Sunday, April 29, 2012

First Round Draft Pick

This past Weekend, the National Football League had their annual draft of college players.  For the first night, over 26 million Americans tuned in to watch the draft.  For comparison's sake, less than 23 million Americans watched the premier of American Idol this year.  So the NFL draft has more viewers than one of the top rated TV shows in America.  The draft has become an incredible draw for sports fans.

In the top division of college football, there are approximately 126 colleges fielding football teams.  Each of those teams is allowed to have 85 players on scholarship.  This mean there were an estimated 1700+ graduating seniors eligible for the draft, not including underclassmen and those eligible from the smaller NCAA divisions.  This year, only 253 players were drafter and only a small percentage of those will actually make an NFL roster.  An even smaller percentage will have a career in the NFL which lasts at least five years.  The two top draft choices were known well before the draft started with them being Andrew Luck from Stanford and Robert Griffin III from Baylor.  These players had remarkable careers and are expected to have long-lasting NFL careers.  They were chosen because they have skills and intangibles which make them possible Hall of Famers before their careers end.

The draft reminded me that there was a choice made in my life about forty years ago - The day I received Jesus as my personal Savior.  Some people may think I chose to be on God's team, but that's not really true.  On that day, God chose me to be on His team.  He made me His first round selection.  I Peter 5:10 tells us, "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory...".  God did the calling, I simply responded.  Sometimes we get that backwards and think we sought out Jesus and made a choice to follow Him.  However, we simply responded to the choice God had already made.  The amazing part of this story is that when God selected me in the first round, He knew I didn't have many skills or talents to be a Hall of Famer.  I wasn't very smart, didn't have lots of money, wasn't popular, wasn't a public speaker and had very little to contribute to the team.  He chose me, not because of my talents, but in spite of my lack of talent.  Think about all of the seniors who have labored for four years playing college football, but who will never be good enough to even get a look by NFL scouts.  Certainly they received a free college education, but the ride ends there.  Not so with those who have been first round draft choices by God Almighty.  The ride is just beginning when we respond to His selection and what a marvelous journey it is.

Today's Sip from the Well is simply a call back to the Creator of our salvation.  It is a reminder that God views us as first round selections, even when we don't feel like it, act like it or think like it.  You are chosen by God to be on the greatest team ever.  Your team mates are players like Paul, John, James, Lydia, Aquila, Priscilla, Mary, Philip, William Tyndale, John Bunyan, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Fanny Crosby, Billy Sunday, Charles Spurgeon, James Kennedy, Billy Graham and a host of others.  Wow!  Aren't you glad you were chosen by God?  Now go out and live like one who was a first round draft choice of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Metta World What?

Metta World Peace is the new name of Ron Artest, who is famous for breaking Michael Jordan's ribs in a pick-up basketball game and starting one of the worst NBA brawls in recent memory back in 2004.  The name change was done by Artest as a way to get a new start and try to focus on the good he wants to do in the community because of his fame and basketball ability.  On Sunday night, all of that came crashing down on him when he laid a vicious elbow into the head of an opponent after Artest had just scored on a dunk.  If you haven't seen it, you probably don't want to watch a replay of it because the shot is rather brutal.  If James Harden's head had been turned towards Artest, there would be major damage.  The announcers of the game called in despicable and would result in suspensions for Artest.  When your name contains the word "Peace" in it, you may want to think twice before giving in to anger.  It appears that Artest simply got mad at the person who brushed past him and used his elbow as a battering ram.  Of course, Artest has never been the most stable person on or off the court, but he has added to his legacy which will follow him for the rest of his life.

I began to reflect on the anger that I often feel in my own life.  I am amazed at how quickly that anger can rise and my mind begins to contemplate destructive ways of expressing that anger.  Oh, I forgot, I am a pastor, so anger should not be a part of my life.  As you probably know, all pastors have defeated every temptation and never have any real human struggles.  That last sentence was written with tongue firmly planted in the cheek.  Since my younger years, I have battled having a bad temper.  I look back and am saddened at the times I have allowed momentary anger to guide my actions in destructive ways or allowed myself to say incredibly harsh things which I didn't mean.  But once those words are out or the computer is broken, the pain remains.  We just can't take those things back.

I always knew that getting mad was the wrong way to express myself.  I had seen the damage done by my hands and mouth to others and regretted it.  I wanted to have victory in this area, but it was so difficult.  So I was able to control the outcome of my anger, but not really the anger itself.  The burning rage that is uncontrollable would begin to well up and I hated being at that place in my life.  I went to God's Word and simply did a study of every passage which lists the word "anger".  What I found changed my life.  I found that there were two types of anger:  God's anger and man's anger.  God's anger always had a redemptive force behind it, though the consequences could be extreme.  I found that God's anger always had to do with righteousness, but man's anger had to do with selfishness.  As I examined the passages, I came to the understanding that anger in humanity is sin.  I had been taught that it was okay to be righteously angry and given the example of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  However, when I studied those passages, nowhere does the Bible say Jesus was angry.  We have simply transferred our own feelings on Jesus and presumed He must have been angry.  That was eye-opening for me because I had often tried to justify my anger by pointing to Jesus at the Temple and then claiming my anger was righteous also.

Below are some passages which discuss human anger.  I would encourage you to read those passages in your personal quiet time and reflect on what God has to say:
Job 18:4    Anger tears us to pieces
Psalm 37:8   Man's anger only lead to evil
Provers 22:24  Don't associate with someone who is easily angered
Proverbs 29:22  an angry man causes trouble
Ecclesiastes 7:9  Anger resides in the laps of fools
Ezekiel 35:11  Man's anger leads to hatred and God will not stand for that
Matthew 5:22   Being angry with a brother means we are subject to God's judgment
Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8   Get rid of all anger

We live in a country where people more and more are justifying their anger.  They feel it is okay and sometimes even necessary to be angry.  Angry at the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  Angry at the government for taxing so much of our income and squandering that money.  Angry at the banks for the foreclosures.  Angry at CEOs of companies who make big paychecks.  Angry at the person who cuts in front of us on the freeway.  Angry that we don't have a job even though we have been looking diligently for one.  Angry at those who think differently, vote differently or look differently from us.  We never know when there will be another road rage, parking lot rage, Black Friday rage incident.  Each person getting angry feels justified in this anger, which leads to more pain and destruction.

The Bible knows how destructive our anger can be and so we have a time limit.  According to Ephesians 4:26, we have until the sun goes down.  God tells us this because anger will consume and destroy us.  Those of us who follow Christ, we know that anger gives the devil a foothold in our lives.  We know that anger is not the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.  Yet, we continue to compromise and to justify our anger.  The turning point for me was when I realized there was no justification for my anger and losing my temper.  But I also had to ask God to help me battle the rage that I often felt.  So the Holy Spirit has been able to make me much more aware at the onset of anger.  I can tell when I am starting down the path which leads to losing my temper, so I have a better chance of walking away before I give in.  I wish I could say that I have this issue licked, but I will probably have this battle my entire life.  Ron Ron reminded me this Sunday that it only takes a split second to lose focus and we crash our world in around us by giving in to that anger.  If you struggle with anger, my prayer is that you will see victory.  If you don't have any anger struggles, may you be blessed enough to help those who do.  Then as followers of Christ, we can truly be ambassadors of His peace!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hold On to what Matters Most

One hundred years ago the unsinkable luxury liner, the Titanic, sunk after hitting an iceberg.  The Titanic was considered one of the greatest marvels of its time, her builders embracing the notoriety of building such a fantastic ocean liner.  However, in the North Atlantic Ocean, it took only two and a half hours for this modern marvel to sink to the bottom of the ocean taking with it 1,514 lives.  This was a tragedy on unbelievable proportion for those living in that day and time.  The newspapers throughout the world carried the headlines of the downfall of the mighty Titanic.  Back in the Fall, my Mom and I went to see an exhibit in Greensboro, North Carolina when I was visiting.  We were able to see artifacts from the ship and attempt to take in the enormity of that vessel.  I was amazed to see the detail that went into this ship, especially the first class cabins.  With the one hundred anniversary of the sinking, there has been much on TV and in the news again about the Titanic.  Many have spoken of the pride of the builders leading to its downfall or the foolishness of the captain to not slow down in such treacherous waters.  There are lessons to be learned from this disaster.

However, the image that has stayed with me the longest actually comes from the the blockbuster movie which was released in 1997.  Like many of you, I wanted to see this critically acclaimed movie, especially when the ship wrecks and sinks.  The plot with the two lead characters was a little boring, trite and predictable, but there was one story which was told in brilliant fashion but only lasted a few seconds.  This was the image that has stayed with me concerning the Titanic, which has deeply impacted me.  If you weren't paying attention, you may have missed this scene.  As the ship is flooding and beginning to sink, there are scenes of people running and screaming, trying to find safety.  As the water rushes from one state room to the other, there is the stunning scene of an older husband and wife holding one another and laying down on the bed as they face certain death together.  There is no panic, no screaming, just a look of love and sadness as this couple will perish together(The picture is below).  They have chosen to hold on to what matters the most - Each other.  This was the most powerful and gripping love story of that entire film.  A loving embrace by two who have walked through life together and will face the end of their journey together.  True love is not about fulfilling a fleeting, momentary physical encounter charged by lust.  It is the dedication of two people who are journeying through life together, who have chosen to hold on to each other even though they know the failings and flaws of each other.  This is my deepest desire for my marriage:  That Leah and I would have such a devoted love to each other that the trials of life would allow us the opportunity to hold each other tighter and lean on one another rather than blaming, fighting or leaving the other.  Now that is a love story which Hollywood really has trouble comprehending.

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 13:44-46 which reminds us to hold on to what is valuable.  He says, "Again the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for find pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."  Jesus reminds us that following Him is the greatest pearl of all.  In His every so powerful style, He reminds us to give up everything and hold tight to Him.  We cannot hold on to the world and Jesus at the same time.  We can only grasp one of them.  Too many in the church today are holding on to things like possessions, a home, a relationship, a reputation, a web site, an addiction.  Yet these things don't really matter.  Jesus is what matters.  Resurrection Sunday reminded us that only Jesus has the power to bring life to that which is dead.

So maybe you are clinging to something or someone or some place which isn't eternally significant.  It could be a sin or it could even be a gift from God that we just cannot release.  I pray that you will be able to release that object, even if it means a "death" in our lives.  Then, grab a hold a Jesus and embrace Him because He is waiting to embrace you.  Just like the loving Father was waiting and looking each day for His Prodigal Son to come home, Jesus is waiting for us to come to our senses and come home.  Then, like that loving Father, He will run to us and embrace us.  Make sure you are holding on to what matters!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Not Very Pretty

To many people in America, Easter is a time to buy some new clothes and head to church for one of their two annual visits.  Or it may be a time to buy baskets and candy for an egg hunt.  Growing up, Easter was always a time of newness and niceties.  The winter was ending and Spring was beginning, so the beauty of nature was just beginning.  We would get new clothes and wear those new clothes to church on Easter Sunday morning.  My Dad loved to go to Easter Sunrise services and I made the mistake of voluntarily joining  him one year - Getting up while it was till dark outside and standing in the rain for an hour.  Definitely not my fondest reminder of Easter.  If we survived the sunrise service with my Dad or were able to sleep in, our family would get up, get dressed in our Easter best and head off to church.  The church would be bright and colorful with everyone turning out in styling clothes and the church brightly decorated.  We would sing hymns like "He Arose" and hear a wonderful message about the resurrection.  Then it was off to a fine Easter meal and get out of those dress up clothes.  It was a smorgasbord of colors and beauty.  I have included a photo of me in my Easter suit.  Before you laugh too hard, this was cutting edge and the height of cool.  Anyone who was a teen in the 70's will have similar pics of themselves and at least my pants were up around my waist!!

As I have gotten older, the picture of Easter has changed a little for me.  First of all, the name "Easter" actually comes from one of the titles of the Chaledean goddess, Astarte.  So the name Easter actually refers to a pagan festival which the church tried to adapt to its own celebrations of Jesus' resurrection.  The name Easter has now been taken over by our secular country and they have now adapted pagan culture to Resurrection Sunday.  Easter in America is synonymous with a bunny, eggs, candy, sales, baskets and brunch.  I much prefer to call what happens on April 8th of this year "Resurrection Sunday" and let the pagan world have Easter all to themselves to do with as they please.  

Another aspect of this "holy-day" which has changed for me is the vivid colors and scenes of this day.  We often forget the gruesome and cruel way in which Jesus was put to death.  His was definitely not a "G" version of death, but a bloody and painful scene played out before hundreds of thousand who were in Jerusalem.  Jesus was treated by Rome as a traitor or a revolutionary who sought to overthrow the rule of Rome in the Palestinian area.  So He was treated by contempt, abuse and violence.  If you have seen "The Passion of the Christ", you begin to have an understanding of how awful the death of Jesus was.  Rome reserved this type of capital punishment for the most despicable of rebels to teach everyone a lesson - Never mess with Rome.  Jesus was beaten within an inch of his life with a whip which was designed to rip the flesh and tear the tendons and muscles.  He was beaten with a stick.  He had a purple robe placed on Him, mocked as a king, then had the robe ripped off Him.  He had a crown of inch long thorns jammed into his head.  He was then forced to carry the cross beam of his instrument of death to the place of his execution.  He was then laid on the ground while two huge spikes were nailed into His wrists and another large spike driven into His feet.  Then the cross on which He was nailed was raised and then dropped several feet into the ground.  He would suffer on that cross as He was mocked and abused, all while suffering for our sins.  Then in one moment, all the sin of humanity was placed upon Him as He became the sacrificial lamb for humanity's sins.  Others have been executed on the cross, but none have suffered like Jesus.  He was then placed in a well-guarded grave and His rebellion came to a sudden and jarring halt.  The color of Friday was red because His bleeding.  It was also black and blue from the bruising and beatings He had taken.  Not the prettiest sight.

So why do we dress so nice on Resurrection Sunday?  Because we know that Jesus conquered the grave as He rose on the third day.  His rebellion was never against Rome, but was against sin.  His rebellion wasn't against the Jewish leaders but against religion which tried to earn a way to Heaven.  He did what no other person could ever do - He defeated sin, death, Satan and Hell all on that first Resurrection Sunday.  Amidst the doubts of His followers, He rose.  Against the backdrop of a painful and excruciating execution, He walked out of the grave alive.  We dress in bright and new clothes as a reminder that those of us who have received Jesus as our Savior have received that gift of victory.  Death will no longer keep us from eternal life.  Sin has been defeated and though we still sin, the penalty has been paid in full.  We live a new life in Christ, because our old lives have been buried.  We were baptized into a new life that we might walk in a way that please God.  Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration when the Church rejoices at what God has done.  It is the ultimate day of victory.  It is the day we declare we have won and Satan has lost.  

So our culture can have Easter with the frills, ribbons, food, baskets, bunnies and eggs.  I'll cling to my new-old school Resurrection Sunday because though it is not very pretty, it is a thing of beauty.  The most cherished gift of all was given to humanity two thousand years ago.  If you haven't received Jesus as your Savior, today is the day to let that happen.  If you have made that step of faith, celebrate Sunday as if it were Resurrection Sunday...because it is!!