Tag Archives: God

The Pure in Heart

23 Aug

I preached last Sunday on the pure in heart. Below is the link:

https://itun.es/i6xt5fH

Ordinary.

30 Jan

I had a 80-year-old physics teacher in high school named Mr. Webb that would read motivational statements off a bookmark to encourage “struggling students.” He was known to be a bit rough around the edges, so the administration figured a bookmark with 100 motivational statements would help him be more uplifting. So whenever a student would answer a question completely wrong, he, in the most sarcastic manner, would pull out the bookmark and read something like “you’re extraordinary.”

Everyone, seemingly, wants to be extraordinary. No one wants to be perceived as average. I’m not sure if this is something intrinsic to our human nature or something that has been imparted to us in adolescence and, to be honest, I didn’t listen enough in psychology to give you an answer. I do know that I’ve never heard an impassioned plea from a parent, teacher, or coach imploring a kid to “go out there and be average.” This kind of thing is good, I suppose. Perhaps it’s simply motivational rhetoric that could move someone out of their lethargy. I digress.

A few days ago I was reading Acts as a part of Center City’s Life Journal Reading Plan. This verse stuck out to me particularly:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

This is the same Peter who in the previous chapter healed the crippled beggar outside the temple saying “silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth get up and walk.” This is the same Peter that told a group of onlookers after the healing, “you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” This is the same Peter that people dragged the sick into the streets in hopes that his shadow would pass over them and heal them.

Unschooled. Ordinary.

How could ordinary men walk with such confidence and power? (If this is the definition of ordinary, I want it to be ordinary.)¬†Look at the last part of the verse. The people were astonished and they took note that Peter and John had been with Jesus. That’s it. Spend time with Jesus and watch what happens to your life. If you lack boldness or courage, spend time with Jesus. If you lack the faith to believe that God is who He says He is, spend time with Jesus. If you feel stuck, spend time with Jesus.

I’m not into formulas but this seems to be one that works.

Will all of life’s problems go away? Absolutely not. These same men were imprisoned, flogged, and beaten in the next chapter. But, “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”¬†When you have spent time with Jesus it’s impossible to have the same perspective. Everything is different. Even your suffering is seen through a different lens. Jesus has that effect on people.

So spend time with Jesus and watch what happens. I dare you.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
-Jesus

Super Mario and the Will of God

3 Jan

There is a curious thing that happens amongst the people of God and I feel the need to speak to it, not as an expert but as one who has fully experienced the tension. The thing to which I am speaking is the irrational fear associated with the will of God. As a pastor, I hear questions all the time like this: How do you know the will of God? How do I know I am making the right decision? What if I’m wrong? What if I miss God? Where does God want me to be?

We are all predisposed to thinking we live in a linear world. We see God’s will like a train that leaves at 11am sharp–and you better be there to get on. Once on, there are multiple stops along the way that will again give you the possibility of missing the train’s departure. So people stay in the comfortable confines of the cabin and never leave the train. They stay because they think that if they remain motionless there will be no possible way to miss the train.

The problem with that line of thinking is that God’s will becomes reduced to you being static. There is no vibrancy. Your life has the potential outcome of an old school Super Mario game. You are side scrolling through a 2-dimensional world and there are lots of things that can kill you and various pits to fall in. There is so much fear and apprehension with doing anything of meaning. Because anything meaningful you’ll ever do will come with great risk. It’s seemingly safer to do nothing. I believe this paradigm causes people who desperately want to live inside the will of God to miss it altogether.

Jesus said, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and everything else will be added. Have we forgotten that he regards us as sons and not slaves? Have we forgotten that just as any parent loves to lavish good gifts on their children so too God loves to give good things to His children? Chad is one of our staff members at Center City. A couple weeks ago he put together a bike for his 4 year old daughter. You have never seen a grown man more pumped over a tiny pink bicycle. He couldn’t wait to give it to Allie. But we don’t believe God is like that. Somewhere burrowed in our subconscious we believe God is the headmaster at our boarding school. I guess it’s easier to believe in the cosmic-cop-god that hits you with his club every time you step out of line. The problem is, that’s not God. He gives us the freedom of choice. Notice in the story of the prodigal son, the father doesn’t chain his son to the porch. He freely gives him his inheritance, though desperately sad at his choice to leave the safety of the father’s home. We too have a choice. As long as we are seeking the kingdom and His righteousness first, we have freedom. “Where the Spirit of The Lord is there is liberty.”

So seek The Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. And seek the kingdom and His righteousness. Everything after that is up to you. What is a dream God has put in your heart? Go for it. What are you waiting on? Jesus has given you the freedom to choose. You are blessed with option A or option B. Sure, there are times when the still small voice of God will say, “No.” Obey that. Paul says in many of his letters that the Spirit wouldn’t let him go to a certain place. But he also expresses many times his desire to travel certain places and his hope for the circumstances to work out for. That’s his choice. I believe to my core that God wants you to feel the freedom of His Spirit. There is no fear in Love. Go and experience the joy of living the free life found in Jesus.

Walmart, C.S. Lewis, and John Legend

7 Dec

Last night I almost caused a scene at Walmart. You see, somewhere inside this 6’4 lumbering pastor is still a 6 year old boy that really wants his way. I wanted to get my wife Chelsi a new iPhone and they had a policy that prohibited me from doing so. I talked to the clerk, the assistant manager, and the store manager. I explained to them the nature of policy making and that it is ultimately for the customer’s benefit. I explained that I, the customer, was being wronged due to a policy that did not account for every scenario. I calmly delivered an impassioned plea to “make this right.” The store manager let me finish and blankly repeated the store policy back at me and walked away with calloused nonchalance. I was infuriated. I felt as if it was a personal affront. I devised a plan. This was injustice and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I would find the district manager’s number and have the store manager fired. I would write a scathing email. I would write my congressman. I would gather the 20’s and 30’s of America and march on Capital Hill. “Justice will be served,” I thought.

As I was walking away though, C.S. Lewis whispered something to me. In his work “The Weight of Glory” he writes, “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.” That sentence was brought to my mind and it hit me like a ton of bricks. See, I believe theologically that every person ever born is an image-bearer of God. I believe that everyone is a soul that is infinitely loved by the Creator-God. But sometimes I live like people are “mere mortals.” I live like the world around me is built to serve my needs. I act as though I am of higher importance than others. Jeff the clerk, Dominic the assistant manager, and April the store manager, they are all immortal. They all are the beloved of God and He delights in them. They all have a story. But in that moment last night, all I saw was my need to get a phone and they were there to serve my purpose. So in my childish rage, I neglected to see the human beings God sees.

Despite what John Legend tells you, we’re not just ordinary people. C.S. Lewis remarks that, “It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…”

What would life look like if we saw people–all people–as God sees them? Every person–you, your family member, your neighbor, that lady with an annoying laugh at work, the mailman, and even a Walmart employee–is an immortal soul with divine thumbprint of God.

16 Pairs of Underwear

18 Sep

I was 6 years old and I had disobeyed. I had done something that deserved punishing. This is no surprise. I have a knack for disrupting harmony and have been honing my skill from a very young age. At age 3, when told to not throw a frisbee in the house, I flung it full force and hit my dad between the eyes. By age 6 I was a maniac. The crime escapes my memory for this story, but the punishment surely does not…

The disobedient act has been committed and I receive the dreaded words from my dad. “Go to your room and get ready to get spanked.” I’m not sure how most kids take these words but I leap into action. I run full speed to my room, fling open the top drawer nearly knocking myself unconscious (a state that would be welcomed with open arms), and pull out every pair of underwear I own. I take off my jeans as fast as humanly possible. Then I systematically put on each pair of those underwear. Spiderman on. Michael Jordan on. Plain white on. Sixteen pairs later, jeans back on, I am ready for my spanking. I will not feel the sting of the hand, belt, paddle, or whatever the weapon of choice is today. No sir. I am ready.

My father walks into the room–his 6 foot 3 inch frame is not going to be for wrestling or tickling or throwing baseball in this moment. No, today he is the cruel judge. His looped black belt is drooping at his side forming a crooked smile. Judgement time. I am ready. Our eyes meet. I am distraught but hopeful that my preparation will pay off. His voice pierces the silence. “Son, pull your pants down and lean over the bed.” I freeze. My 6 year old brain has not accounted for this. My evil scheme will surely be seen now. There is no way to hide 16 pairs of underwear. So down they go around my ankles. I close my eyes as tight as possible. I don’t want to see his reaction. I wait an eternity. Nothing. Then the sound of labored breathing behind me. My dad has seen my trick. Is he getting ready to deliver the blow of his life? More heavy breaths coming from his nostrils. My bare butt exposed, I brace myself. He finally breathes through his mouth and breaks the labored cadence. He is laughing. Hard. But he doesn’t want me to hear. He tries with maximum effort to hold it in but it is completely futile. He belly laughs–the kind of laugh that comes from your soul–at the sight of his son with 16 pairs of underwear around his little ankles. One half-hearted swing of the belt later and it’s over. He hugs me in the way only a dad can. A full, life-enveloping hug. And he laughs. And I laugh.

The writer of Hebrews gives us this encouragement: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves and punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

We all have a propensity for harmony disruption. We do dumb stuff. A lot. And God wants to gently correct us and show us what it means to be His sons and daughters. He wants us to be fully human in the way He intends it. But we have an imperfect view of God. We believe him to be a malevolent dictator or a careful rule-keeper. We forget that God is a loving father that seeks relationship with us. That relationship must include discipline. But just like the 6-year-old version of me, we run. We try to evade God’s hand of discipline. So we wrap our butts in every possible article of little luxuries or distractions we can find. But the father sees and (it’s a leap but just go with me) he laughs. He strips us until we are naked and away from any measure of protection we can devise in our own childish minds and He lovingly corrects us and wraps us up in his arms in a way that we can not put into words. He comforts us at the deepest and most intimate level. That is relationship.

Stop running. Stop trying to protect yourself from what you desperately need. In an attempt to protect yourself from the hand of discipline, you shield yourself from to the hand that loves, heals, and mends that which is broken. Let the Father love you.

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