Thursday, September 4, 2014

Surviving the Blah Days

Ever had a blah day?  A day when you didn't feel like getting out of bed, let alone do anything productive?  Maybe you're tired or the weather is bad or you just don't feel like being a contributor to the world at large.  You feel emotionally void, physically drained and spiritually dry.  Know what I'm talking about, or is it just me?  The blah days, when you want to eat too much, sleep too much and do nothing worthwhile.  I have those days, and let me tell you, those days are hard.

It's in the blah days that temptations seem the most available.  On blah days, it's easy to sit around on social media, look at things and say things.  Some things you shouldn't look at, some things you shouldn't say or post or tweet.  It's a temptation to be rude on blah days, because you feel blah.  It's easier not to care about someone's feelings.  It's easy to say or do things you'll regret.  What do we do with blah days?  Where is God when things are blah?

Blah days happen, and we have to live through them.  A few things you can do during those blah days.  Find a project offline, like a scrapbook, model, paint or draw or write or sew or something.  Find something to work on, something to focus your energy on.  Listen to a sermon or Christian music while you do something.  Fill your mind with positive things that will keep your mind from drifting to negative things.  Play with your dog or your cat, I'm sure they would appreciate it.  Do for a drive or a walk or a swim and take time to breathe.  Most of all, keep the lines of communication open to the Father.  Maybe God is taking a day to slow you down to tell you something important.

Blah days come, but they also go.  Hang in there during those days of blah-ness.  I hope you find a blessing on the other side.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bear Fruit, Don't Work Fruit

So one of the things that I have realized is I can't produce fruit.  I can't work the fruit of the spirit, but I can do the works of the flesh.  The fruit of the spirit comes through me, not from me.  The Holy Spirit produces the fruit, it's the Spirit's work.  He makes the fruit, we are just there to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

So, here is the implication.  We need to change the way we teach and preach.  We give lists of dos and don'ts, we make rules and laws and tell people how to modify their behavior.  We tell them to be loving and forgiving and gentle and humble.  Guess what, they can't.  Only the Spirit can produce love and peace and gentleness and self control.  All we can do, all we should do is abide in the Spirit.  We do this by thinking about those things which are good and noble and right and pure.  We transform by the renewing of our mind, thinking about Christ and His mission, His message, His goodness.  We focus on God, we think about God, we pray and think about scripture.  We put our mind where it needs to be and as a result, the Holy Spirit puts our lives where it needs to be.

We have focused so much on changing our behavior, on following the rules that we have missed the basic fundamental responsibility.  To fix our eyes upon Jesus, to focus on God and let Him do the work in us.  He will make the fruit, we just bear the fruit.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Spirit Filled Life, Am I Living It?

I am reading a book about having a Spirit Filled Life, I'll post a review when I'm finished.  It's made me stop and wonder if I am living a Spirit filled life.  Baptists don't talk a lot about a Spirit Filled Life, and I'm not theologically in line with the Charismatic view of a Spirit Filled life.  To have a life filled with the Holy Spirit, I have to completely surrender myself to His will and His control.  Have I done that?  Do I even know how to do that?  I am finding that the idea of faith the size of a mustard seed is rare.  Most of us have faith the size of a neutron, maybe an atom.  A few have faith the size of a single cell, maybe a cluster of a few cells, but Mustard seed, that's hard for most of us.  Complete abandonment of even one aspect of our lives is so hard.  We always want to have at least part of the control, part of the say.  It's our lives, and we want to control to some aspect.

I am finding just how hard total and complete surrender is.  I have dreams and visions and ideas that I want, and it's hard to surrender those things to God.  It's hard to trust God because often His plan is not our plan, and we assume our plan is better.  It's not, but we assume it is.  We fight and we struggle to regain control, just to fight and struggle to give up control and be filled with the Spirit.

I'm admitting that I am struggling to give up control.  I am tired and worn and I want to give away all my life and all that I am.  I just don't really know how.  I guess these are the time that we fall in prayer, and we cry out for the Lord to take our lives.  I don't know how to give it, so I just ask that He takes it.  It's time like this that make me believe that free will in nonsense.  If I had free will, I could just give myself to God, but I don't have the ability.  I can't just make a choice and everything is great and easy and simple.  Tell a man filled with rage to just choose to be at peace.  Tell a woman consumed by hurt to just stop hurting.  Tell a person to just give their entire life and being to God and be Spirit filled.  It takes some surrender, but the ability to just do it?  If you think it's that easy, you are living in fantasy land.  It takes someone stronger than me to do it.  It takes God, so I pray He takes all of me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Building True Community

So I want to climb on my soap box for a minute.  Our culture is full of imaginary community.  There are people who come together for something like a school function, neighborhood meeting, church gathering, social organization and have fake community and then leave and never connect again.  We have all these groups together, and people are the loneliest now that they have ever been.  People are lonely, pastors are lonely, my wife and I are lonely.  We go to a big church, are involved in our jobs, our kid's school and in different activities.  We are busy and we are lonely.  We go to church, we go to work, we go all these places, but to really connect with people is hard.  The reason is, we have fake community.

My wife and I have decided we want to make a concerted effort to have people over and too connect.  It's hard, and my schedule is horrible.  We attend small group and try to connect with folks there.  We have friends, some even good friends, but without "schedules activities" I am not sure how well those friendships hold up.  We have been at churches with good friends and when we went separate ways, the friendships failed.  Miss those scheduled meetings, and the community falls apart.

What happened to effort being put into community?  What happened to making room in your life for other people?  I stink at it, but I'm trying.  Are you trying to make room in your life for real community?  Are you planning to connect with others, to call or text or visit people for real community?  Are you reaching out for a purpose?  I need to do better, because I'm lonely.  Are you?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review of NIV Streams in the Desert Devotional Bible.

I recently looked at the NIV Streams in the Desert Devotional Bible. I will be honest, I wish I had this years ago. Streams in the Desert is a popular devotion that have been used by many people. I love when you combined devotional material in scripture and encourage people to look at both. I find it’s a great help, and encourages me to dig deeper after reading the devotion. The NIV is not my favorite translation, but it’s a popular and readable version.

All things considered I would recommend this bible to people, especially those going through dark or hard times. This material is encouraging and helpful to those who are struggling and hurting. It is a great selection of devotions mixed with some poetry to encourage and help those who are asking “why”. It pairs scripture and words of wisdom together to help answer the hard questions of trials and struggles.

The Bible has some cool features, it looks good and it has a subject index which is helpful. It’s easy to read, the devotions are easy to find and are dated by year. I would recommend this Bible for people who are in a dark time, or to have as a resource. Give it a look, see if it’s for you.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bus Stop Ministry by guest blogger Noah Hill

My name is Noah Hill.  I am in the process of launching a ministry called Bus Stop Blessings, and I have a challenge for you all today.  But before I reveal this challenge, I want to tell you a story:

He is a short man, stocky of build, with grizzled hair and a beard that hasn't seen a razor in months.  His face and arms are darkened with dirt, his clothing ragged. He walks slowly, eyes down, an empty foam cup gripped in one grubby hand.
Then he looks up, and his face breaks into a wide grin.

I don't know this man's name, but I have spoken with him many times.  He insists on being called Hobo, claiming that there's nobody around to remember his old name, his old life before his homelessness. 

Hobo tells me about his day.  He slept in a nearby alley the night before, despite the rare thunderstorm that had swept across the usually arid city.  He woke up early as always, and scavenged for something to eat.  He was lucky that morning; a patron at the burger joint across the street had thrown away half a bag of food that wasn't to their liking, and it was one of the best meals he'd had in days.  I ask him if he has any prospects for the day.  He tells me that the little general store across the street is having a sale, and if he holds an advertising sign outside for them they'll give him a few dollars at the end of the day.  He's hoping they'll give him enough to buy something to eat and a bottle of whisky.

We talk about my week.  I tell him about my doctor appointments, and about how my wife is working overtime.  I tell him about the new church I'm attending, and the wonderful ways that God is working in my life.  I share some scripture with him that I've been reading.  I ask him if he'd like to come to church on Sunday.
This makes him a little uncomfortable.  He insists that people don't really want someone like him in their church.  He tells me about being run off from a church he tried to go to a couple years ago.  I commiserate with him, and let him know that if he decides to come he will definitely be welcome.

We pray together.  We pray for our health, for his safety, that he can find places to get out of the hot sun, and that God will provide for his needs.  We pray that God will release him from his addiction, and that he will come to know Christ and be overwhelmed with blessings in his life.
As my bus pulls up to the curb, he turns and trots back across the street.  His head is held a little higher, his step seems to have a little more energy.  As I climb onto the bus, he turns and gives me a final wave before entering the store.

Hobo is one of many people that I've had the blessing to come to know while taking the buses here in Phoenix.  God has routinely placed Hobo, and others like him, in my path and given me opportunity to directly share the gospel and provide for their needs.
I feel a personal bond with the homeless.  I have been homeless myself.  I spent several months living in the Gospel mission at one point shortly after leaving high school, several years before I knew Christ.  After I was saved, I spent a period homeless again, living in the Mission, and then in the back of my truck.  The difference was like night and day.

As a non-Christian, every day was a struggle.  I had little support from my family.  I spent my days trying to find a way to eat, sometimes begging all day, sometimes doing odd jobs for a couple dollars.  I was looked down upon, cursed at, chased off.  I was humiliated, told daily that I was homeless because I was worthless.  I was told that I just needed to "get off my butt and find a job," by people who have no concept of how hard job hunting is when you have no phone, no address, and spend 8 hours a day trying to come up with a single meal.  I was told that I was homeless because I was a sinner.  People would angrily tell me that if I just accepted God that my life would magically transform, then they left without telling me what that meant, leaving me resentful and more determined to avoid God at all costs.

As a Christian, when I was homeless, I had the support of my church family.  People cared for my needs.  Someone brought me a camp stove, a mattress for my truck bed.  Someone brought me extra blankets and pillows.  People put gas in my truck, knowing that my part time job didn't provide much income.  When I found a friend with a spare room, the church deacons met and decided they would pay rent to my friend for several months to ensure that I would have a roof over my head.  People came around me, surrounded me with love, prayed for me daily.  I was blessed beyond belief. 

So the purpose of Bus Stop Blessings is twofold:  to meet the needs of those living in despondency, and to change the way that we as Christians approach those same.  I want to bring that same compassion to those who are non-believers that I felt as a homeless Christian, to build relationships with them, to be able to directly share the gospel and to also be a living example of a new creation, to be a light to the world that leaves people yearning for Christ.

My challenge for you today is this:  When you see someone in need, someone living in the streets, someone without a relationship with Christ, I want you to stop what you are doing and pray, not for them first, but for yourself.  Pray that you would be able to look at them with the same compassion that Christ showed for those in need, for the sick, the poor, the homeless.  Pray that you can let go of any judgments you may have.  Pray that you can look at them and see the face of a brother or sister, that you would react the same to their need as you would if you found out someone from your congregation were in their position.

When we can reach the point where we are able to feel that unreserved compassion, we can approach our homeless ministry in a new way, with a new love, a new purpose, and an entirely intentional process.  I hope that you would like to be a part of the way Christ is using me in this ministry, and that you would prayerfully seek His will and respond to that as you are called.  Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this ministry, and God Bless.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Danger of McScripture. Guest Blogger Bod Pederson

The Danger of McScripture

My wife and I recently watched a movie entitled “Supersize Me”, in which the subject of the film used himself as a guinea pig in an experiment to uncover the effects of McDonald’s food on the human body. His approach was to eat nothing but McDonald's food, three meals per day, every day for one month. The result was not only unhealthy and debilitating, but potentially fatal because it actually damaged his internal organs. Sound extreme? Well, what if we are doing the same to the body of Christ with a fast food diet of what I have come to call McScripture?

Good Old Fashioned Home Cooking
There was once a time when meals involved a great deal of work and preparation. Food was often grown or raised at home, and made from scratch with whole ingredients rich in nutrients, and tailored for our health by God Himself. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity we nearly nonexistent. An added benefit of dinner time was the richness of relationships enjoyed around the dinner table. In the same fashion, the food once dished out to the flock was (and still is in some churches) painstakingly prepared by stewards of the Word to grow the body of Christ by feeding it nutrient rich food. These men would labor long hours over the text, working through faithful exegesis from the original languages, and then searching the scriptures for connections into the bigger picture that God has revealed about Himself. They would cook up side dishes from the historical and cultural contexts, and for desert they would show us how Christ is displayed in every part of the scriptures. They would then, agendas laid aside, don the server's apron and serve God's children a meal made with love, having let the the Word and Spirit of God speak first into their hearts, and through their gifts and labors to their hearers.

Feeding the Flock Fast Food
Modern life (or should I say post-modern life) has pretty much spelled the end of family meals as many of us remember them. Driven by a relentless race for success and fulfillment, and coupled with an abundance of cheap, calorie rich and nutrient poor, fast and convenient food supply, we have become a society of mostly weak, sickly, overweight, and unhealthy consumers searching for the next quick fix to satisfy our ever increasing cravings. The result has been a barrage of artificial medical fixes to combat the flood of disease brought about by our poor diet. It has created a drain on our economy due to medical expenses and lost productivity. But it might serve as a reflection of American evangelicalism, and of the American church in the last two centuries. What I mean is this: at some point there was a fundamental shift from a spiritual diet that was home cooked to a fast food spiritual diet. Now we spend much of our time and energy trying to deal with the disease and chronic conditions that it has introduced into the Body.

What is Spiritual Fast Food?
Spiritual fast food (McScripture) is quite simply the quick and easy handling of biblical texts. Quick and easy to prepare (not to mention cheap), convenient to consume and digest, empty calories that satisfy immediate hunger, but severely lacking the nutrients that satisfy a body's need to be truly fed. Biblical lessons are all too often mass produced for mass consumption in mass media. Instead of being the product of hard study and honest exegesis to bring forth the inherent truth of the text, truth now comes ready to go and prepackaged in traditional understanding. I was shocked the first time that I heard texts , like Matthew 18, that are taken for granted by many, properly unpacked to reveal the actual meaning, instead of the meaning they had come to have. Instead of slow cooking the whole text in the context of the original language, the passage and the book, the Eastern understanding of a first century Greek or Jewish reader, and the whole of God's revelation of Himself, we toss it into the microwave and enter 3:16 so that we only have to punch in one number. We deep fry it in the natural understanding of a 21st Century, western, English speaking mind so that it comes out golden brown and delicious.

A Fast Food Culture
All of us have grabbed a bite to eat on the go. After all we have so much to do, so much to get. McScripture provides a twofold benefit to both the producer and the consumer. It saves both time and resources. For the man in the pulpit or the Christian writer it means no more laboring to become proficient in Greek and Hebrew; just point your cursor with the mouse and out pops the definition of the original word! No need to worry about things like meanings brought forth through parsing, morphology and grammar, its McScripture! No more are truths and ideas vetted by a thorough searching of Holy Writ, just find a few single verses that seem to mean what you want to say, then write your book and get invited to speak at conferences! No more tediously supporting your views with the greater truths of the Bible, because you would lose people and go over their heads anyway, right? It also meets the needs of the modern Christian consumer quite nicely as well. Need to get home for the football game? Just pull up to the window and say “I'll have a God's All About Me Value Meal”. You know, the one with the ten minute gospel sammich and the greasy grace on the side and a nice decision to wash it all down with. It even has a relationship with Jesus toy surprise inside! Quick, easy, and cheap. Then run off to live your life because after all, God just wants to stay out of the way of our hapiness, doesnt He?

A Fast Demise
I have to apologize for my sarcastic tone; I only adopt it to make a point about a serious condition. As a member of the SBC, I follow the news of its decline with increasing frustration and sadness as the leaders ask one another what to do while cramming cheeseburgers and fries in our mouths. They tell us that their methods just need some tweaking as they baptize unregenerate people, and then begin movements to disciple them. I admit that I am not characterizing a complicated situation completely accurately or fairly. I do not claim to have all the answers. I only seek to maybe offer al little insight into one facet of the picture. We desperately need to rely again on the Word of God. We need to let it speak to us again instead of using it to make our points for us. We need gifted men to devote their lives, minds, and resources to rightly bringing forth the riches of its truth instead of building huge churches and striving for celebrity. We need the Spirit of God to teach us again instead of popular Christian Gurus with the latest Church Growth Methods. We need to turn aside from corporate business models and psychological fixes thinly disguised as discipleship. We need to rediscover who Christ is, instead of who we have reinvented Him as. We need to recover the glorious Gospel of the Scripture which glorifies God and lays bare the depraved hearts of men. We need to stop loving our own wills, and worship Him as He is revealed to our hearts and minds by the Bible. For us to regain our health and vigor as a church, simply adding a few healthy elements to our fast food diet is not enough. We need a total, radical change of our eating and cooking habits to bring a radical change of our body. Maybe it's time for another Reformation. Maybe we should just return to the old one. Bon Apetite brothers and sisters!