Reset…

reset

 

You know the drill.

Your computer freezes.  You click your mouse.  Nothing.  You try to click out of the program.  Nothing.  You try to minimize the window.  Nothing.  You speak to your computer with four letter words.  Nothing.

You might try Ctrl+Alt+Delete.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  When all else fails, you push the button.

What button?  The one that turns the computer off.  You know it will take time.  You know you will lose work.  The alternative is to stay frustrated and hope your anger melts the computer’s brain freeze.

I don’t know why, but this works most of the time.  Electrons get back on track.  The mouse works again.  Programs and apps are opening.  The computer needed to reset.

You need to reset too.

God knows this.  That’s why he commanded the Sabbath (Note: he didn’t suggest it).  Once a week you need twenty-four hours to unplug, remember what’s important, and reset.

You may not know God told his people they needed time off.  In his instructions to his people, he told them to celebrate festivals.  God said to his people “Spend three weeks a year feasting, worshiping, and resetting.

You need more than a day to reset.  You need days strung together to remember what’s important.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our vacations.  We get away, but we don’t reset.  We don’t create emptiness so God has space to speak to us.  It is ok to do nothing.  Doing nothing means there is room in your soul for God to say something.

To reset, you may need some vacation time that doesn’t involve Disney.  You may need to shut down your cell phone.  You may need to take a break from social media (you will not be forgotten).  You may need to explain to the kids that part of vacation will be creating space to reset.

Include God in your vacation time.  Ask him what needs to be reset.  Let him whisper to you about your soul clutter.  Soul clutter is all that occupies space in your soul and becomes a “have-to.”  Somethings have to be done – laundry, grocery shopping, etc.   But there are “have-to’s” that aren’t.  You don’t have to involve your child in five sports.  You don’t have to do your adult child’s laundry.  You don’t have to meet the guys at the hunt club at 5 AM for a workday (when the sun doesn’t come up until 6 AM).

Reset means giving yourself time to see your life as it really is.  Reset means giving yourself room to hear from God about what your life needs to be.

Time to reset.  Take a deep breath.  Push the button.  Shut down your operating system.  Let your heart rate slow down.  Do nothing.  Listen for God.

Reset.

Why Hell?

 

I’ve been reading this week reasons why people don’t believe in hell.  The most cited reason: I can’t see how a loving God would send people to hell.

I get that.  God, who is the source of love, doesn’t seem to be the kind of being that would send people to eternal punishment.  One blogger I read talked about a parent putting themselves on the judgment seat and then punishing their child for wrong doing forever.  This blogger concluded no parent would do such a thing (however, I’ve known a few that would).  Therefore, the blogger concluded, either he was morally superior to God or Christianity was wrong about hell.

This kind of logic is appealing, but it poses the wrong analogy.  What if instead of the parent being on the judgment seat, the parent told the child, “You can never leave me.  You must always live in my house.  In fact, I will chain you so you will always be in my presence.  You can have no thoughts of your own, you can make no choices on your own.”  A god who forces people to be with him, to spend eternity with him, turns into a god who makes people dance like puppets.  Anybody want to live that life?

For love to be real, for relationship to be genuine, there must be choice.  God, in His great wisdom, grants us the freedom to choose to do life with Him.  That choice begins on earth and goes beyond death.

All evidence points to God allowing people to make their own choice about relating to Him.  This changes our idea about being saved.  To be saved is not just to escape hell and go to heaven.  To be saved is to choose to follow Jesus all the way to the heaven.

People who choose not to follow Jesus do not go to heaven because they do not want to.  The place they go is called hell.

What is hell like?  Scripture teaches us is hell is a place of regret.  Why?  People regret their life choice to live without God.

To live with Jesus is to live forgiven, to live cleansed.  Followers of Jesus are the Easter People, the people of hope.  People without Jesus are people who live in guilt.  They are people who choose to live life without eternal hope.

If all this is true (and I believe it is), it means my life choices here are really important.  Choosing Jesus matters.  The reality of my commitment is shown by my life choices.  It also means other people may choose not to follow Jesus.  That should break my heart.  There should be no glee when we talk about people going to hell.

At the end of your life, your decision about Jesus matters.

What’s your decision?

The 7 Day Bible Reading Challenge: Passages

Seven Day Bible Reading Challenge

Day 1 – Psalm 23 – God’s care

Day 2 – Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 – The suffering Servant

Day 3 – Psalm 51 – The weight of sin

Day 4 – Matthew 5-7 – The Sermon on the Mount

Day  5 – John 19-20 – The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Day 6 – 1 Corinthians 13 – The way of Love.

Day 7 – Hebrews 11 – The Hall of Fame of Faith

Deep End Or Shallow End?

pool

I learned to swim in the shallow end.  Though my brothers often tried to throw me into the deep end, it is amazing how much fight you can put up when faced with imminent drowning.

My mother, of a gentler school, told me to lay flat on top of the water.  She would hold me up, while I kicked my legs and moved my arms.  One day, without me realizing it, she let go.  To paraphrase Forest Gump, “I was swimming.”  Soon, the shallow end of the pool was my kingdom.  I learned to push off from the side and zoom around the pool.  But I stayed away from the deep end.  I knew I wasn’t ready.

One day my brother Steve and my cousin Bob seized me without warning and threw me into the deep end.  I had no time to prepare, no time to fight.  I sank, but then instinct kicked in and my legs and arms began to move.  I broke the surface of the water, laughed at my brother and cousin, and swam around the deep end, frightened no more.

When people start to read the Bible, they often want to start in the deep end.  They want to know if God really made the world in six days, and if Jonah was really swallowed by a fish.  They get so busy trying to stay afloat, they miss the story.

This is God’s story in the Bible:  God made the world, we messed it up, and because of His great love, He has been working to save people from their own destruction.  That’s the shallow end.

I’m not saying you should avoid the deep end.  I am saying, make sure you build some confidence in the shallow end first.  Know the basics of the story.  Know the character of God.  Then go to the deeper stuff.

You won’t always find simple answers.  The universe isn’t a simple place and God is not a simple being.  Why does the Bible tell us stories about God’s judgment, wiping out whole nations?  Dallas Willard once said, “Hell is simply the best God can do for some people.”  Maybe the same principle applies.  Maybe destruction is simply the best God can do for some people.

It’s important not to be arrogant about our own time and culture.  We assume our culture’s values are the correct ones.  The Bible, however, is a book for all peoples, for all times.  Some teachings in scripture may not make any sense to us, but were perfectly clear in the time they were written.  They may also be clear in a culture halfway around the word has a different outlook than we do.

Any honest person has to admit there are parts of the Bible they don’t understand.  I’ve been studying the Bible as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor for a long time.  There are still stories I don’t get.  I still read some of the laborious laws in the Old Testament and ask, “What is that doing there?”

But if the Bible is truly God’s book, wouldn’t it make sense that I may not understand all of it?

If you’ve never studied the Bible, start in the shallow end.  Read the teachings of Jesus.  They will help you, whether you believe or not.  Don’t be afraid of the deep end;  God will let you know when you are ready to tackle some deeper challenges.

The main thing is: Get in the pool.  Open your Bible.  Read.  Let God speak to you.  Dive in.

Reasons Not to Believe…

no-god

People have a reason not to believe in God.

Sometimes the reason is hurt.  They expected God to do something and they were disappointed.  They prayed for healing, but there was death.  They expected God to resolve a relationship, but the relationship broke.  The hurt of unmet expectations turned them away.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe is they want to do something they think God won’t approve of.  The easiest way to deal with God’s disapproval is to stop believing.  A kid grows up in church, participates in the student ministry, then goes off to college or joins the military.  A new lifestyle presents itself.  It looks fun and carefree.  The kid decides the church people were wrong.  There is no god, so that means the new lifestyle can be embraced.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God has to do with unexplained suffering.  Steve Jobs as a child asked a pastor to explain why God would allow a child to starve in Africa.   The pastor couldn’t answer the question and Steve Jobs began to doubt.  The suffering may be more personal.  You lose a parent, or a child and you wonder how God could allow such tragedy.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God is because intellectually they can’t reconcile God with existence as they understand it.  Evolution, on its face, seems to make more sense than God speaking the world into being in six days.  Stories in the Bible fly in the face of logic and reason, or so it seems.  God seems to be an ancient myth unsophisticated people embraced to explain the un-explainable.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God is because they are angry.  Neglected or abused as children, they conclude there can’t be a god.  Angry at their dysfunctional families or parents, they rebel against any authority, including God.

Sometimes the reasons people don’t’ believe in God is because they once did believe.  They were choked by the rules and regulations of religion, the certainty of dogma that left no room for doubt.  The hypocrisy of those who said they believed but lived different introduced a cynical acid on their faith.  Often another god – logic – presented itself.  More predictable and orderly, it became a more attractive path of faith.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God is because they haven’t really thought about it.  Something else occupies their mind: success, money, pleasure, family.   Often people will label themselves as “agnostic” but they functionally live as if there is no god.

Confession: some these reasons tempt me.  Sometimes it would be nice to believe there is no god.  No rules to follow, no intellectual rigor to fight for, no more stupid battles over things in church that don’t matter.  If you believe life is a product of random evolution there is not god, then you get to make your own rules.

But I can’t make that leap.  Each of the reasons not to believe has a response that also makes sense.  It really comes down to your fundamental presuppositions.  My fundamental presupposition is there is too much order in the universe to be random.  An observation:  there has been too much grace poured into my life to be accidental.  One more of my fundamental touchstones: I’ve seen too many lives changed by Jesus to believe He is just a myth.

As much as there may be reasons not to believe, there are also reasons to believe.  To be intellectually honest means you must consider those as well.

Prayers for Relationships…

couple-prayer

How we usually pray when it comes to relationships:

  • Lord, I want one!  Send me someone!
  • Lord, fix him/her.  They are driving me crazy.
  • Lord, why did you stick me with them?  Could I not have an easier spouse/child/friend?
  • Lord, guide this fight so I don’t have to admit how wrong I really was.
  • Lord, please don’t let them discover my secret.

I know God hears our prayers, but to make progress in life, maybe we need to pray differently:

  • Lord, help me understand before I defend.
  • Lord, let me see where this person is wounded.  Let me treat their wounds with grace.
  • Lord, make me aware of my own issues in this relationship.
  • Lord, give me courage to raise issues that need to be talked about.
  • Lord, give me courage to be vulnerable with feelings and emotions.  Deliver me from stereotypes of needing to be strong when the most authentic thing to do is to weep.
  • Lord, give me strength to stand fast in tough times.
  • Lord, heal my own hurt so I do not hurt someone with it.
  • Lord, give me love so I may love when I do not feel love.
  • Lord, show me the joy that is possible in this relationship.
  • Lord, no matter how this relationship turns out, I will remember to put my trust in you.
  • Lord, show me how I actually come across, not just how I think I come across.
  • Lord, teach me to be generous in this relationship.

I wonder how your relationships would change if we prayed differently?

  • Maybe there would less blame and less shame.
  • Maybe there would be less intensity in conflict.
  • Maybe there would be a surrender of the need to make things even.
  • Maybe there would be a drawing closer.
  • Maybe there would be greater peace when someone turned away.
  • Maybe there would be less anxiety about the future.
  • Maybe our souls would be more secure, because our security would in our Father, not in someone else.

 

What relationship in your life needs a different prayer?

 

Ray…

rayI find it hard to write about my friend Ray.  His sudden death at 52 last week rocked my soul.  Other friends my age who have passed away died from cancer; you had weeks to prepare.  Ray was walking through the church office two hours before he died.

Ray had a way of filling space with positivity.  His response to the question, “How are you?” was always the same: “It’s the best day of my entire life.”  No matter how many times you heard it, you had to smile.

Ray was a servant extraordinaire.  If a need stirred his heart, he jumped in with both feet.  Feed 1000 people for VBS?  Sure.  Lead a mission team to New York City?  Tell me when.  Teach a group on his second Sunday at ADBC because the teacher was in an accident?  No problem.  Talk to the awkward teenage male?  Done.

Ray did have a clear idea of how things ought to be done.  It was only half a joke when he said, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Ray way.”  This meant he could be stubborn and bullheaded.  Behind his hardheadedness there was a heart of compassion that longed for people to connect to each other and to God.

He a vision and energy to make it reality.  Let’s take that hill.  Let’s get this project done.  He loved to dream big for God’s Kingdom.  As I said at his funeral, if I ever had to charge the gates of hell with a squirt gun, I would want Ray High beside me.

Ray was a 3 AM friend to me.  He respected me as his pastor, but he also valued me as his friend.  I thank God for putting Ray in my life.

Over the past week, I’ve had strange flashbacks of my father’s death, which was before my memory took shape.  “This,” I thought, “must be what it was like when Daddy died.”  Shock. Why? What can we do?  A crowded church, with every man thinking “It could have been me.”

I do not pretend to know why people die before their time, but I have wrestled with that question my entire life.  In fitful prayers I’ve given God one hundred reasons why Ray should not have died; but God has not reversed time.  Ultimately, I believe God does not always offer us answers to “why.”  Maybe our heads would explode if we knew.  But I believe God offers us Himself.  We trust Him when we do not know.

This is true faith, not just faith born in a moment of emotion.  True faith is trusting God is good when there is hurt in your heart.  True faith is extending your heart for God to lead you even when you do not have the answers you want.

In this time of grief, I choose to trust.  I believe my God is for me, for us.  The pain of today does not overshadow the grace of eternity.  It is that eternal grace that Ray embraced – and made February 15, 2017, the day he saw Jesus, the best day of his entire life.

Our Hope is in Jesus

karen-tippets

This week, while I grieving my friend Ray High, I found this quote by Kara Tippets.

Kara , an author, mother of four and co-worker with her pastor husband Jason, went home to Jesus on March 22, 2015, after a long battle with breast cancer. As the cancer spread, Kara courageously embraced her situation, trusting in a Sovereign God. She believed that cancer was not the point, but Jesus was. How would she trust God in the midst of sickness? And then, how would she trust God in the midst of dying?

In the fall of 2014, David C. Cook published her story, The Hardest Peace. She refused to be defined by cancer and considered every moment a gift and an opportunity to learn more about grace and trusting God; she believed suffering was not an absence of beauty, but an opportunity to understand God’s love on a deeper level. Near the end of her life Kara wrote:

My little body has grown tired of the battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and he will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over his love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.

When we cannot comprehend, we have Jesus.

Not Luck, But Grace…

400px-double-alaskan-rainbowYears ago I heard my professor Wayne Oates say “People today believe in a theology of luck.”  I jerked my head up in amazement, recognizing the instant truth of his statement.
In an earlier age, even non-followers of Jesus believed in Providence.  When things happened they could not explain, they still assumed God’s guiding hand was at work in some way.

Darwin’s theories of evolution lead to the assumption that chance governs our world.  Thus the famous quote: “If a billion monkeys were typing randomly over a billion years, they would produce the works of Shakespeare.”  This pseudo-scientific statement is ridiculous: it claims a truth that can’t be proven.  Plus, I’ve never seen a monkey type anything, random or not.

People have come to believe life is chance, luck.  To me, this answer falls short.  How then do we explain the prevalence of good?  We all experience grace regularly.  Grace is narrowly avoiding an accident.  Grace is an unexpected raise.  Grace is a tender moment between husband and wife.  Grace is arms of your three year old around your neck.  Grace is the oxygen you breathe.  Lewis Smedes said his daily dose of Prozac was a sacrament of grace.

The skeptical voice inside of us quickly turns to the counter argument: “What about all the bad?  How do you explain that?”  I can more easily explain some, not all bad, than I can explain good.  Bad things happen because people make bad choices.  This terrible gift of free will can be used to bless others or blast others.  I know even beyond people’s bad choices there are bad things that happen that cannot be explained.

I don’t think we can conclude that unexplained bad things offset unexplained good things.  To borrow a term from engineering, things happening to us, good or bad, are not part of a closed system.  Life doesn’t run hydraulically.  We can’t distill the moments of life to mathematics.

I will grant that to see the good in our lives as grace, not luck, requires faith.  It requires faith that there is a God out there who wants good for us, not evil.  All the “luck” in the world seems to point not to random chance, but to a God who is personal, who is intervening in life, who is blessing every human being in this world in some form, in some fashion.  What we call luck is really grace.

Even if you don’t believe in this gracious God, would you be brave enough to pray to see signs of His grace?  What you see might surprise you.

God’s Answer …

waiting

 

When you dream for God, it is a risk.  You think you are hearing from God, but you aren’t quite sure.  There comes a moment when you have to step out in faith.  This is scary: you are out on a limb and you don’t know if it will work or if you will look like a fool.

I imagine this is how Moses felt on standing before Pharaoh: “Did I really see that bush or was it my imagination?  Is Pharaoh really going to listen to me?”

I imagine this is how Peter felt the first time he tried to cast out a demon in Jesus’s name: “Did Jesus really say I could do this?  What am I supposed to say?  What if nothing happens?”

You have felt this way.  The words “Will you marry me?” are halfway out of your mouth when you wonder if God really told you she is the one.  What will she say?  What if God didn’t talk to her!

Maybe you thought you heard a whisper from God to lead a group.  On the first day, a few people show up and you crack a joke to put everyone at ease.  No one laughs.  You look like a fool and wonder what you have gotten yourself into.

Remember this:  Fear doesn’t get the last word; God does.

I admit to doubts and worries when we begin thinking about Pocalla Church.  I worried about the money; God provided it.  I worried about getting enough volunteers; God called them.  I worried about space; God arranged it.  I wasted a lot of worry for nothing.

Sunday, God gave us His answer to our leap of faith.  His answer was 280 people showing up for the first public service.  Thanks be to God!

God answered Moses, destroyed Pharaoh’s will and his army, and set His people free.  God answered Peter, and even the demons were obedient when they were rebuked in the name of Jesus.  God answers you and she says “yes” when you pop the question.  God answers you and that group that didn’t laugh at your joke ends up creating a new circle where people know church is a place of grace.

I think God has more to say to us about being one church with multiple locations.  But for now, He has answered our worries and questions about Pocalla with a resounding, “YES.” 

This first step has worked, but there is a next step for us.  No matter what faith challenge God puts in front of ADBC, always remember fear doesn’t get the last word; God does!  No matter what faith challenge God puts in front of you, always remember fear doesn’t get the last word, God does!