Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hide and Seek

When was the last time you played hide-and-seek?
I remember playing this as a kid. Honestly, I played this just the pother day WITH the kids. There is no simpler game, right? Someone count while every one else hides. Now they have to find someone and tag them.

Simple. The we had to change the rules. As we got older the simple game seemed, well, too simple! We then started adding new rules:
  • Move from hiding spot
  • Safety zones
  • Kick the can
  • Jail
  • Tag out of jail
The purity of the game was its simplicity! Everyone could play! If you could count, then you could play. Something within us decided that we had to make complex that which was simple. It seems that we do the same thing in church, doesn't it?

Church is supposed to be simple. A group of people who love God gather together to express their love and devotion while also receiving a message from Scripture. Why do we make it so complex? In this age of technology, which I love, we are determined to mess up the simplicity of church. We bring complexity in a variety of ways.

We try to hide our past because if others in church knew our past they would reject me. This isn't too difficult for those who are not indigenous to the community. However, for those who grew up in the community it becomes extremely complex. "Joe" may be living for Jesus today but everyone knows the little terror he was as a child and/or teenager. "Janet" may not be living for Jesus right now and all we see what she used to be without giving thought to how she needs help today.

Hide and Seek.

We try to hide our present. The technical word for this is hypocrite. Ouch! Doesn't that word sting? Attempting to hide our present is the majority of complications we have today. There are those who are immoral in town and "pure" in the church. I believe the devil is more subtle in his approach. Hypocrisy means to not be who you are in all places. We complicate matters because we read Paul who says that he became all things to all people. This sentiment is not the discussion here. How often I find people with whom I laugh and enjoy life with during the week only to find them all buttoned up and zipped up in church service. What a travesty? If we cannot be ourselves as we gather, then we have taken the simple and made it complex.

Hide and Seek.

What am I talking about? Did you know that Jesus faced this same issue? In Luke 4:14-30 Jesus has gone home. He is in church on the weekend as the guest speaker. Most likely, he was a well-respected member of the community. He rises and quotes Isaiah 61.1-2. He then proceeds to sit down, as was the custom, and speak to this passage. Do you remember what He said? Today this is fulfilled before your very eyes.

What did He say?
Someone tell me He did not just refer to Himself as the Messiah?

Hide and Seek.

Jesus could not run from his past. Humanity has a way of shackling us a preconceived notion and understanding. He was calling into question everything they had believed. The carpenter's son could NEVER be the Messiah. He is not royal enough! He is too human! He is too much like us! Even Philip had his moment when he said, "Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?" I find some solace in that fact that Jesus could not outrun the complications of the world. He was challenging them to overcome the humanity around us and put away past realities. What a strong word for the church today! We, the forgiven, are to accept each other as we are. We are not a perfect people. We do not have perfect churches, classes, or music. We do not have perfect pastors, families, or kids. We are human. Jesus challenged them to overcome the hypocrisy. Be who you are as God designed.

Let us release each other from the past that plagues us. Respond with love and grace while remembering who you are in Jesus. May we spur each other on to love and good works!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Have you ever had one of those moments where you can't remember what you were going to do? It seems that once I hit the magical age of 40 they are coming with more regularity. It could be the diet coke, right? I was cleaning the garage and building new shelves for reorganization when I needed something in the house. From the garage to the house is roughly 40 feet. By the time I reached the family room I stopped. Typically in these moments I will look at the ceiling of to the side and throw my jaw out and grunt a little, this is what my wife tells me anyway. Then I close my eyes and concentrate.

No memory.

What had I come to the house to get? Throwing up my hands I go back outside. Halfway to garage I remember and turn around. Mumbling what I need over and over so I don't forget as I enter the house, I get these weird looks. I am sure my family thinks they live with a mumbling idiot! I know that if I don't keep saying it I might forget again which only wastes time and adds to the "my-dad-is-so-weird-that-he" list.

When Jesus was presented with temptation from the Devil in his weakest moments, he did not have this problem. A case could be made in light of certain experiences that because he was only 30 he would not have had this problem. Theologically, some would argue that because he was God he could not have sinned. Or, that because he did not have a biological father that the sin nature was not transferred. We must be careful not to drive so fast into His divinity that we leave his humanity in the dust. In fact, had Jesus not had the choice and chance to sin then the pure sacrifice would not have been so meaningful. Because Jesus could have sinned brings hope to us that do. It is possible! We could, if we continue to develop spiritually.

What is impressive is the simplicity in which he resisted the pleas of Satan. He was hungry and Satan prompted a physical appetite option. Turning stones to bread would be easy. A weak point for many people stems from physical appetites that consume us. From gorging at the buffet to gorging on the internet, we are driven by our desires, passions, and appetites. In addition, if we can do all of this in private we can justify the act because it is not hurting anyone. However, Jesus responded with scripture.

Jesus was starting a new ministry. He would need a lot capital, a fresh marketing plan, and the authority to speak to the leadership at large. How many times have we seen guys come through seminary and begin the self-promotion campaign. They create brochures, cards, email blasts, websites, and cool ministry names. It would seem that while all of this is done in the name of ministry it is also screaming "self" more than Spirit. We change our churches to capture the ever-allusive next generation and forget the Spirit. We change our organizations and conventions to streamline the work. Now, nobody knows what anyone is doing but it looks hip and cool and "leader-like". Jesus responded with scripture.

Jesus was trying to reach people. A spectacular show would entertain and drive people to himself. He could jump off the temple and instantly draw a crowd because he would land unharmed. It reminds me of a ministry leader in Tulsa that camped out on top of a tower and claimed he would not come down until a certain money figure was reached. He made the headlines and raised the money! Is this Biblical? We produce smoke and lights and concerts we call worship so that we can bring in the people. We reduce the message, remove the blood of the cross, and demand nothing in order to get more people into our building. Jesus responded with scripture. We clamor after the headlines and promotions. We deeply desire the awards and accolades. Jesus responded with scripture.

Simple. Clean. Powerful. Scripture.

Our lives hinge on placing faith in Jesus. Our journey of faith depends on knowing and living by the Word of God. When was the last time you could footnote a decision with scripture? Do we read for content or commands? Do I live by the Word of God or logical manipulations? Does the Bible direct my life? When we begin to read, study, and live by the word of God we won't have the same troubles with temptations as before. We won't have to stop in the middle of an issue and call up the preacher and ask for a good verse for the situation. Jesus just knew the right verse. Do you?

The transformation God demands comes from an intimate awareness and obedience to scripture. Get in the Book!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Exam

At the end of every semester it was crunch time! We had attended, listened, worked, partied, and studied little but now it was exam time. For many of our classes the exam was half of our grade! You would think we might have paid better attention, took better notes, and studied more. Yet, we did not. Instead, we would plan these elaborate all-nighters just before an exam. Yes, the night before! For some reason we thought it was smart to saturate our bodies with coffee and study all night to take the tests the next morning on no sleep.

In the words of my wife, "Stupid, stupid people!" In fact it was not the smart thing to do. We all knew it was coming. Why did we not prepare? Why did we act like it was a surprise? Those answers were apparently above our pay grade.

In Luke 4:1-2, we see that Jesus had just finished one of the greatest moments in life in baptism. As he rose from the water the heavens opened and the dove descended. The Father spoke to His Son in whom he was well pleased.

That same Spirit that landed on his shoulder now led Him to the wilderness. He fasted, prayed, and prepared. He was not shocked. He was not surprised. At the end of 40 days he was tested by the Devil.

Why am I so shocked in my own life? Why should I be surprised? After any "big" spiritual moment in my life the Devil hammers me in the weaknesses of my life. The Spirit of God leads us through different mountains and valleys in life. While always our light, He is most useful in the dark places of life. I am not speaking of the seedy spots to which we go. I speak of the desperate moments and experiences such as tragedy, death, loss of job, etc. I speak of those issues you thought were off limits. When we are led to a dark spot we need the light of God more than any other time. Not to say that we are not in need of Him in the good times. It is in those moments that we must praise, adore, and worship to prepare for the moments we encounter that are antithetical to the peace and prosperity gospel being sold to us.

I need God AT ALL TIMES! It is in the best of times that I must remember to study, read, and adhere to the Word of God. In this way, when the exam comes I will not have to pull a spiritual all-nighter. I can rest in the everlasting arms of Jesus because I have studied and shown myself approved. I have learned that dependency on the Word of God and power of the Spirit is like food and water. I cannot live without them and I certainly cannot thrive without them.