Friday, April 27, 2012

Getting A Better Mental Picture

I recently read a great book that was challenging the reader to see God the way Jesus describes him in the Gospels.  I must say, that didn't grab me at first, but then I began to remember all the things Jesus said about God, his Father, that I thought I knew, but in reality hadn't paid much attention to.  He is the Father who leaves the 99 to find the one who was lost.  He's the King who totally forgave the debt of his servant who owed so much and begged to have his debt canceled, but the same King who was angry when that same servant couldn't show the same mercy to the ones who owed him a debt.  Our Father is the generous landowner who paid the same amount to all his workers, whether they worked all day or only the last hour of the day.  He is also the landowner who rented his vineyard and winepress to some farmers, but when it came time to pay up, they beat the servants he sent, and even killed his son in an attempt to steel away his vineyard.  He would take it all away, and "bring those wretches to a wretched end."  No one can reject and rebel against the goodness of the One who owns it all (even those Pharisees who thought they had it made).  He is the man who prepared a great banquet and when the ones who'd first been invited began to "make excuses" he had his servants invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, and those homeless strangers out on the street.  He wanted the ones no one else wanted.  Our Father is the Dad standing on a hill, looking and longing for his lost son to come back home.  He loves that son in spite of his stupid mistakes and he refuses to punish, penalize, and pummel with guilt.  He just holds him tight and orders up a celebration.
Jesus wants us to see his Father as a patient, forgiving, and loving God, who only asks that we love him and seek to know him.  He never asked for sinlessness or perfection - only that we keep seeking him.  The most amazing thing of all is that Jesus could talk in such loving words about His Father when his trip to the cross had been part of the plan before that first day of Creation.  There is no doubt, no reticence, and no regrets.  His only desire was to glorify his Father.  What does that tell us about what kind of Father we have?  Jesus was ALL in!  He really is an awesome God and he has an incredible love for us!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seeking Joy Not Happiness

Living a life that counts means seeking joy not happiness.  (Principle #7)
I used a short, but descriptive telling of the crucifixion of Jesus before making the point, as horrible as this was, no other event since creation has caused more joy - except one - what happened three days later.  How can something so tragic cause so much joy?  That is one of the great spiritual mysteries of all time.  It causes joy because:
1. It's all about God's love for us.
2. It is his plan for our sins!  Grace!
3. It represents the salvation of our souls!
A good look at the kind of joy we have because of the cross tells us some things that joy  is not.
1. Godly joy is not happiness (included it, but the difference is heart vs. happenings)
2. Godly joy is not being free from problems:  Jesus wasn't
3. Godly joy is not getting what you want!
4. Godly joy is not focusing on self but on others!
The story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15 teaches us that joy is being in the arms of our Father.  I would add that joy depends on what you rejoice in!  A pig pen or a waiting and loving Father.  The following are the points and scriptures I used to explain what the Bible says about godly joy.  ( I was fast w/ each point)
1. Roman 14:17  It's a Kingdom quality!
2. Romans 15:13  It comes from God!  (Also see Heb.1:9 "anointed w/ joy")
3. 2 Cor.7:4; James 1:2; 1 Thess.1:6  It transcends trials, struggles, & pain!
4. Gal.5:22  It's the 2nd fruit of the Spirit!  (Important!)
5. Philippians 1:4  We pray with joy!
6. Philippians 1:25; 1 Pet.1:8  It grows w/ our faith and comes from our faith!
7. 1 Thess.2:19;  3 John 4;  Our joy is in loving one another!
8. Hebrews 12:2  It is how Jesus viewed his mission!
9. Jude 1:24  It is how Jesus thinks of us!
God is not mad at us - he loves us.  He is the Father in the story of the Prodigal son, but we tend to see him as like the older brother, and that is a wrong and distorted view of God!  We don't have to earn his love - just accept it and be drawn to it!  If that doesn't fill us with joy - nothing will!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Greedy Geese

We had a visit from our two permanent geese on Saturday.  We let the grand kids give them some food over a month ago - just once - and they've been coming up to our porch regularly looking for another handout.  It was a month ago, and we haven't done it since, but they haven't forgotten or given up hope.  This was the first time that one of them came up on the porch and walked around.  I took several pictures through the window - each time assuming they would spook and run, but they just stood there - I'm sure wondering when we were going to bring the food out.
Once they decided we weren't going to feed them, they hopped off the porch - and yes, that is a little gift they left us on the porch.  Why do I feel like it's a comment on how they feel about our failure to feed them?  I got the hose out to clean off the mess and to chase them a little farther away.  Just for the record, there will be no further feeding of the critters around our house by grand kids or anyone else.  It's hard enough keeping after all the birds who want to leave reminders of their "passing by" on our porch - we don't need "big" reminders from bigger critters.  Now, if I start finding deer droppings on our porch...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Integrity Over Popularity

Principle #6:  Living a Life That Counts:  Seeking Integrity Over Popularity:  Integrity means you have a set of convictions that you live by that can't be bought, sold, traded, ignored, compromised, or forfeited for any reason, up to and including the sacrificing of life itself.  That's the longer definition I came up with, but I still like the one I used last week when integrity was a sub-point. "Integrity is what you are when no one is around, but for Christians, it's what you are because you know God is around."  One of the things that we clearly learned from Jesus was the preeminence of the heart.  What God sees going on in our hearts is far more important than the actions that others see.  Integrity is a heart matter.  In fact, I believe it is a self-esteem matter.  Our integrity is only as strong as our sense of self-worth, so if our self-worth is low, the price for selling out our integrity is low.  When our self-esteem comes from God rather than others, our character is strong and our concerns are for the eternal rather than the social.  Pleasing God is the ultimate satisfaction in life, and it helps us honor grace while it empowers us for godly living.
What are some of the elements of integrity?
1. Integrity is having clear values (David is a good example of having and not having them, as he refused to kill God's anointed, but was clueless about Bathsheba & Uriah until Nathan 1 Sam.24-26; and 2 Sam.11-12)
2. Integrity is honesty  (real honesty begins with our relationship with God - all else will follow)
3. Integrity is consistency  (Totally God's, everywhere - no exceptions - i.e. Peter)
4. Integrity is peace  (Not so much an element as a result.  Package deal - Phil.4:4-7)
5. Integrity is a sense of God's presence  (It's the how & why of integrity.  An authentic relationship with God is when we are totally aware of his presence. Acts 17:28)
Conclusion:  We are on a journey of deepening our relationship with our God so He truly becomes our "Abba Father."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Hunger Games

I haven't done a movie review in a long, long time. That's primarily due to the fact that I only go to see one about every three months. Unless it's Disney or animated, I generally have to go by myself, and I lose enthusiasm for going when I can't share it with someone. However, when it's a national "blockbuster" movie that everyone seems to be talking about, I sometimes will go just so I can know what they are talking about. That is the reason I went to see The Hunger Games yesterday. I meant to read the book first, but my get-around-to-it list of books to read is out of control right now, but I hope to read the entire trilogy before the next movie comes out - remember I said "I hope."
I'd heard about the essential plot of the story before, but it was still disturbing to watch a movie about teens killing teens - but then, it's on the evening news every night isn't it? It is a fast-action drama that grabs your attention immediately and forces you to stay glued to every second. For me it helped that the opening scene was about a bowhunter stalking a deer, which got away - to the relief of PETA folks across the nation - but not so for the bird that was arrowed minutes later. That set the tone for the plot that this Katniss Everdeen girl was no ordinary sixteen year old.
It was 1984 meets Apocalypto. In a futuristic setting, twelve districts that had been part of a rebellion against the nation are forced to offer up two teen Tributes to represent their district in The Hunger Games. The names are drawn from a bin that contains everyone in that district from the age of 12 to 18. It's a survival of the fittest, kill or be killed, there can only be one, giant reality show for the enjoyment of the the whole country. Considering what they had to do to kill off so many kids (yes, some who clearly looked 12 or 13) it was not nearly as gory as it could have been.
The main story line is what Katniss and her fellow Tribute Peeta do to survive and to literally "play the game". It's an awful indictment on where reality TV could go. What they learn to do to "play to the crowd" and gain favor and support from the cheering masses is one of the more interesting twists in the plot. Then, woven through all the reality TV hype is the political scheming by the government who are using the Games to carry out their own interests.
I am sure than anyone who has read the book would feel like the movie left a lot out. I would love to have had more development of the characters, which you don't have time for in a movie, but the redeeming qualities of the story include compassion, sacrifice, kindness, bravery, and loyalty to family and friends. These are the values that keep you from being depressed by the ruthlessness, inequities, exploitation, blood lust, and white-washed cruelty of the world featured The Hunger Games.
Okay, I enjoyed it because I love action adventure drama, and I love any story about someone overcoming the odds that are stacked against them. It had great acting and some incredible stars like Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson. Still, it was depressing driving home and thinking, "I'm glad I don't live in a world that treats so insignificantly the life of its teens!" Then I remembered the three teens shot over the weekend in street violence downtown. And the almost weekly news stories of teens killed in car accidents because they weren't wearing seat belts. And...well you get the idea. Then I thought, "I'm glad I don't live in a world that has such terrible love for such terrible reality TV." Oops!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Life That Counts - Principle 5

Just in case you were wondering what Principle #5 was in my series Living a Life That Counts, I thought I'd give you a brief outline of what I shared last Sunday.

Principle #5 is: A life that counts is being a steward not a stealer. We either take care of things or we use, abuse, ignore, neglect, and destroy them. As children/servants of God, we are called to be stewards or people who have been called to "be a curator, guardian, manager" or basically people who have been "delegated responsibility" by God. Like worship, obedience, faithfulness, and many other godly qualities - being a steward is total! It's who and what we are all the time! 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 tells us we have be "entrusted" and are expected to be "faithful" with everything God has given us. Check also 1 Cor.10:31 (everything must glorify God), Col.3:16 (everything is done in the name of Jesus), and 2 Peter 1:3 (He has given us all things). We are all his and all we have is his! So what is a steward?

1. A steward is loyal! (Luke 19:11-27) Thoughtful, unselfish, & considerate!
2. A steward is responsible! (Luke 12:42-46) Dependable & productive = grow!
3. A steward is trustworthy! (Luke 16:10-12) Integrity! Not just what you are when no one is around, but what you are because you know God is around! Honesty & trust are the foundation of all relationships. Without it, there is no relationship.
4. A steward glorifies his or her Master! It's not about the steward but the boss! 1 Peter 4:8-11 shows us all the parts being connected!
Conclusion: We've talked about Joseph being in God's Waiting Room, waiting to be used by Him. But he was also in God's training room learning that when he become the 2nd most powerful man in all Egypt there was no rank with God! Only being a steward!
"There is no rank in the church, it just smells that way sometimes!" We are stewards of all God gives us. Including this day, this hour, and this opportunity to use it for Him.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter Egg Hunt

Our Easter Egg Hunt was yesterday morning, and it was a great morning of fun and learning for a lot of our children and children from our community. Above, Donna pauses for a quick picture with one of the many children who beam when they see "Miss Donna."

This is the same little "Sweetie" who I couldn't get to look at me for a picture because the Easter Bunny was too much fun to look at.

Early in the registration! This is one of the best organized events we do each year. We had lots of volunteers to help make everything go smoothly.

Several of my pictures came out blurry for some reason. Maybe I was just to shaky. Above is Donna telling a story to her age group of kids.

This is Valerie reading a story to the kids who were a little older. My pics of Julie and Nancy teaching some large groups of kids didn't turn out very well. I like these pictures because the adults are paying as close attention as the kids were.

This is one of several areas with eggs "hidden?" for the kids. This section was for the really small children. Like I said, the leaders of this (Connie & Linda) do an excellent job of organizing and planning. The children go to different areas at different times and for different age groups and it all goes amazingly well. Below is the table with the gift bags and the snacks for after the egg hunt. The gift bags were really full of neat stuff for the kids.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Blog # 704 says Happy Easter

At our monthly ministers meeting yesterday one of my "partners in the Gospel" asked me what we were doing for Easter this Sunday. I was somewhat surprised to realize that I hadn't even thought about it. I am very much focused on the present lesson series I'm doing "Living a Life That Counts," and it never crossed my mind to change or do anything special for Easter. It wasn't that many years ago that in our fellowship you were living dangerously if you even mentioned the word Easter let alone consider letting it influence what the plans were for the Sunday morning assembly. I'm glad those days are gone. Like Christmas, I am thankful for any day that has people thinking about Jesus - even for just an hour or two. Hey, I grew up in a family that many years was an Easter-only-go-to-church-family, and even with all the lilies, palm fonts, extra instruments, and special choir songs, I squirmed in my pew and hated wearing the new suit and tie my mother always got us. In spite of that, I still have memories of how special and precious that day was to many people. How can you hammer anything that makes people think of a crucified and slain Lord, who on that first Easter Sunday came out of that tomb confirming his Sonship and our hope of eternal life? As I have mentioned before, unlike Christmas, which we know has some pagan and political baggage in its origins, Easter - as far as historical dates go, is pretty much on target. We know this because Passover has stayed constant throughout the centuries. Besides, it's really not a matter of a correct date but a powerful and true message. If you will review the message of those men and women in Acts, especially Paul, you will see that their primary point to proclaim was the fact of the resurrection of Jesus.
Having said that, my lesson this Sunday is still about Living a Life That Counts, but I will gladly, warmly, and sincerely wish everyone a Happy Easter. So, if I don't do another Blog between now and then - Happy Easter to you!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Life That Counts (4)

Principle #4 in my series Living A Life That Counts is learning that life is about desiring the right treasure. No one just exists, we are all after something. Call it purpose, direction, meaning, or just fulfilling needs - we all believe that our life would be better if we could just get, have, obtain, or discover ____________ (something)! Our greatest struggle in life is choosing the spiritual over the physical when it comes to filling in that blank. "Seek first the kingdom of God," said Jesus, "and all these things (the other stuff we might put in the blank) will be added to us" It's not whether or not we have a perceived treasure we are hunting after, but what kind of treasure are we hunting for.
Anyone who has lived and learned long enough, and/or studied the Bible well enough knows that recognition and riches rise to the top of the list of our treasure hunting priorities. I introduced the topic by reminding everyone about all the movies that have been produced that are about or include treasure hunting. From there we needed to make the point that "treasure" is a relative term or concept. "One man's trash is another man's treasure." The bigger principle though is the fact that a treasure can be about valuables or values. For instance, Saving Private Ryan was about the value of one life, and Ground Hog Day is about the value of learning to be a giver. We see the contrast in values in the Bible. I used three examples: Simon vs. Simon = Simon the Sorcerer of Acts 8 wanting to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit to boost his business, verses Simon Peter declaring that ONLY Jesus had the words of life in John 6:66-69; Recognition vs. Sharing = the need for praise that Ananias and Sapphira had in Acts 5, verses the love and togetherness of the believers in Acts 4:32-33; and Rust Storage vs. Trust Storage = Jesus' comments about where we should put our treasures in Matthew 6:19-21.
Just using passages from the Bible, here are some principles to help us pick the right treasure:
1. We are a treasure to God! (Deut.7:6) He declares us valuable!
2. We won't see a treasure if we're not looking for it! (Matt.6:22-23) Everything depends on how we choose to look at it.
3. We must understand the value of a treasure! (Matt.13:44-45) See it and know it when we find it.
4. We must choose God's treasure! (Heb.11:24-26) Like Moses did.
5. The greatest treasure of all is Jesus! (Col.2:2-3)
6. God placed his greatest treasure in us! (2 Cor.4:5-10) He placed it in jars of clay (us) and while the jars are fragile the treasure is not!
Conclusion: Seeking is directly connected to the value of the treasure. We will only seek God if we understand what he has done, how much he loves us, and what he has planned for us. (Heb.11:6 - "He rewards those who earnestly seek him.")