Monday, May 21, 2012

Peddling into a strong head wind

For the month of May, I have a goal:  To only use one tank of gas in my truck the entire month, while not diminishing ministry or driving the car instead.  This means I am having to ride my bike to/from work along with errands when I am at work.  The ride goes through cities that are not very bike-friendly along some heavily traveled roads, but with around ten days left in the month, my gas tank is still over half full.  This morning as I mounted my bike to take the thirty minute ride to work, I was greeted with a strong head wind.  Unfortunately, this wind would be pushing against me the entire trip.  I found myself having to shift to lower gears and work much harder peddling up Sarah Drive and Hillcrest Road.  The morning ride turned into a forty minute battle against the elements and an arduously cold journey.  Cars would pass me with drivers drinking their coffee, talking on the cell phone, listening to the radio and generally enjoying the creature comforts available to modern man.  Some of you may be thinking that my riding my bike to work is a wonderful way to exercise and others may think I am doing a great job of cutting down on greenhouse gases while leaving a smaller carbon foot print.  However, I can assure you that my motivation is much less altruistic than that.  I peddle by four gas stations on the way to work and this morning the price per gallon at these stations were:  $4.23, $4.25, $4.29 and $4.30.  So though I was facing a strong head wind, I kept on peddling and finally made it to work.  Of course, as soon as I made it to work, the wind stopped blowing so strongly and hasn't blown since.  And people say God doesn't have a sense of humor!!

While battling the head wind, I began to think about the Sunday School lesson from Sunday.  I usually teach the 5th & 6th Graders, but invited the youth to join because we would be discussing peer pressure.  As we go through life, we face the pressure from others to veer from the course God has marked out for us.  Unfortunately, we all have people in our lives who would rather have us strive for mediocrity than excellence.  They want us to cut corners and bring us down to their level.  This pressure can come from friends, family members, co-workers, team mates or a host of other relationships in our lives.  I wish we no longer faced this pressure when we graduated from high school, but that simply isn't true.  The world will pressure the Christian to conform to their standards.  If the Christian seeks to live out his faith in a genuine way, he will face incredible head wind and resistance.  Unfortunately, much of this resistance comes from fellow Christians who have compromised in their own lives and bought into the world view of the culture.  They have used the Bible (When they actually use it) to justify sin, rather than repenting and turning to the truth which would cause much more adversity in their relationships but much more peace with God.  And so we are tempted to turn around and just go with the wind rather than keep peddling into such resistance.  Or we are tempted to get off the bike and rest for a while because the resistance has worn us out.

Romans 12:2 gives us this incredible admonition when we face a strong head wind of pressure to compromise the truth of Christ:  "Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you minds that you may be able to prove what is the good and perfect will of God."  That's a pretty radical verse because it warns us as followers of Christ that the culture wants us to conform to them and fit it with them.  They don't want us to make waves by living a righteous life.  Though they may admire the fact that we eschew divorce and stay married through difficulties, they don't want us to talk about honoring our marriage vows to them.  While they may admire our honesty, they will detest our work ethic when they are slacking.  The fact is so plain today:  The world doesn't mind us being a Christian on Sunday as long as it doesn't affect us on Monday through Saturday.  They don't mind us claiming to be followers of Christ as long as we watch the same movies/TV shows they watch, listen to the same music, use the same language, have the same sexual proclivities and are just as critical and cynical as they are.  But the call of Romans 12:2 is so much greater than that.  We are not to conform, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind in God's Word.  When we personally spend time in God's Word each day allowing His genuine truth to change our lives, our mind will become transformed to the mind of Christ.  Not overnight and certainly not fully like the mind of Christ, but in baby steps we will find ourselves seeing life from God's perspective.  Then we will experience strong head wind, but we will have the proper motivation to go against that head wind in God's direction.

We have seen a slow change in our culture which back in the 50's, 60's and early 70's reinforced the values of the church.  The culture embraced marriage while making divorce much more difficult.  The stores and restaurants would be closed on Sundays or at least not open until after 12:00.  Youth and children sports would never be played on Sundays.  The acceptable language of the day was much less verbose and crude.  There was a sense of modesty in dress and conduct.  BUT that is no longer the case today.  We live in a pagan culture which embraces pleasure and shuns discipline.  Some Christians rail against that change in the culture and seek to move culture back to where it once was.  Other Christians just go with the flow and their behavior and attitudes are identical to culture except on Sunday mornings or when their pastor comes to visit them.  A small band of Christians have chosen to transform their minds with God's Word and peddle against the strong head wind.  They aren't on the street corners yelling and screaming.  They are simply living for Jesus on Monday through Saturday.  They are working on their marriages to honor their spouses and their vows.  They are seeking to raise their children with Godly values rather than running from one recital to a ball game to the math tutor.  They are honest at work and diligent, working as unto the the Lord not unto their boss.  They are dedicated in school, seeking to gain an education rather than focus on getting by or getting good grades.  They stop to help people in need and accept nothing in return.  They allow God to change their schedule to meet His plan rather than asking God to change His schedule to meet their plans.  This list could go on and on, but you get the point.

It is time for the Church to evaluate herself and decide who she will follow.  We cannot continue to conform to culture and make an impact on culture at the same time.  Our world is hungry to see true faith lived out on Monday through Saturday.  They have grown weary of coming to church and being entertained by a full blown band singing the latest tunes, hearing a preacher who is an infomercial for Jesus and listening to people talk about prayer but who rarely pray.  They are looking for the real deal.  They are watching us at work, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in the line at the bank and everywhere else we go.  Are you ready to be radical and peddle against a killer head wind?  Are you willing to take the barbs and the abuse for going against the flow while seeking to live a righteous life?

The irony of my Sunday School lesson was this:  None of my 5th and 6th grade students made it to class for that lesson on peer pressure.  Several had been to parties the night before and they/their parents were too tired to make it to church for Sunday School and another had a party that afternoon so they didn't come because they were preparing for the party.  So rather than peddle against a strong head wind, that head wind changed their direction.  I looked at the weather forecast for this week and on Thursday and Friday the wind is supposed to pick up and the temperature is supposed to drop, which may mean driving the truck because the trip on the bike will become too cold and dangerous.  So there is a point where, if we are not careful, culture will overtake us and we won't even be able to withstand the head wind anymore or even know we have changed course.

This afternoon, the wind will be behind me which will make my ride much faster and easier.  That's how it is when we follow Jesus passionately and honestly - He gives us a tail wind that moves us through resistance because that resistance is simply confirmation of our direction.  

So in which direction are you peddling?

Monday, May 14, 2012


On Sunday, we honored our mothers, those women who made so many sacrifices for us to succeed in life.  Most mothers have made huge selfless sacrifices which we rarely appreciated until we had our own children.  Then, all of a sudden, we see how much our Moms really loved us.  We see the extent to which they were willing to put their own desires and dreams on hold to prepare us for life.  We see the incredible amount of time they invested in our lives and how much time they spent just being a servant.  Motherhood is a risk because no one can predict how a child will turn out and grow up.  All the parenting books in the world still can't overcome the child who is bent towards rebellion and destruction.  Those children may never ever understand this selfless sacrifice of their mothers.

This type of sacrifice took me back to numerous discussions my own mother and I have had about the state of our world and our country.  She grew up during World War II, which saw a generation make huge sacrifices for the benefit of the greater good.  Food, gas, clothing tires and most goods could only be bought with coupon books.  Children learned to collect tin foil and to appreciate even the most basic of foods, like meat, sugar, etc.  One piece of bubble gum was a treasure to savor.  The men of that generation sacrificed their lives at places like Omaha Beach, Bataan, Iwo Jima, Anzio, St Vith, Bastogne, Okinawa and places too numerous and now too obscure to name.  The entire country pulled together for the common good.  There may never have been a time when the entire country made such selfless sacrifices. 

I have grown up in a generation where sacrifice has become unknown and rarely practiced.  The generations who have followed have grown up with immediate satisfaction as the norm, where $120 athletic shoes and the latest gaming system has become a necessity, not a luxury.   This is best reflected in the public sector where we see politics destroying the very fabric of this country.  Not to go all political, but I remember in 1981 when the national debt hit over $1 trillion and there was such a public outcry against this.  I remember reading articles about how long it would take to pay this debt off and how much the interest on this debt would amount to if not paid off quickly.  Now, our last two presidents both received "stimulus" money in excess of $800 billion (Not far from a trillion).  The past three years have seen our debt grow by over $6 trillion and will double by the end of Obama's four year term.  This is not to cast dispersions on Obama, but just a reminder of the state of our nation.  Our elected official simply try a short term fix because they know that real solutions would call for a united sacrifice.  The citizens of America are not willing to make those sacrifices, so any politician speaking the truth about it would never be elected.  That person would have to address "entitlement" programs, which make up over 56% of our national budget.  If defense spending is added, that figure rises to over 75% of our budget going to programs which give aid to specific populations in our county.  We can look at Greece and Spain to see a preview of this resulting effects of cutting entitlement programs.  Eventually, our country will simply run out of money to pay for all of these entitlement programs because we are not willing to make selfless sacrifices for the great good.  The TEA party will never be successful because of this fact.  Those who want to save the environment will never be successful because of this fact.  Americans are no longer unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good, they  are now unable to even conceive of this type of sacrifice.  The future doesn't look bright for our country unless there is a crisis which can help us set aside personal desires and commit to the greater good.

Please bear with me because I am not just going on a political rant.(Politics simply reflect the heart of our country)  There is method to my madness.  Church, as we look around, we seen selfishness and self-centeredness on so many levels in our society.  The one place we should see selfless sacrifice is in the church.  It should not surprise us to see those without Christ being so bombastic during this election cycle or angry and bitter about not getting their fair share or their way.  However, the church should be the one place where we still understand and practice sacrifice.  I'm not talking about sacrificing God's standards for some mushy, touchy,  feely love which eliminates accountability and righteous living.  Ephesians 4:2 puts it this way, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in agape."  We sacrifice our own personal need to be right and in control so that the love of Christ can impact the lives of others.  We don't look down on those who may not be where we are at spiritually and we don't become critical of leaders.  We follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We realize that seeking to bring people into the Kingdom of Heaven as fully-devoted followers of Christ is the most important priority of our lives.  So the church will do crazy things like:  Give 1/10 of their income to the Lord's work, spend hours preparing a Sunday School lesson, prepare a meal for someone who is hurting/lost a loved one, tell someone the plan of salvation even though that person will mock us, give aid to someone in need without expecting anything in return, listen to the pain of a fellow pilgrim, clean the church building and a multitude of other selfless sacrifices which others will never know took place.  The Church is the hope for the future.  Hillcrest family, let's continue to honor the example of our mothers and be servants who selflessly sacrifice for the good of God's Kingdom.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Let Me Remind You...

This past Sunday, Ridgewood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky celebrated her 50th anniversary.  When I was in seminary at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, I was blessed to be the Youth Minister of that wonderful church.  As she prepared to celebrate her 50th anniversary, I began to think back on those crazy days from 1983-1986 and the wonderful youth/adults with whom I worked.  I smile at much of what happened, even the struggles.  I often wonder how I lasted at the church without being fired since we did some crazy things in the name of Jesus.  The first Summer I was at the church, we went from Louisville to Wilmington, North Carolina for camp.  It was a simple thirteen hour drive.  During that time, I laughed, wept, celebrated and mourned with that wonderful church family.  With the 50th anniversary approaching, I began to wonder if those former youth were still walking close with Christ.  I wish I could say that I have done a good job of staying in touch with them, but distance and time have taken their toll.  I was given a sacred trust by the members and guests of that church as we ministered together.

This is how the apostle Peter put it in 2 Peter 1:12 - "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know therm and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body.."   Peter wrote to the church to remind them that he had a sacred trust with them to remind them of the truths of Christ, whether they liked it or not.  The church has always thrived when there has been accountability.  Unfortunately, too many in the church want to keep their struggles to themselves.  They want to keep their fellowship with the other saints on a superficial level because they may be embarrassed by their sin or lack of commitment.  Peter wouldn't look the other way, but was willing to invest in others.  This is the same Peter who walked on water (Okay, he also sank), denied Jesus, was restored to Jesus and the most prominent leader of the early church.  If he felt the church needed accountability back then, don't you think we need accountability?

Someone after church this morning asked me what we should say to someone who said they can get by with studying their Bible, but they don't really need anyone telling them how to live.  The answer comes back to what Peter told us:  God puts mature followers in our path in the church so that we might be reminded of the truths of following Christ.  We don't fall away in big chunks, but one step at a time.  We miss church one Sunday and then before we know it, we've been out of church for two years.  We get angry at something said to us by someone at church and get this chip on our shoulder.  Before we know it, we are calling everyone in the church hypocrites and ripping all churches and leaders.  Just one little misstep can lead to the destruction of our faith UNLESS.....We have fellow saints in our lives who will remind us of the truth.  This means we must be willing to listen when someone tells us a hard truth.  No one likes to be reminded of our sin, but God is trying to move us in the right direction.  

Do you have anyone involved in your life who will consistently remind you of hard truths?  Are you letting anyone in on your life?  In whose life are you investing?  Who are you speaking hard truths to and reminding them of the things of Christ?  May this Sip from the Well draw you to become more involved in the body of Christ and ministering to that body.