Friday, December 7, 2012

Cast your worries...

I haven't been fishing in a long time.  It is tragic.  But this morning during a high school bible class we talked about what the bible says about worry and the Lord reminded me of why I go fishing.  The teacher, Mr Beane, asked the kids to form a mental picture of what it means to "cast your worries on Jesus" and being slightly obsessed with fishing I instantly got a picture of standing in the Forks Pool in the mighty Margaree River.  If you've never been fly fishing; a) you should go. b) it works pretty much opposite to the way you think it should.

First lets talk about effectiveness.  Fly fishing is certainly not the most productive way to catch a fish.  If you're trout fishing the idea is that you match closely your fake fly with the thousands of other bugs that are on or in the water in an effort to trick the trout into thinking your fake fly made of treat and feathers and glue taste better that the juicy bug that just land on the water.  If you're salmon fishing, the object of your game is more to annoy the fish to the point of attacking your feather thread glue offering.  Unfortunately, salmon are pretty even tempered and lazy a lot of the time and will ignore your annoying pestering for days.  If I were to fish effectively, I would use a net.  That's much more productive (and illegal).  But it's so much work using a net, it's heavy and bulky and you have to do a lot of pulling and carrying and struggling and worrying that you might be arrested.  When I go to the river to fish, it's not necessarily about the fish (although I do want to catch a fish).  But there is something about standing in the river, being patient, being quiet, enjoying creation that helps bring relief from worry.  So often, rather than bringing the things I'm worried about to Jesus I want to work through them myself.   I want to solve the problem.  I want to wrap it up in a net even it if means struggle.  But that is not the attitude Jesus wants me to have about the things that worry me.
There's often a clarity that comes to things I'm thinking about when I'm there.  It is so indicative of the idea of casting my worries on Jesus, it's almost like the physical act of each cast is like throwing worries into the river where they are swept away.  One of the girls had the picture of put things in a big heavy sack (by things I think she meant her brother) and giving them to Jesus.  A clear idea of how much worry some teens carry around about relationships, school, family, self-images, etc.  So many of carry around sacks that just keep getting heavier and it becomes more and more difficult to hand them over.  That not Jesus plan for us.  If you've gotten to the point where you're carrying around a big sack of worry, hand that over, you can't fish while you're carry a big sack.

Something else that is opposite when fly fishing is the perception newbies have of how you getting that tiny little fly all the way out in the river.  It is nearly weightless so you must have to cast it with a lot of force right? No.  Opposite.  Without fail, every new fly fisherman (this may actually be different for women, because they would probably read the instructions that come with their fly fishing package first or ask someone to show them how to do it) will try their best to fling, with all their strength, that tiny little fly to the other side of the river, sometimes for hours.  I did it, my friends did it, you'll do it.  You will fail.  Your fly will hit you in the back of the head, wrap around your boots, get caught in the trees behind you, hook another fishermen in the ear, but it will not go out in the river where you want it.  Ok, here's where you stop for 5 minutes, get out of the river and watch the 80 year old guy who can barely walk to the river bank step in the pool, make two motions with his rod and cast his fly 100 feet, make two more cast and pull out a 10 pounder.  Pause.  Now that you're anger has subsided, watch again.  It's completely effortless.  He moves his rod slowly between 10 and 2 and out goes the line.  No flinging or whipping.  10 and 2.  Have you ever met Christians who seem worry-less.  There first response to things that should cause great worry is "let's pray".  They've learned by experience that running around flinging things and struggling with things usually amount to getting tied up and hitting yourself in the back of the head.  It becomes effortless once you know the truth about 10 and 2 to cast exactly where you want to.  It becomes effortless when you know that the results of casting your worries on Jesus will always be as consistent as 10 and 2.  Now that you've gotten rid of that big sack you can work on casting.

One of the things you'll notice when you're fishing, after you've figure out how to get your little fly out there, is  it always goes down stream.  Rivers always flow down stream.  Things are always carried downstream by the power of the river, they are swept away.  As you fish, you start at the top of a pool and make your way down stream, it is effortless.  Two cast, one step down stream, no resistance, the water actually helps move you in the right direction.  Try fishing upstream if you like.  It's very difficult and pointless.  You'll spend so much time and effort fighting against the force of the water that you'll never be able to cast.  if you cast upstream, you're fly will just float into you and get wrapped up in your boots.  And the old guy who just caught the 10 pounder will shake his head at you.  It will become obvious and natural the more time you spend in the river that you should move with the river, that you should cast with the river not against it.  It will become obvious and natural as you cast your worries on Jesus that you should go in his direction, that you can let him carry the things away.  That once you've made the cast, he will move things in the right direction.

I've gone fishing lot's of times and never caught a fish (well not lots) but I've never gone fishing and come back feeling empty handed.  Sometimes I've seen a new part of the river, sometimes I've seen an eagle catch a fish.  Sometimes I've met people from other countries who've flown halfway around the world to experience something God's put in my back yard.  Sometimes I've fallen in.  Sometimes I've had hours to just talk to Jesus and cast my worries on Him.  Fishing doesn't always pan out the way I think it's going to.  Sometimes when I think the river should be full of fish, I've totally missed the run.  Casting our worries on Jesus can be like that, it doesn't always look like I think it will.  But I never fell empty hand when I do it, just lighter.  Sometimes, if I pray hard, I even get to see a fish.

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Philippians 4:6-7

Monday, September 24, 2012

Old tea in a new wine skin

Hey Church, it’s me again.  I had another thought for us.
I just read the account of Jesus hanging out and eating with a bunch of tax collectors and notorious sinners in Mark’s book about his time with Jesus.  It starts in the 2nd chapter around verse 13.  It’s an interesting little story about how the religious leaders weren’t all that impressed about Jesus choice of regular dinner guests, in fact, they weren’t just unimpressed, I think they were totally confused.  Jesus goes on to tell them that he came for sinners not good people like them, which seems a little harsh and I’m sure put the bee in their bonnet, so to speak.  I bet they were having a really hard time figuring out why all these people who wanted nothing to do with them and their rules and religion were flocking to this new rabbi on the block and his bizarre modus operandi of hanging out with the wrong crowd and offering them unconditional positive regard, even love and forgiveness.
Anyway, at the end Jesus says something I’ve always found a little weird, because my wine comes in a bottle, not a skin.  It’s one of those cultural/technological differences that cause us to lose some understanding once in a while.  He says, “no one puts new wine in an old wine skin, the wine would swell and burst the skin.  The wine would be lost and the skin ruined.  New wine must go in new skin.”
I think what Jesus meant was he was bringing in a new system that was going to be very different from the old, that would open up the kingdom of heaven to a previously unreachable sector of society and that it was going to take some time (about 3 more years) before everyone would see what he meant.  The wine had to ferment, some things had to happen at the right time under the right conditions and the wine had to expand some more before it was ready.  It wouldn't fit in the old packaging once it was ready - aka the Law - but would be better and sweeter than the old stuff.   That all makes sense to me in a theological sort of way.

Here’s what doesn't make sense; after a couple thousand years, we have tried our best to mix the old wine and the new wine back together and expect that it will taste good.  Slowly over time, we have introduced new traditions and rituals with old traditions and rituals that look very little like what Jesus said and did. We've managed to turn the wine back into grape juice.  We've sanitized everything to the point that the wine tastes more like bleach than wine to most people.  We’ve tried to sell people the idea that Jesus came and did everything it takes to give us a free gift of salvation by grace, but here are all the rituals, religious things and rules you need to follow anyway.  Now I know that some of this wine metaphor is lost on you because “Christians shouldn't drink wine” but try to stick with me. 

Let’s try tea, maybe that’ll go down easier.  Any respectable tea drinking parishioner would never invite someone over for tea and reuse the bags from last Sunday’s service.  You’d never put Red Rose and Earl Grey in a pot together, that would just taste like dirty water.   You’d never give someone green tea and expect them to believe it is orange pekoe and you’d never make tea in the coffee machine.  You probably wouldn’t give someone one of the double shot mocha latte’s from Starbucks and try to convince them it’s just Tetley.  “Here’s your cup of black tea, that doesn’t really have what it takes to make you well so I put in some spinach peanut butter protein shake to give you a little extra boost and keep you going.”  OK maybe that’s too far.  But if you were to offer someone tea, they'd expect to receive tea.  If you did any of the above, people would question if you knew what tea was, they might even wonder if you were a christian.  

Somehow over the years we’ve managed to put back into the mix most of the things Jesus came to say were not necessary, not helpful and not tasty, trying to pass it off as the gospel.  If we keep mixing new wine and old wine, the new wine will not do what it’s supposed to do.  The old wine will stop the reactions that cause the new wine to expand and grow. 

We have to look at our wine skins again and see what we’re putting in there.  Are they the things that Jesus said we should do like care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the broken, the lost, the sick, the most desperate, most notorious, most sinful members of our community, or are we pandering to the respectable “law” keepers.  Are we doing the things that Paul told the churches he wrote to; living by the Spirit not the law, following Jesus gospel not the twisted false gospels of men, living lives fully submitted to the law of love rather than the law of sin.

New wine in a new wine skin can’t keep looking like mixed wine, watered down with grape juice in tea cups.  New wine in an old skin will be ruined and wasted, mixed wine anywhere will taste like crap to whoever we try to serve it to, even the winos and tax collectors, will spit it out.

Paul says this in Colossians 2:6-23

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud,
and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”?  Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.
These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

Don't let anyone serve you a cup of week old tea at the end of some pointless ceremony.  And if you're going to drink wine, look for the real thing.  After all, Jesus saved the best wine for the first miracle at the end of the wedding feast, I think he wants you to have the best wine and know the real gospel.

Be Blessed. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Be Nice to Science

Hey Church, let's stop picking on science.  I don't think Jesus likes it.  In fact, I think he's OK with science trying to search for all the answers.  After all that's how you made it to Jesus if you've really found Him, you just took a different route.  Guess what's going to happening.  If God is who we say he is, i.e.; eternal, perfect, creator..., I don't think we have to worry about science "proving us wrong".  I mean that's not possible, right?  God is God, scientists are people, they're not going to stumble upon some theory or evidence that disproves the existence of God, they're going to stumble into God.  I realize that sometimes it sometimes seems scary when we look at it from a human perspective and we allow our own fears and doubts to outweigh the truth of who God is, but God's not going to lose this discussion.  Maybe if we stop trying to argue and actually demonstrate the things that we say God is, like loving, patient, kind, forgiving, yada yada yada; we can stop being enemies and get to the same destination with all our neutrons in the same multi-verse, after all, he formed us all out of the same pile of dust.

So church, now that I've taken the pressure off you a little bit, and you've decided to be nice to science - because they have actually done most of the useful, practical discovering that's made your life fairly enjoyable (thank you science) - let's talk about what we are and are not really supposed to be doing.

Let's start with the "are not's" since that seems to have been our specialty over the years.

1) we're not really supposed to be trying to prove them wrong to begin with.  Think about any situation other than God where you are really convinced that you are right.  For instance, you are trying to set up your new washer and dryer.  You've done a whole bunch of work running plumbing, running wires, building a shelf to hold all the soapy things and smelly things and stain removery things that you have no idea what to do with.  You get everything turned on, plugged in, no leaks, no tripped breakers, but you're clothes aren't clean when you're done, the dryer works but the cloths have some burn marks on them.  "what the flip" you say (if you're a christian and you think the other f word that you really want to say might dam you to hell if you say it out loud so you say "flip" but mean F...).  You're buddy comes over and says in a condescendingly arrogant and puzzled sort of way, "Joe, what are you doing there buddy?  Moving the kitchen down to the basement are you?"  And you're like, "no, what are you talking about? This is the new laundry room." And he's like, "well I'm not expert or anything, but I'm pretty sure that's your new dishwasher and wall oven".  Ouch, I was really sure I was right.  Now I have a few options; accept the truth that has been revealed to me, flat out deny that my fairy intelligent friends has some good reasons for believe this washer is not for clothes but dishes, or I can continue to put Tide where the Cascade should go, and try to figure how long I can broil my underwear before they get extra crispy all the while becoming bitter and angry.  Advantage 1, you don't have to worry about being proven wrong, advantage 2, God can make himself very obvious without you having to prove he's not a dishwasher.  Romans 1:19-20, "They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."  So science says the laws of the physical world will eventually explain everything.  Fortunately we know that means they will point them to Jesus so no need to rub it in or argue anymore, just tell 'em about Jesus and wash up when supper is done.

2) we're are really not supposed to be telling people what they are and are not allowed to do.  Technically, that's the Holy Spirit's job.  And he's much better and more believable than us, because he's perfect.  So it's not coming from a flawed, slightly (or overtly) hypocritical person like myself who thinks they know all the right things to do and then ends up inevitably screwing them up.  Not to mention, if they don't really know God or believe in him, there's no reason for them to be bound to some set of rules that may or may not exist (in reality most of them don't exist.) What we're really supposed to do is tell people about Jesus.  He said it like this, (according to his closest personal friend John in chapter 15&16)  "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more... When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.  The Holy Spirit is the one who let's people know what they are "allowed" to do.  We can point them Jesus as the example.  He did it perfectly - the rest of us, slightly off.  

OK, that's enough "nots" for you for one day.  How about some do's that might help science come around from the dark side (that is a reference to black holes and dark matter, not evil, I am not calling science evil)

1) OK, there's only one. This should be easy.  The don'ts are always harder and you'll probably be telling someone what they shouldn't be doing before long, (just like I did to you a couple minutes ago).  But if we boil it all down, if we look at the microscopic level or we look at the outer edges of human understanding and knowledge we're going to find one answer.  Love.  Everything about Jesus is wrapped up in love - Love that is beyond our human comprehension.  Even this one thing we have to do is not of us, it comes from God.  So the one thing we're supposed to do, the one command Jesus gave us before he went home was to "love others the way he loved us."  Guess what?  This love didn't come from his humanity, it came from God's divine nature, through the Holy Spirit.  So the one thing we're given to do, we don't even actually have to do, He has to do it through us.  Over and over the bible tells us love is the most important thing, love is the the one thing that will last, love covers everything, it fulfills all the laws (even the laws physics I presume).  So that's our thing to do; be a channel for God to love people through us.  We're not told to do religious things, we're not told to do theology, we're not told to be good.  We're commanded to love each other the way he loved us. 

We claim to have the truth about and access to the single greatest display of love in all of history; that an all loving creator sent his one and only son to pay for a penalty that we could never pay by giving his life for us.  One person gave away the most precious gift of life in exchange for our lives.  And we want to argue about who has the best theory to explain it all, the best proof that one side is right and one side is wrong, that one way is better than another.  All the while we are just a rusty gate squeaking in a wind storm if we don't have love (1 Cor 13:1).  Here's the tragic part, if science got to it's explanation of all things and it pointed them to God but they'd never experienced His love anywhere along the way, science still wouldn't believe, it would think the theory must be a mistake because the answer to the equation would be the mathematical equivalent to love. 

So my prayer for science and the church is Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, "When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  (3:14-20)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

So, I went to Africa the other day...

My wife and I and 3 youth from my church joined a group of people from all over the U.S. for the Journey 117 trip.  We met at a state park in Washington D.C. to do a couple days of orientation and training before heading of to Addis Ababa for two weeks which I'm sure has changed everyone's life.  Funny how getting out of you're little North American bubble for a few days can turn your whole perspective upside down.  Truthfully, I knew it would do that.  I have enough friends who have gone off to a foreign land to have their hearts totally stolen by the people they went to serve.  Truthfully, too, I knew I wasn't really going to cause some great change in Ethiopia (I hope everyone knows that when they go on a trip like this).  In fact I knew the trip was more about what I was going to do when I got back then what we did there.  Even if God does call us to Africa at some point, in the mean time there's plenty to do in Cape Breton to keep us busy.

So here's a couple huge things I took away from the trip.

1)Faith: a lot of us think that faith is just what we believe, and that it's dependent on us.  Faith really is the ability that God gives us to believe, it's not us at all.  In Ethiopia I think I saw what this looks like in action.  We met so many people who seemed to have immeasurable faith, that actually believed that God was going to do what he said he would do - either in scripture or in the things He'd spoken into their hearts.  At first I was taken back a little bit by some of the project leaders we met as they began to talk about what their projects would do.  For instance, one organization called Hope for the Hopeless takes in street kids to the inner city drop-in center, rehabilitates them from a couple years of living on the streets then has an orphanage in the country side where they eventually live, getting an education and loved by some pretty incredible people.  Their plan is to start a children's ministry which will lead to a church of 500+ people in 3 years, a boarding school that will educate 50+ children from the town of Saluta who would otherwise not get any education and send all their children to college or university.  They have very little resources and their facilities are not the Ritz.  So far they've sent more than 60 kids to higher education. since they started in the mid 1990s.  They have literally rescued and changed the lives of hundreds of street kids with little to nothing to work with except depending on God.  When Fekadu talks about the church, the boarding school, the rescue center, growing to get more kids of the street, there is no doubt in his voice, he's saying it as if that's just the way it is.  And I believe him.  As he told more stories of ways he'd seen God provide throughout his life, it's not hard to understand why his faith is so strong.  God has continually added more and more to him, not because of what Fekadu has done himself but because he's had to depend completely on God.  Therein lies our lack of faith a lot of times.  We don't have to depend on God for many of the basic things that they do at Hope for the Hopeless.  We have resources, we have help, we have security.  Faith is added when we need faith.  I want to try depending more on God and less on my own feeble attempts to make things happen.

2)Hope: many of the projects we visited had "Hope" in their name.  Hope for the Hopeless, Embracing Hope, Great Hope Ministries. In places where, in my mind, hope should be absent, hope abounded.  Different than the North American idea hope though.  My dad hopes he'll win the lottery although there's very little chance he will.  He thinks it will make his life better, and it may in some ways, but I'm sure it won't fix all the problems.  That's the kind of hope we generally have.  If this almost impossible thing happens it just might improve things.  It's a really unsure hope.  But that's not what real hope is.  The Hope I saw was more like a guarantee that something better is in store.  First it was Hope in Jesus.  Not like "oh it would be great if I got to go to heaven some day, but I'm not really sure that's what happens" which is what lots of people think hope in Jesus is unfortunately.  People their had experienced the promises Jesus made; they'd experienced his unconditional love so they knew that the rest of the promises had to be true.  Many of these people still lived in the slums, they didn't come to Jesus and get a great job, a fancy house and sweet ride.  They got the assurance from God they were important to Him, even if their immediate circumstances didn't confirm that.  The truth that they were important enough for God to send his only son was enough to ensure them they were important.  Then, the fact that some other human thought they were important enough to give up some of their life to help, however they could, provided a second level of assurance.  As if this isn't some distant, disconnected God that I'll get to be with some day, but he's actually demonstrating his love through the people who claim to follow him and also experienced this same hope.  I want to give up more of my life for other, because I'm sure that God thinks I was important enough to send Jesus for, I just haven't been very good at showing that to others.  I want the rest of you to know how important God thinks you are.

3) Love: The day we left, Satu, a lady from our church who's family adopted a girl from Ethiopia a few years ago, asked me how I was feeling about the trip.  I said excited and scared.  I hadn't really been anywhere before this that was really different.  I grew up in a very small town and wasn't sure how I would handle the culture shock.  Her response was perfectly to the point and right on target.  She said, what are you afraid of, they're just people not aliens.  They have needs just like the rest of us, they just want to be loved.  So simple and so profound, to me at least.  Guess what I discovered; beautiful people with beautiful hearts that had been so impacted by the love of Jesus that they were exuding love to some of the most vulnerable and helpless people on the planet.  And in turn, those people were pouring that love back out to others, and especially to us.  As we visited different orphanages and widows projects we saw this over and over.  The single most transforming thing in these people's lives was love.  Who knew?  So how then do we show that to people here?  If our most basic need is to know that God loves us and wants a relationship with us through Jesus (which is what it means to be a Christian when you boil it down), then why are so many people around me not getting that message?  The 'church' isn't loving people all that well is the only answer I can come up with, I by the the church I mean me and the other people who call themselves Christians who make up the church.  What I saw was the people who were looking after orphans and widows and lepers and HIV  victims were willing to give up their own life in order that someone else could have a chance at life.  I don't mean "give up" as in death (although I think some of them would) but give up comfort, give up status, give up time, give up money, give up meals, etc.  All the things that I often want to cling to.  In return for this, we saw people who had little or no worth in the worlds eyes, regain a hope and a dignity that comes from being loved by someone.  They had the hope that comes from knowing Jesus loves them and the dignity of knowing another person has gone out of their way to notice them and care about them.  We should do that more.  Jesus left with some pretty clear instructions about this, it's all over the book of John.  In John 13:34 He says, "Love one and other the way I have loved you."  It doesn't get much more clear than that.  I know we've come up with a big list of do's and don'ts but this is really the most important one.  In fact, a lot of those do's and don'ts you won't really find Jesus endorsing at all, they're just things that people thought sort of sounded good.  But loving others is definitely on the top of whatever list you want to come up with.  In fact it's so important that Paul tried to tell the church that it was the only thing that would be important at the end.  After his amazing description of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13 (which is really a description of who Jesus is) he ends by saying this, once all the imperfect things have disappeared "these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

I'm glad Jesus showed me some stuff about what Faith, Hope and Love are, I Hope he'll let me show that to someone else, in Ethiopia or Sydney Mines, or wherever else I happen to be.
Be Blessed

Friday, July 6, 2012

Stop walking on Eggshells

I think I figured it out... (actually, I didn't really figure anything, I'm just mashing some things I've read and heard lately that have my brain all stirred up and thinking a little differently).

So religion tells us we have to be a certain way, we have to believe certain things, we have to do certain things, and not do certain other things.  If we manage to stay relatively steady in those things, or at least manage to look like we are steady, then we're ok with the big guy upstairs, who you may refer to as God, Father God, Our Heavenly Father God, Abba Father God, or Daddy, depending on your religious upbringing and the version of the bible you have (if you prescribe to a different variety of religions, some or most of this will not apply) .  Then some day when you're all done striving and walking on eggshells and giving yourself an ulcer because you're not sure if you've done all those things as well as your slightly more pious older brother or your neighbor who never once mowed his lawn on Sunday or swore when he hit his thumb with the hammer, then you'll get to go be with the man upstairs, who you're afraid of and not even sure if he really likes you let alone loves you (this is the somewhat jaded and pessimistic take on religions)

Several options generally happen from this fairly common (with slightly varied) line of thinking:

a) you decide that if this is true, it's too hard, not worth it or maybe even impossible to live up to (all of which are true by the way) so you pack it in, quit religion and anything to do with God, live life and hope (without any real hope) for the best.

b)You turn into a crusty old religious guy so entirely wrapped up in his own pursuit to become Holy that you crush everyone who comes behind you with your over the top self-righteousness (which is no righteousness at all).  And still only hope for the best because you've always got this nagging feeling that the time you missed church in 1986 because your tire was flat and you couldn't decide if changing the tire was working on the Sabbath or not might be enough to keep you out.

c) you struggle as best you can, knowing you've missed the boat in a lot of ways, but you keep pulling yourself back up and trying again, experiencing periods of thinking you're ok with God and giving a little extra to the church, or guiltily serving at the soup kitchen on Holidays in the times you think you're not ok with God, because if you do enough good deeds, they're sure to out way the misdeeds, because even though your not sure, it seems like the bible tells you God mostly loves you so you owe him some good works..

Among those three option are probably 17 million variations and degrees of religiousness, as extreme as 'if you ever read anything but the KJ bible you're going to hell', to 'God is Love so I'm sure everyone eventually gets to heaven' (thanks Rob Bell), to 'there is no God' (that's a religion to by the way).

No wonder people are opting for option "a)" more and more, all the work seems over whelming if you're not really sure it's going to pay off anyway.  That's because they're sort of right.

The world has been duped yet again into believing that it's up to us.  Turns out, if you actually read the bible, God doesn't really leave much of this up to us, because we're going to screw it up anyway.  Sorry humanoids, it's in your DNA.  What's really up to us is what we're going to believe.  Is Jesus the answer or is it Jesus plus my religiousness and hard work.

He gave us the way out of religion, the way out of thinking it's all about what we do (or don't do).  Check this out.  Romans 8:1-4

"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins."
Jesus is the payment and power for everything if you believe what he said and did.  Not you're religious activities, not your work, not your self-righteousness, not your sacrifice, not even if you almost keep the 10 commandments; just him.  No one ever, except Jesus, has kept the old testament law.  In fact the Law was designed so that we couldn't keep it but would be pointed to Jesus instead of the Law.

If we keep thinking and believing that it's about us - what we do and don't do - we'll miss the point that it's all about Jesus - what he did and is doing - by being the the one time for all sacrifice and payment for sin.  That's what He wants us to believe.  He never expected you to keep the Law, stop trying.    

In Romans 3:22 Paul says, "we are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus.  And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are."  

Option "a)" is almost right, you should give up, you're free to quit religion.  But don't quit Jesus, don't lose hope.  He payed for everything, so you don't have to.  He fulfilled every Law, so that when you don't, it's not held against you any longer.  So you can stop walking on eggshells and stop walking on everyone with over the top religiosity and stop trying to pull your self up by your bootstraps.  

Just walk with Jesus.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Turning the Page on Poverty

Poverty is at the root of so many of the injustices around the world and causes the most vulnerable in our society to be pushed further and further into the dirt.  The bible is so clear that we caused this grave situation starting with the first choice to eat from the wrong tree.   The statistics are staggering, to the point that we’ve generally ignored them because they are so large most of us have no frame of reference to understand them.  We can’t possibly put faces, names or identities to all those who suffer in poverty.  Although, if you go to they will put faces to the people who died in the past hour from hunger.  Then you can put a name with a face.  If you watch for 24 hours, you will see on average 25,000 people died of hunger related causes in that time.  So many preventable diseases and medical conditions causing death are related to poverty, so many children sold in to slavery, prostitution or abandoned as orphans stem from people living in poverty.  The numbers are overwhelming, the reality is overwhelming, to the point where many of us get angry and bitter, we get hopeless and ineffectual or we get apathetic and ignorant in order to protect our sanity against the reality.
The bible however is also clear that this isn’t just a big punishment and blame game that God is playing with us because of fallen state of our species.  After he gave us the boot from a perfect creation without poverty, he said you’ll have to work hard, but I’ll provide what you need.  He actually didn’t send us into an impoverished world. also says, “yet there is plenty of food in the world for everyone.” says that the evangelical church in the USA alone has the financial resources to end extreme poverty in 10 years if properly allocated (no more 10 million dollar church building projects would be a good start).  Extreme poverty has been cut in half in just a generation and according to we’re actually winning the war on extreme poverty.  Although people are still spending more on their soy latte at Starbucks (Lrg dbl dbl’s at Tim Horton’s if you’re Canadian) on the way to church on Sunday than they are directing at mosquito nets and measles vaccinations, the tide is shifting.   

I’m not convinced sharing these numbers will motivate you, but here they are 145 Million abandoned and orphaned children who have lost one or both parents.  How do you feel; angry, bitter, hopeless, ignorant?
But what if our approach to fighting poverty is often backwards?  Sometimes I think the way we do lots of things are backwards, perhaps this is no exception.

What if trying to motivate people to action by flooding them with unrelatable numbers actually causes more hopelessness and despair and results in inaction.  While the sales pitch for doing things to relieve poverty has gone more away from guilt trips to slightly hopeful feel good action (i.e. for the price of a cup of coffee a day…) it still leaves a disconnect or a gap very often.  Although I give to support two sponsor children, I still drink too much coffee, so I still feel slightly guilty, sometimes.  The numbers still overwhelm me, there’s always more I could be doing.  True. 

I’m going to let you off the hook.  You are not responsible for 145 million orphans.  But you could be responsible for one (or two or three maybe even ten).  The possibilities are endless in how you can help.  Please don’t let the gigantic, unrelatable, seemingly unconquerable problem deter you.  No more cop-outs, no more excuses.  So you can’t commit to $30 a month (I don’t believe you but) give $10 this month.  Blood:Water Missions says $1=1 Year of clean drinking water for 1 African.  That’s pretty simple math.  So you don’t trust these big organizations or like the way the spend money (that’s stupid but), find someone who is doing work on the ground and help them directly with time, money or prayer.   Africa’s too far away to help someone, find a kid in your neighborhood who is fatherless and give them your time, show them they’re important and loved.  Not sure you can do it yet, check out some of these kids.

Don’t feel guilty, don’t feel powerless.  Jesus didn’t give you that mindset.  You can’t save 145 million orphans, you can’t eradicate poverty and all its symptoms – that’s above your pay grade -  but you can do something.  You could rescue one.  You could print off all the statistics, you could read a million stories, you could see hundreds of sponsor kids waiting to be adopted but will you help turn the page for one.

Want to turn the page, here are a few places you can start.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rusty Fenders

Here's a quandary for any youth workers out there in the church - youth pastor, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders... - what are we doing?  Easy question.  I spent a good part of my day yesterday questioning why my position exists.  Let me try to explain why

Here's what I/we do (well a lot of us anyway): try to create this amazingly well tailored portion of time in a young persons life where we carve out 2-4 hours per week (depending on what you do with them)  where we ask them to focus on Jesus, maybe learn something in the bible, sing some songs they don't know or like, be nice to one another, play some silly games that they would never consider doing unless we told them this is what young people that believe in Jesus should do rather than partying on Friday night (all the while assuming they even believe in Jesus).  Then we (parents you're on the hook for this one too) make them go to church on Sunday and take part in a service that has no relationship to anything else in their life, it doesn't translate into their life throughout the other 164-168hrs of their week.  Then we tell them, well if you're going to believe in Jesus you should serve in the church, usually doing something that has no significance to them or anyone else, or they should volunteer on holidays at a soup kitchen, or they should do the things Jesus did.  We create this little separate world designed to "disciple" them so they will go on following Jesus when they turn 18 and start to face real choices on their own.  (maybe this isn't how your "church" works but this seems pretty standard)

Here what I've seen happen in two short years of youth ministry...

1) kids "graduate" from youth ministry into 'young adult' church life.  So now we say, 'ok, you're an adult, time to come and join the rest of the congregation, they do things entirely different than you, most of what they do was important and translated to life in the 1950's (maybe the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, or 00's depending on when you're church started).  If you're fortunate you'll have a 'college and careers' group that meets during the week, that might help you connect Jesus life with the rest of your life.  If not, welcome to Jesus circa 1958...

2) kids "graduate" youth ministry, move away from home, or start to embrace their adult status and stop going to Jesus things altogether, mostly because what they've learned, what they've experienced is irrelevant to their life in 2003... oh wait it's 2012, right.

3) They continue being involved in church, or some sort of spiritual community, growing more and more frustrated by what they see happening around them but feel powerless to do anything to change it because they don't feel "spiritually mature" or well equipped for ministry or need more accountability partners, mentors, structure, freedom, time, energy, money... that's what we taught them after all...

4) They go off to bible school, have an amazing encounter with Jesus that changes their world view or they go of to bible school and become more jaded and frustrated because the things they learned seem to be all theoretical and rarely get put into practice.

So then, what do we do youth specialist?  How do we change this idea that if we can make youth ministry cool enough, catchy enough, relevant enough, kids will magically slide into the church and stay there to grow old and gray like the folks in the back row who think the music is too loud because "we never had drums in church when I was a kid".  Do we add more drums...  and lights... and ipod giveaways... that sounds kingdom-of-heaven-ish?

let me share 3 things I think might help

Unless these kids encounter Jesus in a real way, unless they experience the actual presence of God, whatever I/we do is very much pointless in the end.  That is a very Ecclesiastes-esque, I know.  If I use Francis Chan or Sean McDowell (both of whom I use and like by the way) or Charles Spurgen (haven't actually tried him yet, maybe that's the answer) to help teach, it matters little if they don't encounter Jesus in there somewhere.  People had Jesus standing right in front of them telling parables, raising people from the dead, walking on water and they still didn't get it most of the time.  So unless these kids get it, all the life advice, all the theology, all the principles of christian living are like spray paint on a rusty fender; it'll look OK for a little while but the rust is going to eat through sooner or later.  Do things that focus on Jesus.  Honestly, they're going to get bored of the other stuff anyway.  We can't compete with what the world has to offer to keep them interested, but Jesus trumps everything.  Even Christian Guitar Hero...

The bible tells us over and over that we live by the Spirit, but people can't live by the Spirit if they've never encountered the Spirit.  Good theology, good morals, good anything is not a good replacement or even a good band-aid for for the bigger problem that in whatever we're doing people are missing Jesus more often than not.  Don't hand kids rules and formula's for being a Christian, even if it's "good" advice.  Without the Spirit they can't live it out.  Let the Spirit do his job in transforming them, it's not in your pay grade to do it without Him.  Teach them what it means to live by the spirit.  If you don't know what that means, stop teaching for a while and ask Jesus to show you what that means.  It's the only way we live, it's the only way we understand, it's the only way we know.

Let them go.  I know it sounds crazy, won't our churches die, won't they be lost on their own, won't they get in trouble...  Yes and no.  a) stop being a chicken, if you believe the bible is true and our kids have met Jesus, they are safe, he's not going to leave them or forsake them, perfect love cast our fear, so stop being affraid.  b) they are not going to carry on the traditions that your great great grandfather started, nor should they have to.  It will kill them spiritually if they try.  Young people (all people actually) have to make their expression and experience of faith their own.  If they don't it's useless.  Don't be insulted that they don't like your music or your color scheme, be happy if they love your Jesus, that's sort of the point.  It's actually ok for churches to close, if kids have met Jesus their going to start something that spreads his good news, new wine skins (they won't call it that, we told them wine is evil and who uses a wine skin anymore?)  c) a whole generation of people that look, talk, think, hurt, live, work, need and express themselves differently is waiting for them to come and tell them about this Jesus who they've experienced, know to be true and love.  You/ we (I'm already probably too old and out of touch) are not going to relate as well culturally, but truth is truth and it doesn't matter so much how they convey the truth as long as they know the truth.  So don't go buy red skinny jeans and get your neck tattooed because it'll earn you credibility with the kids (old guys look dumb in skinny jeans and neck tattoos... unless you're a big guy with neck tattoo who is about to rip my arms of for insulting you, those guys look cool with neck tattoos).  Just show them to the truth and let them take it by the spirit.

I think it's why Paul sent Timothy, "Timmy, people are not going to know what to make of you rolling into town on a skateboard, with a lip ring and bright clothes, they won't like it when you say your stoked about Jesus, or that you think Jesus likes hip hop worship songs, but don't let them get on you.  Just tell them about Jesus.  Tell them about life in the Spirit, tell them about how faith is the key, not religion." (re-remixed version of something someone named Paul might have said to someone named Timothy)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

“…so I’m going on a Journey to Ethiopia.”

Since I met Jesus I’ve had the opportunity to work with orphans in several different contexts.  Not the typical orphans that come to mind when I think of orphans.  They weren’t in “orphanages”, they weren’t in Africa or some other impoverished third world country, they weren’t child slaves, soldiers or prostitutes but they were orphans nonetheless.  I’ve been a youth worker in two separate group homes; one a crisis unit where children were taken out of homes for various reason: violence, neglect or other criminal behavior putting the teens at risk, the other, a long term care facility for teens with mental illness who had become wards of the state for various reasons.  And now as a youth pastor, I have youth from all different kinds of families, some single parent, some with fathers who work away for months at a time.  While these are all different than the typical idea of an orphan, they all experience the same lack of love, care and direction that parents are supposed to provide.  Until joining this trip, I never really saw these young people I worked with as orphans but Jesus has opened my eyes to the reality that we’re all orphan’s to some extent until God reunites us with himself by what Jesus did; a hard thing I had to come to grips with in my own life.

I never met my biological father until I turned 19.  I had a good man in my life who raised me, who I consider my dad, but there was always a disconnect between us.  Somehow, although I knew he loved me as his own son to the best of his ability, we didn’t belong to one another.  After meeting Jesus and experiencing what his unconditional love and adoption into his family was like, the relationship with my dad changed, I was able to see it with different lenses.  I’ve been able to recognize some of his shortfalls in being dad are a result of his father and his lack of relationship with his heavenly father.

As I’ve thought about this Journey we’re about to go on together, I’ve had not only a great excitement to learn how we, as children of God, care for the most vulnerable in our society, but I’m most excited for how I’ll view those around me as both literal and spiritual orphans when I return.  I’m certain that this trip will change my world view.  How could it not?  I’m sure it will impact the way I regard people in my own community.  Then too, I’m excited as one of Christ ambassadors that I’ll get to speak up on behalf of those who are fatherless (or motherless or both) to the churched and un-churched
I, like so many in the church, have become numb to the plight of orphans around the world (and in our back yard).  It seems that God is calling people, once again to take up the cause of the defenseless.  I think the church has gone through “self-help” cycle for long enough, God is calling us to put down the “7 Steps to a Better Life” books (8, 9, or 10 steps depending on your brand of Christianity) and pick up our neighbors on the road to Jericho and take care of them.  I hope this trip helps connect this idea, that is so true in my mind, to my heart so that when I talk about it; so it won’t just be empty idealism or guilt tripping people, but in genuine hope and love.  The hamster wheel is getting old, time to get off the wheel, escape the cage and go do the things we’ve read about, taught about and theologized about for too long... so I'm going on a journey to Ethiopia. 

(P.S. I stole this picture from google images.  That is not actually me on a bookshelf hamster wheel.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Question: Does the idea of building self-esteem, self-value, self-worth- all those self-things that are promoted by our culture - confuse the heck out of teens, especially when we then tell them that they are supposed to then "die-to-self?
This is sort of what I've heard (and sadly probably taught):

If you're going to follow Jesus you have to die-to-self (which the bible never really says, you can't crucify yourself, you can't bury yourself, you can't deny yourself or carry a cross if you die, and it says we die to sin not self, ) anyway once you're done doing that, you should also do things that build your self-esteem and improve yourself as a person.  (wait I though Jesus made me righteous and holy before God already when he paid for my sin, how can I improve on that)

Jesus is made strong in your weakness, now give all your gifts and abilities and live for Jesus (wait I thought he was going to show himself in my weaknesses, not my abilities).

Knowledge and wisdom come from the Holy spirit, now go to seminary and read everything everyone has written and said about that so that you can write slick sermons and teach it to everyone else.  (wait, don't they all have the holy Spirit to give them knowledge and wisdom too)

"Lost people" need to hear the gospel, but don't hang around with people who drink, smoke, swear, watch the Simpsons, listen to the radio, have an x-box, are GLBT, don't go to church or have ever gotten lost in the woods, like the show Lost, or put up posters saying they lost their cat. (wait, that only leave us... and some of us are out)

Do you think any of our teens (or anyone else for that matter) are confused by the mixed message they get from "the church"?  No wonder skeptics argue the bible contradicts itself, it's because we contradict ourselves.

I think I am as confused as the teens (apparently I'm supposed to have this figured out so I can help them figure it out... uh oh!). I never had good self-esteem growing up. I was kind of chubby (still am), kind of poor (still am), my family was kind of messed up (still is) and I thought very little of myself (still do some days).  I didn't have much to be confident about except that I could drink a lot and make people laugh by acting like an idiot (which isn't really a useful skill unless you want to be a professional extra for bar scenes in Hollywood).  I didn't know anything about God, so had very little purpose. All the messages I got from the world were that I had to improve myself in order to measure up to someone else and get ahead.

That's not the message Jesus had though, he actually says we get to turn away from all those stupid ideas, surrender them to him and let Him replace them with Him. That is the place we have esteem,value and worth. I used to try to find worth in my basketball ability.  Then when I realized I was never going to make it to the NBA, or to the D division provincial tournament, I started to look for worth in my musical ability. No gold records yet. Not looking there anymore.  But Jesus gave me a different place to look, not to myself but to him.  My worth started to come from how much he was willing to give up for me.  Not because I could dribble/shoot/pass well, not because I could play guitar and sing, not because I got straight A's (I didn't get straight A's), not because... My worth comes from what Jesus did for me, undeservedly, he calls it Grace.

Is it time to stop giving our kids the false hope that if they finish top of their class, or score the winning goal or get into the right school, whatever other worldly expectation we may put on them, that they'll somehow gain worth.  Don't get me wrong, hard work is good, doing things well, very good, using your abilities to glorify God, entirely appropriate.  But if we're going to encourage kids to follow Jesus we can't hand them the worlds measuring stick to go with him, if we do that we're setting them up for disappointment.  Jesus said strange things like, the first will be last, deny yourself, hate your parents if your choice is them or me (ouch Jesus, that one's tough), don't take the seat of honor, give away the things you've earned...

Here's what I think it boils down to, we want our kids to seem as if they are getting what it means to follow Jesus while hoping that someday, they'll actually get what it means to follow Jesus, then the things we've told them they should do, they'll do naturally.  They'll turn into "mature Christians" because they've been practicing it so long, it'll just transfer over.  The best part, because we've taught them what Jesus standard is for being a christian (which is usually our standard not his), and they'll have done well by a worldly standard because that's important too, they'll be in place to show Jesus to the world.   They'll be self-confident and God-confident at the same time.

Bad news we had some of those already, we called them Pharisees and/or Sadducee's and/or "pagans".  Turns out they often get more self-righteous, self-serving and self-reliant.

Here's the message we should give our teens (in my humble opinion, which is obviously important because I'm posting it on the Internet): Jesus loves you, he is everything, listen to the Holy Spirit and follow him completely no matter what we or the world expects from you.  Even if you look like an idiot, reject, crazy, different.
If they don't get that, the rest is pointless in the end.

Paul said it like this "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.  As a messenger, I give each of you this warning: be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you." (Romans 12: 2-4 NLT)  He goes on in chapter 12 what that looks like in real life, doing what he's enabled you to do, by what he's given you.  Not by you improving yourself, not by constantly trying to die-to-self, not by much of anything you do if fact.  Just by what the Holy Spirit is doing in you.
God, transforms us, God shows us what to do, God gives us faith, that's enough.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Jesus is not Interest Relief...

I have a student loan, it sucks.  Every month a large organization requires me to give them money in order to pay a debt that I owe them because they gave me the means by which I could gain a bunch of knowledge that I thought would be useful to me in my day-to-day activities and make me more powerful and important to the rest of the world.  Turns out I was wrong.  It has not really helped that much to have gained all this knowledge (although, I could and would make the argument that it was worth it because I met my wife there).  Nevertheless, each month I would be required to make this payment so that I would be right with the organization, keeping them from sending me threatening letters and phone calls, destroying my credit rating, and  eventually requiring the sacrifice of my first born son (only in very extreme cases).
HOWEVER, in the amazing mercy of our supreme leaders, the Canadian Government came up with this thing called interest relief.  It means that for those of us who don't have any way of paying those student loans right now - because a B.A. is useful for nothing in the real world - you can put your student loan on hold, they will pay the interest so you don't gain more debt, but the student loan people are OK and don't threaten to burn down your house or send a plague of locusts to eat your garden (sorry, exaggerating again).
Trouble is, the debt never goes away.  I still owe these people, always will until that debt is paid for.  Honestly, this debt is not impossible to pay off.  With some hard work and determination, eating Mr. Noodles, downsizing my lifestyle and getting a second job, I could probably knock it out in a couple years.

I had another debt too - different kind of debt - one I inherited from a long lost relative of mine.  Turns out we all have this debt. It comes from a guy and girl who thought it would pay off for them if they got some extra knowledge.  They thought it would make their pretty sweet set up just a little better.  Jeepers were they wrong.

Anyway, the boss man came up with a little system, kind of like debt relief, relief so the debt could be managed because the penalty for this debt was pretty serious, as serious as a heart attack, litterally.  A bunch of guys, kind of like debt specialist or collections agents (depending on if they were legit or not) would do some stuff on behalf of the rest of the people, stuff that seems weird to us with animal blood and sacrifices and festivals, but it managed the debt at least until next year when they'd do the whole thing over again.  In the mean time, their were lots of rules people had to follow, things they had to do and not do, to try to not add to that debt.  Stuff that seems weird to us; no eating bacon, no working on Saturday, no wearing wool/linen blend clothing (which I guess makes good fashion sense) and 610 more if you care to read them, and then care to keep them.  I bet you break 20 of them before the end of the day (even if you only break one, those collections guys were coming after you anyway).  Unless you were and Israelite, by the way, this debt relief wasn't really open to you, your debt was a life sentence (more accurately a death sentence).

However, a new debt management specialist came on the scene about 2000 years ago.  He had a new plan.  It's a better deal all around.  It's almost too good to be true, that's why so many people don't sign on the dotted line.  It goes something like this; no one, ever, in the history of humans, since our first long long lost Granny and Gramps who earn the first debt, has ever lived up to the debt relief plan, and no one is able to, not even the big 10.  It was never really the point anyway.  The point of the the debt relief plan was to point us to the perfect thing that God offered us the first time, life with Him, and that He was going to do something to return us to debt free living.  The first people chosen for interest relief (Israel) got a decent deal, at least they had some way to manage the debt, but we got a "debt paid in full" deal.  That's way better.

Jesus debt management plan was debt destruction, He went directly to the source of debt, wrote a check in his own blood and cashed it in.

Imagine this call from the student loan office.  "hello Mr. Cook, your debt has been payed, you won't need to send anymore checks, sacrifice any more goats and you're now free to put Bacon bits on anything you like.  This guy Jesus sent us the payment.  And by the way he said if you tell all your friends, he'd take care of their debts too.  Welcome to a life of debt free living Mr. Cook."

So if I got that call, I probably wouldn't argue with them about it.  I'd probably stop worrying about sending checks every month.  I wouldn't be held accountable any longer to all the rules and agreements under the first debt relief plan.  If the debt were paid for, I'd be free from obligation to that agreement.  Jesus didn't just pay the money I owed and the interested I've accrued over the years, he actually went to the source and destroyed the thing that caused the debt (sin) and beat the effect that debt had on us (death).  The best part is he's willing to offer that plan to anyone who'll ask him for it.  Free of charge.

The Bible (post Jesus new debt management program) is full of things that tell us we are free from the law (the old program), free from performance (looking like we've got it all together) and free from condemnation (punishment for not being perfect).  If you want to see how free we are, read Paul's letters again and see how many time he tells you, you're free from the law, free from the power of sin, free from religious obligation and totally free to live in the reality that Jesus has set you free to live by the power of his spirit, not by you're own hard work.

I like this one...

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4 NLT)
Jesus isn't interest relief, he's payment made in full.
(p.s. if anyone wants to send a check to pay of my student loan, please message me, I'll be eternally thankful.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Almost Christian

Do you ever feel like you're an almost christian.  I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that but sometimes I think I'm just not quite all in.  It's like I get the salvation part, believe in Jesus ask for forgiveness, zip zap zip, I'm good, I think I'll walk the dog.  But am I really all in?  I like to think I am.  I really want to be.  Like what if Jesus came along and said, "ok, you've been an ok guy, kept most of the commandments, of course you've messed up a bunch of times, but I'll take care of that... just go sell everything you own and give it to the poor, and then we'll go get something done."  He's been know to do that, what if he says it to me.
Wait, you mean my house? I haven't even finished renovating it yet...  Wait, my guitars?  how am I going to lead people in worship if I do that, that's what I got them for...  My cell phone? you want me to get rid of my cell phone?  what would that prove... Well I mean, they are yours, but you're not serious, right?

Yeah that's how I feel sometimes.  I haven't actually heard him say that yet (at least I don't think) but what if he does.  Is that the measure of a real follower?  You tell me.  Lot's of us are happy to tell people we love Jesus, but what if he calls us to do something crazy, is he worth it?  Because if he calls me/you to do it, it's got very little to do with me/you.  In fact it's always all about Him; bringing glory to him by showing his grace to someone who's never seen or heard it yet.

If we're called follow him doesn't that mean everything.  I mean dead is dead right... unless Jesus gives life back.  I don't know exactly what Jesus is calling me to right now, but I know if he says to do something I don't want to be an almost christian, (he called them luke warm and plans to vommit us out of his mouth).  I don't want to have a long intillectual conversation that eventially talks me out of it, I don't want to rationalize it away, I don't want to choose myself over him.  I just want to respond, all in on red.  It's not really gambling is it.  It's a sure bet.  There's a great Andrew Peterson song called "Dancing in the Minefields" (makes me almost cry when I watch the video...maybe I'll let it out someday).  The lyrics go like this:

Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
'Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you
So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

I used to love dancing.  Confession, I've always loved hip hop and wanted to be a break dancer, I know, who'd have believed it.  But I've always been affraid to do it in case I looked stupid.  I think I feel that way about doing what Jesus says too.  What if it looks stupid?  In fact, I'm certian I'll look foolish to the world, break dancing or following Jesus.  When I used to listen and respond to him more often, he frequently told me to do things that make me look a little crazy, but they were always for someone else, about someone else, never about me.  Jesus let me share in the joy when it touched someone or brought some freedom or encouragement to someone, but it was always his joy.  I think I want to start dancing with Jesus again.  Just so you're not dissappointed, this isn't a hip hop song, it's about waltzing with your wife, but I think I'll be the bride and let Jesus lead from now on.  It sounds a little wierd I know, but that's what he compared us to so get over it.  Maybe Jesus will decide he wants to break dance instead of waltz, I'm ok with that too, maybe I'll pull a hamstring, and I'm sure it'll look rediculous but I think I'm ok with that now...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not much biting these days...

The sun came out last week, the snow melted, the brooks and rivers came up and I wanted to go fishing.  But alas, this is just a teaser, the snow came back, and river I fish doesn’t open for another month... now what do I do.  Well I started thinking about this "fisher of men" idea again since I've got some time before I can be a fisher of fish again.  I read Jesus call to Simon and Andrew in Mark's Gospel again last night, "Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people." (1:17).  A big part of my Jesus community is wrestling with the idea of how we disciple people when they meet Jesus.  Clearly, Jesus tells the disciples just before he heads back home, go and make disciples of all the nations, so that is a big part of what we have to do as his followers.  But then I got confused, it's ok, that happens a lot.  
I wonder if everyone who knows Jesus is called to be a disciple.  The job description of a disciple is not all that appealing for one; homeless, no food, no extra shirt, always getting accused of things, probably dying a torturous lonely death – where do I sign up?  
It appears, too, that Jesus calls specific people to be disciples, not everyone that met Him.  In the first few chapters of Mark we see huge crowds starting to follow Jesus, a bunch of people get healed or have demons cast out, everyone is amazed by his teaching and authority, but most of them just get sent home.  Only 12 get to hang around most of the time.  Now obviously the crowds "met" Jesus, they saw him in action, they heard what he taught.  They couldn't deny the reality of who he was, but there is no indication that they all became disciples.  So my confusion is in the idea that we are supposed to "disciple" every person the way Jesus did.  But is that true?  Is every person called to be a disciple or are we putting an un-biblical pressure on people?  Are we unfairly yoking people to the idea that we are all to become disciples.  If we look at Jesus analogy of "fisher's of men" and the occasion where he used this to teach it might paint a different picture.

One of the method's of fishing is with a hook and worm.  It's slow, you do a lot of sitting around waiting for a bite, lots of days you go home with nothing more that bug bites.  One of the recent approaches to discipleship is very similar to that, you spend time with people, you don't really do anything too active about sharing the Gospel, befriend people, build a relationship over a period of time, then maybe throw out the bait and see if they bite.  It works.  It's good; people meet Jesus.  Maybe they even get excited and want to be discipled more.  That's one approach, it's the one many of uslike more, it's manageable, we can fit it into our schedule, do it in our spare time, do it while we do other things we like, fishing for instance.  It actually helps people follow Jesus pretty well sometimes.  The second part of it is even Jesus-like, he spent quite a bit of time with his friends.  But he didn't catch them like this, he just walked up and called them.  One cast, one bite, hooked for good.  That's very different.  Of course he was Jesus so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's better at fishing than we are.  ‘Simon come follow me and bring your brother.’  Matt, quit the tax racket and lets go.  ‘Zack, get out of the tree, we’re going to have lunch.’  ‘Lazurus… you’re not dead, come out of that cave.’  Jesus was the king of one liners.  My friend Rick and I were at the river one day and came across a pool full of trout, we caught 13 trout in 20 minutes (we put half them back), it seemed like every cast was another fish.  But that rarely happens for me, apparently Jesus did it all the time.  When Jesus stops in a crowd and calls a person out by name, they have this immediate life altering moment and go in another direction. 

But let’s go back to those first 4 disciples for a minute.  He called 4 fishermen to teach them to be fishers of people.  These guys did not fish with a hook and line, they used nets.  They were not 'sportfishermen', they were fishing for their life.  If they didn't catch fish they didn't live.  They used nets to catch as many fish at one time as they could.  In one example where Jesus was trying to teach them something they put down their nets and caught so many fish their nets began to tear, there boat began to sink (with a little help from the creator of course, since their skills at fishing didn't do them much good that day).  This seems more like the type of fishing Jesus was talking about to me.  In so many accounts of Jesus doing amazing things, huge crowds are following him.  He doesn't ask them all to be disciples.  Sometimes they become evangelists and go back to tell their town about it.  Sometimes they become servants and laborers who go help the poor.  Sometimes they just get to walk away and sin no more. 

In John 12: 44 Jesus says, “if you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me.  Is trust me (or believe me) different than follow me.  Later he says in v. 48, “I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world not to Judge it.  But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.”  And he also says that anyone who calls on His name will be saved.

Before you freak out and think I’m calling for a free for all, do whatever you want brand of faith, chill out, I know what Jesus taught, I know what Paul taught.  I think there are things that we should and should not do if we believe or follow Jesus (if those are different).  But I am wondering if I’ve been projecting my idea of following Jesus like the disciples did (which let’s be honest, I’m not really doing that well myself) onto others, people in my church community who are not actually called to be disciples.  Are some called to be fishers of men and some called to be fish.  The thief on the cross never got discipled or to be a disciple, he just got to go to paradise because he believed Jesus was who he said he was. 

So here is my desire to see everyone “discipled” actually scaring away some fish?  When I was a kid I always wanted to throw rocks in the river because fishing with worms is soooo slow sometimes.  My dad didn’t like that, he said it scared away the fish.  Maybe I’ve been inadvertently through some judgment stones by thinking everyone is supposed to be a disciple.