Thursday, January 29, 2009

A time to be Irrelevant

I recently heard the following story. On the same day at a California High School, all four of the military services were giving presentations. The Army, Navy and Air Force made their pitches; the Marines were the last to make their presentation. Knowing that his audience was young, impatient and possibly bored the Marine’s message was short. “I’m going to be straight and to the point. Most of you here will not qualify to be a Marine. If you are serious about being a soldier and you are willing to die for a cause greater than yourself, come and see me.” When it was over, the Marine recruiter had by far the largest number of people talking to him.

The call to excellence, sacrifice and dedication is mostly lost in the church today. The modern church wants to “be relevant”, mushy, tolerant to a fault and does not demand much from its members, and it shows. We, as Christians, have been losing our influence because we are lukewarm and indifferent. Some of us make Jesus want to puke (Revelation 3:16: "So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.") When the church is on the move, it is always counter culture. The church thrives when it is persecuted or threatened; people will die for a worthy cause greater than themselves. The Marines are proof of this.

It is high time the church gets back to its “high calling” Christ has given us. Are we ready to lay down our life and with the help of the Holy Spirit, turn our family, friends, and neighbors from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light? In Acts 26:17-18 Paul recounts his conversion experience. The Lord says, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'”
Brother, raise your head; you are a Child of the King, our God still reigns. Read this (Paul speaking): Acts 26:19-23 -- "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles". If we believe tradition, Paul was beheaded on a road outside of Rome.

We are powered by the Holy Spirit and protected and saved by Christ Jesus (John 17:15-23"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one,(this is for us today) Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Do we honestly believe all the promises and prayers the Lord has made?

Lord, make us willing to lay down our life for you. Let us do the same as Paul. It is time to be irrelevant. May the Good Lord be with us in these days. Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Afraid, ashamed and alone

From birth, Jacob was a “grabber” (grabbing a hold of his older twin brother Esau’s heel as they were being born). He wanted to “grab all the gusto” as it were. Although second born, Jacob wanted to be the first born and benefit from all the blessings bestowed on the first born. This grabber, Jacob, connived a way of getting Esau’s birthright and he also stole Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac. Jacob was not a “good” man.

His story begins in Genesis 25 and ends, as it were, in Genesis 50. In Chapter 32 of Genesis, after many years of separation, Jacob is lead to reconcile with his brother Esau. Jacob was afraid (Esau vowed to kill Jacob when he stole their father Isaac’s blessing). Jacob was ashamed of his past sin and in Genesis 32:34, Jacob is alone in the middle of the desert. God came to visit Jacob in the person of the Angel of God (or some think the pre-incarnate Jesus) and they wrestle one another through the night. At daybreak, with just a touch, the angel dislocates Jacob’s hip. I have this vision of Jacob lying on the desert floor in pain. Jacob realized he has just fought with the Angel of God and lived and he realized he is still alive by God’s grace. Jacob realized he was a sinner, lived his life his own way, and God beat him into submission and yet let him live… God loves and tolerates us sinners to a point (although there is a limit to God’s patience – Romans 1) but God works out His plan in our lives and we are not capable of understanding His entire plan for our lives. In spite of his sin, Jacob was the one chosen to become the nation of Israel. God never works in our lives like we think He should; He is God, we’re not and the quicker we accept this fact, the easier our life will be. God is Holy and Sovereign and He does not need our input or help or opinions.

Jacob asks the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 32:29: “Jacob said, "Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he (the Angel of the Lord) blessed him there.”

Why did the Angel of the Lord ignore Jacob’s request for His name? In Judges, Samson’s Mom and Dad had an encounter with the Angel of God (Judges 13:17-18: “Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, "What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?" He replied, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.”

Listen people, we go through life questioning God’s moving and shaping of our lives. If we saw the plan from the beginning, we wouldn’t understand much less believe it. As sinners, redeemed by God, growing towards spiritual maturity, God will wrestle with us, put trials in our life to refine us and in many ways we won’t understand much, if any, of it. When in the midst of a trial we become angry because we think God is saying “no” when in reality He is not revealing the truth to us because “it is beyond our understanding”. We couldn’t take it all in. We want to tell God what to do and we can’t even understand His name. Without Christ Jesus, we are hopeless, lost and miserable. We are, like Jacob, afraid, ashamed and alone. Thank you, Jesus. Never let me go. Hold on. I need you just one more minute, one more hour, one more day. My time and future are in your grace-giving hands even if I don’t understand it, I will trust you. Amen

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Eternal Star Namer

Each holiday season I hear ads for a company that will name a star in your honor. They think this is a fantastic gift to give someone and it only costs $59.95.

Brothers and sisters, be aware that the stars are already named. Yes, each one. They do not and should never need anyone to name them; God has and will always name each star. Isaiah 40:26 says: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

“Calls them each by name”? Yes. In Chile, the European Union has built a VLT. VLT means “Very Large Telescope”. I like that name; it’s quick, simple and completely to the point. The lens for the telescope is 27 feet across! There are three of them in series; a VERY LARGE TELESCOPE! The VLT has allowed astronomers to see out to the edge of the universe and what they see are “new” stars being born. The creator God, who is alone worthy of our praise, honor and respect, is still in the star making and star naming business and He doesn’t need our help or our $59.95! How does God make a star? God breathes and speaks the stars into existence. Psalm 33:6 says “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” That’s impressive. How can mere man comprehend this? Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

The God of the ages, who loves, cares, redeems, restores, protects, saves, sustains and holds the future in His hands, has given His one and only Son for our salvation. I cannot comprehend any of this and yet God is mindful of us.

Isn’t God good? Do you want to know what’s beyond the stars? It is His Glory! What is His Glory? It is all of God’s beauty, honor, magnificence, praise and splendor. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” Psalm 8:1.

Next holiday season, ignore the star naming ads. Remember this, God names the stars and His Glory extends beyond the stars. We name our children; what a privilege. But God alone names the stars.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spoiled Brat Christians

2 Timothy 3:1-2: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves…"
Romans 12:3: "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

The property management business often reveals the true character of our tenants. We have dealt with domestic violence, terrorist threats, suicide attempts, and suicide; some days we see all joy and celebrations. In our business we can see the full scale and range of human emotions.

We manage properties for Christian organizations. We also manage multi-tenant properties that have Christian organizations as tenants.

In our company, we have employees with a mix of faiths. One day we were discussing bothersome, irksome, unhappy tenants. One employee said that the Christian organizations have more than the usual number of people who are complainers and prima donnas (for example: requiring special parking spots next to the building, etc.). If we plow the parking lot in the morning and additional snow occurs during the day, one Christian organization wants us to clear the snow next to their cars in the parking lot. No one else has ever made this request. They pay extra for “this service” but it angers me when I envision people giving sacrificially to these prima donnas.

I asked some of our employees why they thought these Christian organizations and Christian people act this way. One man, who grew up poor on the south side of Chicago, had a most interesting comment. He said most of the people that work in these organizations are Christian. They grew up Christian, had two parents, stable homes with two incomes, stable finances, and lived in stable slightly up-scale communities. Most have college educations and most have been blessed but along the way “they have become spoiled brats” (his words). His insight is very interesting.

If we accept his analysis, God has blessed us as Christians, and yes, he has but, along the way, we have served ourselves rather than the Lord and other people. We have become Christian narcissists not humble, willing and obedient servants of Christ. I hope this will not be the epithet of the Christians of this age. In some ways, I must agree with his ideas about this. In so many ways I do not want it to be true. Any wonder why Christians are losing their influence?


"Gallup: Americans See Religious Influence Waning

Religion News Service reports that two-thirds of Americans think religion is losing its influence on U.S. life. This shows a sharp jump from just three years ago when Americans were nearly evenly split on the question, according to a new Gallup Poll. Sixty-seven percent of Americans think religious influence is waning while just 27 percent say it is increasing. That perspective demonstrates a continuing downward trend, Gallup said. But the 27 percent figure is still higher than the record low, set in a 1970 poll, when just 14 percent of Americans thought religion was increasing in influence. The latest poll also finds that the percentage of Americans believing that religion "can answer all or most of today's problems" has reached an all-time low."


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hiding behind our “Sinner” labels…

He and his family are typical new church-goers. Both growing up in the faith, and they both know the truth. In college and early career days, church was not on their agenda. The children came along and they decided they must go back to church. They wanted a church that lived the truth not just talked about it. They found one; some fellowship, and the truth was being preached and lived out. They were beginning to feel comfortable.

They were involved in ministry to the poor, soup kitchens and other forms of outreach. A project was scheduled; they arrived to find they were the only ones there. They left voicemails to find out where and when or what happened. They heard from no one. E-mails were sent, voicemails left, no one responded.

The man said, “If they treat potential new members this way, how do they treat the people they minister to?”

The man said to me, “I thought I found a church that lived out their faith, but the way we were treated leaves me wondering. If my business treated their customers and potential customers this way, we would be out of business.” Then he said, “What kind of people would do this?”

I said, “Sinners. Yes, sinners just like us.” I thought some more. How long will we as Christians hide our personal failures behind the fact that we are sinners? We use it as an excuse to justify our lack of competence or just plain decency.

Yes, the truth is, we are all sinners but we are to be on the road to Spiritual maturity (sanctification). We are to live our faith with love, kindness and humility. Why couldn’t the people who forgot to tell the young couple of the change in schedule just call them back and confess the failure? These people would have understood; they understand we all fail at some time and they would be willing to continue on. Instead, a lack of response, no attempt to right a wrong, drives another young couple away from the church. They are left wondering “What kind of people are they?” “Just another church which says one thing and their people do another,” the wife said. “Why would we want to be part of a group like that?” Good question.

Brothers and sisters, let us stop justifying our incompetence by hiding out behind the fact we are sinners. Yes, we are sinners but Christ has redeemed us and supposedly transformed us. Let’s cut out the good ol’ boy back slapping, oh, we’re just sinners, crap and live a changed life and get serious about our faith. If we cannot treat new families that come to our churches with a minimum of decency, how do we expect to reach out beyond our walls to a hurting world?

Let’s stand up, admit our mistakes, ask for forgiveness, change our ways and go to work. Do I believe this will happen? I can only say, please Lord, help us.