Monday, July 27, 2009

Without Jesus

I already posted on this subject but I made a different take for yesterday's communion service. I'll provide the text below, but first I want to thank everyone for their encouragement. I probably received more feedback from this three-minute talk than any others I had done before. One person, who has been faithful for roughly 20 years, commented that this was probably in the top three communion reflections she'd ever heard. Wow. That's God, not me. I just come up with the context, the Holy Spirit does the rest. Anyway, here you go...

Last week celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing. Trivia question for the space buffs out there… What was the first food eaten on the moon?

Believe it or not, the first food eaten was the bread and wine of communion. Buzz Aldrin took communion with him and celebrated on the moon. If you’re old enough to remember, the Eagle landed on a Sunday.

This is what he said, "I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way..." Then off-air he gave himself communion and read this from John 15:5, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit."

Interesting use of Scripture, John 15:5. For some reason, he doesn’t read the rest of that verse, “apart from me, you can do nothing.” His focus was that even 235,000 miles away, he was still on the vine. But I think the end of that verse is more profound. Here is man, on the moon, who apart from Jesus can do nothing.

Going to the moon was in some ways a Tower of Babel moment. The whole world was watching and we did, literally, reach into the heavens. But unlike those in the story in Genesis, Buzz knew who deserved credit. His communion service wasn’t broadcast because NASA was afraid of a lawsuit. They were already in hot water because the Apollo 8 crew read the creation account from Genesis while orbiting the moon the Christmas before. Point is, it’s hard to not appreciate God’s creation when seeing it from a perspective never seen before. Apart from Jesus, they could do
nothing.

Think about that. Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing. These men went to the moon. What dreams do you have? For your own life, your career, your family, your children? Your church, your neighbors, the lost? Apart from Jesus, you can do
nothing.

No dream is too big for God. Psalm 105 reads, “Praise the Lord, oh my soul; all my inmost being, praise his name.” And then in verse 5, “who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

But apart from Jesus, you can do nothing.

This is how Buzz described taking communion, "I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup... I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever
poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements."

On the moon. Amazing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Separation between Church and State

is 240,000 miles. Who knew?

I knew of the controversy surrounding the Apollo 8 mission and Madalyn Murray O'Hair's lawsuit, but this is the first time I've ever heard this story.

The comments following the post are entertaining (as is usually the case) and do a poor job representing either side of the debate, but an interesting point is brought up.

Yes, there was enough publicity after Apollo 8 for NASA to choose not to broadcast Buzz Aldrin celebrating the Lord's Supper. But that's where it ended. As much of a publicity hound (pun intended) that Buzz Aldrin is (and I say that with all due respect, having met him on a couple of occasions), it says a lot that not much was made of this.

Contrast with today. The Religious Right fringe of American Christianity (TM) would be up in arms, appearing on every talking-head news show on cable and crying "persecution!" To them, I would offer up this advice:

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven...

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:1, 5-8)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

You and Me Baby, Ain't Nothin' but Mammals

(if that song is now stuck in your head, go here)

(WARNING: This post contains links that lead to explicit material that may not be suitable for everyone.)

Given the above, I'm going to try and keep my commentary short and spare a lot of details. A couple of articles recently caught my attention and that I feel are worth viewing through a Biblical Worldview. First, two weeks ago Mark Morford, a columnist at the San Francisco Gate wrote an article speculating that "God is slightly gay". Then last Thursday there was an article at Slate describing the masturbation habits of animals.

What both of these have in common is the justification that if animals do it, then it's ok for us to do it. If animals exhibit homosexual behavior, then it must be natural and therefore should be socially acceptable. Likewise, if animals masturbate, then there's less reason to consider "onanism" a social vice. Both articles go further implying that God must be gay (since if his creation has 'natural' homosexual behavior, then that must reflect part of God's character) in the former case, and that masturbation can be defended from a pro-life standpoint in the latter.

If you're read this far, your brain has probably already come to some conclusions without my pointing out the false equivalencies and mutual exclusiveness. But those are exercises in logic. I want to also look at this from the viewpoint of the Bible.

First logic, casting aside the false equivalencies and mutual exclusiveness from the above arguments. Animals also resort to violence, or in some cases murder, to impress possible mates, seldom practice monogamy, practice infanticide and cannibalism. Ok, maybe we're not too far from that ourselves, so let me offer a different illustration (and forgive the vulgarity, but I need it to make my point). A dog wants to hump my leg, does that make it socially permissible for you to do so? I could give other extreme examples, but I think you see the point.

As for the Bible, it is clear that we are different than the "beasts of the field". "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'

"So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them."
(Gen 1:26-27)

Of course, Genesis 1 and 2 are easily disposed of today. But I'm not talking science, I'm talking theology. We are created in God's image. The Bible does not say the same for any animals. So animals do not possess characteristics of God (unless you're Buddhist, in which case that homosexual, masturbating horse might be your late grandmother) other than their diversity reflects God's creativity. There is no covenant with the animals (remember as a child being told your favorite pet went to heaven? Sorry, not going to happen), no expectation for holiness ("be holy because I [God] am holy" 1 Peter 1:16), no Law, no grace. Humankind is unique in God's eyes. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard. Instead of looking to the animal kingdom to justify our sinful nature, we should instead focus on the heavenly kingdom to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Eph 4:1ff)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When it Rains, it Pours

It's almost cliche in its truth. You've probably had this happen to you, or you've seen it: right when you commit yourself to Christ and old flame calls up, or right when you're overcoming an addiction either an old drinking buddy runs into you or you have an office party with an open bar, or as you're raising money for missions work your car breaks down. I could go on, but you get the idea.

"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 1:2-4)

I don't' know about you, but the above is anything but joy. Interesting that this passage follows up with admonishing us to pray for wisdom while encouraging us to have faith. Facing these trials with the right heart obviously requires faith, but maturing through them requires wisdom.

My wife and I are taking a financial class by Dave Ramsey. One couple in the class had their van impounded (and they have 4 kids to haul around!), another had a flat tire, and another wife came down with a bug that required her husband to take several days of unpaid leave from his job. As for us, our a/c broke down (in the middle of July, in the desert) and my wife's bike was stolen, all within a couple of days of each other and within a few days of the other trials above. Hopefully, I'm finding the wisdom to persevere in this class.

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons." (Hebrews 12:7)

How ironic too, to look at this as discipline from the Lord while we're struggling with disciplining our own son.

There are times like these when I think it would be easier to just give up on following Christ all together. But I know that's not really true. These trials are only temporary, but the benefits of perseverance are eternal. Plus, I believe in a loving God which gives me hope that he, not I, knows what is best for me and my family.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28)

Friday, July 10, 2009

40 Days in the Desert


GM emerged from bankruptcy today, 40 days after being forced there by the administration (although they were doomed to head there eventually). So how well did they do facing temptation in the desert?

When tempted to turn a stone to bread, they resisted and got rid of the stone (Hummer and the pebble Saturn).

When tempted to throw themselves from the temple, they threw Pontiac overboard. (at the cost of the sweet Solstice and the much-improved G6)

When tempted to bow at the altar of the government bailout, they quickly got on their knees. But to their credit, they plan on paying the government back well before the 2015 deadline.

So, GM and the Detroit auto-industry isn't Jesus after all. Which really comes as no surprise. But I just needed an excuse to link this story from last December, right before two of the Big Three fell. And steal the above picture from Salguod. That and I found it interesting that the news made such a big deal about it being 40 days. Better than 40 years, right?

Friday, July 03, 2009

God Bless America?

For the warm-fuzzy 4th of July posts, check here and here.

I'm not going write a post dripping with patriotism, devoting more to my country than to my Lord. Instead I want us to consider brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. Are we more blessed than they? Does God love us more because we're "proud to be an American"? (ha, now you have that song in your head, don't you?) Paul wrote to the Galatians, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28) In today's terms, there is neither Iranian nor American...

Last week my congregation raised over $100,000, a majority of which to be shared with churches we support in the Baltic and Nordic countries. The Baltic countries like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet States. Just a short time ago, they were our enemies. And now we worship along side them, united in Christ. Again I ask, are we more blessed than they? Did God suddenly begin to love them once they rejected communism?

Turning our attention back to our own country, it is easy to see we are far from perfect. We have political deadlocks, economic turmoil, sexual scandals and often those fall under a single headline. Does God love us more just because we Pledge Allegiance to the Flag? The phrase "one nation under God" was added to distinguish our country from "Godless communism". Some have tried to have that phrase removed, just like the words "In God We Trust" on our currency, or "God Bless America" at the end of nearly every political speech. But if that phrase was removed from the Pledge, I don't think I'd recite it. Saying one nation under God puts things in proper order. God comes first. Without that phrase, I'm violating what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black." (Matthew 5:33-36) Now a 'pledge' isn't an oath, but to my conscience it's too close for comfort.

Would that then make me unpatriotic? A similar dilemma exists in our religious politics. Am I less than a Christian if I vote a certain way? There's a unfortunate trend that's dominated our politics in recent years, and that's a sense of entitlement, of blessing, based on our own sense of righteousness. Take the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Was that because New Orleans 'endorsed' homosexuality by allowing a parade? Some would think so. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I'm not about to put a motive behind anything that God does. But does God owe us blessings? Does he owe us curses if we don't abide by his Law? Last I checked, his Covenant was with the Nation of Israel and we're under a New Covenant now in Christ. Our country does not have a covenant with God. We as a people, as a church, his Kingdom on Earth, do. And that Kingdom knows no borders, no flag. I can worship right alongside my enemy because we are one in Christ.

That's not to say that I won't watch fireworks or wave a flag. I will celebrate the 4th, but with the understanding to what kingdom my allegiance ultimately lies.

Referring to Abraham and his descendants, "People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one." (Hebrews 11:14-16a, emphasis added)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Burn Out

A while back I wrote about my family as a ministry with the intention of following up on that post later. When I started writing that post, the goal was to talk more about the last part (ministry burning us out) than the first (defining my ministry)- a classic case of the Spirit leading me somewhere else than where I was planning to go. So here I am more than a month later, reminded of the need to bring this up by Chip Ingram's most recent blog leading into his current series at Living On The Edge. The Holy Spirit was definately moving because I read his post right after reading Matthew 11:25-30 in my Quiet Time.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt 11:28-30)

If you look around at today's Church, you could argue that the above passage cannot realistically be true. Far too many disciples of Jesus are burned out and you can understand why. Tuesday I studied the topic of grace with the teen I mentor. I described grace in the context of not being "treat[ed] as our sins deserve" (Psalm 103:10) as the most recognized form of grace. But we forget the other side of the coin, that we cannot earn God's love or forgiveness (examples: 1 Corinthians 15:9-11, Romans 3:22-24, Ephesians 3:7, and of course Ephesians 2:6-9). There's nothing more we can do that Jesus hasn't already done. But we live in a performance-driven society when the most common trait among the successful is "drive". So we burn ourselves out doing more and more "in the name of Jesus" to try and be better and better. But it doesn't work that way.

So what do we do if our ministry is burning us out?

1) Get Away. "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10a). Bob Beltz, the author of Becoming a Man of Prayer, was motivated to write that book after taking a 21-day retreat in "silence and solitude". Imagine how much closer to God you'd be after such a "date with God." 21 days isn't realistic for most of us, but we can definitely spare a Saturday morning. Don't busy yourself, spend time alone with God.

2) Get the Sabbath. I heard once in a lesson that if we don't take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take us. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) Don't fill your Sundays with being busy- meeting after meeting after meeting. Take the time off. Worship God. Enjoy your family.

3) Get Help. The issue of Discipleship Journal I mentioned in that previous post had a section dedicated to "Soul Care for Spiritual Leaders". Unfortunately, they don't offer all their articles online to link. But the section written by Gordon MacDonald focused on spiritual elders teaching younger disciples from their own experiences dealing with burning out. The opposite is true: find someone who has faced the same challenges and seek advice.

4) Get On Your Knees. "Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray." (James 5:13ff) "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6) 'Nuff said.

5) Get Grace. This is a biggie. If we don't understand God's unconditional love for us we will always be tempted to burn ourselves out to please him. In Chip's blog that I linked, he relates a lesson from one of his theology professors, "Students, the wisdom of God tells us that God will bring about the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time." That is only true because God wants the best for us, even when we are not at our best. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) That is Grace.

"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)