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!

Deacon Ordination Sunday message “To this Aspire”

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The ministry of deacons is a visible reminder of the biblical portrait of a godly, spiritual man to which all Christian men should aspire.

 

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

Worship Mix: The Weight and Wonder of Worshiping Together summer teaching series

On a regular basis people who seek to follow Jesus Christ gather together for something we call “worship.”  Some gather secretly risking their lives while others gather publicly openly sharing their faith.  Though the profession of these gatherings is the same; to “worship,” the methodology can be as vastly different as chocolate and vanilla.  Yet, we all claim to be worshiping. This summer series will look at the topic of worship through the lense of Scripture.  We will explore the weight and wonder of worshiping together in hopes that we will more fully demonstrate through our gathering for worship, all of us, focusing on all of God, in the shadow of the cross.  Audio messages and pdf outlines for this series can be found by clicking on the following link:  http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/worship-mix-weight-and-wonder-worshiping-together

Something Old, Something New teaching series

This mini-series will look at two passages from the book of Matthew in which Jesus addresses the relationship between the old and the new.  As we dig into these two parables of Jesus we will gain valuable insight about our attitude to both the new and the old.  Audio and outlines of these two messages can be found by clicking on the following link,  http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/something-old-something-new

Deadly dispositions preaching series

this 8 week series looking at the 7 deadly sins was preached at MorningStar Baptist Church during the fall of 2010.  To read a description of the series, view the messages included in the series, or listen to sermon audio click on the following link http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/deadly-dispositions

Good Samaritans

Perhaps you heard the story of Wesley Autrey from a few years ago. Autrey, a 50 year old construction worker from New York City was standing on the subway platform with his two daughters who were heading downtown to see their mother when a man dropped to the platform floor from a seizure. Autrey quickly ran for the help of a transit worker and then borrowed a pen from another rider. He forced the pen between the jaws of the young man, a 20 year old college student, and helped him through the seizure. The young man seemed to be fine, he got up from the floor of the platform and began walking around, but the ordeal was not yet over. As the next subway train was rolling into the station the young man had a relapse and stumbled onto the tracks. Autrey dove into the path of the oncoming train, grabbed the young man and rolled him into the trough between the tracks just in time for the train to pass just inches over his body saving himself and this young man.
I love stories like this one, I think most of us do. There is just something about a story with a hero and a happy ending that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. As I read the story last week from several different sources, I couldn’t help but find myself thinking, “I wanna be that guy.” But that quickly lead me to thoughts of how I would react in the same or a similar situation. I wonder if I would be one of the multitude of riders who stood on the platform and did nothing or would I be the one who came to the rescue of someone in need? What I’ve realized is it’s easy to say you would do something but it’s a lot different when you find yourself right in the middle of the crisis needing to make a quick decision. It’s one thing to know and discuss what’s right it’s quite another to do what’s right.
This whole event is like a modern day example of the parable of the Good Samaritan told by Jesus nearly 2000 years ago. Some of the details are a little different, but there are many similarities. A man is mugged and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, a road that made for dangerous travel during the days of Jesus. A priest just happens by as he is traveling home to Jericho from Jerusalem sees the man and passes by on the other side of the pass. A Levite then does the same a little later. Both men see the man left for dead and both men pass by on the other side pretending they never witnessed the man in need. It’s not until a Samaritan merchant passes by that the man left for dead finds the help he needs. He sees the man and is moved to do something so he goes to the man, binds and treats his wounds and takes him to a safe place to recover for as long as it takes. He then covers the entire bill for the man and rides off into the sunset, never to be heard of again, but always to be remembered.
Jesus tells this story in response to a question asked by someone in the crowd as he is teaching. The man was looking to test Jesus and seeking to justify his own actions, or lack thereof, by getting Jesus’ response to the question, “who is my neighbor?” The point of the question being who do I need to help when they are in need and who should I ignore, to put it bluntly. But the man does not receive the response he is looking for. He was hoping Jesus would simply say, like most of the other religious teachers of the day, love those who are like you and ignore those who are different. But instead of this simple answer Jesus tells the story which takes the man’s question and reverses so that it no longer focuses on the neighbor worthiness of others but the neighborliness of this man and everyone else in the crowd. By the time Jesus is done with the story he asks the question of the man, “who proved to be a neighbor?” a question with an obvious answer, the one who helped the man.
We may not be faced with a situation as dramatic and Wesley Autrey or the Samaritan merchant this week in which we are called upon to risk our lives for a total stranger, but each one of us has a whole host of opportunities to prove we are a neighbor to those around us whether we deem them neighbor worthy or not. Now that’s heroic.

Nip and Tuck

            The wonders of modern medicine never cease to amaze, neither does the depth of human vanity.  The combination of the two has turned into a booming business in which anything we want nipped, tucked, tweaked, or enhanced is medically possible.  It is literally possible with the right amount of money or the right insurance to transform oneself into someone else.  Gone are the days of merely dressing like a favorite celebrity, now one can actually have someone else’s nose or cheeks or even their whole face.  Nothing is sacred in the universe of plastic surgery, whatever identity we desire to portray on the outside can come true. 

            Few of us would argue there have been many good things that have resulted from cosmetic surgery.  Every now and then stories emerge of individuals whose lives have been riddled with ridicule and abuse because of physical appearance who are set free from their prison by the masterful hand of a surgeon.  And yet moderation does not appear to be the soup du jour when it comes to cosmetics.

            The world of cosmetic surgery is really kind of like a parable for the rest of our lives.  We live among a people who have mastered the art of portraying one thing on the outside while being something entirely different on the inside.  Walk into any retail establishment and pass by an acquaintance and the likely dialogue that ensues will reflect something of the following.  “Hi so and so, how are things going?”  “Just fine, and you.”  “Oh, just fine.”  All the while we slap on a smile and a happy voice to finish off the masquerade.  ‘Good’ and ‘fine’ are words that are vanilla enough that we can get away with saying them regardless of how things are really going. 

            I’m not advocating that every person we pass in the grocery store who says ‘hello’ should receive a dump truck load of our troubles or that we even need to provide full disclosure of our life and times to every person we call ‘friend.’  But is that really the issue at hand?  There are those who struggle more with knowing when to hold their tongue and not verbally vomit all over those around them but I would dare say that is not the diagnosis for most of us.  Most of us are master cosmetic surgeons who have skillfully crafted an external shell that reveals to the outside world exactly what we want them to see in order to subtly manipulate their perception of who we want them to think we are.  Is that a mouthful or what?  The bottom line is we want everyone to think we have got it all together when in reality there is not one of us on the planet who can concede that claim to fame.  It’s almost humorous when you think about the fact that deep down inside we know that no one really has it all together and yet we still find ourselves regularly stepping into our super suit in hopes that our secret identity will be protected and our façade will hold up for just one more day, for everyone including ourselves.

            The moral is that in the end we end up, in the words of the musical artists Casting Crowns “Happy plastic people…with walls around our weakness and smiles to hide our pain,” and the cruel joke is on us because everyone will see right through our veneer in the end.  Maybe we’re not as good at cosmetic surgery as we originally believed.  Even if we do happen to be masters of disguise and end up fooling everyone around us we still end up the most pitied of all, stuck in a prison of our own making whose walls get thicker and thicker with each passing day of successful deception to the point that even we can no longer discern fantasy from reality.  Maybe it’s time we start concerning ourselves more with the real us and the nipping, tucking, tweaking and enhancing of the heart and quit expending such massive amounts of effort on a false front that will sag with age and leave us nothing more than a plastic replica of someone or something else who is nothing more than a plastic replica of someone or something else, who is nothing more than a plastic replica of someone or something else, who is…I think you get the point.

The Power of Mixing 2 Great Things

The following is an article written for MorningStar Baptist Church’s monthly newsletter, Revelations.  Much of the content is an adaptation of concepts found in Reggie Joyner’s book, Think Orange.  Pray for us as we seek to fill this critical pastoral position in our church.

I have a confession.  I like to mix foods.  I have another confession.  The mixtures don’t always turn out.  Sometimes it flops, but when it does it’s tastebud bliss!  For example, Wendy’s frosty’s and French fries, soft pretzels and stadium mustard, sausage and syrup just to name a few.  These combinations may not appeal to your tastebuds, but I’ll bet to some degree you do the same (how many of you eat your eggs with ketchupL).

What I have learned from my culinary combining adventures is that oftentimes combining two great things can make them even greater.  It’s a principle God established at creation when He instituted marriage, making the two humans “one flesh”.  The wisest man that ever lived validated it as well when he said, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12).

At the heart of our search for an associate pastor of family ministry here at MorningStar is this conviction that combing two influences will make a greater impact than either influence can alone.  Our desire is to combine the influence of the church and the family in raising up future generations for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom in the world.  We are looking and praying for a man with a passion to continue to guide us on the journey of becoming a church that synchronizes church leaders and families around a master plan to build faith and character in our sons and daughters.

Our current task is one of prayer and understanding.  Praying that God will continue to lead us in this process to the man who passionately understands and embraces the direction God is leading MorningStar.  Understanding as clearly as we can the principles that will drive our family ministry approach and what it will potentially look like in the days ahead.  So let’s lock arms together and faithfully continue on this adventure for His name and renown!        

So many “Pacos”

            I recently came across a Spanish story of the relationship between a father and son which became so estranged that the teenage son ended up running away from home.  Realizing the consequences of his stubbornness the father quickly had a change of heart and began a journey in search of his estranged son.  The father searched for several weeks with little success so he decided to run an ad in the local newspaper.  The ad read, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon.  All is forgiven.  I love you, your father.”  The next morning the father showed up at the newspaper office shortly before noon and to his surprise, there waiting for him in front of the office were eight hundred ‘Pacos,’ standing there, all of them seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.father son

            The reality brought out through this story is that we all want and need forgiveness in our lives.  Though our desire for forgiveness may vary from situation to situation and some of us may have effectively desensitized ourselves to our drive for forgiveness through resisting it, this built in mechanism still resides within all of us.  This innate drive to seek forgiveness is further confirmed by our decisions to withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged or hurt us or someone we love.  Withholding forgiveness is like our way of disabling the individual who has been so insensitive to us, and seeking to keep them in a position of indebtedness to us until such a time as we determine that the price has been paid for the pain they have inflicted. 

            I was recently speaking to some friends of mine who work in the area of finance and banking.  I asked them what they believed was the average amount of credit card debt for an American.  I figured they would say something like eight thousand dollars, but I was shocked when they shared that it was probably closer to the neighborhood of fifteen thousand.  That figure does not include mortgages and cars!  Some of you may be higher than this average and some of you may be lower but just imagine if the every lending company you are indebted to called you this week and released you from all further payments on your debt.  I’m talking mortgage, car loans, boat loans, second mortgages, third mortgages, credit cards, department store cards, etcetera, etcetera.  There is not one of us who would refuse such an offer though we may ask to see the fine print and ask what the catch is.

            Forgiveness between individuals is much like the financial debt we have incurred.  Each time we pain someone we sustain a moral debt to them.  As we seek to pay back this debt the individual from whom we have incurred the debt makes the determination at what interest rate the debt will be paid back.  Our desire is that forgiveness would be granted with just a simple “I’m sorry,” and the debt would be cancelled, though just as with our financial debt, forgiveness usually requires more than just a simple, “I’m sorry.”

Jonathan Edwards, a preacher who was central to the Great Awakening of the 18th century described it this way, “Any sin is more or less heinous  depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we have offended.  Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence.”  Our debts against God carry a humanly immeasurable interest rate, thus making the debt humanly un-payable.  No amount of saying, “I’m sorry,” no amount of good deeds or kindness can ever cover the debt even of just one thought that is contrary to the holy character of God.  That is what makes God’s offer of forgiveness so absolutely amazing.  Only He could take the necessary steps to guarantee our forgiveness and rather than dangle that fact over us like a vindictive and vengeful God, He followed through for us at great personal price to Himself.  Our moral debt against God requires a morally perfect sacrifice, and the only morally perfect sacrifice was God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.  Forgiving our moral and spiritual debt against God cost God His one and only Son and what does it cost us, absolutely nothing.  It is highly likely that your bank won’t call today and cancel all your financial debt but it is absolutely certain that God is calling today offering full forgiveness of all your moral and spiritual debt to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  No fine print, no catch just a free gift of a debt cancelled.  All you have to do is accept it.