Archive for September, 2012


Just Plain Rude

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This afternoon I made a routine trip to a local grocery store to pick up a couple of items for my wife. Nothing complicated, just mushrooms and hair spray. Since I didn’t require a shopping cart it didn’t take more than two minutes for me to navigate the two aisles I needed that were busy with the afternoon drive time grab a quick meal and a gallon of milk crowd.

I made my way to the check out lanes, eyeing that elusive short line that would let me pay and hit the exit without breaking my stride. I selected the best option and waited for the person in front of me to pay so I could head home. Lost in no particular thought, my trance was broken by a shrieking woman in the lane to my right.

“Where are your #%&@ peanuts! You told me they were in aisle four, and they are no where to be found. Can’t you people get anything right?! I can’t believe you don’t even know where you keep something as basic as peanuts!”

The cashier was a little taken back by the attack which escalated in volume with each and every punctuation mark. Shoppers across the front of the store buried their eyes in their order, needlessly rearranging their groceries on the conveyer belts before them. Co-workers scanned items with a quicker pace as if their speed would shut the customer up. The cashier, in the meantime, was patient and gracious and spoke calmly to the angry woman. The more she talked, however, the madder the she became, repeating her profanity laden tirade louder than before, demanding a manager. When the manager came he asked what the problem was, and as you can imagine, got an ear full. He told her the peanuts were in aisle four. The woman followed the manager down aisle four, which by the way was marked, in part with a sign, “Snack Nuts.” And within 60 seconds they returned with her nuts from aisle four.

One would think that the woman who couldn’t find the peanuts in aisle four would offer an apology to the cashier she attacked. Or at least some lame excuse about having a bad day at work or how her lousy husband forgot to get the nuts the night before. Instead, she offered the following parting shot. “I can’t believe you people wouldn’t help me find the peanuts. If I had shopped at (your competitor), they would have dropped everything and gone and got them for me. All you did was stand there.” With that, she swiped her plastic money, grabbed her bag, and left, leaving her cart in front of the register as a final act of defiance.

Just plain rude.

I apologized to my cashier and told him that I understood how hard it can be to deal with the public. After I paid for my two items I turned to the cashier who had maintained her poise with dignity and apologized for the woman’s treatment. I took the cart that remained and pushed it to the entrance of the store on my way out the door.

I have to confess that the woman’s rudeness really bothered me. Silently I was thankful that she wasn’t wearing a Christian T-shirt. I didn’t run out to see if her car had a Jesus fish on the bumper, but I hope it didn’t. I hope she wasn’t a believer, because then I could at least have a reasonable expectation and explanation for why she chose to emotionally dismantle another member of our species. All because she couldn’t find the peanuts. And because an employee was simply doing her job.

Unfortunately, we Christians sometimes act the same way. Just plain rude. We may not have full voiced outbursts of rage, but we who are fallen can still lose ourselves in ourselves to such an extent we do and say stupid things. You know what I’m talking about. The big eye roll. The exaggerated heavy sigh. The smirk. The sarcastic comeback. It doesn’t matter, rude is rude, and it needs to be eliminated from our interactions with others. James wrote something about the contradiction of speaking words of blessing and cursing from the same mouth. He basically calls the behavior ridiculous.

As I drove out of the parking lot, I prayed and asked God to protect me from being just plain rude. As I prayed, God reminded me that the behavior of rudeness is rooted in something deeper: pride and arrogance. So I adjusted my prayer accordingly. Just plain rude? That she was. And we can be too when pride and arrogance rears its head in our character.

Categories : Uncategorized
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The Lord is My Satisfaction:: 3

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“I have all that I need” (Psalm 23:1, NLT)

Or, as the KJV states, “I shall not want.” David is not describing desire, as if to say, “I don’t really want anything.” Literally he was saying I am not lacking anything that I need, for those who trust the Shepherd will never lack anything they need.

I recently read that complaining is the new drug of the 21st century. We are prone to complain because we don’t like what we have or where we are in life. We complain because we believe life is unfair and we deserve more. But I don’t think complaining is new to the 21st century. People have complained for thousands of years. Think about the Israelites. Their behavior in their exodus from Egypt was described as “murmuring.”
The Book of Hebrews reflects on the murmuring pilgrims and exclaimed that the murmuring unbelief and lack of trust of the Israelites was the very thing that prevented them from entering God’s rest.

So what does it mean to be content? To be content means to be self contained. It is the heartfelt conviction that what I have in God is greater than what I don’t have in life. It reminds me of the story of the Puritan who sat down to say table grace over a simple mean of bread and water. Lifting his eyes to the sky, he said, “All this and Jesus too?”

We struggle to be content and are prone to complain because we tend to compare ourselves with the Joneses. But in God’s economy, your stuff isn’t yours. As it has been said, there are no hearses pulling U-Haul trailers. We leave it all behind. Your stuff isn’t yours and your stuff isn’t you. We may recognize one another as the man with the nice car or the woman with the beautiful home. But do we really think when we enter heaven that God will recognize us that way?

When we give God our sack of discontent, we don’t lose something, we gain something. What will you gain?
Your marriage? Your children? Your self-respect? Your joy and happiness?

Counselors can comfort you in the storm, but you need a God who can still the storm. Friends can hold your hand at your deathbed, but you need a God who has conquered the grave. Philosophers can debate the meaning of life, but you need a God who can declare the meaning of life. You need a Shepherd.

Categories : Psalm 23
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The Lord is My Satisfaction:: 2

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“The LORD is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1)

David wrote Psalm 23 from his own experience as a shepherd boy on the hillsides of Judea. In this famous opening line, David used the word LORD, the designation for Yahweh, to point to the self-sufficiency of God. It is out of God’s self-sufficiency that He supplies our needs. The word is also personal, “my” shepherd, versus the more distant designation of king or deliverer; or the more impersonal rock or shield. The pronoun is singular, so personal that David doesn’t even mention other sheep.

In Bible times, the shepherd lived with the flock and was everything to the flock. The shepherd was guide, physician, provider and protector. Being a shepherd was the lowest of all work. No one would ever aspire or choose to be a shepherd, yet God has chosen this role for us. (cf. John 10:1-16) If the Lord is my shepherd, I know something about his character and understand something of his ability. Without a doubt, the work of the shepherd was difficult. The “Shepherd’s Creed,” taken from Genesis 31:38-40, gives us an idea of what a shepherd’s job description might look like.

“For twenty years I have been with you, caring for your flocks. In all that time your sheep and goats never miscarried. In all those years I never used a single ram of yours for food. If any were attacked and killed by wild animals, I never showed you the carcass and asked you to reduce the count of your flock. No, I took the loss myself! You made me pay for every stolen animal, whether it was taken in broad daylight or in the dark of night. I worked for you through the scorching heat of the day and through cold and sleepless nights. 41Yes, for twenty years I slaved in your house! I worked for fourteen years earning your two daughters, and then six more years for your flock. And you changed my wages ten times!”

Who is your shepherd? Who do you look to? A friend? A family member? A co-worker? A pastor or counselor? While others play a vital role in our lives, don’t forget that other sheep cannot take the place of the good shepherd.

So what do we know about sheep? Sheep lack a sense of direction. They are not like cats and dogs who can find their way home. They get lost easily. Sheep are also virtually defenseless. They don’t have claws or sharp teeth, neither do they possess speed or an acute sense of smell or hearing. They can’t run and they can’t swim. Sheep can’t even muster a growl! Which makes them timid and easily frightened. By nature they are unclean animals in the sense that they don’t clean themselves. They cannot find their own food source and will eat bad things, wrong things, and poisonous things. Sheep are subject group think and have a strong “herd mentality.” Sheep simply cannot care for themselves. They require more attention and care than any other class of livestock. It is not incidental or accidental that David used the shepherd metaphor to describe God. He’s not just the Shepherd of our lives, we are the sheep of His pasture, resembling in more ways than one the same characteristics of the real ones.

Categories : Psalm 23
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The Lord is My Satisfaction:: 1

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Yesterday I began a new sermon series on the 23rd Psalm. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve never used this text in weekend worship. My use of it has been primarily for funerals and hospital visits. Scholars do not know with certainty when David wrote this Psalm. They are generally agreed that it came late in his life, perhaps during his flight from Jerusalem during Absolam’s rebellion. The words of this timeless Psalm are not merely beautiful thoughts. They are the reflections of one who suffered greatly. In the midst of suffering, David was confident in God’s goodness both in this life and the life to come. The Psalm has universal appeal because suffering is a universal problem. It has been said that the Scriptures were written by people having a hard time to those having a hard time or who are about to have a hard time. The challenge we have is that we are so familiar with it that it is difficult to hear these words with freshness without being blinded by our previous experience with it.

We live in an unpredictable world, an often terrifying world—ever mindful of all the bad things that might happen to us and to those around us. The message of Psalm 23 is not that bad things will never happen. It is that we’ll never have to face them alone and that God can be trusted. Trusting God is like learning to float. The water does its job. All you have to do is relax. Trusting God begins by acknowledging who we are in the eyes of God. We can’t see the shepherd if we don’t see ourselves as sheep.

Categories : Psalm 23
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New Sermon Series: The 23rd Psalm

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This weekend I’m launching a brand new sermon series from a passage that I’ve never used in worship: The 23rd Psalm. As I’ve been working through commentaries and resources, I’ve been learning that Psalm 23 is not just a popular text for the aging or the dying. It is a very contemporary word for those of us who face challenges and problems in today’s culture. Here are my titles for the series:

Sunday, September 23 The Lord is My Satisfaction (Psalm 23:1)

Sunday, September 30 The Lord is My Rest and Renewal (Psalm 23:2-3a)

Sunday, October 7 The Lord is My Guide (Psalm 23:3)

Sunday, October 14 The Lord is My Companion (Psalm 23:4)

Sunday, October 21 The Lord is My Blessing (Psalm 23:5)

Sunday, November 4 The Lord is My Hope (Psalm 23:6)

Categories : Psalm 23
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Perhaps you’ve seen the hubbub in today’s news that Harvard Divinity Professor Karen King has discovered a piece of parchment dated sometime in the second century that claims Jesus was married to a woman named Mary during the time of his incarnation. The parchment, roughly the size of a cell phone, cites Jesus making a reference to his wife.

Since the publication of this “discovery,” scholars around the world have stepped up to the microphone to either support the discovery or to disavow it as fraudulent.

Let me make a few, brief observations as an everyday pastor serving a congregation in the midwest. First, the Bible we carry and open on our laps is not the product of a given manuscript. It is the product of literally thousands and thousands of manuscripts that have been collected and verified by scholars over the course of hundreds of years. So if we have one cell phone size fragment from a manuscript that quotes Jesus referencing a wife, we have hundreds that would argue the opposite. The debate is not “my parchment is better than yours.” The argument out of Harvard is “my parchment is better than the nearly 7,000 Greek manuscripts you possess.” This is the argument from sheer volume. The Bible in your lap is reliable. It’s stood the test of time. Roll with it.

The second thing I would offer is that the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture itself. Every sentence in the Bible fits with all of the rest. We all face the temptation to take pet verses and build entire theologies around them. This practice is called “proof-texting.” We don’t get the privilege of picking and choosing the verses we like and kicking to the curb the verses we don’t. The Bible has 66 unique voices that relate the story of God to us. We traditionally call these voices the “books” of the Bible. But don’t forget that the Bible is a unified document which is best appreciated and interpreted when treated as a whole unit.

Finally, don’t let claims like this make you afraid of scholarship. Personally, I’m thankful that there are people who have devoted their lives to furthering the study of Scripture. We don’t know it all, in part because we are finite in our capacity, but also because the Bible is simply that rich of a resource. Every day new discoveries are being made in archeology. Every day new papers are being published and books are being composed. We don’t know it all. Don’t let that fact make you afraid of something new. Let that fact make you a better Bible student. At the same time, you have a responsibility to be discerning. So don’t swallow everything that comes down the stream.

Categories : Bible
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Last Wednesday night I was invited to speak at the weekly gathering of InterVarsity on the campus of Drake University. Whenever I do that, I am usually assigned a teaching topic, and my assignment for that evening was to talk about how to build your spiritual life. As I thought and prayed about this, I was led to Jesus closing words in the Sermon on the Mount. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat agains the house, it will collapse with a mighty crash” (Matthew 7:24-27, NLT). Here are the three observations I made about Jesus’ words.

First, the depth of your foundation will determine the size of your structure. The Petronis Towers in Malaysia stand some 1,483 feet high in the air. At the same time, the foundation of the Petronis Towers plummet 394 feet beneath the surface. Foundations are largely unseen to the eye. Jesus point here is that sand is shallow, but bedrock is deep. You have to go deeper in order to go higher. If you’ll take care of the depth of your life, God will take care of the height and breadth of your life.

Second, building your life on Jesus involves building your life with Jesus. Jesus’ invitation includes listening and following. Those are the words of relationship, not the words of indifferent, rote obedience. Following Jesus means being with him in order to become like him.

Finally, building your life with Jesus does not make you exempt from adversity. The similarity between Jesus’ two examples is striking. Whether the person chooses to listen and follow or chooses to hear and reject is immaterial to the fact that storms will come. If you build your life with Jesus, you’re not exempt from storms. You’re empowered to remain standing regardless of what life throws at you.

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Put it into Practice:: 2

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Our Christian practice involves expressing love within the community of faith. The remainder of Romans 12 tells us that we must also extend love beyond the community of faith…to those outside the walls of our facilities.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good
(Romans 12:14-21, NLT).

When I read these verses, part of me wishes they weren’t in the Bible! The content seems difficult, unreasonable, nonsensical, and unexpected. Do our enemies really deserve our love and concern? Part of the issue is that when we read the word “enemies” we think of those who oppose us and seek to do harm to us. But in the first century, everyone outside the community was a potential enemy. For the first century church, loving enemies was their evangelism strategy.

Jesus said one of the marks of authentic faith is not our ability to love the lovely and the lovable. The true mark of faith is our willingness and ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. (cf. Matthew 5:43-47) So before we cast a critical eye of evaluation toward those who don’t deserve our love and concern, remember that God is asking us to love others (especially the difficult ones) as he has loved us. Who among us deserves God’s love? Who among us is worthy? In God’s eyes we’re all difficult to love.

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Put it into Practice:: 1

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Last weekend I finished my three week series from Romans chapter 12 titled, Training Camp. Together we learned that the foundational elements of church are worship and equipping for service. The final piece puts it all together in the practice of our faith. The final verses of Romans 12 deal with our Christian practice in two dimensions, the first of which is living our faith within the believing community.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality (Romans 12:9-13, NLT).

As you can see, the remainder of Romans 12 contains the practical applications that flow out of our worship and living. If you were to sum it all up with one word, it would be the word love. Love is the foundation of our salvation, and continues to be the platform by which we live out our salvation. The verses I shared above should be viewed as normative behavior for Christians. Paul’s words are simple and sensible. You might even say that they are somewhat expected. Believers should naturally exhibit this level of compassion and concern for one another. While we may fail from time to time to live these verses to their full intent, we couldn’t argue with Paul’s point. And we couldn’t improve on his suggestions. But what about those outside the believing body? Well, that’s the content of the remaining verses. Check in tomorrow for the other side of the coin.

Categories : Church, Relationships, Romans
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Here’s an interesting article by Bryan Roberts published in Relevant Magazine on maintaining balance as a believer as we approach the Presidential election in November. CHECK THIS OUT!

Categories : Politics, Uncategorized
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