Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Humble Peasant King.

If you've paid attention for the last few weeks, you know how slowly I have crawled through the first two chapters of Luke. Even though I've read the book several times, I continue to find parts of the story I've never noticed.

In Luke 2, we find the Christmas story as made famous by Charles Schultz. Verse 7 says Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for his family at the Inn. I never asked myself why God would orchestrate the birth of His son like this. If not in a palace, why not at the very least have him born in a comfortable place? Why invite the local ner-do-well shepherds to the party?

I think Jesus hinted at this later to his disciples in 22:24-27. "A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.'"

If Jesus had come to earth as a powerful or wealthy man, people may have felt compelled to listen and obey. He might have found more panderers than genuine followers. More than anyone, though, Jesus demonstrated humility and became a servant.

Do you think you would have had an easier time listening to a humble peasant or a proud ruler?

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Do You Think God Needs? - A story I had on my mind today.

A few years ago, a coworker sat down next to me and said, "You know what I never understood about God, I mean, if he exists? Why did he create people then tell them to worship him? Does he need it?" Considering I didn't expect to have a theological sword fight during my lunch hour, I decided not to get too deep into a discussion. Without looking up from my sandwich, I said, "I don't think He needs it. Maybe it just makes him happy."

The guy sat back in his seat and didn't say anything. "I never thought of that before," he said. Then he stood up and walked back into the kitchen. Several hours later, he still had a rattled look on his face. "Are you alright?" I asked. "Yeah," he said. "I just... You really got me earlier." He never thought of God as secure in Himself.

During his message to the Athenians in Acts 17, Paul said, "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything."

Even though I don't fully comprehend it, I think God only does what will make Him happiest. I don't think He needs us to make Him happy. I don't even think our sin frustrates or surprises Him. Maybe our worshiping and serving Him is meant for us to join in the joy He has in Himself.

I wonder how many people like my old coworker view God as either insecure or demanding. I wonder how many people in the church assume this of Him as well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Disappointment Becomes Too Familiar.

Last week, I wrote about how we respond to God's promises. Zechariah responded with doubt and Mary with trust. But I didn't ask myself why Zechariah responded the way he did.

Last Sunday, my pastor made an observation I hadn't considered. Luke 1:6 says Zechariah and Elizabeth were both great people who loved God, but they were old and childless. When Gabriel appears before Zechariah in the temple, he says, "Your prayers have been heard." Clearly, they wanted a child and had asked God. My pastor remarked on the disappointment Zechariah and Elizabeth must have felt up to this point.

For those of you who have read this story, doesn't it confuse you how Zechariah first feels terror when he sees the angel, but then gets a little lippy? I wonder if Zechariah had become so used to disappointment he expected a letdown, no matter how powerful the promise.

Imagine how much it hurt Zechariah as a priest, as someone who always tried to do the right thing, as someone who loved God. Imagine the hurt year after year as he and his wife grew older, watching the possibility of a family shrink and vanish.

Suddenly, Zechariah's response to Gabriel makes more sense. "How shall I know this?" I don't mean to say he should have doubted, but I do know how he felt. What startled me was how he asked this in the middle of an audible and visible message from God. Would my disappointments harden my heart to a point where I would question God's promises even if He told them to me in great supernatural power?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Politics Of Fame And Glory - How I realized my self-righteousness was driven by a fear.

If you've read this weblog for the past few months, you might know that I play in a band called the Summer Country. I feel comfortable talking to you about this because there are only, like, twenty of you, and half of you share my last name.

In the past, I've written about false humility and musicians getting more credit than they deserve. I haven't forgotten. Between those two ideas, I live in tension. I don't think I should receive the adoration all who see me, but I don't think I suck either.

So far, this tension has led me to become a terrible self-promoter. I may have mentioned that before, too. Whenever I'm challenged to do something more with the music, I quote Proverbs 27:2. "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." Not only is that simply great advice on how to keep yourself from arrogance, it ends the discussion with most people. And it's a discussion I don't like to have with them.

Tonight I asked myself why. Why don't I want to talk about what I do? Why don't I want to listen to the people telling me I should learn how to promote myself?

It took less than a minute to realize it's because I'm afraid of my image. Isn't that dumb? I rail against self-promotion because I don't like the idea of selling myself. The underlying, unspoken motivation comes from living in Nashville and hating how other people sound when they constantly self-promote. And I don't want to sound like those guys. But isn't that just as bad? Aren't we all trying to look cool, even if we have different reasons?

I'd be selfish either way. I don't know how to change it just yet, but I realize something does have to change.

Unless you have some great advice for my situation, I'll finish today's post with a song I wrote. I don't want to be famous, but I want people to listen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Motive Of A Question.

Recently, my wife and I began a study in the book of Luke. Having grown up in the church and read the Bible a few times over, I wanted to try reading this gospel as if I hadn't read it. You might know what I mean if you've grown used to God.

I find whenever I read a book, any book, expecting to learn something, I learn quite a lot. I notice more when I read with a goal than when I casually read a story for fun. Midway through the first chapter, I saw something I had never seen before.

Luke opens his account of Jesus with great detail. Much of it deals with Mary and her family leading up to the birth of Jesus. In 1:5-25, Luke introduces Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary's cousin and her husband. As a priest, Zechariah is chosen one day to enter into the most holy place of the temple and burn incense. While in there, the angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah he and Elizabeth will have a son.

Zechariah replies, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." The angel tells him of his coming son then says, "You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

A few verses later, Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she will give birth to Jesus. Mary also asks a question. "Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?'" The angel explains how the Holy Spirit and the power of God will come upon her so she could give birth to the Son of God. Mary then tells the angel, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

I never thought to ask this before, but why did Zechariah get gagged when both he and Mary questioned the angel? Looking again, I saw they asked different questions. Zechariah wanted a sign because he doubted. Mary wanted to know more about a promise she already trusted.

If God were to give you a promise, something that seemed totally impossible, how would you respond? After reading Luke 1, I think it might be a good question to ask yourself.

Monday, February 13, 2012

That's Entertainment - A connection I made between Mythbusters and televangelists.

Do you have a friend, or maybe several friends, you like to annoy? We do it because we love their reactions, right? I have those friends. One of them lived in Nashville briefly while he attended a trade school and I annoyed the crap out of him.

We sat in the lobby of his school one day waiting for his classmate and Mythbusters came on the television. He shushed whatever I was saying and sat forward. "I love this show. Have you seen it?"

"Have I seen Mythbusters? Yes."

But he was gone. Sucked into the special effects and berets and facial hair. After a few minutes, I asked him why he liked it so much. "I don't know," he said. "I love the science of it all."

"This isn't science," I said evenly. I wasn't trying to pick a fight. It's not science. I'm not trying to pick a fight with you, either. I'm telling you this like I would tell you it's snowing outside and you should wear a jacket.

"What do you mean?" my friend protested. "Of course it's science!"

Then I picked a fight, because like I said, he's one of those friends I like to annoy. "Have you even heard of the scientific method? These guys use special effects. It's just entertainment." Of course this is true, but I just said it to make him mad. And it worked.

This conversation happened years ago, but I thought of it again recently when I saw back-to-back commercials for Mythbusters and some show about "The Mysteries of the Bible". I wondered if scientists see Mythbusters and start correcting the television set. "Nope. You've got it wrong. You didn't test all the variables. Your constant has to be a little bit more reliable than an endless supply of mannequins." Then I thought to myself, "I wonder if scientists react to Mythbusters the way I react to televangelists. 'Dang it. Please don't think every christian is like Joel Osteen.'" It wasn't a perfect connection. I'm just telling you what I thought.

In light of some recent posts, I think a lot of believers have an identity crisis. They believe in Jesus, but they want so little to do with how the entertainment industry identifies Christians that they will do anything to avoid it. Even talk about Jesus. Or whatever.

I have a feeling this identity crisis came from my generation's reaction to Hollywood Christianity. But just because I'm ashamed of televangelists and nearly every scene of the movie Saved! (one of my favorite movies) doesn't mean I should be ashamed of Jesus.

If you're a Christian and you believe the Bible is true, think about Luke 9:25-26. "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."

It's important to consider what or who really embarrasses you. Is it Jesus, or some of the people who use his name? Does it keep you from being open about your faith? Does it keep you from praying for people?

What holds you back?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Were We Set Up To Fail? - Some thoughts on the purpose of the law and grace.

We all know of the common objection to the rules of religion. Don't do this. Don't do that. As a kid, I remember neighborhood friends telling me they didn't like the focus Christianity put on following rules.

Today, I started thinking, "Maybe God doesn't like the focus Christians put on the rules either."

There was a period of my life where I resented God for the Law. If He knew nobody could ever keep it, didn't that mean He set us up for failure? Did He really expect us to keep trying to be perfect even though He knew it was impossible?

In Enjoying God's Grace, Terry Virgo writes, "The law was never intended to be a way of salvation. Salvation is entirely a matter of grace." Romans 7, if you have the mental endurance to read it, gives an excellent explanation of the law's true purpose.

I'm wondering if the purpose of all those rules was like a window and a mirror both at the same time. It opened a window to show us God's goodness, but then acted as a mirror to show us how much we sucked. I don't know how the mechanics of that mirror window would work, but then I'm not an engineer.

If God proved to be the only person capable of keeping it perfectly, I think the law was put in place as a way for us to recognize Jesus as God. He said as much himself in John 5. Virgo explains the law was meant, "to show people their need of a covenant of grace."

So what do you think? Is it fair to say God doesn't like the focus Christians put on rules? If we're saved by grace and not by following rules, is it okay to act as if the opposite were true?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What About God Makes You Uncomfortable?

Someone once offered me advice to get my weblog noticed. "All you have to do," they said, "is find some popular blogs like yours and start leaving good comments."

Whether or not they gave me good advice, I don't follow it very well. I think I need to find those weblogs first. I keep telling myself the readers of popular weblogs want funny or serious content, and I don't always feel confident about my writing either way.

Also, I don't like most of the weblogs I read. Maybe that shouldn't stop me, but it does.

Among all the boring words people put on the internet, I do know where to find some great writing. I've particularly loved Stuff Christians Like ever since I first read it in 2008. And while some people don't appreciate Jon's "Serious Wednesday" posts, I relate to those the most.

Today, he wrote about our fear of God making us miserable. I thought you might like to read it, since it spoke to some of my battle with anxiety in a way. I'm not so much worried about God sending my wife and I far off to a place we don't want to go, but I have felt Him pointing me in uncomfortable directions.

I also know scripture constantly tells us we have nothing to fear if we put our trust in God. Jesus told us to be anxious for nothing. Paul asked the church what they had to fear if God had their well-being in mind. This, by the way, was a rhetorical question. Paul had a pretty good handle on rhetoric.

So what if you don't know how you'll find the time or money to go where He's called you?

So what if you feel like God wants you to do your part in reconciling a horrible relationship?

So what if you don't feel comfortable with giving up a luxury or convenience in order to help someone?

God's trustworthy. He wants us to find our happiness, and that happiness is in what He wants.

What about God makes you feel uncomfortable?

Monday, February 6, 2012

No One Likes A Know It All, But Most People Like To Know.

During my high school and college years, I would correct people when they used incorrect grammar. Is it safe to assume most people who read weblogs also write them? If you also write, then maybe you will relate. If someone misused a word as they told a story to a group of friends, I would interrupt. Of course, I couldn't quietly correct them or point it out later when we didn't have an audience. I had to stop them and ask if they were aware of their error. When they couldn't identify it for themselves, I would point out the correct usage with my shoulders back and eyes half closed. It's hard to believe so many years passed before I learned how much people hated me for it.

The latest Press post reminded me of this period of my life. Lindsey's comment about people wanting to avoid a preachy image also brought it to mind.

All analogies break down, but how well does this one fit? If a man becomes a language teacher, are his lessons most effective in the classroom and in the company of friends or family? If a stranger in line at the movies says something irregular to a friend, how much will the person appreciate the language teacher leaning in and offering a correction?

On the other hand, if the man at the movies were to write a piece for work or his own enjoyment, he might wonder to himself if he has used his words well. He might even ask himself how he could learn.

I think plenty of people want answers. Even if they are hostile in one environment, they might be receptive in another. Many of us have trouble discerning the best time. I know I do, and so I have on several occasions assumed, "this is a bad time." But this means I've called most every opportunity a bad time.

How would you discern a good time to talk about your faith? Do you think your decisions come from a discernment of the other person or a gauge of how comfortable you feel?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Two Stories of Poor Behavior - Why motive matters more than rules.

At this time, I would like to thank the Lifehouse youth group with bringing me back down to earth. That is all. Moving on...

I still think Christians ought to ask themselves why they hesitate to talk to their friends and family about Jesus. But how should we look at this from the perspective of grace? I'm not saying you have to tell a certain amount of people about Jesus in order to consider yourself a "good Christian". I want to know why people who experience something as great as salvation wouldn't want to share that with the people around them. 

In the wake of all the discussions I've had since Monday, I'd like to tell two stories. One of them happened and I made up the other. Maybe I won't tell you which is which so you can figure it out for yourself. 

My brother went to Dallas to attend a church leadership and mission school. They had more rules than the Bible. I don't think that's an exaggeration. If you set the rule book next to an NIV, the NIV would look like the Cliff/Spark Notes. One rule said all men had to remain clean shaven. My brother thought this sounded harmless enough until one of the campus leaders ran the edge of a student ID along his cheek to test for stubble. 

Every failure to abide by the rules resulted in demerits. Earning enough demerits could get you kitchen duty or some other kind of Beetle Bailey punishment. My brother and his friends were constantly following rules because they didn't want to scrub burned chicken grease off of pots. 

When I went to visit during my spring break, I knew I didn't have to worry about those rules since I wasn't a student. I walked into morning chapel with my shirt untucked. A buttoned up, smiling man said, "Good morning, brother! You should tuck in your shirt." And like a smartass, I said, "I'm not your brother. And I like how my shirt looks." Later, I walked outside and cut across the lawn toward the parking lot. A campus leader on the sidewalk stared holes through me. "You're not supposed to walk on the grass," he called out. So I obliged. I laid down and barrel rolled the rest of the way to my brother's car. 

I realize I acted like a jerk. But the point is, I didn't have to listen to them. The rules didn't apply to me. 

Much later in life, so much later, I met my future wife at a birthday party. We began talking that night and then talked nearly every night afterward. Within a few months, we decided to start dating. 

That first week of our new relationship, we ran into an old crush of mine. And, like a stupid sitcom actor, I introduced my new girlfriend by saying, "and this is... my friend... Chelsea." Of course the old crush could see the BS all over me and the perturbed look on Chelsea's face. 

Which story do you think is true? I'm curious to see what you say. 

But assuming both stories were true, why would I be more ashamed of the one boneheaded move with Chelsea than breaking every rule on the campus of my brother's school?