Recreational Christianity

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 ESV

Hobbies are big business these days. As Americans, we spend massive amounts of time, energy, and finances on our hobbies. I find it humorous how we are constantly seeking new ways to justify our worship of our hobbies. From health benefits to relational enrichment we repackage our toys to justify our obsessions.
I don’t have a problem with hobbies. As a matter of fact, I have way too many of them if I’m being honest. However, I’ve never been one to take my hobbies too seriously. I’m more of a dabbler. I pursue many different hobbies at the same time and switch frequently. I refuse to spend too much money or time on my hobbies because, well, I’m cheap busy. I wish my reasons were more mature or spiritual. Essentially, I know just enough about the hobbies I pursue to be dangerous. I’ve learned this tends to drive serious enthusiasts crazy.
Take golf for example. Several years ago some friends encouraged me to take up the game. To this day I have never purchased a club or any accessories. The only money I have spent is on greens fees. However, there were those who were more serious about my golf game improving than I was and blessed me with clubs and a few accessories. Now golf isn’t a game for the dabbling type. To attain even an average game, serious attention is required. Yet, I was happy to be a hack. All I wanted was to enjoy the outdoors, make a few jokes, make contact with the ball on my first swing at every third tee, and leave the course with almost as many golf balls as I arrived with, even if they were different ones (I am a firm believer in the gentlemen’s golf ball exchange. Your loss is my gain, as is mine yours.) To this day I am happy to go out once or twice a season, blow the dust of the clubs and remember what it feels like to swing. Unfortunately, my golfing buddies wanted so much more – silence on the tee box, use of the same ball throughout the round, and scores within a cul de sac of par. Imagine that!? Needless to say, they don’t invite me to golf with them much anymore.
As a pastor I am immersed in church life and as I look around at things today I am often reminded of my golf game. It seems as though many church attenders are content to treat Christianity as something to dabble in. Hobbies sometimes seem to take a higher priority than living out the Christian life. There are times when I get the sense my aspirations for many church attenders are much higher than their spiritual aspirations are for themselves. While I want to see them voraciously hungering to know God through prayer, His Word, and meaningful relationships with other believers, they give the impression that attending church once or twice a month and throwing some loose change in the plate as it passes is more than enough to satisfy them and God. In reality, just enough is invested to keep the dust from accumulating on their Christianity, but not enough to make any kind of lasting impact on a life.
Even a brief survey of the teachings of Jesus seems to contradict this recreational approach to our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus repeatedly teaches that we are to prioritize him first and then allow everything else to filter through our relationship with him (Matthew 6:33). His message seems to be reverberate repeatedly that Christianity consists of enthusiasts not dabblers. If this is the case then what are we to make of the recreational approach to Christianity? Are we ignorant, are we falsely interpreting Jesus, or are we simply choosing to ignore him? Whatever the case, there appears to be a significant problem brewing among the Christian population.
A deeper look at Jesus teaching becomes even more compelling. At one point he told his disciples that following him meant denying oneself. He took things even further by explaining to those listening that following him meant taking up a cross daily. In Jesus’ culture, the cross was one of Rome’s most grotesque forms of execution that left the most hardened criminal humiliated. It was used to keep conquered peoples from rising up in rebellion, reminding them of what happened to those who attempted something so foolish. Jesus uses this image to propose a daily death, a total sacrificing of self: self-promotion, self-pride, self-exaltation, and self-comfort to follow him. Perhaps you have friends who treat their hobbies in this way. Daily taking up their “cross” and following ____________ (feel free to fill in the blank with the hobby of choice.). They sacrifice family, friends, church, health, and anything else that hinders the pursuit of their “hobby.” As extreme as it may sound to us, this is exactly what Jesus says being a Christian requires. There was a time when Jesus told his followers that Christianity would require denying family. There was a time when Jesus told his followers to let the dead bury their dead. This is hard teaching, which may be why some choose to ignore it, just like many did when Jesus first said it.
My choice to be a dabbler in golf means that I will probably never experience the euphoria of dropping a hole in one. A have friends who light up when they tell of their experience of this feat on the golf course. I’m OK with that. What I am not OK with is dabbling in my Christianity and missing the euphoria of seeing the fruit of a life completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that I will one day have the privilege of being a part of a group of believers who, together, are living lives completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ and by grace, experiencing the fruit of this kind of life. If that is your desire as well, let’s lock arms. Recreational Christians need not apply!

Fairy Tale Marriage

One of my great joys as a pastor is getting to share in the excitement and happiness of a couple preparing for marriage. I never tire of listening to couples talk about one another, how they met, how perfect they are for each another, and how everything is so much brighter when they are together. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic, and even though I try to hide it and play the part of the macho man, I want to see those sappy romantic comedies as much as my wife does.
One of my great sorrows as a pastor is witnessing a couple who has been swallowed up by the dark side of the vulnerability of love. The twinkle in the eye is gone, the idealism has eroded, and all that is left are broken memories of what was and what could have been.
I have yet to meet a couple who steps into my office or my home with the intent of giving marriage a try for five years or so and then deciding whether they would like to move on to other endeavors or not. When we get married we want it to last for life and we want the happily ever after. The problem is that the happily ever after takes work. It may be a tired cliché but it is true that the shine of love fades when you have to pick up the dirty socks and underwear that somehow ‘missed’ the laundry basket and ended up in an entirely different zip code or when the pounds begin to pile up around the midsection. It was a real eye opener for my wife on that first morning after we got married when she turned to kiss her ‘perfect man’ and was engulfed in a cloud of simple chronic halitosis. I knew it was true love when she fought through it and kissed me anyway.
It would be wonderful if kissing your spouse even when they have a serious case of bad breath were the only thing required for a good marriage, but we all know there is more to it than that. So what is the secret to a good marriage? What is it that keeps a couple together for ten, twenty-five, fifty years, or ‘til death do us part. What is it that allows them to go on sharing an ever-deepening love with one another?
The trouble is that this question is very easy to answer, but it takes a lifetime of hard work and commitment to carry out. No matter who we are, there is a need to be constantly reminded of the foundation upon which happy and healthy marriages are built. So at the risk of appearing trite, shortsighted, or completely out of touch with reality, I’m going to attempt to share two ‘simple’ principles that help build that happy, healthy, hopelessly romantic marriage we all dream of.
I learned a long time ago that in order to give something we have to have it or have experienced ourselves. One of my favorite ancient writers applied this to love when he said, “we love because [God] first loved us.” Some of us have enjoyed the luxury of growing up in the shadow of a marriage in which our parents modeled love for each other and love for us, but sadly many of us did not enjoy this luxury, and don’t desire to journey down the same path as our parents when it comes to love. Regardless of your personal experience with love, or what has been modeled for you, your surest source of receiving love and experiencing love in the purest sense is through knowing God. That same ancient writer not only said that love is from God, but that God is love. He perfected love because love is who He is. Marriages can and do survive apart from acknowledging God and His love, but only by both partners being in a place of regularly receiving the lavish love of God can a marriage soar. The only way to position ourselves to regularly receive God’s love is to receive the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Once again the ancient writer, John, sums this up beautifully, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son in the world, so that we might live (and love) through him.”
It’s not enough to just know love. Sadly, many who profess to know perfect love through a relationship with Jesus Christ end up with a shipwrecked marriage too. In many of these cases it is the result of forgetting a second fundamental principle; love is a giving thing. Our experience of love is richest and most satisfying when we are giving love away. It is paradoxical but undeniable. Think about what makes a great love story. It doesn’t take a PhD. to recognize the love found in sacrificing everything for someone else. It could be financial security, lofty dreams of fame, or even life itself, and though we may call it foolish, from a practical perspective, we can’t deny that the point has been made that love superseded anything else in life in these cases.
Lucky for us, living out the principle that love is a giving thing doesn’t require regularly making these kinds of momentous sacrifices. In reality, the healthiest marriages are the ones in which both partners have learned to make it a daily practice of giving love in the small things. It never ceases to amaze me how a little can go a long way. Time and again I have watched marriages in danger of caving, begin the healing process by simply committing to daily saying “I love you” in creative ways. From writing I love you on the bathroom mirror so it shows up when the steam from the shower collects, to a chocolate on a pillow, a random phone call, voicemail or text message, there is power in the realization that your spouse is thinking about you. And the truth is, most of us think about doing these things but just don’t take a few moments to carry them out. We did when we were dating, so what has changed? I am not saying that this will solve all your problems, but another ancient writer wisely observed that love covers a multitude of sins. When we know someone loves us there is a lot more we are willing to overlook, even endure. So find a fresh way to express your love every day.
Any seasoned marriage veteran will tell you there is so much more to a happy and healthy marriage than just these two principles. But without these there is not much of a foundation to build upon. Those who overlook these may enjoy marriage for a season, they may even stay together for a lifetime, but in order to experience that ever-deepening, satisfying love relationship with another human being that is the stuff fairy tales and romantic comedies are made of we must commit to these two principles. Allow God’s love, given to us through Jesus Christ, to be your deep flowing well from which your love gives selflessly and regularly to your spouse in little and big ways.

A Lesson from Cain

Preacher Billy Sunday had just finished a message on anger when a woman approached him seeking to justify her angry outbursts. She said to him, “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” To which Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun, and look at the damage it leaves behind!”
Angry outbursts and their devastating effects are everywhere. From road rage to domestic violence to irate customers at the grocer to children’s temper tantrums we know anger when we see it.
Anger and its effects are not something new to our modern world. We have accounts of anger included as far back as recorded history goes, many times including evidence of the destruction it leaves in its wake. I was reading the story of Cain and Abel this week from the book of Genesis and was struck by how easily this ancient story could be transplanted into our local newspaper without batting an eyelash.
The account in Genesis chronicles that through a series of events Cain becomes very angry, so angry that the author of the book describes Cain’s situation as being hot for him. Have you ever witnessed someone in the midst of a situation that was causing his temperature to rise? Old Looney Tunes cartoons did a great job depicting this. Good old Daffy Duck would get all bent out of shape with Bugs Bunny. Slowly but steadily he would tense up every muscle in his body like a board, clench his hands, pierce his lips (yes, ducks have lips), squint his eyes, sweat would bead on his forehead, and then he would turn red from toe to head. When he was completely red a train whistle would pop out the top of his head and let out its shrill shriek while Daffy shook all over. He was hot. He was angry, Cain kind of angry. It may be funny when its cartoon Daffy, but its not funny in real life.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed this transformation in someone. Maybe you’ve experienced this transformation yourself, and as a result, everyone knows not to mess with you. What’s going on inside shows itself on the outside as your anger boils over and into the lives of others. We may feel justified in our anger because of that reckless driver who cut us off or that insensitive customer who won’t get off the cell phone but when we begin to burn with anger we head down a devastating path.
Anger weakens us. It dulls our ability to reason. When Sinbad and his sailors landed on one of their tropical islands, they saw thirst quenching hunger satisfying coconuts high up in the trees. The coconuts were far beyond the reach of Sinbad and the sailors. But they noticed that in the branches of the trees were chattering apes. Sinbad and his men began to throw stones and sticks and shells up at the apes. This enraged the monkeys and they began to seize the coconuts and hurl them down at the men on the ground, just as they had wanted. The angry apes ended up collecting food for the sailors without even realizing it. Their anger played right into the hands of their foes, and so does ours.
In the story of Cain God comes to Cain and warns him not to continue down the path of anger because if he does there is a great danger he will no longer master the anger but the anger will end up mastering him. Sadly, that is exactly what happens and Cain ends up coldly taking the life of his own brother in the middle of a field. The anger gains such domination in Cain’s life that after he has killed his brother and is confronted about it he callously answers as though he could care less. Without even realizing it Cain allowed his anger to play right into the hands of his greatest foe, Satan and taken the life of his own brother. Cain gave in to sin and found himself neck deep in the devastating consequences of his anger run amock.
Has anger taken over in your life? Maybe you haven’t literally murdered but have you verbally murdered someone with harsh words. Perhaps you have emotionally murdered someone by withholding your love and affection. Do you find yourself relationally crippling others by spreading lies about them or avoiding them completely unless its to give them a disapproving cold shoulder? You may believe you have been wronged in some way and deserve to be aggressively hostile. Unfortunately, the longer you journey down the path of decision making driven by anger the greater the depths of bitterness, resentment, and misery that will take up residence within – leaving you neck deep in devastating consequences like Cain.
Daffy Duck and monkeys in palm trees may be cute expressions of anger but there is little that is cute about unrestrained anger in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Heed the lesson of Cain, if anger is crouching at your doorstep desiring to take over rule over it before it rules over you (Genesis 4:7).

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. James 1:19-20 ESV

Faint Fumes

It was a beautiful Spring day. The sun was high in the sky and there was a warm breeze blowing just strong enough to alleviate the heat radiating from the sun. This was the first day that felt like spring after a pretty wintry winter, and since we were living by a lake all we could think about was being on the lake soaking in as much of the day as we could. So we called some family to join us for this picture perfect day trip. Little did we know this picture perfect day on the lake would be nearly ruined by what was under the surface.
Our day trip on the lake started out pretty normal. We packed up the car, headed to boat storage and prepped the boat for launch. As we were prepping the boat, Holly reminded me that the last time we had gone out there had been a faint odor of gas fumes lingering at the back of the boat. So we decided a little additional investigation was in order to insure everything was fine. What we found was that everything wasn’t fine. While topping off the gas tank, a friend who was watching the fuel gauge noticed the floor at the back of the boat was soaked. The boat had been wintered for a few months, so it hadn’t been on the water for quite some time. Being a curious kind of guy he made his way to the back of the boat and lifted the engine cover. To our surprise the gasoline that was supposed to be filling the gas tank was actually filling the bottom of the boat. We immediately stopped filling the boat with fuel and began to assess the seriousness of the situation. We had created a small lake of our own in the bottom of our boat, but this lake could have quickly turned explosive had we tried to start the engine. That’s not the kind of thing that rounds out a picture perfect day!
Fortunately we caught the problem before anyone ended up getting seriously hurt, and were able to put the boat in the hands of a qualified mechanic for repairs. The sobering thing is that had we not paid attention to the faint fumes and the subtle signs things could have ended very differently.
This incident reminds me of how things often work in our relationships. Broken relationships don’t just happen. It is not normal for a wonderful relationship between two people to turn sour overnight resulting in a bitter rivalry. Typically, things build up under the surface with nothing but subtle warnings above the surface. There is a harsh word here, a piercing look there, and if these things are brushed over then the next thing you know you’re in a lake of fire wondering how in the world you got there and what could have been done to prevent it.
Unfortunately as a pastor I see this happen far too often, but very seldom do people catch the signs and react before the fire breaks out. The fire is usually raging by the time we begin crying out for help. Instead of needing a mechanic to perform some necessary repairs that will prevent life-threatening injuries, we are in need of emergency personnel to save, salvage, and perhaps pieced things back together. Oftentimes, we’re left with a charred heap of rubble from which to salvage what we can, if anything.
Are there any faint fumes leaking and lingering in any of the relationships in your life today? Is your spouse speaking a little more harshly, kissing a little less passionately or, staying out a little later? Those could be fumes. Are your children avoiding eye contact or conversation? Those could be fumes. Do you smell any possible fumes elsewhere? If so, its time to take a look under the surface and see if you can identify and address what is going on before it turns into your own little lake of fire. Some extra attention never hurt anyone and a visit to the mechanic is a lot less expensive than dealing with a charred heap of rubble.

“Normal”

Normal is an interesting word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines normal as “conforming, adhering to, or constituting a usual or typical standard, pattern, level, or type.”
It took until my junior year in college for me to realize my eyesight was not normal. I was oblivious to the gradual deterioration that had taken place over the years, so I thought the way I saw the blackboard was the way everyone else saw it. While everyone else was seeing sharp lines and distinct shapes I was seeing fuzzy lines and blurry shapes.
What finally triggered a visit to the eye doctor was a drive home from Western New York after a long day on the ski slopes. The sun had set and a light snow was falling as I edged my little Ford Festiva onto the road home. The road was dark and curvy and the snow began to fall harder the closer we got to home. My brother-in-law was with me and I remember repeatedly saying to him, “boy it’s bad out here tonight. I don’t know if I can make it.” Since this is not the type of thing you typically hear a 22-year old male saying when he is with another guy, I should have immediately recognized that something was not normal. Later on my brother-in-law shared with me that I kept creeping farther and farther over the steering wheel as if I was trying to crawl out onto the hood or something, and by the time we pulled into a gas station at his suggestion I was squinting so tightly he wondered whether my eyes were even open. He graciously offered to drive the rest of the way home and I accepted feeling relieved that I didn’t have to navigate the elements any longer. As we pulled back onto the road I began to realize just how poorly and slowly I had been driving. I felt like we were in a rocket as Rob pressed down on the accelerator. I was a little concerned at first because it appeared reckless until he began to share that he could see things. Things like signs…with words and symbols on them…and oncoming cars. But the biggest shock to me was that he could see these things long before they were at the nose of the car, which is quite short on a Ford Festiva mind you. The next morning I scheduled an appointment with the eye doctor.
Our mind has a tendency to play tricks on us when it comes to “normal”. If we have been born into something or it’s all we’ve ever known, then our propensity is to label it “normal”. For example, it is “normal” in our culture to date. As a matter of fact, though parents differ on the appropriate age for their teenagers to begin this practice, it is not considered bad parenting to allow our sons and daughters to go out on dates. It’s even considered “normal”. But if we were living in the early 1900’s shortly after the word “date” entered the American vocabulary we would have a completely different understanding of normal. Few parents, or sons and daughters for that matter, would have wanted to be caught dating, since it was a lower-class slang word for prostitution. If someone wanted sex for money they went dating. (Mark Driscoll, Religion Saves, 181-183).
Oh how things have changed, but maybe not as much as we think. We may think we define dating differently than the way it was understood back in the early 20th century but how many times do our young women get taken out on dates in which the young man pays for everything and then expects he will get something in return. Couldn’t that, by definition, be loosely understood as a form of prostitution? Just a little food for thought.
Just because something is considered “normal” doesn’t make it right. There are a lot of things considered “normal” today that weren’t a decade ago. Some of those changes are good and some are not. I’m concerned that it is more common for followers of Christ to live life by conforming to what is classified by the surrounding culture as “normal” than it is to transform to the standards of the One we are to be following. We are far too happy with “normal” when Scripture clearly teaches not to conform or adhere to the patterns or typical standards of this world. Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our minds, like my eyes, need an appointment and regular check-ups with the Doctor. Some of us may need a new prescription so we are able to see the road signs – words and all – and the oncoming traffic. Then we stand equipped to navigate life in such a way that people see clearly we are followers of Christ. We need to stop letting our mind play tricks on us, stop accepting “normal,” and embrace God’s will by allowing Him to renew our minds.

Mashed Potato Sundae

I have a sweet tooth for ice cream. All it takes is a stroll through the ice cream aisle at the grocery store or a Dairy Queen commercial and all my defenses collapse. But several years ago I had a horrible ice cream experience that nearly changed my love for the arctic dairy treat forever.
Some friends of mine knew of my love for the cool creamy stuff and thought it would be funny to play a practical joke on me. They built the most beautiful caramel sundae the world has ever seen. OK, so that’s a little of an exaggeration, but you must picture in your mind a pretty doggone good lookin’ sundae. Just one look at the finished product made my glands jump into overdrive. So with spoon in hand, bib around my neck and my friends gathered round, I prepared myself for my journey to ice cream heaven.
I dug my spoon into the creamy caramel creation, pulled out the biggest scoop I thought my mouth could handle and thrust the spoonful into my mouth. I was instantly thrown into a state of confusion. Instead of finding myself on the Rocky Road to heaven, I was on a Mississippi Mudslide of misery. My taste-buds were expecting the cool, sweet, creamy flavors of an ice cream sundae but instead they were greeted with the warm, bland, pastiness of mashed potatoes and gravy.
I have nothing against mashed potatoes and gravy, but when one is expecting a caramel sundae I don’t know that anything could taste worse. Mashed potatoes and gravy may be able to be doctored to look like a real sundae but with the first taste there is no denying the combination is a counterfeit – just a poor reproduction of the real thing.
The joke, for my friends, was in the fact that they knew I was going to recognize the counterfeit just a little too late. Imagine the shock that would have ensued if, upon that first bite, I had really believed I was eating a caramel sundae and continued digging in, commenting on how cool and sweet and creamy the sundae was. The joke would have still been on me, but my friends may have brought my sanity, or at least my definition of a caramel ice cream sundae, into question.
Most of us would agree that humanity’s general orientation is toward ourselves. Whether it is conversations between parents and children or the advertising industry and the talk show circuit the connecting mantra is something akin to, “You’re worth it,” or “You deserve it.” Peruse the aisles of any bookstore and notice the growing self-help section. We want to feel good about ourselves and unlock our inner power, thereby contributing to the betterment of this giant blueberry. Then hopefully, we’ll be remembered for a generation or two as a good person. We even go so far as to scientifically prove that we are justified in focusing on ourselves because of the evolutionary processes that have put us atop the food chain. We are a people who are generally oriented toward ourselves.
Yet in the end all of this sounds about as pathetic as calling mashed potatoes and gravy a caramel sundae. And the truth is, it doesn’t settle all that well in our souls. We know this isn’t the real deal, but we’ve done our best to convince ourselves and everyone around us that it is as real as it’s going to get. And as long as the propaganda keeps playing in our ears, well, then it must be true. All the while we wonder why, if this is as real as it gets, all the pieces just don’t seem to fit together to make much sense. From marriages, to parenting, to worldwide peace it feels like we’re trying to fit square pegs in round holes.
Perhaps a shift in orientation is in order. Perhaps if we oriented ourselves toward God rather than ourselves we may find the pieces fitting together like they are meant to, not necessarily like we think they should, but like they are supposed to. And then suddenly when we sit down for that caramel sundae and put the first scoop in our mouth we would actually feel the rush of an arctic treat rather than some sculpted potato substitute. You can keep pretending the spuds are the real thing, me, I’m gonna get back to the real thing.

Peculiar People

We church attenders are a peculiar people.  We have an interesting way of doing things.  On any given Sunday we can be found singing songs about our devotion to Jesus with lyrics like, “It’s all about you,” and “Not to us,” or “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give.”  But within a few moments of singing these lyrics as a prayer of commitment to God we turn around and evaluate our worship experience based on very self-centered standards.  We are currently in the middle of a series at MorningStar entitled, “Worship Mix: The Weight and Wonder of Worshiping Together.”  So far we have spent 7 weeks talking all about God.  So one may be tempted to ask, “Is this series really about worship or is it about God?”  To which I would respond, “Yes!”  See, we must be centered on God if we are going to call something worship of God.  I see every head shaking affirmatively right now and many of you yawning at the simplicity and familiarity of that statement.  Of course anyone who has been a church attender for any amount of time knows that…but knowing is only part of the equation.  I know I need to go to the dentist every 6 months to get my teeth cleaned in order to promote my overall health, but I haven’t been for…ehem…much longer than that.  I think the same is true for us when it comes to worship.  When we evaluate worship by standards other than “it’s all about You, Jesus,” then we are revealing we know but we…ehem…aren’t practicing what we sing.  OUCH!!  It hurts, I know, because I have to admit guilt on this one myself.  This was driven home to me with particularly pointed clarity in a message I listened to this week.  The pastor’s name is Louie Giglio and he is speaking from John 3.  I would encourage you to listen to the whole message, but if you only have about 5 minutes follow this link and watch the message from the 11minute 30 second (11:30) point to the 16 minute 20 second (16:20) point.  I pray that it is as challenging and life changing for you as it was for me when it comes to our evaluation and assessment of churches and services.

http://www.passioncitychurch.com/watch/#20110703

Show ’em Jesus, mark

Consuming Fire

The American Film Institute
recently released their top 100 movies of all time.  Topping the list was the classic movie Citizen Kane.  The movie takes the viewer on a journey
through the life of fictional character Charles Foster Kane.  Kane accrues an incredible amount of wealth
and power and ultimately destroys himself.
As the movie moves along and Charles Foster’s desire for wealth, power
and pleasure grows there is a recurring shot of a wall with a fireplace in the
center of it in the home of Kane.  As his
wealth grows and becomes more destructive, the fireplace gets bigger and bigger
until near the end of the movie the fireplace is nearly as big as the
wall.  This fireplace is always burning
and consuming and by the end of the movie the fireplace has become and inferno
in which all of Kane’s earthly possessions are being burned up leaving nothing
but a lot of smoke.

Charles Foster Kane was a fictional
character that was rumored to have been loosely based on the life of a real
individual.  Whether or not that is the
case his story is one that is very familiar.
It is a story that has played itself out in some form or another
countless times throughout history.

The lure of
enjoying life is one that is great for all of us, and why not?  Life was made to be enjoyed.  We hear it over and over again pumped into
our brains through various forms of media and entertainment.  The entire marketing industry would be
bankrupted if they were to take an approach that didn’t capitalize on this idea
of enjoying life.  Parents encourage
their children to work hard in school and excel in some sport or hobby in hopes
that they will one day do well for themselves and maybe have all the things they
didn’t have.  And it is basically assumed
that any politician who wants any kind of legitimate shot at getting voted into
office will have a campaign filled with plans for making life better and better
during their term.

From every angle we are inundated
with the gospel of enjoying ourselves.
And we have bought what’s being sold hook, line and sinker.  The American Dream is entirely based on this
gospel and who doesn’t want to live the American Dream?  So we want to enjoy life, that’s a good thing
isn’t it?  Living life to the fullest is
a positive value, we don’t want people walking around with frowns on their
faces and miserable, that’s why our parents and teachers warned us that if we
frowned too much our faces would freeze that way.  People who enjoy life don’t frown and we
should all be enjoying life.  There is
enough pleasure and things to go around.

The truth is there is some measure
of enjoyment in the pursuit of pleasure.
We enjoy a good meal and a good movie or an exotic vacation.  There is also some measure of enjoyment in
the accumulation of things.  We enjoy the
smell and feel of a new car or the crystal picture of a new HDTV.  These things are great and they do bring a
smell to our faces and some enjoyment to life, but that enjoyment is always
short lived.  There is always something
else to experience or something better to buy.
And so our wants become needs and our short list of needs becomes a long
list of needs and eventually the fireplace is so big that it takes up the
entire wall.  Eventually the fireplace
consumes our lives and the things we thought would bring enjoyment ultimately
bring despair.

There is only one true source of
enjoyment in life that will not leave us despairing.  The world is not the only consuming
fire.  Nearly two thousand years ago a
wise man wrote that God is a consuming fire.
By pursuing Him and seeking to enjoy Him we find what it is we are
looking for.  Sure you can enjoy life and
experience short bursts of enjoyment here and there that end up resulting in
despair or you can pursue enjoying God and experience enjoyment that lasts far
beyond this lifetime.

The truth is we are all going to be
consumed by something.  Which fire would
you rather be consumed by?

Laughing at Ourselves

My wife and I are polar opposites when it comes to embarrassing moments. She is like an embarrassing moment magnet whereas I can count on one hand the number of embarrassing moments I’ve had in my lifetime. So when I do have an embarrassing moment my wife relishes the occasion and reminds me of it frequently, in love of course. That is why our Christmas tree excursion of 2006 will go down in the annals of history as one of the best for my wife.
The weeks leading up to Christmas were a bit cluttered for us that year so we didn’t have a whole lot of flex time to utilize as we went about the usual Christmas decorating preparations of hanging the outside lights, redecorating and rearranging the interior then purchasing and decorating our live Christmas tree. We’ve always been a little nostalgic when it comes to Christmas trees, seeking to make the whole ordeal a memorable experience and not just a purchase. So we’ve always sought out tree farms and went the ‘cut your own and drag it back’ route. That was our desire in 2006 as well and though we were unable to cut our own tree it still was a memorable experience and not just a purchase.
It was business as usual as we arrived at the lot. We carefully trekked through the rows and rows of pre-cut trees and narrowed it down to three or four of our favorites and then went about listing the pros and cons of each one. One was scarce on the bottom but had a nice full top, another was nice and full on the one side but the other looked as if someone had taken a pair of hedge clippers to it. Still another one was nice and full but quite out of proportion. We finally settled for one that wasn’t quite as full but was proportional throughout. We paid for our purchase, had the tree shaken and bundled and then I began the process of securing the tree for transport.
Maybe you’ve heard it said, “The best laid plans of mice and men,” well I’ve heard it too and all I can say is that my idea for securing our tree looked a lot different in my head than it actually turned out. Our vehicle did not have a luggage rack so I had to find a little more creative way to secure the tree to the roof. Though I was never a Boy Scout I’ve learned to tie a pretty mean knot and exercised my craft on the driver door mirror of our little SUV. Satisfied with my handiwork I flung the rope to the other side of the car and looped it around the mirror on the passenger side door. I’m sure many of you can see where this is going already. Fortunately for me, for reasons no more profound than I couldn’t tie the knot tight enough around the mirror on the passenger side I chose to go a different route and opened the door and tied the rope around a handle on the ceiling of the car. Satisfied with my efforts I tucked the excess rope under the passenger seat told my wife to jump in and proceeded around the front of the vehicle. As I did I noticed two employees watching me out of the corner of their eyes. It appeared they were smiling and their shoulders were bouncing a little. I shrugged it off and thought nothing of it until I reached the driver door and tried to open it. It came open about an inch and stopped. It was clear now the two employees were laughing at what they knew was coming and now my wife had joined them. I had secured the tree and it wasn’t going anywhere, but neither was I, at least not through the driver’s side door. I walked back past the laughing employees, asked my wife to collect herself enough to please step out of the vehicle then crawled through the car to the driver’s seat laughing a little myself as I did. Like I said, we may not have got to cut down our own tree but it certainly turned into an experience.
Whether you are an embarrassing moment magnet like my wife or more like myself we all need to laugh at ourselves every once in a while. I’ll be the first one to tell you we must take life seriously, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously. There was a time in my life when I would have wanted to let my wife and those two employees have it for making light of my mistake and not warning me about what I was heading into, but what would that have got me? A night on the couch and a black eye or two, instead I got a good laugh and a memorable family experience to cherish. I’ll take the embarrassment and the memorable experience any day.

Time to Reflect

I am headed to my 20 year high school reunion this weekend. Special occasions like this always put me in a reflective mood. Personally, I like to reflect. I like to evaluate the ebb, flow and patterns in my life, even though I don’t always like what I see and what God tells me I must do about it. Still, I have enjoyed reflecting during the last several weeks prompted by said reunion. See, I wasn’t living my life to honor God 20 years ago so there is a lot of ebb and flow since that time. There have been a lot of devastating patterns overturned and replaced with life-giving, God-honoring ones. I like to stop and just rejoice when I come across things like that. God doesn’t allow me to stay there long though because there are still so many patterns in my life that need to be surrendered to His Lordship. I’ve got a long way to go, but God has certainly brought me a long way too.
There is another special occasion coming up that I hope will prompt the same kind of reflective mood in all of us. It is the 50th anniversary of MorningStar Baptist Church. What a great time for each of us to prayerfully evaluate the ebb, flow, and patterns of life and ministry for this church. What a great time to rejoice in the ways in which God has revealed and replaced destructive patterns in this ministry. God won’t allow us to stay there too long though because He still has work to do. He still has life-threatening patterns to uncover and root out in us individually and collectively.
We are going to have a wonderful time of celebration August 27-29. There will be old friends and new. There will be memories made and memories remembered. There will be food (of course, we’re Baptist!), there will be music, there will be laughter and surprises. But in the midst of all of that I want to encourage every one of us to also allow this to be a time in which we intentionally, passionately, and fervently seek the Lord asking Him to reveal to us His perspective of this ministry past, present, and future. For those who do, I assure you it will be the highlight of this special occasion.