Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Post-it Note Christianity

I’m a minister and, for the most part, the people I’m around know that.  But in the church I serve we don’t wear any special clerical clothing, so on occasion I find myself in conversations with people who don’t know I’m a minister.  That can create some interesting situations. I golf occasionally and it’s not uncommon if you’re golfing alone or in a pair to join together with another group to make a foursome.  Usually it’s around the third or fourth hole when the question comes up, “What do you do for a living?”  When I announce I’m a minster I can see the look of horror on some people’s faces.  Golfing can bring out the worst in a person and sometimes the language around the course is not what you might call “minister approved.”  So, I usually hear some apologies. 

Another common scenario is that after 10 or 15 minutes of conversation it’s found out that I’m a minister and there seems to be the need for some people to explain why they don’t go to church.   Recently I heard this: “I grew up (fill in a denominational name), but it didn’t stick.”  That phrase, “It didn’t stick,” got me to thinking.  Is that what Christianity is -- something that sticks or doesn’t stick? Is faith like a post-it note we slap on our chests so people will know what we are?

I love post-it notes.  They’re real handy but, by design, they’re not anywhere close to permanent.  I’ve also noticed that they’re not real effective for multiple uses.  The more you remove them and re-stick them the less sticky they become until eventually they don’t stick at all.  Post-it notes have a lot of valuable uses, but I’m inclined to think that one of those uses is not as a designation of our faith.  Christianity has to be more than a sticky-note, but sadly that’s how it’s seen by many.

A post-it note Christianity is convenient.  We can slap it on when we’re at church or with the minister and then painlessly remove it when we’re at work or behind the wheel. We can take it off when we go to the movies or surf the internet and reapply it when we sit down for our quiet time.  It can be removed when we want to use power and anger to win an argument and then reapply it when “faith” is more conducive in making a sale or building our reputation. Post-it note Christianity is quite popular, but it just doesn’t work.  The more you remove and reapply it the less sticky it gets until eventually it doesn’t stick at all.

After I heard that phrase, “It didn’t stick,” it dawned on me that faith was never designed to stick.  Faith was designed to be imbedded.  To be surgically implanted in our very beings.  To become a permanent fixture of our souls.  Anything less is not really faith.

Long before post-it notes and pens and pencils, an early form of writing was chiseling into stone.  It took longer, of course, but once it was engraved there was no erasing it.  I think that’s more what faith is like. Something permanently engraved on our hearts. The Bible talks about God’s word being “written on our hearts.”  What a beautiful image.

It’s either chiseled-in-stone or nothing.  Post-it note faith is not an option. So, what is it for you? Is your faith a post-it note faith or a chiseled-in-stone kind of faith? Only one will last.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of
your heart.
Proverbs 3:3 (NIV)


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Mirame, Mirame

Last month about 40 members and friends of our church went to Mexico on a mission trip.  Our assignment was to serve an orphanage in Chihuahua by helping with some building projects and general upkeep of the facility that serves about 50 children.   But more than that, we were called to spend time with those children to remind them that someone cares and help reinforce the mission of the orphanage to assure them that there is a Father who ultimately cares for them.  So, while much of our time was dedicated to cleaning, and painting, and drywall, we spent an equal amount of time just hanging out with the kids.  A good portion of that time was on the playground.

I can still hold my own by throwing, hitting, or kicking a ball, but there’s no way I could possibly keep up with the stamina of 8 to 15-year-olds.  I needed breaks and often found myself taking a seat while the younger members of our mission team kept up the pace.  But even as I sat, the children would come up to me with jump ropes in hand and say in Spanish, “Mirame, mirame.” I can’t speak much Spanish, but I did recall those words from my high school years.  It means, “Watch me, watch me.”  Even if I couldn’t run, kick, or jump they wanted me to watch.  So, I did.  They would jump rope while I counted.  When they reached multiple of tens, I would cheer and they would smile.  When they messed up, they’d start again.

“Mirame, mirame.” They just wanted to know someone was watching them.

In Genesis, the opening book of the Bible, a major player in the story is Abraham.  God had promised him that he would be the father of a great nation.  The problem was that Abraham and his wife Sarah were old, beyond their childbearing years.  So, Abraham decided to have a child by his wife’s servant, Hagar.  Although Abraham is regarded as a great man of faith (and rightfully so), this was not the best decision he made.  Hagar did become pregnant and that led to hard feelings between the two women.  The feud eventually led the expectant mother Hagar to flee into the desert. It was a hopeless move, but she simply couldn’t stand the humiliation and wrath she was experiencing. 

Imagine that.  A pregnant woman who had just done what she was told to do.  Certainly not without some responsibility, but no doubt a victim of the whims of those more powerful.  And now she finds herself in the desert, pregnant and alone.

Not long into her journey Hagar is visited by an angel of the Lord.  He tells her to go back home.  He makes her some promises, but more importantly he reminds her that, while no one else may care or see, the Lord does.  After that experience, Hagar gives God a new name – it’s El Roi in Hebrew.  In English, it’s The God Who Sees.

You know, we’re not too much different from those children at the orphanage.  We just want to know that someone is watching us, and we can rest assured that God is. 

When no one notices you’re gone, God notices. When no one else knows your pain, God sympathizes.  When you feel invisible to the world, God sees. 

“Mirame, mirame,” we cry out, and when we do we can rest assured that God pauses and watches.  And in watching, He assures us that we are loved.  He reminds us that we have purpose.  He affirms that even if the whole world deserts us, He never will.  He is The God Who Sees.






Friday, July 28, 2017

Remember Who You Are

Last month Jordan Spieth captured his third major golf championship as he outlasted Matt Kuchar at the British Open.  It was an amazing finish for the 23-year-old Texan, but the very beginning of the tournament had an interesting twist as well – not for Spieth, but for former champion Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy came into the British Open on somewhat of a slump, performing poorly in four of his last five tournaments, and it looked like that trend would continue.  He bogeyed four of the first five holes creating serious doubts that he would be in contention for a second Open title. 

But what happened on the sixth tee may have helped turn things around.  His caddie said, “You’re Rory McIlroy, what are you doing?”    He reminded him that he was a four-time major champion.  He reminded him that he was a former #1 ranked golfer in the world.  It was time for him to start playing like it.  And McIlroy did.  He started acting like himself. After that dismal start, McIlroy went on to turn bogeys into birdies and, in the end, finished a very respectable fourth.

All that he needed was to be reminded of who he was.

The Bible begins with the wonderful story of how the world came into existence – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He spoke and the universe came into being.  After that initial creation, Genesis focuses in on planet earth.  Skies and seas, sun and moon, birds and beasts all are spoken into being, and then God creates what he really had in mind from the beginning - man and woman.  And what’s unique about these humans is that they are created in the image of God.  In some mystical and spiritual way these two, and every other human since then, bear a resemblance to this good and powerful creator God. 

And all of us need to be reminded of that from time to time.  We are created in the image of God.

That’s who we are.  That’s who I am.  That’s who you are.

But there’s another narrative of our being that we hear all too often.  That other story tells us that we are here by accident.  That we are the product of random chance.  That we are no more than the molecules and atoms and DNA and other stuff that can be diagramed and seen and magnified.  That other narrative tells us that our morals, our beliefs, and our emotions are all evolutionary tactics that help us survive and deal with the fact that we are just stuff – nothing more than stuff.

Is that what we are?  Is that what I am?  Is that what you are?

If there’s any hope for us to turn things around, I doubt that narrative can do it.

But what about the Bible’s story?  What if we really are created in the image of God?  What if that is who we really are?

The Bible’s narrative of our being tells us that we are of great value, that we have a vast potential for goodness, that we have creative powers, that we are in a mystical and spiritual way like God.  Perhaps what we need is to be reminded of that from time to time.  We need to be reminded of who we really are - created in the image of God.

That’s who we are.  That’s who I am.  That’s who you are. 

And once we know that, we can start acting like it.






Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Cautionary Tale of Boon Island

Boon Island as seen from the shore.
Summer is the time for vacations.  Growing up in Massachusetts one of my family’s favorite vacation spots was York Beach, Maine.  How many wonderful memories I have of that quaint seaside town.  Summer vacation always included a little bit of reading, and one summer I remember reading the story of a small island just 6 miles off the coast of Maine – Boon Island.

It’s really just a big rock out there in the Atlantic measuring only 300 by 700 feet.  On a clear day, you can see the island from the beach. You can especially make out the lighthouse, the tallest in Maine, rising from the barren rock.  But the story I read that summer took place before there was a lighthouse.

In December of 1710, a British merchant ship carrying 14 crewmen crashed into the island.  Of those, 10 ended up surviving the harsh winter weather with no food and no fire until their rescue 24 days later. The book tells the story of those harrowing 24 days.

Just as you can see the island from the beach, you can also see the beach from the island.  Shipwrecked on this island with no means of communication, the stranded crewmen could see activity on the mainland. Just 6 miles away there were people sitting by their warm fires enjoying home cooked meals.  Six miles doesn’t seem like that much, but for those stranded men it might as well have been 6 million miles.

Winters in Maine can be pretty harsh, so on most days the activity would be pretty limited.  New Englanders spend a lot of time indoors during the winter, especially back in 1710.  But the men on Boon Island noticed that there was more activity on Sundays.  Sunday mornings to be specific.  Men, women, and children, despite the cold weather, would be making their way to church.  Fearing for their lives and facing a certain death yet only six miles away Christians were filling churches and perhaps even hearing sermons and singing songs about rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying.  All the while, the faithful had no idea that only six miles away 10 men were praying for a miracle.

Christians filling churches while others faced certain death. Oblivious to their need.  Unaware of their hardship. Sad and ironic, to say the least.

I’m all for going to church, but if going to church doesn’t heighten our awareness of stranded and lost people just six miles or six feet or six thousand miles away from us, then maybe were missing the point.  Maybe were missing the message of the Son of God leaving heaven to become a servant.  Maybe we’ve forgotten his mission to “seek and to save the lost.”  Perhaps we’ve become deaf to the call for all of us to “go and make disciples.”

How tragic it would be for stranded people to see all the activity on Sunday mornings only to see Christians retreat into their comfortable lives the rest of week.  Sitting by our warm fires.  Enjoying our home-cooked meals.  Oblivious to needs.  Unaware of hardship.  Sad and ironic, to say the least.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Be Memorable


As Memorial Day approaches we sense the value of remembering those who have gone on before us.  We take note of their lives and the influence they have had on us.  But Memorial Day also makes me wonder how memorable a life I am living?  I want to be remembered.  I want people to look back on my life and be inspired by the contributions that I have made.  I want my life to matter.  But how can I do that?  How can I live a memorable life?

The gospels, in Mark 14, tells a wonderful story of a woman who left a memorable mark in the life of Jesus, so much so that Jesus said that what she did would be told whenever the gospel is preached!

Jesus was at the home of a friend shortly before his crucifixion.  While they were eating, this woman comes in and breaks a jar of very expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus' head.   Some of the believers gathered there are critical of the woman saying that the perfume could have been sold for a year's wage and the money given to the poor.  But Jesus interrupts their griping by praising the woman and then declares that what she has done will be remembered for generations to come!   This brief encounter with Christ made certain that her life would be memorable, and as she makes this memory she leaves behind some insight for all of us on how to live memorable lives.

First, we need to practice radical generosity.  If you want to leave a mark then be willing to give away what you have, whether that be money, time, or resources.  Generous people see their resources as a means to bless other people, not just a way to make their own lives easier.  If you want people to remember you, give your stuff away!

Second, we need to look beyond the obvious.  The disciples gathered can only see the apparent use of this asset - feeding the poor.  Now Jesus is not against feeding the poor, but he admires this woman who uses this perfume in a unique way.  She thinks outside the box.  God has given each one of us distinctive resources that can be used in unique ways.  Think about the special contributions you can make to the people around you.  Be sensitive to special moments when your generosity can make an exceptional impact.  Memorable lives are creative and imaginative in their generosity.

Third, expect and overcome opposition.  This woman's unique, radical generosity is opposed even by believers.  People who leave a mark are often people who are criticized and discouraged, even by well-intended peers.  Throughout history the people who are most memorable are those who were most criticized as well!  Don’t allow cynics to stifle your passion.

Perhaps none of us will have monuments built in our honor, but we can leave a mark on our world. We can be memorable.   Why not start today!

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Holiday Halo Effect

I was introduced to a new term recently – The Holiday Halo Effect.  Apparently, research has determined that not only is going on a vacation good for you, but simply booking a vacation creates feelings of positivity.  Just knowing a vacation is coming seems to bring people joy. Furthermore, those expecting a vacation report that they feel more motivated at work.

Seems to make sense to me.  Having something fun and exciting to look forward to can make even a mundane life more bearable.  Knowing that there is something pleasurable waiting for us in the future can make the days leading up to that vacation pleasant.  A wise friend once gave this advice to someone who was wondering if they could hold up just a few more weeks until retirement – “You can stand on your head for three weeks if you have to!” Knowing that there’s a beachside bungalow or a mountainside cabin waiting for us empowers us to make it through even dark days.

I appreciate the research but don’t these conclusions seem to be a no-brainer for Christians? It’s called hope and it’s all over the pages of the Bible.  The destination is called heaven and it’s been the bright future that has brought strength and endurance and joy to even the most difficult of faithful lives.  It’s the “vacation” we have booked that brings us feelings of positivity and motivation.

The writer of the New Testament book called Hebrews gives us a simple explanation as to how Jesus could suffer the way he did – “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” That joy was heaven.  That joy was being with God.  It’s that joy that kept him going and the same joy will keep you going.

I read a book awhile back called “The Slumber of Christianity” by Ted Dekker.  His main contention was that we have turned Christianity into simply a pragmatic lifestyle focusing primarily on how it can make our lives better here.  And I agree it can do that, but take heaven away and we really lose that deep and lasting hope believers need to be faithful and effective.  He called for more sermons and teaching on heaven.  I think he has a point.

Consider this paraphrase of that passage that I referenced above from The Message by Eugene Peterson:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Christian, you have a holiday booked paid for by the blood of Jesus.  Shouldn’t we be experiencing The Holiday Halo Effect? Or should we call it The Heaven Halo Effect?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chicken and Dumplings Theology

I have never been much of a cook, but recently I have learned perhaps the best advice a novice like me can learn -  trust the recipe and follow the directions.

My wife and I recently subscribed to one of those mail order meal providers.  You choose what you want and a box arrives on your doorstep with all the ingredients.  Included, of course, is a step by step recipe.

I’ve never been much for recipes.  My mom was old-school.  She had it all in her head.  She whipped a meal together all the while taste-testing and adjusting as she went. It worked for her and I figured it would work for me.  It didn’t.  I figured I was just a bad cook until I learned the lesson – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

So, one day I decided to take the plunge and see if this recipe thing was all it was cooked up to be.  While my wife does the majority of the cooking, I offered to give her a break.  On that day’s menu was chicken and dumplings.

Note:  I’m from the north.  I had never had chicken and dumplings (I can hear the gasps of all you good southern cooks).  Therefore, I had never made chicken and dumplings.  This was going to be a real test of my skills.  But I forged on intent on one thing – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

I prepared the chicken stock.  I mixed up the dumpling dough.  It all seemed so easy. And then I came to the step where you drop the dough into the stock.  This made no sense to me.  I couldn’t see how this had any hope of working out.  I repeated to myself – trust the recipe and follow the directions.  I dropped the dough and covered the pot for the allotted time anxiously waiting to see what would happen.  I lifted the lid and to my amazement the dumplings had perfectly formed.  I gingerly turned them and allowed them to finish cooking.

When all was said and done, my chicken and dumplings looked just like the picture.  I must say that these were the best chicken and dumplings I had ever had!  I know that’s not saying much since these were the first, but my wife and sons agreed I had done a pretty good job.

The secret to my success – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

That Sunday in our Bible class we read about Joshua and the victory at Jericho.  Joshua was not a military genius, but he had learned the same secret to success. Although marching around a city seven times and blowing trumpets probably made no sense to Joshua, he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and the walls came tumblin’ down.

Noah was not a boat builder, but he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and survived the flood.

David was not from a royal family, but he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and became the great king of Israel.

Peter was not a public speaker, but he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and thousands came to faith.

I must admit that some of the things Jesus tells us to do make no sense. I hear his words and wonder if there’s any chance of this working out.  I need to repeat to myself – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

Trust the recipe and follow the directions.