Turning the Tables

This thought has really been brewing for a while, but it was brought rushing to the forefront of my mind this week in light of sermon prep and other contributing factors. It started this week with a look at the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of these accounts starts of the final week of Jesus’ ministry with a particular event. It occurs in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, and Luke 19:45-46 ( a really small amount of text but big in content) For our purposes take a peek at Mark’s account:

”    And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
(Mark 11:15-18 ESV)

As this thought and these verses tumbled through my head, it caused me to use twitter to communicate some snippets (which are on the right side of the blog window) but that just wouldn’t do. So here I sit this Wednesday morning at the kitchen table, laptop open, Mickey Mouse coffee cup freshly filled… onward!

Jesus going into the temples and turning over tables does some things to our minds and hearts, on the one hand we love Jesus when He’s “sticking it to the man” and we love Him as the hero. On the other hand, we also experience the reality of Jesus being righteously angry, and this can be a little unsettling for some, if not many people.  I want to get to the heart of this event and look at it from a place that challenges our hearts and helps us to examine the possible tables we are setting up.

Jesus went in and overturned the tables of the money changers, literally these men were crooks taking money from Jew and gentile to sell them “temple coins” at a significantly inflated exchange rate. He also drove out the people that were “buying and selling”, and these men were selling animals for sacrifice, again at inflated rates, for the aforementioned temple coins. It was a crazy racket to be sure and it was going on in the church of the day. These people had turned church into something for their personal private gain and it was an insult to Jesus.

That of course turns a fat spotlight on our hearts and asks this crazy question:

“Have I turned church into something it’s not? Have I turned it into something that’s just for my gain?”

This is a hard question for us to wrestle with and can evoke a number of responses so let’s break it down a little more specifically:

First we have to know what church is for. The corporate gathering of believers for worship is for the glorification of Jesus, the lifting up of Him, His name, and His saving grace. Secondarily the church exists to disciple believers and proclaim the Gospel to the lost, notice these are equally important as discipleship contains both equipping and evangelism. From this community is fostered, service happens, needs are met, burdens are borne.

Enter the problems of the day, and the proverbial setting up of tables. We have in so many ways determined that the church exists to serve us, rather than serve God. When this happens we start exalting things in the church such as programs, buildings, events, formats, styles, and so much more, rather than exalting God. We start to turn the church into something that is for me, rather than having a perspective of “I am God’s and thus I am for Him”.  Here are some tables to consider in the modern day…

Consumerism – are we part of a church because of a specific program or person? Or are we part of multiple churches taking part in a bevy of program diversity, never really immersing ourselves into the fabric of the church, yet complaining that we are “not as connected as we’d like to be”? Symptoms of this table would include:  Knowing you’d leave a church if the pastor wasn’t there anymore, if they ended or significantly modified your favorite ministry program, or the music changed. “Dating the church” going from local church to local church, usually within the same week, taking from the buffet table of program options and never plugging in or becoming a member of a local church.

Building Dependence – Yes the church needs a local place to meet. There is no advocating doing away with church buildings, but we should consider doing away with depending on the building to house every last program, bible study, small group, coffee meeting, discipleship, mentoring… bleh!!!  (you may gather that this one is a big deal to me). Can we stop running to the church facility and return to the home, have bible studies in our homes, do life together in view of our neighbors, heck… include your neighbors! Acts shows us the community of believers meeting both in the temple courts (corporate worship) and together from home to home breaking bread. I realize that it can be inconvenient to clean up the house, and have kids around during groups, but authentic community and discipleship CANNOT happen without inconvenience, discomfort, and stretching. Plus imagine the benefits of your children seeing all of their parents studying the bible together. Or what would happen if they took part? Symptoms of this table: Booking your small group bible study for a room in the church months and months if not years in advance.

Political/Moral Ideology – The church can become a place where some are determined to promote their cause specifically in the political and moral arenas. The struggle here becomes an issue of competition with the gospel. The temptation exists to elevate our agenda item to an equal importance with the gospel and take passionate stances about certain ideas, arguments, and actions. Petitions are highlighted and announced, candidates are trumpeted (but not outright endorsed) measures are rallied for or railed against, and then we make some drastic mistakes. We can elevate certain sin issues into the spotlight offering (sometimes unintentional) condemnation, forgetting our own sin is just as filthy before a Holy and Righteous God. We can also assume that ALL Christians think politically the same, and assign a morality or maturity to our political bent, when in reality Christians are a diverse political spectrum (some are just too polite to say anything). We can no more assign a “Christian way” to vote, than we can determine whether pews or chair are more holy, nor can we rally against a specific sin without realizing that ours is equal, and that someone sitting in the congregation could be struggling and needs the gospel, and we could close them off simply by our tone. Symptoms of this table: Constant attempts to get petitions in the church lobby, political/moral handouts in the bulletin, or flyers on the windshields of cars in the parking lot. Frustration at the lack of “participation” by the church leadership or joy at the level of “participation”.

Check-list Religiosity – Are we in church because it’s the “right” or “good” thing to do? Now understand, to be in church seeking, or searching is a good place to be, but that’s not what’s on deck here. I’m talking about “churchianity” where God is acknowledged but church is simply on the morality check list and serves to keep “The Man Upstairs” happy with me.  Believe me when I say that this is indeed a table and Jesus wants to tip it over. Symptoms: Church feels like a chore to accomplish and accounts for all the “bad stuff” that’s done all week.

Realizing that this list could continue to grow, we will close out with these four items. You may be able to recognize and add more from your experience and I’d invite you to do so in the comments section… but more importantly, there cannot be a close to this blog without this important fact:

JESUS DIDN’T JUST TURN THE TABLES OVER… HE DIED SO YOU WOULDN’T NEED TO SET THEM UP!!!

That is the beauty of the Gospel, Jesus died so that we could be set free from the tables, from the agendas, from the “for me” church mentality. The problem exists because we forget the all sufficient nature of the gospel and the freedom that flows from it. We also forget that nothing is as important to communicate as the gospel and its freedom. That we celebrate this weekend that Jesus came and died for us while we were opposed to Him. So please if anything on this list convicts or challenges you… please contemplate and reflect on the gospel.. and for the sake of the gospel, repent and ask Jesus to nail those things to the cross and give you freedom.

Thoughts Occuring on My Last Day in the 30’s

So here it is… It’s my last official day as a thirty-something, and to be honest… it’s a bit odd.

The day started pretty much like any other in the Pritchard household. We arose early and charged through our morning in a flurry of coffee, oatmeal, cereal, hair-brushing, and of course the required guidance from me… then I went on to deal with the kids. Totally kidding… I had already dealt with the kids :D… Please if anyone finds me broken and bleeding anywhere, I was beaten up by the most amazing and beautiful, and of course completely Godly woman ever!

I digress… After getting my wife coffee and getting kids to school, I was off to Crossfit for one of the three weekly torture sessions I subject myself to there. I think that is where the day shifted for me. Perhaps it was the completely obvious difference in my physical ability or the aftermath of being caught looking like I was about to die after the workout, but somewhere in there I started thinking about turning 40 tomorrow (even typing that is just weird) and the lessons that I have learned in the last decade of my life, those slightly-less-than-roaring thirties (growling?) I am going to take a minute or 10 to list them out… some are deep, some are amusing (at least to me).  So if you have ever been curious as to what a guy thinks on the eve of his 40th birthday… or if you suffered a 40th birthday and were struck with senility (which I hear can happen) and can’t remember your thoughts… here are mine. Feel free to borrow.

1. The Gospel is the most important bit of information the world has ever received.

2. My wife is without doubt the coolest, most amazing, wonderful, hottest, best friend I’ve ever had.

3. Whew… I finally have an excuse for all this gray hair.

4. I can now admit I am not as quick as I used to be.

5. One can actually hang out with Jesus…it’s called abiding, and it rocks!

6. Where did this hair on my shoulders come from?

7. It’s never too late for a fresh start.

8. Is it too early to start anticipating how cool of a grandpa I’ll be?

9. Ministry is honestly not just a job… it is an adventure (take that Navy)

10. All the things I thought I had to get accomplished by now… life is just as sweet, if not sweeter, without them.

11. That is actually a bald spot starting on the top of my head.. bummer.

12. Manhood is deeply important, and not as cliche as so many people think.

13. Do I really have to start wearing Dockers and polo shirts?

14. Christian sub-culture is weird.

15. Authenticity is definitely worth living by.

16. Humility is of incredible value, and is probably the central character trait of Jesus.

17. Standing on convictions can be costly, but in the end is always worth it.

18. My relationship with my Dr. is about to change dramatically.

19. At whatever age you are, you should be mentored and mentoring someone else.

20. The most significant thing a pastor can do aside from preaching the gospel… is raise people up to perpetuate ministry. That my friends is discipleship.

21. I have never been more thankful for friendship in my life, as I am at this point.

22. Community is not a buzz word… it’s a lifestyle.

23. Talking to my own sons about puberty, sex, and so on… wasn’t bad at all

24. The Bible… freaking awesome.

25. Politics…. riiiiiiigght.

26. I can learn a lot from my children… especially my daughter, who loves to laugh.

27. I promise not to complain about weird ailments starting tomorrow.

28. I believe I am becoming the father I always wanted to have.

29. I actually like “dub step” thanks Gray, for introducing me.

30. All that I need or could ever want is given to me through Jesus and His amazing truth… everything else is just gravy! (but I am blessed to have been given a wonderful marriage to an incredible woman, four amazing kids that I am deeply proud of, a humbling and satisfying career as pastor/shepherd, truly gracious and caring friends, a roof over my head, food on my table… and who could forget the cat.)

Thanks for reading… See you on the other side!! (of 40)

j-

The Elegance of Last Place

We live in a culture of driven, winning (thanks Charlie Sheen), hard charging, take no prisoners mind sets. As long as I have been alive that is the attitude that will carry you through life to the place where you are on top of things. When that’s the case, is it any wonder that so many people struggle with the gospel? To be honest it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many people… Christians included, struggle to grasp the gospel message. Especially when we are honest with the fact that the gospel puts us in perpetual, life-long last place.

Last week I was watching (be prepared for surprising, or not, tv show confession) “The Voice”. The actual episode was from two weeks ago but sometimes we just rely on the ole DVR to help us catch up. Anyway… moving forward. There  was a young man who had made it through the trial rounds by offering a very stirring rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. Prior to that moment he was a mere sandwich maker from Chicago named Jamie. Having thoroughly enjoyed his performance I thought for sure he might go a long way, but alas, it was not to be. He was ushered out in the “battle rounds” after singing a duet version of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” with a real powerhouse singer named Jamar. All these details are really pointless, it probably just shows that I’m paying too much attention, but what really struck me is the reaction from Jaime as he was interviewed afterward. He said something so noteworthy…

 “I feel like there is a reason I’m here and maybe that’s to be here to let Jamar go through and win everything… he’s such an awesome person”

I was dumbstruck… through tears this young man just pointed out something that I think so many of us miss in life. He went to a place that simply elevated the elegance of last place. Jaime is a talented musician and singer, and has the potential to go far, but he has the intangible element that truly matters; humility.  This stands out in a world where we celebrate the outspoken, self-aggrandizing, and the winners (if you doubt it… turn on the t.v.)

As those who follow after Jesus, we have to realize that we are following after a Savior who, in His example to us, did not exalt those positions. This is something we miss all to often in our lives and it can have a detrimental impact on our hearts. We can get wrapped up in being good, and then can become proud of just how “good” we are. In Andrew Murray’s book aptly named “Humility” he writes this:

“The question is often asked, “How we can consider others better than ourselves when we see that they are far below us in wisdom and in holiness, in natural gifts, or in grace received?” Asking this question proves at once how little we understand what humbling ourselves really involves. True humility comes when, in the light of God, we come to see ourselves as nothing, consent to put our self-will aside, and let God be all.” (language updated/revised by C. Walth)

Murray nails it. We can never forget that we are not in search of self glory but self sacrifice, and we are not looking to be elevated but to be in surrender.

So where does the this understanding really come from? Surprise… we need look no further than the gospel. It provides us with an example, with freedom, and with sufficiency to live in a mindset that allows for the stirring, and possibly offensive, idea that I may exist in this moment not for what I can get out of it, but for how I may sacrifice myself so that someone else gains. This is the entire narrative of Jesus’ ministry & message summed up in a single verse:

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” Matt 20:28.

It echoes out again and again throughout the NT and is staring us right in the face challenging us with the example of a humble Savior who could have been a “winner” but chose to wash the feet of the man who would turn Him over to be killed. This is the example that should keep us from self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and free us from drowning in the “must do” mentality of religion. It also frees us to then love and serve those around us with an honest humility that allows for true discipleship, servant leadership, and sacrificial servant-hood.

So how do we respond? Seek to cultivate humility and weaken pride… not by efforts and checklist based religion, but by grabbing hold of Jesus and staring into His example, allow the message of the Gospel to remind you “How can anyone be arrogant when he stand beside the Cross?” C. Henry. For much better insight into this I recommend starting with Philippians 2 and a host of other texts in the Bible, and for opinions that are way smarter and more practical than mine… try reading “Humility” by Andrew Murray and “Humility: True Greatness” by C.J. Mahaney

And of course… we need to constantly die to ourselves, pray that we draw near to Jesus in His perfect example of humility and when given opportunity walk it out in every relationship we have, and in our interactions throughout each day, trusting that He is enough for us and through His sacrifice we are free to live this way. That ultimately, in Jesus, there is a beauty, a freedom, and an amazing elegance, in being in last place.

j-

When Enough Isn’t Enough…

This season of life has had me pondering… well in actuality it has had me wrestling, struggling, and many other -ings. It never ceases to amaze that we are given seasons in life that are custom fit for our growth and maturity. It also baffles that those seasons always have to include a serious amount of discomfort… or maybe that’s just me.  Now amazement and… bafflement? baffledom? baffeledness?… you get the point, those things aside, it is an awesome thought that we have been given enough to journey (at whatever pace necessary) through these seasons.  However, inside that last sentence lies the biggest struggle for our hearts and minds; the great tension of “enough”.  (cue dramatic tense music here)

Do we really have enough? Do we really have all that we need? Lately I have been reading a pretty great book by a pastor from Florida named Tullian Tchividjian (chi-vee-jan) entitled “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” and I must say it’s a very good read. It points out the obvious struggle we have with really recognizing that Jesus is truly sufficient, or He is really enough.  Truth be told this book probably struck me because of my own season, and of course that is why I’m writing about it now. The depth of the impact of the book though, that has come as a result of what God has been doing in my heart for the last few months.  The question of enough-ness is a reality in this season and coming to a real and in depth grappling with the sufficiency of the Gospel has been a key part of the journey.

The Gospel, the best news mankind has ever received, is so often thought of as a step on the road of the Christian, and that is really tragic, and a huge mistake.  Why? Because in the Gospel is where we find enough! We want to find enough so badly we look everywhere for it. High and low, in every crevice, under every rock, and in every other place we think the world will offer it to us. The reality of this lifelong search is that we end up trying to get it from both “good” and “bad” things in our lives.  The problem is that we are left depleted and longing for more, or searching for the next new thing that will be enough. We fill our lives with those things and it leads to an insidious form of idolatry that we can’t even recognize (especially when it’s the “good” stuff).

 TRAPPED

That’s where we can end up. Trapped or enslaved to the things that we are desperately hoping will be enough. The things we hope will build our image, increase our significance, secure our identity or fill every void. Everything that, from the outside in, looks like we truly have enough, but in reality it is only keeping us addicted to those things all the while our hearts are burdened and longing for something real. Practically it may be the thing that keeps us in a mindset of putting others down to elevate ourselves, drives us to seek accolades and praise for the good acts we produce, leads us to craving a place to be needed or valued, or has us diving into relationship after relationship seeking comfort.

We can seek the solution in religion, hopeful that it will lead to a sufficient filling of our need for enough, but in the end this is also a trap. Our acts of service lead to self righteous attitudes, our identities get wrapped up in what we do, our value tied to the “goodness” we portray.

Isaiah and Paul said it best: “Our righteousness (self righteous acts) are as filthy rags” and “I consider all things (contextually all the “good” things Paul had done to be “righteous”) rubbish (literal: crap) that I might gain Christ” (Isaiah 64:6 and Phil 3:2-11)

Think about it… that’s what is written about the good we try to do to fill the void, or just for the sake of being good.

FREEDOM

Freedom is found, or more importantly, enough is found in the Gospel.  This is why it’s so desperately important that we NEVER think that we have matured beyond the Gospel, but instead we need to wrestle with it every day of our lives. When that happens there is freedom! Freedom to truly live, freedom to serve without need for praise, freedom to encourage without seeking affirmation, the list goes on and on and on. Imagine how we could live if we were truly finding enough in the Gospel, if we truly found satisfaction in the fact that while we were enemies of God, while we were far off, in the depth of our sin, when we were dead in our junk… at that point, God sent Jesus to die the death we deserved to give us the life we didn’t. If we consider that, or not just consider, but we give it significant weight each day, we really think about it, we could indeed find the enough that the Gospel has to offer each of us.

My prayer for each of us is that we look for enough where enough can only truly be found.

Truly Organic… the nature of Christian community

Recently I’ve been in some really cool discussions, a great many of which have dealt with the idea and nature of community. Other conversations have revolved around a lot of other things from what my thoughts on “KONY 2012” are and why I enjoy wearing minimalist running shoes… but that’s beside the point. The conversations surrounding community and specifically Christian community have really, really been good. Good for my heart, and from what I have gathered, good for the hearts of others involved.

Basically it revolves around the term “organic”.

This term has become a familiar one to me and to my family this year as we’ve pursued a better eating lifestyle and it’s a term that our culture has become more aware of in the past decade when it comes to that particular arena. However, organic is not a term or description that is limited to the vegetable aisle at the grocery store or that weird little natural food store down the street. Organic is basically something that is produced naturally, in the grocery universe that means without insecticides, hormones, or other chemicals.  It’s also something that can be applied to other areas, areas that are important in our development as followers of Christ.

In the book of Acts, which my wife and I have the humble blessing of leading a group of friends through right now, we get a picture painted for us of the development of the first Christian church and Christian community. This is found in the very familiar text of Acts 2:42-47. This being said, I want to point out that this isn’t some new thought or revelation, in fact I am well aware that I’m not the first guy to point this out… it just seems a worthwhile point to chime in on.

The image of this early church community can sometimes be over-idealized, as though it was somehow without flaw or fault. To be certain, since we realize that people were involved it in no way could be perfect. However, in light of that, we cannot just go and write it off, because the reality of this fledgling community of Christ followers is that they had a significant impact while keeping it really simple. They pursued four distinct things: Gospel, Prayer, Fellowship, Breaking Bread (Acts 2:42).

THE RESULT of this kind of intentional community is really what I want to talk about, and although it would be a worthwhile discussion to have surrounding the in’s and out’s of the things they were devoted to… we can leave that for the comments section if necessary. But for the sake of understanding simply put – Apostles teaching = Gospel. This would be the main thrust of their teaching, Jesus being the Messiah in accordance with and fulfillment of the OT scriptures, and His death, resurrection, and ascension. Prayer = self explanatory. Fellowship = intentional gathering of believers for encouragement, glorification of God, and proclamation of the Gospel etc.  Breaking of Bread = meals together (that may include observance of communion) Alright… now on to the actual results.

Community impact came as a direct result of the changed lives of these believers and this new “way”. What I love is that they displayed a balanced approach to clinging to meeting corporately for worship in the temple, then continued on in worship in their homes and smaller gatherings as well. They determined to be with one another and in each others lives, to bear the burdens of those around them (even those they didn’t know extremely well) tangibly. This is a powerful display of the heart of Christian community… but there is something noticeably missing.

WHERE’S THE PROGRAM?

There is no mention of devotion to making sure the apostles were setting up feeding programs, or efforts to go out into the community and find and meet needs, or to take care of the poor. So does this mean it wasn’t happening? I would offer that it was indeed happening, but that it was such an organic, natural outcome to what Christians do together, and how the Gospel plays out in our own hearts, that Luke felt no need to mention those particulars. People outside of the Christian “fold” were certainly being blessed by this new group, and people were being impacted and coming to faith but the outworking of God through this community of believers, but not because their local church had established such great programs. It was happening because the Gospel was alive and working in the midst of people and it was driving them to be servants, love those around them, sacrifice for others, declare Jesus, and praise God through all of it.

This in my mind is what happens when believers get together and devote themselves to simply pursuing the Gospel in our own lives, having a full prayer life, connecting intentionally and deeply with other believers outside of the weekly corporate gathering, and sharing our homes and lives over meals with one another. We become active participants in the Gospel… organically. And I would challenge each of us to examine those things…

Are we devoting ourselves to Gospel preaching, sound biblical teaching of the scriptures (not morality or philosophy), and our own study of God’s word?

Are we connected in prayer, taking time to talk with, and listen to, God?

Are we in deep connected community with other believers? The kind where people are speaking the hard truths into our lives and we are encouraged to further understand the Gospel in our lives. It’s gritty and uncomfortable at times, but is so necessary. Is it consistent?

Are we exposing our homes to other people, are we sharing our dinner tables and meals with people around us? Get your small groups into each others homes! Discipleship is a matter of life on life exposure, not just instruction.

 

It is my belief that if we are encouraged to grow in these areas in our lives that we become the community of believers that moves to feed the poor, that visits the home bound and ill, ministers to our neighbors, sacrifices for others, and ultimately proclaims the Gospel to the world around us… all because it has taken root in us and grown out of us organically.

 

think about it.

 

A Preaching Perspective

This excerpt is from a sermon delivered by Dr. John Piper, May 10, 2009. It’s the second part of a series on John 3:16 (during an expository trip through the Gospel of John). He decides to take a moment in the beginning of this sermon to outline what exactly “preaching” is to the congregation… and most likely to newer congregants or visitors. In my book, he hits the target dead center. This is the kind of preaching I hope always to deliver. Read on…

Preaching As Expository Exultation

Expository means that preaching aims to exposit, or explain and apply, the meaning of the Bible. Every sermon explains and applies the Bible. The reason for this is that the Bible is God’s word, inspired, infallible, profitable—all sixty-six books of it. The preacher’s job is to minimize his own opinions and deliver the truth of God. Therefore, it is mainly Bible exposition—explanation and application.

And the preacher’s job is to do that in a way that enables us to see that the points he is making actually come from the Bible. If they come from the Bible and you can’t see that they come from the Bible, your faith will rest on man and not God.

The aim of this exposition is to help you eat and digest some biblical truth that will make your spiritual bones more like steel, and double the capacity of your spiritual lungs, and make the eyes of your heart dazzled with God’s greatness, and awaken the capability of your soul for kinds of spiritual enjoyment you didn’t even know existed.

Preaching is also exultation—expository exultation. This means that the preacher does not just explain what’s in the Bible, and the people do not simply understand what he explains, but the preacher and the people exult over what is in the Bible as it is being explained and applied.

Preaching As Worship

Preaching does not come after worship in the order of the service. Preaching is worship. My job is not done if I only see truth and show it to you. The devil could do that—for his own devious reasons. My job is to see the glory of the truth and to savor it and exult over it as I explain it to you and apply it for you. That’s one of the differences between a lecture and a sermon.

Preaching is not the totality of the church. And if all you have is preaching, you don’t have the church. A church is a body of people who minister to each other. Part of what preaching does is equip us for that. God has created the church, so that she flourishes through preaching. That’s why Paul gave young pastor Timothy one of the most serious, exalted charges in all the Bible in 2 Timothy 4:1–2: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.”

If you are used to a twenty-minute, immediately practical, relaxed talk, the understanding of preaching that I just described doesn’t lead there. I won’t preach twenty minutes but twice that long; I do not aim to be immediately practical but eternally helpful; and the condition of my soul is not relaxed but standing vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people any of whom this week could go over the edge.”

 

I first heard this on my recent road trip to Oklahoma (on the return drive) and it has resonated in my heart ever since. It would be the kind of thing that I would think to listen to or read at least weekly to be consistently reminded of the deep importance of solid preaching.  You can find more of Dr. Piper’s material at www.desiringgod.org and if you are looking for this exact sermon you can look it up there or on iTunes as well.

The New Reality… or is it?

There are moments in life where we are “pressed” and in those moments people in general turn to a number of different outlets, sources, and reliefs. These moments are those times where we may think we have found ourselves facing a “new reality”, the pressing moments of life that are generally the result of big changes, stresses, or disappointments.  There is a thing that brings great hope in these moments for me, that make me step back and breathe for a moment. It’s a truth we have heard and I think sometimes we can glaze over if we are not thinking clearly…  I mean in general we are a society that hits hardship with two gears, and often we can get stuck in one of them.

First gear: Reactive… 

There are a number of different things you can call this gear, the “why me?” gear, the point of struggle, the “what on earth will I do now?” gear. Whatever label you might want to give it, it’s a normal and natural reaction to being pressed. It’s the moment of sorrow, fear, anger, doubt, or other feelings that leave us almost immobilized. Really it’s part of the process, we have to have this. However, we can’t stop or get stuck here. I’m not saying to rush through it, or that there is some formulaic approach as to how long this period should last, but that it should only be a period.

Second gear: Attack

Again, you can label the gear however you like, it’s not about the label, it’s about the phase. This is the motion phase, the “I’m going to do something” gear. This is where we attempt to hit the challenge head on, formulate plans, work hard, get in gear, and put our noses to the grindstone (my mom would be so proud I just used that statement). This is also a normal reaction to being pressed. This reaction can make us feel resolute, motivated and can drive out surface level fear, because, after all, we are handling our business. This phase is the phase that can bring about resolution, but often it doesn’t really get at the core of things.

There may be another option, in fact, I’m certain there is. The struggle will come if we linger too long in the reaction gear without looking toward shifting to the attack gear, but an equally greater problem will occur if we skip the reaction gear and processing of the emotion, fear, etc. These things are both essential to the process of moving through the process of being pressed.

Therein lies the problem, we aren’t just supposed to “move” through the process. God is interested in our growth through the process. If we lie to long lingering in the first gear, we may miss opportunities for this growth, but the same result happens if we charge into the second gear, making the work our own. In both places we lack, because we may not be in a place to hear what God has to say. The so called “new reality” of our lives is part of the plan, change will forever be a part of our growth and sanctification. It can be a struggle, it can be anything from maddening to disheartening, bringing fury and sorrow. It’s all o.k., as long as we can remember what I think is a profound and simple truth about our God:

Psalm 46:1 ” God is our refuge and strength, a VERY present help in trouble” ESV (the NIV uses the words “EVER-present help in trouble”)

Either way you slice this, it’s just plain good. It simply means God is there when there is trouble, turmoil, change, strife, when you are being pressed, and this should bring us hope. I’m not saying we should be devoid of the stuff we need to process in the first gear, but that we should know that God is present in that processing, that it matters to Him, that WE matter to Him. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t take any of the action as seen in the second gear, but it means we can lean on Him and know that He is there to guide us if we will prayerfully put it in His hands.

Remember.. the “new reality”, isn’t new to God.

(In reviewing this I don’t want to change anything because I think it communicates the truth I’m looking for, but I feel really rusty in my blog-skills… which are like nun-chuck skills.. if you don’t use them you could get really sore hands)

 

 

Jesus & TOMs…. would He?

SO… it’s been a while since I’ve tread into the blog-o-verse but there is some stuff on my mind this morning. Well really it’s been on my heart and mind for quite some time (it’s actually in the original list of blog-able topics that I wrote on my iPhone) and today is just the kind of day to get it out there. Big question for us to wrestle with…

WOULD JESUS WEAR TOMS?

Ok… that might be a little to divisive and politically incorrect to ask so maybe a better question is this:

ARE WE LETTING SOCIAL JUSTICE (or actually mere social awareness) REPLACE THE GOSPEL?

To be honest, frank, and maybe a little brutal here for a second… TOMS (which is not the guy’s name, it stands for TOMorrow’s Shoes) really really bother me. It’s like the most self aggrandizing way of helping someone. It’s the way to be hip and trendy, yet… make a statement that says “I’m aware that people around the world are going without shoes”.  They go against the very idea that helping others is supposed to be a selfless act.  Now I’m not ignorant to the fact that it does give some shoeless person somewhere a pair of shoes, and that’s awesome (sort of) and I realize that some people are now reading this very angrily, but before you come to my office with pitchforks and torches… please allow me to further illuminate my point.

The real heart of the matter is that in the American church, we seem to have grown into this idea that it doesn’t matter the motives for good things, as long as good things are happening we should support it with all we can, whether or not the Gospel goes forward or not.  WHAT!?!?!?!?!

This seems completely crazy to me. If we believe that Jesus is the hope of the world, we should in turn believe the most incredible message of His life, death,substitution,  resurrection, atonement, and victory are a pretty important thing to spread around. Even more important than shoes! Now… if it goes hand in hand with some shoes, great, if it goes hand in hand with whatever you do to serve those who are hurting awesome!!! But at what point did we decide that we should just omit the Gospel from those actions? or that we as Christ followers should jump on whatever trendy bandwagon there is out there whether that organization promotes the cause of Christ or not?

Thus the issue with TOMS…  the company itself doesn’t allow for any sharing of religious beliefs (proselytization) while taking part in their shoe distributions. Which bug, because that seems to point to hope being in shoes… or hope being in humanity. That is a different lens than the average Christian is taught about, not to mention that the vast majority of folks wearing TOMS are probably less than aware, or don’t really give a rip that someone got a pair of shoes, to many it’s just another hip fashion statement.

And so many organizations out there romance the young hip believer to really buy in to the fact that they are helping so that must count… right?

Why not get involved with organizations that promote not only clothing, feeding, sheltering, or educating people around the world, but also promote the idea that the greatest hope humanity has is not in itself, but in Jesus Christ?

Instead of buying trendy shoes that make a statement, take it a step further and take that money and invest it in a micro-lending organization like World Vision, or why not use it to put money toward a mission trip you could go on? Volunteer, serve, go, do something!! The possibilities are endless.

So to answer the question.. would Jesus wear TOMS… probably not. He would probably buy them and give them to someone he knew was in need of shoes around Him, then share the heart of His Father with them, and then there would be two people in need getting shoes, and at least one getting a real picture of hope.

Think about it… you could even comment about it….

j-

The Traditional Valentine’s Day Manifesto!

So every year I have a tradition of posting this document which I once wrote for a church news letter (previous church, not Bridgeway) So… in the time honored tradition, even though it’s not technically “Retro Blog Day”, here it is:

Annual Valentine’s Tirade… but not what you think.

AHHHHH… Valentine’s day… the old tradition of flowers, candy, AND POTENTIAL DISASTER!!!
What I am about to write mostly pertains to men, so ladies please feel free to read and encourage the men in your life…. or if this all backfires… write me and tell me what a twit I am. Hopefully this will somehow be a small blessing in your relationships (present or future).
Now any man reading this can probably recount some time in his life where he has made a valentinian blunder, and can identify with what I am about to write. This is why I have become a Valentine’s Day cynic; this “holiday” just does not sit well with me. Now before you ladies get a rope and plan to lynch me … just keep reading. What I am writing about is a love that makes no mistakes, no blunders, and is wonderfully sufficient.
In February, as we look in the local flower shops, peruse the See’s candy store, or (if you need to make a big splash) the local Jewelry store, let’s make sure our thoughts are turned toward the One who has given us the incredible ability to love another person and has blessed us with the gift of other people that love us as well. Our relationships with one another are a huge part of this walk we call Christianity, and those relationships are only held together by the relationship we have with Jesus.
This month you will be inundated with commercials, articles and jingles that all revolve around this premise of “true love”… I’m sorry but when did true love become something bought off of a store shelf. We are blessed to know the reality of a love that is truer and more complete than can ever be coined by some Jared Jewelers commercial. I urge you not to forget this fact during the frenzied rush to show your “true love” to your significant other, crush, or recent hook up.
See… I have a challenge for you men…. ALL OF YOU!!… Stop buying the lie. Stop being sold on this idea that this one day of the year is more important than all others to tell the people you love that you love them. Especially if that person is your wife!!! There is no way one day a year will make up for the other 364 that you ignore that opportunity. I absolutely spit on the idea that roses on valentine’s day are more special than the random bouquet of flowers brought home for no reason at all. I GUARANTEE YOU… if you love the women in your life correctly… we could stamp out valentine’s day all together… if we could love our wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) we wouldn’t be subject to the guilt laden valentine’s myth.
If we would rise up together men and love our women as we should… Valentine’s day wouldn’t matter anymore… it would be a distant memory. But for now it remains a guilt ridden, marketing feeding frenzy that prays on men who know that they have spent too much time at work, too little time appreciating their wives and families, and now they are fed this line of crap about how this one “special day” a year will make it all up.
So men…. get it right… love consistently… and stamp out the valentine’s lie!!!
that’s right….

I said it.

down with valentine’s day….