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The Rigidity of Bitterness

Forced, under threat of physical harm, we freshmen boys were made to serve our senior masters by waiting on them and their tables.  We considered how our first week of high school misery might play out for the remainder of our tenure.  During one of our brood sessions, one of my fellow sufferers offered “hope” to us in his statement he couldn’t wait to be a senior, so he could impose his oppressive authority on some unsuspecting freshmen boy.  This kind of hope for justice didn’t seem right to me, nor did getting “even” with my senior tormentors seem righteous.
 
The rigid cycle of bitterness and the foolishness it brings rages on in our lives no matter our age or circumstance.  (Pause for Thought:  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him. – Proverbs 17:25; Read the story of Amaziah – II Chronicles 25; How did Amaziah’s foolish quest to get “even” cost him his authority and integrity?  How should have Amaziah dealt with his bitterness over his father’s life and death and the circumstances in his own rule over Judah?)
 
Bitterness’s vicious cycle is founded in the pride that leads to a fall.  Unfortunately, after we fall, the bitterness can be, and often is, picked up by our children for them to repeat the same mistakes and display the same foolishness.  Jesus’ ways of getting even and providing hope through bitter times is much different from the world’s ways.  (Pause for Thought:  But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44; Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  – Romans 12:14. What enemy is causing your bitterness today?  In what ways has the bitterness impacted you, your family, your children?  How will you choose to deal with the bitterness if front of your family this week?)
 
We freshmen boys decided we did not want to perpetuate the bitter tradition we were suffering through and leave a legacy of foolishness.  I’ll never forget the disbelieving, but joyful, faces on the freshmen boys as we served them and their tables at lunch for the first week of their high school lives.  (Pause for Thought:  How can you get “even” by abolishing a rigidly bitter tradition/cycle by your service to your family or children this week?  Why does service result in our ability to be flexible and less rigid?  Can you name examples of how Jesus’ service to another lessened bitter rigidity and brought flexibility?  If you can think of some examples, share them with your children this week.)
 

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The Simplicity of Greatness

G.O.A.T—Greatest of all Time.  It took me a while to figure out the meaning of the acronym GOAT.  I was shocked to find it means “greatest of all time”.  To be “the goat” meant something totally different when I was growing up.  Today, arguments rage on sports news and talk shows as to who is the greatest and what makes one great.  Is it LeBron or Jordan, Ruth or Cobb, Ford or Edison?  What weighs heaviest in the “great” debate?  Is it the number of titles, accumulation of stats, total awards?  If we can make greatness complex, we will do it.
 
Fortunately, Jesus made greatness very simple for his disciples and those who would follow in his great footsteps and sit at his wonderful feet.  He said, “You want to be great, then you must serve.” (Pause for Thought:  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  John 13:12-17)
 

The Institute in Basic Life Principles explains greatness this way, “Greatness is not a goal to be sought after but a by-product of learning how to serve.”  As people created by God in His image, we do desire greatness in our visions for ourselves, our children, our church, etc.  It stands to reason, since we were created with a purpose by our great Father God.  However, knowing greatness is a by-product of serving changes my expectations and measurements as a Christian and a parent.  As a parent, the skills I want to see my son develop and the opportunities I want to seize upon for his practice and maturity are a lot different when I adhere to Jesus’ definition of greatness and not the world’s.  (Pause for Thought:  Does knowing “greatness” is from our serving and not from being served force you to rethink the parenting skills and emphasis you are practicing?  If so, how?) I’ve had to concentrate upon the attitude, motive, desire, and passion in my service to my son and rethink what I see as greatness in my son.  If you desire a change of heart in regards to visualizing and securing greatness in your children, join us at 9:45 Sunday mornings for small group discussions on “Parenting Greatness”.  (Pause for Thought: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms–I Peter 4:10;  The greatest among you will be your servant–Matthew 23:11)


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No Mere Mortals

In the beginning the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. In these dark and ancient times there were no selfies. Yes, once upon a long ago, camera technology had not advanced enough to be able to turn a phone around to take of picture of oneself. Thankfully, we live now in an enlightened age.

 

What are we really doing when we take a selfie? What are we trying to capture? A moment in time? Our essence as an individual? An image we’d like to represent us? For better or worse, our selfies do capture some part of us.

 

Once upon a time when there truly was nothing, the immortal, invisible, and incalculable God of the universe chose to create mankind in His own image; to capture a sliver of His nature in frail, fallible, flesh. In the midst of creating hedgehogs and eagles and platypi (or is it platypuses?) God set about to create a creature that represented some essential elements of His character. In doing so, He made something different, something unique from all the other forms of life.

 

The Hebrew word used to describe humankind being created in the image of God is tselem and is used elsewhere to talk about stone and wooden idols made to represent false gods. While Jesus represents the nature of God fully, in some mysterious and completely undeserved way, we also represent the character of the Lord. Understanding this, author C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.” 

 

This unique status has a litany of implications but perhaps the primary is that we are not mere accidents of biology or simply the most intelligent of animals but rather purposefully designed creations mysteriously molded after the fashion of our Creator. This fact alone should give weight and purpose to our being and a great deal of responsibility as well. In the same passage in which God describes His intention to create humans in His image, He also decrees that they would have dominion over the earth.

 

While we most often think of the word ‘dominion’ in the context of abuse (think domineering) or as an excuse to mishandle the resources given to us, a fuller understanding is one of authority AND responsibility. A king presides over a kingdom but he is also responsible for what goes on within. The Lord has dominion over every aspect of the universe. Similarly, we are to have dominion over the earth. 

 

Our dominion is not limited only to earth’s physical resources (for which we are both entrusted and accountable) but also in creation, innovation, and progress. All humans are the product of an infinitely creative God. We express this imbued creativity when we create are (which author J.R.R. Tolkien called ‘imaginative sub-creation’), express skills, and develop technology which seeks the betterment of the human race.

 

Our status as image-bearers gives our life a divinely defined purpose and authority. We exist not by chance but by design and are entrusted to rule with wisdom over the resources, both physical and spiritual, not for ourselves with selfish intent but for the betterment of all. In doing so, we reflect the creative nature of our most excellent and boundless Creator.


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Significance

I recently had the opportunity to attend my daughter’s first dance recital. The house lights dimmed and the stage filled with the tiny silhouettes of the first group of dancers. Now I must admit that I have a fairly low tolerance for both awkwardness and imperfection. The recital had both in spades. In light of this, I mostly checked out as the first performers began their earnest but labored routines. That is, until my daughter stepped onto the stage. I recognized her thin outline and suddenly my eyes were transfixed on her graceful form moving across the stage. I wasn’t noticing the flaws but rather the girl that I loved.
 

The psalmist prays that he would be preserved like “the apple of [God’s] eye” and Jesus later confirms that the God who sustains the sparrows and the flowers of the field takes a far greater interest in the care of His children.

 

Somehow, in spite of our grand insignificance and the infinite complexity of the universe, the Lord of all creation reserves for us a place in His heart. He peers through the lives of the billions upon billions who live and have lived and sees our single flickering light.

 

I imagine too, that He views us much as I viewed my daughter, with loving intent even as we offer our flawed and inconsequential offerings back to Him. Though no other eye could find value in our lives of little consequence, He lovingly accepts our lives as the earnest yet erring gifts of those He has chosen and adopted.

 

When we begin to see our identity through the eyes of God, we are set free from our infernal quest for significance through our own hands. It has been said that “worth, value, and beauty is not determined by some innate quality but by the length the owner would go to possess them.” If this is true (and it is), then we are truly valued indeed and we can begin living not to prove our significance but to honor the One who already sees us as such.


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Identity

In the spring of 2006, Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, and Ann Wojcicki met together to discuss how they could market personal genomics and biotechnology to the consumer market. Based in the fertile tech environment of Santa Clara County, California, the company they formed would provide genetic testing and genealogical DNA research for the individual consumer. Though there would be bumps along the way, the company they formed, 23 and Me, would eventually boast over 5 million customers and be valued at over $1 billion, allowing individuals to learn about their genetic health and ancestry; about who they are at the cellular level.

 

Identity matters.

 

Though the term has become a buzzword, there is certainly power behind knowing who we are as a community and as individuals. Knowing who we are provides a bedrock that remains firm and allows us to base our decisions and choices on something other than immediate pressures and shifting winds.

 

As Christians, our identity needs to come from somewhere other than ourselves. Simply crafting for oneself an identity based on whims or even strongly held beliefs will always leave us wanting when the pressure on our life becomes too great.

 

After enumerating his familial and liturgical resume, Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, states: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul’s identity was not rooted in anything that he brought to the table either in lineage or personal achievements. Instead, his entire identity was contained in knowing and being known by Christ.

 

Knowing our identity in Christ provides us with the foundation to live a life as foreigners and exiles in this world. Only when we are rooted to the person of Jesus Christ can we navigate the affairs of the day. By understanding what is true of us as children adopted into the family of God we can navigate the challenge and nuance of living out that truth.

 

Beyond this, an understanding of our identity provides a greater impetus for behavioral change than willpower or discipline ever could. These efforts, as necessary as they are, must be bound in an understanding of our place as believers. The early Christians, who heard and treasured their Lord’s parting assertion that they “will be my witnesses” naturally bore this out in the way they established the church and became evangelists for their risen Lord. In the same way, an understanding of who we are in Christ will organically influence our actions and decision-making. Once we know who we are, we are then free to live out that identity.


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Follow Christ Together

Follow Christ Together

 

There is going to be a day (or many days) when you are going to ask yourself why you even bother to be part of a church at all. It’s going to happen. No matter how mature the community of believers or how orthodox the theology, there are going to be moments when you’re just want to run off and head for a solitary cabin in the woods. It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable because every single person in your church is just like you, flawed, imperfect, and often unintentionally hurtful.

So even with all of our eccentricities and failings, why keep at it? Why continue to follow Christ together instead of on our own?

 

We were designed to GATHER together in community.

The short and definitive answer is that we were designed by God to meet together and experience Christ together. Based on their understanding of corporate worship and communal spiritual life in the nation of Israel, the earliest believers implicitly understood that gathering together was critical to their realized faith in Christ. So to it is for us.

In fact, the writers of the New Testament seemed to take involvement with a larger group of believers as a given and spent little time exhorting believers to be part of a church. What they do spend a considerable amount of ink on, is encouraging believers to live together in unity. The church is the first place that we demonstrate our love for each other. It is not enough to love in theory. The church is where we are able to love in practice and deed. The church is that opportunity.

 

We GROW best in the context of community.

Beyond being an outlet for the love we have been given in Christ, the church is our opportunity to be encouraged and encourage others to follow Christ more closely. Through experiences such as worship, preaching, discussions, and prayer (among many) we grow and are stirred towards obedience by the words AND witness of fellow believers. The church is not simply a location for believers of Jesus to congregate but rather an entity in which the Spirit of God ministers to the individual and the corporate.

 

We are sent to GO out in mission from a place of community.

In addition, the church serves as a jumping off point for ministry and missions; a place for believers to be equipped for ministry as we fulfill our individual and corporate command to go into the world and make disciples.

We follow Christ together because it is the way we were made. We follow Christ together because it is how we best grow. We follow Christ together because in doing so, we honor Christ by loving each other.


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