Monday, February 8, 2016

What's The Cost?

This is what I shared with my youth group just before the halftime spectacle of Super Bowl 50.

Coldplay and friends will have 11 minutes to perform. Does that sound ridiculously short to you? It does to me. We have this big game that everyone wants to be a part of. The NFL teams work all year to make it to this point. Broadcasters and analysts desire to be a part of this game. Companies pay millions of dollars to show a 30 second commercial at this event. People plan ahead to be a part of a party to watch it all. And bands are honored to be selected as the half-time show.

11 minutes.

That’s all the time they have. No wonder too, because there are commercials to show, game analysis to talk about, interviews to be done, field prep and stage set-up….and don’t forget about that game needing to be played.

The planners of this game squeeze it all in because they want to grab our attention. The companies want us to notice and purchase their product. The band wants us to like and purchase their music. The analysts want us to esteem their opinion…to buy in to what they say. The NFL wants us to like their product (football) and purchase all that comes with it (clothing, tickets, accessories, etc.)

So they squeeze all they can into one unforgettable night. But don’t forget there is a God who is also vying for your attention. The NFL wants you to buy their stuff. But God wants you to know the purchase has already been made.

The Bible declares that “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy the show. Let’s just remember there are two forces at work here. One wants us to buy in. The other has already bought us. One paid with dollars and production time. But God paid with His only Son.

Monday, January 25, 2016

This is Why Most Resolutions Should Fail

Much is said about the rush of the Christmas season. Do we even take time to slow down and remember why we asked for new tech from our wife? Or why we gave out gift cards when we didn't know what else to get our friends?

What I think gets missed is that the New Year comes in with as much noise as all the Christmas songs ever could. Even if we had slowed down to read again about God become a man, the hectic pace picks up exactly where it left off once the calendar year turns over.

And why not? The work our boss was kind enough to let slip in the last week of December will now require our full attention the first week of January.

And those resolutions aren't going to write themselves. While I have no problem with people challenging themselves to new things this year, I wonder if we should start by resolving to know why we're resolving.

My fear is that the new diet, the new exercise habit, the new reading goal, the scary business opportunity, the money saving idea....along with a myriad of other potential ideas out there, might all have one common goal.

To get us noticed.

That's right, I wrote it! While all the resolutions could have good and sound reasons behind them, many of us might settle to just be seen bettering ourselves. As if we could improve on what the Creator created.

I'm not going to tell you I'm resolving to not do anything. I have goals. I have dreams. But I am making it my goal to not set any goal without knowing why I am setting the goal.

It's a big world out there. It's ok to feel small. It's ok to be small.

As February looms, seeing most of us needing to make new resolutions, after our New Year's resolutions were scrapped, don't let that knowledge get you down. God made you. He loves you. I believe He has a plan for your life. But don't ever get confused into thinking that it requires 15 minutes of fame, or even the notice of anyone besides your Heavenly Father.

Friday, January 1, 2016

You Don't Want To Be Left Out

As we were driving along one day, I told my teenage daughter that the decisions she made today would have an impact for years to come. Specifically, the choices she made now to work hard on her classes and her grades would have a direct impact come time for high school graduation.

Nobody thinks about what the valedictorian is doing on an average Friday night in October their sophomore year. In fact, nobody wants to think about the hours of research and study that it takes to earn high grades. But when it comes time for the awards and recognition, then everyone wants a piece of the action.

I told her to consider now how she wanted to feel later on.

Life works in a similar fashion. There will be some rewards handed out for all eternity. Nobody wants to think right now about the work, the self-control, the earnest longing it takes to be a committed disciple of Jesus.

But some day....

Monday, December 28, 2015

Messy Grace

Wouldn't it be nice if, when someone merely mentioned the name of Jesus, people became Christians with no baggage, no past and no consequences from their past? What if, at the very mention of grace, everyone became nice and neat and could simply take their place next to us in our favorite pew? Not our seat, of course. But next to us in a pew that miraculously and suddenly had room for one more.

Unfortunately, that is not the way grace, or pews for that matter, works.

I recently finished Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, a book I believe should be required reading for every Christian. Oh, I suppose the ideas have already been recorded somewhere in a book that is considered required reading for Christians, but somehow many of us have missed the application of truth that the Bible offers.

Does it make sense if I say that Messy Grace is groundbreaking while not actually offering anything new? I don't mean that in merely the sense of 'there is nothing new under the sun' as we read in Ecclesiastes. I mean that Kaltenbach has literally taken the example of Jesus and the encouragement of the New Testament writers and applied it in the way which should be foundational for people who say they love Jesus.

Caleb writes that grace is necessarily messy, because it is the mixture of truth, something we often use as a weapon, with love, something we don't use enough of. To make matters even more sticky, he applies it in this book to the subject of homosexuality. But not simply the topic, but the people who identify as homosexuals.

He admits that people on both sides of this divide will likely disagree with him at points along the book, but thankfully, he wrote it anyways. I was thrilled that Caleb did not simply give us bumper stickers or new banners to wave, but gave us practical action points and plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Like many books, this one offers discussion questions along the way, making this a good group read. I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books. They don't tell me what to say, but simply ask that I say something.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Story is a Call to Action

This is something I shared with my youth group recently...because not even a Christmas party is an excuse to stop pursuing teens with the clarion call of Christ. 

I found a list of the "must-have" gifts for Christmas for the past 30 years. This is what had to share.

In 1983 everyone had to have a cabbage patch doll. In 1985 we just had to have an $18 Pound Puppy. In 1989 American households scrambled to get a new Game Boy, followed by the 1995 Beanie Baby craze, and the 1996 Tickle Me Elmo frenzy. In the ensuing years American consumers knocked themselves out to buy the following top yearly must-have Christmas gifts: a new iPod (2002), A Wii (2006), a Kindle (2010), the Angry Birds Board Game (2011), the Doc McStuffins doll (2013), and the Frozen Sing Along Elsa Doll (2015).

Not much over the past 30 years has changed. We’ve proven over and over again that we’ll buy lots of garbage in mass quantities. Except for the serious collector, most of us no longer have any of these items, nor do we want them. But, at least for a year, they were must have.

And if any of you have ever been Black Friday shopping, you know that getting a hot items takes planning, some dedication and focus, and maybe the shedding of some blood.

But I wonder where else in our lives we see such focus and dedication.

Casting Crowns has a song where they talk to Bethlehem as a city and asks them if they realize the King of the universe came into their city while they were sleeping.

Have we ever truly considered the kind of sacrifice Jesus made?

Maybe the first Christmas for Jesus was a lot like Christmas vacations for us. It all starts out pretty good. Some days of shopping and some more parties. Then we get to wake up on December 25 and open up gifts. That’s a good day.

Then we have another whole week of family, something we don’t always do well with. Yeah, we love these people, but sometimes 2 weeks with them pushes our sanity to the limit. Hear me clearly, it shouldn’t be like this.

Maybe we’d prefer to get the gifts and then go do whatever we want to do.

What if Jesus’ experience was like that? What if He looked past the scratchy manger, the smelly animals, and the smelly people? What if he enjoyed hearing the angels singing and the shepherds worshipping? Maybe He even enjoyed the wise men coming a few years later with gifts?

But then He endured a trip to Egypt. How fun are long-distance trips by donkey? What if He didn’t like being treated as a child? What if the pressures of being a teenager didn’t sit well with Him? What if He wasn’t interested in carpentry?

I haven’t even gotten to the part of His life where He started telling people He was God and they gave Him grief instead of respect!!!

At any point in time Jesus could has been uncomfortable or offended or sad. At any point Jesus could have decided that the whole earth mission was pointless and went back to Heaven.

But He didn’t. Why? I think John 3:16 provides our answer. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’

God loves us.

God understands that without Him, we die and live eternity without Him.

God wants us to be with Him. “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” ~2 Peter 3:9b.

Have we ever had a focus like that? Have we ever wanted anything so bad, that we were willing to deal with discomfort and adversity in order to get it? Do we approach Jesus the same way He approached us?

God spoke with shepherds, led wise men on a long journey, made a mom out of a virgin and gave a step-dad the biggest responsibility ever. Why was God willing to intervene in all of these people’s lives? Because He loved a whole lot more people.

Are we willing to bring discomfort to other people? Are we willing to offend them if needed, with the bold claims that God loves us and sin exists in us, and these two are incompatible? Are we willing to embarrass ourselves and be counted in with people who are accused of being weak-minded, fairy-tale following fools?

Do we have the focus to remember the Christmas story during the dreary days of winter, the long weeks with tests and homework, when parents don’t get us and friends reject us? Can we remember that this story is not simply something we read before we open up presents, but an invitation, a call to action? 

 Jesus was willing to stand out for us, are we willing to do the same for Him?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas and Noise

Each Sunday our children collect change for missions. As we got closer to Christmas, the big bucket was emptied for year-end numbers. And this was how the great juxtaposition of Christmas and noise was about to be experienced. 

As our ladies played a special number on the piano and organ, our kids collected change. Except now, the change they collected was dropped into an empty bucket. Can you hear the change thumping and clanging against the empty bottom of a 5-gallon bucket? I could. 

The background to the noise was the playing of O Holy Night, a soft and melodic tune. Or perhaps the background to O Holy Night was the change being dropped in the bucket. It's kind of hard to say which was which now. 

But it was the familiar sounds of Christmas mixed with the familiar sounds of....noise. One might have wished us to plan differently and have the ladies play apart from the collecting of money. That would have been one way to go, I suppose. 

Yet I imagine the first Christmas was a strange mix of angels singing, barnyard animals mooing and bleeting, and....despite what the one carol suggests, even a crying baby. 

Can you hear it? It's the mixture of music and noise. It's the mixture of the heavenly and the earthly, the supernatural and the mundane. It's God meets Man in its most perfect form. 

It feels out of control. It looks messy. But maybe that was the point. If God came to Earth to show us His abundant love for each of us, then there was necessarily going to be a meeting of the perfect and the imperfect, of good and evil, of light and darkness. I don't think God got down here and was surprised by how messy the world is. 

Perhaps that is part of the lesson of Christmas for each of us. We can sing the Christmas carols. We can wrap gifts in pretty paper for friends and family. We can enjoy the most Pinterest-perfect Christmas goodies. But the news on Christmas Eve will still be bleak. The problems that existed before the Christmas season will still exist after. 

It's Christmas and Noise. 

But I have hope. I believe the sounds of Christmas, the true sounds of Christmas, will overcome the Noise. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Love Does Not Envy

Among the silly and insignificant things I post here, I also share the chapel moments I have with a room full of preschoolers. I'm honestly not sure why I go in with a plan, since I never know what's going to happen once I open my mouth. Herding cats might be more predictable. 

I'm taking them through 1 Corinthians 13 this school year. Here was the latest...

“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy.”

I've always marveled at the transition between being thankful for everything we have on Thanksgiving Day, to shopping for all the new stuff we want to be thankful for on Black Friday. So I asked the children the following questions.

  • How many of you have made a Christmas list for your mom and dad?
  • How many of you are looking forward to seeing Santa?
  • What if you don’t get everything on your list? Will you be mad at Santa? Or will you be thankful for what you do get?
There is something that often happens around Christmas that is a problem for everyone; boys, girls, and even Moms and Dads. It’s called envy. That means that we want what other people have.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” ~Proverbs 14:30

At this point I pulled out a regular egg, clean and white.

Let’s pretend this egg is what all of our hearts look like at first. Then we start to look at what other people have. We begin to want what they have. We become envious of what they have.

Then I pulled out an egg I had soaked in a glass of coke over night. 

Soon our hearts will begin to look like this second egg.

You know how too much sugar can cause cavities in your teeth? When we envy “stuff,” it can rot the attitude of our hearts, just as the cola will rot the eggshell. I let this egg soak overnight in a can of soda. If I had left it longer, the soda would start to eat away at the eggshell.

  • How does envy damage your heart?

The Bible also says that love does not envy. Because when we love God, we believe He will give us whatever we need. Then we’ll be thankful for everything He gives us.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy.”