28 July 2013

Sucker Punch

The Victor Ortiz vs. Floyd Mayweather fight was billed as ‘Star Power.’ This was the championship fight for Ortiz's WBC Welterweight title. The bout was held on September 17, 2011 and, from round one, Mayweather used his speed, skills and accurate right hand to tag Ortiz repeatedly. Mayweather seemed in control through the first three rounds, but in the fourth round, Ortiz found some success, landing a few shots and stinging Mayweather before bulling him into the corner.

Then Ortiz rammed Mayweather in the face with a seemingly intentional headbutt, busting open a cut on the inside and outside of Mayweather's mouth. Referee Joe Cortez immediately called timeout and docked Ortiz a point for the foul. Ortiz – seemingly acknowledging his wrongdoing – hugged and even kissed Mayweather in the corner. Cortez motioned the fighters back together to resume the fight. The fighters touched gloves and Mayweather seemed to half-heartedly return another hug from Ortiz. As the fighters separated from the hug, Mayweather caught Ortiz with a left hook. Stunned by the punch, and still not raising his hands to defend himself, Mayweather hit Ortiz with a flush right to the face. Ortiz dropped straight onto the canvas.  By all accounts Mayweather sucker punched Ortiz.

After the match Mayweather said "In the ring, you have to protect yourself at all times.  After it happened, we touched gloves and we were back to fighting and then I threw the left hook and right hand after the break. You just gotta protect yourself at all times."

Sucker punch – a cheap shot, an unexpected blow, something that really sucks.

Have you ever been sucker punched? Have you ever sucker punched someone? I have been on both ends. Sucker Punches are not cool. We are never ready for them. They knock the wind out of you. There you are on the ground, sucking wind, and the other guy is either pummeling you or running away as fast as he can.

Have you ever felt like you've been sucker punched by God? Not one of those love taps or holy nudges. I’m talking about feeling like you ran into a 1990's Mike Tyson fist. I remember when it happened to me recently…

I was asked to do pulpit supply for a church in southeast Oklahoma.  There I was studying in my office and I was reading through one of my favorite passages, Jonah.  I've read and re-read those four chapters on many occasions. I started reading chapter one; everything was fine until I hit verse 12:

“I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

That verse hit me like a sucker punch.

For years I’ve blamed all of the bad stuff that is going on in the world on the media.  It’s their fault for always showing all of the bad news and rarely sharing any good stories.  All of the violence, alternative lifestyles, and the lack of a moral compass that plagues our society is the fault of Hollywood for what they show on the silver screen.

For years I have been led to believe that those things have been causing the slow and steady demise of Christianity in America.  But not once did I look in the mirror and admit “this storm is my fault.”

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are living in a post Christian era in America.  Like Jonah I’m surveying the storm and can see it’s my fault.

As a follower of Christ, have I truly been living like “a worshiper of the living God” or does my life resemble the way the world looks? Am I living for Christ in such a way that non-believers around me look and say, “I don’t know what is different in his life but I want it.” Or, would they rather keep what they have because what they see in my life is no different than what they are doing?

Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When you learn a truth, you cannot unlearn it and this sucker punch cranks it up to a whole new level.

I still get out of breath sometimes when I think back to that moment.

My question to you is, when has God sucker punched YOU? When is the last time – His Word – His Holiness – has left you gasping for air?


28 June 2013

Faith Like That

You will find an inspiring passage in Hebrews 11 that lists a number of individuals we are encouraged to follow. These people are known as our ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses.’ Through observing their example, we are to run our own life’s race worthy of their sacrifices.

Rahab is mentioned as being justified before God by her faith.

Matthew went so far as to honor her, a prostitute in Christ’s lineage.

So, what did Rahab have that was worth emulating? Why was a heathen harlot, who had most definitely done unspeakable acts against God, be honored as part of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ who ran the race ahead of us?

Faith…

Scripture says it. She had faith.

What did her faith look like?

Rahab bravely housed and hid spies that were from Israel. When she went up to check on them, this is what she said:

I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan… whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Joshua 2:9-11

When I read that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. She had faith!  Her faith was not in future forgiveness, not in the Messiah, nor in grace. It wasn't in anything that modern Christians love about God.

Rahab witnessed the untouchable, unstoppable, terrifying power of God, and she had to yield to it.

She declared it out loud, that God, our God, is ruler of heaven above and on earth beneath, and she was now willing to cut ties with her whole culture and people to bend her knee to the throne of God.

She had no clue as to whether she’d be given mercy. She had no hope or life other than that of a heathen prostitute. And when she saw God coming near, she knew that nothing else mattered. Life as she knew it was over. This couldn’t have been easy.  She was turning her back on everything that she knew to follow a God that she was in awe of. She only knew about God, she did not know Him, and still… she bowed.

We could all stand a dose of that type of faith.  And, we could revere God like Rahab.  After all, we call ourselves disciples of the Most High God. Life as we knew it is over.  It’s our turn to yield to God in all things.

So Rahab was blessed tremendously.

In the end, she knew the Father’s forgiveness better than most. And I’m quite sure that she had a very grateful heart.

She raised a wonderful son named Boaz, whose life was also a reflection of the saving love of our Lord.

She wouldn't have received those blessings had she not been willing to usher in her society’s enemies and be willing to watch her own world crumble.

Sometimes, God does the same thing with our lives; allowing utter destruction of everything that ties us down to this world keeping us from being one with Him. It may feel like torture, look like hell, and hurt like heartache, but in the end, is deliverance. Just like Rahab.

14 May 2013

What Language do you Speak?


Have you ever traveled outside of the country?  What are some of the things you do before traveling?  We know we should contact our bank, credit card companies, obtain a passport, and have the post office hold our mail.  You study a map of your destination; you understand the currency and exchange rate; and probably one of the most important things you will do is locate our embassy.  But what if we can’t speak the language? Then what? Are we lost?

Brethren, how is your daily walk? How are your quiet times and devos? Remember that seven days without prayer makes one weak! For me, I’ve just been counting it all joy. I’m too blessed to be stressed and too anointed to be disappointed. I hope you don’t think I’m super-spiritual or that I’ve arrived. After all, I’m not perfect, just forgiven. Some people have accused me of being so heavenly-minded that I am no earthly good, but have patience with me please—God’s not finished with me yet!

These examples are typical of a language called “Christianese.” It’s a language mastered especially by those who have been in church all of their lives! Many speak fluent Christianese.

Other examples of Christianese that perplex me:

I don’t understand the “blessing” of food. First of all, it is dead! And, it’s probably been cut up, ground up, chopped up, and burnt up by now. Any chance for God in Heaven to bless this plant or creature is probably past due. And, you’re fixing to drown it in stomach acid after gnawing it into an unrecognizable mush. Don’t ask the Lord to BLESS it, just give Him THANKS for it.

Also, if you’re ever asked to give thanks for the food, don’t think it’s your job to lead the hungry masses to Christ and get a little discipling or disciplining done while you’ve got the hunger podium. Usually, at this point, the food is on the table ready to eat, getting colder the longer you practice your preaching. Just tell God thank you and eat. No one is listening.

Why do we say “God bless you” after a sneeze? Why not after a fart? Yeah, I’ve heard the nonsense about your soul leaving your body, your heart stopping, and having a near death experience – but I get plenty close to death just driving the roads with some of you while you’re texting or farding (not misspelled, Google it) behind the wheel. No one ever said “God bless you” to me after I nearly died at a busy intersection. Besides, He already has blessed me.

“He/She is a STRONG Christian.” This one seems particular vulgar to me. My first thought is “Pharisee.” My second thought is “when I am weak, He is strong.”

Christianese dialects give birth to the whole “denomination” thing. We’re experts at talking the One Christ, One Church slogan, but as soon as iron starts sharpening iron and the sparks begin to fly, so does the unity – right out the window. How easily we run to our comfort camps and start flinging the flaming arrows of disdain at our brothers who may speak a little differently.

Why do Christians digress into what sounds like an entirely different language when it comes to the things of God?

Our language is already different enough from the language of the world.  Since we already ‘are in the world and do not act the world’s way,’ we unintentionally distance ourselves even further from the culture by our talk.

What happens when we visit a country that speaks a language other than English?

Despite our best attempts to communicate, once we sense that we aren’t being understood, we usually resort to speaking loud, slow English, hoping to barrel through the language barrier. Pairing that with some elaborate charade movements, arms flailing wildly, doesn’t lead to successful communication.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 “Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.

Like students who are asked to write “in your own words…” their thoughts on a particular subject in school, we should learn to take the good news of the bible and paraphrase it into our own words. When we speak the truth in plain language, it not only benefits the people we talk to, but it allows God’s word to become real in our own lives.

04 May 2013

Don't Abandon the Baby

Two Things I Hate About Christians:

Street Witnessing
Common Evangelism

Before you write me off as a heretic, let me explain…

I was downtown last week at a job site inspecting some work we had done when I walked out into a group of well-meaning Christians handing out those cheesy tracts that look like money.  You've seen this track before, the one that looks like a $20 bill.

Our exchange was something like this:

Spirited guy with tract, “Here sir!”
“No thanks.”
“No, really sir; take this and read it.”
“Really sir, I’m a Christ follower" (I intentionally did not say ‘Christian’) and went on, “You can save the paper.”
“But don’t you know anyone who’s not saved?”
“Yes, but I spend time talking to them instead.”
And I walked away, a little frustrated.

During a business lunch, a prospective client went into a dissertation against “emergent” theology and warned me about heresy and the need for sound doctrine.

I don’t know why, but the guy just kept talking. He’d ask questions and hardly let me answer. I barely got a reply in.

That was beneficial. Not.

So, now you probably think I’m petty. Are you the one on the street corner with the tracts? Are you the guy at the lunch meeting? Are you me? Well, I've been all three, and maybe you have been, also.

There is nothing wrong with the tracts themselves. They’re a tool. And there’s nothing wrong with telling people about God.

BUT... we have to care about the person.

We have become so desensitized by Facebook, tweets, and blogs that we've forgotten to care about body language and the fact that there’s a life attached to that hand we’re shoving a tract into.

Christ knew people. He saw the person and cared about them and their life.

It’s not enough to tell people about salvation, we’re called to BE the BODY OF CHRIST, which means we’re acting on His behalf.

Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

We are the Church and we are meant to be His fullness. That means we are coworkers in bringing that salvation to the world.

So ‘care’ about who you’re talking to. Don’t offer that tract if you’re not willing to be part of their lives and lead them to good discipleship. I truly believe that ‘evangelism without discipleship’ is spiritual abuse.

And whatever you do, don’t reduce the Gospel to a sales pitch. It’ll change everything in the way you bear witness.

Christ did so much more than give a pitch, and He said we’d do even greater things than He did… Wow.

20 April 2013

Click


Michael wakes up in the hospital with his adult children, Ben and Samantha, looking down at him. He suffered a heart attack the day before and had since been unconscious.  Once his son and daughter are satisfied their dad’s condition has stabilized, they decide to leave- heading back to their lives across the country.

Michael, not wanting them to leave, fearing he would never see them again, unplugs himself from the lifesaving machines that are keeping him alive and heads out of the hospital. While trying to catch up to them, the angel of death, Morty, follows Michael outside, telling Micheal over and over again, “It doesn't have to end this way…there can be different results.”

Morty tries to convince Michael, unsuccessfully, to go back inside. Michael makes it outside, catches up to his children, and then dies. Morty reaches out his hand to help him up from the ground saying, “It’s time to go.”

If you don’t recognize the scenario, it is the 90’s movie “Click.”  I watched the movie again last weekend.  It’s a story about Michael Newman (Adam Sandler), an architect, who is married to his longtime sweetheart Donna with two children, Ben and Samantha. Michael is easily pushed around by his overbearing boss Mr. Ammer (David Hasselhoff). On numerous occasions, Michael willingly sacrifices time with his family to work so he can give them the kinds of possessions he never had.

While searching for a universal remote control at a Bed Bath & Beyond, Michael finds the section marked "Beyond." There, he meets a mysterious clerk named Morty (Christopher Walken), who gives him a "universal" remote control and warns that it can never be returned.

To Michael's amazement, he finds that the remote can control the actual universe, particularly time. Michael uses it to skip fights with Donna, to go forward until he rids himself of a cold, and skip a family dinner to work. Later, Morty reveals that when Michael fast-forwards through time, his body is on "auto-pilot" - his mind skips ahead, while his body does everyday life.

After boss Mr. Ammer promises Michael a partnership position within a few months, he decides to skip ahead to it, but ends up skipping a year of his life since it took him that long to actually receive the promotion. Michael also discovers that he is in marriage counseling and even missed the death of his dog. When the remote begins fast-forwarding without Michael controlling it, Morty warns the remote programs itself according to Michael's previous commands.

The next day, Mr. Ammer tells Michael he is leaving the country, and in the course of the conversation, Mr Ammer suggests one day Michael may end up CEO. Without thinking, Michael responds to say he would like to end up CEO, the remote reacts accordingly and fast-forwards ten years to 2017.

I've always thought I was like the apostle Paul. And like Paul, I was always bold and straight to the point. But honestly, then and now, I am a whole lot more like Peter – foot in mouth – leaps before he looks.

A lot of the times I feel like Peter proclaiming to Jesus that even if EEEVVVEEERRRYYYBODY ELSE denies him I GAR-RUN-TEE I will not!  I won’t. And I can hear Christ say, “You will deny me three times before the rooster (cell phone, alarm clock) crows (goes off). And with Peter, I emphatically agree, “No I won’t.  You got it all wrong, Jesus. I’ll show you.”

And, like Peter, (not literally, but figuratively… well, sometimes literally) I mess up, slip up… and then the rooster crows. And I, like Peter, am on the side of the street, sitting on a curb, sad and crying, wailing – pissed at myself for doing it.

But what if Morty is right? What if it’s true that it didn't have to end the way we are headed? What if there could be different results?

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

This is something Peter was intimately familiar with: second chances.  Simon Peter got a second chance.  Jesus forgave him and welcomed him back. And, Jesus is waiting right here, waiting for me and waiting for you, so he can forgive us and gift us with a second chance.

30 March 2013

Bon Voyage!


If you thought something was wrong with your email because you didn’t receive this particular devotional for the last two weeks, and you have even checked my blog to see if you were somehow inadvertently removed from the mailing list, I’ve been on vacation. No, seriously I took some time off.  If you know me, just hearing I actually took time off surprises you more than the weekly devotional not being in your inbox.

I went on a cruise for 5 days. This was my second cruise. After my experience with the first, I said I would never go again.  But enough time passed for me to forget about some of the details of my first experience, and I booked a second cruise. This time, the cruise would not be just for me and my wife, but for the whole family.  If you are asking yourself why I went on a second cruise after having a bad experience, I can’t explain it. If time really didn’t heal pain and hurt, your wife would never have sex with you again after giving birth to your first child.

Now that I’ve been on my second cruise, I don’t want to go on a third.  It’s not the other people on the cruise, it’s really me.  I don’t like everyone I meet. I knew that before I went on vacation; it really isn’t new to me. It seemed to me that everyone around me complained about some level of the cruise from the music to the crew.

Sometimes at church I feel like I’m stuck on a cruise ship. There are people who are there for the music and only want to be there if the music they like gets played. There are people who are there only because they like the captain and crew. There are people who want to be served and want to make sure their needs are met. As long as everything is pleasant and comfortable, they will sail with them again into calm waters.

Like being on that cruise ship last week, I don’t like being around these Christians either. I’ve been around Christians that I just wanted to slap up side their heads and tell them to stop acting like a fool. I’m sure there’s plenty of Christians that feel the same way about me, and that’s okay.

If you spend much time at all with me, I will make you angry, offend you, be rude, say something you find inappropriate, or just make you blush. I know I do all these things, not intentionally, but I just do. Why? Because I’m real; because I’ve learned to be comfortable without my mask on.

Because getting to know the real man I am now is important in understanding that my sanctification is both complete (2 Corinthians 5:17) and is being completed (Philippians 3:12-14).

I find lots of Christian men walking around with guilt because they’re not perfect yet. They’re afraid to MAKE, MATURE, and MOBILIZE, thinking that they’re not holy enough yet. I think too often we as Christ followers have this notion of what a “good Christian” looks and acts like, and we learn to play the role (insert gag reflex here). Then, we convince ourselves that we are the role we play until the crisis comes (and it always does) and we’re forced to get real—and quick.

So stop acting…Jack Nicholson, you’re not, and what you’re doing is robbing other men in your life from seeing what it looks like to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. You may have a hard time trying to stop this acting and mask wearing because your degree is in Pharisee. Remember, Jesus hated the way the Pharisees acted.

I hate what He hates. If the troubles in our lives, our families, our country, in our world are ever going to be resolved, it will start with men like us fighting on our knees through God’s power, not by how well we can quote Scripture, our attendance at church, or even how good we are. We can change the world for the better by imitating Jesus…and not everyone liked Him either.

12 March 2013

Breaking Bread


I read a story that took place in 2001.  It was about a house located in Chicago.  The home was in disrepair; there were weeds everywhere.  It had obviously been abandoned.  The residence found its way onto the auction block due to back taxes.  The house was purchased, and, as the new owner sent a crew to clean it up, they discovered something horrific.  Inside the run-down home was a man who had been sitting in his reading chair, apparently dead of natural causes.  Crumpled next to him was a newspaper imprinted with the year 1997.  The man had been dead a long time, four years.  Nobody noticed; not a neighbor or relative, or even a friend.  How could no one have noticed?

A Pharisee asked Jesus what was the most important commandment of all.  For Pharisees, there were 1,613 commands.  Jesus narrowed down the 1,613 to an absolute focus, and replied:

“The most important is this, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and the greatest commandment.  And the second command is like it.’”

Jesus said you should “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When you break it down to the main thought, it’s all about relationships.

In Acts 2, we see the New Testament church just being birthed.  Verse 42 says, “They (the new believers) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread….”

Verse 46 goes on to say, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes…”

Meeting out in the public in the temple courts is a lot like what we do in church now, and worshippers breaking bread in their homes was not just part of the Lord’s Supper.  The disciples met together very regularly, and fellowship was very important.  The meals in the New Testament were much like Thanksgiving meals where people gathered together early, enjoy several courses of food, and stay late. There was a relational aspect to these meals.  People were doing life together.  This was a high priority to them.

The Greek word that is translated as fellowship is ‘koinonia.’ It means to share, to participate in a common cause, to engage in social intercourse. It is doing life at such an intimate level with fellow believers that they become like family to you.  They become necessary for your spiritual and relational survival.

A relationship with Christ really means a Christian enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus.  A personal relationship with Jesus is essential because no one else can have a relationship with Jesus FOR you, plus, a relationship with Jesus was never intended to be private.  Too many times, well-meaning Christians say “I’ve got God in me and we are fine.  I don’t need a church.”

The disciples, followers of Jesus in the New Testament, weren’t thinking of a personal relationship, they were fully living out a shared relationship with Jesus.  The disciples enjoyed and experienced His power and His reality along with other Christ Followers.

Why doesn’t that kind of intimate relationships happen today?  Air conditioning.

Before the air conditioner, where did people hang out?  They would gather on the front porch.  With the air conditioner, people went inside.  Add the attached garage, garage door opener, gated neighborhoods, fenced in back yard, caller ID, and identifying ringtones.

We have created all of these ways to avoid people and avoid relationships, purposely or not.

In John 13:34, Jesus said, “Love one another.”

But wouldn’t you agree, in reality, much of the time, what we are doing instead of loving one another is avoiding one another?

A disciple of Jesus breaks bread.

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