Monday, October 22, 2007

Change, from the hand of the Lord

Since I last posted here, my little world changed dramatically. On July 17, my senior pastor (I was the associate) suddenly left this world and entered the church triumphant. I was instantly catapulted into being the only pastor for a shocked and grieving congregation, not to mention his family. God supplied and I now have a new appreciation for what it means to do things in the power of the Spirit. As we progressed through the weeks that followed, I was humbled and honored by the congregation which allowed me to serve as the "acting" pastor and ultimately called me to become the pastor. This has been amazing in so many ways. God has provided; God has equipped; God has challenged; God has protected; God has called; God has answered.

I do not mean to say that we understand what God has allowed/is doing in our midst. But I do believe we have helped one another to stay close to Him while we do not understand. And it seems like we are open to being led in the next chapter of our life together. I always wondered how, if I were to serve as "the" pastor of a congregation, that might ever happen. I certainly never imagined it coming in this way. God has surprises for all of us; may we hold on tight to him as we walk/plunge!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tagged about Jesus

OK, I'm not quite certain how this works, but I got "tagged" into this entry! The assigned topic is "5 Things I Dig About Jesus."
1. Jesus reveals that God is not about rules but a sincere, other-centered love that doesn't want to slam people but rescue them.
2. Jesus knew when he was tired - and he also knew when to put that on hold (two things I struggle with!)
3. Jesus had a "yes" face - this refers to a sermon illustration which I won't relate, but you get the picture. So why does the church so often have a "no" face?
4. JESUS APPARENTLY TOOK THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN AS A MATTER OF OBVIOUS FACT. (Equal in God's sight; equally sinful, equally in need of a Savior, equally able in the church by the power of the Spirit)
5. Jesus knew the dangers but didn't let fear rule him (another one of those things I struggle with!)


Monday, May 07, 2007

Whose problem is lust?

Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:27-28)

So Jesus has a pretty high standard for keeping our hearts on the straight and narrow. He doesn't mean that a man can't notice a woman's beauty. He means that dwelling on a woman's (not one's wife's)physical attributes and allowing one's imagination to go wild about what he might do with her, is deadly sin. He understands the struggle we all have with lust, and particularly that men have with visual stimulation, and he doesn't make excuses -- to entertain the thought is like doing it. Guard your heart! Discipline your thoughts, because the road goes to destruction.

But notice what advice Jesus gives:

"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matt 5:29-30)

It isn't that Jesus wants us to practice self-mutilation; this is hyperbole designed to get us to see how serious entertaining sin is. Jesus instructs us that we need to know where our weaknesses are and discipline ourselves to avoid falling into sin -- the Holy Spirit and we ourselves are the ones who know those weak points, and we are responsible to God for them. And we ought to understand that it is so serious, it is worth the pain that restraining ourselves costs us.

But, notice what Jesus does NOT say: he doesn't say, 'therefore, closet your women away so that no one may look at them.' Nor does he say, 'so caution women always to wear long robes so as not to inflame men.' Nor does he say, 'so avoid being with women, so that you can never be tempted.' Jesus instructs the one who struggles with lust to struggle with themselves, not to put boundaries on others.

Why? Because lust (as with all sin) is a problem of the heart, not any other organ. If a person is entertaining lust, that person can be just as easily inflamed by the shape of a woman though a robe, or even just the memory of a woman if he has managed to stay away from them. Lust will find a way into his heart if he is open to it. Corralling women won't solve his problem; what he needs is a makeover of his heart.

In the same way, a woman's sin enslaves her heart - and if it is not lust, perhaps it is gossip or hatred of a neighbor. The sin resides in her heart even if she does not have a phone or lives on an island -- it is the sin that needs to be dealt with, not what others do.

When we locate our sin problem with what someone else is doing, we demonize them, as has happened to women over the ages (read some of the early church fathers on Eve!). It is tempting then to turn them into the problem, without ever dealing with the problem in our hearts.

When we locate our sin problem in someone else, then if they don't do what we think they should do, we give ourselves freedom to sin. In some cultures, then, it becomes logical that an uncovered woman is an invitation to rape -- her lack of covering translates into an invitation. The sin is not the lustful man's; it became the responsibility of the woman to restrain his behavior.

It isn't that Jesus condones women being immodest or in other ways making life difficult for visually-stimulated men. Jesus calls all of us to holiness and there is no defense for failing to "love one another" by flagrantly inviting men, by what we wear, to lust. But Jesus locates the problem of lust, as with all sin, in the heart of the sinner. He both pins responsibility for our own sin to each of us (and then invites us to himself so he might bear it on the cross) and frees us from the impossibility of keeping others from sinning when they would rather make us responsible.

Now, I don't mean to make light of the struggle this issue is for men who wish to be holy, to keep their hearts pure and their marriage vows intact. I do know how assaulted they feel on every front, particularly with Internet porn so hard to avoid, and with soft-porn billboards everywhere on city streets and the back covers of magazines. But I am surprised, as I read this scripture today, that Jesus avoided placing the solution on the backs of women, even though culture (particularly church culture!) almost always goes there. Why do we place the responsibility for keeping teen guys from lusting, on what the girls wear in the pool?

Now, wait -- I'm not blind. I get it that the girls also need to taught to have mercy on their brothers in the Lord. They need to be honestly confronted on what invitation they mean to send, and whether that is holy in the sight of the Lord. But that's a lot harder than issuing a rule that the girls all have to cover up, and leaving it at that. Those who make such rules don't think about what unconscious untruths they are telling the girls about how God feels about their bodies (or the boys, about where God thinks the responsibility for the sin of lust lies). May we be more careful in the way we think and talk about this subject, that we remember that our problem is slavery to sin, and that the solution lies in freedom from sin, not in enslaving anyone else.

Jesus loves me, this I know - he knows the pitfalls for all of us, and lifts each of us up. May we fall further in love with Him.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Giving Up" or "Taking Up" for Lent?

So here’s a thought….

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – next week (Feb. 21)! Lent started out as a period of preparation for baptism for new Christians, 40 days (not counting Sundays) of fasting and examination of life, in order to get ready for the “new birth.” In time, the rest of the church joined new believers in the practice, as a way for each Christian to examine him- or herself to get ready to walk with Jesus to the Cross, and to join Him in the great celebration of Life conquering Death at Easter.

Lent has often been about “giving up” something – either in a good way, such as giving up TV or chocolate in order to examine how much something like that has a hold on our lives, or in a bad say, such as giving up TV or chocolate in order to impress God (or others) with how holy we are. “Giving up something” can be a positive, growing experience, a way to make space in our lives to hear God.

Another way to observe Lent has been to “take up” a new “others-oriented” discipline that will lead to a more positive life and a life that is more devoted to God’s purposes. And in this light, we have a new electronic offering: a web site called “Cool People Care” with a daily idea for a good discipline. See the web site at:

They will send you a daily email if you sign up for it, or you can just visit the site yourself if it appeals to you.

Some of the ideas are a little more “political” than others…take them or leave them! But I like the notion of daily reminders to take on a new discipline in Lent, and some very good thought-provokers about ways I could be changing my daily journey to bring “shalom” to my part of the world.

Because we are all infected with sin, whether we give up or take up, we will probably experience both the joy of God's work in our lives, and the shame of discovering new ways of being selfish within our hearts.... Either way, we are better off for having opened up a new part of our lives to the work of God within us. It's easier not to try, I admit. But consider this your wake-up call (and mine as well) to take a chance on God, who loves us and has great plans for making us more like Jesus, more like his image within us! If we don't try, do we run the risk of being more like...the sofa?

Please do consider joining us at Trinity for an Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. (Feb. 21). May God bless your Lenten journey!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for….” Heb. 11:1

The above is the biblical “definition” of faith, the verse that comes to mind when we start to ponder what faith is, anyway. Being sure of what we hope for. Being certain of what we can’t see. Stepping out on a bridge that is invisible, certain that it must be underneath us. (Remember that scene in the Indiana Jones movie?)
In other words, crazy. No, wait....
The writer of the chapter goes on to praise individuals like Noah and Abraham and many more, who all did nutty stuff like build arks because they believed God wanted them to. And time bore out their faith – Noah needed that boat. Abraham did have that many descendants. Hebrews 11 is the “honor roll” of faith, the listing of those whose example can spur us on to more faith ourselves, to add a few more nutty things into our lives because we believe God wants us to.
This morning I see, though, that we miss an important step when we read too quickly over v. 2 – “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was NOT made out of what was VISIBLE.”
This seems to me to be a necessary logical piece that undergirds faith: we believe God because we believe that He essentially made everything that is visible (and rational and provable) out of what was not visible. We usually consider that He creates from nothing, but this verse makes the point that He also created an invisible realm, a whole way of being that exists outside of our senses.
When we struggle with faith, perhaps it’s important to realize that we have a tendency to trust what we sense as being “real” – but that’s faulty. God certainly exists outside of our five senses, and He has the right to create much that we do not sense. We are arrogant if we really think that only what we can discover on our own is what exists.
That understanding makes the actions of the Honor Roll of Faith not so crazy; in fact, they are rational! Having accepted that there is more than meets the eye (or ear or nose – you get the picture), they are better prepared to put their faith in God’s call and direction.
“Without faith,” the author of Hebrews continues, “it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (v. 6)
Perhaps the first step of such faith is to gain humility, considering that what is seen was made by One who is not seen, who lives in a realm we do not see, and that there is so much more we do not yet know. When we are in that frame of mind, we are ready to hear God.