25 February 2013

No Christians Allowed

In the 1950’s, the term Christian was viewed in a positive way.  Today, people’s thoughts on Christianity vary more widely between positive to very negative.  Some just say they’re “neutral.”  Rewind the clock a couple of thousand years, and you are going to find that the very first time the phrase Christian was used, it was used in a negative sense.

The term Christian was used initially during the First Century in Antioch by pagans, who were making fun of those who were Christ followers.  They coined the term Christianos, which means Christ ones, little Christs, or mini-me.

It is easy for the world to view today’s Christians as that group of folks who seem to be against everything. If I were asked, “What are Christians most against?” I would probably answer, “Other Christians.”

What group fights more among themselves than those who are Christians?  Jesus never invited anybody to be a “Christian” -I believe- because of what the term has come to mean today.  This is why some days I find it difficult to call myself a Christian.

Luke 14:25: Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus continues in verses 28-34 by saying “Don’t begin until you count the cost.”

He’s not talking about being the watered-down, American version of a Christian: a kind of cultural Christianity. Actually, 85% of Americans, some 247 million people, call themselves Christians. However, that same 85% are just as likely to get divorced as non-Christians, to abort their babies as non-Christians, and even less likely to help the poor than non-Christians.  How are those 85% really furthering the cause of Christ?  Christianity has become more of a cultural nice guy system, a club.

What does a disciple of Jesus do?  A disciple of Jesus touches lepers.  In our culture today, we don’t like to touch or be around the unlovely, and lepers are about as unlovely as they get.  In Mark 1:40, the Bible says, “A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, please, you can make me clean.’”

A disciple touches those who others won’t touch; and that’s exactly what Jesus did.  Jesus, filled with compassion, “reached out his hand and He touched the man.  Immediately, the leprosy left him, and he was cured.”  

A disciple also befriends prostitutes, the sinners, the really bad people.  Matthew 9:10 says, while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors, and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.  Jesus wasn’t hanging out with the religious. He was spending time with the sinners.

Whether it was the woman caught in adultery that Pharisees wanted to stone and kill that Jesus stood up for.  Whether it was the tax collectors like Zaccheus that everyone else hated, or the prostitute who threw herself at the feet of Jesus in worship, all through scripture, you find Jesus befriending the sinners.

But, for so-called Christians, the more we listen to our own exclusive music and learn our own buzz word language, we often lose touch with that kind of person.  You know the ones I’m referring to: the kind that smokes, drinks alcohol, watches rated-R movies, has tattoos all over, piercings in weird places … the ones you can’t hang out with or let your kids hang out with.

A disciple also offends Pharisees—you know the legalistic overly religious church-y type that forgot the main message of why Jesus came.  Luke 13:10 says, On a Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  Then Jesus put His hands on her, and immediately, she straightened up and praised God.

A synagogue Pharisee was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and in verse 14 said, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

In Matthew 12, Jesus healed a man’s hand that was withered, and He did this on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were so upset they went outside and plotted about how they could kill Jesus.

To engage a society today who is ambivalent, not paying attention to Jesus at all, we must go where they are, speak their language, take Jesus into this world aggressively, without hesitation, without reservation, without watering it down one bit.  We must confront the hard issues head on, and when the controversy comes, so be it.  It is one of our greatest honors to hurt for the cause of Christ, and honestly, our hurt is so small compared to what is out there (or what Christ suffered for us).

Are you ready to be a disciple?  Consider the cost, because it will cost you something.

16 February 2013

Don't Kill Time

Our culture doesn’t really place much of a priority on ‘honor.’

In Japan, when people meet for the first time, it is honoring to bow slightly -not a big deep bow-  but a bow to put yourself just below the other person to show honor. It is also honoring to always bring a gift when visiting another’s home. It doesn't have to be something expensive; it can be something very simple. When the gift is given, the giver always presents it with two hands and the receiver accepts it with two hands as a gesture of honor to one other.  (If only wide receivers could remember this concept with a football, but I digress…)

Imagine a visitor from another country coming here and wondering, “How do I show honor in the United States?"

There’s not much to tell because the general consensus broadcasts that it doesn't really matter.
We have become a people without honor.

In Mark 6 Jesus was returning back to His hometown; not His birthplace, but the place where He grew up. A year prior to this visit, He was actually ran out of town and His own people threatened to kill Him. So, He comes back. Prior to returning, He was teaching God's Word, doing all sorts of miracles. He turned water into wine, He raised the dead, He opened blind eyes, healed deaf ears, multiplied loaves and fishes to feed thousands.

Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given Him, that He even does miracles!" Mark 6:1-2 

His hometown folks were saying, 'Wow! This guy is amazing! His teaching is powerful! His miracles are awesome! How can He do these things?' Then in verse three, someone says:

"Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son, the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't His sisters here with us?"  And they took offense at Him. Mark 6:3

In other words… 'isn't this that ordinary guy that we grew up around? You know, wasn't Jesus that kid in class that was always annoying, because the teacher always liked him, he always got a 100 on every exam. Isn't that the guy who built your kitchen table? Isn't he the ordinary guy we played stick ball with?'

Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." Mark 6:4

The Greek word that is translated 'without honor' is the word atimos (at'-ee-mos). Atimos means to dishonor; to treat as common or ordinary.  If you want a common or an ordinary marriage, dishonor your spouse by treating her as common or ordinary.

Why does it seem like during the early years of a relationship that all is great and you are ‘all in love?’ It’s because you are continually showing her honor. You open the door; you bring presents, ‘here's some flowers…’  You are showing honor over and over, and over again.

Then, marriage happens, and you begin to take one another for granted. Instead of showing honor, you treat each other as common. Eventually, what once was great is diminished because you show dishonor.

The flip side of dishonor is the word honor. In the Greek, it's the word time. It is spelled t-i-m-e, but pronounced ‘tim-may.’ Time means to value, to respect, or to highly esteem. It means to treat as precious, weighty, or valuable.

What’s the difference, anyway? Honoring esteems and lifts up. Dishonoring devalues and tears down. To honor someone is to believe the best about them. To dishonor is to believe the worst. Honor lifts, dishonor tears down.

Did you spend Valentine’s Day evaluating your relationship with your wife and finding yourself asking, “What happened?”

Are you showing her honor? Are you building her up by words and action that lift up rather than devalue and tear down?

You may be thinking right now, “I’ll show honor when she ________ !“ (you fill in the blank).  NO! That’s absolutely wrong! Treat her with honor no matter what!

One of the reasons your marriage is bad may be because you continually dishonor your wife. You may look at other couples and say “if my relationship was more like theirs, I would show honor."

I promise, the reason their marriage is different and where it is today is because they have spent years showing each other honor in theirs, and you have spent time dishonoring each other in yours.

So, I’m beating you up a little…but in an honorable way, I’m using BOTH hands!

10 February 2013

Entitlement's Nemesis... Gratitude

There was a consultant who was working with a group of college graduates. He said to the group, “There is one word used to describe the generation currently emerging into the workforce, and that word begins with an "E."

“Do any of you know what this one word is?"

The graduates offered answers.

They chimed in with other words that described their positive attributes, all beginning with the letter “E.”  After some time had passed, the consultant gave in, “The number one most commonly used word to describe this generation as they move into the workforce, is ‘entitled.’"

The millennial generation is also known as the "entitled generation." Many in this age category feel like they are ‘owed’ and they deserve more.

But, before you simply agree with me and say, “yeah, those dang kids!” we must first realize we are responsible for this generation. We’ve created the monster by our actions and our attitudes.  You may be wondering how.

Here are a few of the ways we’ve shaped these ingrates:

For those my age and older, for a variety of reasons, we worked way too much, sacrificing relationships along the way, often ending in divorce and torn families. This often led to the guilt scenario where we tried to make up for our lack of time and involvement with our kids by never saying no. "Here, you can have this, you can have that..."

As a result, this younger generation feels like, "Hey, if we want it, we are going to get it!"

We have also protected this generation like none before it. When I was a kid, you could ride in the back of a pick-up truck, with 18 of your friends. Now, we strap our kids down with the protection of 43 different belt buckles.  We raced down steep hills on our cobbled together bicycles and we won’t even let ours ride on the pavement without a helmet.

When I was a kid, we actually had to win something to get a ribbon.  We’ve told, no, we’ve SOLD this generation into believing everyone is a winner. We can’t bear the thought of allowing them to feel the emotion that comes naturally with defeat.

"Hey Johnny, you were last, but you ran so slowly and we're so proud of you! So, here's a ribbon!”

The opposite of entitlement is the virtue of gratitude. In Luke there is an interesting story about a group of sick men who may have appeared to be entitled and who did not stop and take the time to show gratitude.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" Luke 17:11-13

To give you a clear picture of leprosy, lepers suffered with one of the most painful diseases imaginable.  The disease was so contagious, as explained in Leviticus 13, whenever someone ventured close by, a leper had to scream out, "Unclean, unclean!" to warn people to turn and go the other way. It was very humiliating.

According to the story, these ten guys see Jesus across the street and they cry out, "Jesus, please, help!"

When Jesus saw them, he said, "Go, and show you to the priests." And, as they went, they were cleansed. Luke 17:14

For these ten it was their greatest dream, their most desired prayer had just been answered!

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him, and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Luke 17:15-18

Can you hear the hurt in Jesus’ voice? It’s as if He was saying to the nine, you were begging, you were crying out, you were in deep distress, your life was basically nothing. You were just going to survive the rest of your days all alone. You cried out, and God sent me.

They probably weren't bad guys, they were probably just thinking, “I want to go home and tell my wife, I want to see my family! This disease isn't exactly what I asked for; you know I didn't deserve this!” It was almost as if they slipped into this entitled mindset leaving only one with gratitude.

Will you be that one?

Will you be that one that daily pauses to give glory and honor to the One that gave you life? Will you be that one to stop in the middle of life’s rat race and lift up a true, heartfelt worship to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe? Will you be that one to give praise and honor and worship and glory to the One, who, when you were a sinner, sent His Son Jesus to do something for you, that you couldn't do for yourself and you certainly deserve the opposite.

Will you be that one?

03 February 2013

Authentic Integrity

I was at a QT convenience store this week buying some water. The cashier rang up the sale, I paid her, and she mistakenly gave me more change back than she was supposed to. I didn't realize it at the time. I went out to my truck, I looked at the money she gave back to me, and there was a lot more than she should have given me. My first thought was, "Wow! God is so cool!" But immediately I thought "No! You have got to go back and return the money!"

So, I walked back in and  said, "Ma'am, you gave me more change than I was due."

She said, "Oh my gosh! I can't believe you brought the money back! I can't believe it! Thank you so much, this means so much to me, thank you! I can't...." She went on and on and on!

I responded, "It's not that big of a deal!"

It's tragic that we live in a world that is more shocked by integrity than they are by the LACK of integrity.

What is integrity? It is when your behavior matches your beliefs.

It's an integrated lifestyle. Integrated integrity is when what you say lines up with what you do. It's when your private life matches your public life. It has been said, "Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking." It's different than your reputation. Your reputation is who other people think you are. Your integrity or lack of integrity is who you really are.

Proverbs 11:3 says: The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is in the Old Testament; his name is Samuel.

At the end of Samuel’s life, he stood before his community and he said, 'Have I lived a life of integrity? If I've wronged any of you, tell me what I did wrong and I will make it right!' Free shot!

The community looked on and responded, "No, you've done the right thing, you are a person of integrity! You have been a faithful man of God."

More than anything else, at the end of my ministry, end of my career, and the end of my life, I want to be able to say, “Free shot! Did I do what I claimed to do?" You may say, "We didn't like you, your jokes were stupid! We didn't like your style! But, yes you were a person of integrity; your behavior matched your beliefs."

What does your life say about your integrity?
What do your actions say your integrity is worth?

If you lie on a resume to get a better job, your integrity is worth whatever that job pays.

Maybe you're married and finances are tight, and when you buy something new you hide it for a while. So when you bring it out and are questioned about it you can say “no, it’s not new. I’ve had it for a while.” That item is what your integrity is worth.

Satan was criticizing God's people and said to God, “You know they don't really love you, they're just faithful to you because you're good to them.”

God replied, “No, there are some who really love me.”

Satan said, “Who? Show me one!”

God answered, “Well, there's this one guy, he's full of integrity, I promise you he is faithful to me; his name is Job.”

Satan responded, “Give me a shot at him; let me see if he really loves you.”

God answered, “Take your best shot at him.”

So, Satan stripped Job of all of the things that really mattered to him.  His friends turned on him and even his wife turned on him.

His wife complained, “Why are you hanging on to your integrity? Why don't you just curse God and die?”

His friends advised, “You know you've done something wrong. All of these bad things wouldn't be happening to you if you were a person of integrity. Quit claiming you are a person of integrity!”

But, Job said, “...I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” Job 27:5-6

What does your life say about your integrity? How do you behave when no one else is looking?

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