Thursday, March 8, 2012

Remember This

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

The music playing in the office near mine was beautiful. Someone had breathed new life into one of those old hymns by blending the poetry with different instruments and new voices. It was art and melody and faith filling my morning with worship. It was great - until the person who had the music playing in their office began to sing along, then it was brutal! I changed from praising God to covering my ears. It sounded like a nasal congested hyena in a loud argument with a cat that was on fire. Horrible doesn’t begin to describe the screeching and gurgling that drowned out that beautiful hymn. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or toss a hand grenade in there.

But then God recalled to me the truth of this verse: that we have the treasure of knowing Jesus in jars of clay. All of us who love and follow Christ are called to be conformed to his character. And, in the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) we have his perfect, beautiful, holy, faithful model of worship to imitate. Our lives in essence “sing along” with the lyrics and melody of the life of Jesus, and in comparison we screech and gurgle and crackle.

After I recovered from the initial shock and dismay at how horribly this person was butchering a beautiful hymn I began to appreciate the effort. Even though it was kind of pathetically funny it came from a true heart and even if it made me want to stick a fork in my eye I celebrated that they were singing the right song and that they wanted to sing of Jesus.

I want to appreciate and give God thanks for people who are butchering their attempt to sing the right song with their lives. I am one of them. Forgive me when I am so arrogant as to demand other clay jars to be as beautiful as fine china. Forgive me when I get so distracted by other people’s imperfect attempts to sing Jesus with their lives that I miss even the faintest harmony and melody of his perfect song. Forgive me when I am so sinful as to ridicule another’s singing and thereby trample the work of the very Spirit who gives them the desire to sing.

Let us give each other the grace God has given us in Christ! Let us give ourselves the grace God has given us in Christ! Let us have eyes to see in each other and in ourselves not just the clay but the treasure the clay holds. Let us rejoice in the church and in each member of it; tone deaf, off beat, off key, but singing the song of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remember This

Psalm 62:1-2
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

This is true of you. Your soul waits in silence for God alone. Your soul has no voice to scream and cheer, no hands to work or build or fight, no feet to chase after love or money. Your soul has no eyes to appreciate beauty or lust after shiny things. Your soul has only one desire, the one it was created for, an intimate relationship with its Maker and Owner.
There is nothing in all creation that will satisfy the desire of your soul but God alone who is your salvation. Your soul waits in silence for the desires of your heart, the thoughts in your mind, and the exertions of your body to join it in surrender to the One True Affection.
The stresses and anxieties of our lives are rooted in the cracks between the one true longing of our soul and the exertions of our minds and bodies in pursuit of other desires. It is the fear of losing these other desires that shake us; they are the shifting sands that leave our lives unsettled and insecure. Your heart may not know it and your wandering eye may not yet see that God alone is your rock, your salvation, your fortress. But your soul knows, and waits in silence for God.
Your soul waits in silence because it cannot satisfy its own desire for God; it waits for God to come meet it. Your soul can do nothing to rub off sin’s tarnish that the holy God could once again rest fully within. Your soul knows that you can only hope for mercy, only be given salvation, and only hope to know God through blood, by grace. Your soul, like David’s, waits in silence for God to complete his redemption work so it can once again know his presence fully.
The author of this psalm, David, lived by grace. He loved God deeply but mixed his worship of God with the ego of a king, the sin of an adulterer, and the ruthlessness of a killer. He knew his sinfulness well and he knew in his striving he was lost. But he knew the hope of his soul – his rock, his salvation, his fortress. His faith in God’s good grace allowed him to stand and not be shaken.

It takes time to sit alone until the clutter of voices and problems dies down low enough that you can hear the whisper of your soul’s longing for the presence of God. It is time well spent. When you spend time there you will meet afresh the joy of grace and the reason for your hope in Jes

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Remember This

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

There is a lesson I wonder if I will ever learn. God tries to teach me over and over again and the classrooms he uses are funerals. That’s right, funerals. I go to a lot of funerals (I never really want to but I am always glad I did.) Invariably as I sit there and listen God scrapes a shallow part of my soul a little deeper. Invariably he confronts me with the infinite measure of his creativity as the memories shared in the course of a funeral bring to light the tiny but spectacular sample of it captured in one person’s life. It never fails, I always think “I wish I knew them better.” And it never fails, I am dejected by the truth that I could have.

Too much of the time I choose to take relationships that belong to God and behave like they belong to me. When I do that I am not looking for the wonder of God woven through a person’s personality, experiences, and gifts – I am only looking for how that person can facilitate my agenda or inhibit it, or, at how they can serve me or if I’ll have to be inconvenienced to serve them. When I choose to let my personal agenda prevail other people have no chance to be known by me, only used or ignored. So, I am often confronted with my sinful self-centeredness at funerals when I get a point blank shot of a fascinating and complex character of a human being I could have known but was too busy to meet. It is one thing God uses to remind me how deeply dependent I am on his grace. But I am not giving up.

I love 1 Corinthians 12 because it adds to my conviction and challenges me to take time to look at each person God providentially brings my way. It commands me to see his unique creation - his Spirit empowered wonder, one variety of servant determined and directed by his Spirit. You can’t miss in this text that Father, Son, and Spirit are all referenced as overseeing and empowering his gifts in everyone who know Jesus as Savior.

1 Corinthians 12 is written so I would remember these things about you, and you about me. This text is given to us so that we would appreciate and respect, and even marvel at each other. It is given to us remind us to take time to ask, listen, share, serve, and give thanks for each other.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Remember This

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Let’s just admit it, there’s something about the concept of “sacrifice” that is about as attractive as volunteering to have a bad day. Sacrifice means going hungry or “doing without.” It means eating the package so someone else can have the last piece of bacon – at least that’s how we think about it.

What makes this verse even more challenging is that at first pass it appears to say this sacrifice is a once and for all thing, because that’s the nature of a sacrifice, once it’s given its gone. So, you offer your body to God and it’s over, you - as you know and like you are gone, sacrificed, poured out, burned up, consumed, etc.

This is one of those verses we read with one eye closed and skim past to get on to the good stuff about spiritual gifts a few verses later. But it is worth remembering and reflecting on and believe it or not, even obeying.

It would really be easier if we only had to offer our bodies once and then we were gone, sacrificed, poured out, burned up, consumed, etc. because we all have moments when God breaks through our hard hearts and opens our blind eyes and we catch a brilliant glimpse of his glory. In those moments we would leap into him once and for all and be delighted to do it. That would be far “easier.” But to offer your body as a sacrifice is not a decision, it is a series of decisions. To offer yourself as a sacrifice to God means you continually evaluate who you are and all you own and to produce from your evaluation an ongoing series of choices to let God be God. When I was dating Kay (thirty plus years ago) a trip to Taco Bell was an extravagant sacrifice and a treasured treat. A trip to the drive through at Taco Bell today doesn’t have quite the same effect because things have changed; we have years of relationship and experience that redefine sacrifice and treasure. That’s what Paul means by a “living sacrifice.” Living things grow and change and experience – so what you offered God yesterday of your possessions and relationships and personality isn’t the same thing you can offer him today.

If you read a little further in Romans 12 you discover something about what God does with your sacrifice of you. He says he wired you to serve him – to prophesy, to teach, to serve, to give, to lead – and he exhorts you to fully be who he made you to be. When teachers teach and givers give and servants serve and leaders lead instead of being “gone, sacrificed, poured out, burned up, consumed, etc.” they find the fullest expression of themselves thriving in the Kingdom of Heaven. Far from dead or emptied out or used up they are fully alive, filled with purpose and satisfaction and energy. I think that is what it means to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

Don’t slip past this verse. It is filled with hope and grace and the promise of life abundant.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Remember This

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

For the longest time I really believed having more money would solve all my problems. That conviction drove me through college, it drove me to work crazy hours at my job, it drove my decisions to relocate my family multiple times. I was (I thought) on the road to being handsome, smart, and rich…
One day I was having a conversation with my boss – a guy who I believed had everything I wanted – the job, the house, the money. As we talked he said these words, “I am a financial prisoner of this company and this job. I am resigned to being a prisoner.”

His words shook me. I thought “How can you be so unhappy when you have so much?” Over the following months I began to notice how often Scripture warns about the empty and exhausting life of the person devoted to pursuing worldly things. Somewhere in that season I began to ask myself why I was so convinced there was joy and hope in the pursuit of something the Bible repeatedly teaches contains no hope. I had been taken captive and I was working really hard to build the cage I was going to live in, just like my boss.
I read this verse with new eyes:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

This verse begs a question you should learn to ask yourself continually about everything you believe, “Why do you believe that?” Why do you believe what you believe about church, about money, about marriage, about work, about sex, about how you speak, how you look? Is what you believe transformed (or being transformed) by gospel of Jesus or are you captive to the transient and fleshly wisdom of the culture? Are you letting what you see in the mirror and on the pages of magazines teach you more about yourself that what you see in the Bible? Do you sift the recommendations and opinions of your friends through the filter of God’s Word or does their influence have you captive?

It is a down and dirty every day, every thought kind of question, “Why do I believe that?”

In Christ there is freedom. Freedom from the grind of religious obligation and freedom from the prison chains forged by the relentless pursuit of things and comfort that over consume our time and our resources and leave us with full garages and empty souls. See to it that no one takes you captive!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Remember This

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

I got my picture taken by the red light camera last Sunday – on my way to church! I spilled a cup of hot oatmeal in my lap and while I was messing with it I wasn’t paying attention to the red light I blew past. Oh I stopped… I just stopped about thirty feet past where I was supposed to stop. “Poof…Smile…That’ll be 75 bucks.”
What a fiasco! A little bit of oatmeal spills out and messes up my pants, my car seat, and my wallet.
It’s surprising what a little bit of hot oatmeal can do to your commute, or a little bit of too hot pizza can do to the roof of your mouth, or a sip of too hot coffee can do to your tongue. Even more surprising is what your tongue can do to your life, your friends, your spouse, your neighbor. In the Bible, James says your tongue is like a little bit of fire that can set a whole forest ablaze!
You know it’s true. You know how to use your tongue as a weapon. You know how to use it to start fires and to fight fire with fire. You can flatter and flog with it and you can smooth talk and swear.
That is why Ephesians 4:29 has been a significant verse for me for years – because I know I sin continually with my tongue, and I don’t want to. I like this verse because it causes me to consider what I am supposed to be doing with my tongue and it gives me a path to confession and repentance when my mouth spills corrupting talk. This verse is sweet when I am silent, encouraging, and grace giving but sour as lemons when I sin. I like that.
Ephesians 4:29 gives you a simple set of purposes for the words you speak: encourage and give grace. It is a wonderful thing when you engage your obedience before you speak and ask yourself “Are the words in the pipeline between my brain and my pie hole about to encourage and give grace?” When not, repurpose or shut up.
My favorite part of this verse, and the most difficult, is the little phrase “as fits the occasion…” That means I’m supposed to actually notice and be considerate of all the people who will hear what I say. It means that I need to consider the situation of the other person and not just my own self-centeredness. It means I should remember that every word I speak communicates what I value, what’s on my agenda, even describes my relationship with God, and that’s the kicker.
Jesus said our words are just the fruit of our nature; he said our words are only rooted in the soil of our heart. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) When I hear my words I am too often confronted with my corrupted heart. The scorched earth my words can produce is no greater than the scorched earth from whence they come. I don’t want to be scorched earth. I want to be a grace giver. I want to be an encourager. I want to be Kingdom considerate of other people. I want to be the guy who has the heart to let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Remember This

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

This is a good memory verse because we need to be continually reminded to confess our sin. It isn’t enough to live with the general understanding that we are all sinners. It isn’t enough to live with a private, passive awareness that I am personally a sinner. John says we must confess our sin - we must be specific, relentless, unrestrained in honesty about our unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

This verse begins with an unsettling word, if. If we confess Jesus is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us. Don’t be confused, John is not saying that we are unforgiven for everything left unconfessed. The grace and mercy Jesus purchased for us on the cross exceeds our ability to describe how unrighteous we are – so John is not suggesting forgiveness is tit-for-tat, “I’ll wait until you admit it to bless you” kind of thing. He is not talking about that at all.
John is talking about the difference between a person who will confess their sinfulness and one who won’t. I believe most people who confess no sin are people who believe deep down they have none, they have defined sin in such a way as to see it all over the lives of others and either absent in themselves or at least minimal in themselves by comparison. That is why John says in this passage “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves…” He is addressing our willing blindness to our own sin and the accompanying belief that we are somehow good enough in other ways to compensate for it apart from the atoning blood of Jesus.
I could be wrong, but I think we refuse to confess sin because we choose to view our sin as unimportant and less destructive than the grave sins we can so readily see in the lives of other people. But when we think like that we do much harm to our souls. When we refuse to confess we live with an abiding tension in our hearts between the holiness of God we long to know and the repressed knowledge of our active and continual sinfulness that separates us from him. It is a miserable way to be a “Christian.”
John is offering us freedom in Christ from the soul destroying weight of abiding sin and the relentless effort of hiding and blaming and defending ourselves. What good news! You don’t have to not be a sinner; you only have to have the faith to admit you are a sinner. You only have to believe God loves you the way he really loves you so you go to him and tell him the truth knowing his love for you is unchanged by your failures.
When you do you will find your love for God will grow, your desire for his presence will grow, and instead of hiding and denying your sin you will seek it out and present it to God – and you will be cleansed, forgiven, loved. You will know that you are truly loved.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9