Self-Imposed Slavery - 9.23.10 0820

In the days of the Old Testament and in the lives of those without Christ, life was governed by rules, rituals and regulations. There were foods you could not eat or touch. There were drinks you could not have, and holy days that had to be observed. People were unclean and untouchable, ostracized from society. Those were the days of the Law. And we are fighting not to return to them.

One of the innumerable benefits of the death and resurrection of our Lord is that we were set free from that life. Not only from the slavery the Law had put us under, but from the slavery of earning other people's respect and admiration by following the Law. The Pharisees were lifted above other people for their continued observance of both the written and the oral Law. In turn, Pharisees would look down on those who had not the will nor the means to follow it themselves. Knowledge became power, and abstinence from certain foods and drinks became righteousness. Christ set us free from that! And yet there are groups and churches that would have us return to that life of burden.

Paul consistently wrote church after church warning them of submitting themselves back to a life lived by a law. We are to live by the Spirit instead. To the Corinthians he warned against the eating of certain foods, but by telling them to be discerning of the situation rather than placing on themselves a law of abstinence from food offered to idols. To the Galatians, he warned about slipping back into the practice of circumcision to attain God's favor and righteousness, admonishing instead the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, and following God with inner motivations as opposed to outter laws placed by other people on you. To the Colossians, his words were much less specific and much more encompassing, telling them not to let any person judge them simply by what they eat, drink, or observe - "things that are destined to perish with use."

There is a time and place for human rules and laws. If you struggle with alcohol abuse and have a hard time with self-control, abstain! Don't tempt yourself with a drink saying you'll have "just one" when you know a fifth or sixth will follow. But don't look down on others because they don't have the same problem and don't impose your abstinence on them, dressing it as if it is a mandate from God for everyone. At the same time, the rest of us shouldn't drink around those we know have a problem. Help your brother or sister by not drinking around them, encouraging them in their battle against an addiction.

In the same way, if deep down you do not feel right about killing animals for food, abstain! There are plenty of meat-free diets that can keep you healthy, but if someone else does not have the same conviction don't impose your abstinence on them. And for the other side, don't balk or scoff at people who are moved with such compassion for the rest of God's creation. Love is driving them to such abstinence and it should be respected by not eating meat around them and enjoying the meal they prepare for you.

The list can go on (smoking, Christmas and Easter and Halloween observance, Sunday as the holiest day of the week, etc.), but the point is the same for each. There is freedom in Christ from man-made laws to attain more righteousness. That freedom is not to be abused and the Spirit is to be discerned in any given situation. Nothing is evil in and of itself, but brothers and sisters should be respected for their convictions. There is a law, but it is the law of love. For God, for others. Above that, there is no greater law.

Remember that Christ died to set us free from man-made laws that make you "holy." He made you into a new creation that is already holy through your faith in him. God will direct you on what you should abstain from and where self-control may be more appropriate, because they can be two separate things. I cannot find or recall one passage in the New Testament that says abstinence on food, alcohol, or days in the year is mandated for all believers, but there are copious passages saying self-control (possibly, moderation?), discernment and respect are to be practiced. In fact, self-control is named as one of the obvious fruits of the Spirit. Can the same be said for abstinence from food or drink? No, and in fact Paul specifically condemns such actions, saying they have the "appearance of wisdom," but are lacking in value in restraining indulgence. If you lead a ministry and require followers of Christ to follow such things to be more "holy," then I can unhesitatingly say you are wrong. Your heart may be in the right place, but do not force a calling you might have on others. Allow God to govern the flock, and allow him to use you to encourage it.


What makes it real for you? - 9.19.10 0930

What if this was a true story:

Sleeping alone in my house, three men in masks broke into my apartment and dragged me naked from my bed. Roughly, they gagged me and pushed me into their car and drove. Not seeing past my blindfold and disoriented from the abuse, I struggled to think of what I might have done to warrant this hatred from these men. The car stopped and I was tossed into an abandoned warehouse of some type where they tied me to a chair and began to describe in detail how I would slowly die over the next month, the things they would do to me to prolong the pain, and how my family would follow close in my footsteps. Nothing would satisfy their anger except the death of me and my loved ones.

The next morning, after a sleepless night of kicks, punches, and wordless nightmares they suddenly stopped. With barely a word they tossed me a ragged shirt, some pants, led me to a car, and drove me home. They then pushed me out of the car and told me to get out of here, just saying I don't have to worry anymore because they had gotten the man they were really after. Then they drove off with merciless smiles, obviously relishing what would be done to their hapless victim.

See, my friend Jeremy had quickly learned what had happened to me almost as soon as I was taken, and he knew why. For reasons I still don't understand, they had been after him and his family the whole time. Understanding what they would do to me, he made the gut wrenching decision he had known would one day have to be made. He knew there was but one thing, one target for their anger, that would save the life of me and my family. And he did it. He sent his 3 year old boy to the men, to die instead of me.

I began the story by saying what if this was true. I'm finishing it now by saying it is.

If this had happened in the details I described, I would be living my life completely different with respect to Jeremy. I would be at his house immediately, on my knees, thanking him for giving up his young man to save me and my family. I would be crying with him as he struggled to tell me how hard the decision had been for him, but how he knew it was only by this self-less act that so many others he loved would be rescued. I would never leave his side, day or night, acting the part of a slave to his every need or request, knowing that his action I would never be able to duplicate in my own life. I would wake up and go to sleep everyday thanking him to his face for the ransom he paid to save me. Knowing it to be useless, some days I might angrily tell him it wasn't worth it, that he should have let us all die instead of giving his son to those horrible men to do unspeakable things to him. And every time, he would remind me that one had to die for the good of the many, that it had been horrible that the decision had to have been his, but that because of his love for me and mine, it was a decision that had to have been made.

Why is it so hard to live that life now?

Why do I have such difficulty in living for God the way I would assuredly be living for Jeremy in this situation? The event was 2000 years ago, but the results are the same. Some of the means are different, but the end product is not. I was a captive and God did what needed to be done, at great cost to himself, to free me. Not only that, he did it for those people that wanted absolutely nothing to do with him! Who does that? What kind of person does that?

A person of love.

A God of love.

Lord, help me to be a man after your own heart.


Decisions Define - 9.13.10 0840

Decisions define.

Your decisions will define who you are and who you will become.

The person you are today was completely determined by the decisions you've made up until now. It explains why two people with the same background and opportunities might rise to completely different places in life. A person who is constantly taking handouts or always choosing to reason out/excuse a fault will grow to look completely different than one who fights to rise above handouts or takes ownership of their mistakes. Or one who, above all circumstances, chooses to show loyalty to friends, family, or a job will look different than one who doesn't.

Your decision making is one of the prime molds that will determine who you will be in 20 years. If you want to be seen as a loyal person, a "successful" person, or a faithful person, than those decisions in situations that would exhibit those characteristics must be made now. Every time you react a certain way to a certain circumstance, you have either moved one step forward or one step back to where you want to be. It's the people who aren't firm on who they want to be that wake up one morning wondering how they got to where they are in life. Why am I successful with no friends? Why can't I help but lie to keep myself safe or my reputation intact? If someone doesn't have a destination in mind but they wander through life anyway, then they will inevitably find themselves where they don't want to be. Because to attain any sort of honorable characteristic takes self-discipline, hard work, and dedication. Do you want to be honorable? then find the most honorable person you know and ask them about their life. Do you want to be godly? Then read about or talk to those who are seen as such to learn about how they react to things.

If your decisions are going to determine you, then the most important thing to look at is your decision making paradigm, your faith and where you put it.

Have you seen the lives of those who put their faith in money? Where do they end up?

Have you seen those who put their faith in themselves above all else? How do their lives look?

What about those who put their faith entirely in what others can do for them?

Do you know someone who puts their faith in God?

Where you put your faith will determine the decisions you make and the person you will become.

But it gets harder and habits get more entrenched as time goes on. The longer a person commits to one direction in life, the more difficult it is to turn course. So, the sooner you figure out your faith and goals, the easier life will be to you in hitting them.

Where are you putting your faith?


Christ in Harry Potter - 7.29.10 1720

"It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high." -Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There is a page and a half in this book that caused me to elevate the entire series as one of the best ever written. It has such remarkable implications on the sacrifice of Christ that I can almost picture the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus' struggling prayer of anguish. There are, of course, massive differences between the two and I'm positive J.K. Rowling did not have Christ in mind with this scene, but if Jesus ever - at any time - felt like he was being pressured, forced, or manipulated into the cross, this is the scene that would have played out.

I could literally break this scene into three or four separate blogs, but I will keep it short by singling out some things.

Harry is struggling with the concept that it is because of the prophecy that he must try and kill Voldemort, almost that he is fated and being pushed into the arena. Dumbledore, agitated, stresses that Harry going to battle has nothing to do with the prophecy, that yes, Harry must fight, but not because of the prophecy. It's because Harry himself has it in his nature and attitude to not stop until Voldemort is destroyed. And one of the things that not only drives him to this ambition but also protects him from being overtaken is Love.

He cannot become a dark follower because his love keeps him from doing it. He must carry the battle to it's natural conclusion because love drives him to stop at nothing. Indeed, Harry's unstoppable desire to crush this evil stems from a power that Harry has and Voldemort doesn't...Love.

This is Christ.

The thing that caused Jesus to say, "Not my will, but yours be done," is love. Love for us, love for God, love to see evil vanquished.

The nature of Christ led him to battle, to see the victory won at any cost. And when he desired the "cup to pass" from him, it was his love that saw him through.

It was not because God foreordained it to be. It was because love would have it no other way.

Christ went to the cross willingly, head held high in victory, to give his life as a ransom for many.

Thank him everyday for it.

Laymen Elite - 9.5.10 0935

I was thinking about the importance of the laymen in a church.

There are, of course, some great advantages to having dedicated personnel and leaders of a church who can devote a lot of their time to studying the word and breaking things down into digestible pieces for the rest of us on a Sunday. But there are also some disadvantages to being that person. They begin to lose touch with what the rest of us deal with.

I read a story, don't remember where from (I think a text book from college) that sort of illustrates the point. The author of the book had just finished preaching and as he stood by the door with people streaming by to say thanks, one person stopped in front of him. "When are you going to preach about something that matters?" he asked. Apparently, he was a CEO, or something, of a business that was going to take over or drive out of business another owner who attends the same congregation. He was having a hard time trying to balance his business ethics and personal ethics.

Can a preacher identify with a struggle like that? Or can he just make the best assessment he can from an objective perspective?

Step in, the layman.

Have you ever noticed yourself sometimes being more moved by the meditation before communion, often given by the volunteer in the congregation? Have you ever noticed the more practical use of personal life stories given by the layman who is sharing a personal, everyday struggle he conquered rather than the funny story or cookie-cutter illustration of a sermon? Suddenly what's being said feels less like a presentation on a passage of scripture and more like an identifiable, personal, relate-able life story that inspires.

The founding fathers of America originally had Congress set up with the "Lower House" (House of Representatives) being directly elected by the people and having shorter terms, and the "Upper House" (Senate) being elected by the House of Reps and having longer terms. The purpose was to have the Lower House being closer to the people and what they wanted, what was affecting their daily lives, but keeping the Upper House more stable and mature and not wavering with the constant changing of public opinion.

Having a church without heavy use of laymen I think would be like having a Congress of only the Senate. More mature and stable from being removed from everyday life, but also less able to read the needs of the everyday people.

A laymen will also at times probably be led better by the Holy Spirit. A volunteer who speaks rarely depends more on the Holy Spirit for guidance, I think, than the professional who might accidentally depend more on their knowledge of the bible and words for the sermon. He's more likely to look at how God is moving currently in their life than to try and extrapolate how God should be moving in your life from the scriptures. With the way we have churches organized today, I believe that without some kind of balance between the pastor and a group of laymen, the church is probably a little handicapped and not touching their congregants as much as they could... or should.

"My power is made perfect in weakness."

The lack of heavy schooling and training in biblical languages may actually help more than hinder God's willingness to speak and use a vessel. We don't want to cut ourselves off from a potentially powerful source of insight simply because the "qualifications" of a "speaker" are not there. That blue collar worker may be just the person God wants to explore some profound truth or insight with the local church. One might even expect it, since history shows God purposely looking for the "unlikelees" to partner with in his plans.