The Worst Birthday Party Ever

After looking forward all week to the festivities, I walked into Chuck E. Cheese’s and looked for the guest of honor.  He sat, tucked away in a corner, nearly hidden from view by the beautiful decorations, signs, and balloons which had been carefully arranged around the table.

As guest were arriving, there were hugs and laughter and everyone was genuinely glad to see one another. The mood was festive as the children were handed cups of tokens to use in the arcade. But the guest of honor sat quietly, lost amid all the activity.

And then… the music!

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls! Please return to the party area to celebrate our special guest!”

The children rushed back to the tables, the adults quickly found their seats as the party started with blaring music from the Chuck E. Cheese band.  The crowd would sing along and shout out the guest of honors name at all the appropriate times in the song. The entertainment was well received and ended just as the pizza arrived!  Parents and children alike dove into the pizza and seemed to really be enjoying themselves, except for the guest of honor who still sat quietly, overshadowed by the noise and decorations.

Then, things got, well, weird.  First, party planner extraordinaire (Mom), quieted the crowd and began to speak:

“Thank you all for coming!  Wow, what a party, huh?  I think it turned out pretty well! (the guest cheered in approval) I spent weeks planning this, so enjoy yourselves!”  The crowd cheered and thanked her for her hard work. It was indeed a beautiful party.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

Next up?  The Manager from Chuck E. Cheese!  He thanked everyone for coming and marveled at the beautiful party. The most impressive he had ever seen in his store!  And then he did something truly odd:

“Chuck E. Cheese is built around making every child the guest of honor at their party!  And to that end, we’re expanding the size our store to nearly double it’s current size!” (And the crowd cheers)  “It’s going to be EPIC!  We’re adding more games, and more than 10 jumbo screens to enhance the party experience.  We’re also adding more than 50 new employees to facilitate this growth! How ’bout that?!?!?” (And the crowd showed it’s enthusiastic approval.)  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

And they came, one after another; guests to speak about how the guest of honor made them feel, the cooks to talk about the pizza, the baker to talk about the cake, and a dozen talented musicians and singers taking turns performing songs about the guest of honor with tremendous skill and passion. And through it all, great festivity and great fun.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

Finally, the mother wrapped up the party:  “Thank you for coming! I hope you enjoyed yourself. Let’s have a hand for all those who made this special day possible!” (applause)  “Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate someone we love so dearly?”  (applause).

And with that, the guests smiled, hugged, and left.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

For all the trappings, and mentions of his name, he was overshadowed by the activities, the festivities, and the entertainment.  All good things, but shameful when used to overshadow the guest of honor.  For all the fun, it was… The Worst Birthday Party Ever

And yet, this scene plays out Sunday after Sunday in some of the largest, most “successful” churches in the country.  People gather for the purpose of honoring the one deserving of all honor, and we spend so much time with entertainment, with speaking about the interworking and program of the organization, focusing on our gift bags, and enjoying the party itself that, well, apart from a few mentions during the singing  (which is often about how He makes us feel) and a verse or two of His word, we forget to actually focus on the guest of honor.

Talented musicians, tremendous programs, entertaining and humorous speakers, and beautiful campuses; All good things. But if we can spend 10 minutes on intro, 30 minutes on blazing guitar riffs and angelic special singing, time for humorous stories and jokes, and time to sell merchandise.. how then do we skip entire sections of His word due to time constraints? I’ve actually heard speakers say “Time doesn’t allow me to read the entire chapter, so I’ll unpack the following verses:” How do we stand to read God’s word only to be met with 10 minutes of story telling, not to explain the context of the scripture being read, but setting the narrative into which we will drop a verse or two out of context?  When we leave do we know more about the “party” and the “planning” than about “the guest of honor”?

Lord, forgive us for abandoning our first love.  Forgive us for making time for every manner of program and entertainment and only giving you a round of applause and a nod of the head as we spend less time working through your word than we do on talking about explaining the logistics of our next event.  Do I think the people at the birthday party love the guest of honor? Of course I do. Do I think they meant harm? No, I don’t. But at some point they lost focus. They forgot why they were there.  Let’s return to our first love.

I know that I’m sometimes perceived as “negative”, a “hater”,  or “nitpicky”.  I understand that, I really do.  I’m not saying the activities of the party are bad.  What I’m saying is that I truly love the guest of honor.  I came to spend time with him and to make it about him… and to see him pushed into the corner as we speak about the party?  It breaks my heart.  As a wise man once said;

So if you are somewhere where there is a focus on reading and learning the Word of God, you are truly blessed. I attend a service every week where I hear the reading of large portions of scripture, often entire chapters in context; feeling both the weight of the Law, and the grace of the Gospel.As an example, in a recent service we bowed our head to confess sin, to read together Christ’s words declaring us forgiven, confessed our faith together, read large portions of 3 chapters of scripture, had the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins clearly presented, and met together at the Lord’s Table where we received His body and blood. And, yes, we worshiped together in song.  Certainly not any tremendous vocal performances, no melt-your-face-off guitar solos, no performances of any sort actually. But we worshipped. Together.

In an hour.

Does your church have time for multiple solo performances and none to spend actually reading the text of God’s word?  Do you spend more time on announcements than on scripture? Are you getting a verse or two which serve as nothing more than an amplifier to a story about the speaker, or merely a nod in His direction as you sing songs that could just as easily be about your boyfriend as they are about the Savior? If so, you’re too much party and not enough guest… and it may be time to leave the party.

I’m sure you love the party, who wouldn’t? It’s FUN! You love the other guests! The music is FUN! The people are FUN! The entertainment is FUN!  But do you love that fun more than the guest? Nobody at the birthday party would have ever said they loved the party more than the guest of honor.. but their actions spoke volumes. Nobody wants to leave a good party, especially if it’s aimed at our enjoyment.  If you leave the party, you may end up with a few less balloons and decorations, and you may hear grandma doing an off-key rendition of  “happy birthday” instead of the Chuck E. Cheese band, but our “guest of honor” deserves all honor.

Marc

“My Mommy Said!”

Having 3 kids of my own, and working and coaching kids for more than 20 years, there’s one scene that seems to play itself out with great frequency:

“My Mommy Said!”

It usually involves a kid trying to get their way.  As most of you have probably experienced, in many cases, it’s also a lie.

“One piece of cake, girls.”

“My Mommy said I could have as much as I wanted!”

Or, it’s also used to impress people or state something they wish were true:

“Oh look, what a beautiful horse!”

“My Mommy said she is going to buy me 10 horses!”

While the goal may be to get their way, to impress people, or to talk about things they wish were true (in spite of reality), In the end, it’s a lie.  Logically, it’s an appeal to authority. However, the word of the kid is only as valid as what “Mommy” has actually said.  When kids do this, it might be a bit bratty, and it’s technically a lie, but we’re pretty patient with our kids as we teach them.

For adults, it’s a bit more serious:

“The boss said you need to….”  Hmm. That’s a bit more serious. Why? Because the stakes are raised as the authority being appealed to is greater.  Mommy said you could have a second piece of cake? Sorry, you only get one piece. Mommy will understand.  The boss said I need to work this weekend? Well, I’ll work this weekend or risk being fired, I guess.

The risk increases, so I’m likely going to verify or accept it as true rather than get fired.  The downside is if the boss catches you using his authority and making things up, you’re liable to the extent of his power.  People don’t misquote the boss often because it’s so easy to verify what he actually said.  How about an even more serious example..

The King’s messenger:  Messengers have been used for centuries to relay the pronouncements (or commands) of a sovereign to his subjects.  What sane messenger would ever consider changing the message, inserting his own, or outright lying about what the King had said?  The penalty would surely be death.  The message is serious because the authority of the one who sent it is serious, and the power of the one who is being misquoted is great.

Yet, there is one greater than any King.  He has made a pronouncement and commanded his messengers to take that news to all His subjects.  Who would dare change or corrupt that message? Who would ignore the clear qualifications of a messenger and appoint themselves to deliver a message of their own?  What impudence! What infidelity!

The King?  The Lord:

For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
the LORD is our king; he will save us.
(Isaiah 33:22 ESV)

The pronouncement? The Gospel:

[5:1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
[12] Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
[15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
[18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Romans 5 ESV)

Instructions to the Messengers?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Priority of the Message? First

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
(1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)

What about Messengers bringing other messages?

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

(Galatians 1:6-10 ESV)

So when your pastor speaks on behalf of God, “God says!” or “God wants you to know..” he’d better do so with an open bible, quoting chapter and verse.  To do anything less, to say “God wants” without scriptural support, to put words in God’s mouth is the very definition of taking the Lord’s name in vain.  (And you always thought it was about cussing?)  What impudent, unfaithful messenger would hijack the King’s message and replace it with his own!  And you? Why would you allow someone to give you commands “from the King” without verifying what He has recorded in His word?

And your Pastor, why would the change the message?

1. They aren’t messengers of the King.  If you don’t believe there are very gifted speakers/entertainers/stand up comedians who can borrow the language of the christian faith, hijack the message,  and draw a large crowd you’re naive.  In the end, you’ve been entertained, he’s been well paid, and the gospel has been abandoned.  Your church is huge? Your pastor writes books and teaches seminars? The band rocks? If you are hearing something other than the gospel, it’s not a church and your messenger is accursed according to God the Holy Spirit as recorded by the Apostle Paul.  That’s pretty serious.

2. He’s like the kid who says “My Mommy Said!” when she said no such thing. Maybe it’s an appeal to what the crowds want to hear. I can guarantee that if you’re getting 1 or 2 verses, not read in their context, it’s so he can hijack the narrative and make it say whatever he wants. I can assure you that Paul never wrote about how to pray audaciously.  Jesus never stood at the door of your heart knocking to come in, and God has not commanded you to speak things into existence. Don’t believe me? Take the verse your pastor just preached, write it down, and go back and read the CHAPTER.  Does it have anything to do with what you were told God said? Be honest, there’s a great deal at stake here!

(See the difference? The quote on the left? God didn’t say that. Ever. It’s not in scripture. In fact, what God has actually revealed about how to pray stands in polar opposite. Audacious? Intimidating? Give us our bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation. Not so audacious is it? But we buy into it because it appeals to our pride. The hardest thing in the world for us as humans is to simply repent and receive.)

An example of this that I’ll never forget is my young nephew, walking into the dining room and announcing “My Mom said I could go!”  What he didn’t know is that his mother was around the corner in the kitchen.  His mother responded, “I said WHAT?!?” My nephew burst into tears. He knew he had lied, he knew his mother had heard him, and he knew he would be held accountable.

Someday these messengers will stand before the King, accountable to one whose authority they have misused. It’s bad enough that they have not taught the full council of God’s word and have intermixed pop-psychology, moralism, and politics.. but to actually attribute words, and commands “God wants you to…” to God which are not in His word?  They should tremble at the thought.

So, the next time you hear “God said”, make sure it’s legit.  Here’s a good start: If you hear the phrases “I believe” at the beginning of your pastor’s sentence, pay attention. “I believe God wants…” be very, very vigilant here. Open your bible, see if scripture says this IN CONTEXT.  Read the CHAPTER!  And if it’s “God wants you to _____ so he can begin to _____.” Run.  Your “messenger” has hijacked the mission.

Would love to hear your feedback!

Marc

“It’s Not Supposed to Be Like This!”

Walking in downtown Austin this morning I saw an elderly homeless woman storm from a bus and slam her bag of belongings onto the bus stop bench.  She was hysterical, angry, and violent.  There had been some sort of disturbance on the bus and in a tearful rage, she dumped her meager belongings onto the sidewalk, slinging her bag around as she screamed obscenities.

I don’t know how this lady, created in God’s image, ended up in her current situation, But it was heart-wrenching to watch.  It was a combination of humiliation, rage, and despair.  I tried to say something to comfort her, but she was violently lashing out at everyone around her at that point.

As I walked back to my office, I couldn’t help but think…

We’re surrounded by the brokenness every day; at school, at work. We see the jealousy, strife, lust, greed, hate, fear, sickness, sadness. Something deep inside of us wants to explode,

“It’s not supposed to be like this!”

And at one time, it wasn’t:

We know that God created man in His image, and that man was in personal communion with God. And then.. the fall.   We know that, most of us. We get that.  And someday? Heaven. We get that too, but that’s personal, and later. You know, “in the sweet by and by.”

What about now? What about the brokenness we see around us every day?

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.” – Rev 21

Making all things new. Get that. He didn’t say, “I’m making all new things.” What is now will be, and be made new. It’s story of complete redemption. Created, fallen, and in a state of being made new.  The homeless lady I saw this afternoon with the broken mind, the hospital beds at St. Jude’s full of children with broken bodies, and those with broken hearts… the entire world.  This world isn’t temporary, it’s eternal. The only thing temporary is the brokenness; The tears, the death, the mourning, the crying, and the pain.

The greek here is crystal clear on this point; καινὰ ποιῶ πάντα.  The adjective here is καινός and not νέος.  What does that mean? It means that what exists now is being redeemed, and being renewed. It’s not going away and replaced with “new stuff”.  All of creation is in a state of redemption. Someday Jesus will return to establish His kingdom, and all will be as it should be, as it was before. But until then? Until then, it’s broken.  The brokenness will remain until then. Jesus came into the world He created as perfect and saw the brokenness…

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36 ESV

There are times that the original Greek differs from our English like HD to black and white TV.  This is one of those passages. As Jesus, the creator of the universe, walks as a man through His own creation, he sees the people. He sees and heals their disease and affliction. He saw the crowds and “had compassion for them”.  What an understatement.  This wasn’t pity. This wasn’t a mere wishing they were better, this was an aching, gut-wrench.  The only times this word is used in scripture are from Jesus to crowds, or examples of His love, like the Good Samaritan or the Father of the Prodigal Son. It’s never used by anyone but the authors of the synoptic gospels. Pure speculation on my part, but I think that’s because you need a view of the fullness of Christ to get even a glimpse of this ache caused by seeing how broken the world is, this “ἐσπλαγχνίσθη” compassion.

Jesus sees the brokenness of His creation, knowing it’s going to be made new someday, and it grieved Him to see the people in their current state.

Jesus response?

He begins the assault on this brokenness in a most unusual way: In the very next verses, he calls the Twelve Apostles. He trains them during the years of His earthly ministry, preparing them for the work ahead.  And, in Matthew 28, He prepares them to continue the work after He departs.  Imagine that; the creator of the universe lays out the means by which all things would be made new. What could such important work consist of? How complex? How powerful would we expect it to be for the greatest of all rescue missions? Great plans, great battles, great means!

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28: 18-20

Unbelievable.  In what one would expect to be the most powerful “pep talk” of all time, Jesus lays it out:

1. All authority has been given to Me (Jesus).

2. So, preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.

3. I’m with you always.

The means by which the creator of the universe would reach the end of making all things new?  The “foolishness” of the gospel, and the sacrements.  It makes no sense as I see the brokenness of this world, but the King who became a servant, who chose the cross of Calvary to the thrones of Earth when offered by Satan and fawning crowds, has chosen the simple means of the gospel and sacraments to reach the ends of making all things new.

So? So, until the day that He makes all things new, I’m charged with spreading this good news, that someday this brokenness will end for those who are in Christ. And that is good news indeed.  It is my privilege to proclaim the message which Isaiah wrote, which Jesus spoke, and which Luke recorded:

Jesus has defeated Satan, sin, and the grave.  He has come to set the captives free. One day, death will die, tears will be wiped from every eye, and there will be no sickness.  All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  How great a savior!

So with that, we will wake up tomorrow, again, in a broken world. But we live with the promise that all things will be made new and the call to tell the prisoners that they’ve been set free. And that is the hope of the resurrection. That, is the only bastion of hope in this broken world.

Marc

Greatness: My Birthday Post

Today is my birthday. I turn “21 for the second time”, or 42.  I’m nostalgic by nature, but my birthday is always a day I take to reflect; to look around and see who has stood the test of time, what i’ve done with the 364 previous days I’ve been given, and who I’ve become by those choices.  It’s not quite as melancholy as it sounds.

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My 80 mile commute this morning involved a lot of really cheesy 80’s music at high volumes, thoughts about what matters in life, and the decisions (good and bad) which have planted me where I now grow. I’ve had a great life so far; a childhood right out of a sitcom, surrounded by a supportive family; the opportunity to grow up in the awesome 80’s; great small-town schools and friends; and my ride through adulthood and family has been a true joy.  But as a guy working into his 40’s, the overriding thought this morning was a total middle-aged cliche… Greatness.

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What is greatness?  I’ve been thinking about his lately and have had some great conversations with some folks that I consider mentors.  I’ve asked friends and family.  And, in all honesty, I’ve checked a lot of the boxes:

I’m surrounded by family and friends who love me. I’m healthy. I’ve got the C-level position I’ve strived for. I’ve been blessed to be both mentored and mentor, and for all of this I’m truly grateful.

By most standards, I’m doing pretty well.  But as anyone who has crossed into middle age will tell you… there’s got to be more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for how blessed I’ve been; to be born in a country where my hard work could lead to success, for the opportunities I’ve been given.. but if that checklist were all there was, it would leave me empty.

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When I was younger, I never understood the brooding athlete, angsty rock star, or the miserable hollywood starlet.  They had it all, money, success.. greatness.

When I take inventory of what actually fulfills, what makes life worth living, it doesn’t show up on any scorecard of the American Dream.

I heard a beautiful sermon recently which drove the point home:

In the 9th chapter of Mark, we see one of the greatest events of Christ’s ministry on earth; The Transfiguration:

[2] And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, [3] and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. [4] And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

(Mark 9:2-4 ESV)

You would think that would leave an impact, wouldn’t you? Peter, James, and John had just seen Jesus transfigured and Moses and Elijah as well.  As they rejoin the other disciples, they come upon a young boy who is possessed and Jesus heals him.  They then begin the walk to Capernaum.  When they arrive there, Jesus asks them what they had been arguing about on the way.  I would like to think that I would have been discussing the appearance of Elijah and Moses and what that was all about.  Maybe Jesus statement about being raised for the dead. At least the chaos of the young possessed boy.  But no, Jesus questions them and they are embarrassed to admit what they had been arguing about:

[33] And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” [34] But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. [35] And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [36] And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, [37] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
(Mark 9:33-37 ESV)

After being nothing more than passive spectators to Jesus miraculous works, they were arguing about who was greater among them.  Unbelievable.  I’m sure I would have been right in the middle of them, throwing my checklist out there too. But Jesus defines excellence for us in his response.

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [36] And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, [37] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Ouch. As one who has received absurd grace from God, I’m all too ready to share my awesomeness with others.  But that’s not it. That’s not how Christ defines greatness. In the middle of my self-focus and work at checking the boxes, it hits home… I’m called to be last of all and to be a servant.  When my pride rises up and says that I’ve got a different road to greatness through my gifts, abilities, or position….

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[3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4] Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:3-11 ESV)

God humbled Himself to be born a man. Had he come in great glory to rule it would have been condescension beyond belief.  But He came as a servant. God, a servant to man. If that weren’t enough, to be executed as a common criminal, facing the wrath of God in my place.

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That doesn’t sound right.  It sure doesn’t sound right in light of the American Dream. I don’t want to be a servant, I want to lead. I don’t want to sacrifice, I want to take. I don’t want to come last, I want to be first in line.  People aren’t celebrated for servanthood, they’re celebrated for accomplishment. Lord, let me be so awesome that they’ll want to get to you! (God forbid!)  And for that, I must repent.

I see in that a need for a major “halftime adjustment” for my life.  It cuts against every fibre of my being and runs counter to everything our culture values.  Servanthood is seen as weakness. You serve those who are greater than you, not less.  And this is the upside-down kingdom that Christ brings, for if He defined greatness as we do, I would remain a prisoner of sin.

Servanthood.

So, here I go. Into the second half.

Your servant to His glory,

Marc

Your Pastor Wants You to Marry a Prostitute?

I can almost hear it now. Picture the scene as lasers cut through the smoke. The blaring musics cuts out as the children’s pastor bounces onto the stage…

“Dare to be a Daniel!”   kids: YEAAHHHHHHH!

“Slay your giants!”    kids: YEAAAAHHHHHHH!

“Marry a Prostitute!”  kids: What’s a prostitute?

“Cook your food over poop!”  kids: MOMMY! HELP!

No, I haven’t completely lost it; I’m simply showing you the logical conclusion of some of the bad hermeneutics that are commonly used in the church. Here’s how we get it wrong:

1. Take a story about a heroic “bible character”

2. Make them the hero of the story.

3. Challenge the congregation to be that guy.

The problem?

1. That bible character was given objective marching orders from God.

2. The hero of that story, and of the bible, is Jesus. Jesus said it himself.

3. I’m not supposed to be that guy. God didn’t objectively call me to do their mission.

If I get this wrong, I make the story about me, I make myself the hero of the story, and I put myself on a mission I wasn’t sent on… and worst of all? I’m going to fall short. Not only is it a bad hermeneutic, it’s all law.

Wait, Marc, so you’re saying that the bible stories aren’t examples for me to emulate?

Well, let’s take a look:

Daniel in the Lions Den and David and Goliath have been Sunday School favorites for generations.   Why? Because God called them to do heroic things.  We’re predictable in that way, we’re always going to take the missions and promises that appeal to our pride.

If the hermeneutic of emulating the prophets is correct, here’s a couple missions your seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven pastor might want to cast out to the flock:

1. Go marry a prostitute. Maybe in the vein of “Dare to be a Daniel”, we could “Hope to be a Hosea”!  So, get to it.. go marry yourself a prostitute!

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
(Hosea 1:2 ESV)

2. Go ahead and start a family. And once you’ve got a few kids… she’ll leave you and the kids to go back to her old line of work. She’ll publicly humiliate you.

3. Write her off? Nope. Not only are you to track her down, not only woo her back, but actually buy her back at great price.

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.

(Hosea 3:1-2 ESV)

So, “Hope to be a Hosea!”  Huh. That doesn’t quite work, does it?

How about another great prophet, Ezekiel:

1. Weigh out your food each day (about 2 cups of barley a day).

2. Measure out your water each day (about 2 pints a day).

3. Now, take your barley, make it into cakes and cook it over human poop.

“Eat like an Ezekiel!”

Wait, what?

And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.”

(Ezekiel 4:10-12 ESV)

(by the way, that picture of “Ezekiel Break” above? It’s real. No kidding, someone markets it. I guess they missed the part about baking it over poop. Unreal. You couldn’t make this stuff up.)

See the issue?  God hasn’t told you to do those things, he told them to do those things, and it wasn’t figurative, it was literal.

The point of these stories isn’t to make you stand up and be a hero, the point is to show God’s faithful love to his adulterous people (Hosea), and to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as God’s love in someday restoring her (Ezekiel).

The hero in these stories isn’t you. Ever. It’s God.  If you want to find yourself in the “bible stories”, you aren’t Hosea. You’re Gomer!

The law says “Be Daniel!”, the gospel says “You’re Gomer, and he’s tracked you down and paid your price!”
So, Daniel isn’t about you, and being brave like Daniel, it’s about God and his faithfulness to his people.

David isn’t about you, either. It’s not about you “slaying the giants in your life” (ugh). Jesus is the greater David, slaying sin and death.  I think Matt Chandler absolutely crushes it here:

We get this wrong when we saddle ourselves with the job of being those heroes.  You aren’t Hosea, you’re Gomer. You aren’t David, you’re trembling Israel.  See Jesus in his rightful place in those stories and you’ll freely worship Him for his grace.

So, the next time you hear someone challenge you to “live out” the lives of the “bible stories”, to “Dare to be a Daniel”, or to “Slay the giants in your life!” ask yourself if you’re supposed to marry prostitutes and cook your after-church-lunch over poop.  Gross? For sure, but far less obscene than knocking Jesus out of his role in scripture so you can take the lead.

Think about it.

Marc