Thursday, January 31, 2013

Triple Whammy

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness & honor...; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister... For God did not call us to impurity, but in holiness."
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)

Every book in the Bible has an original context in which it was written.  Some specific reason prompted each author to communicate a particular subject to a particular people. Of course, there's still insight & relevance to us today, but it's helpful to know the original context.

The Church in Thessalonica evidently was a "passionate" people, who also had issues with impulse control.  The author addresses 3 specific areas when talking about their sanctification (how God wants them to grow into holiness):
  • Quit having sex with people you're not married to...
  • Keep your own body in check (quit lusting)...
  • Don't exploit others anymore...
The author ends by reminding them that God calls each of us to a life of holiness.

Now, if you took this list as "the word" for all of us in every situation, you might wonder about other items not listed, that have also traditionally been important to the faithful: unconditional love, forgiveness, issues of justice, caring for the poor & needy, caring for creation, etc.  But this wasn't intended to be the "end-all and be-all" of Christian sanctification.  It was just what the church in Thessalonica needed to hear at that time.

And yet, I dare say that our society still has these same issues that challenge many of us today.  As we hunger for love & affection, sexual intimacy is happening all the time - and not exclusively within the bounds of a committed relationship.  Then because we live in a highly sexualized culture, lust is a fierce demon to tame. Finally, the exploitation of men, women & children is almost as rampant now as it's ever been!  Human trafficking is widespread.  The sex industry makes billions of dollars exploiting people.  Child soldiers are having their childhood (& innocence) ripped from them.  These truly are ongoing issues of "impurity."

May all of us take a page from the admonition to the community on Thessalonica, and make a step towards a more holy life today.  AMEN!

Like a Chess Grand Master

[From Jan. 29, 2013]

"Then Jesus said to them, 'You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'  But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.'"
(Matthew 26:31-32)

Jesus knew.  He tried to warn them.  Tried to prepare them.  But they weren't getting it.  He knew that too.  So as the moment drew near, he told them one more time.  It was all going to fall apart.  At least, that's what it would look like to them.  He was going to be captured and killed.  They'd freak out and run.  It would be the natural human response to such a traumatic experience.

Yep, Jesus knew.  But he also had a plan.  Actually, God had the plan.  Death wouldn't be the end.  There was a surprise waiting: LIFE! RESURRECTION!  Their tears & grief would turn into laughter and praise.  But they weren't able to hear that right now.  They weren't able to process what Jesus was telling them.  No worries. The second part of the plan was that he was going ahead of them.  To Galilee.  Back to where it all started.  Back home.

I love the idea that God, like a Chess Grand Master, is always thinking numerous steps ahead of the rest of us.  We may not "get it" - may not be aware of the grand scheme of what's taking place in our lives.  But God does.  God knows!  And he's already ahead of us, so when we DO come around, he'll be there waiting and ready.

It's kind of comforting, actually.  And inspiring!

"Do As I Say..."

[From Jan. 28, 2013]

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes & Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.'"
(Matthew 23:1-3)

Jesus was always having run-ins with the Jewish religious leaders of his day: Scribes, Pharisees, & Sadducees.  He was not a fan.  He railed against their blatant hypocrisy and failure to lead the people the way God intended them to.  Matthew 23 has verse after verse of Jesus' warnings to the people about these leaders.

But I noticed something quite interesting today as I re-read this passage.  Jesus doesn't completely discredit these leaders.  Not really.  He tells the people that they've earned a certain amount of authority because of their position.  They "sit on Moses' seat."  Meaning, they've been adequately trained and have come through the ranks according to tradition.  SO LISTEN TO THE CONTENT OF THEIR TEACHING, Jesus says.  Just don't look at their lives as examples!  They don't live what they teach.

Wow.  Harsh!  I wonder if the same could be said for many of us PASTORS?  Listen to our sermons & bible studies.. but don't follow our lives, because we don't live it.  Wow.  

Forgive me, Lord.  Forgive me if I've led people astray by my actions.  Help me to be more like you.  AMEN.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Persons of Sincerity

"For we are not peddlers of God's word, like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence."
(2 Corinthians 2:17)

Yesterday news broke about Notre Dame football standout Manti Te'o.  The details are still a bit fuzzy, but it appears he's the victim of a relationship scam/hoax.  Last fall, both his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day - his girlfriend from leukemia.  It was a major news story all over the country - including a cover story from Sports Illustrated.

Yesterday it was revealed that he'd been tricked.  He had an online relationship with a girl he'd never met.  Turns out she never actually existed.  At least not the girl he thought he was in a relationship with!  Someone was "playing him" the whole time.  At least that's how ND and Te'o are spinning it.

Now, I have no reason to doubt Manti.  Plus, he's from Hawaii, so I want to believe the best.  But there are a TON of issues that are raised here - including honesty, integrity & sincerity.  Some have wondered if Manti got caught up in the "glow of media attention" and embellished this online relationship into something it (literally) wasn't.  Let's hope it wasn't an intentional move on his part to be deceptive.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, speaks about personal integrity and sincerity... how he didn't come to them trying to "sell God" to them (to pad his own bank account!).  Instead, he came, having been "sent from God and studying in his presence."  As fascinating as the Manti Te'o saga is, what really should matter to me is how I live my life - especially as a husband, father, and pastor.  Am I perfect? Heck no!  Do I sin & fall short of God's expectations of me?  Yep.  Nevertheless, I'm called to be a person of sincerity and integrity... especially when it comes to my faith.

I'm going to be praying for Manti, his family, and all those involved in perpetrating this incredible hoax.  I invite you to join me.  And while you're at it, pray for me, too. (Thanks!)


[From Jan. 14, 2013]

"As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you...'"
(1 Corinthians 12:20-21)

The Church as a Body is a familiar image to those within Christianity.  We know that God has made each of us with different gifts and abilities... and when we work together, we function the way God intended.  Paul lays this out beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12.

Almost every time I read this, I think: "Be grateful for how God made you! Don't wish to be something you're not."  Paul talks about needing eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc.  A body with all eyes wouldn't be as well-rounded as a complete body.

But today I was drawn to the second part of Paul's treatise.  The part that chastises body parts for telling other body parts they're not needed.  (Wow! How'd I miss that before?)  It's not just recognizing each of us have a place in the body... but that we need each other!  We can't "vote anyone off the island," just because they're not like us.  We need each other.

God has made the church diverse for a reason.  How often do we try and change that?  Shame on us.

Growth? (See "GOD")

[From Jan. 10, 2013]

"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."
(1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

We Americans love competition.  Or should I say "we American guys" love competition!?!  You name it, we'll challenge each other to it: sports, politics, entertainment, love, etc... heck, when my son was little, we made a game out of practically everything we wanted him to learn!  We love competition.

Unfortunately, however, the drive to compete has found its way even into our churches.  Who has the biggest church?  Whose church is growing faster?  Who's giving more away to missions?  Who's had the most new-member baptisms?  Who has the most active small groups?  I could go on and on...  Oh, we don't actually SAY these things out loud to each other, but they're frequently in the back (or forefront?) of our minds.

Paul gives us a wonderful perspective on this very topic.  The Church in Corinth was having problems with factions among the congregation, based on various leaders (current & past).  It doesn't matter, he says.  We're not important!  GOD GIVES GROWTH. Look to God.  Everything that is good about us and the churches we serve comes from God.  Period.  That's a lesson many of us pastors still need to learn.

Just as I am...

[From Jan. 4, 2013]

"And Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple."
(Mark 11:15-16)

It was his first day back in the big city... a city he'd been to countless times before.  But this wasn't just ANY big city... this was THE BIG CITY!  The center of life & faith!  JERUSALEM!  And the focal point of this city was undoubtedly the temple.  So it's no surprise that's where he went first.  But it was late.  So all he seemed to do was look around & leave.

The following day was a completely different story.  Once inside, he immediately began to shake things up.  Money changers had their tables overturned.  Merchants selling sacrificial animals were driven off.  The place was in chaos!  And then Mark tells us something peculiar about what Jesus did next: "...and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple" (Mark 11:16).

That one sentence struck me as quite strange.  Why not?  Was it the vendors he was trying to keep out (or at least keep out their "wares")?  Or was this truly directed towards everybody?  If so, why would he not want regular worshipers to bring things in, like their sacrifices?  Could it be that people had gotten too caught up with the "doing" of worship (ie. what animals to bring, how much money, what specific procedures were needed to carry out these "obligations," etc.) that they had no longer recognized the simple power of BEING in God's presence?  Could it be that he was physically demonstrating God's words from scripture, "I desire your heart, not your sacrifice"?

What would it mean today for us to be forbidden to "carry anything through the temple"?  What would it mean to strip away all of the familiar patterns of worship?  All of those rituals we've come to find comforting? All of the "stuff we do" on Sunday mornings... so that all that's left is just US AND GOD?  "Just as I am, without one plea..." goes the old hymn.  Maybe Jesus was on to something?!

Lord, help me unburden myself before you.  Let me let go of the need "to do" certain things before you.  Help me un-clutter all of those things that get in the way of me being with you.  Truly with you.  Just as I am.  AMEN.

Don't be a hater!

[From 12/28/12]

"By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities."
(Acts 26:11)

Hate is a powerful force.  Couple it with religion and it often becomes lethal.  Paul knows.  He'd been a Pharisee for most of his life - a strict adherent to the Law of Moses.  That's why the "People of the Way" (aka early Christians) got him so riled up.  They followed the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who advocated things in opposition to the Law (or so he thought).  So Paul (actually, he was known as Saul at that time) pursued these Christians.  Vigorously pursued them.  Even to foreign cities!  Why?  It was his hate & anger that fueled him.  "I was so furiously enraged," he writes.

Then God changed his mind.  Turned him around completely.  Anger & passion turned to love and passion!  And so much good was accomplished!

Why is it that hate - especially "religiously-fueled" hate - is so strong with so many?  Is it fear?  Deep-seeded uncertainty?  How powerful that Jesus came to transform our fear & uncertainty into love and grace.  Don't be a hater.  All we need is love!  May people come to see all Christians as ambassadors of love & grace... always!

Hospitality Extrarodinaire

[From 12/27/12]

"...We sailed to Syria & landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload cargo there.  We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days."
(Acts 21:3b-4a)

Paul is making his way to Jerusalem with a "super offering" for the mother church from many of the mission churches he's helped establish.  Along the way, we're told that he stopped in Tyre.  I love the language: "We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days."

Though I doubt they Googled "Tyre Christians" on their iPhones and GPS'd their way into a cozy B&B with a fish symbol displayed prominently on their sign... it's still neat to hear about ancient hospitality.  No warning.  No reservations.  No checking in advance.  They simply show up and are taken care of by "the disciples."  Why?  Travelers came through all the time.  Everyone was expected to be hospitable.  But Christians especially were called (by Jesus!) to reach out to those in need.  Ergo, instant welcome!

We were made to be in COMMUNITY!  When at our best, we're surrounded by and encouraging others.  As amazing as 5-star, deluxe accommodations may be (or so I've been told), nothing beats the company of someone who has the love of God overflowing from their lives.  Praise God for all who create space for others!