Is Ball Life?

To say “ball is life” is to present it as an idol.

So this crossed my mind today and I thought about throwing it out there so here ya go.
 
I have long be a proponent of changing the way we speak when it comes to spiritual matters because I believe that our words can condemn us or justify us.
Matthew 12:36-27 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I am a coach and an athlete (well kind of) still and I look deeply at the players and teammates that I am impacting with my words and actions. I think carefully when I refer to that building where everyone goes on Sunday as “church”, because it’s not ya know. I have been a pastor of a church for the last 5 years and we have never used the term, “let’s go to church”, mostly because I see the Church as the body of believers that are working to bring life to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I digress though. 
What I do hear quite often from young athletes is “ball is life”, when referring to the game of basketball. Every time that I hear that I think to myself, “Is it?”, is it really LIFE? I know, I know, it is just a phrase that people use. It is just a saying that the kids are #hashtagging all over the place and it is just some words after all. Well our words have consequences. Our pursuit of the #ballislife mentality has kingdom consequences for those young people claiming Jesus as their Savior.
To say “ball is life” is to present it as an idol. Samuel gives caution to this which is still so relevant today.
 1 Samuel 12:21 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.
Matthew Henry describes that verse like this, “for if you turn aside from God, whatever you turn aside to, you will find it is a vain thing, that can never answer your expectations, but will certainly deceive you if you trust to it; it is a broken reed, a broken cistern.Idols could not profit those that sought to them in their wants, nor deliver those that sought to them in their straits, for they were vain, and not what they pretended to be.
I think we can learn a big lesson here.
In the book of John it says this…
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

The word life in this context means “the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate”. Are we therefore animated by the bound synthetic leather nature of a spherical object used for the accomplishment of recreation with the occasional promise of fleeting glory that is a trophy or a scholarship? None of that promise can match up to the promise of an eternal existence with the one true God. Yet we continue “ball is life”.

James describes the tongue as the smallest of rudders that can control a gigantic ship, no matter the storms that ship faces. Our words matter.  What we say matters. The face that we present matters. Think about that the next time you say you LOVE pizza or your LOVE the “insert major athletic team in here” that you are expressing LOVE for an object in the same way you say you love your mother or father, wife or husband, or most importantly how you LOVE Jesus Christ. It can become cheapened real quick if you think about it that way. Our words matter.

To round out this little chat let me leave you with this. We can easily be turned away from the things of God because we allow the things of the world to creep in. If you read this and you use the #balllislife for anything may the Lord prick your heart a little every time so that you may feel the vastness of that statement on an eternal scale. If you read this and you have never heard of or seen #ballislife or have no idea why I keep putting the pound sign in front of those words without spaces in between, let me just say this. Our words matter and our lives should hinge only on the things of the Lord, your job, your wife, your family all pale in the grand scheme of things when Jesus is LIFE.

Cheating on God

“God designed marriage to make us Holy”

Recently I have found myself in several conversations about marriage and how does a Christian remain faithful and still consider divorce. I have talked to people through the years that run the gambit on this issue. I have spent time with those folks and walked them through the scripture and spent time in prayer with them, but ultimately there are gaps that exists because of their marriage relationship or the lack of understanding of a biblical marriage.

Ya see God is the bridegroom and therefore there are some things that come with that relationship.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior. 1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT

So if Peter was directing people to accept the authority of your husband then his expectation that people would flourish because of their obedience to their husband. You’ll notice that he makes sure to mention those that refuse to accept the Good News. The gospel is living, breathing and active among everyone but when we decide to “cheat on God”, or become adulterous in that relationship we leave a place for division to set in.

So the age old question comes. Can I be a believer and get a divorce? I know that God hates divorce and I know that he intended for a marriage to be a lifetime endeavor. Well God also gave some reason why one would be able to get divorced, (not required). God designed marriage to make us Holy. He designed it to glorify Him and not to add to our human joy. When those directives are not thought of or considered at that point of matrimony then you have to consider again God’s directive for a divorce.

And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful. Matthew 19:9

In the case of the New Living Translation of the scripture I submit that Jesus may have very well been speaking to the unfaithfulness of people in general and the idolatry that people in a difficult marriage  engage in. If in fact idolatry exists in a marriage and the love of the world has consumed one or both of the parties then the question is answered. Is divorce allowed for Christians?  If you cheat on God, then there is already a separation, maybe you can get out and begin restoration in the name of Jesus. Remember the gospel is true and applies to all situations. Jesus already paid the price so revel in that most of all and know that God is still in charge.

 

The noisy diner

“He will use every effort to engage you right where you are”

I have shared with people throughout the years the picture that God has given me about hearing His still small voice. I would love to share it with you today so that you might identify the analogy with your own life.

Here goes…

So there I am sitting the back of one of those old style 50’s diners and the place is packed out. The waitress yelling out “What’ll ya have?” and the cook yelling out “ORDER UP!”.  Busboys hurry around the place clanging plates and silverware together and wiping down tables feverishly so the next patrons can take their crack at some biscuits and gravy or the manhole cover sized pancakes. The noise is deafening at points and you can barely hear yourself think, let alone listen to the still small voice.

You see our lives can be filled with the hustle and bustle of life at times that we can barely discern what is right and what is wrong. The noise pulls us into situations that we believe that we can never recover from. For Elijah, it was very much the same way. It was so much so that Elijah would question if anyone around him was even submitted unto the Lord, but in fact, there were many that were but Elijah could not see that in this time of noisy silverware and loud waitresses. We see in the book of 1 Kings that there was a lot going on around him, but God chose to speak to him through a whisper.

 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 1 Kings 19:12

So back to our story. In my vision, I look to the rear of the restaurant and I see Jesus sitting on a bench like he is waiting for a table. His mouth is moving and he appears to be saying something but I can’t make it out. Slowly and intently I incline my ear to hear what He is saying.

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
Isaiah 55:3

I find that as I press into Him deeper and I focus my intentions on hearing, his words start to become clear to me. What are the words you say? The words are the very ones that He is speaking to you today as well. Through the din and clammer of everyday life, His desire is to be heard. He is not going to yell at you though. He will use every effort to engage you right where you are and to show you that He is Lord of all. It will be up to us to lean in and listen to the words and then obey what He says.

ORDER UP!!!

 

Frustration, key to Spiritual growth

“Trials will come and tests will be present”

So on my daily jaunt into work this morning I find myself on the highway and completely over come with thoughts of frustration that border on rage. Why, you ask? Well because other driver annoy the heck out of me and bring me to places that I would really choose not to be. They bob and weave in front of you, and they race ahead to get one place ahead of you so that they can slam the breaks on to make the next off ramp. Are you getting the picture? I think we have all been there.

So in my murmuring and my frustration I start to think about my relationship with God and how that relationship has infused every part of my life, but this one part keeps creeping up on me. We all have that one thing that proves to be such a frustration at times. What is yours? Money, work, relationships? Could it be that there are several things?

In the book of Isaiah the prophet speaks to a nation of Israel to calm their fears and encourage their faith. He refers to them as one unit. We remain to be that one unit today. The body of Christ set forth and set apart for a  different purpose.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Trials will come and tests will be present, because the enemy does not want to see us calm in the presence of the Lord. However, God is faithful and just and he turns our frustration to laser focus on Him for those that trust completely and have made that relationship paramount in their lives.

So the next time that road rage creeps up on you or that crying baby in the doctor’s office or that co-worker is testing your very last nerve at work, take that frustration and turn it to Spiritual growth.

Waking up to a new day

Our inner self is in a constant state of regeneration.

In the every day stuff of life we often find ourselves searching for something more. Paul put it to the Corinthians like this.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

Our inner self in a constant state of regeneration. We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved again.

It is easy for men and women of faith to wonder aimlessly through life and find that the world is falling down around them. It is only if we recognize that is the truth and stop fighting, and revel in the tender mercies of a great big God who is growing us every day, we may just start to reflect Him in all things.

The times that we spend in anxiety and worry are the times that God is reaching out to us most. Those times we should take a inventory of the things in our lives that are challenging us that are outside the will of God. I find that when we look hard at those things and realize that we are chasing fame, or fortune or pleasures of the flesh that we can reel that in through a repentance and dependence on a Savior. Realize He is in charge, repent and fall back into the loving arms.

So wake up today. Wake up to a new day. Maybe you need to do this every hour today, until it becomes the very being of who you are. We are saved and we are being saved, every minute.

Why do I care?

Did ya ever get those times when you ask yourself, “Why do I even care?”? The times that you wonder why the things that bother you bother you. I mean you are secure in your faith and you hold God in high regard, you are suffering those around you and your desire is to see life lived out in the context of the gospel. That seems to be a pretty good start on why you would not see fit to ask the “Why do I care?” question. Yet we find ourselves asking that question.

Recently I had a friend of mine tell me how he visited a church where he used to go and proceeded to tell me that over the years not much has changed there. The messages are pretty much the same, the people are pretty much the same, and the open pleadings for money have not changed much. He was surprised that this was the case. The Pastor routinely posts publicly about the financial woes of the church and that there is a need to get people to give or they will not be able to pay the bills. He also told me that the number of people in the Sunday gathering was approaching 11 or 12, (people, not 11 or 12 hundred or thousand). Upon hearing this I almost instantaneously went to “why do they insist on making this so hard?”. Then I asked myself “Why do I care?”.

Then another friend of mine told me about how a church he was attending went with a snow producing machine for a Christmas service, that was not to be outdone by light shows and smoke machines on Sunday morning. That was not the part that made me scratch my head though. It was the part where he lamented over the fact that he has people there that he truly loves and have played a pivotal role in his walk with Christ, yet he has not personal relationship with them. I mean how much relationship can you truly have with someone if you have never been to their house right? We are family ya know. I ask myself “Why do I care?”.

Lastly there are the churches near us that have referred people to us, rather than helping them on their way. We heard things like, “they are more suited to people in your situation” or “they have a very good homeless ministry”. They are right in that we do have a good homeless ministry and we are suited to “those” people, but that is only because Jesus had a good homeless ministry and cared about “those” people. We spent time with those people that sometimes were in other congregations all together, yet had never or very rarely even stepped foot in the home of the Pastor of that church. I ask myself “Why do I care?”

Some of the answers started coming to me over the weekend. We hold a Sunday evening basketball training, bible study, fellowship, relational, character building, loving, sharing, growing kind of thing that is really proving to open my eyes more and more to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been studying in the book of Titus and it has been such a great time of growth for the men involved. This week something stood out to me and leaped off the page.

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7

He saved us because of his own mercy, we are being regenerated with the Holy Spirit, and he is coming back again to get us. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we embrace those things. Without them we are children tossed to and fro by any means of doctrine or light show or plea for money or indoor snow storm, okay so I added that last part to Paul’s letter. Speaking of Paul’s letter, the charge in Ephesians 4 is for us to grow up into the fullness of Christ and not be infants forever. There in lies the reason I dislike the reasoning, “I am just a baby Christian” (for the last 10 years), when it comes to serving the Kingdom of God.

It is my assertion that the reason churches find themselves in these positions of pleading for money or directing people away from their own church family is mainly because the gospel message is not released in their midst. They preach it, they believe it, they trust completely in it, but the folks that are attending regularly on Sunday have not been released to embrace the gospel on their own. The Pastor has been held up as the only one that knows what is going on. If it were not so why would we give themselves names like Senior Pastor or Head Pastor? If it they were not believing that they needed to be elevated, why would they build stages and quite literally keep the attenders in the dark while the light shines only on them in a Sunday morning gathering. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5

The very ground that we walk on should be made even so that we shall see it together. Think about that. What if we treated people with that same vision? What if we allowed the Spirit of God to speak through the people gathered and scattered into our world? Would there be a need to beg for money on a Sunday morning? Would there be a need to refer widows and orphans to other fellowships because you are “not equipped” to handle them?

So the question remains, “Why do I care?”. Well I care because God cares. I have prayed Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours, and He has listened and responded. Do I run ahead sometimes? Sure Do I get it wrong sometimes? Yep Am I a broken man in need of a Savior EVERY SINGLE DAY? Absolutely! The thing that I can say for certain is that he loved us first and he guides and directs my path. I am righteous because he is righteous. I am loved because he loves. I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved.

That’s all I got to say about that, (in my best Forest Gump voice).

Moved by the story

So one of the most interesting thoughts I have had come through my mind over the last 12 years of living life on mission with God, is that the story of God matches up with mine so well. Ya see God’s story has all the pieces that make up a best seller, wait He already has a best seller. Anyway the story that He has laid out was one of creation, a fall, redemption and finally restoration. Yep, it is the story of the gospel, the “good news” for both the Jew and the gentile.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

That power that I felt was so real when I started to experience the Spirit of God moving through me. Now, I had been in some very dark places in my lifetime and I had very good reasons to be distant from God. You name it and I had been a part of it. All of the things and reasons people use for not being close to God, I was part of that very thinking.

Burned by the church? CHECK
Burned by people? CHECK
Lead by desires of the flesh? CHECK
Seeking gain for personal pleasure? CHECK
Chasing the almighty dollar? CHECK
Bound in addiction? CHECK
Gonna pull myself up by my own bootstraps? CHECK

Ya see in those things is the very nature of God’s story to proclaim hope to a lost and struggling world. God would not have sent me through those things if He did not desire for me to use them later. God’s story has a plan and a purpose that is solely HIS. My story was wrought out of confusion and chaos and the presence of a distant God whose son only existed hanging on the cross of the Catholic church I attend (or told my parents I attended) for most of my adolescent years.

The gospel story is retroactive.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Even while I was in my sin all those years ago, God showed His love for me by sending His son to die. Take minute and think about that one. The God of the universe sent His son to live a perfect life and encounter all the trials and tribulations of a human existence, be accused by people who once called him friend, be betrayed by the closest of those that would deny they even knew him then give up the ghost so those very people could live forever with Him. Because the story is retroactive we get the opportunity to receive the same gift 5 minutes after you read this and then say “You mean that the sin I will commit tomorrow is already taken care of?” YEP! For those that are already submitting to the Lordship of Jesus you still chase the flesh and will always have a sin nature, BUT the scripture says that the Holy Spirit dwells inside you to give correction and aid you in your journey. Think about this one time. What if every time that you sat down at the computer to look at porn or every time you lied or every time you lusted, you would actually thank Jesus. I mean sit there at the screen and thank him for the cross. Think about what He did so that you could sit there and watch porn. Think about what He did so that you could check out some girl/guy at the check out counter at the grocery store. If we took Jesus at His word and we knew His redemptive story and it became normal for us and those that we are walking with, what a difference that would make in our world.

Take a minute today and go over the story of God. Use your own words to talk about it, then find out how your current story matches up with it.

Please always know that we are praying for everyone in our city and community regularly and there are those that are at the point to receive a message that is entirely Jesus’ and entirely yours but they need to see it through a different lens. They are not filing into church on Sunday to catch the latest worship tune or waiting to put their money in the basket, they are in your school at your work place and maybe even in your home.

Share your story and be moved.