Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Where Do You Look for Help When It Seems God Isn't Paying Attention?

Psalm 121:4:

Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

If you've ever had a difficult day, or week, or month, or year; you know that it can't be hard to find comfort in words like Psalm 121:1-2. These verses were made famous by the Von Trapp family, "I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."

You might read those verses and say, "Great. But I don't have any hills to look up to, and I don't feel like anyone is coming to help." We can't all be Maria. We don't all stumble into the perfect family and the perfect solution for our problems.

So, what do you do? How do you find hope, when all you see in front of you is despair?

This morning I stumbled out of verses 1 and 2, sidestepped verse 3 and then got tackled by verse 4.

Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep
Look! Israel's protector does not sleep or slumber!
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

Get it?

This was written thousands of years ago. It was written during a pretty good time in Israel's history. They had warrior-kings who were expanding their kingdoms. They were united. They were free.

Then stuff happened.

A civil war divided the kingdom forever.
Evil kings oppressed and enslaved the people.
Conquering hoards from far away lands leveled cities and carried away captives
The holy city and the temple were destroyed
The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Ptolemies, the Syrians and the Romans ruled Israel. Each, more oppressive than the other.
The Romans wiped the nation from the earth.
For nearly 2000 years, Israel had no home.
The Muslims and the Turks and the Crusaders plundered the land.
The Holocaust.

and still...  Israel survives.

Over the course of time, many people groups have been wiped from the earth. No nation, no ethnic group, no people should ever survive what Israel has been through.

But he who is watching over Israel never closes His eyes.

God watches over His people. We may not always get the rescue we expect, when we expect it. We may not always receive the precise solution for which we pray. We may not even feel like looking to the hills for help...

But God is watching. He does not sleep.

He who watches over Israel, who has watched over Israel, is also watching you.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Do You Have A Talking Problem?

I recently read somewhere that if you can't go an entire day without saying something negative about another person, then you have a problem.

Imagine someone says, "I like to drink, but I don't have a drinking problem."
You might ask, "How often do you drink?"
If they respond that they cannot go a day without drinking, you might suggest that they do indeed have a drinking problem.

Consider the person who says they never go a day without getting angry at least once. Would you recommend anger management?

So then...

If a day never passes in which you don't say at least one negative thing about one other person; do you have a "negative speech" problem?

I do.

Remember what James said. "And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself." (James 3:6)

He also said, "For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way." (James 3:2)

I like to think of myself as being somewhat self-disciplined. I like to think I avoid addictive practices and behaviors that will control me. So, even though a lot is percolating in my mind regarding events of the past few days... Tonight, I'm going to be slow to speak.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

5 Things Every Christian Can DO In Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Since I already stuck my nose in this, I thought I'd follow up last night's thoughts with a more practical post.
Vast amounts of bandwidth have been used in recent days as American Christians debate what other people (namely the government) should do in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. I am fascinated by the intensity of outrage some direct toward others because of their opinion about what someone else should or should not do.
Realistically, most of us have little to no impact on what our country will do in response to this crisis. So where our national policy finally lands seems like a really silly thing to get angry about.
This comes back to a simple principle I express quiet often. "Don't allow the things you cannot control to control you." You cannot control what the Senate, the House or the President does. So don't allow their actions to control your behavior or your relationships. Instead, consider these five things EVERY CHRISTIAN CAN DO in response to the Syrian refugee crisis:
1. Pray for the refugees. My cousin-in-law who lives in Greece wrote the following, "As someone who is watching these refugees arrive 'live' here in Athens, Greece, I can tell you confidently those arriving here are not strong, healthy men ready for war. These are broken and helpless people arriving traumatized and with nothing... we see many women and children sleeping on pieces of cardboard throughout our city and in desperate need." Whether or not there are terrorists among their midst, many of these people are in desperate need. Pray for them.
2. Pray for your government officials. This is not a simple situation. There is not a clear answer. Those in power must find a balance between compassion, and safety and they must do it in a timely manner with an eye on our own country's resources. They need Gods wisdom. Pray they receive it.
3. Support an organization that is currently assisting refugees. The Nazarene Fund is one place to donate. There are many others as well. Just google "assist with Syrian refugees". You'll find a place you can make a donation.
4. Bake cookies for your neighbor. Seriously. In all the talk about loving our neighbor, let's not forget to do that as literally as possible. Love your neighbor.
5. Clean out your closet. There are people in your city who are in similarly dire straights as the refugees. Heroin, human trafficking, homelessness and other "Giants of Despair" are wreaking havoc especially as the winter rolls in. Find a local shelter, contact them to see what they need and then clean out your closet. Don't just get rid of your old stuff. Give away your best stuff if that's what they need. No one wants just the muffin stump.
There are likely many other things you can DO during this time. At risk of speaking harshly... if you aren't willing to do some of these things, maybe you could just stop talking about the crisis all together. If you aren't taking action, you obviously don't mean it.
Let's all try not to be quite so outraged, let's cast a few stones fewer. As the great country singer once said, "A little less talk and a lot more action!"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

About the Syrian Refugees: It's more complicated than you're saying it is

I've watched for the past couple days as the Starbucks cup outrage has been replaced by refugee rage. I'm sure by next week, the outrage will have moved along. Frankly, I'm a little surprised so many people are so focused on the refugee issue this quickly after the Russian plane, Lebanon bombings and Parisian terrorism. The refugee question is really not connected to these occasions of terrorism. (I know it seems like it, but it really isn't)
Anyway, I've been wrestling with this for a couple days and feel like I might as well throw some thoughts out. More than anything else, I hope anyone who reads this can recognize that I'm calling for EVERYONE to think through this a little bit more. There are lots of sides to this issue, and not all of them line up neatly into one concise talking point.
 So, here are 8 things I think about the stuff I see going on around me...
  1. God loves a cheerful giver. When we use the gifts God has given us to help those in our spheres of influence, we are exercising generosity. When the government becomes the agent of generosity, they rob the individual of freely and cheerfully choosing to give. I know for some, this may not make sense; but the greater the tax burden imposed, the less opportunity for true generosity. Spending government money isn't always the BEST way to exhibit generous behavior.
  2. Loving our neighbor doesn't mean the same thing in every situation. I try to love my neighbor. We give a lot away, but we don't give the same to everyone we help. Sometimes we might give someone a couple bucks one time to help them out. Sometimes we might give away a large gift card that will last a couple weeks. Sometimes we help people make changes in their lives over a significant portion of time. In every situation, we try to wisely assess the situation and don't assume our first idea is the best idea. Just because someone wants to slow down and assess a situation doesn't mean they're unloving. They might just be wise.
  3. The God-given obligations to those who govern are unique. God's expectation of civic leaders is that they punish wrong-doing and reward those who do good. Those who suggest it is not the place of Christians to seek revenge are right. However, it is the place of government to meet out punishment to those who do evil.
  4. One cannot give what one does not have. No matter how much compassion you might have, you cannot give cash to someone if you don't have any. Governments can always print new money or deficit spend until the cows come home; but at some point these policies will create even bigger problems than we have right now. The cost involved in any humanitarian effort MUST be offset by a cut in spending somewhere else.
  5. It is possible to love the displaced AND not want our government to intervene. Did you know that Glenn Beck (yes, that Glenn Beck) has raised $12 million and has mobilized thousands of people to help resettle refugees from the middle east? He is clearly acting lovingly toward those people AND he does not want our government to bring in refugees right now.
  6. Some people are putting forth creative ideas for directing our compassion. Shipping people thousands of miles across the sea might not be the BEST thing for them. An Egyptian telecom mogul is trying to buy an island in the Mediterranean to temporarily house millions of refugees. Another real estate investor is working on the possibility of creating a new country, specifically for the displaced.
  7. Misrepresenting the opinions of others is never helpful. If you believe you have a strong argument, make your argument. If you can only appear right by debating with your mischaracterization of someone else, then keep thinking about whether you're right. I see this happening lots of places. Some paint a less than accurate picture of the refugees who have come into Europe. Some use inflammatory language to prop up their views. Even the President did it today when he accused his political opponents of "being afraid of orphans and widows." Their opinion is slightly more robust than that. (please don't make this post about the President. It's not about him.)
  8. Most issues are complex. If you think you can settle a debate with a 140 character slogan or a clever picture you made on your phone, you have undoubtedly failed to grasp the entire issue... You've probably completely missed the point. If you are making pronouncements about how foolish/evil/hateful someone else is because they aren't lock step in agreement with you, you might be the one in the wrong. If you don't have even a small sense of conflict in your soul about these issues, you might want to go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

8 Habits to Ensure a Successful Life

Benjamin Franklin said, "Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones."  Habits drive our behavior and our behavior drives our life. By creating a series of healthy habits in which to engage every day, you lay the groundwork to become the person you were created to be.

1. Every morning write the words, "I am a child of the king. He has purchased my freedom, ensured my adoption and commissioned me into His service." (if you don't like these words, create your own)

2. Every morning, devote at least fifteen minutes to uninterrupted reading of the Bible. Follow a systematic plan. Don't pause, don't take notes, don't overthink what you are reading. When you are done ask yourself, "So what should I do now?"

3. Every day, sometime during the day, give away a material item. It might be something you already home. It might be something you purchase specifically for someone else. It might be money.

4. Everyday, sometime during the day, ask someone a question about their success. Listen and learn.

5. Apologize at least once. (None of us have perfect days) Be sincere.

6. Thank at least three people. (None of us can do this on our own) Be genuine.

7. Before you go to bed, write a list of at least five ways in which you were blessed during the day. Add to the list three people who enhanced your life during the day.

8. As you fall asleep, envision at least one person into whose life you will make an investment tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Whether you know it or not; You Are A Slave

"This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus..." (Romans 1:1)

Slavery is an ugly word. Yet Paul embraces it, claiming it as his own identity.

All of us choose to enslave ourselves to something or someone. Whatever that thing is which controls us, is our slave master. Many are enslaved by the need for approval or acceptance. Many serve the master of popularity or social success. Some are chained to their desire for advancement and success. The list is long. We are all slaves to something.

Paul chose to be a slave of Jesus.

Following Jesus meant Paul would not be accepted. He would not receive approval. Following the true Jesus likely extinguishes the possibility of being popular. Jesus' full body of teaching is not socially acceptable. Jesus' followers are content to be last, not first. Success in Jesus kingdom is the polar opposite of success in this world.

We are all slaves to someone or something. Every master but one seeks to control us. Only Jesus came to save us.

To whom are you a slave?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

7 Realities of Living in this Present World

Currently I'm preaching through 1 Peter. Central to this book is the idea that we are not citizens of this present world and our allegiance should be elsewhere. Below are seven thoughts from this Sunday's sermon...

  1. You may not be a superhero, but if you are a child of God you have a secret identity. Although you live IN the world and AMONG the people of the world; you are a SECRET AGENT for the future Kingdom.
  2. As a Secret Agent, you are tasked with living IN this present world but FOR the coming world.
  3. In this present world, you are expected to submit to all authority.
  4. Submission is not an indication of weakness, nor is it something that is forced on others (we are never commanded to force someone to submit). Submission IS an intentional decision we make to proactively turn ourselves over to someone else. We make the choice, not to exert our own power but to place ourselves under the power of someone else.
  5. We submit so that everyone will know that Christians have no desire to subvert or seize authority in this present world. We can be model citizens/employees/students because we know that power in this world is temporal and not important.
  6. Even if those in authority figures are evil, we submit. Remember, abuse in the present world only means rewards in the future kingdom.
  7. The only exception is that we should not "obey" if asked to violate God's law. However, even our disobedience should be done with an attitude of submission; and we must remember that "righteous disobedience" does not come without consequences. Choosing to obey God rather than man might lead to persecution.