This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.

Give.

For the Christian on the DONE side of love, the question is not ‘How much should I give?’ The question is, ‘How much do I dare to keep?’

Give. 1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Give as you have been given.

and

As you have been given, give.

and

Give as you have been given.

and

Love is…

Love is patient, love is kind…

Love is..., True Love 4, 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13. I won’t label it overused, but it has definitely become cliché’ in marriage ceremonies. Read within its context, Paul is hardly doing marriage counselling! The church at Corinth has revamped their definition of spirituality to be based upon individual talents. Those considered the most spiritual were the best at their trade, the most eloquent speakers, the wisest advisers, the most talented musicians; these people were considered the closest to God. (Does that sound eerily familiar with the modern church to anyone else?) Paul is not defining love to Corinth so that the boys know how to make the girls’ hearts melt or so that the girls know how they should expect a guy to treat them, he his blatantly rebuking Corinth for screwing up spirituality and totally rejecting what Jesus taught and died teaching.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong-doing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Replace ‘love’ with your name in these verses. Does it describe you? Maybe a little?

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind, it is envious and proud; arrogant and rude. It insists in its own way, is irritable and resentful; rejoices in misfortune and is skeptical of truth. Hate bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing, only when it is convenient and benefits themselves.

Replace the ‘hate‘ with your name in this version of the passage. Does it sound more or less like you? I honestly do not expect anyone to admit, even to themselves, that they are more like the second version of verses 4-7 than the first. No one likes to admit their flaws, particularly those that impact other people (like your ability to love). If you are serious about loving well, give these descriptions of love and hate to someone close to you, let them tell you which best describes the love you’re putting out.

At the end of the day, love focuses on others, hate focuses on self. Where’s your focus?

The Man Code

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Men have a basic code we live by that sets our standards for ethics, morality, judgement and behavior. Unfortunately, these standards have been compromised by social pressures and manged to fit personal agendas until a boy has to be careful he’s following the correct code to be a man. ‘True Love’, week 2 cuts through the smoke and makes the path to manhood clear.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28

This passage in Genesis recounts the moment humans came into existence. Now, before you stop reading, I’m not going on a Ken Hamm rant here. Today’s blog is not about the accuracy of a literal seven-day creation or the validity of evolutionary creationism. I am focusing on the established images and roles of male and female homo sapiens, specifically the me.

This passage has been totally butchered by societies for centuries. The primary flaw in these distortions is to twist this passage to be establishing a hierarchy for the home resulting in male dominance and female subservience. Insecure, super-religious men will often reference this moment in history to extort their way into power and domineer their family. The words of these verses proposes quite a different scenario. God explicitly establishes the equality of men and women in two simple phrases; “So God created man (‘man’ being a generic word for humans) in his own image…male and female he created them.”

God created men and women with equal value, but different roles. God creates both men and women as a reflection of himself (v.26), then commands them to cooperatively be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth (v.28). The concept of male superiority is imagined by the inspiration for the creation of Eve as a “suitable helper” (Gen 2:20). As we have just read, God’s process of creative development established the existence of male and female before any groundwork began, Eve was not created as an afterthought, as reading Genesis 2:20 out of context can be misinterpreted to say.

So if the Genesis creation story is a clean slate which establishes men and women as totally equal, where do men find their code for that relationship? Us men are very black and white, what are the rules? Ephesians 5:25 gives men a clear directive for relating to women, particularly in marriage. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Rule numero uno for a successful marriage, men? Get over yourself.

Let me break this down into a simple list for the guys out there, because that’s what we can understand. Men, your responsibility when it comes to women and your family is:

Lead. This doesn’t mean you make all the decisions or that you’re always right, it simply means you can take charge and do what needs to be done in any given situation.

Love. Real, selfless, genuine love. Mushiness not required. Need tips on what love is? Patience, kindness, keep your ego in check, honest. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Provide. Providing is a subjective role to your situation. In some cases, this means the male brings home the majority of the family income. In others, the man takes care of household responsibilities so the woman can bring home the bacon. In any case, providing is taking on the role of making the long and short term goals of your family happen. How that manifests is determined by how well you lead.

Protect. Dean gave some great illustrations on protecting this morning. Men with any hint of chivalry Naturally place themselves in positions to be protectors. What real man, upon hearing a strange sound in the house at 2am, asks their wife to go check it out? No self-respecting man ever puts a woman in danger to protect himself. Opening doors, walking on the side of traffic when you’re out on a date, picking up the check (even when it’s not a date), walking her to her car or to the door at night. The key is, none of these acts of kindness are performed with any expectation of return. You are nice because it is only natural for you to be nice, no ulterior motives. Guys, you need to teach your son’s how to treat and respect a woman. If you didn’t get those lessons growing up, learn from someone you respect, then teach it to your kids.

Honor. What is honor? High esteem, regard with great respect, fulfill with integrity, a privilege. All of these phrases apply to a man’s responsibility to a woman.

The introduction and festering of sin in the lives of men has made this and pretty much every other natural role much easier to say than to accomplish. Sin leads men to abdicate their responsibilities and abuse their authority. Instead of leading their family, sin makes men irresponsible and absent from the lives of people who depend on them the most. How often do you catch flak for the hours you put in at work or the time you spend on the ball field? Those are red flags that you are failing to lead.

Sin turns love into only a temporary physical condition. Men who dominate over their wives and children as a strict authoritarian do not know love. Cowards who prey on women thirsty for love for a cheap release then disappear at the drop of a dime, these men do not know love. Here’s a quick litmus test if you’re not sure how well a lover you are; when you enter the room, do your children (a) smile and cheer your name (b) fail to notice or (c) quietly cower where they are until you give them permission to continue whatever they were doing – either by your actions or your ignorance. If you answer anything but (a), you have a red flag to handle.

Men who do not provide for their family’s success are tangled in sin. If I asked you to list off a few things your wife dreams of one day accomplishing, could you even name one? What about your kids? Do you know what gets them excited? What they value? What goals they may have? Self-absorbed men know nothing of anyone unless it benefits themselves. If no answer immediately came to mind as answers to these questions. Get over yourself and get to know your family tonight. Pizza, root beer, and Star Wars sets the tone for me and my boys! Here again, this goes back to leading. Men who lead well, do whatever needs doing to provide.

Protect. I think we covered this one well, don’t be a wuss. Man-up and take care of your family. Protection is not just physical. It is emotional and spiritual. If you have anger issues, protect your family from yourself. Get to know God and introduce your family to him by your example.

Honor is the all-encompassing attribute for the man code, accompanied by integrity. If you respect someone, you will care for them; if you honor them, you will care for them above yourself. Integrity is knowing your principles and standing your ground. Men of integrity do not compromise their morals, even when it’s convenient. If you have no honor, or can’t spell integrity, turn in your testicles because you’re out of the man club.

Today’s opening image is a sculpture of Atlas literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. The primary role of Atlas in Greek Mythology was to be the force that held the earth steadfast within the galaxy. Husbands, dads, men, this is precisely our job in the home. One of our roles is to hold our world in place within the realm of life, whatever needs to happen to keep the family going, that’s your job. Every man pictures himself in this position at some time, successfully carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Strength, integrity, honor, these are the top qualities of manhood every guy claims (but few actually own). Inside the “world” the Atlas figure carries are characteristics of Biblical manhood.

Juxtaposed to the Atlas figure is a fun house mirror. Carnival house are fun, they aren’t called “Fun Houses” for nothing! Bending a mirror distorts the reflection you see. In this case, the man code carried by the Atlas figure is distorted into the negative attributes that describe too many “men” in modern culture. Instead of honorable, loving providers and protectors, the reflection is that of insecurity, absence, irresponsibility and selfishness which then demands respect. The self-image does not match the reflection. Sin supports the mirror that tells men they are being Atlas by holding to the characteristics in the mirror.

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Men. If the way people treat us is a reflection of our treatment of them, pay more attention to your reflection that you do to yourself.

Protect and embrace the man code.

Lead, love, honor, provide and protect.

Ignoring the Giver

You only need the light when it’s burning low

Only miss the sun when it starts to snow

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low

Only hate the road when you’re missing home

Only know you love her when you let her go.

‘True Love’ began today. In this series we’re going to explore relationships from God’s perspective. Married, dating, friendships, acquaintances, strangers, God has a specific design for doing every manner of relationship successfully. We are going to dive in and strengthen ourselves by embracing responsibility in human interaction. 

We begin this series at the most basic level, what is love? God is love, so to ask the question, ‘what is love?’ is to also ask ‘who is God?’ John 3:16, the most quoted, memorized, and Googled verse in the Bible, sums up the love God has for the world in a five-word phrase, “He sent His only son”. Without proper context, this verse can lead people to believe God loves us above Jesus, just for who we are as His creation. This assumption is incorrect. At this point in history, creation is held captive by darkness (as it remains today), totally corrupted by sin and selfishness. There is nothing attractive about the world to be loved. God’s deep affection that inspired Him to send Jesus is not a reflection of our beauty but a reflection of His grace. Throughout the history of the world, God sent representatives to proclaim His love for humanity. He finally showed up to tell us Himself in the form of Jesus because we refuse to listen. God relentlessly pursues us, not out of a deep drive to reconcile Himself with humanity, but out of unfathomable compassion and desire to reconcile us with Himself.

“Spiritual idolatry is enjoying the gifts while completely ignoring the giver of those gifts.” – David Platt

The life of the prophet Hosea is a direct analogy to God’s relationship to humanity. Hosea’s tale starts with a call from God to take a wife, but not just any wife, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness”. God calls Hosea and says “Pick a whore, any whore, marry her and adopt her bastard children as your own” Guys, how would you like to bring that girl home to meet you parents? I can’t imagine mom and dad would be all too enthused about having a prostitute for a daughter-in-law and being instant grandparents to her children. Hosea, being more afraid of God than of man, did as he was told and married a prostitute named Gomer, taking in her and her children.

Marriage does not change Gomer’s lifestyle (is anyone surprised?). The way he rest of chapter one is worded leaves the fatherhood of children born after her marriage to Hosea in doubt. Despite Gomer’s lewdness, Hosea remains faithful. He even brings groceries to the home of one of Gomer’s Johns, handing them to the man sleeping with his wife and requests they be given to Gomer as being from Hosea. The John takes the food to Gomer, but turns the ownership around and claims they are a gift from himself. Despite this blatant abuse, Hosea remains faithful.

The relationship between Hosea and Gomer is a direct analogy of the relationship between God and Israel. Gomer constantly and remorselessly abuses Hosea by taking advantage of his character. Throughout history to the arrival of Jesus, Israel’s treatment of God is just as hostile. Since the direct contact between God and the world through the person of Jesus, that conflict rages between light and dark with humanity’s relationship to God the central focus.

Like Gomer received resources necessary to keep her and her children alive from Hosea despite her lack of gratitude and returned affection, we are each gifted the resources we need to survive by God but very rarely acknowledge Him as our life’s source. We are quick to accuse God in hard times, but shift praise to ourselves in times of prosperity. Any gain we experience is categorized as the spoils of our hard labor and acquired skills, losses incurred are out of our realm of control and thereby fall on God by default.

“I will put and end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts” – Hosea 2:11

Israel religiously celebrated days scheduled to recognize God while ignoring Him the other days. God supplied Israel with the resources to celebrate, but is now preparing to take away those resources so that Israel will acknowledge their origin.

“And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lover and forgot me, declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:13

Ignoring the Giver, True Love 1

Two songs played through my mind during the sermon today; “Let Her Go” (Passenger, 2012) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers, 1971). Both of these songs lament the loss of a love that was taken for granted. Only after the love is gone is it appreciated. This often happens between God and individuals. Only after He removes His hand and our life spirals into chaos do we finally see the role He’s played the whole time. Today’s drawing shows that in the form of a dry, cracked and dying landscape with a solitary pool of water. The cracks in the land were not present until the water that once filled the area departed. Acknowledge God in your life now, do not force Him to move in order to be seen.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

It’s not warm when she’s away

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone 

and she’s always gone too long

anytime she goes away.

Pushing Against Grace

Pushing Against Grace, Jonah 4

 

What’s that one heinous sin that lurks in the forefront of your mind as the ultimate offense? The attitude and actions for which forgiveness is totally inconceivable? The red flag in someone’s life which is the dead giveaway that person “can’t be Christian”? Even after his isolation on the sea, Jonah had much to learn about grace, as do we.

Webster’s defines grace as the manifestation of favor, mercy, clemency, or pardon.  Tullian Tchvidjian defines grace as “unconditional acceptance granted to an understanding person, granted by an un-obligated giver.” It is forgiveness coupled with restoration. God’s grace is immeasurable and liberally covers all who will embrace it; regardless of their offense or our opinion.

Jonah ran from God’s command to go and proclaim truth to Nineveh out of fear. He feared the negative reaction of Nineveh on himself. He feared God’s offer of grace to Nineveh, should he succeed, with equal intensity. Jonah’s hate for Nineveh was rooted deep in a history of violence and oppression aimed at his homeland, Israel. Jonah’s desire for justice rivaled his fear for his life. The thought of Nineveh being forgiven of their deplorable sins committed against God and His people turned Jonah’s stomach. He preferred death over life in a world where Nineveh was in equal standing with Israel in God’s eyes.

Grace erases any inclination to believe you are superior. Self-righteous people have wandered far from God because they have allowed their love of righteousness surpasses their understanding of grace. Being righteous is a good thing, if your understanding of righteousness is rooted in the gospel and not religion. Righteousness without grace is bigotry.

The grace God offers is bigger than any sin, including yours. Once we ‘get’ grace, our obedience shifts from being driven by guilt to driven by love. Love for our God, our savior, and each other. Pushing against God’s grace as it sweeps toward anyone you deem “unworthy” is like trying to push back a tidal wave. Your efforts aren’t only futile, they make you look like a fool. But, in the end, God’s grace surrounds you as it rushes past to embrace that which you were trying to keep it from.

As Lauren, Zac, Caley, and the rest of the worship team guided our spirits this morning:

Lay yourself down,

to be the light,

for none but Jesus.