Friday, October 31, 2014

JESUS & the Samaritan Woman

This is the next in a series of lessons I am sharing with our preschool kids at church. I love telling stories about Jesus. 

I have a question that is just for the girls. Ladies, have you ever thought that boys just kind of smell funny?

Now I have a question for the boys. Boys, don’t you think girls are just kind of weird?

Well, it is true that boys and girls are different from one another. But can boys and girls still be friends and play together?

I think they can. I have another story about Jesus to share with you and this one involves a cup of water.

Jesus and His friends were travelling from Judea to Galilee. But they didn't have cars back then. And most people didn't have horses to ride on. No bikes or skates either. So when they went somewhere, they had to walk. To get from Judea to Galilee would take 2 & ½ days.

Can you imagine walking for 2 & ½ days? (I think Jesus leading the disciples around would have been similar to a teacher leading a class full of preschoolers.)

It was a lot of walking and they would have been hot…and tired. So they stopped in a place called Samaria. Most of the people Jesus hung around with didn't like the people in Samaria. They were different. They probably thought they smelled kind of funny. But Jesus loves everyone.

So Jesus’ friends went in to buy some cheeseburgers while He waited by a well. (A well was where people got water.) While Jesus was waiting, a woman came out to get water. Jesus asked her for a drink. But this surprised the woman because Jesus was a boy and she was a girl. Plus, Jesus was Jewish and she was from Samaria. She was surprised that Jesus would even talk with her.

But Jesus loves everybody.

Jesus kept talking to this woman and He told her why He was there and what He wanted to talk about. In fact, Jesus was so friendly with this girl that she went and got all her friends and family together to come learn from Jesus.

So Jesus stayed around, making new friends and showing everyone how much God loved them. But it wouldn't have happened if Jesus hadn't been willing to become friends with someone who was different from Him.

God loves all the world. He wants us to love everybody as well. In fact, when we love people, we are showing them that God’s love is for everybody.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Will My Life Not Suck?

Before I go any further, I have to clear one item up. One might assume that any person reading a book titled When Will My Life Not Suck must, in fact, believe that their life currently inhales with great force.

I assure you, this is not the case.

I am very much like a middle school boy and I was drawn to the book because of its blatant use of a word I tend to avoid. What can I say, the immature tendencies still rise up within me.

This book by Ramon Presson has a subtitle; Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned. Nope, I don't feel like I have a bitter taste in my mouth towards life either. Though we should not judge a book by its' cover, I do often find myself sucked in (pun intended) by a title.

I am glad I did. Ramon is a counselor by trade and he has plenty of experience dealing with people who, to be sure, have told him how much their life just isn't what they had hoped for.

He believes a perspective shift is required. Using the book of Philippians, Ramon takes us on a journey of the life and times of the Apostle Paul. When writing the cheery book to the church in Philippi, Paul found himself relaxing deep in the shangri-la of a Roman prison.

He had no hope of escape. He had no end line that wasn't his death. Yet we get such gems from Paul as:

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. ~1:18

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. ~2:17-18

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. ~3:7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! ~4:4

Yeah, Paul rejoices through the whole letter with no tangents for complaints. So Ramon takes us through how we can do the same thing in our own lives. Here are a couple of my highlights.

On living like Paul;
I’m totally on board with Paul’s first two desires: knowing Christ and experiencing his power—that sounds like great stuff. But what about number three, the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings? Are you kidding me? What kind of present on your Christmas wish list is that?

On dealing with the bad stuff;
I have discovered in my years of counseling that most people can endure almost anything if they are assured of at least one of two things: 1) they are loved or 2) the current situation or condition is temporary and will either improve or completely pass.

On what to do after the bad stuff happens;
It’s not wrong to ask why, but don’t stake your happiness or your faithfulness on getting a satisfactory answer. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shifts the question from why to what next. The people’s implied question is both past tense (why did that happen?) and pointed outward, away from the speaker (why did that happen to them?). Jesus asks a more immediate and personal question: How are you going to live now?

On helping others with their baggage;
My clients often hear this phrase from me: “Yes, your concern is valid and your pain is true. But it’s not the only truth.”

In the end Ramon reminds us that if we truly feel our lives are not what they could be or should be, then we have to make some difficult decisions about how our lives can be different.

One step for you could be checking out this book.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What's Important?

atheist, god, god loves you, love, religion

God says He is not willing that any should perish. (See Matthew 18:14.)
Meanwhile we argue over who makes it or not. 
You tell me who's thinking with their heart?

Let me say right from the start that this isn't about inclusion. I don't know whether to thank my generation, my parents, my pastors or my God-given brain, but I live in a world of absolutes. There is truth. There is black and white. Words have definitions, no matter how uneasy I may be with any of them. 

Politicians, musicians, actors and reality shows can say whatever they want to fit their own personal agendas, but I was raised in the belief that God is God and it's okay that I don't always understand Him. In fact, why would I want to change my life around someone who I perfectly understand. (My wife would be another great example. I mean that in a good way.)

I make it my goal to know God as much as I can. I want to achieve a closer relationship with Him than I have today. That means jumping headlong into the Bible, where I read that "God so loved the world..." (John 3:16) and that "all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life" (John 6:40). 

I'm as prone as the next guy to wonder about certain people who say one thing but act another. I have questions about how it works...exactly.

But I'm not sure that's my problem to solve, as if Someone better hasn't already taken care of these details. So I return to my introduction. 

God says He is not willing that any should perish. (See Matthew 18:14.)
Meanwhile we argue over who makes it or not. 
You tell me who's thinking with their heart?

Maybe I'd feel better about how I spent my time if I just accepted that God wants everyone. Maybe I'd have a much cleaner conscience if I simply loved everybody the way Jesus asked me to. 

I understand that even Jesus warned us that not everybody who spoke the same language actually meant the same thing. I get that sheep will be separated from goats. (See Matthew 25.) It's pretty scary stuff when we stop to think about it. But I don't recall where Jesus asked me to sit in the judgment seat. 

So, where's your heart at?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stuff You Should Know About Stuff

I was recently given a review copy of Stuff You Should Know About Stuff: How to Properly Behave in Certain Situations. I was selected to be part of the launch team by my friends Tripp and Tyler, though referring to people I've never met as friends is one of the things I learned not to do while reading their book. I guess application comes next.

Nevertheless, Tripp and Tyler have come up with what I would call the Seinfeld series of books. They are saying future anthropologists will call it the Rosetta Stone of how to handle the mundane in life. They might be right.

It's a comical look at how people behave everywhere from bathrooms to airplanes, though I might have missed any comments about airplane bathrooms. Mostly clean, I might have shared this with my children, except for the unnecessary foul language which cropped up randomly and meaninglessly. (Seriously, I feel like a broken record when it comes to this issue in books.)

Sometimes mean, mostly sarcastic, I wouldn't want anyone to take this as a serious guide to living life, but with plenty of crazy references to things that will make you chuckle, this book is worth checking out. I personally enjoy things like this, where people take obvious or mundane and comment on the silliness that is our daily lives.

I wasn't really paying attention to how far I'd gotten in the book (I was reading it on my Kindle Fire) and I let out a disappointed 'oh' when I got to the end of the book. So, if you want to be as deftly able to handle awkward handshakes and how not to be 'that guy', you should probably check this book out. It's stuff you should know...about stuff.

Here are some links if you'd like to check it out.

How to Properly...  #stuffbook

Monday, October 13, 2014

Who Cares Who is Against Us?

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. ~Romans 8:31-34

In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful scriptures that we seldom take to heart. That's right. There are many great truths in the Bible. Many we ignore, others we choose not to obey and some we don't yet understand. But Romans 8:31-34 is simple for us to comprehend, something we've likely heard in a worship setting (probably before a power anthem), and not difficult to obey. Yet we don't live out the implications of this truth.

Who is he that accuses? You can almost hear Paul pause, as if he were preaching this to a crowd. Who dares accuse us? I imagine he would pause and look around. He would be waiting for a name. Looking for a hand. He would do so with an aggressive stance, as if to say, 'I swear if anyone calls out a name or raises their hand to disagree with this point, I will fong you in front of this crowd to make an example out of you.' Or maybe that's just what I'd be thinking, knowing that some teen would take this powerful point and joke about it.

See Paul is referencing God being for us. Let me repeat that in case you are not accustomed to hearing such things. God is for us.

God is for us.

So who is it that would accuse us? Now I imagine Paul scoffing. Because what name can you possibly come up with that will cause people to nod their heads and sigh, as if knowing this name would be more worthy of telling us who we are. Telling us what we are worthy of. More knowing than God.

Who is he who accuses? There is no one I know. There is no one you can think of. No such person exists, no matter how well they know you. No matter what position they hold. No matter what power they wield.

Who then will condemn us? Paul pauses one last time to make his point very clear. Then he answers his own question. No one will condemn us. "No one - for Christ Jesus..." And honestly he could have stopped with the name. This name, that we should know to be above every other name (Philippians 2:9). This name alone should convince us that when Jesus is for us, it does not matter who is against us. But Paul qualifies his statement by describing Jesus as the One who died for us. The One who raised Himself from the dead for us. The One who is sitting in the seat of awesome right now. The One who is, right now, pleading on our behalf. He is defining us to God the Father.

God is for us. Who dares say otherwise?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Picking Out a Job at Age 10 is a Bad Idea

My teenager hates math. Don't get me wrong, she's smart and can handle the honors level class she's in, most days. After all, I'm not raisin' no dummies!

But there are days when she comes home with lots of math homework. Not just lots, but difficult stuff with equations and letters. It's stuff I haven't used since...well...since I was in these math classes. To top it all off, we usually get the most homework when our family has other plans. How do the teachers know?

Without fail, my daughter will say what everyone besides scientists and engineers have always said. 'I'll never need this stuff in the real world!' It is hard to justify algebra for keeping your checkbook balanced. Though I have started telling her she has to go to bed at x = 2(1+1) + (10-5). Solve for x and get around for bed, sweetheart!

But the fact is she doesn't yet know what she'll need for her future career. Sure, she doesn't think NASA will be in her future, but neither did Bruce Willis is that space documentary, Armageddon

It got me thinking that it's probably a good idea that we don't choose our careers when we are 10. 

1. For starters, every boy would be playing some professional sport. 
2. There would be no one to teach, because kids can't fathom forcing their kids to go to prison school 8 hours a day.
3. Who would go see concerts, since we would have an overflow of rock-n-roll stars?
4. Oh, and who is watching TV, since we'd have so many actors and actresses?
5. I don't even want to consider what happens to any career that involves a suit and tie. 

See, life is better when we have some more time to consider what we want to do. See, it just adds up. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ministry Monday: Teaching Prayer

I am teaching a series on prayer to my youth group this month. Here's part of what I said to them.

I want you to know God even better than I know my wife. 

Let me tell you what happened the other night. She had a phone call the other day that didn't go well. Once she gave me some details of what happened, I told her why she was upset. 

That sounds weird, like why didn't I let her just talk? Seriously Pastor, you don't get enough time to talk? Now you tell other people what they're thinking and feeling? Do you have any useful superpowers?

I wanted her to know how much I understood her. After 18 years of marriage, I wanted her to get that when there is no one else in this world who gets her, I get her. I understand. 

Whether or not I actually received any awesome husband points, I don't know. Not that I'm worried about that kind of thing. Having someone who you know understands is important. On top of that, having someone you know cares is something we don't do well without. 

With God, we have both. 

             God knows you. 

                          God hears you.
                                     God understands you.

And God cares....about you.

Friday, October 3, 2014

JESUS & His Friends

This is the next part of a series of lessons I'm doing with preschoolers. For this one, I showed them an old phone. When you hear 'old phone', you might assume I mean the original iPhone. But no, this bad boy had a cord, something which used to be the norm. They looked at me as if I was from another world.

~Does it have any apps? No.
~Does it have any games? No.
~Can it talk to you like my mom's phone? No, but my mom used phones like this.

How many of you have seen a phone that was attached to a wall? When I was a kid, all of our phones were attached to walls. They had cords that kept them in place. If you wanted to use a phone, you had to stay in one place. When I wanted to talk to my friends, I would have to stay in one place as I talked to them.

In the Bible, we read stories of Jesus ‘calling’ His friends. Do you think He used a phone? Nope. They didn't even have phones back then. Maybe Jesus had to use two cans and some string? Nope.

When it says Jesus ‘called’ His friends, it meant that Jesus was asking His friends to come and be a part of what He was doing. Some of His friends were fishermen, but Jesus said they would come and fish for men. Doesn't that sound funny? To fish for people?He wanted to tell people about how much God loved them. The best way to do that was to get a bunch of friends who wanted to do the same thing.

How many of you have ever played a game by yourself? Some games can be played all by yourself, but the best games are games played with friends. Jesus wanted some friends to come along with Him and show the world how much God loves everybody.

Jesus valued friendships. He said friends should be willing to do stuff for one another. (serve, love, give, etc.)

I want to encourage you to be a good friend. Be someone who others like to play with, someone who others want to meet. Jesus wants us to be good friends because He loves everybody, just like He said in John 3:16. Let’s practice our verse again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What You Don't Know is Better than What You Think You Know

Luke 8:40-56

They knew she was dead. They knew it!

There was this guy that lived a long time ago. He did things. He did amazing things. And he spoke truth. But the truth was so amazing, people had a hard time believing it. They didn't accept it, or didn't want to accept it. 

But he would do these amazing things anyway. He would do them for free. So word began to spread and people began to call him for help, hoping he would do something amazing for them. 

One such time these parents had a young girl who was dying, so they called this guy. He agreed to come, but as you might imagine, people who can do amazing things often get stopped and distracted by other people who need amazing things done. 

And that happened. He got stopped. By another woman who was in need. She'd been bleeding. Actually she'd been bleeding for a long time. This was in a day and age before reliable healthcare. It was also a day before health insurance. (You can decide what has been gained.)

She came up and distracted this guy who did amazing things. And an amazing thing happened. She stopped bleeding. He didn't apply a band-aid. He didn't need to. He just did amazing things. 

Unfortunately for the parents of the young sick girl, the little girl died while the amazing guy was busy doing amazing things. But when the amazing guy heard this, he told the dad not to worry about it. He wasn't being insensitive, he simply had an amazing plan. 

The only problem was the girl was dead. They knew she was dead. 

The guy who amazed said she was only asleep, not dead. But they laughed at him, because of what they knew

So he decided to do something amazing. He took the girl, whom they knew was dead, and told her to get up. And then an amazing thing happened.

She did. 

They knew she was dead. They knew it!

But Jesus, more than just a guy who did amazing things, changed what they knew. It's as if He said, "Is that what you know? You know too much. Here's what I KNOW!" 

He does not depend on our time schedule. He does not require our perspective. He has no need of our knowledge. After all, He is aware that our lust for knowledge got us into the sin-predicament that He fixed. 

Jesus never seemed to bothered by keeping a schedule. Didn't He make last-minute plans to come to dinner with Zacchaeus? Didn't He linger while Lazarus lay dying...then dead? Didn't he discourage Martha from concerning herself over when dinner would be served?

We worry so much over knowing what needs to be done and when. Believe me, I am in the same boat. But perhaps it is time we acknowledge what we don't know. Maybe we should spend more time in awe of what we don't know. After all, if we trust Jesus, then we can know He will do amazing things.