Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Satan Uses Turbo Tax

This week I received my IRS Form W-2, my wife’s W-2 and a loan interest payment record and a record of my tithes and offerings to God through my church. I’m also paying out some money on my son’s wedding. While the realities of money are perking in my subconscious my oldest son turns away from the computer and says to me, “Dad, this article says that money is the number one reason that marriages come apart. I need to send this to Jon (his brother that’s getting married).” He quickly added, “Not that I think Jon’s marriage would ever not make it. I just thought it was important information.”

I agree that our attitude toward money and our use of money is very important. That’s not only true in marriage but especially true in our relationship with God.

When you have a few minutes check out the YouTube piece created by Life Church in Oklahoma. With a touch of humor they have accurately portrayed the dangers of money and the strategic tool it is by our enemy, the devil, to undermine our relationship with God.

Check out the Life Church web site sometime. It’s loaded with resources. Their current Sunday theme is “How to Be Rich”, which teaches how to be rich with what you already have.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Don't Blink

This is a surreal week. Jon, my youngest son is getting married. My wife and oldest son have been pulling out old pictures in order to create a slide show for the wedding reception. Sunday night I was viewing a video tape that was 20 years ago to the day.

The video cast me into a 20 year reflection. Flashing across my mind were memories of people that I have loved and served and done life with. Some have died. Some have become outstanding men or women of character. Some have made a mess of their one and only life.

Some of the years were marked by exciting and scary adventure such as when I packed up my family and moved 2,300 miles to the Seattle area. Some of the years were marked by painful life growth as grandiose dreams of youth gave way to humble reality. Mostly the years are filled with thousands of small daily decisions and actions, the sum of which makes the totality of life. God has blessed me way beyond what I deserve. He has been gracious to me and full of mercy.

Sunday night I allowed myself to reflect on the coming 20 years. What grandchildren will be a part of my life? What loved ones will have died? Who else will I be privileged to see become the person that God dreamed and who will wash out? Who will I be?

I need and I want the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, to be the Author of the coming chapters. I’ll trust Him with the ups and downs of life’s roller-coaster and that in the end He will have written a good story with my life.

Kenny Chesney captures a lot of what is in my heart today with his song “Don’t Blink” (click here to listen). The chorus says,

“Don’t blink
Just like that you’re 6 years old and you take a nap and you
Wake up and you’re 25 and your high school sweetheart becomes your wife
Don’t blink
You just might miss your babies growing like mine did
Turning in to moms and dads next thing you know your “better half”
Of 50 years is there in bed
And you’re praying that God takes you instead
Trust me friend a 100 years goes faster than you think
So don’t blink.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's In A Name?

The list of the most popular baby names for 2007 was recently released. You can see the list here.

I took note that there were many biblically based names listed, most of which have significant meaning behind them. And, I noticed that my name, “Scott”, was nowhere on the list of the top 100. Wow, disappointing.

Seriously, beyond a curiosity the list provoked a quick reflection. I’m eternally grateful that my Heavenly Father both knows and cherishes my name. Jeremiah 1:5 tells us of God, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”

Songwriter Tommy Walker articulated that sentiment in his song, “He Knows My Name”.

“I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was
in His hands.

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
and hears me when I call.”

I frequently talk with people who are stressed, angry with self for not being more organized so they can be less stressed and generally have a diminished level of joy in their heart. These friends are sons and daughters of God. I’ll ask, “What is God saying into your life?” Usually the answer is “I don’t know” to “He wants me to do this or that”.

Yes, God often speaks DIRECTIONALLY into our lives. I need that and want that. But more so, God speaks RELATIONALLY into our lives. “I love you.” “You are precious to Me.” “I delight and take pleasure with you.”

Some children grow up hating it when their parents call their name. It usually means that they are in trouble or they have a task to do. Many children of God have the same mentality about the Lord calling their name.

Often God calls your name just to call you closer to Him and to enjoy relationship with Him.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Banned From Church

Friday’s Wall Street Journal carries the story of Allen Baptist Church in Allen, Michigan practicing what is commonly referred to as church discipline. It seems that 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey (pictured), a church member for 50 years who taught Sunday school and tithed 10% of her pension had been banned from the church for gossip, slander and idolatry. When she showed up for church anyway the pastor called 911 and had the police come and arrest Mrs. Caskey for trespassing.

Journalist Alexandra Alter goes on to let us know that Mrs. Caskey “moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist when funds were low, gave the church $1200 when she sold her van and even cut the church’s lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.”

The article goes on to describe how church discipline has been increasingly practiced in churches across America and several times has resulted in lawsuits of the shunned church member against the church.

From Alter’s information there is no question that the church is wrong, right?

I appreciate Alter’s article and, the case in question is obviously fascinating. I do wish Alter had told a little more of the other side of the story, namely that many times church discipline has positive and healthy outcomes. When gossipers clean up rumors and the sexually impure clean up relational messes and the financially unethical begin dealing honestly, it is to everyone’s benefit.

In some ways the church is in a no win position in the court of public opinion. One of the major criticisms of the church is that people are hypocrites. But, when a church seriously deals with character flaws and thus the hypocrisy issue, then the church is charged with being judgmental.

First let me quickly admit that many times church discipline is poorly handled. The goal of church discipline should always be the loving restoration of an erring member. Many times the discipline simply comes off as punitive rather than redemptive.

Church discipline is supposed to be a process as outlined in Matthew 18 which has most of the engagement with an erring member happening in a private and confidential manner. It only goes public when the member refuses to respond with repentance. Banning or shunning should always be an absolute last resort.

Let me also admit that I don’t know who is right in the case of the Michigan church. My reflection on the article really centers on the public sentiment that churches are harsh or judgmental if they enforce a high moral standard. The bottom line is that the Church, which includes every local congregation, belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the one that sets the standards and He is the one that calls for the purifying or sanctifying of the Church.

Remember, it was Jesus who came down pretty hard on the Pharisees and priests (religious people) because He expected more out of them than who they had become.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who's Right?

In the picture to the right, who’s right?

Increasingly I’m reading in the blogosphere about the esteem for Jesus but disdain for his church. Articles and books have been written and panels have discussed the matter.

The groaning usually centers upon hypocrisy, judgmental church members, cold/dead institutionalism or orthodox/doctrinal disputes. For the record I’m sickened and grieved by all the above. However, the movement (it’s debatable about whether it is significant enough to call a “movement”) away from churches to increased individualized Christianity is unbiblical.

Jesus established the church, died for the church, and continues to carry out His mission in this world through the church (which of course is people, not a building). Therefore, joining Christ in the work of reforming the church is not an option. It is a necessity. This is a time for better and more creative investment in the church, not abandoning the church.

Of course, a great deal of what Christ is up to in us (believers, His people) is transforming us into forgiven, forgiving, and loving people. If that is to be lived out rather than just theorized then we must engage hypocritical, judgmental, spiritually dead and contentious people and by the power of Christ become a healthy community. That process changes my life. I can’t stay the same if I’m going to learn how to love “hard-to-love” others.

And by the way, WE are all “hard-to-love” to someone.

God help us to BE the church and DO church as envisioned by the Founder of the church.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A la carte, 1/17/08

Occasionally I’ll have so many things going on that I don’t have much time for blogging. That’s when I share several things at one time “a la carte” (click here to see the last time).

God’s Provision
On the day that I was trying to help someone with a need that was going to involve several hundreds of dollars, we prayed for God to provide. The next day I received a note from someone that I haven’t seen in more than a year with a check. The note read, “I don’t know what is going on but God told me to send this money to you because someone needs it.” I had the privilege of passing the blessing on to the person in need.

God’s Power
For the past couple of months I’ve been carrying a burden that I may share more about at another time. But the burden was beginning to weigh me down. I never stopped sensing God’s presence or stopped sensing God’s direction (it never got dark or silent with God) but my heart was becoming so heavy I was becoming depressed. Then of all things, I was reading/studying about the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 and God brought power to my heart that began to break through the heaviness of the burden. When was the last time a genealogy was a part of a breakthrough for you. Only God can do such things.

God’s Presence
I spent time with ministry leaders from another church last week. These are good hearted people who love God and love people and serve both above themselves. However there was a real fatigue at work in their lives and thus the need for a retreat. Through our time together I had the pleasure of watching one after another begin to be bathed in God’s presence and renewed at deep places. I never get over how delightfully God makes Himself known to us through worship, prayer and the reading of His word.

God’s Plan
In recent weeks I’ve been speaking and teaching about God’s plan to bring the gospel to each person that would want to receive it. During such conversations I’ve been a witness to more than a dozen lives that have been devalued, abused, discarded, but reclaimed, redeemed, and released by God to whole, sane, loving and dynamic living that is making a difference in our world.

A few weeks ago a friend gave me 7th row tickets to see the Seattle Sonics and Boston Celtics play. What tremendous seats. You can see so much more of the nuance of a game from the 7th row than you can from the “cheap seats” or even television.

I feel like God has given me one of the “best seats in the house” to witness His magnificence in our midst.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Does Faith Disqualify Mike Huckabee from being President?

Floyd McKay is a contributor to the Seattle Times and a former journalism professor at Western Washington University. In Wednesday’s Times he wrote a compare and contrast piece on presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and former President Bill Clinton.

Both are from remarkably small Hope, Arkansas. Both rose from very humble circumstances. Both served as Governor of Arkansas. Both became respected leaders in their political parties. McKay grants that both are inspiring figures with exceptional life stories.

Then McKay offers the contrast. Clinton attended Georgetown University and then was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. He went on to marry his brightest classmate at Yale Law School. Huckabee stayed in Arkansas and graduated from a small Baptist college 40 miles from Hope, married his high sweetheart, attended a Southern Baptist seminary in Texas and then became a preacher.

McKay opines that the White House is too large and too important of a stage with too much complexity for a preacher. Clinton was broadened by his education. Huckabee was limited by his education as is seen in Huckabee’s support for teaching creationism.

McKay quotes a NY Times blog that declares Huckabee is a hick who has “exploited Wal-Mart Republicans” for eight years.

McKay claims to like Huckabee and concludes that Huckabee’s faith-driven decency and compassion commend him to public service but not to the presidency.

McKay writes an interesting piece and I’ve referred to it in a few conversations over the last day. These conversations have immediately jumped into “faith fears” that if elected Huckabee would simply pray and ask God what to do and not consult or work with knowledgeable experts; he will impose his religion on the nation; he will ignore and/or violate laws and legislation that differ from his convictions; etc.

All of this initially strikes me as stereotypical but upon further reflection it occurs to me that if someone is not evangelical Christian and doesn’t live in that world then most of one’s information about evangelicals would come from the main stream media and perhaps some would come from personal experience.

In either case one’s opinion is likely to be unfairly shaped. Let me hasten to concede that there are some strange evangelicals who say and do strange things. But, there are large numbers of evangelicals who are the embodiment of life’s finest virtues and social characteristics.

Obviously the primary season is the time to investigate candidates, both in character and competency. In our “sound-bite” world it is too easy to dismiss or embrace caricatures. Let’s not “judge books by the cover”.

Is faith important? I would argue that it is. So are experience, intelligence, diplomacy and world view. I would also argue that faith alone should not disqualify Huckabee or any other candidate.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Foolishness of Preaching

This week I’m going to spend two and a half days with about 30 leaders from another church. It’s their annual leadership retreat and they’ve asked me to come and speak. I’ve been preparing for a few weeks and now that I’m close to the time of the retreat I’m freshly reminded of the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:21.

Most of the 30 leaders are lay leaders. That is to say, they work full time jobs outside of the church and volunteer significant amounts of time to do ministry within the church. That means they are taking off from work to attend this retreat.

Some of them have been serving God and people for a period of time and in ways that has taken a lot out of them. Thus the retreat’s aim is to provide “rest” in the sense of spiritual refreshment, renewed vision, and encouragement to endure in a worthy endeavor.

With all of the above in mind I have begun to feel some pressure about my assignment. I’m going to speak in five different sessions and the thought has occurred to me, “What if I do a poor job of speaking?” Here they have taken vacation days from work, given precious time to be away from their families, and have come with hope and expectancy that they would be invigorated and renewed. And then I “drop the ball”.

It was at this point of reflection that I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:21 where Paul marvels and declares how God chooses to use “the foolishness of preaching” to penetrate our lives and do saving, redemptive work. What does that mean?

Think about it. It’s crazy or foolish to think that one person can speak one message and it is profound or enlightening or encouraging to 30 different, unique people at the same time UNLESS God chooses to take those words and empower them by His Spirit.

That reality doesn’t excuse me from the work of preparation but it does relieve me that the weight of my speaking finding a meaningful connection with a listener rests upon God’s Spirit. Of course the listener has to accept some responsibility in listening.

What assignment do you have today that calls upon your work, your investment, the use of your gifts or abilities but also needs empowerment from God? Let us call upon God and experience His power.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What About "God Talk" In Public Life?

In the years that I’ve followed presidential elections I don’t remember there being so much “God talk” in all of the campaigns of both Republicans and Democrats. No doubt the candidacy of former Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee has been catalytic as has the Mormonism of Mitt Romney.

Some reporters are obviously tired, even sick and tired of mentioning religion while others are spending a lot of time and space in trying to figure out the significance religion is playing in numbers of votes.

This is also a busy football season with college bowl games and NFL playoffs. Many athletes are verbal about the role their faith plays in their athletic success. Sometimes I feel a collective cringe from the bank of reporters interviewing an athlete who would like to thank “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

Kathy Orton mentions in her blog, “Praying Fields” that she noticed the reporting on Florida Quarterback Tim Tebow’s (pictured) receiving The Heisman Trophy had a conspicuous absence of Tebow’s references to Jesus and God. Tebow is the son of Christian missionaries and often speaks at Christian events and churches. His faith is central to who he is and at the Heisman award ceremony (here on YouTube) he thanks Jesus and God at least 3 times. Tebow also thanks his teammates, coaches, parents and siblings.

Many reporters have chosen to no longer report on the role faith plays in a person’s success because they have deemed it inappropriate and irrelevant. Some reporters even cry that it is insensitive and an intrusive attempt at proselytizing.

William J. Baker in his book “Playing With God” said, “I’ve always wondered why athletes felt compelled to mention their faith during an athletic event. It didn’t seem to me to be the time or the place for such declarations.” Baker believes that Tebow’s purpose in faith declarations via highly covered sports events is winning souls for Jesus.

My reflection on this conversation is, “So what?” What if Tebow is trying to win souls for Jesus with his testimony? He has religious freedom to express it and others have religious freedom to reject it.

When athletes also testify, recommend or endorse a certain workout routine, diet, shoe or coach’s system, are they not also seeking to influence others to “do it” the way that works for them? Some athletes proclaim their routines of mental preparation, concentration, envisioning tactics and focus. So what?

“Well, when someone says that ‘Jesus is the way’ they are saying at the same time that everyone else’s religion is the wrong way.” So what? Again, when advocating a diet, shoe or technique the same dynamic is in play. People that wear Adidas instead of Nike don’t scream about intolerance and prejudice.

One comment on Orton’s blog declared, “God really doesn’t CARE about football, and anyone praising and thanking him for their own achievements on the gridiron sounds like an idiot…You want to play football? Shut up about your ‘god’.

The commenter has the right to his opinion and the freedom to express it. So does Tebow. If the athlete, politician, businessman or Hollywood celebrity is Muslim or Hindu, I'd be interested to know. It is a part of who they are. Objective reporting lets me know about it.
Is there too much “God talk” in public today? It’s a matter of opinion. But reporters who choose to omit the “God talk” from their coverage of a religious person are failing to give objective reporting.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Do You Own Stuff or does Stuff Own You?

Josh Harris has written an important series of posts entitled “Affluenza”. I certainly don’t want to jump on those who have a hangover from shopping and loading up their credit cards in recent weeks. Those soon-to-arrive statements will jump on you enough.

However, I am focused upon what needs to change in me and our world this year. Our mismanagement, abuse and waste of our resources and finances are near the top of the list.

Josh advocates in a clear and compelling way for us to--
1. Guard against all kinds of greed.
2. Get our financial house in order.
3. Push back against materialism.
(read all 6 parts to get the full treatment)

Along the way Josh referenced a 20 minute video presentation, “The Story of Stuff” featuring Annie Leonard. When you have the time I encourage you to reflect on her presentation prayerfully (view here). By prayerful I mean, ask God to speak to you through the presentation. I’m not sure I agree with every part of the presentation and I haven’t done the homework to check her sources for the “facts” she sites. Nevertheless, if half of what she says is true then we have cause for alarm and a need for change.

The acquiring and use of stuff tap into very important biblical/Christian issues/values:
a. Stewardship--we’re responsible to God as to how we use and take care of His stuff. He owns everything in the world.
b. Contentment--we’re promised as followers of Christ that we can experience contentment. The Bible makes it clear that experiencing contentment does NOT happen via stuff. Contentment is found by enjoying relationship with Christ.

With my first post of the year I’ve shared much that deserves our reflection, and proactive steps of change.