the Middle Fall Retreat 2011

Here is the video from our middle school fall retreat, if you'd like to see it.


Tears, an Empty City, and a New Kingdom

I finished Jeremiah and hit Lamentations today.  To say that my time reading scripture is discouraging is an understatement.  With this chronological reading plan, I am immersed in the story of Israel's downfall.  I have been for weeks and weeks.  It makes it so tough to read the scripture.  This reading plan needs to come with some anti-depressants or something.

But, as I read it, I'm beginning to realize on a small scale, what a heartbreak it was for the people to lose their land, their place.  Everything was tied up in it.  Even in the Scriptures, the writers are focused on getting back to the land.  "Stop sinning so that we can go home" is the cry of the authors.  They want to be back in Israel, in Jerusalem, so desperately.  The city of Jerusalem has a personality, it cries, it moans, it misses it's people.  The personification of the city runs deep in their understanding.  It's something I have trouble relating to.

But it causes me to wonder what it is that I am that attached to?  It's not the United States for me, or my house, or city.  But my comfort would be something close.  I'll follow, as long as it isn't an inconvenience.  Or my job.  I'm good with following God, unless he asks me to be homeless and not be a pastor anymore.  Or my schedule.  When God wants to obliterate my schedule, I get a little sideways with Him.

So, while I obsess over different things, I still obsess.  I allow things to come between me and God, to get in the way, to distract me.  They become my Jerusalem, my kingdom.

So, again, I fall back on this prayer:

Our Father, who is in heaven,
Holy is your name,
Your Kingdom come
Your Will be done
On earth, like it's done in Heaven.
Give me today what I need,
And forgive me for all of my sins,
And I forgive those who have sinned against me.
Don't lead me into temptation
But deliver me from evil.

His kingdom.  Here.  Today.  Not my Jerusalem.  His kingdom.

I Guess the Yokes on You

I hit Jeremiah 26 today, and it's a tough chapter.  I've been following Jeremiah's story as a prophet, and God asked him to do such hard things.  In chapter 26, Jeremiah is told to go to the Temple and to warn the people that God is going to destroy the nation and the city.  It's not a new message.  He's been saying it for 25 chapters before this, and the people won't listen.

So, first of all, why would Jeremiah keep going?  No one is listening to his warnings, no one is taking heed to his advice.  He is made fun of, laughed at, and mocked.  On top of that, God keeps making him do crazy things as visual lessons for the people.  In chapter 26, he is wearing a yoke, like the ones they put around a cow's neck to pull a cart.  So, he's in the temple, preaching doom, with a yoke on.

Following God was not cool that day.

The reaction to his message?  The pastors of the temple decide they've finally hit their breaking point, and they are going to kill him.  They take him prisoner, and want to execute him.  I don't know about you, but at this point, I might need to reconsider my professional calling as a prophet.  One, he's failing, because no one is repenting.  Two, he's failing because people hate him and God more than when he started.  Three, he's failing because they want to kill him, and that is never a win.

But his response is to keep preaching the same message to the people who want to kill him.  He tells them to do whatever they want with him, but to understand that God is going to judge the city, and they need to repent.

For Jeremiah, there was only one way to fail.  That was to shut up.  A few chapters earlier he tells God that he wishes he could just be quiet.  He tried to quit the warnings.  But he said that God's words were like fire in his bones and he would burn alive if he tried to keep them in.  So, he speaks.  Jeremiah speaks when no one listens, when no one repents, when no one likes him, when his life is on the line.

Because of that, he wins.  He has God's favor, he is never alone, he is not afraid of what is coming, he finishes the race well.

I don't think that many of us are called to give such a message that someone is going to want to kill us, at least not today.  But I know God is calling each of us to take a step forward.  Fear, worry, embarrassment, uncertainty, laziness, or pride may hold us where we are.  Today, understand that if Jeremiah, who was just a teenager when God called him, could obey; then so can we.  The same God lives in us, loves us, gives us the power and the abilities.  Don't measure what you're called to do by what everyone else defines as winning.  Be faithful.  Trust Him.  He will see you through.

You Are a Master of Sabotage

One of the books I am reading right now is Mere Christianity.  One of my senior guys and I am reading it together.  It's written by C. S. Lewis, the guy who is famous now for "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" series.  He's amazing.

In the book, he is laying out an explanation for why Jesus is the best answer, in a logical, rational, scientific discussion.  But, Lewis is funny, sarcastic, and humorous as he does it, so it's a great read for anyone.

On page 51, he says this: "Enemy-occupied territory-that is the what the world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.  When you go to church you are really listening in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent you from going."

Lewis goes on to talk about how Satan spends a ton of time and effort trying to convince us that 1) he doesn't exist 2) we are just fine like we are 3) we don't need each other.  I LOVE this picture of an invasion taking place.  As you follow Jesus, you are taking part in a war of sabotage against His enemy.

Be brave today.  Be fearless.  Fight hard.  The battle is won, but we still have work to do.

If you want more C.S. Lewis, there are mulitiple ways to read his writing.  There is a blog that simply posts some of his stuff everyday.  You can find it at http://merecslewis.blogspot.com/

We Hit 10,000 Today!

Slowly, one person at a time, I hit a new milestone with my blog today.  It's taken years for me to get to where most bloggers get in a few months, but I finally hit the 10,000 views mark today.  I'm not sure if that's good, sad, or neither to be honest.  But, I'm excited to hit it.  Thanks for being someone who logs in and reads what is posted here.  I'd love to hear your comments from time to time as well.  Here's the readout from my stats page:

Pageviews today
Pageviews yesterday
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When Reading the Bible Wears Us Out

I'm continuing to read through the book of Jeremiah, reading chapters 14-17 today.

I admit it.  I'm already tired of Jeremiah.  The constant warning to the people to repent, the repetitive threats of what will happen to them, the constant beat down of how sinful they are and how the nation is going to fall, it's all wearing on me.  I confess it, and put it out in the open.  I am tired of reading this book.

Which, of course, makes me wonder, why am I so tired of this book?  Shouldn't I feel compassion for the people who about the be destroyed?  Shouldn't I feel awe for God's power and mercy?  Shouldn't I run to hide in God's holiness as I realize how serious He is about obedience?


But instead, I feel beat up and weary of the message.

I think part of it is conviction, because I know I am guilty of what the Israelites were guilty of.  They worshiped fake gods instead of worshiping and serving the True God.  I do that all the time, whenever I turn to anything for comfort that isn't Jesus.  It's idolatry, and I am guilty.  So, as I read this, I know this is how God should treat me.  It scares me, and brings my guilt to the surface.  I don't like the daily reminder, and I want to move on to the more "loving" passages where I feel better.  But, these passages in Jeremiah are about love.

Second, I don't like this side of God.  The vengeful, judging, angry side of God.  It makes Him seem like a big whiny baby.  "I'm gonna get you!" is all He seems to say.  I don't like hearing God say that.  I like the loving God of other parts of the Bible.  As I ask God about all of this, I begin to realize something that may just be my own issues, I'm not sure if any of you ever have these feelings or not.  But, here is what I am understanding a little more.

If we back up from the Jeremiah story, God loves the whole world.  Every person made is loved by Him.  He speaks to them, calls them, and wants them to trust Him.  His story with Israel wasn't the ONLY story of Him loving people.  It is the main story, but not the only story.  God equally loves every person from Adam on down through the lines.  He does NOT love Israel MORE than other people.  Sometimes, reading the Old Testament, I begin to quietly believe He was only working with the Jews.  But He wasn't.  Their story was special, not because God loved them more, but because He gave them more opportunity to serve Him. Because He has incredible grace and mercy, He picked them to receive extra gifts.  He put His temple with them, He blessed their kings, He gave them the Scriptures.  They didn't deserve it all.  He just did it.  His plan was for them to take these special gifts, and as they used them to obey Him, other nations would see it, and then those nations would understand the truth, and be drawn closer to Him as well.  It's actually a plan filled with kindness.  He knew people needed a visual to understand things, so He gave them the nation of Israel as that visual.  The Jews just happened to benefit from the deal, because God chose them.  He could have chosen anyone, but He chose them.

So, as the Jews were obeying God, the other nations would be blessed as they saw what obeying God looked like, and followed suit.  The problem was, the Jews thought they were special, that God owed them, and that all of this blessing was for them to spend on themselves.  They were selfish with it, and never really shared it.  Because they held it to themselves, in time they lost their love for God as well, and THEY copied the OTHER nations, completely reversing what God had set up.

By the time we get to Jeremiah, the Jews have stubbornly, selfishly, and immaturely so screwed the whole thing up, it was irreparable.  God had no choice but to do away with the nation of Israel, and start over.  That is where the prophets come in.  God is trying to warn the few remaining people who might still love Him to get ready.  Most of the people were not going to listen, no matter what.  The prophets are the last little voice telling anyone who still loved God to prepare themselves for what is coming.

So, when we read the ominous and dark words in Jeremiah, they aren't the words of a pouty God throwing a fit.  They are the last verses of a love song God is trying to sing to the few remaining people who know and love Him.  When we understand this, it all makes a lot more sense, and it doesn't feel so dreadful.

But the question still remains, what do we do with it?  Are we spending God's blessing in our lives on ourselves, instead of spreading it out around the world?  Where are you and I personally guilty of the sins of the Israelites?  The call to repent and fix it is still the same, and it's not too late.  What will you do differently today?

Bury the Belt!

Sometimes, I think we just need to be reminded that God really doesn't fit in the boxes we try to squeeze Him down into.  There are times where people say that God told them to do something, and I hear what it is, and I think "Yeah, right."  Not because it's unBiblical, but because it's so weird.  OR I hear God tell me to do something unorthodox, and I think it's just my imagination, or at least hope it is.  I mean, God doesn't REALLY ask us to do stuff that's strange, does He?  He's God, why would He act any differently than we do?  
Then I read something like this, out of Jeremiah 13.  

1 "This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.”
2 So I bought a belt, as the Lord directed, and put it around my waist. 3 Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time:4 “Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.”
5 So I went and hid it at Perath, as the Lord told me. 6 Many days later the Lord said to me, “Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.”
7 So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless. 8 Then the word of the Lord came to me:9 “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.10 These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!
11 For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,’ declares the Lord, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’ "

Yeah.  God says "Go buy a belt." (Really?!)  Then later, He says, "Go bury it in another town."  After letting Jeremiah wonder if he was nuts for a few days, God told Him to go dig it up.  It was ruined.  
Did God really tell Jeremiah to spend money on something, then bury it and ruin it?  That doesn't make any sense!  That's not logical!  That's just stupid!  God doesn't tell us to do stuff like that.
Well, apparently, He does.  Be careful not to blow off what you hear from Him, just because it doesn't fit in with what you consider "normal".  Normal is whatever God says it is.  What is He calling me or you to do that doesn't make sense?
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Don't Make God Use His Dad Voice

I'm reading through the Blue Letter Bible study schedule on You Version.  It's a schedule that puts the Bible in chronological order, so that you read chapters and books in the order they happened.  Overall, it's been very interesting.

Today, I hit Jeremiah, and read the first few chapters.  The message is pretty clear, God is frustrated with His people.  You read through the book, and it is full of threats, angry words, and dreadful images.  For a lot of people this is the image of God they have, an angry old king in a far off land railing on the people He created.  For others, they will talk about how there is one side of  God in the Old Testament (angry) and the other side of God in the New Testament (happy).  Neither of these ideas fit at all with what the Bible teaches us about God.

So, what gives then, when we hit stuff like Jeremiah's writing in the Bible?  How do we make sense of it?

I definitely don't grasp all of why God says what He does.  I mean, after all, He's God.  I'm not.  Not much more to it than that.

BUT, as I was reading today, I was asking God about this, and he reminded me of something that goes on in my own house.  Sometimes, as we are dealing with our daughters, they simply won't listen to what we are telling them.  I know, I know, it's a shock that our kids act like that.  We constantly get "I can't imagine your daughter being disrespectful.  She's so sweet!"  Yes, they are.  They are both wonderful girls.  But, they do have a condition that makes them act disrespectful, disobedient, and difficult sometimes.  I think the technical medical name for it is "human".  They are human, their parents are human, so stuff happens.

Anyway, I was thinking about this week, when I had been asking/requesting/telling/ordering one of the girls to do some jobs around the house that they were supposed to have done.  I tried every tactic I knew to get her to take the responsibility on herself and do the job herself.  Finally, after quite a while, I had to get stern with her, and do the "dad" thing with my voice and tone.  I remember telling her that I had tried to avoid that tone for quite a while, but she wasn't listening, and I had to resort to it.  I mean, she had a role to play, she needed to do it for her own development and good, and I would have been irresponsible to let her get away with skipping out on it.  So, I asked.  I cajoled.  I hinted.  I spoke clearly.  I spoke directly.  Then I had to do the "dad" voice to motivate her.  Not because I was hurt, angry, or threatened.  She simply needed to get this job done, and wouldn't listen otherwise.

I think in part that is what we see in Jeremiah and the other prophets in the Old Testament.  God has tried to get His people to do what was best for them for hundreds of years.  He has shown them miracles, He has blessed them, He has shown them mercy and love over and over.  By the time we get to the prophets in the Old Testament, He has had to resort to using his "dad" voice to get their attention.  It still doesn't work, so He has to punish them.  You can't send the entire nation to their room, so He sends them to another country as slaves.

Often my daughters want to accuse me of not loving them when I act like this.  The opposite is true.  I train them, force them to learn self-discipline and self control, because I love them.  That is the only reason I would go through so much hurt with them.  It's no different with God.  I mean, think about it.  He should have simply had another country wipe the nation of Israel out, and never let it return.  Yet, it exists today, thousands of years later.

The God of the Old Testament is a God of love and truth.  We just don't like hearing his "dad voice".  Don't avoid the message you find in the prophets.  It's a message that still applies to us, today.

Taking the gods (with little g's) to the Dump

Cleaning out the junk in your room or house is such a mix of emotions.  On the one hand, you hate letting things go that at one time had some value to you.  On the other, it feels so good to clean out and have a fresh start.

There was a king named Josiah who cleaned house for God and the whole nation once.  He decided to follow God after generations had ignored Him.  The priests were ordered to clean up the temple, and they discovered a book that no one had ever seen before.  It was the Bible.  Yep, that's right, no one had seen it or heard of it.  THAT'S how far off the track the "children of God" had gotten.  Once they started reading it, and understanding what God wanted, they panicked.  Josiah decided to really clean things up, and went on a rampage.  You can read all about it in 2 Kings 22 and 23.  It's pretty fascinating.

The amount of junk that was in the temple, that was used to worship fake gods, is appalling.  I was amazed as I read everything that the kings had put in this holy house of God.  It was almost incomprehensible that they could get so far offtrack that they would cram that much trash into such a sacred building.  I mean, after all, this is where God was supposed to meet with the people.  But they turned it into a religious storage barn, cramming in it stuff to worship any god that they happened to hear about.

So, Josiah comes along and cleans house.  He has to tear down monuments his father, grandfather, great grandfather, and more had built.  He had to destroy places where people worshiped everyday.  He had to destroy people's misplaced hopes and dreams, and places they found comfort in.  It was all fake religion, and he had to destroy it.  So, he did.  Piece by piece, angry person by hurt person, he dismantled the mess that had been made, and returned things to a state of purity and focus.  It cost him greatly, but the reward was even greater.

I fully realize that you and I are not king of a country.  We don't have to clean out a temple.  Or do we?  Scriptures tell us that we are now the temple of the Lord.  He doesn't live in a building anymore, He lives within each of us who follow Him.  So, what junk is in the temple that needs thrown out?  How are you and I worshipping false gods of hopelessness, and messing up the relationship we have with God?  What habits do we run to for comfort that are not centered on God?  What images/videos/movies/websites/books/TV shows/etc. are we setting up to focus on that lead us, step by step, piece by piece away from God?  What god of power/money/authority/control have we set up a pole to bow down before and worship?  Which people in your life have become a little-g god to you?  What needs cleaned out in the temple today?

Yes, it may cost you.  Almost certainly, someone won't like it.  It will take focus and effort.  We will have to replace what we remove with the right things of prayer, Bible study, community, service, worship, etc.  You can't just toss out the bad and leave the room empty.  You have to refill the space with what was supposed to be there to begin with.

So, seriously, what is it for you?  What idol needs to fall?

Oh, by the way, Josiah was 8 when he became king.  He was 12 when he began cleaning house.  If he could pull it off, I'm pretty sure you and I can.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Two Wheeled Uphill Repentance

Several mornings a week, I try to get out and ride my bike early, before my day begins.  I have a route that loops out away from our house, and rolls through some hills and valleys, and finishes back at the house 25 miles later.  I've found that I tend to like to ride it the same direction each time, in fact I've only rode it in one direction all summer.  I know where the hills are, where to pick up my pace, where to watch for dogs, and where the temperature will drop as I go through a valley by a stream.  It's really a great ride.

Today, I decided to ride it backwards.  Now, I know that according to basic 7th grade science, and an elementary understanding of geography, that when I ride in a loop, any amount of distance that I descend, I will have to climb.  I also know that regardless of which direction I ride on that loop, I will climb and descend the exact same distance.  But I gotta tell you, it felt like all I did was climb today.  It was crazy.  I don't know how it's possible, but somewhere on that route, I must have passed through a wormhole in the time/space continuum that allowed me to climb 80% more than I descended on that loop.  It was nuts!

I also was laughing along the way, because I was noticing things I had never seen before.  This is a route I've ridden dozens of times this summer, and I was seeing things for the first time today.  Little things, like, you know,...a house....a barn....small stuff like that.  It was so amusing to me just because I couldn't believe I had missed so much before, just because I was going in one direction.  Then today, when I turned and went the other way, everything looked and felt different.  Same places, same roads, same farms, but it all looked and felt totally different.

It kind of hit me as I was riding, that is what repentance is like.  God calls us to repent, and follow Him.  When we repent, it means we turn 180 degrees and go the other way.  So, when we are lying, we stop lying and start telling the truth.  When we are angry in a selfish way, we quit and begin showing love selflessly.  If we find ourselves trying to control our lives ourselves, we turn and begin to live by faith and trust God where we can't see Him.  Repentance is a simple thing.

I think that so often we find ourselves far down a bad road in our lives, where we've made horrible decisions, been selfish, faithless, and just plain sinful; we convince ourselves that we need to uproot and start over in a completely new place.  The only answer is to dump our friends, our location, our life and run away and start over.  That is usually due more to being embarrassed than it is to wisdom.  God calls us to repent, to run the course backwards, to climb where we had coasted before, and to trust Him where we had tried to climb on our own and failed.

What is amazing in life as we repent, is that we travel the same paths we always do, interact with the same people, face the same challenges, yet it all looks and feels different.  Repentance makes all things new.  It's pretty cool how God can do that.  We don't need to change the location of where we live out our faith to get a new start.  We just need to repent, and go back the way we came.

It's a life changer.

What is that you need to repent of today?
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