Monday, September 3, 2018

Will You Have a Good Seat?

There are many benefits of the job I have working for a Christian college. One of them is to pull out the trump card and say, I thought you loved Jesus, whenever they say something I don’t like. Ok, I’m kidding. I don’t actually say it out loud. 

The real benefit is working among like-minded believers who know we are all in this mission together to serve the King. Oh, we surely forget from time to time, and we all have our levels of maturity in the faith. But when we stumble, we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who can pull us aside and say, I thought you loved Jesus. (Kidding. Again, no one says it out loud.)

But here’s something that, seriously, does keep us all grounded. The faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the chapel services alongside the students. Yes, we all have much to keep us busy and it would often be easier to keep plugging away on a project or two. 

Yet there is no greater equalizer when people of different levels of authority gather with students who have no authority and we join in singing the only real Authority. 

Sitting in a recent chapel, singing The Revelation Song, I was struck with a few thoughts. 

Where we worship, we sit in a half circle. I enjoyed looking around and seeing that everyone’s focus was on stage. (Ok, maybe everyone except mine. Don’t be so judgy.) Everyone was focused on worship.  Everyone was singing to Jesus. 

Since we were singing The Revelation Song, my thoughts turned to the day when we will sing, all of redeemed creation, to Jesus. 

It’s a powerful image, thinking about everyone focused on one thing. Everyone focused on Jesus. 

But then I wondered what the venue might look like. Would there be seats? Would Jesus be in the middle? And if He is in the middle, would I have a good view? I swear, if my eternal seat is behind someone tall or with an unusually large head...

I digress. The fact is there will be men and women and children from every tribe and nation will be there. I don’t know the last time you read Revelation, but it’s going to be a crowd. I don’t want make this about me, because just being there, when you know you don’t deserve to be there, is still good enough. 

After all, I will join the countless number in worship. We will sing with pure hearts. We will sing without need of being heard. I assume we will all sing on key. Most importantly, we will sing to the One who saved us all. 

So maybe I should admit that just having a seat will equate to having a good seat. Will you have a good seat?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

What do you know?

Have you ever paused to think about what we know to be true? If you are the type of person who is quick to judge, as I am prone, then you know that sometimes we only think we know what’s true. Oftentimes we have only to wait a little bit to be given more information.

Something like this is happening in Luke 8. Jesus appears to be going non-stop from town to town healing people. In fact, for the people who lived this story out, that may have been the only detail they actually knew for sure. 

In fact, He is on His way to the home of a dying girl, at the father’s request, when a woman intentionally touches Him and is healed. I say intentionally because it causes a scene. 

If you can imagine the kind of roving mosh pit that was the crowd clamoring to be close to Jesus, then you realize many people would have been touching him. Because, you know, some people are close walkers. 

They trip over your feet and accidentally bump you because of their proximity. Some people do it on purpose. Others are simply oblivious. But this woman intentionally touched Jesus, looking to be healed from her bleeding. 

And it worked. But Jesus knew something happened. He knew healing power had left Him. He knew this touch was different than the others. In fact, because of her faith, this woman knew the same thing. 

I’m focused on what Jesus knew because it’s about to come up again. 

This crowd had been traveling to the home of a sick girl. But before they get there, servants come and tell the man his daughter is dead. They knew it. They had watched it. 

But this doesn’t deter Jesus. Let me say it clearer. 

Death doesn’t deter Jesus. 

They get to the home where people are wailing. And I get it. We would all agree. Twelve year olds shouldn’t die. It’s too soon. 

But the crying turns to laughing when Jesus tells them the girl isn’t dead. She’s sleeping. 

The crowd laughed because they knew she had died. They knew it. Jesus wasn’t there. He hadn’t seen what they saw. The girl died. And we all know death is final. That’s what we know.

Now, I know what everybody is thinking about. Naturally you’re thinking about that scene in Men in Black where Agent K, played by Tommy Lee Jones, had this conversation with Agent J, played by Will Smith. I know, it’s crazy how alike we think!

People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Give hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone On this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

It’s amazing how seeing something new will change what we think we know. We only talk about certainty. Death and taxes, right? We know what death looks like. We know it’s final. 

But what do we really know? Because Jesus laughed right back by looking at the girl and commanding her to get up. And she did. 

Well, what do you know?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Who Are You Spending Time With?

All I wanted was a deep-fried candy bar.

I took my 12-year old to the county fair last night. The teenagers were with friends, and so I was able to give 100% focus to one child. But let me be clear. I hate the fair. If other people did not exist in my life, I would have absolutely no reason to ever go to the fair.

But by going to the fair, you realize just how many people do exist. Seriously, where do some of these people, and their corresponding senses of style,come from? Because it’s like someone said people of Walmart couldn’t get any stranger and the county fair said, “Hold my beer.”

I digress. I am at the fair with my daughter. She wants to ride some rides. I am avoiding eye contact with the barkers wanting me to prove myself by squirting water into a tiny hole or toss a quarter on to a cooking-sprayed dish. All I want is a deep-fried candy bar.

We buy some tickets for my daughter to ride the rides. Let me pause again and tell you I have been quite clear with friends about my disdain for country fair rides.

Oh, you took these rides apart and put them together again? Oh you do this every week of the summer? Yes, I do beliveve you were the lowest bidder when winning this job. 

My daughter is old enough to have heard my thoughts on the fair. She is smart enough to realize I’m only there because I love her. She says, ‘You don’t really like the fair rides, do you?’

I reply honestly, but remind her that the activity, for me, is not as important as who I am with, doing the activity. So we ride some rides. We decide she likes the spinning ride where gravity forces her to crash into my side. She does not like the swings. And even though it feel very sketchy on the inside, she loves what used to be called the Gravitron, where you are unable to move because gravity pins you to the wall.

My stomach does not appreciate that I’m abandoning my principles of not riding fair rides. But my heart is happy. Because I enjoy being with my daughter.

I never found any deep fried candy bars. They had deep fried Oreos, Twinkies, green beans, Mac-n-cheese and even deep fried watermelon. But no deep fried candy bars. I’m not surprised. It’s just one more way the fair can disappoint me. I settled for ice cream.

But it doesn’t matter. I spent time with loved ones. For anyone who needs it spiritualized, let me point you to Colossians 3:23, where Paul reminds us to do everything to the glory of God. He tells us it is Jesus whom we’re serving. It’s about who we are with.

The first thing I do each morning is to spend some time with God. It’s not the only thing I will do each day. But the time I spend with God will direct everything else I do today.

I’d encourage it for you as well. Who you spend time with makes all the difference in how you feel about every activity. Who are you spending time with?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Do You Know What This Means?

We could read every verse there is in the Bible and always end up with the same question. Do you know what this means?!? But it wouldn’t be us asking as if we were confused. Sure, there are scriptures that confuse us. But that’s not what I am talking about. 

Consider John 3:16. Half of you just stopped reading because you assume I’m trying to reach a third grade Sunday School class. The half that stick with me will, I hope, be thankful they did. 

Truths That Should Leave Us In Awe
John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Any fragment of that verse is amazing to think about, but for the sake of time, I’ll assume you’re not glossing over the idea that the supreme, all-powerful, all-knowing God who created everything perfectly and that watched as His creation messed everything entirely up, still chooses to love us and substitute His perfect Son in exchange for our sinful. Selves. 

You didn’t gloss over that, right? Because if you did, you missed some mighty fine truth. 

My larger point is that, if we choose to open up the Bible on any given day, we should be amazed at what we read. We would be stating the question Do you know what this means?!?, rather than asking it. We would be saying the words, understanding the potential of what it means to actually live out the truth of that verse. 

Time For A History Lesson
Let me give you another example, from a verse tucked away in the Old Testament Minor Propehets.  

But I am very angry with the other nations that are now enjoying peace and security. I was only a little angry with my people, but the nations inflicted harm on them far beyond my intentions. ~Zechariah 1:15

Ok, quick history lesson. When God’s chosen nation of Israel decided to reject Him, God sent other nations to discipline them. History lesson done!

In light of that stirring and thorough history lesson, do you realize what Zechariah 1:15 means? This verse tells us we have the potential to act out God’s plans. That, in itself, would be amazing enough. Just consider it. The God of the universe decides He wants something done, but instead of doing it Himself, He invites us to help. 

This is like deciding you want to start supper and allowing your toddler to come help. Because, for whatever reason, you decided you wanted dinner prep to take five times as long.  

God chooses to involve us. We should be forever grateful. But we also have the potential to mess those plans up. What you may have missed in the history lesson, and what Zechariah 1:15 only hints at, is that God wanted the other nations to wake Israel up to the fact that they had abandoned God. But these other nations abused Israel to a level that wasn’t called for.

God allowed the other nations to be a part of His plan, and they messed it up. 

What This Means
See, many of our problems come from underestimating our potential, not overestimating it. Yes, many of us struggle with pride, but hang with me here for a second. 

Too often we assume that only the person best equipped for doing a job should, in fact, be doing that job. But that’s not how God operates. Yes, He does indeed give us gifts that we are to use. But too many don’t do anything because they assume they’ll mess it up. 

The good news is you, in fact, have the potential to mess it up. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try anyway. You should approach the process much like you do the invitation

If you were honored and humbled by the idea that God would invite you in to be a part of His plan, good! Now be honored and humbled as you work out the plan as well. I believe we could change the world when we begin to understand that God is with us. And when God is with us, success is a guarantee. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Identity Crisis

Have you ever gone through a big change in your life and wondered how it would work out? Despite my history of working with teenagers, I’m not actually talking about puberty. 

I think my biggest struggle with my current career transition is how I assume people will perceive my identity. (Should my current colleagues read this, they should understand completely that this has nothing to do with them. They are an amazing team of people who are nothing but encouraging.)

This struggle is about moving from a church job to a non-church job. I imagine the struggle was going to come no matter what I found myself doing. After all, what surprised me most was not what I found myself doing, but I found myself not doing. I assumed I would be continuing as a youth pastor...somewhere. 

When God opened up unexpected doors, it left me with gratitude...and questions. 

Did I burn out? Did I become uncalled? Did I not have what it takes to be a lifer in ministry? Did I sell out? Was it too hard? 

Yeah, I’m not going to answer any of those questions. At least, not in this post. 

But I struggled with these questions and the perception of my identity nonetheless. 

So I did what I encouraged countless numbers of people to do when they would come to me for pastoral counsel. 

I prayed. I asked God to remind me who I am. 

He answered. 

I’m His child. I’m a child of the King of the Universe. Do you realize what that means? I wonder, because I think most of us rattle off these scriptures as if they were mere platitudes. To be a child of the King means I am a prince. I’m royalty. 

I’m a co-heir with Christ. As I understand inheritances, that means I’m going to receive a prized treasure, along with Jesus.

I’m loved. I’m cherished. I’m prized. I’m part of the cloud of witnesses. I’m justified. I’m being sanctified. I’m bought for and I’m redeemed. 

My salvation is secure and my future is reserved. 

I haven’t even mentioned all of the human relationships in which my identity has absolutely nothing to do with the work I do for 40 hours each week. 

Identity crisis? There’s no need. Who am I? The name is Rick Nier. 

I know, with my mind, who I am in Christ. When my heart forgets, as it is prone to do, I need to remember to come back to the only Word that eternally matters. 

Oh, and by the way, this holds true for you as well. Never let your heart forget. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What Christians Should Learn From the Avengers

Disclaimer: I am writing this before I see the latest Marvel move: Avengers: Infinity War. I am doing so with a purpose. You can read this and know there won’t be any spoilers. 

Having said that, let me tell you what’s on my mind. My family have been fans of superhero movies for a long time now. We watch them. We talk about them. We buy them. We watch and talk some more. 

Because of this, we’re pretty attached to the characters, some of whom we have been watching for the past decade. So we actively avoid spoilers when a new movie is coming out. Yet we still see people’s opinions and thoughts posted on social media. My wife saw that several women were so shook up after the movie they needed cookies as a coping mechanism. 

This is a little odd to me, but only because I do not need to be upset in order to need a cookie. However, I do understand being upset. In fact, if an entertaining movie can help us to feel emotion and consider truth, that’s a good thing indeed. 

But if you see me struggling with where this story takes me, I’m ok with that. Given the trailers, I fully expect to see heroes die. If I mourn, it is because the story is told well. As I said, I’m a bit attached to these characters.

So what can Christians learn while watching the Infinity War?

1. Bad things still happen

They happen for a reason. We call that reason sin. We know where it came from. We know the effects. We know the payment needed. 

Because of sin, death happens. Loss happens. We grow attached to people in our lives and we lose them. When it happens in movies and books, we can decide we didn’t like what the writers did. But in reality, we have to deal with it.

2. Our compassion for those lost should be high.

If my favorite heroes are defeated, I will sad, but only to a certain degree. After all, I can go back and watch their previous adventures. And I will remind myself they are not real.

Back in reality, we should care at least as much. Yes, I know this has been preached before. We should be as excited about Jesus as we are about movies, sports, etc. Just because it’s been said for years does not make it untrue. 

We should mourn those we lose, especially if they don’t know Jesus. Which leads me to #3...

3. The world needs to hear our message.

I have shared my love for superhero movies with many people. I tell them why I like the genre and sometimes we argue about which movies were better. 

Closely related to the second point, we should be telling people about the truth of the Gospel. Clearly it is more important. Clearly it is needed. And it should be clear by now, Christians are the only means by which the message will be shared. 

4. Victory is assured.

As I said, I am writing this before seeing the movie. Unless Marvel decides to go in an entirely different direction, one in which enemies rule the universe (and make movies), I’m pretty sure the good guys will win. Will there be loss? Yes, it is likely. 

There is loss in reality as well. We know things will get worse before they get better. But we have the assurance that things will get better. Jesus will be victorious. There will be an eternity of celebration when we live as one with our King. 

So I’ll see you at the movies. We can talk about them and what we liked and didn’t like. But perhaps, instead of just learning what a bunch of writers and actors have done with a story, let’s allow our emotions to teach us. Let them remind us of what we should already know. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God

Contrarians. Who needs them? After all, they’re usually a disagreeable sort. The rest of us are just out here living our lives when we happen upon one.

They get all up in our business with their thinking and their justified applications based on those thoughts. They think they’re better than the rest of us. Or, at least, that’s how it feels.

Case in point. Imagine a group of people having a conversation, when two of them say the same thing, almost simultaneously. You already know what he of them is going to say, don’t you?

Great minds think alike!

Then some tool comes along and says something like, ‘No, great minds think for themselves!’ Now, are they being contrarian? Yes. But are they necessarily being obnoxious? No.

I say this for a couple of reasons. First, I am the aforementioned tool who says great minds think for themselves. I’m not trying to be contrary. But I think it’s good to give people another perspective.

And that is exactly what I’m getting from Larry Osborne’s book, A Contrarian’s Guide to KNowing God. Full disclosure, I’m only halfway through it. The subtitle is Spriituality For the Rest Of Us.

The premise is simple. There is usually a majority-rules, age-old, acceptable way of doing Christianity. Except that most of us struggle to agree with which bumper sticker theology we should live by. And chances are, the stuff we do agree on, should be more thought out.

One example of Larry’s is the idea that Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship. It’s said all over the place. I know I’ve said it for years. But as Larry points out, the mantra of relationships does not keep us from trying to quantify everything we do.

“Almost all of our books, seminars, workshops, and programs are heavily weighted toward religious practice and self-discipline.”

So I’m not encouraging being contrary just for the sake of being contrary. But perhaps we should accept a few mor eopinions being injected into our day. Just maybe we should feel free to share what we do differently than those we share a pew with. And we should definitely do it all while understanding that it’s ok to be different.

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

I’d recommend picking up a copy of this book. It will give you some worthwhile things to consider. And it just may free you up from some burdens that have been weighing you down. I received this book from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing. They give me books and ask that I say something about them. And now I have.