simply never going to happen.  I think it happens all the time.  A person does the "right" thing, but for the wrong reasons.  Perhaps that is just what he was raised to do.  Maybe she is trying to do good to eventually reach "Nirvana."  People of all different beliefs (some of them--not all) do "good deeds" from the conclusions of their own world view--regardless of whether that world view holds any truth whatsoever. 

It is not enough to have good deeds.  Jesus was disgusted by the Pharisees.  These men were religious scholars, who went by the book and never broke any of God's laws.  They disgusted Christ, though, because their hearts were not right.  They didn't love people.  They didn't love God.  They were self-righteous.  Nobody likes the self-righteous.

So what's the answer?  Both.  Remember what James says: faith, without action, is dead. 

Imagine if Moses had obeyed God and performed all the signs and wonders in Egypt, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and to the banks of the Red Sea.  Then, imagine that as Pharaoh's army approached, God had told Moses to stick his staff into the sand and Moses had just said, "What!?  That doesn't make any sense."   Pharaoh's army surrounds the Israelites and takes them back to Egypt as slaves once again.  Moses and all the people would have been left asking God, "What was that all about?  Why did you perform all those signs and wonders in Egypt, only to bring us back as slaves once more?"  It wouldn't be long before those miracles were forgotten and all faith was lost.  The plagues in Egypt would have fallen in the cracks of history, lucky if they were remembered even as a footnote in history, and no one today would know who Moses was.

We must have faith.  We must act.  God will enable us to do whatever He asks of us.  We must follow his leading in accordance with our faith.  When we act, we will see God using us, and our faith will increase.  As our faith increases, we will better be able to follow God's will for our lives.  It builds upon itself.  Alternatively, we can just do nothing, see nothing, and receive nothing.

What would God have you do today?  Will you do it?