Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Would You Be Missed?

Here is a sad truth, we lose contact with people on a regular basis and we never miss them. In churches today, people come and people go and often no one notices. I served at a church for 4 years, and when I left I lost contact with several people. We exchanged pleasantries here and there on social media, but those people who said they loved me and cared about me, when I was gone I wasn't really missed. I admit my part, I didn't reach out and put the effort into it, the relationship was built on convenience and when it wasn't convenient, it was gone.

When work or health or other issues take you away from a community, be it work or church or a social group, we lose contact quickly. Let's be honest, it happens. We get distracted and we mostly move from relationship of convenience to the next one. People we work with, go to church with or live by are those we have relationship with. When it's no longer easy to maintain these relationships, we just sort of them let me. First, let's tackle why this happens.

First, we are too busy. I am going to say we are stupid busy. We are busy with work and school and hobbies and events and stuff we are always chasing. We are busy with our kids and parents and family activities. We are so busy that we basically live to go from activity to activity. This doesn't give us time to build deep relationships.

Second, community has given way to convenience. Wal Mart has taken over the local market, we don't get to know the local grocer, we don't know the name of the checker at Wal Mart, and let's face it, they aren't known for great customer service. We go to Wal Mart because it's cheap and we can get all the things we need in one giant warehouse building place. We want big and cheap and cool. In the city I live in, we tore down all the small community schools and merged them into big schools. Even churches are no longer small and friendly, they are big and loud with lights and powerpoint presentations, cool music and videos. We roll in, get the stuff we want, we roll out. Community isn't what it use to be, when is the last time you borrowed a cup for sugar from a neighbor? When is the last time you actually talked to your neighbor?

Next, we have false connections. We have fake relationships due to a myriad of factors. We are too busy, we are looking for convenience and we have all this technology that makes us feel connected. The problem is, it's not real. You can learn about the aspect of myself that I post on Social Media, but you never know me. We aren't real on social media, we are shallow and superficial. There is no real exchange of information about who we really us, just social posting that portrays whatever we want to portray.

Bottom line is we have shallow relationships. I do, I'll admit it. I don't want to be judged, I hate it when people give me the 2 minute "here is how you fix your life" speech, and that is what we have become. If you are struggling, someone will just fix it for you. Why? Pride. People want to have all the answers to appear they have their lives all put together. We hide behind how great our lives are and how much we know and how we aren't screwed up like everyone else. It's because we are shallow and our relationships are shallow. I'll be your friend if it fits in my schedule and I can make time and effort for it.

Here is some honesty, I don't have many deep relationships. I have a friend in Arizona who is my Jonathan, or I'm his Jonathan. Not sure which one of us is David, but he is my closest friend. My brother in law is awesome, but I'm sorta stuck with him, cause he's family. I have a good friend here in Iowa who can call me on anything, but life has caused us to grow apart, and I don't see him much these days. Outside of that, I don't have the deepest of relationships. I have tried, but I have learned it's not worth it. Sounds horrible, doesn't it. I have had people try to fix me without knowing me, I've been tossed aside in exchange for something trivial. A man who I trusted with my dream ended up crushing that dream in an attempt to "increase morale". Relationship of convenience. As long as we provide the goods, we are good to have around.

Being a true friend is messy. It takes work, it takes time, it takes humility and compassion and vulnerability and most of us are in short supply of all these things. We don't have the time or the energy or the patience for it. We would rather just have surface friends. It's easy and not as messy. Unfortunately, we miss things like accountability, we miss true fellowship. Our iron never comes into iron of another and no sharpening is done.

Here you go, here are the solutions. First off, we need to realize that we don't need to spend all of our time doing stuff. We don't have to fill every moment with activities. We need to slow down and we need to calm down and give ourselves some time to build relationships. Schedule some unscheduled time.  Second, you need to find someone to connect with. You don't need a thousand or hundreds or even dozens of close friends. One, two or three is you really like people. You need someone you can share your hurt and pain and hopes and dreams with on a realistic level. You need someone you can tell about your lust, lies, hurts, and pains who won't judge you, give you the quick dime store fix and will walk with you. You need to have a small group Bible study. One of the reasons I am SO very passionate about Flake Formula Sunday School is that it's the perfect group for this type of relationship building.

The most important thing we can do is be honest about our relationships. We need to understand how relationships are in this day and age. Realize that if you leave your church, most people won't notice. It's not because they are bad people, it's because we don't know how to really connect anymore. If you stop talking to someone because they are not convenient, know this is a reality. Find someone who you can be real and authentic and human with. Find someone you can really connect with and will walk with you on his journey of life.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Do You Struggle With The World?

There is a quote at the beginning of a DC Talk song called What If I Stumble. The quote is by Brennan Manning, he said:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

What I think is the most disturbing is the way we behave as professing Christians. We are selfish, in love with the world and the pleasures of the world, we act just like the lost and then we say we devote ourselves to Christ. The Bible teaches that friendship with the world is enmity with God. We can't love God and love the things that hate God and are at war with God. The world has chosen their side, the devil, the demons, they have all chosen their side. They reject God. Those who follow God, however, we try to be on both sides. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to be friends with everything that is against God and claim to love God.

Let's be honest, the scripture says that we are lying when we claim we love God and love the world. We can't have it both ways. Let's be honest, if you can't live like we love God, we probably don't. We love ourselves and we love what we think God will do for us. We don't love holiness or godliness, we love the idea that God loves us and we can go to heaven. If you can't act like a Christian, chances are you aren't a Christian. If you love the world so much that you can't walk away from it, you have a problem. How do I know? Jesus said so.

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I tell you?" Luke 6:46
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments" Luke 14:15

In 1 Johns 2:15, we read "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 

I know I struggle with being selfish and sinful and evil but God always pulls me away. I sin and fall into trouble, we all do. When we are in Christ, we are His and He will not let us just be content with sin and evil and love of the world. Maybe for a season, we find ourselves in a dark place, but we never remain in the valley.  I have been in the dark places, but I don't pitch my tent there. This isn't because I'm awesome, but because I belong to Christ. It's all from Him. Do you have that tension? Do you have a restless and unsettled spirit? Do you have a war inside you? Do you have a desire to resist evil in your spirit, even while your flesh is reaching for evil? If you don't, then you need to cry out to Jesus. 

"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" Luke 14:33

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Racism Is Stupid

Thanks to Charlottesville, the country is divided and tearing itself apart because people are full of hate and lack common sense. Let's just say it, racism is stupid. First off, let's be clear on something, the idea of race is made up. We are all human, we are part of the human race, the idea that we are all part of different races was created to separate people. We are not different races, we have different ethnic groups, different languages, some distinct physical characteristics based on geographical location of our ancestry, but that is it.

Culture is different, language is different, traditions are different, human worth and value are the same. Every person created is an image bearer of God.  The value given to each human life is the value assigned by The Creator, not by any social construct. We set up a system in this country that has never been correct. Slavery was wrong, segregation is evil, racism is wrong and evil and stupid.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Sunday, August 6, 2017

If You "fill in the blank" Will You Still Go To Heaven?

This is one of the most common questions that I've heard. Some have asked, "if you commit suicide, will you still go to Heaven?" There have been questions about if you are Muslim, homosexual, infants (that's a whole other blog), even Catholic or Mormon. Bottom line question is, who goes to Heaven and who doesn't?

There is, of course, the simple answer that says "if you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven" which is true. I want to dig in a little deeper. There are verses that seem to contradict in the answers. We have verses that tell us that if we believe in Jesus, we would be saved, but Galatians 5:19-21 says:
the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So Paul says that people who practice these things don't have the inheritance, but what about those who do these things and also believe in Jesus, do they go to Heaven?  We see the same things listed in 1 Corinthian 6:9, this is a list of people who practice these things will not inherit Heaven. This verse includes "those who practice homosexuality" and it says they will not inherit Heaven. There are arguments that this is "sexual idol worship" with pagan priests, but there is no real historical or textual support for that interpretation. In the entire text of the New Testament, any sex outside of a husband and wife inside of the bounds of marriage is placed in the same category. That category is sin.

We need to understand a few things about sin before we more forward. First off, we all sin in some ways. Sometimes we lie or cheat or lust or hate. These are sin. Apart from Christ, we are slaves to sin, and we all have weakness. Some struggle with lust or pornography, some with anger or hate, some with greed. The Bible says that lust is a sin, but attraction itself is not a sin. Having same sex attraction is not a sin. Acting on same sex attraction is a sin. Any sexual contact that is not a man and woman in the context of Biblical marriage is sin. Is two men or two women kissing a sin? It's a more hazy area, the Bible doesn't say, but if the actions lead to sin (sex outside the Biblical context) then it's problematic.

The verses we looked at covered sins that become habitual sins. Sex outside of marriage, lust and porn, a lifestyle of greed or living for revenge, things that control and drive our lives are habitual sins. The verses that Paul writes about points out habitual sins, lifestyle sins. These things become a way of living and are often in our lives in the place of Christ. When Paul says the people who practice these things won't inherit Heaven, he is referring to people who practice these things as a life style.

The truth of the Bible is that Jesus will change your life when you become His. Your life revolves around Him. You have a desire to obey, you want to live in a way that follows the Bible. If you don't want to stop sinning, you probably aren't saved. If you want to live however you want and don't care what the Bible teaches about it, chances are you have not been truly saved.

You don't have to take my word for it, read Peter's word. He writes in 2 Peter 1 that we can know we are saved by our behavior. In verse 10 he says that we can confirm our calling and election by having the qualities he listed and to escape the corruption in the world because of sinful desire. If we are more in love with sin than Jesus, we are not saved. If we hold to our sin more than we hold to Jesus, we are not saved. If we lack the qualities that come from being saved, we are probably not saved.

The behaviors don't mean you lose your salvation. If you sin and fail, get up and pray and ask for forgiveness and strength. If you fail again, keep seeking and praying. If you struggle, you will make it. If you stop struggling and just embrace sin, you may find that you don't know Christ, and you will end up separated from Him. Not because you did this or that, but because you are spiritually dead in your sins and you have never been saved. You will find yourself separated from Him for eternity.

Lastly, I want to cover the suicide issue. Many have said that if you kill yourself, you sin without having the chance to ask for forgiveness. When you trust Christ and turn from your sin, you are forgiven eternally. If you are in Christ and end up committing suicice, it is not a one way ticket to hell. If you are in Christ, you go to Heaven. My prayer is that those who are in Christ find the strenght to continue to live and don't commit suicide and those part from Christ are saved and find hope to continue on.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Lessons from Lessons from the East by Bob Roberts Jr.

A different perspective is always important, and Bob Roberts Jr. gave us one. I have worked through this book. We in the American church we try to cram everything into Sunday morning service. We say church and think building and service and an hour on Sunday. We try to do everything in our American way thinking in the best way and the only way. Maybe we should look outside our western context of the church, after all we aren't really making that big of an impact. We are losing ground, while in the East, people are coming to Christ in the face of persecution and violence.

Lots of this book resonated with me. I really connected with what Roberts said in the first part of the book. The second part deals a lot with how Roberts is reaching out to Muslims. I really recommend reading part 1 you can take or leave part 2. Part one will make you think about what and why of the local church practices. Much of what we do needs to be examined. Check out Lessons From the East and give it a read. If you are on church staff, read it with your staff. Give it a look.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Let Ministry Find You

Have you ever had an experience where God orchestrated more than you could ever dream up? I have to admit I find myself there often, mostly with work. I have been in several unique career opportunities the last several years. God has open doors for me to do ministry in unique places with unique people and share Christ with people. I will admit that I haven't always wanted to go where God is leading.  I have worked in a factory, as a Wildlife tech in group homes, in a plumbing wholesaler, at a call center and I've made pizza. In every place I've been, I've met believers that I could share and walk with and non-believers that I could share with.

Over the years people said that I needed to "find a ministry". I have tried and it's never worked. I have discovered that ministry did find me. Opportunities showed up when I was just being who I am. When I lived my faith on a daily basis, not looking for some place to find ministry,  it happened. People would talk to me they ask me things and we had chances to connect in the area of faith.

Here is my point. You need to pray seek God and just be yourself. God is doing things and working in people's lives and He wants to use you to help you and others experience God in powerful ways. He will connect you with the people you need to connect with all you have to do is be faithful. At the call center, the pizza place, the factory and the group home, I've made faith connections. It happened when I did pest control and it will continue to happen, not because of who I am, but because of who God is.

Where is He connecting you?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Maybe It's Shouldn't Be All About You!

We live in a pretty self centered world, and sometimes it seems like we live in a pretty self centered church. I see lots of talk about "me" and "I" and the focus on what I need, have or can get. We have a lot of ideas about what we are free to do in Christ, this was made pretty evident to me today. I saw a Facebook post from a prominent Bible teacher today that had a profanity in it. It wasn't a major profanity, it wasn't one of the big ones, but it's something I wouldn't allow my kids to say, I wouldn't say in front of my kids. You wouldn't say it in church, so I'm not sure why it seemed ok to be used in this write up. No one seemed to mind, except for one person who commented, who said that the message of the post was taken away from by what they considered a poor choice of words.

What transpired to the replies to this person gave me chills. It is what I fear that Western Christianity is turning into, and I'm positive that isn't a good thing. The person was rebuked for her statement, called a legalist, told she was uptight and needed to stop being judgmental. A few people agreed with her, but most seemed to rally around the author of the post and support the use of some colorful langauge. What do we do with this?

First let me say that I understand that we live in the time and land of the snowflake that gets offended by everything. We can't speak the name of Jesus without offending, the Bible is offensive the message of the Cross is offensive, the name of God offends. I get that, and we can't stop preaching or proclaiming Jesus. I understand that, and that is not what I'm talking about. What I am talking about is when we begin to marginalize other Christians because our freedom sometimes is harsh and abrasive to their faith. This isn't a new issue. Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 8. The problem in Corinth, among other things, we steak. Most of the steak you bought made the trip to the market from the pagan temple, where is was sacrificed to a pagan god. This made some believers think that maybe meat offered to demons wasn't a good idea. Other's thought it wasn't a big deal, it's not the steak's fault. Who was right? Paul says, "yes, you are both right". He simply said, if you can't eat it with a clear conscience, then don't. If you can, go ahead. Where it gets tricky is when you are eating it with a clear conscience while clouding someone else’s. Our freedom causing someone else to struggle with sin.

In verse 12 Paul says this behavior is sinning against Christ. To do something to violate another person's conscious, to make them stumble is to sin against Christ who died for them. That is a pretty big thing. I know I have been guilty, I have caused others to sin. I have used my freedom to make a mess of things. For those times I have caused others to sin and to stumble, I am sorry. When my pride and my love of self and my own freedom comes before someone else, I am sorry. Sometimes it's a simple as eating a salad, or not having that drink or not saying that word or talking about that movie. We need to not tell that joke or that story so we don't cause others to stumble. It's as simple as sometimes we need to put the other person first. We need to think about them and how we can support them. After all, isn't that what the cross of Christ is all about?  He put us first, we can be more like Jesus. It's not just about me being free, but about us, all of us being whole, clean and unified. We are the bride of Christ, together so let's work together to make sure we all get there together. A steak and a profanity just isn't worth it.