Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vintage Camper?!

There it is, waiting to be washed, fixed, and painted.
What have I done...again?!

This time I really might end up being sorry. Since July last year when we sold our reasonable, clean, perfectly functional popup camper, we've been looking for a vintage old "canned ham" camper to work on and camp in.

Have I lost my mind?

This isn't ours. It's a "Sisters on the Fly" camper.
Why would we do this (you might ask)?

Because life is an adventure.
Because we don't have enough money to buy a new camper.
Because vintage campers are cool and have character.
Because I think we can always sell it for more than the amount for which we bought it.
Because I'm a glutton for punishment.

Another "SOTF" camper.
This whole idea began a couple of years ago when we went on our annual summer camping trip. Dara and I went up a few days before everyone else—Drew was having to work at his college and had to come late, Duncan was on the way home from a mission trip, and Darla was getting Franca (our German exchange student) ready for her trip home.
This "Sisters" camper was stunning. The painter is talented!
Dara and I, never being able to fully scratch the outdoors itch, set up camp and hung out together. It was pretty awesome. What was crazy, however, was that there were dozens of women with a group called Sisters on the Fly. Most of them were breast cancer survivors, many of whom had taken up fly fishing (an activity that reportedly exercises muscles damaged by breast cancer and treatments). We had some wonderful conversations with some really great people.

Yet another "SOTF" example.
Something that was really cool about this group was their campers! Most of them had incredible vintage campers that had been completely restored or remodeled. Dara and I were awed by their campers! When Darla, Duncan, and Drew finally made it to the campground, most of the women had packed up and departed, only a few remaining.

I took many pictures. These are only a few.

There were several old Airstreams there. Always classic!

Now it's our turn. Oh boy.

Ours right after the purchase. Bringing "Daisy" home.
Darla and I have been looking, even stopping at people's homes to ask about campers that sat stranded in their yards (yes, I could tell you some stories).

This week we saw a 1969 Field & Stream camper on Craigslist. I went to check it out and liked it. It didn't leak, wasn't plagued with rust or rot, and the couple that had it had done some work on it but appreciated vintage originality and kept it pretty stock. After negotiating on price, I brought it home. That was Saturday. We cleaned and worked on it until we ran out of daylight. We got cranking after church and the picnic that followed, and again worked on it until dark. I'm not complaining! I like having something to work on! Darla's determined the name: Daisy. She's going to paint the faded gold stripe a gold-yellow. It's also a little bit of an inside joke. I call Darla "Daisy" when she complains about my driving. You know, like in the movie, "Driving Miss Daisy."

We're going to spend Memorial Day fixing, painting, and remodeling this old thing (and then we're going to eat BBQ Pork that's cooking right now).

Life is good.

Driving Miss Daisy home to meet the family. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sin in the Camp

A few days ago the people of Knoxville were shocked to hear of arrests that were made in a sting operation. It was conducted by various law enforcement entities and had been given the codename: "Operation Someone Like Me." In it 32 people were caught and charged with various sexual crimes. Among them were two “pastors.” One was a volunteer “creative pastor” who led worship at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge (associated with the Assemblies of God) and the other was the Children’s Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Karns. Of course the media focused almost exclusively on the two ministers. When the news broke, my phone almost melted, first from those who were making sure I had heard, and then from other leaders determining how to respond and from people wanting to ask my thoughts.

I feel I need to comment (and perhaps “vent”) a bit. There’s a cycle I find I experience when I hear this kind of news:


Let me explain (and hopefully encourage you who are struggling as well).


Like the water of a creek in a flash flood, my emotions tend to rise and jump the banks whenever something like this happens. Honestly, my first response is outrage. Words like “stupid,” “hypocrite,” and “jerk” come out of my mouth. I start thinking in ways I should not think, like imagining having two minutes alone in a room with the offender. I’m a dad. I’m increasingly sickened by the drift in our culture and the church. How can someone waging the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil—yea, leading God’s people in battle—be so reckless and depraved. I'm mad enough at the world over issues like the sex trade industry, but this is the church! My blood pressure rises when I think of how these things hurt the gospel and I take it personally. However, I quickly realize that this initial reaction is wrong. If I am going to be mad, I should be angry at sin. Sin that I too commit in different ways.


Next I experience sorrow and heaviness of heart. Of course I think about the accused offenders’ wives and kids. How devastating. They must feel utterly betrayed. According to rumor, the Grace Baptist guy’s wife didn’t have a clue. I grieve for her. What’s worse (if possible)? Every kid thinks his or her dad is the best. He apparently has three kids ranging from kindergarten to teenager. The proverbial rug is pulled out from under them profoundly when this kind of sin is exposed, and it forms a wound that may never heal. I also think of the churches these men have served. They are right now reeling. A staff member at Grace told me everyone is quiet and numb, as if someone unexpectedly died. I also think of the setback we as the Church Proper in Knoxville will face because of this. I have already had conversations with unbelievers who promptly brought this up to me upon learning I was a pastor. Just when I feel that we are making some baby steps in becoming the humble, sincere, loving body of Christ that offers a clear alternative to the world—this happens. Already I have seen snarky comments online highlighting this as yet another example of Christians’ arrogance, corruption, hypocrisy, etc. This is indeed a setback and it saddens me.

Then, after I think of all the people these men have hurt around them, I think of them. They have essentially destroyed their own lives. They will bear the shame of perversion and corruption and self-serving immorality. They will never again work in ministry. Period. Which makes any education or experience they have gained utterly useless. All that money and sacrifice is for nothing, except to serve as a mockery. They will live with the guilt of being the ungrateful swine before whom many pearls have been cast as they have been surrounded by things of God and godly people. Their lives are also about to radically change. Prison is not a friendly place for child-sex predators or soft men in general. I’ve been there (not as an inmate). Pedophiles and child abusers hide in fear and stay in the chapel and anywhere there is supervision. They are routinely beaten and raped. Even the prisoners have an understanding of hierarchy regarding sin, and they’re considered the lowest of the low, especially among those who were abused as children themselves. They essentially exist as dead-men walking around with targets on their backs, friendless and terrified. They are to be pitied. It is sad.


This next emotion comes unexpectedly to me. I begin to reflect on our church and our staff and our volunteers and our processes. Are we doing everything humanly possible to insure this does not happen at Providence? There are three basic aspects of this. 
1. We must properly vet people before they are placed in positions of leadership. We do this in a number of ways, including background checks, looking at applicants' social media, proper interviewing, checking references (both those given by the applicant and those we dig up ourselves), and spending enough time with them to give the Holy Spirit opportunity to let us gain a sense of their spiritual health and sincerity.
2. We must shepherd them while they are leaders. This includes accountability, encouraging spiritual growth, giving reminders, and encouraging opportunities for confession of sin and grace. Yes there are some ways we can police our staff’s internet usage and computers, set policies for male/female and adult/child interactions, etc, but we should be more about the positive aspects of spiritual growth and healthy community that will allow us to see “red flags” before sin takes root.
3. We must have a plan to deal with a revelation of secret sin should it happen to us.

Of course when I think through these things I second-guess everything. I feel the worry that we are not doing enough. 

That always leads me to pray that God would spare us—starting with me—from such things. I have said this before and say it again now: I would rather God kill me than allow me to hurt the church, my family, myself, and God by some sinful scandal. I know my weaknesses and my greatest fear is that I would fall prey to some scheme of Satan to ruin my reputation and shame the name of Christ. Again, I pray that God will kill me first. And I pray that by his mercy God will spare our church from this kind of crippling scandal—be it through me or someone else. I’ve been at churches rocked by leadership scandals. They sometimes never recover. 

The scary thing is that we can do everything humanly possible to prevent these things, but human beings are sinful. And Satan is a great deceiver who has millennia of experience. So we are wise to fear. This might keep us humble and reliant on God who alone is able to preserve us and grow us and even conquer through us. This is why we should pray fervently and constantly to this end. Fear is good if fear drives me to pray.


It is when I realize my frailty and God’s might that my heavy heart is relieved and my soul rejoices in his greatness and wisdom and glory. He is able. He is undefeated. Our God is completely in control and even uses these instances of human failure to bring about his will. He always has and he always will. My mind is right now flooding with historical examples of this! God used the scandal of Achan after Jericho (Joshua 7) to humble and focus Israel in order to conquer the Promised Land. God used the scandal of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) to purify the church in the early stages of its growth and cause “the people [to hold] them in high esteem” (Acts 5:13). God used the scandals of European popes and the church’s corruption to bring about the Protestant Reformation that saved the church and the gospel. I could go on.

The word “worship” conveys the attribution of worthiness toward someone. It literally means “to kiss toward” in homage and humility, as a lowly subject would bow before a great king and kiss his feet. I understand worship as an act of complete surrender to God who alone is worthy. Brokenness is the beginning of true worship. The fact that I am so unworthy leads me to the glorious truth that he is infinitely worthy of my awe and my all. Rejoicing springs forth from that soil. I find my worth in him who is and find my purpose in his. I find my joy in pleasing him. This is a satisfaction with which the world and Satan can not compete!


Therefore, we can not be discouraged by news of human scandal. Angry? Hurt? Disappointed? Perhaps. But never discouraged or defeated. We are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). The church, with all her flaws, is still Christ’s bride; and hell’s defenses cannot overcome her or her mission. We must lovingly, wisely, and aggressively denounce sin, treat the wounds of others, demand justice while offering forgiveness for the repentant offender, and positively hold up Christ as the answer.

What cannot happen? Satan can't be allowed to use his victory in the personal life of an Achan or an Ananias or a Leo X of our day to discourage and defeat the rest of us. No. The rest of us must rise up to clearly provide an alternative (accurate) picture of Christianity to the world—a Christ-picture. With measured words, we must acknowledge anger, sadness, and fear; with humility we must worship; and with determination we must carry on in our mission—his mission.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Marvelous Faith

Right after preaching the famous sermon on the plain, Jesus wants those who follow him to "get" something important, and an opportunity presents itself.

Luke 7: 1After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2Now a centurion…

I want to tell you about centurions. They were not mere Roman soldiers, they were enlisted men who had worked themselves up through the ranks to be in charge of 100 men. They were not just political brown-nosers, they were elite fighting men who were not to be trifled with. Their pay was significant. Using today’s numbers, the average private in the U.S. Army is paid $18200 per year. By that standard, the common centurion made $364,000 a year (some made 2-4 times that)! To attain this rank and honor, one must be proven in combat or in martial arts to exhibit skill and courage, have a record of obedience, and show leadership. According to historians, these men were the backbone of the Roman legions. In short, they were the special forces of the greatest army in the world, and were spread out to lead the others by example. They were serious, ambitious, professional soldiers. In occupied territories, centurions were often the military governors of a town or area. They were feared and often hated by those subjected to them. They were not known for having compassion. They wore a flashy helmet and a breastplate covered with silver medallions—war medals for valor. They were important, and they knew it. And they usually had utter disdain for those conquered.

Now you can better appreciate this story.

Because this centurion’s different.

2Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 

Usually these servants (the word is often translated, “slave”) were pressed into service against their will from among the conquered people and treated like dirt. We really don’t know much more about the servant. Matthew reveals he’s male, and that he was “lying paralyzed” and “suffered terribly.” Dr. Luke’s diagnosis is that he was near death. What is amazing is that the centurion actually cares about this servant. Highly unusual! 

3When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 

Now we see that this important Roman officer had heard about this Jewish itinerate preacher/healer and believed Jesus was for real. He moves on behalf of his servant, not himself. The “elders” was a group made up of some patriarchs from the town, the ruler of synagogue or religious leaders, and perhaps other important or wealthy men. That they would come on his behalf is quite unusual! But something else odd happened: 

4And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  

This is remarkable. Even these Jewish leaders, who were typically proud of their own righteousness and disdainful of others (especially Gentiles, and particularly leaders in the military that subdued them) recognize this guy isn’t your average centurion. By their own words, this guy actually lives out some of the things Jesus had just said his followers should do: love enemies, be selfless, generous, about others. 

6And Jesus went with them. 

On the heels of his sermon, Jesus himself seems to be demonstrating radical love for enemies. So he agrees to go help this Gentile soldier. While walking across town, we infer the centurion gets word that Jesus is actually coming. At this point you’d think he’d be thrilled, but he’s not: 

When [Jesus] was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  

Did you catch that? He called him Lord, he shows incredible understanding of his own sinfulness, and he totally gets Jesus’ authority and power. He never blinks about whether Jesus can do this. He simply believes, and doesn’t think Jesus even needs to be present to make it happen. What was Jesus’ reaction? He is seriously impressed!

9When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, 

The word translated, “marveled” is only used three time regarding Jesus. Two of these are with this story about this centurion (Matthew uses it, too). The other is when Jesus marvels at the people of his home town regarding their LACK of faith [Mk. 6:6]. But here Jesus is impressed. And he makes a big deal of it: 

and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

There’s a lot of good that can be said about this Gentile centurion: He loved his servant. He loved the Jews and demonstrated it. He shows humility (I am not worthy), and based only on what he’s heard, he has a correct understanding of Christ's authority and identity. All that is good. but it's his faith that Jesus focuses on as marvelous.

This should be our focus too—the kind of faith Jesus desires. Here are 3 key aspects of faith that the Bible teaches:

1. Faith defined: 
Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That's more than mere hope. That’s being sure of what you hope for. That’s being certain of what you haven’t seen. That’s what we observe in this centurion who never saw Jesus yet believed he had the power and authority to heal his servant—in absentia! He simply believed! By the way, the Greek word translated “faith” is pistis, and the word translated “believe” is pisteuō. Yes, they have the same root. To have faith is to believe. 

2. Faith is necessary for a relationship with God: 
Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
That’s because faith overrides all barriers, real and imagined. This centurion was a Gentile. Most Jews would have said that he was beyond saving. What’s a bigger problem is that he was a sinner (as we all are). Even the most serious Jews were separated from God by their sin, because good works do not save. But no one is beyond saving who has faith. 
Galatians 2: 15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 

And just in case that’s not clear enough, read Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Of course grace is God’s gift. But I believe faith is too. Faith is the means by which God’s grace is applied. Grace through faith. No one is an outsider to Christ if he/she has faith. 

“Wait,” some are saying, “I just struggle with believing.” In Mark 9: There’s a dad who’s son is demon possessed. He is desperate for Jesus to heal him. He says to Jesus: 22But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I love that prayer! If you aren’t yet there regarding belief, ask God to help you! Ask him to give you faith to believe!

There’s one more key aspect of faith…

3. Faith works! Real faith results in a change in lifestyle, and will show evidence. What the Centurion showed is an example of faith in Christ's identity/authority/ability that resulted in good works. Faith in Christ brings forth actions of humility and love–like what we've been talking about the last few weeks.

This kind of faith saves, and it also bears fruit. 

James 2 :14-19 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 

Galatians 2:20, one of my favorite verses, reads: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

If we back away to see the big picture, we see that Luke is showing us that Jesus is giving the foundational blocks for “getting” God. 

We’ve been seeing the first which was on display in the sermon on the plain. Agape Love is that essential characteristic of God that caused him to make and save us. He wants to share it with us. It is how we are blessed. It is the key to living the Christ life. Love. Big huge foundational building block.

But this week we see another important foundational word for “getting God.”
To “get” him is not just to understand him. It is to have a relationship with him. 

Here is the key to gaining Christ: Faith. As far as we are concerned, all that is required is faith. We see in the centurion that it is NOT about heritage. It is about faith. His faith is what caused Jesus to marvel. It is what Jesus wanted all the others to see. 

Where are you? Have you believed? 

For some the “light” comes on like a flip switch, but for others it is more like a dimmer switch. Perhaps you’re just now getting to the place where you can say, “Yep, I think I believe.” Now, like this centurion, let it be known.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blessed are the Self-Examining

We’ve been observing Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain,” that he would have called, “How to be Blessed.” Jesus deconstructs what the world says "blessed" means and says true blessing (happiness, contentment) comes if you’re poor, hungry, weeping, and hated for his sake. Then he gave us the key to the whole thing: Radical Love. That’s the meat of his sermon and what sets his movement apart from all others. We are to love radically. Even our enemies. If we live love this way blessedness is a natural outflow of our lives, meaning, we experience great joy HERE (not to mention eternity)! Jesus makes us consider something quite un-American: quantity does not equal quality. You see, we think more money, more stuff, more power, more fame, friends, fans, FOR SELF equals better life. But according to Jesus, that is a lie. Instead what you usually get is stress, broken relationships, a bad attitude, and maybe even health problems. If you're a Kool-Aid drinker, you will eventually figure this out, perhaps on your deathbed or (certainly) when you die. At that time you may even wonder: “Why didn’t somebody warn me about what I was doing?” Someone has. His name is Jesus. Heed his words. If you do not, infinite misery will be your ultimate reward (according to Jesus, anyway).

The next part of his short sermon continues like this: Jesus says if we love radically like this, we will not focus on others’ wrongs, but our focus will be on bettering ourselves. Jesus wants his disciples to do self-examination. Read it yourself (Luke 6): 
37“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; 
Why is he saying this? Because the religious types of his day were all about pointing fingers at everyone else, and they missed the glaring problems they themselves had. Jesus wants his disciples to be different. 

Are we different? 

He continues:  
forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 

This is so cool. If you love radically, you will experience MORE radical love than you gave. It's better than some Christian form of Karma. It's more like investing a little and getting A LOT. 

But that's not all: by examining yourself, you will more effectively lead others. Read his next words:
39He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 
Jesus’ point: I want you to have an me. And I want those you teach to have influence!
41Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. 
It's a hilarious analogy Jesus makes! His point: work on yourself first! Then you will naturally have a positive influence on others. But if you don’t work on yourself, no one will take you seriously and you’ll only do damage. You’ll drive people away from good...and away from God.

This would be a good principle for parents to consider.

Jesus is saying when we sincerely follow him and share his values (not the world's), love radically, and focus on improving ourselves; that THAT’s powerfully infectious—and it changes the world for the good
43“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 
Did you catch that? Radical love that considers our own need for improvement first, bears all kinds of good fruit!

What's "fruit"? 

The Bible speaks of three kinds of spiritual fruit: 

1. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is a list of the attributes of the Holy Spirit-filled life of a Christian. That's what shows to others. 

2. Fruit can mean the results of our work or lifestyle as we seek to make a difference for good. For example, our kids are, in a sense, the fruit of our parenting. One's house and possessions are the fruit of one's livelihood. Spiritually speaking, the fruit of a godly life might be a good reputation. There are many examples.

But there’s another thing “fruit” means, that really captures the metaphor: 

3. Fruit is the reproductive part of a plant. This, applied, means we will reproduce more disciples. So if we want to see the world changed, followers of Christ must bear fruit...and we will. Living like Christ said, is infectious.
45The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Here's the bottom line: As Christ's disciple your first responsibility is to love radically. Be self-LESS. YOU think and pray about how YOU can be more like Christ…how you can LOVE more like Christ. And you know what? Your words will follow. People will hear the gospel...and see it in your love. Like a peach tree full of beautiful, ripe peaches blesses those who comes to it for food, Christians who love and live the blessed life, bless others.

Imagine a world where all Christians examine their own hearts and actions first, and then love everyone else radically! Sound like a fairy tale? No. That’s Christ's plan. Heaven will be like that—and many more people will be there to enjoy it!

Imagine a church like that! What if we love and serve each other as brothers and sisters…what if we love the world and decrease self in order that God might increase, what if we give so that more churches can be planted that make more disciples! 

Imagine a family like that! A marriage like that! In my 29 years of ministry, I have seen that the top reason for struggling or failed marriages is this: selfishness. Tara Havely and other professional counselors have confirmed this anecdotal evidence. 

Do you know how this all starts? You being honest and searching yourself. Ask God, "What is my log?" Stop loving yourself first, admit your log, and ask God to change you. 

Try it.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Garden 2016

I like gardening. Let me rephrase that: I like getting a garden started. Every year I plan, plow, fertilize, till, prepare rows/hills, plant seeds or plants, water, and cage what needs to be caged. But then June comes, and I'm away for a couple of weeks (to go camping and/or on vacation and/or I speak somewhere and/or go on a mission trip). It never fails. During that time away from home, the weeds take over. So much so that it would take an unreal amount of work to beat them back. And that's when the heat of summer has set in.

Let me go ahead and say it: I hate weeding in the heat of summer.

So this year I am taking extra pains (during the cool of spring) to prevent weeds. I'm laying down recycled, brown, craft paper and mulching on top of it. I'm hoping this will keep most of the weeds from growing at all, and the most persistent will be sparse enough to be dealt with relatively easily.

I've spent more money this year than ever. The paper has cost about $21 (the big roll of brown recycled type that painters and contractors use from Lowe's is the cheapest), and two yards of mulch cost $44. I also bought a couple of cheap bales of wheat straw for the watermelon and pumpkin area. Other than that I think I've only invested the cost of plants, seeds, and a bag of fertilizer.

I've learned over time what grows well in our garden, and perhaps more importantly, what we will and will not eat. And some stuff is simply cheaper and better from the store and produce stands like corn, okra, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots (in my opinion). I've grown all of those before, but it's just much easier/cheaper/better to let someone else grow them.

I've got poor, clay soil that doesn't drain well. Three or four years ago I brought in a big load of topsoil. I probably need to have a 4H agent or UT Ag come out and test the soil. I'll probably need to mix in some lime and organic compost, and perhaps some sand. The little fence is to keep the rabbits out! They almost wiped out my sweet potatoes two years ago, and I had to replant. Wascally wabbits!

Here's a video of the garden. Forgive the poor quality.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blessed = Love Radically

If Jesus' "Sermon on the Plain" would have had a title, I think he would have called it, "How to be Blessed."

He started off (as we have observed) by deconstructing what most people think "blessed" means. 
Jesus said that the poor, hungry, weeping, and those hated for his sake are blessed, and that the rich, full, laughing, and popular are to be pitied. This is pretty much opposite of what the world says. But if you live long enough and aren’t too blind to see it, you’ll find Jesus is right and the world is wrong. If you climb the world's ladder you'll one day realize it's leaning against the wrong wall. What you will have as a result is misery: nothing meaningful in this life, and hell for eternity. 

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

"But we live in this world. How can we keep ourselves from being influenced?" There are two choices: 

We can live defensively OR we can go on offense

Living defensively is an attempt at isolationism and protectionism from the world. An extreme example of this is the Amish. We all try to preserve our kids' innocence (for good reason), but let's not take it so far as to create a separate, Christian counter-culture that hides in fear of evil's onslaught. Is this how we should relate to the world and its temptation? I don't think so. There's nothing wrong with Christian music, movies, books, schools, t-shirts, or supporting Christian businesses. But if we attempt to surround ourselves in a Christian bubble to not have to deal with the world, we are missing our calling. Christ left heaven and became flesh to live among us in the world, in order to save the world...and then commissioned us to do the same. 

We are to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). God wants us not to retreat in isolation and fear, but to be on offense (not "offensive"), be proactive, positive. Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Hell is on defense, as the church moves irresistibly forward. This is Christ’s strategy, and it is summed up in one single idea. That same idea is the underlying, foundational principle of Christianity—a principle that makes Jesus’ “blessed” living not just possible, but a natural lifestyle. Truth is, there’s no other philosophy or religion like Christianity because of this foundational principle—and it is the simple secret to absolute happiness. What’s more? It is also the highest attribute of God and the key component of God’s strategy to save the world including why he created the world (and us) in the first place. Everything in the Bible & Christianity (including how to live it) stems from this principle.

What is this principle? 

Radical Love.

In Luke 6, Jesus said,  27But I say to you who hear, (Greek=akouousin- not just passive physical hearing, but listening closely for comprehension, to hear with your heart) Love (Greek=agapaō, the verb form of agapē, the highest form of love.) 

This is the first time (of many) that Luke uses this very important word. It appears Luke introduces it here strategically, like he’s been waiting in order to first build the backstory about Jesus. Now Jesus is wildly popular, and speaking to this huge crowd, he gets their attention with the blessings & woes, which turned on its ear everything we think about being happy, and everyone’s kind of puzzled… then he gives them the key to everything. 

My paraphrase of verse 27a:
Now…if you will really LISTEN, I say to you: LOVE... 

It’s extreme love. Radical love. Agapē. That's the key to blessedness, the foundational principle of Christianity, and the chief attribute of God. And it is the motive behind God's mission.

Often I explain at weddings the four Greek words translated "love": phileō (brotherly/friendship love), storgē (familiarity/loyalty/preferential love), eros (sexual love), and agapē. Agapē is already the highest word for love, it is used to describe God's love for us that he would give his Son, and Jesus' love for us that he would lay down his life. It is selfless and sacrificial love. And it's for the unlovable. Listen to how extreme: your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

Wow. That’s extreme. There is no other religion that teaches this. He continues... 

Turn the other cheek. One of the hardest things Jesus said—for
me, anyway.
29To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 

Who does this?! Does this sound like the way people around you act? Is this how even Christians around you act? Unfortunately, no. 

Here’s the summary:

31And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 

The golden rule. It's the hardest thing to teach your kids, but so true. Whoever returns good for bad wins! SelfISHness is our natural response. SelfLESSness is God’s way. It’s love. It wins. Jesus continues:

32“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

With this one word, agape, Jesus reveals the central unifying principle for the Christian faith, philosophy, and ethic; and he also reveals the dominant character of God. 

RADICAL LOVE is the principle that will change the world and is what will give you great lasting joy, contentment, and happiness. It is the driving factor of blessedness. 

No other philosophy or religion has this as its basic tenet. Do you know of one? Islam? No. it’s central tenant is Obedience. Buddhism and Hinduism? They're complicated, but suffice it to say they're totally based on selfishness. They're about seeking nirvana (called other things depending on the tradition) through self-discipline, pleasure, and enlightenment (among other things). Judaism? While there are veiled references and glimpses, the principle of love is not made clear until Jesus, who completed and fulfilled it. What IS prominent in the Old Testament is the worship of God and obedience to his law (a focus on God's righteousness and justice). But it’s obedience that we CANNOT achieve on our own. Then Jesus came. Through him we see that everything—even our sin—was a part of God’s plan: to reveal agapē love and to share it with us. Only those who surrender to him experience it—and we get to experience it forever. But before “forever” we can experience a life of blessedness, contentment, happiness, fulfillment, joy. 

God sent Jesus to tell us about it. That alone was an act of love. But he did more. He applied it to himself: John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And then God the Son backed up his words with action. Rom. 5:8 “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

When he died, he did just as he told us to do in the sermon on the plain: Jesus loved his enemies—us—and he loved radically, selflessly, and sacrificially.

Yes, when Jesus died he paid for the sins of those who would believe and receive him. But he also changed us. We are reborn. His Spirit lives inside. We now love him with eternal gratitude which only grows as we understand his grace more. This changes us—LOVE changes our lives. 

This love is not some culturally-popular, watered-down, touchy-feely, sentimental understanding of love. It is not tolerance, indulgence or permissiveness. That's not love at all. A permissive parent doesn’t demonstrate love, but laziness and weakness. Permissive parents are selfish and raise miserable kids. That’s not love. Love often takes thoughtfulness and courage (more later!). 

God’s love for us evokes in us a love for him. That’s the greatest commandment: LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Then then next: Love your neighbor. That, according to Jesus, is the summary of the law. And it’s the framework for Christian ethics.

So what?
1. Realize that God is love. 
1 John 4:8 and 16 both say, "God is love" (agapē). Of all his attributes this is prominent. Yes, he is just, righteous, all-powerful, and omniscient. Without love God is to be feared. But his love is more. It is radical. 

2. Recognize his plan to show love to you. God's story since creation, including our sin, culminating with Jesus (and even YOUR own personal story)—all of it is a part of his sovereign plan to show you his love!
Galatians 4:4-7 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Ephesians 2:4-7 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

3. Receive his love by believing and surrendering.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." That's all he asks—that you believe, receiving his gift of forgiveness and grace. You see, you are not saved because of anything YOU DO, but by what HE HAS DONE. We must only believe and surrender.

And for those of us who have...

4. Respond to God's radical love by demonstrating radical love as a result
   •Love him radically1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. This means loving obedience: 1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensomeLove is an amazingly more powerful motivation than is fear or guilt or duty. 

   •Love others radically. That’s what Jesus says in the sermon on the plain. Now you can love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, give not expecting anything in return, and turn the other cheek1 John 4:19-21 “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Radical love is the key. When you've been the recipient of it in great measure, you can give it to others.  Living out LOVE is how we stay on offense without being offensive! Love is positive, inviting, active, and almost irresistible! According to Romans 12:9-21, that's how we overcome evil with good, and how the burning conviction of the Holy Spirit will change the hearts of others—even those who hate us! 

Hear this message as it was given here.