Are You A Good Neighbor To The Glory Of God?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Cor 10:31 NLT

I have been captured by two thoughts over the last two months.  The first thought has been on the glory of God.  I have been captivated and even rebuked.  Captivated and drawn to this idea as a hunger grows in me to see the Glory of God cover my life, the local church, my city (Osage) and my kids.  Rebuke has come from my own mind and not in a discouraging way but in a positive way.  Why have I not seen the value or importance of the manifest, unmatched, character, nature and beauty of God?  Why do I allow myself to create and live in a climate that is not honoring of His glory nor conductive towards His glory?  Like I said, I do not see this rebuke as a negative but rather as the process of the journey God has me on right now. 

The second, thought has been on my new-found love, the city of Osage.  How can a small church in a small, rural Iowa town make an impact in the lives of the community?  How, can we be a vessel of God’s glory, healing, love, laughter, joy, and beauty?  How can we be the Church rather, than a people who go to church?   In other words, how can we really be the manifest presence of the Lord in and to Osage? 

As these two thoughts continue to compete for time in my limited brain space a very interesting thing has begun to happen.  My thoughts have begun to co-mingle.  My two thoughts have somehow become one thought:  Am, I (are we) neighboring to the glory of God?

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There are a great many cultural differences between the city and the rural town.  But maybe the biggest is the sense of community.  In a large city people are more individualized.  If you want community in the city you better be willing to go look for a community.  People will pass by at the grocery store, shopping centers and restaurants without ever saying a word to one another.  In a city you must go and find your tribe, your people and be willing to work on building community.

In the rural town there has long been the tradition of community.  It at times can be frustrating but the very fabric of the small town is built on community.  Yes, your neighbor is going to know about you and your spouse’s fight last night.  Yes people talk and know one another’s business.  But there is also the sense of well being that comes with community.  Neighbors spend time together, children play from one neighborhood yard to the next.  We look out for one another and talking to a stranger in the local coffee shop is normal.

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So, as I ask how can we be Jesus to our rural community, and as I ponder on the Glory of God, I am hit with the question:  Are we neighboring for the glory of God?  Do our neighbors know us, do they love us, do they have a sense of need for us?  Do our sick neighbors look forward to us coming over to pray with them?  Does the single mom with two children feel welcomed by you?  Are her kids a nuance to you or an opportunity to spread the glory of God? 

I have concluded, that a church must be willing to neighbor as Jesus if, it desires to see the Glory of the Lord cover our rural town as the waters cover the sea. 

Over the past few years I believe the church has mistakenly pulled away from the task of neighboring like Jesus in the attempt to stand for holiness.  But if we are careful with the Scriptures I believe what we will see is that Love is the standard of holiness.  Rather than pull away from our neighbors we need to draw close to them, love them, care for them, and be Jesus to them.  We need to throw neighborhood parties, set down and have a glass of tea in their kitchens, get to know them and engage them as the manifest presence of Jesus.  Then I believe we will begin to see the glory of the Lord in our little town.

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So, I will ask the question again.  Are you neighboring for the Glory of the Lord?

Changing Our Focus

Jeremiah 29:4-7 NLT

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: 5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 7 And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.”  What an interesting concept.  Here God is telling the people of Israel that their welfare is directly tied to the welfare of the city they have been exiled to. 

I have grown up in the Evangelical movement for 40 years now.  I have seen a lot of good and a lot of not so good.  I have seen hundreds of men and women who have given up the comfort of America to go and serve the very least.  I have seen people give up time and money to help strangers, and so much more.

But maybe the biggest negative I have witnessed is the continued mega-phone attack against the very place, and people God has sent us.  The term for this became known as the cultural wars. 

In this so called “Cultural war” we have blasted anything that did not fit into our own culture as sinful.  We have berated those we saw as different and not fitting in.  And we have beaten our very own with words fit for some medieval torture chamber, for giving into the current culture. 

In other words, we have been destroying the people and locations we have been called with our words.  Very little blessing had been taken place.  We created Christian book stores, and Christian coffee shops, because somehow a book store or a coffee shop without the word Christian in it is just pagan.   

We have come to be known by what we are against rather, than what we are for. 

I think of Jesus words, in John 10:10 “… but I have come to give you life and life abundantly.”  In those words, we clearly see what Jesus was for.  He defined himself with the word Gospel, which means good news.  Jesus was known for what he was for.  He was for Life, Joy, Beauty, he was for the Good news. 

In being defined for what we are against we have built walls that separate us from the very people who Jesus sent us to.  We have made it clear to them that, they must change before we can associate, and serve them. 

This is what was taking place in Babylon, when the children of Israel were exiled there.  They stood on the shores and cursed their new city.  God sent a prophet to call them back to their destiny, to be a people of Good news.  And to remind them that their welfare is directly related to the welfare of their new city.  

Now do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting we just accept all aspects of the current culture, nor am I asking you to embrace sin.  Rather I am asking you to switch your focus.  Stop looking for the devil under every rock, and start looking for what God is already doing in your city. 

I am calling us to be known for what we are for – Life, Joy, and Beauty – The Good news of the Kingdom of God. 

There was a time before the great war where churches were known for the Hospitals that they built, the community services they offered their community, and the charity to the less fortunate.  The Church in America had an outlook of Life. 

Of course, World War 1 changed all of that.  The deaths and pure evil of war changed the hearts and minds of the Church.  No longer were we looking for the Life but we began to only see death.  Our focus had changed from one that saw the Good News to one that only saw the evil in culture. 

It is understandable for that focus switch to take place after WWI.  Yet, the Scriptures call us back to a focus of Life, Joy and Beauty.  We are called to find where God is working and then to partner with Him.  We are called to look for the Kingdom in our city, in the lives of the people of our city and then partner with God. 

It is time for a change in our focus.  Seek Life, spread Joy, and Look for Beauty.  God is winning but He needs you to see His work and to partner.  Your city needs you, your neighbors need you, look for the good.

Momentum Killer

Over the years of pastoring and working in church ministry I have seen great times of momentum where, it seems like nothing could stop you.  I have also seen times where momentum was stopped like it ran into a wall made of steel from some alien planet (yet to be discovered by us mere earthlings). 

Momentum is a beautiful thing and it is incredibly encouraging in a church context.  Plans are accomplished quicker and better with momentum.  Momentum gives a people the ability to knock down obstacles that may have seemed impossible for years.  God uses momentum to accomplish His Kingdom tasks through His body. 

We see momentum in the book of Acts (The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Church of Jesus.).  The book of Acts is full of incredible feats and heroics, it is full of miracles and the impossible becoming possible.  But where did the momentum start?  Well, according to Luke the author of Acts it started when the rag tag group of men and women who followed Jesus were of “One Accord”.  Acts 2:1 KJV. 

We are also told an interesting story in Genesis about an odd tower called Babel.  There the people were doing evil and building a tower (possibly to worship a false God, or just to make a name for themselves.) “to the heavens”.  When God saw this, He said “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Genesis 11:6-7 NIV.

Momentum seems to be clearly the effect of unity in purpose.  When a people are unified in purpose nothing (But God and ????????) can stop them.  So, is it God who always stops Momentum?  Yes, God can stop man’s momentum but so can something else.

The main killer to momentum is disunity.  If unity is the accelerant for momentum, disunity is the extinguisher.  Now disunity does not just happen in a vacuum.  As a matter of fact, disunity takes time and effort to build.  But once it is built any momentum you may have had will quickly stop.

In the Church disunity usually comes from the corners where people who are hurt or upset quietly begin to talk to others, attempting to spread their pain or anger.  Before long there is an underbelly of discontentment that can be felt yet, is never spoken of outside of small circles.  In these small circles words of fear and doubt turn into words of malice, anger, and outright lies at times. 

I have seen this in action more times that I would care to remember.  And every time it shuts the momentum a church had right down.  I have even seen church fall apart due to this when, in fact their future should have been bright. 

Now what might surprise you the Bible talks about this very thing as “Quenching the Holy Spirit.” Or in modern language bringing sorrow to the Holy Spirit.  Look at Ephesians

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

In verse 30 we read “… and do not grieve the Holy Spirit.”.  This of course sets in the middle to tie together hurtful words and rage, anger, slander and malice.  In other words Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit is Quenched or, grieved when we are spreading disunity. 

Why would that be?  Simply put it is because it the Spirit of God who brings unity.  We were all baptized into the same Spirit and made to drink the same Spirit.. We have become one through this same Spirit.  The Spirit of God is about the business of reconciliation not division.  And when we cause division we are in fact working against the Spirit of God and all momentum will stop. 

So, as a pastor allow me to give a few insights on how to deal with such disunity before your momentum wrecks into an alien wall made of strife, bitterness and hurtful words. 

1.       Speak clearly on the vision and purpose.  If your vision and purpose is easily misunderstood you can bet there will be those who cause disunity.  Not because they want to rather, because they are confused and in fear.

2.       Love those who speak against the purpose and vision.  If you want to turn a flame into a wildfire then attack those who are complaining.  Your attacks will only prove to them and others that they were correct about your motives.  You must confront the issue but use love and empathy not anger.  Recognize their fears and speak to their concerns. 

3.       Teach people to open up to those they feel hurt by and to ask questions in areas they do not understand.  As a pastor I see this all the time.  People will get hurt or confused and instead of coming to me they, instead begin to talk about it with others.  Your church as well as all churches need to understand that the Holy Spirit wants unity and that unity will come at a price.  That price is a willingness to seek resolution with those who have offended you. 
If people refuse to come to you and you get word of their fear or anger, then, please go to them.  If that does not work Jesus tells us to take a witness or two.  The idea is God wants unity and momentum in His Church above our pride or hurt feelings.

4.       Lastly, be open to the ideas of others when it comes to purpose and vision.  Include as many as you can in the process.  You want all the church to move in the same direction with unity and momentum so, include as many people in the process as possible.  Not all their ideas will be good or right but it will allow them to make a decision if they want to be part of this or not.

No one wants to walk on egg shells around their church family and let me be honest if you are walking on egg shells then then un-churched and un-believers you are trying to reach will see it.  If your church floor is made of egg shells I promise you will not accomplish God’s purpose for the Church.  And if those egg shells last too long that church will die.  You can only grieve the Holy Spirit so long.

Stay Positive - Optimistic

There is an epidemic of negativism today and I seem to be one who falls into just as often as the next person.  I hear things like “The economy is doomed, families are falling apart, the church is dying, the school system stinks, our country is falling apart” and, etc.  To hear people speak you would think the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  So much for the victory of Jesus! 

I even see this negativism in how we speak to ourselves; “I don’t have what it takes, my life stinks, things are bad and they are just getting worse”.

The Scripture says

If you search for good, you will find favor; but if you search for evil, it will find you!

Prov 11:27 NLT

Think of the humming bird and the Buzzard.  The Buzzard looks all day for death and guess what he finds.  He finds death.  The humming bird on the other hand looks all day for sweet nectar and that is exactly what he finds.   In other words what you are looking for is exactly what you will find. 

As a follower of Jesus I need to be looking at the world through the lens of Scripture and Scripture honestly should be making us Positive not negative.  So let me give you eight reasons you should be optimistic from Romans 8. (This may seem corny but it is also very true.)

1.   My sins are forgiven and my inheritance is secure.  Romans 8:1-2

2.   Jesus is at the right hand of God praying for me and you. Romans 8:34

3.   My future victory is greater than my present pain. Romans 8:18

4.   My mind is filled with the peace of God.  Romans 8:6

5.   If God is for me – Who can be against me.  Romans 8:32-33

6.   God’s Spirit helps me in times of weakness.  Romans 8:24-26

7.   God is working everything in my life for my good.  Romans 8:28

8.   Nothing can separate me from the love of God.  Romans 8:38-39

Think about that.  Why are you so negative?  The reason we are so negative is because we believe what we see more than we believe what God says.  I know that when times are hard it is hard to accept God’s word over our own feelings.  But if the Word of God is true as I believe it is then, even our own feelings need to submit to its truth. 

You are forgiven, your inheritance is secure, Jesus himself is praying for you, God’s peace is with you and if God is for you then who in this world could stand against you.  I know things can be hard, death, a loss of a job, sickness, and so many other ways we can be hurt.  But the truth is if we are his then He will even take the negatives in our life and turn them to our favor.  Nothing, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God. 

Let's stop being people who see the negative and lets start looking for the positive.  Remember we are to be optimistic not because of what I see but, because of what God says. 

Stay positive my friends God is on your side.

 

Stay Positive - Grattitude

We live in a world that swims in the pools of negativity.  Much of this negativity is due to our consumeristic nature and our desire for more.  Honestly we as humans are just not very grateful.  It is too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dry.  We really never seem to be grateful for what we have.  You have a garage, you push a button and the door opens, and yet you complain about the poor gas mileage of the car you put in that garage.  You have a job, food on your table, cloths covering your body and yet you find yourself complaining just about everything. 
I too find myself wanting more, and never satisfied with what I have been given or what I have.  It is as though our culture has forgotten how to be grateful for all the gifts we do have.   Yet God calls us to be a grateful people and honestly we have a lot to be grateful for.  Your life for example is a gift from God, your job, your health, your children and family, laughter, joy, friendships, all we have is a gift from God. 

The truth is business hire firms and people to make us ungrateful so, we will want more and spend more.  And we have fallen for it.  We now live as though we do not have enough, and if only I had (fill in the blank) I will be happy – more productive – better, etc.  When scripture and life tell us that happiness comes when we are content and grateful for all we already have. Let me give you three statements that will help you choose gratitude over misery. 

I.  I know every good thing I have comes from God.

James tells us “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”  Think about that, your job comes from God, your family comes from God every good gift comes from God.  Now I know you will say “No I earned my job with my abilities and skills.”  Really?  Who gave you those abilities and skills?  Who gave you the mind to learn and comprehend?  You see it is really true that all we have comes from above.

II.  I will not let what I want rob me of the joy of what I already have.

For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength.

Phil 4:11-13

If you are always looking towards what you want you will never have time to enjoy what God has already given you.  Take a moment and pretend you have just lost your child, parent, job, car or anything you value.  Allow that deep sense of loss to fill your heart.  Now look you still have it.  Why do we wait until we lose something we care for, take pleasure in before we fully see how wonderful it is?  Because we are always looking for more. 

You will find yourself a much happier person if you will simply stop consuming and rest in the pleasure of what you already have.

III. I will turn every blessing I have into praise.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. 3 He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. 4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. 5 He fills my life with good things.

Ps 103:2-5

 Praise is an expression of gratitude, it is an outward expression of thankfulness for all we have and all we have been freely given.  When our life over flows with praise depression, anxiety, anger and fear melt away. 

Praise is not only for God but praise has the ability to lift our own spirits.  As we thank God for all we have we are also reminding ourselves of all we should be thankful for. 

Life is more than consuming!  Life should be spent enjoying all the wonderful gifts God has given us.  Imagine how different your day would be if you stopped complaining about what you do not have and simply enjoyed all you do have. 

 

God Is Not A Subject To Be Studied

God is not a subject to be studiedbut rather a Father to be embraced and known.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

This scripture is found in 2 Peter chapter 1 verses 3-4.  What it says seems almost crazy if not impossible.  “All things that pertain to life and godliness.”  So God has given His people all they need to live a godly life.  And we find all we need in the knowledge of him who called us. 

So, at first glance many people may assume that Peter is saying that if you would just read your Bible more, study theology, and watch countless hours of preaching you will have all you need to live a godly life.  And to be honest this is exactly what most of Christianity in the West does.  We spend millions and millions annually on books, we have Bible studies in every state, every city, and every town around our country.  Yet many of us are still struggling through our Christian walk, captured by the same old sins and still living in fear, and holding a lot of anger from deep rooted wounds. 

It might surprise you then that Peter is not calling us towards a great book knowledge of God and Jesus.  Not at all.  What Peter is calling us to is a greater knowledge of God and Jesus that can only come through an intimate relationship.  Let me try to explain.  The word knowledge here is in its Greek form “Epignosis”. Now Peter if he wanted us to have a greater book knowledge of God he would have used the word Gnosis but, he chose instead this odd word Epignosis.  Epignosis simply means a knowledge that comes from intimate knowledge of the subject.

I have Epignosis when it comes to my wife.  I know her inside and out.  I know what she loves, hates, I know what makes her smile and what makes her cry.  I know not to leave the water running while I brush my teeth, and I know she sees the details in colors in a way I cannot. 

What Peter is saying is that God has given us everything we need to live a life that is pleasing to God.  And it is all found in an intimate relationship with God and Jesus.  It is found in knowing Him, in knowing His heart. 
As with all relationships they grow in maturity over time.  As we grow in knowing the person of God more and more over time so do we begin to take on His character and His nature. 

While I am not against studies, and listening to preachers, I am against treating God like a subject to be learned in school.  God desires to be treated as a person.  He desires a relationship and it is in this deepening relationship they we become transformed into the very image of Jesus the Christ.

 

Give Me A Little Old Time Religion

Give me a little old time religion.

In our society “new” is cool and old is well, boring.  If you bought a car three years ago, it is now old.  If you bought a computer or technology in three months ago, it could be outdated tomorrow.  If you haven’t changed your Facebook post or up dated your Twitter feed in a day well, then you have some dusty posts.  Everyone is running to the new, we want new doctrine, new ways to worship, new sermons, new worship, new, new and more new.  I can fully relate to this, I too love new things.

But, I do not believe the Church needs more new stuff.  Honestly what the Church is lacking these days is the old stuff.  You know the stuff that made church well, church.   While we have ran to the new I fear we may have left behind some very important items.  Let me share a few of these items I believe the modern, Western Church has left behind.

Holiness:  Holiness can be defined as an overwhelming love for God and neighbor that drives our lives to be in tuned with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Holiness says, I love the Father so, much that I will gladly give up whatever keeps me from Him.  Holiness says I love my neighbor so much that, I refuse to put my needs above theirs. 

Evangelism:  This is a concept we as the Church have left behind.  I can tell by how upset many are concerning the Supreme Court’s ruling on Gay marriage.  When the Church has placed it’s hope in government to change the culture into the Kingdom of God it simply means we have missed it. 

Jesus gave us two tools to create and change culture; those tools are evangelism and discipleship.  If you want to change culture then you must do it one person at a time.  Bring a person to Christ and then take the time to mentor them in the ways of Christ.  I promise this far more effective than hoping in a government. 

Last of all truth:  Truth is a concept that has fallen out of fashion years ago within philosophical circles and now seems to fallen out of fashion with in theology.  I know truth can be divisive but only if we are a jerk about it.  Scripture teaches that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  We are also told that Scripture is true.  As Christians we might want to rediscover the meaning of truth.

Like I said, I love the new but we have a culture and heritage that we are leaving behind.  Maybe while we are running towards the new, we stop and recollect the old and bring it along with us.  There is nothing wrong with using the new to present the never changing, beautiful message of the Gospel.  Who knows may the Good Old Religion can become new to you.

 

Open The Doors And Let Them In

Open the doors and let them in.

  This phrase I keep hearing from both the Republican campaigns and the Democrats.  It is a call to allow the others, those who may not be exactly like the party bosses, those who may have different ideas, those who have felt left out and un-heard. 

Lately I have been feeling the same when it comes to the Church and especially the local church.  In Galatians five we are given a list of fruit or evidence of the life that has been reconciled to God through Jesus.  What I find odd is just how many people who participate in the local church who do not carry these traits and at the same time how many people I have met who feel snubbed or left out of the church who do carry these traits.  

 
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

It seems to me we the local church have majored on the minors and minored on the majors.  We have emphasized proper theology over love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.    We have tried to create a homogenous kingdom rather than a diverse kingdom unified around Jesus. 

There are many people I have come into contact with lately that may not fit my theology, may not see the world the same way as I do, and may not behave the way I am used to church people behaving.  Yet, they all express a love and joy that is infectious, a kindness and goodness that is beyond reproach, and a faithfulness and gentleness that I envy.  No they do not look or act like the church people I am used to but they are every bit apart of the Kingdom of God as I am. 

You see the problem with a homogenous church is that we begin see the Gospel of Jesus through one lens and anyone who does not fit within that set standard is considered out or at least in jeopardy of being out.  A homogenous church is unable to see the beauty of difference and diversity, and it is unable to live out the Grace we are called to. 

Sure diversity is messy and yes it will mess with your theology and doctrines.  Diversity will make you ask questions your scared of and it may cost you a few sacred cows but, it will also open our eyes to a greater idea of God, a wider understanding of Grace and forgiveness and it will lead to a greater love and appreciate for one another.

So, as the political parties scream out for the doors to open wider, I am crying out for the local church to open their doors wider, stop pre-judging based on language, looks, and even behavior you may not understand.  Allow the Gospel to be given to all and remember you are not the Holy Spirit; it is not your job to make everyone look like you.  It is the Holy Spirit who transforms us to look like Jesus and if we are honest we all could use more of that.  So, open your doors to those you are scared of and allow yourself to see the work of Jesus in them.  It will be like coming out of a black and white movie and into a full colored HD version of the Kingdom of God. 

 

The Death Of the Monster God

The death of the monster god.

Odd title from a pastor I know.  But as I think about the upcoming Easter celebration and the death of Jesus it makes me think of all the poor images of God we have been handed down.  None of these images come from Scripture but rather through poor readings of Scripture or from a guilt based religion that tries to control others. 

I have spoken to many people who in one way or another held to the idea that God had turned his back on them because of their sin.  I have also spoken to a number of Christians that have felt as though if they sinned that God would indeed turn from them and thus their desire for obedience comes from fear rather than love.  Where does this image of a dead beat dad come from?

I believe it comes from two scriptures.  The first is found in Habbakuk 1:13 in the NIV it reads like this. “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate evil.”  Yet just below this verse in the same breath we read (ESV) “Why do you idly look at traitors”.  Obviously Habbakuk was not trying to say God does not look on sin but rather was asking a question of why in your holiness do you allow sin. 

And this takes us to the next Scripture.  Matt 27:46.  As Jesus hung on the cross he cried out to God with these very words.  Some have argued that because Jesus was carrying the guilt of our sin God turned his back on Jesus because he is unable to look upon sin. 

Yet there is a huge problem with this.  Jesus was quoting Psalms 22 and in the usual Hebrew way he quoted one verse with the intent of those hearing it recalling the full chapter.  Psalms 22 is a prophetic chapter that tells the story of the death of Jesus.  And it ends this way, verse 24 “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry.” 

Far from turning His back on sin God jumps into the mess with us.  This is the story of Jesus.  God is just like Jesus; God is incarnate in Jesus.  In the midst of our mess God rushes into our human frailty and mess in the person of Jesus.   True we often turn our back on God but every time we turn there he is.  The cross is not a symbol of God’s hate towards humanity but, rather it is a story of how God rushed into our mess to show us love. 

During this time of the year when you see the symbol of the cross please do not see an angry God but rather; see the God who in open arms took the worst of humanity and then cried out “Father forgive them…”.  God is not hunting you down to punish you, he is hunting you down to love you, embrace you and to heal you of all your wounds and scars. 

No matter how far you are from God or how sinful you may feel He has not turned his back on you but rather he is there with you right now, as a loving father wanting to embrace you with forgiving love. 

On the cross Jesus destroyed the image of the monster god who hates us and revealed the true image of God: a father who will go into the deepest of pits to embrace and heal us.  Embrace His love and allow His forgiveness to heal you of your wounds, your anger, your hatred and your fear.

God is not a tyrant He is a loving father who will never turn His back on you.

 

An Open Letter To The LGBT Community

An Open Letter to the LGBT Community

(Matt 5:43-48)
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I want to apologize right from the start for using this Scripture to start this open letter.  I know it can be taken as if I am saying we are enemies.  My intent is to point to the fact that many believe we are enemies and at times people from both our communities see the other as an enemy.  Even if this were the case my community at least should be ruled by the law of Jesus and that law is love.  More on love in a bit. 

I know that our communities as a whole do not agree on the issue of sexuality.  But this disagreement has turned into walls of anger and judgment on both sides.  These walls have prohibited honest dialog between our communities and this has in turn added mortar and bricks to those walls.  My letter to you is to simply say I believe we need to communicate and our communication needs to be built on love and respect for ourselves and each other.

I welcome dialog from anyone reading this letter.  My hope in this dialog is not to change your sexuality but, rather to understand one another.  It has been said that we fear that which we do not understand.  Allow me to use a couple extreme examples of this fear both our communities have. 

My community fears that homosexuality is a perversion of God given sexuality and that the perversion leads to the harm of our children.  I am sure you have heard well meaning, fearful people act as if homosexuals are also child molesters.  This is an unjust accusation based on fear.

You and your community I am sure have seen screaming preachers with signs reading “God hates fags.” Your fear is that we are all red neck bigots who would rather have you removed from the earth than honestly engage in conversation.  Again this is an unjust accusation that is based on fear. 

To be honest both our communities have people in them that truly do not want to engage but, would rather demonize one another.  I cannot do much about that but, what I can do is invite you into an honest conversation of respect.

If we would simply allow ourselves to listen and hear one another I am sure that we can begin to tear down the walls of hate and fear.  Allow me to be honest, I do not understand homosexuality in a sensual sense.  It is as far removed from me as the ocean is to the fields of Iowa.  I do honestly believe it is not the intent of God’s original creation and design.  You on the other hand I am sure cannot fully understand me or my community either.  How can we talk about love and say the very thing I just wrote? 

I do not believe that a conversation will win either community over, my hope is rather that a conversation will allow for healing, understanding, respect, dignity, and above all love.  Maybe a conversation between our communities will allow for civility at the least and just maybe it will allow for friendships.

Now to the topic of love.  As I mentioned I believe the law of Jesus is Love!  I do not however believe love is a feeling (though it may produce feelings.).  I believe love is a choice one makes that allows us to see each other as humans who are to be treated with dignity and respect.  Love allows me to see you as myself and want for you what I want for myself.  Love does not mean we agree, but rather that we respect one another in our disagreements.  Love says I will honor and respect you, care for you, look after you, protect you even when I fully disagree with you.

Somehow we have come to the conclusion that love is acceptance of all things.  Yet, we know from our own loving families this is not true.  I love my children, my parents and my church but, we do not always agree nor do we always accept the others opinion of truth. 

In the same way I believe our communities need to enter in a loving dialog that shows a great deal of respect and consideration for the other.  We are allowed to hold differing opinions and still care for one another. 

Your question to me right now might be:  But do you believe I am living in sin?  Here is my answer.  Sin simply means to miss the mark of life and the intent of God.  With this definition established I can say with a conviction of heart that yes, I believe Homosexuality is missing the mark of God’s design and intent.  My question to you is this:  Do you believe I am wrong?  I am sure your answer is yes.  So we have established that we do not agree on this topic. 

What I am suggesting is that we stop firing shots from our own communities into the other as if we are some sort of patriot warriors fighting for turf.  That we come to the table with our disagreement in full light and learn how to communicate, share, and most of all love one another. 

I too miss the mark, as a matter of fact I have never met a Christian who did not miss the mark.  All of our stories are the same, a life that has missed the mark.  It is here that we Christians find our greatest hope.  Not that we have somehow become better than anyone else but, rather someone took our penalty for missing the mark.  This someone is none other than Jesus who we believe came to be the savior of a world that has missed the mark. 

Yes, we do have standards of living based on how we see and read Scripture but it is not those standards that we hold with pride.  It is the cross we hold on to in humility because we are aware of how far off we were and are from God’s design.

My goal is not to throw standards of living on you but, rather to share with you my only hope, the hope of Jesus. 

Please, if you are interested in an open conversation of respect and love I am willing to share a wonderful cup of coffee and a dialog that just may bring our communities to a place of love and respect.

 

A Politic of inclusion

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Gal 2:27-28

Politic – Rules, systems, and cultures that give order and structure to a grouping of people. 

Most of the time when we think of politics we think of divisive words and ideas that can divide families, create hostile work environments and pit segments of the population against one another.  That is a long sentence to basically say politics divide; at least as we know them.  How many family tables have the no politics rule when friends come over to eat? 

Even in the church politics seem to have the power to divide.  As a pastor I have noticed over the years the two most dominate forces in the church that draw people together or a part are race and politics.   Just as churches in America are divided by race, they are also divided by politics.  Spend a year in any church and you will soon find out that the majority claim to be part of a particular American political party or political culture.  Some will go as far as demonizing those who belong to the opposing faction as non-Christian. 

Yes, the Church in America is as divided as the culture it is suppose to heal and speak a reconciling Gospel into.

The local church has become a mirror of the surrounding culture rather than, a light that shines in the darkness of the surrounding culture.  While we reflect the divisions of American politics Paul stands to remind us that we are to live under a different politic. 

The dividing walls in Paul’s time were national, race, and gender.  All of these walls were seen by the broader culture as impassible and permanent.  These walls were part of society and what gave the society order.  Paul was having none of it.  He recognized Jesus as King and His Kingdom had its own politic.  To be faithful to the King and the Kingdom Paul new these local outposts (churches) had to reflect the politic of Heaven.   These old ancient walls of division had to come down.  How could they not when the breaking of the body of Christ was to heal the brokenness and divisions of humanity.

I believe if Paul was writing to the Church in America he would remind us that we are no longer bound to the politics of our world but, rather we are free to live out the politic of Heaven.  And the reality is there are no Democrats or Republicans in Heaven there, are only those who have been baptized into Christ.

The litmus test for being a Christian is not the political party you belong to but rather, Jesus.  For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, there is neither Democrat or Republican, for you are all one in Christ!

Our churches should be an example of the healing power of Jesus.  The world should see in us how Jesus brings people together who other wise would be enemies.  We should be a light to the world not a mirror of its culture and politics.

 

Great night in Osage

What a great night we had in the park!  I love it when the Church of Jesus serves the community and demonstrates the power of love of God.  

We had an excellent night, giving away 50 backpacks and school supplies along with serving hot dogs and drinks to the crowd.  

But to me the night was made when the children got up in front of everyone and began to lead in worship in song and dance.  You want to disarm skeptical adults?  Do you want to put a little swing in the hips of adults?  Simply put children in front of them and allow them to lead the adults in worship.  

We will be worshiping in the park again in August and plan on another great night.  

Thank you Thomas Jefferson

Thank you Thomas Jefferson

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man& his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

The Gospel and Unity

The Gospel of Jesus is more than rules or answers.  The Gospel is a way of life!  Often times the Gospel is used to separate based on theological differences yet, when the Gospel is lived out it is the very tool that helps us reconcile. 

Jesus taught that if you know a person has an offense against you, stop whatever you are doing and go make it right.  Now we can argue over the details of this scripture and therefore create a wall of separation or, we can simply live this good news and see reconciliation. 

As followers of Jesus we must stop treating the Gospel as a pop quiz to be mastered and start seeing it as a way of life to be lived.

The entire Gospel is the story of how God has reached into human history to reconcile humanity to himself.  We are then given the challenge through the Gospel to be reconciled to God and to imitate God through the Holy Spirit by reaching out in an attempt to reconcile with others. 

Who do you need to reconcile with?  Who are you avoiding?  What does the Gospel tell us to do about this separation? 

A Gospel of Life

A Gospel of Life

Over the years I have noticed a trend in Pop Christianity of the celebration of death as if death were the end game.  I fell for it as a teen full of hormones and a broken heart I would take to the pen and scribble out depressing sad poetry celebrating that one day I will be dead in Heaven away from all the miseries of the world, or at least the girl that just broke my heart.