Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More than Scraps

Sometimes I am amazed at the thoughts that come to my head in the midst of teaching or preaching. Good thoughts, I mean. Or shall I say, God thoughts. I want to be faithful to the text (the Bible), and to present God's Word in a manner that is not only well-studied, but in a manner it can be understood, and thus applied. Honestly, sometimes I think I do this ok, other times not. This past Sunday, I think I did it well, but as it always is, it was because He showed up. I wish I could effectively capture all of what happened that day on this blog, but I will at least try to present the moment that began to set up all that took place. The day was truly a "But God" kind of day.

The current series is on our need to Engage! The primary text continues to be Jesus' response to Peter's great confession that Jesus was the Messiah. The statement, "I will build my church" (from Matthew 16.18) has taken on a life of its own in my personal life, and I am trying to share it with others. So, this series is about isolating those five words (and then two others from later in the sentence), one week at a time. This week's word was BUILD. The main premise is that Jesus is the I whom we can trust to build, His will is to build, so we should let Him, and this week, we found out what the "I" "will" do. He will build! But an effective building campaign needs the right person, the right plans, and the right materials. (You can listen to the sermon here. Or read the related post on the church's site, here.) The amazing thing is that WE are the materials He has chosen to use to build His Church (capital C because I am talking about the universal church - all places for all time).

As an illustration for the sermon, I had pulled a couple of pieces of small wood scraps to use. But I also had recently been given a nice and solid piece of wood that served as part of an entertainment center that my uncle was discarding. He knew the piece was nice and could be re-used by someone with skill, but did not have the time or space to deal with it. So he gave it to me - not that I could use it because I have no skill in that area (something my uncle knows all too well), but so someone with skill could use it. (By definition, the piece of wood, pictured here, is a scrap because it was leftover from something else. But the comments below show a different perspective!)

Before our services started for the day, I mentioned that piece of wood was available to two gentlemen. One of them commented, "That isn't a scrap!" The other said, "The small pieces aren't scraps either. If the wood is more than six inches, it still has some good use to it."

Well, that is true IF...IF you know what you are doing. I don't. So to me, they are scraps. But not to these two individuals or to many others. And especially not to someone who might be responsible for creating the material in the first place. Like God created us. And that is where God showed up. A small illustration that I had intended, fed by the comments of my two friends earlier, turned into a major focal point of the message. How? Or why? Because, too often, we consider ourselves worthless to God and the work He is doing. We feel like scraps that should be thrown on a pile to be destroyed (burned?) because it is worthless. But not Jesus! Jesus doesn't cast aside others even when we do. And Jesus doesn't give up on us, even when we are quick to give up on ourselves. He not only can use our scraps, but legitimately, knew all we could give Him in the first place was a sin-tainted life, and He chose to purchase us with His blood anyway.

So, Jesus has a plan to build His church. He has been for some 2000 years, and continues to do so through people like us. But we must make ourselves available. We must realize He can do more with us than we can imagine. And He wants to IF...IF we will just let Him.

After the service, another friend stuffed a small piece of paper in my shirt pocket with a note about what he had written during this portion of the message. His words capture much of the essence of this God-inspired service so well. I conclude with his words (and permission) to post what he wrote that morning.

"Everything built - blocks, lincoln logs, legos, lumber, nails, bricks & mortar, even our bodies - can be torn down. What can't be torn down is our spirit, which God built. He has built us a place...who are we to decide who He uses as the building blocks for that space? With Him, His house is eternal...we need to share that so others can be building blocks."


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Risen, A Review

Two years ago, I posted an entry on the tetrad of movies that released in late Winter and early Spring. The movies were promoted as Christian, whether they were or not. You can read that post here. This movie is different though. So, I will put in my two cents with the understanding, I am not a movie critic, nor do I care to be. But as a pastor, professor, and a student of the Bible, some have asked, and others will ask, my thoughts on the movie. So, here goes, with a promise of no major spoiler as it relates to the movie. Well, Jesus did rise from the dead, but regarding the movie, that happens early...Regarding life, that isn't a spoiler, that is the reason for our Blessed Hope (Titus 2.13)!

The movie is told through the story of a Roman soldier who must investigate the truth into the disappearance of Jesus from the grave. Thus, it is told through the eyes of someone living in a culture who did not believe (nor would he care to have believed) in a Messiah. In fact, Clavius (the soldier) states his main god is Mars (a Roman guard of war). The movie begins with Clavius beginning to tell his story to a man in the Judean wilderness (as soon as I saw the landscape, I told Susan "That looks like the Judean wilderness." It is nice to have traveled there, but alas the movie was shot in Spain and Malta, so props to the CGI staff!)

Clavius recalls returning from a battle (interesting sidenote: Barabbas is a part of the battle just after having been released during Jesus' trial), and being sent by Pilate to ensure matters of a Nazarene being crucified are carried out properly amidst unrest in the area. Thus, Clavius is present for the death which sets the background for all that follows. My intent here, however, is not to recount the movie, but to provide a few insights.

First, I liked the movie. I went to be entertained, not to grow in my faith. This is Hollywood, not the Bible. I did enjoy the movie and can say that without reservation. It is well-acted, and a good story. There are a few scenes that would not be comfortable for young children (or squeamish in general), but it was not gruesome. What was shown was truly a part of what might have happened (for instance, digging up dead bodies which had died within the same time period to determine if one was Jesus). This was the beauty of the film which largely centers on potential events based upon Matthew 28.11-15. While the events are not perfectly known, certainly Roman soldiers were looking for any of Jesus' followers, Pilate was definitely concerned with a bad report reaching the emperor, and any who saw Jesus dead could have had extreme difficulty trying to reconcile what the possibility of Him returning to life (we criticize Thomas for doubting, but put yourself in those shoes).

Ultimately, the movie does a good job depicting these story lines. It also does a reasonable job of setting the scenery for the movie. For instance, near the end of the movie, when the disciples were gathered at the Sea of Galilee, the background looked EXACTLY like a beach at St. Peter's Restaurant where we had lunch one afternoon, with the mountains in the background removed as well as the restaurant, obviously.

Again, I liked the movie, it was entertaining, but...there is always a but. This "but" is not about the movie so much as it is the expectations. Again, I don't go to movies expecting to be taught about the Bible. Thus, when biblical inconsistencies arise, I tend not to get too disturbed. But others might, and I do realize that such issues can create doubts. This is why I am writing this blog. But because I do not want to nitpick, I will share two issues from the same scene.

First, I have seen a comment or two that the movie is as biblically accurate as any movie in quite some time. I agree that it is biblically accurate WHERE the Bible is directly used. Again, most of the story takes place outside of what is recorded in the Bible. The use of the Bible is NOT exact when it is used, but it is used quite reasonably.  Some minor sequence issues might catch the attention of the astute observer, but nothing is earth shattering. For instance, as Jesus prepares to depart the earth, John 14.1 is mixed in with Matthew 28.19-20 and Acts 1.8. In reality, Jesus could have said that He was going to prepare a place as a part of the other verses, but Matthew nor Luke record it. But that IS what He is doing right now, so it cannot be considered erroneous, it is just out of sequence.

The second point (again, related to the same scene) does cause some measure of concern. The portion of Jesus' command to baptize in the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded" was omitted. Is the omission purposeful? Did contention arise over those words between the makers, director, producers, etc? I have no insight to the matter, but perhaps it was not essential to the story. The command to make disciples of all nations is essential (but I promised no spoilers), but the how, for what the movie was trying to portray, was not.

One final note, the main character was Clavius, but a couple of Jesus' followers had their character developed a little. One of the high points of the movie for me, was seeing Bartholomew as a living person. His is a name we read in the list of disciples in three of the gospels and Acts. Because we do not hear much of him in the Bible, we know little about him. Such facts give free reign to an actor and director, and all I can say is "Well done!" His character was very refreshing, and especially so, at the point in the movie where his character was introduced.

So, would I recommend seeing Risen? Yes. If you are going to see a movie, this would be a good choice. I wouldn't call it an epic (some are), so if you are not the movie-going type, simply wait until it is on video, and get together with a group to watch it. Watching with others is my primary recommendation - regardless of whether the others present are Christian or not. Risen can create a good deal of discussion, and the conversations that follow this movie might have eternal consequences for someone. Very few movies provide that possibility, so we should take advantage of those that do.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Being Significant

Growing up, like many people, I wanted to be someone important. Frankly, at the time, I did not know what that truly meant, but being well-known, such as a star baseball player, would have satisfied this goal. Or at least I thought it would have.

But the reality is that being important is very subjective, and is usually very short-term. Consider your best friend in second grade. That person was extremely important to you. Your world revolved around that person and maybe a few others. For most of us, that person, or small band of friends is long since forgotten. We have lost touch with them, and lost track of them. Some reading this may even struggle to remember the names, and that is a part of the point. This example is not to belittle the importance of this person, but to show the relativity of the idea of importance itself. Over time, new friends and other people have become important for a season in your life, but then fade as well. For instance, your first boss was important. But, unless you still have the same boss, or are related to that first boss, your current boss is more important than your first one.

But significance is different. I suppose that is what I meant when I was young. I wanted to be someone of significance. Again, to me, at the time, that probably meant some young boy would emulate me while playing baseball and have my statistics memorized. But that isn't what significance is either. And while significance also tends to waver throughout our lives, significance can be long-lasting. Again, let me provide a brief example.

Your teachers in school were important. They provided feedback as to your learning. This feedback, largely in the form of a grade was important to allow you to participate in extracurricular activities, perhaps to get an academic scholarship, or just to stay out of trouble with someone who cared. But as important as the professional teacher was, someone in your life was significant because they taught you something that has stayed with you. Perhaps this was a teacher, but the individual(s) could have been a friend, a grandparent, an uncle or aunt or parent, etc. In some special way you remember this person for whatever may have been taught - either good or bad.

This past Sunday, my sermon* related the need for us to consider our purpose significant because our Lord was significant and He is the One who has called us to fulfill our purpose. Just like the people we remember from our past, others remember us because of the impact we have had upon them. But in an age of being so task-oriented, we can lose sight of what is important (an empty inbox, a tv show, etc.). And in reality, much of what we consider important is quite repetitive (showing up for work, taking out the trash, eating, etc). It isn't that these things aren't important because we must be paid, we don't want the house to stink, and we have to eat). But they are not significant.

The truth is if you do something important, it may not be significant. However, if you do something significant, it will always be important. The challenge before us then, is to find ways each day to do something significant for God. It isn't that we need to try harder, it is that we need to train our minds differently. Trying harder is usually all about us, but to be significant is to be about God and His work. 

I guess after all these years my hope to be important has faded. However, I do desire to be significant - significant for God and His kingdom. So, I guess for me to be significant, it isn't about me at all. Of course, I need to do my part, but if God has called me to it, then He should get the glory for it! As John the baptizer said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3.30).

That's my desire. What about you? Will you choose to be significant today?

* The blog post on the church's page is an edited transcript of the sermon. To listen to the actual sermon, click here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Matter of Trust

On Super Bowl Sunday, my sermon was on the the reasons we can trust Jesus. In the sermon*, I called Him a magnificent Savior. Now, you might say that is a matter of opinion, and I would agree to a point, but ultimately it is a matter of faith. We all place our faith in something. For instance, I am sitting in a chair as I type this. Without even thinking about it, I sat down in this chair fully expecting it to support my weight. I expect the back of the chair to provide support for my back and a small pillow to provide lumbar support so my back will not hurt later. In reality, I have no idea which company sold this chair, which manufacturer made this chair, and which employee (or employees) actually assembled the parts. But I have faith that they knew what they were doing, and for nearly five years the chair has supported me fine (and presumably the same is true for a pastor, two, or more before me).

My point is that we all exercise our faith everyday. When a light switch is flipped on, we expect the power to be there to light the room. When preparing to get dressed, we expect our clothes to be where we left them, and to still fit. And, of course, we expect gravity to remain in effect. When these type of expectations fail in movies or television shows, it creates suspense (a light doesn't come on), or humor (overnight growth in the movie "Big") or perhaps some other reaction. We take so many aspects of life for granted in ways that we don't require an active faith - rather our faith has become an assumption, or expectation.

And the same is true for faith in Jesus. Many discount Jesus because He has not been seen, is not known to be real, or any number of other reasons. But no one has seen gravity, only it's effect. Well, I contend that Jesus can be seen throughout every aspect of life, if we will only look. And it is more than simply knowing He could be present, it is expecting Him to be. And it is more than simply expecting Him to be present, it is having faith that He truly is. And it is more than having faith that He is present, it is exercising our faith because He is.

The exercise of one's faith is because we have trust in the object of our faith. For me, I wish that object was Jesus more often than it is sometimes. Yet, the true object of my true faith is Jesus. What I mean is that my devotion may waver, my faith may wander, but my intention is to have faith in, and to live by faith because of, Jesus. That requires trust. For me, the issue of the Bible's truth is resolved. The issue of Jesus' life is settled. And I find Him to be a magnificent Savior, not just because of what I have read in the Bible, not just because I have now seen many of the biblical sites firsthand, but because of the changes in my life that are only possible by having faith in Him.

For me, Jesus is worth trusting. For me, Jesus is worth following. I wish I was more faithful in following, in trusting, in living by my faith. But I know that Jesus has a plan for me, just as He does for each of us. The question is do we trust Him enough - as our magnificent Savior - to follow, to trust, and to devote our lives to Him?

So, in what, or in whom, do you place your faith? We all place it somewhere whether we think about it or not. But to become more than you are today, you need to consider where you are heading...what is worth seeking/following...what is worth your devotion. It is simply knowing what is important - to you. Truly, it is simply just a matter of in whom, or what, you will place your trust.

* The blog post on the church's page is an edited transcript of the sermon. To listen to the actual sermon, click here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Following Jesus, Obstructing Jesus

The week before last (Jan 31), I preached a sermon introducing a series on our need to engage (Engage!). You can find a link to the blog here. You may also listen online here. The purpose of this series is two-fold. First, my hope is to remind our church of our vision, mission, strategy, and steps over the next several weeks using Matthew 16, and primarily verse 18 as our focal point. Second, this series will establish a strong foundation for the next series which will focus on the person of Jesus, and how He responded to the various opportunities that were brought to Him or that He specifically sought. Ultimately, the notion is that both series will encourage us to be ready to be used by God in both small, and in mighty ways, and yet, in all ways that He might receive the glory!

In the context (verses 13-20, especially), Jesus has asked His disciples how others are identifying Him. Then He asks His disciples for their thoughts. Peter responds (probably blurts out, knowing Peter!) that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God. What a great response. And Jesus pronounces a beatitude upon Peter (blessed are you), not for having made the response, but for having been given this truth by God the Father.

The problem is that in the verses to follow, Jesus speaking as God's anointed One (that is what Messiah, or Christ means) tells His followers that He must now go to Jerusalem to be mocked, beaten, and eventually die. Once again, it is Peter who speaks up claiming that Jesus is speaking nonsense. And frankly Peter was right from a human perspective. Looking back on the story, and knowing how it ends, we see Peter's response as out-of-line. But truthfully, should the "Son of the living God" have to die at the hands of His created beings? As that moment developed, Peter's statement was one of loyalty, of friendship, and of concern to the Man whom He had given up everything to follow. But, unknown to Peter, the purpose of Jesus life was far more than He could have imagined at that point.

So, what about you and me? Jesus and His disciples were in Caesarea Philippi, perhaps surrounding a campfire eating, when Jesus asks the questions of His disciples. "Who do others say I am?" "Who you you say I am?" Jesus expected a different answer the second time? Why? Because those that have been with Him more should know Him better. The others gave high praise to Jesus by comparing Him to notable prophets and John the baptizer. But the disciples should have known Jesus was even greater. And they did. And for even fuller measure, Peter's response puts Jesus in a higher position than the Caesar in a town named for a Caesar (it's currently known as Banias). It is important to note that Caesars were considered as gods, so after a Caesar died, his son was the "son of a dead god." But Jesus' Father was alive and working mightily through Jesus (which Peter, James, and John would see even more clearly in Matthew 17)!

So, Jesus expected their answer to His question to be different. And it was. Just like He expects that answer of His followers to be different today. And just like Peter, who still had his own purpose and desires in mind even after making such a grandiose statement about the person of Jesus, too often we put our purpose and desires above God's. And the same lips (Peter's) that properly acknowledged Jesus would quickly turn to confront Him for doing the will of God. And, as we know, those same lips would betray Jesus altogether while Jesus was later on trial. Again, we are often guilty of the same practice today.

But Jesus calls us to be in the world, not of it. That is why this blog is named fotonni. The word is the three words, in not of, spelled backwords. Fotonni symbolizes that we often live our lives backwards from how we should, and even how we wish we could. So, we need to turn our world around (or better yet, let God do it), so we can effectively live the life that He wants us to live.

For this post, living that life, is about not being an obstacle to what God wants to do. And the first question is, "What does He want to do?" Certainly that answer has unique considerations to all of us. However, many common points such as "Love one another" (John 13.35) and "Go, make disciples" (Matthew 28.19-20) are evident as well. The point is that each Christ-follower must find what He wants to do, what He wants us to do, an then do it. While the answer on what He is choosing to do at any given point may be difficult to discern, the truth is He knew His closest followers would give a better answer to His question because they had spent time with Him and, thus, knew Him. Likewise, as we spend more time with Jesus, we will get to know Him better - not just for the sake of knowing His title, but more importantly that we might know how we might best serve Him as an individual, as a member of a church, and as Kingdom-minded citizens, serving the one true King!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Transition Time

It has been nearly a year since I posted, and in the world of blogging, that is not a good thing. But a couple of major changes have taken place in that time. Neither of the issues were meant to prevent the blogging, but both did. But now, I have had further time to reflect and thus, I intend to start again, only in a new way. The two items, and the new process are below.

1) I finished my dissertation. This was huge, and has certainly been a relief. Yet, the end of that process is simply the beginning of a new aspect in ministry. This is not to say that I am leaving my church, or position as pastor; rather, it is an addition to what I am already doing, and now feel led to do for other churches. Essentially, my dissertation centered on comparing several of Paul's letters to a theory on human development, to see if certain issues faced by churches in the first century (and now!) have any relation to the challenges that a human faces in development. As I flesh out my next steps a little further, I intend to start a blog to focus on how the biblical writing can help us to better understand the life-cycle challenges of a church. When ready to launch that blog, I will post about it here first.

2) I learned that the church owns my sermons, not me. This is a great point of debate among many people, and options exist. However, right now is not the time for me to invest in this debate. Certainly, many pastors have agreements with the churches they serve that allow for personal use, and perhaps that will be worth further consideration in the future. Please note: this is not a point of contention for me or the church I serve, but it has created some complexity in returning to the blogging scene. But for now, I will simply post sermon information on a church-related blog, and then post some further reflections here a few days later. Truthfully, this will help me to better reflect for a longer time after the sermon. As pastors, we often live with our sermons for a few days before we preach, but with the nature of ministry and the preparation of another lesson (or 2, 3, 4, etc.), and another sermon, we rarely are able to reflect any more than the rest of the congregation does. This blog is about being in, not of, so perhaps, it this will be an encouragement to all who read it to take time out of the hectic pace of life to add a little more reflection throughout the week.

These two areas (dissertation, and sermon ownership) have caused a lengthy hiatus. But, Lord willing, I intend to be back here mid-week each week with some reflective comments, and perhaps another post or two along the way. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the sermon blogs will move to a new blog started by the church entitled "Bread Crumbs." It can be found here. I hope this transition will be more beneficial for all. Most importantly, I hope this new endeavor can glorify God with whatever portion of Kingdom work, He has assigned to me.