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