Complete Recovery

Years ago I was a youth pastor roaming the halls on a Sunday morning before Bible study. “Quick! Help me!” an adult teacher called me into her classroom, “Where in the Bible does it say we deserved Jesus to die on the cross?” (She was serious)  I answered, “I can’t think of a place that it does, but I can think of many places it says that we don’t deserve it.” She gave me a look that said, “are you sure went to seminary?” and walked away to find someone who could answer her question how she wanted. Knowing my fellow ministers, I doubt she got the answer she wanted.

In Luke 7, Jesus met a Roman centurion (military commander) who had a sick servant. Even though the Jewish elders told Jesus that the centurion “deserved” Jesus to heal the servant (after all, he gave lots of money), the centurion knew better. “I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof.” The man said he didn’t measure up to Jesus.  Jesus told everyone that the centurion “got it” more than any of the Jews Jesus had met. They were so busy trying to show they “deserved” God to recover them, that they missed it.

I have learned that me frustrated faith times stem from feeling entitled to God acting in my life. After all, I’m a pastor. I sacrifice a lot, right? (Invitations to Pity Party sent…)  But, my fulfilled faith times occur when I realize I’m getting more from God that I could ever deserve!

You can’t seek a Lord until you quit being one yourself. You can’t be lifted up until you admit how far down you are.

Recently, a young family in our church had a near tragic occurence. Their one-month old child developed spinal meningitis. If anyone didn’t “deserve” for this to happen, it would be them. Sweet folk, with servant hearts, they trusted the Lord through a midnight ambulance ride to Dallas and weeklong stay in pediatric ICU at Children’s Medical Center. The outcome could have been sad, but thanks be to God, they are now home with a healing baby! Another of our members is in an ICU this week, after an accident that has left him with many broken bones and a very long road of recovery. His parents, also members, are retired ministers. They are another “underserving” family. Our church is surrounding them with care and prayers.

Neither of these families have said, “we don’t deserve this”. Instead they are expressing awe and praise at how God is blessing them with love and peace during a time of difficulty. Like the centurion, they get it and have great faith. As the Lord works to bring about recovery in these homes, I’m reminded of how the people saw what Jesus did (heal sick and raise the dead), and how they responded in the rest of Luke 7:1-16.

They were filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” (Luke 7:16 NIV)

Choosing Fathers

What follows is the core of my father’s day sermon. Read through, but read through to the end to catch the twist…

Luke 6:12-13 (NIV) One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles…

Those apostles became “fathers” of the early churches. From Thomas heading East (as far as India maybe), to Peter in Jerusalem , and John in Asia Minor, they scattered and led.  Jesus chose them after prayer.

Right fatherhood happens the same way. It isn’t just a genetic occurence. The definition of Father isn’t easily clarified. It is the man who is the source of life, wisdom, provision, direction in the life of others that is known as Father. Biological matter alone doesn’t make one a father. Legal documents don’t make a man a father. Rather, it is selfless discipleship to Jesus that puts a man in the place to be a Father, sending out others to life, love, and God’s kingdom work.

Four charactistics of God-chosen fatherhood are:

Be a Provider, not a profiteer – Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” exemplifed a life that gave what was needed for the child at each stage. You see, children aren’t their for your benefit (bring you a drink, clean your house, or worse), rather you are their to be a steward of the resources God has given you to help them become successful in Godly lives.

Be a Protector, not a prison gaurd – God has placed you as a watchmen to keep out the evil that wants to disrupt your family.  So, be proactive about the media and messages that come through the air or wires. Talk with children and help them learn from Scripture what is right and wrong.

Be a Professor, not a preservationist – Indiana Jones was a professor who was teaching his co-adventurers. Don’t be trying to keep everything safe in life, instead let the teachable moments be shared experiences where you children learn from you.

Be the Propulsion, not a passenger – remember the Flintstone’s car? Fred had his feet on the ground, Dino sat in the back.  Godly fathers aren’t along for the ride, but are actively leading their families to Christ and his church.

So, it’s a basic sermon with solid truth for fathers right? Except I had an unexpected response. I received a text from a single mother that said, “I really liked your sermon on fathers.” At first I thought “Uh oh, I missed it with her and wasn’t sensitive about the single moms.”  But, she went on, “I realize I have to be the father figure at times for my child and I needed to hear what you said. It helped. Thanks.”

I’m glad it’s Jesus that does the choosing…

Wardrobe Change

When groups get ready to go on trips, it is customary and right to gather round and pray for “traveling mercies.” Of course, the pastor (if present) is called upon to offer the prayer. I have been grateful to pray to God for saftey for groups of children, youth, and adults as they have journeyed to camps, retreates, and dinners. I am thankful about it because the prayers have been answered and the travels have been safe.

However, a few years ago, as I was praying before one of our mission journeys to the Rio Grande Valley, I circled with the group before we got on the bus/van/trucks/cars and felt led to pray this way: “Dear God, please keep us safe upon this mission trip, except when you want it to be dangerous.” It caused a change in my thinking (not my driving, we all want that to be safe) about the mission of the church. Sometimes, we want safety in the church. We preach safety in the church. “Just start following Jesus and everything will be alright,” we say. Except it hasn’t been that way for 2,000 years.

There is nothing more dangerous for the church than to follow Jesus. But there is no path safer than in the will of God.

I don’t know that everyone gets it (or wants to), but there is a sense of comfort that isn’t promised the church. Paul writes in Romans 13:14, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  Putting on Jesus clothes isn’t going to make us comfortable in worldly garb. Yet, the church (aka Body of Christ) keeps trying on the latest fashion.  When we do, we lose precious moments to change the world.

Our quirky, out of step, appearance (figuratively) is our best way to show the New Community God designed in the church is the Best Community for the world. We may not have the best lightshow, latte, or loudspeakers, but we do have the best Love.  A not-so-old hymn We are Called to be God’s People (Thomas A. Jackson, Copyright 1975, Broadman Press) says it very well:

We are called to be God’s people, showing by our lives His grace,
one in heart and one in spirit, sign of hope for all the race.
Let us show how He has changed us, and remade us as His own,
let us share our life together as we shall around His throne.

We are called to be God’s servants, working in His world today;
taking His own task upon us, all His sacred words obey.
Let us rise, then, to His summons, dedicate to Him our all,
that we may be faithful servants, quick to answer now His call.

We are called to be God’s prophets, speaking for the truth and right,
standing firm for godly justice, bringing evil things to light.
Let us seek the courage needed, our high calling to fulfill,
that the world may know the blessing of the doing of God’s will.

Cry Justice…

Body Parts

…in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. (Romans 12:5-6a)

My body is not a democracy. This morning there was no vote about getting out of bed. The will won, and all the parts came…together.

The apostle Paul uses in this text (and in 1Corinthians 12) the human body as a metaphor for the church. Because we are made holy by Jesus, we can put our individual bodies into the team (the church) that belongs to Jesus. And if the church is Jesus’ body, we can count on Him to lead well. We know that Jesus will not ask us to do with our body any thing He wouldn’t have done with His own.

Nevertheless, we are taught to value individuality by the world.  That’s okay, but carried too far we miss out on the joy of being in a team/group/church where valuable work occurs.  When Paul says we are part of the body, individual identity isn’t “mcnugget-ed” (see this video http://youtu.be/OTzLVIc-O5E) but valued.

Knowing your part in the church matters. Knowing your part, and what you bring to the group helps out every organization of which you are a part. Your family, your workplace, your volunteer group, and yes, your church, needs you to “bring it” when it comes to doing what you do best. When you do, you will find that you and your group/team/workplace/family/church are more:

  • Powerful – you leverage everyone’s strengths in the team to the fullest potential. You work smarter together.
  • Productive – you are part of a more succesful team, with delegated responsibilites and outcomes.
  • Pleasant – you are less stressed as a team because each can count on one another.
  • Positive – you can make it through challenges because you see the big picture and the value of one another to the team.
  • Peaceful – you can solve problems, not make them because you know and do your part.

More later…

Humming along…

Where we are working - Citrus City

Citrus City

I heard several of our team humming, whistling, singing songs today. Maybe it was the intense heat that made people more musical, but I think it was the fact we felt like God was working in and through us here in Mission, TX. The VBS team had a good start. The Women’s Ministry had four women, but they are all bringing friends tomorrow. The Construction Team got a house insulated and started on drywall. It was the right kind of Monday for us here.
Our team is small, but we are here. In fact, just a few years ago, mission teams were so large and plentiful here it was hard to find a place to stay. Now, whether it be the sour economy or fears of the violence, we are the only team staying at Valley Baptist Retreat. That’s too bad, because it really isn’t dangerous at all. It’s just hot (but isn’t it where you are too?)
One member of our team was the most musical today – Marty Burks. It is his birthday, and as he has for several years, he’s spent it working in the heat in the Valley. Nevertheless, he sang and hummed. I didn’t need an iPod. I’m grateful Marty came. His music was better.
Somebody else is whereever you are today. In fact, He is always there. It’s Jesus. He has a song for you. If you listen, you’ll be glad Jesus is there with you too.

Wave Time

Typical summer day in Florida. It rained. Which of course changed our camp plans for the morning for outdoor recreation. Nevertheless, resilient teenagers and creative youth pastors came up with a way to pass the time. Pics are on my facebook page of game time with 300 teens in a small room. It was fun.

Thankfully, the rain stopped for the afternoon and us inlanders made our way to the beach. You would’ve thought we’d turned five year olds loose in a candy store. The surf was up, but that didn’t deter the youth. In they went to try the waves. It was a lot of fun to watch (and play in too) as some waves topped seven or eight feet.

Camp is a time to let Jesus’ Spirit hit us in waves. We run to the camp experience like teens to the surf. And, if we dive in, Jesus will soak us in worship and scripture. Keep praying for our students to have a great week.

Beach Front

Today, after a very long drive, I arrived at Beach Camp with our Youth from FBCP. Although I look forward to a great week, I’ve already had a good time just traveling 700 or so miles with these guys. They practice Christian grace and community really well. (I think it is a great reflection on their parenting and their youth pastor, Scott.)

Our location, Laguna Beach Christian Camp, is right on the beach. The sand and surf are beautiful and the weather matches them. What a great ministry idea for a camp.

Now, all the groups have gathered and we’ve had our first evening of worship together. It’s a good frontside to the week already. Please pray for God to move among the students (and leaders) in a mighty way.