Monday, April 25, 2016

It's Not Going To Come To That

It's not going to come to that.

That's what I told myself. I would turn out to be incorrect.

I have been wrong plenty of times in my life, but in this particular instance, I was travelling south on I-65 with my family. We left northern Indiana for the middle of Tennessee, telling ourselves we would stop when we were a) close to Murfreesboro and b) tired of driving for the day.

Having run into several traffic jams and being reasonably close to fulfilling both a and b of our requirements, my wife started to search for hotels on her phone. Her search turned into despair quickly as we realized that apparently everyone in the Midwest decided to travel south in I-65 on the same day. A few phone calls revealed there were no vacancies within 50 miles of where we were.

At this point, we had reached Murfreesboro. I went into the last few hotels around, only to be told, "Sorry, we have no more room in the inn." It was like being told, "Welcome to your new life as a travelling hobo." The deep and anxious thought, the one I told myself would not come to reality, was about to become our reality.

My family slept in our van. We found a truck stop designed for this kind of thing, found a parking spot and, chuckling to ourselves, renamed our van the Red Van Inn.

Given the fact that sleeping in the driver's seat does not offer great comfort, I had plenty of time to think about what had caused this turn of events. Sure, it was our choice not to book ahead on a planned stop. I can own that. But hours before, I had prayed for God to take care of us. Did I now think God hadn't answered my prayer?

Interestingly enough, I have been finishing a book called Astonished: Recapturing the Wonder, Awe and Mystery of Life With God by Mike Erre. When discussing Jesus' words encouraging us to be like the birds of the air and the grass of the field when it comes to worrying about God taking care of us, he wrote;

Many have succumbed to the lie that if we follow Jesus, everything will be okay; and we define okay as comfort, security, and safety. Obviously that is not the biblical testimony. What do we do when we follow Him and it doesn't work out the way we planned? Where else are we going to go?

Clearly this applies to matters of greater concern than where I sleep for one night. Mike then reminds us those birds Jesus talked about would often be used in sacrifice. And the grass? It's "here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire" (Matthew 6:30).

I don't think the point is about the security of birds and flowers. The point is the carefree-ness of the birds and flowers. They don't worry about being taken care of. They live fully because they don't fret about their dying.

Half sleeping in my van that night, the truth was that I still had plenty for which to be thankful to God. He may not have answered my prayer in the way I would have preferred, but God did not stop caring for my family that night. Aside from remembering to book hotels ahead of time, I am left wondering what else God may have wanted to teach me from this experience. I know that I want to stay fervently alert and pay attention to all God has for me.

One last quote from Mike Erre's book, though not his, leaves this desire firmly planted in my heart.

Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in the God idea, not God himself. ~Miguel de Unamuno

Monday, April 18, 2016

God vs BAE

If someone were to make a realistic movie based on the book of Judges, no responsible parent would let their teens see it.

That's how I started my discussion with my youth group last night. We looked at the life of Samson, a guy with such anger issues, he makes the Incredible Hulk seem rather friendly and docile by comparison,

And let me just say how much fun it can be to introduce teens who clearly only think they know the Bible stories. Just telling the story of Samson left so many shocked looks on their faces, and his story is only 4 chapters long. Judges 13-16 if you want to read it yourself.

I told the teens over and over again how we all have to make a choice. God vs BAE. For those of you wondering what BAE means, it's slang for before anyone else. We're discussing how each of us has to make a choice to put God before everyone, including the crush and the guy and the date and, yes, even the spouse.

BAE gives you a narrow focus where you only have energy for BAE.
God gives you a broader focus where you can properly love all people.

So we examined the life of Samson, a man chosen by God. Sadly, Samson chose to focus on BAE for most of his life, even if it mostly meant avenging his imagined slights.

Here were the application points I gave them;

  1. If BAE keeps you from coming to church/youth group/etc, BAE has become an idol.
  2. If BAE narrows your focus so you don't think about anyone or anthing else, BAE has become an idol.
  3. If BAE wants you to have sex or do anything that you wouldn't normally do in front of your parents or youth pastor, BAE has become a sin. 
  4. If you lose your BAE and you slaughter whole towns of people, then you have probably learned the wrong things from the life of Samson. And BAE has become an idol. 
Don't choose BAE over God. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hey Nashville, Who Is Your Neighbor?

Jesus tells this story of a guy who gets beat up along the road to Jerusalem. Maybe you have heard the story. In case you haven't ever heard the story, here it is in a nutshell.  guy gets beat up and left for dead. Then, as Jesus tells it, 3 people pass along this road. Two of them claimed to be followers of God, leaders even, and they saw him and just kept walking. The third guy, a Samaritan, came along and helped the man. 

Maybe you know the point Jesus is trying to make. I have heard, and even taught, many lessons distinguishing those who think they are religious from those who actually practice loving their neighbor. 

But do you know what led to the guy getting beat up? What if the guy who got beat up made a poor choice that led to his downfall? Does that change how we see the situation? Do we at least understand how otherwise religious people might do nothing?

See, it started out with my van getting towed, while I was in a restaurant, in another city, in another state. Nashville, Tennessee, I'm looking at you. Actually, it started out with my not seeing the sign that said my van would get towed if I parked where I did. But if you're going to judge me for that, there's probably better blogs for you to read out there.

So my family is now without a vehicle in a place that is not home. We are clearly in need of help. The, the company that towed my van, were clearly not going to be of any help. They don't care how I get to their place to pay a high fine and get my van back.  

Finding the place on my phone, we discover the place looks to be within walking distance. For all of you biting your nails, I will tell you wasn't. But we started walking. In a strange city. With no signs of help.

We walked about a mile and a half before realizing some of the path was going to take us along highways. You know, the kind with lots of speeding cars. So we walked to a gas station where we saw a bus, with nobody on it. When I explained my situation to the driver, he explained that he could not transport non-government workers. If we're connecting stories here, he was the Levite who saw the beat up man and decided to cross to the other side of the road.

Then I looked up the bus company. When telling them where I was, they told me there was a bus stop right across the street. There was only a vacant lot. But because they were looking at a map, they must have been correct. Then there were the taxi cab companies that don't answer their phones. Yes, multiple companies.  

With time running out and options being few, I led my family along a part of the highway that no father would consider, had we not been desperate for solutions. We actually had a guy pass us by and yell at me to get my kids off the highway, as if that is the place I wanted to be with my kids. 

Keep in mind, the guy who got beat up in the story Jesus told didn't choose to get beat up. He needed a neighbor. Who is your neighbor?

I did make one obvious bad choice. Walking along a major highway. Again, you can judge me if you want, but you might be missing my point. We see people make bad choices all the time. Oftentimes we can even properly label it sin. But what caused the person to make that choice? I was walking along a major highway, because I felt like all my other reasonable options had been exhausted. 

As Christians, we can only yell at people to stop making bad choices for so long before we become part of a system that leaves them feeling stuck in their bad choices.  

So now I found my family in a grassy area, stuck near the on ramp of a major highway. I actually dialed 911, because who else was going to help me at this point. The officer gave me a non-emergency number to call, which, of course, didn't work.

So, who was my neighbor? It was Michael Hall, this singer in the band Levon the Music who happened along in his conversion van. I can only imagine how the beat up man in Jesus' story felt. I have wondered what he thought, knowing a Samaritan had paid for his expenses while he was unable to help himself. I don't imagine they ever ran into each other again. 

I may never run into the band Levon the Music again. I'm not much of a country fan, though I did look them up and found a trio with some pretty sweet harmonies. (You should check them out as well!) But he was a neighbor when I needed one most desperately. 

Is there someone out there you can help? You may not ever know what led them to were they are, but does that stop them from being your neighbor?

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Man Named Man

Acts 13 lists a guy by the name of Manaen and we are told he was a childhood friend of a Herod who would be King. Manaen is listed in Acts 13 among the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. If these two facts combined don’t raise some eyebrows, then maybe you’re not familiar with the name Herod.

From the Bible, we’re not given anything more about the life of Manaen. He was a leader in church and he used to play tag with Herod, who was decidedly not a leader of the church.

Can you imagine the background of Manaen? Did he go over to play at Herod’s house? What was that like? What did he overhear? Did he know about some baby Messiah? Were there rumors?

What did this guy grow up believing about the world? About Judaism? About John the Baptist? About Jesus?

Using other ancient texts, some believe Manaen’s family and Herod’s family had been connected for a few generations. Manaen was likely educated by private tutors along with Herod and his brother. What brought him around to become a believer in the book of Acts? Now he’s a leader of the Church?

I’ll likely not hear the many details of this man’s story until Heaven. What we do know is Manaen had a story that somehow led him from childhood friend of Herod to follower of Jesus.

Have you ever considered how much we don’t know about one another? Ever wonder about the highs and lows of each person…each week? Are the smiles pasted on for a Sunday show? What are the current struggles and pain for those with whom we share a pew?

Better yet, what are the past stories? How often have you wondered about how each person came to know Jesus? Were they born into a Christian family? Or were they born into a family that never even considered church?

If we’re not paying attention, Manaen is little more than a weird name tucked away in the New Testament. He may not have been significant enough to have his story in print. Yet he was a guy, with a family, a job, hobbies and a passion for Jesus. His life did have significance. He did impact people around him, even if we don’t get to know their stories either.

How differently would we act towards one another when we gathered if we thought more about this? I sometimes imagine Heaven lasts forever because it will be an eternal party with each of us sharing stories that all begin with, ‘Let me tell you how I came to know about Jesus.’