Monday, June 27, 2011

My Comfortable Boat

At our church, we have community groups where around 8 people (or 6 couples) commit to meeting together on a regular basis (usually weekly) to study the Bible and build relationships.  Even the children’s ministry has adopted this model.  My son started kindergarten last year and was placed with a small group leader who will follow him as he moves from grade to grade until he enters middle school.  He’s really gotten attached to his small group leader, and he really takes it hard when she’s not there.  Today we went to church and we walked him to his room like we do every week.  When we got there, they said that his group leader wasn’t there and that he would be in a different group today.  He completely flipped out.  You’d think they were about to haul him off to prison. 

Do you do that sometimes?  How do you respond when it becomes clear that you are going to have to leave your place of comfort and meet new people, go to a new environment, etc.?  Do you throw a tantrum?  Do you ignore it for as long as you possibly can and hope it goes away?  I’m embarrassed to say that in my younger years I did that for a while about the dentist.  I hate cleanings.  I especially hate the thing where they polish your teeth afterwards with that spinning, vibrating thing.  My teeth are very sensitive and it drives me crazy.  So in my infinite wisdom I just stopped going when I graduated from college… for 4 years.  7 cavities and a root canal later, I understood the value of dental cleanings.

We just don’t want to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable, and we often don’t want to take risks.  This is especially true when God is calling us out of our comfort zones.  And if you haven’t noticed, God has a tendency to do that.  The best way to test and strengthen our faith is to ask us to get out of the boat, step into the unknown, and trust Him. 

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.  About three o'clock in the morning* Jesus came toward them, walking on the water.  When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, "It's a ghost!"
But Jesus spoke to them at once. "Don't be afraid," he said. "Take courage. I am here!"
Then Peter called to him, "Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water."
"Yes, come," Jesus said.
Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.  (Matthew 14:24-29)  NLT

Following Jesus can be uncomfortable, even a little scary at times.  It’s supposed to be.  That’s how we grow.  But we can trust Him to meet our needs and take care of us in the uncertainty.  Is Jesus calling you to do something you don’t really want to do?  The God of the universe wants you to trust Him… and He wants to have an opportunity to come through for you and show you how invested He is in your life and how much he wants what’s best for you.  He wants to show you how real He really is.  If you never step out of the boat, you’ll never know.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Harvest

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.  People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.  (Proverbs 10:9-10)  NLT

As you look back on your life, isn’t it true that much of the pain you’ve experienced in your life has been self inflicted?  Obviously this doesn’t apply to things like your parents’ divorce, abuse you may have experienced as a child, etc.  But I’m sure most of us can look back on our lives and see how our own sin (lust, selfishness, pride, etc.) has caused pain and suffering not only for us but in many cases for those around us.  Even if we can’t see it in ourselves, we can certainly see it in the lives of people we know.  What we do matters.  In fact, who we are matters—our character, our integrity, our capacity for self control. 

Don't be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7)  NLT

In other words, you reap what you sow.  A pornography addiction can derail a marriage.  A sex addiction while you’re single can actually derail your future marriage (not intuitive, I know).  A gambling addiction can derail your finances.  A drug addiction can derail your entire life.  Worse than that, you don’t even have to sow for a long time to experience the consequences.  One night of indiscretion can get a 15 year old girl pregnant (or worse).  Fifteen drunk minutes behind the wheel can end somebody’s life.  Sometimes a single seed is all it takes.

The outcome of our lives depends not only on our general wisdom in the various areas of life (ex. should I buy a new or used car?) but it depends even more so on how closely we are following our Savior.  When we have a relationship with God, He leads us toward things like honesty, integrity, purity, holiness...  These things are the foundation for living a life that avoids pitfalls and avoids being on the receiving end of punishment and justice.  God honors and blesses us as we strive to be who He wants us to be.  When we choose the wrong paths, we are wise to expect correction in one form or another.

The Bible is full of passages that make it clear that what we do will catch up to us.  Here are a couple more:

Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15) NLT

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?  Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?  So it is with the man who sleeps with another man's wife.  He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:28-29) NLT

Are you doing something that, if you were caught, would likely create serious difficulty in your life?  What is it in your life you least want someone to know about?  Examine the risk associated with being found out.  If you assume that what scripture says is true (ie. you will be found out eventually), is it worth it? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Kind Of People

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.  If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, "You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor"—well, doesn't this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?  (James 2:2-4)  NLT

When I was just out of college, I went to a small town church in rural Mississippi.  It was a growing church that loved Jesus and was incredibly focused on outreach, moreso than any other church I had been to.  One Sunday night, I was sitting with the choir when I noticed a black family had chosen to attend.  They were sitting about halfway back on the right side.  They had the entire row to themselves, ignored even through the “fellowship hymn”.  At the end of the service the church joined hands across the aisle to sing a last chorus, and that’s when it dawned on me why no one sat in their row. 

What kind of person would you rather not sit next to “on the pew”?  Who is it that, having run into them on the street, you would have difficulty inviting them to church?  For some of us it’s porn stars or strippers.  For some it’s homosexuals.  Maybe for you it’s rich people.  Or poor people.  Maybe it’s based on the way she dresses, a tattoo on his arm, or how long his hair is.  For some it’s the fact that they’re Missionary Baptists instead of Southern Baptist.  Isn’t it easy to want to help God determine which people belong in “His house” and which seem to fit in better “out in the world”?

But we know Jesus didn’t do that.  He was constantly being berated by people around Him for socializing with tax collectors and sinners (ie. the proverbial bottom of the barrel).  Remember the story of Zacchaeus? 

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today."  Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.
But the people were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!"
Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost."  (Luke 19:5-10)

If we truly follow Jesus, we’ll realize that God has called us to reach those who desperately need His love—who desperately need salvation.  As it turns out, this would be everyone.  The business man, the stay at home mom, the ex-marine, the homosexual, the porn star.  Everyone.  God loves all of us, calls all of us, desires to have a relationship with… all of us. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Father Knows Best

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat.  But the Pharisees said to Jesus, "Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?"
Jesus said to them, "Haven't you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions."
Then Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath...”  (Mark 2:23-27)  NLT

Many people I’ve talked to about Christianity over the years believed Christianity is primarily about rules—“Do”s and “Don’t”s.  God is viewed as the heartless, controlling parent who is hiding something good behind his back and controls his children with fear and anxiety.  The world sees Christianity as a collection of prudish rules (about sex in particular).  This isn’t terribly surprising since Christians often make the mistake of representing Christianity that way themselves.  Just within the church, we can sometimes become legalistic and wrap our lives around the rules we find in the scripture.  After all, rules we can see and hold on to.  Rules give us a measuring stick, which means we can compare ourselves to those around us and feel better about how we’re doing.  But if we are wise, we’ll realize that the rules found in scripture don’t work in our favor at all.  We can’t be good enough to satisfy the standard (which, it turns out, is perfection).

Jesus certainly didn’t come to create rules.  He came to create relationship.  He died to clear a path between us and God, to pave the way for us to receive the most incredible gift we could have been given:  to be adopted into the family as heirs to the kingdom.  He died to put our focus on Him rather than on a set of rules or those around us.  And he wants us to know Him.  In fact, our salvation hinges not on how well we follow the rules but rather on the presence of an actual relationship--whether or not we know Him and He in turn knows us.

"Not everyone who calls out to me, 'Lord! Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, 'Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.'  But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws.'  (Matthew 7:21-23)  NLT

As part of that relationship, God wants us to follow His will for our lives and to trust Him with everything that we are.  Is that to control us or put us under his thumb?  Of course not.  Do factories ask people to wear hard hats to control them?  The correct answer would be no.  We know we are no longer slaves to the law (just ask Paul) and we know that God chose to do that for us.  God wants us to be free--free from the law's condemning nature, free from sin, free from regret, etc.  At the end of the day, God wants what's best for us.  The rules he put in place (the law) are now a guide, meant to protect us from our own stupidity, our own nature, and the fallen nature of this world we live in.  

So now let’s consider the Sabbath.  Jesus said that we weren’t made to benefit the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made to benefit us.  The Sabbath is not simply another part of the measuring stick.  Instead, it’s for our benefit because God made us and he knows what we need (in this case, rest).  God knows that our spouses need us to rest, our children need us to rest… We need us to rest too.  The Sabbath honors God whom we love and it also puts work in its proper perspective, helping us to create the right balance for our lives.  Work is something we do, not who we are.  I do not belong to my employer; I belong to God.  I do not trust my employer to meet my needs.  I trust God to do that. 

So how will you honor God this week on your day of rest?  Any ideas?