Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day

Happy Reformation Day, the day that celebrates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Yes, I know that in American culture October 31 is dominated by the celebration of Halloween and “trick or treating”. But on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted a proposal to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany to debate the Catholic doctrine and practice of indulgences.

The proposal is more popularly known as the 95 theses. Initially it was not so much an act of protest since the door (pictured) was something of a community bulletin board where others also posted information. Nevertheless, the proposal created a controversy with Luther and the Pope and ultimately Protestantism was birthed.

Luther and others believed that the theology of indulgences was not biblical and worse, corrupt clergy were selling indulgences. Basically an indulgence was a paper declaring that a deceased person for whom the indulgence had been purchased had received total forgiveness of sins and therefore a release from Purgatory. The selling of indulgences was financing the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Today I give thanks for the reformation. Because of it there was a chain reaction, if you will, that brought about a renewed emphasis that salvation is by faith in Christ; biblical literacy for the common man (previously only priests read the scriptures); and priesthood of the believer (where every believer has direct access to God without a human mediator).

Reformation Day also reminds me that the church is regularly in need of reforming. Today’s church is distracted from the mission of Christ, self-centered with a consumerist mindset, improperly focused on buildings and insufficiently engaged in biblical issues regarding poverty and injustice.

I love the church and I’ve committed my life to serving Christ and His church so I’m not just being critical. I’m identifying what we, current day reformers, must be about. May we have a great, powerful and pervasive Reformation Day!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How Would Jesus Vote?

Celeste Gracey has written an interesting piece at The Daily, a publication of the University of Washington. She points out that next Tuesday some Christians will vote for Ralph Nader. Other Christians will vote for Barack Obama or John McCain. Maybe even some Christians will vote for Cynthia McKinney from the Green Party.

How do Christians, those who claim to follow the Person, plans, priorities and values of Jesus, process all of the campaign issues and then cast a Christ-honoring vote?

Local issues such as light rail or greater investment in the bus system seem difficult to figure out with respect to faith since both may be trying to make transportation more ecologically responsible.

However, an initiative that makes it legal to end the life of a person who is suffering with disease may be more clearly influenced by faith because of the doctrine of the sanctity of life.

Wednesday I had another politically engaged conversation with a good friend. My friend is a committed Christian and is going to vote differently than I. Both of us have prayerfully arrived at our decisions. We both respectfully think the other is completely wrong. Though we’ve had spirited conversations and even some debate we’ve never gotten angry with each other and our friendship has not been negatively impacted in any way.

I wish my friend would “see the light” as I do. Nevertheless, I respect my friend for prayerfully processing the issues and candidates. One concern I have about this election is how many Christians may not be arriving at their voting decisions by faith but rather by practicalities and personalities.

Is it possible to absolutely know how Jesus would vote were He here? Probably not. But Christians still have a responsibility to seek to understand the issues in light of the Person and teachings of Christ and respond accordingly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Means to an End

Recently I’ve noticed a few describe their experience and understanding of Christianity as something like this:
“Living life the way Jesus did works.”
“I want to be a spiritual person like Jesus.”
“I choose to follow the teachings of Jesus because they reflect the highest ideals in ethics and morality.”

While I don’t disagree with the statements above they are not reflective of what it means to be a Christian.

The statements above in essence say, “I use the teachings and/or lifestyle of Jesus in order to experience life in a certain way.” In other words, the “Jesus model” becomes a means to an end and the end is a certain way of life.

Christianity is about having a personal relationship with a living God. Christians don’t use the “Jesus model” in order to reach an end. Rather, Christians relate to Jesus. We do learn how to do life like Jesus and we do seek to practice His ways. But, we don’t have as an end or goal to have wisdom or peace or love or patience or even heaven. To do so would be to make any of those goals too important. There is no goal as great as God Himself.

The greatest “end” for a Christ-follower is to have relationship with God.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Power of Encouragement

Today I had the opportunity to hear prominent American political consultant Dick Morris speak. Morris is credited with piloting Bill Clinton to a comeback re-election victory in 1998 after the president lost Congress to the Republicans two years before. Morris has handled the winning campaigns for more than 30 Senators or Governors. Morris has become a familiar figure as a commentator for the Fox News Channel.

While I was waiting in line for the breakfast buffet I suddenly noticed Morris coming my way. He was shaking the hands of people in line in front of me. When he got to me I greeted him. Morris smiled, shook my hand, quickly read my name tag which also noted the name of my church. He asked, "Are you a minister?" I replied yes and Morris said, "Thank you for what you do." Then Morris moved on down the line and greeted everyone after me.

As I watched Morris work the crowd I reflected on his words, "Thank you for what you do." Did he mean that? Was that just part of working a crowd? I don't know and I choose to give Morris the benefit of the doubt. But the greater point is that in that moment I thought, "I can't remember anyone ever saying that to me just by virtue of my title." I've certainly been shown appreciation by people that know me or to whom I've given help but not from a stranger just by virtue of my vocation.

As the morning's program began I was still reflecting on that comment. The room was filled with insurance agents, real estate agents, business consultants, hospital administrators, educators, politicians and more. It seemed as if God's Spirit raised the question, "How many have you thanked for doing what they do?"

I was encouraged in the moment of Morris' greeting. Now I'm moved to give that gift of encouragement to others, people that I don't know but check me out of the store or serve me coffee or assist me in the bank. We have power to encourage others. I want to use it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is It Ok to Pray for Your 401(k)?

Is it okay to pray for your 401(k)? This was the question posed in a recent TIME Magazine article. The article raised the issue of whether it is selfish or not to ask God to bless one’s investments, retirement plans and means of providing for one’s family.

Good question. What do you think?

While reading the article it occurred to me that over these recent weeks where we’ve had a national economic crisis, I and many of you have lost a lot of money. I never thought to ask God to bless my investments.

Rather, I was prompted to pray confessions to God that my trust was in Him and not in my income or investments. Every time a thought of sadness or grief or fear has popped up I have sought to meet that thought with a prayer that confesses that God will be my Rock, my Provider and my Sustainer.

I don’t think there is anything theologically improper about asking God for material or monetary help or blessing. In fact Mark 11:24 indicates that there is nothing unworthy about praying for “things”. But what is also true is that prayer is initiated by God’s Spirit. God prompts us to pray and guides us concerning what to pray.

“We don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us…” (Romans 8:26)

During these uncertain days by all means pray and talk with God. Let His Spirit guide you in your thinking and praying. “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Excellent

This past June I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary with my wife. A few months earlier I had led a leadership retreat for another church and as a way of saying thanks that church gave me a gift card to a wonderful restaurant in Seattle. I decided that my anniversary would be the time to use the gift card at this expensive restaurant.

I’ve been to a lot of restaurants through the years and this was without competition for the best meal and the best service I’ve ever experienced. Our waitress had served at this restaurant for 11 years. She had great people skills, graciously helped us make an order and then prepared much of what we ordered at our table which was entertaining to watch. When we finished our meal I left the largest tip I’ve ever given because I was absolutely “wowed” by every aspect of my time in this restaurant.

Have you already begun asking yourself, “Where did Scott eat? What’s the name of this place?” I wrote a post about it in June and you can click here and read it.

My point is that when we begin to speak to others of persons or places that we’ve experienced that are excellent, others want to know more.

Have you experienced the excellencies of God? Read 1 Peter 2:1-10.

Verse 9 says that God has chosen us to proclaim His excellencies to others. If you daily and personally experience God then like I did with the restaurant, you have a list of qualities and provisions to extol about God. It moves you to want to respond to Him, not with the biggest tip you’ve ever given, but with a whole hearted offering of yourself to God.

Peter gives a brief list of the excellencies of God. Read and meditate upon Peter’s list and then consider your own list of how excellent God is and how marvelous God is to you personally.

Peter points out that--
*God is building a new spiritual house; an excellent community.
*God has supplied the perfect cornerstone (Jesus) around which the house is built.
*God is making you and me into choice/excellent stones that build the house/community.
*God is making us a chosen race (a new race), a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.

Note that God is so great He is able to accomplish these things with us even though we come to Him as a complete mess. We were full of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. We were in darkness. We were “no people”. We were without mercy.

God is so excellent He was able to take defective “materials” such as our lives and build something magnificent. Let us proclaim His excellencies today.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Praiseworthy

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 6 of 7 meditations.)

Several years ago the men’s ministry organization called Promise Keepers was hosting a rally at the Kingdome in Seattle. I’ll never forget the moment when 64,000 male voices began singing praises to God in worship. I started singing with all the other men until I heard the powerful sound of their voices and then I stopped just to listen. It was beautiful, stirring and awe inspiring. Not the singing itself. The singing was moving me to recognize how awesome God is.

Perhaps it was a little glimpse of the scene that is depicted in Revelation 5:11-13.

John said, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise…

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!

In similar ways I can stand on a beach in Hawaii and look out on the Pacific Ocean as swelling waves crash upon the shore. Though impressive in itself, I’m moved to exalt God. After climbing Mt. Si and looking down at the valley and across at other mountains my gaze is then diverted to the brilliance of the Creator. Wild flowers growing in the meadows around Mt. Rainer provoke me to marvel over the beauty of God.

When the Apostle Paul tells us to focus and meditate on whatever is praiseworthy, every expression of human creativity or nature’s magnificence points me back to God. Ultimately God is the embodiment of every virtue we’ve listed this week. As such our meditations always bring us back into focus upon God.

Meditate Upon What is Lovely

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 5 of 7 meditations.)

In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul gave us some practical coaching about how to live well. Paul told us to focus upon or meditate upon various facets of life. These points of focus are related or connected.

Therefore, today’s meditation, “think about what is lovely”, is connected to whatever is true, honorable, just and pure. Our world has its own definition of what is lovely or beautiful. A Christ-follower focus is not on the results of thin physiques, smooth skin and shapely curves. Rather, our view of lovely moves past the superficial.

Therefore a lovely woman or man is one who is also just and pure. A lovely leader would also be honorable. A lovely idea or proposal is also true.

Perhaps “lovely” requires more meditation than any of the other qualities on our list because there are so many antitheses to biblical loveliness. Of course the embodiment of loveliness is Jesus.

Yet notice the description of the Christ when the prophet Isaiah foresaw Him:

He (the Messiah or Christ) grew up before him (God the Father) like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him,
and no beauty that we should desire Him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,
and as One from whom men hide their faces,
He was despised and we esteemed Him not.
Isaiah 53:2-3

Jesus was the true, honorable, just, pure and lovely One and yet He was hated, despised, rejected and killed. Let there be no more denial that we are a sick and perverse people when we stare beauty in the face and we call Him grotesque.

As you reflect on the beauty of Christ today, recall scenes from the gospels in your mind. Watch Jesus embrace children that others are shoving aside. See Him touch and bless lepers, reach out to harlots and forgive His tormentors and executioners.

May we become lovely.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Pure

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 4 of 7 meditations.)

Some time ago a friend of mine drove a winding road up a mountain. He and his wife were planning a picnic at a pristine lake and waterfall that provided a great view of the valley below.

Along the way this couple passed through a little town and crossed a putrid stream that was filled with debris, smelled of chemicals and was a nasty color of green on the surface. They looked at each other with scrunched up noses and lamented how awful the little stream had been polluted.

Continuing on their route they later came to a turn in the road and drove over a bridge that crossed a creek with rushing clear water but was sadly littered with pop bottles, cans, food wrappers and trash.

Finally my friends reached their destination and the drive was worth it. The lake, waterfall and view were delightful and inspired thoughts of God as Creator. After enjoying their picnic surrounded by pines and serenaded by birds they loaded the car to return home.

As they drove away they noticed the waters from the falls meandering down the mountain and after a couple of twists and turns in the road they realized a disturbing truth. The polluted waters they crossed on the way up the mountain were in fact the same pristine waters that had flowed from the falls at the top.

The farther away the waters got from the source the more putrid and impure.

The Apostle John disclosed that when a child of God lives in the love of God, that life of hope purifies him because God is pure (1 John 3:1-3). In other words, the closer you stay to the Source the more pure your life. To be pure is to be free of pollution.

The scriptures declare
“The wisdom from above is first of all, pure.” James 3:17
“Wives, your husbands will be won over to the Lord by your pure and reverent life.” 1 Peter 3:1,2
“Older women are to teach younger women to be pure.” Titus 3:3-5
“Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in your purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
“Keep yourself pure.” 1 Timothy 5:22

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Just

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 3 of 7 meditations.)

The Apostle Paul admonished Christ-followers to focus on or meditate upon whatever is just. The ancient word in the Greek language can also mean righteous or upright. The idea is that one focuses upon that which is in alignment with God. The desired outcome of that meditation is that our lives would be in alignment with God.

After several generations had come and gone following the days of Adam and Eve, the people of this world had become so thoroughly unjust and out of alignment with God that the Lord decided that He must send a great flood as judgment. God spared one man and his family upon the ark because, “Noah was a just man (Genesis 6:9).”

Centuries later God called a prophet named Amos to proclaim to Israel that they were out of alignment with Him. The Israelites were in danger of being judged by God. The Lord brought this message to Amos by way of a vision.

Amos saw the Lord standing by a wall that had been built with a plumb line. The Lord was using a plumb line to see if the wall was upright or straight. God asked Amos, “What do you see?” Then Amos saw the Lord lowering a plumb line in the midst of Israel and their lives were crooked and unjust (Amos 7).

Is your life crooked or straight, just or unjust? The life of Christ is the plumb line that is lowered next to us to determine our alignment.

Note that the Bible is filled with stories of optical illusions of men and women who did religious acts and said religious things and pretended to be just. But God’s vision is perfect and He could see the misalignment.

The Bible makes it clear that everyone is born out of alignment (Romans 3:23) and because of that our crooked lives will not remain (Romans 6:23).

But the Bible says that “Christ also suffered once for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).” Jesus can miraculously make a crooked life straight.

Are your thoughts like God’s thoughts?
Is your attitude toward people like God’s attitude?
Is your heart compassionate toward those who are hurt, broken or lost?
Does it matter to you that the Just One is insulted with so much injustice in our world?

One day Isaiah went to the temple to worship and there Isaiah experienced the presence of a holy God. Isaiah was so awed by God’s righteousness he immediately saw his own unrighteousness and felt undone and unclean. But God graciously touched Isaiah and forgave him of sin (Isaiah 6).

May you experience God’s presence through meditation, be awed, be repentant and be touched by the Lord.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Honorable

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 2 of 7 meditations.)

Christian meditation is the practice of focusing one’s thoughts upon the person of God, the word of God or the values of God. Honor is a value of God. God prefers honor to dishonor, disrespect or irreverence.

The millions of messages and images that are consumed by the average American every day overwhelmingly fall into the dishonor category. Dishonest politicians, cheating athletes, immoral celebrities, pervasive unfaithfulness in marriages and “Madison Ave.” peddling goods by appealing to greed and lust, literally assault our thoughts and feelings. There has perhaps never been a more important day to meditate and focus upon “whatever is honorable” (Philippians 4:8).

The biblical passages that speak of honor typically do so in one of two ways.
1. We are to give honor, to God and others.
2. We are to live a life that others experience and respond to with honor.

Giving honor is a choice. One chooses to see another in a way that elicits honor. John Maxwell said of the members of a team he once served on, he mentally posted a “10” on their forehead so that he would think of them as a “10”. By calling someone a “10” he meant that the person is of great worth.

Within our American culture the vestiges of bestowing honor are still with us. Judges are referred to as “Your honor.” Those who hold public office bear the title “the honorable so-and-so”. Ministers are called “reverend” which means worthy of reverence or honor.

What faces and names come to your mind when thinking of an honorable person? Think about that person today and what it is that elicits honor from you.

Giving honor is more than words. It is also action. God said, “This people honors Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8) Proverbs 14:31 instructs, “Honor the Lord by treating the poor graciously.” That is not all there is to giving honor but it is reflective that honor involves action from us.

Whom can you honor today?

“Honor your father and mother…” Exodus 20:12
“Honor the Lord from your wealth and the first of your produce” Proverbs 3:9
“Honor the Lord by treating the poor graciously.” Proverbs 14:31
“Honor is not fitting for a fool.” Proverbs 26:1
“Honor widows.” 1 Timothy 5:3
“Elders who rule well are worthy of double honor.” 1 Timothy 5:17
“Husbands, honor your wives as fellows heirs of the grace of God.” 1 Peter 3:7
“Honor all people” 1 Peter 2:17

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Meditate Upon What is True

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 1 of 7 meditations.)

Read John 4:16-26

In the famous story of Jesus with the woman at the well we are reminded of the importance of truth. Jesus had engaged in spiritual conversation with the Samaritan woman while she was drawing water. When the woman reached a point of thirst for the life that Christ can give He curiously said to her, “Go and get your husband.”

Jesus was not yielding to some ancient custom where men only talked with men. Rather, Jesus was inviting the woman to look at and acknowledge what was true about her life. The woman had been looking for love in all the wrong places having married five times and now lived with a man to whom she was not married. There was no pretending with Jesus that she had her life together. Truthfully her life was a mess. She was a sinner who needed a savior.

A final instructive word was “You must worship God in spirit and in truth.” The woman in essence said, “I will worship in spirit and truth when the Messiah comes. He will explain everything to us.” Jesus declared, “I am the Messiah.”

In this passage of scripture there is not only a moment of truthfully looking at one’s own life but also looking at who Jesus is.

Take a few minutes and meditate upon this text with these two questions:
1. Who am I?
2. Who is Jesus?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's Your Foundation?

Upon what are you building your life? What is it that brings definition and security to your life?

Typically some build their life upon accomplishments such as athletics, academics or career. Some build their life upon accumulation such as money and the things that money can buy. Some build their lives upon significant relationships so that their spouse or their children become their life.

Take a few minutes and reflect upon the video linked here. My comments below are in light of the video--

Our world is changing more rapidly than ever. What we know and experience today will be radically different in a decade.

It has always been true that the only foundation worthy to build a human life upon is the Person of God. Knowing God, rightly relating to God and following God with a whole heart is the only foundation that will not be “sinking sand” (Matthew 7:24-27).

I think this reality will be more obvious in the near future than ever before. Change, obsolescence, insecurity and anxiety will become more characteristic of those with a faulty foundation.

A word to the wise is sufficient. Get to know God. Establish friendship with God. Build your one and only life upon God.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hamburger, Steak & God's Plans for Marriage

September 26 academy award winning actor Paul Newman died. Not only did he leave behind a respectable collection of film work but he was an exemplary philanthropist. His was truly a fascinating and in some ways inspiring life.

Many of Newman’s famous lines from movies and interviews were replayed in the days following his death. Several writers quoted Newman’s line about how it is that he had such a stable long marriage in the face of so many Hollywood temptations.

Newman’s famous response was, “Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?”

Certainly that is affirming of his wife of 50 years, actress Joanne Woodward and it causes one to smile. But upon closer reflection note the fallacy in Newman’s thinking.

Joe McKeever raises some great questions: “What if I have hamburger at home and steak is out there somewhere? Is adultery all right if it is an improvement over what you have at home? What if I have, not hamburger, but baloney at home? What if I have nothing at home? ”

God is the One who created and designed marriage and there are many things that God seeks to accomplish in us and in society through our marriages. That’s why it is not really an option for us to “put apart what God has joined together” nor is it acceptable to be unfaithful to the relationship.

But in this reflection I’ll draw attention to just one of God’s purposes in marriage and that is to transform our lives into something like Jesus.

No one has a perfect marriage with a spouse that is always beautiful/handsome, winsome, fun, engaging, delightful, etc. Every marriage demands patience. Every marriage sees one partner hurt the other and need forgiveness. Every marriage faces perplexing issues for which wisdom that is beyond us is called for.

And, every time I look to God and lean upon God for patience, forgiveness, wisdom and a hundred other things, God forms something of Christ in me. There can be many benefits to marriage. One of the greatest is how I experience God in my marriage.

Even if one is married to another that has no place for God in his/her life, I can still powerfully and profoundly experience God and therefore my marriage serves to change my life.

I pray that your marriage is “steak” but more so I pray that God has access to your heart and transforms you because of your marriage.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Reflections on Political Debates

The 2008 presidential election has had more drama and been more interesting than any other election in my lifetime. Though interesting at times, the campaigns, conventions and debates still frustrate those of us who yearn for straight answers to direct questions.

At this writing there has been one presidential debate and one vice-presidential debate. Like millions of others I was more interested in the vice-presidential debate because of the “Palin factor”. Even more fun was the Saturday Night Live parody of the debate, but I digress.

As I’ve listened to the rhetoric and talking points I’ve cried out for an end to the “games” and engagement of the issues with real dialogue. I’ve talked with family and friends about the dodging of questions but was mildly surprised at the October 6 issue of TIME that gave a behind-the-scenes look at how all of this is scripted.

Mike Murphy, a GOP consultant, writes how candidates prepare for the debates. There are strategists that work to plan every detail, even down to preparing the off-the-cuff remarks. Murphy says one of the consultant’s biggest tasks is helping the candidate master one basic rule: never ever make the rookie’s mistake of actually answering the question you are actually asked. The idea is to make a bee line as quickly as possible to your key campaign message.

It could go something like this--
Question: “Senator, tell us your wife’s name and the names of your children.”
Answer: “I have a wonderful family. Nothing is more important to America’s welfare than our homes and our families. That’s why our platform has blah, blah, blah.”

As I read Murphy’s political insider perspective my thoughts were immediately taken to my engagement of God. When God asks us questions He’s not looking for answers. He already knows the answers. When God asks us questions He’s looking for us to get in touch with something.

After Adam ate forbidden fruit and hid from God, God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” God knew where Adam was. There’s no politically correct answer. All Adam could say is that “I’m hiding from you.”

After Cain killed his brother Abel and God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” God already knew that Cain had killed his brother but Cain plays word games and responds, “Am I supposed to keep up with where my brother is?”

So in the spirit of being honest (read: not politically correct) how is it with you and God? Is it well with your soul? Are you loving your spouse and family well? Are you fulfilling and living the plans that God has made for your life?

No talking points, just straight answers. In answering these questions there is life, peace, serenity and purpose.