I recently did a sermon on being “Sent”. I thought I would post it here if anyone wants to take a listen. I used the story of Peter to talk about being qualified or disqualified from God using us. I enjoy preaching and thought it might be a good addition to my blog, you be the judge.
So here is some historical context to set the stage for what I am about to say. Over the last hundred years of so Christians (especially fundamentalist) have been making comments based on their zeal for their faith. Not that they were wrong for the most part, but they did not use any sort of evidence or data, or science that the world would lend credibility to. They would just say things like “the earth was created in six days because that is what the Bible says” As an evangelical I like the phrase “because the Bible says so” but as someone that realizes that I live in the world I know how little weight that argument holds with, well, everyone else. I personally like data and fact and evidence, I think that it brings great credibility to what people say. I also know that data, facts, and evidence are tools that are brought to bear by bias people. And there is the rub, many scientists today are operating with more religious zeal than a Bible thumping, hell fire and brimstone, turn or burn, screamin’ from the pulpit fundamentalist preacher.
Please understand that I am not going to address one single current event because I am positive that this will turn off people that have opinions one way or another. What I want to address is science. When I see the news I find that science is no longer being practiced by scientists, and data is being skewed or blown out of proportion so much that there is no actual way to get back to the facts. Then they do something highly scientific, they get lots of other people to buy into what was bias from the beginning. Consensus on bad science does not make good science. Science today starts with a bias, goes about finding evidence to prove it, tries to convert followers, and then tries to dissuade anyone from arguing that it is not true. Does this process sound familiar?
“Look at this boys and girls, this is how cults are made.”
This process is more of a religious process than a scientific one. And here is the funny thing, I can use to process I learned in elementary school to do science. Science says that I observe, develop a hypothesis, go about experimentation to see if the hypothesis is correct, and then something magical happens. If the hypothesis is wrong I have to start over, not skew the data to prove my hypothesis.
I am just so happy right now because I can now look at scientists, politicians, and celebrities pushing the “science” of the day with the same arrogant contempt that they have looked at me with for so many years. Not that I will, but I could. They are now just as religious as me, maybe more so. So go ahead those of you that believe in Jesus, feel free to loose the chains of oppression set upon you by those that have tried to prove Christianity a farce. The very people that once made it their religion to try to disprove Christianity have now set their sights on starting a new religion. Now that they have done that we can start treating them with disdain and they can set their sights on developing a music program.
Two days ago my son asked if he could go mountain biking with me. I have gone mountain biking before with my two sons, but this time it was obvious that he wanted to go without his brother. I asked him if he wanted to take his brother and he hesitated. When my wife and I told him that it was okay to ask to go without his brother he said that is exactly what he wanted. Yesterday I felt like junk. My leg hurt, I was fighting off a cold (in June, come on!), and I was tired because of that. However, one of my children asked for time alone with me and they were going to get it. Mostly because it doesn’t happen that often.
So yesterday I went riding with my son, and it was great. We got lost, we got muddy, we got tired (well I got tired). During the ride I asked him if he wanted to go uphill or downhill and he said “well if I go up hill it will make my legs stronger, so let’s go uphill”. When I asked him if he wanted to go on a more difficult trail or just head back, he said he wanted to go on the more difficult trail. Lately he has been big on manhood tests, I think that this had something to do with it.
At the end of the day we came back and I asked him if he had fun and he said:
“What I would give to have time alone with you.”
He was actually thinking about what he would sacrifice to get time alone with his dad. This caught me off guard. As I am writing this I am actually trying to figure out if there is a more that I could do to make that phrase jump out of the computer to show just how powerful that query was to me. My son has an amazing way with words. He says things that are so funny that every time I think about it I laugh anew. Interestingly he never seems to understand how potent his words are. He is always surprised at the fact that we find his comments to be so funny; he doesn’t try to be funny.
After I choked back a tear or two I said “we just had time alone together.” Then he did it again! He said:
“No, I mean everyday.”
How can a father live up to that expectation, or that longing in a child’s heart to be with his father? As I write this I am choking up.
I can’t remember the last time that I felt such a longing for time alone with God. I get so wrapped up in myself, my wants, my perceived needs, my life that I sometimes view my relationship with God as a obligation or a contractual arrangement. I know that I have great times with God, but I also know that they don’t normally started off with that longing that my son expressed yesterday morning. Honestly, those times are usually precipitated by something that is bothering me, or something that I want.
However, God longs for time with me. The interesting thing is that he doesn’t need it, but he longs for it anyway.
I have been most aggravated over the last few day because of the rhetoric by people in regards to the Syrian Crisis. To be honest my aggravation has been leveled at all sides of the issue. I know a few things about blogs metrics that makes me believe that the three people that read this will probably not agree with me. I also know that with the legion of articles, blogs, memes, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. this particular voice will most likely be lost. And like I said in the title I told myself I wouldn’t enter my voice into the fray because it would be part of the white noise. But one thing keeps bugging me to the point that I needed to get it off my chest. So here it goes.
What I am about to say is not going to land (hopefully) politically on one side of the debate on what we should do about Syria, its refugees, or the other issues surrounding this crisis. Those of you that know me will probably get my political views while dealing with one of my coffee infused rants, but I wish to keep my views on politics out of this to address the Kingdom of Jesus and the Kingdom of this world. If you asked me to take in a refugee family from Syria I would (upon discussing it with my wife of course), and if you told me that the U.S. government decided to not allow it, I would also acquiesce. You may ask yourself how I could possibly live in the tension of both of those ideas when all parties right now seem to be making this a political or moral issue. I would say that what I expect from a government is different than I would expect from an individual. What I would expect from someone that follows Jesus is different than what I would expect from someone that does not. The decision that I would expect a Jesus follower to make for an entire country is actually going to conflict many times with a decision that they would make for their own family.
Why? Because government was never set up to behave the way an individual would. And by the way, God warned us of this in the Bible (1 Samuel). And in case you all think that we should disregard the Old Testament in light of Jesus, Jesus also made a clear statement about this (give unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s). Jesus also made it clear throughout his ministry that our hope was in Christ and not on the structures of this world. I desire that government will make moral decisions that will lead others to Jesus, but I don’t put my hope there.
In another life I was a government teacher. The first question that I would ask at the Christian School that I taught at was “what is the fatal flaw of democracy?” A question that calls into question my allegiance to America I know. After the kids would work through their struggles with what they knew and what their parents had instilled in them I would say “the fatal flaw with democracy is that if the people are not seeking God, or at the very least moral, then the government will not do likewise.” I believe that democracy is a great buffer to one person making all of the decisions that is not seeking God or is immoral. Democracy makes this issue about what I would do as an individual versus what I would expect of my government a fuzzy one because we are supposed to be the government. I get to bring my viewpoint and my vote to bear on issues and policy (and I do), but ultimately the greater good of the people as a whole hopefully will be served well by the majority decision. I know that is not always the case, but I am speaking about the ideal.
Ethically and practically speaking government is supposed to behave in a more utilitarian way, the best for the greatest number of people. However, a Jesus follower is supposed to work in a kingdom way, which means that we will seek God and hopefully become like Jesus and help others do the same. That, by the way, is not always utilitarian. Here is a mind blower, Following Jesus might not look anything like the most practical way to run a government. Selling out to Jesus will, and already has in many cases, not turned out well for people. This is true in the United States and around the world (to much more dire consequences).
Please, Jesus following brothers and sisters, lets not lose track of the fact that both sides of the Syria issue are trying the best they can to interpret the best course of action according to what Jesus would do. I hope and pray that all Jesus followers and all people really would be the kind of people that would welcome the alien as God would have us do. But I also know that the Bible makes it clear that governments many times have to make decisions that a Jesus follower, or just a merciful person, would not make for the greater good. Demonizing people on either side of this allows us to be leveraged for political purposes and does not allow is to make the best decision.
I know that the blogs that I write that are more story in nature get read more, but I have been doing a lot of reading lately. What I mean by a lot is about 20 hours a week of text for an Old Testament class. Through it all, and through my walk through the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew I have been seeing something that scares me in Christianity. I think that most evangelical Christians have come to see that trying to get saved is not a contractual process in which if I behave well God will allow me into heaven. God’s grace is sufficient and so I don’t have to do anything except accept what he is offering.
However if that were the end of the story I think it would be much happier for some, if not all people. There are some people, Christian’s out there that truly believe that while they can’t get saved by being good, they can still get some material blessing out of it. To which I implore you “Please, give up!” You are operating on two lies that are simply not supported by the ministry or work of Jesus. Lie number one states as follows:
“If I behave well I will get good things here on earth. If I behave really well God will help me to succeed and get some sort of material wealth.”
Lie number two states:
“The meaning of this life it so acquire these things and when necessary to petition God through being really good in order to accomplish this life that is going to leave me fulfilled”.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) makes it abundantly clear that the kingdom is not concerned about your success, the kingdom is concerned about God…and us! The first lie is only a new form of legalism, that tries to make a contract in order to acquire what the world believes to be the point of life. God does not contract with Humans, he covenants with them. A big difference for another time.
The second lie tries to tell us that this life that you are petitioning God for is actually what was intended for you. Let me burst that bubble for you. The life that God intends for us is a passionate pursuit of Him, not his laws, not your success, not your pet projects, it is the pursuit of Him. That starts and ends with communion with the one true God. All actions in your life that look like Christ will not ultimately make any sense to you unless you are in passionate, prayerful, meditative pursuit of Him. That is why legalism (being good) creeps in; because relationships are hard, and this life is tangible. Pursuing the world by the worlds standards has definite rules that are easy to follow and involve running over others instead of being in communion with them.
Please give up. There is nothing wrong with being good and behaving well, but your motives are not what they need to be if you are still trying to contract with God for anything. You will NEVER understand the life that produces freedom, peace, hope, and joy, until you stop trying to coerce the “good life” out of a Holy God.
I am relatively new to the fire making game at the age of 38, my dad may not agree with this because I started a few fires when I was younger. However my dad had a hook-up with a local saw mill in which he as able to get pine trimmings that were left over from milling. Not only were these pine, they were all kindling; cord after cord of kindling. We would burn mostly kindling all winter. I remember the first time I tried to start a fire in eastern South Dakota with hard wood. I might as well have tried to burn up a cinder block. I could not figure out why I could not get the wood to blaze. It was oak, it was not well seasoned, and it was thicker than kindling.
I am learning about seasoned fire wood now that I live in the northwest. I have been cutting and chopping my own firewood for a couple of years and I have burned my fair share of seasoned and unseasoned firewood in the learning process. It makes me think about the Azusa Street Revivals and the Great Awakening from American church history. That was seasoned wood that was ready to burn, when the Holy Spirit swept through that wood was prepared. It is amazing to see how God moves when the soul is seasoned to burn.
Watching unseasoned wood burn, or not burn, is a great teacher. First, it doesn’t want to burn, so if you want to use it as firewood the seasoning has to take place in the fire. This means that it burns slow and almost seems to fight the fire itself, I can’t tell you how much of my own wind I have used to try to get unseasoned wood going. If it is not ready, it simply frustrates and does not serve its purpose well.
I have often thought that when I came to Christ as a 6 year old I was unseasoned wood. I had a purpose but was not prepared. I still honestly struggle with this because I see those that follow Christ and burn hot all the time like a fire that keeps getting fed. I have also seen Christians that seem to be spent after one log because no one went to get wood off the back porch. Many times I feel like I am throwing unseasoned wood on the fire and working my butt off to get it to burn. I can’t season the wood myself.
As I sit in front of the fire this morning and my beautiful daughter aggravates me through the phases of her development (she is currently having a temper tantrum as I write this), I am reminded of the same phases happening in all of my children; The Up and Downs.
If you are a parent this may trigger a memory that you may or may not have recognized as a phase. Here is how it works, the child gets up and wants to cuddle. Then as most 18-30 month old children do, they want to get down and play. Here is where is goes from a tender moment to an annoyance. She comes back and you cuddle her again and quickly gets down in order to go and play again, or just find a way to get your attention. Once is expected, twice is an endearing moment, 10 times is a great annoyance.
Now I know the reason why she is doing this, but it doesn’t keep me from being annoyed. She is trying to simultaneously explore her identity as an individual and maintain her attachment to her parents. She is trying to, at the same time, explore a simple independence and maintain dependence. I also know that when a child does not complete a phase satisfactory it usually comes back or gets suppressed for a later therapeutic session, at least that it the theory.
She will then do one of the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Realize that she has the security of her parents and can explore her world as her own person
- Not feel secure enough to leave her parents arms and stunt her individual identity
- Not get the security she is looking for from her parents and decide to go it alone
- They will not leave the up and down phase because it seems to be working to meet their needs
How telling this is about how we approach God, or decide not to approach God. I maintain that most everyone will approach their relationship with God based on their experience with their parents. If I feel secure enough in my relationship with God I will move forward with my life in Him feeling the security to live out my identity while serving Him at the same. If I never feel secure enough in my relationship with God, I will continually try to rest in Him without ever living out my faith. If I don’t find my needs met in Christ I might decide to just live out my life without Him. Or we never leave the up and down phase constantly looking for affirmation of God’s love while constantly testing the waters of my independence.
The interesting dynamic here is that the Up and Down might seem like a good phase to be stuck in, cuddling up with God and going out to explore. However the essence of the Up and Down is insecurity and lack of Identity. I do not strike out because I don’t need God anymore, I strike out because I know my identity is not lost because I go. I strike out because I feel secure in His love.