Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Father You've Always Wanted

What a great Easter Sunday we had at the church I preach. Easter is like the Super Bowl for churches – biggest crowds of the year, families getting together, a little extra oomph to the service.  On my way to church Sunday I stopped at a convenience store for a little pre-game, I mean pre-worship snack and the clerk, seeing me all dressed up, asked me if I was going to work.  I told him “You bet. I’m a preacher and this is my big day!”   Easter Sunday is a celebration, and rightfully so.

Celebrations are great. Family reunions, special vacations, weddings, graduations, landmark anniversaries are all special occasions which deserve a little more attention and a “write-it-in-pen” designation on our calendars. And I’m glad to see everyone at church on Easter. It’s a good Sunday, but just like moms and dads want to hear from their children more often than those special occasions, so does God.

God is described in many different ways in Scripture but one predominant image of God is Him being our Father. It’s a term loaded with meaning but, more than anything, it’s a relational term. It implies a degree of intimacy that is established and maintained over the course of time through regular interactions. A good father-child relationship doesn’t happen in a celebration-only relationship. It’s in the day-to-monotonous-day, moment-by-tedious-moment interaction where deep love and lasting bonds etch themselves on our souls.

And that love and that bond doesn’t eliminate the need for celebrations, they only make those celebrations more meaningful and powerful. It’s like the difference between a Super Bowl when your team is playing and one where you have little rooting interest. They’re both Super Bowls but the game involving your team that you’ve been following week after week, year after year is more thrilling and more exciting.  Easter becomes even a greater celebration when you’ve been with your Father day in and day out.

Father God wants to be in our lives - every day, not just the celebrations. He’s been like that from the very beginning. In the Garden of Eden God walked with Adam and Eve. He has this thing – he created us and wants to be with us. Yeah, that can be uncomfortable since as a Father he sometimes needs to correct us and even discipline us, but his end-game is to develop a relationship with us that will not only bring him joy (yes, God delights in being your Father) but will bring us joy. And that type of relationship is not accomplished at celebrations alone – it’s the product of a daily relationship.

Maybe if we consider church attendance, prayer, Bible reading and other ways we connect with our Father as relationship building activities rather than legalistic rituals that get us to heaven, we may be more inclined not only to invest in these activities but actually anticipate them. Perhaps if we viewed religion as a path to knowing Father God rather than a series of unrelated and meaningless obligations, maybe we would long for that time together with him like an overseas soldier longs for communication from home.

God wants to be your Father and that’s a good thing. And like all fathers he loves those celebrations but oh how he loves those quiet and ordinary days when he can just sit and be with you. Father and child hashing out the problems of the day; laughing along at life’s eccentricities; sharing the common joys of the world; sharing advice for life’s mysteries. And the best thing, there’s no need to wait for a celebration because Father God is always there. That’s just the way he is.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Ever-Present God – Nuisance or Blessing? (or both)


I‘ve been studying and preaching from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. I know, everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, right? But wait! I’ve found so many gems in this book that are so often passed by. You really should give it a chance.
The basic message of the prophet is that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of Israel’s prolonged and brazen disobedience. Before you get to thinking that God is impatient and intolerant, read through the book and see all the atrocities going on in the temple. It’s pretty bad. The issue is not that God is angry, it’s that the people have drifted so far away from who they promised to be. They had an agreement with God, and they hadn’t kept their end of the bargain.  
The real mystery is not that judgment is coming. It’s how did it get this bad? How do people become so insensitive to sin? How do people become so blind to their rebellion? Ezekiel addresses these questions - questions that are not only applicable to 6th-century BC Israel, but also to us in 2019. God forbid we become indifferent to sin as they did.
There were many contributing factors, but one that seems especially significant is that they thought that somehow God didn’t see what was going on. They thought that God was oblivious to what was going on behind closed doors. They forgot, or at least chose to forget, that God knows all and sees all. If God didn’t see everything, then there was no problem with them getting away with a sin here and there.
How do you feel about that? How do you feel when you think about God seeing everything you do? How do you feel knowing that everywhere you go God is with you?  How do you feel that God even knows what’s going on inside your heart and mind? It’s troubling to think about, but a failure to do so will lead us down the same road Ezekiel’s audience took - a road that leads to destruction.  
I must admit the idea of God being all-present is disturbing to me. There have been times, and still are, when I’d really like God to run some errand and leave me alone for a while. There are times when I’d prefer God to turn his head away from me for a little privacy. Yet, at other times the idea of his always being there is comforting. It strengthens me to know that whatever I may go through that he is right there beside me. It’s reassuring to know that he’s always available to hear my thanks and my requests. He never puts me on hold!
God’s ever-presence is a double-edged sword, so to speak. But you can’t have the benefits of his presence without the perceived draw-backs. Our ever-present God will be there both to confront our sin and comfort our sorrows. Our ever-present God will be there both to discipline us and bless us.
Do we really except God to hide his face from our sins? What kind of holy God would that be? Do we really expect God to desert us when we really need him? What kind of loving God would that be?
He is both holy and loving and we can’t have one without the other. Knowing that, I prefer to embrace this ever-present God who will love me enough to expose my sin and still love me enough to walk every road with me.


Ezekiel has one of the best endings of any biblical book. With his last words he gives God a new name, Jehovah Shammah-The Lord is There.
God forbid we ask God to leave us alone. A life without God leads to destruction. A life with God leads to glory.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Worship: Entertainment or Encounter

I’m a minister. I preach just about every Sunday. I’m involved in the planning of our Sunday service. I’ve been doing this now for over 25 years. And I love it.  Sure, there are Sundays my tank isn’t as full as others. There are some services that seem to fall flat. But I must admit, I enjoy worship. I enjoy the songs. I enjoy the sacred moments. I enjoy seeing everyone. I enjoy the buzz of people making their way into the worship center. And I enjoy preaching. 

I suppose within every preacher and worship leader there is a bit of a showman. Most of us want our services to entertain. We want people to experience some emotional highs and lows. We want to elicit laughter and tears. We want worship to be an experience. And it seems that’s what people want as well.

Go to just about any larger than average church this Sunday and you’ll probably find a nicely decorated lobby, a colorful childrens’ area, a worship center equipped with lights and video equipment.  You’ll probably be welcomed by some charismatic greeter and, when worship starts, there’ll be music.  Good music lead by a dynamic worship leader perhaps even accompanied by a group of background singers. And in many churches, you’ll have a well-rehearsed band charged with bringing the worshipper into the presence of God.

In 2019, worship has never been so good.

I’m a minister and I want worship to be good. I suppose most of my colleagues want the same. We work on our sermons. We look for just the right illustrations to insert at just the right time. We’ve trained in the disciplines of homiletics and hermeneutics. We, along with other church leaders, carefully plan the worship services. We want to entertain. We want you to have an experience.

Some would say that church has become too much of a show, but I don’t think we need to apologize.  The God we want you to experience has put on some awesome performances. Thunder and lightning at Mount Sinai. Rushing winds and tongues of fire on Pentecost. And what about the show he put on for the prophet Isaiah?

In Isaiah 6 we are brought to this breathtaking scene: The Lord seated on a throne. His royal robes extending to the edges of the temple. Six winged angels calling out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.” And then one of those angels delivers a flaming coal to the lips of the prophet.

Certainly, Isaiah was impressed with that display. Imagine recreating that next Sunday? That would be a worship service people would be talking about for years to come! 

Isaiah’s reaction, however, is what is most significant. And this is what every preacher and worship leader have in mind when we bring people into the presence of God.

Isaiah doesn’t give God a standing ovation. He doesn’t pull out his cellphone and give God a 5-star rating on Yelp. No tweets, no posts, no reviews. Isaiah’s response is simple and profound: “Here am I, send me.”

This worship experience leads Isaiah to action, and that’s the goal of every encounter with God. That’s the goal of every worship experience. So, don’t go to church to be amused, go to be altered.

Through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, God makes it clear that he is not amused by those who are only amused by worship. In Ezekiel 33:32 God says this about his people’s estimation of the prophet: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

I hope this Sunday’s worship is well-planned; the sermon well-delivered; the music awe inspiring. No doubt, there’s been a lot of thought and planning put into the service. And I hope it’s entertaining. But more than that, I hope that you go not for the entertainment but for the encounter. And may you leave with Isaiah’s words on your lips: “Here am I. Send me.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Underconditioned


I’ve been exercising more the last few months.  Going to the gym. Walking around the neighborhood from time to time. I’ve been a member of a fitness center for years, but in most months my monthly fee was more of a donation than anything else. And my neighborhood has always been there. I haven’t moved from a neighborhood that prohibited walking to one that allows it. Back in September I decided I needed to be a little more weight conscious and shed some pounds, but it was a decision not without some provocation.
Each summer I see my doctor for an annual checkup and, since I was displaying some concerning symptoms and given my age, he ordered me to get some tests done.  I went unhappily, but went nonetheless.  Everything seemed to go okay but, as it is, I waited anxiously to get the results from the doctor.  After a day or so his office called and with relief I heard the words, “You passed the test.” It was the next words that set me back a little. “However, Mr. Catteau, the doctor says you’re underconditioned.” 
“Underconditioned.” I had never heard that word before except maybe in a hair product commercial. But since I have little hair, I figured in this context it must mean something else. It meant I was out of shape. Overweight. Chubby. Yes, it was a word I had never heard before, but I knew what it meant. I was then told what I needed to do and I had a decision to make. Would I do it or not?
Our family is planning a trip to Nepal where one of our daughters is living. Nepal is famous for its beautiful and challenging treks through the Himalayan mountains, so my daughter suggested we go on one of these treks. Nothing dangerous or hazardous, but not such a good idea for “underconditioned” people.  I wanted to go but I had a decision to make. Would I get in better shape or not?
I know I won’t live forever, and I know I won’t be able to climb mountains much longer, but I want to live life well. I want to take control of those things that I can control – those things that will enable me to live my days most effectively and allow me to enjoy the days that God has given me. Sadly, I haven’t always done that. I had allowed myself to get “underconditioned.” It happened without me really even knowing it. But that’s how things like that usually happen, don’t they? Slowly but surely without us even realizing it.
Have you allowed yourself to slip into an underconditioned state? And what’s worse than hearing those words from a doctor’s office is hearing it from the Creator’s office. Maybe like me you need a checkup. A spiritual checkup. Maybe someone can warn you before it’s too late. Maybe it’s happened without you even knowing it. Maybe you’ve drifted further and further away from the person you want to be, the person you were created to be, to the person you are. If so, you have a decision to make. 


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Give like you’ve won the lottery

Well, I’m guessing you didn’t win the billion-dollar lottery last week.  It is fun to dream though, isn’t it? Even knowing that the odds are remarkably against us, when the stakes get that high we all imagine how such a windfall would change our lives.  I love watching the media coverage as random folks are interviewed and asked what they would do if their numbers came up. Although the specifics vary, there is usually the typical response that they would give to some charity or help people in need.  Seems like people believe that if they had an insanely large amount of money they would certainly be generous with it.

I was watching one of those news pieces last week and the cynical side of me reared its ugly head. I wondered if that person was generous now, even though they’re not a billionaire. I asked myself, “If a person is not generous with what they have, why would they expect themselves to be generous with what they might have?”

I think we’re all like that. I am. We think that if we had a lot more, then we would be generous.  If we had enough money to really make a difference, we would certainly be humane enough to make the world a better place. And that’s a good sentiment. What good human being wouldn’t want to use that money for the common good?

As good as that sounds, that thinking may be dangerous.  We must resist the belief that my generosity is only meaningful if it’s big. Jesus would beg to differ:
  • He compared God’s kingdom to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds.
  • He praised a widow woman who gave only pennies to the temple treasury even as others were giving much more.
  • Jesus commended those who only had a cup of cold water to give away, but did it in His name.
  • Jesus once received a donation from a boy who had only five loaves of bread and two fish. That little gift that even the disciples doubted could make a difference was enough to feed 5,000.
Jesus seemed to be delighted by people who gave like they won the lottery even when then hadn’t.

The world doesn’t need more lottery winners.  The world does need more people who are generous with what they have, even if it is little. So, don’t wait for the mega-millions, powerball, or sweepstakes to be a generous person.  You can be generous - you need to be generous – with whatever you have.  All of us need to give like we’ve won the lottery!


The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much. (Luke 16:10)








Monday, September 24, 2018

A New Perspective on Ugly Sweaters


Has anyone actually purchased this sweater? And if so, why!!

I am not stylish. I will never be named “best dressed” minister. I do not enjoy clothes shopping. Yet, even though shopping is a task, there are occasions when I do need to pick up an item or two and even though I don’t have an eye for what’s fashionable I can sense when something is absolutely garish. There seem to be some items that make you wonder how they ever ended up in a store. Some things are just so ugly you wonder if anybody has actually bought them.
That recently happened to me but then I looked at the situation from a different point of view. Since it is in a store, whoever buys for the store must have looked at that item and thought, “Wow, that’s very fashionable. I bet we could sell this in my store.” And going beyond that, whoever designs clothes must have sat down at their clothes-designing table (or wherever clothes are designed) and conceived that article of clothing and thought, “Wow, I’ve done a great job on this. It is beautiful. I am going to turn my concept into an actual article of clothing. I’m sure this article of clothing will be a big seller.”
I began to realize that even though it does not appeal to me, it does appeal to someone. The article of clothing that I consider appalling was someone else’s well-thought-out idea – an idea that they loved and cherished. That would go for clothes, cars, art, and just about everything – perhaps even people.
Let’s all be honest, there are some people who don’t appeal to us. I know it’s wrong, but it happens. There are people that just don’t sit right with us. It may be the way they look, the way they talk, they way they smell – there are any number of factors that might elicit in me a similar response that I had to that garish piece of clothing. “How could anyone love this person?” I might conclude.
Maybe I need to look at people from a different perspective.
Assuming you believe that God has created every person and since that person is on planet earth, He must have thought it was a good idea.  God must have sat down at his people-designing table (or wherever people are designed) and thought, “Wow. I’ve done a great job. I’m going to turn this idea into an actual person. I’m sure this person will be loved by everyone just like I love them.”
That doesn’t mean that I have to like every shirt. But what does it mean that every person who has ever lived is a uniquely designed creation of the good and perfect God? What does it mean that God has created each person in His image, the ones you like and the ones you don’t like?
That co-worker down the hallway. The neighbor down the street. The cashier at the store. The senator in Washington. The boss. And the list goes on. When God created them he said, “Wow. I’ve done a great job. I’m going turn this idea into an actual person.”
Maybe when we start seeing every person as designed and loved by God then we might be able to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Go to Church - It's Good for You!


Seems like we’re always looking for ways to make life better and there may be one way closer than you think:  Going to church! Several studies have indicated that church attendance is good for your health (both physical and mental), good for your marriage, good for your kids, and may even add a few years to your life. It’s almost universally accepted that regular church attendance yields many positive benefits. (I’ve included some links at the end of this post if you want to check out some of the research yourself.)

Now, I know the saying, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” So, what the research is talking about is more than just popping in and out of a building for an hour or so every once and a while. We’re talking about regular church attendance and an ongoing involvement in the community and service of the church.  It’s hard to deny – going to church is good for you.

Paul says as much when he writes to his protégé in the faith Timothy saying, “Training your body helps you in some ways, but serving God helps you in every way by bringing you blessings in this life and in the future life, too." (1 Timothy 4:8, NCV) Seems like Paul was ahead of the research on this one.

So, what are you waiting for, Christmas? I hear they’re open every Sunday and some even on Wednesdays.  You can probably find a group of Christians meeting on any night of the week.  If you’ve grown out of the habit of going to church, now’s the time to get back.  If you’ve never been to church, give it a try.  It’ll be good for you!

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Why Do People of Faith Live Longer?

5 Surprising health benefits of church attendance

Should you raise your kids religious? Here’s what the science says

How declining church attendance harms society

Religion may be a miracle drug