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theological pipe

Put that in your theological pipe and smoke it…

That Great Sermon?

That sermon was great. It was amazing. We hear this all the time from so many people every Sunday.
Oh wow, the sermon today was great.

For a sermon to be great it has to be effective and for it to be effective change has to happen and for change to happen Jesus has to be involved and the Spirit has to move.

How many great sermons from great preachers is it going to take before something changes in your life?
Your circumstances haven’t changed. But the message was great.
Your view of your circumstances hasn’t changed. But the message was great.
You know God wants you to do something and wants something different for you and your life, but you still struggle and question everything. But the message was great.

Let’s move away from the personal and move to a more macro view of things…
There are numerous preachers and pastors that are extremely gifted orators. They can weave humor, pop culture references and pragmatism with scripture and they do so with a skill that rivals professional speakers and actors.
These preachers and pastors are leading small, medium, large, and mega churches. Because of technology, their reach is almost unlimited. No longer bound by the confines of a building, their words and teachings can travel not only out of their town, but even out of their state and country!
Every week they deliver messages that reach audiences small and large and every week countless people will comment to each other, either in person or on social media, that the message that they heard was great.

And yet the church universal has problems. Church attendance is on the decline. The percentage of people who identify as Christians is on the decline. Non-believers have an extremely negative view of churches and Christians. Ask people what word comes to mind when they think of Christians and the words hypocritical and judgmental pop up the most often.

But the sermon was great.

Again, unless these ‘great sermons’ are generating changes in our lives, our circumstances and the way we view our circumstances, and the way we treat those around us, they really can’t be that great.

Part of the problem is that today’s preachers, pastors, and teachers – gifted as they may be in delivering smooth, polished sermons that hit the right tones and tickle the right ears – are missing something.

The Apostle Paul gives a clue as to what is missing in the sermons and in our lives and what is needed in order to bring about the change that should result when one preaches and when one hears a truly great message.
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

A message that is delivered smoothly with funny anecdotes is not the definition of a great sermon. A great sermon is one that has the Spirit behind it.

If you walk away marveling at a message or are in awe of a speaker/teacher/preacher your focus is on the wrong thing and the speaker has done a poor job of allowing God’s Spirit to work.

We should walk away in awe of God. Preachers are to shine the light on God and His Son and His Spirit. That is what changes people. Not “great” messages.

Lesser of two evils…

Another election season…another time of melodramatic, hyperbolic wranglings about people moving if ‘so-and-so’ is elected, or how if ‘the-other-so-and-so’ is elected it will be the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).

You aren’t moving. And the world will keep turning after Nov. 8th.

I’ve written about this before (see archives) but it bears repeating:

God is not going to look down upon the earth on the morning of Nov. 9th and say, “They elected who??!!??”  Even though this year it may seem He has all the more reason to do that –  In reality, God will look down and it will be just as He planned.

You see, it is God who really elects leaders – (Deuteronomy 2:20-22; Daniel 4:17; John 19:10-11; Romans 13:1)

He is in control. Always.

It is something as Christians we would do good to remember – that despite any and all circumstances – He. Is. In. Control.

Forever in control.

Yes, the choices may not seem to make sense. And this year they may seem to make even less sense. It has always been that depending on your political party the opposition candidate was a harbinger of horrible things. This year it appears that most people are resigned to the fact that both candidates aren’t very good (putting it mildly) and realize they are voting for the lesser of two evils.

I was going to wax poetically about these choices and how we shouldn’t be focusing on the candidates and the end of the world and all that but instead be focused – always – on God and His power and His sovereignty…and then I came across this from C.S. Lewis…

“I feel a strong desire to tell you–and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me–which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
–CS Lewis

 

Despite

Just another poem. How do I live? How do I carry on despite everything? Everything the world is throwing at me and everything of my own doing? This contains my answer… 

DESPITE

I have hope

Despite it all

 

The folly of it does not escape me

I am not totally blind

To the world I see

Not yet

I cling with aching fingers to it

The irrationality of hope

 

The drumbeat gets louder

Beating relentlessly

Pound, pound, pound

I am not submitted

Nonetheless

 

Not just outside

But inside I am aware of my fault

They do it to me

I do it to myself

Another attack, another incursion

Another slip-up, another misstep

But I do not give in

Not yet

 

Instead I bow down

In the face of pain

Sorrow

Loss

Chaos

Everything the world throws out at me

Everything I throw at myself

I bow down

To the only One who can make something

Of this disorder

He is the Reason

 

Despite it all

I still have hope

Beyond All Belief

Just another writing. How things are bad and good at the same time and how the echoes of the good come from God. Or something totally different. 

Beyond All Belief

There is a smell within the aroma of Spring

The sweetness of the grass and its tickle in the nose

Is interrupted ever so slightly

Ever so slightly

By something that doesn’t fit

Something that doesn’t belong

That seems out of place

Is it me?

 

The grandeur of God in all His creation

From the galaxies and stars to the rocks and sand

Something is off ever so slightly

Ever so slightly

Something doesn’t make sense

Something can’t make sense

It is never steady

Is it me?

 

There is sickness and death and disruption

It is there and can be felt by all

It ruins perfection ever so slightly

Ever so slightly

Nothing is correct

Nothing is right

And I smile

Is it me?

 

In the good the bad is there

In the bad I feel its weight

Hoping for good to break free ever so slightly

Ever so slightly

By something

By someone

By anything

Can it be?

 

In this juxtaposition of death with hints of life

Good with echoes of bad

Ever so slightly showed itself

As beyond all belief

Wrong made right

Bad made good

By One who only knows

Love

Let it be

Running to Nowhere

 

Just a poem on feelings from a moment in time…not much explanation is needed (I don’t think)…

Running to Nowhere

I can’t see the light

Unforeseen forces push me about

Doubts fill my head

It won’t stop until I’m dead

Running

Running from you

Running to you

 

I’m running

Running

Running

Running to nowhere

Running to you

 

You are the question

I cannot ask

You are the answer

I cannot hear

And still I run

I run

I run

Somewhere

Anywhere

 

I’m running

Running

Running

Running to nowhere

Running to you

 

I have no direction

I go down not up

Standing still is not an option

So I run

From you

To you

I run

 

I’m running

Running

Running

Running to nowhere

Running to you

I hope

Where’s Ya Hope?

I have written about this before. Bears repeating, especially as the 2016 election heats up. Too often during political seasons we put our hope in politicians and also predict doom and gloom when someone we don’t like or agree with gets elected. Nothing wrong with that – unless you are a Christian. We believe God is in control, right?  Anyway, just another post with very few edits. Just starting writing and putting down thoughts for the purpose, as always, to Put in Your Theological Pipe…

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

(Romans 13:1 ESV)

 

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

(Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

 

Are you a Christian first or a Republican or Democrat first?

Just think about that for a minute and then realize God will not look down from His throne on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the election, and say, “Whhhaattttt? He or she was elected? Uh, Son, back to the drawing board.”

The Bible makes it clear that God is a Sovereign God and that He is the one who grants leaders authority and He is the one who directs their paths. If you are a Christian and you believe the Bible it would be beneficial to remember that as this election season heats up.

As your chosen candidate (be they the Republican nominee or Democrat nominee) campaigns they will undoubtedly use the age-old tactics of attacking and demonizing their opponents and their followers. And just because this tactic works it doesn’t mean it is something we should take part in or agree with. The Bible says the world will know we are Christians by our love and it doesn’t make exceptions for politics. With the rise of social media it is easier than ever to broadcast your feelings for not only your friends and families to see, but their friends and their families, and their friends friends and families families and so on and so on. Remembering that God is in control is vital for us as we post memes and links to articles calling politicians and their followers Nazis or Communists or Fascists or whatever. Heck, that may even be true…and if God, in His infinite wisdom decides to put one of them in power, our job is to continue to love others and to trust God and to be the face of Jesus to everyone and also to pray for that leader, whoever they may be and even if we disagree with them (that’s Biblical too).

Many think the opposition candidate is going to be evil personified. Fine. Go back are read a little about the Roman leaders that ruled during Christ’s time. They used to capture Christians and burn them alive in the garden so they could enjoy the flowers at night. Guess what, God was the one who gave them authority. I don’t know why, but God’s ways are higher than ours. Yes, at times it seems crazy and even stupid that He would allow certain leaders to come to power, but He does. It does not change His Sovereignty and it should not change our trust in Him. Oh sure, we can question Him and even wonder if He has lost His mind, but He hasn’t and we need to always return to trusting Him and being ambassadors for His Son.

Here is a little secret, when you go to church on Sunday mornings – you are worshipping with Republicans and Democrats and Independents and Libertarians and people who could care less about politics. Heck, there are probably some people who are very conservative on some issues and very liberal on other issues and middle of the road on others…the thing is – God loves them all. God’s requirement for salvation is repentance of sin and trust in His Son. There is no political party requirement and our love should shine for all to see – even those who do not hold the same political beliefs.

I know what some of you are thinking. But, the Bible says this and that and my party is for this and that, so therefore I am right. OK, let’s pretend that is true and that your party would actually follow through with their promises. Is that what you are resting your hope on – Your political party doing what they promised (which hardly ever happens)? Or is your hope in Jesus? It better be on Jesus.

You see, Jesus often taught His disciples to avow themselves of the democratic process and to get involved in political fights and to use the power of the government to affect change in the world. Oh wait, no He didn’t. In fact, quite the opposite, his few mentions of the government and governing authorities were to submit yourselves to them. Jesus understood and taught that this world is not our home and that even though we live here in this time and under the governments that are in place, there is another kingdom – the Kingdom of God – and for the Christian that should take precedence. It is in that Kingdom and that Kingdom alone that you will find your true God-given nature and find the satisfaction you are seeking.

We are told to preach the Kingdom of God, not the benefits of being a democrat or republican or libertarian or socialist or whatever. The Kingdom of God is where God rules and we were told by John the Baptist that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom will be fully established when Jesus returns. Our job then is to prepare ourselves and others.

We prepare ourselves by repenting of our sins, trusting Jesus for our salvation, and being baptized. Once we do that we become citizens of the Kingdom…and our focus should be preaching that Kingdom to others…and when we preach forgiveness of sin and the mercy and grace and love of God that is shown through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus it would be extremely hypocritical to do so and to then turn around and call people names and demonize them for their political beliefs and to put your hope in politicians.

So, should you vote? Yes. Should you discuss your political beliefs, sure, but in love. And it should all be done knowing and trusting that in the end God is in control. He always has been and always will be. It may not make sense that such and such candidate is elected, it may even seem crazy – heck it may be totally crazy – but that is just what God wants and He will use it to fulfill His plans.

So Christians, put your trust in God, not in politicians or political parties. If you trust Him, you will. And also, be aware of what face you are showing to the world at home, at the store, at work, and on social media. Are you showing the face of your political leader/party of choice or of Jesus?

The Heart of the Gospel

Just another one. Something to think about, go hmmm about, put in your theological pipe (so to speak).  Are there holes in this one?  Yeah there are in everything that I write.  But so what, they’re just thoughts and things to think about and question and disagree with (if you want to be wrong) or agree with (if you want to be right). 🙂  Kidding, kidding. 

Remember that time Jesus found that guy or girl and they were engaged in that sin?

I believe it was sin A or maybe it was sin B.

Remember His reaction?

How he was incredulous about their behavior?

Remember the Bible using not only red letters to show that he was speaking, but using ALL CAPS TO SHOW JUST HOW MAD HE WAS?

Remember Jesus not only calling them out forcibly, but actually calling the sinners devils, in fact he made it even more specific and called them Satan?

Remember that?

Yeah. Me neither.

But I do remember Jesus having some harsh words for religious leaders.

  • “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13)
  • “Woe to you, blind guides…” (Matthew 23:18)
  • “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?” (Matthew 12:34)

I also remember that time Jesus had a harsh reaction to religious people in the temple.

  • “And Jesus entered the temple sand drove out all who sold and brought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” (Matthew 21:12)

I remember Jesus calling out his disciples for their lack of faith and he wasn’t nice about it.

  • “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

And there was this one time Jesus called one of this followers Satan.

  • “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”” (Matthew 16:23)

In fact, here are a few of the words Jesus used for his followers and the religious leaders of his day:

Whited sepulchers

Fools

Blind guides

Hypocrites

Serpents

Murderers

A generation of vipers

And more.

Yes. Sin is sin.

Yes it separates us from God.

Yes. Jesus is the way the truth and the light and NO ONE comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

And our job – is to model Jesus and recreate what He did when He came in contact with sinners, with the lost, with the hurting.

He showed grace and mercy.

Jesus showed love and compassion on those who were lost.

He saved his harshest words for the religious leaders and his followers.

We have the Gospel – which is good news.

Telling someone who is lost and hurting that they are Satan is not good news.

Telling them about the love and grace of our Savior is.

If you want to call someone Satan or get in someone’s face or get angry about something – do it to other believers who are missing the heart of the Gospel.

That’s what Jesus did.

He offered grace and mercy to the lost and hurting.

And he offered chastisement and tough words to believers who were missing that heart.

Maybe God Knows What He’s Doing?

(This is not a final thought on this subject, but for me a string of endless thoughts on just one subject – today relating to the Supreme Court decision.  If I wrote this tomorrow, it very well could take a different direction and tone. For today, this is what I am thinking, which is what I do, maybe too much. But as always it is just something to put in your theological pipe and think about.)

The world is going to Hell in a hand-basket and the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states is just the latest salvo in an all out attack on morals and values.

Right?

And if you believe that you might be having a difficult time right now.

How could this happen? How did we fall so far so fast? Are we really abandoning traditional values at such an alarming rate?

If we dig deeper, the real question being asked is…

What is God doing?

God is in control. God is sovereign. God is all knowing.

The Bible even teaches that God is the one who puts leaders in power (Romans 13:1).

And that God directs them what to do (Proverbs 21:1).

So, if God is in control and God puts leaders in power and God directs them what to do…what conclusion can we take from what the Supreme Court did?

I would say the answer is…

God knows what He is doing.

The decision of the Supreme Court was a 5-4 vote.

When the decision was announced, there was great joy and celebrating for some people and for many Christians there was disillusionment, disgust, and many questions.

How are Christians to react? Do we stand up and shout? Do we voice our displeasure on social media? Do we call down judgment on the people?

Or do we pray? Do we temper our righteous anger and offer love and grace and understanding even in the midst of a world that seems aligned against us?

All good questions that I believe many Christians are asking themselves. Which is a good thing.

For had the outcome been different, had one Supreme Court justice had a different opinion and the court would have upheld the ban on same sex marriages in the states that had voted that way, what would the reactions be?

Homosexuals would be mad, hurt, disillusioned, and angry.

And Christians would be rejoicing. They would be happy. They would take to social media to remind the heathens that God is still God and that homosexuality is a sin and we do not condone sin.

And in doing so, we would not be showing the face of Jesus.

Jesus offers grace and mercy to the sinner.

He did to us.

He still does to others.

So maybe, just maybe Christians doing soul-searching on how to react and how to treat people they disagree with is a good thing.

Maybe Christians praying and seeking God for how to react in a world aligned against them is a good thing.

And maybe, just maybe God in His infinite wisdom knows that He is doing.

Arrogant, prideful, energized from a Supreme Court decision Christians might not have been the best at being salt and light to the world.

Humbled, searching Christians wondering how to proceed might be the best thing not just for us, but also for the world.

Grace and mercy works.

Sinners are sinners…they are lost, hurting, and thirsty. They believe that court decisions or things of this world are the answer.

They aren’t.

Only Jesus is.

God is still God. He is on His throne.

He has offered us grace and mercy though His Son.

And He calls us to show grace and mercy to the world.

Maybe, just maybe He knows what He is doing, because had the decision been different I do not know if grace and mercy would have been the response.

The world is going to Hell in a hand-basket under God’s control and the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states is just the latest salvo in an all out attack on morals and values part of His plan to bring glory to Himself.

The Thug in Us

(note – this is not a discussion or observation on the facts of what happened and how in Baltimore.  Indeed, more and more facts come out each day.  It now appears that it is possible that the person who died may have intentionally injured himself.  It is also possible that the police did something to cause the injury.  We simply do not know for sure what happened.  This writing is more directed towards the thugs and how we view them, and maybe how we should…as always, just something to stick in your theological pipe and ponder…)

The riots and looting and burning of buildings this past week in Baltimore paint a horrible picture. Anytime, regardless of the cause, people feel the need to steal and destroy other people’s property it is a sad situation that truly is beyond words and understanding. Sure, someone might be able to concoct a scenario where this type of behavior would be justified, but they would have to be very creative.

Do the people rioting and hell-bent on destruction have grievances? Maybe, maybe not.

Are they based on reality? Maybe, maybe not.

But I do believe that these people who throw bricks through windows and who steal snacks and who destroy small businesses in their communities, whatever the reason, are not only wrong, but are ignorant and immoral. There has been some discussion among newscasters and talking heads that calling them thugs is a code-word for some hidden, subconscious racism, but I don’t think so.

Calling them thugs is exactly what they are – thugs. If it walks like a thug and talks like a thug and acts like a thug, it is a thug. Thugs and thuggish behavior are not based on color or race or class or anything other than behavior.

Throwing bricks through windows and destroying property and threatening and injuring other people are the activity of thugs.

The people acting like thugs over the past few days are a small group. The majority of people – whether they be protestors or residents – do not condone or want burning houses and destroyed businesses and do not want to fear for their lives in their own communities.

I have seen countless commentators on the news and on social media commenting on how the small minority of thugs is ruining legitimate conversations and making life miserable for “the rest of us.”

A Facebook post I read made a soothing point to let the readers know that the large majority of people in Baltimore and indeed around the world are not thugs. The media fixates on the thuggish behavior because it makes for higher ratings, but the writer said that the majority of people are basically good people and we should all remember that. We should remember that as the media focuses on the worst of us, the rest of us are good people at heart.

Soothing and poignant.

And completely false.

It is very easy to compare ourselves to the thugs as they destroy property and burn buildings and say, “I am a good person.” Well, of course you are when compared to the thugs.

But, if we think truth is important, the reality is you are no better than the thug. In fact, you are a thug too.

No. You are not a good person.

No. You do not have a good heart.

No. You are not so different than the people running the streets at night destroying, burning and looting.

But, but, but…but nothing.

Truth –“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

More truth –“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Now you may say, “But that is not talking about me. I worship God.”

OK…

“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based merely on human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13)

So, this idea that the huge majority of people in the world are basically good is a nice thought when we come face to face with evil people doing evil things, but in reality – in truth – it is wrong.

We are all bad. We are all nasty.

We are all throwing bricks.

We are all destroying things.

We are all setting fires.

We are all thugs.

All of us.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10)

The ONLY thing that sets anyone apart from being a thug is Jesus. He, and He alone, can take a thug and transform him into a different person, into a Child of God.

Christians who have gone to church for any length of time have probably heard the discussion about who they would be during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Would you be one of the disciples who ran away? Would you be like the women who remained with Jesus until the very end? Would you be like Simeon who carried Jesus’ cross for him?

No, you are the crowd. You are the mockers. You are the ones who spit on Jesus and laughed at him, defying him to show miraculous signs. You are the sinners – you are the very ones who sent him to the cross.

Today, you are the thugs.

You are the ones looting.

Burning.

Threatening.

Destroying.

It is who you are.

It is how you were born.

It is in your nature.

Your thug-nature.

The only thing that changes the thug in all of us is Jesus.

So as we watch the scenes unfold on TV. As we watch countless videos of the destruction and devastation. And as we shake our heads at the evil nature of these thugs and then marvel at our own perceived goodness. It might be good to remember –

We are thugs – and the only thing that has changed and can change us is Jesus.

And maybe instead of offering only prayers for the afflicted and derision for the thugs. We can remember that we too were once thugs and we can pray for them as well.

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