And Now For Something Completely Different…

Sacrificing Our Reputations

BAR_SIGN_web-467x332One of the hardest things for people to sacrifice is their reputations.  People will sacrifice time and money.  They may even sacrifice positions of power and influence.  But ask someone to sacrifice their reputation, and there is usually either a long, awkward pause or an outright “No.”

This can be especially true when Christians decide to actually go to where hurting, lost and confused people are rather than wait for them to come to Church. Preachers who frequent bars to meet and talk with people who would not ordinarily come to church (unless it is Christmas, Easter, a wedding, a funeral, or Mother’s Day) tend not to last long at that particular pastorate.  Lay people who think about sharing a ministry of presence in bars tend to immediately dismiss those ideas rather quickly because, “What would people think if they saw me coming out of there?”

This is exactly the kind of action that got Jesus in trouble with the Pharisees.  He was always in the wrong place with the wrong people.  Moral, religious folk were not supposed to be around people like that in places like that, let alone intentionally seek them out.

Unfortunately, our attitudes usually reflect the Pharisees rather than Jesus when it comes to something like this.  Thank God Jesus didn’t feel this way when he came for each one of us in our lives!

When Christian ministry begins to follow Jesus once again in how and where and with whom he had his ministry, then we will begin to see a renewal in the Church.  As long as we are unwilling to sacrifice our reputations for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the lost, we will have to be content with mediocrity in our ministry.

Jesus asks us to give God our all.  That includes our reputations.

The Beginning and the End

creationIsn’t it interesting that two of the biggest disagreements between Christians of various stripes are about the Beginning and the End?  These are issues of creation (big bang/theistic evolution vs. young earth creation) and consummation (rapture and all the types of millenialism that goes along with it vs. non-rapture amillenialism).

I truly think it is silly for Christians to focus so much on these two issues.  How God created is really a non-issue.  We are here.  When Jesus is coming back is really a non-issue.  Every day we are one day closer to the end (of our own lives and the world).  The main thing we are to do is live faithfully here and now, so that when Jesus either comes back or “calls us home” we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

If our faith is contingent on whether or not the world is 6000 years old, our faith is in the wrong place.  It should be focused on Jesus.  If our Christian walk is contingent on whether or not Jesus is coming back at the next “blood moon,” our walk is not well.  It would be like the child who will only obey a parent if he knew the parent was just about to walk into the room and see how he is acting.four_horsemen_by_douglasramsey-d5qbmbt

Jesus is “the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6) and he is “the author and perfector of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  Let us focus more on Christ and faithfully living as one of his disciples than how the world began or will end.  Perhaps if we focused more on this, on how we live out our faith, rather than what other people believe and why they are obviously wrong, then non-Christians will take our message of faith in Jesus more seriously.

Just a thought.

Raising Kids Without Doing More Harm Than Good

(c) Epworth Old Rectory; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationJohn Wesley was raised knowing that God had something important for him to do in the world.  I was reminded of this yesterday when, during my Bible readings I ran across Zechariah 3:2, “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (ESV).  Those who know Wesley’s life or Methodist history would know this is how John’s mother, Susanna, thought of John when he was rescued at the last minute from a fire in their home when John was a young boy.  Men stood on top of each other’s shoulders to make a human ladder to reach John and pulled him to safety right before the roof crashed down where he had been.  Susanna thought of this verse and decided that John needed extra attention because God had preserved him for something.

John grew up with this story.  He knew God had kept him alive for some reason, and he wanted to make sure he accomplished that purpose.  The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.  Wesley created a movement that has become one of the largest groups of Christians in the world (see this post for stats) and he is credited with preserving England from the radical revolutions that swept Continental Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and for seriously contributing to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire due to his influence on the likes of William Wilberforce.

Sometimes parents overly praise their children to the extent that children are not prepared for the hurts and failures that real life can bring.  When kids think they are obviously the best at everything, and anything they attempt is perfect, they are being set up for failure in life quite simply because there will generally be someone else who is better at something than they are.

On the flip-side, there are parents that limit the praise and children grow up thinking that they cannot do anything well.  They may have success in life but never feel as if they are fulfilled because the voice in their heads tell them that it is not “good enough.”

John Wesley is a great case in the middle road.  This is how his parents treated him.  Susanna and Samuel Wesley raised John, telling him that he was there for a purpose (the brand from the fire) but they were also realistic about life and John’s abilities.  They encouraged him where he was gifted and did not overly admonish him where he was not.  To be sure, it took John a long time in adulthood to come to a balanced life (some might say he never quite arrived there), but the results of his life cannot be denied.

Perhaps one of the greatest things we can do for our children is to remind them every so often that they have a unique mission on this earth given to them by God.  It is a mission that only they can do, because if it was not then God would have created someone else for a different mission.  Every one of us, whether we have had an encounter with a blazing inferno of a home, are brands plucked from the fire.  We are all here by the grace of God and we all have something we are uniquely qualified to do.

Not What We Expected

As far as insights from Bible reading go, yesterday was a great day.

There are so many times I have preached that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah, just not how the people of that time expected them to be fulfilled.  Revelation gets to the heart of that idea in Chapter 5 when John hears about the lion of the tribe of Judah, a Jewish reference to the Messiah that is full of power and regal majesty, and then he sees a lamb standing as though it had been slain, a decidedly un-powerful image.

Pentecost-2Yet I never really saw a prophecy concerning Pentecost in the same way.  In Zephaniah 3:9 the text says

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.

This is God speaking of the restoration and the redemption of all the nations.  And here is the insight.  God did this, but not by giving everyone the same language.  God did it by using all the different languages of the world on Pentecost, but using those languages to deliver the same message.  The prophecy was fulfilled, and is still being fulfilled, but not in the way that would have been expected.

I love this, too, because it shows that God can and does use all different means to communicate the one pure speech message of the Gospel–a message that is full of love and grace and redemption.  Thank God there are surprises in how prophecy is fulfilled!

Hard Lesson From a Prophet

My wife and I have as a part of our spiritual discipline to read the Bible through in one year.  This is not as daunting as it may sound.  First, when you read with a partner, just like working out, it keeps you honest about doing the reading.  Second, we don’t follow a complex scheme to read.  We start with Matthew 1 (the first chapter in the New Testament) on January 1, and read four chapters per day.  By the beginning of March, we have finished the New Testament and move on to Genesis and then go straight through the Bible.  This means that for one calendar year, we will have read the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. (Many thanks to Bob Tuttle, who turned us on to this reading plan back in seminary!)

A few days ago we were in Hosea, and I ran across this verse, which metaphorically smacked me over the head:

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. (10:12)

horse plowThis comes as God, through Hosea, reprimands Israel for its lack of faith, a lack of faith that grew as their prosperity grew.  Israel turned away from God and thought their blessings came either from their own striving or from worshiping their false gods and goddesses.  Discipline and judgment are coming, warns the prophet, and then this verse comes.

Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness they have not only forgotten the Lord, but they have also ceased to share love and righteousness with one another.  This is characteristically seen in the injunction to care for the widow, orphan and alien among them–people who could not take care of themselves.  By focusing on their own lives and their own prosperity, Israel did not love others.

Their ground became fallow.  It ceased to produce fruit.  Sure they had produced money and land and other means of prosperity for themselves, but that is not the fruit that God wanted.  It is not the love that God called them to exhibit.  (Hint: this is why Jesus talks so much about love to his disciples and says the world will know them by their love for one another.)

But look at the verse.  It is a hopeful call to repentance.  Even now, in the midst of a warning of judgment, God is offering the Israelites a second chance.  God will rain down righteousness on them, but the repentance will be painful.  They have to break up the fallow ground.  The ground that had ceased to produce the growth God wanted had become dry and crusted over.  It must be ripped open and broken apart so that growth can come.

This gets to the heart of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.  As the sower scatters the seed it falls on many different types of ground.  But it is only the seed that falls on the good ground, ground that had been prepared and tilled, ground that had been broken up and made ready for planting, that produces.

This made me stop and think: where in my life and in the life of my congregation do we need to seek out the painful process of having our barrenness plowed up, the fallow ground broken open, and begin to sow righteousness once again so that we may reap steadfast love?