Lukewarm Fans

I saw some pictures on Facebook last week making fun of WVU because Marshall was ranked in the top 25 football poll and WVU was not.  This week WVU is ranked ahead of Marshall in one poll, but I won’t gloat because with games remaining at OK State, at Texas, against #11 Kansas State, and #10 TCU, odds are we will lose another game and drop back out.

I have tried to become a less rabid Mountaineer fan over the last few years.  I confess it still bothers me more than I would care to admit when Mountaineer haters post things.  I still watch every game and was jumping off the couch when we stopped #4 Baylor late in the game sealing the Mountaineer win.  I went to a couple of basketball games last year.  I’m still a big fan, but I sometimes worry about caring too much.  Pastor Matt Chandler said one time,

The same goes for following sports. It’s not wrong, but if I start watching sports, I begin to care too much. I get stupid. If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that’s a problem. These things rob my affections for Christ. I want to fill my life with things that stir my affections for him.

He’s talking about being consumed by sports.  Some people are.  I don’t want to be.  Matt Chandler has made the decision not to follow sports (and he played college football) because he can’t be a “lukewarm fan”.

I think I can still be a fan, being careful not to care more about the Mountaineers than I do the homeless or the lost.  When my teams lose, it no longer ruins my day.  If that makes me a lukewarm fan, I’m OK with that.  I just don’t want to be lukewarm about Jesus.

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What a difference 20 minutes can make – tough times

IMG_2009This morning I took a picture just before the sun came up.  It was a little haunting looking around the church.  If the church windows had been all busted out it would have looked like a horror movie set.

Yet in just 20 minutes the sun had come up and the sky was gorgeous and it looked like the set for a commercial about attending church on Sunday mornings!  It was literally just 20 minutes.

IMG_2011It reminds me of the difference a few minutes can make – or the difference a day can make – or the difference a week can make – or the difference a year can make.  Sometimes when we’re going through a rough time we cannot possibly see how things would ever be OK again.  But if we hang in there and cling to Jesus, we can make it through.

I remember an episode of the TV show Psych.  When Gus was in a tough spot and afraid, he would repeat to himself, “Low moment.  Low moment.”  It was a reminder that it was just a moment in time and it would pass, just as moments had passed before.  Even when things so difficult that they change the course of your life and things will never be normal again, with Jesus you will be OK.  Cling to him.

I pray that when you feel like you can’t make it through, that you will remember these pictures.  Hang in there and hang on to Jesus.  He will make a difference for you and get you through.

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MSNBC, Fox News, Ebola, Jesus, and truth

In America, we have become experts at “spinning” things.   And by spinning, I mean we twist and contort facts to support/meet our objectives or perspectives.  The other night I was flipping the channel between MSNBC and Fox News.  They were both talking about Ebola, and specifically about the way it has been handled thus far in the United States, including the nurses getting it.  Fox News was blaming the government and CDC for allowing the hospital in Dallas to treat the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the US.  MSNBC was blaming the hospital for not providing the nurses with the right training and equipment, claiming it was primarily because the hospital was merely another big business only concerned about their profits.

Christians in America have become experts at twisting and contorting Jesus.  In my Bonhoeffer devotional this morning it says, “We are equally good at making the disturbing words of Scripture seem reasonable and making the concrete command a nebulous (unclear/vague) attitude.”  For fear of offending, some people are willing to say that all roads lead to God.  You can believe in Allah and I can believe in Jesus and we’ll see each other on the “other side”.  For fear of offending, some people are willing to disregard sin and repentance.  Some people act as if the Good News of Jesus means jumping directly to forgiveness.  It reminds me of the Monopoly game that says, “Go directly to jail, do not pass go and do not collect $200.”  Some people are willing to act as if Jesus’ word says “Go directly to forgiveness, there is no sin, therefore you don’t need to repent”.  Bonhoeffer calls that cheap grace.

When we spin, twist, and explain away the disturbing words of Jesus, we may be well liked and never offend anyone, but we will most certainly never see anyone changed either.

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When you assume it makes…

You know the old saying.  This morning there was a message on the answering machine at the church and as I listened it was clear that this was the typical call from someone who needed a utility bill paid.  I prepared to write down the number to send it to the person who takes care of utility bills on behalf of the Short Gap church, but this person said something different.  They said they were looking for a church to attend.   That never happens.  OK – now I can’t say never.  That hardly ever happens.  I believe that is a first for me in 7+ years in the ministry.

In the Book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cybala talks about preaching at an inner city church.  If I remember correctly, he said that one time a guy came to the front of the church as Cybala was preaching and he could tell that it was another homeless guy looking for money.  As the man walked toward the front of the church, Cybala reached into his pocket for money to give the man.  But the man, with an indescribable vile smell, said he did not want money, but wanted what the preacher was talking about – Jesus.

We often make assumptions.  We might assume everyone at the homeless shelter is on drugs and has made choices to be there.  That sounds better than saying, “They deserve to be there.”  We might assume young people in the church like more modern worship and the older people like more traditional.  We might assume that people would not be receptive to us talking to them about church or about Jesus.  When we assume in that way it makes us ineffective witnesses.  We need to assume that Jesus is sending people into our path so we can represent Him – with our words and our actions.  It’s Satan who wants us to assume the worst.

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It’s going to keep getting more absurd – don’t be alarmed

In 2010 when Diane and I went to Ghana in Africa we had a layover at the Amsterdam airport.  The two things I remember most about the Amsterdam airport are these: a fish sandwich at McDonald’s was over $7 and female janitors walk right into the men’s room to clean as men are going to the bathroom.  I was in utter disbelief over both.

I just read today that the city of Houston passed a law IMG_1985in June that allows men to use the ladies’ room and ladies to use the men’s room in public places.  Why?  It’s all in the name of trying to be inclusive of people who identify themselves as the other gender, or neither of the two we typically think of.  It also will give ‘creepy Rob Lowe’ legal standing to stalk the ladies’ room.  (It’s a commercial reference, if you don’t get it – just forget it).

I just used the bathroom at Potomac State last week while Diane was doing some paperwork there and I took this picture.  I took the picture because the wording was so odd.  It soon will be normal, because it is the direction our country is headed.  Our country is headed to absurdity, if we haven’t already arrived.  Last week, a judge ruled in favor of a man who was sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial taking pictures up the steps under women’s skirts from behind them as they walked up the steps.

It’s going to get really challenging (and I would say exciting) as followers of Jesus seek to live out their faith in this country and this world.  It’s definitely going the way the Bible said it would:  “And because of the abundance of evil, the love of many will grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12)  May love be our motive as we confront evil and times become difficult.  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” ~ Jesus (Matthew 10:34)

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People who look like their dog

looklikedogHave you ever heard the idea that people and their pets begin to look alike?  I did a quick search on that topic and I found this picture from a dog food ad.  I don’t know if that’s real, but that’s pretty funny.

This came to mind when I heard Mike Slaughter say something in a sermon this morning.  He said if you are married and you primarily hang around with a whole bunch of people who are recently divorced and/or have marriage problems themselves, odds are that if you don’t have marriage problems – you soon will.  If you hang around a bunch of people who are irresponsible with their finances and/or are always in financial trouble, the odds of you having financial problems yourself increase.  If you do drugs and keep hanging around others who do drugs, what are the odds that you will ever quit doing drugs?  Or if someone does not do drugs, but all their friends do – what do you predict will happen?

On the other hand, if you are hanging around with people who love Jesus, people who go on mission trips, people who help at the homeless shelter, people who go to church, what’s going to happen?  Odds are you will begin to “look like” those whom you spend the most time with.

It’s one of the reasons I love our Wednesday night dinners.  People in our church and community now have the opportunity to hang around other church people twice a week.  It’s one of the reasons I look forward to some small groups beginning in our church.

And I’m not saying we should not have friends who do not go to church.  We absolutely should.  I’m not saying if you have a friend who’s getting divorced that you ditch them!  I’m saying that you bring them into your group of church friends to lift them up and encourage them.  You don’t console them at the bar with a whole bunch of other people who have marriage problems.  You’re not that strong, nor am I.

I hope I’m getting my point across today.  I’m not saying the church is a place full of a bunch of perfect people.  People who go to church are not better than those who go to the bar.  I admit there are some judgemental and mean people in every church.  But they are not the majority.  Most of the people (at least in our church) are people seeking to live and enjoy a life pleasing to Jesus.   And the church is certainly a place where your odds of heading in the right direction exponentially increase.  The church is a place where we can journey through life together, seeking to live a life of contentment serving Jesus.  And if you will come to church, or if you will bring your friends who are going through hard times to church, I know you will find that it is a step in the right direction.

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Reminders of how things could have turned out

Today, I just want to thank God for how my life has turned out.  Sometimes I get an email or call from someone I grew up with or I see things on Facebook and am reminded that things could have turned out much differently for me than they have.  I could easily be the person in line at the church food pantry or at the homeless shelter in Cumberland.  And it’s not that I’m not any more deserving than anyone else.  I know I’m not.  But when I gave my life to Jesus in 2000, for some reason He decided to bless me.  I have as close as one can get to the perfect wife (and beautiful), great sons, great churches to pastor (past and present), and great peace.

I know that becoming a Christian and following Jesus does not always bring happiness and prosperity.  The preachers who portray God as one who always gives His followers a financially blessed and trouble-free life are preaching a false Gospel.  They are often just trying to get people to believe if they give the preacher money, God will bless them and  give them money.  I know God will not bless my giving if I am giving just to get Him to give me more than I gave Him.  He’s not stupid.  But today is not about money.

I would like to think that I would be just as happy I gave my life to Jesus if I was running for my life on a hill in Iraq, if I was worried about my babies drinking dirty water in the mountains of Haiti, or if I was living at the homeless shelter.  I don’t know and I honestly don’t want to find out, but I would hope I would have no regrets in this life about choosing and trusting Jesus.

Some people think the biggest mystery is why some people become Christians and some don’t.  I believe we’re all so lost that it’s a miracle anyone turns to Jesus.  The biggest mystery to me is why God allows some of Jesus followers to live a life of relative ease and others to live such difficult lives.

I know what I deserve and I know what I’ve been given.  And today, I offer thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow.  Things could have turned out so much differently.

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