Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Obedient


Each week, I meet up with the pastoral team at my church to help develop the sermon message for the upcoming week. In preparation, we were asked to contemplate the selected text, and here is what I came up with:

Titus 2:1-15 NIV1  You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2  Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3  Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4  Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. 
6  Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7  In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8  and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. 9  Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10  and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
11  For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13  while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. 15  These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. 

Two thoughts come to mind.

1 - I actually got hung up at the end of verse 10 with the word attractive. It is profoundly subjective and relative to perspective if it is bent to human standards; the ”What do I find attractive” vs. ”What did God design as attractive.”

The 21st-century church, and as church history would attest, the church for all 21 centuries, has struggled with being obedient to remaining rooted in the strategy of Jesus in favor of our own human-made plans. There is brokenness inside of us that believes that the only way we will be remembered (have value; and at worst, be worshipped) is if we develop something to go beyond the cross. These are the cults of ”-ists”; John Calvin had them, Weasley, Popes, Orthodox Metropolitans, Pharisee Leaders, Piper, Chan, Tomlin, and I’m sure there are even some poor unfortunate McGeeists out there [God forbid]...

So what is attractive? Here is a quote from Elton Trueblood, a former Harvard Chaplin:
The Strategy of Jesus“There is no person in history who has impacted all of mankind more than Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was deeply concerned for the continuation of his redemptive, reconciling work after the close of his earthly existence, and his chosen method was the formation of a small band of committed friends. He did not form an army, establish a headquarters, or even write a book. What he did was to collect a few very common men and women, inspire them with the sense of his spirit and vision, and build their lives into an intensive fellowship of affection, worship, and work. One of the truly shocking passages of the gospel is that in which Jesus indicates that there is absolutely no substitute for the tiny, loving, caring, reconciling society. If this fails, he suggests, all is failure; there is no other way. He told the little-bedraggled fellowship that they were actually the salt of the earth and that if this salt should fail there would be no adequate preservative at all. He was staking all on one throw. What we need is not intellectual theorizing or even preaching, but a demonstration. One of the most powerful ways of turning people’s loyalty to Christ is by loving others with the great love of God. We cannot revive faith by argument, but we might catch the imagination of puzzled men and women by an exhibition of a fellowship so intensely alive that every thoughtful person would be forced to respect it. If there should emerge in our day such a fellowship, wholly without artificiality and free from the dead hand of the past, it would be an exciting event of momentous importance. A society of genuine loving souls, set free from the self-seeking struggle for personal prestige and from all unreality, would be something unutterably priceless and powerful. A wise person would travel any distance to join it.

2 - Ok, Sermon metaphor time [if you’ve made it this far into my ramblings]. Trees require four things to live:
  1. Water - absorbed in through the roots
  2. Nutrients - absorbed in through the roots
  3. Carbon Dioxide - taken in by the leaves— releasing oxygen, giving life to the world around it.
  4. Light - photosynthesized by the leaves to convert water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients into sugars and proteins needed to grow and reproduce itself.

Observations:

  1. A tree must branch out. Trunks must be upright and strong. Otherwise, the fruit will fall on its root system of origin, and either be cannibalized by the parent tree or cannibalize the parent. Likewise, we must branch out; we can’t just stick to our comfortable homogenous pockets where we can be attractive on our own. We must trust God and lean on him to take us to fertile soil, as Paul and the other 1st century missionaries did.
  2. We must be deeply rooted in Christ. The living water and nutrients come from areas of our lives that aren’t public (roots are not seen). If our public exercise of spirituality is more than our private exercise of spirituality, we will be unsustainable and easily crippled by droughts and darkness in our lives. The fruit proves the roots. Crabapple trees produce sour apples unfit for eating because their roots are shallow and only concerned about getting a high quantity of seed out into the field as fast as possible, sacrificing quality. It’s not attractive, it’s mildly effective and environmentally damaging.
  3. Green Leaves and Ripe fruit are not decorative for decorative sake, they are health indicators and invitations to the banquet, where the tree will serve itself as the main course. Just as Christ did, he has called us to die to self so that others may have life. 
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” John‬ ‭15:13, 16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬
Trees give off life-giving oxygen. They provide food. Their branches and trunk can be collected and formed into tools, shelter, or burned to provide warmth, protection, and a cooking source.

Trees take so that they may give. If we receive the ministry of the spirit with no intention to reciprocate, we are worse than crab apple trees.

One of my favorite autumn tradition on Long Island was going to the east forks where there were beautiful apple orchards and pumpkin patches. The kids would ride in the wagons and rejoice as we harvested our share of crops. The symmetry of the trees, how they worked together to protect one another, how their appearances were nearly identical; all of this pointed to an intentional design of a loving and caring farmer. It felt safe and trustworthy. We didn’t have to question the taste of the fruit, we knew it would be delicious and free of parasites.

Would it be possible to come across this phenomenon in the wilderness? Perhaps, but highly unlikely. We are not called to be alone, products of the wilderness. We are called to belong to God and to be planted in his orchard (the church). We are called to protect our brothers and sisters, to resemble them, and to bear much fruit, so that others may have life.

That is attractive to God. That was the strategy of Jesus.

We must be dedicated to following God’s design for attractive teaching, not our own. To do so, you must trust what God gives you. Don't trust what comes of yourself. 
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬
Give away what God gives you. We are not our own but have been purposed for an eternal cause. 
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” ‭‭John‬ ‭12:24-25‬ ‭NIV‬‬)
Take opportunities to prepare for Thanksgiving, to be rooted in Christ, to bear fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”‭‭ Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬
Put aside family squabbles and political postures so that our celebration can be focused on Christ, not on us. Be a blessing to your families, friends, and neighbors. Be the light that reveals the promise that we have in Christ.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Is it Real? Is it True?


Too often we limit our perspective to the narrow difference between what is fantasy and what is real. Worse yet, we collapse the extreme ends of those perceptions (True and False) right to the edges of our limited perception. We find ourselves assuming that what we experience as “real” MUST be true, which only causes us to flee deeper into our desired fantasy.

Broadening your perspective takes a lot of humility, but it is essential to realize that: YES... What you’re experiencing is REAL, but it is not always TRUE. It will not last forever; it is temporal, it is relative just to your perspective. If we ask God to help us through these storms, he gifts us insight into his eternal perspective, gives us HOPE & FAITH to know that the short-term sufferings we experience are worth the REAL struggle to thoroughly enjoy the AMAZING TRUTH of the resurrected life for eternity.

Fantasies are not worthless. They can contain profound truths. Dreams and art tug at our hearts. They cause you to strive toward how life should be rather than how life is. Fantasies make a great vacation from reality, and we all need them, but we can’t live there, nor can we allow ourselves to get so far down the rabbit hole that you begin to convince yourself that the fantasies are real. Don’t lie to yourself. Listen to others around you who can see your blind spots and can expand your perspective.

Breathe. Don’t dwell in reality, don’t let it crush you with its weight and burdens. You can’t control it. You can only control your response. Fear (false expectations appearing real) will tempt you into impulsively reacting, making judgments and actions based purely on your perspective. Don't do that. Wait. Listen. Dig into your identity and respond out of the core of who you truly are.

When life gets Real, run toward the truth, don’t retreat into the fantasy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Remembering my Grandparents

I'm a little surprised that I have taken as much time away from writing as I have. Life has been good. This last month has contained a lot of contemplation and I want to share with you some memories that I have been processing, stories of faith, thoughts about family, and a focus on what is yet to come.


The two wonderful people pictured here are my grandmother Sarah and grandfather Robert Custer, my mom's parents. They were each integral parts of my development into the man that I am today. Joyfully, we were able to celebrate my grandmother's life when she passed away just before Easter this April. She join's my grandfather who went home to be with the Lord about 9 years prior. At the age of 95 my grandmother had lived a wonderful life, one of full emotion and complete devotion to her family, friends, and community.

One of my most fond memories of my grandmother was the time she would spend in her garden. Growing up in Ohio, it wasn't uncommon to be introduced to micro-farming. Whether it was flower beds with a few pumpkins, tomato plants, beans, squash, or cucumbers,