I am with you always

Fear

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age

I’m one of those who has found that it is easier to talk about what it ‘means’ to be a Christian than it is to talk about what Jesus actually said. I think this is something that we can all fall victim to as we find it easier to pair our ideals and desires with lists and functions that we seek to apply to everyone. It is much more difficult to love your enemy, bless those who persecute you, and do good to those who despise you. To illustrate; in all of the sermons that I have heard about Jesus’ indignation in flipping the tables in the Temple not one has referenced the fact that those he angered that day he offered forgiveness while he hung on the cruel cross.

When Jesus spoke the words above it was difficult for his listeners to imagine what lay before them. 40 years later the city of Jerusalem would be completely destroyed. More than one Roman Emperor would send armies to the city over a 4-year period during which many Jews were slaughtered mercilessly. Eventually, the Roman Emperor, Titus, would lay siege to the city and destroy it completely.

During these 40 years the Jews who became believers were murdered and killed by their own countrymen as they shared that Jesus was the true Messiah. Their message of Jesus’ salvation for all would have caused them even more grief in the 4 years that the Romans laid siege to the city. And yet they had been tasked by Jesus with sharing through his power and his authority.

Jesus’ reminder was there to help free them and us that one currency that has been used by the Deceiver and our Accuser for centuries: fear. Fear of consumption. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. Fear.

If you doubt the motivational factor that fear provides I would challenge you to consider some of the means that we use to get our children or maybe a co-worker or an employee to do our wishes; I’ll take away your toys, I’ll send you to your room, and on and on could go. Sure, we might actually do those things at times as punishment for disobedient children or even for uncooperative employees but many times we speak the words hoping that their revulsion to the fear will motivate them.

There is no fear in the Kingdom of God.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Baling Hay is Easy


Baling hay is easy. Sure, you’ve heard the horror stories about the heat and the dust, but they’re really overblown. You lift the 70lb bale off the chute and stack it on the trailer. If you’re really smart you can build several platforms of bales that you climb to stack the new hay on. For a 15yo boy who was fairly active it was good exercise and made me feel like a man. 

What I didn’t understand was why these folks had waited to ask my brother and I for help. You see, as we approached the barn with our first load I could see that the only empty spot in the barn was where we were pulling the trailer – and there was still a lot of hay left in the field. The farmer and his wife, who were both closer to 70 than I was 20, then explained what was about to happen. 

I then discovered that putting hay away is an entirely different story. Focus. Pain. Dust. Heat. Fatigue. More dust. Unbearable heat. More fatigue. This farmer had filled his barn to the rafters. It was now our responsibility to fill the rafters. Each bale had to be dragged through a space that was barely large enough to crawl thru and wedged next to another offending bale. All the while this farmer pointed and prodded us to make sure no space was wasted. 

The difference between simply stacking hay on a trailer and cramming it into the overheated rafters of a tin-roofed barn is similar to having a theology and living with Christ as our focus. I have sure bailed a lot of hay as I’ve spent time telling others what I believed. It’s when I’ve begun to make Christ my focus that I see my enemy as my friend and am willing to bless those who would persecute me. 

I’m a long way from having this thing figured out but let me quickly remind you of Peter’s lesson from Jesus. Jesus was earning his disciples of the danger of leading children astray. As he pointed out that anyone who misled the children should be punished he gave them guidelines for dealing with someone who had wronged them. Peter, being the sharp thinker that he was saw an opportunity and sought some clarification from Jesus. 

What Peter wanted to know was exactly how far he had to go. Jesus’ answer was simple and concise: You don’t stop. 

You can read this story in Matthew 18 as I leave you with a few more words from Jesus. 

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Control and it’s function

I love to read about history. From a young age I’ve dreamed of what it would have been like to travel with Lewis and Clark, rustle steers with Billy the Kid, stand with Jackson, charge with Custer, ride with Ford, march with Black Jack, or land a Hellcat on the bobbing deck of an aircraft carrier. This simply puts me among the many who have ever opened the pages of a book; a dream to live in a time that has come and gone.

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized some things about myself and my attachment to what is past. There seems to be a melancholic strain within each one of us. Some may lean towards the trumpeting section of brave men and women who lived as if life was simply to be conquered. Others may strain to hear the simple accompaniment of the cello and notice those who have toiled along giving peace and comfort to those around them. Still others seek to separate the orchestra in groups and pretend as if they are not all necessary to create the wonderful beautiful sound that can almost overwhelm our souls when every note harmonizes perfectly.

Why must it seem that we constantly move in a circular pattern? Why is it that smart people; people who have great wisdom and ability in their fields of study and work become so simple when it comes to their cultural choices and their promotions of leaders? Why is it that we at all times seem destined to repeat that which we have read about in the past? Why can we not see that riding in a train with no brakes is worse than plodding along in the dust?

In my state today it is Election Day. We are primarily voting for our local representatives; sheriff, commissioner, clerk of court, etc. As I cast my vote I think of Adolf Hitler. I don’t think of Adolf Hitler because of any of these candidates but rather because Adolf Hitler was himself elected into power by a group of intelligent, industrious people, the German citizens of the 1930’s. Yes, I know that in 1933 Hitler called for new elections and his party manipulated and bullied those results. However, the irrevocable fact is that Hitler began his career because others were willing to bet on him. In retrospect this is almost unbelievable.

Why did they do this? Why do we elect people whom we never hold responsible for their actions or avoid speaking against when it is potentially harmful to us? For me much of this answer can be found in the story of Israelites and their desire for a king. There was no king at their head when Pharaoh threw them out of Egypt. Nor was a king present a short time later when Pharaoh’s army was destroyed in the Red Sea as he sought to reclaim what he mistakenly thought belonged to him. No king gave the order to march around Jericho, nor was it a king that ordered an attack on the Philistine nobles that resulted in the deaths of many of their leaders, in this instance it was a blind man who called out to God for the power and hope that he had abandoned by serving himself. Yet, they wanted what they felt they must have to be like the nations around them – a leader who would put their interests first. (Read about this throughout Judges and 1 Samuel)

Folks, it seems to be man’s self-focused, self-reliant nature that calls out for a king. We must have someone to rule over us! Even those who claim they don’t desire a king would gladly submit to a king if they could receive what they wanted and desired. Our thirst, our desire is the same desire that flooded the minds of Adam and Eve as the Tempter twirled his evil lie; you will be like gods!

It is authority that we lust after. It consumes us. It propels us and in the end it leaves us slaves to those who would gain from our willingness to sell our souls for a momentary feeling of greatness or self-assurance. Remember the words of Jesus: Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Don’t claim authority over anything, for you don’t have it to claim. Don’t seek authority over anything for it’s not yours to earn or possess. Live in His authority. When we live in His authority the circular pattern of our culture may not change but for the believer there are two large signposts constantly pointing out a straight and narrow path before us:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

Love your neighbor as yourself

 

A God Not Afraid of Stink

There are places that we would rather others never saw. Maybe, we don’t want our spouse to realize the disgust that courses through us when we do something that we don’t feel is our responsibility. Maybe it’s an attempt to shield an outburst of anger from a coworker that they have never seen before. We could go on and on but there are times when we have all been ashamed of our actions and ashamed to have been seen by others behaving that way.

I have found that there are times when I attempt to interact with God in the same way that I interact with others – shielding the disgusting and reprehensible from his view. This is certainly silly in the most basic sense in that most of us would profess that God is all-knowing, but it is a revelation of how we are prone to view ourselves: as god. In other words, if no one ever truly sees our thoughts or even some of our actions then maybe, just maybe, they either never really happened or we are able to control the impact they have on our lives and the lives of others.

I was privileged to hear the song, Four Days Late, in our church service a few weeks ago. It is a song that I have heard a multitude of times but as it was sung this last time I began to think about a God. The God. The Personable God who wasn’t worried about the stink of a dead body. It’s one thing to take God to the graveyard and point out a sealed tomb and pretend as if our problem has been neutralized and is now sealed away with only our grief and separation remaining. It’s quite another thing to expose the stink of our lives to Him fully. The God who called Lazarus from the grave could have easily called him through the rock if He had so desired.

So in the course of your life if you and God ever come across one of your tombs and you don’t want it opened because of the smell remember, what you smell as death, He has the authority and desire to call to life. What we might try to convince Him is dealt with He may be ready to bring to new life.

Lazarus, Come Forth!

 

If you want to be blessed by Taylor’s song click on the link below and move on up to around the 19 minute mark. The sound is a little off for a few seconds but I believe you will be blessed.

 

Old Cowboys and The Kingdom to Come

One more day. One. More. Day. ONE. MORE. DAY. Believe it or not, tomorrow marks the last day of 2015. It’s kind of amusing but the memory I have right now is of Y2K and the fear that Armageddon would be heralded by computers that would revert to double aught (00). How these past 15 years have flown.
When we consider the changes that have been made in our lifetimes it is easy to become astounded by the things that we have seen and the realities that we now take for granted. At times like this it is easy to become nostalgic and dream of the “good ole days.” You know, back when folks built things better, behaved better, and all in all things were “better.” I admit that I’m usually not that nostalgic so it may be easy to dismiss my thoughts here and give me a label that will allow you to send me to the proverbial corner.
But if I could just have a moment of your time I would like to ask you how that phone that weighs only a few ounces, surfs the web at lightning speeds, and stores pictures by the bushels, would look if it had been built like things were built in the 70’s, 60’s, 40’s or whatever your preferred decade is? Just a hint, you wouldn’t be holding it in your hand and if such a thing existed the heat such a device generated would make this ‘winter’ that we’re having feel like a Buffalo blizzard.
I listened to a song today that embodies much of what I am speaking of here: The Last Cowboy. Jamey Johnson pines for a time when real cowboys sang and performed on the stages across our country. John Wayne, Waylon Jennings, and the others mentioned in that song may not be your heroes or role models but we surely have our own and if we are not careful we choose an ideal that may or may not even be as ideal as we imagine it to be and we spend our time looking back.
Our prayer is not to be that we can return to a moment in history in which the world was more moral than it currently seems to be. Our prayer is to be, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
Our prayer is not to be that we choose between the ‘lesser of two evils’ when it comes to our abysmal political scene. Our prayer is to be, “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Our prayer is not to be that we sustain a lifestyle that most of the world cannot even begin to imagine. Our prayer is to be, “Give us this Day our Daily Bread.”
My challenge to you is if you are a believer in the One True God that you set your face towards the hills from where our help comes. If we don’t we’re just going to end up sounding like a sad country. Folks, don’t sound like a sad country song. We are made in the image of the Invisible God the One who says, “Call upon me in your day of trouble and I will hear you.”

 

And if you just like good ole sad country music click on the video and listen to Jamey

 

Some thoughts – Coach Richt

Coach Richt

You know, I really thought I wouldn’t have much to say. To some degree I felt that I had already said all that I cared to say. Yet, somewhere in the corner of my mind, there is this unsettled feeling that I haven’t said it all – or haven’t said it as clearly as I would wish. Either way, a few more thoughts.
I have to admit that the first emotion was anger. Anger that once again a group of rich, spoiled brats were getting their way and that good, honest and decent people were suffering because of their selfish and unrestricted behavior. I helped treat my anger with some great decision making: I stayed off social media for a while and then when I did log on I spent the first 30 minutes unfollowing and unfriending. Yep, I didn’t unfriend and unfollow all but I did get rid of enough that I wasn’t prompted to respond to every ridiculous statement.
My second emotion was frustration. And then I was frustrated that I was frustrated. In fact, why was I even frustrated? Was my frustration aimed at the rich brats mentioned earlier or was it towards the folks who now found themselves missing a Facebook ‘friend’ or a Twitter ‘follower’? When it was all said and done I found that most of my frustration stemmed from the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that I had adopted and which seems to be the default attitude in western Christianity. That may have frustrated me the most.
Then, disappointment. Disappointed that we are so easily swayed by the measures of the culture that surrounds us. Disappointed that good people were hurting and disappointed that many might never have the opportunity that others have had because we JUST. CAN’T. BE. SATISFIED. Of all the emotions this is the one that hangs around longer than a sour BBQ sandwich – and stinks just as bad.
In the end, though, I find that I am hopeful. I am hopeful that all over the world that believers who operate and live publicly in front of their friends and families daily were encouraged and strengthened to press on as they saw someone in a very public position display the grace and mercy that we often speak of but find so difficult to rely upon. I am hopeful that the Spirit of God who dwells within every believer will be our source of truth. That our hope will be found in the person of Jesus Christ and his willful sacrifice on our part and the reality that you and I have a personal relationship with God will be the greatest joy in our lives. This reality will allow us face the real adversities in our lives and will make things like football to fall to the wayside of our lives.
This truth allows me to press on with the same expectation for my life as I have for Coach Richt’s life. No, I won’t be the next coach of Missouri and Miami probably won’t call, but I’m alive, God is alive and dwells within me – and greater things are yet to come.

Clearing the Temple

There are a lot of things that I’m confused about and even more things that I don’t understand or know. Having said that I do want to attempt to expound on an area that I don’t have a complete understanding on and I hope that you will show me some grace if I’m not as clear as you would like or expect me to be. In fact, to some degree, I hope to write in such a way that causes not only my unsure realities to be exposed but maybe to allow the reader to see somethings from a different perspective as well.
One of the most quoted passages is found in John 2:13-22. This is the passage in which Jesus takes a whip and drives out the animals from the court of the Temple. He then flips the tables of the money changers and proclaims that His Father’s house is not a marketplace.
If you have never studied this passage I would encourage you to give it some thought. As you do so pay attention to the setting into which Jesus entered and seek to apply it to our lives today. Let me give you some things to consider and I’ll leave it with you.
First of all, the presence of God is no longer found in a building. The “church” is not the house of God but rather it is the people of God. We know this but it is such a difficult concept to grasp – well, not really, it is just easier to trust our efforts than it is to trust God’s promises – that we constantly find ourselves confusing the to/too/two. If Christ dwelling in us is the presence of God then I believe that the courtyard of the Temple would be our own material and experiential lives.
Secondly, and for me this is where it is easy for me to miss the forest for the trees, the restriction on the presence of God is something that Jesus and God take very seriously. I say easy to miss because it is very easy to become distracted with various theories and prognostications as to what exactly was happening in the courtyard. Were the priests really charging an exorbitant rate for the exchange of money? Was the High Priest condemning the animals brought for sacrifice and demanding that the individual purchase an “approved” animal? These are all theories that I have heard taught and they may or may not be correct.
This is where I begin to veer a little of course and just want to point something out that is fairly easy to overlook. You may or may not be familiar with the fact that there were actually 4 courts the led to the Temple. This was the outermost court and anyone was able to enter and mingle in this courtyard. It was crowded; it was loud; it was obnoxious – and it offended Jesus.
It offended Jesus because the Temple was to be a place of reverence and worship and not a place to hear the calling of the herders or the clink of money being passed. Translate that to today and apply it to my life; your life. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that we are extremely consumer oriented as believers. We are for a cause, against a cause, angry with a cause, hoping for a cause and if I’m not careful my life begins to sound like an animal marketplace. Having spent a little bit of time in animal marketplaces I can assure you of one absolute truth – they stink.
I’ve got a challenge for us; can we take a little bit of time, just a little quiet time and enjoy the presence of God? Can we stop being a consumer of the newest item of rage or praise and just enjoy some quiet time alone in presence of God? I’ll close with a verse that has been a source of comfort for me many times over the last few years: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. James 4:8a