Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Walk in My Shoes

If you're like me, the "cable you shouldn't have been getting anyway because you're not paying for it" is slowly becoming fewer and fewer channels.  Stupid digital transition.  Thankfully, the basics are still around.  But Friday nights on major networks are not known for having great television...especially if you grew up on TGIF (remember the good ole' days?)

Never fear...this Friday, it appears a decent movie will be on NBC, "A Walk in My Shoes".   Yes, if you click on that link, it will take you to the site where you can watch a quick preview.  Yes, if I get the most people to click on it, I could win my wife a pair of TOMS Shoes.  But I'd actually recommend this, even if you simply went to the site via Google on your own. 

It's being advertised as "Family Movie Night".  I doubt Wal-Mart or Proctor & Gamble as companies care much of anything beyond making money off advertising and sales.  But I'm in support of a family deciding a watch a movie together that lends itself to some good discussion/prayer time. 

In the movie, a teacher who judges a mother for not being able to get her teen to perform well academically a bit harshly.  Through a dramatic circumstance, it seems an angel has been sent to "teach a lesson" or "reveal a truth", by allowing that teacher to "walk in the shoes" of that mother.  I think it'd be a lot more interesting to have her walk in the shoes of that teenage boy...but that'd be an entirely different movie.

In any case, I figured I would throw out a few family discussion questions, in case any of my parents with teenagers decide to make a family night out of it:

1. If this type of thing could happen in your life, who do you think God would want you to "walk in the shoes of" in order to see life from their point of view?

2. How might that change how you relate to them right now?

3. How can this relate to the Christmas Story?

4. What prayers might we offer up as a family, with all we've talked about tonight?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tangled - Review

This past week, a bunch from my family went to see the movie "Tangled", featuring the popular story of the Princess Rapunzel, and her long blond hair.  I'll sum it up briefly and say, the movie was the best recent cartoon anyone has put out, and definitely trumps Princess Tiana by far.  (Don't get me started on why Tiana's movie smelled like swamp water...I'll just point out that she's a FROG for 80% of the movie.)

It's rated "PG", and stays out of the raunchy innuendo humor that makes movies like Shrek so popular.  There is still enough sarcasm, creativity, and wit to make "Tangled" fun for any adult who pretends they're there because the kids really wanted to see it.  There are even some scenes that will make your eyes water just a bit (From what I've heard at least.  Mine were totally dry throughout.  Grunt.)

If you're unfamiliar with the storyline, here's a brief introduction.  (not really "spoilers", it's the first 2 minutes of the film).  A drop of sunshine falls to earth, and becomes a flower.  The magical flower has powers to heal and bring life, and it's kept secret by a woman who wants to hoard it's magic to herself for many years.  One day, the pregnant Queen seems like she won't last long, and the people go searching for the mythical flower.  It's discovered, and by drinking a solution made from it, she survives.  Her daughter is born, and it seems the flowers' powers are now carried in the child's hair.  She is kidnapped by the selfish woman, and she vows to keep the girl hidden forever, just as she had the flower.  Once a year, the entire Kingdom releases small lanterns into the air, hoping that wherever she is...she knows she is missed and loved.  They want her to return.
I'll admit, there was a moment in the movie where I got kind of emotional.  A beautiful illustration of an entire Kingdom who yearns for their royalty to return, not out of desire for their power, but presence, and out of love for them.  A scene where hundreds on hundreds of lanterns are lit, a few at a time and then spreading throughout the Kingdom.  They release them into the air together, making a giant communal statement of their love and desire for the return of the princess.

Sure, the illustration falls short if you take it much further.  There are also definite faults in the movie, and things that other groups will probably yell about.  But in that moment, the connection was made to a church that lights its' collective lanterns on a regular basis, releasing acts of worship as a communal statement of our love and desire for the return of Christ and completion of what began in Him.

I'm thankful that He does more than gaze at what we've released, and feel good, knowing He's loved.  He has promised that the work we do in His name is now and forever connected with the Kingdom that is, and is to come...

1 Corinthians 15:58 "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Needed: Marriages.

Time magazine's recent article on "Marriage: What's it Good For?", reveals how much our world needs Marriage.  Not simply people who will get married for happiness, economic partnerships, equal rights, or to procreate, have families and chase an ambiguous dream.  But men and women who pray together, "May our relationship reveal the nature of Christ's relationship with the Church."

In the article, Belinda Luscombe writes about PEW Research Center's new findings on changes in marriage statistics.  She makes some sweeping general statements like "we found is that marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be."  I believe those same statistics are actually a testimony and renewed call for Marriages that reflect Christ to exist.  How does that happen?  By recognizing the false measurements and foundations used by this exact study.

She seems confused, "Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children--yet marriage remains revered and desired."  Amen!  What a testimony that a marriage relationship is more than simply a means to an end!!

Then she jumps into other stats, "The Pew survey reveals nearly 40% of us think marriage is obsolete."  She quotes a sociologist Andrew Cherlin, saying "Getting married is a way to show family and friends that you have a successful personal life.  It's like the ultimate merit badge."  The progression there is, with more people choosing to live together before marriage (mostly in low income situations), there is less inherent "value" in such a badge.

It's disappointing that in the entire article, there is not one mention of "covenant".  The closest she gets is quoting a Marriage educator that, "Marriage is like glue.  You can build something with it.  Living together is like Velcro."

We believe we have been designed to live in relationship with others.  Each of us is incomplete as an individual.  This leads many of us to marry.  Marriage is given to us as a gift, a covenant relationship where God's relationship with humanity can be revealed.  He offers Covenant with us, His Love and Forgiveness, and desiring to spend time drawing closer to each other toward what He has revealed will come.  We enter into marriage with that same Love and covenant...not simply an economic, romantic partnership where we strive to achieve "happiness" and feel like we've failed or we should move on during days where we feel like less than mountain-top experiences.  Luscombe closes with the statement, "Yet marriage is still the best avenue most people have for making their dreams come true."

Nope.  Marriage is not healthy when it is viewed primarily as a path to making our "dreams" come true.  As romantic and desirable and marketable as that seems, it can still quickly lead to brokenness without a context for healing.

There is Love.  There is romance.  There are all sorts of things with the gift of marriage that offer to make it an amazing and enjoyable life-long experience. But we receive it as covenant, it is a window into the heart God has for His bride, the Church.  When we do, it reveals Him to a world that needs to hear God's covenant Love for us, and offers a reminder to others who are caught up pursuing other reasons to marry/be married.

Here in the (Church/marriage relationship), is a place we can be broken, genuine, honest, imperfect, and released from burdens of performance and measurement...and still incredibly loved, valued, and pursued...together.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the discipline of routine.

On the mens' retreat last month, we had a morning conversation outside.  I thought I'd be the smart one, and wore swim trunks and an undershirt while everyone else wore layers of warmth.  Thunderclouds were nearby, and I smiled, hoping we'd get drenched and these "men" would try to tough it out in their layers.  Well, the rain came.  The circle of guys moved under shelter.  I was just cold.

But good conversation was still had.  The discussion prompt was asked by our host, "When during your day do you "become Christian" for that day?"  Despite sensing some bit of theology I didn't like there...I understood what he was really asking.  "When do you spend time with Jesus in a way that matters to how you live?"  We went around the circle.  It was obvious that our host believed this should be done early in the day, so that it offers something for the rest of your hours.  I answered honestly.

I'm a morning person.  I can get up whenever the alarm goes off, usually.  But when we began having kids, it began to change.  If I get up early, it often wakes others up, as they're curious of the noise.  So I began sleeping until our kids woke us up, and the morning was with them.  I find my time usually later in the day, at work (as a pastor, I can usually carve out a moment), or in the car, etc.

Then he pointed out...wouldn't I rather my daughters grew up learning their dad spent his first moments of each day with Jesus, preparing for whatever may come?  Yes, actually, I'd love that.

I came back from the retreat, and set my alarm for 6am.  My wife has joined me as well.  I'll be honest, it hasn't happened every morning.  But most mornings, it's been a great way to begin the day.  I've tried different things: prayer, scripture reading, writing, reading other things, silence, etc.  I've found no matter the avenue, God blesses those moments for the day ahead.  On occasion, a daughter does hear the noise and come out.  "What are you doing?" she'll ask.  "Spending some time with Jesus" we say.  Then they'll usually cuddle up on the couch and rest, or grab a book themselves.

This is a good discipline. :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Christmas & other idols..

Luke 21:8 "And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he! and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them."

We've probably heard these words before, but I believe we usually limit their impact on our lives.  We zoom in on the literal translation, and miss out on what Jesus is actually offering us here.  He was speaking to 1st Century Jews about the coming destruction of the temple, etc.  But His words also carry much into our lives as well.

"..many will come in my name..."  We've lost some of what Jesus is saying here, simply because we usually reduce "name" to that which a person is called by or responds to.  The word here (onoma) means so much more than simply someone coming and saying the name "Jesus".  As I've posted before to help understand similar texts in the New Testament, we can think of the word "name" in the same sense as "nature".  Think about the nature of Jesus.  His nature is to bring healing, restoration, forgiveness, right-ness, and to reveal Truth.  To be something we can put our eternal Hope in.  Jesus is saying here, "many will come saying this is also their nature".  We see this on a daily basis, in advertising and other areas.  Products, people, powers, situations and systems, and "get rich quick" ideas that all offer/promise to be something it makes sense to put our hope or fear in, and receive life from/be anxious over..

May we not be led "off the path" by these things.

Then he ads an extra blow. "..and say, 'I am he!' "  Most of our translations say "I am he!"  But the actual word here (eimi) does not actually include "he".  It was added to reinforce the "come in my name" statement.  The word here is the same used in  1 Corinthians 1:28, "God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are (eimi)."

The literal translation of these words, then, is "come in my name and say, 'I am'..", which says much more that our first glance.  It's not just warning us against people who come and say "I'm Jesus", or "I'm with Jesus".  It's warning us against everything that comes and pretends to BE something to worry/concern/live for/give priority and place in our life.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are on us once again.  We can fly right past being thankful and into the deals, ads, and shopping for gifts, because the Christmas shopping season proclaims "I AM".  Many of us will spend time with family and friends, and there may be relationship issues and brokenness in our midst that needs forgiveness and healing.  We need freedom from these things in our life that are shouting "I AM!!".  Jesus offers us that freedom...and community with others who are living as people made free.

In your life this week, what is shouting "I AM!!"?  Jesus offers freedom even now.  May God free us, and may we live as thank-filled...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life Discipler - Product Review

Recently I was given this "Life Discipler" (follow link for site) to review, along with a letter from its' creator, Tony Guard.  I was kind of excited at first, to actually receive a small electronic trendy looking device for free, simply for promising to write a review online. 

Then I opened it.  I took their advice and used it for at least 5 days. I even gave it extra time...a whole week. 
I agree that some of the goals are being met here:  It's cheap, retailing at $29.99.  But it should be, for basically being a calculator that displays Bible verses and has an alarm.  The simplicity of design is nice, with just one central button, and one outer button for navigation.  But the amounts of clicking down and up make me really wish the outside button would spin for a scrolling feature.  I found myself thinking "it'd be nice to read a verse on another topic, but I really don't want to do all that clicking."  Yup...I'm thumb lazy.

Being someone that is fond of lamps in my office, the first thing I noticed was the display is very dimly lit.  You need a bright sun, or a very well lit room to use it.  But it is small, and has a ring to be clipped to a keyring or something.  So the presentation is nice.  But with so many teens having iPods and similar gadgets these days, this product seems to be superfluous and uses outdated technology.  Perhaps make them more rugged, and ship them to 3rd world countries?  Although his letter states an elderly woman "over 80" was able to use it...so maybe give some to the local nursing homes too.

Let me quickly go through of the "Important Details" they gave us:
1. Never before seen tool for Christians. (Okay, ice cream cones with Bible verses would be too.  Doesn't make them necessary, even though they'd obviously be cooler.)

2. You can get God's guidance immediately, like never before.  (Never before?  I found it much easier to pray, or even open a Bible, than take the time to click through this to find a single scripture out of context.)

3. No searching/No remembering, it feeds you verses using an audible alarm.  (Really?  An alarm to remind you not to memorize scripture?)

4. Keeps you focused on God instead of your problem or the world.  (I could write a lot about this one.  But I will simply say - no it doesn't.)

In closing, if you're looking for a gift for your Jesus loving teenager/young adult, or one that you want to encourage in their pursuit of Jesus....this doesn't seem like the gift.

But if you read this, and still really wanna buy one for that special person in your life...I've been authorized to give you a code "GROW20" that will get you 20% off.  Which is really nothing special, since the website has a similar discount offered to anyone.  I will say, Tony's letter sounds like he cares a lot about "getting Christians into the Word more". I just don't see how this product will encourage that, beyond encouraging an "a la cart" approach to scripture and frustrating those of us with dim rooms and lazy thumbs.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Homeless for the Holidays - Movie Review

Recently I received a copy of "Homeless for the Holidays" to view and write a review on.  If you know me, you know I'm not a big fan of movies made by Christians for Christians.  So I invited my wife to sit and watch it with me, because she, admittedly, "loves cheesy movies".

One of the main points throughout the story is that God can take immense suffering in our lives, and use it for His purposes.  That point is brilliantly illustrated by the simple act of watching the movie.  As expected, there are major reasons this movie was never in theaters, and won't sell well to the general market.  A whole bunch of cheese, and scenes you just wish would move on because the acting feels way too unbelievable.  In the words of the advertising I received, "This film was made on a much lower budget than originally planned and many of the actors involved even worked for free in order to make the film possible."  I hope so.

But bad script and acting aside, we find God at work even through the immense suffering of this movie if we allow.  It is, after all, based on a true story.  So while watching, perhaps it's helpful to imagine one person telling us his testimony.  Less as entertainment, and more as a story of God in a man's life...it's worth hearing in a world that emphasizes things like "success" and "material wealth/comforts" over humanity and family.

He loses his job for some pretty unjust reasons, and savings only keeps them going a few months before the bills begin stacking up beyond their ability to pay.  They lose services, power, and finally even gas before ultimately being evicted from their home.  If you can get past the moments in the movie that make you groan, there are some good questions to discuss:

- How can this movie be a reminder to change my natural inclinations this Holiday season?
- How do I model "what is important" to my family? My children specifically?  My spouse?
- Where have I shown compassion on someone in need in a new or creative way recently, recognizing we are all children of God?
- How can I live my daily life more simply, so that when unexpected crises' occur, it's easier to continue with what matters?
- Am I thankful for the things I often take for granted?  Electricity, water, heat, food, etc?

So yeah, over all a movie worth existing.  Get it for your church library.  Of course, those of us who need to watch it are probably renting movies, or watching them on Hulu....while the people who live simply without cable/internet will be the ones who watch a movie like this, for lack of other options.

But who knows..."Fireproof" seems to have been a big hit. :)  This definitely competes, and you don't have to deal with Kirk Cameron.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

the fall of parenting.

 "Look, the trees are naked!" my daughter yells with glee
As nature sheds it's colored hues they love to look and see
In spring we'll walk through paths of green, and wake their sleeping buds
But for now we'll play in piles of leaves, then wash our hands with suds.

It's jacket weather once again
The arms they've figured out
But trying to understand the complexity of a zipper
Makes them scream and shout.

Some days we keep the windows open, taking in the breeze
Other days the tissues run lower with every snotty sneeze.

The colors red, and gold, and orange filling up the skies -
To drive around and drink it in with thirsty pairs of eyes
Is more fun than moments with a rake and paper sacks
They remind mom and dad that's it's okay to relax.

They teach us this throughout the day, and hope we've listened well
I think they smile themselves to sleep when warm drinks they smell.
"Mom and dad are taking time to enjoy the seasons' weather,
They're in the kitchen making hot drinks and sipping them together."

Maybe not, and they've no clue the lessons that they teach
Like asking us for something that they need that's out of reach.
Reminding us to pray to God for things, from Heaven sent.
Just another season to give thanks for being a parent.

(Yup, it rhymes regularly.  Deal with it, poet hippies.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

a walk in the park.

This morning I took advantage of good weather colliding with planned prayer-time, and ventured into Rock Springs park here in Decatur. God and I took a walk...

Here was a giant fiery white tree in the midst of regulars...
God said, "If you wanna see something really cool, you gotta get off the paved path."
A picture of faith...
We took a break to watch the stream.
We laid back by a large tree, to watch the birds a bit.
Flood plains. A place you can tell used to be saturated, and expects to be again...
When ice blocks the sun, fish can die due to plants not producing oxygen. Called "Winter Kill".
The fields were waving their praises...

As I was sitting near the path, watching the nature around me, I imagined actually sitting beside Christ.  I told him what was on my heart, and He listened as I talked about things that have impacted my life recently.  But like any good pastor will tell you, we need to give room to God to speak as well.  There were several times of silence in our time together, and I prayed He would guide my thoughts.

I said to God, "You've been around a while.  You've seen pretty much everything.  What is something new that has made your heart glad recently?"  At that moment, a jogger came out of nowhere, and we waved at each other as he went on his way.  May we take it as a compliment and a challenge...God continues to find pleasure in us...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Humility Remix

So here's a 3 minute remix of a 30 minute sermon I was able to preach a couple weeks ago. :)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Meet Zacchaeus - Part Three

One final word stands out about the story of Zacchaeus.  A word from the story that I'd never paid much attention to before.  After all, the song ends on the statement "for I'm going to your house today", and that's all we get.  The emphasis, when we usually hear it told, is on the fact that Jesus would even desire to go into such a mans house.

It hits harder when we read the literal translation from the Greek of verse 5, "..come down, for today in the house of you it is necessary for me to remain."  In verse 9, Jesus doesn't simply announce that Zacchaeus has experienced salvation.  He announces that "salvation has come to this house".  This entire story offers a vital reminder and encouragement for our homes and families.

We hear that Zacchaeus was "happy to welcome him".  Next, we hear that "all who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner."  From there, it jumps right into Zacchaeus living as a transformed (made new) creation.  Giving half of his possessions to the poor, and paying back what was stolen 4-fold.  But that leaves us with a very important unknown:

What happened in the home?  What did Jesus say/do that led to such a change?

Pastor Gerry pointed out, not having this in the story could be the work of God's Spirit. After all, if we knew what Jesus said, it would lead to: 1. us making an equation/method out of it.  Basically we could say _____ brings about salvation.  2. Us being able to say, "well, those words were meant for Zacchaeus specifically...not for me and my life."

Instead, we are left with this: God desires what happens in our homes to be about Jesus bringing transformation and announcing our identity as His children.  The words of Jesus come to us just as clearly as to Zacchaeus, "in the house of you it is necessary for me to remain."  Our homes need to be places where our children receive their identity as God has given.  Where they experience the presence of Jesus, and are changed in a way that brings a genuine difference in how they relate to others and to the poor.  Extend that out, knowing that homes in those days often held multiple generations under one roof.  God desires an experience where Grandpas and Grandmas, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins and Siblings, all become part of receiving God's identity/calling as a family that is "made new".  In a way that says "God wants what has happened here, to continue happening in places where He is unknown".

How is that happening in our homes this week???

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Meet Zacchaeus - Part Two

A second word that comes from the story of Zacchaeus, if we're willing to listen, is one of "salvation".  Toward the close of this passage, we hear Jesus announce something pretty important.  Verse 9 says "Jesus said to him..." but he speaks in a way that suggests even though his face was turned toward Zacchaeus, he was saying it to the benefit of everyone around him. 

This moment contrasts the first few verses completely.  Yesterday we talked about how Zacchaeus saw himself.  The identity that he claimed as he ran, and climbed a sycamore tree.  Today we hear the identity Jesus announces over him.

"Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

Here we have Jesus, actually talking specifically about this thing we often get confused and grapple with, "salvation".  He talks about salvation, and doesn't say anything about "from hell", or "going to heaven".  What has happened here?

We see Zacchaeus offering to give half of his possession to the poor, and paying back those he stole from, 4 times as much as he'd taken.  But Jesus doesn't say, "salvation has come to this house because this man is giving back a whole lot of stuff, and experiencing a healed relationship to the poor and those he'd previously taken advantage of."

What reason does Jesus give for the salvation that is being experienced?  "..because he too is a son of Abraham."  It has to do with being claimed as a child of God.  An identity that is offered not just to those who have grown up in church, or have never made mistakes...but to all.  An identity, that when embraced, transforms who we are and how we live in relationship to Jesus AND humanity.

Zacchaeus has been saved from a life of neglecting God, and taking advantage of his fellow man. A life focused on self, that treats others with little value, and aims to please Rome (a power/principality...remember, "our struggle is not with flesh and blood"), only leads to death and brokenness.  Jesus announces freedom from these things, and finishes the entire section in verse 10 by saying this is what He is all about.  To find people like this, who have been pushed to the side and forgotten; who the religious world finds no value in...and announce their own True identity to and about them.

Besides "not going to hell", and "going to heaven when you die", it asks the question in our life..."what would my verse 8 say?"  What has changed, or changes about my life that would make Jesus announce that these are the result of salvation having arrived?  Am I living as the "child of Abraham" that God proclaims me to be?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Meet Zacchaeus - Part One

In Luke 19:1-10, we read an all too familiar story about Zacchaeus.  Even someone unfamiliar with much of the Bible has probably heard this story of a "wee little man...who climbed up in a Sycamore tree...etc".  But in studying the scripture this past week, 3 new words from the story emerged that I've not paid much attention to in the past.  The first word (words) I want to flesh out a bit are the words of Jesus in verse 5, "come down".

Jesus is looking up into the tree at Zacchaeus.  The description we have of Zacchaeus includes: Chief Tax Collector, rich (wealthy), and short.  Being a tax collector in general, he was viewed as a "traitor" by his Jewish community, for tax collectors were employees of Rome.  They could add amounts to the taxes they were required to collect, and they were allowed to keep that extra funding for themselves.  He was not simply any tax collector either, he was a Chief tax collector.  Which meant, he had several collectors working under him.  Let's just say, he was not a welcome guest at very many parties.

The scripture tells us he was "trying to see who Jesus was", but how he was trying to do so tells us a lot about how he viewed himself.  Verse 4 tells us that he "ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree".  Imagine a short man running in what was most likely a long tunic.  Yes, "ἀναξυρίδες" (trousers) had been invented by then, but were often seen as clothing of the barbarians.  So tunic it was.  Probably having to "hike up" the edges as he ran, it was not the way a dignified man would carry himself.  Then he goes right into climbing a tree.  Men who wear tunics should not climb trees in the first place.  But this isn't just any tree.  This is a tree that was guaranteed to be empty in that area.  A sycamore fig tree bore fruit that was most often fed to the pigs, and so the tree itself was even considered to be "unclean".

Zacchaeus knew how people saw him.  A tax collector didn't have confusion as to how the consensus felt about him.  He figured, they couldn't think anything worse of him for running, and climbing a sycamore tree, eh?  Jesus approaches this man who has revealed his self-claimed identity through his actions, and begins by saying "hurry and come down".

How often do we approach Jesus, already holding onto our identity firmly?  We know who we are.  We know how people think of us, and how we think of ourselves.  Maybe we're the complete opposite of Zaccchaeus, feeling pretty good about ourselves and proud of what we've accomplished.  Perhaps we find ourselves climbing the sycamore right beside him, desperate to know more about this Jesus.

Wherever we find ourselves receiving our identities from this week, Jesus begins his words to us with "Hurry, come down..."