Awareness is Painful

17 10 2016

It has been too long since I posted!!  I will hopefully post more frequently but I make no promises!  This morning, as I do most mornings, I was having a philosophical debate in my head.  I have amazing discussions and solve most of the world’s problems.

This morning’s debate was about a reality I have become painfully aware of.  Race is a huge topic in our country and everyone has an opinion.  I believe most Christians hold my perspective; the church is a place for all people.  We take Revelations 7:9 literally: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language.”  We expect Heaven to be racially diverse.  Unfortunately, the Church in the United States is waiting until then for that to be reality.

As I prepare for life after the Navy, I checkout church websites.  Wow!!! The lack of diversity is appalling!  So, I googled multi-racial churches and…I am not sure what our definition of multi-racial is but I sure wasn’t finding it.  The ironic part is this is not new.  I remember racial reconciliation was a major topic in the early nineties with the rise of the Promise Keepers Movement.

What happened?  I think we bought into the idea of church being a “safe place.”  We sought to make people feel “comfortable” with the hope they would grow spiritually.  We fell into a trap.  We slowly settled into our own groups which meant we divided by race.

The culture says faith is a private matter.  It is something that helps people with their emotional well being.  Our safe and comfortable churches shout we agree.  When race flashed as a major issue, the church was left on the sidelines.  We were irrelevant.  Many see the white church as part of the problem.  Meanwhile, the black church is struggling to find the powerful voice it had during the Civil Rights Movement.  We sit divided just like our country.  In other words, we are no different than the world around us with our faith being a private matter that helps our emotional well being.

Racial diversity can be difficult but the Church has a powerful foundation that truly makes us salt and light.  I compare racial diversity like jogging.  Most mornings we don’t want to get out of bed.  However, when we do it consistently, we build endurance and more importantly we can run when we have to.  Somehow we stopped jogging in the nineties.  The consequence today is instead of running out ahead of our country and inviting them to consider the power of the gospel, we are huffing and puffing and falling further behind.

We have to put on our running shoes.  The Church is God’s ambassador to a world that desperately needs hope!  Let’s stop being safe and comfortable and start being relevant and engaged!  The starting point?  Take a look at your church’s leadership page.  What do you see?  If it is all one color…you may need to go for a jog.

But I assumed…we did this together

18 09 2015

In my last post I assumed we were equal.  It is a critical starting point to helps us keep a proper perspective and enables us to engage with God and one another in a profoundly powerful way.  That is important because of of my next assumption…we do this together.

Ephesians 4:15-16:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

I was listening to a Ted Talk on poverty.  I was frustrated because ever time the speaker mentioned a bright spot in dealing with poverty it fell right in line with what a healthy church should be doing.  However, the only way the church can effectively mentor, provide safe places for at risk youth, support people facing a wide range of struggles and make sure we are grounded on God’s truth is if everyone is doing their part.

Sadly we have a tendency to see our organized churches as a spectator event instead of a team sport.  I do not want to minimize the countless small acts done behind the scenes by dedicated Christians living out their faith.  However, we are so much more effective when we work together.

Football season is upon us! Imagine if the coach told players to play where they wanted and hopefully score.  There would be chaos as 3 people try to be the quarterback and 4 want to be receivers.  There would be no one on the line because that is not very glamorous.  You get the idea.

I believe the Bible is clear we are suppose to be one team lead by God with everyone having something to contribute.

The implication is we need to rethink how we do church.

The difference between reality of what the church is suppose to look like and what it actually looks like is so overwhelming only God could straighten it out…maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Unity and working together is hard.  It makes us uncomfortable and we will have conflict.  It is also incredibly rewarding.  Imagine Jesus truly being the leader and people from different races and political ideologies working together.

If you are a Christian I encourage you to spend some time in prayer inviting God to reveal your role on His team.

But I assumed…

2 09 2015

What if you went to Chick-Fil-A and saw a hamburger on the menu?  They would have some explaining to do and they may want to rethink their ad campaign.

We have expectations and those expectations lead to assumptions.  I have been convicted about the importance of key assumptions we need to effectively live out our Christian Faith.  I will spend the next few blog posts talking about them.

Assumption one:  We are equal

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

In the United States we love to believe we get it when it comes to equality.  We point to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

Of course, we gloss over “all men” did not include slaves or women.  Isn’t that how it often goes?  We say everyone is equal but our actions often reveal some different assumptions.

The biggest assumption I see when it comes to Christianity is “my sin is bigger than other people’s therefore I can’t be forgiven or be a part of God’s plan.”  Too many people sideline their relationship with God and others because of this.  If we can grasp that we are equal then we recognize that sin is sin and we all struggle with it.  We have to hear Paul’s words, “no temptation has overtaken you but what is common…” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Once I realize you and I are the same, then I see there is hope.  Sin is put in proper perspective and managed by God’s grace and transforming work in my life.

For those who have overcome sins in their life, there is another dangerous assumption: “I am not like them.”  This assumption often plagues those inside the church.  We acknowledge that we were once sinners like “them” but we add a subtle twist to the story of God’s grace.  We take credit for our victory.  We will use spiritual terms but our actions show what we really believe.  Those with this assumption often make decisions for God about who is in and out.  This was exactly the mindset of the Religious Leaders Jesus fought against.

This idea of being equal before God has very big implications.  It sets the stage for all of us have the chance at redemption and helps us stay balanced as we grow and mature in our faith.  It builds bridges and helps us connect to others…all others without discrimination.

Today there are lot’s of discussions about racism and discrimination.  Political solutions look bleak as politicians label and attack anyone who has a different point of view.

It is an amazing opportunity for the Church.  We can step in and truly engage our world in a uniquely powerful way.  We see everyone as someone just like us.

Do you really believe we are all equal or do you find yourself making assumptions that limits you or excludes others?

If you do not see us as equal, I invite you to pray and consider the implication of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  When we grasp our equality, it is an incredible truth that ripples through our life.  It will deepen our relationship with God and each other.

Same Old World

1 08 2015

In preparing for a sermon I read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.  It was written in 1931 and published in 1932.  He attempted to capture a potential future if our primary focus was happiness.  He got a lot right.

Happiness is a tyrant that is never satisfied.  It tricks us into believing it is just around the corner.  If we can just make a little more money. get one more item. have a “new” experience.  Sure enough it visits us as we get a raise, open the box or play the latest “cool” game on our phone.  Then, it evaporates leaving a hunger so intense we blindly chase after it.  When it becomes our primary focus, we become addicted.

We know this.  So the only proper response to happiness is.suppress it.  We use rules or good old fashion guilt to conform ourselves into proper citizens.  Meanwhile, happiness whispers in our ear until we throw off the rules, justify our actions and the addiction is satisfied.but it never is.

What does it cost us?  A life of meaning and purpose.  Time marches on.  Relationships grow cold or even worse become something we use for our own satisfaction.  Our focus is divided.  It becomes harder to speak out against injustice because we waste our time being entertained.

If something is important, someone will tell us what to believe.  We will even support them as long as all we need to do is click a link or “share.”

We do an excellent job of complaining about it.  Scroll down any social media site and you will see a post or a re-post of dire warnings.  We “like” it then notice a fun distraction and get lost again in our own world of personal happiness.

Aldous Huxley warned us of just how easily we can fall into a trap that tells us, “just be happy.”

I have some great news.  All you have to do is clink on this link. not really.  The great news is the trap can be avoided with a simply shift in perspective.

Happiness is not bad.  It just has to be put in its proper place.  Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

What are you seeking first?  It is a simple question with huge ripple effects.

There is profound depth in what Jesus said.  I could tell you what it means.  You might “like” it or even “share” it.  I have too much faith in you and God created you with the capacity to grasp the depth.

So dive in and wrestle with Jesus’ statement.  Let it ripple through your life.  Hopefully I will see you on the other side and we will have shaken off the tyrant of happiness and be living a life of significance.

The Tale of Two Crowds

1 04 2015

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That is the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s. It was about the two very different worlds of the rich and the poor during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the brutality of those two worlds colliding.

The idea of two different worlds colliding is what it feels like in the week leading up to Easter. Palm Sunday shows one crowd praising Jesus.  Then, just a few short days later another crowd is shouting for his death.

When Matthew tells the story of Palm Sunday, he mentions a prophecy told in Zechariah 9:9. It is a great reminder that God’s plan will never be swayed by the crowd. Events were unfolding according to God’s will to redeem humanity.  (Matthew’s account is found in Matthew 21:1-11)

While God may be unchanging, we are very easily swayed by the crowd. If you ever read social science experiments you will see that under the right conditions we can be made to do almost anything. It is kind of scary. Just last year Facebook got in some hot water when it was revealed that they had been manipulating news feeds to see how it would impact people’s posting habits.

That leads to our second crowd. Mark 15:11-15 tells us that the people who shouted “crucify him” had been stirred up by the religious leaders. Even though Pilate knew they were being manipulated, he went along with it and satisfied the crowd’s insistence to kill Jesus.

It is a stark reminder we live in a fallen world. We actively and passively rebel against God and we can be lead down that path very easily. Of course, we always believe it will not happen to us.

That is what Peter thought. In Mark 14:29-31 he said even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. I believe Peter had very good intentions but as we watch the story unfold those good intentions fail. He falls asleep when Jesus needed him to pray (Mark 14:33-40). He got violent (John 18:10) and he denied him when the pressure was on (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter is just like you and me. We often have good intentions but in the pressures of life we find ourselves defeated just as Peter did.

Luke 22:31-32 gives us more insight into what happened with Peter. Jesus warns him that Satan wanted to shift Peter like wheat. Jesus also told him that he had prayed for him. What an amazing picture! Jesus praying for Peter.

On this side of the Easter story the picture becomes even more amazing. Hebrews describes Jesus serving as our mediator (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24).  Paul will remind Timothy of that reality in 1Timothy 2:5. We have access to God in a profound and powerful way. WOW!

This is what we are celebrating on Easter. Jesus did the work to restore our relationship with His Father conquering both sin and death.

My prayer for each of us is that we will pause and reflect on the significance of Easter. It will require facing our part in crucifying him. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the one who was not swayed by the crowds but instead focused on his Father’s Will and extends an invitation to us for a new life and the privilege of being in His crowd.

We don’t need Jesus

3 02 2015

They say catchy titles will draw people to read your post.  Did it work?

Can I be honest?  I see some truth in the title.

“Give us our daily bread”  Honestly, I look for that in my paycheck that comes faithfully twice a month.

“Your will be done” is great as long as it can be accomplished on the weekends and preferably not during football season.

When a crisis hits, the need for Jesus shines brightly.  As a Chaplain I am in awe when I bring the power of the Gospel into a situation.  I am always amazed and humbled when God moves me out of the way and touches hearts.  Then, I go home where I have a good marriage and, while my kids frustrate me from time to time, they have normal middle class American problems.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done.  On the night he was handed over to be crucified he has a desperate time of prayer and says “not my will but your will be done.”

Wow!  Jesus lives out the very thing he taught.  I am convicted.

If you can relate to me, I challenge you as I challenge myself to re-engage our world.  I don’t believe we have to wait for a crisis.  We just need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.

My conviction was helped by a NPR story on my drive home.  The reporter was being honest that the stories of Jesus seemed distant but a priest who stood up for the poor and was killed for his stand made the stories of Jesus real.  No, I do not want us go out and get shot.  However, when we engage our world, we bring hope and make Jesus real in lives of the people around us.  Then, we have the privilege of watching our Savior change lives.

After listening to the story I went into the store to pick up a couple of items.  As I looked around, the Holy Spirit pointed out that each person I saw had a story and God loved them.  It was an invitation to join him as he looks for his “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I want that. I need that.  I need Jesus.

These are socks…Love

16 01 2015

This is my final devotional in this series.  It has been based on how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice.  He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks.   He believed the basics are what wins the game.

What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on love.

Love is the most overused word in our vocabulary.  Everyone has their idea of what love means.  I think there are two distinctive for the unconditional love we need as socks.

First, it must come from a place of strength.  John 10:18 is a uniquely powerful verse.  Jesus says he has the authority to lay his life down and pick it back up.  In other words, he was the only one who could die sacrificially in place of humanity.  This is critical to understand.  There are a lot of people who would die for another person.  While that is admirable, it does not have the same power as what Jesus did.  When Jesus laid down his life, reality was fundamentally changed.  Our relationship with God was fully and completely restored.  God did this out of the purest form of unconditional love.  There were no strings attached and no other agenda except love.

As Christians we tap into that love.  This is why Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others.  It is only in my relationship with God I have the understanding to unconditionally love anyone else.

As a pastor and a Chaplain I have often seen people who love from a place of weakness.  They do things because they need to feel accepted, they want to portray an image or they want to cover up an area of their life.  The majority of the time they are not doing it with evil intent.  They are doing it because they are longing for love.  They will join churches and even go into ministry all with the hope of being good enough or accomplishing something significantly enough that will let them feel loved.  Sadly they are missing the true depth of Christian love. They are missing their socks.

God’s unconditional love comes from a genuine place of strength.  When I accept this type of love, it transforms me.  I rely on God to show others love.  In other words I operate from God’s strength.  Will there be sacrifice?  Of course but it comes from pure motives and a right perspective.  It is truly powerful and transformational.

This is a deep concept so I encourage you to meditate on it and talk to God about it.  Once it clicks, I promise you will be amazed and in awe of God.

The second aspect of unconditional love is boundaries.  Healthy relationships have boundaries.  The very concept of love implies a relationship so it makes sense there would be boundaries.  A great example is the marriage relationship.  If I say I love my wife but hurt her or cheat on her you could legitimately question my love.  Because God has invited us to freely choose to enter a relationship with him, it is reasonable that we would live within the boundaries of that relationship.

We need three things to know God’s boundaries.  First, we have to have an active prayer life in which we are not just asking God to do things for us but we are slowing down to listen for God’s voice.  Second, we have to read the Bible.  This is the sacred text of Christianity.  We believe it is inspired by God and unique in both it’s power and authority.  Finally, we have to be connected to a healthy church.  In a healthy church we can have good relationships to keep us grounded and help us grow and mature.  I know I often sound like a broken record when it comes to the importance of being connected to a church but I see the difference in lives of people who are connected and those who aren’t.

So do you have your socks on? I hope this series has given you something to consider.  Let’s make sure we have our socks on and let’s get into the game.