Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two bits of information:

First a brilliant quote by a man I deeply respect, the great C.S. Lewis:

“We have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females - and there is more in that than you might suppose”

Second, I wish to let everyone know that I am far more active on my Tumblr blog, which can be found here:

Thank you and have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's been a while...

I was talking recently with a vintage friend of mine (he's not old...he's vintage), and we were discussing how disposable everything has become. He spoke of a time when our society used and re-used things for long periods of time. If your lawnmower or your toaster or your car broke, you fixed it. You didn't have the luxury of just "going out and buying a new one." Clothes saw use for generations, not just seasons. But as our affluence grew, so did our waste. No longer did we as a society use things until they were used up, we simply got what we wanted out of them and then tossed them aside. It seems to me we have come to do the same thing with each other.

That brings me to my thoughts today. It's been over three months since my last post. A lot has happened, and the last two months have been an interesting journey for me. I have seen people in my life who I cared for step out of my life for reasons still relatively unknown, and I have watched God bring other people, some of whom I wouldn't have expected, to encourage me and reaffirm their opinion of my worth. Now, I know that as a Christ-follower I need only be concerned with the reality that God loves me ridiculously, and His opinion of me is the only one that truly counts. But yet, I also know that God created us in His image, and part of God's nature is that He is relational. Even within the Godhead itself is a three-part relationship among the Father, Son, and Spirit. So knowing that, I realize that it is part of my very being to desire relationship with others. It is part of my nature to want to be valued not only by God, but by other people. And that's why it hurts when I am rejected in whatever way by those who I have spent time investing myself into. It seems like I have reached the end of my usefulness to them, and I am discarded.

But what bothers me about this is less about my own hurts, but more about the reality that it seems that as people we have become more and more disposable to each other. In friendship, marriage, within the context of the church, everywhere it seems. If a point is reached that we no longer benefit each other or that the relationship has become strained, we can cut each other out of our lives and walk away. If we come to the place that we no longer like the way things are being done in our church, no problem, we just simply go find another church. If we decide that we and our spouses are just no longer a good match, we find another relationship to take their places. We have become disposable.

The incredible act of sacrifice that Jesus did on the cross was meant to achieve a Redemption. We often focus on the redemption of man to God. But there is another redemption that was meant to be effected by the cross: the redemption of humankind to each other. Not only did Christ's work on the cross shatter the barrier between man and God, it shattered the barriers that divided mankind from each other. What is interesting is to study how many references there are to peace among men in the New Testament. It's all over the place. In fact, love within the Church is the chief identifying trait. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Unfortunately, just like the sin of pride will place a wedge between us and God, that same pride can destroy our relationships with each other. Which brings us back to my original point. When we regard our relationships as disposable, we are evidencing an arrogance that ignores that part of Christ's work on the cross was to bring peace among men. We refuse to extend grace and forgiveness, and we retain our "right" to anger and hurt. I certainly have been guilty of that. So what do you do when you have attempted to make peace, and there is a rejection? You still have to surrender your heart to peace in spite of the hurt. I am walking that journey right now (you can pray for me in that regard, by the way).

In some cases, there may have to be a severing of the connection, until, prayerfully and hopefully, there may be a time where there is a mutual surrender and a possible restoration. The question we face, however, is are we open to that, should it occur? Are we open to restoration? That is the true test of the desire for peace. Paul writes in Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Does that mean that I try to be everyone's best friend, or that I have an obligation to be best friends with everyone? I don't think so. Sometimes, living at peace requires establishing a distance. But the real issue is one of the heart. I can place distance between myself and another without wishing them ill will. And again, is my heart open to the possibility of relationship, should there be a mutual surrender? I believe this is how we keep our relationships from becoming disposable. But it really requires a full on surrender to the Spirit. It's not in our nature. That's why we HAVE to "put on Christ". It's the only way. The only way to truly love in the Spiritual, "agape" love is to wrap ourselves in the nature of Christ.

He's a master at recycling what we've thrown away, and if we yield ourselves to Him, there is a distinct possibility that those relationships that became disposable to us and to others can be brought back to a place of fruitfulness, testifying to the power of Christ in lives surrendered to Him.

I love you all, and I look so forward to the Day when we can stand in true unity, free from our flesh that divides.

Come soon, Lord!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Only Integrity Can Bring Credibility

Last night I presented the youth group with a topic for discussion that led to some pretty powerful insights. (I love talking with teens. They are passionate and idealistic, and not nearly as jaded as a lot of us older folks). The topic of discussion is whether or not the church as a corporate entity should engage in the legal battle over the right to gay marriage. It is a difficult topic, to be sure, and one that has various peripheral side issues as well. We established that Scripture is very clear on the sinfulness of homosexuality, so that wasn't the issue. The question was concerning how the church should respond. It was a fantastic discussion with a lot of amazing thoughts and observations. But one of the points that was made has really stuck with me. Paraphrased, it was pointed out that it is hard for the church to have any credibility in this discussion because it is obvious by the divorce rate among evangelical Christians that we don't take God's plan for marriage very seriously, either. OUCH. TRUE.

Which brings me to this thought: as Believers, to have any credibility in our engagement with unbelievers, there has to be true integrity in our lives. It seems like such a given, but yet it perhaps is truly the core issue that we need to confront. There is no shortage of Truth being taught and preached, but there is a drastic shortage of people who are taking that Truth and living their lives by it. There is perhaps no greater obstacle to the Message of the Gospel than those who claim to have been changed by that Gospel and yet show very little evidence of that change. Oh, they perhaps have stopped drinking, or smoking, or all of those terribly evil things that hellbound sinners do, yet they remain spiteful, unforgiving, unloving, legalistic, etc... In essence, all they have done is trade one type of sin for another. Sin that is less obvious, easier to hide, and much easier to spiritualize and justify. Unbelievers see this (and they always do) and conclude that this great message of "being changed from the inside out" is purely farcical. New Believers see and experience this, and are driven from the church out of hurt and disillusionment. Certainly there is room for humanity, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about good old (or bad) hypocrisy in it's purest form. We say one thing but we do another. We present an image of what we want people to see, but we are something different. There are those who refuse to admit weakness or failure out of pride, or out of fear that those elements of humanity will weaken the integrity of the gospel. But here's the amazing thing: the reality of the power of the gospel is actually strengthened in our humanity. Jesus spoke of this truth when He told the Pharisees in Matthew 9:12-13, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
The Pharisees worked excruciatingly hard to cover and disguise any weakness or failure. Those things that they couldn't cover, they chose to ignore. They couldn't see that the power of the Gospel is only effective in those who recognize their own great need for it. Paul was talking about the same concept when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." The power of God is not to disguise our humanity, but to transform it.

Somewhere along the line, we began to mistake surface perfection (or close-to-perfection) for deep spirituality. As it has been wisely pointed out before however, that "if not smoking, drinking, gambling, or doing all those things that Christians aren't supposed to do makes someone spiritual, then my dog is the most spiritual person I know!". My own dog Roxy does none of those "unChristian" things, is super obedient, and "heals" on command. I'm positive she's saved. But I digress...

Here's my point: Whether or not the church should vocally oppose the legalization of gay marriage is one thing, but what can't be ignored is the fact that we are so adamant that gay people wanting to get married is destroying the sanctity of marriage, but yet practically ignoring the fact that the divorce rate among evangelicals is as high or slightly higher than secular culture! So, I ask, who is really the most destructive to the Biblical sanctity of marriage, those who are unregenerate and aren't held to Biblical standards, or those who claim to believe those Biblical standards but refuse to live by them?

If we as Believers want Unbelievers to take anything we say seriously, there MUST be a deep spiritual integrity. There MUST be true Spirit-driven love in our lives. There MUST be a uncompromising commitment to the WHOLE Truth of the Word of God, not just those things that pander to our flesh, whether it is flesh that manifests itself in carnality, or flesh that disguises itself as spirituality.

I am encouraged by what I am seeing in our body at Calvary Bullhead, and elsewhere within the Church. There is a movement to move beyond the trappings of mere religion and instead focus our energy on what is truly needful and most important. There is a willingness and a desire to become more open and transparent with each other and to live with each other as a family. Of course there are those who are uncomfortable with that, and will continue to disguise and spiritualize their own humanity and shortcomings, but there will always be those people. I have come to the conclusion that I can't worry about them. All I can do is pray for them and continue to love them and to keep moving in this direction. And that it what I pray, that the Body of Christ will continue to hold to the Truth of the Word of God, and to walk in true integrity.

To be sure, we must speak the Truth, but if we are not allowing the Truth to first change us, how can we expect it to change anything else?

I love you all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stolen Candlesticks

I remember a time recently where I was helping a guy out (well, the church was, I was only the “delivery guy”) with some needed financial assistance, and as I gave him the cash, he began to lay a guilt trip on me about how much more he was going to need to make things work out for him. At that moment, I became pretty irritated. I kept my composure, and just explained that this was what we could do, and what had been agreed upon. As I left his hotel room, I was really struggling with my anger. I told the Lord, “Lord, I am sick and tired of trying to help people and all they seem to do is take it for granted. I mean, you give and give, and hardly is there ever anyone who sincerely thanks you, they just act bummed that you didn’t give them more!” Quietly the Lord reminded me of the many times that there HAVE been people who sincerely appreciated the help they were given, and that there have been many people who genuinely needed the help.

But then (as usual, because He always likes to bring the focus back on me and my own issues) He began to remind me of all the times that I have taken His grace (The Greek word “charis” – unmerited favor) for granted. I have received grace and instead of appreciating it, I got an attitude because God didn’t seem to do what I wanted Him to do. I thought of just how many times (as if I could count that high) I have messed up, only to have His grace and mercy poured out on me. I began to feel ashamed of my attitude. As I asked the Lord for forgiveness, I found myself thinking of the times that I have “helped” someone with a smile on my face, but in my heart I really had an attitude towards them. I thought of how generous the Lord is with what is His. He didn’t have to give us all these amazing resources, and when you come down to it, it’s all His anyway, as David pointed out: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalms 24:1 ESV). If it is all His, then He can give it to who He wants to, and it’s not up to us to decide who gets what. Now I have understood this for a long time, but I still carried an attitude sometimes. But I realized that by having an attitude when giving, in a sense I am guilty of the same attitude of the unforgiving servant that Jesus told us about in Matthew 18. I have been not only forgiven so much, but I have been given so much!

In light of that, how can I possibly distribute God’s resources with an attitude? Jesus said in Matthew 10, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Now, in the Greek, that word freely literally means “for nothing” – in other words, “no strings attached”! And that includes my attitude, because if I am giving with an attitude, then not only am I misrepresenting the Lord, I am assuming the position of deciding who REALLY deserves what, AND I’m just flat out being a hypocrite. With my actions I’m saying one thing, but with my heart, I’m saying something totally different.

There’s one other reason why it is important to give “no strings attached”. If we don’t, and we give out of “this is what I have to do, but I’m really not happy about it, and I really don’t think you deserve this, etc.”, then we will slowly get more and more bitter towards those who need help. We will become more and more jaded, and eventually we may even cease helping at all, which means that we completely stop representing Christ to this world.

I am reminded of Victor Hugo’s great work “Les Miserables”, in which the main character Jean Valjean escapes from prison and hides in a church. The bishop is very kind to him, feeding him and caring for him. Jean flees the church, however, and steals some silver candlesticks from the church. He is captured, but when he is brought back to the church, the bishop tells the guards (who are unaware he is an escaped prisoner) that he gave Jean the silver. The guards release him, and the priest later tells Jean, “I have redeemed you with these two candlesticks”. Jean goes on to become a man who lives his life for the benefit of others. How do we know that the guy that we are helping out isn’t a “Jean Valjean”, and that our gift may be the catalyst in his life that finally brings him to Jesus? It isn’t up to us to decide, but to give. God has given us everything, freely, with no reproach. He has redeemed our lives with the life of His own Son, and then filled us with Himself, giving us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”(Eph. 1:3). Simply astounding!

It is my prayer that we, as the body - the “hands and feet”, if you will - of Christ, will give like He does, and love like He does, because that’s what really makes the difference. Let us hold loosely to the things of this life, choosing to be a conduit, not a receptacle, of God’s grace and provision.

I love you all...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fresh Fish Or Freshly Fixed?

That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. John 21:7 (ESV)
So a few weeks had passed since Jesus had risen from the dead and had met His disciples in the upper room. One day Peter decided, "I am going fishing". The others said, "We're going with you". So out they went.As they fished that night, they caught exactly zip. Nothing. Nada. Here they were, professional fishermen, and they couldn't even catch a gefilte fish. All night they drifted, with no results.How discouraging! They used to make a living doing this, and now they seemed totally inept. And then something happened. In the morning, as they drifted back towards the shore, someone from the beach called out to them, "Hey, kids, did you catch anything"? (My paraphrase)They called back, "No". I would imagine there's nothing more irritating and frustrating when you're fishing and not doing well than someone walking up and asking, "Didja catch anything?" But then this person yelled back, "Throw your nets on the OTHER side, and you'll find the fish!". I can imagine Peter thinking, "Uh... yeah, because there's a huge distance between the two sides of a small fishing boat... ok, whatever, bro." And yet, perhaps this suggestion triggered something in his memory, because that's what they did, and sure enough, "Jackpot!!!" Then we find this verse: "That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” (John 21:7)
John totally realizes it's the Lord - After all, He had suggested the same thing before with the same results. And then Peter does something that seems strange: he takes his outer garment (like a cloak), puts it on, and then jumps into the water. Weird, huh? Why, if you were going to jump into the water, would you PUT ON more clothes? Well, here's my suggestion: Peter had once been a fisherman until this Jesus had told Peter to follow Him, saying, "I will make you a fisher of men". While he followed Jesus, that's exactly what he did. But that night in the courtyard, when he denied Jesus... Maybe he just couldn't shake that. Maybe he didn't feel worthy to be with Jesus, even though Jesus had proved He was Who He said He was. But when Jesus called out to throw the nets on the other side, and all those fish crammed into the nets, perhaps for Peter it was the reminder he needed of just Who Jesus was. And so he grabbed his coat, and jumped into the water. I don't think he planned on going back to that boat – that’s why he grabbed his stuff. He didn't care what the others did, he wanted to see Jesus. It's interesting to me that after they had eaten breakfast, Jesus has a conversation with Peter, and asks him three times if Peter loves Him to which Peter affirm his love for Jesus. And then Jesus tells Peter that he is going to die bringing glory to God, in effect telling him that he's never going back to fishing. He has been restored, and is given a commission to "feed My sheep". Sometimes in our lives we are at a place where we have been serving God, and seeing Him do marvelous things.He has turned us from "fishers of fish", to "fishers of men." But then something happens. Maybe it's sin, maybe someone hurts us, maybe we become discouraged. But whatever the cause, we find ourselves sitting in a smelly fishing boat, having fished all night, and having caught nothing, feeling discouraged.You know why?Because that's not what God has called to or equipped us to do. He called us out from the smelly fish, has given us new life, and new purpose, and He desires to use us to bring others to Him.
May I encourage you to never go back to "fishing"?God is always faithful to restore what the enemy rips off, and no matter what has happened, God wants to use you, and He has equipped you for something far greater than just "fishing for fish".So like Peter, when you see the Lord doing great things around you, grab your stuff, jump in and head to Jesus, because He has great plans for you!

I love you all,

Pastor CJ

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The new "Stuff Christians Like"...

Yeah, I know I haven't written anything original in a while. But as a consolation prize, I offer Jon Acuff's most recent post on his blog. Read it, chew on it, and then go clean out your "judging box".

What Christians Like