Worth Fighting For

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There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. –2 Samuel:18

Can you imagine a situation where the most celebrated King in Israel’s history goes to war… against his son?.  This was the crazy, almost Game Of Thrones-ish world of our ancestors of faith. This struggle between Father and son, David and Absalom, threatened the very fabric of the Kingdom.

Today we have fathers and sons facing a very different kind of battle in the church: Whether the Kingdom is even worth it.  Family members do battle about this on a weekly basis.  Other folks grew up in the church and let it slip away.  Some just find themselves otherwise preoccupied come Sunday morning.  Countless people have been hurt by the church, or are bored to tears by it, or are excluded by it, and so their connection becomes tenuous.

Those with “casual ties” to Christianity are on the verge of becoming “casualties” of it.

I was taught not to worry so much about those with such casual ties, that they’ll  never come back.  Sometimes we call them backdoor Christians, or Christians INO (In Name Only), as if they are a lost cause.  Can you imagine how many thousands — hundreds of thousands there are out there with fading interest in the Church?  They may believe in God, but not the institution.  They may be tied up in the trappings of culture.  They may come twice a year and suffer through the boredom and think that’s enough.

What should we in the Church do about these folks, many of them family?  Just let them go?  No, here’s my suggestion. hard as it might sound:

Let’s go to war.

I can’t believe I’m even writing those words!  I’m not a “war” guy.  But those men in 2 Samuel were willing to lay down their lives.  They were invested.  This was a fight for who would be King and it mattered.

Let’s go to war.  Let’s find our friends and neighbors and missing-in-action Christians and fight for them.  Our weapons will not be guilt or coercion.   Instead, we’ll wield, with fervor–an undeniable call that Christ is our King.

We’ll have to be prepared.  With excellent worship, engaging small groups, life-changing mission and earnest fellowship.  And we’ll have to listen.  To reform, to engage, to see the church beyond how we at times have poorly conceived it.  To reach out to every father and ever son, everyone, who hears the call of the Kingdom.

We have to be experiencing the same Christian life that we advertise, which means we have to examine our own casual ties to faith.

The human expression of the Church may never reach all the goals and all the people that we have been called to.  But we’ll never get anywhere if we aren’t willing to give our all on behalf of Jesus.

So, CHARGE!!!!!!!

The battle is for nothing less than to become…

a Church worth fighting for.

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

father and son in way to church

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Intervention.

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Create in me a clean heart, O God –Psalm 51:10

This is an intervention.

We’re worried about you.  You’ve been distant lately.  Whenever we try to talk to you you seem so distracted, unfocussed.  Like your mind is caught up in other things.

Have you gotten yourself in some sort of trouble?  Are you making bad decisions?  Have you forsaken us for something unhealthy?  Maybe it’s your actions that have been problematic, or maybe it’s your thoughts.  You know, unhealthy patterns of thinking are just as dangerous as their corresponding actions.

Okay, we’ll just come out and ask it:  Are you cheating on us?  Of course, we already know the answer.  We’re your parent, your brother, your spirit.  We know you best.  We know every thought before you think it, every move before you make it.

We’re your heavenly family, with bonds stronger than even those of your earthly family.  When you pull away like this, it hurts us.  It hurts the whole Kingdom.

So what can we do to mend your cheating heart?  How can we guide you back into the fullness of relationship—not just with us, but with your earthly brothers and sisters?  How can we help you be healthier?  Holier?

This is an intervention.  It doesn’t work unless you admit you have a problem.  We love you so much, and we want to give you room to ponder who you are, and who you want to be.

Why don’t you take some time to think about it, and pray about it.

How about, say, 40 days?

Have a good Lent,

Mitch

Holytrinity

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Jesus Texting

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For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it. –Job 33:14

Luv4all:  Hey!

You:  Hey!  What’s up Jesus?

Luv4all:  Happy Birthday!

You:  Hehe, not my bday, dude!

Luv4all:  Yes it is.  I would know. 😉

You:  My birthday isn’t for 5 months.  You feeling okay?

Luv4all:  It’s all good.  You don’t get it.

You:  Get what?

Luv4all:  My present.  I send you one every day.

You:  Okay… what?

Luv4all: Life!  You get Life from me everyday.  So everyday is your birthday.

You:  Oh…like REbirth.  I get you.

Luv4all:  No.  Rebirth is important.  You get that too.  But every day is a NEW BIRTH.  A new chance.  A new opportunity.  A new lease on Life.

You: This is deep, JC.

Luv4all:  I KNOW it’s deep.  Remember this: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind”?  I want you to embrace my light, like it’s the candle on your birthday cake, every single day.

You: How come I’m just hearing about this?

Luv4all: *groans* I tried scripture–you’re too busy.  I tried talking to you in your prayers–you have trouble listening.  I tried speaking through other people–you always have somewhere else to be.

You:  Sorry.

Luv4all:  It’s alright.  I’m just pointing out that the only way you seem to be able to communicate these days is through texting.  Not exactly the easiest mode for transmitting Grace and Truth, you feeling me?

You:  I feel you.  Sorry.

Luv4all:  Don’t hassle it.  Short and sweet is better than nothing.

You:  So, it’s my birthday.  New Life.

Luv4all:  That’s right.  Celebrate by living the freedom that comes with it.

You:  Okay.  I will.

Luv4all:  Okay.  Gotta go.  Thumbs getting tired.

You:  LOL.  Thanks, Jesus.

Luv4all:  No prob.  But remember, a little prayer never hurt anyone.  And my data plan?

It’s unlimited.

 

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Who’s Gonna Be Your King?

Who’s gonna be your King?  Who is deserving of the Top Spot in your life?  Our world throws out all kinds of options for us to choose from, but you can only offer supreme allegiance to one.

Here are some words and pictures to help you decide.

Take your time.  Choose wisely!

“King: noun…

authority, bigwig, boss

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chief, chieftain, commander,

lionking

czar, dictator, director,

kingtut

emperor, executive, governor,

King_Kong_1933_Italian_poster

head, head honcho, high chief,

King-of-Pop-king-of-pop-mj-9455606-1280-1024

imperator, leader, lord,

1200px-Burger_King_Logo.svg

magnate, majesty, master,

billie jean king

monarch, overlord, paramount lord,

stephen king

patriarch, person who is reported to, power,

Dr-Martin-Luther-King-Jr

royal personage, ruler, superior.” (thefreedictionary.com)

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Who will it be?  An entertainer?  A sports figure?  An ancient ruler?  A consumer brand?

Maybe something fictional.  Maybe a crusader for peace who would never want the job.

Or maybe you’d pick the person you see when you look in the mirror?

Mirror_baby

Who’s gonna be your king?  I am convinced that there is only One person suited for the job.  Try out these words:

I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords  –1 Timothy 6:14-15

And this image:

jesus-christ

No kingly crown.  No kingly name.  Just an Easter promise to rule in your heart…

so much more than this guy

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ever could.

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

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No Crying In Basketball.

Jesus wept.  —John 11:35

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So…you foul out with :36 left on the clock.  Down by 5.  You watch, helpless, as it all slips away. This is the hardest you’ve worked in your life, and it’s come down to this:  A loss.

It’s enough to make you want to cry.

And so you look around the arena for your mother.  She’s sitting over there with your family.  As your bottom lip begins to tremble, you run across the court, climbing up into the stands, and you throw your arms around your mom.

As an astonished venue looks on, you let loose with a gut wrenching sob.  WAHHHHHH!!!  All the mental and physical exhaustion you’re feeling, plus the deep disappointment at not making it to the championship comes gushing out of you in great big torrents for all to see and hear.

Oh wait.  Scratch that.  That’s not right. That’s not how we do things. It’s perfectly acceptable for 15,000 fans to scream themselves hoarse rooting for a game, but to have one player show a few tears can somehow seem uncouth.  Even embarrassing.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d be that guy burying my face in a towel.  I don’t want my anguish broadcast on TBS and around the world.  To me, painful emotions are private, intimate things.  But why?

Many people (especially men) have been raised to view showing sad emotions as a sign of weakness and a cause for embarrassment.  If you’ve sneakily brushed away tears after a sappy commercial, you may know what I’m talking about.  And I can’t tell you the number of people I see at a funeral, doing all they can to clamp down on those pesky feelings.

I wonder.  What would it take for you or I to come out of hiding and let our tears be a public statement of grief?  It would have to be for a very good reason, even more significant than losing a basketball game.

Well…it is Holy Week.  Kind of the epicenter of anguish for the Christian year.  What if we allowed ourselves to truly experience the depths of Holy Thursday or Good Friday?  What if we opened ourselves up to the brokenness of the world and the suffering of our savior?  Could we let it move us to tears?

All of our personal turning away from God.  All the pain of betrayal and denial and crucifixion and death and darkness.  Talk about a loss! This is no game–it’s the light of Christ snuffed out.  If there’s ever been a week for crying in public, isn’t this it?

Yes!  So here’s what you do.  You push your cart up and down the aisles of the grocery store, sniffing and blubbering. Every time someone asks you if you are alright, you say, “No.  Not this week,” and then tell them why.

Okay.  I’m dubious if any of us are going make that much of a scene, but I challenge you to feel something. If we can have our emotions stirred up by a basketball game, surely we can travel these last days of Lent, giving our whole hearts to Jesus.  There’s still time to discern, to reflect, and yes, to weep.  But know this…

in terms of days before Easter…

we’re down to the Final Four.

Have a Holy Week,

Mitch

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SPOILERS

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It may be the darkest scripture in the whole Bible:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” My goal last Sunday was to preach it as is — without spoilers about what comes next.

But I couldn’t do it.

I wanted to let this part of the story stand on its own.  I didn’t want to soften the words, or cheapen Jesus’ suffering.  But I couldn’t let this darkest of moments remain pitch black.  I couldn’t just leave him hanging there.

There, at the end of my sermon, I had to throw in a little bit of Easter.  Without even a “spoiler alert” I revealed the big surprise:  Hope, Triumph, Resurrection.

I’m not alone in this. In my reading about this tough verse, not a single writer was willing to just sit with Jesus’ pain.  Nobody could resist spilling the beans about the happy ending that was to come.

Another example — My choir sings a cantata on Palm Sunday every year.  No matter how deep into Holy Week the music takes us, the last song — a long standing tradition — is “The King is Coming!” It’s a great song, but I have mixed feelings about it, because of all the spoilers!  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have yet to come, and already we’re promising Easter.

I wonder if a new Christian would find themselves annoyed to have the big Easter Surprise revealed just at this agonizing climax?  I know I’d have been mad if someone spoiled the ending of the 6th Sense, or the Usual Suspects, Or The Empire Strikes Back.

Should we treat the story of the cross (and beyond) as a sacred mystery, only to be unveiled on Easter morning?  If we did, how would we handle passages such as this?

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”  Matthew 20:17-19

Umm….SPOILER ALERT, Jesus!

Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about how this story ends.  In fact, Jesus’ whole life is a spoiler alert.  If we pay careful attention to how Jesus lives, we’ll have all the clues we need to find out how he dies.  And lives again.

I’ve decided it’s not necessary to just sink into “Why have you forsaken me,” and stay there.  The whole point is that Jesus DIDN’T stay there.

He had more to reveal than Keyser Soze, Bruce Willis, and Darth Vader combined.

Have a good week,

Mitch

20 of the Best Movie And TV Spoilers

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The Devil Came For My Soul — And Couldn’t Find It.

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The Devil came to me in a dream last night, dressed in his red suit and pitchfork and arrogant grin.  We were standing in a rocky, barren place.  He looked around and pointed to some rocks on the ground.

“Hungry?  Sure, you could fast and pray, I suppose.  But why not turn these stones into some bread?”

“Wait, I can do that?” I asked.  (I was kind of hungry)

“In this place,” he smirked, “you’ve got that kind of power.”

“Well, I’m not really a bread guy.”  I turned and yelled at the stones.  “Turn into Nachos!  And a Diet Coke!”  And sure enough, a great big plate of cheesy nachos appeared, along with a 44oz diet coke, light ice.

“That’s it?” the devil blinked at me.  “No hesitation at all.  Just diving in to a plate of nachos.”

I blinked back at him, my mouth full.

“Okay,” he said.  “On to the next”.  He snapped his finger and we were standing on the roof of my church.

“Now,” he continued.  “Throw yourself off this building, and God will keep you from hitting the ground.”

“God would do that?” I asked.

“Well, you believe that bad things only happen to bad people, right?  And you’re a good person.  Right?”  There was a gleam in his eye. “Surely God would save you.”

“Good point,” I said, and before his horrified look I stepped off the ledge.   The fall was not a little bit frightening.  As the sidewalk began to loom before me I thought, “any time now, God”.

But it wasn’t God that saved me, it was the Devil, and he was looking perturbed.

“Look, I couldn’t let you hit the ground.  You’d go splat and then you’d wake up from this dream, and I’m not finished with you yet.”

I looked around to see where God was…probably lurking there in the shadows ready to save a good guy like me at the very last instant.

The Devil grimaced and snapped his fingers. Suddenly, we were standing at the top of Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas.  The Devil waved his arm across the plains around us.

“All you have to do is become my second in command, and all this –”  He frowned.  “Well, all this and lots more you can’t see from here, will be yours.”

“Second in command?” I asked.  “What does that entail?”

“Ah,” the Devil grinned again, “You simply have to agree that I am the absolute authority about what’s right and what’s wrong in this world.”

“Right and wrong?  Why would I think you’re the authority on that?”

“Because I believe exactly what you believe.  Every political opinion, every social issue, every theological, ethical, and moral concept, I believe exactly as you.”

“Well,” I thought a moment, “then in that case, I agree.  So, does my power extend out beyond Kansas?”

The Devil was no longer smiling.

“Do you not even care that you failed all three of my tests?  I mean, you conjured up junk food instead of fasting.  You hurled yourself off a building, naively thinking God would alter the laws of physics just to save you from your own stupidity.  And then you think so highly of your own view of the world that you’d bow down to it–to me–to yourself, instead of God?”

“Wait,” I said.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about TEMPTATION,” the Devil bellowed.  “But you give in so quickly.  Where’s the fun in that?”  He tossed his pitchfork over his shoulder and sighed.  “You wouldn’t even know your own sin if it bit you on the back of the leg.

“You know what?” he continued.  “You’re so compromised you don’t even need a Devil.”  He heaved a heavy sigh and turned to walk away.   “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you don’t need a Tempter.”  He called back over his shoulder.  “You need a Savior.”

With that, I jolted awake.  The clock said 11:45am.

I crawled out of bed, feeling hungry.  What was that crazy dream I was having?

It was all fading away now.

Something about Nachos.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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