Thursday, December 30, 2010

Community

With the New Year upon us, it means that we are in the season of ranking things. From shows that will rank the top plays in sports to newspapers that will rank the top people for the year. Then the bloggers will rank everything else under the sun, even their own blogs. I saw a show the other night ranking the best commercials for 2010. (I taped it so I could fast forward through the commercials.)

Since I fancy myself to be in the top 10 of pastors currently at our church, I thought I might offer some thoughts on this trend of ranking everything in life. I was thinking back through the books I have read this year. I started keeping track using an online tool where people can connect and discuss books together. (You can connect with me here.)

One of the books I read was called Angels by David Jeremiah. Since they are special messengers from God and have wings, I think I always assumed angels to be cooler than man. It’s mainly the wings since man is also a messenger of God. I’m not sure how you would put t-shirts on, but having wings is a definite game-changer. I’m just saying.

What if we were to rank different groups of people from the Bible? If we put angels at #1, because of their wings, we could round out the list like this.

#2. Prophets

#3. Kings

#4. The Israelites, the chosen people.

#5. The rest of us.

Granted, since Jesus came, the rest of us could probably be 4a along with the Jewish people, but I think Kings go higher based on bling factor and Prophets go higher still based on their ability to say just about anything and sound awesome doing it.

But here’s what I found in 1 Peter 1:10-12. Peter is talking about the salvation that came to all men and he talks about how these prophets searched and found this great mystery of God. Peter says they revealed these things to us as a service to us. Oh, and “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:13).

There goes my Top-5 list.

Ranking then, I think, is shortsighted. We rank something #1 and then overlook everything else.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We could rather choose to celebrate all of the great things in life and welcome the value of each one to the whole. It’s a celebration of diversity. From the colors of our skin to the many different talents God has given us, it seems that we have a lot to offer one another.

Could you imagine Jesus offering us a Top 10 of people? Granted that He did say one would sit on His right and one on His left, but Jesus seems to focus on what each one would do, regardless of the reward that will come.

Then you have the Apostle Paul, who many would deem top-10 worthy, calling himself the worst. He wrote very plainly that each part of the body has a function and that none should consider themselves better. (See Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.)

No matter when we rise and fall in history.

No matter how we are viewed by our present peers.

No matter what we look like in comparison to others.

We are part of a larger community. Perhaps this year, instead of trying to figure out how high or low you rank in the eyes of man, you can spend your time figuring out how much God wants to do through you.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Have Just One Resolution

One does not have to ever look at a calendar to know that a new year is upon us. You only have to watch for the Top 10 lists. Each year we are inundated with lists ranking people, music, shows, planets, species, colors and anything else you can imagine. I even found the following online.

Top 10 Dumbest Online Business Ideas That Made It Big Time
Top 10 Facts About Top 10 Facts
The Top 10 Weirdest USB Drives Ever

I'm really excited about that last one. I was concerned that I might never know which USB drive ranked #1 on the weirdness scale.

Despite our need to rank and rate everything, I do think this time of year comes with a benefit. The fact is that another year has gone by. We won't get 2010 back no matter how much we may want another shot. The turning of the calendar forces us to look forward.

I've entered new years with moderate success. Sometimes I make no list at all. Other years I have made a list that would rival any government document. This year I believe I will just have one.

I want to see myself as God sees me.

I'm finishing the 1-year Bible reading plan. It was set up chronologically, which gave some new insights. But the end brought the expected; a jaunt through the book of Revelation. I've made it a little past the letters to the 7 Churches. Here's what I found.

Just after the somewhat famous statement by Jesus to the Church in Laodicea about being lukewarm, He continues;

"You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see" Revelation 3:17-18.

They saw themselves in one way. But it turns out that Jesus' view of them was drastically different. That's a problem. It is entirely possible to walk through this life thinking I am doing ok, then find out that I was wrong....big time wrong.

I've had my experiences of finding out people saw me differently than I see me. In some ways, this made high school easier, because people were quite clear with me just what size of dork I was. But among adults, that kind of information can be like finding out the truth about Area 51. You have a pretty good guess, but you could be wrong.

Even scarier to me is the idea that Jesus might not see me like I see me. This list He gives the Laodiceans is not just a little off. They think they are ok and Jesus tells them they are "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." You'd think you might catch some of that and realize you were naked.

I can set all the goals for myself that I want. They won't make a difference in the end if I do not have a true God's-eye view of my life. One goal will certainly be easier to keep track of this year. I have a feeling it will keep me busy.

How about you? Do you have any New Year's goals or resolutions?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Doing Dishes

It was 6 months into what my wife would call her golden age of doing dishes. It was the first time in her life that she had ever owned a dishwasher. If anyone can wear certain parts of domestication like a Girl Scout patch, it was this.

'Watch as I do the dishes at the push of a button,' she'd sing. Sometimes she'd simply stare at the machine while it did the work, then look at me condescendingly and ask me why I wasn't working as hard as the machine.

She wasn't alone in enjoying this piece of technology. I wasn't exactly reminiscing the days when the only help I got with the dishes was in midget form. But that was when my daughter shocked me. She said that she didn't like the dishwasher and she missed doing the dishes with me. (Seriously, what are they teaching kids these days?)

Missed doing the dishes? Missed it? I'm wondering which part she missed. Was it the scolding I would give her when she would become wetter than the dishes she was rinsing? Was it the killing of time while she made spoons dance together before drying them? Perhaps it was the search for soap bubbles which used to be in the sink.

When I asked her, she told me it was the time we spent together, listening to music while we forgot that we were involved with a chore.

I'd heard that somewhere before, but assumed it was made up by pastors wanting to sell an idea of simplicity or family time or some mumbo jumbo like that. (That's right, mumbo jumbo. My parents would be proud that their terminology is being used on a new generation.) I also figured the idea of families doing chores together would be a good first sequence for a movie where everything goes horribly wrong, perhaps something on Lifetime.

But I didn't push my nine-year old to say that she missed doing dishes with me. In fact, I told her she was crazy, then told her to get back to folding clothes with me. We've yet to come across the machine that will do that for us.

Perhaps I have missed it. Again. Maybe I need to remember that, despite the bells and whistles of computer games and the lure of shiny toys, nothing beats the involvement of a parent with their child. After all, our significance is not found in the things we can give, but what we can share of ourselves. I don't miss the dishes, but I will keep family chores at the top of my list.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Hole in Our Gospel

When I was a student in middle school, my second biggest fear was that I would finish a big assignment, only to learn I had missed something. (My biggest fear was that I'd wake up and find myself running naked through the hallway just as all the classes were released.)

Imagine putting in weeks worth of work, staying up late, kissing any social life I never had good-bye and working countless hours, only to find out you had missed an important part of the assignment. Certainly you've felt that sinking feeling in your stomach that indicates hope has just left the building and he did not take his key with him.

Now imagine that fear applied to your entire life. Have you ever wondered if you had heard all the Bible stories and were still missing...something? If you have ever feared the reaction of an over-zealous teacher who had nothing better to do with her weekend than read your essays, imagine getting to the end of your life and hearing from God that you had missed the most important parts of His expectations.

I just recently read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, an organization that finds new and creative ways to help those less fortunate. He introduces us to another side of his life. If you imagined that service organization presidents simply sprout up from a field of giving, then think again. Richard Stearns may not have been a (fill in the blank with your own worst version of a testimony), but he tells us of a comfortable Christian with a very good sense of business.

As he tells his story, it wasn't that he didn't care about those less fortunate. It wasn't even that he didn't help at his church and give as well. It was just that his heart wasn't truly broken by the things that break the heart of God. Through circumstances that can only be credited to God, Richard found himself in a position to lead World Vision in their efforts to make an authentic difference.

The rest of this book becomes a call to Christians everywhere to re-examine what's been missing from our gospel. It's more than simply talking about God who came down. I could go into more detail, but then this would become more book than book review.

This book comes complete with call to action as well as action steps. Perhaps the last book that was this complete became an all-time best seller.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sun Stand Still

Joshua is probably best known as the guy who followed Moses. And how do you follow something like the Exodus? By opening a can and owning the Promised Land. People hear Joshua and they think Jericho. I have to admit, it's good stuff.

But there was way more to Josh's life than shouting his way to victory. 40 years before he rocked all over Jericho, he was being outvoted and sent back into the desert. Much like B.A. Baraccus and the rest of the A-Team, he was forced to wander for a crime he did not commit. I hadn't really thought before about how up and down his life was. He was on the verge of entering the Promised Land and then was pulled back to a nomadic lifestyle.

I often have a flare for the dramatic. When I dream, I like to dream big. But there are people who make me wonder if perhaps I dream too small. Maybe I don't have enough faith in God. What if I continually make Him to be small, or place Him in a box, or...or....choose your very own overused sentiment?

Yeah, I have to admit that it was all possible. But simply reading Stephen Furtick's book, Sun Stand Still, would change all that, right? Not so fast.

I've been around the evangelical block enough times to be tainted. Sure, amazing things happened and were recorded in the Bible. I believe those stories. Even the most miraculous, like Joshua simply praying for the Sun to stand still for an extra day's time, the story which gave this book its' title.

If God could do it then, certainly He could do it today. I believe that. And yet, I still struggled at points in this book. Some of it was terminology. One of Stephen's central terms was Page 23 Vision, based on the page number of another book from which he first caught his vision for his own life. The theme was so central, it made me wonder if I should be reading that other book instead.

I must also admit, I had to question if his story could relate. As he shared about his struggles early on with trusting his vision to come true and the years he questioned God and himself, it was hard to imagine that his struggle was all that bad. After all, he was writing from the other side at the age of 29. That may sound harsh, but how does the person who has been working the dead end job for at least 30 years get hope from that? Imagine the man or woman who has never even dared to dream taking this book to heart.

On the other hand, all that could very well be said about the Bible itself. After all, we read about a God who has everything offering what He has to a people who have nothing. We read of God's Son coming down, wowing people with His teaching and His power, then telling us we will do greater things.

Sensational? You better believe it! But what if it's true? What if we've underestimated all the dark, long and lonely parts of people's stories and overestimated what the light at the end of the tunnel looked like?

What would happen if we were to take the promises as serious as God did when He gave them? After all, many people have grabbed hold of that hope and changed their lives, as well as those around them.

Why not us? Why not now? Why not look at this coming year and imagine what could be instead of moaning about what is?

It's not the only book of its kind, but Stephen Furtick has written with confidence, the same kind that we should be living with. Let me add that I think Stephen is very self-aware of what he's talking about and how people may(or may not) respond. I also found that much of what was offered was very down-to-earth, not an easy accomplishement considering the book is about the miraculous things God can do in our lives.

This book was provided for free for the sake of review by my besties over at Waterbrook / Multnomah Publishing. You can purchase this book for yourself here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roman Justice

Have you ever felt like life was treating you poorly? Maybe you've been in class when the teacher decides to punish the whole class for the wrong doing of one student. My kids have cried foul this year as teachers would not release a class to recess until everybody was quiet. (Where are these kids who talk more than my own?)

Life can get that way. It beats you up and then goes on its merry way. The righteous suffer while the unrighteous seem to continue on without a care. That's nothing new. People have been crying 'no fair' for a long time. (Check out Job 35:9-16).

If someone could understand, then I believe it was Paul. This guy had been on both ends of this situation. When he was doing wrong, he seemed to succeed. Now that he was giving his life for Jesus, bad things seemed to follow him like stink follows a county fair.

Paul was arrested because a bunch of people were beating him up. (Acts 21:31-36) How does that seem fair? Did the Romans feel Paul had it coming to him? How would you like to be hauled off to jail because someone beat you up?

Later, the crowd that is accusing Paul gets out of hand, so Paul is ordered to be flogged for answers. (Acts 22:22-29) Does that seem right?

The hits keep on coming for Paul. What about those guys who took the vow not to eat until Paul was killed? (Acts 23:12-15) First of all, how does anyone take that idea to a religious leader and get the thumb's up?

Over-zealous church-goers: 'Listen, Pastor, we know that some guys down the street at the next church have been causing you problems. What we'd like to do is take him out, if you know what we mean.'
Pastor: 'Sounds good. Make it look spiritual by fasting before you do so.'

But I'll bet those guys felt pretty hungry and foolish when Paul escaped town. Actually, knowing Paul's luck, they probably started eating soon after he left. Some guys can't get a break. I remember when vows were kept.

All this to say, sometimes life is not going to go your way. Life will not always be fair. Unlike the world that Disney creates for our tweens, problems are not often solved in 22 minutes or less. But rest assured, no matter how long your problems have lasted, or how difficult your issues have become, injustice will not go on forever.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. Revelation 19:11

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Room

Let me give you a typical conversation at the Nier household. Jennifer will be cooking supper and I will be calling the children to wash up, an activity that resembles herding kittens. I will go to our 4-year-old and say that it is time for supper. She will respond, 'I don't want anything icky.' The amount of trust that our children give us is mind-numbing. But since I know which foods get defined as icky and which foods get eaten, I measure my response.

I will explain to her that she should trust that her parents will only give her good food to eat, but she has seen too much broccoli to believe that. She has her own version of truth and will not allow my perception to warp her reality.

Such is the case with Jesus and some Jews that we're told 'had believed him' (John 8:31). The conversation starts out innocently, with Jesus offering them freedom. Jesus breaks it down for them, even telling them why they are ready to kill Him. 'You have no room for my word' John 8:37. Uh-oh.

Have you ever considered what this actually meant for these Jews? We live in a day where people seem to make room for every silly thought that is uttered, no matter the source or veracity of such comments. We make room for anything and everything to be true. But not the Jews. They lived in a time where Truth was a rare commodity. And apparently they had developed such a truth in their own hearts that they simply had no room when THE Truth was standing right in front of their very eyes.

This is often our predicament because we are full of ourselves. Our abilities. Our schedules. Our stuff. Us, us, us. We are discouraged and offended by God's word because we simply have no room. We choose not to accept truth because we are consumed with the lie.

Sadly, the manger scene was not the only time in history when man made no room for God.

I would give more to charities, but there is no room in my budget.
I would spend more time helping at church, but there is no room in my schedule.
I would pray more for people, but I have no room in my thoughts.
I would read the Bible more often, but there is no room in my reading schedule.

So now we are full swing in the Christmas season, with the Grinch making appearances long before the cartoon gets aired on TV. If only it were as simple as Linus explaining the real meaning of the season to Charlie Brown. But it's not.

It begins with us and a choice. How will we make room for Jesus in our lives?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When vs If

I could endanger myself writing such blasphemous words here in Indiana, but I think the Indianapolis Colts may not make the playoffs. To redeem myself in the eyes of Manning-fans the state over, I'll add that if they make the playoffs, I would not doubt their ability to win.

But this is a far cry from how Colts fans have talked for the past decade. The words have always been 'when the Colts make the playoffs.' But not this year. This year is if, not when.

That's an important distinction, I think. It is one we as Christians would be wise to consider when reading the Bible. There are many times that we find an expectation written down that we treat as a choice. The Sermon on the Mount comes to mind as I think of Jesus' words of instruction concerning 'when' we pray, fast and give. That's an expectation from God Himself that we would be praying, fasting and giving.

I came across another verse that is written less as a command but would be good of us to consider.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4
Granted, this isn't written as 'Thou shalt gaze upon the skies and ask questions of identity'. But maybe it should be.

Think about this in other parts of your world.
  • When your children are obedient, they will learn discipline and see order in their lives.
  • When teens study in school, they will learn things they did not previously know.
  • When your Aunt brings that 3-bean casserole, there will be inner weeping.
There are more that could be listed, but consider that an exasperated parent or teacher will look at the first two in that list and exclaim, 'If only!' There is a big difference between when and if.

If I considered the heavens, I might be forced to think about how small I am.

If I considered the work of God's fingers, I may have to concede that He is a wonderful designer.

If I paused on a clear night to look up at a full moon and a blanket of stars, it might give me reason to wonder like I did as a child.

If I actually stopped to consider who God is and what He has done, then thought about myself in relation to God, I might have to ask the same questions David asked. Who am I? Why does God care about me?

I do not know if the Colts will make the playoffs, but I do know that when I consider the heavens and everything else, I am quite thankful for the God who loves me.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Be the Hero

"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."
James 4:17
I don't know about you, but for me, that sounds like a call to action. This is so much more than your parents asking you to make your bed or your boss asking you to take out the trash.

This is an opportunity to open our eyes to a world of need that exists beyond our finely crafted bubbles. Have you ever been in a dark room when someone suddenly turns on a light? That may be the uncomfortable feeling you get here when you see what has been hiding in the dark. You may find yourself rubbing your eyes and needing to take a second look at what you see. But once you have seen, will what you see impact your heart?

Compassion takes courage. Courage to do the right thing for the right reason. So what do you have the courage to do? Hopefully it's more than killing the spiders when the women in your life call for help.

Being a hero is much more than putting on spandex and flying around the world. Although that sounds like fun too. When we care about people, and do something to help them, we are being their hero. Perhaps Aunt Mae was correct, there is a hero in all of us. She was talking to Peter Parker of Spider-man fame, but she's talking to all of us.

It's a challenge to do something for someone. It's a call to preach the good news to the poor. It's our turn to proclaim freedom for prisoners. It's our chance to recover sight for the blind. We can release the oppressed. We can tell the world that God loves them.

If that sounds familiar at all, it's because that's exactly what Jesus said He came to do. (Luke 4:18-19)

You can do it. Be the hero.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chasing Francis

I was recently given Chasing Francis by Ian Cron to review. When reading that it was about St Francis of Assisi, I figured it might be interesting. And I was not disappointed. This is novel meets history. And I enjoyed both aspects greatly. Here was the description;

In his debut work, Cron shares a Franciscan vision for the postmodern church. The book is a story about a disillusioned pastor whose faith is restored by the
teachings of St. Francis during a pilgrimage to Italy.

“St. Francis is the consummate saint for the times we live in,” claims Cron, who came to know about St. Francis’s life at the height of a spiritual crisis. “He was the first environmentalist whose theology of creation is still unparalleled, a Christian
activist who radically identified with the poor and oppressed. He led the first
transcontinental peace delegation to make peace with Muslims during the
Crusades.

He worshiped with all the abandon of a Pentecostal, saw the world through the eyes of a mystic, prayed like a contemplative, possessed the sacramental sensibility of a Catholic, and focused on saving souls like a passionate Evangelical. He embodies all the practices and values found in almost every theological stream. Is sit any wonder he’s been called 'the last Christian'?”

The story involves Chase Falson, a mega-church pastor, who has a crisis of faith, in front of his congregation in mid-sermon. This causes concern from the elders who give him an extended vacation. Invited by his uncle, a friar, he flies to Italy to visit the ghost of St. Francist.

The story is simple and believable. Church crises abound. As a youth pastor myself, the one part that left me wondering was how Ian painted the youth pastor at the mega-church as a political player. Let the record state that I love my senior pastor and would never angle for his job. (Someone should really pass this along to him, as it would be awkward coming straight from me.)

You'll have to read it yourself to see how the novel plays out, but Ian does a great job of weaving historical fact of St. Francis into the story. We find out much of the way Francis lived and what he taught. We even get a fairly in-depth look at how he viewed the purpose of the Church.

Ian Cron is a pastor himself, but he may also be a prophet. It is interesting how the Church in the 13th century and the Church today are all too similar, and not in a good way. Through great story-telling, Ian paints a picture of what the Church is, but also of what it could be.

I was given Chasing Francis for the sake of review by the good people at SpeakEasy.

Ian Cron’s blog: http://www.iancron.com/

#ChasingFrancisSpeakEasy

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jesus' Spin Move

I'm not sure Jesus has been marketed the right way. He could have been an escape artist or in a Jackie Chan movie, perhaps as an extra for Jackie doing his own moves, no doubt learned from a childhood filled with games of Twister. I suppose that wouldn't work for two reasons; 1. Jackie does his own stunts and, 2. Jesus was not Asian.

It's too bad, though, because the gospel writers record several instances of Jesus performing escapes. They don't give a lot of detail as to how He actually escaped, but I have some theories. Here are the top 3.

1. Spin Moves
Luke 4:30 "[Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way."
I know that Luke said Jesus simply walked, but I picture Luke writing simply, not wanting to talk up Jesus' moves.

I picture spin moves. If it were a modern day setting, a private jet or a car chase might work better. In the future, having Scotty beam Jesus up might work as well.

But, given the technological disadvantages that Jesus dealt with, I simply picture the spin move. It's simple, you fake left, then spin right. Voila! Escape!

2. Hide & Seek Jesus
John 8:59 "At this they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds."

If Jesus were one of the early actors depicting Jesus, I'd see no problem here. You know, the actors who looked like they were still fasting in the desert. But I imagine Jesus was a bit more buff than a 7-year old, so this hiding was a bit more complicated for Him. It's also more difficult since the people wanting to stone Him are not going to close their eyes and count to 100 while He hides.

I picture more fancy footwork, except, instead of ending with a slam dunk, MJ style, He simply dove behind a cactus...or maybe a disciple? Peter was a big guy, right?

3. Jedi Mind Tricks

John 7:44 "Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him."

This one Jesus picked up from Yoda. I think there's a whole story hidden within verse 44.See, the people had been arguing about whether Jesus was the Christ or not. The Pharisees sent some Temple Guards to arrest Jesus. The Temple Guards come along in the middle of a big debate. While the people participate in a rousing rendition of 'Yes He is!', 'No, he's not!', Jesus went all Obi-wan Kenobi on the Guard, using the Force and putting thoughts in their heads as if they were Storm Troopers. (Ah, Stars Wars reference complete.)

The Temple Guard returned to the Pharisees empty-handed and Jesus went on His way.

So what can we learn from these escape moves of Jesus? Well, I think we can agree that when all hope seems lost, God finds a way.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks in Any Language

My kids love speaking Spanish. They only know 6 or 7 words, but for some reason it brings them great joy to speak Spanish. When Luke, my 7-year old, was first learning it, he insisted I have conversations with him in Spanish. Here’s how it would go;

Luke: Hola!
Me: Hola! Como esta?
Luke: Y tu?

When translated, it looks like this.

Luke: Hi!
Me: Hi. How are you?
Luke: And you?

I never said my kids were very good at speaking Spanish. When I pointed out where he went wrong, this only caused him to laugh uncontrollably and do it repeatedly.

My children are quite stellar at repeating things, especially when those things are my bad habits. I got to thinking about this because we are on the verge of repeating another round of holidays; Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas and New Year. And while I am not a bah-hum-bug, I don't exactly go running up and down the streets like Jimmy Stewart shouting 'Season's Greetings' to anyone and everyone.

Just ask my wife how I react when she reminds me it's time to put up the Christmas tree. I respond as if she's asked me to clean out a septic tank. But that's going to change this year. This year I will not only consider all I am thankful for, I will choose to live that gratitude out. I will joyfully set up a tree, thankful that I have the freedom to celebrate my Lord's birth.

I will elbow my way through crowds, thankful I have means to shop for loved ones. I will say goodbye to nights normally quiet to attend Christmas parties, thankful for friends that I can celebrate with. I will cut wrapping paper and tear tape, appreciating the smiles from those who will open their gifts.

My life will reflect Colossians 2:6-7 "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."

I will choose to be thankful for every part of this holiday season and beyond. Y tu?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mad Juggling Skills

No bread? No problem. I recently revisited the story of Jesus playing the role of Bread Boss and feeding thousands. It's really quite an amazing story as you consider not only the miracle but the marketing. This is a whole lotta people seeing Jesus work His wonders.

But there are questions that surround this story. I get that Jesus has compassion and wanted to do a nice thing. But how is that so many people went to remote area with no plan for lunch. My wife and I barely cross the street with our kids without plans and supplies for keeping them busy, fed and hydrated. The fact that so many came so unprepared is a bit surprising.

Now on to the miracle itself.

I think many people think the bread just kept coming out of the basket. But not me. I imagine there was some sort of juggling of the dough in the air and every time Jesus passed another loaf to a disciple, another ball of dough appeared in the air. I believe Jesus was a showman and may have even tossed a few loaves behind His back before passing them out to be eaten.

Oh, and why were there 12 baskets in an area where no one brought any lunch? Seriously, did Jesus weave those baskets while the people ate? Why would someone bring an empty basket with them to hear Jesus preach? Was it like a ministry convention where sponsors of the event hand out brochures and free gifts?

Wasn't there anyone watching Jesus as He passed out the bread? Just watching to see where the bread was coming from? Perhaps even a young boy, not hungry enough to eat, but mesmerized as bread simply appeared? Was there a second bread-maker on the grassy knoll? I'd love to have been there for some post-miracle interviews.

Wow, look at that. I've pondered all this and haven't even done that go-to pastor move of spiritualizing a truth for you today. I guess sometimes I just like to imagine what it would have been like to have been there. I wonder if anyone will ever do that with my life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanks, But No Thanks?

It’s November. And November is synonymous with inducing a coma caused by the tryptophan in turkey (the food, not the country). Or, as we in America call it, Thanksgiving. Ahh, that beautiful holiday when we gather together with family, eat too much, sleep through a Detroit Lions game and then go home. You know about the ride home, right? That is when you share with your spouse how her family bothers you.

I have to confess I feel a tad guilty being snarky about Thanksgiving. After all, it is a legit American holiday. Thankfulness is something that is encouraged in the Bible. It’s even the topic of our theme at our church this month (and 90% of other churches as well). Shouldn’t I just write out my list of things I’m thankful for and then move on to writing some devotional for next month’s church newsletter, something along the lines of a great gift of shoes I once gave my mom? Everybody knows that when you're writing about Christmas, you have to include lyrics to at least one inspirational Christmas song.

I wish I could. But alas, I cannot. The truth (and my senior pastor) compels me to write this article.

I think the problem I have is that November comes along and we’re all expected to turn on our holiday spirit. First, we become nostalgic and thankful; then, we buy stuff for everyone we are thankful for. But if embodying thankfulness is something we should be doing, then I believe it is something we should be doing all the time. Perhaps the reason we struggle and merely tolerate family at Thanksgiving is because we do not really live out thankfulness the other 364 days of the year.

In writing his young apprentice, Timothy, the Apostle Paul had some good advice on this subject. He’s warning Timmy about ‘hypocritical liars’ who teach against getting married and eating certain foods. (That’s 2 strikes for the pro-Thanksgiving crowd.) But Paul says this; “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Just one verse earlier he said this thankfulness was to be given by “those who believe and who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).

So, do you believe? Then be thankful. But be careful about offering thanks for not being related to everyone at the Thanksgiving meal. I tried that once and it made for a very long car ride home.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Love Mondays

Mondays are notorious for being bad days. Not for me, mind you. Having a flexible schedule, I take Mondays off. Mondays are in my top 10 for favorite days of the week. I sit at home and catch up on ignored tasks from the previous 6 days. Sometimes I scroll through Facebook and laugh at everyone who is dealing with Monday head on.

I think people who talk about a 3-day weekend have it wrong. They always argue that we should work Monday through Thursday and then take Friday through Sunday off. That doesn't make any sense. People don't complain about Fridays. Let the world take Mondays off and watch as the world crisis just handle themselves.

Yesterday I was at home (because it was Monday) and my 4-year old suddenly asked (around 10:30) if she was going anywhere. When I told her no, she asked if she was sick. Apparently she's already learned that we have to have a reason to get a day off from the normal crazy schedule. And how is it that crazy schedules have become normal?

It seems to me that we who follow Christ should able to model this better for a watching world. After all, Jesus said, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" Matthew 11:30. God's grace should be enough for us to lighten our own loads.

I suppose this will mean reviewing the whole day-of-rest deal God gave us from the beginning. Instead of making this another legalistic way in which we criticize one another, perhaps we should take the day and hold on to it like we're getting away with something. Because we are.

Most of us live our lives so that we cry out like David in Psalm 22:2, "My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest." Granted, David probably had other issues he was considering at the moment, but you can pretty much throw a rock at an open Bible and hit a Psalm where David is flying high after spending some time with God.

Like this one: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" Psalm 51:12. Maybe you cannot get it on Mondays but find a time to stop, check out of the merry-go-round we call life, and find some rest. It will do your soul good.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's Your Story?

Recently I took my family to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. They have fish and other animals from around the world. Perhaps none were more curious looking than the paddle fish from Malawi, Africa.


We also saw dolphins, sea turtles and beluga whales. The beluga whale, as far as I can figure, is the Quasimodo of sea life. Their 'tricks' consisted of swimming between trainers and eating lots of fish. (Great job, Mr. Beluga, you can swim!)


It was a good day, but the most interesting thing to me was how the trainers and the caretakers kept referring to the animal's story. Perhaps I am a neanderthal, but I've never considered the story of animals. But they shared with us about turtles who had escaped boating accidents. And of course, they shared how the beluga whales were trained to swim from here to there. Amazing. Now train them to swim back.

But it's not just animals that have stories. You have a story. I have a story. (One of my stories involves dinner after being at the Shedd Aquarium. Shhh, don't tell the fish.)

Through living together we share our stories. In a good setting, we allow our stories to impact one another and help us grow.

Even more amazing than that is that we are each part of a greater story. It's God's story. He has been sharing His story with us since growing a Garden. He's invited each one of us into His story by actually injecting Himself into the middle of the story He started.

I think the people at Shedd Aquarium have caught on to something. Stories engage us and draw us in. They know that a good story is something we want to be a part of. It's a good idea, but it's not original with them. God had the same idea from the very beginning.

So have you checked out God's story? It includes quite a list of characters, from Adam and Eve all the way up to you and me. But don't be confused. This is God' story. Listen to how the Apostle Paul described it when talking to the Jewish people about Abraham.

If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we're given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, "Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own. ~Romans 4:1, The Message


How does your story fit into God's story?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hungry?

I know it's been out for a while, but I like the Snickers commercial with Betty White. You can watch it here.

‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’

Have you ever been really hungry? I think food is a funny thing. We have to eat. I know some people say that since you have to eat, it may as well taste good. On the other hand, rice and beans seem to keep people alive just as well as steak and lobster. I’m no vegan, but I just think we make a big deal about what we eat.

Perhaps the Snickers people are right. Maybe you aren’t you when you’re hungry.
John 4 opens with the familiar story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I want to skip to the end when Jesus’ disciples come back with food. We’re told that they had stopped because Jesus was tired from the journey. Now the disciples have food and Jesus does not seem interested.

"My food is to do the will of God" John 4:34.

Food is what energizes us. It is what gives us the ability to go on. Jesus tells us that His food is to do God’s will. What’s your food? What drives you? I think most of you, because you’re quizzers and because you’re in a church, would like to answer that your food if God’s will. I’d like to challenge that.

Ever found yourself walking around the halls at school at such a pace that is guaranteed to get you close to that guy or girl you’ve been adoring from a distance? Ever pushed just a little harder in a game or sport because you couldn’t stand to let the other person win? Have you ever changed your schedule around to be sure to watch a certain show?

The list goes on and on. How many of you schedule your lives so you can excel at academics? Sports? How many of you work hard to make sure your Facebook status updates get the most ‘likes’? While there is nothing inherently wrong in doing our best in all areas of our lives, we do find out what our food is by what gives us the most energy.

If you do not have the same drive to get up for some time with God as you do for an all-nighter of playing Halo, then you know what your food is. (Or playing with Barbies and having pillow fights, if you’re a girl.)

Jesus says as much to people in John 6, after the feeding of the 5,000. I imagine that people had bragging rights for a while after that feeding. ‘Yeah, I was totally there that day. It was awesome. There was so much bread. I didn’t eat for a whole day after that.’ But Jesus says this. 'You're only looking for me because you want more food, like I'm some bread-making reality show waiting to happen. Call me Bread Boss, but I'm not interested' John 6:26-27.

So what are you hungry for? When you hunger for the things that God hungers for, you become the child that God has been desiring you to be. Jesus sums it up well in John 6:53-57. When you hunger for Jesus, it becomes His life in yours.

I guess it’s true; you’re not you when you’re hungry. That’s the point.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spiritual Anatomy

I'll admit it. I like to exercise. Plugging in the iPod or watching ESPN to distract myself from what I'm doing and I enjoy it. But I don't love it. I'm not rocking some unitard like Billy Blanks on Tae-Bo or yelling 'You can do it!' a la Tony Little. (That's right, Billy and Tony in the same sentence...gyms around the world just exploded.)

I can do it, but I'm not fanatical. There are plenty of mornings when the pillow wins against the gym. While I'm not over the top, I do take my exercise seriously, as you can tell by this picture I've included.



People do not believe this is a picture. I have new glasses now, but that's still me. Thus, most people do not realize how large I really am. More often when people see me, the tie I wear has a slimming affect. But I digress.






There's another form of exercise that is often hard to see and yet remains vitally important in my life. Here's how the Apostle Paul said it to Timothy;

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:15-16


Diligence speaks to being disciplined in your exercise. Progress tells me we're building muscles. Perseverance tells me that it's not always fun or enjoyable. When we exercise physically, I'm told that our muscles literally rip apart. When they heal, they become larger. Why shouldn't the same apply to us spiritually?

It's not like we don't have many areas to work on. I know I do. But if you need the list of where to start, Paul's list will work just fine; speech, life, love, faith and purity. Go ahead and get started on these daily exercises. They're good for you. And as Tony Little says, 'you can do it.'

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Separating Ourselves

Separating ourselves as an individual from the group is something we have become too good at. It's something we learn as kids and perfect by the time we want to pass the blame.

Today, in a conversation that included sharks, babies, Heaven and unicorns, my four-year-old asks, 'Dad, what time are we picking up the kids?' Well, grab your Barbie purse and your ring of plastic keys, little girl, so we can go get them now.

I have also been in conversations with my oldest, now 9 going on 27, when she tells me, quite frankly, that sometimes children bother her. Oh, is that a fact? I guess I forgot that her childhood ended 5 minutes ago.

It becomes less amusing when experienced by adults who have this ironic ability to separate ourselves from the larger group we are clearly a part of. Nowhere does this happen more often than the church. And while I would love to have a long list to prove my point, I have but one. And while one may be the loneliest number that you ever saw, it is also a sufficient number in many categories; one God to serve, one Monster energy drink to make it through an afternoon, one wife to tell you how to do things right and one Teen Wolf. (Sorry, Jason Bateman, but it's true.)

And just what is my one point? Our use of the word they versus the word we. That's right, it all comes down to a word. See, children are obvious about their guilt. They are also obvious when it comes to the attempt to prove their innocence. Show me a group of children who all ate candy before supper and I will show you one child with chocolate on their face who says, 'I didn't do it.'

But as adults, we are a bit more savvy with our attempts to align ourselves with the esteemed and distance ourselves from shame. As a pastor, I can't tell you how many times I have heard some say, 'I am not sure what they are doing with children's ministries.' Or, 'Do you have any idea what they are thinking about for the Christmas services?'

First of all, they includes you. You and I are not only both people who follow Christ, but we belong to the same sub-genre of that species when we attend the same church. So we can no longer talk about what they are doing as if we are not complicit. What are you doing with the ministries of our church? What are you adding to what is done in the name of the Church?

Because when you add your voice to mine, all of the sudden the voices are combined to become our voice, not their voice. When that happens, we can no longer separate ourselves from what is happening. Unfortuately, though it is out of our control, this applies to the global church as well. Those crazy book-burners or those angry parade marchers or those weird street preachers are us.

They share our voice. So it seems to me that it is vitally important that we take a look at ourselves in the mirror everyday and ask how we are representing the body of Christ, all of us, together.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Have We Met?

It's occurred to me after over 200 blog posts that I may have failed to properly introduce myself. Since this is a slow blog week for me (and I have not scheduled any other posts for today) I'll do that now. Although...

I'm not really sure why. At the time of writing this, I have exactly 3 followers on my actual blog. I may have paid one of them and begged another. I can't even convince my wife to follow me to help boost my numbers. I'm not sure if she thinks I care too much or if she's still learning how to do more than email on the internet. Oh well.

Allow me to explain the title. If you had as demented a childhood as I did, you may have been exposed to professional wrestling in the 1980's. One of these fine actors was 'The Nature Boy' Ric Flair. (Yes, I'm embarassed that I recall his nickname.) Whenever he said his name, he would shout 'woo'. Lest you think I have aspirations of becoming a professional wrestler, I will tell you that teens I work with have taken to saying my name, then saying 'woo'.

That explains the title and is probably more information than you needed to know about me, but at least I rolled it all into one neat little paragraph. What I write about is a little more complicated to explain. But allow me to try.

Over the past decade of life and ministry, I have seen over and over again how God has tried to make it clear that life is not about us. We make it about us, but it's not really about us. It's about God. Go ahead, read any book of the Bible and you'll see. Sometimes it's a small clue. Sometimes it's Jesus talking about how He brings glory to God alone. Whichever, the message becomes clear.

But it's not just in scripture that I find this to be true. It's all over my life. So I write about those small details. I pass along any comfort I find in being less than what I think I should be. I hope to make it clear that it's not about you either. But let's not make this about you or me. Because it's not about you or me. It's about God. It always has been. It always will be.

So, welcome to my blog. It's my search for insignificance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Room For Two

Sometimes the fascinating details come inbetween the major stories about Jesus. If you have read the Gospel of John much, you may remember John 3 as the chapter that contains Jesus' convo with Nicodemus. John chapter 4 tells the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. These are both great stories that contain wealths of truth.

But inbetween...

We're told that Jesus went with His disciples to spend time with them. Oh, they also baptized. Where they baptized is significant. Jesus and His crew were in the same place as some guy who sort of became known for baptizing. John, the gospel writer, even notes that there was plenty of water. John 3:22-24

It's almost a side note, but do you see what happened here? Jesus, the Son of God, came and was baptizing. First of all, how cool would it be to be baptized by Jesus. ('I baptize you in the name of the Father, of me, and of the Holy Spirit.') We're told in John 4:1-3 that it was actually the disciples of Jesus doing the baptizing. But consider this; Jesus allowed John the Baptist to continue doing what he was doing. He didn't have to. He could have smiled at John and said, 'Hey, I appreciate it and all. But I got this.' He didn't.

And what about John the Baptist. He could have been bothered by Jesus bringing His ragtag crew to double the effort. He could have reminded Jesus that he was the older cousin, that he was there first, and baptizing was in his name. He didn't.

This is a call to Christians that there is room for more at the table. We fight over the sanctified while there are plenty of people to go around. We look for differences and explain why our brand is better, while lost people remain lost.

It should not be this way. If Jesus did not mind doubling the effort of John, then neither should we. There is room for two.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Irresistible Revolution

There are certain books which are fun to read. They are light and merely for entertainment. This is not one of those books. Make no mistake, this book should be read. I'm talking about The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.

The subtitle pretty much sums it up. 'Living as an ordinary radical.' Everybody is looking for something extreme and radical to stand for. Perhaps living as Jesus called us to is that extreme.

Shane Claiborne has written a call to the Church to rise up and be what God created her to be. As he shares story after story, showing us the reality of his dream, one starts to believe it can be done. He tells of how, in a setting where his group of college friends were helping the homeless, a church group brought microwave popcorn to them. They barely had electricity and the church showed her lack of knowledge of real need. Then another group, the mafia, brought bicycles for all the children. "I guess God can use the mafia, but I would lke God to use the Church" (page 63).

This book is over 300 pages of Shane attempting to show an alternative to the trappings of the modern day church. It can at times be very difficult to see this happening where we live. But in many ways, that is the challenge we have before us. We have our eyes on another world while we still live in this one.

In the end, we have to choose what we will do with this book and the ideas presented. It is much like our decision with God and His Son, Jesus. We have to decide what we will do with the life and the challenge presented. Perhaps the best advice comes from one of Shane's college professors.

"All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at
death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance,
just
don't tiptoe" (pg 225).

You can learn more about the challenege at The Simple Way.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

09.24

Do you remember that dread you would feel when you walked into a classroom, only to hear the teacher say those fateful words, 'Time for a pop quiz.' It was in times like those that I asked God the hard questions in prayer, 'Why, God, do bad things happen to good-looking people? Why?'

This dread was matched only by the big test that loomed. You know, the one you knew you had no chance of passing unless you checked out of life and studied for 4 months. The only other possible hope you had was if the teacher decided to grade on a curve and all the nerds were sick...or if something were slipped into their lunch.

Well, that dread has returned to my home. My boy, a high achieving first-grader, is already seeing his future shrivel before his eyes as he thinks about his test today.

Luke (with tears in his eyes): Dad, I have a test tomorrow.
Dad: So, how hard can your work be?
Luke: The teacher said she's going to put stuff in there that she hasn't taught us.
Dad: She said that?
Luke: No, but I know she will, stuff like calculus and trigonometry and memorizing all the elements on the periodic table.
Dad: Do you know what any of those words mean?

Destined to fail, and sure that God has abandoned him, we went round and round with this conversation. I ended up telling him some psycho-babble about mom and dad always being proud of him. But what I should have said was this;

The prophet Haggai was going back and forth with the people about obedience and consequences. When he shows them the clear connection he gives them God's own words. "From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid" (Haggai 2:18).

I don't know why but I find it interesting when a God who is outside of time, mentions a day like that. This isn't a festival day or a national birthday. It's 9/24. But for anyone who has ever wondered about God and whether He pays attention to what is going on down here, they should read this verse. This isn't just a specific verse being written about in the Bible. This is a day, month and day, spoken of by God to man.

This is for anyone who has ever asked if God was watching. Does God care? Does God see? Does He even know?

The answer is yes. Absolutely yes. For whatever reason, God finds you significant. I don't know what kind of calendar He may keep up there. My guess is that it's a fund raising calendar with pictures drawn by Thomas Kinkade himself. Whatever it is, He's keeping track of the date. And more importantly, He's keeping track of us and the dates we find important.

The only conclusion I can come to is that He's very involved with us. Keep that in mind the next time you have a math test.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Toughest Guy in the Bible

I doubt most people have ever thought of Nehemiah as a tough guy. I know I haven't. To be honest, most people don't think about Nehemiah. He's the guy from the Bible. He organized the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem.

I think most people, if they think of him, imagine some small-ish guy leading a less-prideful Israel. A lot of this may be due to the children's song about Knee-High-Miah. That's unfair. I'll give you a few reasons why I think Nehemiah was like his generation's Mark Driscoll, but without grabbing headlines.

1. He's a leader. Think less Ross Perot and more Arnold Schwarzenegger. This guy was leading reform and knew how to get it done. When he talked, people listened.

2. He helped rebuild a wall. He's a construction worker. Ever walked past a construction site and seen that 98-pound kid you knew from middle school? If it's the same kid, he's not 98 pounds. Or if he is, you just walked past a Lego construction site, which is not the image we're going for here.

3. His threats were like those of Chuck Norris. Simple, straight-forward and effective. In Nehemiah 13:19-22, we find Nehemiah (aka, the Middle East Menace) setting up guards at the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem. When he finds out some of his enemies are showing up and trying to cause problems, he tells them, "If you do this again, I will lay hands on you."

The very next verse tells us those bad guys stopped coming around. Either Nehemiah was well known for not washing his hands or he was the scariest guy in Jerusalem. This is no pastor offering to lay hands on the sick. This is Nehemiah informing the enemy that he'll make sure there are no next of kin for these guys. He is the law around these parts. This is Nehemiah doing his best impression of Clint Eastwood, 'Go ahead, make my day.'

So go ahead, talk about Samson killing Philistines with a donkey's jawbone. Tell me stories of David killing Goliath. I'll tell you about the guy I never want to cross in the shadows of the Temple. He will lay hands on you.