Category Archives: Jesus and Life

When Selfless Love and Selfish Love Fall on the Same Day

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today is also Valentine’s Day.

There may not be two more opposite emphases celebrated on the same day. Each one celebrates love, but two different kinds of love. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent- a 40 day preparation for Easter. Lent is often celebrated by fasting from something as a symbolic way to enter into the suffering of Christ and as a way to prepare for the joy of Easter. Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter are all about selfless love. The selfless love of Jesus who went to the cross to bring the forgiveness of sins.

Valentine’s Day, in our culture, has become symbolic of selfish love. Love shown by the buying of stuff- teddy bears, candy, and expensive dinners. This way of celebrating Valentine’s Day actually brings out the worst of “love.” It celebrates a kind of love that is needy, a kind of love that finds its fulfillment in materialism, and a kind of love that is given and received based on what it gets in return.

Jesus said there is no love greater than the love that causes someone to lay down their life for someone else (John 15:13). In other words the greatest love is selfless love. The greatest love is Ash Wednesday love, not Valentine’s Day love.

Today, let’s bridge the gap between Ash Wednesday love and Valentine’s Day love. Before you give that teddy bear and candy, and before you go out to that expensive dinner, first give yourself. Show Ash Wednesday love by setting aside yourself, laying down your life, and getting rid of any agenda.

Practice selfless love. Practice Ash Wednesday love.

2018 Theme(s)

I can’t believe that is almost February 2018 already. I also can’t believe I haven’t written since November. Usually in January I write about my theme for the year. In 2017 the theme was “review.” In 2016 the theme was “bravery” and in 2015 it was “doubt.”

Looking back on those themes, the themes from 2015 and 2016 really did define my year. In 2015, I went through a period where God worked in my heart to redefine my calling. Looking back at my blogs from 2015, I find a process of working through hurt, confusion, and doubt about what God was trying to do in my life.

In 2016, the theme of bravery led me to do some things that are not naturally characteristic of me. I wrote about humility, I stepped out and did some teaching, and (most importantly) I sent a resume to a church in a town I’d never heard of, in a part of Texas I’d never really visited. Then I watched how God worked and put me and my family together with the perfect church to pastor and lead. All because sometimes faith takes some bravery.

Last year my theme was “review.” I wrote that I wanted to reexamine, relearn, reengage with some authors I have in library and with some of the ideas that I spent time writing about on this blog. Ideas of how we should structure church and work in ministry today. Last year, however, was a hard year on bloggers. The news and the world was consumed with politics and that’s not a world that I want to enter as a blogger. So, many of my posts last year were reviews, just book reviews. I wrote about eight different books over 2017. Maybe last year’s theme didn’t turn out the way that I envisioned.

But what about this year? What about 2018?

To be honest I haven’t settled on a theme yet. But I do have some concepts that have been churring in my heart and mind. Perhaps this year I won’t have one theme but several.

Sow. One of Jesus’ most famous stories is about sowing. You can read it in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23. In the story the farmer scatters seeds far and wide- all the way from the road to the field. The farmer knows that nothing will grow if he doesn’t sow, and while we might see him as wasteful (letting seeds fall on the road, the rocky soil, and among the thorns) the principle is that we sow far and wide. One of my themes for the year is to sow far and wide and lead the church to sow far and wide. And in doing we will trust God for the fruit.

Productivity. On a more personal level, I’m realizing more and more the speed of life. It’s easy to let days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years (the fact that I haven’t written since November is exhibit number 1). There are things I want to get done (personally, professionally, with my family, spiritually) that I know can be accomplished if I spend time wisely and productively.

Contemplation. This is the balance to productivity. There is a danger in measuring oneself simply on production. There has to be balance in working and resting, giving and  refilling, production and contemplation.

Those are the ideas in my mind as we begin a new year. I’m excited to see how the year unfolds and how these themes play into the journey.

A Missing Defining Event

This week is the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I was a sophomore in high school in 2001 and while it will probably be the defining moment in my lifetime (I pray nothing worse takes its place) this is the first year that my oldest child really learned about the attacks (he’s in third grade). So Monday night my wife and I were telling our third grader a little about what we remember of that day.

My thoughts went from 9/11 to the other defining events in my life (so far). The first real world events I remember are Operation Desert Storm and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember seeing video of explosions lighting up the night sky as the air portion of Desert Storm began. I also remember the sci-fi looking F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber.

I thought about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember the way the building looked and the heartbreaking picture of the firefighter holding a lifeless baby pulled from the rubble.

Columbine was also a defining event. I was in junior high in 1999. I remember the news coverage and the images of SWAT teams escorting students from the building with their hands on top of the their heads.

Now that I sit here, I think about the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombing at the Atlanta olympics, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

And I wonder, are there any positive defining moments in my lifetime? Are there any events that stand out that cause me to say, “I’m proud that happened during my lifetime?”

Sure there are proud moments in response to these tragedies, as people come together to help one another, but I’m not sure there is a positive defining event.

At least not yet. But I am hopeful. Maybe it’s naive but I believe there is still time- I’m only 31 after all. I don’t believe that my lifetime has to be defined by bombings, shootings, terrorist attacks, and wars. My lifetime can be defined by something more; it can be defined by something positive; it can be defined by something God-inspired.

Jesus said in John 14:12-14 that followers of Jesus will be able to do even greater things (greater works) than Jesus because Jesus will have accomplished his mission and sent the Holy Spirit to live within us. Jesus was one man who taught twelve, who taught thousands, who taught millions, who taught billions. Estimates are that there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world.

With 2.2 billion Christians, how is there not a defining God-inspired event in my lifetime? God is moving in the world. There are stories of how God is moving in China and in the Middle East. There was the rise in the worship movements and Pentecostalism in South America. But there hasn’t been a “Pentecost” in my lifetime. There hasn’t been a “Great Awakening” in my lifetime. There hasn’t been a “Jesus Movement” in my lifetime.

Why?

Maybe we are the plants growing in the shallow rocky soil or growing up amidst the choking thorns of worry, riches, and pleasures of life. Maybe it’s because we Christians can’t seem to stop fighting among ourselves as we keep calling out “heretics” for their specks while ignoring our own logs. Maybe it’s because we are lazy. Maybe it’s because God desires us to be desperate but we are too content with our iPhones and Netflix. Maybe it’s because we keep looking for someone else to do something when God is calling each one of us.

I’ve been wary of the term revival, as it’s used now, because it’s been equated with a return to a religio-social-cultural-political ideal that never really existed. There can be no return to a reality that never was.

What we need are people and churches who are inspired to do God-inspired things. We don’t need to look into the past but gaze into the future and have God inspire us to do a greater work.

Maybe then in 30, 40, or 50 years the defining moment in my lifetime will be a God-movement or a God-event and not more of the same.

 

Jesus and the Illusion of Control

Nature has a funny way of reminding us that we aren’t in control as much as we think we are. We love the idea of control. We live in a world where we can control the thermostat in our house, the lights in our house, even the ice maker in the refrigerator in our house all from our smartphone. Through social media we can control the narrative of our lives that we project to the world. Some people take great control of what they eat and put into their bodies. Some people put in guardrails so that they remain in control their time. I don’t think any of us like the feeling of being out of control- either emotionally, physically, or financially. But what happens is that we build an illusion of control and we find it shocking when that illusion comes crashing down.

Nature has a tendency to be that thing that causes our illusions of control to come crashing down. Control didn’t matter when water from Hurricane Harvey starting rising. Right now Hurricane Irma is making it’s way across the Caribbean and where the storm goes and what damage it produces is outside of our control. We have to bend to the wind, not the other way around. We have to respect the ocean, and the rivers, and the mountains, they don’t have to respect us.

Unless you’re Jesus.

On multiple occasions Jesus took control over nature. He calmed storms. He silenced winds. He walked on water. He caused the fruitless tree to wither.

Why did he do those things? I think Jesus wanted to show us that he can control the things we can’t control. Jesus can control nature. Jesus can control disease. Jesus can control limited resources- like taking five loaves of bread and two fish and feeding 10,000+ people. Jesus can even control death.

Whatever is in your life that you can’t control, Jesus can. I know that sounds trivial. Especially to people who are dealing with the aftermath of those uncontrollable things, whether natural disaster, or addiction, or anger, or a disease. But it’s those weary people that Jesus promises to give rest. We just have to seek that rest in Jesus.

We all walk with our illusions of control but what do we do when they fall? Where do we turn?  If your life is out of control, if you are weary, Jesus is in control. There is nothing that stands outside of Jesus’ control. We can rest in that.

“Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” Luke 8:25

A Modern-day Song of Lament

Rend Collective has been writing really great songs lately. Right after Easter I linked one of their songs into a blog post and yesterday I heard another new song that I had to pass along- especially since we are currently in our summer sermon series in the Psalms.

The song, “Weep With Me,” is a song written in the form of the Psalms of Lament and puts lament into the language of today. It reminds us, as do the Psalms of Lament, that we can come to God in worship while bringing to God our questions, doubts, anger and sadness. As we poor out those things to God, to the God who cares and loves us, we are reminded of God’s unchanging character and we are reminded (in the words of the song) that “what was true in the light is still true in the dark.”

 

Like Reading a Seven-course Meal

as kingfishersOver the last year or two I’ve come to appreciate the pastoral wisdom of Eugene Peterson. Previously I had known him as the writer of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language but I didn’t know that he was first and foremost a pastor. He was the founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Maryland and lead the church for 29 years.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God is a book that is directly birthed out of Peterson’s pastoral experience. In fact, the book is built around 49 of Peterson’s sermons, preached to his church. The book reaches to dramatic heights and delves into phenomenal depths. Peterson’s words show the richness of scripture while making them accessible and able to be brought into the sermons of pastors today.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons grouped into seven sections. Each section is introduced by Peterson to invite the reader into the conversation of what it means to preach in the “company” of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul and John. By “company” Peterson means for the reader to “enter into the biblical company of prototypical preachers and work out of the traditions they had developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (xxi). Peterson achieves this goal beautifully; he speaks of story telling, praying and poetry, allowing our imaginations to be “Jesus-filled,” and preaching theologically.

There is so much good in this book that it is hard to pick just one example- but I’ll do just that. In the introduction to “Preaching in the Company of Isaiah,” Peterson says this: “The unrelenting reality is that prophets don’t fit into our way of life. For a people who are accustomed to fitting God into our lives or, as we like to say, ‘making room for God,’ the prophets are hard to take and easy to dismiss. The God of whom the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into God” (116). This is such a profound and needed flip that we must do-especially within our Western culture. God cannot be something I just add into my life. As if we can add God to the plate of our already full lives. We must flip our understanding to see that we fit into God. We join God. We are found in God. We become a part of what God is doing. Peterson points out such an important point in this short paragraph- and that is just one example.

This is one of the books I will continually reference and quote within my own sermons and sermon preparation. When this book is released on May 16, 2017, it needs to be on your list to buy, read and reflect upon.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review. Find more information on the book here.

Or watch this extremely interesting short-film featuring Eugene Peterson and Bono talking together about Psalms.

No Outsiders

I ran into this song last week and it’s a great reminder that no one is excluded from coming to God.

That is especially important to remember as we just celebrated Easter. We say, “Jesus died for everyone.” But sometimes we say it but we forget what that means. Jesus died for the homeless man, Jesus died for the terrorist, Jesus died for sex worker, Jesus died for the elite, Jesus died for the forgotten, Jesus died for the educated, Jesus died for the oppressed, Jesus died for you and Jesus died for me.

In Jesus, there are no outsiders.

The Sin of Texting While Driving

New-Braunfels-bus-crash_600You may have heard about the bus crash involving a group of senior adults from First Baptist Church, New Braunfels, TX. The crash killed 13 people and in the last few days it has come to light that the 20 year-old driver of the truck that struck the church bus was engaged in texting while he was driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that, in 2015 alone, almost 3,500 people were killed and another 391,000 people were injured in accident involving a distracted driver. I also read that an estimated 78% of accidents caused by a distracted driver occurred because the driver in question was texting.

You’ve seen people texting while they drive. You’ve probably done it yourself. I’m not throwing stones from a glass house; I admit that I’ve done it. Although, I’m made a conscious effort to stop. One reason for this it that for several years a major portion of my job consisted of driving from worksite to worksite and I was always shocked that while driving on one major highway, I typically saw more people texting on their phones than not texting on their phones. I could usually tell because the car was swerving or failing to maintain a constant speed and, more often than not, when I would pass them, they were on their phone.

Texting while driving has become an dangerous epidemic. You’ve probably noticed that there are more PSAs on texting while driving on television and radio. And while there are various laws, and sometimes no laws, regulating texting while driving, as Jesus followers we are to follow a ethic above the law.

Texting while driving is, not only potentially against the law, it is a sin.

Wait! There’s nothing in the Bible about texting while driving, how can I call it a sin? Let me explain.

Sin, in it’s most basic, is idolatry. Idolatry is when we place anything above God. We place pleasure above God. We place money above God. We place the desire to get our own way above God. We place ourselves above God.

Texting while driving is a form of placing ourselves first. It’s selfishness. It’s saying, “My conversation is more important than the risk to your life.” It’s careless, reckless and selfish and it’s saying that I am more important than anyone else who’s trying to go to work, pick their kids up from school, or go to the store. It’s saying that I want to do what I want, regardless of it’s potential effects on others. And that is sinful.

Jesus tells us to put ourselves last- take the last seat at the banquet- and be a servant- wash the feet of others. Jesus tells us to love those around us as ourselves. We may not go to banquets where we can take the last seat but we can put the cell phone away while we drive. We may not wash someone else’s feet but we can put the cell phone away while we drive. It’s one of the ways that we love those around us as we hold their life with more honor than we hold a text message.

Commit now, put others above yourself and put the phone away while you drive. Don’t trade someone’s life for a text.

North Korea and The Good Shepherd

I’m fascinated with pictures of North Korea. The dichotomy between the “public” life and the “private” life of the country is unsettling. It appears, from all accounts, that the picture of success, power and happiness that the country wants to show the world is nothing more than a charade. The reality is much different. It appears that life there is hard and the government gives the people just enough perks to keep them content. Censorship, control and fear keep the citizens of North Korea from knowing and experiencing the prosperity and freedom that exists just a few miles away in South Korea- which ranks in the top 50 countries in the world in per capita GDP. By comparison, North Korea ranks 210 out of 229 countries.

Why do the citizens of North Korea allow this?

They allow it because they don’t know any better. For most of them they cannot even imagine a life different than the one they live.

Doesn’t that sound like a lot of people you know? People who live their lives never knowing, never imagining that life could be anything more than what they are experiencing. Life can’t be anything more than stress- financial, emotional, or familial. Life can’t be anything more than counting the hours until 5 o’clock- day after day. Life can’t be anything more than rejection.

We may know people like that, but are you and I people like that? Can we fall into that same mindset? Absolutely we can.

In a very familiar verse, Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus says that in him, there is life and, more than just life, there is full life and in the following verses he says that it is an eternally safe life. Jesus is not saying that there won’t be stress- but that it cannot steal your life. Jesus is not saying that there won’t be days that are boring or numbing- but that they cannot kill your life. Jesus is not saying that you won’t experience rejection- but that it cannot destroy your life.

This isn’t “Joel Osteen” positive thinking Christianity, this is Christianity under the watch and care of Jesus, the good shepherd.

As sheep we either know the voice of Jesus and follow him or we follow the thief, the robber, or hired hand and when the wolf comes the thief, robber, and hired hand don’t protect the sheep, they exploit the sheep. The good shepherd, Jesus, stands in-between the sheep and wolf and lays down his life for the sheep. The sheep are the same and the wolf is the same but what’s different is the shepherd.

Is your life full? Who is your shepherd?

 

Christians can’t add to the “believe me” culture

unknown-1By now we all know the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Whether you’re on the right or left, Republican or Democrat, American or a citizen of another country, Christian or another religion or no religion, there must be concern about the increasingly subjective nature of truth. When facts, evidence, logic, and cause and effect are set aside and replaced with “believe me,” we must be skeptical of the one who is asking for our blind trust. We wouldn’t get on a bicycle outfitted with wings and just believe if someone told us that it could fly. Facts, evidence, logic and cause and effect tell us that a bicycle, although outfitted with wings, cannot fly, no matter how much someone tells us to believe that it can.

I could be talking only about politics but the same is true in our churches. Our churches cannot be places where facts, evidence, logic and cause and effect are set aside for a “believe me” stance. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, we cannot proclaim biblical truth, gospel truth, as a “just believe me” kind of truth. We have to value our integrity and the integrity of the message we proclaim better than that.

A 2013 study by Gallop showed that trust that American have in their pastors, ministers and clergy has plummeted in recent years. In the study only 47% of Americans gave clergy a “very high” or “high” rating on honesty and ethics;  that number has dropped from 67% in 1985. That number was even lower for those ages 18-34, with only 34% rating clergy “very high” or “high” in honesty and ethics. In an already skeptical generation, 7 out of 10 do not see pastors and ministers as honest or ethical. We have much work to do here.  There have been enough politicians who have lied, corporate CEOs who have stolen and pastors who have fallen to make the most trusting person cynical and skeptical. As Christians, not just clergy, we have to commit to living honest and ethical lives. This isn’t following moral rules for morality’s sake but so that in a world that appears unreliable, we must stand out as reliable, truthful and trust worthy.

As I am now preparing sermons each week, I am more aware than ever of the need to be deliberate in showing that, while the message of Jesus takes faith, it is not a faith devoid from facts, evidence and logic. It is a far different thing to show that the message of Jesus is true rather than just saying that the message of Jesus is true. I may not get it right all the time, but I hope that I am at least aware and thinking about it. Showing the message of Jesus to be true begins with a life lived true to the message of Jesus from the inside- out, showing how it connects to every area of life, how the truths of scripture match our observations of reality and not just saying  “believe me.”

(And here I’ll quote my sources in order to be honest and ethical: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/december/seven-people-americans-trust-more-pastor-gallup-honesty.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/trust-in-clergy-gallup-poll_n_4468205.html)