Thursday, June 30, 2011

Am I A Pharisee? Learning from Other People's Mistakes

As one reads through the gospels you cannot help but be amazed by the grace and kindness of Jesus. Yet, his boldness and audacity are equally amazing. Jesus was not afraid of confrontation. The majority of his conflicts seemed to take place with the Pharisees. He calls the Pharisees hypocrites, white washed tombs, and blind guides. Why did Jesus and the Pharisees have so many disagreements? Why did Jesus use such tough words for this group? What can we discover and learn from their many mistakes?

First, we learn that outward actions of religion do not necessarily equal a relationship with God. The Pharisees were models of piety. They were faithful to the dos and don’ts of Scripture. They were careful about their own purity. Yet, all their religious activity was fake. Jesus calls them “whitewashed tombs” because their beautiful outward appearance covered the emptiness of their inward lives. In similar fashion, Christians can fall into this same trap. We do all the right things and say all the right words, but ultimately it is all show. We are dead and empty on the inside. It is crucial that are religious activity be the overflow of our love relationship with Christ.

Second, the Pharisees lack of mercy and compassion bothered Jesus. The Pharisees were more concerned about the technicalities of the Law than the condition of people. They often missed the miracles of healing and forgiveness due to their own legalism. Jesus reminds them of the verse in Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Again, Christians are tempted to make the same mistake. Often our religious activity can be divorced from our love for God and love for people. We can become so consumed with our own desires, wants, and traditions that we ignore and neglect the needs of people. If our faith begins to make us increasingly impatient and insensitive, we may need to examine who we are following. Scripture is clear…the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

Third, the Pharisees remind us of the importance of losing our life in order to find it. The Pharisees had an agenda and were unable to give it up. Jesus showed a new vision of God’s kingdom and the Pharisees would not accept it. Of course we are not tempted to have the same thoughts and views as the Pharisees did. However, we are tempted to keep control of our own life. We have agendas and sometimes we do not want to give them up. There are times when Christ shows us areas in our life we have not surrendered. There are times when Scripture confronts our prejudices and faulty beliefs. God constantly desires to shape and sanctify our lives. In those moments we have a choice, give up our life and agendas or hold onto them. Jesus tells us, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not Alone

I love the story of Joshua’s call to be the next leader of Israel. There are numerous changes about to take place for the Israelites. They are about to go from being slaves and nomads to a people rich with land and resources. They are about to become a mighty nation. Joshua is called to lead this period of transition. In addition, he is taking the place of Moses…talk about big shoes to fill! Obviously, this calling makes him scared and anxious. What if the people compare him to Moses? What if the people don’t like him? What happens if their mission fails? God does not answer these fears with a detailed plan of the future. God does not tell him that everything will be easy, and he does not try to boost Joshua’s self-esteem. Rather, God tells Joshua over and over, “Do not be afraid….do not be discouraged….for I am with you.”

God makes that same promise for us today. He will help us through the times of transition and difficulty. Life can be overwhelming at times. There are so many things to get done and numerous expectations to meet. In these moments we must remember that we do not work alone. We must trust that God can do great things through us...even in the small and tedious tasks of life. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for direction and strength. If we rely solely on our own strength and effort, we will receive the results that own hard work can do. However, if we rely on God, we will get what God can do. So…keep praying and keep trusting and watch how he does things beyond our highest expectations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keeping Up With Kenzie

Kenzie had another appointment today and had an EEG as well. The results were very good. There were a few abnormal areas, but she continues to look better and better. Her development is great and the doctor is extremley optimistic. In fact, he said only two percent of children with her original diagnoses develop normally...Kenzie is in that two percent! She will continue to take her medicine and we will have another check up in six months. Nevertheless, her prognosis looks great at this point. God is good! Thanks again for your prayers!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who is Your Jesus?

Our youth small groups are doing a series called "Deep Justice in a Broken World." The series is adapted from resources provided by Chap Clarke and Kara Powell from the Fuller Youth Institute. It is a great curriculum as it helps young people think beyond simply helping people, and invites students to be a part of God's redemptive kingdom. Our first lesson was on "Who is your Jesus?" and we began by showing this clip from the movie, "Talladega Nights"

In the scene, Ricky Bobby presents a pretty odd views of Jesus. While the clip is suppose to be ridiculous, it helps us begin to think about our own view of Jesus. The reality is that most people have an image of Jesus that is partially true, but often not complete. In fact, we tend to mold and shape Jesus in an image we are comfortable with personally. After the clip, we read different scriptures that reveal different images about Christ (i.e. Little Baby Jesus, Compassionate Jesus, Wild Jesus, Great Moral Teacher Jesus, Santa Clause Jesus, Mr. Fix it Jesus, and Contemplative Jesus).

The discussion went very well as we discussed questions like:
1. Which "image of Jesus" do you think is most common among students today?
2. Which "image" are you most tempted to emphasize?
3. What problems might be created by emphasizing one image and neglecting the others?
4. How does our image of Jesus relate to the way we live? How does it relate to us as we serve others in need?

While we can never completely understand the beauty and majesty of Christ, having a more complete view of Jesus will help us serve and worship him more fully.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

People, Places, and Grace

This past week I was ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church. For those who don't know, the process of becoming ordained in the Methodist church is a lengthy one. It typically takes 6-10 years. Needless to say, the ordination service is a big/emotional moment. A month before the service, those of us being ordained had a retreat with our bishop. During that time, we were each asked to share our faith journey with the group.

When I began to think of my faith journey, three words immediately jumped to my mind: people, places, and grace. I tried to think of another “p” word that could replace grace. Then I would have a solid 3 point outline with three words beginning with the letter P. However, I’ve never been good at that so I kept the word grace. 

But I immediately thought of people, because neither our callings nor our ministries happen in isolation. God has constantly surrounded me with people who have mentored me, encouraged me, and supported me. I think about my youth ministers and pastors who saw gifts in me that I didn’t see in myself. These were individuals I could learn from and serve with. I think about professors and fellow students who have both inspired and challenged me. I think of good friends who have helped me and held me accountable over the years. I think about my family…my wife and my daughter who have taught me so much about God’s love and goodness.

Second, when I reflect on my faith journey I think about places. In the Old Testament, God’s people made a practice of piling large rocks as monuments to the Lord’s provision. These monuments were to be reminders of God’s faithfulness. While I’ve never piled rocks onto each other, there are certain locations and places that remind me of God’s goodness. Blue Lake is one of them…I attended youth camp there four straight years. It is also the place where God originally called me into the ministry. I think about the churches I’ve served at and the schools I've attended…places where God has shaped my faith and ministry. Like the stone monuments of the Israelites, these locations remind me that there is a God who never fails, never leaves, and never forgets his promises.

The third word that comes to my mind in my faith journey is grace. Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “By the grace of God, I am who I am.” I share that same sentiment. As I look back on who I was and the direction I was heading, it is truly amazing that I am here right now. Not that I’m perfect, but only God’s grace can explain the change that has occurred within me. My life simply does not make sense apart from his presence and spirit. It is his grace that has saved me, guided me, and equipped me.