Another Sinner Just like you!

29Dec/110

The Easy Way To Kill Joy

I was talking with a friend in distress a few days ago and he brought up the subject of joy... and how it made him even more depressed. When did joy become something other than a noun? When did it become yet another law that we can't quite live up to (and have to fake to fit in)? The same goes for peace! When did these fruits get added to the already-heavy-burden of fake righteousness  that many churches require?  Is it just because of the happy-clappy songs? What about us struggling sinners, desperately clutching the hem of His robe?

I read a blog post titled "How Happy Songs Hurt" and there were some good points in it...

The worship services in many of our churches are one-dimensional,focusing only on easy-believism, idealism, and shallow happiness. While it is cheap, this shallow worship has a high cost: it isolates and alienates people who are suffering, trapped in sin, broken, spiritually needy.

And it denies people the much-needed healing grace to be found when we worship God in the midst of pain.

Psalm 137:4 says, “Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song in this wasteland?” This psalm is a lament written by the Israelites who had seen their homeland and their temple destroyed and were now prisoners in a foreign land. They were not victorious over their enemies, and they would not be because they were suffering the consequences of their idolatry and rebellion against God. They recognized that we can’t sing a “happy Zion song,” when we have sinned and our life is in tatters. We need a different song.  joyinthisjourney.com

 

I believe joy is something that describes a deep part of the normal Christian life but it is not "happiness" or "giddy frivolity." It can be present even in the midst of pain and suffering. More often than not though, joy is presented as just another word for happiness. It makes me think of the happy hat from an old Ren & Stimpy cartoon... unsustainable and excruciating. Just another law for me to break and feel horrible about.

On further thought, all the fruit of the Spirit are just that- fruit of the Spirit! Good things that don't originate from us but we are blessed with like unworthy beggars in the Florida sun. I can't make my own peace or joy or love- all I can take credit for is bitterness, envy and strife. Um, receiving these good gifts does tend to make me happy though! Maybe I'm looking at it backwards? Maybe a few others are too? Don't make joy a law. Let's keep joy as a gift from God and leave it at that. Everyone happy now? :)

 

7Dec/110

It’s So Easy To Deny Christ! Matthew 26:31-35,69-75

Here's a view on a pretty common incident from another sinner... the denial of Christ by Peter just before the crucifixion. It seems like a big deal now (and it was) but it probably seemed like a pretty trivial, knee-jerk, white-lie-to-avoid-conflict for Peter in that moment. It certainly didn't feel like a full-on betrayal until he understood that to Jesus it was! I found myself completely intrigued by the ramifications of this story all day- and convicted by it as well. Even with it at the forefront of my mind and heart, I failed today at least three times (and we don't have any roosters at my office so there was no "final bell" where I could run off and weep!)

Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75 (NASB)
[vs. 31-35] Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.  

[vs. 69-75] Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

When Jesus first told Peter (and the rest) that they would all fall away because of Him, they were upset. And why wouldn't they be? Because of Him!? Peter, often viewed as one of the more rambunctious of the group, appears to speak up first with a flat denial. He basically says, "Even if all these other guys let you down, I won't. I'll even DIE with you!" Jesus just said, nope- here's your sign: a rooster will crow after you've denied me three times. At that point, from the way the text reads, everyone else started to chime in with promises of faithfulness till death as well.

Looking back, I'll bet Peter wishes he'd paid more attention to the details in what Jesus said regarding his denial. A rooster? I'd also be willing to wage that when Peter heard Jesus talking about this great falling away, he imagined something more dramatic- more significant from his perspective you know- like a high court setting before the Chief Priests or the Roman authorities. Maybe if Jesus had been even more specific and told him that his denials would be carried out for a couple of servant girls and *anonymous bystanders* Peter would have been more bold? I don't think it would have mattered. The words of Christ come to pass and Peter's greatest denial happened before verse 69 (but Jesus didn't chastise him for disbelieving such heart-breaking words). I can't help but wonder if Peter wept and gave up on himself- remember, he went back to fishing- partly because he lied about knowing Jesus and partly because he disbelieved Christ's hard, prophetic words to him to His face. All of the disciples had to deal with their hasty words before scattering but Peter was kind of singled out here.

Today, for me, this "trivial denial of God" is carried out where I work. I do it to modern day "servant girls" and "anonymous bystanders" constantly. I find myself denying Christ by denying the imago Dei (the beautiful and fearful way we all carry the holy-yet-flawed image of our Creator) with hateful, graceless, callous remarks, jokes and actions. It is not as dramatic as some conversation where I'm asked, point blank, if I believe Jesus Christ is the real Savior of the world (this has happened a few times in my life in slightly hostile environments- answering with words alone there is easy), but it is probably more important. And I am so good at failing when the drama is low- using the "white-lie-to-myself" to avoid the uncomfortable situation that would result if I truly acted like that person was created in the image of God and invaluable to my Father.

When Peter realized that his betrayal in front of servants & bystanders counted, he gave up. He was sad, Jesus died, and he went back to his old way of life. Jesus didn't leave him there though- the son of God caught back up with him in the fishing boat later. And He asked Peter: Do you love me? I can't think of a sweeter question to be posed for the heart-broken failure! All we want is an opportunity to say YES! The same thing happens to us at times... we fail and, in a way, Jesus dies to us, then we go back to our old ways of dealing with life on this broken planet. But Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us [Hebrews 13:5]  and that He would stick with us till our salvation was made complete [Philippians 1:6]. Just like Peter, we may deny these things but even when life is dark and we find ourselves turning back to the old, hopeless ways that seemed to work enough to get by, Jesus will show up on the shore with eternal hope in His rhetorical question: Do you love me?

Maybe you are back in the old "fishing boat" now? Maybe you feel like you had your chance and you blew it- game over. History would look a lot different if God actually worked that way. God took twelve losers (you and I would've fit in pretty well I imagine) and changed the world. God will take you and your broken life as well. Once in His hands, nothing is impossible. Nothing.

You see, there is another way to deny Christ by denying the imago Dei... by denying that quality in yourself. It's easy to look in the mirror and see only failure, sin and disappointment.  And, even thought the modern self-esteem gurus kind of make me sick, there's a reason they got popular (even if their answers are wrong, the problem still exists). The easiest way to deny Christ is to deny that we could ever be valuable to God in the first place. To deny we are made in His image and that we are precious to Him just the way we are! This isn't to say that we can't and shouldn't be doing better (oh, how we should!) but that accepting God's love for us as sinners is the only step we can take toward watching grace grow in our lives. Peter did this when Christ appeared to him on the shore, far from the fishing boat. That time, instead of Jesus dramatically walking out to Peter on the water, Peter threw off his robe and swam to Christ. Once again, face to face, Jesus didn't drop justice on Peter. "A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish" [Isaiah 42:3]  Jesus has grace for you too. Maybe this is your sign to dive out of that old boat and swim back to Christ?

4Dec/111

Soujourn Church Huntsville, AL (2nd Visit) Review

I took both my kids for a visit to Soujourn Church in Huntsville, AL today (12/4/11). The church is currently meeting in the old 1st National Bank in downtown Huntsville- right on the square- which is pretty cool actually. They are meeting twice on Sunday morning: 9am & 11am. We went to the later service. Soujourn seems to be heavily focused on small groups that meet in homes during the week. I don't know how those go but I'm sure they vary from group to group.

This was actually my 2nd visit to this church in the past two months (that's a good sign) and both were similar experiences. I haven't hit the early riser phase of life yet so both my visits were to the 11am service.  There were about 30 to 40 people in attendance but I didn't get that awkward, singled-out feeling that sometimes comes from a small gathering. Maybe because this church is still so young and they're used to seeing new faces drift in? Either way, I kind of appreciate not being love bombed or completely ignored (both extremes bother me but I'd rather be ignored if I had to choose).

Overall, I think this is a scrappy and sincere group of believers. I felt very comfortable there.

The Service
Everything kicked off with some very good contemporary-style worship music.  The music, for both my visits, was great and the song selection fit perfectly- both reverent & worshipful. Instruments were: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar and a very interesting & effective percussion instrument. The worship leader was unobtrusive and the whole music portion seemed very genuine and refreshing.

After the music, there was a short break and then the teaching portion of the service began. I say "teaching" because it wasn't what most people would call "preaching" in the south. The lesson was on a section in Ecclesiastes (part of a series) and it wasn't bad... it could have been 15 minutes shorter though. I have a bad attention span unless the speaker is truly phenomenal. I didn't really get hit in the face with a proclamation of the gospel (which I happen to need on a regular basis) but I didn't get beat over the head with pure law either. And the gospel did permeate all aspects of the service in general so that criticism probably isn't fair.

Next came communion time, which they have every week. I'm all for weekly communion! It was handled with reverence but a little different than I'm used to- the elements were on two tables at the front of the room and people got up and went at their own pace. Most gathered in groups to pray during communion (my kids & I were invited into a small circle of people by a nice couple that sat in front of us).

After communion, some more singing, offering, announcements & a blessing before the end. The entire service clocked in at 1 hour and 45 minutes. A bit longer than what I've been used to lately but I really didn't mind the way most of the time was used. There was no "alter call" and no high-pressure, you're-probably-headed-straight-to-hell atmosphere.

For The Kids
There was a children's church that began after the worship music. My kids are old enough for the service though so I don't know much about that part. There weren't many young kids there though (unless you could 20-somethings as young). They also have a youth group for older kids that meets in the same building on Sunday night.

Dress
Very casual. I don't think I saw one tie in either service (but I did see some sandals). I definitely don't miss ties. If you want to visit this church, jeans are fine. You'll feel weird if you show up in a suit.

Doctrine
Soujourn appears pretty typical on the doctrine front. I guess if I had to figure out a label I would go with something like contemporary-reformed. They go into a bit more detail on their website. I didn't see anything shocking or extreme. But, to be fair, if I had seen something I disagreed with deeply, I never would've visited in the first place.

If the camera on my phone wasn't broke, I would've posted some pictures to go along with this... maybe that can happen if I make it for a third visit?

You can learn more about this church from their official page: http://sojournhsv.org

 

27Nov/110

Missing Church…

I missed church again this morning. I actually meant to go (had my alarm set & everything) but didn't sleep well and... I didn't wake up in time at all! So I caught some David Jermiah on the TV this afternoon. Now, I don't agree with everything he says but today he was pretty spot on. The message was about (surprise) being thankful. I like the way he usually sticks to the text and doesn't make everything a self-help lecture. Well, this one did kind of have that "success in life" aura but it was completely true and Biblical so, I can't complain. It is amazing how unthankful we can be and how that directly affects our perception of reality.  Gratitude is ridiculously simple and powerful yet it's so easily forgotten! It also just happens to be a command echoed over and over throughout the old and new testaments. I would add some references here but really? Would that even be necessary?

But back to church absence... Surely going to church doesn't make you a Christian but missing it doesn't help usually (unless it's the type of church that just tries to convince you you're not a Christian the whole time anyway- stay away from those negative, manipulative, cancerous congregations!)

Since I'm in "church visiting mode," a sinful but believing nomad, I want to start writing church reviews based on my visits. I'm sure this will generate lots of angry emails!  I still think it would be cool to do (and it would be valuable for a lot of congregations to see just what they're doing looks like through the eyes of a visitor). Maybe I can get on that next week? In the mean time, my immediate goal is to try writing a song of thankfulness to highlight a bunch of stuff that we take for granted. Actually having a church where you feel like you belong could be one thing- even though no church is perfect, I do miss feeling connected with people that genuinely care about what happens to me & my family.

25Nov/110

Thanksgiving 2011

It's late (I should be in bed) but, even though it's technically November 25th, it's still Thanksgiving day in my mind.

In a way, every day is "Thanksgiving"- and that's as it ought to be. But a special, government sanctioned holiday, complete with all the promotional buzz, does help to crystallize and condense the gut and heart... maybe I should've left "gut" out of this? :)

I am thankful, first and foremost, for existence. I guess it was a few years ago- maybe 5?- when it finally dawned on me that I didn't HAVE to exist at all. And to be conscious of it? Well, there's a second weird thanks! We take so much for granted. For example, if you can read this: 1. Your eyes are working in harmony and your brain is processing very complex, abstract concepts in an amazing way 2. you have the luxury of an internet connection for leisure (even if that's coffee shop wifi) 3. You're alive (this might be the biggest one of all... not sure) 4. Just putting all the previous facts together is a recipe for the possibility of awesome love & adventure 5. You also exist and know it! You didn't have to exist you know. The world would spin just fine without you and I...

Today I'm especially thankful for my family. My children and my wife, my parents and my sister. They really are the glue that keeps my shabby model together on a day-to-day basis. Our little Thanksgiving dinner tonight will make me cry for years to come I'm sure (if I get the blessing of existence in this world for that long!).  I hope they know how much they mean to me. I definitely try to communicate that to my wife & kids. Dang. I need to be more vocal about it with my mom, dad & sister. Why don't we tell the people who mean so much to us that they do? Why? The reasons must be horribly boring and stupid! I don't think I even have reasons... just uncomfortable, imagined scenarios. Be bold, sinner!!

I'm also thankful for the fact that God did everything for me to bring me to Him forever (even though that's an everyday thankfulness). Even more than my family, God is a never-changing anchor in these turbulent waters. I constantly find myself clinging to the base of the cross of Christ with no hope outside of Jesus alone. If you don't have this thankfulness in your heart also, don't try praying some formula for salvation! Usually those formulaic salvation plans have strings attached! My sinful advice is... check out a Bible and read around in it... then ask the God of all creation if He/She/It was really behind this awkward compilation... then lay it all out on the line, expecting no response of course- fire all your guns of discontent and angst, unload... and once you've fired that salvo into the unknown, be still. I know that also sounds kind of formulaic but I really was shooting from the hip- might be bad advice actually (maybe the tract was what you really needed? I don't know, I'm not God!). OK,  a shorter version just popped in my head: ask, seek, knock. Interpret those three for yourself and comment on this post with the results. But... can't help it... allow for some time. It's been said "God works in mysterious ways" but I think a more helpful quote would be "God seems too slow sometimes- just ask Lazarus!" Of course, in the eyes of a skeptic, this is just another delay-reinterpret-reality-meme (but, for the true skeptic, reality is almost as shady as God so it's all nonsense), but you're not a complete skeptic. No one is.

Wow, I got way off topic there! That's pretty normal for me though and I'm thankful for that too! :) I'm just glad I didn't start talking about the poor native americans!

I hope you had a happy, thoughtful, gut-full Thanksgiving!

3Nov/110

Putting Amazing Back Into Grace!

Here's my suggested reading for this November (or any month really). I first read it at a critical point in my life- when I was trying to figure out how Christianity could have good news for me- and I'm re-reading it now. Some of the sections are a bit dense but I think it's worth wading through. Just the scriptures referenced in the back make it worth the purchase imop. It recently became available for the Kindle too!

Putting Amazing Back Into Grace - Michael Horton

For a lighter version (but not quite as mind blowing) Philip Yancey has a good book out there with a similar title. It's worth reading for the stories that illustrate his points along the way.

 

Oh, and don't forget to read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning! That should be required reading in fact!

3Nov/110

The Last Days According to Jesus

Click Here Now for more information or to place an order -

What did Jesus mean when He said to His disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom? What is meant when the book of Revelation says that the things prophesied therein “must soon take place”? Comments such as these have raised many questions, causing some to conclude that Jesus was wrong about the time of His second coming. In this series, R.C. Sproul examines the time-texts associated with the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation, demonstrating that when properly understood, they are actually strong evidence for the truthfulness of Scripture.

*** Click Here Now for more information or to place an order! *** Another valuable resource from R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries!

3Nov/110

Sammy and His Shepherd

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FAQs about eBooks

In Sammy and His Shepherd, veteran children’s writer Susan Hunt takes youngsters on a delightful trip through Psalm 23 from the point of view of a sheep named Sammy. 

Sammy lives happily under the care of his faithful shepherd. But one day he meets a sheep from another flock, one who lives in misery because her shepherd is not so caring. Eventually, to the delight of both of them, Sammy’s shepherd buys the needy little sheep for his flock and gives her a name—Precious. Thereafter, Sammy tells Precious all the wonderful things about their shepherd. At first, Precious has a hard time believing that the shepherd can be so good. But eventually, as she sees the shepherd pouring out his energies for the good of his flock, she comes to trust him, for she sees that he loves his sheep unconditionally and sacrificially. 

Each chapter of Sammy and His Shepherd is an exploration of a passage from Psalm 23. As they work through the book, children will grow in their understanding of the metaphors the psalmist used in composing this beloved poem. But more important, they will gain a deeper appreciation for the one who is the subject of the psalm: the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Captivating illustrations by Corey Godbey help Sammy and Precious come to life for children. A special section in the back of the book provides Bible passages, discussion questions, and activities to reinforce the lessons of each chapter.

*** Click Here Now for more information or to place an order! *** Another valuable resource from R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries!

3Nov/110

Themes from Deuteronomy

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In this series, Dr. Sproul discusses the major ideas found in Deuteronomy, one of the most frequently quoted Old Testament books in the New Testament. Deuteronomy sums up the books of Moses, with themes of apostasy, obedience, promise, and blessing.

*** Click Here Now for more information or to place an order! *** Another valuable resource from R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries!

3Nov/110

The Last Days According to Jesus

Click Here Now for more information or to place an order -

What did Jesus mean when He said to His disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom? What is meant when the book of Revelation says that the things prophesied therein “must soon take place”? Comments such as these have raised many questions, causing some to conclude that Jesus was wrong about the time of His second coming. In this series, R.C. Sproul examines the time-texts associated with the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation, demonstrating that when properly understood, they are actually strong evidence for the truthfulness of Scripture.

*** Click Here Now for more information or to place an order! *** Another valuable resource from R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries!