Jesus Christ

Loving When the Camera is Off

I was looking through some boxes in the basement when I came across an old video camera.  Do you remember those?  They actually had tapes you put inside of them in order to record something.  My grandpa used to video tape all of our family events and then we would need a special adapter to watch them in the VCR.   Having the camera took effort and planning.   We then moved on to the digital camera, which was more convenient to use, but still involved extra steps to take the video and upload it to a computer.  Oh, the good ole’ days!

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Camera or not, someone is watching.

Now we have instant access to video because most of us carry a camera at all times in our smartphones.  Things like Facebook live makes it possible for anyone to stream what they are doing at any given moment with almost instant feedback.   This only feeds into the narcissistic society we live in today.  The cry of the world today is “look at me!”

The Bible talks about how people will be lovers of themselves even more so as time passes. It says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud…..and the list goes on.  (see 2 Timothy 3:2-3)  This creates a problem for the church of Jesus Christ because we are called to love people bringing glory to Him, not us. Except our flesh says “look at me!”   That means we need to be very careful about our motives for the things we do.  Are we demonstrating kindness because people are watching or are we doing it because we love Jesus Christ? Are we reaching into our community because we love people or because we want to feel like we are doing something?

What our communities really need are people who are the Church.  That is what brings glory to Christ.  We are the Church no matter where we are or what we are doing.  That means that whether the camera is on or not, be the Church.  Love the poor, broken, and lonely. Pray for people.  Pray with people. Share about the hope you have.  Be kind to people.   Involve yourself in the workings of the local community and be a witness for Jesus there.  Feed the hungry.  Visit the sick.  Care for the widow.  Make the community a better place because the church of Jesus Christ is there!  This is what being the church is all about and it has nothing to do with whether the camera is on or not.  People are watching anyway.  Let’s bring honor to the name of Jesus today!

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Forgiveness: A Journey of Healing

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Forgiving is a journey of healing

If I had to choose one area of life that is the most difficult to do as a follower of Jesus Christ, I would have to pick forgiveness.  I know it doesn’t make sense when you look at it in light of the cross and the forgiveness Jesus has provided for us.  But words hurt.  Personal attacks stay with us.  People who are friends betray us and we are left wondering what we are to do with the broken pieces.  It is tough, raw, and never as easy as it seems it should be.  Deep down in us we want justice.  We want to feel like God has taken care of the problem. (in other people of course, not in us)

I have struggled with this and God has been gracious to give me insights from His Word on this.  What does it look like to forgive someone?  What does it feel like?  And how do you know it is actually done?

Joseph was just another one of Jacob’s sons.  Yet, God had given Joseph a special ability and that really irritated his brothers.  I mean, he sort of rubbed it in, but that is just what siblings do.  So we see them come up with this plan in Genesis 37 to kill him and throw him into a cistern.  Yikes!  My brother annoyed me, but I never planned to do that.  Thankfully Reuben had a little more sense than that and he talked them into just throwing them into the cistern and leaving him there.  So they throw him into the cistern and then they sit there and eat their lunch!  I mean, can you imagine what kind of strange scene that might have been. How do you enjoy your sandwich when your brother is down in a hole yelling for help?  They then end up selling their brother as a slave to Egypt and then telling their father that he is dead.  That is not nice.  Don’t do that!

Fast forward now and Joseph has been given a position of power in Egypt.  He actually ends up being in a position to inflict harm on his brothers who have come looking for food in a  terrible famine.  It was his chance to get revenge.  But what does he do?  In Genesis 45 we see a broken man loving his brothers despite the abuse.  Yes, the same ones who had hurt him so deeply!  What does this tell us about forgiveness?

Forgiving Does Not Mean Forgetting

Genesis 45:2 says that Joseph wept so loudly in this moment that everyone heard him.  This was the heart of a man who saw his brothers, loved his brothers, but felt the pain of what had taken place.  It hurt him deeply.  And yet he decided that he was not going to hurt them.

The other people involved are in pain also

Let’s be honest.  Just because I said that mean thing or did that in anger, it does not mean I am free and clear of the pain.  The pain is shared.  It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have been on the side of the offender, you have been hurt by it also.  I have no doubt in my mind that at some point his brothers kind of said to each other “hey, you know I kind of feel bad about that.”  We have all been there.  So when Joseph starts weeping  it makes these guys panic.  What is he going to do?  Will he hurt us? No.  He has no intention to.  In a true moment of God’s grace here recorded in scripture, they embrace each other, allowing the pain to be released.  And then it says they talked.  What a picture of forgiveness and the grace of God!

Joseph was able to recognize God’s hand in the pain

He said that despite what they had hoped to accomplish in seeing him sold off, God had accomplished his good purposes.  His pain was used to save lives, ironically even their lives.  That is really hard to see in the moment, but what a beautiful mess it really is when we get that.

Let the past remain in the past

After he sends them back to get their father he gives them instructions.  Do not fight on the way back.  I love that because I know I would probably want to have a conversation about who was more at fault in the whole thing.  It is never my idea, is it?  But Joseph is telling them to forget about all of that and just go get dad.  Do not go back in the past.  Let’s move ahead.

This all reminds us of Jesus Christ

This makes us look to Jesus Christ again because he was rejected, sold off and beaten.  He was betrayed in the most cruel ways.  We rebelled and put him on that cross.  Yet, he is willing to forgive us which saves us from our own mess. What a wonderful Savior!   He is willing to send out sins far away and restore our relationship with God.

Oh, God, help us all to be just as kind to other people who wrong us.  It hurts us for sure, but Jesus Christ is able to help us in it. If you are struggling to forgive, look to Jesus Christ.  It is not easy at all, but He understands fully and is able to help.

 

Joy, Pain and Christmas

The season of Christmas has such interesting dynamics to it.  On the one hand, it is really fun.  I mean who doesn’t love seeing their kids dressed like sheep and angels?  It can be fun to have time to catch up with family or friends. My daughter was giving me the details on how many sleeps it is until Christmas and the order of events.  To say she is excited about this Christmas is an understatement.  But in all of my preparation this week for two services,  and time with my family I have been thinking about the amount of suffering that people are going through.  Does that seem strange?  Well, keep in mind I am a Pastor of a church and an EMT in the local community.  I have seen some suffering.  I know we sing songs about how wonderful this time of year is and declare “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  But what about those who are not experiencing so much joy

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Christ is the hope of Christmas.

this year?  You can’t just sing it and make the pain go away.  Some people have experienced more loss this year than at any point in their life.  Suicide.  Depression.  Alcoholism.  Abuse of all kinds.  Stress.  Anger. Anxiety. Financial Challenges. Illness. I mean, can we just be honest and say that for some people this season does not make pain get better, it just amplifies the issues.

So what difference does this baby make for those who are hurting this Christmas?  Micah 5:5 says that this ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem would be our peace.  Peace is something we talk about and strive for, but can’t seem to achieve.  But if Jesus is our peace, maybe we can experience it.  Maybe this one we celebrate can actually enter into my mess and help me.   And of course the answer is emphatically “yes!”  You are why He came!  You are why He left the comforts of His heavenly home and entered our world in an insignificant town surrounded by insignificant people on some insignificant day in a very insignificant way.  In doing so, however, He did provide for us something we were so desperate for: hope.  Hope says that while right now things are a mess; one day things will no longer be that way.  Why?  Because Jesus has come and is coming again.

Do you have some questions?  Yes.  Do you have some things you are hoping to see resolved?  Yes.  But there is comfort in knowing God was not content just telling us how to live; He needed to send His son to demonstrate His love for us.

So if you are in a good place right now and you know someone who isn’t, it could be a real good idea to encourage them in some way.  In fact, I think it is exactly what Christ demonstrates for us in His birth.  He showed up in our mess in order to save us from it.  I  have showed up many times just to visit with someone who was really having a tough time.  Those kinds of things mean the world to people.   It reminds them that God has not forgotten them — the very heart of the Christmas story.

Oh, and get to it because there are only 3 more sleeps until Christmas.

 


Want to hear more about what Jesus Christ has offered to us?   Check out my Christmas Sermon Series on our Church Website.

Just Be There

I am not sure what I am supposed to say and yet here I am.  This young man just learned his fate “cancer.”  And I am in a car alone with him on my way to a waiting group of high school students wondering what is happening.   The very thing that never happens to you or someone you love, was happening.  What do I know about cancer?  I was just the youth pastor who was now just a bit more concerned with the faith of a few of the students in my youth group.  They were already confused and now this. The first one approached me almost immediately with  “If he dies, I am done”   Oh, God knows I prayed that was not a place I was going to have to go with them.  But this was an honest sentiment, which I appreciated hearing.  It represented real hurt and confusion.  I get it. I felt it.  I saw it in eyes and heard it in conversations.

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Care enough to enter another person’s world.  This is what Jesus did for you. 

I have often thought about those early days and about how much of a privilege it was for me to be brought in to such a personal journey.  I also thought about how inadequate and exhausted I felt during those many trips for treatment.  What did I have to offer?  I didn’t even have words to make anything better and my attempts to brighten the day wasn’t always met with great joy. And I can’t say I even blamed him for it because, let’s be honest, cancer is horrible enough without the chemo.  Add chemo and it is like hell on earth for people.  If you want to feel compassion for people, go into a cancer center sometime and hear the sounds, smell the smells, and see the 3-year-old kids pushing their chemo around.  It is gut wrenching at the best moments.   But there I was and  for over a year, I did the best I could to follow the example of Jesus Christ.  “Just be there”  was all I could do and it seemed like it mattered to some extent.  Interesting how God works because the end of 2013  after being there, I left Cape Cod and moved many miles from this church family.

And so a message came to me in November of this year that this young man was nearing death.  My heart hurt.  My mind raced.  How do I pray?  What do I do?  And then when I got the news that this young man died, I wept.  I was really surprised by the emotion that I felt and came out of me realizing that he was free from this pain now.  I guess that is what the Bible calls”sorrowful and yet rejoicing.”  It is this strange dance of emotions and I did them both.   In that moment I knew I needed to get there for the funeral.  I just needed to be there.

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A ride my boys did to support those with cancer. 

As only the Lord could have planned, I was already planning on being gone on a Sunday from my current church and it was that Sunday that the funeral was planned.  Now the hard part:  getting an affordable flight on Thanksgiving weekend.  Through a variety of circumstances, God provided and there I was.  I was there.

I didn’t know what was going to happen.  My mind went back to a time when I was in High School and a young boy was killed in a car accident.  I remember the youth pastor up front, weeping, completely broken.  They always told me that if you do youth ministry long enough, sooner or later you will bury one of your students.  I just could not believe the day had come.

But in all of this, I was struck again with this simple realization.  There is great power in just being there. And all I shared were stories, reflections of my time being there.  In all my time playing games during chemo, I didn’t really provide a ton of insight, I provided my presence.  People in the church were overwhelmed that I had made the journey.  It inspired them in a way that I was grateful for, but wasn’t expecting.

This is what the Church is all about.  This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  You don’t have to have all of the answers.  You don’t even have to have an answer at all.  I didn’t.   You need to simply be there.  Learn to live in relationship with others.  Love people.  Allow yourself to care for them.   I learned the power of that in a profound way.  It is a privilege I will never forget.

The Truth About Yourself

 

Looking into a mirror seems to be an enjoyable activity for every baby I have ever met.  When we get older, however, that enjoyment seems to wane a bit.  What started off as a simple admiration of someone so beautiful you could hardly contain yourself, has turned into a daily attempt to make yourself presentable to the world.

  In the book of James, it says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”  He goes on to say that if you just listen to the word but don’t do it, it is like looking in a mirror and then looking away only to forget what you look like. Do not be deceived into thinking that by simply hearing the Word in some fashion that you are doing what God desires.  You maybe have heard of Jesus or are able to recite certain verses from the Bible even, but if it doesn’t connect and become your own – as in, if you don’t respond to it, then you really haven’t received it.

 

Look intently to allow it to show you the truth

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No need for a comb today

The mirror does not lie about what you look like, it doesn’t look at you and say “hey, you know what, your hair is a mess, but nobody will notice” No it says – hey, your hair needs to be combed.  But the mirror also does not do anything about your problem. So if you walk up to the mirror with messy hair and you do nothing with your hair, guess what, you will still have messy hair.  But I looked at the mirror!   Yes, but you didn’t do anything with the information.  You didn’t respond to what it revealed about you.

Look intently into the perfect law and  keep looking.  Get a good look at what you see there and let the truth of what it shows bring you before the Lord who can do something about it.  Let the mirror of God’s perfect law show you the condition of your heart so that you get a good understanding of it and feel the need to have it repaired by Christ.

Let the truth lead you to action

 What do you see?  Okay…now do something about it.  He says that you will be blessed when you do what the Word says.  This is what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about.

True Worship Practice

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Peanut

My daughter got a hamster for her birthday this year.  This hamster is probably the most well-loved hamster that has ever lived.  She talks to him, sings to him and reads here Bible to him.  If hamsters could know Jesus, Peanut would be a follower of Jesus by now.   Often we will be just sitting in the other room and she will say “I am going to go sing to peanut” and off she goes.  She will sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” over and over again to Peanut.   Anyone who comes to the house has to see Peanut.  Everyone she sees has to hear about Peanut.  She is glad we moved to a place that has a pet store so she could get a hamster.  Her hamster is loved!

There is something refreshing about hearing my 4 year old daughter talk to her hamster about Jesus.  This is just a natural way she loves him.  I think it is an important link to make for us ‘older’ people.   Psalm 76:1 says that in Judah God is known; that His name was great.  The reason?  Because God was there and His people worshiped Him.  Worship naturally leads other people to God.   My daughter is learning to make Jesus known; she is practicing what it means to make His name great!  That is such a treasure for me to have her being able to articulate that.

Worship is more than just Sunday mornings.  Worship is all day and worship is everyday.  And it seems to me that the more we practice this, the more natural it becomes to just praise God in every circumstance.

Goal: Be a Worshiper of God

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Set your gaze on the Lord in 2016

Since I started this blog, many things have changed.  My kids are continuing to grow up- despite my efforts to slow them down.  I started writing this when my daughter was just a newborn baby.  She is now 4 years old.  In that time, I have moved from Cape Cod to Wisconsin and then to Minnesota.  I have learned a few life lessons and I have gained new skills.  I am a pastor, yes, but I have developed a wider ministry.  I have also become an EMT , which has opened up opportunities all over the place.  Why do I share all of this?

I want to provide some context for the things that are now on my heart.  I care a lot about the local church and what it does.  I have read many things about the health of churches, making disciples, and strategies that have worked all over the place.  I believe in the church (obviously) and still think that it is the primary means by which the message of Jesus Christ is shared with the world.  I also care about the message of the Word of God, which is still relevant and real today.  I care about people and the complicated issues that so many are facing.  But the more I think about all of that, the more I realize that what drives it all is a desire to live with a proper view of God.  I want to be a better worshiper of God.  Being a worshiper of God is a full-time, life-changing, decision-making, Jesus-honoring pursuit.  It means that all of who I am somehow exalts God.  This involves some inward looking because there are plenty of things that will distract any of us from this. But  doesn’t it seem like worship of God is really what is lacking today?  Why so many issues in the church?  Why so many issues with people deciding for themselves what truth is and what it isn’t?  It is because we are not worshiping God well.

I have started a series in the church to start the new year focused on worship.  I believe it is so foundational to who we are as believers.  We must get it right!   I wonder what would happen if we really were worshipers of God.  What if our lives reflected a sense of awe?  Would it change our relationships?  Would it change our attitudes?  Would it change our communities?  Would it make us appealing to those who are searching for answers?  One thing I do know is that inwardness increases as worship of God decreases.  It is at times when I lose sight of God that I start to look at me and then the complaining starts.  God why don’t you do this for me?  God why is my life so difficult?  God why do I need to reach out to that person when they don’t even care about me?  A worshiper approach would be “God you are….good…faithful…loving…kind..forgiving.”  Starting prayers with God you are, I believe, is one way to help get us in that right mindset.

So a goal this year for me:  Be a better worshiper of God. So I wonder:  What are you doing to keep God center this new year?   How do you keep your heart close to God? Do you think there is more to it than what I suggest here?   May the worship of God increase in our hearts, homes, and churches this year!