Monday, April 30, 2007

Mook-ness


Google Mook and the many hits that come up will wrestle with this odd term. There are several sites that simply ask, “what is a mook?” in sometimes mook-like terms. Take a look at Frontline, however, to get a better definition of a modern-day mook.

He’s your neighbor’s son. Maybe he’s your cousin or nephew. You’ve met him and seen him on TV. Frontline defines him as the “permanent adolescent.” He’s crude, loud, obnoxious, in your face, and seen on nearly every show that MTV has to offer. He’s a daredevil ever dreaming of spring break.

Frontline also says he’s a creation of marketers. He has to be nurtured by careful training from cradle to testosterone-crazed adolescence for one purpose: to so absorb the lifestyle that he buys what a mook buys. His wallet is open to the marketers, the “merchants of cool”.

A mook wears this brand of jeans. Buy. A mook drinks this soft drink. Buy. A mook listens to this music. Buy.

A mook becomes a slave to his marketers and to his lifestyle. He is branded for a lifestyle of loyal purchases dictated by the “merchants of cool,” who are raking in billions from their mooks.

Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters.” (Luke 16:13)

Tomorrow: The Midriff

Sunday, April 29, 2007

In with the pigs

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…”Luke 15:18

The story is too contemporary: a man leaves home to taste all the world has to offer him. Far away from his roots, he discovers that alcohol robs, prostitutes kill and drugs destroy.

Don’t be smug if you haven’t followed his path. You and I, we know the enemy just like he does. Galatians 5:15 gives us a checklist for our lives. Didn’t fornicate today. Check. Impure thoughts? Maybe just one fluttered by. Jealousy? Arguments? Gossip? Unforgiveness?

You and I, we know all too well what robs and kills and destroys. Sometimes we climb right in the pigpen and enjoy the vengeance. Sometimes we defend our harsh words.

But sometimes we get sick of smelling the pigs and eating their slop. That’s the hope of Luke 15. We can come home. The young man had taken half his father’s wealth and wasted it. But one day he saw in a new way. He changed his mind.

What he did next is important: he left the pigpen.

He didn’t invite his father to bring money to the pigpen. He didn’t invite his father into the pigpen with him. He left.

You and I, sometimes we want to cling to the path we chose, even when we smell like the pigs. We want to add in a little spirituality, a little heaven insurance.

Notice the father’s response: let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' Luke 15:23-24

The young man left home to have a party and came home to a greater party. This was where the celebration truly began. But he had to leave the pigpen to find that out.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Adventures


I've packed the toothbrush and the cotton balls. We're off shortly to experience the energy of Battle Cry, the teen conference Acquire the Fire. This is my 11-year-old son's first time to go and we're going to experience the Cry together. Our battle is for our youth - a battle we can not lose.

Check out their website: Battle Cry

Going back and going on



Crowds are fickle sometimes. Imagine having the crowd worshipping you as a god one day and trying to stone you to death the next.

You may relate. I can think of a few other positions that run the same line: a hero one day, a chump the next. Parents. Politicians. Pastors. Polls turn.

Paul ran into the same situation. This was an excitable group. They watched him heal a crippled man and rushed to an assumption: he was a god. There were obviously other explanations for what happened but the crowd grabbed a guess and held on.

Then Paul’s nemeses showed up. The same crowd who had tried to worship Paul as a god now decided these visiting Jews must be right instead. They could listen to their own conclusions and they could listen to some newcomers but they never really heeded Paul.

Churned up by the foreign Jews, the crowd stoned Paul and lugged him out of town, assuming he was dead.

He wasn’t. After a time, surrounded by believers, he got to his feet.

And went back into the town.

Wouldn’t you have been tempted to limp on down the road? Maybe find a cool shady spot beside a stream and wash off the dirt. Maybe lie under the sun for awhile to let the bruises heal.

Not Paul. He went back in. The next day he continued on his ministry journey. There was no wavering (“Did God really call me to this?”) and no self-pity (“How could they dishonor a man of God like me?”).

Paul had experienced the presence of God in a personal and real way. There was only one poll he cared about and it didn't concern the fickle crowd inside the wall. He went back and he went on.

But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city.

Acts 14:20 (NRSV)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wild horses within


I thought about Jamie as I watched the pack of wild horses at the auction. A pack of 11 yearlings milled in a holding pen. The bay colt was obviously the herd leader, panicking at the slightest movement and bringing the entire herd crashing into the boundaries. When some hay was tossed into a feeder, he battled the others, teeth bared and hooves threatening, until he had the best place at the feed bunk. A timid little filly, her head down in desperate hunger and panic, tried to sneak a nibble. The colt bared his teeth and left a mark on her back. She retreated; he ate.

A filly perked up her head. I wanted to bring her out, to brush her white blaze and comb her golden mane. She held my gaze for a short moment. But the herd then crashed into her, sucking her into the middle. She lost sight of me and wandered within the churning legs.

This young pack of horses didn’t trust each other. But they were more afraid of being alone. They clung together even as they abused each other. They didn’t see anything bigger or better than the mob.

We met Jamie after she got out of jail. She had come out of the swirling cell, slammed by a churning band. She needed food, furniture and diapers for her baby. Our church gathered formula and soup, a couch, sheets, toothpaste.

She caught our eyes for a moment or two and we wanted to bring her out, to comfort her and support her. She held our gaze for a short moment but the herd crashed into her. She wanted to go to school, to get her GED, to find a decent job for herself and her baby. She’d already lost two children to social services and wanted to hold on. But the wild herd sucked her in. Last I heard, she was back in the churning cell, surrounded by a roiling band as confused as she was. I don’t know where her baby went.

Wild horses surround us. Do we care? What say you?

A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice

Isaiah 42:3

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pierced

Heritage is a powerful thing. My family has been church-goers for generations. Scratch an uncle and you’ll find a man who sat in a pew last Sunday. Open a hymnal and they can sing the song.

Although I caused a ripple when I found Jesus and left the family denomination, they were quick to forgive. It wasn’t like I had joined an hippie commune.

Soon I was teaching Sunday school classes and bringing a salad to the potlucks. I was elected to a board position and headed up the children’s ministry. My resume was growing.

I shunned the bars and the drinking parties. I tuned my radio to Christian music and was proud to return the wrong change to the cashier. I was becoming a Christian of Christians, humble in my growth, of course.

I was glad to read lists like 1 Timothy 6:4, which listed all the sins I had conquered: conceit, arguments, envy, dissension, malicious talk, evil suspicions, friction. I usually glided over those like a deer on ice, but I stumbled this time. Somewhere in that list, God whispered: you are those.

And in an instant, I was pierced. The resume flapped in the wind. I read the sins again with new eyes. Eyes that left tear stains on my Bible page. In an instant, I was utterly broken. My pedigree was shredded and I stood bare before Jesus.

It was then, as I listlessly turned to the next Bible reading, that I read Luke 15. There, Jesus tells the story of the lost lamb. The shepherd searched and searched until it is found. Before, I had read the story with the smugness of the 99 sheep.

The shepherd searched with love and persistence for one. And one who had been pierced rejoiced with him at being found.

Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' Luke 15:6

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The state of opinions


Thomas Helwys said the king wasn’t God and it got him a prison term that ended in death. He could have changed his mind and said that maybe James was God, but Thomas refused.

When the Puritans came to American in the mid 1600’s, they were escaping religious persecution in England. In England they weren’t the state church but they eagerly accepted that title whenever they could after moving to the colonies. Nestling under the wing of the government had great perks.

Roger Williams, in 1641, claimed biblical basis for the right to hold church apart from the government: “It is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries.”

It was Isaac Backus in the 1700’s, as a Baptist, who pointed out that he had to pay taxes to the state church even though he wasn’t a member of that church. He lobbied for religious freedom, which to Isaac meant the right live by his own beliefs and worship at his own church without the government’s interference.

John Leland, a contemporary of Backus, argued that government had no right to rule on what he called principles of conscience. He claimed that religion established by law always damages the religion.

Governments of those days assumed they had the right and obligation to pass laws regarding religious conduct. The American Bill of Rights broke new ground in religious freedom. Part of the assumption of the Bill of Rights is that the government is the ultimate power and authority, that a government should have limitations. Leland contended that “... government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men, than it has with the principles of mathematics.”

Today we hear “separation of church and state” to mean the church must not meddle in state affairs. However, that phrase began as a long-shot attempt to disentangle the government from ruling churches. It meant the state must not meddle in church affairs.

It means believers have the right to live by our conscience.

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Matt 22:21

Monday, April 23, 2007

My heart's desire


When Moses remained up on Mount Sinai longer than expected, the people of Israel decided it was time to switch horses and find a god better suited to their tastes.

While Moses was basking in God’s presence, the people built a calf out of their own melted jewelry and began worshipping it. For those Israelites, Moses represented God’s presence. They certainly didn’t feel that presence when Moses was gone.

They suspected he was dead. He wasn’t expected to be away for 40 days and so they turned to their own designs.

Like the Israelites, we have a desire for God’s presence.

Newsboys have a song, Presence (My Heart’s Desire), which has some great lyrics on this desire for divine presence:

I lift up my voice
to The King, The King of glory
I hold out my hands
to The One who is worthy
I long for Your presence
I long, Lord, I need Your touch

Come, oh Lord, and fill up my life
with the light of Your presence
this is my heart's desire
oh Father, come and let Your spirit abide
I long for Your presence
this is my heart's desire

I long to be washed
in the well of Your mercy
I long to be warmed
by the fire of Your glory
I long for Your presence
I long for Your healing touch

The Israelites had some similar longings. They had been surrounded by the multitude of gods in Egypt. They had only a vague understanding of the one true God and very little perception of his constancy. So they trusted their own understanding. They thought God had abandoned them – maybe even taken Moses from them. They understood gods. So they built one.

We, like those ancients, want God’s presence. Our heart’s desire is to feel his mercy and healing touch. We, too, are surrounded by a multitude of gods. Many believe in the god of entertainment or the god of convenience or the god of stuff (if I have enough possessions, I’ll finally be fulfilled. Or my garage will be filled.)

The Israelites longed for God’s presence but settled for an empty substitute.

It’s not always easy to stand when others are rushing to gods of their own understanding, but it’s the difference between trying to be warmed by a photograph of a fire or by a blazing bonfire.

There’s just no substitute for presence.

The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Ex 33:14

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Perceptions

David was a broken man. He had rationalized, maneuvered, lied, manipulated – and it had worked! Things had gotten messy – they always do when we’re overreaching – but the secret had stayed under the surface.

Well, it had remained veiled until this religious guy pushed his way past all the protection and stood before David with a hypothetical issue to sort out, a “what if” kind of game. David, who had duped plenty of others, was duped by the story. He was deceived by his pride in his great knowledge and wisdom. It was such a simple story: a poor man had his very sustenance stolen by a rich man who had plenty.

When Nathan dropped the net, David was snared. He was the conniving rich man who had stolen his brother’s wife, committed murder and covered up the whole incident.

Then came the surprise: David changed his mind. He had spent months and months hiding the secret, rationalizing, maneuvering. Nathan had pronounced the results of David’s cover-up and we might accuse David of simply wanting to avoid consequences.

Except for his words to Nathan: I have gone wrong before the Lord. David’s manipulation had been to fool others. In an instant, he realized he was playing to the wrong audience. He might hide from people but never from God. And God was the only one who mattered.

David’s story is a rich story of repentance. Repentance means to change our mind, our understanding. The root word deals with perception and knowledge. David had spent enormous energy weaving a fabric to hide his own selfish reasoning.

Now he changed his mind. He understood that God could see through the fabric and that he was standing naked before the King of kings. David’s perception changed in a flash. He was broken.

Repentance is never about a moral code but about agreeing with God’s character and perceiving God’s presence. We stand naked before the Lord. The key is whether we look up or weave a fabric to hide behind.

Surely you desire truth in the inner parts ;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalms 51:6,12

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mares like Edsels


Sorrel mares are not selling well right now. In fact, you might use words like “Edsel” and “DeLorean” to describe how they’re going over.

(Translation for you non-horse people: brown female horses are not what horse people are buying right now.)

That was a bit of a problem for us this weekend because we had two of them to sell (the horses, not the horse people) but it set the stage for some great God stories.

Story #1: On Friday, our first sorrel mare managed to be the second horse sold at the auction. When she brought $500, we were a little disappointed until we heard the later bids for similar horses: $250, $200, $125. We were then rejoicing over what a few minutes earlier we were a little subdued over. Perspective is amazing, isn’t it?

Story #2: Saturday morning, we needed to complete the entry for our second sorrel mare who was in a special catalog show. We had the health papers, the testing done, registration papers, but couldn’t find the bill of sale. A call home (and a patient husband who searched and searched) didn’t uncover the vital document. I knew I had seen it and thought it was with my paperwork. We searched the pickup, the tack box, everywhere we could think of. This was getting to be a panic, because we would forfeit our entry fee and go home without a chance.

Then I remembered I had thrown away a piece of paper the evening before. Maybe I had accidentally pitched the bill of sale? I began digging through the trashcans. I didn’t find the crumpled up sheet but I found the photocopy of our first mare’s pedigree in a clear page protector envelope. Guess what was stuck to the back of the pedigree? Yep, the bill of sale. Among other things, we were thankful for delayed trash service.

Story #3: We were seeing a trend as we watched horses enter the ring in the catalog sale. As the sale progressed, sorrel mares were bringing less and less money until a couple got no bids at all. We needed to sell this mare and waited tensely as she went into the ring. No bids. The auctioneer pleaded. No bids. Suddenly, the trainer, who was riding her, dismounted the mare, dropped the reins, walked calmly around her, mounted on the other side, and began swinging a blue lead rope over her head. Instantly a bid rang out. Phew.

Two quick keys to these stories. First, this whole adventure had been one of trust. We had prayed for several weeks about the sale of these mares. We had entered them in this special auction weekend feeling God had directed us to do so. We had chosen to trust him in whatever he did. The prayers were just a little more fervent when the bill of sale was lost and when a bid was needed badly.

Second, we knew who had worked out the difficulties. God got the praise to our trainer, to her fiancé, and to anyone who wanted to hear the story. This was his sale and we saw him do great things.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalms 20:7

Friday, April 20, 2007

A fruity presence

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal 5:22-23

Today I checked off peace and kindness but the self-control was pretty shaky. There’s always tomorrow. I’m not sure if I was gentle with the new clerk at the store who stumbled over the cash register. Probably not patient, either. Oops, Lord, here’s my quick confession while I’m rushing on to my next appointment. I’ll grit my teeth and work harder on self-control. That’ll probably spring lose some of those other traits in me, too.

The infamous Galatians fruit list is not of power (then it would be strength, might, arms) but of person. These are not words of warfare but of relationship. I can’t check off the ones I’m doing well on, figuring to work on the others at some point. This isn’t a list conquered by my determination.

These are God’s way of relating to his people. This is his fruit. We fear God is fickle. Instead, he is love. We fear he is erratic. He is self-control. We fear he withholds so that he can slap our hand. But he is patient and kind, gentle and faithful. The fruit is found in his presence.

God offers us himself as the fruit of our relationship. His presence heals my wounded heart. I enjoy the fruit as I am filled with his Spirit. Then it just flows out of me, too.

Today I checked off the fruit I thought I achieved. But I should have run to my Father’s arms and basked in the fruit of our love. I should have pushed my independence out of the way to let his Spirit flow in to me. I should have received his fruit, not tried to achieve it. The new clerk would have appreciated it, too.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Profoundly praying


Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Psalms 27:7-8

David let his heart show in his songs to God. He longed to discover an ever-closer intimacy with God, writing of his passion in Psalm 27. He was zealous for a profound relationship with the Lord.

The motivation for prayer is relationship.

God welcomes prayer- even expects it - and he commands love:

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

Deut 6:5-6

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matt 22:37-40

Prayer naturally flows out of an intimate love relationship. We were created for communication and connection. God spoke the world into being and he placed in us a nature to understand – even if imperfectly – his communication.

So I suggest that when we find prayer difficult and dry, it may be because our relationship with the Lord is distant and stale. To have vibrant prayer, we must love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind. When our focus is on answers to our own requests, we are seeking our own desires.

David had another idea:

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

Psalms 27:4

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Explosions



Grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness (Acts 4:29)

Lately I haven’t been zooming past words like these quite so fast. They reach out and snag my toe, dropping me to the floor in a thud of surprise.

This startling prayer in Acts is coming from a group of believers who started praying after Peter and James got themselves arrested and threatened. Who’d figure they’d be detained for healing a lame man?

Actually, Peter and James got themselves in trouble for boldly speaking to the crowd that understandably gathered to look at this formerly-lame man who was now jumping and leaping on legs of steel. Peter grabbed an opportunity and began to tell the people about Jesus' power to heal our bodies - and our souls.

Before long, in rushed the religious leaders and tossed the pair in prison. However, because of the impromptu speech, the number of believers in Jerusalem swelled to 5,000.

A night in prison didn’t dampen Peter and James’ speech. They went even further in their boldness, telling the religious folks: there is salvation in no one else but Jesus. And what were the religious leaders going to do? There stood the handicapped man who was now walking and announcing his healing loudly. So they threatened Peter and James, and sent them home.

The believers gathered in prayer. What would we have prayed for? Probably protection from the religious leaders. Maybe we’d ask that they have a change of heart. Maybe we’d ask for more miracles so they’d be convinced. We might ask for mercy if we got arrested.

But what do these believers pray for? More boldness. They wanted in on the action, too.

What these believers were doing shook the religious foundation of the day. They were radicals and revolutionaries. Sadly at this point in history, they were not fighting the government or the pagans, but the religious folks who could ignore healings to maintain the traditions they had developed.

Traditions. Boldness. Choices.

The believers asked for boldness and guess what they got? They were shaken and filled and spoke the word of God with boldness. God responded with an explosion of permission and power. Ask and you will receive.

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Surprise pregnancy


As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." (Luke 11:27)

For a Jewish woman, her salvation came through her children. A barren woman was shamed, sometimes mocked by others (remember Hannah or Rachel?), always empty and unfulfilled. One of the motifs of the Old Testament is that of a barren woman giving birth miraculously to a child important in God’s plan. From Sarah bearing Isaac at an elderly age to Hannah bearing Samuel, the message was clear. God could transform barrenness into great joy with the birth of a child who would carry his plan forward.

The pattern continued into Luke’s gospel, when Elizabeth gave birth to John after many years of barrenness. And even Mary was, in a sense, barren as a virgin. She wouldn’t have given birth to Jesus without divine intervention.

So that’s the backdrop for this short interchange in Luke 11.

This woman from the crowd was telling Jesus, your teachings are so wonderful that you bring extra honor to your mother!

She recalled the honor that bearing children brought to Jewish women. And not only was Jesus’ mother, Mary, honored by having a son, but now she was honored even more by Jesus’ wisdom.

Jesus embraced the concept. Yes, he said, the birth of a child is a blessing. But not just for my mother.

He described the completion of the barrenness motif. The child has come. The shame is gone for all who recognize it.

He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." (Luke 11:28)

Blessed rather. This blessing, which comes from the miraculous birth of a child, was not just for Mary. This blessing is for those who hear the word of God and obey.

Before Jesus came, we were all barren. We were mocked and shamed. The agony of Sarah’s empty womb was ours. The grief of Rachel’s unfilled arms was ours. But now there’s hope. How do we end the emptiness? How do we fill our house and our heart? (Read Luke 11:17-26) When we hear the word of God and obey it, we rejoice in the pregnancy that swells a barren woman.

We are no longer barren but filled.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What's with the canon?


Closed canon.

There, I said it. It’s out there. It’s an important idea in Christianity and we need to talk about this a little. The term “closed canon” means simply that the Bible is complete. There will be no new writings added. No more inspired revelation is possible. God’s Word, as collected in the Old and New Testament, is done.

A main reason why the church fathers in the 4th century selected the books of the New Testament (they accepted the Old Testament as it had been assembled by the Jews) was that the books were written by or closely influenced by an apostle.

That one point forced a closed canon, because once the 12 apostles were dead, no more canonical books could be written.

Why’s this important? The New Testament books were written within a generation of the time of Jesus. Eyewitnesses could read them. If there had been error or exaggeration, many would have protested. Even 300 years later, church fathers felt comfortable that those early texts were accurate reports of Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection.

We don’t have texts pieced together by authors centuries after the fact, trying to separate legend from fact. We have eyewitness reports on the events of Jesus’ day. We have a canon that serves as an unchanging standard.

There are groups that disagree with this position and hold that God continues to give revelation today. They add and subtract from their scripture as their leaders sense new revelation. What was God’s inspired Word 20 years ago is no longer printed in the latest edition of their scriptures. Their foundation keeps changing.

To follow Jesus, we must be clear about our stand on the Word of God. And understanding a closed canon is vital. What is Scripture? Can we stand on it, knowing it's not shifting on us? Is it accurate and useful?

Here’s the apostle Paul’s point of view:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

An impossible rescue

Peter was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem in the first century. After James was killed by Herod, Peter was arrested and the church was rocked. The persecution of earlier times had returned. Their response was one of prayer.

I have been guilty of accusing those early believers of praying without belief, for when Peter miraculously showed up at the door where they gathered to pray, they didn’t believe it was him. I mocked what I saw as watery prayer.

But I have a new viewpoint.

The Roman military was incredibly well trained and prepared. Peter was chained to two soldiers behind locked doors with another 14 or 16 soldiers outside. How was he going to get out? Today, if I were praying for someone who was in prison’s maximum security, what would I pray for?

I’d pray for comfort, strength, persistence, mercy, even a strong witness. But it wouldn’t occur to me to pray for an unexplainable escape.

I suspect that’s how these believers were praying, as well. They were shocked to see Peter in the flesh at the door because they hadn’t thought of such an incredible rescue.

What can we learn about God’s character from this? He heard their prayers and he answered what they did not ask. We often see God as a withholding, penny-pinching, grumpy old grandpa. We see in this account from Acts 12 that he rains out his love. He is not a withholder but an enabler.

Here’s the balance: he’s not a genie in a bottle, either, just waiting to grant my every wish.

He loves us too much for that.

His response is for good, in whatever form that takes. Joseph declared to his brothers “God meant it for good.” Joseph suffered before he saw the results of God’s plan. Peter had to sit in prison in chains before he saw God’s plan.

If you’ll read Acts 12, you’ll see that Peter was sleeping so soundly the night before his trial that the angel had trouble awakening him. He thought he was dreaming, as he was led past the soldiers. Peter trusted God’s goodness. He didn’t expect such a rescue either but he was resting in God’s goodness.

As I pray, anything is possible God. He doesn’t pinch pennies but pours gold from heaven.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

People noticed


Like most political families, Herod Agrippa had grown up with political maneuvering. He was the grandson of Herod the Great and it was no easy thing to have that title hovering over your head. The expectations were enormous. Young Herod had grown up with wealth and, like his grandfather, knew how to stroke the right people which got him appointed as king of Judea.

He understood how to exchange favors for influence and when he stumbled onto new influence with the Jews in Jerusalem, he grabbed it. He had killed James, one of the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem, and the Jews were pleased. So he arrested Peter. He couldn’t start the trial until after the Passover, because such a trial would have spoiled the holiness of the feast for the Jews – and he didn’t want to insult the Jews.

When Peter miraculously was rescued from jail and left Jerusalem, “there was no small commotion among the soldiers.” Can’t you see the rumor mills grinding out stories and explanations? Herod had the guards killed and then suddenly fled to Caesarea. Had his mystique been injured by this unexplainable rescue?

We do know he decided to be mediator between two feuding towns, appearing to make a speech decked out in royal robes made of silver shimmering cloth that magnificently glowed in the sunlight. He was a good speechmaker and his words dazzled the crowd like his robe.

The people fell before him, saying, “This is the voice of a god!” He didn’t deny it. What he hadn’t accomplished in Jerusalem with the Jews, he had achieved in Caesarea. And then, as the text in Acts 12 tells, he immediately fell to the ground and died.

Contrast Herod’s political strategies with the early church. When Peter was arrested, they did not begin maneuvering. Instead, they began to pray fervently. While they didn’t expect Peter’s escape, they did expect God to work. They didn’t begin making plans or discussing influential contacts. Their influential contact was with God.

Herod was outmatched. He lived for the praise of others and fell in defeat.

Herod’s words, although seeming to be eloquent and worthy, faded away. The words of the Christians were not so eloquent but they were directed, not to men, but to God. Some people worshipped Herod and some people worshipped God. Herod trusted his own political instincts while the early church trusted God.

Herod had known from childhood that power comes from pleasing the right ones at the right time. He had misjudged who that right one was.

But the word of God continued to increase and spread. (Acts 12:24)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Opportunity



The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

We don’t understand God’s nature very well. Often we see him as a frowning taskmaster just waiting for me to make a mistake so he can smush us good. We can almost hear his glee in the slap, like an old great-aunt wielding a ruler and a set of rules.

Yesterday we helped bury a friend. He was a relatively young man who died unexpectedly. Two years ago, his funeral would have been without hope for he was not walking with God then. But he had found Jesus and it changed his life.

The family had requested stories. At first the tales ranged from candy on a desk to business acumen. But then the focus began to tighten: a college buddy was relieved to hear our friend had found the Lord. A friend at the gym had prayed for his salvation. His supervisor was a believer who had talked about spiritual awakenings in the mountains.

Believers had surrounded our friend. God knew his time was short and gave him possibility.

That’s God’s patience and grace. He isn’t standing sternly by, waiting to thump us for every mistake. Instead, he is surrounding us with opportunity.

We fear he holds a rod but when we look closely, he’s really holding a gift.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Like a child


You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants (Luke 10:21)

Jesus welcomed children. I can visualize the little ones playing at the edge of the crowd, not engaged in Jesus’ sermons, yet responding to his love. Jesus talked to them, pulled them up on his lap, welcomed them.

Jesus’ words in Luke 10:21 don’t mean that only infants will have the word of God revealed to them. It means that Jesus will reveal the Father to those who are like children.

Children are:

  • Learners.
  • Dependent.
  • Reflections of their parents.
  • Cherished.

What a fascinating list to compare my heart to. Am I willing to learn? I heard of a Sunday school teacher once who sniffed indignantly to her pastor, “I have 20 years of experience, you know!” And the pastor gently replied, “No, you have 1 year of experience 20 times.”

My heritage is that of pride and independence. It is runs against my nature to admit a mistake or ask for help. Fortunately, that’s my old nature. My new nature is learning to love God's plan.

A child reflects its parent. Isn’t that cool? Do I reflect the image of God? When someone looks at me, do they see a reflection of the King of kings?

And a parent’s future hope is in the children. The children carry on the family heritage.

We understand that a child is cherished. If we’re parents, we have experienced that heart-tugging commitment and love. And ours is a shadow of God’s love.

But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest."

(Luke 9:47-48)

Ready for a little childlike thinking?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Vanilla Christianity

I like to keep up on James White's apologetics blog. Take a look ("On How Theology Affects Apologetics"). He has an interesting entry from yesterday. I'll quote just a little of it:

"May I suggest that our desire to see Muslims come to know Christ should only heighten our concern for accuracy in our proclamation of biblical truth? Vanilla Christianity is not what Muslims need to hear. Biblical, thorough, accurate, consistent Christianity is the only antidote to Islam."

Jim is responding to a suggestion that we ought not to be debating fellow believers when the need to witness to non-believers is so great. I especially liked his label, "vanilla Christianity," which fits well with our discussion here of church culture.

Great book!


Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, is a great book to read to tackle some of our misconceptions about Jesus. He gets through the stereotypes to a more accurate picture of Jesus. It’s challenging reading because he asks us to go deeper than the simplistic view we get as a child. Check it out.

Mandates

My comments yesterday about church-ese need some explanation. Not all the points I made yesterday are wrong activities. It isn’t wrong, for example, to worship on Sunday morning. It isn’t wrong to enjoy the sermon. It isn’t wrong to care for the church property.

However, those things can’t be mandated either. Here’s the principle I work with: If God did not require the practice in his Word, then we can’t require it either. You will not find a mandate about worshipping Sunday mornings, for example. You won’t even find a mandate to weekly worship.

Do I think it’s wrong to worship on Sunday morning? Absolutely not! But it is not wrong to worship on Tuesday at 7:24 pm either and skip Sunday morning.

Our principles always must come from what God said. What God mandates, we mandate.

Here’s some of what I think God has mandated for our worship:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship,

to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Pretty simple, I think. We are to be devoted to

  • the Word (that’s what the apostles’ teaching turned into)
  • to fellowship
  • to communion
  • to prayer.

We must mandate what God mandates and not require what God does not require.

Pretty simple.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Churchese

The first big challenge to me in my seminary years was to separate church culture and biblical worldview in my mind. I grew up in an institutional church (that's a traditional church with pews, hymnals, committees and traditions). I remember as a teenager when a guitar was not allowed in the sanctuary because... well, I'm not really clear on the because but it was somehow dishonoring God. I can't explain why an organ and piano honor God more than a guitar but there it was.

Here are some more church culture "must-haves" that I learned:
  • You must worship on Sunday morning.
  • You must dress up for the service.
  • The point of the service is the sermon.
  • If we love each other enough, others will be magnetically drawn into our building.
  • No food in the sanctuary.
  • No laughter in the sanctuary.
  • Candles are OK but incense is weird in the sanctuary.... actually, even in your home!
  • Christians buy their cars from Christian car dealers, their insurance from a Christian realtor, their groceries from a Christian store.
  • If we force unbelievers to act like we act, they will become Christians. That's why we picket vile places like video stores and Disney.
  • If we allow unbelievers to use our building, they will mar the floor and stain the carpet. They will not respect our tables and our pews.
  • We will show our Christianity by being honest and pure, illustrating the benefits in our lives in knowing Jesus.
  • We'd rather read books about the Bible than read the Bible.
  • We'd rather study about prayer than pray.
  • We'd rather say we pray at home than join others in public prayer.
  • We'd rather wear a Christian t-shirt than speak the name of Jesus in public.
  • We tithe if we can afford it.
  • We plan our church budget based on last year's expenditures and projected income, just like our business.
  • Jesus spoke pleasant platitudes that look good on pretty posters.
  • Jesus was slender and soft-spoken, slightly tanned with blue-eyes and a European nose.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • To witness to God means being a pastor or a missionary (Lord, please don't send me to Africa!)
  • God isn't concerned about most of the little decisions in my life.
  • My Christianity is mostly about getting to heaven. Why would I expect it to change my life much here? I'm not ready for heaven yet.
  • God knows we're human and doesn't expect all that much of us.
  • When showing a photo of the church, we frame a picture of the church building.
I want to address this topic again but for now, here are some words from Jesus himself:
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

Luke 9:23-24

Christian or Christ Follower?

Here's an interesting clip that spoofs a more traditional church viewpoint:

Monday, April 9, 2007

Did God create evil?

I found this on Godtube and thought you might enjoy seeing it.

The purpose of roots


They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Psalms 1:3 (NRSV)

I grew up on a farm and one of our summer chores was to pull weeds in the sugar beet fields. There was something deliciously satisfying to grab a tall fat weed and extract it from the soil with the long spidery roots intact. I knew that weed was dead and gone.

A weed is tenacious in its one goal: to reproduce. A weed shot down roots, sent up leaves so that it could produce seed. A weed’s fruit was its seed.

I have seen weeds with one tender slender root still gripping the soil, alive and growing. I’d have thought that slicing off most of the roots would slay that weed, but I learned the value of strong roots.

We were fighting weeds because they tenaciously stole the moisture and nutrients from the crops we had planted. But while we fought weeds with one hand, we nurtured the sugar beet plant with the other. What we battled in the weeds we encouraged in the beets.

We wanted strong roots and fruit in its season.

In Psalms 1:3, I am reminded of the same principle, the importance of roots in producing fruit. I think we often are satisfied with the image of sinking our roots into the streams of water. Spiritually, we want our life to soak in the living water of God, the nourishing of his presence.

How do we know we have allowed our roots to go deep? Because we are producing strong leaves and fruit. If it isn’t yet the season for fruit, the fruit is coming.

Our purpose, like that tenacious weed or sweet sugar beet, is to produce fruit. The roots are only means. Am I committed to reproducing, to producing fruit? Or only sending my roots deeper and deeper?

Even a weed knows the purpose of roots is to turn out fruit.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

He is risen!

For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Romans 5:10

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The mouth of the dragon

Today, I could not pull back the sheets and put on my slippers except for the love and grace of God. An unspeakable tragedy has brushed against our family and we are shaken. A friend, a new Christian, succumbed to old ways of coping.

Those old ways often look comfortable. But, like when we turn over a rock in the garden, the ugliness of the old ways is exposed.

Evil masquerades as light, lust as amusement We step into the mouth of the dragon, believing it to be a fun house.

Never have I seen the warfare as strongly as I see it today. Satan is not a cute little red devil having a good time. We think he looks a little naughty, but that’s part of his charm. We are seduced by his appearance and rationalize any consequences: why can’t we have a little fun? Why is God taking away our freedom and our pleasure? Satan wants to cut our throats and utterly deceive us.

We can’t play church – and tickle our own ears a little bit. Our loved ones are getting picked off by snipers and we’re hiding like ostriches because we don’t want someone to smirk at our faith.

A soldier knows his captain. A warrior knows his leader. We have to know our Leader and we have to show some grit.

Avalon has a song entitled, “I will testify to love.” The chorus challenged me this morning:

For as long as I shall live

I will testify to love

I'll be a witness in the silences when words are not enough

With every breath I take

I will give thanks to God above

For as long as I shall live

I will testify to love

And I’m reminded, too, of the demon-possessed man at Gerasene. After Jesus set him free from a legion of demons, the man wanted to go with Jesus. But Jesus left him behind with these instructions:

"Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:39

As warriors, those are our orders as well: declare what God has done. Testify to his miraculous work in your life and in others. Be a witness to his love.

We have been left behind for now to proclaim Jesus. Not to trust good works or nice platitudes or will power but to proclaim Jesus. Today, be like the Gerasene man set free: return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.

Friday, April 6, 2007

As a warrior


…Each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. (Neh 4:18)

Imagine these builders, sweat dropping off bulging muscles, stopping for long drinks of water, working to rebuild the walls of their city. Without those walls, the people were vulnerable to attack and vulnerable to being absorbed by the people on the outside.

The builders were dedicated. Motivated by Nehemiah’s inspired leadership, they were working together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. But with the building came the attacks and threats. Rumors swirled of bandits gathering to harass and pillage.

So they worked with a sword at their side, ready to do battle. Can’t you see the image of a builder and a warrior? Wearing the same skin, clothed in the same uniform, standing strong for their duty.

Today, we are so often builders, too. We may be building a family, a business, a career, a ministry, a dream. Are we so dedicated? Attacks are guaranteed. It isn’t easy to move ahead. Sometimes our vision of excellent threatens others. Sometimes our own friends and family may not understand.

That was the same issue for the builders of the wall of Jerusalem. They responded with determination – and preparation. They carried a sword.

How about you? Are you building? Do you have a vision of something bigger than yourself? Are you willing to carry a sword to protect the image?

And what is your sword? Well, what was theirs?

Nehemiah told his followers:

"Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes." Neh 4:14

Remember the Lord. Fight in his name.

These builders labored on. And notice what happened to their enemies:

When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work. Neh 4:15

God frustrated the plot.

Be ready to fight. Be ready to trust God. Be ready to return to the wall and work.

Are you a builder with a sword?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Getting there?

She was chatty and friendly. It didn’t take long for her to mention her church participation and her daughter’s attendance at Wednesday night youth group. Cool, I thought. Maybe we can talk about Jesus!

When she mentioned that she was trying to give up smoking again, I asked her what had happened to the last try. “Oh, stress got to me,” she said. “I was doing really well but then I got super busy and stress killed me.”

I was sympathetic. “Isn’t it interesting to find out what we use for comfort,” I said.

“Yeah, if I quit smoking, I’ll probably switch to junk food!” she laughed.

I laughed with her. “Well, remember what you learn at church, too,” I added. “There’s comfort in your Bible, too.”

She nodded. “Good idea!”

Before long, I asked her what church she attended. “I haven’t ever been to that church,” I said. “How do people in your church get to heaven?”

“Just like everybody else!” she laughed.

Of all the answers I was waiting for, that one shut me down a little bit. “Which is?” (Do you ever wish you had 24 hours to think over your next words?)

She was a little tongue-tied. “Uh, you know, doing good things, being nice to people, trying hard.” She frowned in thought. “You know, not sinning very much.”

“Do they talk about Jesus at your church?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” she said and then we were interrupted and never came back to that thread of conversation.

I mussed with her worldview a bit. I could tell she was a little unsettled. I’m still stewing over our exchange, wondering what I should have said differently. I don’t know if I planted a seed or missed an opportunity.

But I am still mulling over the knowledge that a regular churchgoer in my hometown hasn’t heard that getting to heaven is easier than being nice to people and trying to minimize the sins.

Like a monkey moment, really

I’ve been trying to look for “God stories” in my days. I’m not one of those superstitious mystics who think things “just happen.” (I’m also not like a former co-worker who railed against superstitious people who believed in all sorts of good luck charms. “Except salt,” she added. “What’s with salt?” I asked. “Well, when you spill salt, you always throw it over your shoulder,” she said. Silly me.)

Anyway, I think God is always up to something and I am often too dense to see it. So I’m trying to pay attention. One day, I got out of the car and nearly locked the door when a sudden thought hit me: Check on monkey. I did. (Did I mention that all my keys are on a keyring headed up by a stuffed monkey. It’s easy to find in my purse and always there.)

Well, it wasn’t in my purse. I was on my way to an all-day conference in Denver and would have come back my locked car in the dark without my keys.

That was a God moment, because I didn’t know monkey wasn’t in my purse. One of the kids did know but that’s another topic. (He hadn’t whispered anything in my ear anyway.)

I want to tell you about yesterday’s God story, however. It’s more exciting than the monkey story anyway. Our family used to do puppet shows. We’d go to nursing homes, AWANA programs, fairs. But that has faded away over the years and now we have several lockers full of unused puppets. We’re shifting gears as a family from the puppets to a new venture with moviemaking. We need a nice movie camera. So several puppets went on eBay.

I was hoping for $200 for the batch. They were used, after all. But they had crept to $300 by yesterday. (I need to add that these puppets were worth close to $900 new.) When the dust settled, we had received well over $450! We were shocked, astonished, and thankful!

Thank you, Lord!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Trimming wings

Merry and Pippin spend their days in lazy self-indulgence. They eat when they want to eat. Their food and drink are served to them without any payment and they have no calendar to hold to. They sleep when they want to sleep, play when they want to play, and sing when the urge hits them.

Merry and Pippin are parakeets that enjoy the warm morning sun and the luxury of meals around the clock without punching a clock. Their owners like to take them out and let them grip a finger while exchanging cooing sounds. Merry and Pippin sometimes brighten their owners’ day by sitting on their shoulder or even perching on top their heads.

Their only problem comes when they get too independent.

You’d think that they would welcome the hand that feeds them but it isn’t unusual for them to get a little cocky. Somehow they think they deserve this pampered life and they won’t even interact with those who care for them.

When the day comes that they refuse to perch on an outstretched finger, their owners take them in hand and trim wings. Boy, you ought to hear the squawking! This trimming hurts as much as cutting your hair but brings on the complaints.

Once their wings are trimmed, Merry and Pippin quickly become much friendlier and fun to be around.

Have you tracked with me on this one? I could substitute my name for Merry and Pippin. I understand God as the one who cares for me and only asks for relationship from me. But I can get pretty blasĂ© about all he does for me and I can get pretty independent. I can feel sorry for myself rather than recognizing my rich life. And I squawk when my wings are trimmed. But if that’s what it takes to bring me back to him, bring it on!

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

Psalms 8:3-4

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. (Luke 7:37)

In this story, a notorious prostitute dared to enter the home of a Pharisee to anoint Jesus’ feet and express her gratitude. Jesus found a rich soil with sinners (those who recognized their sins) while the righteous (those who overlooked their sins and thought their actions white-washed any “minor” sins) had little use for Jesus. Luke has established, in preceding chapters, Jesus’ authority and how different people respond to Jesus. The new thread – the refusal of the Pharisees to join the celebration – continues here.

Credit Simon with enough curiosity or sense to invite Jesus to a meal. It would seem he wanted to hear first hand what Jesus was teaching. Or maybe he wanted to guide Jesus onto a “better” path for a rabbi to follow. In any case, he struggled with classic Pharisee separatism.

Pharisees had misunderstood God’s command in their history to be holy. Holiness means set apart for a purpose. God asked the Israelites to separate themselves from the diluting of other people and their religions. The Pharisees took that a step further, to seeing themselves as superior in their separation. They missed the point. The separation was not about being clean but about avoiding further stain. Separation was about fleeing temptation, not about remaining pure. The Pharisees were never pure.

But Simon misinterpeted. He thought the prostitute would stain Jesus. But Jesus, who came to fulfill the law, shows Simon the fullness of the separation pact. Like Nehemiah’s walls protected the people and gave them identity, the separation of the Jews guarded them from temptation and identified them as children of God. But the full intent of the separation was not to maintain purity, for they never had it apart from God. And so Jesus shows how God wanted to bring people in, to nurture them, to draw them close to his presence.

Purity would not come from avoiding evil but by being washed clean. The woman understood that. She knew well her sin. Simon thought he was clean by avoiding her kind of people and her kind of evil. He would only be clean when he trusted Jesus.

The woman understood what Simon had not yet perceived. She was washed clean but Simon remained in the dust.