Sunday, January 29, 2012

It'll Get You Every Time

I have often heard Christians speak about "righteous" anger.  This is used to justify getting mad about evil in the world and at its extreme to justify killing a doctor who performs abortions.  The only problem with this "righteous"'s not in the Bible.  People often point to Jesus' cleansing of the Temple and said He was angry when He did that.  I would encourage you to carefully read the passages about clearing the Temple and tell me if the Bible says Jesus was angry.  We actually read anger into it because we think that would be the emotion of the day.  Certainly, Jesus was broken-hearted to see the Temple become nothing more than a market and a place to make money.  However, the Bible never says Jesus ever got angry about it.  

I once did a study by reading every passage in the Bible which spoke about Man's anger versus God's anger.  The findings were eye-opening.  I will not go into details into what I found, but suggest you do the same thing.  It will cause you to reconsider how you look at anger.  There just weren't many examples of mankind's anger being something that God affirmed.  Most of the time, our anger leads to destruction and pain.

Why am I bringing all of this up in this Sip?  Well, last week, there was a fatality on our freeway caused by "Road Rage".  Simply put, two drivers pushed each other until it lead to the death of one driver.  Apparently the driver that was the most angry was the one who was killed in the accident as he pulled in front of the other vehicle and slammed on the brakes.  I have to confess that this was a wake-up call for me.  I don't have the greatest patience when driving and get easily annoyed at drivers who are not paying attention.  I now pause and think about what the other person's reaction may be to my driving.  It's been kind of humbling to do that because I realize I am not the most polite driver on the road.  This is a reminder that we never know what kind of anger someone has boiling up inside of them.

After my study of anger from the Bible, I have concluded that mankind's anger is sin.  Many people disagree with me, but I am hard pressed to find anything good in my own anger regardless of the cause.  However, God knows that we are given to anger.  In Ephesians 4:26, we are reminded to not sin in our anger.  The next line gives us a time frame for our anger:  Get rid of it before the sun goes down.  I guess if we want to be anger for a longer period of time, get angry at the beginning of the day and then we can stay mad all day.  Verse 27 gives the reason for this:  Anger gives the devil a foothold.  ALL anger...righteous and unrighteous.  Any anger allows Satan for feed us lies.  Yet, anger can tell us more about our own spiritual condition than it tells us about the other person.  

So what's up with your anger?  How are you handling it?  Only God can give us cleansing and victory over anger.  We must stop trying to justify our anger and own our anger.  What sin in our lives has caused us to get angry?  What selfish trip are we on this time?  By owning the problem, we can allow God to heal it.  Then we will be refreshed and able to help others feel loved in the same way Christ has loved us.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Comforting Words

For those of you who know me, you know that I joke around with people and enjoy having a good laugh.  I try to refrain from giving someone a hard time until it appears they don't mind.  I also have to be willing laugh at myself when others are joking around with me.  Unfortunately, there have been times when I have taken joking with others a little too far and have hurt people's feelings.  I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but too often my words do not bring comfort.  

Our challenge for 2012 is "Comfort".  Each of you who have taken this challenge now have in your possession a balloon because the Hebrew word used for comfort means "to breathe life into".  Comfort is to bring a breathe of fresh air to someone who is hurting.  My biggest challenge will be to let my words be words of comfort rather than looking for a quick laugh.  This also means that I need to be more proactive in speaking first to someone.  We define that as simply being friendly to others.  Jesus shows us how this should look when He approaches people like...Zaccheus...the Samaritan woman at the well...the call of Matthew...and many other examples.  It is too easy to fall back into a "Greet Those I Know" mode or a "I'm Busy and Focused So I Didn't See You" mode.  So let's take this challenge to our mouths and let our words be words of comfort and encouragement.

Let's look at how the Bible views words of comfort.  Colossians 3:17 tells us to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another".  If the Word of Christ dwells in us, we have the power to bring words of comfort and healing.  Let's not just overlook this by saying, "Well, that's now how God made me".  The truth is that regardless of our former life, God has REMADE us through the power of the Holy Spirit and is constantly remaking us.   Hebrews 10:24 tells us to "Spur one another on towards love and good deeds".  Our words need to spur, encourage and point us to those things which are lasting.  The Church should be the one place where we speak honestly with each other - Sometimes that is comfort, sometimes that is confronting, but always done in love, tenderness and gentleness.  Proverbs 16:24 reminds us, "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones".  And Proverbs 22:11tells us, "He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend".    So not only does God value words of comfort, He empowers us to speak them.

Put yourself in the place of....Billy Cundiff.  He is the field goal kicker for the Baltimore Ravens and he missed an easy field goal which could have sent the AFC championship game into overtime.  How how would you like to him?  You have spent your entire life practicing this craft of kicking field goals.  You have paid the price to excel and with the season and the Super Bowl on the line, you miss the kick and your team loses.  Or how about being...Kyle Williams.  He is the punt returner for the San Francisco 49ers who had the only two turnovers of the game.  The first led to the Giants go ahead touchdown when the defense had stymied the Giants offense.  The second led to the game-winning field goal in overtime.  He had worked his way from the practice squad into becoming a vital part of the 49ers and had now cost his team the NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.  Both of these players are better at their craft than 99.9% of the people in America, but will be ripped by the media and fans of their respective teams.  If you were them, what would you want to hear?

Chances are, this week we will NOT run into Billy Cundiff or Kyle Williams.  But we will run into others who are struggling in their lives.  If we don't speak words of comfort, we may never know how bad they are hurting.  If our conversations are only superficial, we will never make an impact for Christ.  For the members of Hillcrest, you have a reminder of the cookies you took to give away this week.  Let's see if we can allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into speaking words of comfort and life.  Ask Him to help you cause people to breathe again.  May this Sip from the Well motivate you to allow God to rearrange and change the priorities of our speech.  Oh, and if I have been too hard on you, please forgive me and let me know so I won't do it again.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tebow or not Tebow, that is the question

I have watched and listened the past few months as the media creation of "Tebow Mania" had played itself out on the airways.  It has been interesting to listen to the comments of those in the media who are paid to state their opinions about sports.  The media has been unable to stop itself from continuously commenting about this one man on a team sport that is dependent on each player doing his job.  They have singled him out and called the Denver Broncos his Denver Broncos.  They have spent countless hours dissecting one player on a team with a roster of fifty-three players.  I have been fascinated and enjoyed watching the media feeding frenzy and think there are two lessons we can take from their example:

Lesson #1 - Many people in America just don't know what to do with an authentic follower of Christ.  I have never met Tim Tebow and only know what the media reports, but it is obvious that most of these pundits are at a loss to explain why so many people like Tebow and are uncomfortable in understanding who he really is.  They are just unable to handle someone who is polite when he speaks, passionate on the field, a servant off the field and talks about Jesus as normally as they talk about...sports.  Most sports media have no problem with purported Christians like a Deon Sanders, a Dwyane Wade or a Michale Irvin - Men who in the past have claimed to follow Christ, but whose personal lives and attitudes look just like their peers.  They don't mind the jock who acts like a spoiled professional athlete and then wants to praise God every now and then.  Tim Tebow has not been cut from that mold.  He appears genuine in his faith in that he acknowledges his failures but also talks about his beliefs on a deep, dedicated level.  His faith affects how he handles all the media attention.  It has allowed him to work extremely hard to improve as a quarterback and learn from the criticism of his skill.  He doesn't do these things for show - He does them because that is who he is.  Most sports fans are tired of tatted up pros whose police blotter and arrogance are only exceeded by the undeserved millions of their contract.  Sports fans who are not even Christians have found Tim Tebow to be a refreshing change from the daily dose they have gotten from other athletes.  Sports writers and talk show hosts have been unable to categorize and marginalize Tebow, even though they have tried.  His humble faith which impacts every aspect of his life makes the media uncomfortable and unable to process what to do with him.  If you gave me a quantum physics math problem, I would never understand it because it is beyond my comprehension.  Genuine faith affects many in America on the same level.   They are fine with Christians who have the same divorce rate, live together rather than get married, are critical, have quick tempers, have few personal standards, cuss or appear as hypocrites or legalists.  They struggle to categorize a follower of Christ who simply lives out his faith in a humble manner.  One who speaks about the standards of Jesus and then lives then with a heart and attitude that reflects grace and compassion.  If you are a follower of Christ, how do you measure up to this standard?  Lets' follow the example of Tebow and humbly live out our faith in a radical way which honors God without compromising with the latest standard of the world.

Lesson #2 - Pride and ego will always be destructive forces.  When Tebow was available for the NFL draft, all of the "experts" predicted that he would be a bust as a quarterback, suggesting he should be an H back or tight end.  When Denver selected him in the first round, ever sports writer, TV analyst and radio personality lambasted that decision.  His game was picked apart and the Broncos were mocked over the airways for such a nitwit decision.  Two years later when Tebow was given the starting job in Denver, the pundits once again rallied around his flaws and failings.  When the Broncos began an unlikely winning streak, made it to the playoffs and won their first round game, many of these pundits were incredulous.  Their dire predictions of Denver's downfall had been wrong.  So now they went back to explaining how Tebow will never be a success as an NFL quarterback like Manning or Brady, which is true.  Tebow won't be a drop back passer with pin point accuracy.  He never claimed to be.  He is a big, athletic quarterback who puts defenses in tough positions because they have to guard against the run, leaving their defensive back in one-on-one coverage.  The media is the one who picked this fight, now Tebow.  He has always gone about his own business in preparation for the draft and playing in the NFL.  He has listened to the criticisms leveled against him and tried to better prepare himself with this information.  The media has a vested interest in Tebow not succeeding because their reputations are on the line.  A few have grudgingly acknowledged Tebow as a somewhat legitimate quarterback, but most continue to pile on him, looking for every failure to declare the Tim Tebow experiment as terminated, the proverbial nail in the coffin.  It is sad to see the media become so judgmental over something that is new, different and out-of-the box.  Of course, the Pharisees did the same thing with Jesus.  They couldn't pin Him down and were taken aback by how He lived the heart of the Law without abiding by their letter of the Law.  The bottom line lesson this season for me has been to remind myself to not let my ego or pride get in the way.  Rather than looking for a way to find flaws in something that is different and new, maybe I can listen, learn and appreciate something amazing.  How has your ego been lately?  Have you celebrated the downfall of someone rather than offering comfort and support?  Have you struggled to control something or someone rather than giving that person or situation over to the Lord?

Please know that I don't think Tim Tebow is all that and a bag of chips.  He is nothing more than a follower of Christ who has been thrust into the national spotlight because he is a professional athlete.  I hope and pray he will stay true to the course he has started, but I won't be shocked if he falls.  And if he does, I won't throw him under the bus but will pray for him.  The pressures put on professional athletes to live a hedonistic, pleasure-filled existence are great, greater than you or I could probably handle.  Very few professional athletes are able to last faithfully like David Robinson, AC Green or Kurt Warner.  So I pray for Tim Tebow and ask God to strengthen him to follow Christ with all his heart.  But at the end of the day, I am responsible for my life and my testimony.  How will I be remembered when my life is over?  Will I run the race in such a way that others will know Jesus is real because He was real to me?  Is my faith so authentic that others would want to check out Jesus because they see something unmistakably different in me?  So the question really isn't about Tebow, it's about me and about you.  Be refreshed and live an authentic life of following Christ that is radically different from the world in which you live!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Goals were meant to be broken

This morning, I rolled out of bed, had my quiet time and headed off to the gym.  I went to bed a little early last night, so I was able to get up a little early and ended up at 24 Hour Fitness at 5:00 this morning.  At about 5:30, the gym began to fill up with a lot of faces I have never seen before.  Not being quite awake yet, it took me a while to realize that the "Resolution" crowd had just arrived.  These are the folks who set a new year's resolution to exercise, get in shape and lose weight.  So the first few weeks of the year, they are all over it.  They come in fired up, trying out all of the new machines and filling up the gym.  I have a friend who skips coming to the gym for the entire month of January because the "Resolution" crowd can make things a little more hectic and crowded, slowing down his workout and frustrating him.  So as I am working out, I look at the faces and try to determine which faces I may actually see in mid-February.  Usually, of about 50 new faces only 3 to 5 of them will be there a month later.

Why will the number of these new faces decrease at the end of January?  Well, that's about the time the reality of being at the gym at 5:00 begins to hit most folks who have set a new year's resolution to get in shape or lose weight.  They begin to realize that it really is a grind.  The bed gets softer and it's easier to set the alarm back farther and farther, justifying the need to "rest the body".  They also begin to see that the weight isn't coming off as quickly as they thought it would.  Their bodies have also hit the wall and are now aching and sore.  They begin to rationalize that they have lost a little weight, so it's all good.  Or they will wait until the weather warms up.  Or they can work out as easily from home.  Or a multitude of other reasons to blow off going to the gym.  Please, don't think I'm not grateful for these folks.  They keep my monthly dues lower because there is another name for the "Resolution" crowd...PROFIT.  They have paid for two or three years of membership and will only use the membership a few times.  They pay for the gym without using the equipment.

Sound familiar?  Have you ever set goals and not reached them?  Have you ever started on a diet and then given up?  Have you ever tried to get in shape and slowly begin to make progress and then stop?  Have you ever decided to be more affirming in your speech and stay with it until that first nagging person criticizes you?

I believe most of us don't set goals or don't keep moving towards those goals because we are short-sighted.  We don't know how to pace ourselves for the long journey.  Allowing God to change us is a long, life-time journey.  Losing weight and keeping the weight off requires a change of lifestyle, not just a quick fix.  Most of us want immediate results and when those desired results don't happen, we give up.  We want to attain certain goals, but we never really thought about the sacrifice it would take to meet those goals.  Maybe we never had anyone to hold us accountable for those new goals.  Maybe we aimed higher than was possible.  Maybe we are just comfortable where we are.  Maybe we just don't have the willpower we thought we had.  It all boils down to being able to grind it out when the road gets boring, difficult and seemingly non-productive.  It just gets too hard.

Now, I am not against setting goals and new year's resolutions.  Every year, I write down my goals as a pastor, person, follower of Christ and family man, then give them to the deacons of my church and to a hand full of trusted prayer partners.  They give me feedback on those goals and then hold me accountable for following through on them.  I don't always reach those goals, but they help set the tone of my year and even longer periods of time.  I have found that if I don't set goals, I spin my wheels.  I gravitate to the same-old same-old and have no vibrancy in my life.  I need new challenges or I will get comfortable in just getting by.  I have found this is especially true in my walk with Christ.  I continually need to be challenging myself to grow, mature and change or my walk becomes dull and boring.  I will drift away from a passionate faith in Christ to a faith which attempts to keep Christ in a familiar place so I won't have to change.

Jesus was a goal-setter.  He knew what His purpose was when He came to earth and He stayed focused on that goal.  In Luke 19:10, Jesus said "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."  His entire life was focused on this goal and it took Him thirty-three years to complete this goal while He was on the earth.  As a child, His parents found this out when He stayed behind in Jerusalem talking to the religious leaders.  Those religious leaders found this out whenever they tried to trap Him with religious questions and He would answer by looking at the heart and attitudes contained in the Law.  His disciples found this out whenever they went anywhere with Him.  He was always doing the unexpected, like touching lepers, speaking to women, teaching Samaritans, hanging out with "sinners" and preparing them for His death and resurrection.  Jesus' own family tried to keep Him from attaining this goal, but He would not be denied.  Even on the cross, He became powerless and told His Father that he was committing His spirit to His Father.  So how did Jesus do as a goal-setter?  Not too badly!  He has saved me and I was lost.  If you are lost, He can save you too.  

So go ahead and prayerfully set some goals which are led by the Spirit.  Don't let the possibility of failure keep you from stepping out in faith.  Find you some true friends who will encourage and support you in these goals.  Take come risks and try to let God change your life, your mind, your body, your attitude or even your emotions.  Just be prepared for the long haul.  Be ready to run a marathon, not a sprint.  Prepare yourself for the imminent day when it will be painful, difficult and a struggle.  May this Sip from the Well refresh you to run the race God has marked out for you!