Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Football Idolatry

Here we are again…. In the south and in Football season.
We suit up in Blue and Orange or the Red and White…or whatever color of our favorite team.  It is the discussion at the watercooler, in the restroom, during Sunday School, even in home visit on outreach night. You can hear the flap of car window flags, watch animal tails wag from car trunks, and watch stupid youtube videos.  Weddings are planned and funerals are held up because of game dates.  It is football (SEC football) and nothing is more revered.
We chant War Eagle, Go Dawgs, R*## T@#! (sorry…just can’t say it). We scream, jump, laugh, cry …oozing with raw emotions as we watch our team.  We buy the tickets, we purchase cable sport packages in order to watch our team. Cost is not the question. The weather is not in question. Seating comfort is not an issue (we never sit). It’s  football and a “fan gotta do what a fan gotta do.”  We pull for them during the hard times and enjoy the thrill of victory. But win or lose we love the team.  There are no fair weather fans!
What bothers me is that we don’t always take that same attitude into worship.  Church has become “What have you done lately for me?”  If the preacher, choir, musicians, or teachers don’t perform to our liking then we will just go somewhere else.  Where’s the loyalty?  Where is the commitment?  Where is the passion?
·         If the people around you know your favorite team, but they don’t know your Lord—there is a problem.
·         If you leave the game worn out from yelling, clapping, and pulling for your team with everything you have, but get bored in church—there is a problem.
·         If you arrive early for the game, cook and fellowship with family and friends, and stay until the last moment, but get to church at the last moment and leave at the first moment—there is a problem.
·         If you pay large amounts for tickets and love the thrill of overtime, but give little to the church and get mad if it goes beyond an hour—there is a problem.
I could go on and on, but let me just tell you the problem—it is idolatry.  Jesus should be the subject of your conversation, the desire of your heart, and the passion of your life.  If something else takes the place of that it is idolatry and I don’t care if that idol is Alabama or Auburn, Georgia or Florida.  The most exciting day of the week is not Saturday.  Before Sunday — let’s evaluate our priorities and make sure we are worshiping the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Doorkeeper in the House of the Lord

Several years ago I read Sam Shoemaker’s poem, “I Stand by the Door.” In his poem he warns that if you’ve been in the “house of God” for most of your life, you’re in danger of forgetting those still outside the house:

Go in, great saints, go all the way in--
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics--
It is a vast roomy house, this house where God is . . .

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in.
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door . . .

As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from people as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.

Where? Outside the door--
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But--more important for me--
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.

So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
“I had rather be a door-keeper . . .”
So I stand by the door.

Acts 2:39 reads “The promise [of forgiveness] is for you and your children and for all who are far off”. Too often our churches become places that are simply “for us and our children,” but we also need to pay attention to “all who are far off,” too. It’s not enough to reach out with special programs and class parties and youth and children activities. As important as these things are, Scripture tells us to connect with those outside our “house”.

As we get ready for this Sunday, let us also have eyes for those need God’s love and grace through Jesus.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Living by Grace

Some people live the grace of God much better than most others, Annie Johnson Flint was one of them...

   Annie Flint was born in the Johnston home where she lost her mother, then shortly after lost her father too and was raised by the Flint family. After she graduated from college, she contracted arthtitis in one of its most crippling forms and lay in bed for not one or two years, but for decades of her life. And if that wasn't bad enough she lost control of her internal organs and to her utter embarrasment had to live on diapers for many years of her life.And if that wasn't humiliating enough she began to become blind and cancer began to take its toll...according to one eyewitness, who wrote a book(called Making of the Beautiful), the last time he saw her, she had seven pillows cushioning her body from keeping the sores from inflicting undescribable agony. She moved to Clifton Springs, NY, in hope of finding a cure. Instead, she had to give up her dreams of being a concert pianist and live in constant pain, writing with twisted hands and body. Annie sought always to leave everything with Her Lord. After nearly 50 years of suffering submitted to Him, her last words were, “It’s all right.”

Life has a way of pushing us aside—of kicking us when we are down. Faith in God does not provide a guarantee against pain or loss. Good people suffer. Good people die in the prime of their life. Good people lose their jobs. And we cry out, “Life’s not fair.” Do you want “fair” to rule in your life? Try golf.

Even the great Apostle Paul had his “Thorn.” “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NKJV)

The New Living Translation renders that key verse this way:
                 “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.”

The Greek word for sufficient means “to be content…to raise a barrier…to ward off that which pushes us to one side.” Basically, “sufficient” means grace that is enough, but not super abundant, fantastic, huge, or incredible.

Sufficient does not say to us, “Grow up.” It doesn’t say, “Get over it.” It doesn’t say, “You’ll understand it better by and by.” It just says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” It says, “I am standing with you in this situation.” That’s really all we need to know.

Some of you who are reading these words know what “sufficient” means. You understand the feeling of loss, or failure, or pain, or loneliness, or disappointment. A “thorn” is a picnic compared to what you have experienced. Paul called his thorn “a messenger of Satan.” But God (aren’t you thankful for the “But God” affirmations in Scripture?) had another message for Paul, and for us. He said through Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And it is. Hear the words of Annie Flint’s hymn:

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
(Words by Annie Johnson Flint; Music by Hubert Mitchell)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Prayer About the Pure Joy of Trials

I share this prayer that Scotty Smith gave today on his blog: A Prayer About the Pure Joy of Trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-3
Dear Jesus, apart from the gospel of your grace, this admonition would appear to be the work of a madman. What sane person would ever associate pure joy with many trials? In fact, many of us have been schooled to believe that faith is the very means by which we can escape trials and hardships. And yet Jesus, it was because of the joy set before you that you persevered and endured the greatest trial of all for us… the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Grant us your joy, Jesus… grant us your perspective… grant us your love for the glory of God above comfort… and grant us a greater love for your cross.
It’s only because of your cross, Jesus, that we can be certain that trials don’t come to us as punishment for our sins, but for the purification of our faith. We praise you for exhausting God’s judgment against our sins. We praise you that your cross was our Judgment Day. The perfect love of the cross drives away all fear of judgment and punishment (1 John 4:18). What peace this give us… what hope… what freedom!

Jesus, what dross would you burn from our faith through trials? What needs to be purified? Since faith is both the content of what we believe and the act of believing… please free us from all false gospels and from a lack of trust. Burn away everything we believe about you that contradicts the truth of the gospel, Jesus. What bad teachings have robbed us from the riches of the gospel? What bad teachings have made it easy for us to distort and misapply the gospel? Burn up these impurities, Jesus. We want the pure gold of the gospel to shine forth.

And burn away our double-mindedness and our lack of love for you, Jesus. We’re predestined to be like you. None of us likes to see our immaturity, and yet since maturity is Christlikeness, Jesus, reveal our immaturity… our incompleteness… our lack. In what ways do our attitudes and actions contradict your beauty? You’ll never condemn us, because you took the condemnation we deserve. But you will convict us. Grant us pure joy and godly sorrow which lead to repentance, salvation and no regrets (2 Corinthians 7:10).

So very Amen, we pray, in your most loving and patient name.

Burying a Grudge

The following is a copy of a blog from Turning Point Ministry.... I thought it was worth repeating.

Methodist pastor Charles Allen wrote that when he was in the fourth grade, a school official mistreated him. The man, who had a falling out with Charles' father, took it out on the son. Years later during Charles' first pastorate, he heard that his old antagonist was seeking a job with area schools. Charles knew that as soon as he told his friends on the school board about the man, they would not hire him.

He later wrote, "I went out to get in my car to go see some of the board members and suddenly it came over me what I had done. Here I was out trying to represent Him who was nailed to the Cross and me carrying a grudge. That realization was a humiliating experience. I went back into my house, knelt by my bedside, and said, 'Lord, if you will forgive me of this, I will never be guilty anymore.'"1

The concept of grace is hard to understand because it's so far removed from how we as fallen people relate to each other. But grace is grace--and grace changes things.  Matthew 5:44...But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

Every cat knows some things need to be buried (Ruth Bell Graham, in Legacy of a Pack Rat).

One more thought....when you bury that grudge...don't leave the handle sticking out. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

20 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Level of Insanity

1. At lunch time, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and point a hair dryer at passing cars. See if they slow down.

2. Page yourself over the intercom. Don't disguise your voice.

3. Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries with that.

4. Put your garbage can on your desk and label it "In."

5. Put decaf in the coffee maker for 3 weeks. Once everyone has gotten over their caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.

6. In the memo field of all your checks, write "For Smuggling Diamonds."

7. Finish all your sentences with "In Accordance With the Prophecy."

8. Don't use any punctuation

9. As often as possible, skip rather than walk.

10. Order a "Diet Water" whenever you go out to eat, with a serious face.

11 Specify that your drive-through order is "To Go."

12. Sing along at the opera.

13. Go to a poetry recital and ask why the poems don't rhyme

14. Put mosquito netting around your work area and play tropical sounds all day.

15. Five days in advance, tell your friends you can't attend their party because you're not in the mood.

16. Have your co-workers address you by your wrestling name.

17. When the money comes out of the ATM, scream "I Won! I Won!"

18. When leaving the zoo, start running toward the parking lot yelling, "Run for your lives -- they're loose!"

19. Tell your children over dinner: "Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go."

20. And the final way to keep a healthy level of insanity . . .

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sometimes a can of cream of asparagus soup can change your life.

I was reading this morning and came across this article that caused me to stop and think.

Sometimes a can of cream of asparagus soup can change your life. Just ask Jeanna Dodd of Centreville, Virginia. She was out of work, short on rent money, and dependent on groceries from a local food bank. But when she popped the lid on a donated can of soup, jewels, gold, silver, rings, a bracelet, and a Rolex watch came spilling out. The soup can was actually not a soup can at all, but a replica used to hide valuables from burglars. Apparently, someone mistakenly donated it to the food bank. Dodd reported the find, worth about $7,000. When no one came forward to claim the treasure, it was hers. Jeanna Dodd found a treasure she wasn't looking for.

It's a different story for Bob Wehle, a diamond hunter at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The park is the world's only publicly operated diamond site where visitors are allowed to search and keep any gems they find. In 2006 Wehle found a 5.47-carat canary diamond, bright yellow with no visible flaws. It could be worth well over $60,000.

Jesus compared life with him to treasure. In two famous parables in Matthew 13, he said it's a treasure some find when they aren't looking for it, while others find it after a long and eager search. Some discover him when they aren't looking, like Jeanna Dodd and her soup can. They are just taking things one day at a time, paying the bills, feeding the family, with no time or inclination to ask the deeper questions like, "What is my purpose in life?" or "Is there a God and is he happy with me?" Then, unexpectedly, they get exposed to life with Christ, and immediately they want in on this deal. On the other hand, some discover life with him after a long spiritual quest, like Bob Wehle and his diamond. They look for fulfillment in religious rituals and books with spiritual themes, hungry for answers to ultimate questions. But when they discover the grace and guidance of Jesus, they know they've found the real thing.

One of those stories probably matches your spiritual biography. What is you story?  Spend time today rehearsing how you discovered the treasure of God's love in Christ.