Sunday, May 30, 2010
Football was a collision sport. You just didn’t touch each other, you HIT each other. That was part of what was so fun about football. It was violent. It is part of what I loved about playing football. It is part of what I still love about watching football. There is nothing like watching a pancake block or a slobber-knocking tackle when you are watching people play the sport of football. It is part of why we all come.
Another thing they taught us, which is much more applicable to the Scripture we are looking at right now, is that the surest way to get hurt was to give a half-hearted effort. You want to be hurt when someone tackles you? You start jogging a long and just goofing off and have some guy come at you full speed and knock you down. That is the surest way to sustain and injury. You go full speed and the guy comes at you full speed at you, you have a chance of hopping right up from that collision. You sit on the sidelines and nobody will come close to hurting you. But give a half-hearted effort on the field of play in a collision sport and you will find yourself with an ice bag around your knee and you will be asking everyone what day of the week it is.
This lesson from football can teach us a lot. Half-hearted faith is toxic to the church, and toxic to your soul. Half-hearted faith is condemned in this passage.
Jesus makes it very clear to the people in Laodecia. Be hot, be on fire for God if you will, and stand for everything that is true and right, and stand strong for Jesus. Or, be cold. Be uninvolved. Don’t care and don’t say you care. But do not be half-hearted about the gospel of Christ! Do not just float along. Don’t think you will be pleasing God by giving him just enough of your time, just enough of your energy, just enough of your heart. Give him your whole heart, or
give him nothing at all!
These are pretty stern words. This is pretty hard to hear really. I mean who can be on fire for Jesus all the time really? Who can really be THAT passionate?
It is always telling in these letters to the churches how Jesus defines himself to the churches. In this particular passage he calls himself the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, and the Beginning in the Creation of God. Each speaks to his faithful intent to humanity. He is one whose word can be trusted. Who is the beginning and the End. The one who speaks the first word and who has the last word. He is worthy of our praise. He is worthy of our trust. He is worthy to base our life upon. ALL OF OUR LIFE UPON.
Jesus goes on to tell us that this church is rather comfortable. They are rather cozy in their lifestyle. They tell everyone they are wealthy. They have it all together. But from God’s perspective they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.
This is a very confident and self-assured church, this church in Laodacea. A church that has a congregation. A church that gathers regularly and gives generously. But the church in Laodecia is a church that seems to have outgrown its need for Jesus. At least in their own mind. Because of their security and their material well-being. Jesus is an add-on to the life of the lukewarm church, not at the center of their lives.
Certainly this warning of half-heartedness is not exclusive to this church and this time. Jesus said something similar when he said, “You cannot serve two masters, for either you will love one and hate the other, or hate one and love the other, you cannot serve both God and mammon.” Jesus’ brother James said something similar when he talked about people who were “double-minded”.
Believers in Jesus have always been tempted to be half-hearted, double-minded, lukewarm Christians that serve two masters. We have always preferred comfort over faithfulness, popularity over piety. We have always preferred to make Jesus a part of our life, but not let him be Lord over all over our life. We have always preferred to offer our prayers when all of our life is out of our control, instead of praying for the Lord to take control of our life. And then we wonder why our faith seems so powerless and why the church seems to have so little impact on our nation and our culture in the present day.
We would do well to remember the saints that came before us. Prophets who were killed. Martyrs who refused to worship the emporer. Reformers who refused to repudiate solid Biblical teaching. People who did not see faith in Jesus as part of their life, but as the way the truth and the life itself.
We would do well to remember our forefathers and foremothers, who in spite of their foibles and failures at certain points had the courage to live their faith wholeheartedly and courageously. People who were so committed to their faith that they set out to make a home in a strange land rather than compromise their convictions in Europe. There were the puritans that faced death on sea, and starvation in the Massachusetts colony. There were the Baptists who were jailed in England and whipped in Massachussets until they found a home in Rhode Island. There were Quakers who stood for peace through the many wars in the new land, and who stood against slavery even when it cost them everything. There were abolitionists who stood against slavery in the name of Jesus. Sufferagists who fought for the right for women to vote because they believed men and women were both made in the image of God. Civil rights leaders in the last century who believed that nonviolent protest was better than violent uprising for civil rights because they believed that they should live the commands of loving our neighbor and the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount in order to effect change.
When I look at some of those saints of old, and I look at our “me first”, let me do what I feel, God is here to make me wealthy, I go to church to help me feel good kind of Christianity, I only want to sing my favorite kind of music in church or I won’t go kind of Christianity and it is no wonder the lukewarm church made God want to puke. It kind of makes me want to do the same once in a while.
I have three questions to ask you that will help you determine where you are at and where we are at. Examine your heart. See if you sense that your are lukewarm in your faith, or passionately committed.
1. Are you just a FAN of Jesus, or are you his follower?
Jesus does not need a fan club. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Jesus does not need us in the stands, choosing when to clap and when to boo. Jesus needs us in the game. In the midst of the game, in the middle of the battle. He needs us taking the truth of God to the field of life. Christianity is less about giving intellectual assent to a series of ideas, it is more about living those truths in every moment of our lives.
There are plenty of people who say they believe in Jesus because they agree with his ideas, but the way of Jesus is not shown in their life’s journey. These are the folks display the Bible in a prominent place in their house, but they don’t let the Bible into their heart. They have “God so loved the world” on their bathroom wall, but the minute they are unforgiving and short-tempered with their family, have alienated all their friends, and have fueds with their neighbors. They talk about the importance of sharing the name of Jesus with those who don’t know him, but the only time the name of Christ comes out of their name among their friends is as a curse word. They feel comfortable with the facts about Jesus, but they don’t surrender their lives to his lordship and mission.. They like Jesus, but they don’t live Jesus. They are fans of Jesus, but not his followers
2. Are you living a life of comfort or of dependence on Christ?
We don’t like the world dependence. We like to be independent. Self-sufficient. Yet the Scripture over and over again shows us that we need to live our lives depending on his grace and his provision for us.
The Laodicean church was comfortable. They had their toys. The stuff they wanted. Yet, they were wretched, naked, poor. Why? Because they trusted in the wrong stuff. They chose safety and ease and comfort over a complete dependence on Jesus.
If we are not careful, we can be the same way. We can choose the comfort of what we know and feel safe with over the call of Christ in our day to day lives.
We can know that we are supposed to talk to that stranger, but never do it. We can know we are supposed to give that gift to someone in need, but hold on to what we have for the rainy day ahead. We do these things because we are afraid to put ourselves in a place of dependence on God. We would rather try and control things.
The Scripture is full of people who took risks and completely depended on God. Abraham trusted God to lead him to a new land. Moses trusted God to lead him and his people out of Egypt. Paul and Silas trusted God to provide for their needs as they went from strange town to strange town to share about the good news of Jesus.
3. Do you want to do all you can for Christ and his kingdom, or you want to do “just enough” to be a good Christian
We are funny creatures. Christ sets the world before us, and tells us the harvest is much but the workers are few. Then we try to look for the least we can do to somehow make him happy or get his approval, or more likely the approval of others.
We spend time trying to figure out if when we tithe we should give on the gross or the net, and then we give10 percent to the penny. Or less if we think we can get away with it. We impress ourselves doing just enough Bible study. Of showing up to church just enough to consider ourselves good Christians. We believe we should wait for sex until marriage, but instead of asking ourselves how pure we could be, we ask how far is too far to go physically.
We treat God like an obligation instead of loving him. We want to spend just enough time with him to appease him, give just enough to keep him off our backs, obey him in a way where we can give him just enough of our lives instead of all our lives.
God wants us to love him passionately, devote ourselves to Him completely, trust Him implicitly, offering Him our total allegiance. And we settle for an hour on Sunday like we are punching a clock at work and expect him to be impressed.
He stepped down from the platform in that church. He came and sat with his family in the pew in the front of the sanctuary. He sat down, and within a minute he fell over and died. Right there in the church. His name was Stan.
His wife and children were grieving. But they were so proud of him. His son was excited as Francis came to the door. Did you hear what my dad did? He died doing what he loved! Telling others about Jesus! Francis Chan said about this man, “One minute Stan Gurlach was saying to the crowd “This is who Jesus is!” and the next moment he was in heaven and he was hearing Jesus saying “This is who Stan Gurlach is!”
Friends, I hope to live to grow old with my life and see my daughter grow. There is so much I love about my life right now! But if I die today, the one thing I hope nobody ever says was that I was a half-hearted Christian. I may be a fat, slow-witted fella that is a little spacy and stumbles over his words a little too much, but I hope you will see how much I love my Jesus. I hope you would talk about how passionate I was about how Jesus loves each of us, no matter who we are and what we have done. I pray that even though you may talk about the Hawaiian shirts I like to wear, you will also talk about how I was passionate about taking our faith beyond the four walls of our church into tangible service in our community. I pray that you will talk about my love for Jesus spilled into how I treated my wife, my baby, my momma and each one of you. You may talk about how you disagreed with some things I have said or done. But I hope and pray you will never call me a lukewarm Christian.
And I hope nobody will say that of you either. Because, I don’t think there is anything more tragic than a half-hearted Christian.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
There are two or three publishers that allow me to review books for them. Thomas Nelson and their Booksneeze program is probably my favorite to review for. Tyndale does some creative stuff sometimes, and I like reviewing for them. I also review stuff for Bethany House Publishers at times, although those books have a higher percentage of fiction to read than non-fiction.
I have also been reviewing books for a couple of websites that get advanced reviewer copies. I enjoy reading these books as well. The two review coordinators could not be more different. One website is slow to load and clunky, and to be honest visually unappealing. It is hard to figure out the purpose of what the editor of this site wants. She wants a shorter review. She does not want summarization, but wants you set the scene for the book. She wants some editorial content, but none that is too disparaging of the book. One review I wrote is not using the active voice enough. The next book she thinks I said to much about the content of the book. The next, there is another criticism. She gives lots of feedback.
This feedback is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it makes me a better writer. I get to learn to write more succinctly. Conversely, although some of the criticism is helpful, some of it is rather picky. It makes me nervous everytime I write my review (for which my only compensation is the free book).
The second website a short sheet with clear guidelines that seem easy to follow. The writing demands seem to fit my style. The editor seems pleased with my writing. And the website itself is nicer, cleaner, and much faster. The other day, she sent me a list of available books and asked me which one she wanted me to review. It is fun to review for an editor like this. And much better for my self esteem. The critical comments of the other reviewer come to mind when I review for site #2, which helps me in my writing even more.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's|
Sunday, May 23, 2010
CHURCH OF THE OPEN DOOR
7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write,
'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, andshuts and no one opens":[ c]
8 "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it;[ d] for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 Behold,[e] I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
13 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'Sermon
There are some things in life that you know are important. Things like food and shelter. Blessings like friends and family.
Then there are those things that you have and use every day that you take for granted that are also important. One of those things that are important that we often dismiss is a door.
Each of you has a picture of a threshold. By a threshold I mean a gate or a doorway or something like that. I want to look at the pictures. Some of you will look at your picture and it will just make you shrug. Others of you will see a beautiful picture that touches you and you don't know why. A lot of times doors speak to us for a number of different reasons. If your picture of a door speaks to you for any reason, I encourage you to keep you picture, look at it during the sermon, take it with you to remind you about what we learned today. If you don't care, just set the picture on the back table when you leave.
In ancient thought, thresholds like doors and gates had great spiritual significance. When you look at the design of the temple and the tabernacle in ancient Israel, it is designed with a series of thresholds as you go further into the structure. Each one only allowed certain people in it at certain times. By the time you get to the holy of holies, one priest was able to enter the room once a year.
When you walked through a door or a gate, you in many ways walked from one reality to another. There was a reason that the Lord commanded ancient Jews to post Scriptures on their doorposts as they went in and went out of their homes. They wanted them to take the Word of God and the presence of God with them as they moved through every passageway—into each new world and each new place that they entered.
Think about it. When a couple leaves their parent's homes or their individual homes and moves into their own homes, the husband often traditionally carries his spouse across the threshold. That is because the life they had before has changed forever once they walk through that door together.
You stand in a doorway from the outside, and you really never know what is going on from the other side of the door. A door, a gate, a passageway is a boundary that can keep secrets, hold power, provide safety, and insight fear in people.
Sometimes we talk about things we should do "behind closed doors" because what we talk about in those moments is not for everyone to hear. We talk about encountering a closed door that we cannot get through. We talk about opportunities that we missed or are unavailable to us as closed doors.
Jesus talked a lot about doors, gates, and thresholds. He commands his followers to ask, seek and KNOCK, as in knocking on a door. He tells stories of widows knocking at the door of a judge until the judge give the woman the justice that she deserves. Jesus encourages us to pursue what we want in prayer with the same kind of urgency.
At one point Jesus refers to Himself as a gate. He says that if people want to find salvation and get to the Heavenly Father, they need to go through him.
Similarly, when we get to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus says that he is the one that has the keys to the kingdom. What he locks, nobody can open. What he opens, nobody can shut. Then he says something rather amazing to the people at that church. He says that he has set before the church in Philadelphia an open door. And that open door nobody could shut.
Whereas the church we discussed last week had no good thing, no encouraging word said to it, the church in Philadelphia had no word of condemnation delivered to it.
The church in Philadelphia has been faithful. They have endured. They have kept God's Word. They have not denied his name. Even in the face of persecution. Even when they have been beaten down to the point where they only have a little strength left, they have remained true to their faith. Jesus promises to remain true to this church.
Philadelphia is a small town compared to the others. It is most likely a small church. A struggling church. Yet, at this time and in this moment, Jesus promises an open door that nobody can shut is set before them.
What does it mean to have an open door set before you? How does that speak to you to have an open door in front of you?
Have you ever known someone who had an open door policy, or whose home was always an open door? When we hear about someone having an open door we think about someone who is friendly, honest, and transparent. We think about someone who is honest and true. With someone who is hospitable. Who is willing to talk and willing to listen. Certainly this is true of Jesus. The beginning of the letter talks about Jesus being true, doesn't it? So when we hear Jesus offering us an open door, we should think about the accessibility we have to him. But when he says, "I set before you an open door" Jesus is saying much, much more than that.
Three times in his epistles the apostle Paul uses the phrase of a "door being opened". Each time is speaks of an opportunity that Paul has that Paul either wants to take advantage of or is in the process of taking advantage of. We know this about open doors, don't we?
Have you ever been in a situation where you are seeking God's will, and you ask God to open doors of opportunity to show you what to do or where to go next? I have. When I seek to discern whether God calls me to go somewhere I ask God to open doors that I know that I must walk through.
Have you ever had a moment that you had an opportunity that you did not expect, and you knew that the opportunity was a God thing, a divine appointment? Maybe it was a moment when you received a special blessing. Maybe it was when you accepted Christ. Or perhaps it was when you walked through the doors of this church. And you knew…you just knew…God had put a chance in front of you that you could not resist. An open door.
Specifically, when the apostle Paul talks about having an open door before him he is talking about having an opportunity to do some sort of ministry, especially the kind of ministry that reaches people for Christ. I don't know about you, but when I pray for the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life for Christ and in his kingdom I pray for open doors in their heart. I pray for opportunities to reach them and share with them.
Jesus says that the church in Philadelphia has an open door that it set before them. A big part of what he is saying is that this church has an opportunity or opportunities were set before them as a church. The church in Philadelphia may have been a small church that was struggling to keep going in their small community, but they still had an open door before them. They still had opportunities for ministry. They had opportunities to reach their community where the church was planted. They may not feel like they have a lot of strength left, but they stood on the verge of something new. Jesus was giving them an opportunity to walk through another door. And once they claimed that opportunity, their reality would be different and unexpected blessings would follow.
Many of you have an open door set before you in your life. You have not chosen to accept Christ. You have heard about Him, but you have ignored him and pushed him away. Today you have an open door before you. Will you walk through it?
Others of you have an open door before you to be baptized and join our church. You have thought…maybe tomorrow. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Today you have an open door set before you.
As a church we have opportunities set before us as well. We have an open door to be THE open door that points others to Jesus. There are folks that are scared to ever set foot in a church like ours, scared that it might fall in on itself if they set foot inside our building.
We have chosen in our last church business meeting to find ways to open our doors wider to those who need to experience the love and the power of Jesus in their lives. We have chosen to focus on finding ways make our church feel more homey to those who are members, as well as those we have yet to get to know. We have chosen to focus on extending our welcome by focusing more on hospitality to strangers, community service, family ministries in the next couple of years. We see the open door to new life that Jesus offers. We want to point others to the hope that we have found.
Certainly this is a big part of what Jesus means when he says, "I set before you an open door." But it is not all. Jesus is saying all this plus something even more exciting.
When Jesus says he sets an open door before us he is inviting us into his home and his presence. When we get to the end of the book of Revelation we see that there is a gate to God's heavenly kingdom that nobody can shut. He sets an open door before us. He invites us into his land and into his home. Into his eternal kingdom. Even more though, we are invited into his eternal presence.
When Jesus invites us to walk through the open door, he is inviting us to come home. To come home to God. To come in and sit on his couch, be in his presence. To share our lives with him. Our hopes and our fears. Our worries and concerns. To walk through that open door and know that whatever may happen, that we can always come through that open door. He will keep us safe. He will bind up our wounds. He give us nourishment, joy and laughter. And whatever we have done, we can come home to him and know we are treasured and loved. He sets an open door before us.
Jesus sets an open door before us. An open door of access to Him. An open door of opportunity for blessing. An open door of opportunity for mission and growth. An open door to offer the world around us. But most of all, we have an open door to walk through that is the open door to our rightful home with our friend and savior Jesus, and our Heavenly Father. Will we walk through that open door set before us. I hope we will. I hope you will. I hope I will. God bless us in our steps across the threshold of grace and love. Amen.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I recieved a complimentary book from my denomination's publisher (Judson Press) on evangelism entitled Got Style: Personality Based Evangelism.
When I recieved the book, and read the introduction, I was not sure I would like reading the book too much. Part of the reason is that the book seemed like a rip-off of the Contagious Christian materials from Willow Creek Community Church and ministries. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised. Got Style comes from the same school of thought as Contagious Christian but it is not the same material, and it is a little more descriptive than Contagious Christian about how personalities mesh with evangelism styles.
I am now through chapter two, and have had some time to think through what Johnson calls the Assertive Style. The assertive style is the kind of style of sharing the good news of Jesus that is direct, forthright, and does not beat around the bush.
Johnson shares that the Assertive Style is often the kind of evangelism that "closes the deal" with people who are on the journey to accepting Christ. Thus, Johnson argues, the gifts of the assertive evangelist are essential in bringing people to Christ.
Johnson points out that the danger is that people who are overly aggressive in the assertive style of evangelism can often push people away from the gospel as much as they draw people to Christ. This is especially true if the assertive evangelism persons lack strong people skills. Like every style, Johnson says, assertive evangelists need to hone their evangelistic gifts for the greatest effectiveness.
In part of this chapter, Johnson adds in statistics about the effectiveness of various types of assertive evangelists. I find these statistics objectify people (which is a story for another day), and I find that they are inherently misleading. Every statistical study on evangelism that I have seen overestimates conversion rates. They do this by double counting converts (of the 100 people accepting Christ at camp this year, Susie counted for five of those conversions by coming forward at the altar call each day of the week), estimating large groups of people praying a sinner's prayer simultanously, and by offering extra food to men who come forward during the altar call at the gospel mission for example.
The other way that statistics can be skewed when studying evangelism is by grading the effectiveness of an evangelism technique on the "gross" numbers instead of the "net" statistics. Let me explain. A man I know is especially skilled at confrontational evangelism. Yet, in his evangelistic fervor his confidence in his intelligence and his belief in his ability to be correct about every issue, he often pushes people away from Christ uneccesarily. People like this tend to gain a lot of decisions for Christ, but the self-centered, insensitive way they share can make people run from Christ uneccessarily. Thus, to gage their effectiveness as evangelists, if you really want to track their "score" or their "stats" you need to also figure in how many people have been lost to Christ and the church due the way they share their faith. I think you will find, if you do this, that an assertive evangelist is a less effective evangelist than they advertise to their churches, friends, and family.
Just something I am thinking about. What do you think?
Sunday, May 16, 2010
1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,
'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.[ a]
3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 You[b] have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'
Fred Craddock, probably one of the most influential preaching teachers in the United States, tells a story of when he started out early in his ministry. He went to this church in Eastern Tennessee. The community was having an energy plant being built nearby. This was maybe 50 years ago. The church in that community had a beautiful building. It was all built out of a giant poplar tree, and the church and the building were about one hundred and twenty years old at the time.
Now, like I said, there was this power plant being built outside of town. There was not enough housing in town to hold all the workers. So the workers and their families lived in makeshift trailer parks, campers, and tents. They would be there for a year or two at most while the plant was being constructed.
Pastor Fred decided to approach the church leadership about trying to reach the people in those trailer parks and camps. He talked to them about starting an invitational and calling plan to visit with the people in these areas and invite them to church.
One of the more vocal leaders said, "Oh no, I don't think we will do that. Those people won't be here very long. They're construction workers. They're just temporary. They will be leaving pretty soon."
Pastor Fred, "Well, we should invite them while they are here. Make them feel at home."
The leadership of the churched argued and debated on the issue. The next week was a business meeting of the church. The first motion was that anyone who was going to be a member of the church had to own land in the community. There was a little debate. And the motion passed.
Pastor Fred, who was a young pastor at the time, moved on to another church, then to his teaching and preaching activities with seminaries, then toward the end of his career back in the Southern part of the country. He went back to see that church with his wife, who he had married after that first pastorate.
He had a hard time finding it at first, but then, bit by bit as he searched for it he found that church out in the woods. It was the same building. It was glimmering white in the distance. There were all sorts of cars around it. Motorcycles and trucks too. On the front of that building there was a big sign that said "Barbeque, ALL THAT YOU CAN EAT".
It is a restaurant now you see. All the pews were pushed to the side of the building. There was all sorts of tables in the middle. The kerosene lights were replaced by electric ones.
Pastor Fred sat down. It was getting late after their looking around. It was time to eat. As he dug into the barbequed pork and chicken and ribs he said, "It is a good thing this is not still a church building, otherwise these people couldn't be in here".
When I was in Colorado Springs, and we were looking at starting this new outreach-driven worship service, I was trying to do something to communicate the importance of the task we were embarking on. One day I had an idea, and I went to take pictures of all of the church buildings in the downtown Colorado Springs area that were now housing something other than a church. Within a few blocks I found a hip-hop night club, an alternative, progressive newspaper, a photography studio, and among other things. It was kind of sad really. It has had an impact on me ever sense.
It is, in some ways, an image of what Jesus is telling us through John about the church in Sardis. The Church in Sardis, Jesus says, was the church of the living dead. It was a church full of Zombie Christians, that is Christians that appear alive on the outside, but are really dead. The Christians of Sardis walk around, live their lives, and appear to be upstanding citizens. But from God's point of view they were appearing to be alive but spiritually dead.
This must have come as quite a shock to the people there in Sardis. Sardis was the kind of church that everyone appreciated and respected. This is why verse 1 says that the church "has a name that they are alive, but they are dead".
The Sardis church was a church that everyone wanted to be like. It was a nice place to be. It was a comfortable place to be. People that had good reputations in town were a part of that church family. A good number of people were showing up. There was no record of the church being persecuted by the Jews. There was no record of the church being persecuted by the townspeople or the local government. It appears to have a good financial campaign. Yet for some reason in God's eyes, it was a horrific church. A church that walked around like it was alive, yet was rotting and decomposing and a stinking mess at the same time. It was…a zombie church.
So a letter comes from Jesus as written by John to them. They are not told that their church is being told that their church has bad doctrine. It has not been infiltrated by some heretical group. From the sounds of it the folks have just become lethargic about their faith. They had become apathetic.
Apathy was not unusual for the people of Sardis. Spiritual apathy or any other kind of apathy. The history of Sardis was that it was destroyed over and over again due to a lack of vigilance.
Sardis was a city that was built up upon a hill. Behind it was a mountain. On the three other sides of the city were steep drop-offs, which were then built upon with a series of large pillars called a Parthenon. The drop off to the ground below the main part of the city was 1500 feet down. They felt like their home was inpenetratable. They were arrogant about it. Twice the city was humbled by a sneak attack. First by the Persians. Then 400 years later by the Greeks. Then, a few decades earlier, they were forced to rebuild the community due to a massive earthquake. They were always expecting the easy life, and then getting surprised when bad things happen to them up in their little perch of a city.
Jesus seeks to call them out of their apathy by shouting a number of warnings: WAKE UP! STRENGTHEN WHAT REMAINS! REMEMBER! OBEY! REPENT! IWILL COME UPON YOU LIKE A THEIF! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HOUR I'M COMING.
Last night we had a tornado warning. If the tornado would have come through town a siren would have gone off. Many of us would have been running for basements or bathtubs or door awnings. The warning of Jesus is like a tornado warning in a spiritual sense. Wake up. Pay attention. Be ready. You have been apathetic and lazy in your faith and it has corrupted you, he says to the church in Sardis.
Jesus was teaching the church not to live by faith in the attendance numbers, the bank account, or the vague belief that everything will work out in the end.
Sardis teaches us that we can be very religious, look very Christian, and even have a growing church and be spiritually dead. Sardis was. And it serves as a warning to us.
I have spent many years as a youth pastor taking youth to water parks in the summer. In the middle of most of the water parks is a thing called the lazy river. A lazy river is a flow of water where you can just get on the inner tube, float along, get some sun, and stay cool in the water. Without hardly any effort, you can go round and round in this little river. I like that I can get somewhere without much intention or effort.
Being a Christian is nothing like being on a lazy river. Being a healthy church is nothing like being on a lazy river either.
Being a Christian is about consistent, continual growth in the grace of God. Think about the metaphors for the Christian life. Growing in Christ. A Faith Journey. A Spiritual Walk. Maturing from Childhood to Adulthood. Nothing about a healthy spiritual life speaks about floating along, sitting back on our easy chair, doing nothing. Never is lethargy or apathy condoned in Scripture in relationship to our life with Jesus.
Trying to just coast in your spiritual journey is like trying to take your foot off the gas in the middle of rush hour traffic in Denver, putting a blindfold on, and waiting for something good to happen. It won't. And with that approach, it won't be long before at the least you get a ticket, and at worse you make a wreck for yourself and everyone around you.
Jesus speaks this word to Sardis, but Sardis is a warning, even a parable if you will, to people like you and I. Even more, it is a warning to us as a church.
No church can rest on its history and previous accomplishments and expect God to bless it. Every church needs to be vigilant about opportunities for ministry. Each church needs to be vigilant to be faithful. To be standing for Christ. Each church is only as strong as it cares for each other today, as it reaches the lost for Christ today, as it studies the word day to day, as it prays day to day. There is no such thing as retirement in the kingdom of God. God is not impressed with our plans for the future as a church, or our history as a church. He looks at who we are right now. He asks us are we growing? Are we taking steps in the journey?
Neither can we rest on past accomplishments in our personal lives. We are who we are right now. Are we growing in Christlikeness? Can people see the fruit of Spirit in our lives? Or are we just hoping to float along in our spiritual journey, like the lazy river?
You are who you are in relationship with Jesus right now. Have you accepted Christ? Are you growing? Or is the spirit calling out to you like it did the church in Sardis saying WAKE UP! GET READY! You know what God is saying to you. And, you know how to respond. As the book of Revelation says, "Here what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
Friday, May 14, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The Undeniable Love of God
I have a confession I have to make. I have always dreamed of doing a Baclaureate message. Ever since I became a pastor, and spend my first years of ministries in smaller towns and inner city neighborhoods, I have thought about what I would say if I ever got the chance to speak at a graduation or a high school graduation or even an eighth grade graduation.
You see I used to be a youth pastor. Since our group was a decent size, especially when I was in Montana, it meant that I would have to go to these events for the school in our town, the Christian school, the town to the east and the west of us when I started in youth ministry. This meant I generally attended at least 6 graduation ceremonies in May. Sometimes it also meant attending home school graduation ceremonies in people's homes as well.
The good thing about all these graduations was if I played my cards right I could go from graduation party to graduation party for about two weeks and never have to cook.
The difficult thing about all these graduations is that each baccalaureate and graduation seemed to have about the same speech. Go for the gusto! Commencement is not an end point but the beginning point! Right now is the time to take the world by storm! You can change the world!
Somehow, to heighten the drama of baccalaureate or graduation, the speaker would talk about how essential it is that you choose TO BE A WINNER. That you choose to DO THE RIGHT THING. That your generation was the LAST HOPE FOR AMERICA. That as you turned 18, your next two years determined the rest of your life, and that we are all depending on you to REACH YOUR FULL POTENTIAL.
I graduated from high school 19 years ago. Back when girls elevated their height from 5'6 to 6'0 with long bangs and hair spray that made those bangs stand straight up like a big wall. Back in the days before DVDs and laptop computers.
Some things change. Some things say the same year to year.\
The year I was graduating I really had not chosen where I was attending college in the fall by the time I had graduated. I did not know what I wanted to study when I graduated. I just knew I wanted to play football at a Christian college, and go on an adventure to some place I had never been before.
That didn't keep people from asking me a few questions every day. What are you planning on doing after graduation? What do you plan on majoring in? What can you do with that?
When I was graduating, and the summer before I went to college, my mother decided it was time for a crash course in reviewing everything she ever taught me, and everything she had forgotten to teach me before I left to college.
My evenings that summer were filled with pop quizzes on how to launder clothes and properly sort clothes for the wash, cooking some meals with her peeking over my shoulder to make sure I was doing it right, reminders on proper driving skills (that actually has not ended yet), and reminders on proper posture, how dress and groom myself so as to not bring shame on the family name. Little did she know that most of my friends went to their morning classes without showering , and chose their clothes by sniffing their way through a dirty clothes pile to see which dirty clothes could be repurposed to wear again that day. Or maybe she did……
My grandmother got in the act as well. I remember driving with my grandma and sis up to the handicapped entrance to the school to get my grandmother in the building. And my grandma telling me I had a blemish. Then, she promptly put some cover up make-up on my face to cover my pimple. My sister was about to die laughing in the back of the car. I just kept walking up the entrance in shock asking myself under my breathe if my grandmother really did just try to get me to wear make-up, and trying not to laugh myself.
Anyway….the point is this. I could give you a to-do list of what you should do to be a great success. I could give you lots of pithy quotes. I could urge you to memorize verses between now and Sunday and guarantee that they will change your life. I could try and inspire you to conquer the world. But if many of you are like me, you are trying to figure out why mom is crying more than usual, why grandma is trying to put makeup on you, how much money you are going to get for all those graduation invitations you sent out, and what is going to happen at the after-graduation party. Maybe I am wrong, maybe I am right. I have a belief some things don't change that much over time. I think I am right.
In light of all I have said, I want to say this. We at the ministerial alliance are here because we love you. Your family is with you because they love you. And if you learn anything from us today, I hope you remember that the God that created you loves you more than you ever know, and accepts you as you are and for who you are.
Does that mean God isn't going to want you to grow? No.
But I want you to know that God treasures you for the unique you that you are. And I want you to know that God is always longing to reach out to you, to love you, to guide you in the way of life and hope and goodness.
You see, we as humans love you so much that we want to save you from all problems, show you ways to avoid the ways that we have failed, and inspire you to live up to all the hope that we see in you. So we try and stuff all of this advice and inspiration into the graduation season with the hope that some of it will stick.
God loves you more than any of us could though. And I want you to know he loves you for the unique, crazy, sometime quirky ways that are uniquely you.
The Bible says that God knows us so well that he has the numbers of hairs on our head counted. (Matthew 10:30). That means God knows you and loves you more than you could even know or love yourself.
The Bible says that God knit you together in your mother's womb, that you were woven together by God, that you are wonderfully made (Psalm 139).
The Bible says that there is nothing you can do to escape God's love, especially if you have chosen to accept him as your Lord and Savior.
I know it is the fashion these days to talk less about the passionate love of God for each and every one of you, and to talk more about how tough God is and about how tough he wants us to be. But you cannot read the Scripture, you cannot look around you, and miss God's compassion, God's love, God's grace, and God's forgiveness.
The Bible says while we were still sinners, still running away from God, still telling him to leave us alone, that he was at that time and in that moment dying for us. Showing us the ultimate love by laying down his life for us.
So as you celebrate your graduation, as you greet all your friends and relatives, as you eat lots of cake and go to lots of barbeques. I hope you will take time to notice that God is delighting in you, not because you got a diploma or are now legally an adult, but simply because he loves you….the you that he created you to be.
And that love doesn't end when you are a child.
If you are like many of us, you are going to leave this building, the school you are attending, and get on with the rest of your life.
Some of you will start your working life right away. Others of you will choose to attend a college or university.
Some of you will graduate from college when you are 20. Others of you will graduate with your degree or certificate when you are 35 or 40 after having a few adventures.
Some of you will start your family when you are 20. Some of you will wait
Some of you will return to Fowler. Some of you will never leave Fowler. Others of you will settle in places around the state and around the world.
Many of you will go on to do some wonderful things. Some of you will be farmers or ranchers. Some of you will be single for years. Others will find someone to marry and settle down with. Some of you will be stay at home moms and dads. Some of you will be professionals and businessmen. Others of you will choose to teach or do childcare. Of course I hope some of you gals and guys will chose to be pastors. I can hardly wait to see what happens in each of your lives.
However, many of you are going to have struggles as well. You may get married and think it is going to last forever, and find that your marriage fails. You may think you are going to be wealthy, and wake up at one moment and find a bunch of bills that you don't have the money to pay. You may set out to have a little fun and make a lot of friends, and then struggle with an addiction to booze that leads you to feel lonely and hopeless.
And in those moments you may feel lost.
Remember that even in those moments, God loves you. He sees the good in you. He is longing for you. Remember in those moments that you are still his baby and still his treasure. He still knows how many hairs are on your head. Remember that he is still the one that knit you together in your mother's womb.
The Bible tells a story of a young man who ran away from home, and took a lot of his father's wealth with him. He spent his money on wild living. And when he ran out of money he lost his friends. And he had to work crawling around in pig slop, and eat the food that he gave the pigs to survive.
And something in him decided that he should go home. So he did. And he wondered how his father would respond.
He was surprised when his father ran to him, hugged him, threw him a party, gave him a job.
If you remember anything from baccalaureate, I hope you remember that whether you move to the other end of town or the other end of the country, that you can always come home.
When you go far away from what you hoped and dreamed, you have a family of churches here that have open arms and are ready to care for you, guide you, and love you more than you know.
You have friends here in Fowler that accept you for who you are, warts and all. You have family here that loves you more than you can say.
More than that though, you have a God that no matter how far away you go, is always waiting for you to come home to Him as well.
You have a God who loves you so much that he wants to throw a party for you, even when you have made a mess of things. You have a God who delights in you, not only today, but always. A God who will seek you out, who will never leave you or forsake you. A God offers you the gift of hope and a new life today. Yes today. But who continues to be your forgiveness and hope and life from this day forward.
You may forget many things from this graduation week. I hope you remember this. I hope you remember how deeply, how powerfully, and how eternally God loves you. And loves you just for the you he made you to be. Amen.
Monday, May 10, 2010
What bothers me the most about Kagan's nomination it reflects the monocultural focus of the liberal power elite. Most specifically, I believe that most of the recent nominations of Supreme Court justices reflect a narrow bias toward progressives located on the Eastern Seaboard.
Sonia Sotmayor--born in the Bronx in New York City. Lives in New York City.
Elena Kagan--born in New York City. Also served in Boston and Washington DC
Former Justice David Souter--Born Melrose, Mass. Served in New Hampshire and DC.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg--born in Brooklyn, NY. Also served in DC Circuit court
Samuel Alito--Born Trenton NJ. Served NJ courts
Antonin Scalia--Born Trenton NJ. Raised Queens in NYC, Served VA courts
Steven Breyer--serving in Massachussets at time of Nomination
Soon to be former justice Stephens: Born and served in Chicago.
Justice Clarence Thomas: Born in Georgia (in south but still eastern seaboard), DC Circuit
The greatest exceptions to the rule were during the Reagan era, when O'Connor was nominated and Renquist promoted.
Also there is a considerable lack of religious diversity on the Supreme Court. The greatest number of Americans are Protestants, and Baptists have the largest denominational share of membership. Yet, the court does not reflect the religious mosaic of America. Instead it reflects a narrow group of Roman Catholics and people of the Jewish faith:
Roman Catholic--Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Kennedy
Jewish--Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan (nominated)
No Protestants adjudicating law in a nation that is at least half Protestant? Does that reflect the diversity of our country? Does 0 justices nominated in the last 20 years that lived West of the Mississippi truly reflect America?
You can also see this lack of diversity in the cable news racket. East Coast folks and California raised people find their way to be news folks. Others dont. Also, I could not find one person on cable news that affiliates with any Protestant Christian group.
See this example:
Hannity--born NY. Roman Catholic
O'Reilly--born NY. Roman Catholic
Chris Matthews--born Philly. Roman Catholic
David Gregory--born LA. Jewish.
Keith Olbermann--born NYC. Unitarian.
Ed Shultz--born Norfolk Virginia
Rachel Maddow--born near San Jose, CA. raised Roman Catholic.
Tim Russert (deceased)--New York State. Roman Catholic.
Anderson Cooper--born NYC.
Wolf Blitzer--raised in Buffalo, NY. Jewish.
Larry King--born NYC. raised Jewish.
Greta Van Sustren--from Wisconsin. Scientologist
Glenn Beack--from Seattle suburbs. Mormon.
Is there anything wrong with having either Roman Catholics or Jews in journalism? Of course not! But I think a quick survey of our leaders on the Supreme Court and in the media shows something important.
What this shows is that our ideas of diversity are very narrow. Espcially when it comes to industry and power held by an east coast elite. American law and media is being shaped by a very insulated group of folks shaped more by their geographic identity and religious identification than by a reflection of America as a whole.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
My Two Families
At our last deacon meeting, when I asked for some feedback on my preaching, one of the deacons suggested that it would be nice to have sermons to fit the occasion on days like Mothers and Fathers Day. I thought this was a reasonable suggestion, and probably a wise one.
We are sharing about Mother's Day this morning, but there are several holidays we will not be celebrating that also take place on May 8 and 9th. For instance, did you know that today is National Tear Your Tag of the Mattress Day? Or that it is also Peter Pan day? Ahhhhhhh. The things the internet can teach you.
Anyway, our first Scripture for this sermon Pete already read for us at the beginning of the service. It is the famous passage from Proverbs 31 about the faithful woman. The other is this passage, which talks about a different kind of mother and a different kind of family.
Before that, I would like to share a little joke with you:
46 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You."
48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."
I am blessed with a good mother. A mother that far and above the call of duty to love me and my sister to care for us. She had limited resources to work with. Although we went without some of the toys we wanted, mom always worked and scrounged and struggled to make sure we were never without what we needed. She often did what she did for us as a single-parent, and yet there was often more love and joy in our home than in any traditional family.
One of the things I have admired most about my mother is her ability to balance relationships and task. Something I do not do nearly as well as she does. My mom still keeps in touch with people from her life from grade school. I can name three or four people from my elementary years, and half of them are people I got in fist fights with. Another third of them are relatives.
My mother lost her job as a office manager in a doctor's office in a recession much like the one we are experiencing now. She scrambled to get any work she could find. Eventually, she decided to go back to school to become an elementary teacher. It just so happens that around the school there was more work than there was in the town we had lived in before.
My mother went to school, worked long hours with her job, coached my sister's softball team, and still found time to make heart –shaped pancakes for us on Valentine's Day mornings with M&Ms in them before we went to school.
When she first began in school she tried to do her homework for her classes while we were still awake. She found herself being short-tempered and frustrated with us kids for interrupting her schoolwork. Then she made a decision. No homework until the kids were asleep. Once we were in bed, then she could begin her study time for her full-time load of classes. That way she could do the work she needed to do, and still offer the love to her children that they needed.
So, you will have to pardon me, if when I read the passage on the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31, I think that is my time to speak up and tell you about the blessing my mother is, my time to rise up and call my mother blessed. I am sure if you were in my position this morning, you might do the same thing.
There are a lot of things that remind me of my mother when I read Proverbs 31. The law of kindness is on her lips. She works late into the night. She is wise.
Yet, there are things in Proverbs 31 that are not descriptive of my mother. In particular, as a single parent, all the stuff about the wifey kind of things are not true of her. I am sure with your wife, your children, your grandparents, you can find things in Proverbs 31 that fit your special loved ones.
Proverbs 31, though is a description of a perfect woman. A perfect woman that a wise father wants his son to marry. It is, in essence, a position description of the ideal wife and mother. Nobody fits it completely. Nobody measures up to this standard perfectly.
Proverbs 31 is important because it shows us the character of a kind of woman that is a blessing to her husband and her children. Hard working. Industrious. Kind. Wise. Compassionate. Strong. Decisive.
The kind of mother I had. The kind of wife that I married as well.
It is important that we honor these kinds of parents, friends, mothers, and wives in our lives. Not only on Mother's Day, but throughout our lives.
We should not wait until a death bed or a funeral to rise up and bless those selfless, loving people in our lives. The Scripture says that her husband and children will rise up and call the virtuous woman a blessing. To them. To others. To their community and the world.
So often we fail as children, as spouses, as friends, to let people know how we admire them and how much they matter to us. Don't do that. Bless your mothers and your wives. Not just this day, but every day. Let them know how much they matter to you. Let them know that you see them, and the good that they have done.
Be thankful for the family you were born into biologically. Obey the Scripture and honor your father and mother. It is one of the Ten Commandments after all.
Then there is this other passage that I just read. It is a passage about Jesus, his biological family, and his faith family.
Jesus' family was standing outside of a place where he was teaching and leading. He was getting started in his ministry. In the process he was making a few enemies. His teaching was considered liberating by some, crazy by others, and dangerous by many.
Someone had gotten in touch with Jesus family while he was on the road healing, teaching about the kingdom of God standing against the powers of this world. He was saying he was the Lord of the Sabbath. He was saying that the prophecies of old about the Son of Man were about Him. The Pharisees thought they would kill him. Someone had convinced Jesus' family that he was a little unstable. He needed a little time out. A little rehab.
They told Jesus his family wanted to spend some time with Him. They wanted him to suspend his mission and his teaching for some time out with mom and the brothers.
Jesus said, "Who are my mothers, and sisters, and brothers. They that do the will of the father are my mother, my sister, and my brothers."
It was at that moment of crisis and opportunity that Jesus began to teach us a truth that is developed throughout the New Testament. We not only have a biological family, we have a faith family. We have brothers and sisters, and yes even mothers in our churches. People that come along side us and nurture us and guide us, grow us and sometime scold us, and help us to mature in our faith and in our relationships in God's family.
It is important that we honor those women as well. The women whose relation to us in through the church and the Holy Spirit, who live and serve and demonstrate the power of the family of God among us.
Some of you have taught Sunday School to our children for years, being a non-resident and non-related mother to handfuls of people for years. We rise up and call you blessed.
Some of you have made us casseroles when we were sick and nursed us back to health when our family had passed away and was far away. We rise up and call you blessed.
Some of you have spent time with us when we were lonely. We wondered if we mattered to anyone. We learned we mattered to you and to God. We rise up and call you blessed as well.
Some of you have prayed for us late at night, woke up worrying about us early in the morning, hoping that in some way or somehow something would reach us with God's love and his grace. You have no idea how much of a difference you have made for us. You are a blessing.
I don't know about you, but today I feel rich. I have a mother with me that I have not spent mother's day with for over 20 years. And I know that I am blessed. Then I look out and see sisters and mothers in Christ, who have also been more of a blessing to myself, my wife, and my yet to be born baby girl than I could ever begin to imagine or expect. And I know that I am blessed.
The thing is, I look around, and I know that you are blessed too. Let those mothers and wives, as well as those mothers in faith know how much you appreciate them today. It is what the family of the virtuous woman did in Proverbs. It is what you have the opportunity to do today. Seize the day. Amen.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
The call today took things a step further. They were calling to encourage us to make a payment toward our potential deductable of $250-1000. They referred to this payment as a "good-faith payment" toward our childbirth expenses at Parkview Hospital. Thankfully, my wife was able to explain that with the other financial challenges we will be facing, we will not be making a pre-payment to the hospital. She got off the phone and took a deep breathe. When I started thinking about what happened I just got frustrated. A number of thoughts went through my head.
- What kind of country have we come to where we have to pre-pay for our children's safe entry to the world like we have to pre-pay for gasoline? Can we put kids on layaway like we can for merchandise at Kmart? Will they refuse to serve us if we don't pay ahead?
- Why do we need to offer "good faith" loyalty to a hospital? What if Jennifer was in Colorado Springs and had to have an emergency delivery? Would we get our money back?
- If we don't pay our bill, are they going to repo our child? Is our health care system such that we do not really own our children until we pay their lein off?
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
I love it in worship when someone intersperses accompanied singing with some a cappella singing. I love it when I catch someone singing without accompaniment when they know nobody is around. However, when someone sings a cappella in a performance it is almost too much for me.
When someone has an a cappella performance, I have a very difficult time watching them. I almost always have to close my eyes. At times, despite my best efforts, I cringe. It is not that I do not like this kind of singing. I do. The particular singer performing this Sunday had a beautiful voice.
I think at times I have a hard time listening to a cappella singing because it is too intimate. It is like someone is exposing themselves with their voice. Often it is beautiful. Somtimes it also like someone is a "soul flasher" when they bare themselves through a cappella singing.
But maybe I am just a little odd.
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