The Creative Creator

We just got back from vacation. While we were in North Carolina, I was up early enough every morning to head out to the beach and have some time in the Word and in prayer and watch the sunrise.

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It was just breathtaking.

One day in particular I started to just really ponder the grandeur of it all.

I watched the sunrise and considered the beautiful sunrise. The light was brilliant — so much so that you can’t watch it for more than a few seconds. The colors it cast across the sky can’t be described, nor can they be duplicated. But the sun’s beauty barely shed a light on its overall greatness; the sheer size of the Sun and how far away we really are from it left me speechless. Zoom out to the size of the galaxy, the size of the universe, and we are really…really…small.

Then I turned my attention to the waves coming in on the surf. Over and over, they just kept coming in. Water is the most powerful force on the planet. It cannot be reckoned with. You cannot compress it. Water wins every time.

It would be really easy to see the vastness of the universe or the brilliance of the sun’s light and walk away thinking about the greatness of the sun. It would be very easy to see the waves and the energy they possess and just be left speechless, driven to only speak of the sea if I can do it justice.

But even as great as the waves and the sea are, they are only created things. Which means there is a creator even bigger, and even greater than these things. And while we create things by toiling and laboring, by making countless revisions and continually perfecting, this Creator, the God of the Bible —

spoke.

And all these things just became. That. Is. Power.

And it is tempting, because of what we can easily see, to marvel at the grandness of the Grand Canyon, or the greatness of the Great Barrier Reef, or the height of the highest mountains. It is easy to praise what we see and neglect worship for the one who is unseen and yet created it all.

Paul writes the following to the Romans:

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. . . 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.Amen.

God has painted his image all through nature. The reason he gave us the spectacle of the sunrise is to see it and worship him for creating it! The reason he gave us the oceans is to observe his omnipotence!

We have to be sure that when we stand before breathtaking scenery, we don’t stop at worshiping created things, but go beyond to worshiping the creator himself.

It’s the difference of “Wow, that sunrise is great!” and “Wow, the God that created that sunrise is great!”

What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve ever seen?

Addicted – Day 1

Sweet, serendipitous irony.

Monday, I tweeted this:

Now, on Wednesday, I am trying to get off coffee.

My foot tastes great, by the way. The following series will be my thoughts as I detox from America’s most socially acceptable addiction.

Where did this come from?

On Monday, everything was as usual. I loved coffee (don’t get me wrong, I still do). My morning routine would typically involve half a pot of coffee, followed by a cup of tea in the afternoon and, often times, one at night. I take in a lo-o-ot of caffeine (roughly 750mg daily. Compare that to a Mayo Clinic study saying anything over 500mg/day can cause health issues. Yikes). I love my morning cup.

But lately I’ve been getting some headaches. Bad ones. They come pretty suddenly, and they seem to happen pretty commonly on days when I drive – and brew an extra couple of cups for a travel mug.

So Monday I’m joking about how great coffee is and Tuesday I am suffering what is yet another headache and wondering what could be the culprit.

By this morning – Wednesday –  I was ready to swear it off forever.

This afternoon was rough. I was foggy, I was groggy and I was simply positive that any sudden movements would cause my head to split open. At some point, nausea started in and I felt like I was going to throw up. This sure sounds like drug detox to me.

So here we are.

Let’s be honest

Ok, a little perspective, here. There is nothing wrong with coffee. In fact there have been many studies showing its benefits when used in moderation. Not only that, I’m not driving a vehicle in an “altered” state and caffeine doesn’t fall under any kind of list of dangerous chemicals. I am able to write this in my right state of mind. I’m not a druggy, and I am confident beyond doubt that those suffering from “real” addictions and experiencing “real” detox and withdrawal symptoms have it far, far, far worse than I. The last thing I would want to do is trivialize those people’s stories.

But what I am feeling is real and medically proven, nonetheless. Today has been miserable (on a physical level). And somewhere in the daze of feeling like my head is going to explode and reflecting on the dependency my body has built up to this substance, I had a thought:

What if we were addicted to Christ the way we get addicted to other things?

Before you push back at “addiction” and “Christ” being in the same sentence, think about it.

I depend on coffee. Coffee is among the first thing my mind is thinking about when I get up. I don’t see the world clearly (at least I don’t feel I do some days) until I have applied coffee. When I don’t get it, it feels like there is something seriously awry in my day. I crave it until I can find a way to fit it into the schedule. It’s built into the fabric of my life. It is one of the few areas where I have enough foresight to predict running out, sure to make provisions so that my coffee habit doesn’t get compromised.

So it should be with our relationships with Jesus. This is the idea I hope to flesh out over the next several days.

Caffeine Journal:

  • Day: 1
  • Intake: 2 cups of tea, one black tea, one white. I also had about 130mg in a couple of Excedrin.
  • Symptoms: Killer headache, Nausea (but no vomit – YAY!), drowsiness, lethargy, general unpleasant demeanor.
  • Weakness: Afternoon. I was trying to go cold-turkey. Bad idea. The afternoon brought tea and medicine to ease pain.
  • In A Word: Mack (as in, “I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack Truck.”)

I could use some camaraderie here. Have you ever given up caffeine? Share your experience below.

[Photo Credit: Stirling Noyes via Compfight cc]

Killing My Praise

Has something that you see all the time ever caught your attention in a new way? The beauty of your wife’s face? The message hidden below the surface of your favorite movie? That stop sign at the end of your street that you always roll through until the morning when a police car is sitting on the cross street?

Me too. It happened to me today.

Throughout the Bible there is a phrase repeated over and over (or something like it):

Sacrifice of Praise.

Sometimes it’s called a “thanks offering,” or it may be put in other words. Because I’ve spent so much time in church, it is natural to breeze by these lines and think of Sunday gatherings. But today the question hit me:

When was the last time I sacrificed my own praise?

At this moment, I’m not talking about being the giver of praise to God, so much as being the sacrificing of people’s praises that are directed to me. Take a look at the verse that got my wheels turnin’ for more context:

Hebrews 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of Praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.

When we confess Jesus as our savior, part of that is sacrificing our praise. It is so easy to come across as boastful, prideful, arrogant. While Paul does talk about boasting in Christ, I fear that too often we (or maybe I am the only one) boast in ourselves and try to cloak it in spirituality.

When someone praises you, do you sacrifice that praise and turn the focus on God?

Are we people who actually believe he is responsible for “every good thing?”

I mean really?

You will probably be praised for something today.

Let’s sacrifice that praise to the sustainer of life.

When Faith Doesn’t Work

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was "broken?"

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was “broken?”

Life is tough.

It gives you lemons.

It throws you curve balls.

<Insert your own unpleasant life metaphor here>

Sometimes even the strongest Christian can look around at his or her life and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?” or “This is not what I had planned.” In some cases, there may be a pretty valid answer. In others, it would seem like simply bad luck. Regardless, when bad things happen to good people, the question is always raised, “Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”

The world seems to be broken. On first appearance faith (especially what we experience in American Christianity) doesn’t seem to be working to fix it.

This is the first post in a series where I hope to answer this question in a biblical and understandable way. Disappointment can be a stumbling block, a hurdle to faith and a reason to justify unbelief, which makes it just the kind of question that the ChurchlessPastor wants to take on!

Here are the topics we’ll discuss (These will become links as the series continues):

  1. What do you mean, “doesn’t work?”
  2. When Prayer doesn’t work
  3. When Playing by the Rules doesn’t work
  4. When Going to Church doesn’t work. 
  5. When Baptism seems to be broken.
  6. Buried Alive (Baptism #2)
  7. Why it doesn’t “work”
  8. Fixing what’s broken

Did I leave something out? What question would you like answered? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Bring Back the “R” Word

R-repent copyIt’s time we bring back the “R” word.

I know it’s controversial.

I know it’s hard to hear.

I know it’s offensive.

But it’s time we talk about it in openness and boldness. It’s about time we stop allowing ourselves to be offended by it. It’s long past time we stop applying it when talking about our own lives. But the word stirs up so much controversy that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It makes people angry. It breaks relationship. The word I’m talking about, of course, is “Repent”.

The first and greatest commandment.

We live in a world where people want to quote Jesus’ statement of the “first and greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” [emphasis mine] The way our culture talks, it seems “Loving your neighbor as yourself” comes first. Everyone wants people to be all lovey-dovey to one another. This makes for a world where no one can tell anyone that anything they do is wrong. In fact, it has created a world where nothing can be known to be right OR wrong.

This is bologna.

The first commandment is to LOVE GOD. And not just have nice feelings toward him, but to LOVE him, to LOVE his commands, to LOVE his plan for us and to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he has put a plan in place to redeem us.

Jesus’ First Message

Focusing on our love for God requires submission. And it requires admitting that I have a heart that wants so badly to resist him. It requires an admission that “I want to be my own god, and my default mode is denying you (the God of the Bible) that role.” That is why Jesus’ very first message was for his listeners to:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is Near.

That’s right, Jesus, the orchestrator of Love and Acceptance, said that we are to REPENT! We are to turn away from the fact that we think we know better than God. It is to turn from the fact that we think we have evolved past needing him. It means to actually trust him with our lives, and not just go to church, while trusting our own instincts to take care of us.

Why this makes us squirm

This is a tough message because we don’t like to be told we are wrong. We also don’t like to think that we are not the one best-suited to guide our own lives. We all think that the truth is the best policy, until someone tells us the truth about how we are. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong, but that is the story of the Christian life.

Jesus said “Come as you are.” He never said, “Stay as you are.”

A life devoted to Christ says, “this is where I am, now shape me into what you’d like me to be.” In order to take that approach, we have to REPENT and turn from our old ways. We must turn from our pattern of thinking that says we know better than God. A life devoted to Christ gives him KINGship, not just SAVIORship.

And those who lose their [own] lives will find them [in Christ].

Why is it so hard for us to hear the word, “repent?”

Wounds from a friend can be trusted

Wounds from a friend can be trusted.
But an enemy multiplies kisses.
-Proverbs 27:6

So often we want to surround ourselves with “yes men.” We consider a friend someone who will support us, or be proud of us no matter what. Somehow “loving” one another has become synonymous with “eternally agreeing with (or at least not disagreeing with) one another.” We hear this type of thinking all the time, especially from more progressive folks in the church. “God is love. Why would I say something to someone that would offend them? That’s not very loving.” Or we’ll hear, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Jesus did come to preach God’s love. But he was plenty blunt about sin, too. He delivered “woes” to those who were religiously pious but spiritually dead. He talked about living for God. Jesus defined love in what he taught. And the picture that he painted was one where love is a verb, not a mushy-gushy feeling “inside our hearts” for one another.

His Church is here to spur one another to holiness as the primary vehicle to love. We are to be a community (not a collection of individuals) who grow more like Christ and help one another do the same. The most loving thing you can do for someone, sometimes, is to call them out on their junk.

WOUNDS FROM A FRIEND CAN BE TRUSTED

Sometimes, as a friend, you need to tell your friend when they are out of line. If you are working with a neighbor in math class classmate going astray, the loving thing is to look out for their best interest and correct them, not let them do it their way. Those assignments are going to be graded! The loving thing, when you see a friend in an unhealthy relationship is to share your concerns in love, because you don’t want them to be hurt. When a friend is texting and driving, the loving thing is to do or say what you can to remove them from harm’s way and get their eyes on the road.

The key is that these have to come from a friend. It has to be an “I’m concerned for you” conversation, not a “Be better, like me” conversation. I believe this is the key to Christian confrontation. Another thought: to judge a person’s behavior as sinful or not in line with the Bible is not the same as judging the eternal destination of their soul based on that behavior. As long as the prior is done with an acknowledgement that I also behave in all sorts of ways that are inconsistent with the Bible, we’re good. It’s when we say, “you need to fix the sin in your life,” and fail to acknowledge the sin in ours that we run into trouble.

The Bible is the most honest book ever written. It is going to present views that we find hard to swallow. “Love” is not being silent when we see someone straying into a harmful situation, but lovingly expressing concern for them. Being honest. It might hurt, but a wound from a friend can be trusted.

AN ENEMY MULTIPLIES KISSES

History would tell us that we when we surround ourselves with people that agree with us, we set ourselves up for failure. We need people to remind us when we are drifting into incorrect thinking and action. This goes for behavior but also things like worldview and theology. I could metaphorically adorn you with “kisses” and tell you that your ideas are all great, but a survey of most people’s High School careers would suggest that doesn’t lead anywhere good.

If all I hear from someone is positive, I don’t trust their opinion for fear they are just puffing me up.

If I get criticism when it’s deserved, it makes me think, makes me better, and builds trust with that person.

Don’t surround yourself with “yes men.”

Where do you find it tough to “speak the truth in love?”