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My Spoiled Dog

I got my wife a dog a couple years ago.  Our dog, like many others, has become like family.  To be frank she is spoiled.  She is 8 lbs and has a funny personality.  Because of this we allow her to get away with almost anything.  She sleeps in people beds, she lounges on the couches all day long, she jumps at everyone’s leg, because she knows we will eventually pick her up.  Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed about the way we treat our dog.  Caesar Millan would be ashamed of this “pack leader.”

There is however one line we will not cross with our dog.  She does not beg for food at the dinner table.  She knows better than to jump up on laps, beg at our feet or even allow herself to be seen during dinner.  It’s not that we don’t give her a special treat of people food from time to time, though we probably shouldn’t.  Rather, it’s that our dog knows she only gets the leftovers.  In the event that there is a rib bone, some fatty portions, or leftover veggies, she may find some of these in her bowl after the family has had their fill.  She never has and never will have a place at the table.

Giving God Our Scraps

As I think about my dog, I wonder if at times I haven’t treated God like my dog.  Not that I have spoiled God.   Far from it.   But have I been giving God my scraps?

The Bible speaks of giving God our first fruits:

 (9) Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; (10) then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV)

The firstfruits mentioned here, are the very best of the things God has given me.  The best of my food, resources, time and talents.  It pierces my heart with conviction as I think of the times when I have refused God a place at my table.  A table I willingly admit that He has covered with good things.  I have said in my heart, “Lord I will give you whatever hits the floor.”  Whatever leftover finances, time, energy, strength, attention.  I will scrape the leftovers in the bowl.

The First Church of Leftovers

As a pastor I am often saddened by the inability of God’s people to recognize the problem with this attitude.  I have too often seen God’s people offer their hand-me-downs to God and not bring the firstfruits of their resources, finances, time and talents to His service.  If I have time, if I have some extra left over, if nothing more important comes up.  I wonder what God thinks when we have flat panel TV’s and new carpets in our homes while our church buildings lack the resources to accomplish his mission.  I wonder how it makes God feel when we push our time into our jobs, our families, our vacation plans, but neglect to give any of our best energy to reaching out, loving our neighbors and having an impact on the world.  God is gracious and abounding in mercy, but I can’t imagine He wells up with the words, “Well done my good and faithful servants.”

God’s Place at The Table

My wife honors me at our dinner table every night.  She informs the whole family that I get the first choice of the portions at the dinner table.  The best looking cut of meat is mine to choose or refuse.  I love that my wife honors me in this, not because I want the best piece of food, but because it informs everyone else at the table that I am most important to her.

What would it look like to give God a spot at your table and to honor Him with the first of your resources, finances, time and energy?  What would that do for your relationship with Him?  What would it say to others who would see you honor Him in this way?

Perhaps it would affirm the words we as Christian’s so readily proclaim.

“Jesus Christ is Lord.”

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October 31st is here again and many Christians will be considering whether or not participating in the “Trick or Treat“ tradition is an acceptable activity for our families. Can Christians engage in an activity with questionable roots?

 

History of Halloween

A quick view of Wikipedia shows the tradition of Halloween is a bit less cut and dry as some would think. The term we use for the festival is actually a Christian term. “All Hallows Eve” was the name given to the Christian tradition of the eve before “All Hallows Day” or “All Saints Day.” A time when Christians would share in the baking of treats and children would go door to door to receive from their neighbors.

North American Halloween as it is celebrated today didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1930’s. This was partly due to the fact the the holiday had been a Catholic tradition that was rejected by the Protestant Reformers as it had many references to doctrine of purgatory.

 

There was a holiday among Celtic pagans called Samhain, or “summers end” that many today feel is the origin of our current Halloween celebrations, but others suspect it comes from an earlier Roman holiday called Parentalia or “festival of the dead.”

 

Halloween Today

If you asked one of your neighbors to describe what Halloween is, they would likely tell you it is a time when children dress up in costumes, go door-to-door and collect candy and other treats from their neighbors. Most would not say it was a day the dead arose, played mischief and went to heaven on November 1st. They would likely have no inclination to pray for their loved ones in purgatory, honor a pagan god or sacrifice an animal. Most consider what candy or treat the kids will appreciate and look forward to seeing little ones at the door that each year get a little taller.

Sadly, for most it will be the only time they open their door to any of their neighbors, and may be the only time all year that they share anything that isn’t designed to get them a tax deduction.

 

Receive, Reject or Redeem?
As Christians we face a decision when it comes to Halloween. Paul dealt with a similar cultural circumstance when it came to food sacrificed to idols. His words guide us through these tricky waters and give us three directions we could possibly go with Halloween.

 

1. Receive

We can receive it just the way it is, and fully participate as one who is thankful for the community God has given and the opportunity to share with neighbors.

 

  • If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (31) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:30-31 (ESV)

 

2. Reject

Our second option is to reject it on the basis of conscience, though I would argue few have the grounds to do so. Paul argues that we should not partake in what we view as sinful behavior.

 

  • However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (8) Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (9) But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (10) For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?

1 Corinthians 8:7-10 (ESV)

 

There were some Christians who were eating anything that was served to them because they knew ultimately there is only one God and we should see every good thing as a gift from Him. Along with these Christians there were also Christians who had been heavily involved in idol worship and could not eat food without being swept back into their idolatry. Paul told these Christians that they should abstain from eating if it caused them to fall back into past sin.

The question the Christian who rejects Halloween must ask is, “What ‘former association’ with Halloween do you have that would lead you to sin?”
It would be slim to none of us that would have an association with occult, memories of animal sacrifice on Halloween night, or nights spent with the coven. I would grant their maybe some, but the vast majority have no context for sinful idolatry on Halloween.

 

3.Redeem

The third option we have is to move beyond receiving Halloween and actually redeem it for His glory. Check your history and you will find that pagan holidays that once were dedicated to idols now stand in our Christian calendars as redeemed celebrations. Anyone who has looked at a commentary on Luke 2 knows that Jesus’ birth was not in December.

We should look for every opportunity to share the light (Matthew 5:15). Paul describes his position on cultural traditions in 1 Corinthians 9.

  • To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (22) To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (23) I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:21-23 (ESV)

 

Paul saw cultural opportunities and did his best to make the most of them. He engaged in philosophy on Mars Hill and even quoted pagan literature to draw the Athenians toward Christ. (Acts 17)

Halloween is an opportunity for us to bless our neighbors and allow them to bless us. It is a time when we can drop candy in bags along with tracts, invitations to church or pocket New Testaments. It’s a time when we can open our church doors and have fun and games for the children in our neighborhood and allow them to feel comfortable enough to come on Sunday morning.

 

 

Dressed as Pharisee’s

As I was shopping for costumes for our kids this year, I discovered over 75% of the costumes on the racks weren’t ghosts and goblins or vampires and devils. They were princesses, superheroes, doctors and firemen. They weren’t outfits you would expect on the night of evil some make Halloween out to be.

In the scriptures there was only one costume Jesus ever criticized and it was not a pagan one.

  • “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,(5)They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,(6)and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues(7)and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Matthew 23:2, 5-7

 

The Pharisee’s tried to differentiate themselves in self-righteous ways rather than follow Christ. Their self-righteousness was defined by what they didn’t do. This is the group Jesus called white washed tombs, which sounds like Halloween, but in truth is the one thing we should fear.

Earthly Appearance

As I take my kids around for candy tonight, there will no doubt be houses that are dark. No decorations, no one answering the door to smiling children and no one sharing the blessing God has given them. I wonder what my unbelieving neighbors think of those living inside. Do they think they are anti-social? Maybe stingy and unwilling to share? Could they be self-righteous abstainers thinking ill of them and their families?
I doubt a one will look at the dark house and get any closer to believing God loves them. None will look and feel shame for what they are doing. None will visit church on Sunday because they feel convicted. They will continue to walk around in the dark on Halloween, just as they do every other night of the year. Lost.

 

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I read something just recently off of Alan Hirsch’s blog that got my mind buzzing about the way the church is supposed to function.  Those in the Endeavor Family know just how much I talk about the church being an organism and not an organization.  The church is a living thing, as so illustrated in the New Testament by both Jesus and the Apostolic writers.  Each and every part is crucial as defining the whole.  The key to faithful church life is to create an environment where everyone is bringing what they have been given for the benefit of the whole.  Hospitality, compassion and knowledge are all great examples when it comes to the ways in which Jesus gives gifts to his church for the purpose of edifying the whole. 

This concept of swarm theory that Alan points us to is a fascinating view into how God has designed living communities to function as a single group.  Here are some of the rules that ant colonies follow in order to function as a united body:

1. No one is in charge. 

2. High levels of interaction between all individuals is crucial to unity.

3. Individuals all act on local information.

4. No ant sees the big picture.  Even the queen is not “in charge” but only fulfills the function of reproducing more ants.

5. No ant tells any other ant what to do.

6.  All ants obey the same general rules of thumb.

It’s amazing when you consider these types of community systems just how similar they are to the way the New Testament portrays the church.  None of the Apostles view themselves as solely in charge but come together collectivly when it comes to making big decisions as a group.  No one part is viewed as more important than the others and so they all are called to serve in whatever way they can.  It would even appear that none of the Apostles are able to see the big picture of what God is doing but they each serve in the capacity that they are called to.  In this system, obedience is seen as more important than knowledge.  Christ is the head, and it is made clear that he acts as the mind for the body.

What if we were to all approach Kingdom life, like the ant colony?  Each of us acting on what information we have, each of us faithful in following through with what we were created and called to do.  It’s impossible to imagine what God might be doing in our midst. 

Maybe this is the key to each of us “growing up into Christ, who is the head.” 

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After rounding up and bathing my three offspring last night, we all four settled down for our nightly story time.  I read from a children’s bible that the kids like because it has full color pictures of what Israel looks like today as well as the typical colored illustrations showing a single frame action from the story in the text.

Last night took us to the life of David (my oldest son likes the story of David chopping off Goliaths head) and we reached the page which depicted David entering Jerusalem as King with the Ark of the Covenant, in parade fashion, while dancing in his underwear.  In the distance you can see David’s wife Michal with a scowl on her face as she takes in the view of her honorable husband acting like a nineteen year old frat boy running through the streets of campus half naked. 

“Why is he in his underwear?  What happened to his clothes?” my daughter asked. 

I explained to her that David had taken off his robes when he entered Jerusalem and danced in front of the Ark because he was so happy that God had been faithful to His word.  Despite the fact that David had been anointed King by Samuel just three pages earlier, it had been a long time coming.  David was overwhelmed by the faithfulness of God and so he celebrated by taking off his robes and dancing around for joy so that everyone would know that it was God that made David King and given him the victory over his enemies. 

It was at this point that my two year old son who was just wearing a diaper picked up on the word dance and stood up on the bed and began to groove to music in his head.  The rest of us began cracking up as he showed off his moves with a giant smile on his face.  We began to sing this song so he would have a rhythm to follow as he got jiggy with it right there on the bed in front of us:

I will dance, I will sing,

to be mad for my King,

Nothing Lord, is hindering,

This passion in my soul!

And I’ll become even more undignified than this,

Some would say it’s foolishness,

But I’ll become even more undignified than this,

Leave my pride by my side!

La, La, La, La Hey!

This went on for about five minutes and by the end all three children were down to their underwear and dancing before God.  I laughed so hard I couldn’t sing with them anymore!

After I had gotten them to settle down and tucked them in, I couldn’t help thinking about what it must have been like for David to have waited on God’s promise all those years.  I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for him on the darkest nights when he was running for his life with nothing but the clothes on his back.  How many times had doubt crept into his mind.

All this made me think about the scripture I had been reading lately (I read from an adult bible without pictures) and how it connected to my sons little diaper dance.

Hebrews says it like this:

Heb 11:6
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
NIV

Faith, at it’s very essence is believing that God does exist.  We have to really believe that He is present, not just up in the clouds watching from a distance, but actually in our lives, in our holy places and unholy places.  He goes before us when we walk into a worship gathering and when we walk into a bar.  Secondly, we must believe that God will reward us when we seek Him.  We have to believe that he will watch over us and supply our need, even if we give a large portion of our income to the needy.  We have to believe that it is worth it to give up the things he has called us to give up in order to gain a better future with him.  This is true faith.  This is being a Christian, and anything less is not pleasing to God.

Learn to do the diaper dance, and you will find fulfillment in your faith!

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We head south today to Kentucky, in an effort to help the Cumberland Mountain Outreach finish their new community building.  There is 11 of us going on this little adventure into the Appalachian Mountains to hang siding on the new building.  We will most likely be working sun up to sun down in order to get the project done in the two days allotted for the work.  Among our cargo is a collection of 10 trikes collected from a local school in Upper Arlington.  The little bikes are heavy duty and will be great for use at the outreach or as gifts to children in the community.  We will be staying in cabins at the Mission and will be less than 100 feet from the building we will be working on so things should get going quickly in the morning.  The biggest challenge we face is the downhill side of the building (in Kentucky everything is built on a hill) which is roughly 30 feet off the ground.  There will be a cherry picker available to help us with this side but it will no doubt be challenge to get this done. 

The Outreach is run by my uncle and aunt.  They host work groups from April to October, mainly focusing home building and repair, as well as camp weeks for the local children.  They also provide food and clothing for the neediest families in the community.  Our last project with CMO was a bicycle drive for the local children at Christmas.  We were able to round up 150 bikes that were well received by joy filled children back in December. 

If you are interested in learning more about CMO and all they do to minister to their community, check them out at www.cmoky.org

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I know this question is kind of hard to hear and ever harder to try and approach honestly, but I think it is a valid one.  I came across a pretty interesting web site this week while doing research for a marriage counseling session.  The site was designed to convince people of all faiths (though it does make an emphasis on the Christain faith) that the God they believed in was imaginary.  The premise is that all you have come to believe about God is purly a product of the human imagination.  The publisher, who remained nameless, presented several arguments, even in video format that “exposed” for me the reality that God is a figment of my imagination. 

The search that got me to this particular site was one I was doing on divorce rates.  This search lead me to the many findings on the divorce rate among Christians.  This very intelligent person (Rom 1:21-23) used the high divorce rate among Christians as one of his arguments against the existence of God.  He claims the apparent weakness in Christian marriages proves that God is not making our marriages stronger and therefore God is imaginary.  His strongest argument (1 Cor 1:27), in his opinion, is the fact that God never heals amputees.  Why would God heal internal diseases and illnesses, but not heal amputees?  It’s interesting to me that he thinks God’s ultimate goal for creation is to regrow my shop teachers missing finger.

This site did make me ask some serious questions though.  It made me wonder if some of us aren’t following an imaginary God.  A God that is not the authentic, true God.  It wouldn’t be that rediculuos of a notion.  If there is anything that the Old Testament points to it is the reallity that God’s people tend to follow false god’s even in the presence of the One True God.  I think idolatry creeps in when our faith becomes more ritual and tradition than active and real.  When we just go through the motions of our religion we lose the heart of what it really means to follow Christ.  James touches on this when he says:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

This makes me wonder if the problem isn’t that God is imaginary, but that our faith is.  It seems to me that we present a faith that only relies on belief and ritual.  At what point have we been challenged or challenged one another to live out our faith? Faith has become a subject for one morning a week and for many faith has become a subject only fit for children.

What if God’s people were to awaken.  What if God brought life back to these bones of ours and the spirit would return to the body? 

I have asked myself over the last couple days whether I am a person of faith or of ritual.  Of life or of death?  Is everything I do in life an extension of my faith or of something else?  When I wake up do I start my day in faith or something else?  Am I fueled and acting out in faith or am I fueled and acting out in selfish ambition, jealousy, idolatry, addiction, pride, etc.?

Willy Wonka asked the question (Gene Wilder, not the freaky Johnny Depp version) that I think gets to the reality of change that needs to take place in our lives.  He said, “Where is fancy bread? In the heart or in the head?”  What changes first?  The will to do something, or the decision to go and do it.  Faith is responding to the word of God.  I think many of us our sitting back and waiting until God gets us to the point that we feel like helping our neighbors and loving our families.  We are waiting for God to get us to the point where we feel like praying, learning, meditating, growing, serving. 

I think God is waiting for us to get to the point where we will act out on our faith, despite the fact that we don’t feel like doing these things.

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I was able to catch the latest installment to the Pirate’s of the Caribbean saga. Here is my initial response.

“Dang this theatre is packed!”

“East India Company reminds me a lot of Exxon Mobile.”

“What’s with the giant nose and why does hell just seem to be freaky like willy wonka?”

“That voodoo chick made a whole lot of noise for nothing.”

“Will, think it through man!  She ain’t gonna be that hot in 10 years. Better stow your heart in the bilge locker.”

I can’t stop thinking about this concept of having your heart in a box.  The notion that you could lock it up and give it only to those you trusted is fascinating.  The biggest downside would be that anyone could steel your heart and destroy you.  It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matt 6:19-21,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The imagery of the heart being in a treasure chest is certainly appropriate.  The heart governs the will of a person and the will is what keeps us all from turning into Michael Jackson.

Could it be that the heart in a box concept is a valid metaphor for the way the human heart works? I have yet to meet the person who was totally heartless. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met cruel people, but their cruelty was  more a result of their heart being buried under the sand after years of pain or abuse. Even the person who seems to operate totally independent of others has their heart set on something. No one is without dreams and aspirations.

I was watching the season finaly of House last night. (I should read more, I know)  If you didn’t catch it, Doctor House had a female patient whose heart failed and she and her husband were praying that the problem would be solved and that she would survive.  House detested the notion of putting faith in God and ridiculed the couple for praying.  It was through this realization that House discovered that she wasn’t sick but “God screwed up” and she was born with a defect in her heart.  He had to go in and fix God’s mistake so that the woman would survive. 

The show was provocative and I suppose upset some of the conservatives in this country.  It made me think about the heart and how good God’s creation is and how much we have corrupted it. 

The character of House facinates me because he is a perfect illustration of the person of faith that thinks he doesn’t believe in anything.  His is perhaps the clearest religion, because he is so dangerously committed to it.  Science, reason, discovery and the powerof human ingenuity.  It’s cool the way he becomes like Davy Jones in the Pirate’s movie at the end of almost every episode.  They both are alone and miserable in their faith. 

If I could box my heart up I would take it and put it in a storage locker where it would never have to hear the hurtful words of a friend who betrays me.  I would have it hidden during the commercials of children starving in other parts of the world, begging for my help.  I would toss it in my trunk before my church gatherings so I wouldn’t be consumed by the things I need to change in my world.  In fact I would probably only take it out when I was spending time with my children, or on a date with my wife. 

And perhaps the best part of all…

I would never have to worry about my cholesterol.

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