Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Good Life

What is your plan for spiritual growth in 2012?

Let that question settle for a moment. I'm guessing there are some readers that have a plan. Some of you have worked a plan for years and you have seen incredible fruit from careful planning and committed action.

But I'm guessing there are others out there that don't know where to start. You want to grow. You've wanted to grow for years, but it seems that every year you look back and feel like you are starving for a closer relationship with God.

If you're looking for a spiritual challenge, I want to invite you on a journey with the Littleton Church of Christ in 2012.

I know what you're thinking. How can I journey with Littleton when I go to another congregation? When I live in another state? In another country?

Let me start by telling you about the journey our church (Littleton Church of Christ) is taking in 2012. (By the way, let's keep this secret between you and me until Sunday because our church doesn't even know about this yet!)

In 2012, Littleton is going to pursue "The Good Life" that Jesus pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount. That's right, I'm spending an entire year preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. More than just studying Matthew 5-7 for the sake of knowledge, we're going to seek to put "The Good Life" that Jesus preaches into action for the sake of the world. We believe God's word doesn't just need to be heard. We believe it needs to be seen.

Some of you have spent year after year trying to complete yearly reading plans. That works for some people. But let's be honest, how many of you have ended your year-long plan in the book of Leviticus (the graveyard of year-long reading plans)?

Maybe you're asking, "How could I focus on only three chapter for an entire year?" I'd challenge you to try it. Here's why:

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' clearest declaration of what the kingdom of God is all about. Jesus prays for his Father's "will to be done on earth as it is in heaven" in Matthew 6:10. It's the role of the church to display his will by being "salt" and "light" in the world. We demonstrate the kingdom of God as an announcement to the world that Satan's reign is on life support. We exhibit the "Good Life" of the kingdom in order to point people to God's future that is already on its way.

So, how can you journey with us? I'm glad you asked.

Each week there will be planned readings and a conversation on my blog about the upcoming week's sermon text. These weekly blogs will provide a place of conversation for members of the Littleton Church of Christ. But my hope is that many others spread across the country and the world will choose to join as online partners in this conversation. Add whatever commentary seems beneficial. I'd also encourage you to download Littleton's free sermon podcasts and listen to the weekly sermons through the iTunes Music Store.

The call this year is to action.

You do remember how the sermon ends, don't you? You remember the song..."The wise man built his house upon the rock...the foolish man built his house upon the sand."Do you remember the difference between the two? Unfortunately, that part missed the final cut of our children's songs.

The wise one is the person who hears Jesus' words and puts them into practice. The foolish one is the person who hears Jesus' words and does not put them into practice.

The purpose of this challenge is not just add to our faith knowledge, but to add to our knowledge action. Spiritual formation occurs when the fruit of our lives announces "The Good Life" of the kingdom of God to the world.

I also challenge each participant to commit to memorizing the entire Sermon on the Mount in 2012.

As you make your New Year's resolutions, consider how you will mature spiritually in 2012.

Are you up for the challenge? Let me know if you're willing to join in.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why People Should Despise Tim Tebow

Living in Denver, it's impossible to hide from the media's coverage of Tim Tebow. Yet, I'm beginning to realize Denverites are not alone. It seems to be THE prevailing national sports conversation.

Let me start by saying, "I root for Tim Tebow." I certainly rooted for him in the 2008 National Championship when they beat the Oklahoma Sooners, but that had more to do with their opponent than anything else. I appreciate a guy who won't compartmentalize his faith. We need more Christians who will not divide the sacred from the secular.


I was shocked by a Yahoo! Sports article this week in which a pastor, who claimed to be Tim's pastor, was quoted as saying, "It's not luck. Luck isn't winning six games in a row. It's favor. It's God's favor." According to the article, his pastor also said the Broncos wouldn't be winning games if God hadn't decided to reward Tebow's religious beliefs.

Which led my critical brain to quite the stream of consciousness...
-Does that mean Aaron Rodgers is being rewarded more than Tebow since he is the only quarterback to defeat Tebow and his team is undefeated? Is he even a Christian? That's worth a google search.
-Is God so preoccupied with helping NFL quarterbacks win games that he forgets to prevent natural disasters and the poor and marginalized of the world?

I don't think Tebow is the problem. He has never said God manipulates the outcome of sporting events. I think he's authentic as a disciple of Jesus.

My concern arises from the conversations I hear among conservative Christians. I continue to hear Christians who are upset about the media's uproar against Tebow. Christians feel slighted and even persecuted by what they perceive as a liberal media bias. Some wonder why Michael Vick's redemption story is more palatable than Tim Tebow's distinctively Christian story.

And underneath all of those concerns is a worldview. Lee Camp, professor of ethics at Lipscomb University, has called it a "Constantinian Cataract." Since Christianity's political emergence in the 4th century, Christianity has been at the center of culture. The church wielded power and influence. In many Western countries since then, Christianity has been the predominant religion.

But things are rapidly changing. The church is no longer the center of culture. The 21st century is more like the 1st century than any century since. We are in a post-Christian culture.

The response I've heard from Christians lamenting the media's bias assumes a worldview. Many of us still assume we are the majority.

But listen to Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 1: "He [God] chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things..."

Christians are called to be peculiar. We're called to be maladjusted. Tim Tebow is maladjusted.

Question: Why are we so upset about the way Tim Tebow is being portrayed.

Answer: Our frustration reveals our desire to be accepted and glorified by the culture. That's a radical misinterpretation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Better Question: Why don't WE stand out as much as Tim Tebow?

Wrong Answer: Tim has a larger stage than we do.

Right Answer: Most of us are too adjusted to the world. We lack peculiarity.

It's time for us to stop hoping for the world to look more like Jesus. Sometimes that's a diversion from the harder work of becoming like Jesus ourselves.

It's OK to be an underdog. It's OK to be reviled. It's OK to be despised. Because when you are despised you join a long line of saints who have followed Jesus down that same path.

We follow a Savior who was despised. Perhaps we should be less surprised when an authentic follower of Jesus is despised as well.



Thursday, December 08, 2011

From Suffering to Hope

I had an experience with Scripture this week that shouldn't shock me, but it did.

I'm sure there are many professions that cause the worker to cease his/her amazement over time. For instance, I'm sure there are brain surgeons who get so accustomed to doing dangerous procedures that the amazement of his/her first successful brain surgery wears off over time. In fact, if I ever need brain surgery, I hope I get a doctor whose hands don't tremble and jaw doesn't drop when she slices open my skull. The sign of a good brain surgeon is that she forgets the incredible/daunting nature of her task.

I'm sure most people who do their day job over time lose their initial excitement to some degree. I can't imagine a PGA Tour golfer or professional surfer wanting to change professions, but it happens. I'm sure marine biologists long for a day when they can work above water and astronauts wish they could spend more time on planet earth.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Confession: It can happen to preachers too! It is possible to forget the incredible blessing of bringing the word of God to the people of God.

I know it's shocking. But I'm guessing your preacher goes through the motions from time to time as well. Even searching the Scriptures can become a bland weekly task.

But there are moments (you preachers know what I'm talking about), incredible moments, God-breathed moments, when a text you have read a thousand times cuts through you like, well, a double-edged sword. Usually those moments occur when we stop reading to find a sermon for others and start reading for a change God wants to make in us.

I think these moments happen when our lived experience in a particular moment meets with Scripture's power that is ever-present. I had one of those moments this week.

I heard these words from Paul at a Men's Breakfast:
"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:3-5

How had I not seen it before? I've read these words a thousand times.

But if I'm reading that right, suffering leads to hope. What? That woke me up.

Now, I haven't endured much suffering in my short life. I'm in the 1% when it comes to the level of suffering I've endured in my life. But the past few months have been a time of trial.

Through this time of "suffering," I've lacked a few things. But most of all, I've lacked hope. And my loss of hope has affected many around me.

But in a moment of God-breathed inspiration, ancient words from a guy from Tarsus answered my dilemma. Hope is not found in the absence of suffering. Hope is found through suffering. Counterintuitive much?

I'm not sure how suffering might be branding your life as you read these words. I'm sure your suffering is greater than mine. I'm also sure you belittle your suffering because you can think of hundreds of people who have been through more.

But what if on the other side of suffering, if you live with perseverance and character, is hope. That's a game changer!

May this word of hope comfort you in your affliction!