I want to begin this blog with a disclaimer: This post is all George Barna's fault! I was simply looking up information on current habits and stats concerning Christian behavior and I came across an article called, "The Top 10 Findings from 2014" published by the Barna Report. And according to finding number 8, "Americans Say they Care Too Much about Sports." Here is a short paragraph on what they report:
More than four in 10 adults (43%) strongly agree that sports are an important part of American culture; when you factor in those who also “somewhat agree”—an additional 46% of adults—it’s nearly nine out of 10 Americans (89%).
But do Americans care too much about sports? Two out of three adults think so (67%).
While men make up a larger viewing audience for sports and are more likely to play than women, they are also more likely to believe Americans care too much about sports: 72% of men believe so, compared to only 61% of women. Millennials are the most likely generation to say Americans care too much about sports (75% vs. 65% of Gen-Xers, 61% of Boomers and 70% of Elders). Downscale Americans (58%) are less likely than upscale Americans (68%) to think Americans over-prioritize sports. Practicing Christians, at 69%, are in line with the average adult.
As I read this report, I do feel a little guilty. I love sports, but am I obsessed? Is our culture obsessed? That is all I am asking - - not looking for a cure, just attempting a diagnosis. So I did a little self-assessment and I found three clear evidences that proves to me that sports is taking over our country.
I will offer them simply. You may disagree, but I am not so sure you can disprove this:
(1) Being Sports Guy is the Norm for Most Boys
I had a neighbor who could not live without sports. His name was Jim Whitley, he lived two doors down. My dad called him "Sports Guy." Not only was he good at basketball, baseball, and football; but he made his own golf-course across the street at the local park. Jim had one of those old fashioned lawnmowers that had a criss-cross blade which he would daily use on the putting greens. At the age of 15 he actually planted "Bentgrass", a short growing green grass, in order to perfect his own 5 hole/Par 3 golf course. He ate, drank, and slept sports.
When I first met Jim I was about 8 years old. I liked sports, but as any normal kid in the late 1970's I liked doing other things too: skipping stones in the lake, throwing sticks to my dog, making model airplanes of WW2 bombers, or even playing monopoly with my sisters - - sports wasn't everything like it was to Jim. He actually formed a neighborhood backyard wiffle-ball league where he would keep batting averages and records the whole summer. He eventually became a great golfer, but sports was all he knew. I am finding that is all kids can talk about these days: Fantasy scores, pitchers in the Tiger's bull-pen, or why Matthew Stafford is ruining our lives. All I have to do is mention I am from Ohio and the first thing that comes up is hatred toward the Buckeyes and the mockery of Terrell Pryor getting a tattoo - - that was five years ago, get over it! Sports obsessed fans never will!
(2) People take their Sportswear Way to Seriously
I can remember my dad would spend his hard earned money on a tailored suit, dress shoes and a fancy tie - - now men's money goes to golf hats, Lebron James Basketball shoes, and Under Armor t-shirts. My son wanted some Addidas sandals for his birthday...30 bucks? For sandals? "Dad, everyone is wearing them." Socks for boys cost an arm and a leg, and you better buy the right kind of shorts. Some kids will only wear Nike, others will only get Reebok, and no one will dare put on plain old K-mart Fruit-of-the-Loom anymore.
There are Pilates clothing lines, Yoga clothing lines, Running clothing lines, Tennis gear, Skiing glasses, Skateboarding apparel, Basketball shirts, and even gear for Ping-Pong champs. I use to get my brother's hand me down shirts with an iron-on that said "No Pain, No Gain" and that was enough. Now, you must get the Micheal Jordan signature briefs with a non "bacon neck" collar if you don't want to be mocked. At least that is what the television tells us. "You have got to be kidding me?" No, I am not! And just try to get any kid to wear a pair of simple black dress shoes and you are asking them to commit Hari-Kari.
And for the final proof...I know I will get in trouble for this...but here it goes:
(3) Mean Girls are out; Muscle Girls are In!
I can remember the day when the most popular girls where the cheerleaders. They won the Homecoming Queen Crown, they were featured in the year-book, and little girls would watch them on the sidelines with awe learning all the famous cheers, "S-U-C-C-E-S-S, that's the way you spell SUCCESS!"
Not any more, at least not in our local high school: Basketball is the road to the in-crowd for the popular girls. From second grade on, the new craze for little girls is learning how to dribble a basketball. Girls have gone from signing "Oh Ricky You're So Fine" and chasing boys at recess, to shooting foul shots and making layups. Kind of strange for me to see girls in high school wearing Nike basketball shorts and wearing their favorite teams bulky sweatshirt as they carry a rather masculine swagger while they walk down the hall (And they are not afraid to push people into the lockers if they don't get out of the way). If your daughter doesn't start basketball camp early, she will soon be left out of the popular girls basketball parade. And then there is summer basketball, winter basketball and someday a dream of playing in the WNBA.
Women once would mock men for living in a sports fantasy land, where they found it silly spending all-day playing games hoping to be the 1 in a million to make it big. Now little girls too want in on the pipe-dream. I guess everyone is welcome to join everlasting adolescence that sports has to offer - - it is just that the women I grew up with knew when enough playing was enough, and they had the courage to tell the 'dumb jocks' so. Now both men and women are watching sports with the same gusto living in the "Glory Days" of years gone by.
Is this wrong? I don't know?
But I do think it is true: We are obsessed, and it is hard to find anyone out there that cares about anything else that is going on in the world...
"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."
The new Pope is in town and everyone is asking my opinion, "Is he a good Pope or a liberal politician? Does he really know what he is talking about? Why do so many people like him?" I think people ask me about the Pope for two main reasons: (1) I am a pastor, I am supposed to be up on all things religious. (2) Many people know that I use to be Roman Catholic myself. In fact, just this morning someone asked me, "Why did you leave the Catholic Church?" Hmm, dangerous subject? Or it could be a great subject for my next blog? So here we are...
Let me begin: I thank God for my Roman Catholic heritage! I miss so much of it, I love my extended Catholic family and friends who are still are associated with it. I love the beauty of it. Growing up, my family went to a gorgeous church with one of the biggest crucifixes ever of Jesus, St. Raphael's in Bay Village, Ohio. When I get the opportunity to go back to Ohio I love to go inside it and just sit...it really is quite a place. To quote Paul in Romans 10:1 and his love for his Jewish heritage, I have the same feelings toward my Catholic upbringing:
"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."
In other words, the family and friends I grew up with loved the Lord, but it was a human love based on human knowledge. They had a zeal, but it was misdirected. I know this because I had a misdirected zeal for 23 years until the Lord woke me up to the truth. When I say I had zeal, I am not kidding. I was raised with very devout Roman Catholic parents (My mom was German Catholic, my dad was Polish Catholic), I was baptized Catholic, received First Communion, was Confirmed, was an Altar Boy for 4 years. I went to a Roman Catholic Grade School for 7 years, went to a Roman Catholic University, University of Dayton, for 4 years, and I even loved going to mass with my Grandmother while attending college. So when I say I know what it means to be Catholic I do know what I am talking about. I was a Catholic of the Catholics because I really wanted to be sincere in my faith. That is why I left, my faith demanded me to.
So why did I leave? 3 main reasons: The Eye Test, the Ear Test, and the Heart Test
THE EYE TEST
I have learned overtime that just because someone says they believe something doesn't mean they actually do. For instance, when I was going to University of Dayton, I played Rugby. I can remember my sophomore year a new student started going to our school and he said he played rugby at the previous school he came from. I said great, try-outs for this years rugby team were in the afternoon the next day. So he showed up to try out for the team and he had new cleats, wore rugby shorts and he even brought his own rugby ball. He sure looked the part! So when the coach saw him he put him immediately in a live inter-squad scrimmage. It was apparent right from the first play that this kid never played rugby in his life! In fact, he got hurt that day and never came back.
Just because he said he played rugby didn't mean he played rugby. And it is exactly the same with most Roman Catholics I know, they say they are Christians but they have no idea what that means. Just because you go to church on Sunday doesn't make you a disciple - - in the same way, just because you are in a garage doesn't make you a car.
The guy who played rugby failed the eye test: When you watched him in scrimmage, his actions clearly proved he had no idea what he was doing. As I grew up watching most Catholics and their behavior, it was clear they didn't know the Lord at all. Just go to my undergrad college the University of Dayton on any given weekend - - drunkenness, sleeping around, fighting and taking the Lord's name in vain is their "modus operendi". In fact, when I was going to school there, Dayton was one of the top party schools in the nation, which the students took great pride in. (Majority of them were practicing Roman Catholics; with me being one of them.) This is anything but Christlike (See Galatians 5:19-21 [a great description of parties in the ghetto] and Philippians 3:18-19).
Most Roman Catholics don't act anything like Christ. Sure they can put on an act Sunday morning or say the right words during mass - - but the fruits of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23 did not characterize most of the Catholics I grew up with; especially the Catholics that ran in my circles. It surely did not characterize me, a man who drank, swore and chased women. Sure I was a nice guy, but I wasn't holy and set apart as Jesus wanted me to be.
At this point I can hear many Catholics say, "Well, I know a lot of Catholics that really live to please Christ today." Oh sure, you can always find some...but please, be honest - - drinking, sleeping around and swearing is Roman Catholic standard fair. And tell me, why are most nuns feminist liberals, supportive of homosexuality, often quiet on abortion and anti-capitalistic? And this says nothing of the priests I grew up with. In my mind, saying that Roman Catholicism promotes Christ-like living, the eye test fails.
THE EAR TEST
Romans 10:17 says that, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." It is here that your average Roman Catholic is completely ignorant. How many Catholics really, and mean really, read, study and live by God's word? Some do, but most don't! Check it out.
Two events proved this out in my life: One summer my sister and I were attending a bible study at our church in Chicago. The priest had 16 college students over at the church for a study, some volleyball and hot dogs. He was a nice priest, a really good guy. During the study the issue of hell came up and the students started arguing. Some said hell cannot exist because God is love and he will not send anyone to hell, my sister and I said, "But Jesus talks about it all over the New Testament (It was mostly my sister because she read her bible)." So we were at a stale-mate. I turned to the priest and asked him what he thought about hell, Here is his answer verbatim, "Don't worry about it, it is not that big a deal - - it will all work itself out in the end." Tell me, how can hell not be a big deal?
Then a couple months later I came home from college and my brother confronted me with this question: "Chris, if you were to die today where would you go?" My response was rather angry and snide, "Don, that is a stupid question, no one knows the answer to that." He looked at me with earnest conviction and said, "I do because 1 John 5:13 says, 'I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.' And John 1:12 says, 'To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God - children born not of natural descent (not being born into Christianity), nor of human decision (no infant baptism) nor a person's will (no works to earn it), but born of God.' See Chris, I know and so can you!"
It was then that I realized I did not know what the bible said...at all. Up until then I trusted the priest and the liturgy; it wasn't my own faith it was what people told me. I knew I had to search for myself. And I began to. For a good three years I started reading the bible, studied Catholic history & theology, and stopped accepting other people's words for things. I needed to know for myself. One of the first things that shocked me was that the Roman Catholics actually believe that we eat Jesus every Sunday. No, it is not a spiritual thing -- it is his actual flesh and blood. This shocked me, transubstantiation sounds good on paper and said in pious tones off the lips of a humble priest; but in real reality, there is no way a piece of bread becomes human flesh - - no way!
I decided after all my study, I didn't know God at all...and not only that, Jesus treated hell as a real place and I knew I deserved it. One single sin sent me there according to Romans 3:23, and I knew I couldn't work my way out of all the sins I committed, especially when you read Isaiah 64:6 and Romans 6:23. I was in trouble before a Holy God and Revelation 3:16 was the nail in my coffin. My Grandma, being named after St. Christopher, being sprinkled as a baby, watching the 10 Commandments or going to church on Sunday and taking communion couldn't save me - - I was lost! I failed the ear test.
THE HEART TEST
There is a powerful verse in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says there will be terrible times in the last days, and one of the signs is that there will be a "form of godliness without power." That was me, I followed forms, rituals, and did what I was asked to do, but I had no power. My heart was dark. I was driven by my lust. I was grabbing after the world, and Jesus was my butler to get it for me.
The more I read the Bible, Jesus was scary, really scary. He was Lord, the God of Fire, jealous and deserving of my whole life. He only got my scraps.
One day I was miserable, I won't tell you the whole story, but I knew I was done. I told God on highway 44 in Mentor, Ohio that I was making a mess out of my life and I needed him. I use to ask for forgiveness on Sunday and then sin Monday through Saturday, but no more. I was done playing games.
So I gave him my life, and asked him to take it all. I knew he did...and I knew I was set free. Salvation was mine because the Spirit of God took over after I completely repented for the first time, I knew I no longer could play games, I was his and he was mine...
You can look at it like this. . .
Salvation is like a 10 Million Dollar Home. It is something amazing I can never earn on my own, but boy is it tremendous. However, the way Roman Catholicism and the Bible teaches about acquiring it are two completely different things.
Roman Catholicism is the first home. Jesus put the down payment on my salvation by dying and rising again, but now to keep it is up to me. I must make monthly payments by being good and going to communion. I must be a righteous and pious man, like monthly upkeep of a house, and if I fail at the upkeep I must pay fines: Confession, saying the Rosary, giving gifts to the poor, not eating meat during Fridays in Lent, going to church on Sunday, etc, etc, etc. I must do, do, do. It gets exhausting because you never know when enough is enough. And honestly, the house is a nice gesture but it really is up to me to keep it. In a sense, Jesus didn't really pay the whole way into a Catholics heaven, he only did a little, and signed me up for a very exhausting religious life. When I turned 18 I quit trying because I had enough, I figured that I didn't need to be the good Catholic boy I was raised to be because I couldn't be perfect. I failed, I fooled around, I sinned, I was done.
Biblical Christianity is the second home. Jesus paid it all! And he gives me not just the house, but himself, the Holy Spirit, to live in it with me. I don't have to upkeep the house because I own it completely; but since it is mine I want to keep it up. Grace excites me now to live for him! If I choose not to the Holy Spirit will say, "Chris, you represent Christ, don't you want to glorify him?" Yes, I do, I don't have to, but let me tell you, since I have a new heart, I want to!!!!!
When Jesus died on the cross, he said, "It is finished." For the Biblical Christian it truly is finished, once I believe I am done. For the Roman Catholic it is never finished. So in a sense, the Jesus of Roman Catholicism is not the Jesus of the Bible because he didn't fully save. Sadly, the Pope is just a man, and ignorant at that. (George Will calls him a false prophet in a recent article). And he and most of your priests don't really know which house to buy. If you don't believe me, read two verses, that is all I ask. Make your faith your own:
- Ephesians 2:8-9
- Titus 3:4-5
You tell me, according to these two verses, do you pass the Eye, Ear and Heart test? You better make sure because hell is real, and so is Jesus!
A pot of her best beef stew, served with boiled red potatoes and cabbage colcannon. The faithful Irish mother was preparing her favorite meal to share at the church's special Wednesday evening pot-luck. A famous evangelist from the Americas was conducting a city wide crusade at her church and she wanted to do all she could to support the cause of Christ in her humble village.
As she carried her meal into the church her mind traveled back to 30 years before when as a young girl in college she made a passionate commitment to serve Christ on the mission field. She remembered how she went forward at the end of a large crusade in Belfast; and while kneeling at the altar with tears streaming down her face, she made a decision to go across the seas to the farthest reaches of the world sharing the gospel of Christ.
But here she was, still living in the same town she did 30 years ago, never once crossing the ocean, becoming a regular housewife, mother of six, and still attending the same little church. In her heart she felt like she failed God. She often wondered late at night, "Have I wasted my life, am I a huge disappointment to my Lord?"
A couple hundred people packed the church full to come hear the man of God. At the end of his powerful sermon he asked people to come forward to commit their whole life to the work of the Lord. 30 to 40 people walked up to the altar, tears flowing, and kneeling in prayer to tell God they were fully his...ready to go and do whatever he would ask.
The Irish woman remained seated figuring she lost her chance 30 years earlier. So there she sat, head in her hands, heart broken...sobbing. After the service, while everyone filed downstairs to enjoy the potluck dinner, there she sat.
The evangelist noticed her in the pew, warm silent tears still flowing.
"What is wrong my dear?", the man asked.
"I have failed my God and I will never get those years back. I once promised him to go overseas to serve, to do great things for him, and her I sit. In the same small village where I have lived my whole life," she bemoaned.
"Tell me, are you not Mrs. Marshall? Did you not raise four sons and two daughters? Is it not true that your oldest son is a Missionary Doctor serving in Liberia? Is not your second son a pastor ministering in Scotland? Isn't your oldest daughter married to one of the deacons in this church? And are you not still working hard raising three more god-fearing children in your home? Feeding them? Caring for them? Wiping their tears, bandaging wounds, and showing love to their hard working father? Did I not see them sitting next to you listening to every word of my message?"
The woman with her head still bent low, in a hushed voice replied, "Yes sir, that is true. But I also am the woman who never made good on her promise to God. I failed him, I have never done great works for him. Never led hundreds to Christ. Never took opportunities to leave my home, settling instead to become the wife of a humble fish merchant. How could God ever be pleased with me?"
The man smiled and let out a loud boisterous laugh, "My dear sister, let me tell you something...and please listen well! You have served the cause of Christ and the mission of God in a grand way! You have been more than faithful, and you have done greater things than me. I am just one man, you are sending out six to carry on the message of hope...Do not hang your head. God is well pleased with you."
She lifted her head up wiping a tear off her cheek, "But I promised...I would go...I would do great things!"
The man paused, and replied in a strong low tone, "My dear, dear lady - - great things are not accomplished on grand scales; like drops of rain, good works nourish the soil day by day. Every day your children saw your love for your Savior. With every bite of Irish stew, every prayer by the bedside of a sick child, and every brown lunch bag made for your husband to take with him on his way to work you were doing great things for God. Not only that, but as your son serves in Africa, so do you. As your son preaches in Scotland, so do you. Your children are an extension of you...they carry your commitment that you gave 30 years ago, and they share your blood. As they go, so do you! Souls aflame with the love of a mother on mission..Now cheer up and rejoice."
The woman cried again, but this time laughing. A burden was lifted, and she grabbed the man's hand saying softly, "Thank you sir, thank you."
Now, a 100 years later, in a different town, on a different land; this American born son who is a minister at a way side village named Kent City turns to his German mom and says, "Thank you mom for serving Jesus in great ways by serving me and my siblings: another brother who is a pastor, a sister who preaches in jails, two other sisters who love their husbands, and a special sister named Lara Lee. We all thank you for your simple and great faithfulness, we carry your commitment and share your blood."
I am so blessed to be raised by a noble woman not moved by hype or charismatic sentiment, but one committed to loving the people under the roof of her house. For loving my father and raising us well. My mom has done more for me than she could ever imagine. She helped make me the man I am today.
Thank God for faithful moms!
* Narcolepsy - sudden, overpowering urge to sleep. People with narcolepsy often find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time.
I once had an uncle, two-times removed, who had a severe case of narcolepsy. He was a Roman Catholic priest holding the official title of "Monsignor." Sometimes as he would be handing out communion to the congregants during mass, he would instantly fall asleep. Right in the middle of saying, "The Body of Christ..." his body would crash down on the floor in a heavy R.E.M. state still holding the communion wafer. It was rather embarrassing.
Because of this condition he wasn't allowed to drive, operate heavy machinery, and I think shaving was considered a hazardous activity for him. I have been told that on occasion he would fall asleep while eating his soup. I often wondered, "Do you think a man could ever drown in his own chicken noodle broth?"
Narcolepsy, for the many who suffer from it, is no laughing matter.
I couldn't imagine having this condition: One minute you're awake talking to your friend and the next thing you know you are crashed down on the floor with a bruise on the back of your head. It would be terrible to feel so "out of control" like this. Last year, for a couple months in Autumn, I thought I had this condition. Every time I tried to watch the Lions play on TV I found myself waking up with drool running down my cheek with only one minute left in the fourth quarter, Lions down by 10. The doctor told me not to worry, all Lions fans acquire NFL narcolepsy sooner or later. That made me feel better....
Until I began reading a well-known story in the book of Exodus 19: Moses and the 10 Commandments.
Most people who have read the bible are very familiar with the story of Moses; especially how he went up the Mountain of Sinai to receive the law of God. But what most people miss is why he went up? It is a very sad tale: God just rescued his people from the murderous jaws of Egypt. After the thrilling high-stakes adventure of the Passover and Red Sea parting, God finally had his people all to himself. Pharaoh's cruelty was no longer to be feared - - God was now the only King of Israel, "I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself (Ex. 19:5)."
But there was one major problem with this new arrangement, the people didn't want to be too close to God. They were scared of him, and sent Moses as their representative to talk to him. When Moses informed the people all that God wanted was a close relationship, they tried to keep God at arms length by asking for written instructions rather than intimacy (Exodus 19:8). Here are their exact words:
"All that the Lord has spoken we will do."
The people were the ones who wanted written laws instead of a close walk. They really didn't want God as a friend, they only wanted him as their silent protector and provider. As long as he took care of them from a distance, gave them what they wanted, they would obey. They reconfirmed this commitment to obeying the laws both in Exodus 24:3 and 24:7. Three times they promised obedience...three times. So God gave them 10 Commandments, and they were not too hard. All his asked for was decency and civility, "Not have other gods," to not "Take his name in vain," to "Not make graven images" and too not "Defraud your Neighbor." I once read a theologian who said that it was a kind thing that God presented what "not to do" because it gave them a lot of leeway on what they could do. So his "Thou Shalt Nots" are actually generous boundaries, not enslaving rules that many people have made them to be. (If you want to see enslavement just go to your average heavy duty conservative fundamentalist church and read their constitution and codes of behavior to get a glimpse of real behavioral micromanagement).
So after Moses gave them the Law, God called him back up the mountain to finalize this agreement. He was gone for only 40 days. Tell me, is that a long time to be gone up a mountain? What is 40 days as compared to 400 years that they were kept in slavery to Egypt? 40 days is your average pre-season schedule for football... a blink of the eye.
Well, according to Exodus 32:1, after Moses was up on the mountain for these 40 days, the people panicked. "Let us make gods who shall go before us. This fellow Moses, that man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." So even though they made a promise, remember they agreed to it three separate times, they figured since circumstances changed they could change. And the things they promised, "To have no other gods," was the exact thing they did! And not only that, they began to party naked around the statue of a golden-calf. Sounds like the MTV awards...
I call this spiritual narcolepsy. How soon they forget. How soon we forget; falling asleep in an instant. Many people, after they make a promise to God, will soon go back to former ways. They will renege on their promise and go back to the bar or their boyfriend's bed. How many people do you know who hear a good sermon, go on a powerful retreat, or are invited to a Christian rock concert, will make a grand commitment in the moment...only to return to the way they were a few weeks later?
Our flesh is prone to fall asleep when it comes to the things of God. Oh sure the moment of spiritual ecstasy is great, but the long-term is what proves a person's love for God. Churches these days seem to be competing for the narcoleptics. If we can offer a quick thrill and laughs, provide emotive music with good looking singers, we might be able to grab the curious narcoleptic crowd.
So, God goes silent for 40 days. And in the silence we assume we too can change our plans. Commitments mean nothing. Promises can change.
True faith only lives under continual obedience, staying bound to the promise, even if I don't see or feel God, I will stay with him. Christianity is a practice of perseverance - - God goes silent to see if you fall asleep.
How do you respond to God when he is hides in the cloud of the mountain? Do you stay strong by faith, or fall asleep in your chicken noodle soup?
Remember, narcolepsy is no laughing matter!
I am just curious, "Are you happy?"
Look around, not many people are smiling these days.
News is nasty.
Politics is angry.
People are dissatisfied.
And from this world in which I am immersed, I read news from another world. A different place and time. I hear about the lifestyle of one unique man, "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and he gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)" Hebrews 1 also says this same man who served, was the most joyful man who ever lived. (Hebrews 1:9)
How can this be?
How can giving yourself for others bring you joy? How can bringing others joy bring you joy?
I don't know, but somehow it does.
Look around, the most unhappy people are waiting to be served. Those who are the most critical are those who are waiting for others to do something for them.
We have 2 choices, to be served or to serve.
Our late President John F. Kennedy got it. At his inaugural address he made this famous statement, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what can you do for your country."
This applies to anything and everything.
"Ask not who is going to do the dishes, you do them."
"Ask not what is your neighbor going to do for you, but what are you going to do for your neighbor."
"Ask not what is the church going to do for you, ask what you can do for your church."
Are you happy?
If no, I suspect you are waiting to be served.
"Frightened out of their mind, the disciples wondered to each other while considering the man standing strong at the bow of the boat, "What manner of man is this?
Even the wind and the waves obey him?"
Mark 4:41 (CWV)
"Do you think most Christians want 'more'? Are the words given to us in the Bible not enough: Not exciting enough, not new enough, and not personal enough? Are the scriptures lacking that extra special 'more' that I need to keep on keeping on?"
I asked this question to my fellow pastors on staff as we collaborated on our next series of sermons concerning God's Word. The general consensus among us is that people are not satisfied with only having his word to meditate and study on. They really want a walk with Jesus that is tailored specifically for them. Close encounters, moments of bliss, and audible words just for them. They want a vibrant life as found in the new favorite book "Jesus Calling." Even a 90 minute trip up into heaven wouldn't be so bad either.
People want more! Is there anything wrong with that?" We have had God's Word written down now for a good 2,000 years; don't you think that is plenty of time to read just one book? C'mon man, let's move on, spice it up, give me "more."
I think there is a dangerous assumption with are living under with our desire to always hear directly from God. Sentimentalism seems to me to be the order of the day when it concerns thinking about Jesus: "God will always be nice to me. If I could just hear from him directly I would get the encouragement I need. I would finally know for certain that he loves me, little ole' me." For some reason the message of love as expressed on the cross never seems to be enough?
Is Jesus primarily nice? Should this be the way to look at him? Is his goal to make you feel good about yourself, accepted, a special person who stands out among the nameless crowd? Did Jesus come to cater to me?
I know Jesus loves me. I know Jesus cares about me. I know Jesus will never leave me nor forsake me. But did Jesus come for more than that? I was once challenged to read the gospels with the eyes of an agnostic asking the question, "What sort of man was Jesus? Was he just a sweet guy - - smiling, laughing and picking daisies?" What I found shook me to the core. Most of the time when Jesus spoke to a person directly is was the last thing in the world they wanted to hear.
Here are a few examples:
A Pious Rich Guy (Mark 10:17-27): This man only wanted to know how to gain eternal life. Seems pretty noble to me. Here is Jesus' answer: "Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." It says the man left sad. Man, if a rich guy came to my church asking about heaven I assure you I would not want him leaving my church sad.
A Close Disciple Not Wanting Jesus to Die (Mark 8:33): His number one follower was upset when he heard Jesus would have to suffer. Peter didn't want his master to die, another noble sentiment. Jesus looked at him and in front of others he declared, "Get behind me Satan!" Huh? Why was Jesus so upset with Peter? He was only trying to help.
A Man who was Upset that His Brother wasn't sharing his Dead Father's Money (Luke 12:14-16): A man wanted Jesus to arbitrate a probate case. The older brother wasn't sharing the money. Jesus didn't even care, but instead attacked the younger brother's greed. Wow, think about that, all the guy is asking for is his fair share? And Jesus doesn't even care.
A Poor Lady whose Daughter was Demon-Possessed (Matthew 15:23-26): This lady came to Jesus wanting her daughter healed from demons. But she was being ignored by him because she wasn't Jewish. She had to shout to get his attention and then he turned to her and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." What? This is the epitome of heartlessness. What is going on with Jesus, is he having a bad day?
The Religious Leaders Disrespected (Matthew 23): This may be the most startling passage of Jesus' complete disrespect for the noble men of town. Can you imagine calling the Pope, or your local priest, or your pastor a "White Washed Tomb, a Child of Hell, or a Snake?" Seriously Jesus?
I am telling you, Jesus was really not that nice...and the more you read the gospels the less of a sweet fella he becomes. That is because Jesus is Lord. He is the King of the Universe, the Holy One who wants to make us Holy. This often takes hard words, and harsh rebukes and correcting (2 Timothy 3:16). He is the one to fear.
He gave all men and women his words in God breathed scripture because he is not at the beck and call of each person's personal whims and preferences. He wants us to conform to him, not him to us. He is pleased to reveal himself in eternal words that are not open for private interpretation, but revelation is meant for us to submit and order our lives by. Americans do not like this, we like to have things "served our way...hold the pickles."
We are so arrogant thinking he needs to serve us as we wish on our time schedule in our busy day. I was thinking as I was driving by a church that had a sign outside inviting people to come this Sunday to experience the presence of God. It was written as if he only worked on our schedules. 9 to Noon God guarantees to show up; and he promises to be done by 1:00 because that is when the football game starts.
Jesus is pleased with his Words as they are revealed. He never promised more.
Not even for you.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Have you ever noticed, outrage is easy to come by?
And for most sincere Christians, if we are not careful, outrage can become us. The world is broken; sin is doing a masterful job at painting all things wrong as right, and right things as "old fashioned and out of date." As a result, anything and everything can cause a caring person's blood to boil; and this pent-up rage is often found expressing itself in judgment and condemnation toward the very people Jesus wants you to love.
Don't get me wrong, we are in war, the world is under siege. However, not every battle is ours to fight. Nor is every battle meant to be a battle in the first place. I think our enemy, the Devil, loves to keep us preoccupied and enraged over issues that, quite frankly, don't even matter. And because of this we have no energy, fight or vigor left to use on the battle fronts we should be fighting.
I love this quote by Elizabeth Rundle Charles (often attributed to Martin Luther...see http://creation.com/battle-quote-not-luther) . . .
"If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”
So that begs the question: "What is that little point where the battle rages?"
Is our main battle with gay marriage advocates, transgender adventurers, cyber bullies, Josh Duggar, political conservatives or liberals, pastors on the Ashley Madison list, the soft-porn peddling celebrities, ISIS volunteers, or even abortion doctors? Where does our main battle lie?
There are so many things to be outraged about that answering that question can be extremely difficult. I can look at the news headlines and begin there? No, too many things to choose from. Maybe I can follow the Facebook wall and look for the post that elicits the most controversy and rage and start there? No, I have never been a crowd follower. Or maybe, I can look for hints in Jesus' life?
Jesus was a simple blue-collared Jew who lived during a period of history that was awash in corruption. Rome, the ruling empire of the day, was populated with pitiless tyrants who enjoyed exercising iron-fisted mastery over the poor peasants of Israel. It was a cruel time. The temple in Jerusalem, God's dwelling place among his people, was full of greedy merchants who saw the temple as a place to make easy money off a gullible crowd. Leprosy, disease, demon possession, prostitution, drunkenness were all real problems in Jesus' day.
There were many things for Jesus to be outraged against. He had many causes to fight against where he could have formed a revolutionary coalition and fought. So, according to the scriptures, who or what did Jesus wage his battle against? What singular problem did he fight? That is a tough question because he was angry a number of times: He was mad at the Pharisees when they would use the Sabbath not to bless but to trap him. He was mad at the money-changers who used the temple to make money. He was mad at Peter when he rebuked Jesus.
But his anger toward people was momentary. He didn't wage any long term battles against systems and specific groups of people. It is easy to say he was against the Jewish leaders, but he also reached out to many Scribes and Pharisees as well. Paul and Nicodemus to name a few. He loved money-changers and tax collectors; one named Matthew became his disciple. And even though he was angry at Peter, he eventually became the main leader of the early church. So it was never people Jesus waged war against, nor was it a system of government or systemic tyranny - - he hated something deeper and much more threatning.
Listen to a conversation he had in the book of Matthew when he was discussing religious tradition and the washing of hands. In chapter 15:19-20 Jesus discusses the main battle-front:
"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man."
We can get caught up in so many things outside ourselves to fight. It is easy to be a crusader against groups of people, or systems of power and political platforms. But we will wear ourselves out if that is all we focus on. Yes, we need to voice our opinion when we see clear-cut corruption and oppression. We need to fight systemic evil when we can do something about it, but that isn't the world's main problem.
It is much more simple and darker than that: It is purifying your own heart of sin.
This is where the battle must begin. This is the fight I must wage! I love the story where the London Times put out a question to their readers: "What is wrong with the world?" And G. K. Chesterton the famous British novelist and Christian wrong back...
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
I guess as a pastor, I am tired of hearing everyone blaming everything but themselves. If I begin working on me, my world might begin to change. Little by little, piece by piece. Sure I can be mad at Obama, but can't I also be mad at my unwillingness to pray for him which scripture commands me to do? Sure I can have fury toward Bruce Jenner, but isn't he is confused and lost and needing my prayers.
All I am saying is that it is much easier to point the finger of blame than to curb my own lust, anger, sloth and slander.
I need to fight me,
I am the battle.
"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died."
2 Corinthians 5:14
"Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the bravest one of all?" How would you answer that if you were the talking mirror?
There are a lot of brave people in the world: skydivers, tight-rope walkers, rugby players and jewel thieves. The soldier who gets wounded in battle is to be praised, songs of his courage are to be sung, the man or woman in uniform has become America's unanimous choice for our modern day's hero.
Well, what about your average mom and dad? The regular person sacrificing their lives and fortunes for the success of their children? Changing diapers when no one is there applauding your labor is a lonely road to walk. Going to work just to make enough money to keep the cupboards full can be a tedious bore - - but still a valiant commission none the less.
How about the teachers who are working in rough schools, police officers walking the mean streets, and fire-fighters standing amidst the flames of a raging fire? Talk about courage! And of course you must include lion tamers and sword-swallowers. Bravery comes in all shapes and forms.
Let me offer one more big hearted pioneer that is often forgotten; a person who must have a unique form of daring that few people ever fully embrace. My choice is the artist.
"Huh? How can an artist be considered brave? All he does is stand in front of a canvas, putting a dash or color here, or a swoosh of oil paint there? Seems pretty tame to me." Follow my train of thought for a second and hopefully you will see the point I am driving at.
The real artist, the one who moves hearts and enriches lives, is the one who has the guts to put his very soul down on the canvas. I am speaking of the artist who creates something out of nothing in order to communicate who they are or what they believe, because they must. It is scary to display a piece of who you are on a large canvas, or place your deepest thoughts down on a written page for all the world to see. What if the world doesn't like you? What if they think your work is lousy, or worse, offensive? What if they don't understand?
It takes great risk to give of yourself to those who may reject you.
But without the courage of the artist, the world would lose it's beauty and often it's meaning. If the artist left the canvas blank in order to protect himself; and out of fear they decided to stay safe in the comfort of his own home, keeping his works and ideas to himself, humanity would lose a part of it's shared importance and expressed value. If the musician didn't write the melody, the writer didn't pen the novel, the preacher didn't wrestle with the sermon, "More's the pity!"
The best of artists bleed - - pouring out his life, who he is, what he believes, how he sees a better world - - in order to breath life into others.
What if Jesus out of fear of rejection decided not give his blood? What if Paul for the sake of personal comfort chose not to write the letters that are found in the New Testament? What if Martin Luther, the great reformer, chose not to nail his 95 thesis on the door of Wittenberg? All of these people were artists in their own way, they each had something to express, blood to bleed.
In the comfort of our current American life, people now only bleed if they can make a sure profit. If they won't be embarrassed or will never be misunderstood. In our desire to be liked and accepted we have quit making real art, the kind of picture, paper or statement that cries out to the world to wake up. Most of our canvas' remain blank.
I love this quote by Teddy Roosevelt that sits above my desk:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If God has really placed you here at this time and in this place, that must mean he has something for you to do. It takes real courage to give of yourself to others. It is hard to be honest. And even harder, to create something out of nothing.
Bravery leaves a part of you behind so the world will start to seek true truth. Most people just want to be healthy and happy. That doesn't require the spilling of blood. Have you ever wondered why blood is the color red?
So it will shock. So spill it!
"To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Every summer I try to pick one really good book that I will take my time on, savoring the words, losing myself in the writer's world of make believe. This past summer my chosen adventure was the book "Between Heaven and Hell" by the Christian philosopher and professor Peter Kreeft. It is written as a fictional Socratic dialogue between C. S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. These three men were giants in their day and as God would design it, they all died on November 22, 1963.
Freaky isn't it?
The dialogue has the men discussing philosophical questions as they are imagined meeting immediately after each of them dies on earth. C. S. Lewis champions the Christian worldview, John F. Kennedy is the voice of secular humanism and Huxley the Eastern pantheist. Kreeft presents a fascinating premise as he mixes humor with deeper logical argument as the three men wrangle about what it means to be human and the significance of the person of Jesus Christ.
In the middle of the book they land on a topic that I believe is modern man's main hang-up with Jesus and Christianity. It is the problem of elitism, the ultimate sin to modern, or should I say, post-modern man:
Lewis: "Everyone has some religion, some ultimate. The religion of modern society is egalitarianism, democracy, brotherhood, society itself."
Huxley: "You mean conformity."
Lewis: "Yes. Being accepted. Being popular. Being one of the community. It's radically new ideal in the modern West. . . we still want the same thing - - respect and acceptance by others - but we get it not by being different but by being the same. . . The modern world fears elitism, and elitist claims. . . Love fits the egalitarian religion of the modern world better than faith does, if you mean faith in the God of biblical revelation, not just faith in a vague force of your own imagination, or faith in faith. Nearly everyone admits claims of love, at least in principle if not in practice; but only believers admit the claims of faith."
Huxley: "Now how does this apply to Jesus?"
Lewis: "His claim to divinity is unique, and offensive. So if you can only classify Jesus with other ethical teachers and forget the claim to divinity, your home free with humanitarianism. You can classify Christ with the gurus and Christianity with world religions. You thus remove the odium of distinctiveness, the taint of elitism, the scandal of being right where others are wrong. You satisfy the demands of your god Egalitarianism."
People hate it when other people claim to be right. There is an "odium" or stink to it. Even your 6 year old's soccer team doesn't keep score because no one is allowed to win anymore. That is why people will not accept such bold claims as...
John 14:6 - "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me."
Acts 4:12 - "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
You see Christianity's sin here? Jesus steps on the world stage and we are told that he is it. He is the best. Seems a little arrogant and elitist to the average person's ear. To say that he created the world, and that he will judge every man on judgment day is a bit arrogant, is it not?
Unless....of course...it is the truth?
If something is truly true it can't be sin because the definition of sin is to miss the mark. But if you hit the bulls-eye on the target, it isn't a sin. Jesus never lied, he never talked behind anyone's back, his teaching was brilliant, his enemies couldn't stump him, children flocked to him, and crowd's were in awe of him. Who can even compare?
Mohammed? Seriously? Have you even read the Koran? Most people who defend Islam don't even realize that Mohammed was illiterate. He couldn't read or write, and supposedly he dictated his visions to scribes who wrote down what he said. Maybe that is why his biblical accounts differ from what the actual Bible says? Vishnu? Shiva? How can make believe Hindu gods even compare with the historical person of Jesus?
No one compares to the person who rose from the dead. But people don't like this because that means they may have to do what he says. So instead of listening to his words and following his commands modern man cries foul. "You are not allowed to be better, you must be equal." The god of egalitarianism shuts the mind to belief . . . and the door to heaven.
Later on in the dialogue Lewis says the reason people ultimately don't believe is because we have a disease. John Kennedy asks, "What's the disease?" Lewis responds, "Vincible ignorance or dishonesty. It means deliberately looking away from or changing the truth when it threatens you."
That's it, people don't believe for one reason, THEY SIMPLY DON'T WANT TO!
I wonder, is that your problem?
Summer is over and I am not happy about it.
Just when I was getting use to doing nothing this nasty thing called work came sneaking in on me again. Who decided that it was mandatory that we had to pay our bills in the first place? If it wasn't for all those people demanding payments I probably wouldn't even need to work? Why can't food just be free? Go to the grocery store and eat all I want to my heart's content? But noooo, the mean ole' store manager demands payment. What a bummer.
Most parents I know have experienced that terrible moment when you buy a big red balloon for your child and then they drop it on a sharp object and it pops! "Waahhhhhh, Mommy, my balloon popped! Buy me another one!" They really believed that thin plastic object on a string would last forever. Their little minds wanted something they couldn't have, an everlasting indestructible balloon, but then the sharp point of reality hits it. Pop!
So they cry, and demand reparations from mom and dad.
So do all of us when life doesn't turn out the way we want. When our dream pops, someone needs to pay. It is always somebody's fault. And so the Blame Game begins. Here is how it is played:
(1) You Want Something that you Can Never Really Have
Somehow we have been taught to expect things that are a pipe dream. It's called delusional thinking: Here are some things people really believe....
* Your son's football team will never lose a game, every major college will recruit him, he will go to the NFL and become a Hall-of-Fame player and no one will notice he still could barely bench-press a broomstick.
* Your husband will never argue, always love your cooking, want to watch every rom-com ever made and will never have a big belly.
* Your car will run forever without needing to change the oil, replace the fuel pump and will never get a dent, scratch or rust.
* I will always feel like I did when I was 18
(2) Reality Hits and You are Shocked
Each scenario is like a floating balloon, you believed a lie that was bound to pop.
But adults don't usually cry when this happens, they blame.
(3) You Blame People Who Have Nothing to do with your Problem
Someone always needs to pay: Rotten coaches failed your son, lazy husband is not a leader in the home, stupid mechanics trying to make money off you, dumb doctors don't know how to ever get it right.
The truth is our world is broken. Because Adam and Eve sinned, the curse is real. People will die, you will get old, thorns and thistles will make work hard. And yes, you will have to pay for your food.
A simple key to a happy life: Don't be delusional, and stop the Blame Game. When you do, people might start liking you again.