Dirty Hands

I don’t enjoy manual labor.  I’m not one who likes to get his hands dirty.  Had I been born in Rome during the days of the Empire, I would have been a house slave rather than a field slave…or maybe a gladiator.  Probably not.  House slave seems more likely.  After all, I do like things clean and neat.  But I really don’t enjoy times that have to do with yard work, construction, or anything at all that smacks of manual labor.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to live without laboring.  Especially if you own a home.  Mine is now 17 years old.  There is a lot to do with a 17 year old house.  Imagine it more like dog years.  Everything breaks down.  Everything needs replaced.  Weeds never stop growing.  So, like it or not, I am a manual laborer.  

This past weekend I spent a good deal of time staining and re-staining a very large deck.  It is mostly new wood (17 years old, remember?)  No, I didn’t rebuild the deck.  Others more skilled than myself did that.  But I have spent hours on my knees with a paint brush.  I didn’t enjoy it.  But it is mostly done.  Just a little ladder work is left.

This morning, as I gaze out at the deck it looks amazing.  Better than ever before.  The rain of the last evening is just sitting there, unable to penetrate the wood.  A job well done.  A job worth the effort.  A job that will ensure that the deck lasts a long time.  A manual labor effort that makes me feel good.  Sort of like a yard freshly cut and trimmed.  Flower beds sans weeds.  The result is worth the effort.

I believe that is exactly what we will feel when we see heaven.  The result was worth the effort.  Granted, the greatest effort was that of Jesus himself.  But the Christian life certainly takes effort as well.  It takes a daily discipline to live like Jesus and grow closer to God.  It takes a laser focus and a constantly grateful heart.  Sometimes it even takes getting our hands dirty.  Christ’s was a labor of love.  May ours be as well.

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A Matter Of Perspective

From the stands came in unison the shout ATL..ATL..ATL.  With a 28-3 lead the people of Atlanta were ecstatic.  I was proud of my city.  Standing next to the team on the sidelines I saw firsthand the elated expressions of the player’s faces.  Atlanta was on the way to an amazing Super Bowl victory.  As the fourth quarter began I started receiving text messages from around the country.  Uh oh.  The wheels were coming off.  Something was going wrong.  Then it happened.  Total collapse.  A stinging defeat.  From the highest highs to the lowest lows in just minutes.

The text from my daughter started with a big “BOO!”  She then expressed how awful everyone must have felt.  Well, the Falcons certainly did.  Watching them walk off the field was the perfect picture of dejection.  Meredith wanted to know how I felt.  Disappointed.  But that was about it.  I couldn’t get emotionally involved.  Not after what I had seen each day as I looked out my window on the 17th floor of the hotel in which I was staying in the Houston Medical Center…the largest in the world.

From my window I gazed out on Texas Children’s Hospital.  I don’t know how many rooms it contains but it incorporates three 20-25 story buildings connected by a massive five story complex.  Needless to say, it is full of sick children and those trying to care for them.  Every time I looked out at the hospital I prayed.  I prayed for those children and their families.  I got emotionally involved.  The picture is still in my mind.

So it is all a matter of perspective.  I always prefer for my team to win.  But it just doesn’t matter.  Other things matter.  People matter.  Lives matter.  Salvation matters.  And children matter.  Scripture says Jesus put a little child in his arms and said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes my Father who sent me.”  (Mark 9:37) 

There is not a lot you and I can do for the children currently in the Texas hospital.  There is much we can do for the children who are in this community and in this church.  They are important to Jesus and their importance to us reflects on our relationship with God.  I hope they are more important to you than a victory or a defeat.  They certainly are to Jesus.

The Gamble

In the course of one short evening, I turned $5000 into $65,000.  After trying my hand at craps and blackjack, I settled in at the poker table.  Up until then I was just about even.  But by the time the table closed, I was rich!  Well, so to speak.

The money wasn’t real.  We were attending a benefit for the Southside families who care for children with special needs.  The theme was a casino night and everyone was given “$5000” when they entered.  From there you were on your own.  When I sat down at the poker table I felt more comfortable.  After all, I had played a couple of times on my phone.  I won the first hand, surprisingly.  But it was the final couple of hands that put me on top of the table.  I took the risk.  I gambled my winnings and it paid off.  Well, so to speak.

I didn’t actually win anything.  I walked away with the exact amount of money in my wallet as when I entered, $11.23.  But it did make me think.  I had thrown caution to the wind and trusted my instincts.  I had gone all in.  Had I lost I would have been left penniless.  Well, so to speak.

Here’s the thing.  I was just playing.  It was just for fun and the chance to care for some very wonderful families. The outcome had no lasting consequence.  Others, however, are playing for keeps.  In our world, even in our community, there are those who are gambling something far more precious than tokens.  They are gambling their lives.  Apparently their instincts are telling them that they are good people.  At least, good enough.  They claim a belief in God but show it in no visible way.  They don’t make worship a priority.  They don’t love and they don’t serve.

Their gamble is that own goodness will suffice when God calls this game to an end and ushers in the final, and ultimate decision on who are winners and who are losers.  It is a difficult subject.  Judgment.  I am fully confident that those in Christ face no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  But I am concerned that there are many who gamble that their relationship is sufficient and that they will not be the ones to whom Jesus someday says, “I never knew you (Matthew 7:23).”

Funny thing, as I sat at a make-believe poker table my heart began to race.  I suppose I had some of the feelings of a real gambler.  I will never know!  And then my heart raced even faster as I thought about those who are gambling with their lives.  Those who are placing their bets on a God whose love is so great he won’t really separate himself from them.  I suppose that is possible.  I suppose that even though God is absolutely consistent, he does have the right to change his mind.  However, his mind is clearly revealed in Scripture and though his grace is great, he has clearly marked our pathway home.  So that’s just not a bet I am willing to make.

            “Not all people who sound religious are really godly.  They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.  On judgment day, many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.  Go away.’”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

People of the Trail

Our holiday had a rocky start.  Delayed flights.  Missed flights.  Lost baggage.  Rocks breaking the windshield on the rental car.  And then, it rained...and rained and rained.  Rain is not the ideal when you travel to one of the most beautiful places on earth to take in God's handiwork.  The mountains of Banff National Park are amazing, when you can actually see them.

But the weather broke and we made it to the trail.  Ours is a hiking family.  We love to be in the wilderness and climb mountains.  Seeing wildlife and unspoiled vistas makes for a perfect day.  People of the trail appreciate it as well.  People of the trail are the folks you meet as you hike.  They are unlike people of the cities or people of the towns.  People of the trail share a common bond.  They share a common heart.  On our first day of hiking we met people from all over the world.  There were Asians and Germans and Australians and Latin Americans and many more.  

People of the trail differ from other people because they look you in the eye as they pass.  They speak.  They wish you well.  They engage in conversation.  Those coming down the trail share advice with those ascending.  They talk of their experience and ask about yours.  People of the trail also share what they carry in their packs.  Need water?  Need a Band-aid?  Need to look at a map?  People of the trail are happy to oblige.  

As I was taking in the spectacular scenery of Johnston Canyon, I couldn't help but wonder, shouldn't Christians be people of the trail?  We live in a lonely world where people cast aside their gaze as they pass.  People keep their focus tightly upon themselves.  And like some who are trying to climb in altitude, many people on life’s journey are in pain.  People everywhere need people of the trail...they need Christians.

Christians are always looking out for others.  They are friendly and full of joy.  They share encouraging words.  They see God’s handiwork everywhere they look and they are sure to point it out.  Christians give direction by living like Jesus and modeling his life for others.  And Christians heal with comforting words and prayers that impact.  

Maybe life in the fast lane hasn’t been all it is cracked up to be?  Maybe the road more traveled has been full of bumps and potholes?  Maybe, just maybe, it is time to find a trail and rub shoulders with the people who hang out there.  Maybe it is time to find some Christians and climb life’s mountains together.

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Undercover Boss

            Call me crazy, but I get emotional watching “Undercover Boss.”  I get emotional at the end of the show when the CEO reveals his true identity to people in his organization he has worked with, undercover, for the preceding week.

            The show is formulaic, of course, and every boss gives goodies, usually in the form of money, to the poor folks who work at the lowest levels of the organization.  After having heard their stories, the boss normally tries to right distressed ships.  For instance, there are a lot of single moms who are struggling.  There are a lot of guys who have been homeless but are trying to make an honest living.  You get the point.  So the boss passes out money.  He gives scholarships.  He takes care of children.  And sometimes, he too gets emotional.

            It’s the giving that touches my heart.  As I watch I get this feeling of how wonderful it must be to care for others in that fashion.  How wonderful to drop a measly $30,000 and change someone’s life.  I’m touched by the generosity.

            And then it hits me.  How wonderful to be generous with some else’s money!  Never once has a boss said, “You are a single mom with seven children and you have no place to live.  I’ve decided to move my family out of our mansion and give you the keys.”  Not one boss has personally sacrificed for the good of someone else.  Granted, that’s not how the show works.  But I think it would be a nice twist.

            “Undercover Boss” has also made me appreciate my boss even more.  My boss gave.  He gave his only Son.  He gave me the resources I need; He gave me a “401k” with eternal benefits; He gave me a place to serve.  The list of what He has given me is endless.  What’s more, he has given and continues to give from his own resources.  

            My boss is a truly generous boss.  He’s the real deal.  And, my boss has given me his keys.  He has given me his keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).  The Apostle Peter first held those keys, but now they are in the hands of the church...all of us.  We have the keys that unlock the very kingdom of God to the world around us.

            I wonder how generous we will be?

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Evangelism Issues

When it comes to the church, the growth gurus seem to be in agreement, the Western church is no longer winning the lost in significant ways.  It’s not really declining, it’s just stagnant.  What’s more, in the weekly migration of members from one church to another, the megachurch is the only current winner.  The big boys seem to be sucking up the members of other congregations like brand new Hoovers.  It goes without saying, in our culture, size matters.  But our concern should focus less on who has whom and more on why real kingdom growth is gone.  Why aren’t the 80-85% interested?  Why have most turned their backs on the church?

There are several answers to my question, but I want to dwell on just one...the church is failing at evangelism.  We don’t take our commission very seriously.  We don’t witness.  We don’t engage people in spiritual conversations and we certainly aren’t bringing many into the Kingdom of God.  How do I know?  Well, I can see with my own eyes and I can read again what the gurus are saying.

Pondering this dilemma this week I came across an article that I found insightful.  It was written by Trevin Wax, who borrowed heavily from his own pastor, Mike Lee.  Here’s my edited version:

Evangelism is a scary word for many Christians. Whether it’s because we fear rejection, feel unqualified, or are uncomfortable with making a truth claim in a pluralistic culture, we often shy away from evangelism, either by retreating to the realm of personal testimony or by avoiding spiritual conversations altogether.

Five questions need to be answered by those who seek to be faithful in following the Great Commission.  Answer “no” to any of these questions and your evangelistic passion will suffer.

1. The Compassion Question: Do we care that people are dying without faith in Jesus Christ?

Before we can hope to be “good news tellers,” we have to be formed by the good   news into compassionate and loving people. If we believe that people without Jesus truly are lost – both in this world and in the next – then compassion ought to be a motivator for our evangelism.

Takeaway: We share because we care.

2. The Culture Question: Do we understand why people reject the gospel? 

What are the most common objections people give for choosing not to believe in Jesus? What cultural trends make it difficult for people to believe, whether intellectually (existence of God, reality of miracles), morally (God’s purpose for sexuality), or experientially (inability to accept God’s forgiveness)?

Takeaway: Good missionaries know their culture and listen to people.

3. The Content Question: Do we know what the good news is that we’re sharing?

We won’t be effective tellers of good news unless we’re clear on what the good news is.  How do we present the gospel in a way that is faithful to Scripture?

Takeaway: Evangelists must know the evangel they are proclaiming.

4. The Confidence Question: Do we believe that God really saves sinners?

The way to counteract your feelings of inadequacy in evangelism is not by growing in confidence in yourself or your persuasive abilities, but in growing in your confidence in the power of the gospel to save! People who doubt the reality of conversion are not likely to share the gospel. People who share their faith, trust that God can use their stumbling, imperfect gospel presentations. Those who see God change lives are most likely to get excited about evangelism. The power is in the gospel, not us.

Takeaway: Confidence in the power of the gospel is what motivates us to share it.

5. The Commitment Question: Do we believe God has given us the responsibility of          evangelism?  Do you believe that the proclamation of His Word is the way He saves people?  If, deep down, you believe God may have other ways of saving people, then you’ll stay quiet about the gospel. If, deep down, you believe God will save people whether you share your faith or not, then you’ll stay quiet about the gospel. The question here concerns commitment: Do you believe you’ve been given this amazing privilege and weighty responsibility and that the Holy Spirit will use you to draw people to God?

Takeaway: We won’t share the gospel unless we understand the privilege 

So how did you score?

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The Heart of God

I wonder.  I wonder if the Western church continues to share the heart of God for lost people.  There was a time when the church was all about lost sheep.  Songs and hymns were written to encourage the Body to be about the business of the Lord.  Mission efforts at home and abroad defined ministry.  Revival occurred.  People noticed, and like the church in Acts, new souls were being added daily.

Today, we have been led to believe that the church in the West is in decline.  Maybe so, in Europe.  But what about here at home?  Is the church getting smaller?  Granted, lots of churches are closing each year.  What’s more, a number of smaller churches are joining with well-financed mega operations that can sustain costs and programming.  But is the church truly declining?

“Well not really,” says Thom Rainer.  Apparently the church has been hovering between the 20% - 25% level for many years.  About a quarter of the population is actively involved.  What “active” means is another story.  But let’s put it in context.  25% of the country are non interested in God or his church.  25% are cultural Christians.  That means that due to the fact they were born in the USA and the USA is supposedly a Christian nation, they claim to be Christian as well.  25% are nominal Christians.  They may still attend on Christmas and Easter and may still desire a Christian wedding or funeral, but they are in no way active.  So that leaves the top tier as the group most resembling the church of the New Testament.  

What’s happening in our culture is that the top and bottom tiers are somewhat solid.  Those in the middle, however, are moving downwards.  They are not being raised up and welcomed into the church.  In this sense, the church is losing the battle and failing to see significant numbers of the “lost” or “un-churched” come to faith.  We are holding our own through generational growth and to some extent through the immigration of Christians from South America, Africa, and Asia.

But back to the question...do we share the heart of God for lost people? (Read Luke 15.)  Are those outside a higher priority than those within?  It doesn’t look like it.  I draw that conclusion on the basis that if the church were truly making a priority of ensuring that everyone would be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) we would be realizing miraculous growth across our country.  Revival would return.  Things would be different.  So, based on statistics alone, we seem to be falling short.

And then there is the prevailing attitude in the American church that often seems to disregard Christ’s teachings on humility.  Humble spirits put the needs of others ahead of their own.  Humble spirits never battle to have things their own way, or to demand their rights.  They are not complainers or church-hoppers.  They are joyful servants, joyful stewards, and great team players.  They take the Word of God seriously and follow his lead in building his kingdom by constantly sharing their faith and seeing others brought to Jesus.  Right now, the Western church is longing for such disciples.

Well, we can’t affect those in other congregations.  We can’t change the culture on the coasts or even in the heartland.  But we can be who God has called us to be.  It is never to late to start winning this world for Jesus.  How marvelous, how wonderful would it be to be a part of a church that truly shares the heart of God for others!

 

 

Playing Favorites

I’ve always had favorites.  Coaching 4’s and 5’s in soccer, I had favorites.  As a student I had favorite professors.  I have favorite sports teams, favorite cars, even favorite places to visit.  I also have favorite church members.

Now, before I raise alarms, it is a pastoral duty to care for and minister to everyone equally.  I take that responsibility very seriously.  But I still have church members who have attained my favorite status.

My favorites are the radicalized members we have talked about in recent years.  They are radical like Jesus is radical.  They are sold out, all in, fully committed to the church and to the Kingdom of God.  If pastors were granted three wishes or a magic wand, their churches would be filled with favorites.  They are the dream team.

More specifically, my favorites make CORPORATE WORSHIP a priority in their time and schedules.  They GIVE sacrificially and proportionately.  They SERVE with joy, both in the church and in the world.  They are so committed to PERSONAL GROWTH that they participate in some form of a small discipleship group.  And of course, they embrace the MISSION of seeking and saving the lost.

I don’t really have to tell you if you are one of my favorites.  You can figure it out on your own.  And granted, making my favorites list may be the most unimportant, ridiculous, and insignificant of your desires.  I agree.  But how do you feel about putting a smile on the face of God by responding to his love and mercy and grace with your full and heartfelt effort to be a valuable member of his church?

Just a thought…

The Heart Of The Matter

It’s the same wherever I go.  Pastors and church leaders want to know what works.  What works to ensure growth within the church? Conferences that unveil the latest and greatest ideas are packed.  Churches succeeding with a new plan are emulated.  Heck, no one wants to fail!  We all want to see the church grow numerically as well as influentially.

While in one of the more depressed cities of Romania, I heard the same questions and concerns.  Pastors wanted to know my best outreach strategies.  They wanted to know how our money was prioritized and spent.  They asked about how the worship wars were being played out in America.  Even the most conservative and traditional among them were willing to make musical changes if more people would be attracted.  The prevailing attitude was “Whatever It Takes!”  Whatever it takes to see success, to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven (and more precisely, to see that kingdom evident in my church) drove the men to questions.

We spent many hours considering every possible change that could lead to growth.  We analyzed them.  We debated them.  We prayed about them.  And we came to a conclusion: Changing the hours of the worship service, redistributing the funds, adding more contemporary music, focusing more heavily on the youth, and a myriad of other possibilities, are hopeless, if there is not first a change of heart within the existing body.

We pastors can preach and teach and implore and plead till we are blue in the face.  We can present every idea that is working, somewhere.  We can live what we believe.  We can sacrifice ourselves for the kingdom.  But if the church has no heart for the mission of God to seek and save the lost, our efforts will amount to so very little.  If the heart of the church doesn’t match the heart of God, we are doomed.  No temporal change will build the church.  Only changed hearts can make a difference.

The ministry of the church is all about changing hearts.  We want to change the hearts of the lost so that they might be willing to be found.  We want to see their hearts changed in order that they too might experience the love and joy of a relationship with Christ.  But our efforts are meaningless if first our own hearts have not undergone full and complete renovation.

I am praying for the hearts of the people with whom I minister.  I am praying that our hearts will be softened.  I am praying that the Holy Spirit will penetrate our hearts so radically that our hearts will be broken for those that are lost and as a result, we will do whatever it takes to see them found.  And that’s the heart of the matter.

Baby Steps

As a child we used to play a silly game called “Mother May I.”  You probably  played it too.  There was no real strategy to the game.  We would take turns saying “Mother, may I take x number of steps” toward the “mother.”  She / he would either agree or say “No you may not.”  If I recall correctly, the object of the game was to make one’s way to mother and then get the opportunity to control the steps of others.  In the game, there were baby steps and giant steps.  A mother who granted too many giant steps was quickly out of a job.  Consequently, baby steps were much more common.

Baby steps are making a comeback in kingdom outreach.  I have discovered that the sad reality of our culture is that moving from “un-churched” to “churched” has become a giant step…actually a giant leap.  Few who have always been on the outside can comfortably enter into the sanctity and environment of the church.  Few outsiders are willing to become insiders in one go.

I understand.  I just flew in from a week of teaching in Romania.  I preached on Sunday in the Holy Trinity church in Braila.  I wasn’t completely out of my element.  It was, after all, a church.  However, I was one of the few who spoke English.  I sat in the wrong place.  When I thought it was time for me to preach, I made my way to the stage, only to be turned back and told to wait.  I stood up when I was supposed to sit down.  I sat down…well, you know.  When the church broke into spontaneous prayer, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.  And I couldn’t sing the songs.  This American made a pretty poor Romanian Christian that day.  It was uncomfortable.

A couple of Christian comedians have done a great job of showing us just how different we are within the church culture.  I highly recommend you go to YouTube and watch “Shoot Christians Say” by Tripp and Tyler.  Their poignant humor is spot on.  The consequence is that giant steps are gone.  If we are going to reach the lost of Jesus we have got to provide a clear pathway of baby steps.  Little steps are manageable for those roaming the hills outside the fold.

For instance, our student pastor opens our gym on Tuesday and Thursdays for middle schoolers to come and play.  He is like the Pied Piper leading up to 50 kids over from the next door school.  Kids like to play.  To come and play is a baby step.  He then invites those kids to additional activities, like a hiking or camping trip.  Another baby step, but one that continues to connect them to Christ and his church.  Now, some of the kids have begun coming for Wednesday night ministries we call “The Dub.”  None have convinced their families to attend a Sunday morning worship…yet!  But even baby steps eventually lead to mother, or in this case, Father.

For the church to be effective in the years ahead, we must think in terms of baby steps, lots of baby steps.  Lifetree Cafe is a baby step.  Our sports teams are baby steps.  Anything that connects the people of God with the people of the world without dragging them into a worship service or a bible study is a baby step.  Of course the key to baby steps, like any other steps, is to have a destination in mind.  I would suggest the arms of Jesus.

So What's Missing?

So what’s missing?

Our church has certainly stepped up its ministry level!  We have shifted some of our focus toward outreach while maintaining a strong discipleship effort.  We dedicate ourselves weekly to heart-felt worship.  Our missions dollars support outstanding ministries across the world and when given the opportunity, we travel to many of the locations to share in the work.

We are in the process of making Lifetree Cafe both our signature event as well as our primary outreach to those in our community who need a relationship with God.  Our preschool is growing, giving us the ability to share Jesus with many families who are not connected to any church.  Pickleball has become a fun staple of our ministry and new folks are welcomed regularly.  We now have our own Boy Scout troop and Kenny meets with them on Tuesdays to bring a deepening spiritual influence.  He is also helping lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Whitewater Middle and bringing growing numbers into our open gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Our children’s ministry is exploding.  Each week our children join with us in our worship celebration, listen, somewhat intently, to my kid’s message, and then worship and study at their own age level in their own classrooms.  Families gather together for fun and fellowship.  Our teens are meeting on Wednesday evenings and bringing their friends to a well-planned and exciting time of growing together.  Our teens are active.  Mission trips, retreats, camps, local events, studies, and tailgates are just a few things that keep them busy and developing into strong Christian men and women.

On Sunday mornings our Bible studies are still the backbone of our ministry.  Our classes remind me much of the earliest church that is described in Acts.  And our classes are growing.  More and more and finding the benefit of joining with others on this journey.  Throughout the week we have discipleship groups, small groups, and additional Bible studies.  Combined with personal devotion, we are ensuring multiple opportunities for spiritual growth.  What’ more, we have an active prayer team that under-girds every ministry in the church and prays daily for specific needs of church families.

Missions at Christ’s Church is more than sending checks.  We help supply our local food bank.  The Fish class prepares and serves food for the homeless in Griffin.  Teens and adults alike travel to minister on distant fields.  In addition, our Sunday morning classes support numerous kingdom efforts.

So what else can we do?  Are there any ministries we need to add?  I can’t imagine so.  We are being the church Christ called us to be…in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  We are busy about the business of our Lord.  So what’s missing?  Maybe only one thing.  You.

Will you prayerfully ask the Lord to guide you in joyful service to his church?  As we grow, more and more demands are put upon those who take their relationship and their role within the Body seriously.  But everyone is needed.  If you are yet to step up to a position of service, now is the time.  Give.  Give of your wealth.  And give of your time as you serve shoulder to shoulder with one of God’s great teams.  He is counting on you.  So are we!

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Confused About The Middle East

Everyday it headlines the news: the conflict between Israel and Hamas that is being played out primarily in Gaza.  Hamas is firing countless missiles into Israel and Israel is responding with air strikes and a significant ground invasion.  Many are dying.  Mostly Palestinians.  Politically, the conflict is a hot topic as some see Israel as an important ally while others see them acting with a heavy, insensitive hand.  While there are no easy answers to the political dilemma, there are Biblical insights into the spiritual relationship some Christians believe they have with God’s original “Chosen People.”

John Piper, a highly regarded pastor and author, spoke years ago about Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East. In his sermon he offered seven principles concerning the ever-contentious issue of “the Land.”  He said,

1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.

2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.

3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.

4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God

5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.

7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.

Piper’s words are certainly thought provoking as we continue to pray for peace in the Middle East.
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A Hard Old Testament Lesson...

Israel, in the midst of troubles and after the golden age of Solomon, must have felt as though God had abandoned her.  It was quite the opposite.  Israel’s troubles were a manifestation of God’s special providence, his special love for his chosen people.  Like a fond and loving father, he was trying to wean them away from trust in kings or princes or in armies or the powers of this world.  He was trying and trying to teach them that their faith must be in him alone.  He was leading them, through every trial and in every age, to the realization that God alone is faithful in all tribulations, that he alone is constant in his love and must be clung to, even when it seems all else has been turned upside down.

The OT too, is a record of how often, in times of peace and prosperity, Israel took God for granted and settled down into some routine where the status quo was accepted as the be-all and end-all.  They thought of the established order as their support and sustenance, and forgot their ultimate goal and destiny.  So God reminded them, again and again, that he was their sole source of support, their ultimate hope.  Their trust must be in him alone.

We too become dependent upon our routines in times of ease.  We take things for granted and rely on ourselves and on our own resources.  We settle into our worlds and look within for support.  We come to equate being comfortable with a sense of well-being.  Friends and possessions surround us, one day is followed by the next, good health and happiness for the most part are ours.  We don’t have to desire much of the things of this world in order to have gained this sense of comfort and of well-being, to trust in them as our support…and to take God for granted.

It is the status quo we rely on, that carries us from day to day, and somehow we begin to lose sight of the fact that under all these things and behind all these things it is God who supports and sustains us.  We go along, taking for granted that tomorrow will be very much like today, comfortable in the world we have created for ourselves, secure in the established order we have learned to live with, however imperfect it may be, and give little thought to God at all.

So God must contrive to break through those routines of ours and remind us once again, like Israel, that we are ultimately dependent only upon him, that he has made us and destined us for life with him through all eternity, that the things of this world and the world itself are not lasting, and that we must look to him and turn to him in everything.  God must allow our world to be turned upside down to bring us to our senses and restore our sense of values, and to turn our thoughts once more to him.

“Do not be anxious about anything,” said Jesus, “but seek first the kingdom of God.”

 

(Adapted from He Leadeth Me, Fr. Walter Ciszek)

No More Nightmares

Fans of Gordon Ramsey are certainly familiar with his show “Kitchen Nightmares.”  Ramsey spends a week consulting with failing restaurants and helping them to right their course.  It is a highly volatile show where people who know they need change most often resist it.  Ramsey, of course, is his aggressive, foul-mouthed self.  However, underneath his harsh exterior appears to be a soft heart.

On a recent episode Ramsey was in Philadelphia.  The British show crossed the proverbial pond.  At the start, the world famous chef saw little spark in the family whose business was failing and whose debt was passing $250,000.00.  He actually walked off the set claiming the owners didn’t care enough.  Translated, that means the pain they were experiencing did not seem to them as great as the pain needed for change.  Since the show lasts an hour rather than seven minutes, Ramsey returned and great things followed.

The restaurant went from a disaster to a delight.  Even the local food critic changed his tune and profits began to soar.  At the close of the episode, the owner remarked, “I can’t tell you what a turnaround we have experienced.  You just don’t get opportunities like this.”

 When I heard her speak I began to wonder if people feel that way about life.  Do many really feel as though the opportunity to change direction and start on a new path is really that difficult?  Or does comfort trump change?  Regardless, it occurred to me that when we truly desire a change, it is readily available through the grace of Jesus.  Jesus steps in and without the profanity and aggressiveness, merely offers to turn things around.  He offers to set the proper direction and to accompany us on the journey.

 Well maybe restauranteurs are accustomed to going out of business.  Maybe great opportunities are rare.  In Christ, however, they are unceasing.  Day after day Jesus offers us a change…for the better.  Actually, the change he offers is for the best.  I would highly recommend it.

Bloomberg's Boast

Finally, after years of study and an excellent seminary education, I have discovered the means to salvation.  For so long I was confused in believing that there was nothing I could do to restore my relationship with God.  There was nothing I could do to earn a place in heaven.  I was taught and fully accepted that I was saved by grace through faith…so that I could not boast.  Scriptures clearly revealed to me that what Jesus did on my behalf is all that matters.

Thank goodness for Mayor Bloomberg.

Mayor Bloomberg has now revealed the follies of my thinking.  Former New York City mayor is pledging to spend $50 million this year to push gun control, the New York Times reports. For this and other deeds (such as taking on obesity and smoking), Bloomberg believes he’s going to heaven.

“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close,” Bloomberg told the Times.  Who knew?  Who knew we could earn our place in heaven?  

So now I wonder, is it easier to earn a place if heaven if you are a billionaire?  Are gun control, obesity and smoking God’s special issues?  And exactly how much do you have to invest in these issues to ensure an express pass?  These and other questions must surely be on the minds of all those desiring to avoid Hell.  So many questions.  So much confusion.  I give up.  I can’t handle the pressure.  I am just going back to the actual Word of God.

Unlike the Mayor, I am concluding that I can’t do enough to make myself worthy of my God.  Thankfully, I don’t have to.  Jesus has done it all.  He lived a sinless life and willingly became the perfect sacrifice for my sin.  And now it is his righteousness that my Father sees in me.  Not because of me, but because of Him, I am accepted by God and a place for me is being prepared in heaven.  I wonder if I will be living anywhere near the Mayor?

Desire

1 billion dollars!  How many zeroes is that? That’s exactly how much money I can win if I pick a perfect March Madness bracket.  In fact, I’m not even looking at the game scores. I want to daydream a bit longer.  I sometimes play this game when I can’t get to sleep at night…what would I do with a big lottery win or a prize like this one?  I dream of all those I could help and the institutions that would be so grateful.  I dream of a life of ease.  My dream has led me to some deeper thoughts, however.

Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart

For some reason or other, Psalm 37:4 is often on my mind.  It is a great verse and one that most of us probably cherish.  The psalmist wrote, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Well I certainly delight in the Lord.  My part is done.  So now all I have to do is wait on God to do his.  Right?  After all, God promised!  

So sometimes I play this game when I can’t get to sleep at night…knowing what a curse it would be to win big money in a lottery, I focus instead on the desires of my heart.  I make a list of all those desires and I present them to God.  Odds of winning are better than the lottery or a perfect bracket anyway.  For years my desires centered on my success, my comfort, my family, and my experiences.  Pretty much every desire somehow bettered my life.  Granted, some of the desires were pure and kingdom oriented, but at the end of the day, they bettered my life.

I approach God differently today.  I still have desires.  I will always have desires.  The difference is that I look to God to reveal his desires first.  What would God desire the desires of my heart to be?  As I search his word and listen to his Spirit, those desires become more clear.  My effort then is to match my desires to his.

This is a good approach to Psalm 37:4.  It is far better than the approach of my youth.  It’s better because nothing could be better than to receive what God desires for me.

A Disturbing Trend

I am amazed at how quickly things change.  Before I even figure out how to use my new phone, it is outdated.  Things are changing in the church as well.  In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle proposes that the church reinvents itself every 500 years.  In other words, great changes occur in the church that set the stage for the next period of life and growth.  Tickle says we are currently in a change period and that contributes to the church not knowing for sure how to adapt to and influence our culture.  Church change may take years before a new pattern is set.

 One of the disturbing trends in church life today is the bold declaration of some celebrity Christian speakers and authors who have announced their determination to set their own spiritual agenda without the influence of the church.  Church life and church relationships and worship within the church have been set aside for a personal approach to God.

 Of course it is not just celebrity Christians who are shifting away from the church.  Common Christians are following a similar pattern.  Each year, fewer and fewer Americans are finding church a part of their routine.  Our culture is making every effort to catch up with the religious trends already prevalent in Europe. Here in the South, nearly everyone claims to be a Christian and to be connected to a church.  Oddly enough, only about 20% actually attend.  So can one truly to be a Christian and ignore the church?  I don’t think so.

And neither does Denny Burk.  Burk is a professor at Boyce College.  In response to this new trend, Burk has written a blog entitled “Leaving the church means leaving Christ.”  In it he states “The spirit of Jesus breathed out these words about those who leave the church: ‘They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.’ (1 John 2:19)  The spirit of Jesus says that leaving the local church reveals one’s true spiritual condition. The one who leaves is at best one who is Christian in name only. His leaving reveals that he was never really a bona fide follower of Jesus.  To be sure, being a disciple of Jesus in a church involves much more that attending a weekly meeting. But biblically speaking, it cannot involve less than that.”  Pretty powerful.

So can one truly be a Christian and ignore the church, the Bride of Christ?  It’s certainly something to think about.

© 2015 Christ's Church at WhiteWater.