Saturday, May 28, 2016

5 Reasons Your Church Should Observe Memorial Day This Weekend

I have a bit of an aversion to disclaimers. We ought to be able to read/listen to those with whom we disagree and then interact in a civil manner. We shouldn’t have to hedge or soften our opinions. We should also have flying cars by now, so here’s my disclaimer:

I’ll be the first to admit I have a certain level of discomfort with the relationships between the American church and politics. I find the religious right AND the religious left a bit too militant and intolerant for my tastes. I get nervous when Sunday programs at church resemble Sam Eagle’s “A Tribute To All Nations, But Especially America.” (you’ll have to visit Hollywood Studios at Disney in Orlando if you’ve never seen it)

Memorial Day, though, is different. Memorial Day is not about a country or politics or even patriotism. Memorial Day is about people, specifically people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit.

This list could probably be longer, but here are 5 reasons churches should at least make mention of Memorial Day this weekend:

1) The Bible encourages us to give honor to whom honor is due. In our nations 240 year history, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives in a cause larger than themselves. Each of them deserve honor. 
2) Someone in your church may have lost a loved one in service to our country. We are to mourn with those who mourn. Observing this day is an opportunity to join your Christian brothers and sisters in mourning. 
3) If you have soldiers or retired soldiers in your church, they have probably lost comrades. I imagine Memorial Day is painful for many of them. Joining them in that pain is one way to demonstrate Jesus’ love. 
4) Jesus said the greatest love of all is the one who lays down his life for his friends. Memorial Day provides one of the most clear human portrayals of Christ’s love for us. For this reason alone, it is worth observing. 
5) We all have many blessings as a result other people’s sacrifice. Taking time to be grateful for those sacrifices is beyond appropriate. A grateful church is a generous church. A generous church is a Godly church.
Memorial Day shouldn’t be the center of your service on Sunday. That spot is reserved for Jesus. This holiday shouldn’t even take precedent over the reading of Scripture. However, it’s a good idea to mention it, to say a prayer and maybe even share words of comfort for those who have lost someone.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Church Is A Place For Team Players

Many years ago our children tried basketball. God didn't bless either of them with the appropriate genes for basketball players. When they first started, the basket seemed to be miles away from them, simply hitting the rim was a major victory.
The basketball they played was very different than the game I see on TV. Since traveling and double dribble were rarely called, and fouls never were, passing wasn't really necessary or helpful. The main focus was shooting. In those days, only a few children were able to even make a basket. The ones who could were the stars.
If you couldn't make a basket, you couldn't really help the team out.
Sometimes, I'm afraid churches can be like that. People who have certain abilities are the "really important" stars. We pay them great attention at the expense of others. We love the teachers and the musicians. We are drawn to the "leaders". We are quick to honor those whose gifts lend themselves to public usage.
This was never God's design for His church. I am convinced one of the church's most important roles is helping people identify their gifts and enabling them to use them. Jesus had a really good plan for his church, and the Holy Spirit can be a really good coach if we let Him.
Real basketball is a team game. Everyone has different skills and abilities. Dribbling and passing and defense and rebounding and screening and cutting and yada,yada,yada are all hugely important. Without them, the shooters are useless.
In church, the funny people and the sensitive people and the merciful people and the excitable people and the question-asking people and the mechanical people and the technical people and the yada,yada,yada people are all hugely important. Without them, the pastors are useless.
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful! (1 Cor. 12:4-7 MSG)
God gives all of us gifts. He gives us different gifts in different amounts and He expects us to use those gifts as He would. Your money is a gift from God. Your possesions are a gift from God. Your time is a gift from God. Your family is a gift from God. Your passions are a gift from God. Your abilities are a gift from God. You must choose whether to use your gifts to serve yourself or to serve God's kingdom.
You are and important part of the team. You have the gifts the team needs to win. Don't be afraid to jump in and contribute.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Garth Brooks Was Right: Getting What You Want Isn't Always Good

Getting what you want out of life isn't necessarily a sign that God is pleased with you.

For example, check out this passage in Mark 5:

Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

Jesus heard the requests of the demons and gave them exactly what they asked. I think we can safely say that Jesus was not happy with the demons nor was he "blessing" them. Getting what they wanted from Him was certainly not a sign that He was pleased with them.

Here's another example, also from Mark 5:
And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.
This time, Jesus heard the requests of the villagers and gave them exactly what they asked. Again, I think we can safely agree that sending Jesus away is not a good idea. Having Jesus abandon you is not a desirable outcome nor would we consider it a blessing. Getting what they wanted from Him was certainly not a sign that He was pleased with them.

Here's the other side of this little equation. Not getting what you want out of life isn't necessarily a sign that God is angry with you.

Here's an example, again from Mark 5:
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Having been healed by Jesus, the man wants to stay with Him and follow Him. Our natural inclination is to assume that this was a reasonable and honorable desire. Yet, this time, Jesus does not give Him what He wanted. However, we can see clearly that Jesus was not angry with the man. In fact, Jesus was entrusting the man with a great mission. Jesus had selected this man to be His representative in the Decapolis. Instead of being just another follower in the crowd, this man was one of the first people to ever receive a lifetime appointment to the mission field! He didn't get what he wanted, but he was given something far better.

When God gives us what we want, the result isn't always what we imagine. Romans 1 is a frightening reminder that sometimes God allows humans to have exactly what they want, and the result is never good:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator... For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions...And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Before you get jealous of your neighbor because they always seem to get what they want, remember that having our wishes granted isn't always the best thing for us. Sometimes it leads to a bunch of pigs falling off a cliff (a terrible waste of bacon!).

And next time you aren't getting what you want out of life, it might be time to reconsider your desires. It is possible (probable) that God is simply protecting us from ourselves. Garth Brooks says it well, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayer."

God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what we need.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Brief List of Truths About Navigating Life's Storms

Mark 4 tells of a journey that began well, went downhill quickly but finished triumphantly. A storm rolled in, threatening to drown the disciples, but at the last minute Jesus intervened. This is a great reminder that we all face storms in life. Sometimes they are light and easily navigated, but sometimes they feel like they will swamp our boat and drown us.

Before you let despair drag you down, consider these 10 true statements about navigating the storms of life:

1. Jesus is never surprised by life's storms.

2. Jesus is never worried by life's storms.

3. Jesus promises we'll get to the other side, but He doesn't promise smooth sailing.

4. Sometimes Jesus takes us into storms for our own good.

5. No storm is so great that it can keep Jesus from taking you where He wants you.

6. No storm is so great that it should lead you to despair.

7. Worry and anxiety roll in when we realize we can't navigate the storm on our own.

8. Jesus' words to you are the same as His words to the storm: "Quiet! Be Still.

9. On the other side of life's storm is increased confidence and faith in Jesus' power and provision.

10. Peace and hope result from our choice to rely on Jesus to take us through the storm.