Monday, April 30, 2012

God First, Man Second

What do you want? (asked God)
I think there may have been times that David, the Goliath slayer, would have gotten on my nerves. He was just too good sometimes. But I do keep finding reasons why he would be called a man after God's own heart.

For instance, he was always asking God for his next move. Ol' David had an opinion for sure, but he was constantly asking God for His opinion. Smart move. Take, for example, this instance right after he was made king of all Israel. 2 Samuel 5:17-25

Should we, God? God offers His assurance that victory will come Dave's way. This is in stark contrast to what happened when David didn't ask God for His guidance. Just ask Uzzah how that worked out (2 Samuel 6).

When we put God first, including asking Him for guidance in all our daily tasks, life just goes better. We don't come second because we're losing. We come second because God should be first. In the end, it works out better, for everyone.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Trusting Leaders

In Numbers 9:15-23 we get a small story of how daily life was for the travelling Israelites.

God led the Israelites by cloud. When the cloud lifted, they picked up camp and moved on. When the cloud stopped, they stopped. It didn't matter if the cloud stopped for a day or a month, when it picked up and moved on, so did the Israelites.

Can you imagine what this was like? You know someone in that million man march was taking a nap, playing a game, or updating their Facebook status. Life would have been full of interruptions, much like we are used to today. So I imagine the Israelites would have gotten used to trusting the timing and direction of God as He lead them around the desert. 

What if we trusted our leaders like that?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Game Plan

Game Plan; Practical Wisdom for the College Experience is by Nic Gibson and Syler Thomas. I was offered a review copy by my friends at YouthWorker. I'm glad I accepted.

This book is very practical and would be good for college freshmen to read through together, that is, if they really love Jesus. I jest, sort of, because this book would be a good tool for helping college students transition from the relatively safe abode of home and high school to the new and potentially dangerous waters of college life.

Right from the start the authors talk about what makes college dangerous to our faith. Those dangers would include the new freedom, the lack of accountability and community and the obvious fact that you will now run into more people who disagree with you than ever before. Who knew the world was not full of people here to coddle you?

Nic and Syler take turns, tackling all the common challenges that will come the way of college students, from defending their faith to intentionally growing in their faith. Though it is written for college students, the farther in the book I get, the more I wonder if this book would be better for graduating high school students. This would give them a summer to look forward and plan how they will purposely continue their faith in college.

Either way, with real life stories, this is a helpful tool, one I would encourage you to get in the hands of a college student. It was put in my hands by my good friends over at YouthWorker Journal. They give me book and ask me to say stuff.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm Not Taking the Blame

Excuses. We're full of them. We use them all the time to get out of trouble, perceived or real. Why? Because we all have an image we're trying to protect. Again, this could be an actual reputation or one we're trying to convey to people.

What if we didn't?

What if, instead of protecting our image, we worked on creating it? You know, become the type of person we want to tell people we are. We could live out the eulogy we would want to hear read at our funeral.

This would be simple and difficult all at the same time. Simple because we'd no longer be pretending. Difficult because, let's face it, living the right way can get you into trouble. And I think I have found the poster child for this kind of life, way back in the first book of the Bible.

His name was Joe. Now I'm not saying he was perfect, but this guy also didn't seem to know how to protect his own image. He talks openly of dreams he has, causing his brothers to sell him into slavery. But once there, he taps into his skill of organizational control and shows his master he can be trusted.

Of course, this gets him into trouble as well and he finds himself in jail. Not content to just sit and rot, he once again uses his gifts. It benefits the jailer and his cell mates, but doesn't do him much good for a couple of years. You can read all of this starting in Genesis 37.

But life changes for him when the Pharaoh of Egypt starts having un-explainable dreams, something Joe seems able to do. So Pharaoh sends for Joseph. This is, of course, great news for Joe. He's out of jail. The supreme commander need his skill set. Surely Joe knows that now is his time to show his stuff. So it seems a bit odd when we read this;

Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it."
"I cannot do it, " Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires" Genesis 41:15-16.
If I knew I had one chance at freedom, my instinct would not be to have my first words be what I can't do. But don't you see it? Joe is not worried about his own image. He puts sole responsibility for what will happen (or not happen) on God.

Because it is God's image we should be most concerned about. It is His Name, His Glory. That should be our chief concern. When we lose the excuses and stop protecting our own image, we don't have to take the blame. We also don't concern ourselves with getting the glory. Because what happens is left up to God. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Crossing the Lines

Making tracks
I'm sure this has been said before. Certainly I'm not the first to rant about this. I'm positive I won't be the last. And in my usual manner of coming to a story late, I want to comment on Bobby Petrino, recently fired head coach of Arkansas. But this isn't really about Bobby, or I should say, not just about Bobby.

He is simply the latest in a series of stories where big-time athletes, coaches, or celebrities does something stupid and gets caught. But that's not the story, because, quite frankly, we all do dumb stuff. But when too many people get angry, defenders line up to separate the personal life from the professional life.

I actually heard a woman quoted, in relation to the Arkansas story, saying that Bobby has won a lot of football games for them. Oh, so that makes it ok?  Arkansas  went 11-2 last season, so the head coach can be immoral? Is that how this is supposed to work?

Why draw the line there? If splitting personal decisions from professional performance is the standard, then we need to put a call into the judicial system, because they seem to be judging people based on what they do. But clearly they are not looking at this correctly.

'Yes, your honor, my client was at the scene of the crime, but I'd like to submit his career won-loss records into evidence.'

Perhaps we could use this philosophy in the church as well. How many new families make it ok for the pastor to be a jerk? Without even asking more questions like that, I know people see a problem. So why is it that we don't make the connection between a man who has no integrity in his personal life and the assumption that he will continue to do his job without taking shortcuts?

I haven't been around longer than others who are watching this same cycle repeat itself, but I am all too aware that we cannot continue to cross the lines without expecting repercussions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hunger Games

Like everyone else, I felt the tremors coming from far away. By the time it was a loud noise, I'd heard the book title several times in passing and even knew of a coming movie, to which several were counting down. I'm talking, of course, about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. (I wasn't going for that much suspense there because you should have guessed as much by the title of the post.)

So, in my typical I-should-comment-on-that-5-weeks-after-everyone-else manner, I'm here to weigh in and overuse hyphens. My wife wanted to read the book and see the movie. And since I never pass up a date night possibility, I followed along.

I read the book like I was cramming for a pop quiz, so I could finish it the night before we went to see the movie, which was strategically not opening night. And before I even had a chance to read and watch, I had people around me telling me how disturbed it was. Uh-oh, am I going to have to pretend not to like it?

I can't.

I think the book is way better than the movie, but both are entertaining. What I really want to know is if Suzanne was trying to say something besides 'Hey everyone, I'm a good writer.' I read a bit here and there and at least one guy thinks she's crying out against big government. In an interview, Suzanne comments on the connection between the old Roman games and current reality TV.

Yes, in this case the 'reality TV' is kids killing kids, but I wonder if we aren't similar in actual reality. The fact is that people, on a daily basis, for TV or for simple perceived survival, turn off their moral compass in an attempt to come ahead of the next guy. It may be for money or fame or power, but the result is the same. Most of us will just stand by and watch while it happens and wish something less detestable was as entertaining.

But how far have we slipped? After all, does this story become less disturbing if it's adults killing one another for sport instead of kid killing kids? Your answer to that says more about you than it does any book.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Gospel Lies

There are lies we tell ourselves and lies we are told by others. The problem is when we believe those lies in connection with the Truth God has already given us. For instance, some will believe that the Gospel is complicated. The Bible may not always be easy to understand, but the Good News is not complicated.

God is good. I am needy. God meets my need. It's pretty simple and fairly straight-forward.

If you need more evidence than that, head over to Deuteronomy 28.

We find ourselves in the last days of Moses and the desert wanderings. God is prepared to take His people into the Promised Land. God has told Moses he won’t be going, which could be part of the reason Moses decides to review the entire Law with the Israelites. ‘Just before I climb this mountain to die, let’s read the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers together, shall we?’

But in Deuteronomy 28 we find Moses listing out the blessings the Israelite people can expect for being obedient. It takes about 14 verses and it can be summed up with, ‘You’ll be blessed everywhere and in every way until it is coming out of your ears.’

Then Moses drives the point home by describing the curses the Israelites can expect if they are disobedient. Whereas the blessings are detailed from verse 1 to verse 14, the curses take more time and last from verse 15 to verse 44, I suppose, because Moses wanted to add the gory details of how bad it would be. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 14 verses for blessing and 29 for curses. You might assume that Moses has made his point and that he’s finished. But he’s not!

Moses goes on for the rest of the chapter, which does not end until verse 68. That’s an extra 24 verses detailing what will happen when God has had it up to here and decides to purge the Israelites from the land. You can go read it for yourself, it’s not pretty.

Let’s not lose the big picture here. Moses was detailing what we now know as Israelite history in the Old Testament before it ever happened. When we disobey and ignore God, bad things happen. When we choose to follow after God and seek His will and find what pleases Him, the good that will come our way can be summed up in 14 verses. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

God First, Man Second: Fool's Edition

Today's foolish people are brought to you by the letters I & P and the numbers 5, 6 & 7. That would refer to the Israelites and Philistines of 1 Samuel 6 and 7.

To save space here I'm going to refrain from copying all 3 chapters here, but if you want a glance at ridiculousness by pagans and believers alike, I encourage you to check it out. But here's the short version.

The Philistines capture the Ark of God, the very symbol of where God rests, and take it back to their own country. They place the Ark next to the idol of their own god Dagon. They come in the next morning to find their god fallen and bowing to the Ark.

That should be a sign.

But they put Dagon back next to the Ark and leave again. The next morning Dagon is fallen again, this time with his head and his hands fallen off. This scares the Philistines into worrying what might happen to them. But instead of turning to a clearly more powerful God, they decide it would be best to get rid of the Ark.

Ummm, why not just start serving the true God?

The Israelites are worse, treating the Ark with virtually the same contempt, while they take 20 years to need to be told to stop serving other gods and expecting God to help them. I know these people didn't have Facebook, but could no one share a story with one another?

God, in just a few short chapters, shows his superiority to false gods and foolish people. I hope we can learn from their drastically bad mistakes and put God first.

Friday, April 13, 2012

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sitting at breakfast the other day, my oldest two children had finished eating and were playing downstairs before school. My wife, youngest daughter and I sat at the table finishing our breakfast. Suddenly we heard a bell ringing from downstairs. My youngest responded that it was the signal for all the kids to come to the clubhouse. She quickly asked to be excused to join her siblings.

It was as if Detective Gordon had just shone the Bat Signal.

How is that I have overestimated my ability as a parent? I don't get that kind of response when I call for all 3 children. How does my 10-year old command that kind of response? What does she offer them?

Do the younger kids want candy? I have candy. Is it money? I give them an allowance.

I know this is not all that different from when I talk to teenagers about decisions they make and how they seem to dismiss my sage wisdom. Weeks later I'll hear them telling a friend thanks for changing their life by offering advice that was, you guessed it, exactly what I said.

Is this something to be concerned about? Only if you want all the glory. The fact is children, teens included, are influenced by their parents greatly, but we may never get the credit we crave. In the end, we may have to settle for knowing our kids can recognize when they're being summoned and hope they know when to answer and when to just let the bell keep ringing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Culture Shift

It is a battle for truth on every front. Since I believe right teaching leads to right thinking, this book was very intriguing to me. The book is Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America by R. Albert Mohler Jr, whose full name I'll only be typing out once for this post. 

You might expect, with a title like that, to read a diatribe by an angry representative from the Religous Right. Well, the truth is that I have no idea if Mohler is a card-carrying member of any club, but angry and justified are the last things I connect with him, or at least his writing.

Although, he does get political right from the beginning. Mohler argues that if Christians truly love God, then they must love people. And if they are to love people, political action will be required. I don't think he's just looking for us to show up at the polls in November. 

He begins with dispensing of a few myths and theories of how some think religion should interplay with politics and then gives us his framework. From there it is a series of articles, which is how they feel, on a wide range of topics. He tackles everything from the Supreme Court and science to natural disasters and terrorism. Along the way he also comments on integrity, character and whether our kids are coddled. 

I found each chapter to be thought provoking. There seemed at times that Mohler was less concerned with giving us a concrete answer as he was with making us consider what we believed. Besides refreshing, that might just be the answer the Church is looking for; Christians who think about what they believe and choose to stand up for it in the public square.

If you want more information about Mohler or this book, check out the following;

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just Kill Me Now

There is an episode of Seinfeld where the character of George Costanza is trying to leave a good impression on people, rather than his normal poor impression. So he gets the idea that he's been staying too long at meetings and gatherings. So now, once he has said or done something that makes people laugh or nod, he'll just leave. It gets funny when he leaves meetings as they have just barely begun and he has his boss thinking he's better than he actually is.

It's about leaving people wanting more. Leaving on top is admirable. Maybe that's what Moses was thinking when he asked God to kill him.

Wait, what?

In Numbers 11:15, Moses asks to be killed, if he has found favor in God's eyes. That is an unusual request to make of someone who likes you. Granted, he is smack dab in the middle of yet another whine-fest with God's people. This time it's because they want meat and are actually crying out loud about the miracle bread God drops from the sky.

So Moses starts crying himself. He's asking God to remind him why he was chosen to lead this crowd. And before he gets an answer, he asks out. But his reasoning was so that he would not come to ruin. It's as if he realizes how great his relationship with God is that he doesn't want to ruin it.

We may not be leading a million people, but it's the same for us. If we want the God-life, we must die. We must be crucified in Christ. Left to our own we will be ruined. Yet we're not in a situation to walk off with God on a high note. If we allow God to live through us, then we don't have to worry about coming to ruin.

So God, if I have found favor in your eyes, kill anything in me that doesn't reflect You.

Monday, April 9, 2012

God First, Man Second: Fool's Edition

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor. ~Psalm 8:3-5

When it comes to all-time great questions that we should be asking, this one by David should rise to the top. What is man that God should even think about us?

Now I could wax eloquent about what a great question that is and I could attempt to break down many reasons why an infinite God doesn't need a finite creation, but I'll skip to what should be the obvious omission from this song.

David never asks this question in the opposite way. He never questions the value of God or wonders why we, as people, should pursue Him. That's because David was not stupid. God has inherent value simply because of who He is. We should never forget that.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spiritual Parenting

It was probably appropriate that I listened to this book as an audio book. Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony is a training experience. And a good one at that.

The bonus for me was that I had a couple of longer extended times when I could listen to the whole book in just two sittings. So this was probably the closest to speed reading a book that I will ever get.

The book had plenty of helpful tips and tricks that can be applied same day. But there was a depth in this book that still has me planning just how I will implement some of these strategies in my own family.

But don't be scared. While Michelle comes across with a lot of experience and confidence, she speaks gently and with a belief that anyone who takes her advice can have hope for better days with their family.

I highly recommend you give this book a read, or a listen if you have a long drive ahead of you. Go find it at your fave retailer and then apply this book.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Taking Notes

Keat takes notes

Before I had children, I think I imagined that there would be times, perhaps twice daily, when I would sit down with my children and dispense my great wisdom in daily bite-size chunks. My children, eager to ingest this great knowledge, would pull out moleskin notebooks and jot down these pearls.

Reality has been slightly less like a movie with a sensei and a willing student and more like Mike Brady trying to control the children from Married...with Children. Eye rolls and deep sighs abound, especially if I'm interrupting an important moment in their video gaming.


However, there is reason to have hope. On a recent Sunday morning, I noticed my 10-year old taking notes during the sermon. This thrilled me because we'd been having some difficulties helping her adjust to Big Church. I looked closer and noticed she was writing down a scripture verse. My first thought was that she was a rookie note-taker. Everyone knows you just write down the reference because you can come back to that later. If I write something down, it's to copy a quote from someone.

As a pastor, who often listens to other pastors and speakers, I'm often waiting for that one line that sums up the last several moments of inspired talk. When I talk, I'll even give myself notice in my notes when I'm coming to what I think will be that inspired moment for others.

Yeah, I may have something backwards here.

Think about this for a moment. Should we value the words of man over the Word of God? That's an easy one, for those of you taking notes. For all the great words we have from Apostles like Paul and Peter, they were inspired from God. While everything else written for the Church and by the Church in the last 2,000 years may not included in the Bible, I think the same rule applies.

If it's truth, it's God's Word. You may want to write that down so you don't forget it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

God First, Man Second: Fool's Edition

Yesterday was April 1, or the day where every second grader decides it's okay to lie all day, as long as they follow it up with 'April Fools!' Yeah, that never gets old.

"The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.' Psalm 14:1

But David doesn't stop there. He describes this fool as someone who is corrupt and seemingly unable to do good. If you're an atheist reading this, don't hate on me. I find it interesting, for sure, but I'm not ready to lock my car doors just because I see you on the sidewalk.

What's even more interesting to me is what God is doing. He's just looking down from Heaven, looking for people not be foolish. (Psalm 14:2) We humans can show our foolishness is many ways more than just saying we don't believe He exists. Understanding God is watching and cares are other ways as well.

What we need to remember is that God is not dependent on us, constantly checking his Google Analytics to see how popular He is. God simply is. That's why He comes first. It's all about Him.