Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Magic In The Boredom


Richard Beck spends most Monday evenings teaching and serving inmates in a Texas prison.  During the past year, he periodically shared some of his experiences there with the world at large through his blog.  In a post near the end of 2017, titled “Prison Diary: This Boring Thing We Call Grace,” I found the following words to be a good reminder:

“Prison ministry isn't all that exciting. Maybe you noticed that as the year went on, getting bored to the point of skipping these Friday installments. I get that. But there is magic in the boredom. As I said at the start of the year, prison ministry is about fidelity, showing up week after week, month after month, year after year. There is nothing particularly sexy or heroic about just showing up. Heart-wrenching and amazing stories aren't happening every Monday night. Trouble is, though, we get addicted to those heroic stories. And the Christian publishing and speaking industry keeps us addicted to these heroic stories. But I'm not a hero. And the Men in White aren't heroes. And what we experience on a typical Monday night isn't going to show up in a story for a book or the speaking circuit. We're just small, broken people looking for grace in a sad, lonely, and very mean world. And from time to time, we find it with each other. Mostly in the smiles and hugs we share when we are reunited again each week. Grace, I think, always feels like coming home.”*

            Perhaps your work in the kingdom of God doesn’t qualify as “heroic” by most standards. Books aren’t being written about your marriage.  High profile speakers don’t reference your congregation’s efforts.  But you continue to serve anyway -- through thick and thin, through good times and not-so-good times -- because it’s not about being the hero.  It’s about being faithful.  May our service to God through serving others never become boring to us.  May we learn to hunger more for God’s grace than for our own glory.

God loves you!
Mike

*http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2017/12/prison-diary-this-boring-thing-we-call.html

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Comparison Game


“It’s no secret that most stay-at-home moms or dads struggle on occasion to feel a sense of appreciation, worth, or significance amidst the day-to-day grind of raising children. During a season of life when she was at home full-time with their children, Dr. Tony Campolo’s wife Peggy would occasionally face the question, “And what is it that you do?” Eventually she crafted the following response. “I am socializing two Homo Sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation.” Then Peggy would ask the other person, “And what do you do?”*

It’s likely that all of us have experienced feelings of insignificance.  Our culture feeds this illness.  Most of us were raised to compete in an environment that coached us to compare ourselves to others by what we do or what we have accomplished. If you are at the top of the food chain, then it’s no problem. You always compare favorably.  But for the other 99.999 percent of us, it’s not so much fun.  There is always someone else who makes more money, gets more done, gets better grades, has a better job, sells more product, etc..  And if our self-worth is tied to this kind of competition, we inevitably end up feeling inadequate or worthless.

There is a better way.  Instead of our self-worth being wrapped up in what we do, let’s learn to assess ourselves by who we are.  If you are a Christian, you are a son or daughter of God.  That makes you a child of the King!  Can you imagine how liberating that would be?  No longer do I have to measure up to anyone else.  God doesn’t love me any more OR less just because of how I compare to others.  We are loved because of WHOSE we are, not because of WHO we are.  Thank you Lord!



God loves you!
Mike

*http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/01/24/free-people-free-people/#F0yzq6

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Eat Your Spinach!


“The cartoon character Popeye is famous for eating spinach. Whenever he breaks open a can of spinach and eats it, he gains enormous strength. Popeye was employed by the US Government during World War 2 to promote the idea of eating spinach. Meat was a rarity during war, but spinach appeared to be a great substitute. In the 1890’s German scientists had shown that spinach contains the same amount of iron as meat. And iron, of course, is one of the essential vitamins in building strength. But the facts are wrong. The German researchers did prove that spinach contains iron, but when they wrote down their results they put the decimal point in the wrong place. They overestimated the amount of iron in spinach by a factor of 10! Unfortunately, the correction didn’t get across the ocean until after WW2.”*
Wouldn’t it have been great to have this information back when Mom was “encouraging” us to eat our spinach!  Since the dawn of time, humanity has been getting their facts mixed up or misrepresented -- sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally.  The problem has only worsened in our era.  The information explosion, via the Internet and such, has made it even more difficult to discern truth from untruth.
The stakes are even higher in the spiritual realm because we are dealing with eternal matters.  In case you haven’t been told yet, let me break the news: you can’t necessarily believe everything a religious teacher tells you.  That is why John teaches to “...test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  That is why Paul praised the Bereans for comparing his teaching to what the Scriptures said (Acts 17:11).  Spiritual truth doesn’t always just fall into your lap.  Often it takes effort to separate fact from fiction.  I would encourage you to make the effort.  Remember, it is the truth, not lies, that will make you free (John 8:32).  Accept nothing less than the truth!

God loves you!
Mike

*http://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/truth/

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Sacrifice To End All Sacrifices

            “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

            With reference to World War I, it was British futurist author H.G. Wells who is credited with coining the phrase “the war to end all wars.”  Note this recollection of his words from a little over 100 years ago: ““We have not sought this reckoning, we have done our utmost to avoid it; but now that it has been forced upon us it is imperative that it should be a thorough reckoning,” the British futurist writer H.G. Wells wrote in an article titled “The War That Will End War,” published in The Daily News on August 14, 1914...“This is already the vastest war in history. It is a war not of nations, but of mankind. It is a war to exorcise a world-madness and end an age… For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing forever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!””*

            Subsequent years have proven the folly of Wells’ prediction.  The last 100 years have been as bloody as any.  It’s just another reminder of human limitations.  We tend to be long on idealism and woefully short on making it happen.  It’s easy to get jaded when you hear bold claims being made about some “miracle” product or process that “will change the world as we know it.”

            That is why the words of Hebrews 10:14 are so striking!  Jesus did one thing one time and took care of the world’s greatest problem.  His sacrifice was truly “the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.”  No more offerings for sin would ever need to be made.  Once was enough!  That, my friend, is impressive!  It reminds me of the words of Jesus Himself: “It is finished!”



God loves you!

Mike


*http://mentalfloss.com/article/58411/wwi-centennial-war-end-all-wars

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Do You Find This Puzzling?


            A recent Reuters news article* spoke of the Chinese government's current efforts to crack down on the growth of Christianity in their country.  The article begins by highlighting the struggle faced by Chinese parents who are believers in such a climate of repression.  “When authorities in China’s southeastern city of Wenzhou outlawed Sunday School earlier this year, Christian parents determined their children must still learn about Jesus and the Bible. Churches in Wenzhou started teaching children in private homes or at other venues. Some billed Sunday School classes as daycare, not education, or moved them to Saturdays, more than a dozen local Christians told Reuters.”

The writers go on to cite one specific example.  “In her house, “faith comes first, grades come second,” said one parent surnamed Chen, asking not to use her full name due to the sensitivity of the matter.”  She went on to speak of how the children of believers “must” attend Bible classes because there is no other venue that will provide the guidance necessary to counteract the draw of the vices in the world around them.

            A couple things came to mind as I read the article.  First, I am humbled by the example of these believers as they courageously practice their faith in the face of such persecution.  These Christians are defying the government to be together for times of spiritual education.  Secondly, I am discouraged when I reflect on the flabbiness of much of what is called “faith” in our own country.  Some (many?) Christians can’t be bothered to attend a Bible class of any kind, even when there is nothing standing in their way.  In our own congregation, several opportunities are provided for spiritual education.  Yet, only part of our group takes advantage of them.  This puzzles me.

            Maybe we need more persecution.  Perhaps, then, Bible class would be viewed as more than an elective.  But, then again, maybe it would just provide another reason to skip it.


God loves you!

Mike


*https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-religion-education/in-chinas-jerusalem-christians-say-faith-trumps-official-sunday-school-ban-idUSKBN1EI025?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

When God Has Other Plans

Steven Brice shared a great post recently on the Charis website titled “When God Shows Up For Christmas".*  He begins by describing (in modern terms) how preparations for Mary and Joseph’s marriage were likely moving forward according to plan until God intervened to disrupt their plans.  He goes on to write of how, from that point on, their world was turned upside down.

I especially appreciate his summary paragraph.  The story of Jesus entering into the world is a story of God disrupting the lives and plans of those God chose. I am aware that during the Christmas season, many find deep delight in thinking about the birth of Jesus or some random white fat guy squeezing through a chimney looking for milk and cookies while providing gifts. But the Christmas story is more than that. It is a reminder that God will disrupt our lives and plans as a gift to the world. I am aware that the Christmas season invites us to create a wishlist of things we want, but the Jesus story invites us to welcome an uninvited guest who is about to turn our world upside-down. So in this Christmas season, as we sing choral songs, drink vegan eggnog, and spend time with family and friends, may we be prepared and be obedient to what mission God is calling us to be a part of when God shows up for Christmas."

As I read these words, I thought of so many others in the Scriptures whose lives and plans were changed in an instant by God’s plans.  Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, Mary Magdalene, Paul, etc..  And as I thought about these people of faith, I reflected on my own reaction to the times when God disrupts MY plans.  It’s so very easy to become discouraged or resentful when things don’t work out the way I would like.  God, please give me the courage to shelve my own plans when YOU have other plans.

God loves you!
Mike

* http://char.is/blog/2017/12/23/when-god-shows-up-for-christmas/

Monday, December 18, 2017

God Alone

"There is something about this God of Israel unlike any other deity of the ancient Near East: You either worship him “only” or not at all” (Bill Arnold, The NIV Application Commentary, 1 & 2 Samuel, Kindle edition, Loc. 2612).
The preceding quote caught my attention as I doing some reading in preparation for a recent sermon.  The more I reflected on the statement, the more convinced I became that it strikes at the heart of why much of the world reacts strongly against the God of the Bible.  He demands exclusive worship.
This principle is found throughout the Scriptures.  The Ten Commandments of the Old Covenant were headlined with this sentence from God: “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) Me” (Exodus 20:3).  Later, as Israel was poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses reiterated the exclusive nature of serving God: “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.  You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you” (Deuteronomy 6:13-14).  Jesus reaffirmed the concept in His own ministry as well (Matthew 4:10; 22:36-38).
And that’s the rub.  Most of the world (and, sadly, many professing believers) only want God IF they can worship\serve Him AND someone or something else.  They wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s how it works out.  God AND financial security.  God AND country.  God AND politics.  God AND success.  God AND materialism.  God AND religion.  God AND ???
But if you are claiming to worship\serve the God of the Bible, it can only be God AND nothing!  He is an exclusive God.  He shares His throne with no one.  It’s non-negotiable.  This truth cannot be made more palatable just because our world rebels against exclusive claims.  Perhaps a periodic review is in order.  Am I allowing ANYTHING to divide my whole-hearted devotion to my God?  If so, then some temple-clearing is also in order.  My God desires ALL of my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

God loves you!
Mike