Sunday, November 22, 2015

Poop might be just what you need!

“Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’ “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭13:6-9‬ ‭NLT‬

When the ax is ready, Jesus steps in and says, let me dig around her roots and poor fertilizer around them. If she doesn't bear fruit for another year, then I'll chop it down. 

Jesus works to give us one last chance, but we may fail to recognize it, since from our point of view things will be quite uncomfortable. Who wants their roots disturbed? Who wants soil removed to expose the buried parts of oneself? When that is done, the final step is to apply fertilizer. We know how good that is for a garden, but would you sign up for having poop applied all around your core? I wouldn't. 

But without it, we won't bear fruit. And by 'it,' I mean digging, rousting, removing and exposing. I mean having stinky circumstances that are embarrassing, painful, confusing and life changing. These are the things that wake us up to an eternal perspective and inspire us to work more for the Kingdom than this ashen world.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Who Needs the Church?

We are taught to have faith in God alone. We are taught to not rely on people for success or happiness because people fail. God is reliable because He is God. He never casts a shifting shadow (James 1:17). He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He will not crush the weakest reed or snuff out a flickering candle (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20). His word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). He keeps His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). So, that is God. Trust Him. Obey Him. Rely on Him. He won't let you down. 

We are taught with equal emphasis to not trust people. We cannot realistically rely in others for our happiness or success. All that God is, people are not. (Romans 3:10-18) In fact Scriptures admonish people to not even trust their own hearts!  (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21) Wow!  If we cannot even trust ourselves, it seems pretty foolish to lean on anyone else. 

But then there is the Church. This is where it gets really messy. -1-Trust and obey God, -2-do not rely on people, -3-the church (essentially the people of God) is God's gift to people to help them get through this life on fallen earth. What are we supposed to do with that?

On the one hand, we trust God.  I mean, let's say I am going skydiving for the first time. I listen to every word the instructor says like my life depends on it--because it does!  So, as he hands me my gear, declaring, "you'll want these, that, and this," I will agree wholeheartedly that I want them all and grab up everything he offers. I'd be crazy not to. 

I trust God, and I am jumping into a free-falling world. So, I hang on to the Instructor's Words. I grab onto every piece of gear he offers and tuck them close to my body. I fix the earpiece firmly in place so that I will hear any further words of guidance. 

What is the equipment god gives?  I see three main things that every Christian receives as help to live an abundant life here and now: the Holy Spirit, the Bible and the Church. 

The Holy Spirit is God in us loving us as Counselor, Advocate, Comforter.  John 14:16 says "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.  The world cannot receive him, because it isn't looking for him and doesn't recognize him.  But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you."  Further in the chapter, at verse 26, Jesus continues, "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative--that is, the Holy Spirit--he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is a reliable, breathing text we use to grow one another up in the Lord. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." 

Now we come to the Church. We are the Body of Christ, reaching into this world with the Gospel of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation to the One True God. Jesus built the Church, and almost all of the New Testament is written to the Church.  These letters were expected to be read to the gathering of believers.  The instructions and encouragements are for all who call Christ Lord and Savior. 
Check out 
Romans 15:14 
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Luke 17:3
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him
1 Thessalonians 5:14
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
All of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 speak to the form and function of the church. 
After reading just these few excerpts, knowing there is so much more of the same, I am thinking the Church is some 'gear' that I will 'be wanting' to get me through this 'jump.' 

I have no issue with working alongside people who share truth and love, ministering to the lost. But here is the trouble. Remember all that wisdom from the beginning?  Rely on God alone. He is my rock.  My all in all. He says I need this Church, not only as co-workers, but as encouragers, companions and givers of love.  They aren't co-workers. The Church is not a business. They are family (Ephesians 2:19). I am to submit to the people in my church (Ephesians 5:21). I am to confess to them and ask for prayers (James 5:16). These things call for interdependence, vulnerability and transparency. But the Church is made of people. People!  Flawed, selfish, lying, betraying heart breakers. And I need this?   I'd like to argue.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Beware the yeast

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 NLT

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”
‭‭James‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Remember Daniel's interpreting the king's dream of the statue with the clay and iron feet?  We can read about it in chapter 2. In verse 43, we hear Daniel explain that the blending of theses two materials makes both weak. They do not mix at all, so it is just a whole mass of seams that work like perforations: highlighting weaknesses to be attacked.  When I think about Christians trying to absorb the values and lifestyle of their culture, I think about iron and clay. What God offers is strong and perfect, like iron.  The baked clay of human tradition is less so, by a lot.  And they do not blend.  We can try to comfort ourselves thinking that if we are attacked that the weak clay will be the only thing to crumble and the iron will survive any smashing. But picture it:  what will the iron be after being crushed?  Raw material, twisted remnants that cut and injure. The spaces that the clay occupied will leave gaping holes that separate the iron, leaving it strewn about without a form or a function. 

These are just my ponderings, though.  The Christian life was never compared to iron and clay in the Bible.

Jesus went further. 

Matthew 16:6-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1. 

Jesus warns us to beware the yeast of Pharisees. What does that mean?  Is it the people who are Pharisees?  I do not think so, because Paul was a Pharisee, as was Nicodemus. Jesus ate in the homes of Pharisees. Jesus also talked with, taught, and healed at least one roman's servant.  He is not against people. He came specifically to save them.

But he did scold people.  Why?  For their practices and teachings! He does not like sin and really does not like people in authority leading others into sin. Jesus took special interest in Pharisees teaching and practicing laws that were added to Moses' laws delivered by God. Luke 11:46, mark 7:7 ff. 

So, the yeast we must beware of is the teachings of the Pharisees. False teachings that do not blend with the Truth of God. 

One problem with man-made traditions is that they seem so harmless. More than that, they often seem good and wise.  Just thinking about a new rule that will eliminate confusion brings sighs of peace. Men are pretty smart. We are creative. This is no surprise, since we are made in God's image. So our traditions often make a lot of sense!  We go along because it is a well-worn path. And often, there is no conflict to our consciences in doing so.  So, what's the problem? There isn't one; until we are lulled into trusting the ways of men. Have you ever heard anyone say, 'I do not know why we do it that way; it's just how we have always done it.'  

That leads us to the other problem with man-made traditions: we cannot serve two masters. There is a point when there will be disagreement, and you have to choose what or who is supreme. Sadly, we realize this after following along so blindly and so easily for so long, our minds are asleep to the conflict. 

In Galatians, Paul affirms Jesus' assertions to avoid the yeast that would re-enslave us after Jesus' work that freed us. He speaks specifically about circumcision, but I believe it is reasonable to apply it to any false teaching.  “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.” Galatians 5:6-10 NLT

Yeast.  It is a leavener that permeates every iota of dough to which it is added. There is no compartmentalizing. Remember those feet made of iron and clay?  While not strong, and not blended, we can physically point to what is iron and what is clay. It is obvious.  In a blend with yeast, however, there is no distinction. Yeast touches everything. You cannot make a loaf with yeast and find a piece of that bread without it. 

So, when we try to blend the world with the Way, we have a real problem. Jesus said beware. False teaching comes in and touches everything. It is messy.  And once in, it is hard to identify.  It blends so smoothly. 

I would like to end with Psalm 101 by King David. It is easy to dismiss the idea of living this zealously because it talks about hating people and ridding the city of evil. Since The work of the Messiah, we are not to hate any people, and none of us has servants of any caliber.  But does that mean we cannot internalize this Psalm for our own lives in Christ?  Do we really want to be this focused on living for God?  Listen to all the 'I will's. Will you?

“I will sing of your love and justice, LORD. 
I will praise you with songs. 
I will be careful to live a blameless life— when will you come to help me? 
I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. 
I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. 
I hate all who deal crookedly; 
I will have nothing to do with them. 
I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. 
I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. 
I will not endure conceit and pride. 
I will search for faithful people to be my companions. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me. 
I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, and liars will not stay in my presence. My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the LORD from their grip.” Psalms 101:1-8 NLT

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Written All Over My Face

Revelation 22:4 reads: “And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.”

This is a neat use of words. I do not think it is literal. I do not imagine we will be walking around with lettering on our faces.

Instead, I remember old cartoons of eyes turning into protruding dollar signs or pulsing hearts to express the character's all-consuming adulation and worship of an object. 

More realistically, I call to mind all the momma's faces I have seen when they first hold their newborns. Aren't the babies' names written on the faces of those sweaty, worn out, exultant moms?  We do not even need to see the child when we look at mom. Everything that matters is already on her face. 

I imagine this is what we will reflect when we finally get to stand in front of the throne of God. We will be reflecting back His glory, as the moon does the sun. But more!  All metaphors will be gone, all analogy passé, all comparisons obsolete. We will be in the overwhelming reality of the realized promise.  We will be living in a way these fallen bodies cannot. 

How I long for that day!  Until then, I must continue to strive for His name to be written on this face I have now. I must wait with confident expectation that I will one day be in His presence with a new body that will withstand His glory. As I wait, I pray saving from distraction and urgency to invite others to wait with me. 

Monday, October 26, 2015


I talked about Advent last week as a way to purposely infuse our own lives and hearts with the truth that God is the One True God and that it matters to our every day lives. Advent looks to the coming of Christ. We get to remember how He came to earth in an act of humility and love.  Philippians‬ ‭2:7-8 reads, “Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (NLT)

We also get to look to a future when He returns again to bring about resurrection for life in a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah first uses that phrase, as we see recorded in chapter 65, verse 17.  “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.”‬ ‭(NLT‬‬)

We see that John was given the same understanding.  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

What wonderful things to look forward to!!!  Praise be to God!

But Advent is a season, just a month out of twelve. And we should be living with eyes firmly set on the Promise all year long. How can we keep such focus?

Again, we look to Christ's example on how to do that. He gave us this gift we call communion and commanded we engage in this physical act as a church to center our minds and hearts on Him. 

I find this amazing. First, Jesus gives instruction, like “... “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’””‭‭Luke‬ ‭10:27‬ ‭NLT‬‬.

Then, He gives us the method to carry it out!  “He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭22:19-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We read again: “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭11:23-26‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Here we see that we are to love with every facet of ourselves and love one another. And then we see a way of engaging in a regular act to remind ourselves just what this life is all about:  communion!  A word for communion is the Greek word koinōnía and it means fellowship or mutual sharing that results in needing nothing more.  It is a oneness of many parts. We see it in the Trinity, in marriage and in the church. 

The church manifests koinōnía during the sharing of the one Body and Blood. As we engage in it regularly, according to Scripture, it spills into the rest of our lives. 

This is a two-fold act of communion. The first is inward, involving our bodies, souls, minds, and hearts; we experience a communion of self, being in full agreement.  Our bodies are doing what our hearts desire and our minds find reasonable. 

The second is involving each other. We come together in peace with forgiveness, wanting good for each other.  We share intimately and fully, agreeing that there is no better thing for us to be doing.  

We go through these motions--fully engaged and alert--and doing so aligns us to Jesus' death, resurrection and coming again. We serve each other, look into one another's eyes.  This says, 'Hold on. The end is not here yet, but when it comes, we will be ready and Christ wins!  Do not give up.'

We have talked about the word communion and the depth that the word has. I have another one for you. 'Thee' is a cool word.  It means you.  But, more. 'You' existed right alongside the word 'thee' and people chose which to use in each interaction.  Originally, 'you' was plural and 'thee' was singular. But by the times of Shakespeare and the writing of the King James Bible, people used 'you' to speak with someone who was an acquaintance or stranger.  It was used formally, keeping the receiver at arm's length. 'Thee', on the other hand, was for the closest of friends and family.  There are people groups who continue to use these terms today.  Pretty neat to read in the KJV people choosing to talk with God using 'thee', huh?

So, just as we do Advent each year, we do communion each week. Just as with Advent, we choose how to experience it, as well.  It is a steady diet of truth when we take part in this holy time together as Bride and Groom. Or, not.  We get to choose. Will we go through the motions of a mindless ritual?  Heaven forbid! Let us choose to involve our entire selves as we serve each other the "Body, broken for thee" and the "Blood, poured out for thee."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Being Sanctified

Advent and Communion both look forward to the coming of Jesus.  Here I would like to talk about Advent. 

Luke 16:9-13 reads as follows:
Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.c
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

O Come, O come, Emmanuel  is a popular Christmas Carol that tells parallel stories that can help guide us today.  The lyrics of the first verse go this way.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.'

Israel had rejected God and sought its own way, the world's way. In becoming a pagan nation, it determined to refuse a theocracy and chose the chaos of survival of the fittest, kings vying for power.  At the time of Jesus' birth, they were truly captives, living dispersed.  Those Jews who were in Jerusalem did so as subjects to the Roman Empire. Jews in charge were in a delicate political dance with Rome. They were only in charge as long as they submitted to the ruling empire. They were captives in need of a rescuer. And there were God-lovers mourning in lonely exile. And we know from the stories about people like Simeon and Anna that there was great rejoicing when the long-awaited Messiah finally, finally came!

American Christians are not so different. Our history is of racial tensions that spill into significant hate-filled violence in every decade of the country's existence.  We make justice more about politics than true righteousness. Our laws, courts and prisons give grace to the rich and severity to minorities and the disenfranchised. A casual observer could easily believe that Americans read the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 and instituted the exact opposite standards for the meek, merciful, mourning, peacemakers, righteous and pure from what Jesus prescribed.  

We trust that 'someone' will take care of the needy. In fact, according to the IRS website, from 2005 to 2010 average charitable contributions went from 2.5 to 2.1 percent, totaling considerably less than 2,000 dollars per income each year.  One of the richest nations with approximately 173 billion souls claiming to follow Christ, and these are the numbers on charitable giving!  How can that be?  

I saw a statistic recently that said if one family in three churches adopted an 'adoptable' child out of the foster care system and the three churches committed to supporting that family, we could effectively abolish the foster care program in the United States as an institution that cares for children who age out of the system without ever being permanently placed in a family.  We can make a difference in this world.  Believing we can't excuses selfish living and fulfills that prophesy.
All the while we are forgetting that obedience is not about results.“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:58‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Can we take a moment and be astonished that we actually stand tall and tell God no just because we think it will not turn out the way we want it to?
"Did you realize that you will find about 800 Scriptures that deal with money in the Bible?
Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined. He talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. 11 of 39 parables talk about money. 1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talks about money."  

Money matters.  We all know that loving enemies and forgiving everyone are commands by God that, while difficult, actually are for our benefit. We feel a peace and freedom when we obey them; so much so, that even unbelievers advocate a life of forgiveness and mercy.  Could it be that the instructions on money, the singular area of life that God actually invited testing (Malachi 3:10), are for our good, as well?

We are members of the eternal Kingdom of the One true God. Are you happy about that?  Can anyone tell?  Are you as burdened, stressed, unforgiving and greedy as your pagan family, neighbors and coworkers?  Have you invited Jesus to change your entire life?  Do you even want that?

I do not ask this to shame. I say it to identify. We are steeped in a culture of sin. Some of it we have become very comfortable with. And we need Jesus. We need Him to forgive us and transform us.  His blood washes us from sin and sets us before the judgment seat as righteous. We just need eyes to see this truth so that we live it. 

We are here to be living testimonies to a life of freedom that is possible on earth through Christ. But how can anyone believe what we have to say when our own behavior betrays that we do not believe it ourselves. 
Christmas is coming and we have some choices to make about how we will experience the Advent season. I guarantee we all celebrate advent, whether you know or like the word. It means Coming. In America, Advent seems to begin earlier each year and the focus is shopping, movies, sweets and decorations: the coming of pleasure and consumerism. In the tradition for Christians, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and the focus is on the Scripture, welcoming Jesus into our hearts and charity, which means love.  

These things are in opposition to one another. Jesus warned us in His great wisdom and care that we could not serve both. This world tells us differently. We like buffets and fear missing out, so blending a little from here and a little from there is super appealing. Tempting. While it is not a sin to be tempted, it most certainly is to not flee from it. What will the focus be for you?  What of the world will be welcomed into your homes, calendars and hearts?

Both the pagan* advent and the Christian Advent extend beyond the Christmas season, but they are heightened and glorified at this time that is fast approaching.  We will choose no matter what.  A passive choice will never land us with Jesus, but it counts as a choice nonetheless.
*I use the term pagan to mean non-Christian, referring to all who do not call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Easter seems early this year. ��

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, which is a forty-day season many Christians use to prepare/renew their hearts for Christ. 

Traditionally people remove something from their lives (fast) and/or add something as a daily reminder to sharpen their focus on the True meaning of life (the Gospel of relationship and renewal). 

Giving up something (soda, chocolate, TV, unforgiveness, gossip, harsh words, or whatever piece of this world that may be taking up too much room in your heart) also helps people remember what Christ gave up so that we can have eternal life and be reconciled to Him.  (It could also reveal a 'serving two maters' mentality in your own heart.  Ouch! ��. Sometimes this world is very comfortable and enticing!  Just the mental evaluation of what you could and could NOT live without for forty days can be revealing.)

Adding something (prayer, meditation, Bible reading, study, charity work, or even more vegetables, water, or exercise) for this time can help begin a lifelong devotion of welcoming the good of the Lord into the routine of life. 

I know some Christians reject observing Lent because of its Catholic origin or legalistic look. I'd like to encourage you to look at the practice with an open heart and mind. Look at your own life with honesty to see if you could use any excuse to come together with other believers for a period of time to remove the secular, invite the holy and submit yourself more consistently to the transforming love of the Spirit. Would observing Lent cause you harm?  Would it draw you closer to God Who loves you so unfathomably?