Monday, January 26, 2015

Resenting Others and Praising God

By Allen White

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

One summer on the way to church camp, my then girlfriend passed a note to me. The note said basically, “It’s not you. It’s me. Can we just be friends?” I had wondered why she didn’t want to sit next to me on the bus. I’m very perceptive about these things.

At the next rest stop, I headed for the bathroom and, uh, donated my breakfast from that morning. I wasn’t taking it very well, even though the romance had lasted all of 30 days.

Once we got to camp, I was fully immersed in all of the activities and church services. I plunged headfirst into the deep end of the divine. Who needed a girlfriend anyway?

One evening following the service, I was kneeling at the altar in the front of the Tabernacle. The building looked more like a barn with red, yellow and orange shag carpet. But, it had a very spiritual sounding name.

I earnestly sought after God. And, God basically said to me, “Buddy, you’re wasting your time. You need to go find the girl and make things right.” You see in my quest to pursue God and leave her in the dust, I had been slinging a little mud too.

I went outside and found her. I apologized. She cussed me out. I went back to the Tabernacle to once again earnestly seek God feeling that I had done my part to make things right and having confirmation that she was not the girl for me.

How often are we at odds with others, then we think we can show up to church and get our praise on? We might sing songs. We might get a little emotional. But, in God’s ears, it’s just a bunch of noise. Our worship is coming from our lips, but not from our hearts.

If you think about it, if the light of Christ doesn’t impact the darkness of our souls, then there’s something really twisted about what we call worship. Often we treat worship like the old bath soap commercial, “Calgon, take me away.” But, before Jesus will take us away, He expects us to deal with our stuff.

In this passage, Jesus paints a scenario where we have offended someone. In Matthew 18, He teaches about handling situations when someone else offends us (Matthew 18:15). Here’s the kicker: whether we offended them or they offended us, Jesus instructs us to take the initiative toward reconciliation in both scenarios.

“But, that’s not fair,” you protest. As I’ve written before, you want better than “fair.” (BLOG REF).

Who are you at odds with right now? How is it interfering with your worship? If it’s not, then be concerned about that too. It’s time to take responsibility for your actions. It’s time to own up to your shortcomings, regardless of theirs.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anger Management

By Allen White

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22

The path seems very long between anger and murder. While I doubt that a murder has ever been committed without anger or rage, anger seems to only be the trailhead on that journey. After all, murder is a terrible thing. We would never do that. But, we might get angry.

Carol Tavris, in her book, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, teaches that anger is only a present emotion. Some people think that we have this vast reservoir of anger. In order to feel better we have to open the flood gates and get our anger out. But, according to Tavris, anger is only a present emotion. To stay anger, we have to keep ourselves angry.

Much like a campfire that will soon die out when it has consumed all of its fuel, anger will also dissipate if we starve its fuel source. Staying angry is much like stoking a fire. Even when the person who angered us says something clever, we might find ourselves tempted to give them a smile. Then, we pull the smile back and remind ourselves of the detestable thing that they did and make ourselves angry once again.

The tricky part is that anger, in its root form, is an emotion. Whether it provokes a violent explosion or a quiet smoldering, anger is a reaction to our circumstances. Even, Jesus became angry at the practices of the money changers at the temple. He erupted into a rant about making His Father’s house a den of thieves and proceeded to knock over their tables (Matthew 21:12-13). Yet, Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2:22).

The Bible says, ““In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The implication is that we can be angry and not sin as well. Anger happens. The question is what we intend on doing with it.

In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was pointing out that the same sinfulness that leads to murder also involves perpetuated anger, insults, and even name calling. While angry words don’t lead to incarceration or capital punishment like murder often does, all of the sins Jesus named cause a disconnect in our relationship with God and allow an entry point for the devil’s work.

Whether our sins are unacceptable criminal acts or “acceptable” sins, it’s still sin. Sin always takes a toll on us. Sin always gets in the way of our relationship with God. Sin is always an unnatural act for a human being. It’s not who we were designed to be.

Often we excuse our “minor” sins by saying, “Well, you know, we’re just sinners saved by grace.” In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith equates that statement with a butterfly saying, “I’m just a worm with wings.”

There are plenty of things to be angry about in the world. Injustice and inhumanity are intolerable. Mistreatment can easily provoke our wrath. But, if we continue to feed our anger, then we’ve become one of them.

What are you angry about? The antidote to anger is forgiveness. It’s not letting the offender off the hook. Forgiveness is costly. Just consider the price that Jesus paid for your sin. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary. Unresolved anger leads to dark, dangerous places. Forgiveness will free you. Don’t you want to be free?

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Choosing a Better God

By Allen White

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
Luke 16:13-15

Verses like these cause a lot of people to stop reading and turn the page. They provoke guilt feelings and old Bob Dylan references – “You’re got to serve somebody” after all.

If money were merely a thing, it wouldn’t be a big deal. It would be a means to an end. Yet, Jesus recognized serving money as an alternative to serving God. It’s not merely fiscal. Money is a force. No wonder we get so up in arms about it.

Money talks. We run into trouble, when as Rick Warren says, “Our net worth determines our self-worth.” We can allow money to put a price tag on our efforts. Paychecks and commissions define who we are and what we can accomplish. It eludes us into believing that chasing after more of it will satisfy us. But, more doesn’t satisfy – only God satisfies.

Then, there are those who have money and believe that it entitles them to do what they want, to say what they want, and to control others. There is a big difference between acting god-like and being godly. There is no evil in money (1 Timothy 6:10), but are they using their affluence for influencing others for Christ (Luke 16:9)?

I know what you’re thinking – can we get off of this money thing already? But, here’s the deal – Jesus is just going to hit us up with this again in a few weeks anyway (Matthew 6:19-24).

The bottom line is this: do you have money or does money have you? What’s odd is that people who make a good living, but aren’t rich, tend to struggle with greed more than the truly wealthy. Why? We’re deceived into thinking that money will make us comfortable, secure, better looking, and more likeable. Think again.

Many people with money don’t know who their true friends are. They have to call into question every invitation from every person. “Do they want to get to know me for me or for my money?” On top of that, the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to worry about, insure, replace.

Jesus was simply saying, “If you’re going to pick a god to serve, then choose one who can completely satisfy you, provide significance to your life, meet all of your needs, give you security, and be a pleasure to serve.” Hint here – it’s not money.

Years ago I heard a story of a man on vacation on the beach in Mexico. He came upon a Mexican fisherman who was fishing from the shore. The man would fish for half of a day, sell his fish and go home. The vacationer challenged the fisherman to work a full day, so he could afford a boat.

The fisherman asked, “Why would I do that?”

The vacationer replied, “Well, if you get a boat, then you’ll catch more fish, which can help you to acquire more boats. Eventually, you will need your own warehouses, processing plant, brand, marketing, and sales force. Then, when your company has grown sufficiently, you can sell it to a multinational conglomerate and retire. Wouldn’t it be great to retire well? What will you do when you retire?”

The fisherman smiled and answered, “When I retire, I will fish for half a day from the shore, and then go home.”

The problem with running the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. What are you pouring your life into? What are you pursuing? If you catch it, what will you do with it? What will it do with you? “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor” (Proverbs 21:21).

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is Your Faith on Autopilot?

By Allen White

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Matthew 23:23-24

Most of us would prefer not to know what goes on in the cockpit of a commercial airplane. We would like to assume that the pilots are capable, well-trained, alert, well-rested tea-totalers who will get us there safely. Once that cockpit door is shut, we prefer to imagine Captain Sully Sullenberger at the controls (just as Bob Moore did on USAir Flight 1549). Ignorance is bliss.

The failsafe of aviation is auto-pilot. I’m not a pilot. I’ve never played one on TV, but I do know that when our tray tables are in the upright and locked position, the pilot is running the show. But, between the takeoff and the landing, the plane is on autopilot. If something needs attention, the plane will alert the pilot. Otherwise, they just sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight with the rest of us.

While on autopilot, there’s time to nap or play Soduku or watch Airplane the Movie. As long as the pilot doesn’t need to ditch the plane into the Hudson, it’s blue skies all of the way.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day lived their spiritual lives on autopilot. Ten percent went to God. Ninety percent was kept for them. It was a no-brainer. The only problem is that no-brainers don’t require any thinking.

Justice, mercy and faithfulness require thought. The first time I heard Gary Haugen from the International Justice Mission talk about slavery and human trafficking in the world today, it was a bit overwhelming. It was both hard to believe and horrifying at the same time.

I wanted to retreat back into the comfort and safety of my spiritual life. I pray, read my Bible, tithe, serve God and His people. Isn’t that enough? Now, I had to think about millions of men, women and children enslaved throughout the world including the United States of America. Could I just write a check and then sit back, relax and enjoy the flight?

What would you rather not think about? When are you tempted to change the channel on your TV or in your mind? How are you seeking out the safety of autopilot? God put you and me on this planet to make a difference. What do you feel compelled to do?

It’s easy to attend church every Sunday, and then retreat to our suburban homes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unless we’re like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who would rather cross over to the other side of the road and not get involved. Jesus’ mission is to seek and save the lost. What could be more fulfilling than being on-mission with Jesus?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ridiculous Does Not Equal Righteous

By Allen White 

Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
Matthew 23:5-7

Insecure people need to feel they are better than others. They like to brag and show off. They like to keep others guessing simply because they like other people to think about them. They like to intrigue simply because they enjoy the attention. TMZ was made for them.

This passage is kind of funny to me, because the things that were so valued by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day really don’t make any sense to us today. Honestly, most of us wouldn’t recognize a phylactery if it hit us on the head. We don’t even know how to pronounce it.

Phylacteries came out of a literal interpretation of the Law. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 11:18). An interpretation of these words would mean to “get God’s Word into your thoughts.” The religious leaders took this literally and would put slips of paper containing verses in leather boxes, and then attach them to their heads.

If God’s Word wasn’t in their head, at least it was right next door. Somehow it might seep in by osmosis. I don’t believe that this will start any new Christian trends, but I’m also never surprised.

While the religious customs in these verses aren’t meaningful to us, the question is whether we do spiritual things out of sincerity or for show. Is our motive to impress or to inspire? The problem is that by drawing attention to ourselves, we draw attention away from God. For some, our religious behavior might even put an obstacle in their path to God.

What do you try to do that lets people know you’re okay spiritually (or superior)? Do you raise your hands in worship out of routine? Do you “spontaneously” do the same thing every Sunday? Do you dress a certain way? Do you talk a different way at church than you do in other places?

What part of your reputation is necessary for you to feel okay about yourself? Do you need to blend in? Or, do you need to stand out? Do you need to do everything just right? Or, do you need to be outrageous?

God wants to entirely fulfill your life. God wants you to be secure and confident in who He has created you to be. God desires for you to have a quiet strength that doesn’t require bragging or boasting. God wants to give you the life that you’ve dreamed of. Are you willing to receive it?

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Christians are Hypocrites, and I’m a Christian.

By Allen White

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Matthew 23:1-4

None of us is actually as good as we claim to be. After all, what we believe are the things that we actually do. If I say that it’s important to exercise, yet I never exercise, I actually don’t believe what I said. If I say that it’s important to live by Christian values, yet I don’t forgive someone who offends me, then I don’t believe that either, do I?

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that we should abandon all attempts to try new things or to improve. It’s one thing to grow toward something. It’s quite a different thing to say that you live by a standard that you never really intend to live by. This is where the Pharisees lived.

The Pharisees had great expectations for the behavior of others. They just didn’t feel obliged to comply themselves. Their lives were focused on where the rubber meets the air, not where the rubber meets the road. They were all bark, and no bite. They didn’t practice what they preached.

The people who listened to them were ready to challenge the Pharisees to put up or shut up, but Jesus cautioned them. The Pharisees were given authority that was handed down from Moses. They were terrible examples of righteousness. Personally, they were spiritual wrecks. Their lives didn’t command much respect, but their position did.

But, how could they submit themselves to the authority of two-faced, back-biting, lying, corrupt, deceitful, no good, sons of Abraham? By not allowing the Pharisees to hinder them, they submitted to God.

When you can’t control other’s bad behavior, you can control yourself. Your job is not to right every wrong. You are not a superhero. In the midst of rampant disobedience, you can choose to obey. That’s all God wants.

If you choose to fit in with the Christian club, you can actually forfeit fitting in with God. You can follow all of the rules and still lose the game.

Where do you see hypocrisy these days? What are you tempted to do about it? Let me encourage you to give that work over to God. Let your focus remain on obeying God yourself regardless of how you feel or what others are doing.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Playing a Losing Game

By Allen White

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20

In Jesus’ day, the epitome of righteousness were the Pharisees, a Jewish sect who strictly observed the Law. In the minds of some, they were model Jews. They defined what righteous behavior should look like. They weren’t cut from a different cloth. They just played the game well.

The righteousness of the Pharisees was less about pleasing God and more about fitting into a religious culture. Their efforts weren’t applied to spiritual growth as much as policing the boundaries. A righteous person could neglect his aging parents (Mark 7:10-12), but as long as he didn’t work on the Sabbath, he was still righteous. It was more about fitting in than depending on God. When was the last time you felt completely out of place? Whether you didn’t feel cool enough, or you were awkwardly aware that your manners weren’t up to par, or you simply couldn’t add to the conversation because you didn’t even understand it.  No one likes to feel out of place.

When I was 19 years old, I traveled for36 hours to Hong Kong for a Summer mission trip. While Hong Kong at the time was a British colony and shared a common language, there were many things that I didn’t understand. What I learned quickly was that I should never insult my hosts by refusing anything they offered. They had to save face.

I complied with everything they directed me to do. I tried everything they offered me to eat. But, when the dining began to involved pickled cow intestines at the Korean Barbecue and chicken feet with our Dim Sum, I became wise to the fact that they were just playing with me. I couldn’t call them on it or else they would lose face. But, I also didn’t have to eat with them either. McDonald’s and Denny’s were just down the street.

Human standards always fall below God’s standards. Religion is not meant to elevate people, but to control them and possibly to attempt to control God. A relationship with God allows Him to enter into our world and give us what we can never earn – faith and grace and righteousness.

There is a certain safety in religion. It has a scorecard. Grace is risky. We have immunity regardless of our performance. That’s very hard to reconcile.

Paul Young, the author of The Shack, tells this story:

A man died and went to Heaven. He soon stood before Saint Peter, who asked, “Here’s the deal, in order to get into Heaven you have to have 100 points based on the good things you’ve done on earth.”

The man replied, “Well, I spent the last 30 years caring for the poor, working in soup kitchens, housing and clothing the homeless.”

Peter said, “Okay, I’ll give you a point for that.”

The man was a bit astonished. Thirty years of service only amounted to one point out of 100. He said, “I served as a pastor for 25 years. I counseled the distraught. I performed weddings and funerals. I cared for the needs of my congregation.”

Peter replied, “Okay, I’ll give you another point for that.”

“Two points,” the man thought to himself. “How will I ever get in?”

Just about that time another man walked up and went straight through the pearly gates. The first man turned to Peter rather perplexed and asked, “What about him?”

Peter smirked, “Oh, he doesn’t play this game.”

Stop playing the game. Stop working hard to be someone that you’re not. Be yourself, and let God work on the rest.

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