This freaky plant and Lent

IMG_5981I love plants.  We have a peace lily that’s 13 years old.  We have a snake plant that belonged to Diane’s grandmother that has to be over 30 years old, still in her grandmother’s pot.  I have a plant in my office from last year’s Palm Sunday worship, almost a year ago.  This crazy palm plant seems to be in a state of limbo.  It’s still green and has a new shoot coming out, but the new shoot’s been the same for a few months now.  It doesn’t appear to be dying, yet also doesn’t appear to be growing.  If I didn’t know better, I would think it was a fake plant.

As the church enters the Lenten season, it’s a good time for us as individuals to take inventory of our own Spiritual growth.  One of the favorite illustrations that I’ve used in church to talk about our Spiritual lives is that of a “You Are Here” circle in a shopping mall.  I’ve said several times that if our walk with Christ had a “You Are Here” circle like the mall, many people’s circle wouldn’t have moved from this day last year.  They’d be on the same circle in the same place.  Like this plant, they look alive, but don’t look any different than last week, last month, or last year.

There are others who are definitely not in the same spot.  Some people are showing tremendous growth.  That’s exciting.  Of course it’s a big step when you move from non-Christian to Christian.  But sadly, some people never move or grow again.  (Think people who are constantly talking about “being fed”.)  How about you?  Are you on the move?  Are you growing?  If not, why not do something different this year?  Go on a mission trip.  Lead a home Bible or book study.  Start a daily journal detailing how you see and experience God.  These are just a few ideas that, if you undertook, would most certainly result in Spiritual growth.  If you change nothing, don’t expect anything to change.

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Sometimes I’m Wrong

For you who clicked here thinking you may be receiving a public apology or reading a confession, this isn’t that blog post.  The other day a pastor friend of mine shared that he was at a conference.  He also shared a place that I could watch who and what he was watching – a speech from a very famous person in Bible scholar circles, whom most of you have never heard of – Walter Brueggemann.  And Brueggemann said God is not perfect, but He is faithful.  I probably listen to 7 sermons a week and pastors often say things I disagree with.  I went to seminary and professors said things I disagreed with.  I’ll always remember Professor David Watson, who was teaching a class I took on the New Testament, telling us on the first day that “70% of what he taught would be right and 30% would be wrong”.  He didn’t know what the 30% wrong was or he would have omitted that.  He was doing his best to teach what he believed was right, even though he was admitting that he was undoubtedly wrong about some of it.  And I feel the same way about myself when I’m teaching/preaching – doing my best, wrong about some of it.

perfectgodBy this time, I hope you didn’t just gloss over the “God is not perfect, but He is faithful”.  We’re going back to that.  If God is not perfect, I don’t know how you could make the argument that He is perfectly faithful.  You’d almost have to say, “He’s pretty faithful”.  Or would you argue that He is perfectly faithful, but not perfectly forgiving?  Or He is not perfectly loving?  Or His ways are not perfect?  I know I’m not perfect and I know Brueggemann’s not perfect, but that’s a pretty big one to get wrong.  God is not perfect?  Then how could you trust Him?  When He struck down Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7 for touching the Ark of the Covenant, did God tell Uzzah – “My bad, Uzzah”?  I don’t think so.  I believe there are just things that our eight pound heads simply can’t understand about God.

Another theologian, author Leslie Weatherhead wrote a book called The Will of God and in it said that God’s will when Jesus came to earth was that Jesus lead the people of Israel, but when they rejected Jesus and killed Him that God had to go to plan B, as if God had hoped they would not kill Jesus.

Sometimes when you disagree with me, I’m wrong.  But you must also understand that sometimes when you disagree with me, you’re wrong.  And there are things I say or interpret from the Bible that you can disagree with and you’re right about and I’m wrong about, but you can still sit under my preaching/teaching.  But there are also deal breakers.  Jesus came to earth to go to the cross to pay for our sins.  It was God’s perfect plan.

If a preacher is preaching that God is not perfect, you need to get out of there.  And how could you sit under preaching that says there are many ways to God other than Jesus?  If there was a way that did not cost the Son of God this excruciating death on the cross, then it would have been foolish for God to send Jesus to die on the cross.  Instead, He could have simply have let us know of this “other” way.  And if everyone’s going to heaven, why risk your life in dangerous places to tell people about Jesus?

Just because you and I can’t understand His ways, it doesn’t make Him wrong.  Sometimes I’m wrong, but I’m betting my life that I’m right about Jesus.  And if you or I ever disagree with God, we can be 100% sure that we’re the ones that are wrong.

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Are you Spiritually alive?

characteristics of spiritually dead churches

The most transformative book I’ve read about the role of a pastor is Bill Easum’s A Second Resurrection.  The premise of the book is that most of the American church is spiritually dead.   Of course, the people are the church.  So Easum begins with the argument that most people in most churches are spiritually dead.

The good news, if you buy into this, is that in his 20 years as a consultant for over 600 churches that every church has at least a few who are spiritually focused, enthused, and on fire no matter how complacent those around them have become.

Easum says the key to being a pastor who can help resurrect the church in this generation is to cease being hospice chaplains to spiritually dead congregants.  Instead, pastors  must become modern-day apostles of Jesus Christ and tap into those few who are alive, and those who long for a spiritual turnaround.  And many of those who have grown too comfortable with their own spiritual death will hit the exits.

Easum says pastors must rely on the power of Christ to resurrect the church or get out of Dodge.  He says the one thing a pastor must not do is to continue to go along with a spiritually dead church.  He claims that is the problem with most clergy in established denominations. They have handled dead people for so long they have become spiritually dead and are content with being funeral directors.  I choose to rely on the power of Christ.

And whether you agree or disagree, perhaps this will help you better understand where I’m coming from and why I’m at peace.

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Income inequality

“Income inequality” is one of the catch phrases for the Democratic party (just like “Islamic terrorism” is for the Republicans).  The terms get their respective bases fired up.  ‘The 98%’ or ‘the 99%’  is another popular term.  This morning I saw something from a place called “The Other 98%”.  And I’m not getting political today.

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A few of the yachts in Sausalito.

When they speak terms like income inequality and the 99%, they’re comparing Americans.  They’re comparing the richest Americans to the rest of America.  They’re not only comparing the rich to the poorest among us, but they’re comparing the people who can afford yachts to people who can only afford four wheelers or bass boats.  In other words, the 98-99% aren’t just the people who are living in shelters or on the streets, they are also including people who make $35,000 to $100,000 a year.  Without dwelling on these numbers and losing you, let me get to my point.

If we expand our statistics to cover everyone in the world, you and I are no longer in the 98-99%, but we suddenly find ourselves in the 1-2%.  If you are reading this, you are rich by the world’s standards.  You have been educated enough that you can read.  You have an electronic device in order to be able to view my blog.  50% of the world’s population lives on $2 or less a day, most can’t read, and hardly any have electronic devices.  This past April our mission team walked paths in Haiti and listened to a mother tell of her hungry kids who had not eaten the day before.  And she was thrilled to get a small bag of rice and beans.  They have no safety net.  There is no government assistance.  People in other parts of the world literally starve to death. There is nobody starving to death in America.

The streets of Haiti

The streets of Haiti

And if the poor of the world had the ability, they would start a group called “The True 98%”, and they’d be talking about you and I as the 1 or 2 percenters.  They’d be talking about our televisions, our cars, and our vacations.  They’d be talking about Olive Garden and CiCi’s Pizza.  They’d be talking about you and me living lifestyles that they could only dream about.  And if they had the ability, they would insist that the United Nations take some of your money and my money and give it to them so they would be able to feed their children.  After all, it’s not fair that 1-2% of the people have all the wealth.

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It was with me all the time

I went to the bank today to cash a check I’ve had for a while.  Standing in the lobby of the bank, I couldn’t find the check.  Believing I must have left it at home, I drove about 6 miles home to get the check.  When I got home, I couldn’t find it.  After looking everywhere nearly to the point of becoming frantic, I finally felt the pocket of the flannel shirt I had on.  And there it was.  The check was in my flannel shirt pocket.  I don’t remember putting it there.  But when I found it I realized that I had unnecessarily driven home and unnecessarily worried.  At the time, however, I didn’t really think I had it with me.

Sometimes that’s how we are about God and His Spirit.  We have many promises from Him that He will never abandon His children, that He will never leave them, that He will be with them/us through it all.  But too many times, when things go bad I have a tendency to wonder why He has abandoned me.  I wonder why He didn’t see this coming.  Why didn’t He prevent this?  And then I remember that His promise wasn’t that He would keep me from trouble.  His promise was and is that He will be with me through the trouble.  And rather than get frantic, I need to remind myself that He is with me.  Like the check that was in my pocket the whole time, He’s always with me.  As my friend David Cartwright said in his sermon this past week, “It’s not about how you feel, but about how you trust.”  Whatever it is you are going through or go through, He’s with you.  It’s just that sometimes we don’t realize it until later.  Listen to Matt Redman’s, “You Never Let go”:

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Modern Day Psalms

Psalm-of-AscentsI know people sometimes make fun of contemporary Christian music.  However, I have no doubt that God is using much of it to reach, encourage, and challenge His people.  What we sometimes fail to grasp is that many of the Psalms were actually hymns that God’s people would sing or chant (in voice only).  In the early church it was primarily the clergy that would sing.  In the sixteenth century, the protestant reformation began involving the congregation in song.  Around 1700 Isaac Watts began writing hymns – songs that were sung in worship, resulting in church splits and pastor firings because traditionalists thought only the Psalms should be sung in worship.  Watts said of people singing the Psalms,

“To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”

Today, there’s a dying generation that believes we should stick to songs like Watts’ “When I survey the wondrous cross”, looking upon songs like that as traditional.  They don’t realize or they forget that at one time those “traditional” songs they love were once the new songs that caused church splits.  So in spite of what we like or prefer, the church must do what it’s always done.  The church must praise God with songs that are relevant to this next generation.  And while I don’t propose we throw away the Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts hymns, I must say I do find the newer music touches my soul.

I have a new favorite in Laura Daigle.

Rejoice oh child of God
Lift your eyes to see
With every morning light
Again we are redeemed.
~ from the song “Power to Redeem”

Here’s a new popular song from her:

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Hang in there

Last night Diane and I went to church in Fort Bragg, CA.  The preacher was talking about David, who was announced as the future king by Samuel.  Whenever I hear this preached, I never hear my favorite part.  1 Sam 16:19-23 lets us know that after David is anointed by Samuel to be the future King, David went back to tending the sheep.  

You and I might have handled it differently.  You or I may have said “let someone else go back out to the field- it stinks out there, it gets cold at night, and it’s no place for a king.”  

Sometimes we mistakenly believe that once we become a child of God through Jesus, that we should no longer have the problems we had before.  We tend to think that we should be elevated to a higher position or a life of comfort.  

But any time I think I deserve more, I always think of the story of David.  I remember that even though he had this promise from God, that until it was fulfilled he was sent back to the field: back to the same job with the same challenges.  And even though you and I have this great inheritance as children of the King, we keep on keeping on in this life.
The one thing that should change is our attitude.  David went back to the field, being the best shepherd he could be, waiting on God’s promise. You and I must do the job each day that God has given us.  However difficult, monotonous, or stressful, we do our best even as we wait for His promise to be fulfilled.  And knowing it will be fulfilled one day, and knowing He has ordained this day and every day until that day, we work and pray and do our best today.  Hang in there. 

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