What is The Bible All About and Why Are You a Christian?

What  do you say to someone who isn’t really familiar with the Bible?  How do you communicate what is in your heart and soul about following Jesus?  How do you talk about this without sounding stuck up, condescending, or just dumb?  Well, I’m not sure I’m going to avoid any of those, but I’m going to give it a shot.  Here goes.

What Does Being a Christian Mean to Me?

What is the Bible All About?

There’s this story about this kid.  He escaped from a WWII work camp in Eastern Europe, and just wanted to find his mom.  So, he made this incredible journey across Europe.  Such bravery.  Such spirit.  And, he found her.  But, you know that’s not our story.

Here’s another story.  This girl gets held captive by terrorists.  Goes on for years.   And, she’s awaiting her death sentence.  Turns out all this time her father has been searching for her, and one day her rich brother shows up.  He’s going to pay the ransom, and the ransom is his life.  He’ll take his sister’s place.   So, the girl is rescued.

That’s more our story.  The world is messed up.   Cancer.  Corruption.  Death.  It’s there.  Our story is that God came into this messed up world.  He came for us.

Jesus died and arose to rescue the world.  To set it right. To beat death.  And, he did.  He arose.

So, we’re blessed, even if we suffer, even if we cry sometimes, because we know that his reign is coming.  It’s a reign of love and truth.  And, so we shine.  We do all we can to show the truth of the world, this powerful love.

And, we do crazy things like loving our enemies.  We do unheard of things like being pure in heart and mind.  Why?  Because there’s this truth that we’re living out.   It’s the reign of the real King of the world.

So, we don’t do our religion just for show.  Yeah, we go to worship, but it’s not to be in the social club.  Yeah, we pray, but it’s not for political brownie points.  It’s because we know this is real, and it’s world changing.   And, we don’t get caught up in materialism, because we know there’s a greater purpose for our lives.  And, we don’t worry, because we know how it all ends and who is in control.

And, we’re not hard on people because we know they are fellow travelers too who are on this journey to truth and love.

We may not be perfect, but we are affected by this powerful love.

So, that’s what I’d try to say to my friends, and that’s the way I try to live.  I don’t do the best job of it from time to time, but that’s why I’m thankful for the grace of God.  Because like we said at the beginning, we don’t earn our way to God.  He paid the ultimate price for us.  He came searching for us.   And, maybe right now, he’s searching for you.

Do You Choose to Follow Jesus?

I love the idea of Jesus dying for me, but I don’t want to suffer and die on a cross.  The pain.  The suffering.  The shame.  I mean he died a public death in front the whole world.  He was executed!  And, that’s about the last thing on the world I’d want to endure.

So, I have a dream.  And, in my dream I die of cardiac arrest, and I go to heaven.  God speaks to me and tells me that I can go back to earth on a special mission.  I’ll be his man.  I’ll be a preacher.   Many will turn to him and be saved!   I’m ready to say, “Here I am, send me”…then, I hear these words.  “If you go back, you will be rejected.  Your friends will turn on you.  You will be preaching in the Middle East.  In the end, they will crucify you and behead you.”  And, in my dream, I pause.  I’m not sure what to say, and then I wake up.

What was my choice going to be?

The Jesus gospel sounds so great until you’re put in the place of giving your all.

I want you to hear what Jesus said (Matthew 13:44-46):

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,  who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Imagine you find a tract of land in Baldwin County, Alabama, that has oil reserves to rival those of Saudi Arabia.  Billion of barrels beneath those mossy oaks.  So, you beg and you borrow.  You have nothing left but the Thrift Store clothes on your back, but you scrape up enough to do it.  You buy that field.    It was the only choice.  It cost you everything.  It cost you nothing.

And, that’s the way it is with following Jesus.  The stakes are high.  The reward is great.  It will cost you everything, and it will cost you nothing.

So, what’s your choice going to be?

What If I Don’t Like Church?

I know people who believe in Jesus but aren’t plugged in to a local church.  They’re just not into it.

They like Jesus, but not church.

I love the church, and it bothers me that people would like Christ…but not the body of Christ.  Don’t the two go together?

Well, what if that’s the problem.  What if the church has become something other than what God intended it to be?  What if it has morphed into a something very different than how it started out.

Well, what if they could go back and see it in its infancy?  What if they could see it as it started out, and see what God intended for it to be?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could show them that?

Well, it turns out you can.

Scripture

Luke was a doctor who wrote…wait for it…the Gospel of…Luke.  But, he also wrote a book we know as the Acts of the Apostles, or Acts for short.  It turns out these are really one big book.  Acts picks up where Luke stops.  Luke is about the life of Jesus.  Acts is about the  early church.  When you read these two books together, a pattern emerges:

What Jesus does, the early church does.

Jesus fed the poor.  The early church fed the poor.

Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God.  The early church proclaimed the kingdom.

And, on and on we could go.

The early church mirrored the life of Jesus.  His life formed their life, personally and communally.

So much so, that outsiders even called them by his name…they called them “Christ followers” or “Christians.”

So, here’s the challenge:

Go back and read the Acts of the Apostles (right after you’ve finished with Luke).  And, then ask yourself…what was this group called “The Way” all about?

Did they carry out Jesus’ mission of love and compassion?

Did they embody his message of resurrection and new life?

Did they bring about a revolutionary change in the world?

The Way

So, if you’re reading this and you’re one of those people that isn’t plugged in to a local church, then I’m not here to judge you, but I want to ask you this.  What if you could be a part of revolutionary group like you read about in Acts?  What if you could find a group like that?

Well, then I challenge you to look for that group in your community.  Look for a group that looks like Jesus.

And, if there’s not one…why don’t you form one?

Well, now if you’re reading this and you are a part of a church, then let me challenge you.  Is your church a lot like what you read about in Acts?  Is it a lot like what you read about in Luke?  If not, then I challenge you to look back to the reason we’re doing all of this.  Look back to Jesus, and focus on him.  And, see just how much like him we can become.  Because, guess what…he’s what it’s all about.

What If I Don’t Like God?

I’m convinced people haven’t stopped believing in God.  They’ve stopped liking him.  And, in some ways, I get where they’re coming from.  They’ve been sold this bill of goods that life is going to be just the way they want it.  That if they believe in God and pray, then he’ll give them a 4 bedroom house, the best spouse in town, and a white picket fence.

So, according to this messed up theology…if you’re following in faith…and God hasn’t blessed you…then you just wait a little longer…and then….you’ll be rich.

Well, what if you don’t ever get rich?

What if instead, you get cancer?

What if your wife leaves you and your dog dies?

I mean, seriously, what do you do then?

Well, some people decide…I just don’t like God that much anymore.

So, what do you do with that person?

I mean, a thorough schooling in the Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn’t really help a lot.  A comprehensive treatise on the atonement doesn’t really cut it.

So, what do you give them?

You give them Jesus.  You show them Jesus in your life.  You point them to the Messiah.  And, he’s not an argument.  He’s not an academic subject.  He’s real.  He’s faithful.

And, you know what?  He could call fishermen.  They liked him.  He could call tax collectors.  They liked him.  He could call drunkards and prostitutes.  They liked him.  And, little children…they really liked him.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re struggling with this whole business of do I even like God…then take a look at Jesus.  Get out the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and read them over and over.  If you’re not that impressed with church folks, maybe you shouldn’t be.  But, give Jesus a chance.  I think you’ll like him.

And, if you’re reading this, and you’re a Christian that’s struggling to help a friend or family member that is wrestling with God, then I challenge you to point them to Jesus.  He’s where it’s at.

And, you might not even know you’re struggling with this…but if you don’t get emotional at communion, if you don’t get excited about worship, and if you don’t long to steal away in prayer…then you know what…you might not really like God as much as you’d like to think.

So, I challenge you, too.  Open up the gospels.  Take a fresh look at Jesus.  You might just like him.

Crazy

I could be crazy…possibly.

You think about it.  Millions of people every Sunday gather to talk to someone you can’t see.  They talk about how good he is.  They sing songs to him. They encourage one another to serve him.

I’m reminded of the Cee Lo Green song….I might be crazy…possibly.

Maybe I am crazy for doing it.

But, if I’m crazy for worshipping, I’m also crazy for having the hope I have.  I’m crazy for having the purpose I have, and I’m crazy for having the love and joy I have.  Yep, I guess I’m crazy.

Have you ever seen anyone who was in love?  Crazy.

Have you ever seen anyone who made heroic sacrifice for love of country?  Crazy.

Have you ever known someone who risked their life to save another?  Crazy.

Well, I happen to know someone who did that.  He’s the maker and sustainer, but he was also suspended on an instrument of execution.  He is the King of Kings, but he once was the spectacle of all.  But, I believe something.  Not only did he die, but he also arose.

And, you know what the most sane response to that is?

In light of the resurrection, do you know what makes sense?

Worship.

It’s our world view.

This One Thing I Do

Tonight Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in the last presidential debate before the November election.  I could post a million reasons why you should vote for one candidate over the other.  I could write about why you shouldn’t vote for either one.

But, I won’t.

I want to give you a challenge.  I want to see just how good you are at paying attention.

So, the challenge is – “Count how many times players wearing white pass the ball.”

After watching this video, did you see the gorilla?  You see, about half the people get so busy watching the basketball, so focused on the moving target…that they miss the gorilla that walks right through the frame.  And, if you’re looking for the gorilla, you miss other things…like the changing of the color of the curtain, or that a player exits the game.

If you really focus on something…you might just miss other things.

So, we are as a nation quite focused on the national election.   I have to ask myself, did I miss something?    Did we miss something?

There’s a passage that comes to mind.  It’s literally a heaven or a hell passage:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

When I read these words from Matthew 25, I have to wonder, am I seeing Jesus in my everyday life?  Or, am I so focused on things like a national election that I’ve missed the most important.

Have I seen Jesus in the eyes of a needy child?

Have I recognized Jesus in the voice of my coworker who needs encouragement?

Have I truly embraced the presence of the living God in the outcries of the man who showed up at church simply looking for a job?

I challenge you to open your eyes.  See the invisible people.  See the invisible God.  He’s right here all along.

And, when you do, you can know that the most exciting thing that’s happening is that God’s reign is breaking out in this world.  His will is being done.  His kingdom is being born into this world.

And, while there may be a debate on tonight…it doesn’t represent the most important choice in our world.  The choice you must make is to open your eyes to the divine presence that’s breaking forth.

Will you be a part of that kingdom, of that life?

Profile image by Krassotkin (derivative), Gage Skidmore (Donald Trump), Gage Skidmore (Hillary Clinton) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I Am David

Like Leonard Cohen, I’ve been pretty curious about that secret chord that David played that pleased the Lord.  I wanted to know what it was that was so special about David.  What was it that made him a man after God’s own heart.

How could I be like David? How could I be…special?

David was special, right?  Killed a giant.  Wrote the Psalms.  War hero.  Legendary king.

He was a hero, but he was also a zero.  Think about it.  In one turn of events, he broke eight of the ten commandments.  Adultery.  Murder.  Pretty low if you ask me.

But, then I hear the words of the Psalms.  I heard a heart that is longing for God.  I heart a heart that is alive and on fire.  And, I know.  David is me.  David is you.

You see, David is the anointed.  He’s the chosen one.  In the New Testament, we read of how we can all be sons of God.  We can be like Jesus.  We can have a heart like his.   We can be anointed.

Read Romans 8.

How do we live the Christian life?  By the Spirit.  We have an anointing from God.  We are the chosen people.  We are the blessed people.  We are David.   I am David.   You are David.  You’re his seed.  You’re his promise.  Why?  Because you are the body of Christ.

So, what does that mean?  What are we to do?

Live with your heart on fire for God, alive in the Spirit, and always living in the reality that God is alive and he’s all we need.

That’s what David did.  He found God in the tough times and in the sad times and in the plentiful times and in the good times.  He found him on the mountain and he found him in the valley.

So, we can know that God is with us, and we can say with David, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.”  His rod and his staff guide us.  He prepares us a table in the presence of our enemies.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Amen.

 

 

Never Forget: 9/11

When Welles Crowther went to work that day, he didn’t know it would be his last.  He was a Wall Street equities trader, but he was also a volunteer fireman.  His training kicked in on on that fateful day in September when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower.    He was a hero.

When I think of what he did to save countless people, I’m reminded of the words of Jesus.  In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, he said, “You are the light of the world.”  He went on to explain that we shouldn’t hide our lights.   Welles Crowther didn’t hide his light.  He used his talent and training and passion to save lives.  He let his light shine.  We should, too.  We might not save people from a burning building, but we can let our light shine by using our talents and skills to help people in whatever way we can.  And, when we do, we can give the honor to God!

Welles selfless service gave life.  Jesus also said,  “You are the salt of the earth.”  Then, he goes on to say that we should be “salty.”  Salt is something that was used at that time to preserve food.  It literally kept people alive.  Welles wasn’t afraid to be “salty,” to be different.  He used his training to lead people to safety.  He didn’t just stand around and try to fit in.  He was different.  And, by being different, he saved lives.  We are called to do that, too.  We should be different, we should be special, and we should go ahead and be the salt of the earth that keeps the earth going by preserving life.

Welles went back in the towers multiple times.  He kept going back in to the point that he was there when the towers fell.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice.  His own life.  Now, Jesus calls us to do something more than just have a superficial commitment to being right.  He calls us to deep, inner commitment.  He says that we should be more righteous than the religious leaders of the day in the first century, the Pharisees.  We should have the kind of righteousness that cuts to the core.  Now, Jesus modeled that kind of living…by giving his life.  Just, like Welles, Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, and he calls us to go beyond list-checking religion to the point that we become self-sacrificing servants.

For some reason today, when I thought of Welles, his story reminded me of Jesus and his message in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount.  A message about light, life, and deep self-sacrificing righteousness.  And, if we become those things, then people will never forget.  Just think…years later, we’re still talking about Welles.

2000 years later, and we’re still talking about another one who gave his life for us.

Absalom: Hair to Die For (II Samuel 13-19)

You remember Fabio, don’t you?  He donned the covers of romance novels for years.  You may remember him from the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercials.  He is the male model with the long flowing hair.

Turns out there’s an ancient Semitic Fabio.  He name is Absalom.

 Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot. 26 He cut his hair only once a year, and then only because it was so heavy. When he weighed it out, it came to five pounds,” Samuel 14:26 NLT.

Locks of Love hit their jackpot every year with him.

Women fawned over him.

Men wanted to be him.

And, he didn’t get what he wanted.  Might have been the first time.   You see he wanted revenge and justice.  You see, he had a beautiful sister, Tamar.  In fact, she was so beautiful that her half-brother Amnon went crazy for her.  I think he may have been a little touched to start with.  Well, he forced himself on Tamar, and then he disgraced her by refusing to marry her.  Well, Mr. Male Model Prince Absalom wanted his father King David to handle this situation.  David did nothing.  A good looking young prince was used to getting what he wanted, so he took matters into his own hands and waited his time until he could kill Amnon.  He got what he wanted.

Pride.  It’s something we celebrate nowadays.  There’s all sorts of pride.  We even have pride parades.  It might surprise you to know that the Bible doesn’t speak of pride as good thing.

“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.,” I John 2:16.

Pride is saying that you’re more important than others.  That your will overrides God’s will.  Absalom had that kind of pride.  He took his brother’s life and it wasn’t Absalom’s place to do it.

After Mr. Jewish Fabio killed his brother, he left Jerusalem for a couple of years.  Finally, Joab helped him make his way back to town, and finally into the court of the King.

Then, Absalom set in play a four year plan to take over the kingdom.  The beautiful man started courting all Israel.  He stole their hearts with his appearance and words.  And, he rose against his father.

Through a turn of events that we could only describe as a “God thing,” Absalom spurned good military counsel and took the one that lead to his demise.  In fact, it lead to him being caught in a tree.  Guess what caught him.  Guess what lead to his death.  It was all those beautiful locks of hair.

His pride was his hair.  His pride was his death trap.

I wonder how many times the same can be said of us?

Well, what’s the secret to this?  How do we get out of this death trap?

Well, we accept the Word of God.  It tells us that we are beloved.  You see, the Son of God went to the tree so we don’t have to.

We can all be members of his royal family…but doing so involves humble service.  Like our humble King, we take up our crosses and even die for him, and we rise to glory in his kingdom.

Our baptism is a death.  It’s a burial.  It’s a resurrection.  You want to see the Christian life…look at the waters of baptism.  You submit to it.  You receive it.  And, God blesses you as you humble yourself in his sight.  He lifts you up to new life.

Like David, even when we sin, we turn to him in repentance and in mercy and grace he forgives.  We keep going and serving even through the heartbreak.  We will sing to him and serve him in humility.

And, you know what?

He raises us up.

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Are (I Samuel 7)

The alarm sounded.  I was up at 2:30 AM!  Wow!  My folks even gave me a phone call.  I was ready.  Showered, drove to the church.  Met the Nicaragua mission team at the Central Church of Christ, and off we went.  Got to Birmingham, and it happened.  We boarded the plane.  Seated and ready for takeoff, we hear this announcement, “We’re having some technical difficulties with the fire protection in the luggage compartment.  Let’s go ahead and deplane and we’ll call the mechanic.”  It turns out the mechanic was not found, and we didn’t get to fly to Managua, Nicaragua, that day.  So, we headed back to Tuscaloosa.  Never been to Sunday church in shorts before.

Next day.  The alarm sounds!  I am up at 2:30 AM!  My folks call me (again).  Showered and ready, I meet Bill Rayburn at the Central Church of Christ building and we head to Birmingham.  Turns out it’s the same flight, same time, with American.  And, it turns out that problem had not been fixed, and our flight was cancelled.

Cancelled!

There was more than one honeymoon that was delayed.  One lady was bringing all the preparation for a beautiful wedding in Jamaica.  Another was just headed to her work.  We were missing important mission work.  We were all frustrated.

It had been quite the hassle.  Two days of waking up before the crack of dawn.  Two trips to Birmingham.  Hours of haggling with American Airlines agents.  Lines.  Did I mention lines.  I may or may not have lost my cool a time or two the first day.  I definitely got riled up the second.  I mean…why didn’t they fix the plane?

We rebooked through United and finally made our way down there that night.

Whew!  We got to where we wanted to be!  What a relief.  I had recently been told that I needed to work on my patience.   Got in some really good training there.

When we finally made it to the Managua Best Western and began our work with the churches here,  we were ecstatic.   We were where we wanted to be.  We were where we saw God as moving us in his mission.  We were going to minister to hundreds of children and carry out all the work we had done to give them a memorable and effective week of VBS.

Have you ever gotten where you want to be in life?

Somewhere you’ve worked for?  Maybe it was years in college.  Maybe it was years of courting that beautiful girl.  Maybe it was hours or practice.  Maybe it was hard work and dedication and perseverance that finally paid off.

Well, David could relate to that.

Think of all he went through.  He was anointed by Samuel as a young guy.  He was told he would be king.  But, he wasn’t yet.  He faced a giant.  He put up with the madness of a jealous king.  He wandered in the wilderness.  He hid in caves.  He fought in battles.  His family was taken from him (but he rescued them).  He saw the death of his best friend Jonathan.  And, through it all he persevered and kept standing in that line, waiting for God to do what he believe God has promised.  He waited to see the goodness of the Lord.  And, there it was.  He was crowned king.

He had gotten all he wanted.  All he had waited for.

Or, did he?

What did David really want?

Did he want to be in a particular place?  Did he really want the palace more than anything else?

Well, it turns out, not really.  He didn’t want a place for himself so much as he wanted a place for God.

In II Samuel 7, we read that the newly crowned King David wants something from God.  He wants to build him a palace.  He wants to build a temple in which to place the ark of the covenant.  He wants to make God great in the eyes of the people.  He wants a place for Him!

Think about that.  When you get to the place you want to be, is that really the place you want to be?

Yogi Berra wasn’t too far off when he say, “Wherever you are, there you’ll be!”

Here’s the thing.  David didn’t really want a geographic place for himself.  He didn’t really want a status nor a throne.  Do you know where David really wanted to be?

We don’t have to wonder.  He told us in Psalm 27:4,

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.”

In the words of the song, David just wanted to be where God is.  He didn’t want a throne if God wasn’t there.  He didn’t want a pasture if God wasn’t there.  And, I can tell you this, David would have been happy to wait in line at the American Airlines counter if he knew God was there.

Now, I have to tell you, sometimes I get caught up in my location and status.  I want to be where I want to be when I want to be there.  How about you?  Do you admire those patient prayer warriors who seem to always be content with their situation?  I do.  I seem to have spiritual ADD.  I forget so many times and get distracted from this primary fact that I want to share with you.

God is here.

He’s here in Managua in the hearts of the servants serving children.  He’s here in the hotel.  He’s even at the airport at the counter.  Why?

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” I Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that at the airport, you are the presence of God there?

Do you not know that at the restaurant, God is with you?

Do you not know that late at night and early in the morning and all through your day, you have something that is so precious and so special that it made a king beg.  What is it?

God’s temple is here.  You are it.

Sometimes we get so frustrated with the world.  Well, that’s ok.  There are frustrating things.  But, we are God’s presence renovating it.  We are God’s hands touching it.  We are God’s feet going to help.  We are God’s mind thinking the thoughts that transform that world.  And, when we realize that, we can know that we have the very thing we’ve wanted all along.  The only thing that will satisfy.

David said that “a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside,” Psalm 84:10.  I can say a day WITH GOD even if it’s haggling with airlines is better than a thousand WITHOUT him.

Why?

“In his presence is fullness of joy”, Psalm 16:11.

Let’s be the temple.  Let’s be the presence of God in the world.