Monday, April 30, 2007

Living (Mondays) as an Exile

Low energy.

Looking at the week ahead with a mixture of dread, angst, or apathy.

Looking back at the weekend that was, wondering how two & a half days could have slipped by so quickly.

It must be a Monday.

Mondays often leave us feeling like we're fish out of water.

And for people of faith, maybe it's even worse. If we spent the weekend with our church family, we sang the songs, we read the scripture, we prayed the prayers, we shook hands and exchanged smiles and hugs with people who CHOSE to be with us.

Now Monday makes us feel like exiles. The next five days and forty plus hours of having someone tell us where to go and what to do and how long to do it.

Where do we go from here?

Ever notice how many of the prophets in the Bible are living in exile? Ever pay attention to the number of them that are speaking, their whole prophetic career to people living in a foreign land or strange culture? Dragged off to a place they don't want to be. Living in a situation they would have never chosen. And in the midst of that exile, God speaks and acts.

In the exilic tradition, Daniel's opening verses tell us he and his circle of friends are living in just such a situation. Their country was overrun by a foreign king (Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon). King Neb came in and hauled off slaves from Daniel's country.

In the new country, they were going to confront a dominant culture that was very different than theirs. The religion was different. The government was different. The priorities were different. The language was different. EVERYTHING was different...except that God was the same (though they would learn and interact with him in a different set of circumstances).

I wonder, do books such as Daniel have something to say to us? I think so...ESPECIALLY on a Monday.

Grace & peace

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Setting Your Eyes

"Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (20:7)

What have you "set your eyes on" recently?

Have you literally watched images that are "vile"?

The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene tries to help us set a standard that is holy and worthy of the LORD our God.

It calls us to avoid "all types of entertainment...that produce, promote, or feature the violent, the sensual, the pornographic, the profane, or the occultic, or which feature or glamorize the world's philosophy of secularism, sensualism, and materialism, and undermine God's standard of holiness of heart and life."

What have you literally set your eyes on today?

If you're having a hard time with this today, why not grab a trusted brother or sister in Christ and ask them to help you stay accountable in this area?

But equally damaging and potentially damning is the next question:
What have you figuratively set your eyes on today?

These enemies can be even harder to detect. Ask yourself:
Have I set my sights on goals that are selfish (making a lot of money or making that purchase I've been wanting)?

Have I set my sights on revenge or paying someone back (because of what they said about me or did to me)?

Have I set my sights on getting noticed or being complimented (a promotion or getting a kind word)?

We all face these temptations. Maybe we're even tempted to justify them. Till we put them to the Christlike test: Do these sound like the types of things Jesus would have been concerned about?

Ezekiel warns us not to set our eyes upon things about which the world fixates.
Take a moment and ask God to check your eyesight today. Ask Him to help you fix your sights on things that are "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy" (see Philippians 4:8).

Grace & peace

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Divided Heart

Do you remember being in elementary school math class, trying to grasp the concept of division? Addition was easy. Subtraction a little harder. Multiplication more advanced still. But division...ugh. For many of us it was the first moment we realized math wasn't "our thing".

Division can be a tricky thing to get a handle on. But as bad as it can be in math, it can be even worse in life. Consider these situations:

- A marriage divided. The husband sees it one way. The wife sees it another. And nothing is able to bring them into agreement.

- A nation divided. That's not at all difficult to imagine right now, is it? Issues such as campaign finance, health care, or more locally, road repairs, seem to remind us just how divided a government can be.

Even more costly is a person divided. If it is severe, we talk about split personalities or being bi-polar.

Spiritual division within the soul is a problem too.

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 11:19)

God doesn't want us to have a war raging within us. He wants us to clearly see where He is leading and then go wholeheartedly in that direction. Think about it:
- Instead of being divided between the right and the wrong, God wants to put a spirit into us that consistently chooses the best.

- Instead of being constantly conflicted about priorities, habits, or attitudes that destroy us, God wants to give us a spirit that overcomes.

- Instead of being blown back and forth between choice A and choice B, one day feeling this way, another day feeling that way, He wants to empower us by His Spirit to set our jaw with a determination so we freely go the way of life.

Do you remember what problems some of the disciples were having before the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost? Peter would deny Jesus...three times in a matter of hours.

But when the wind of the Spirit blew upon Peter, his old heart of fear was gone. The heart that was quick to abandon the Lord was replaced by a boldness and a certainty that couldn't be shaken.

Do you need such a Spirit today? Tell God you need help with division in your life. Ask for an UNdivided heart; a heart that seeks Him first. "And all these things will be added."

That's the promise of Ezekiel. That's the promise of Pentecost. That's His promise for you right now, if you'll wait upon Him.

Grace & peace

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Don't Christians Grieve?

Have you come in contact with evil this week?

Have you run into people or situations that are sinful, unjust, or simply plain out and out wrong?

What was your response? Anger? Maybe.

Sadness? Probably not.

Here's another question:
What did the people of faith do or think or say in response to the situation you thought about earlier?

There was a Supreme Court Ruling this week. It had to do with the prohibition of a particular type of abortion. Bring up the topic in different settings, with different groups and you're likely to get very different reactions.

If you asked people what the most common emotion involved in such a "discussion"
would be, I'm guessing a large number would say "Anger".

We get charged up over such an issue and contention seems to be the immediate response.

There is certainly a place for righteous indignation when innocent people are wronged, hurt, or dehumanized.

But another significant event occurred this week as well. As you all probably are well aware, the Virginia Tech slaughter of more than 30 people has been plastered on every media outlet from television, to internet, to newspaper. And while much of this talk also eventually moved to the gun control debate (which also elicits significant emotion in the anger category), it is our collective, universal, initial response that I want to point out: grief.

Initially, our first responses were shock and overwhelming sadness. Before we had the luxury to move to anger, we saw the bodies of innocent people and stories of people who literally watched others die.

In such a situation, to have any emotion other than overwhelming grief would seem unhealthy, inhumane and inappropriate. Who's heart didn't break at the mass killling? We would all agree that would be a natural response.

So here's my question: Why is grief not ALWAYS a part of what the Church feels when sin is ravaging a life, a home, a community, or a society?

Amos was announcing God's judgment on His people when he proclaimed:
" did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph." (6:6)

Looking over the city where he would be falsely accused, laughingly tried, and unbelievably convicted, Jesus cried, " often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matthew 23:37)

I wonder: if injustice, sin, and the wounding of innocent people (even when self-inflicted), breaks the heart of God and causes Him to grieve, what should it do to me?

Next time you get angry over such an issue, ask yourself: have I been properly moved to grief? If not, maybe we need to look inside before we speak about what's happening outside.

Grace & peace

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Said It!

"Better to have people think you're a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Mark Twain's words were well-chosen and well-spoken.

Words can get us into serious jams. I have a lot of stories like this, and I bet you do too.

It was probably along those same lines the writer of Proverbs was thinking when he wrote, "...the mouth of a fool invites ruin." (10:14b)

It happens almost anywhere I happen to be. Someone will be using their everyday vocabulary, a word or idea will slip out that they probably would choose NOT to use if they could have it back. Then they catch themselves. They look at me, "the minister", and say something like "Oh...sorry" or "Uh...excuse me".

The ones that make me laugh the most were folks who didn't think anything about it till someone says, "The MINISTER's here" or "This is my PASTOR!"

They get red-faced and guilt kicks in.

Are they feeling unnecessary guilt? Are they looking to the Church to police their language?

I don't think so. I think they're in touch with something much deeper and more significant.

"Do not let any evil talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit others to listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

This is a lesson most of probably heard (learned?) when we were little children.

"Think BEFORE you speak!"

"If you can't say anything nice..."

You can ask any kindergartner about it and they know the words you're not supposed to use.

But "evil talk" can take all kinds of forms.

GOSSIP is brutal. Talking behind someone's back can devastate them. I've known situations where church preachers and teachers would bring out someone else's dirty laundry in the name of "praying for them" or "teaching a lesson to others". But using names and desiring to tell to the world someone else's failings and faults is more "evil talk" than "holy help".

What about name calling? Or being told we're "stupid"? You and I can probably pull up the memories from years ago where someone demeaned us, dehumanized us, or made us feel very small by what they said to us or called us.

That's the type of talk that doesn't have any place in a home, a school hallway or classroom, a church, a city hall, an office, the high school locker room, or ANY PLACE ELSE.

"Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips." (Proverbs 14:7)

But the Bible sets a higher bar than "not saying bad stuff".

We're called to use words that will build each other UP. That may be by expressing encouragement. It may be by offering forgiveness.

The writer of Proverbs tells us that the right words bring "healing" and are "sweeter than honey". "The lips of the righteous nourish many." (Proverbs 10:21)

May your words and your life be used to build people up, bring healing to our world, and a little sweetness into the lives of others today.

Grace & peace