Teach It To Me Again God

Some of us are slow learners, maybe most of us. When I spent three years as a Jr. High basketball coach, we started every practice almost the same way. We had ball handling drills, passing drills, shooting rotations, and defensive footwork. Every night, five days a week for one month, we practiced skills while learning the basics of basketball.

In a perfect world, the kids would have listened to our coaching, then practiced the moves once and had it memorized for any future setting where it was needed. That is not the nature of humanity. We need to be shown the correct way to do things over and over while trying to do it on our own.

I imagine God as the ultimate coach. He looks down on our life and says, “This is what they need to work next.” We go through an experience or a season, and we learn the moral lesson he is teaching us. We might think that is the end of the story; lesson learned, now move on to the next thing as we are prepared for the future. But that is not how life works. We must repeatedly be taught the most basic principles of what it means to follow Jesus.

God has been teaching me to more patient with people. He wants me to show mercy and grace to those who behave in ways I do not understand. The lesson is one that stretches me as I suffer through people’s short-sightedness and personal issues. I wish I could tell you that he has shown me this one time and I learned my lesson. No, God has been far more persistent than that with me. He keeps showing me the same concept in one encounter after another. This has been happening week after week, year after year, for what seems like decades.

There are few life skills that God teaches us with one experience. Most of the time, we must be shown over and over to get the point. The question is often not, “What new do I need to learn today?” Instead, it is, “What do I need to relearn that I should have mastered long ago?”

Back Worshiping Together

After 12 weeks of not meeting together on Sunday morning for worship, the Church I lead met for the first time yesterday.  Our time together was a little different than usual.  We did not have children’s worship the first week, chairs were set up for social distancing, there was no formal greeting time, and communion and offering were at stations.  Despite all the ways our Church meeting was different in many ways, it was the same. 

There were two things I noticed yesterday about our time together.  First, I was not expecting the amount of joy that came from being together with believers again.  It is like that first cold drink of water after a period of working in the hot sun.  The break made everything feel new.  The conversations, familiar face, kind voices, along with the sound of people singing together, filled my soul.  Worshipping together is about a community of people praising God together, and yet, it is also a blessing to those who attend. 

Second, I noticed how much I still miss the little things.  I miss the firm handshake of a brother in Christ.  My wife said she missed giving a warm hug to a sister in Jesus who is struggling. Talking with other Christians over a warm cup of coffee or some form of food was absent.  The connection that usually comes is still not quite there, but I am filled with joy, knowing we are heading back to the place where we once were blessed. 

Overall, I am not sure words can completely express all that I felt yesterday.  It was nervousness with putting together a program as I am a person who stresses each week.  It was fear over the lingering effects of the virus.  It was joy over seeing old friends face to face.  It was a joy as the songs filled the air with worship. 

I love the local Church, and I am glad to be meeting again.  I pray that with time everyone will come back to join us again.  It is good to be with people of like faith. 

REPOST: Racism

I feel like I am caving to the pressure a little, but every preacher and Christian leader I know is posting something about racism the past two weeks. Personally, I have chosen to remain silent. Why? Well, for one I am not a reactionary leader. Second, I have been writing, preaching, and teaching against it for my entire ministry.

Here is my favorite post from 2017 (that was also turned into two different sermons since then.)

Four Christian Reasons Not to Be a Racist

Seven Turtles on a Log

While fishing, I was standing beside the lake watching seven turtles. One by one, they climbed out of the water onto a log until it was full. Then about ten feet away, the remaining turtles climbed up on another piece of the tree, sticking up until five more were on that branch.

If you do not know, turtles cannot generate their body temperature. They need to sunbathe for about two hours to keep their body temperature up and them functioning normally. All turtles need to do this to survive. What I was watching was an action as old as time as each one emerged to find their spot on the log.

What amazed me is that no one turtle tried to push the other turtles off their spot. With each new visitor, all of them adjusted and made room for one more until there was no longer an inch to spare. All of them willingly shared their space for the betterment of every turtle.

I cannot help but wonder if the turtles knew each other. Maybe they have some unknown language that enables them to communicate with one another. This helps them to get along and be more accepting of the other turtles. Perhaps there is some sort of turtle law that keeps them behaving correctly. If they violate the code, then the rest of the turtles ostracize the offender until he changes his behavior. It could even be that this behavior just makes each turtle feel good inside. Not only do they experience the warmth of the sun on their shell, but warmth inside their shell with their good deed.

My best guess is that this is how God wired them to behave. When the sun is out, and there is room on the log, they instinctively move over so that other turtles will get the sunlight they need to survive. Someone does it for them, and then one day, they return the favor. The world God created is filled with kindness, harmony, and concern for all.

Is it possible that God is trying to get us to do the same thing? Jesus gave us what we call “The Golden Rule.” It teaches us to do to others what we would want them to do to us. The creator of all things wants us to learn to live in community with our fellow man in the most harmonious way possible. Freewill allows us to keep pushing back against his plan, and evil has deceived us into thinking it is a good move. God wants us to share some space on the log. The turtle may be slow, but he is a kind creature, and maybe there is something we can learn from him.

No Lesson to Learn

There were two types of televisions shows I watched in my younger days. One was a half-hour tale of difficulty and overcoming it with a nice little point all wrapped up at the end. We start with some sort of issues, and the characters try to find solutions, often leading to funny adventures. Finally, the conflict is resolved, and all is well once again.

The other type of show was Seinfeld. It hailed itself as a show about nothing. There was a half-hour of laughs and life observations that might or might not have a point. The show was about laughter more than a lesson.

Many times, we need to realize that life has scenes like a Seinfeld episode. We like to see everything we experience as having some sort of grand point with a meaningful lesson to learn. Partly I think we are conditioned to this type of thinking through the shows we watch along with the movies and books that we expose ourselves too. Most of the material that goes into our brains gives us grand lessons and moralistic points.

The Bible frequently tells us stories that seem to have no real message for us. Flip through the pages of the Old Testament for a few minutes, and you will begin to see it. In the middle of the Joseph story in Genesis, we stop in chapter 38 to tell us about Judah and Tamar (read it). What is that about? Read about the judges and the prophets and tell me if every story has some deep spiritual meaning. Maybe I am a shallow person, but I think these accounts just tell us what happened. Sometimes there is a lesson, and sometimes there is not.

I am going to give you the strangest encouragement you are ever going to hear a preacher give. Sometimes in life, just make through your current situation and move on to the next thing. Don’t overanalyze the experience and try to assign some special meaning. Maybe one day, God will reveal something that was part of a grand design, but then again, perhaps not.

God is growing your soul and making you more like Jesus throughout your life’s journey. Don’t be disappointed if every encounter is not a grand lesson. You are human, and some things in life have no point. Just get through it and move on to what God is doing next.

Ten Long Days

The disciples watched Jesus die on Friday afternoon on the cross. They lost their leader, teacher, rabbi, mentor, and most of all, their friend. Losing someone you care about is an emotional pain that brings tears and breaks the spirit. Their hope was gone.

On the road to Emmaus, one of Jesus’ followers says, “We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Then they add an interesting statement, “And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.” (Luke 24:21 – NIV 2011) After Jesus’ death, the disciples watched the clock. Friday passed and nothing. Then Saturday and now it is Sunday. There is a story of an empty tomb from the ladies, but who can believe them?

Then Jesus reveals himself to those two believers, and they run back to Jerusalem. That Sunday night, Jesus appears to what should have been twelve disciples. Judas went out and hung himself in shame, and Thomas is not present either. Jesus stands in their midst, shows him the scars, and offers them a hope they have never known. They are given the possibility of life after death and eternity with their savior and friend. Their lives were changed, and so was the face of religion forever.

I have often thought of Thomas. Where was he that night? Was he off sulking in the pain of loss? Had he given up on this Jesus thing and headed home like the two on the road to Emmaus? Was he just busy with life? I mean, Jesus is gone, and there are still bills to pay and meals to prepare. Life goes on even in the face of loss.

Jesus will not reveal himself to his disciples again until the next Sunday. The story now focuses on Thomas and his declaration that he will not believe Jesus is alive unless he can touch the scars himself.

I wonder, “How did Thomas live in the ten days from Jesus’ death to seeing him alive?” What did he think? What did he feel? Was he just filled with the uncertainty that accompanies human loss? After all, we want hope, heaven and resurrection sound excellent, but is it too great to believe?

Death pushes us to the very core of our emotional and spiritual lives. What do we really believe? Are we willing to cling to the hope of eternal life during a devasting loss? I think Thomas must have felt those ten days like all of us do when we lose someone about which we care We grab ahold of the stories of Jesus being raised from the dead with all of our heart, and we cannot wait until the day we can see him with our own eyes.

Still Being Surprised By God

As a believer in God, I build my life on the idea that there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present being who runs the world. I believe God created it, sustains it, saved it, and will make it his own eternally.

And yet when I enter new phases of life, I tend to doubt that he will work everything out for good. Case in point, when we began the Covid-19 shutdown 12 weeks ago, I was sure he could handle four weeks of no weekly Church meetings. I doubted that we could go for six to eight weeks without worship. Here we are 12 weeks later, and good things still seem to be happening.

During this time of lockdown, our Church has generated more income than we needed. We have been able to make two sizeable donations to other charities as a result, and I hope we can make another one soon. Our video worship appears to have worked well. It took a few volunteers and several hours of reading and learning, but our program seemed to connect with people. Each week we have maintained a large number of unique views along with getting new “likes” and “shares” from people we do not know. Our leadership has only communicated through email for the past three months. Last night we met, and everyone picked up right where we left off and are fully prepared to move forward. Every person I run into is making strides ahead in their marriage because of the sermon series I am preaching. The words are connecting, and perspectives are being altered positively. Many good things are happening in this Church community.

If you had told me a year ago that we were not going to worship in person for three months, I would have said that we will have no people, no money, and no hope left at the end of it. Yet here we are today, doing well and ready to get back into our weekly worship schedule. The problem with my vision is that I often forget to calculate in God. When he shows up, impossible situations turn into places of blessings.

I am praising God for what he is doing in the Church I lead today. I also realize that his goodness and power do not stop when you leave the doors of the Church. Whenever we make God a part of our equation in life, the odds change, and the impossible seems possible. Stepping out in faith stretches a believer, but times like this remind me that God can do anything.

Bless Me Today Lord!

While standing on the creek bank recently, I realized something about myself that I never knew.  The fishing was slow, and I closed my eyes for a moment and said, “Lord, please let me catch a fish soon.”  It was a half-hearted prayer, but I heard something in those words that I am not proud of about myself. 

I want God to bless me every day in every way.  I want each day to have something good happen to me.  I want my lesson or sermon to go well and people to like what I have to say.  I want to catch fish or have a successful hunt. I confess to you that I desire for God to bless my life, and I would like him to do it TODAY! NOW! SOON!  Let the good things flow into my life.  

Theologians through the years have used this simple analogy to describe this type of thinking.  They say the temptation is to seek the hands of God and not his face.  We are like children who run to dad after a trip to see what he is holding in his hand for us. What gift does he have for us?  We love what he gives us more than we love him.  We want the blessing more than the person. 

As believers, we are surrendering our life to God because he is God.  Sometimes that will bring us great blessings as we follow him, but that is not always the case.  There may also be trials and tribulations.  We may have to suffer to learn to love him.  Dark seasons may come to teach us to trust him completely.  Some days the skies will be dark and foreboding so that the needed rain can come for our souls. 

All of us want God to bless us, and the harsh reality is that numerous blessings come dressed as hard work, seasons of pain, and closed doors.  Maybe our desires as believers should be for his leadership and love more than the blessings.  But that would require great faith in a benevolent God, and I would rather the fish bite now.   

Say Something About That

My pastor groups on social media exploded with posts.  In the past ten days, the events in the United States have prompted many preachers to say something about the headlines they are reading.  Yet, I remain silent on the issues, even in private conversations.  Why? A person might wonder.  It seems like this is the time to address this issue, so I have to say something.

I have specific reasons I do not do “current issue” preaching, speaking, or writing very often.   

One, we do not know the whole story.  Often, we only know what the media is reporting, and over recent years it has become clear that media sources are incredibly biased.  It is easy to stand up and say, “this happened, and that happened” and be completely wrong.  Most of the time, there is a back story, ignored activity, and poor research. 

Two, everything I say about Jesus is a statement about the current state of affairs.  When people come to follow the way of Jesus, they will love one another, pray for their enemies, turn the other cheek, give up all anger, rage, bitterness, and slander.  Everyone who comes to be Jesus disciple will find a new life as a new creation with a unique point of view.  Calling people to follow him is a political statement as he forms his kingdom on earth. 

Finally, I do not have to say something about everything.  My calling is to lead people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus and disciple them in his ways.  Think of all the things Jesus did not teach his followers.  He said nothing about governmental policies, Roman oppression, slavery, and the liberal leadership.  He spoke to individuals to help them change their hearts.  When their heart was right, the appropriate actions will follow.   Not sure why everyone has to have strong opinions on everything. 

I guess that the people in your world are asking you, “What do you have to say about that current issue?”  It is fine to say, “I am keeping my opinion to myself.”  The world needs more totally committed Christ-followers and less of us talking ourselves to death. 

The Surprise of Immorality

I have said the line thousands of times, “Don’t be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians.”  The scriptures ground us in the concept that God has standards for the way people are to behave.  When you remove those moorings, people are left to their feelings of right and wrong at the moment.  The unchanging standard is gone, and people will do whatever feels right, no matter how wrong it might actually be.  No amount of evil should surprise us by those who do not follow the way of Jesus. 

Jesus was more concerned about how his disciples behaved.  It was those who called themselves believers whom he instructed to act differently than the world around them.  Their lives were to be guided by God’s will, standards, and word.  Christians are to live according to the desires of God alone.  Jesus does not get angry with the Romans for their treatment of one another; instead, he is incensed at the behavior of the people in the temple and the Pharisees who knew the scriptures.  Their lives should have been unique when compared to the Roman culture, and they were not. 

The Church should be full of people whose lives are remarkably different than the rest of the world.  They live according to a moral standard set by God above.  There is no place for murder, adultery, theft, lying, or coveting.  They see the value of every human life. Believers love one another, and even love and pray for their enemies. They do good things for each other no matter what their background story may be.  When the world is full of chaos, the followers of Jesus should stand out as shining examples of faith, hope, and love. 

It is easy to throw stones at those outside of Christ and be sickened by their behavior.  But are we willing to look inside of our own lives and confront the evil that lives in there?  Change in the world will only come through Jesus, and it will only happen one believer at a time.  That means you and me.