Vending Machine

April 2, 2011

So often we treat God as if he is our personal vending machine.  We pray that he will bless us, give to us, do ____ for us, etc.  And, we offer up our 50 cents.

When we are “happy,” we are content with this god and we find it simple to sing songs and preach sermons about the goodness of this god.  We read verses like, “Ask and it will be given to you…,” and we shout, “Amen!”

Then it happens.  They kick you out, he leaves, it does not solve your problems, you were diagnosed with thatshe says those words.  Not only does the vending machine break, it is as if it has vaporized.

At this point, those words of Christ ring hollow; doubt creeps in.  To people here, Christ urges to keep seeking and knocking and then points to us, who love to give good gifts to our children—if we act in this way, how much more will God give good gifts to his children?

When your vending machine god breaks, remember:

  1. You are unable to count the number of good gifts from God you take for granted everyday.
  2. Perhaps you have asked for a stone or a snake and God wants to give you bread or a fish (v.9-11).
  3. Jesus is always asking, seeking and knocking for you (Revelation 3:20), he is asking you to do the same (v.12).

Dentists and Pearls

March 17, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6

I dread going to the dentist.  It is not the stylings of Celine Dion in the waiting room, the metal scrapers or even the screams of the children in other rooms.  It is the judgments towards my personal hygiene I receive.

“You need to floss more . . . drink less coffee . . . go to the dentist more . . . etc.”

I understand it is a dentist’s job, but the problem is, the only thing I want to hear them say is, “No cavities today!  Great Job, Mr. Tomeo!”  I don’t need a lecture.

I wonder if the same reason I don’t want to go to the dentist is the reason many people don’t want to go to church?

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, just got done teaching us how to entrust ourselves to God (don’t worry, don’t store up treasures in heaven, etc.), now he teaches us how to entrust others to God.  Essentially, he says:

  1. God’s job is to judge (make eternal decisions about peoples’ souls); let God be God (v. 1-2).
  2. Only when your desire to be God is gone, can you help someone get rid of his or hers. (v. 3-5)
  3. Some people cannot appreciate the pearls (truth) you have, so don’t throw any to them (v. 6).

How are you making eternal assumptions about people in your life?  What planks need to be removed from your eye so that you can help others remove their specks?  Where are you throwing pearls to people who have no idea what to do with them?

In a world where Christian practices have a tendency to become repetitive and redundant, Nora Gallagher writes The Sacred Meal.  In this work, she details her journey of practicing the Holy Meal and recounts her significant experiences at the Table.  She encourages the reader to look past the ordinariness of the bread and wine and past the doctrinal squabbles that have a tendency to overshadow the sacred.  She invites the reader to be fully present (with all our sins, with all our questions, with all our doubts, with all our victories) at the Eucharist of Christ so that we will be free to experience the glorious mysteries that surround it and use our experiences at the Altar to propel our work for the kingdom.

I found Gallagher’s work to be both insightful and challenging.  I appreciate that she does not dwell on the various doctrines that people hold for Communion and focused more on what it means to experience and remember Christ.  It is a simple read as it is mainly biographical and does not rely on big theological words to get her point across.  She simply presents her three-step approach to Communion (the waiting, the receiving and the afterward) and attempts to persuade the reader that communion is not something that can be mastered, but a place we should return to often so that we can exercise our Spiritual muscles and have experiences of the Holy in our world.

I would recommend to anyone who has ever come to the Table of Christ in a passive manner or who has interest in Christian practices that you take a look at Gallagher’s work as it is a practical and extremely readable guide to an event that we participate in often, but might not think deeply through often enough.

Thank you to Book Sneeze for giving me a chance to review this book.  These opinons are my own.

The Right Questions

March 8, 2011

Matthew 6:25-34

What shall we eat?  What shall we drink?  What shall we wear?

“The world’s trinity of cares” (C.H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom).  All three of them address our most essential needs on earth and all of them have the effect of turning us into animals who exist simply to survive.

Jesus steps into this world and brings a message that we are more than animals, more than grass; actually, we are “blessed.”

What Jesus is saying goes much deeper than, “Don’t worry about things.”  He is saying, “You are free from a life where your purpose is merely to continue living.  I have blessed you and am sustaining you so that you can be freed to pursue a life in the kingdom of heaven which begins when you come to the end of yourself and start your life with me (or, when you are poor in spirit).”

Central to this teaching of Jesus is that we are called to ask different questions as citizens of heaven than would, otherwise, fill our minds as citizens of this world:

  • They ask, “What shall we eat?”  We ask, “What shall we do to bring heaven to people?”
  • They ask, “What shall we drink?”  We ask, “Whom shall we love so that we may display the light of Christ in the darkness?”
  • They ask, “What shall we wear?”  We ask, “What shall we give so that we can be the vessel that God will use to fulfill his promise of nourishment to someone else?”

Let us be people who are wise enough to ask the right questions.

“Farewell Rob Bell?”

March 7, 2011

If you follow the Christian culture at all, I am sure you have seen this video or read something similar to this (a blog post which has made the insinuation that author and pastor, Rob Bell, has come out of the universalist closet and claimed there is no such thing as hell).  Several people have asked me my thoughts, here are a few of them:

  1. He is trying to sell a book – Rob Bell is a superior marketer.  I am pretty sure that at least some of this is ginned up controversy to sell more books (he is currently number 13 on Amazon and his book is not even out yet).  I will reserve my full judgment until I read it.
  2. God is bigger – God is bigger than anyone’s bad theology.  Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God; I know that I have built some of my boxes to put God in too small.  God is bigger than Rob Bell and I trust God’s influence in this world over Rob Bell’s.
  3. God is indescribable – Bell is doing what any of us can do.  He is trying to put words to an indescribable God.  Of course his words are gonna fall short.  When people start worshipping their words about God and not God, that is when they get into trouble.
  4. True victims – The true victims of this book teaser (remember, the actual book has not come out yet) are not the unsuspecting non-Christians who have read the pieces or seen this video.  Whatever Rob Bell writes, it is a shame what this book teaser has made some other Christian leaders say about a man who simply has opinions.



March 3, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 6:19-24

The allure of accumulating much in this world is strong, but Jesus warns us against such a posture in this week’s passage, telling us to store up, for ourselves, treasures in heaven.  He goes on to compare our eyes to lamps and declaring that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:22-24).

Significant thoughts:

  1. Present – In context, Jesus is not talking of heaven on clouds with harps and expensive streets.  He is speaking of heaven in the present tense throughout the Sermon on the Mount.  When he says that we should store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, he is saying we should be rich in love and deeds, which further the kingdom of heaven here and now.
  2. Light – Just as we are to be lamps illuminating the kingdom of heaven on earth (Bring the flava, bring the gleam), the eye is the lamp to our bodies.  This is Jesus’ practical way of saying, “Point your eyes in a direction that will further your desire, not for things of this world (which rust), but for things of God (faith, hope, love, etc.).
  3. Rust – If your only desire is to accumulate lots of things that rust, it will blind you to ways in which you can bring heaven here.  Therefore, if you are desire is only gold and silver, you are considered an enemy to God.

The Apostle Paul, talking to Timothy about wealth (I Timothy 6:10-11) calls him to, “. . . flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  Where have you pointed your eyes lately that has caused you to seek after possessions (which rust)?  In what ways do you need to flee wealth and pursue heavenly treasures?

Let us be people who seek after heaven with our eyes and not after hell with our wallets.

When Good Goes Bad

February 23, 2011

Matthew 6:1-19

In the previous sections of Matthew 5, Jesus warns his followers that their bad thoughts and intentions can lead their hearts astray.  In this section of Matthew 6, he warns his followers that their good thoughts and intentions can also lead their hearts astray, and thus, far from the “blessed” life one should lead in Christ.

In his teachings, Jesus talks of three hypothetical stories of “hypocrites” who give, pray and fast only to gain the attention and approval of others.  He states in each of these stories that those who live this way have already received their reward in full.  Jesus goes on to compare these people to others who do good things “in secret” so as to gain the approval of their heavenly Father and no one else.  These people, according to Jesus, will be rewarded by God, who sees what is done in secret.

To bring this teaching into our times, the reason we give should be out of a profound desire for God’s ends to be met in our world.  The reason we pray should be out of a profound desire to seek relationship and communion with our Father.  The reason we practice any kind of spiritual discipline should be because we desire God to form us and make us into people who desire his will to be met in us and through us.  If we do any good thing so that people will take note of us or praise us, the praise we get will be the only reward offered.

Remember the section of Jesus’ call to us to be salt and light?  The reason we are called to be light is so that others, “. . . will see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”  This should be our sole strategy for anything we do in our lives – to bring glory to God.

What Matters?

February 15, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

I think it wise to review Christ’s counter-intuitive teachings so far in Matthew 5.  A few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ words on anger and lust in Matthew 5:21-30—your actions matter and they are born in your mind; a citizen of heaven must work on his mind and, if necessary, take drastic measures to do so.  Last week, we discussed his thoughts on divorce and oaths in Matthew 5:31-37—God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in everything we do and everything we say; a “blessed” one knows this and lives as though it were true.

Now, we come to Jesus’ teaching this week (Matthew 5:38-48) on revenge and love for our enemies.  He calls us to the impossible.   Not only does he call us to turn the other cheek to someone has struck us, but he follows it with this thought: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly father is perfect.”

Seriously?  Who can do this?  What man or woman can claim that they are perfect?  Does this not go against his earlier thought of us being, “Poor in spirit?”

When looking at these teachings of Jesus, remember the following:

  1. Jesus fulfilled the law.  You are not under law, but grace.  God looks at us and see Jesus’ blood, not the ways we do not measure up.
  2. We are called to be imitators of Christ who when he went to the cross and endured, not just humiliation and physical harm, but the sins of all mankind.  And, what better way to bring the flava and gleam of the present tense kingdom of heaven than to imitate the One who bore such shame and pain on our behalf?
  3. Jesus’ interest is always that our hearts be tuned to him.  These teachings, when brought into our hearts, allow us to be pulled by Christ into the people we are supposed to be, not pushed by our past sins (which is harder by far).

May these teaching be accepted into your hearts and may you allow them to draw you closer to Christ’s heart.  May you not see them as more ways in which you do not deserve to be called “blessed” (you will never deserve that).

Divorce and Oaths

February 7, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:31-37

Jesus has pronounced us “blessed” (Matthew 5:3 – see teaching here) and has turned his attention now to dismantling the “ladder to God’s blessings” set up by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  Since, as we learned a few weeks ago (here), Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and his blood has bought our righteousness in the sight of God and makes us “blessed” already, this ladder they wanted set up does not exist.  The ideas Jesus is putting forth do not give us more law, they give us freedom to live in such a way that we can spread the blessings of God to everyone.  Having dealt with the thought life of followers (here), he now speaks to how we should deal with people.

On divorce (Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-12): The teachers were obsessed with how to obtain one, but Jesus says, “Your spouse is not a piece of property to be done away with on a whim.  Marriage was ordained by God at creation and almost nothing (with the exception of adultery) should separate two that God has joined together.”

On oaths (Matthew 5:33-37): In Jesus’ day, if two parties were making a deal and a person said, “I swear by God’s name that I will follow through on the terms of our agreement,” the person felt an extra push to come through on his part of the bargain.  However, if a person did not invoke God’s name, he did not consider his part of the deal to be binding.  Jesus is saying here, “You cannot take God out of anything you do; he is in everything already even if you don’t want him to be, therefore do what you say you are going to do.”

Recognize the progression here: God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in every conversation we have and a “blessed” one should know that and live as though it were true.

I recently read Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice (co-founder of Youth Specialties and one of the true pioneers in church youth ministry today).  It has inspired several thoughts in me about student ministry from which I plan to write (the first of which can be found Here).  This quote and this list combine to make another:

God never gave to youth workers the responsibility for making disciples of other people’s kids . . . God gave that responsibility to the parents, not the local church or the youth ministry (page 24).

Rice also puts forth a pragmatic list for why the above quote is true (page 28-30):

  1. Parents love their kids more than anyone else.
  2. Parents care about their kids more than anyone else.
  3. Parents have more time with their kids than anyone else.
  4. Parents have more authority over their kids than anyone else.

We all know this to be true and student ministers should see it as one of their main jobs to encourage parents in their call to make disciples of their children.  The question is how do we do this?  Here are a few ideas I have had to encourage parents as the true student ministers:

  1. Embrace a discipleship strategy which includes parents in the discussion. I try to put into the hands of parents resources which help them progress the conversations I am having with their student.
  2. Favor parents in volunteer roles within the ministry. If I am in need of volunteers, I seek out parents of students in my group first to fill these roles.
  3. Find areas of the student ministry in which the interests of the students and parents intersect. As you seek to help students find service  roles in the youth ministry, seek students whose parents have expertise in those areas and can help their student fill those roles.  For example, if you need pictures taken, find a parent who has an interest in photography to take their son and daughter out to take them.  This gives them time together, creatively exploring how to serve the church and the ministry.

What are some methods you have used to empower parents as disciple-makers?