Thursday, December 16, 2010

Keep Christ in Christmas

Most likely this post will not be what you expected. It may actually irritate you. Hopefully, it will cause Christians to think.
For years I have been frustrated by what Christmas has become. The commercialism and secularism of the holiday certainly poses a challenge to the serious follower of Jesus Christ. Every year Christians seem to fight back with our slogans. “Keep Christ in Christmas.” “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” We don’t like that someone may sell “holiday” trees or say “Season’s greetings.” After all, for Christians we are celebrating the incarnation of Jesus Christ the hope of all generations. How can anyone not honor the one who has come to set us free and make all things new? So we demand, “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Keep Christ in Christmas sounds like a good message. Or is it? I think it depends. Who is the recipient? Are we talking to Christians? Great message! Certainly keep Christ in everything you do. Make sure that following Christ is a way of life and not just the appropriate name to be used in your greetings and in the title of your tree. Christ invited us to be His disciples. A disciple is someone who follows and becomes like His teacher. We can keep Christ in Christmas by doing the things He did. This isn’t done by demanding that those who aren’t his followers honor Him. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Do I think it is silly that people sell “holiday” trees? I do. No one is fooled by calling a Menorah a holiday candle holder. We know what it is when we see it. But, me calling it a Menorah doesn’t make me Jewish. Honestly, what do I care if my neighbor, who doesn’t follow Christ chooses to have a holiday tree and greets me with “Season’s greeting.” My demand that he recognizes Christ doesn’t make him Christian. It may actually make him resent me. I become just another Christian that insist non-Christians live like or at least talk like Christians. We can become modern day Pharisees. We can have all the right traditions and yet forget weightier matters. I am not suggesting that all beliefs are equal. I am suggesting that we could win the wrong battle and lose the opportunity and privilege to share the hope of the Gospel. If I care for my neighbor I will treat him as Christ would. This is a great time to be in prayer discovering how we can best show the love of God to those around us. As a Christian, how can YOU keep Christ in Christmas?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transmitted or Transformed

I have a growing concern about the pain, anger, hopelessness, fear, and distrust that I see all around us. These attitudes, emotions, and responses tend to elevate and reproduce themselves when left unchecked. Richard Rohr suggest that if our pain is not transformed it will be transmitted. I believe he is correct. If God doesn't transform the pain of our lives we will act out in destructive ways and transmit that pain to others. Usually, we can see this when people commit violent and horrific acts. It seems less realized in some of our "passive aggressive" responses such as avoidance, gossip, and grumbling. Don't be deceived the practice of these behaviors is evidence that we have hurts that need to be transformed. These behaviors are destructive. The results are seen in our relationships, families, society, and unfortunately our churches.
God's word tells us in Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Being transformed is not something we do by ourselves nor does it happen over night. It is something God does through the working of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Our job is to bring our hurts to God and allow Him to heal us and renew our thinking through believing His word.
Are you transmitting your pain or is it being transformed?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the LORD?

News about Christianity in the USA is often bleak. For years the influence of the Christians in society has been dwindling. Each year 3,500 to 4,000 churches close their doors forever. Those who study these changes predict little variation of this trend. Statistics about the percentages of churches that may not be in existence in the next 10 to 20 years is alarming. We have seen first-hand some of this trend.

In spite of this news, I am optimistic about the future of FBC Carthage. I don’t say this with rose colored glasses I am a realist. I know that as a congregation and as a Christian community we have hard work before us. I am actually excited about what God is doing and will do through us. God’s people have faced hard times before and thrived. Last week we heard how Nehemiah said to the people, "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach." The people not only assessed the situation but responded to the vision that God gave them to rectify the situation. The words “let us” are extremely important. When God’s people work together on a God given vision incredible things happen.

Right now we are beginning several new adventures. We have just begun a stewardship campaign. A critical component of this campaign is to discover what God has laid upon our hearts. We don’t want to just “do church” but we want to be a part of what God is doing right here at this time. Maybe some of the churches that are closing their doors forgot their missional purpose God had for them. I pray that we continually remind ourselves and refresh that vision of reaching out with the love and hope of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is America has never been more ripe for the Gospel. Other countries have begun to send missionaries here. As a part of discovering where God is working an outreach team is seeking ways we can better serve our community. Additionally, we are starting a youth group that has been completely revamped from last year.

This Sunday I will preach from 1 Chronicles 29:1-20. This chapter shares how God’s people joyfully gave of their finances and abilities to build God’s temple. In the opening verses King David asked, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the LORD?” When we hear the word consecrate usually we think of it meaning “to set apart” or “to make holy.” Many places the Bible talks about consecrating the priest. In this context they are set apart for the work of service for God. I discovered recently that the word we have as consecrate is actually a Jewish idiom which literally is translated “to fill the hands”. I think this is a powerful picture of worship and thankfulness. Think of salvation. In salvation we reach up empty handed to God and He blesses us with forgiveness, salvation, and a place in the family of God. Now we who have reached up empty handed put our hands back up. This time they are not empty. This time not to earn anything nor out of need. Instead, we reach up with thanksgiving and praise. We reach up with an offering of a portion of what God has given us. When we understand this we can say with David, "But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.” (v.14)

Who then is willing to “fill his hand” this day to the LORD? Let’s seek the Lord together as we heed this call.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Promise Driven Church

Most North American Christians have heard of The Purpose Driven Church or The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I don't want to tear apart Warren's work. There are plenty of others out there that already make their entire ministry about doing so. I would only dream of reaching as many people with the Gospel as Warren has. Really his work has challenged me to think deeper.
I wonder as I reflect on Galatians 4:21-31. Should “purpose” be the driving force in our lives and in the church? Do we need purpose and meaning in life? Absolutely! Too many of us wander through life without direction or any real purpose. The truth is that God has a purpose for all of us. But should purpose really be what drives us?
In Galatians Paul uses Sara and Hagar's story allegorically to explain a situation in Galatia. Notice all the pairs that He uses: Sara and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, slavery and freedom, law and grace , Flesh and spirit/promise
He writes in vs. 21 to those that are seeking to be justified by works of the law: Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. In vs. 23 he tells us the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh (or born in the ordinary way) and the son by the free woman through the promise
From the account in Genesis we are told that God promised Abraham that he would have a child and would be a Father of many nations. As time went on Sara reasoned that she was getting old and unable to bear child so she asked Abraham to sleep with their servant Hagar. The birth of Ishmael is not just an example of a natural pregnancy (Nothing supernatural was needed for it to take place). But his birth is an example of someone trying to help God. It is an example of God’s people understanding part of God’s purposes but not functioning through His Promise. Paul goes on to show that the slave woman and the freewoman as well as their children could not co-exist. Only children of the freewoman are heirs to the promise. The children of the slave woman are to be slaves according to Gal 4:24. Slavery to the law results from us looking at what God wants for our life and trying externally to make our life look like that by following a set of rules. It’s not the same thing as the transformation that takes place when Christ is formed within you through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Do not read modern Jewish/Arab relations into this. You will miss the point. Paul is arguing that you are either a child of the slave woman or the free woman. You are either functioning from the flesh or the spirit. You are either driven by the law or by the promise
The Judaizers attempts to force the Gentiles to live as Jews were much like Abraham’s choice to have a child with Hagar. Both could argue that they were attempting to fulfill God’s purposes. You could say they were purpose driven. They were not called to be purpose driven but promise driven. The law and God’s purposes for our lives are good they give us guidance and direction. But they do not empower us. All the purpose and law in the world can’t save us or make us Holy. That is God’s job and he does it through a promise.

Isaac was a child of the promise. He was conceived when there was no hope. Abraham and Sara were well beyond child bearing years. All of this was done not because of anything great that they did. Read their stories. Family therapists make a living off of people with histories such as theirs. The promises took place because of the irrevocable nature of a promise given by God. Why would we put our hope anywhere else than in the promises of God? God declares things to be and they are so. The same God that created the world out of nothing, allowed Sara to give birth at 90, had his son born of a virgin is the same God that empowers us today.
Psalms 119:140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
Be a promise driven Church. Live the promise driven life.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting Involved

A Copy of this is in our church's monthly newsletter.

“We need to get them involved!” As a pastor, I have heard this statement dozens of times. What typically happens is something like this: Joe (made up name) seems to being showing less interest in the activities that take place at the church. No one wants to see Joe stop coming, so we ask him to serve on a committee or do some other service job. Joe has no interest in doing either, but he is moved by the power of persuasion (read: arm-twisting). Everyone is delighted Joe is now involved at the church. The only problem is Joe doesn’t like what he is doing nor is he really good at it. His dissatisfaction reinforces his previous thoughts that maybe he just doesn’t fit in at church. Eventually people complain about the job Joe does and his lack of commitment, which reaffirms the thoughts they may have had about Joe. Over time, Joe leaves the church.

I am not advocating non-involvement. We, as God’s people, are called on a mission. We are to serve others and build up the body of Christ for the glory of God. But, we need to move from “get them involved,” which really means “have them do something we want them to do" to discovering where God is working. What if instead of trying to get people to fit into a mold of our agenda, we actually try to find out what their gifts, talents, and passions are? Then, by God’s grace, we help them employ those gifts in serving God. This seems to honor the person as well as the Creator better. Instead of people motivated by the power of persuasion, they are now moved by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ. By all means get involved in what God is doing here. If you are not involved you may ask yourself: What are my gifts, talents, and passions? Talk to me and others about how you can use those to serve God. God has gifted each of us for His glory. Use those gifts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Dark Night of The Soul

Isaiah 50:10 Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

I sat there and looked at Richard (not his real name). Intensely he looked back as he began to speak. "I need you to answer something honestly for me. Do you think God has abandoned me?" "No I don't." Before I could finish he interrupted and asked, why does it feel that way?"
Through a lengthy discussion, Richard revealed that he has lost a sense of connectedness to God. He is troubled by both the pain inflicted upon him and the harm he has caused others. Although he is a Christian he is in a place of near hopelessness. I wish this were an isolated conversation. The truth is I have had several conversations just like this one recently. Richard and my other brothers and sisters are experiencing a dark night of the soul.
R.C. Sproul describes the dark night of the soul. "This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time. It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears. It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.” It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him. This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him".
The Sunday I will speak from the Isaiah passage. I have no glib answers to this darkness. I know from Isaiah that I am not to walk in the light of my own fire but to trust in God through the darkness. Paul adds,"For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (7) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; (8) we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; (9) persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (10) always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (11) For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh". (2 Corinthians 4:6-11 )
Have you experienced a dark night of the soul? Did God reveal Himself through this time? What hope would you offer to others.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Do you love me more than these?

John 21:15-23 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He *said to him, "Tend My lambs." (16) He *said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He *said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." (17) He *said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus *said to him, "Tend My sheep. (18) "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." (19) Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, "Follow Me!" (20) Peter, turning around, *saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" (21) So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" (22) Jesus *said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (23) Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"

I have always thought that Jesus was questioning Peter's love for Him and wanted to make it clear if Peter was going to follow Him. I now wonder if that isn't really what is happening at all. Let's think about what has happened.

Before Jesus' death Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus even if everyone else did. That very evening Peter denied Christ multiple times. He along with others had doubts when others told them about the resurrection. Peter has failed on a colossal level. He was part of the greatest movement led by the greatest teacher and he failed.

What do you do when you fail? Some of us try harder. Others quit. Often when we seek to do something great or make changes and fail we go back to what we know best. For some this is going back to a negative lifestyle or bad habit. It's not that we think it is good, but it is what we know. There's nothing wrong with fishing. It was a respectable way to make a living. But at the core of Peter's being, he longed for something greater. He long to be a part of something bigger than himself.

Before this conversation with Peter Jesus was on the shore cooking fish (John 21:9) He then tells the disciples to bring some of the fish they caught and then they eat breakfast. They do not eat the fish they caught. These fish are part of an object lesson. When they finished eating breakfast Jesus ask Peter Do you love me more than these? What are the "these?" Its got to be the fish. Peter responded, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." This questioning and answering repeats itself two more times with Peter exasperated. "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Peter is right the Lord knows all things. The Lord knows that Peter loves Him. When the Lord ask us a question it is not because he needs to know something.

Jesus is essentially saying. "Yes, Peter you have failed. But I want you to think, do you love these more than me? Of course you don't. Don't trade lessor things for the best. Peter you need to leave these behind. I know your love. Don't focus on your past failures. Don't turn from what I have called you. I have called you to something great."

What are the "These" in your life that you turn to when you fail? The question isn't if we will have times when we fall short, but what will we do when we do?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pat Robertson and Haiti

I have recently read much about statements credited to Pat Robertson's beliefs about Haiti. Unfortunately, most of what I have read misquotes and is an exaggeration of what he actually said. If one would like to hear what he actually said there are plenty of Youtube post to hear for yourself. Additionally one could go to his own web site to see what he said. Additionally at his site you will see how his ministry has helped the country of Haiti before and after this horrible catastrophe. My point here is not to defend Pat Robertson. I Actually know little about his show. I don't watch it. I do want to point out that we live in a megaphone world. We are quick to point out what we perceive to be wrong with others. We often do so without listening to each other. I read one blog that deplored what was deemed as Robertson's judgmental attitude. This same writer later wrote, "Go to Hell, Pat Robertson ." Can someone define irony for me?
Let me make clear that there are things that I differ with Pat Robertson, but assigning Hell is not our job. In fact, that is the ultimate judgment. It is the job of God alone.
This does leave us with the question that was raised by all of the attention to Mr Robertson. Did the people of Haiti deserve this tragedy?
I would like to turn to Jesus to answer these questions. Recorded in Luke's Gospel is an event when Jesus spoke to some people about some other horrific events.

Luke 13:1-5 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. (2) And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? (3) "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (4) "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? (5) "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

In the instance above, Jesus makes it clear that we should not think others are any worse sinners than we are because of some tragedy that has taken place. In fact, Jesus levels the playing field. He speaks of a universal brokenness. Just like Pat Robertson and every other person in this world, you and I were born into a world that is broken. The world is not as it should be. I fall short of who I have been called to be. I am thankful that Christ came to heal and save a broken world and a broken people. The Christmas story tells us this.
Matthew 1:21 "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
Did the people of Haiti suffer because they are worse sinners than others? I believe Jesus would say no. At the same time Jesus would invite us to move away from the I am OK your OK idea of the world. We are all broken people in continuous need of God's healing. God has called us into a relationship with Him today. What will your response be God?
What then should our response be to the people of Haiti? It should be the same as Jesus. He saw our need for a Savior, and he met that need. Do we see the need?

Matthew 9:36-38 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (37) Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. (38) Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baptism and Dying and Rising With Christ

Romans 6:1-6
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.

Paul begins this chapter with an absurd question. Shall we continue to sin . . .? He has just spent the previous five chapters presenting a righteousness that is apart from the law (Rom 3:21). The answer Paul gives here addresses a couple of things. One is how do we get people to live right if it is not by carefully following of the law? Two: If grace increases through sin, why not sin more?

Romans 6 & 7 clearly point to sin's rule and reign over the living. Christ died to and for our sins. Sin was defeated on the cross of Calvary. Our identification with Christ through faith makes us co-crucified with Him (Gal 2:2). What Christ did for us on the cross is something the law could never do.

In Chapter 6 Baptism is used to illustrate what has taken place in our lives. The word baptize literally means to dip, plunge, or immerse. A Messianic translation of this passage reads this way:

Romans 6:3-4 Or do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death? (4) Therefore, we were buried with Him through immersion into death, in order that Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in renewal of life.

I like the word "immersed". It reminds me that I am completely surrounded by Christ Jesus. I have left one way of living and I am completely submerged into a new way. Jesus, said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me". The old is now dead to me and I dead to it. As Christ rose from the dead, we too rise to newness of life.

What does it mean to be immersed in Christ?
Think of people at a lake. Some people sit at the shore and put their feet in the water. Others stay far from the water. There are others who like to float around on some floatation device. They are sort of half in half out. There are others enjoy diving deeply into the waters.
Which of these best describe your relationship with Christ? All of these are great options when enjoying the lake. But, when Christ calls us into a relationship, the invitation is to be immersed in Him.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why did Jesus let John Baptize Him?

Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. (14) But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" (15) But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him. (16) After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, (17) and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

Why did Jesus let John Baptize Him?
John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus had no sin that He needed to repent of. John recognized Jesus' holiness. "I am not fit to remove His sandals". John actually tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized. If He is not a sinner then what is the point?

It seems that answer to these questions are found both in the immediate context and in the light of Jesus' overall missional purpose.
In the context we have religious leaders who are sinners but either refuse or are denied baptism because of the unwillingness to humble themselves and allow God to bring forth real fruit in their lives (Matthew 3:7-9). Jesus would later confront these leaders about John's baptism. Matt 21:25-26. "'The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men'? And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' (26) 'But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet."
Instead of humbly admitting what they were (sinners), these leaders put themselves above other people. They missed the point of true spiritual leadership and they could not lead because in all actuality they feared men more than God.
In contrast, Jesus who was not a sinner identifies Himself with sinners. He doesn't fear people, He loves them. His motivation is to "fulfill all righteousness" (please the father).
overall missional purpose
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus set us free by His death on the cross. Jesus baptism is a metaphorical picture of His earthly ministry. In Romans we are told that our Baptism is an identification with Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Jesus came, identified Himself with the lowly, denied himself, and gave up His life. Paul put it this way.
Philippians 2:5-9 "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (7) but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (8) Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name"
The one who had no need of baptism submitted and was exulted. Those who were in desperate need of repentance exulted themselves and were brought low.
In your area of influence are you more like the religious leaders or Jesus?
When someone humbles themselves, is that a strength or weakness?
What does this mean for your own Baptism? How does the life you live reflect on your baptism?
Are there other issues in this text you would like to discuss?