Friday, January 30, 2009

Ranking the Star Wars Flims

Ok, so inspired by my Pixar Film Rankings post, I will attempt to rank (from worst to first) the films of the Star Wars Epic...6 to 1...

# 6: Attack of the Clones: It has it's moments (hundreds of Jedi fighting at once in a gladiator-bug arena? Pretty cool...), but for the most part this film is just an excuse to fill 2 1/2 hours between Episodes One and Three. I mean, I'll still watch it (because hey, it's Star Wars), but I'm not sure I've voluntarily watched it by myself since going to see it in the theater. I know it could be said that in many ways Star Wars "steals" form other genres and archetypes (old westerns, World War II dogfight scenes, Kurosawa samurai films, etc.), but AOTC just seems to be blatantly ripping off fairly recent films like "Bladerunner", "The Fifth Element", "Gladiator", etc. All really cool films...but one thing I was hoping for was more originality. And the "anakin" character just bugged me so much in this one... But I am glad the Jar Jar character was WAY scaled down...

# 5: The Phantom Menace: Poor Episode was destined to disappoint at least some. All-in-all though, I left the theater saying it still "felt" like a Star Wars movie, which is a good thing. Not sure if "Clones" always does... I really dug the Qui Gon Jinn character, the pod races, and even the ending battle/palace infiltration scenes. And above all, Darth Maul. I SO didn't want him to get killed off...and the sabre fight between Maul, Qui Gon, and Obi Wan...amazing. BUT (and there will always be "buts"), Jar Jar...oh, why? Well, I know a bit more "why" now, as George Lucas said he put Jar Jar in there for his kids...and my son really likes Jar Jar. So, I suppose since Star Wars is George's baby, he can do what he wants...

# 4: Revenge of the Sith: There is a BIG gulf between #5 and #4 in this countdown to me. In fact, ROTS seems to capture the magic of the original trilogy (Eps 4-6) than the other "prequels" by far (even if sections of Episode One seem to as well...but just in spurts). I wanted so badly to rank one of the prequels above an original trilogy film...but I just couldn't. That said, ROTS is pretty cool, and may be (along with "The Empire Strikes Back") the Star Wars film with the most, um, juevos. PG-13? Lots of death, including the murder of young Jedi...and Darth Vader's That had to hurt. I also think the Obi Wan character is at his coolest here.

# 3: Return of the Jedi: The special effects here were so amazing (for 1983!) that when Lucas re-issued the original trilogy, this one hardly needed to be touched. The forest battle/Vader-Luke-Emperor fight/Death Star attack at the end are just so fun to watch. The Ewoks...well, not as bad an addition as Jar Jar but I would have rather it been a bunch of Wookiees...

# 2: A New Hope: Ah, the one that started it all. In some ways I actually think ROTJ is better, but I just have to rank this here. I was 4 years old (or 3?) when I saw it with my dad in Pittsburgh, PA, and the rest is history. If you want to see more about how this movie truly changed everything and captured the world at exactly the right time, watch the documentary "Empire of Dreams".

# 1: The Empire Strikes Back: It is interesting that this is # 1, because I'm not even sure if it's the most fun one to watch. But it's the best film of the group. Han Solo becomes one of my favorite characters EVER in this one. Luke is actually kinda cool. And the Colt 45 dude as Lando? Love it. Yoda shows up. We see a glimpse of some of the "mythos" behind the story coming to light. And the Rebels lose (which needed to happen...). All in all, just a great film. I even think non-Star Wars fans could agree to that...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Supreme Leader // Colossians 1:15-23

The Supremacy of Christ
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.


Colossians 1:21 Or minds, as shown by

Words, phrases that stuck out:

For today's post, I am going to approach it slightly differently. As I read this, I noticed two main "sections": first is verses 15-20, which discuss Jesus' divine, eternal nature. The second part is verses 21-23, which address the truth of a believer's relationship to Jesus in light of the truths in the first section. So, I'm just going to list all the points that hit me and briefly comment on each main section after...

*** Section One: ...image of the invisible God... ...firstborn over all creation... by him all things were created... in him all things hold together... he is the head of the body, the church... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.: Ok, so many things...but these are truths I need to hold on to every second of the day. If I claim to believe in Jesus as my only redeemer and savior, I need to know that he is infinitely more than just some nice guy who lived and had some cool ideas. He is God among us. He created. He has every atom under his command. He is our Supreme Leader. And all things are reconciled, are made new, due to the Cross. This needs to be what drives me!!!!

*** Section Two: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies... he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight... ...if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.: Do I really live in gratitude realizing that I was once God's enemy? I need to...because through Jesus, I am now viewed as holy again in God's sight. But it needs to be real. The last statement there (from verse 23) is a confusing one, as some think that one can lose one's salvation (by not believing anymore), and others say once saved, always saved. Regardless of your "bent", I think this does show us that if our faith is real , we need to allow it to change every fiber of our being...all the time. Standing firm in the midst of the wavering seas of life. That is my prayer for myself today: to stand firm, despite emotion, circumstance, desires...

Questions for me today:

Is Jesus my Supreme Leader? Do I seek Christ in ALL things? What does that look like? What needs to change?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Getting Up-set, for all the Wrong Reasons..." (sung to the tune of Looking for Love (In all the Wrong Places) as sung by Johnny Lee)

Ok, so you really don't have to sing...

But I saw first-hand how my selfishness can produce strong emotion when things aren't going my way.

It went something like this: I woke up before the rest of the family as per usual (6:50 am-ish). I got the coffee going, turned on a few lights, turned on my "morning" mix of classical/jazz/ambient music, prayed, and sat down to read my scripture passage for the day. After that (30 min or so later), I turned on the tube to check the weather for a bit (we are in the midst of an Ice Storm Warning), then decide to do my own "25 Random Things About ME" that is floating around Facebook nowadays. About 10 minutes after I begin typing, Jax wakes up. No biggie. I get some of "his shows" on, get his breakfast, inform him that school is cancelled, and proceed to continue typing...

Well, before I knew it, it was like 45 minutes later and I was only on number 15 or so in the list. Jax is starting to (rightfully so) get antsy and wants my attention, grabbing my right arm, etc. I say things like, "If you let my arm go, I'll get done faster", as, of course, I still attempt to type with my left hand. He releases. I proceed to move to the recliner across the room (tougher access for Jax to "get to me") and keep typing.

I finish all 25.

I am pleased.

I cannot wait for all my friends to read all this random stuff about me, hopefully laugh some, maybe be surprised, maybe impressed. You can call me Narcissus now.

My final act before hitting "post" is to "tag" 25 friends who will receive a note about my posting. So, I have 23 picked...and Jax decided to come over, climb on me, and hits inadvertently a couple buttons...

...and my posting disappears into oblivion...


And no, I couldn't "save" it, as Facebook does not have that function like, say, this blog has.

I am really upset. Jax gets down. I slam the computer shut. I proceed to let him know that he just made Daddy lose what he had been working on for like an hour.

He looked back at me with the worst face. You know, that face like you just (for no reason) had just taken his favorite bedtime buddies and burned them right in front of his face. Laughing. No, cackling.

He almost started to cry because I had successfully made him feel guilty.

I stomp off, partly in frustration, but as the steps added up, they quickly became to gather my senses. To calm down. And I heard that voice saying, "Make this right, Dad. Do you realize you just punished your son for something as selfish as a FACEBOOK POST???!!!"

So I took a deep breath and calmly went to Jax. I explain to him that I am sorry, and that Daddy can just type it again later if I want to. I do take a bit of time to explain that sometimes Mommy or Daddy do at times need to do important things on the computer, and he needs to let us if the task cannot wait, but that this time, it truly wasn't important.

It was a selfish thing.

I need to remember this. I need to ask myself often if something I "want" or think I deserve are really worth shutting all else (and all others) out... How often we do that! I'm not saying we don't need "me" time, or time to rest, reflect, and recreate...but you see, I had already had that time today...and it was time for me to be with my son...

Lord, help me to seek to be selfLESS, not so dang selfish... Amen.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Impossible // Luke 1:26-38

The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God."

38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.


Luke 1:35 Or So the child to be born will be called holy,

Words, phrases that stood out:

*** "...his kingdom will never end."; verse 33: I realize this passage has a pseudo-Christmas/Advent feel, but why not address it whenever? I have more thoughts on some other parts of this passage, but for some reason this truth about Christ's kingdom never ending provides me encouragement. Jesus is not only "was" but also "is" and "WILL BE". Awesome...

*** "...the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God."; verse 35: The footnote here tells us that the word holy may be used here again interchangeably with Son of God. Holy, to my understanding, means something like set apart , something so "other", so not us, so high above. This is important as I realize that Jesus was so much more than just some nice teacher with good philosophies, so much more than just a very enlightened man. Jesus is holy. Set apart. Something so other that he can only be deity himself. God himself with human flesh. This is such a curiosity to me and I know to others, and the concept of Jesus being God in the flesh is just so impossible to many. But if Jesus isn't these things...then in my eyes, why bother with it at all? Thankfully the story and proof of his divine nature continues on after this phrase was spoken...

*** "37For nothing is impossible with God.": What a thing to know and remember. Not just this charge to Mary, as she was to be the vessel used by God miraculously to bring the Savior into the world, but for us as we realize the Impossible that God is. And I don't think that is a bad thing to label God as "impossible", because to me it doesn't mean that the existence of God is an impossible thing, but instead that God so often (in scripture and beyond) works in the realm we humans call "impossible!" Impossible is where God shines most...and I need to a) be open to the mysteries of God I cannot explain and cling to them and b) trust and believe that God can accomplish the impossible in my own life. I know too well the times my faith was at a low point because I just couldn't see how God would make something happen...but he did.

*** 38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said.": What a legacy of faith Mary leaves us with. She has just heard something impossible, and instead of going "yeah, whatever", she pledges to serve the Lord, and is "cool" with whatever is in store. I know that is often my struggle, to sense that God may be telling/showing me something, no matter how "out there", and say, "It's cool, what you will and I'll be here!" We so easily bail on God in the name of something not fitting our criteria, or being what we "want", or not fitting into our perfect plans. I know that I, at least, need to continue seeking to have this attitude that Mary exhibits toward God in such a heavy moment...

Questions for me today:

What are the things of God that I still label impossible? What things in my life do I know are true, really did happen, etc., that I can only attribute to God that others may label as impossible?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Keep On Keepin' On // 2 Timothy 1:3-2:13

Encouragement to Be Faithful
3I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
8So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

13What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

15You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

16May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 2 1You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

11Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

Words, Phrases that Stuck Out:

*** 7For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.: I think that this verse is not only an important one for me to remember, but also one I believe God is growing me more into daily. You see, I've always thought "timidity" was one of my traits. Now, I may never (due to my wiring) be a heavy-handed, loud-voiced person on all issues, but I have seen more passion in the things of God (and how it all plays out in our lives) than ever before. But in the midst of that passion, there is (and must be, if you struggle with it) love and self-discipline. Those are big things to realize. God's kids aren't to be timid, but they are to tread with a spirit of great love, and they must have great discernment, as we all know examples from our own lives or the lives of others where "passion for God" and "love/self-discipline" did not go hand-in-hand...and likely the intended message was "stunted" a bit at best... We need to stand our ground, but with love, respect, and wisdom. Hard to do...

*** ...God, 9who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.: Some folks, despite tons of scriptures saying otherwise, seem to not grasp that our salvation and eternal life with Christ has NOTHING to do with how good we are, how much we "try", or how many gold stars vs. frowny faces we have on God's cosmic deeds chart. It is ALL GOD. I can mostly speak about myself: when I came to know Jesus, I was not "convinced" and decided, "Oh, I suppose it would be a good idea for me to believe this, just in case it's real and all..." And, despite my growing up in church and having various (but usually present) models in my parents to Godly's not like it was decreed in my home verbally, or forced on me. Finally, knowing how my mind worked back in 1990 at age 16 (and still often does today), trust me: releasing and truly believing in the message of Christ was not in my nature. Being nice? Sure. Trying to do more good than bad? Yeah. But hearing that while I was a sinner (despite any efforts to be "good" that always ended in failure), God still loved me, came to earth as a baby and LIVED, then died (and beat death) for ME? Not in my nature to just go, "Oh, that sounds good. I'll have that." No. I believe it was God alone who gave me faith, who saved me. NOT ME OR ANYTHING ELSE. And that is why I seek to live graciously, with love, and with purpose...because God loved me first and for some reason, saved me despite the manure I would always pull (and still do sometimes) in my life against his will...

*** ...convinced...; verse 1:12: Convinced. Not wishful thinking. Not, "I guess this all is a good idea..." CONVINCED. Oh, how I pray to live life as one convinced in God's grace, power, might, plans...

*** 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. : I need to endure all things, to keep on keepin' on, because Jesus has saved me for all time. This fact, above all else, must be my guide and motivation. All the "lists of good behaviors and attitudes" should become a byproduct in my life, not a goal, as a result. Not a means to and end, but a result of what God has done.

Questions for Me:

When I am fired up about something I perceive as "of God", am I all fire and zero love and control? What do I need to confess, whom do I need to apologize to, etc., that may have experienced my unbridled fire without being mixed with love and discernment?

Do I live my life like I still think my place in eternity depends on a cosmic behavior chart? Do I treat others like this, as well, taking score as a means to gain my favor?

Am I living as one convinced of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, of the Lord's promises, purpose, and salvation? If I'm not convinced...why not? What's holding me back? Are there times I feel "convinced", and then other times I'm not so sure? What happened to make those thoughts occur and change?

What keeps you going? Wakes you up in the morning and says, "Alright...LET'S GO!"? If it's not a realization that God has saved, has purpose for me, etc., what is it? What needs to change to get it there?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Seeking Upward Attitudes // Philippians 4:2-9

2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow,[a] help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.


Philippians 4:3 Or loyal Syzygus

Words, phrases that stuck out:

*** ...agree with each other in the Lord.; verse 2: What a noble concept! What a difficult concept! But what if my opinion is right? But what if the other person is being a jerk? But what if (insert excuse here)? I honestly don't know what this looks like, what "formula" it should have, but I do think God (through Paul) knows best when challenging believers to make all efforts to be agreeable to each other, to get along, etc., despite some differences we my have at times. I know at times some good friendly debate is fine (and possibly necessary, especially in the name of bringing God's nature to light, but too often it becomes overly judgemental, ugly, and non-loving). I know there are plenty of fellow believers that I've had differences with over the years (whether just different vision, or theology, or even just "personalities that don't mesh"), but I prayerfully seek to be respectful at all times, to not jump the shark in those relationships. I don't need to be everyone's best friend, sending Christmas cards to them or anything...but I need to watch how I view, treat, and speak to (and...the hardest...about )them.

*** 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.: I won't lie: while my persona is often a "gentle" one by default, I struggle with this one. I'm not saying disagree, but what about times for "tough love"? Ultimatums? Somehow in God's Way there must be a way to have gentleness...and strength. Because you see, I tend to be either-or (I've seen some areas of "mix" lately that please me...thanks God!), you know, I am either gentle, merciful, and even timid to a fault, or I am a tyrant, control freak, laying down the law. I think NEITHER is The Way. Somehow it's a mix of both... Maybe I need to read more about Tony Dungy, whom from what I can tell, is proof that a quiet, faithful, honorable, and gentle man can inspire greatness and respect in others...and a reverence for things bigger than oneself...

*** 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.: A bunch of stuff here, but decided to keep it as one "part". Don't be anxious...worrisome...but instead live out of gratitude and HOPE (certainty). And when we live that way, guess what? Peace comes to us...and often we or others don't "get" why, because all the criteria make it seem like we deserve to worry, be anxious, wavering, and even bitter. But I can attest to my own life that when I finally get over mySELF and go to the Lord with a broken, gracious heart, realizing the great blessing he has bestowed on me (that I DON'T deserve...), that for some mysterious reason, a peace, a shalom if you will, comes over me. I am more confident. I am more faithful. I remember God's words and promises easier. It just happens. But I realize that no matter how much I can attempt to speak the above truth to some, due to their hardness of heart, unwillingness to hear God speak (because he is speaking, friends...we just aren't willing to hear too often...), many just go, "Whatever, Ben...", as for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit just hasn't broken through yet. I also seek for Me to be able to remember these truths...when I don't "feel it". I know of many times (like now, thankfully) where I seem more in tune with God, and tell myself that I will never fall back into meh, into wearing the "headphones" I so easily do (aka shutting out what God may be saying)...because when I "come back to God" and remember these truths, I'm like, "Ben, you doofus...why can't you remember God's promises?" But I'm praying I will remember now!

*** ...whatever is true...noble...right...pure...lovely...admirable...excellent...praiseworthy... think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (sections of verse 8, emphasis mine): I am continually discovering that sometimes God's way to change our hearts is through us doing these things. Being motivated to choose to, for example, seek these upward attitudes that are throughout scripture, and how God uses that to change us, bring peace and strength to us, etc. Problem we have is that too often we want God to change us first , and then we will "be these things". As I told the teens at church recently, "I'm discovering that all the 'church answers' are TRUE: praying, reading and really studying scripture, worshipping, serving, and walking alongside fellow believers really does help me be closer to and more like Jesus." But, we want to be changed first, to have "proofs", etc., and then we may change. I know God certainly can (and has to me before) change me in an instant, but some of this needs to be us waking up daily, regardless of our circumstances/feelings/emotions/desires, and saying, "Alright me the way."

Questions for me:

Are there some folks I need to be more gentle with? How am I doing as far as making attempts to at least be "agreeable" to all believers, regardless of what our differences may be?

Where are areas where I can see God's peace in my heart resulting from my gracious love for him?

Is my attitude seeking "up"? Am I proactively doing this, or waiting for God to just smack me around every time to produce this?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Living Like God Uses a Gold Star Chart

I often, when speaking with others about things like God's grace, love, etc., like to inform people that God does not use those charts on us like elementary teachers do. I'm actually not sure they still do, but when I was a young kiddo in the 80s, I know that many teachers had "star charts", where one could get a star (or even a "level" of red is ok, gold is great, etc.) based on how much good vs. bad behavior existed in you that day at school. Well, despite some of the good uses of charts like this as tools for us, I think we've messed up and started using them (in our own evaluation of life with God) as a means to an end...and scripture clearly tells us that while there may be behavior/attitude lists throughout scripture for us to pay great attention to, those aren't the means to a goal...

Ephesians 2:8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...

That's one of the "biggie" verses used to help us realize that our salvation has nothing to do with us gritting our teeth and trying to be good, following a list, and thus getting enough "gold stars vs. no stars", ending up on the "plus" side, and earning our way to Heaven. Nope. All God. All grace. All faith...which is tough for us because we want something tangible, measurable...but God just isn't that way. This actually comforts me...but I know many struggle with it.

So, why am I deciding to actually write on this issue?

Well, the other day while on a "girls" weekend with her mom, my wife Missy bought a pretty cool "responsibilities chart" for us to use alongside Jackson, our 4 1/2 year-old. Essentially, it has magnets with various home chores, jobs, and even attitudes we can place on the board, and for each day Jax completes them, he gets to put a smiley face magnet.

But after pondering some deeper issues regarding this new chart, I realized something: If we are not very careful and proactive here, we could instill a life-focus that is not how God works in Jax...the gold star chart-view of God and us that I've been warning against.

So after some prayerful pondering (helped by the timely chapters I read this morning in an EXCELLENT book for parents, "Raising Adults" by Jim Hancock), I decided that we will need to be very proactive in teaching (and modeling...which will be harder) Jax that this new chart is a tool for him to see how he's been doing...but that if he doesn't get the smiley face, our love for him does not change. I do this because I firmly believe that the main priority for us as parents is to show (usually by modeling attitudes and actions) our son glimpses of God's love and character, and he needs to know that God does not use a chart like this when viewing him. Oh, I know some will say, "But what about the Ten Commandments and the rest of God's Law?" Well, I think that God does use those laws to show us our ineptitude without him more than say, "Well, Ben, you know, you ended life with a plus-minus rating of 5, doing 5 more good things than I guess you belong with me..." That is rough for us because the vast majority view God that way...and miss the point. We do not want Jax to miss the point.

So, as he sat in his corner of the sectional munching on cereal and watching some cartoon, I paused the TV and told him, "Hey Jax, you know that chart yesterday? The one where we picked 3 goals for you this week and you got one smiley yesterday? I want you to know something: While it is good for you to look at this chart and see what needs to be done, you must know that mom and dad love you the same whether you get 3 smileys or zero. It's good to do these things and use them as a checklist, but we love you no matter what." I said that because I think God looks at us that way when we release ourselves to him and trust in Jesus' redemption of our souls. He says, "You are mine...and while you may fail...I still love you. But remember these guidelines and challenges, as they are what's best, and I hope you choose to live them not out of some point system, but out of gratitude for how I've blessed you."

Oh, how I pray to live that way, model that, etc.! The lists of do's and do-not's are for a reason...and we do need to pay attention and pray for God to keep making us more like Christ (as he promises to do! Encouraging!). But, they should flow out of us from gratitude, not because we are trying to get a better score on the test...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wow...Simply the Best Commentary on the Purpose of Marriage I've Ever Heard...

Click here if you dare...

I know the thoughts given forth by this pastor I'm familiar with will not be agreed upon by everyone...but they are the closest to what I believe God's true view of marriage is, and as I listened while exercising today, I was like "YES!" But not without some fear for what is to see, this is the start of a series on marriage, singleness, sex, and divorce, all topics that stir up emotions in so many of us, often because we've had the wrong idea of the purposes of each as we walk our own lives. But, if you are moved like me, I guess the challenge is to go back to this site weekly and listen to the following messages with a prayerful heart, being willing to let God break us if need be...and being willing is the hard part, as I'm sure there will be some, "Now wait just a minute, mister!"-moments as the pastor shares what scripture says on these issues...but I believe we will only have those emotions if they are hitting too close to home...and thus, it is EXACTLY why we need to hear them, especially if you claim to be a follower of One whom is above all enter into this with an open, willing spirit to let God speak...even if it's hard...

Things I heard that made my heart both break (in a good, repentful way) and at the same time go "YES! PREACH IT!":

*** That God has an infinitely high view of marriage...and the word infinite is used deliberately. Like, we can't even fathom God's high view of the marriage covenant.

*** That God's high view of the marriage covenant should scare some folks out of marriage...or at least make them take a long pause and check their own hearts, views, motivations, etc., before entering into such a covenant.

*** That Jesus himself says that singleness is almost a preferred thing, because we have gotten off track so much when it comes to the true purpose of singleness is NOT a bad thing, or something where you are only "half a person". In some ways, you may have things easier haha, and Jesus himself agrees!

*** That God created marriage...NOT us...we have made it about us, using our rules, bueno!

*** That marriage is much more than something that is "just a step above serious dating", or that it's totally fine to bolt a marriage just because things are "weird"...etc. We've made marriage about meeting personal needs, and that is not the way God views it. It is for His glory, to show the world a glimpse of who God is by a man and woman entering into a covenant that we are told to never let man break... So, in my view, the pursuit of another to "complete" you is person can complete you, only Christ can. But so many seem to be on this quest of "completion" using relationships as a means...sorry, they will always fail you!

*** That marriage is a temporary thing. We don't like that. But scripture (from the mouth of Jesus!) is clear: once a member of a marriage is no longer on Earth...the marriage is over. That hurts. We like the idea of "meeting up again" with our life-long loves in heaven...but it isn't like that, and if our motivation to be a part of Eternity is to mainly hook up with old spouses, or even family, etc., well, then I think one's priorities and view of God may need to be re-evaluated...sorry...I know that sounds mean... But, to relate it to a conversation my wife and I just had last night, in regards to (morbid, I know) things like burial or cremation, caskets, etc., at our own deaths, I told her, "Honey, I love you, and I'm sorry, but there is no need to spend lots of money on some lavish casket, or even burial, for me, as frankly, what I believe with certainty is that I'm not gonna give a crap at that point"...because I will be singing with the angels! But our selfish hearts struggle with that. We want some semblance of control, of "familiarity", and the stuff of Heaven is so "other"...that sadly the "other" is what often keeps our true allegiance and motivations toward the Lord at a stunted pace... And we treat marriage as an eternal thing just like this...when it isn't.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Pixar Films, Ranked by ME

So I feel like a "random, pointless post" as many lately (and this isn't a bad thing) are more serious... At any rate, here is my personal ranking of the Pixar films to date, with some commentary. I will post in reverse order, and you must know that I even think the least favorite on this list is not a worthless movie...

#9: A Bug's Life: Most of these films are pretty bunched together, and it was hard to truly rank. I do think, however, # 9 and later # 1 stand apart the most to me. I don't hate this movie...but it just didn't capture me like the rest did. Story was just ok, characters ok, humor ok, etc. Just ok. Not a bad movie...but not the best.

#8: Cars: This film has a bit of it all. Some cool animation (especially with all the motion involved in the race scenes). GREAT for little boys (was my son's first trip to the theater, and he loved it). Some good humor by Larry the Cable Guy (and I don't tend to be fired up by him...but he was perfect for "Mater"). But still...kinda dragging...kinda "meh" in parts. But still definitely better than last place.

#7: Toy Story: Here is where things REALLY start to bunch up. I mean, seriously, between #2 and #7 I can think of reasons each should be higher ranked. And you must know, when I saw this film back in college, I was floored. It was such a fun concept. If anything, my biggest gripe is that the film was too short. I wanted more. Thankfully, a few years later, I got my wish.

#6: WALL-E: One the few times I've been riveted for like 45 minutes...and hardly a word of true dialogue was spoken. Just such great imagery, emotion, physical comedy, and even romance and love. It was a bit heavy-handed message-wise ("we are too lazy and fat"... I tend to agree, but I guess I like my messages in Pixar films a bit more subdued...), yet it was a great story. I almost cried a few times for poor WALL-E...he never gave up, always did his job...and was, well, "sweet" in a way that moved me. Oh, sappy me!

#5: Finding Nemo: My main gripe on "Nemo" is the opposite of "Toy Story": in this case, a bit too long. But, whatever you think of Ellen DeGeneres, she was PERFECT as "Dory". The ocean imagery was spectacular. But most of all, I was (and am) moved by Marlin's chase to find his son, Nemo. I would go through the fire myself to find Jax in similar circumstances...and I am also reminded (and comforted) that God chases us wayward kids the same way!

#4: Ratatouille: Despite it not having some obvious reasons to have amazing animation (cars racing, or space, or the oceans, etc.), this film may have been the most detailed animation-wise of all. Plus, just a cool, original story. A rat that likes to cook? Weird...but it worked. Plus, it was the first film (I think) that a friend of ours got to work on.

#3: Toy Story 2: Despite the original's #7 ranking on this list, I truly thought it was an amazing film. But "2" was one of those rare times where the sequel actually was BETTER than the already amazing original. Oh, sure, there have been plenty of "decent" films followed by much better sequels, but not many, to me, were amazing first chapters that were followed by even more amazing sequels. A longer film, better characters, better "quest"...and the dialogue between Buzz Lightyear and Zurg was just priceless. I hear a "3" is being worked on...THE PRESSURE IS ON, PIXAR!

#2: Monsters, Inc.: When I want to laugh, I know I can count on Sully and Mike Wazowski. And I thought this concept was so great, the "monster world". Amazing characters...and to this day, my wife and I use "Boo" as a term of endearment to our son (I know...Boo was a girl...).

#1: The Incredibles: While all the above films are mostly amazing, at worst still decent and watchable..."The Incredibles" is the one film that, to me, ROCKED. Transcended the animation genre. Would have been a cool "real movie". All that. And Edna Mode...oh, just one of my favorite characters ever. "My God, you've gotten fat..." I loved the "60s spy movie/futuristic" mix-feel of everything. In short, a home run. No, a grand slam. I really, really hope Pixar ponders sequels...or, at least, some sort of TV series... Oh, and my son is TOTALLY "Dash" :-).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Struggling...but Not Falling... // Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob Wrestles With God 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."
But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
27 The man asked him, "What is your name?"
"Jacob," he answered.

28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [a] because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

29 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name."
But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, [b] saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, [c] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon.


Genesis 32:28 Israel means he struggles with God .
Genesis 32:30 Peniel means face of God .
Genesis 32:31 Hebrew Penuel , a variant of Peniel

Words, phrases that stuck out:

*** " have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."; verse 28 (italics mine): In this story, Jacob (with a history of struggling to trust God and having "iffy" dealings with his fellow man) sends his family away and has this encounter with a "man" (later revealed to be the Lord himself). Well, "Jake" makes it through, and God tells him the above statement. I think this is a challenge for me to seek today as well. I tend to think of myself as one who overcomes, who is not prone to worry, etc., but I'd be lying if I said that's always true. But to hear God himself tell you that while, yes, you have had struggles, that, yes, you have made it through them...well, that would be an amazing thing to hear/realize.

The other issue that hits me here is the concept of struggling with God...and God doesn't slam Jake for it. I know that I will have struggles with various "personalities" in this life (even other Christians!), with a goal of making it through...but I often struggle to admit that I wrestle with God, too, probably out of fear. I don't want God to know that I struggle with his plans, his ways, his challenges, even (in a weird way at times) his grace and love. But I often do. By God hiving Jake a figurative "high five" for coming through his very tangible struggle with God, well, that gives me great hope in my struggles. I am God's, and while we wrassle at times...instead of slamming me and threatening me with punishment...he gives me a "good game pat"? Well, when I come up on the flip-side still seeking God...I suppose so!

*** "...I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."; verse 30: Well, after writing on the first section that "hit me", this one just seems like a continuation/reiteration. We wrestle, we see God, etc., and yet we make it through. Maybe I need to think of all the times I was unsure, wavering, things like that, and realize the God met me in those places...and got me through alive!

Questions for me:

Where am I wrestling with God right now? What questions do I have? Where am I confused? Angry?

When are some time in my life I can look back on where I struggled with God...and came out ok (or even stronger)? Do I let those times encourage me...even if they were "long ago" and I'm having trouble right now?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Who a Neighbor REALLY is…or Should be to a Follower of Christ...

Sunday School Lesson, 1 18 09

Last week, we discussed the problem that we often (if not always) don’t really want God. Oh sure, we think we do, or we “sorta” want him…but many times, it isn’t evident. And we looked at Genesis 3 and how our “not wanting God” can play out in our lives.

Today we are going to start saying, “Ok, so I know I may not want God…what now?” And, “Why”? Well, here it is in a nutshell: As Romans 23 shows us, all have sinned. All have not wanted God. And we will continue to live in that place…until we realize (and not just “for the test”…) that Jesus a) was God among us b) lived a perfect life c) was killed on the cross as a ransom to pay for Sin (as in, capital “S”) d) was resurrected and lives on, and e) we need to, as a result, be completely broken (when we realize the gravity of all this) and make Jesus King of our lives…living as he did, seeking as he did, etc. But, as we will see, truly following Jesus is often not what we expect…or want…

Let’s look briefly (because I really want us to be able to breakout into Jr/Sr Hi groups to discuss today…) at a dialogue most of us are familiar with…but may mean more today than ever…

Luke 10:25-37: 25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Let’s start with this “law expert”. He “knew” what the law was; certainly of the nation, very possibly (due to the culture) God’s Law, too. Look at what he asks: “So, Jesus…what do I need to do for eternal life?” Hmmm…sounds like “What’s on the test?”, doesn’t it? Jesus throws it back on him, and then the law-guy answers some nice “book answers”. But, law-guy wanted more…and, honestly, I think he was looking for loopholes…sound a bit like us? I know I can be guilty of looking for what I can “get away with” when it comes to being a Christian…but that is the wrong way to approach this. Of course, Legalism (strict following of rules as the goal, NOT following Christ vibrantly and thus letting our life reflect that…) isn’t the answer, either. So, what is it? Jesus tells him…and let’s just say I’m not sure it’s what the law-guy expected…or wanted to hear…

Well, you heard the story. As often is the case (and a reminder that God’s ways aren’t “our ways”), the unexpected happened. Those who one might assume would be “religious” enough…walked right on by. But the one hated by the one left for dead (as Jews did NOT like, or even associate with, Samaritans) is who stepped up. And THAT is who are neighbor is. Not just our friends, or family, or “folks who look/act/believe just like I do”. Nope. Even people or groups you kinda wish didn’t even exist… And that is why following Jesus (if we really want to) isn’t necessarily easy or pretty…but oh, the amazing impact on others if we do!!!

Questions to Ponder, Discuss, etc.
Think of a time (it doesn’t’ have to be spiritual) where all you were interested was, “what was on the test”… What was it?
• What are areas of life where we seem to look for “loopholes” when it comes to faith?
• What is at the root of us looking for loopholes? (like, why do we do that?)
• Re-summarize the story of the Good Samaritan… What do you think of the priest and the Levite? What do you think of the Samaritan?
• What are groups that, if a member showed you kindness like the Samaritan did, you would be shocked? Would you let them help?
• So, who is our neighbor again?

PRAYER: Spend some time praying about how we treat “neighbors”…for brokenness…for courage…for purpose…

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Squandering Our Birthright // Genesis 25: 19-34

Jacob and Esau
19 This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram [a] and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD.

23 The LORD said to her,
"Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger."

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. [b] 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob. [c] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!" (That is why he was also called Edom. [d] )

31 Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright."

32 "Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?"

33 But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.


Genesis 25:20 That is, Northwest Mesopotamia
Genesis 25:25 Esau may mean hairy ; he was also called Edom, which means red.
Genesis 25:26 Jacob means he grasps the heel (figuratively, he deceives ).
Genesis 25:30 Edom means red .

Words, phrases that stuck out:

*** Mainly, the various uses of "birthright" (specifically, verses 31, 32, and 34): Here is a definition of "birthright" I found on Birth"right`\, n. Any right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth, such as an estate descendible by law to an heir, or civil liberty under a free constitution; esp. the rights or inheritance of the first born.

Lest there be any . . . profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. --Heb. xii. 16.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

Interesting that this dictionary chose the example from Genesis to show the usage, huh? Anyway, as I read this morning, all I wanted to do was learn more about this concept of birthright. And, more specifically, why it is such a big deal that Jacob was manipulating things surrounding Esau's birthright (so Jacob could have it instead), and why Esau was so willing to give it away... And, what is the spiritual implication? Do I have a birthright? Do I want a birthright? If I have/had one, what would cause me to give it away so freely? Ultimately, I don't really know...but I have a feeling that our birthright is as God's children...and how easily we squander it away. How we will just ditch Jesus for the promise of one minute of fun. Stuff like that... I really don't have anything else to add but this question: What does "birthright" mean to you in reference to our life with Christ?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How We Speak to- and Treat Each Other... // Ephesians 4:17-32

200th post, by the

Living as Children of Light
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26"In your anger do not sin"[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.


Ephesians 4:26 Psalm 4:4

Words, phrases that stuck out to me:

*** ...due to the hardening of their hearts.; verse 18: I often wonder, "How did _____ become so bitter? So angry? So uncaring? So 'meh'?" Paul lets us know that those who may be identified with these adjectives (and at times, myself), it's our heart, our soul, that has been hardened. Some areas of scripture say that God, at times, "allows" for the hardening of our hearts to get a point across (not sure that he "makes" our hearts hard, though...there is a difference, to me, between "makes" and "allows"...). But, regardless, the hardening of our hearts is on us. Now, I know that sometimes it's unfair to blame ourselves when certain life circumstances out of our control have led to the hardening of our heart and soul (or, at least make it WAY easier to occur), things like abandonment, abuse, illness, etc. But, ultimately, I do think God is shining through, wanting above all else for us to see and know him...and allow God to carry our burdens. But, we "drink the Kool-Aid" of culture, or of what others beat into our heads, etc., and run. And after running awhile...our hearts go places only God himself has the power to raise them from...

*** 26"In your anger do not sin"[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. : This phrase, "don't let the sun go down while you are still angry," is one often told to newlyweds, etc., and I really do think it is a good credo to live by. But, this passage takes it deeper, giving us warning. While anger isn't sin in can delve into sin. How? When hate, malice, and an essential hope for someone's lack-of-well being to occur...yeah, bad. And unfortunately, I think 95% (my unscientific research, haha) of anger delves into the "Sin" world. But anger, when unchecked (or for non-noble reasons), can allow for Satan (yes, I said Satan) to gain further access to your heart. We all know folks who just seem to "live" in a state of anger, even if it's just simmering below the surface. And, I think at some point, they lost guard of their hearts and allowed evil to grab on...

*** 29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. : I think this may be one of the hardest things for Christians to truly grasp. Whether it's framed as sarcasm, or just "being funny", or messing with friends, or "harmless" gossip, or even just being a complete jerk, we are ALL so bad at controlling what we say. I know I've struggled with this at times in my life. I can also honestly say that an evidence of God's work in my life (and how prayer- and trust- can truly change one's heart and attitude...) is how I try to approach what I "say". My prayer is to edify, to encourage, to lift up, and be positive. Oh sure, I fail. But compared to say, oh, 1995 when I could have cared less about my speech, thing have changed mightily... And as scripture says elsewhere, "What comes out of our moths is a window to our Soul" (my paraphrase)...and if we catch UGLY coming out of us...we need to start seeking God and asking, "Ok...what is not right with my heart..." Tough to do...

Questions for me today:

How is my heart? What evidence in how I speak, what I "want to do", how I am treating others, etc., can I look at to see the status of my heart today?

What "ugly" needs to be dealt with?

Am I humble enough to be broken and admit my heart has become a hard, dark place?

What do I need to confess to God (and...others?) so the process of coming "out of the pit" can begin?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sharing Life // Acts 2:42-47

The Fellowship of the Believers 42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Words, phrases that stuck out:

*** 42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. : I think one area many "old school Christians" have forgotten about as a vital element of one's faith walk is the concept of sharing life with other believers. But what does that mean? Just going to the church building a couple times a week? Living together in some sort-of commune? I think there is no truly "right answer", but my guess is somewhere in between...but certainly more than just showing up at church for a service, Bible study, or fellowship time. I also don't think that there is anything really wrong with communal living...but wonder if that is the answer for everyone, either. However, I do think most of us (my family included) miss the boat as far as how much we share life with each other. I think we've become WAY too individualized in our culture. We want to be left alone more often than not. Now, don't read me wrong: I am a FIRM believer in the value of solitude, of just getting away and unplugging. BUT, I think we need to have more open doors to those around us. More truly spiritual conversation. And...well, I'll leave the next thought until after the next verse that stuck out, which is...

*** 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. : So, is this communal living? I suppose it could be, but I don't think it has to be. But it is pretty evident that the biblical way to view possessions is not "mine" as much as it is "ours". I certainly think buying things for our own enjoyment is fine (as long as it's tempered), but that we need to be careful of how possessive we are, especially if the free sharing of our "stuff" can be used to bless those who need it more than ourselves... I know that some folks will scream "SOCIALIST!" when they read that, and as I've said before, I think forced Socialism is wrong wrong wrong...(so don't label me Socialist politically. I am not. Thank you. Carry on...) But I wonder more and more if following Jesus means to choose to have a personal life that leans that way a bit (as in, the sharing of what we "have", freely, no strings attached, etc.). I know that's risky, and that goes COMPLETELY against our culture's sense of entitlement problem, thinking we deserve possessions, happiness, etc. Just a thought...and no, I'm not sure exactly what that looks like in my own family's life , either...but I am praying about what it means...

Questions for me to ponder:

What would a more involved "fellowship with other believers" look like in my own life? Go to church stuff more (even when I'd rather _______)? Plan more gatherings at my house? Proactively seek out other believers to "do life" with? _______________?

What made the early church so appealing to "outsiders"? What makes the modern (for the most part) un-appealing to outsiders? What can be done to change that?

How possessive of "my stuff" am I? Am I willing to truly share, no stings attached, if it's for God's glory?

What does "having everything in common" REALLY look like?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

We Don't Want God...

This is a "bloggified" version of the message I taught this week in Youth Sunday School... We, as a group, have decided that a mediocre, "ok with a 'B'"-faith/life just isn't good we are taking the chains off and plunging headfirst into some hard truths/scriptures/challenges...won't you join us?

The gospel of Jesus is hard. Messy. Dirty. It’s this amazing paradox of being freely given…yet demands everything from us. For most of us, when it comes to following Jesus, it isn’t as much of a “how-to” problem, as a “want-to” problem…we are going to discuss that...

There are several New Testament scriptures that talk about our messed up, fallen, sinful natures. One is Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We also struggle with the cause of sin. We struggle to place blame. Sometimes we even blame God (like, “If God is really in control…he must be making me sin.”). WRONG-O. James 1:13 says, When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.

So what is it?

Well, we need to go back to the beginning of our “want-to” problem: Genesis. Adam and Eve and trees and snakes. And really, I’m not interested if you think it literally happened just like this or if you think God took the first two “non-monkeys” and taught them all this stuff…and they rebelled. No matter: I read this and go, “That is SO me…”

So, I am not going to make us read the whole of Genesis 3 (but you can here if you'd like). Here is the “BIV” (Ben International Version): Adam and Eve knew God in a very real way. They directly experienced his care. He allowed all things, but told them to not mess with a tree that produced fruit, that it would “kill” them. Then a serpent, THE deceiver, the devil, said, “Whatever…you won’t ‘literally’ die…but your horizons will soooo be broadened…” So Eve ate, and then took it to Adam, who was a typical brainless man and said, “Uh, ok.” And then their eyes were opened to all this “enlightened” stuff…and they were scared. Knew they had strayed and disobeyed. And they hid from God. God found them, they made weak excuses, God informed them of the consequences, and made them leave the Garden…but not before showing he still cared for them…

Ok, a few specific points from verses that stood out to me:

1. When God said, “You will die”, I don’t think he only meant that they would physically drop and stop breathing. But, God knew that by “tasting what’s out there” we are involved in stuff ultimately more harmful than not, and thus our souls die.

2. When the serpent essentially said, “Whatever…your eyes will be opened!”, and then Eve sees that it was “desirable for gaining wisdom”, I cannot help but think of times either myself or others I know have rationalized BLATANT sin in the name of “finding myself” or “enlightenment” or “broadening horizons”. I certainly don’t think God wants us to be hermits who do not posses a mind, etc. Jesus proves that is false (just look at his life and actions). BUT, the Word clearly gives us some guidelines, and I think God knows what’s up and what’s best for us. And when we stray…well, more on that in a sec.

3. Notice what Adam and Eve did once they ate? They HID from God. Can you relate? I can. And often, it’s in the form of hiding from others, too. Really. Now, I’m no psychic, so don’t go there and get paranoid thinking I can see all your dirty secrets…but let’s say I usually can “tell” when not-all-is-right soul/wise with some of you. It may be you suddenly, without reason, stop coming to church-stuff. Or you still are here…but kinda “hide”, avoid eye-contact, conversation, etc. Or, you do talk, but it is quite harsh, not edifying, etc. That’s how we hide from God, I think. We avoid being “faced” with the Truth…

4. We do a good job at “passing the buck” like Adam and Eve did, when confronted with our lack-of-want-of-God. Eve blames being “tricked”, and Adam blames Eve. “Not my fault”. Well…yeah, it is. It always is. Maybe some things get set in motion that are “less” your fault at that time…but ultimately, the choices made that got you there…yeah, your fault. We can’t blame TV, or friends, or music, movies, Internet…

5. There are consequences (Women: pains in childbirth, desiring husband, etc.; Men: have to work the ground to “get” from it). Even when we realize where we are wrong…doesn’t mean all the “stuff” goes away.

6. But finally, even in the midst of this realization that we don’t want God…that we want to do what WE want…and to thus be left alone…God’s care and love still shines through. Look at verse 21 of Genesis 3: The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. God had every right to not only kick them out of Eden, but to never care again. But nope. He made them clothes… While the realization of their nakedness was the first evidence that they had “seen too much”, and God surely grieved…he clothed them…

So there we have it. When left to our own power and devices, our “default” if you will, we don’t want God. And as we continue this quest to crawl out of the muck of a mediocre faith, we must be confronted with this as it relates to us individually.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Don't Blame God for Our Problem // James 1:2-18

Trials and Temptations
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
9The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Words/Phrases that stuck out:

*** 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.: We often hear that is is ok (and even "good", in doses) to doubt. And in some ways, I don't disagree. But, the danger of letting doubt fester without any attempts to seek God in the doubt is where we are foolish. To me, these two verses are part of a "cycle" of sorts. Doubt? Seek wisdom. But, then don't doubt, because then you may not truly receive the wisdom you seek (and need). Once again, this passage reminds us that faith, hope, etc., MUST be more than just the "wishful thinking" it seems to be so often. It needs to be certainty. Expectation. TRUST.

*** 13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;: Oh, how often many of us "blame" God for our temptations, struggles, and sin in the name of, "Well, God is in control...right? Then it must be his fault, right?" This passage says emphatically, NO.

*** ...after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.; verse 15: The problem with sin isn't God. It is us. It is the desires we have. We want our way, not God's, when it comes to our true nature. And this verse shows a sort of "formula" for how desire leads to sin, and leads to death. Ultimately, physical, but also spiritual death. I know when I let me fleeting, selfish desires take over, almost always they end up in sin, and my soul dies a bit. Only God can regenerate my soul...and that is what I must let Him do!

Questions to ponder:

Do I seek wisdom? Or is it just "lip service"? If I receive wisdom, do I pay attention? Do I allow God to change my heart with this wisdom, or just go, "Oh, that's not what I expected/wanted/like"?

What is the source of my temptations? Do I blame God?

Do I really believe that desire/sin kills my soul?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ignore What You Feel //2 Timothy 3:10-4:8

Paul's Charge to Timothy
10You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 4
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Words and phrases that stuck out to me:

*** ...everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...; verse 3:12: This is something I think all believers need to realize. So many of us (not all) were saved with, for better or worse, a sense that "now everything will be fixed!" Well, sure, that's true, but not from an earthly standpoint. From a spiritual, soul standpoint, YES, but relationships may still be broken, consequences felt, decisions based on faith are ridiculed by others, and debts still out there. Along those lines is the FACT that if one is following Christ with everything they have, not everyone will like it. Some, no matter how much love or good intentions you have guiding you, will still ridicule, despise, and yes, hate you. Now, that shouldn't stop us from following a mighty God who has us in his hand and has great plans for us, but often the realization of persecution can almost "neuter" one's faith if it isn't realized as a cost of being a true Christian...

*** ...continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of...; verse 3:14: To me, this is more than just a "persevere" verse; it is a charge to have faith in what we believe and are convinced of. I think the word "hope" is supposed to mean convinced, but sadly, we have made hope so much less than that. Hope to us, now is this: "I hope that things will get better." That hope does not seem certain. It is a flimsy foundation at best, where we figure it doesn't hurt to think that maybe something good will happen. NO. Godly hope is being convinced, regardless of if we are "feeling it" or not, whether we just lost a debate with someone not believing and now we feel stupid, or even when it all just looks foolish when we use our human criteria to make decisions. How we approach life, the teachings we follow, beliefs we have that we hold as true-of-God, we need to remember the certainty of...even in the midst of our wavering hearts.

*** Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season...; verse 4:2: This, to me, is another, "How you 'feel' ultimately doesn't matter" challenge. I must be ready to share the Word, whether through my voice, or an email, or even just living the Word through my actions, whether I feel "ready" or not. Too often I try to slip out the back door of an opportunity to minister because I just don't feel ready or prepared...but if I truly believe (with, um...certainty?) that the Holy Spirit will intercede for me, then I must trust and go.

Questions for me:

How am I a slave to how I "feel" in relation to my yielding (or not) to God? Am I enough in love with Christ for all he's done to save me and sustain me, that I would do ANYTHING for him, despite persecution?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Things Learned During the Great Unplug of Late 08/Early 09

Between December 24 and January 3, I did something I rarely accomplish: I basically unplugged. No internet (including facebook), with the exception of twice checking email (and thankfully I didn't have any needing immediate replies). I also, thankfully, had zero phone calls/texts except those dealing with a New Years' Eve party we were attending and needed to correspond over. It was SO FREEING. In fact, the hardest part may have been not blogging! Oh well. On to some random, not-ranked musings from my time:

I have recently replaced listening to music each time I exercise with listening to messages from other churches, most recently from Austin Stone Community Church ( I am quite inspired by their message, goals, and mission.

Don't forget to kiss your wife at midnight on New Years' Eve. Ever. Just don't. Trust me.

I think it's funny how some folks just can't unplug (and I noticed it more since I did). I mean, not offensive, just...kinda funny. I was at a party on Dec. 31, and it was a great time! But, at least once I saw over half those attending (and these are folks in their upper-20s through upper-30s) typing away things on their iphones, etc. I guess I'm old fashioned, as I'm the guy who will often "lose" (haha) their cell phone in the car when I'm eating with someone or hanging out... :-) But, I still must be careful not to judge, as I would certainly have huge temptation to surf the web non-stop, update facebooks and twitters, and always be checking my email if I had one of those phones with such capability...

I am a BAD singer, but I must be better than at least some guys, as I beat several folks in the surprisingly fun "SingStar" game.

I really do miss just hanging out with folks. I mean, we have friends were we live now, sure, but not really any we just hang with very often. Every time we get together with the Austin's or Travis' (and the crew that accompanies them), Missy and I just have a ball, and it shows me that I can be quite the social animal when I want to be :-).

Don't forget to kiss your wife at midnight on New Years' Eve. Ever. Just don't. Trust me.

I didn't do my usual "zone out spiritually"-thing like I often do on vacations. I still enjoyed engaging scripture most days, and even finished a GREAT book (Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven) while in Arlington post-Christmas.

Jax is a hiking hoss. Really, dang. And only 4 1/2, yet so "directionally inclined". I had so much fun on our nearly daily hikes.

While we didn't really get out much while in Kerrville (like to eat, shop, etc.), I still felt refreshed when I returned. Motivated. All those things. Look out...

Don't forget to kiss your wife at midnight on New Years' Eve. Ever. Just don't. Trust me.

I think it may be physically impossible to actually lose weight over the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. I held stead most of Deceber in my typical 185ish-land, and I at least thought I was eating a bit less/healthier than normal (with a few exceptions, of course...but often large amounts of food at meals are NOT exceptions this time of year) coupled with nearly daily exercise in Kerrville (not counting hikes) and, oh, doing about 1200 pushups and 1400 crunches over a 7-day period...I still somehow gained like 4 or 5 pounds. Sigh.

Did I mention to not forget kissing the wifey at midnight, Dec. 31? Ok, I guess I will fess up and tell the story: Yes, I forgot all about that tradition. We were watching the ball drop at the Austin's in San Antonio, and since I am old, I was tired by, oh, 10:30 pm. So when midnight hit, I was zoned out, staring at the corner of the table or something. I missed all the couples kissing. I groggily look up at Missy, who gives me (what I thought was, at least) a brief, playful "air kiss". I look at her confused, kinda chuckling. She got mad. "You didn't even kiss me". Oops. I felt SO BAD. I could tell she was hurt, and although some would say, "Oh, big deal...", you all who are married know that some stuff you just don't mess with. And I guess kissing at midnight on New Years Eve is one of those times for us! Sorry Missy! I truly was bummed that I forgot... It's all good now...