Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What Does This Mean to You?

How did you first interpret the image above?

Did you read:

"You be for me."

or did you read:

"You before me"

I'm not suggesting that this is some subliminal test to determine whether or not you are a selfish or unselfish person. But I found it disturbing that even though I originally meant to create a graphic that said "you before me" (Philippians 2:4), I found myself reading it the selfish way... and I created it!

Perhaps I'm just a selfish person.

But maybe this is a good reminder that it is sometimes easy to view those around us as nothing more than a tool to get what we desire. This is not Christ-like thinking. In fact, it's the exact opposite.

You've already been given the mind of Christ (if you are "in Christ"). So start thinking like Him. He was actually God, yet didn't think that was something he should clench his fist around. So he willingly took a demotion and chose to be born as a mere mortal. And once on earth, he allowed himself to be abused and even subjected himself to death.

A proper view of others begins with a proper view of ourselves. Stop grasping and clutching to have the perfect image or to always get "the win". Instead, seek ways to put the interests of others ahead of your own.

You Before Me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Truth About Opinion Polls

Do you remember when the evening news would report things that recently happened without citing statistics from the most recent poll regarding said events?

I can't watch "news networks" anymore without the anchors referring to one poll or another several times in each five minute segment. I feel a little like I am being told what to think, or whether my opinion is valid.

Should I feel bad that only 25% of Americans agree with me?

Should I have a sense of pride that my opinion is shard by 82% of surveyed homes?

This has been a long time coming. Decades ago we began this journey which has slowly eroded the idea of truth and morals in favor of opinion and majority. The actions of government officials are no longer judged by whether or not they are good for the country, but by how they impact the official's popularity rating. Legislation is no longer driven by the nation's best interest, but by impact it will have on re-election.

Let me suggest this:

If 90% of Americans believe the moon is made of cheese, it is still not made of cheese.
If only 10% of Americans believe Canada is our neighbor to the north, Canada is still our neighbor to the north.
If 75% of Americans believe that people should really only have one arm, will you cut one of yours off?

This is really just a lament. I'm not sure we can go back. I'm not sure we should.

But maybe next time you see numbers on a poll you can remind yourself, "Those numbers are not necessarily a reflection of what is true, what is best or what is right."

Chiasmus Alert!

Okay. Most people get absolutely no thrill from discovering chiasms.

I suppose many people wouldn't know chiastic structure if they sat on it.

But some people like a good chiasm every now and then, and when I come across one in a passage I'm preparing to preach, I get downright giddy.

(Here is a quick tutorial on Biblical chiastic structure)
(And here is a wikipedia article about it)

Anyway, for those who are interested and enjoy this kind of thing. Here's my rough sketch of Philippians 2:3-8...

  • Do nothing from rivalry or conceit
    • Look out for the interests of others
      • Take for yourself the mind of Jesus
        • WHO WAS GOD
      • He didn't grasp to keep his equality with God
    • He made himself nothing
  • He submitted to death

And there it is.

I'm sure someone can do (and has done) a better job with this, but I just thought I'd throw it out in case some of you wanted to see this, stew on it, or throw a comment my way...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Tattoo Removal

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about national health care. I imagine eventually the government will figure out this interwebs thing and the Affordable Care Act will become law.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking that a piece of this health care plan ought to be government funded tattoo removal. It seems to me that this would be well within the bounds of the “inalienable” rights afforded to us by the constitution.

Here’s my thoughts. Tattoos are wonderful things, and there are many people out there who love their tattoos and are so grateful that they were able to get them. They would never even think about removing their tattoos, and that’s great for them. I’m glad they are able to have that kind of relationship with their ink.

But… there are some people who, after going to the tattoo parlor, may suffer from what I would call “tattoo regret”. They suddenly realize that what they did the night before could very well have a significant permanent impact on their life. It could influence the way people think about them. In some ways, parts of life may become more complicated (not everyone is a fan of tattoos).

Sometimes people get a tattoo in a moment of passion. They aren’t really thinking about what they’re doing, and they’re certainly not considering the consequences. They are simply caught up in the moment; and the morning after, they realize what an awful mistake they made.

In my opinion, the government ought to help these people. It’s not fair that they be forced to live the rest of their lives with the consequences of one night’s actions. Doesn’t the constitution guarantee us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If someone has done something to their body which may impede their liberty or pursuit of happiness, isn’t it the government’s responsibility to enable them to fix the problem?

After all, IT’S THEIR BODY! They should be able to do what they want with it. And the government really ought to pay for it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Generosity Makes the World Go 'Round

I once had a crazy experience at Barnes and Noble in Muskegon. (by the way, I love this Barnes and Noble; and I love their cafe because they’ll still serve Sumatra unlike that “other” coffee place with the green circle logo!) About 30 minutes before closing time; Marianne, Liam, and I stopped by to grab coffee and read for a bit while we waited for Emma to finish up her Senior High Bible Study thing (SNL).

I ordered a grande black coffee (I’m of the mindset that if you need cream or sugar in your coffee, then you don’t really like coffee). The young barista asked if house blend was okay, and being the gracious fellow I am, I said, “sure.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough coffee left. He couldn’t quite fill my grande (medium) cup. So he showed me the cup and asked, “Is this okay, or would you rather just have a tall (small)?”

I said, “Whatever, tall is fine.”

Then he proceeded to pour my coffee out of the grande cup into a tall cup. When he was done, there was about 1/8 inch of coffee left in the grande cup. He gave me my tall coffee and threw away the coffee he didn’t use. All the while, he and his partner were patting themselves on the back for not having to brew a new pot, because they were sure their manager would NOT have been happy if they had brewed a new pot right before closing time.

Now here’s the funny thing. I know their manager. She knows me. Everytime I walk in, she asks if I’d like her to brew some Sumatra. (sometimes I say yes, sometimes I don’t) She is a great manager, and one of the reasons I frequent her cafe is because she is GENEROUS with customers.

Pouring a few ounces of coffee down the drain because the customer is only paying for a “tall” is NOT GENEROUS. In fact, it’s just bad business. See, it only costs 10 cents to upgrade from tall to grande, so that 10 cents was lost when I chose to pay for a tall. But then the loss was compounded by pouring the coffee into a new cup. Now one cup had been wasted, and more importantly a customer was treated poorly.

I won’t stop going to Barnes and Noble. I know that this was the exception, not the rule. I know that most of the baristas would have simply given me the coffee and charged me for the tall. In fact, some of them might have just given me the coffee for free since it was the bottom of the last pot (I frequently get such gifts from my friends at the “other place”). In those cases, being GENEROUS is actually GOOD BUSINESS.

Sometimes, we aren’t GENEROUS because we are afraid of the cost. We don’t see our GENEROSITY as an investment in the future.

Here’s the thing, though. We live in a world that works best when GENEROSITY is the engine driving things:

  • God’s creation was GENEROUS. Instead of just creating a functional, mechanical world; He gave us an amazingly creative, colorful, complex yet simple world. The variety and beauty of creation is a constant reminder of God’s GENEROSITY.
  • The most beloved characters in the history of the world are those who were viewed as GENEROUS by their contemporaries.
  • The hero of every story is the one who GIVES AWAY for the good of others.
  • The best meal is one that is prepared by a GENEROUS chef (have you ever eaten at a “fancy” restaurant that provides great food, but you only get two bites?)
  • The single greatest act of all time was the GENEROUS gift of life, given to us by God through His Son, Jesus. 

GENEROSITY makes the world go ‘round. Selfishness and hoarding bring things to a screeching halt. What you are willing to give away today may go a long way toward enabling someone else to continue into tomorrow! GIVE GENEROUSLY!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When Your Important Things Are Drowning In The Sea Of Good

We went to a yogurt place last night. It's a pay-by-the-pound joint, so after dispensing our preferred flavors of frozen yogurt, we each added toppings and set our finished concoctions on the cashiers scale.

While our styrofoam dishes sat on the scale, I noticed a difference between my dish and my son's. I had cappuccino yogurt with a few chocolate chips and a few peanut butter chips tastefully sprinkled on top. I had no idea which flavor my son had chosen because whatever yogurt he had was completely covered by the glut of toppings with which he had filled his bowl. I am certain, though, that he enjoyed his "yogurt."

Drowning the main thing in other good things may not be a bad practice in yogurt world. It might actually lead to quite tasty creations.

However, in most of life, losing sight of the main thing because of too many other "good" things can have devastating consequences.

In the pursuit of money and promotions, some have lost their families.

Despite accumulating myriad possessions and toys, others have lost their joy.

While filling their calendar with events and engagements, many have lost their time for God.

Many good things vie for our time and energy and resources. Yet, only a few things are what really matters. Be careful not to drown in your most important things in a sea of "good" things.

Okay or Outstanding: Choosing Generosity Over Selfishness and Despair

A lot of time in life, “okay” is good enough. When I get my haircut, I don’t need “outstanding”, I just need “okay.” (I realize that may not be true for everyone)

Sometimes, “outstanding” is important. I’m not okay being just an “okay” father to my children, I want to be “outstanding.”

I think that a proper perspective of okay and outstanding is a great way to develop contentment and generosity in our lives, while also finding victory over despair and selfishness. Here’s the simple formula:

When you GIVE, be satisfied with nothing but outstanding.
When you RECEIVE, be satisfied with okay.

Generosity is the practice of giving your best to others, even when it requires you to sacrifice or to be a servant. Contentment is the art of accepting less than you expect, knowing that it is most likely more than you need.

Selfishness is the act of hoarding your resources at the expense of others. It is the polar opposite of generosity. It is the result and root of sin, and it flies in the face of a Christlike ethic. The solution to selfishness is to give generously, never be satisfied to give someone else less than your most outstanding efforts.

Despair is the state of believing the lie that you do not have all you need. Of course, this despair requires you to ignore not only the promises of God, but also His history of provision. Despair causes you to see the gifts of others as less than sufficient and below your expectations.

The solution to despair and selfishness is to be completely satisfied with gifts that may seem to be just okay, knowing that God will use those gifts to meet your needs in ways that surpass your greatest expectations.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The 17 Steps Of A New Testament Strategy for Discipleship

Planning is good. Often times a good plan is the difference between success and failure. Sometimes, though, a plan can mistakenly become an impediment to success.

Sometimes we forget that spiritual growth is not something we can manufacture. We can cultivate, plant seeds, water, etc. but it is God who causes the growth. Any discipleship plans should reflect this understanding.

Lots of good programs exist to enhance disciple-making activity. I would happily use many of them in my church/small groups/relationships. However, I would argue there is only one truly "biblical" plan for disciple-making, it looks like this:

  1. Love one another.
  2. Be devoted to one another.
  3. Honor one another.
  4. Live in harmony with one another.
  5. Stop judging one another.
  6. Accept one another.
  7. Instruct one another.
  8. Greet one another.
  9. Agree with one another.
  10. Serve one another.
  11. Bear with one another.
  12. Forgive one another.
  13. Submit to one another.
  14. Admonish one another.
  15. Encourage one another.
  16. Do not slander one another.
  17. Offer hospitality to one another.

Who is ready?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Generous: Living With An Open Hand

For what they are worth, here are my notes from a sermon on Matthew 25, the passage often called the "Parable of here Talents"

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? - Jesus said it was near -- present tense

1) It's already here but not yet (WWII. Free France refused to submit 2 occupier)
2) It's anywhere God's people are submitting to God's rule

Who is this story about? not servants -- is about master

The Bible = God's revelation to us. He is ALWAYS the hero of the story! If you ever read a story in the Bible and a man or woman is the hero... you read it wrong.

We need to learn how we fit into God's world instead of trying to fit Him into ours

What is the point of this story?

1) Everything we have has been given to us by God

- The servants in this story have nothing until the Master gives them His money.
- All we have originates with God. hard work = positive results, God's provision
- Health, Family, Home, Possessions, Energy, Time, Money - Entrusted 2 You

2)God gives different gifts in different amounts to different people

- God never treats two people the same. Circumstances crafted just for you
- In the OT, God reminded Israel not like other... : "I know the plans..."
- NT, reminds us "he will supply all our needs according to his riches" and "all things work together for good for those who love God..."
- Different resources, SAME OPPORTUNITY... to be Faithful

3) God expects us to use His treasure as He would use it

- True success is being able at the end to tell our master how we multiplied His resources
- Proper stewardship of God's resources requires a proper understanding of God's nature
- Two approaches to the master's money:
INVESTED -- first two servants. identical actions
- Faithful servants don't worry about what other servants have been given
- if you are not generous with a little, you will not be generous with a lot
- Generous living isn't the result of abundance, it is the result of reliance 
- This servant was motivated by FEAR ("I was afraid...")
- fear is a terrible motivator. Especially irrational fear (least to lose)
- What R U afraid of losing? How is fear keep you from being generous?
"I have a sneaking suspicion that we're going to be embarrassed when we get to heaven and realize how much emphasis we put on stuff, money, and ourselves here on earth. I need to constantly ask myself where I'm putting my help and what am I investing in?" -Paul Urban

Choose to invest the gifts of God into the work of God's Kingdom
- Move your feet, your heart will follow

Take Your First Step Today
- Find a person to serve
- Find a place to serve
- Find a group with whom to serve

Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Answer "That Person"

Having talked about being QUICK TO LISTEN, this week; I thought I would run a post I wrote several years ago that highlights not just that we need to be SLOW TO SPEAK, but that when we speak our speech needs to be appropriate...

A well-known conservative Christian blog runs a series of posts entitled "Next". They are designed to be short, witty, and somewhat snarky responses to objections people raise about the God, Christianity and church.

Often the responses are well-thought out and reflect very good answers to sometimes tough questions. However, I shudder a little every time I read them because the answers just don't seem to reflect the type of grace I'd like them to.

If you know me well, you know that I'm not always the most gentle of people, but I feel like this is an area of my life that the Spirit has shaped over the years... which is perhaps why I'm more sensitive to this.

So I asked in the comments of one of these posts if they could show me some Proverbs (the author is absolutely brilliant in his use of Proverbs) that demonstrate this type of dialogue as appropriate. After not receiving a response, I went ahead and did a quick word search in Proverbs for "answer".

Below I listed the verses which seemed appropriate to this discussion, and then made a short list of things I learned about wisely answering people (especially those with whom you disagree). I'll continue working on answering THIS way, I hope you will to.

Proverbs 1:28
"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:28
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

Proverbs 18:13
He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.

Proverbs 18:23
A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:21
teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

Proverbs 24:26
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

Proverbs 26:4
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Proverbs 26:5
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:16
The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 27:11
Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.


1. Be Gentle, not harsh.

2. Listen well before you formulate your answer.

3. Weigh your answer, don't immediately gush.

4. Give answers that reflect Scripture.

5. Don't endlessly debate with a fool.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Exactly is the Church?

People think of church in a lot of different terms. Most of the times, we fixate on one particular concept, and as a result have a less than full understanding or just plain mistaken understanding of what church is.

Here are four of the most common ways we think about church:

Where we meet -- this is often associated with place and time. when we were young, we were always taught that "church was not a place", but that teaching was confusing for me because what I always heard was this:
1) we dress up and act "reverent" when we come to church.
2) church is not a building, it is people
3) stop running in the church.
what we believe -- many churches identify themselves (even in their names) by associating with the churches that believe the same things as them. For many people, this identity is the most important. I once had someone say to me in a newcomers class, "We're looking for a good baptist church". What he meant was, "We want a church that believes what we do". This isn't necessarily bad, it's just another way we identify the church.

What we do -- a lot of churches have labels describing their primary activities (usually Sunday). The labels are words like "seeker", "contemporary", "blended", "traditional", etc...  In more recent years, this type of identification has grown beyond just Sunday and other labels have been developed (purpose driven, church OF small groups, missional, yada-yada-yada).

Who we are -- here's a novel thought. The church isn't an organization at all. It cannot be defined by structures or systems. It is a fluid organism, always in flux because it is nothing more than the relationships holding a community of redeemed people together. It only exists to the extent their connectedness allows, and it doesn't exist where relationships don't exist. This one might need to be chewed on a bit, as there are some very attractive ideas here, yet they don't necessarily mesh with the way things are or how we might interpret Scripture.

so, when you think about church, how do you think about it?

is it a building? (the big one on the highway)
is it a time? (Sunday morning)
is it a belief set? (Baptist; Reformed)
is it an activity? (morning service)
is it people? (Bob, Larry, Junior, etc...)

Ah yes, perhaps it is all of them.

What if none of these was a full reflection of the church? What if we learned a better way of thinking and talking about the church? What if we used new terms to better identify the biblical story of God's community of redeemed?

What words would you use?