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.