Friday, August 31, 2012

Romans 12 : Submission, Belonging, and Love.

Romans 12: 1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
 From the very first word, we know that this scripture does not stand alone.  "Therefore," means "because of what was previously said."  Basically, that man is wicked (Rom 1), not a single one of us is worthy of God's grace (Rom 3), but through faith and God's grace (Rom 4, Rom 10) we are saved.  Because of this, Paul urges us to offer our hearts, time, efforts, and even our purses to the lord, God; as living sacrifices.  To say that while we remain alive, we acknowledge that we, through the cross, have died to sin.

Next, we are told to leave behind "the pattern of this world;" the hopes and dreams that society tells us we are to aspire to.  We are to put aside all that is not holy and focus our lives on God.  We are to be transformed by this new way of thinking.

Submission to God - transforming our lives into holy, living sacrifices - isn't something which is achieved through a one time prayer.  We don't rise up from baptism with our problems solved. We do not magically become holy through a single event.  Instead, submission, by it's very nature; is a constant, deliberate decision to continue searching out God's will, pursuing holiness, and rejecting sin.

Submission to God does not mean we no longer have free will.  Not at all!  It means that we freely choose to accept that God's plan is bigger, and is better, than our own plans.  It is a choice to pin our hopes and dreams to something larger than ourselves.  It is a decision to follow our creator in faith that His plan is good and his judgement is holy and just rather than stumbling through life on our own.

Romans 12: 4-8
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously, if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Although this text never implicitly mentions the word "church," it is pretty clear that because of Christ, we are to belong to each other as a community of believers.  That, essentially, is what the church truly is - a community of believers.  Church is not a place, it is a collection of people.  Church is not a place to attend, it is a community to which we belong. 

Just as our feet do not perform the same task as our eyes, hands, or lips; not all members of the church have the same function.  Some of us are great leaders; some are great teachers, teachers, or encouragers; some work well with children; some, myself included, are more inclined to serve physically, doing things to help others in their need.  No matter what our gift is, we are told here that we should be putting it to use for our local church; something we not only attend, but something to which we belong as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, all children of God; adopted through the cross.

Romans 12: 9-21
Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written; "it is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.  On the contrary "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty. give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Here we have a pretty long description of our calling to love one another.  Not just those Christians we personally like, but everyone we come across, friend and foe alike.  First, we are told that love must be sincere, 1 Corinthians 1-3 tells us that no matter what we do, if we do not do it in love, it's as if we have done nothing at all.  Pretending, going through the motions, means nothing to the Lord. 

Loving those who try to harm us is one of the most unnatural fathomable to many of us.  But when we see others as God sees them - as His children - it becomes clear that Paul is correct here.  Why should we not love each and every one of God's children just as he loves each and every one of us?

Association with people of low position is another one of those stumbling blocks for many people.  Pride teaches us that we are better than others.  Drug users, felons, the poor or homeless; sometimes it is hard to relate to these people and it is definitely easier for us to avoid going out of our way to befriend and love them, but that is exactly what we are told to do. 

And revenge!  Who doesn't like getting revenge?  One of my favorite moments on film comes at the end of one of the Madea movies during the outtakes.  Madea is anger management therapy with Dr. Phil who is speaking with her about her need to get even with the people who have wronged her.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  The absurdity of the entire scene will teach you more about the absurdity of revenge than any words I can ever use here.  Some days I wish there was a book in the bible named Madea, as she shows us how to live godly lives; often by showing us the absurdity of living ungodly lives.

Revenge is not for us to give.  Why?  Because revenge and love are incompatible.  And just as sin moves us farther from God, revenge moves us farther from love.  Instead, we are instructed to overcome those who have wronged us through love; as my mom says "kill them with kindness."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Some people are just mad

If you're mad, you were mad when you got here.  You're gonna be mad when you leave.  You're just mad.  You're just mad and mean and I can't help you.  And God could help you if you'd give your life to Jesus.  Ok.  You're just mean.  But I'm to the point where I don't care because this is what I want.  -Perry Noble

Recently, I received a note about this blog from an acquaintance who accused me of shoving my beliefs down his throat simply by posting links to this blog on my social media accounts for my friends to have access to my thoughts.  Let me be clear, I do not intend to shove my anything down anyone else's anything.  If you are offended by the content of my writing, stop clicking on links to this blog.  If my writing offends you, I'm sorry that you are offended. I really am, but my best guess is that you were offended long before you clicked the link to read my post and that you'll be offended long after you forget everything you read here.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast of a sermon by Perry Noble as he told his congregation that he was taking a month long sabbatical from preaching.  The quote above was his response to the members of his church who were upset at him taking time off from preaching to do the things he needed to do to set him up for success leading the church.

It's completely true.  I see it all the time.  Some people are just mad and nothing you say or do will change that in them.  This past week the president of Chick-Fil-A made national headlines when he said that he did not support homosexual marriage.  The LGBT community came out of the woodwork to call this man a bigot, a homophobe, and all sorts of bad names for simply standing up and giving his opinion on a subject where it seems that the only group who needs "tolerance" are those against it.  His statement should have come as no surprise to anyone; this is the same man who closes his restaurants on Sundays so that his employees can go to church with their families rather than keeping them at work making money.  Any corporate president who is willing to forsake 1/7th of his business's potential earnings for the sake of his employees faith is the sort of man we should expect things like this from.  He's the sort of man everyone already knew didn't support gay marriage before he even opened his mouth, yet the second he said something, he was a bigot and became the most hated man in the nation in the eyes of the gay community.  Some people are just angry.

Closer to home, there has been a story in the news this week about a church here in Mississippi who's pastor asked an african american couple to move their wedding to another church because a small group in his congregation came to him upset that he was allowing the first black couple to marry in that church's history and trying to avoid controversy, he caved in to their complaints and refused to marry the couple in the church (to be fair, he did marry them; just in another local church).  In his haste to avoid controversy, he created a much larger one when the media, and then the rest of his congregation, found out and were incensed at the racism and anger of a few members of their church which caused an entire congregation to be labeled as racist.  Again, those members who took their old, stupid, racist comments to the preacher were angry, old, stupid, and racist long before he tried to marry a black couple in their church, and they'll be just as angry, old, stupid, and racist until their last breath unless God gets His hands on their hearts and makes a change in them.

What can be done about angry people?  Not much.  Unfortunately, when I encountered my angry atheist last week, I made some comments I'm not proud of, pointing out the hypocrisy of accusing someone of shoving beliefs down other's throats while posting his own views about religion just as frequently.  I should have kept quiet and followed the "don't feed the trolls" rule common to many of the message boards I frequent.  I should have remembered Pastor Noble's comments and realized that there is nothing I can do to change an angry man's heart.  God could, if he would allow it; but I, alone, can do nothing.

The last thing I will write today are two quote I wrote down in church this morning from my pastor, Eric Smith, that really struck me as two of those simple lines that mean so much more than the words contained in them.  At least one of them, I'm sure, will wind up as the topic of a post here at some point.

The first one:  "We don't need morals, we need Jesus."  Honestly, if I didn't want to avoid ruining the recording of his sermon, I would have started clapping right then and there, but I am too addicted to podcasts to intentionally ruin one by making noise.

And the second:  "It has to be personal."  While the first one would make a great post, this is the one I'll likely tackle first.  We aren't saved as a collective.  We don't have a relationship with Jesus as a congregation.  It has to be a personal relationship with Him; a close, personal love, for any of this to work for us.

Good night.  I hope you have a blessed week.  If you have any comments on my blog, please leave them.  I would love to hear your thoughts, even if they aren't happy, shiny, things.

-- Forrest C. Adcock

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Letting go

"We each become a collection of other people's desires for our lives.  In my life, I've coined a phrase to describe the tug I often feel between who I want to be and who I'm expected to be.  I call this the "Great Tension." It's the tension between this collection of other people's desires for my life and God's desire for my life." -Jay Milbrandt in Go + Do

Don't we all feel this tension at some point in our lives?  Most often, it's called "peer pressure" and it's what our parent's warned us against when we were children.  This world and all the fun things in it serve as a great distraction from our true life's purpose of serving and worshiping God.  We feel this pressure to conform and give in to worldly desires from all directions.  You can't turn on TV, open a magazine, or even drive down the road without being told what new product you have to buy in order to be happy.  You can't turn on the radio or go to a movie without having lust, greed, and arrogance shoved in your face with the message that if you're not like everyone else; you're less of a man or woman.

I'm amazed that people still buy into the idea of consumerism.  We've had shiny new products thrown at us left and right our entire lives with the message that every new product is the solution to all the world's ills.  Every new product cures cancer, feeds the poor, and makes us better in bed.  And yet, as a whole, we're a miserable lot.  Our society is addicted to drugs like no society before -not just narcotics, but anti-depressants, pain killers, and the catch all for lazy parents: adderall and ritalin.  Did you know that in each and every US school shooting during my life, the attacker was taking an SSRI like ritalin?  Aside from guns and depression, it's the only link among all of them.  Our society is more violent than ever.  Yet, we still fall for the salespeople's lies day in and day out, time after time.

We follow the same logic in our personal and professional lives as we do in our consumerism.  Find the highest paying job in the economy today.  In 4 years, that will have the highest number of college graduates.  Medicine and law constantly top the list of graduation rates, but we've also seen IT graduation rates soar during the dot com bubble, finance degrees were the thing to have preceding the financial meltdown in '08, and today you're a nobody if you don't have in music or video production thanks to the proliferation of iTunes and YouTube's instant stardom possibilities.  Those of us who chose other professions are looked down upon as inferior.  When I joined the military I heard a near constant chorus of "why?" and "but you're so smart."  If I had chosen the path to personal riches, I would have been adored, but choosing to serve others only led to laughs and comments about how much potential I was wasting.  Follow the crowd, it seems, or else.  Serve yourself or we'll turn on you.

Our personal lives aren't any better.  On average, we get divorced twice, arrested at least twice, and contract at least one sexually transmitted disease before dying under a mountain of debt.

What's worse, is that I'm talking about Christians here!  How many young women in your church are (or were at one point) single, unwed mothers?  How many young men have dated and slept their way through your church?  How many members of your congregation wear their very best clothes to church to impress others at how far they've come?  I bet the parking spaces closest to where everyone passes on their way into the building are filled with the nicest cars.  We, the church, have fallen down in the mud with everyone else on this earth and will share their fate if we aren't careful.

And before I get tons of comments about judging others from some high place; I'm just as guilty as anyone else.  I spent far too long searching for happiness in women, drugs, and stuff.  Even now I'm guilty of consumerism.  I love stuff.  A new android tablet is coming out?  OHH, Shiny!  It hasn't been a week or so since I threatened to sing in the streets over a new pair of shoes.  Sure, they were cheap shoes, but they're still stuff.  I, too, am guilty.

But!  I'm getting better.  It's baseball season, so I can't turn off my tv entirely until the braves are completely out of contention and Chipper has played his last game; but aside from that, I'm turning of the tv and unplugging from the constant stream of sex, cat-fighting, and stupidity that's found inside.  When was the last time you saw a Christian on tv that wasn't being played as either an intolerant jerk or the dopey fool?  Is that the message we want to take in?  I keep my radio tuned to Christian music stations as well.  For one, I like the music.  But also, I don't want to be bombarded with violent, sexist lyrics or such racy, lustful lyrics that I'm embarrassed when my mother asks me what something means.  (we've all been there, it's awful explaining what songs mean to our parents and we know it.)  Why volunteer to bring that trash into our lives?  We're called to live separate from the world!  We're called to be better than the world!

Here in the south we all confess to being Christians, yet the bible belt has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates, highest STD infection rates, and is the home of both America's racist hate groups and poorest, most undeserved people.  What we confess with our mouths, we deny with our lives.

But there is hope!  I've seen it!  The past week has been one of the best weeks of my life!  I've gotten so much support from others.  From the men at the prosthetics lab who are going out of their way to train me to build prosthetics in the third world to an email I got today from the most unlikely source that read:

"So I've been stalking you on twitter. I love your blog. I will be praying for you as you go all in. I'm so excited to "see" this side of you a total 180 from where you were when we split." 

Those words came from my ex wife, Jenny who saw me at my most livid, angry, and selfish times.  I've heard great news from people like myself who were lost in the world and have turned their lives around to serve the lord.

We have a great opportunity here to change the world for the better.  The internet has given us chances to fund lifesaving efforts in the third world for pennies through crowd funding.  Ministry schools are overflowing with great people eager to take on the world with open hearts and messages of love.  Heck, even Chick-Fil-A came out this week saying that they would continue to support biblical truths, drawing harsh criticisms from groups all over the country, only to see huge lines at lunch the following day.  I drove by one, they're not hurting!

Friends, I urge you to pick a side.  Jesus told us that we could not serve two masters, yet we constantly try to do just that in the face of all the evidence that it does not work.  How long have you chased the things this world told you were important?  How long have those things not worked?  How long will you believe the lies?  You can find happiness.  It's not in a pill, a song, a woman, a drink, or even a Porsche.  It's in the love and grace you will find when you tell all of those other things to go pound sand while you follow God and allow Him to share His happiness with you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'm all in.

Over the past few months the phrase "all in" has come at me from nearly every angle.  The music I listen to frequently mentions going all in.  Two of the three books I'm reading currently speak of going all in.  Many of the preachers whose podcasts I listen to have recently been talking about going all in.  It's a great thought; going all in...  Giving up total control to God, depending entirely on God to provide, and letting go of all of the earthly things we all love so much.  It's a really freeing idea, and it's an idea that I have prayed over a lot lately.  I would love to go all in; to give God every part of me and never look back.  The problem is that going all in is a very ethereal concept with no clear guide as to how to actually accomplish it.

"Lord, father; I am your son, and I am all in.  You lead, I follow.  Whenever.  Wherever.  Whatever. I am yours."

I prayed that prayer, not realizing how incredibly life changing it could be.  Giving a life entirely, irrevocably to Christ leaves no room for other things.  That new computer I wanted, the motorcycle, it's all pointless once I realized that the only thing I really needed was a leader to follow, and a mission to accomplish.

One of the best lines I've ever heard spoken about God was during an interview between Piers Morgan and Joel Osteen.  Piers asked if pastor Osteen could actually hear an audible voice when God spoke to him.  I seriously doubt Piers Morgan has any respect for God or anyone who believes that something out there is more important than celebrity and material things, so this question was asked simply to make Joel Osteen sound like a fool.  I think Osteen got the last laugh though when he told Piers that God "doesn't speak in an audible voice, it's louder than that."  Best, most plugged in answer ever!  Because when God speaks, it's so much louder than any voice.  Voices can go unheard, but when God speaks there is no alternative but to hear.  You can always ignore, but you cannot not hear His words.

In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge talks about the world created by God for us as a dangerous place.  The same God that created you and I also created lions, sharks, volcanoes, Mt Everest, K2, and tornadoes.  It's man who has broken and tamed the earth, depriving us of adventure which is important for man, because not only were we created in the image of God, but we were created for the Earth.  Or, the Earth was created for us.  That means that those tornadoes, volcanoes, and high mountain peaks were created for you and I, not simply because He could, but because He knew that we needed things to overcome.  We NEED adventure and risk.  It's death and the fear of death that makes life exciting.  It's the uncertainty of tomorrow that makes today so special.

And it's an adventure that God has given me in order to go all in.  The answer to my prayer wasn't quick.  It wasn't sudden.  But it was loud.  Slowly, over the past two weeks a picture of what God is asking of me has become clearer and clearer.  And while this task is scary, it's something I look forward to.

Next year I am going to either sell or give away everything I own and move to a third world country in southeast Asia in order to become a missionary in an area where Christianity is illegal and missionaries have historically been jailed and tortured simply for possessing bibles.  The people in this country cry out for the Lord and their government responds with brutal violence.  While there has been some movement towards peace and acceptance recently, this is still a very dangerous place, and I plan on putting myself as close to the front lines of God's war for this country as I can.

Am I scared?  Heck yes!  I can barely sleep I'm so scared.  But I'm not scared for the reasons this world says I should be scared.  Torture and death don't really scare me.  Yeah, I want to avoid them if I can; but in the end, death isn't scary in the least to someone with faith in God and heaven.  What I fear is failure.  To fall short and not help bring spiritual knowledge, Jesus, or even simply food to people who are starving in every sense of the word.

I have prayed nonstop for the past week.  I've prayed that God would not lead me into something I couldn't handle.  I've prayed that I would be up to the task set before me.  I've prayed for advice, funding, and opportunity.  I've prayed nearly everything I could pray.  Seriously, the answer to going all in was God telling me to go somewhere.  that's it...  Now I've got to figure out the rest somehow.

I don't like asking others to pray for me.  It seems selfish.  In fact, today was the first time I think I've ever asked anyone that and I asked my small group from church to pray for me over the next year that things continue to fall into place and that my journey bear fruit.  I'm going to ask you the same thing.  Please, over the next year, pray that doors continue to open and the pieces that need to come together in order for this trip to happen do so.  And please pray for all the people all over this world who live in countries and areas where Jesus is prohibited.  Please pray that someone gets in there with messages of hope and forgiveness through Christ.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Perplexing puzzle pieces for pursuing purpose. (I couldn't think of a decent title.)

"Encountering God meant that I was faced with the choice of whether I wanted to build His kingdom or mine.  I was either in or out.
This encounter is, indeed, dangerous.  It's dangerous because we often stumble upon God in the places we least expect, and often don't want to enter.  It's dangerous because it draws us back again and again."

Sadly, I can't claim those words as my own.  I wish I could; they're great words.  But they're Jay Milbrant's.  I wanted to start this post by sharing his words because they helped answer a prayer I prayed this morning.  As usual, they weren't the answer I was looking for; but they're the answer I was given.  

When I get an email on my phone, it shows a little icon above the email button.  I don't get to see what's inside the email, I just get to see that there's one waiting on me.  That's how I felt this morning as I got up from my computer frustrated at being unable to write something that seemed worthy of being posted.  I felt that I couldn't write anything of value because I had an unread message from God waiting on me.  I also felt that if I didn't get out of the house and away from the computer, I would burn things down.  It was just one of those mornings...

As I left, I prayed that God would speak to my heart and give me the words He wanted me to write.  At the time, it didn't dawn on me how arrogant it was to ask God to tell me what I wanted Him to tell me, so I could do what I wanted to do instead of asking Him to tell me what He had to say and just carrying on from there.  And as usual, when I asked for one thing, I was given something completely different.

I don't feel that God wanted me to write anything today.  Writing is something that I want to do.  What God wants is for me to go do something.  And I couldn't be happier.  It's not going to be easy.  It's not even going to be all that much fun at times.  But holy cow is it going to be awesome!

Before now, my life has been a series of seemingly disconnected events.  Think of life as a puzzle, only until today I couldn't see how any of the pieces could possibly fit together; they were just too random to form anything meaningful.  While I sat at a red light somewhere between Cups in Fondren and Repeat Street in Ridgeland though, God shuffled those pieces around in my head so that I could get a glimpse of what that picture may well look like.  He didn't put them all together for me; that's my job.  There's still a lot of work to be done finding pieces, figuring out how to get what I need to connect them all, and putting them all together. But I think now I see what that picture will look like in the end.

My puzzle isn't exactly a picture of the American Dream.  It doesn't involve a mortgage on a 4 bedroom house in the suburbs that I can't afford.  It doesn't involve a flashy car, a big screen tv, or lots of fancy stuff.   It won't be normal.   It won't be easy.  It may not even always be safe.  It's going to be better than that!

Bekah, I can never thank you enough for a gift I don't even think you realize you gave me.  You gave me a really nice sweater.  You gave me a really nice bible.  You even gave me a few really nice kisses. None of those can even compare to the walk you gave me with the Lord, something you probably don't even realize you did.  You gave me the piece of my puzzle that gave all the other pieces meaning.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  

Monday, July 09, 2012

A painter's greed

I'm not normally a greedy person.  Not with money, not with time, not with anything.  I strive to be as generous as I can.  Rarely though, something will happen in my life and I'll catch myself thinking "but that's mine!" and getting upset.  Normally catching myself doing this is enough to shock me into rethinking whatever I had run across to make me think that and normally I change my mind, let it go, and move on.

Well that's not what happened to me this morning.  Not even close.

I've been painting a house for my best friend's mom and while I'm working there, I'm leaving my tools at her house.  If she needs to use my screwdriver or a ladder or pretty much anything else; that's fine with me.  I don't care if people use my things.  I just hope they bring them back in the same shape they borrowed them in.  When I got to her house this morning though, I found an old, ratty paint brush that I've used for years as a duster; completely covered in thick, half dry oil paint.

I've had this brush for nearly a decade I'd imagine.  For years I'd paint with it, then immediately clean it up, and generally baby it.  I baby all of my brushes like this.  You can't paint a good line with a bad brush.  It just doesn't work that way, so I like to take care of my brushes.  Eventually though, even good brushes get ratty, old, and tattered.  This brush got there a long time ago and I've just kept it around as a duster.  It's a job old oil brushes excel at.

Finding my duster hardened up with paint this morning threw me into a rage for some reason.  Not the type of rage where I break things or yell at people.  My rages are quiet and generally stay inside my head.  But even inside the safety of my head, this anger was horrible.  I don't know why someone ruining a 10 year old duster made me so upset, but boy did it.  With my headphones on and my ipod playing one of the church's podcasts that I subscribe to, I fumed over that brush for an hour wondering why someone would ruin MY duster like that.

During that hour, the brush sat in a bucket of paint thinner.  I might not be able to bring it back completely, but keeping that duster around was worth trying.  (Yes, I fully realize that I have an unhealthy attachment to this paint brush; and, no, I can't explain why that's so.)  and for that hour, I quietly wanted to scream and yell, and break all sorts of things.  At least, I wanted to do them in my head.  I would hope I wouldn't actually do those things to other people.

About 11:00 this morning I went down to grab another bucket of paint.  By this time I had given up on being upset.  It was just a brush, and it wasn't even one I painted with; being that upset was just unwarranted.  I could get a new duster.  While in the garage, I checked on the brush.  Sitting in that paint thinner for so long, every drop of that paint had weakened and come off.  Even more, all the old paint which had sat around the base of the brush for over 5 years had come off.  Brad's mom hadn't ruined my duster.  Brad's mom had used my brush the way it was intended and, in doing so, given me back that old brush that I have such an inexplicable attachment to.

Greed often shows up in our lives like this.  Either it's someone taking the parking spot we were waiting on, or a roommate borrowing a shirt without asking, or any number of things; don't we often scream silently inside our heads (or loudly, outside of them) "That's mine!"  We worry too much about the things we want and not enough about what others need.  I wanted to keep that duster clean so that it would be around for as long as possible.  That's what I wanted.  Brad's mom needed a paint brush to paint a door.  She needed something.  And just as how Brad's mom using that brush wound up bringing it back to me in a way I never would have imagined; often, when we give the things we want to those who actually need them, those gifts are blessed and come back in awesome ways.

And let me tell you, painting all afternoon with that old, ratty duster felt great.  That old brush, inspected by Laura, still lays down a great coat of paint.  And I would have never realized that if someone else hadn't needed something of mine more than I did.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

It's all about love

When I became a Christian, one of the hardest aspects for me to understand was the whole being saved through faith alone part.  It seemed very odd to me for Jesus to tell us this, then, in the very next breath, to be tell us things we needed to be doing.  If I'm saved by faith; why do I need to give my time, my money, and my energy to help others?  Why was I being asked to sacrifice of myself if it wasn't going to get me into heaven?

Now, that's not to say that I don't want to do these things.  I have always loved helping others.  That love for giving is what led me to the military.  It is what led me to build prosthetics.  It's why I'm always stopping at wrecks, picking people up off the side of the road, or giving change to anyone who asks.  I would be doing these things even without being asked.  What I didn't understand was WHY I was being asked to do these things.

I may not have all of the answers to all of the questions I have about the bible, but this question is something I believe I finally understand.

A few months ago I was having problems sleeping.  I just couldn't get my head to shut up long enough to fall asleep.  I had been questioning a lot of different things and it was weighing on my heart.  It's nights like these when I pull out my bible and just read random chapters.  I don't remember what chapters I read that night; I don't even remember what those chapters said.  All I really remember was the idea that came to me while I was reading.  It was a very simple idea- just four short words- but that idea answered about half of the bible for me.  If there's one thing you need to know about the bible it's these four words:

It's all about love.

Thats it.  Those four words form the answer to just about every question I had been asking.

Why, even though we are already saved, do we do so much to help others?  Because we love them.

Why do we love them?  Because just like us, they are God's children.  And just as any parent loves their children, God loves us.  He doesn't love us as a whole.  He doesn't lump us into groups and love groups of people.  Each of us is individually loved as a son or daughter by our creator.  And if He loves us, should we not also love each other?  If someone is worthy of the love of our Creator, are they not also worthy of our love?

I'm not talking about loving "our neighbors."  I'm not talking about loving "the needy," or "the homeless."  I'm not even talking about loving "pretty girls."  I'm talking about loving Jim, Sue, and Cathy individually; just as He does.  And if I love Jim, should I not give of myself to help Jim?

Why, if Jesus forgives our sins, do we try to live better lives?  Why do we strive to live sinless lives if we will never feel the consequence of those sins?  Because we should all be so thankful for the gift He gave us on the cross that there is nothing He could ask of us that we are not willing to do for Him.  Jesus came, suffered, and gave his very life to buy our lives from condemnation, suffering, and death.  Is that sort of sacrifice not worthy of our love?  Is that sacrifice not worthy of our devotion?  Our obedience?

Because Jesus loved me; I can love others.  It was His perfect love which showed us how to love others.  And just as we are willing to sacrifice for friends and family who we love; we should also sacrifice for all others who need it.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Andrew, the quiet professional

The Quiet Professionals is a term usually reserved for the US Army's special forces soldiers. Men who never get to boast about their top secret missions. Men who spend their whole lives in the shadows doing the very dirty work that keeps us all safe at night. The more I think about the apostle Andrew, the more convinced I am that he was the ultimate Quiet Professional.

Not much is written about Andrew in the bible. Of the four members in Jesus's inner circle, (along with Peter, James, and John) Andrew is mentioned the least. He, alone, is only mentioned 9 times in the bible. And of the members in this inner circle, it is Andrew who appears the least argumentative and the most humble. Whenever he speaks, he always gives the correct answer. Whenever he acts on his own, he does what is right.

While his brother, Peter, preached to thousands; Andrew is never given credit for speaking to large gatherings. Andrew, it seems, preferred to keep things small. Andrew is seen leading individuals, not groups. It was Andrew who first met Jesus in the wilderness while following John the Baptist, then realizing he was in the presence of the Christ, ran and led his brother to Jesus.

In fact, Andrew seems something like a gatekeeper to Jesus at times. When a group of Gentiles wished to meet Jesus, they first met Phillip and asked to be introduced. Phillip, not knowing what to do in the situation, took them to Andrew who realized that Jesus would want to meet anyone who wanted to meet with him, not just other Jews.

Andrew often worked in the background, doing the necessary tasks, getting his hands dirty, so that others could do more important work. When Jesus fed the multitudes it was Andrew who introduced the child who had bread and fish to Jesus. Andrew had taken it upon himself to go find this boy and bring him to Jesus. Sure, 8 loaves of bread and 2 fish wasn't going feed all the guests, but it was a start.

I'm reminded of a story from the special forces. Eric Haney tells the story of Operation Eagle Claw and the disaster in the desert. One of the soldiers was asleep on top of a fuel bladder in the transport plane when it was struck by a helicopter and started to burn. That soldier, not realizing the plane was on the ground, ran to the door and jumped out, hitting all of his points just as if he was jumping from 10k feet. When asked what what he planned to do once out of the plane without a parachute, the soldier answered simply, "one problem at a time." Had he been in the air, he would have died jumping from the plane. Had he stayed in the plane though, he would also have died. His first priority at that moment was getting away from the flames.

If someone had bothered to ask Andrew what he was thinking bringing so little food to Jesus, I'm sure he would have given the same answer. "One problem at a time." Jesus was looking for food. So Andrew brought Him food. Once that was done, he could worry about whatever the next step was.

Andrew was an effective leader even though he is almost never in the spotlight. It wasn't Andrew holding the checkbook. It wasn't Andrew arguing about who among them was to be the first. He didn't crave attention or praise. But it was Andrew who we see time and time again working quietly behind the scenes making sure everything comes together.

At the end of his life, Andrew shared the same fate as most of his friends. He shared the same fate as his master, Christ. While in Greece, Andrew led the wife of a roman governor (yet again we see him leading individuals, not groups) to the Lord. When the woman's husband found out he demanded she recant her newfound faith and she refused. As punishment ,the governor had Andrew lashed to a cross (as opposed to nailing him. Lashing him would have prolonged his suffering) and Andrew is seen spending his last two days on earth tied to a cross, preaching to passersby and winning hearts up until his last breath. Even as he hung there dying, he was doing what was needed of him. Thirsty and in pain, he was taking the fight to the enemy right until the very end. And isn't that what we expect of all Quiet Professionals?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peter, the baddest man in all the land.

I think one of the most awe inspiring aspects of the bible are the apostles, who they were, and why they were chosen. Jesus didn't simply pick twelve people at random. He put thought into His decision. He prayed to His Father for guidance when making this choice. I believe He also prayed for those he would choose, knowing exactly what would face them once that choice had been made.

Not much is known about The Twelve. less than half of them had no listed occupations (four fishers, one tax collector). Only one was known to have been married (Peter, who's mother-in-law was healed by Jesus). But the things we do know about them lead me to wonder if modern churches would even allow the very leaders of the first churches into the building on Sunday morning.

Think of the first four. Peter, his brother Andrew, and their childhood friends and business partners, also brothers, James and John. These four grew up as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, working for Peter and Andrew's father, Jonah (no, not of whale fame)

Commercial fishing has changed a great deal in the past 2,000 years. The boats have become larger, the nets have become stronger, lighting and gps have allowed night fishing to be much less dangerous; lots of changes have occurred. One thing that has not changed though are the type of people who work on these boats in the middle of the sea. Men with skin like leather; scarred from countless scraps with hooks, nets, and fish; the toughest of the tough; willing to take on the sea at it's worst. These men had guts.

It's those very guts Jesus needed. He wasn't sending these men out to preach love and peace in a safe world. Jesus no doubt knew the violent end that awaited most of His Apostles before He even chose them. Of the 12, ten died violent deaths at the hands of the enemies of Christianity. Some were murdered, some were jailed and executed by Rome, some by other Jewish leaders.

What the church needed, what Jesus needed, were men who could stand up in the face of danger. Needed were men who wouldn't back down when confronted by the enemies of the Church. Nobody can lead a church by running from confrontation.

Simon-bar-Jonah, later renamed Peter (or "Petras" in Jesus's native Aramaic which meant "the rock" as he was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church) became the head disciple of Jesus. We know this for a few reasons. Not only is Peter listed first in all of the lists of apostles in the bible, but we are told directly that Jesus wished Peter to be the base of His church after His death. What a responsibility that was!

Just as I constantly preach that Jesus wasn't a quiet, polite, nice guy; neither was Peter. Peter was just as crass and headstrong as Jesus. Maybe more. He was always the first to question Jesus's motives, always the first one to try to answer questions, and always the first to run off and do something without thinking. (see previous post about jumping out of the boat) One of the most shocking stories of Peter comes at the end of Jesus's life in the garden the night of Jesus's capture.

When Jesus went to the garden to pray that night, He knew what would happen over the next few hours. I personally believe that He withdrew from the others to spare them from capture. The one man who refused to leave His side though was Peter. Even later that night when he would deny knowing Jesus over and over, he was still right there beside Him. After all the others had scattered, it was Peter who was there at the end.

Imagine the scene in the garden. It's dark, there are probably a few torches around, maybe the moon is out, but there isn't much light either way. Peter is alone with Jesus. He is tired. He has been up all night watching over Jesus, protecting Him from the fate he only thinks he can stop. Suddenly though, they aren't alone. Up walks Judas and the local priests. Behind them, Roman Centurians, the special forces of their day.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Here's where men can sit up and start to get a real glimpse at the type of man Jesus chose to lead His Church. What was Peter's reaction to Jesus's betrayal at the hand of one of his friends? Well, he pulled his sword and started swinging. Obviously, he hadn't thought this through. Did he expect to take on the Roman soldiers? Did he expect to live through this attack? I don't know. The few things I do know, though, are just shocking. First off, Jesus's closest friend carried a sword! Even more shocking though was that even after attempting to behead the servant of one of the leaders of Jerusalem, he lived.

Think about it. Standing in front of dozens of well armed soldiers who had doubtlessly been warned that they were going to be capturing a man widely believed to be the son of God and were therefore on edge like never before, an accomplice of the target pulled a weapon and attacked a member of the arrest team. We hear about this all the time actually. It still happens today. Only now when we hear about it the headline reads "armed suspect killed by police during early raid." It almost never reads "violent attacker allowed to walk by police after attempted murder during early morning raid." And yet that is exactly what happened here. For one reason or another these soldiers held their weapons back and allowed Peter to live. Was this because Jesus preformed a miracle by healing the man Peter had attacked? Was this because Peter had been stopped by Jesus already? Was it because Peter was filled with Holy Fury and was unstoppable by man? Personally I think it's some of all three. Peter was pissed! But he knew his place. Also, if I saw a man just stick a man's ear back on, the last thing I would do is mess with his sword wielding friend. I like my ears...

That's the story we're given about Peter. He's impulsive. He reacts without thinking. When he's pushed into a corner, hurt by the betrayal of a friend, he's violent; willing to stand up to dozens of armed soldiers to protect his friend. This is the man we have to thank for the churches we fill each Sunday. My question to you: Would your church welcome this man? Would you want him sitting beside your family? Would you greet him with a smile, invite him to lunch, and treat him as nicely as you treat the others you meet in church?

I can't say that I would. I hope I would. I hope I could see past his mouth. I hope I wouldn't be turned off by the scars, tattoos, or lack of wealth. I hope I would treat him as a brother no matter how he appeared. After all, if he's good enough for Jesus, isn't he good enough for me?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The bland leading the bland

I spent last night at a local homeless shelter listening to a young man from my church speak about Christ. Towards the end of the sermon he mentioned that he likes to think of Jesus riding a motorcycle. His Jesus was a "real" man who wore boots, had long hair, and even smoked cigarettes because he wasn't afraid of what other people would say about him.

Frankly, I like Cameron's Jesus. I'm not sure He would spend the money for an indian motorcycle, but Jesus on two wheels feels right to me. The personality I see reflected in the bible's words on Jesus is the exact personality motorcycles are created for. I don't know when the common perception of Jesus got so watered down and boring but Jesus was nothing of the sort. Loud, brash, even offensive are all words which would have been used to describe Him, but boring? Never!

I realize that the thought of Jesus being offensive is strange to a lot of people. Many people will even be offended by calling Christ offensive and brash. Well, those people can get over it... He was.

John 2:13-16

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”

Now I don't know about you, but if somebody came at me with a whip, I'd be pretty offended. I'm not saying that Jesus was a bad guy. He wasn't. The people who's sensibilities were offended by Jesus as he ate with sinners, healed on the sabbath, or spoke to the priests as someone above them needed to be offended. Just as when Jesus called Peter Satan (Matthew 16:23), he wasn't doing this simply to offend. He did these things to shock people into opening their eyes and seeing the truth.

One of the most often tools used by Jesus during His ministry was sarcasm. In Matthew 15 (21-27) We get the story of a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus asking for her daughter to be healed. When the apostles asked Him to send her away he asked her if it was right to heal her daughter as he was sent instead to heal jews. This is the conversation they had, slightly paraphrased as it appears in my mind:

Woman: Have mercy on me, Jesus, my daughter is posessed by a demon. Please heal her.

Jesus: I was sent only to the lost children of Israel. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.

Woman: Yet even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.

Jesus: Well played, woman, well played. You have great faith! I will do as you ask.

At first look this is REALLY offensive. I believe I would have just broken down crying if Jesus had called my daughter a dog. But first looks can be deceiving. Did Jesus really mean that this woman's child was as a dog to Him? Certainly not!

What, then, was Jesus doing here? Jesus was being honest when he told the woman that He was sent here not fer gentiles, but for jews. His disciples knew this and they weren't going to let Him forget it either. Frequently we see disciples asking Jesus why he bothers with this lesser class of people and just as frequently we see Jesus ignoring convention and helping all who ask. This is what Jesus was doing here. He had likely already made up His mind to help the woman. He just wanted to get the attention of the disciples who had just asked him to simply send her away. He knew she had faith that He could heal her daughter, and He knew that she would fight for that help as would any mother. Jesus wasn't trying to offend the woman. He was lobbing one over the plate for her. He was trying to use this woman to drive in a point that was offensive it itself. That point was that He wasn't here simply for the Jews. He was here for anyone who would have Him.

Modern popular views on Jesus completely leave out these aspects of Jesus's personality. They ignore His frequent rudeness and near constant breaking of social norms. They place Him politely in the light brown cardboard box of blandness; and in doing so they create an uninspiring image of Jesus that men don't want to follow. So let's break the habit. When we speak of Jesus, let's speak of the man who pissed off the Jewish leaders so often that they had him killed. Let's speak of the man who wasn't afraid to assault sinners in church when they tried to take advantage of the poor. Let's talk about the Jesus who's only use for social norms was to break them in order to show his supremacy over the old laws. Let's put Jesus back on that motorcycle, riding through the desert on two wheels looking for the next town where He could start some trouble and win a few hearts.

Walking on water

I'm in the middle of reading a book entitled Twelve Ordinary Men about the lives of the apostles and a great point was made about Peter that I had never thought about before.

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 
23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 
24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 
33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God."

Before today, when I read this story I saw only the story we've all heard countless times before.  Jesus came to the disciples during the middle of a storm and Peter, upon seeing him rushed out to meet him only to lose faith and fall into the water.  It's always preached as a lesson in lack of faith and I think that's a disservice to Peter all together.  Peter didn't have a lack of faith at all.  Incomplete faith, sure.  But Peter had more faith than anyone else in that boat for sure.

Having grown up a fisherman with his brother, Andrew,  and fellow apostles James and John; Peter would have known exactly what happened to people who fell out of their boats during a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.  The closest land was 100 feet below him and he would doubtlessly be dead before he reached it. Storms on the sea were nasty and swimming would have been nearly impossible amid the waves.

In spite all of this, all it took was for Jesus to say one word and Peter was over the side of the boat putting his faith to the test.  Not only was he willing to step out in faith, it was his idea.  Probably in order to show the other disciples in the boat just exactly what they could do if only they believed.

Sure, Peter slipped and began to sink.  That's what happens when impulsive people do crazy things without thinking about the consequences first. He got a few steps out onto the sea and realized the severity and danger of what he had just done. I can't tell you what the Aramaic phrase for "Oh shit" is; but I'm sure at this point in his life, Peter could.

The fear of drowning is a pretty big seed of doubt and I'm sure when you're standing on top of the sea during a storm that seed grows pretty quickly if it finds it's way into your head.  I can't fault Peter for falling.  I don't doubt my faith in the Lord at all; but knowing me, I'd have been with the other 11, kept my mouth shut, and kept my feet in the boat at that point.