Wednesday, July 31, 2013

No Surprise Here

People can often be heard expressing shock at what happens in churches. People bicker and bite, they feud and they fight, we meddle and mix together as an often toxic group.

When you consider that everyone in the church is a son of Adam, struggling with the selfish and sinful nature, the bigger surprise should be when we get along. The bigger miracle is when we show love to one another.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Camps, Summer Pranks & Summer Snoozing

If you’re reading this in August of 2013, it means I am still catching up on sleep lost while at Camp Chenaniah in July. If you’re reading it at any time later than August, I’m still catching up on sleep. I’m just doing so for some other reason.

The main reason I lost so much sleep, besides the normal camp reasons, is that I was counseling in the senior high cabin. This meant, of course, that most of the campers were taller than me. If they were in any sport, they probably outweighed me as well. So, unlike my partner counselors who were 6-foot or taller, respect for my leadership would not be coming because of my imposing physique.

When I overheard some of the campers comment that they had not heard any rules about pranks from the director at the opening session, I knew I would need to sleep with one eye open all week. This was a good thing, because there was at least one camper that liked to sit and stare. I’m pretty sure he was plotting. What kept me awake was my lack of knowing what he was plotting…or who he was plotting against.

Lack of sleep leads to a lack of energy. Lack of energy would be a problem, since my camp duties kept me busy most of each day. Much to my delight, God wasn’t kidding when He said His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but just when my head felt like dropping into the camp’s bowl of soup, I would find enough power to keep moving forward.

The pleasant surprises would carry me throughout the week.

· A little encouragement from a fellow worker.

· A teen nodding as if they might actually be processing what I was saying.

· A peanut butter cup sandwiched between two brownies.

But the biggest surprise came on the last night. Just when I was sure the cabin pranks would be landing, the camp director and the camp cook paid a visit to the senior boys. They assured them pranks would be met with consequences. I still slept with one eye open, but that’s one less eye than I was counting on.

Monday, July 29, 2013

And There Was Much Rejoicing

Party button
My children have not always been perfect. I will give you a few moments to collectively catch your breath and ponder this startling information.

They haven't. They have disobeyed my rules. But as they have grown and matured they have come to realize that an eventual apology is needed.

But say some stranger came along, pointing out their wrongs from all these years and told them their bad deeds also offended him and he wanted to punish them.

One might ask why I haven't warned my kids about strangers. I have. Many times.

Yet this idea that a third party is offended is precisely a teaching that many outside the church struggle with. We have told them, and rightly so, that they have offended God, Who they may or may not believe in.

This is why I love the good news of Jesus so much. Romans 5 is not the only example, but a reading of this short chapter will show you two things.

God has done all the heavy lifting on our behalf. Yes, we were faced with a big sin problem before we even knew what sin was. But we were also presented with a sin solution before we even had time to panic.

If you look at these verses, we appear to have only one action in the story: rejoicing!

This is yet another reason why God comes first. He acted first. Once you realize it too, you should join the rejoicing.

Romans 5
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.
18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Woo!

I don't know if this will become the day I always point you to someone else's words. I don't know if this is simply my way of starting my weekend sooner. But I did like this quote I came across.


Comedian Stephen Colbert Advises Graduates on Service

During a commencement address at his alma mater, Northwestern University, the comedian Stephen Colbert offered some wise words for life:
After I graduated from [Northwestern], I moved to Chicago and did improv. Now there are very few rules about improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you're in the scene too. So hopefully to them you're the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading; you're all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win improv.
And life is an improvisation. You have no idea what's going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot "win" your life …. I have my own show, which [is] full of very talented people ready to serve me …. But at my best, I am serving them just as hard, and together, we serve a common idea …. And a sure sign that things are going well is when no one can really remember whose idea was whose, or who should get the credit for what jokes.
Dave Zahl, "No More Winning: Stephen Colbert on Love, Service, and Improv," Mbird blog (5-9-13)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Open Letter to the Month of July

Dear July,

I am going to get right to the point and express my disappointment in you. I don't think I ask for much from you, but I have come to expect one thing. That one thing is simple. Just like Ricky Vaughn in the timeless classic Major League, just bring the heat.

It hasn't seemed to have been a problem for you in the past. I have always known July to be hot, with a ridiculous amount of t's. Granted, I grew up in Florida, so all year long, save for two weeks in January, were really hot. But that's beside the point.

I have grown to love July, because it meant never having to convince my wife that the air conditioner should be on and that fresh air is overrated.

You might ask yourself, July, what is causing this disdain to rise up now? I'll tell you. When I, towards the end of April, planned out my summer calendar, I planned a mid-July trip to a water park. It didn't matter which day I picked, or so I thought. Just pick a day in July and the only thing one should have to be concerned about is rain.

But no. No, no, nope.

I took one step outside my home and knew that it would not rain. But I may want to bring a jacket. The last thing one should worry about at a water park is staying warm. And don't expect the water park to sell hot chocolate, because that wasn't happening.

All of this, of course, did not stop a warrior like myself from embracing the challenge. I shivered and teeth-chattered my way to all the slides and thrills this park had to offer. It is only now, as I sit in my home, with open windows, that I have begun to feel warmth again.

This, July, is on you. I expect better from you. Please ignore the fact that I somehow still brought home a sunburn. We both know all I have to do is look outside and I need to put on sunscreen. The next move is yours. I assume you know what to do.

August's new #1 fan

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making Babies Means Putting God First

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!”Romans 4:18
Clearly Abe had reason to hope. God was his reason to hope. God was the promise he would hold on to.

When Paul, who wrote this letter to the Romans, says there was no reason to hope, he is talking about human reasons. Even though no one likes to think about old people making babies, Paul is quite blunt here, telling us that Abraham had one foot in the grave.

Abe should have been searching for nursing homes. Instead, he is trying to figure out how to get Medicare to pay for lamasery classes and prenatal care.

This is putting God first! This is living on such a way that puts man second. Abraham had no earthly reason to expect a baby. I don't know if he had any friends he was confiding in, but I imagine them to be similar to the kind of friends Job had.

"Give up now!"
"Dude, you should have given up 2 decades ago!"
"You know, this is probably due to sin in your life."

But Abraham clearly was ignoring any advice he was being offered. He kept trying to make a baby with Sarah. Because even when there was no reason to hope, he kept hoping.

God first, man second.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

G.I. Joe Thanks You Too, Mom!

Sometimes the real thank you comes years later. This is because it sometimes takes years before we truly understand the cost of the gift. It's not that we aren't appreciative at the time, but our gratitude multiplies as our understanding grows.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours putting together a rather large toy. To be specific, it was the U.S.S. Flag, a G.I. Joe aircraft carrier that I had received as a boy.

G.I. Joe was an obsession for me as a kid, so when it came time for me to put childish things away, I chose to pack up my extensive collection, in the hopes that I might someday have a boy of my own who would appreciate such a collection.

Some 5-30 years later, that day has arrived. My boy's collection is now complete, with this:

Having now built it myself, I can give a truly heartfelt thank you to my mom. As I put this 7-foot ship together, I recalled that my mom would stay up late on Christmas Eve, putting together all of the G.I. Joe toys, like models, so that when I woke up on Christmas, play could begin immediately.

It would also have been her doing to pack these toys up, complete with instructions, so I could repeat the process many years later.

I couldn't help but realize that this process is much like the spiritual process we all make, making commitments and accepting gifts from God, only realizing years later the true impact and sacrifice of it all.

Now, can anyone tell me what this might be worth, assuming my kids don't destroy it?

Monday, July 22, 2013

This Guy Had a Reason

If there is a character in the Bible that seems to totally get his position in life, it is John the Baptist. This guy would have had reason to exalt himself. Luke 1:5-25 & 57-80 tell about his birth. Though not as miraculous as the virgin birth, it was certainly an unexpected gift from God. Luke tells us that John’s parents were ‘well along in years’ when they had him. That’s fancy jargon for ‘they were really too old to be having kids.’
His father Zechariah was told that John would be ‘a joy and delight’ and ‘many will rejoice because of his birth.’ Isn’t this what we all want to hear? You were born and there was much rejoicing. Gabriel went on, telling Zechariah that John would “bring (people) back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Can you imagine them telling John this while he was a child? Like the son of a great quarterback being told he’ll take over the team when his dad retires, John had reason to think highly of himself.
John the Baptist was full of God’s power, like the prophet Elijah. Matthew 3 tells of some of his ministry. Listen to how he speaks.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt 3:2) If that is his introduction to a sermon, can you imagine the rest? Then, when he sees some other religious teachers coming, he says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt 3:7).
I don’t imagine you preach like this with a soft voice, hoping not to offend. I would guess John walks into a preaching opportunity with head held high and full of confidence. But listen to his conclusion in Matthew 3:11-12 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” That’s the equivalent of saying, ‘you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
It would appear as if John has good focus on his purpose. He is pointing the way to Jesus.
But it is in the Gospel of John that we see the Baptizer’s followers fighting for him, for his fame and his position. “Everyone is going to [Jesus]” John 3:26. Like a McDonald’s team meeting where they brainstorm what can be done about the Whopper, John the Baptist’s followers lament that business could be about to get very slow. “Everyone is going to [Jesus]”
This could have bothered John. Any one in any business knows that competition is scary. Even pastors sometimes wonder what is going on in other churches. But John the Baptist makes several good points in response to this, and I am going to pass them on to you this morning.
John 3:27 “To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.”
We each have certain gifts. We do not have all the gifts. We can only use what we have been given.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Peanut Butter and Jelly Woo!

I came across this article, a good encouragement for pastors and church leaders. But as I am wont to do, I am bringing the message to the people. You, the people. Because as Chevy Chase's boss in Christmas Vacation noted, "It's people that make the difference, little people like you."

My sarcasm aside, enjoy this Peanut Butter Challenge.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

God is...

Last week I spoke at a camp. It was, overall, a good experience. That is, if you take away the lack of sleep, the icy lake we swam in, the large beasts that eat your flesh and the lack of sleep.

Did I mention lack of sleep twice? Sorry, I'm still recovering.

My favorite part, since I'm a teacher, was the chapel sessions we had. I had planned a God is series. You can read parts of those talks here, here, here and here.

It was a lot of fun, because many of these kids didn't have a great knowledge of the Bible or the incredible stories within its pages. Since I love to retell these amazing stories, this became to the perfect place to do just that.

As I shared with them just how big, powerful, awesome and personal God is, it refreshed me as well. God is not just those things for people who have never heard of Him. He is those things for me and you as well. In so many stories, the writers reflect God's heart. God just assumes His nature, His existence, His mission and His goal.

That shouldn't surprise us. After all, God is! So if you're feeling discouraged today, perhaps you should tell yourself exactly what you would tell someone who doesn't yet know or accept God. God loves you. God has an amazing plan for you. And God won't leave you alone.

God is...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When My Life Resembles Dumb and Dumber (Otherwise known as my week at camp)

Tell me if this scene sounds vaguely familiar.

I was in Northern Michigan with my wife last week. We took a team to help lead a camp up there. In case you've never been to Northern Michigan, you should know they have these large flying beasts that gnaw on your body. They call them mosquitoes, though I'm sure they are left over from some plague God forgot He had sent on the Earth.

We had arrived on Saturday. By Tuesday I had more bites on my body than Track and Field athletes had positive test results. Knowing my wife had come prepared, I asked to borrow the bottle of mosquito repellent. Handing me a bottle, she commented that I could keep that one with me. After all, she had an extra bottle.

"You've had two bottles of mosquito repellent this whole time?" I cried out.

"Yeah," she replied, "we're in Northern Michigan."

Then I proceeded to throw her briefcase, filled with thousands of dollars, into a lake.

Okay, that last part may not have happened. But the rest is true. It reminds me, among other things I learned at camp, to keep communicating with my wife. She packs better than I do.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Learning While Teaching

I had prepared for the lesson. I always prepare for the lesson. Not preparing for a time with my youth group would be like showing up to a meal without any food.

However, God sometimes has His own ideas about what's going to happen. I'm okay with this, even though it does throw my Type-A planning style into a bit of a tizzy. Of course, since I often teach others that God is not as concerned about their plans as He is His plans, I suppose that applies to me as well.

It happened again this week.

We were discussing all the excuses Moses was making when God called Him. I'm sure it's not the first time they have heard this idea, but we were rolling along in the story. We came to the part of the story where Moses asks what will happen if the people don't believe God sent him. God provides Moses with a sign. Moses is to throw down his staff. God will turn it into a snake. Then Moses is to pick it up by its tail and it will turn back into a staff.

It was as I was reading this that I realized just how lame Moses' excuses were becoming. Everyone should know that grabbing a snake by its tail is not what you want to do. Personally, I make a habit out of not grabbing snakes anywhere. But grabbing them by the tail is the last place you want to grab them from, since they can curl around and make you regret your last five decisions, starting with, 'let's go play with snakes!'

But Moses does it. He has had an excuse and a question for everything else God wants him to do, but when told to grab a snake by the tail, he does it. Why? I can only assume that Moses either wants to die, so he can get out of going back to Egypt, or he actually does trust God.

I'm leaning towards the latter, which means his excuses are just that...excuses.

Perhaps we should all look past our excuses. If we trust God, I mean really, actually trust Him, then lets do what He says. Choose to lose the excuse.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

God is Personal!

I've been duplicating myself this week by posting portions of the sermons I'm delivering at a camp. For today, I thought I'd share towards the end, right before I make the classic camp altar call. 

Night 4 - God is Personal

Life only makes sense when you see things from a God-eye view. See, God has this idea in His divine mind that since He is the best thing ever, our sole desire should be for more of Him. If it weren't, Jesus wouldn't have said such crazy things as He did in Matthew 13:44-46. He tells us of a guy out treasure hunting. He doesn't tell us much, but the treasure was hidden in a field. So the guy that was looking, was looking on purpose. He probably had a metal detector and a shovel with him. And when he found it, Jesus says that he hid it again, and in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.

It’s hard to even put this in terms that we can relate to. How many of you are bargain hunters? Do you clip coupons and search papers or the web for deals? Has there ever been anything you wanted so much that you thought about selling everything you had in order to get it? I doubt it. See, we look for treasures to add to our treasure chest. We’re like pirates in nice suits and dresses. That’s because rarely, if ever, does a treasure grab our undivided attention.

But this was not the case in this story Jesus told. The guy went and sold it all. Everything. Things he probably liked and things he knew he could do without because this treasure was the ultimate.

Jesus also compared the kingdom of Heaven to a merchant looking for pearls. This isn't you or me looking for shiny new techno gadgets. This is an expert in the field looking for the one. The pearl of legends, the one he sometimes wonders if it even exists. When he finds it, he too sells everything he has. This would have to include several other expensive pearls. He sold it all in order to attain this most precious of all pearls. (Insert your own Gollum / Lord of the Rings joke right here.)

Again, I believe it is hard for us to even think like this. We have even perhaps attempted to put things on a tier level. God is at the top, then the family, church, work, and then anything else. And while this may be better than having God somewhere down the tier, I’m not sure having a tier is good. In Luke 15, Jesus gives us three more pictures of what God’s focus is like. It’s the story of a man who loses one sheep from a hundred, a woman who loses one coin from ten, and a man who loses one son of two. In each story, the person’s focus turns to the lost object or person. When they are found, a party is had. Jesus tells us this is what Heaven looks like when a lost person is found.

If God’s focus on us is like this, shouldn't ours be as true. God did not forget the 99 sheep, the 9 coins, or the older son who were not lost. As Jesus tells the story, the found are always with God and always have access to everything He has. In the same way, we should not fear that if we give a singular focus towards God that our friends and family will suffer. Rather, our love and energy will be multiplied and what we have to offer will be better. Much, much better.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God is Awesome!

If you recall any camp or conference you ever attended, usually there is a 'salvation night'. Who am I to mess with that method? Pray for us all as we worship God together tonight. Pray for the children and teens to hear, really hear, about God's love for them. 

God is Awesome!

Pirates and Ninjas
Romans 5:12, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 
We can read verses like Romans 5:12 and be pretty bummed. We didn't choose Adam to represent all of us. What's Adam's deal, anyway? Isn't he kind of a doofus for messing it up for all of us?
 But then we scroll down to Romans 5:18-19
18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
That happened a long time before we were born as well. We also didn't choose Jesus or know what He was thinking. So, the sin and the solution happened long before we came along.
It's like getting home to hear your parents tell you this crazy story about how your room was ransacked by pirates who traveled way too far inland. They took all of your favorite things. Your parents would have stopped them, but the pirates had swords.
Just as you're starting to be really angry and confused (who wouldn't be?) they continue. Apparently the pirates were stopped by this amazing ninja who happened along. The ninja took care of the pirates and returned all your stuff, plus some cool new things as well.
You weren't home all day. You couldn't stop the pirates or help the ninja. But this was done. For you. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

God is Powerful!

I'm giving you my camp talks while I am away this week. Well, I'm giving you parts of my camp talks. Here's night 2.

God is Powerful!

Let me ask you a question. If you have one apple and I take your apple, how many apples do you have? None, right? If I ask you for another apple, will you be able to give me one? No.
But there was a time, back in the Old Testament, a prophet named Elijah went to live with a widow and her son. He asked her for some water and some bread. This is how she answers.
12 But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
Most of us would hear that and say something like, ‘Oh, sorry. Never mind about the bread.’ But Elijah says, “Hmm, don’t be afraid. Go ahead and cook it up, but could you bring me a piece first?’ I love this. The woman says she is going to die from lack of food and Elijah still asks for the food.
But here’s what happened. She went and did it and the Bible says they had food every day to eat. She would take the last of the flour and the last of the oil, but the next day there would be some more. Imagine I asked for your last apple and then you looked and you had one more. The math doesn’t work.
There’s a story like this in the New Testament, where Jesus wants to feed 5,000 people but only has 5 loaves of bread and two fish. That’s like going to McDonald’s with my family and trying to feed us all with a Happy Meal. It’s not going to happen.
But Jesus does it. He starts handing out bread to the disciples and they start handing it out to the people. Every time they turn around, Jesus has more food for them to pass out. All 5,000 men eat and there are even leftovers.

  • Power over sickness - Jesus heals so many
Part of the reason Jesus came was to bring healing to people. He did this so many times, that sometimes the writers of the Bible just put, ‘Jesus healed many people there’. Because Jesus healed so many, they couldn't provide details each time.
But we do have many stories of Jesus healing people. Sometimes He healed by touching the people. Sometimes they were healed because they touched Jesus. Jesus healed one blind person by spitting in some dirt and making mud and putting it on the guy’s eyes. He healed a deaf guy by giving him a wet willy.
He healed others just by saying the word. But even the disciples would heal people. We can read in the book of Acts about Peter walking around and whoever his shadow would fall on would be healed. Other people were healed by touching the handkerchief of Paul.

  • Power over death
But even better than all this is a story found in John 11. Jesus gets word that one of His close friends was sick. But instead of going right away to help him, Jesus decides to wait a while. This didn’t make sense to people around Him, because they didn’t have great medicine like we do now. But Jesus said this sickness would not end in death.
But Lazarus did die, and then Jesus decides to go for a visit. Everyone is sad and confused, but when Jesus gets there, He decides He doesn’t want Lazarus to be dead, so He raises Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus has power over death. In fact, you might think Jesus has to be alive to work His miracles. But a little while later, Jesus Himself was crucified. No one understood it at the time, but Jesus died in our place.
We’ll talk a little more tomorrow about what this means, but for now, I want you to know that 3 days after they crucified Jesus, He raised Himself from the dead.
That’s power like we have never seen! And even though we have been told this story many times, it seems like a fairy tale to us. Oh, we say we believe it, but imagine for a second that you had a friend die recently. You went to their funeral. You saw them buried.
But a couple of days later, imagine I came up to you and said I saw that same friend walking around the neighborhood. You’d probably look at me like I was crazy and was seeing things. Maybe you’d think I was playing a mean trick.
That’s what some of the disciples of Jesus thought.
But God has that kind of power. God has used that kind of power. And God has given us that kind of power.
God is sharing His power with us, through the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

God is Big!

I'm teaching at a camp this week. But why should my absence leave you lonely out here in the internet wilderness? I'm giving you pieces of my camp talks this week. As you read through them, you can either dream of being at the camp, soaking in extended cuts. Or you can pray that the campers aren't suffering too much. Your choice.

Night One - God is Big!

Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The marvel of this verse is that ‘heavens’ refers to all of the rest of this great big universe. So it is remarkable to think that in verse 1, God would list that He made the great big universe and secondly, the Earth. It is also remarkable that the focus then turns to the Earth and what He does here.
So let’s talk about the earth and the universe it is in. I’ve already mentioned a bit about distances. Let’s talk about the size of the Earth.
The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles. We often think about how big Earth is. After all, we are fitting 7 billion people here. It’s a big planet with many parts still left unexplored and uninhabited. 
And then we get to space...
Most of the stars that populate space are smaller than the Sun, and certain exotic kinds are smaller than Mercury or the Moon. But others are incredibly larger.
Arcturus is about 25 times wider than the Sun.
Rigel is, a "super- giant" 50 times wider that the Sun,
Red supergiants are larger still: Antares is 700 times wider than the Sun.
Yet these monsters, like all stars, are so far away that they appear to us as points with no width at all.
God created the Heavens and the Earth. Solomon was very correct when he said the following:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11.
Stop and smell the roses.
How about considering just how amazing the universe is? When you consider how gravity works, or how the tilt of the Earth at just the right degree, and the way Earth spins and orbits the Sun, it is mind numbing to consider how many mathematical equations have to be just so for life to be able to exist here. If our orbit took us closer we’d burn up, and if it took us farther away we’d freeze. It’s amazing!
In fact, the very existence of our world and our life defies all mathematical calculations of chance. As a noted scientist once illustrated, it would be like numbering 10 pennies, placing them all in your pocket and then pulling them out in numerical order. Pulling out the number 1 penny would only have a 1 in 10 chance. Then to reach in and grab penny #2 would only have a 1 in 100 chance. To do this all the way up to 10? 1 in 10 billion! And yet here is the universe, in all of its splendor.(A Cressy Morrison, Man Does Not Stand Alone, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, pg122)
In all that is beautiful around us, it makes it hard to think anything special of ourselves. Yet, the truth of the next point is that God saved the best for last…in creation that is.
Stop and glance in the mirror
Here is where this gets really awe-inspiring. We have this amazing planet which, as we have seen, is not really all that big in comparison with the rest of the universe. And yet, we have this planet and it is amazing. It is big and wonderful and we are each but one person that takes up space here for 100 years or so. One of 7 billion living now, but compared to the countless lives throughout all of our history, we are but a speck of dust.
And yet, Psalm 139 tells us in detail that God knows about us. Not only is God knowledgeable about us, as if we are just an ant He noticed crawling on the floor, but we’re told He made us. And it was not just a ‘poof’ and there you are type of creation. David uses words like ‘knit together’ and ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. God took time on us. I believe we should remind ourselves what God believes about us; Psalm 139:1-18.  
O Lord, you have examined my heart    and know everything about me.You know when I sit down or stand up.    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.You see me when I travel    and when I rest at home.    You know everything I do.You know what I am going to say    even before I say it, Lord.You go before me and follow me.    You place your hand of blessing on my head.Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,    too great for me to understand!I can never escape from your Spirit!    I can never get away from your presence!If I go up to heaven, you are there;    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.If I ride the wings of the morning,    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,10 even there your hand will guide me,    and your strength will support me.11 I could ask the darkness to hide me    and the light around me to become night—12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.To you the night shines as bright as day.    Darkness and light are the same to you.13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.16 You saw me before I was born.    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.Every moment was laid out    before a single day had passed.17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.    They cannot be numbered!18 I can’t even count them;    they outnumber the grains of sand!And when I wake up,    you are still with me!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Breaking My Own Rules

I'm sure, as a tireless student of my blog, that you have noticed certain thing about my blog here. I don't normally shout out my personal church or denomination. I also tend to stray from the controversial topics that plague our society. One of the reasons is my desire to not be constantly part of the drama. But the bigger reason is my belief that, in most cases, a final answer has not yet been heard. 

Jesus has declared Truth and I believe that is final. But in our world we see so many voices jump to conclusions on one day and then recant the following day. I want to be a level headed voice amidst the noise. 

Having said all that, I'm going to link you to a page by the leaders of the denomination to which I belong. Oh, and they are responding to very current and very controversial issues, namely, the Defense of Marriage. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yeah...I Remember

I remember.

Its a funny thing about memories. We seem to recall what we want to recall. If we have fond memories of a time or place, we forget what was unpleasant. On the other hand, if we do not have fond memories, then nothing good could have possibly happened in relation to said time, person or place. This graphic does a pretty good job of explaining this.

(visit for more of these fun comics.)

I remember my childhood. I grew up in Florida. I remember warm weather, fun vacations, lots of boisterous noise and many hours spent playing outside.

But memories can be tricky. If I'm honest with myself I also remember sunburns. That sun was hot. I remember 40 hours driving in a van to our destination. My parents didn't believe in planes. The boisterous noise may have been, at times, sibling rivalry. Oh, and during one of those hours outside, I was almost kidnapped, though I'm sure they would have brought me back.

Memories, right?

God seems to understand how powerful memories can be. In the Old Testament we see Him telling the Israelites to pile rocks all over the place to remember a big moment in their history. Joshua 4:1-9 is a great example. Over in the New Testament, we read about Jesus telling His disciples to remember Him, by using the Passover meal. This would involve a special holiday with taste and smell, a powerful agent for memories. 

It's hard to imagine any one of the disciples needing a device of any kind to remind them of Jesus. They could have gone back to fishing for the rest of their life. I think they would have remembered that one guy who walked on water and healed leprosy and even raised people from the dead. Those would be difficult things to forget, not to mention that Jesus was about to raise Himself from the dead. 

Yeah, Jesus is kind of memorable. 

But He commanded them. He took bread and wine and told them to keep coming together, to keep eating together and to do so in His name. Taking communion is about remembering. The disciples were told to remember their meals with Jesus. We are told to remember the sacrifice paid.

The Passover was something the Jews did every year. Meeting together was something the Christians did daily. The piles of rocks in the Old Testament were passed more than once. The stories were shared often. 

Even today we share the old, old story. None of us are beyond learning, or relearning, something valuable from a recounting. Memories can fade, but repetition solidifies those things we hold most dear. 

I don't always take to heart the value of ritual in the Church. I could be accused of sometimes going through the motions. Yet there is value in repeating those things which are most beneficial to keep in mind. When it comes to childhood memories, I know certain things have been blurred while others enhanced in my mind. 

Fortunately in the Church, we have the Bible and a community of believers to remind us of what is good. We have leaders to keep pointing to the mission. We have one another to help us retain that which should never be forgotten. 

Yeah....I remember.