Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Tyranny of Better

2010 has to be better than 2009.
I hope the next decade is better than this one.
I want to be a better person in the coming year.
Since I became a Christian, I'm determined to be a better me.

See a problem here?
Too many times when we think about faith, we think about how we can fit it in to our lives. We think: me + Jesus = better me. So, I keep doing the stuff that I do, just find a way to squeeze Jesus in. I rearrange my schedule or try to find some margin in the things I do so I can fit in church stuff.
Maybe we realize there is stuff there that shouldn't be there. So, we try this one: me - stuff + Jesus = better me. We'll make a commitment or a resolution to stop something, to cut something out of our lives and add something else. We think we need addition by substitution. I'll quit staying up so late and add Bible reading. I'll quit swearing and start praying. If I can just do that, I'll be a better me.

If you've tried that, and I certainly have, you've probably quickly realized that it doesn't work. You can't squeeze Jesus in somewhere.
(He doesn't take kindly to being crowded.)
You can't substitute Jesus for something else.
(He doesn't come off the bench.)

This Christianity thing is something else entirely. It isn't like the changing of the calendar, what's ahead doesn't have to be disgustingly similar to what has already come. In fact, if you dive in for real, it won't even be close.

Jesus doesn't bring change, he brings life.
He doesn't make people better, he makes them new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

The equation actually looks more like this: Jesus + me - me = new me.
We can't fit Jesus in somewhere, we follow him everywhere.
We can't substitute Jesus for something else, he must be everything.
It isn't a pick and choose situation, God doesn't give us a spiritual buffet. It's is a matter of letting go of what we want, what we think we need, what we think we make us happy or fulfilled or successful and embracing what advances God's kingdom.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

Following Christ is the ultimate paradox. If we want something better than what we are now, we can't strive for something better. If we want more we can't try to work for it. If we want to be great, we've got to be servants. If we want to love, we must realize we might not always feel it. If we want to understand, we must admit that we never will.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There's hunting and then there's hunting

Warning: This post contains some graphic detail. If you are opposed to hunting of any form, please wait for the next post...

Hunting is a pretty manly activity. You're main goal is to kill things, after all. In years past I hunted. I wouldn't say I was an avid hunter, but I hunted regularly with my dad. We'd go out for small game and deer. (The first day of deer season was a holiday where I'm from.) Small game hunting was a lot of walking and looking. Deer hunting was sitting and waiting and watching. Hopefully something would cross your line of sight and you would aim and shoot. Simple as that.

I spoke to a gentleman this weekend who hunts in a different manner. He asked if I knew if it was legal to hunt in Ohio without a license - if you weren't going to use a gun. His method of deer hunting was much different than mine. It began the same, with patience and quiet. But, when you spotted a deer the rest was very different. He told me about leaping out of trees (or down from walls) onto the back of a deer, gripping it with your legs and then killing it with a knife. That's a whole new level of hunting. That's a whole new definition of manly.

It made me think about how we approach life. Are we sitting and waiting to take a shot or are we stalking and looking for the opportunity to throw ourselves into the fray? Are we willing to get our hands dirty and add a little risk to the equation?

I'm tired of sitting in the tree. I'm ready to leap.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Tis better to

So, I went out on a little bit of a limb. There were several things that my wife said she wanted for Christmas and I picked up one or two of those. But, I thought she might like a Wii Fit. She talked about it once, after my sister said something about using hers, but she never came out and said, "I want one of those." So, I bought one, wrapped it up and waited to see.

She loves it.

She's played it for hours. She's laughed and giggled and had a ton of fun with it. And that makes me smile more than any of the presents I received.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'm a believer

Overheard this morning:

"Well, we're believers, so..."
(Hmm, what's coming next?)
"We put out the cookies and milk tonight and hide all the presents until the kids are asleep. We went to see Santa at the mall and..."

The lengths that people will go to in order to make their kids think that Santa is real are unbelievable. I've heard stories of parents who put up the tree and all the decorations after the kids are asleep, explaining that Santa did it. All this to create a sense of wonder and amazement in some mythical jolly old soul. (I'm not knocking Santa or parents who tell their kids about him - just those that go way overboard.)

This is the same statement that many people make about people in my position. I've heard it said that my whole life is devoted to perpetuating a lie, to helping people believe in a merry old myth. The very first time I thought about going into the ministry, someone exclaimed, "No, you can't. What a waste! You could do so much." That cost me a couple years.

What's the difference? My life is different because of Jesus. No matter what Miracle on 34th Street says, no ones life is changed because of Santa. I'm changed. I'm a new person. My life has a meaning and a purpose that is bigger than me, bigger than my job or my bank account, bigger than my family, bigger than I can understand. I was a prisoner, but now I'm free. I was a slave, but now I'm a servant. I was lost, but now I'm found. I was scrap, but now I'm salvaged.

That's why I'm a believer.
That's why I do what I do.
And I never have to worry about the kids growing up and finding out the truth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Some Christmases are better than others. Plain and simple. Some years we will remember forever, other years just melt into a collective memory of Christmases gone by.

Think back to one of those memorable Christmases of your past. Chances are, it was great because of a gift (or gifts) that you received. Christmas 1985 was the year of the Transformers for me. I was right in the heart of Transformers the first time around. I must have received 10,000 Transformers that year. I got Optimus Prime and Bumblebee and Starscream and some giant thing that turned from a motorized train to a robot that walked (kind of). In my birthday pictures just a few weeks later I can be seen holding up my cake and a couple of robot planes.

If I look at more recent Christmases, the picture changes a little. I don't remember the gifts I received as much as the gifts I gave. Christmas 2005 was the first year I worked at East End Christian Church. Instead of spending money on presents for my family back home, I made a video collage of some of the folks at EECC and spent that money on gifts for them. My family got pictures of some of those folks and I asked that they would pray for them. I've seen my family cry plenty of times, but that was the first time I felt so good about it.

At some point we grow up to realize that Christmas is really more about giving than receiving. When we we realize that this same principle applies to much more than just Christmas?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Rain, rain on my face.
Hasn't stopped raining for days...

When was the last time you heard or even thought about "Flood" by Jars of Clay? (Or Jars of Clay for that matter?) Several years ago this song was everywhere - Christian radio, secular radio, clubs, bars, for several months you couldn't get away from it. Now its muzak at Bruegger's.
What was once fresh and new and seemingly everywhere faded quietly away. That's just the way things work, right? Culture gets tired of something and moves onto the next thing. It's human nature.

What are the things that stick? What are the things that make a lasting difference? How do they compare to so many things that just come and go? Music comes and goes, toys, games, cars, some people. What really makes a change? What are the things that never fade?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Plenty of room

What if there was room in the inn?

Every year, millions of people put together little nativity scenes in their houses or big ones outside their houses or churches or town halls. The tell-tale structure for almost all of these is a simple structure that represents a stable. You'll see four poles with a simple slanted roof or a peaked roof supported by a simple wall and two columns. From there, the cast of shepherds and kings and donkeys and cows and camels and sheep spill out onto the surrounding land.

What if there was room in the inn?

God took an obstacle, the crush of people returning to Bethlehem to be taxed, and turned it into an opportunity. We celebrate the simple beginnings of the savior. It shows his humility and his character. It shows his desire to relate to anyone and everyone. It shows his lack of regard for what humanity considers success and power. It shows his predilection for using the worst of circumstances to create something beautiful.

What obstacles are in my life this Christmas season?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Facebook is supposed to be a fun way to connect with people and waste some time, right? No hassles, no negativity, connecting with old friends and communicating with new.

So, I got an "Old Friends" request from one of my cousins today. Let me share with you the text that accompanied the request:
Emily sent you an image on Old Friends. Want to see the image? Click Yes if you want to see the image, otherwise click No. But you have to click! Please respond or Emily may think you said No :(
Really? Some application on Facebook is going to try to guilt me into accepting it? That's just unacceptable. As if there weren't enough things in the world that try to pressure or guilt you into action, my social networking site has to do it too?

I don't know about you, but if you're trying to guilt me into something, I'm not doing it. I've got enough struggles with actual guilt, nevertheless dealing with some manufactured guilt. When I see abused animals on TV or starving children or dirty rivers and then I hear a voiceover telling me that I have a responsibility to help I completely shut down. That isn't because I don't care. I care deeply, but I can't stand being guilted.

Far too often this is how the church operates. It makes people feel bad and offers them a way to feel better. What could be further from the message Jesus offered?

It's God's job to judge, not ours.
It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict, not ours.
It's our job to love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Beginning

In the grand scheme of things, what is Christmas?

It is the time where Jesus enters into history in a new, concrete way. But, he doesn't really do anything for a while.

It is the beginning of a transition for the Holy Spirit, moving from being an occasional helper to a constant companion. But, that transition is still years away.

It is the first step in God's sacrifice for us. He alone knew the grand plan of redemption at this point. He alone knew what this baby would become, what he would go through, what he would sacrifice. It was the beginning of 30+ years of agony because of that knowledge.

What is is beginning in your life this Christmas?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Poor in Spirit --> Mourn --> Meek --> Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness --> Merciful --> Pure in Heart --> Peacemakers --> Persecuted Because of Righteousness

Jesus' opening to the Sermon on the Mount is a beautiful piece of scripture, but is it something more? At first glance it looks like a simple list of some good traits to have, things that we should strive for. If you check a number of different resources, especially study Bibles, this is exactly how they explain what this is. "It is the standard that Christians should strive to meet."
Is there any other place where Jesus tells us to be Poor in Spirit? Anywhere else he tells his followers to mourn? Nope. He brought a message of faith, hope and love. He was criticized for attending too many parties, not for bringing everyone down. This isn't just a collective list - it is a guide. It details a heart path, the way to get where God wants us to be.

It begins with sorrow. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance, so did Jesus. Part of repentance is recognizing that we aren't where we should be. This leads to being Poor in Spirit.

When our Spirits are low, it makes sense to mourn. We weep over the wrongs we have done and the mistakes we have made. Our relationship with God is in shambles and we feel it intensely.

Pride comes before a fall, and meekness comes after we've finally accepted how low we've fallen.

Once we've accepted our place, we can finally focus on what is really important. We want to leave behind the problems that got us in this situation, so we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Part of this process is compassion. We've seen how bad we could be and we can see others on the path. We show them mercy.

As the hunger for righteousness increases and defines our steps, we become more pure, right down to the core of our heart.

Peace becomes a priority for us, so much so that we are willing to work to make it so.

This is not an easy task, so there will be opposition. This is the fight that Jesus has called us to, this is the reason for our creation. We will be persecuted, we will go against the grain, we will need help to get by.

Here Jesus changes subjects. Now he addresses the Disciples directly. He indicates that they have come through this. Now they are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. We're being prepared, we're being trained and we can't forget that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Make my day

What do you take for granted? What is so commonplace for you that you don't give it a second thought? What are you so used to that it is simply a part of your day-to-day existence?

Someone (maybe someone you know), somewhere (probably closer than you think) doesn't have it.

This week someone came to me with some Bengals tickets that they simply couldn't use. They are season ticket holders and they can't make it to the game after Christmas. Unfortunate, but not life-changing. After all, they've got tickets to all the games anyway. Instead of giving the tickets to one of their close friends, they asked if I could find someone who could really use them. With the help of the folks at Parkside's outreach I did. And it will be one of the best Christmases in their memory. Because of something someone else takes for granted.

This week at Panera they made an extra sandwich. Instead of dumping it in the trash, they gave it to my wife and made her Wednesday.

This morning at Strabucks someone was rewarded with a free cup of coffee and it made their morning.

Make someone's Christmas this year, it might be easier than you think.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


B is a woman who's had it rough. She grew up in circumstances beyond what many of us could even imagine. Her father was a wizard in the KKK. Her mother was a snake handler. She's had way too many run-ins with both of these groups.

The KKK taught her about hate. The snake-handlers taught her that love has to be earned and then proved. She ran from both of these lies and found more of the same. She was given an ultimatum: 10% to be part of the one true church or leave. She left. She's struggled her whole life.

This week she said, "Since I came here, nobody's judged me. And nobody's asked me for nothing, except for me to come back. I like that."

So do I.
Well done Parkside, well done.

Monday, December 7, 2009


K is an older woman who I've gotten to know over the past few years. To say she's had a tough life is an understatement. She's never had much, she's never wanted much. She was a hard worker, until her health took that ability away from her. She is a mother and a grandmother and very recently became a great-grandmother. She's taking care of a couple of her grandsons and she'll literally do anything for them.

This is a carryover from raising her kids. She recently told me that raising children is her calling, this is what she was designed to do. She didn't say that she is good at it, but she knows that is what she was created to do - because that is what consumes her heart and mind. That is all she thinks about. The same couldn't be said for the father of her kids.

She raised her kids without a dad and she knew that this wasn't right - it wasn't what was best for them. So, she tried to find guys who could be an example for them, who would teach them what it was to be a man. Unfortunately there are very few men out there who know what it is to be a man these days.

She raised her kids without much, so she tried to eke everything she could out of what she got. She learned to work the system and get extra where she could. But not for herself, for her kids and now her grandkids. There's an old question, "Is it okay to steal if you are starving?" She made sure her kids never had to answer that question by answering it for herself.

She gave me a gift this week. It's nothing special and it might seem silly to others. But it means the world to me. I haven't done anything that seems special, just tried to love her and make her feel special, because she is.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Obadiah's Part

In the overall story, when things need to be settled, God handles it. That's his part. When we try to do his part, that's when we get ourselves into trouble. Historically, when the church tries to do God's part we get things like the Crusades and the Inquisition. God doesn't need us to bring justice, thinking that is our job or even our right is foolish and dangerous.

Our society (especially the typical guy) revels in seeing a person do God's part. We love the hero who serves revenge as a cold dish, who (often through violence) makes right the wrongs that have been done. We celebrate the gory spectacle of warriors bringing down those who have brought others down and we salute them as they stand over the fallen oppressors.

"On the day you stood aloof
while strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.
You should not look down on your brother
in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in their day of destruction,
nor boast so much
in their day of trouble.

You should not march through the gates of my people
in the day of their disaster,
nor look down on their calamity
in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth
in the day of their disaster.

You should not wait at the crossroads
to cut down their fugitives,
nor hand over their survivors
in the day of their trouble.

The day of the Lord is near
for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;
your deeds will return upon your own head."

We should recognize what we celebrate for what it is. Our part is not to create some bloody thing that vaguely resembles justice. Our part is to create mercy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Last night my wife and I sat down to a dinner together of what could very rightly be called hot mush. It was a combination of rice, soy, carrots, rice, celery, rice, red peppers, rice and some vitamin and mineral fortification. Oh yeah, and there was rice. It tasted a whole lot like a can of campbell's chicken soup that someone had made using 3x the recommended amount of water.

Weak chicken gruel is not our normal dinner.

We knew that going in, but we did it anyway. It was an exercise in empathy. We were trying to get a tiny glimpse of what the people who are fed by Northwest Haiti Christian Mission are actually fed. All things considered, its not too bad. We cooked up a bag which contains 4-6 meals and wound up eating over half for dinner.

We expected to be hungry afterward and really we weren't. We expected it to taste bad and really it didn't. The worst part about the experience was thinking about eating that twice a day and nothing else. I couldn't imagine eating this and only this for weeks, months or years at a time. But, then again I've never really been hungry. And chances are you haven't been either.

We're partnering with Kids Against Hunger in Cincinnati to package thousands of these meals to help fight hunger in Haiti. KAH will provide the rice, soy, veggies and bags and we'll supply the funds and the manpower to put them all together. It gives a concrete way to give more this Christmas while spending less. You can donate by sending a check to Parkside with KAH in the memo or even better, you can come and pack some bags with us. Sunday 12/6 at Family Christmas from 5:30 - 7:30 or for our Tailgate with a Purpose on 12/13 both at our Salem Road campus.

Because its that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and we are completely surrounded by food. We ate a ton while away for Thanksgiving and things show no signs of slowing.
Because I've never really been hungry.
Because I'm a disciple of Jesus, and that's what he would do.
Because everyone deserves a little satisfaction and laughter.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Standing Boldly

God calls us to make a stand. He wants us to think different - to live different - to love different. Our love should make us stand out from the world, it should make us odd, peculiar and unusual. This is hard. The world and its subtle pressures are powerful. I still want to be liked, to be understood, to be believed and admired. I worry about what people think. I worry about making sure things are taken care of. I worry. I worry about being different and not in the way that its cool to be different. I'm scared to stick out too much. I'm scared to take a real stand.

Elijah made a stand with Elisha. He didn't nicely ask him if he would perhaps maybe consider the possibility of potentially becoming his apprentice. He walked up to him and wrapped his cloak around him. It was a bold move. It was something that would not easily be ignored. It was nothing compared to Elisha's response.

Elisha, when given the opportunity to follow Elijah didn't balk at the chance. He didn't weigh his options. He didn't think about the potential consequences. He kissed his parents good-bye and made a stand. When Elijah found him, Elisha was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen (that's 24 huge animals). Ergo: 1) Elisha was a worker. 2) Elisha had some money.

It would have been easy and understandable for Elisha to take some precautions - to keep things under control at home in case things with Elijah didn't work out. But Elisha did the opposite. He uses his plowing equipment to make a fire and he proceeds to kill and cook all of his oxen. There was no going back now. He fed the whole town and set off on his new life. that was crazy. That was faith. That was a stand.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Theology of the Handicapped Space

We all know why it is there. We all know who is supposed to use it. We all know who isn't. You'd think the handicapped parking space would be a simple matter. If you are handicapped enough to get a license plate or a card that hangs from your mirror (who qualifies is a whole 'nother discussion), you can park in the space. No plate, no card, no parking. Easy, right?

I sit here 3 or 4 mornings a week and I can't help but notice the handicapped spot - and who parks there. It's a small parking lot and it is often full, but not always. There are 5 different ways this spot is normally used:

1. The lot wasn't full, a middle aged woman in a Mercedes SUV pulled in from the parkway and swung directly into the spot. There were other spots open. She left her car running (in fact, the turn signal was still blinking), ran in to get her coffee and ran out again. "I can park here if it's fast."?

2. The lot was full, an elderly woman with a noticeable limp and the appropriate handicapped card in her windshield pulled into the spot, walked in to get her coffee and left.

3. The lot was completely full, any one of a number of cars (I've seen Rovers, Passats, Minis and Priuses pull this one) creeps through the lot and finally pulls into the handicapped spot. The driver then either sheepishly slinks or confidently marches (there is no in between) inside to get their coffee. a) "I guess I can park here if there isn't any other option"? b) "I can park here because they need my business and they should have a bigger lot"?

4. The lot was busy, a well-used and well-stickered early 90's model Corolla pulls up to the front door. A woman gets out and walks in while the man driving the car backs halfway into the handicapped spot and half into the "no parking" area, narrowly missing the A-frame sign placed specifically to prevent him from parking directly in front of the store. "I can park here because you won't let me park where I want"?

5. The lot is pretty full, a beautiful car (subjectively or objectively) pulls into not just the handicapped spot, but also half of the spot next to it and proudly makes their way inside, turning halfway to arm the car alarm and admire their ride. "I couldn't park anywhere else because parking lots are dangerous places for cars like mine"?

There are plenty of places in life that should be a simple matter. Right and wrong, black and white, yes and no, do or don't. Yet, we can still find ways to muddy the waters, to create shades of gray. We do this by looking only at ourselves and considering only our needs instead of thinking first about the needs of others. "I can do it if it is right for me right now"?

Update 12/10 - When it's snowing the spot is nothing short of a free-for-all. "Extreme circumstances remove all guilt"?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


It doesn't make a difference to me what Obama did or didn't see in China, but I love the determination, bravery and moxy of the house churches in China. (It's also great to see this message slipped into the Wall Street Journal of all places.) When people fully turn their lives over to Christ and become disciples, no government can keep Christianity down.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unaffiliated... for now

The Pew research group recently completed their Landscape survey and reported the results here. The focus of the survey was to examine the practice of switching religions. In the survey they found that Americans are switching religions at a faster pace than ever before. All this switching leads to some groups growing and some shrinking. The group showing the most shrinkage is Catholicism. The group growing the most is those who say they are unaffiliated. The reasons for unaffiliated growth are telling:

About half of those who have become unaffiliated say - in response to the survey's yes-or-no questions - that they became unaffiliated, at least in part, because they think of religious people as hypocritical, judgmental or insincere. Large numbers also say they became unaffiliated because they think that religious organizations focus too much on rules and not enough on spirituality, or that religious leaders are too focused on money and power rather than truth and spirituality. . . Fewer people, however, say they became unaffiliated because they think modern science proves that religion is just superstition, indicating that the belief that science disproves religion is a less important reason for becoming unaffiliated than disenchantment with religious people or institutions.

Despite what online forums and message boards may lead you to believe, people aren't leaving church for science (which is too bad, because science is an easily knowable enemy). Instead, they're leaving because of their perception of religious people. Hypocrisy, judgmentalism and insincerity are much more difficult opponents. They are matters of the heart, matters that each individual must master on their own.

The survey has some rather inspiring findings as well.

At the same time that the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown, the Landscape Survey also revealed that the unaffiliated have one of the lowest retention rates of any of the major religious groups, with most people who were raised unaffiliated now belonging to one religion or another.

Unaffiliated equals unfulfilled equals uneasy. People need God, no matter what the practice of science can or cannot prove. People also need people. So, what are each of us doing to tear down the walls of hypocrisy, judgment and insincerity in our lives?


Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

The smallest voice can have the greatest power, but only if we humble ourselves and listen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

After the Peak

There's a pattern that shows up in Elijah's life. He stands up to the reigning powers and authorities, only to find that immediately afterwards he is thrown down into the pit of despair. What a reward! All that effort and all that bravery, only to find himself struggling with a purpose for living?

"I have had enough, Lord. Take my life, I'm no better than my ancestors."

The same thing happens to us. We work up our courage, we fight off our fears, we make a huge step out on faith and things look perfect - for about a minute and a half. Then, we find ourselves doubting everything. Why did I do all that work? Why so much effort? Why did I risk this - if this my reward is feeling worse than before?

Look at the story again (1 Kings 19:1-9). What do you notice about Elijah? Okay, you notice a lot of things - but pay attention to this one - he's all alone. He leaves people behind, heads out into the wilderness and hides. He isolates himself, he's alone with his feelings - those feelings of doubt and inadequacy and worthlessness. No wonder he's a mess.

Look ahead and see what God does next. 1) He consoles Elijah. 2) He gets Elijah a partner.

Whether you're a powerful prophet or an average Joe, you need people. They catch us when we start to fall into despair, they build us up when it is time to act. They provide the balance and cushion that we need to get by day to day. God doesn't lead us out into the wilderness and hide us in rocks anymore. He talks to us through his servants - those people in our lives we chose to live and grow with.

Monday, November 16, 2009

No Small Feats

Elijah prayed for God to light a fire. Well, not exactly. Elijah actually prayed that the Lord would let the people know that he was God in Israel. And he did.

God didn't just start the fire with some sparks or some smoke or some really intense beams of sunlight focused by some properly placed raindrops that happened to start a tiny piece of the wood on the altar. Because this wasn't about the fire.

Elijah prayed that God would let the people know that he was God. So, God did. Fire fell from heaven. The wood was consumed. The sacrifice was consumed. The rocks of the altar were consumed. The soil around the altar was consumed. The water soaking it all was consumed. This was no small feat. There was no doubting what happened here.

We pray for healing. We pray for wisdom. We pray for stuff. Most of our prayers are just like praying for fire. Why don't we pray for God to show himself? Pray for the big things to show his glory.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


At today's funeral, for a gentlemen I never met...

Little Girl: May I ask your professional opinion?

Me: Sure.

Little Girl: Would you say that my Uncle is, you know, up there?

Me: Um...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Heart, Hands, Head

Abraham Piper over at 22 Words posts an interesting idea:

"Wouldn’t our terminology better represent what should happen between people, their Bibles, and God if we called it something other than study?"

Which is more important: knowing intricate details about the Bible or changing your life because of what is inside? For me, I think that all of the Bible knowledge in the world won't amount to a hill of beans if you don't live your life by it.

Far too often we focus on knowing the right things or the newest things instead of doing the right things.

Don't get me wrong, knowing the Bible is terribly important, but that alone won't change the world. (Neither will belief by itself - "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.) Let's move out of just focusing on our heads and start engaging our hearts and our hands.

Bible Application? Personal Redirection? Scriptural Restructuring? Relationship Building? Bible Meditation? What else ya got?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Look at Me! Look at Me!

It astounds me the things churches do for attention. They might build a giant Jesus statue or a giant cross, they might go through a sermon series on sex and look for media attention, they might get billboards (this is even attempted by those anti-church churches) to intrigue motorists, they might offer $500 to the person who happens to sit in the lucky seat, they shock or scare or dazzle or beg or pay people to pay attention. As time goes by, it seems like they get more and more drastic in their attempts to get people's attention. There is nothing new under the sun.

Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. He told everyone. In many ways, this can be seen as a cry for attention.

The prophets came and they set up their altar. Then they proceeded to more and more drastically call for Baal to answer them. They called. They shouted. They danced. They cut themselves with swords and spears. They bled. They became frantic.

"But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention."

People didn't want to hear empty words. They didn't want to see pointless actions.
They wanted something real. They wanted action. They wanted change.

They still do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I had a great lunch yesterday that included some lively discussion and a tasty belgium waffle. That has noting to do with this post...or does it?

"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." - Elijah on Mt. Carmel

From the top of Mt. Carmel you can see the entire valley spread out before you. On a clear day, like the one I was there, if you squint you can even see the Mediterranean sea. There is no doubt that in Elijah's day many people spent every moment of their entire lives in the area that you can see from this peak. Their entire lives is exactly what Elijah was talking about.

The people of Israel liked to waffle. They would follow the Lord when it suited them, when they were greatly in need, when they had no hope. They would follow Baal when it suited them, when they were unhappy, when they wanted to fit in or go their own way. Elijah had had enough.

Imagine what he would say to us. Waffling can be a weekly or daily event in many of our lives. We wake up in the morning and whisper a prayer asking God to be with us throughout the day, but by 2:30 we've done everything in our power to forget about him or drive him away except actually tell him to get lost. We go to church on Sunday morning and sing and listen and contemplate what implications God's word has on our lives and forget about all of it until next time. We love our neighbor when we like our neighbor. We despise them when they get on our nerves. We're not sitting on any fences, we're hopping back and forth over them like jumping rope.

ENOUGH. Elijah's cry for a decision still rings true today. We can't do both, yet way too many of us think we can. It's time decide.

"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if you are God, do whatever the heck you want."

Monday, November 9, 2009


Trouble 1 difficulty or problems : I had trouble finding somewhere to park | thegovernment's policies ran into trouble | our troubles are just beginning.
the malfunction of something such as a machine or a part of thebody : their helicopter developed engine trouble.effort or exertion made to do something, esp. when inconvenient : I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble | he's gone to a lot of trouble to help you.a cause of worry or inconvenience : the kid had been no trouble up to now.a particular aspect or quality of something regarded as unsatisfactory or as a source of difficulty : that's the trouble withcapitalism.a situation in which one is liable to incur punishment or blame : he's been in trouble with the police.2 public unrest or disorder : the cops are preparing for trouble by bringing in tear gas.
King Ahab called Elijah a "troubler" of Israel. He was upsetting the status quo, he was rocking the boat and challenging the way things were. This is exactly what needed to happen. Israel was content in their ways - even though those ways were in direct conflict with everything God had for them. They needed to be troubled.
Are we troublers? Do we cause unrest and put people ill at ease? Far too often we are so very concerned with being nice and unnoticed and quiet. We hide in the background, we blend in and dread confrontation or anything that might actually make a difference. Why? What is holding us back?
Isn't it time for things to change? Isn't it time to upset some status quo? Isn't it time to cause some trouble?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


As a coach, part of my job was to teach players the right way to play. They had to have the right form and be in the right place. They had to know when to move and when to stay, how to read the other team and how to react to them. That was the easy part of coaching.

Another part of my job as a coach was to "get the most out of the talent I had." It was to challenge my players to play bigger than they were, faster than they were, better than they were. This wasn't always as easy. I offered food money for certain accomplishments; I threatened the team with more conditioning for mistakes. Once, I had an opposing coach pull me aside and tell me that my team plays hard, but "you just don't have enough bullets in the gun." In other words, we weren't big enough, good enough or fast enough to compete. As a coach looking for ways to challenge my team, this was a gift. When we played against that coach's team every player on the court had a chip on their shoulder and something to prove because those words were playing over and over again in each player's ears.

The coaches I had challenged me. Some yelled, some set high expectations, some offered praise. Is this something only coaches do?

Obadiah worked for King Ahab, even though he was a believer and a servant of the Lord. He had done great things in the past, but never publicly stood up to his boss. Along comes Elijah to challenge him. We don't know if Elijah was purposefully challenging Obadiah or if the same brash attitude he displayed was just expected of others. Either way, he tells Obadiah to go and act, to stop resting on his past accomplishments and live for today.

Who in your life needs to be challenged? Who can be bigger, faster or better? Who needs a push or a pull or a nudge in the right direction? Who can do great things if only you challenged them?

What's stopping you, don't you have enough bullets in your gun?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Elijah is staying with a widow and her son. The son dies. The woman blames God, Elijah & herself.

"What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?"

Sin. Guilt. Shame. They crop up and creep in whenever something bad happens. Whether right or wrong, they point fingers at us. They make us less than what we are, less than what we are created to be. They are the seeds of distrust, envy and bitterness.


I hate failing (especially when other people know).

Can you picture Elijah throwing himself over the lifeless body of the widow's son, crying out, "O Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!" and then... nothing.

Ouch. But Elijah doesn't stop there. He goes for it again.
And nothing.

Chances are, if I fail at something, I'm not going to do it again.

Elijah goes for it a 3rd time and succeeds. There's a lesson here somewhere.


No water --> new friends & opportunities
No food --> unlimited food
Death --> resurrection

Elijah's life could be seen as an ongoing list of problems, obstacles and obstructions. But nothing stops him. Nothing gets in his way. With God's help, each of these problems is turned into an opportunity - a way for God to show His power and control.

What are the problems or obstacles in my life? How can I turn them into God's opportunities? What (besides my point of view) is the difference between a problem and an opportunity?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dried Up

In some ways it would be nice if things stayed the same - if we could just find our niche and stay there indefinitely. It would make things easier, it would be comfortable, it would be safe and secure and boring.

Sometimes we think that way about following Jesus. We find him, we figure out something that is in his will and we do it. Nice. Things are good, things flow naturally, life has purpose and meaning and ease. But, sooner or later (usually sooner) that changes. It doesn't happen at once, it is usually a gradual thing, that sneaks up and gently changes. By the time we realize what is going on, we're lost and we can't figure out how things got where they did. Why?

Elijah is out in the wilderness, being fed by birds and drinking from a stream. One day the stream dries up (when it doesn't rain, this is what happens). Elijah had been in a relaxed place, he was where God wanted him to be, things were easy and flowing. Then the stream dries up.

God tells Elijah to move, to do something new, to change. Luckily for Elijah, he doesn't have a choice. No water is a good motivator. God tells him to go and be fed by some people who couldn't even feed themselves. Elijah knew that he wasn't really relying on this widow and her son for food - they were all about to rely on God for everything.

When we get comfortable, God calls us to change. What we rely on Him for eventually starts to dry up. That's not because we've done anything wrong, its because it is time for us to move on. It is time for us to find other ways to rely on God. The more we're relying on him, the easier this is to see and feel. When we depend on God for something as basic and necessary as water, it is hard to miss any change that occurs. When we depend on God for less, it is easier to miss. What do you rely on God for - how will you know if it dries up?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Act & Relax

There was a bird in our attic this morning. My wife was not okay with this. The bird was not okay with this. Because of these two factors, I was not okay with this.

I don't know how the bird got in the attic, but I knew he wasn't getting out the same way. He was trapped - and frantic. I'm not sure if he was frantic before my wife saw him, but he was certainly frantic once he knew that we knew that he was there. He was flying all around the main room of the attic, hurling himself into the windows and looking for some way out.

We know next to nothing about Elijah's background. He was a Tishbite, from Tishbe. That's all we get. From relative obscurity he bursts onto the scene and makes crazy statements to king Ahab. (Crazy until those statements are proved true.) From out of nowhere, Elijah is suddenly in the spotlight. Everybody knows about him now - and most of those people are out for his head.

Elijah responds relying on God. He doesn't go running all over the place, he doesn't criss cross the countryside. He sits and waits and hides. More importantly he relies on God. For food, for water, for what to do next - and he is safe.

I got one of the windows open (only the bottom of this particular window opens) and eventually the bird found his way out, but not after a number of bumps and bruises (do birds bruise?) along the way.

Of course the bird went crazy. But, that doesn't mean we have to. That's what faith is - trust when things get weird or crazy or scary. Elijah trusted God and was able to relax after his strong words. We can find the same thing. We must find the same thing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

No Fear

When Elijah acted, he acted. He didn't plan an exit strategy, he didn't worry about the bridges he burned. He knew he was acting within God's will and that was all he needed. The first time we read about Elijah, he was standing up to king Ahab, no small feat on and of itself. And his words were not timid. He told the king that it wouldn't rain until he said so - and it didn't. More than that, he knew that since he was acting in God's will, God would provide. He went to the wilderness and depended wholly on God - for water and bread and meat. God sent Ravens twice a day to meet Elijah's needs.

Do we trust God? Are we willing to be bold in his service? Are we willing to stand up to others? Are we willing to trust God to supply our needs? If not, why not?

If so, when is that last time you actually did?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Youth's Weakness

Solomon was known for his wisdom and his son, Rehoboam starts out in that mold - briefly. When confronted with the first major test as king he is presented with a choice - show mercy or show "strength." First, the wisdom:
Rehoboam asked for time to make the decision. This was wise.
He consulted the elders. This was wise.
He got a second opinion. This was wise.
So ends the wisdom.

Rehoboam decides, based on the advice of his peers, that the way to increase his power and rule his kingdom was with ego and force. He boasts and brags and finds that his bluff is called.

His people desert him. They turn their backs and leave.

What was Rehoboam's flaw? Was it lack of wisdom? Was it the need to prove himself? Was it a lack of confidence? Was it love of power? Was it a misunderstanding of mercy? Was it the rashness of youth? Was it a combination of all these things?

What can I learn from Rehoboam? Where have I neglected to show mercy? Where have I been rash? Where have I grasped for power? Where is my bluff ready to be called?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Kings

David messed up. The whole bathing beauty thing put a huge kink in his legacy. He went from being the white knight in shining armor to just being another imperfect example. Or did he? David made a mistake, but he repented. He swallowed his pride (not easy for anyone, nevertheless a king), paid the price and worked to make things right with God.

Solomon messed up. The whole 700 foreign wives and 300 concubines thing was just the beginning. They led him away from (he allowed it to happen, btw) the God of his father. He had seen God twice, he had built him a temple and he had started off very well, but once his heart started to change, he never looked back. And that makes all the difference.

Despite his shortcomings, David is seen as the hero. He was a good king, a terrible dad and at times a lust and guilt fueled sinner. Despite his successes, Solomon is seen as a foil. He was a rich man, a wise ruler and the one who led Israel away from the God who had raised them up.

Both men had faults. Both men made mistakes. Both men paid for them. Only one took responsibility, swallowed his pride and worked to make things right with God. Only one was a man after God's own heart.

It's not about whether or not we fail, it is about what we do next.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Last Words

King David, lying on his deathbed, spoke his last words to his son Solomon, the newly appointed king. He begins this distribution of wisdom by encouraging his son to be strong, to live as a man and to follow the laws of God. So far, so good. From there things go all to pieces.
If you look at a brand new spool of thread or rope or twine or wire or anything that comes neatly packaged from the factory, you can see a great deal of precision and perfection. Each successive turn falls perfectly next to the last, without a seam or a gap or a space at all. The most possible material fits in the packaging because of this perfection. But what happens when you need to use the thread or rope or wire? You unfailingly unravel more than you use - and then you try to put it back. Try as you might to re-wind, things never go back the way they were. You wind up with bumps and gaps, crossed wires and knots. The same is true with life.

David's life began like a tightly wrapped spool. He was strong and concise, his life was ordered and he was a man after God's own heart. His actions backed that up, whether alone against a giant, leading a huge army or hiding in the wilderness. David was on track, he was on point, his steps were in a straight line. Then things unraveled. His life came off track through his complacency and sin. He pulled too much too fast and found a mess.

The rest of his life was spent trying to re-wind the mess he had made. All the bits and pieces of his life came to the surface and things wouldn't go back the way they were. There were gaps and bumps and crossed lines. His family fell apart, rising against him in several quests for power. His kingdom ceased to shine the way it once had. He struggled to connect to God, his God, who he had been so close with in the past.

This is what sin does in all of our lives. No matter how tightly we wind or unwind, no matter how careful and in control we think we are, we find that our spool doesn't look like it did from the factory. We've got bumps and gaps and crossed wires and knots. Our spool is a mess.

David's words to Solomon start off tightly wound. They are on target: strong, important words for a young king to follow. They start to unwind, however into a bitter rant about rewards and revenge, ending with the stinging command, "Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood." Not the words anyone wants to be remembered by.

Even a disheveled spool has value. The wire still conducts, the string still pulls tight, the yarn still knits. We serve a God who salvages. He takes the things we have messed up and makes them right. They might not ever be perfect again (sin has consequences), but He gives them a value they never had. Yarn in a spool is never a sweater. Wire on a spool will never light up a house.

A perfect life is only one that hasn't been lived. A successful life is only one that has been salvaged by God.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eggs and Chickens, Nature and Spirit

Which came first, Adam or Jesus?

Since Jesus was there at creation, he came first. However, when practical Paul is laying out his arguments regarding resurrection, he throws in a little tidbit about Adam (the natural man) coming first, followed by Jesus (the spiritual man). He takes this a step further to describe our existence - we first live in a natural state, then we die and live again in a spiritual state. Paul argues that this is the 'natural' order of things - natural comes first and spiritual follows. He is talking about timing, not importance.

When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he says that it is to Love God - a very spiritual thing. But he won't let that stand alone. He couples it with the command to Love People - a very natural thing. Because of the order in which Jesus gives the commands, we often think that is the order in which they occur. But, Jesus gives no indication of this. He is talking about importance, not timing.

If we look at the two together, it seems that in terms of timing, loving people would come before loving God.

So, why do we act otherwise?
We expect people to come to church (at best a rudimentary correlation to loving God) before we introduce them to the love of people.
We yearn to love God more and better in our lives, while neglecting to love those people around us.
We expect people to love God with their behavior without ever showing them the benefit of loving others with their behavior.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


"If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained?

If I worked my entire life just for a better job or a bigger house or a nicer car or a spoiled family, what have I gained? No matter what we accomplish or how we are acknowledged or who notices it is all for naught if it is the end goal.

I have a box full of medals that really do me no good. I spent hours in the gym to earn them. I sweat and bled and cried for them, but in actuality they are worthless. The last time I pulled them out of that box it was to coax more blood and sweat and tears from others to earn something similar. In some ways it was another waste.

I'd like to think that there was something more the second time around, however. When those medals came out of the box again, it wasn't simply to encourage winning at some silly game. It was about building a bond, creating relationships.

Jesus calls us to Love God and Love People. That starts with a connection to God and a connection to People. It develops into a relationship with God and a relationship with People. It deepens into Love for God and Love for People.

I'd like to think that those medals did serve a greater purpose later on. I'd like to think that they helped some people to connect over a common goal. I'd like to think that they played a small part in building relationship.

I know they helped to teach me about love.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Hope

The widow's son in Zarephath, the Shunammite woman's son, the young man laid in Elisha's grave, Jairus' son, Lazarus, Dorcas and Eutychus - all were dead and lived again.

Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter and Paul - the men through whom God worked these miracles.

We've all seen movies where someone dies and then comes back - changed. Normally, these movies come out around this time of year and the change the person experiences is something less than friendly. Revenge is just about always a key factor. Gore ensues.

The other twist on this, of course, is when the focus is not so much on the change of the person who dies, but a change in the person who brings them back - represented most often by a tear or a kiss. Sappiness ensues.

In the real world, we see folks who are dead for minutes at a time brought back to life by an electrical charge or a forced compression of the heart. Medical bills ensue.

The concept of resurrection is not foreign to our culture. We see it in horror films, romances and our weekly medical dramas. But, do we believe it? For each example of a doctor successfully reviving a heart, there is a counter example of one doctor reaching out to stop a colleague with those hollow words, "It's too late, we've lost 'em." 10 minutes is the limit that WikiAnswers (very scientific) puts on how long a human brain can live without oxygen.

After those 10 minutes, is resurrection just something for Hollywood?

Science tells us so. Nature seems to tell us so. Yet the Christian faith rests on this not being the case. Without Jesus' resurrection, we should be pitied. Without Jesus' resurrection, where is our hope? Without his conquering of death and sin, where is our strength to conquer the sin in our own lives? Without Jesus' resurrection, where am I?

"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Love Interrupting

Let's get academical for a minute.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul writes to describe the impact and proper use of spiritual gifts. His intent is to educate his audience regarding the source and hierarchical nature of spiritual gifts as it applies to their use in worship services.

He begins by ascribing their power to their source - the Holy Spirit. He reasons that because the same Spirit is the source, the gifts are designed to work in bringing people together in that Spirit. He warns that improper use of the gifts can break up the collective group, as has been happening in meetings in Corinth. To emphasize this point, he describes how the use of speaking in tongues could alienate others, while prophesy includes others and edifies.

If we look at this as Paul's line of reasoning, the section of scripture from 12:31b up to and including 14:1 appears to be out of place. This has been the conclusion of more than a few scholars. They suggest that this passage is a later inclusion that breaks up and deemphasizes Paul's hard teachings about the gifts of tongues and prophecy. Given the east transition from 12:31a to 14:2, this seems possible. (Go ahead and read it that way - it works.)

So, what about the "Love Chapter"? It is one of the most oft-quoted and admired passages in all of scripture. Been to a wedding lately? You probably heard it. It seems like Paul just plastered love in the middle of a completely different topic. It doesn't fit, it doesn't flow, it changes everything.


That's what real love always does. It never fits. It never makes sense. It changes everything.

Dont' believe me? Try it. Love someone who doesn't deserve it. Choose to be nice to someone for no other reason than that choice. Love someone when they've messed up. Love someone who you don't know. Love someone who has hurt you or others. Love someone who lives in sin. Love the least of these and watch things change.


The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The First Century Chuch

What was going on during "Church" "services" in Corinth in the 1st century? It sounds like they were quite the event. First, people were not following the dress code. Some women were not covering their heads and some men were. Paul saw the head-covering dress code as a straightforward matter of authority. (1 Cor 11:3-16)

Second, there was food and alcohol. Apparently it was some sort of hybrid potluck as some people had food and some did not. Some people gorged themselves while some remained hungry. (Maybe they just really didn't like jello salad and decided to go without?) Some got trashed. All disrespected the reason for eating together. (1 Cor 11:17-34)

Third, there was supernatural activity. People were speaking in tongues and no one else could understand what they were saying. (1 Cor 14:1-12)

Fourth, people were just going through the motions. They weren't worshipping God with their heart, soul, mind and strength. (1 Cor 14:14-15)

Fifth, and most importantly, they were selfish.

They dressed how they wanted, not in a manner that would help others to feel comfortable and connect. They ate and drank what they brought for themselves instead of bringing food for others who were in need. They worshipped God in a way that worked for them, but didn't help others. They went along with the flow but didn't really connect to God - because they were excluding others.

If there was one thing that was missing from worship in Corinth in the 1st century, it was the understanding that "It's not about me." It was a lack of selflessness. It is the same problem that we have in worship today.

We might not be concerned about head coverings, but we want to go to a church where people dress a certain way.
We might not overeat (during communion) or get drunk (during communion), but we still keep for ourselves what we should be sharing with others.
We might not speak in a language that others cannot understand, but we still use words that divide people instead of bringing them together.
We might not recite empty words, but we still refrain from doing our part to seek God's face.
We might not fail in the same ways as the church in Corinth, but we still go to church for us and not for God.

What is church all about? To be entertained? To hear 'good' music? To see a good show? To be fed? To be pastored, placated to, pleased? To see your friends? To meet people? To get a pick-me-up? To fulfill an obligation?

Or is it to love and serve others? You can do that no matter what kind of music is played (or with none at all). You can do that no matter what people are wearing. You can do that no matter what is said or what words are used. You can do that, so could they.

Us and Corinth: not so different.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


No, that title is not substituting punctuation for letters that spell something inappropriate. This is a follow-up to yesterday's post about commitment and what we commit to God. There are several other blogs that I read and one of them is about leadership - for church leaders. Recently, I was challenged by a post about the "Final 10%" that I read there. In the post, Craig Groeschel shared that he has been struck by the fact that we often fail to finish strong. We start off strong, we work hard and we might finish the work, we might even do it better than others, but do we give it our all.

90% is more than people often give. For me at least, I can usually give a partial effort and get by. It is rare that I have to devote myself to something 100% for any length of time. Should I continue to skate by on just doing enough, or on doing more than enough but less than my best?

This struck me this week in the area of relationships. When someone is in need, do I make sure they are taken care of or do I make sure they know they are loved? Do I just do enough to make myself look good or do I do so much that I can't do any more?

When I read Paul's words, I get the feeling that he did everything 100%. When he was persecuting Christians it was 100%. When his life changed and he started following Christ, it was 100%. Was he just that kind of guy, or was this a conscious decision he made? Regardless, this is why he was Paul. This is why God used him to change the world.

If I'm going to lead people into creating real, meaningful, intentional relationships, it has to be 100%. I can't settle for the first 90%. I can't just do enough. I can't just care for people or care about people, I have to love them. 100%.

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Cor 10:31

Monday, October 12, 2009

An open question

The Bible is the inspired word of God. It contains everything that God wants us to have and know and use. But it certainly is not a record of everything God has ever done.

In it, we find the story of Paul - a man to whom Jesus appeared, who radically turned his life to accommodate the new reality he discovered.

Was Paul the only one? Did Jesus appear to others in a like manner at a similar time?

Was there a man who led a similar life but couldn't write like Paul, so we have no record of his actions?

Was there a man who led a similar life, but couldn't change like Paul, so he stayed in his old life (or stayed blinded because he couldn't bear to submit)?

Was there a man who led a similar life, but couldn't persevere like Paul, so when the going got tough, he walked away from God's call?

Less of Paul, Less of Me

"Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

Paul doesn't pull any punches. He doesn't sugarcoat things or break it up into bite-sized pieces. Instead, he lays it right out there. "Nobody." "Whatever you do." He doesn't shy away from saying that this commitment is an all-in commitment. There is no half-way, there is no try. It is classic Paul, bold and straightforward. For him, the Christian life wasn't something you tried. It was something you dove into headfirst. It wasn't something that you got used to, it was something that continually pushed you and stretched you and tested you.
How different is the Christian life we talk about today?

We have our God time and our "me" time and our family time and our work time. Paul only had "God" time. We take God and try to fit him into our lives. Paul radically turned his life upside down when he found God.

Do we do that? Do we challenge others to do that? Where is our passion? Where is our commitment? Where is our lack of self?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Power Sources

When you are starting your car, it is completely electric. The power from the battery turns the starter motor and tells the fuel injectors to spray fuel and powers the spark plugs to spark and cause a little explosion. That little explosion pushes the pistons which drive the crank which is connected to your transmission and your alternator. When that explosion causes the alternator to spin, a radical change occurs. The alternator takes over the electrical side of things. It powers the fuel injectors and the spark plugs and starts to recharge the battery. From this moment on your car is no longer powered by the battery, it is powered by little gasoline explosions. (Unless you have a hybrid, which means this transition happens only on the highway.)

After the little automotive lesson, there is a good chance you are asking, So What?

Much like the car, the source of power for things in our life changes. There are times when we are electric and times when we are gas powered. There are things in our life that only have power because we give it to them. Without the battery (or some pushing and clutch-poping), that gasoline engine is worthless.

In 1 Cor 10 Paul writes about food sacrificed to idols. He points out that idols are nothing. They are powerless. Unless we give them power.

All of the idols in our world sit idle (pun!) like that internal-combustion engine until we give them power. We give them attention, we give them effort, we give them life by diverting our attention from where it should be. Little by little we let them grow and consume us, becoming more and more important to how we see ourselves, what we think will make us happy, where we hope to find contentment.

Paul writes, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons." Our attention, our focus, our devotion must be only on God, since he is, after all, the source of our power. While we may think we have successfully compartmentalized our lives and found a place for God and a place for work and a place for family and a place for hobbies, we've really just excluded God. He doesn't want a place; He's too big for that. He doesn't want part; He demands all.

"Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


One thing that people can't say about the Bible is that it is boring. Okay, people CAN say that, but if they do it is usually a good indication that they haven't really read it. No other book (that I've read) can take one pericope and in it include a history lesson, an encouragement, practical advice and supernatural promise.

Paul writes to the Corinthians about the past sins of the Israelites (1 Cor 10:1-13). He first affirms that the stories of the Israelites in the OT are true - they really happened, they aren't just myth or metaphor. Their status as historical fact does not take away from their value as lessons or examples for the people of Paul's day (and ours). In fact, they added to the practicality of the example. These were real people who responded in real ways. They weren't just made-up examples.

Paul parlays this idea into some practical teaching of his own. He warns his audience not to get too comfortable in where they are, not to become complacent or assumptive. Once you assume that you have something figured out, pinned down or conquered, that is when you are most vulnerable. If we assume that we can handle something, then we probably can't. If we think we've beaten something, then it has already beaten us. If we stop working on getting better, we are already getting worse. Our enemy is relentless and our task is of utmost importance.

When the battle seems un-winnable, Paul delivers the best, most practical, yet most supernatural piece of information. God only lets us get what we can take. He won't let us be overwhelmed. He won't let us find ourselves in an impossible situation. Instead, he'll provide a way out, a means for us to stand up, a way to conquer.

Too bad we still try to do it alone. Too bad we don't listen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Job, Our Calling

I am paid to be a minister or pastor or preacher or whatever you want to call it. Since I've started down this path one of my big fears has been that this occupation would become just another job - that I would start to dread going into work like I did in the secular world. I've given a great deal of thought to what my job is and what my calling is and what the difference is between those two.

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul seems to be having a tangentially similar struggle. People are questioning if he should be paid for his missionary work. Is what he was doing a job? He goes into a bit of a rant about how he deserves his wages and that he is proud to be able to preach without need of them.

The thing that makes the differentiation difficult is not what the Bible says about the work of the clergy, the thing that makes keeping what I spend my days doing from becoming just a job is history. For years we've seen the minister's job as one of going out and rounding up people - of "evangelizing" and "leading people to Christ." I shudder at the thought of this becoming just a job for me. Thankfully, that's not my job.

That calling belongs to all of us.

My job, which Paul describes in Ephesians 4:12 is "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ can be built up." According to Paul, the main focus of my workday isn't to share Jesus with people - it is to prepare others to share Jesus with people. It is to create the environments where life change can happen. It is to teach people how relationship matters. It is to help people find their next step and to help them help others find their next step. It is to take a background, supporting role and empower others to fight on the front lines. It is to bandage wounds and re-arm those who've been taken out of the fight. It is not so much to love as to prepare others to love.

Loving isn't my job - that's my calling. I'm called to fight and to be on the front lines and to get wounded and hurt as well - but thankfully I share that calling with everyone else.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The weaker brother

Over and over again I've heard the argument of the "weaker brother" from 1 Corinthians 8. Honestly, most of the time it has been in the context of drinking. It takes some kind of form like, "I never drink because a weaker brother (read 'recovering alcoholic or alcoholic-in-waiting') may see me and think it is okay for them to drink too."

BTW, calling (out loud or in your head) someone who is fighting through recovery 'weaker' is foolish and disrespectful. You probably couldn't lift their shoes, nevertheless walk 12 steps in them.

Where does the weaker brother argument fall in terms of relational discipleship? If we take Jesus' command to make disciples seriously, shouldn't we be strengthening these brothers instead of sheltering them? It is our job to walk with them, engage them, help them move toward being a mature disciple who makes disciples. This doesn't mean that there are never times to protect them, but it should only be for a season, not a lifetime.

Todays Idols

"An idol (in this case a statue or representation of another god) is nothing at all in the world and there is no god but one." Paul makes a pretty solid, simple case for that. But that doesn't really fix the problem.

While some groups work diligently to keep it alive, the creation of little household statues for personal worship has certainly diminished over the centuries. The heart of the problem has is still alive and kicking, however.

An idol was something that was set up in place of God. It was something that took away from the worship of YHWH and placed it somewhere else. In ancient times this was normally another god - whether a powerful bull or a fertile goddess or a golden calf. These gods took all shapes and sizes and they all promised things to their worshippers - success, power, riches, happiness, fertility.

When Jesus came, he took the law of Moses and applied it to the heart. He took things that had been considered matters of the outside life and made them part of people's inner life. Idols have gone the same way. Power doesn't need a little Baal to represent it anymore - we can worship naked power just by our constant pursuit of it. Fertility doesn't need an Asherah pole to place outside our house - TV constantly brings its presence inside.

Idols of today are the same as they were before - anything that takes our worship away from YHWH. It might not impact our dinner plate like the Corinthians Paul wrote to, but it impacts our bank accounts and our calendars and our hearts just as much.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Knowing v. Being Known

Think back to High School. I know, its painful, but give it a try.
Now, think about those people that you knew, but didn't really know - you know?
At least for me, there were people whose names I knew, but as far as I know they didn't even know who I was. Maybe you were way cooler than me at that age, but for me it there was a huge group of people whose names I knew who I'm pretty sure had no idea who I was. (Okay, these were mostly students in the grades ahead of me. And okay, they were mostly girls. It comes with the age.)

There is a huge difference between knowing someone's name and someone knowing yours. There's something about someone saying your name from memory that lets you know that you matter (at least a little bit) in their world.

The same thing is true with God. We can know all about Him, we can know his name and his likes and dislikes and the names of his friends, but does He know us? We can read all about him and think that we know what he's all about, we can think we have a firm understanding of theology, but if we think we have God figured out, it is a pretty good indicator that we have no idea.

"The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." - 1 Cor 8:2-3

We're not talking about a God who is concerned with knowledge.
He's a God who cannot even be known. (But that doesn't stop us from trying.)
We're talking about a God who is concerned with Love.
He's a God who will know our name if we love Him. (And that means loving others.)

Monday, September 28, 2009


Who or what is first in your life? No, for real. When you get up in the morning, what is the first thing you think of? Is it yourself? Is it your family or spouse? Is it work, is it play, is it breakfast?

Our culture has clearly given their answer and it is: "me."
We look at ourselves first, second and third, then if we happen to take a fourth glance, we might look at others. This has created huge problems in our society. One of these problems is divorce. It sucks for everyone involved (except for maybe attorneys).

What are "irreconcilable differences" anyway? Is that just a nicer way to say, "inability to compromise" which is just a nicer way to say, "we're too stuck on ourselves to care about each other anymore"?

Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate sign of commitment, of sacrifice, of love. And in some cases it is. This love isn't easy, it isn't cheap, it doesn't happen every day. There are beautiful examples of it all around us if we choose to look. But, it seems to be less and less common; or maybe it is just drowned out by so many poor examples.

Paul spends all of 1 Corinthians 7 talking about marriage - actually talking people out of marriage. His reasoning? Marriage gets in the way of our relationship with God. He clearly makes the case that God should be first in our lives and having a marriage relationship gets dangerously close to being in the way of that. He says that marriage is a concession for those who cannot get by without it.

What a contrast to today! We focus more and more on ourselves, we live together but don't get married because of our focus on self. We get married, but then want out because of our focus on self. All the while our focus should be on God.

Recently I overheard a snippet of a conversation between a man celebrating his 18th wedding anniversary and a newlywed man. The newlywed asked, "What advice would you give to a newlywed so we have a happy marriage?" The veteran's response: "Take your wife to church."
The newlywed left dejected. He was looking for a secret to finding his happiness with his wife. He should have been looking for God's happiness along with his wife.

That's Paul's message too. A marriage isn't the source of unselfish love. It isn't the place where love is found or worked out or discovered. A marriage is the place where love is applied - love only comes from God. Without that source, we'll constantly revery to making ourselves first.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Everything is permissible for me

Not everything is beneficial.
I will not be mastered by anything.

How much do I value myself? How valuable am I? What am I worth?
Am I worth protecting? Am I worth being treated with care and with caution?

When Paul talks about sex, these are the questions he makes me ask. How valuable am I? Am I just something that can be carelessly used or am I worth more?

Sex is a powerful thing. It brings people together and tears them apart. It defines how we look at the world and how we look at ourselves. How we value ourselves should influence how we value sex. Is it something worth protecting? Is it worth being treated with care and with caution?

Do we as Christians get all up in arms regarding sex because we are afraid of it or because we are embarrassed by it or because we value it and want to protect it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A changed Perspective

Who am I looking out for? Who do I want to be perceived as?
What do I want people to think when they see me? What do I wish upon myself?

Paul writes, "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers."

Would I rather be on the receiving end of an offense than the giving end?
Would I rather be cheated than be a cheat?

Of course I would rather there be no offense or no cheating, but if it happens am I willing to accept it upon myself before I would pass it off to others? Would I rather suffer the consequences or have someone else suffer? What if people knew about it? Would my pride get in the way of my heart?

Am I completely defeated already? Are you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The duplicity of knowing better

Paul writes to the Corinthians that in the past he has told them not to associate with sexually immoral people - but that does not mean the people of the world who sin. If they tried to do that they would have to leave this world.

This is exactly what some Christians try to do. No, not leave the world. They try to stay far away from anyone who they see as a sinner. They hide away, only associating with church people, only listening to church music, only reading church books, watching church movies, attending only church events. Given Paul's rhetorical style, I'm willing to wager he would say they should go the whole way and lock themselves in the church.

Paul writes to help his readers in their understanding, "But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."

If you are trying to follow Paul's advice on proper associations, the church may be the most dangerous place to hang out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Commentary in Sarcasm

"We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world."

I had to read this a couple times before I realized Paul's sarcasm. He's not really bashing himself and the other Apostles, he's describing things from a worldly point of view.

By the common standard of the day, Paul was a fool.
(Look at the life he left behind!)
By the estimation of the common man, Paul was weak.
(He needs the crutch of religion!)
By those who bestow honor now, he wasn't worthy.
(Unless they were into honoring troublemakers.)

In reality, these were Paul's highest qualifications and the Corinthians didn't see that. They were judging things the way they always had. They were looking at things as though they didn't know Jesus. They were unchanged.

How do we judge today? Would Paul sarcastically throw our views and values in our face in a similar manner?

What is wisdom? What is strength? What is honor?

Who is hungry & thirsty, who is in rags, who is treated poorly, who is homeless?
Is that us or is that who we neglect & ignore?

Who exchanges curses for blessings, who endures persecution, who answers kindly to slander?
Are these things we do or things we hear about?

Who is the scum of the earth, who is the refuse of the world?