Thursday, January 29, 2015

Samwise Gamgee and the Humility of Christ

The Lord of the Rings is a popular novel that theaters released as an epic three-part movie a few years back.  The book tells the story of a band of hobbits, dwarfs, elves and humans who embark on a quest to destroy a ring that has incredible power to corrupt.  On the quest, the main characters slay monsters and fight epic battles.  They exhibit incredible strength and ability in overcoming the obstacles of their journey.

In spite of all the feats accomplished by the story’s most impressive characters, the unlikeliest and humblest of them ends up the hero.  A hobbit named Samwise Gamgee saves the day.  He is a little Hobbit who possesses few notable skills or abilities.  He is not even the central Hobbit of the story.  Yet, in the end, Samwise comes through when it counts the most.

Samwise and his heroism remind me of some downright biblical principals.  In the end, it is the lowly things that will be exalted (Luke 14).  The last will be first (Matthew 19).  The poor are blessed (Luke 6).  A crucified Messiah saves the world (John 19).

As you go through the coming week, look for heroism in the humble things of life.  Serve others without looking for credit.  Give anonymously.  Do that thing others don’t want to do.  Do it all for God.  As you do, you find blessings that last longer than earthly reward.  You will find life in following the way of Jesus.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Amazing How One Man Gets Around

There is a great gospel song that says, “They know of You in Hong Kong, they know in Baton Rouge. They know in Carolina, they know in Kathmandu. They know of You in Baltimore, they know in Germany. They even know of You in Nashville, Tennessee. It's amazing, so amazing, it's amazing how one man gets around. It's amazing, so amazing, it's amazing how one man gets around.” The song describes the incredible phenomenon called “Christianity." It is truly amazing how so many people, in so many different places, have heard of Jesus Christ.

It is especially amazing because Jesus wasn’t born famous. He lived in a backwater part of the Roman Empire. He was the adopted son of a less than noteworthy carpenter. He didn’t have tons of money. Jesus simply did something that famous and notable people can’t do: He got up from the dead. After being crucified and buried, Jesus got up. Amazing.

The prophet Habakkuk writes, “Lord, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds.” Writing years before Jesus, Habakkuk understood a basic principle about life. News about awe inspiring stuff spreads. People hear that God became human, rose from the dead as victor over sin and death, and it inspires awe. As people are inspired, they tell other people about it.

This morning, as you worship, celebrate what God has done and is doing in Christ. He created the world through Him. He has saved you in Him. He has conquered sin and death by Him. Amazing. Awe-Inspiring. It is so amazing and awe inspiring that it is changing the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Get in the Game!

I played little league baseball when I was a kid. I wasn’t very good. My coach frequently put me in the outfield because the ball would rarely be hit my direction (2nd graders have a hard time hitting for power). As a result, I got board. After a couple innings, I would pick grass, my nose, stare at the sky, whatever. Then, if the ball happened to be hit into the outfield, I was surprised – even shocked. 

One game my father noticed my meandering approach to America’s favorite pastime and pulled me aside. He said, “Tommy, you’re not paying attention. Get your head in the game. Assume the ball is going to be hit to you. Play baseball.” What my Dad was telling me is that my physical presence on the playing field did not make me a baseball player. I had to actually focus on the batter, anticipate the pitch, judge where the ball might be hit, et cetera. In order to play baseball, I had to actually play baseball.

On the topic of worship, 1st Chronicles shares a similar message: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness,” (1 Chronicles 16:29, Psalm 29:2). So like my little league story, Chronicles suggests that you have to do what worshipers do in order to be a worshiper. Simply being in the area of worship does not make you a worshiper. It asserts that ascribing God’s glory, bringing an offering, and coming before him makes a person a worshiper. This is because worship is an activity that the believer does, rather than an event the believer attends.

There have been times in the past that I’ve sat in a church building on Sunday morning, heard the songs being sung, watched the scripture being read, observed the sermon being preached, and noted the pastor praying. And, I can honestly say that I was not a worshiper. I was a passive bi-stander watching the Christian community around me worship. Jesus Christ was ascribed glory. Offerings were made. The Church approached Jesus collectively and delighted in His Spirit’s holiness. But, I had very little to do with it. 

I like to think that if my Dad observed that worship service, he would pull me aside. He’d say, “Tommy. You are not paying attention. Our God is awesome! Get your head in the game! Sing loud and proclaim His splendor. Focus on the scripture and take it to heart. Offer yourself to God. Expect to experience the splendor of His holiness. Worship!”

You see, worship is not something that happens by default because you attend one of our services. You do not worship by simply attending church. You worship by doing what worshipers do. You participate in the worship services. You prepare your heart for the worship services. You take an attitude/posture of worship. You sing the songs to declare God’s holiness. You recite scripture to declare and reflect on God’s good character. You open yourself (or offer yourself) to the preaching of God’s word in order to be transformed by its message.

None of us want to be shocked if God actually hits a spiritual line drive our direction. Right? We want to be pursuing God’s work in our lives, ready for His direction. Right? If so, get in the game. Be active and intentional about worshiping Jesus. Take responsibility for your devotional life. Don’t spiritually pick your nose while the game of the spiritual life swirls around you. There is too much at stake. Jesus Christ is alive and His Spirit is saving the world! Anticipate His saving work in your life and delight in it. Worship!

Friday, January 2, 2015

God Given Health and God Inspired Gratitude

The Harvard Mental Health Letter reports a connection between gratitude and general health. Psychologists organized a research study, asking two groups of people to write observations about their experiences very week, for ten weeks. Researchers instructed the first group to write about events and experiences they were grateful for. Researchers instructed the second group to note events they found aggravating. After ten weeks, both groups answered questions about their health. The group that noted things they are thankful for reported feelings of optimism, exercised more and visited their physician less than the group noting irritants. According to the study, there is a positive correlation between gratitude and health.

That is good news for Christian folks because we come from a long tradition of valuing gratitude and thankfulness. The scriptures encourage thanksgiving, time and time again. Paul tells the church in Thessalonica to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” (5:18). Psalm 118 instructs us: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Hebrews reinforces the lesson in saying, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful,” (12:28). I could go on and on, but the lesson is the same: express gratitude to God and others.

Keeping The Harvard Mental Health Letter study in mind, the Christian emphasis on thanksgiving isn’t just good for God and others. Gratitude is actually good for those who practice it. Expressing gratitude is ultimately a grace of God that blesses God’s people as they practice God’s will in thanksgiving.

As you go through the coming week, take time to communicate gratitude. Note what you appreciate about God and others. Tell others. Tell God. As you do, you will find joy in obedience to God’s will. And, you might just find better health along the way.