September 29, 2008

Asking the Right Questions

I know it's been a while since I've posted...my sincerest apologies. Here is a sermon I gave yesterday.

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We have just finished a sermon series over the past couple weeks entitled Faith 101 which talked about some of the basic elements that make-up Christianity: creation, faith, temptation, this guy named Jesus and a few others. I want to spend some time this morning talking about taking time to ask questions. Can you think of a time when you found yourself in a situation, (maybe at work or school) when you weren’t exactly sure what was going on or maybe were a little confused but for whatever reason didn’t take the time to ask any questions? You walked away feeling unsure of what was expected of you because you missed the opportunity to ask a question.

Check out Luke 2:41-47. Jesus took the time to ask some questions, even as a 12yr old boy.

It can be the same way with our faith. If we don’t allow ourselves or others to ask questions and sometimes pretty tough questions, we fail to give faith a chance to grow. Typically, the point of asking a question is to get an answer, to gain some sort of knowledge or information. And when we ask questions about our faith, our faith is given the opportunity to grow because sooner or later we will ask a question we won’t be able to answer, at least not now. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12 that there are some things we only know parts of now but we'll know fully then. It’s the lack of immediate answers that forces us to lean on our faith. I have no doubt there are some of us here that are questioning…asking why this or why that, how could this have happened, God how could You or why would You?

I was talking with a student the other day, just kind of catching up and I asked her how things were going and she mentioned that school was good, friends were good, family was good and then she said, "You know Matt, I’ve really been questioning my faith recently. I’m not sure I believe in God anymore." And I said, "Oh, cool. I would really love to hear about your questions." I believe that the God of Christianity isn’t scared by our questions or tries to ignore them but that He actually delights when we ask. When we take the time to ask questions, it shows that we are engaged, that we are thinking and paying attention to what is going on or what is being said.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7 & 8 to ask and seek so we'll find. I went to a small Christian school in college where I heard a saying that has stuck with me, “All truth is God’s truth” and it’s one of the reasons why I love questions. I love asking them, I love hearing them asked and I love discussing possible answers. I get excited when people start to ask questions of God, I don’t get nervous that there is a question out there that if asked will disprove Christianity or God for that matter. I’m thankful that we serve a God that is much bigger than any question we could ever ask.

I want to wrap-up our Faith 101 series by giving you some encouragement. Don’t forget that though there are times when all of the things that have to do with faith, religion, the Bible or whatever can seem overwhelming, it ultimately all comes down to a relationship. You may be just starting your faith journey or maybe you’ve been on it for a while now or maybe you haven’t even left yet, wherever this journey may be for you don’t stop asking questions. One of the things that I find really attractive about Christianity and Jesus especially is that He will meet you on your level but love you too much to leave you there. Maybe you've heard Christianity described as a river, deep enough to swim in and shallow enough to get your toes wet, regardless of how deep or shallow you may be in this river of faith, know that Jesus is holding your hand the whole time.

September 19, 2008

Too Big To Fail

This is a phrase that I've heard a number of times this week and has really made me wonder about the attitude not only of our financial institutions but our country as a whole. Whether it's Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Washington Mutual, AIG, Lehman Brothers or some other giant financial institution there is no doubt you have heard about the crazy economic times we find ourselves in. Most of this is a result of questionable management of some of these very corporations and has to make you wonder "Why?". Are greed and arrogance really the driving forces that have pushed our economy to this point? Greed that drives people to get as much as they can by whatever means possible coupled with an arrogance that thinks we are too rich, big, smart to fail will only ever equal disaster at the worst and disappointment at the least.

I've been asking myself this week if this economic mess we find ourselves in is really proving to be a barometer for our overall attitude as a country. Is it possible that this is just one area in which this attitude of "Too Big" has caught up with us and other areas such as: our relationships with other countries, our military presence, educational standards, our response to natural disasters, or our cultural influence around the world (just to mention a few) are next in line? If nothing else, watching some of these different institutions fail has solidified my belief that there is a better way, not only a better way for millionaire CEOs to manage giant corporations or a government to run a nation but also for little old me to live my everyday, boring life.

September 15, 2008

Hide-N-Seek

There are things we would rather not be found. Things we hide away inside our thoughts and our hearts that we hope no one would ever be seeking, and if they do, we'll do just about anything we can to keep these things hidden. Does the phrase "skeletons in the closet" sound familiar? I wonder how many of us walk around so afraid that we are going to be "outed" that we end up being a different person entirely, sometimes unfamiliar to even ourselves.

I've been thinking about this today because one of the things I like to read in my devotional time is Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, and today's was talking about the things that can sneak-up in our lives and we attempt to hide them away. Chambers writes, "Maintain a continual watchfulness so that nothing of which you would be ashamed arises in your life." Wow. Ouch. Certainly not an easy thing to do.

It can be pretty easy to hide things from other people, even people that are close to you but then I'm reminded that regardless of who I'm able to hide things from I just can't seem to hide them well enough from Christ. When I stop for a second and think about it, I guess I don't really need to hide anything from God partly because I can't and partly because He doesn't care. It's not that He doesn't care but unlike people who may treat or think of us differently if they found what it was we were hiding, He will only treat us with grace and love. It's pretty incredible to think that though I try to hide this and that from Him, He continues to seek me. A game of hide-n-seek where I don't mind being found.

September 13, 2008

Righteous Kill

I just saw Righteous Kill starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Maybe I was unfair to the movie going into it because my expectations were pretty high as I really like both of these actors, which could have led to some of my disappointment as I walked out of the theater. Besides the fact that a movie cost $10 (which is another rambling for another day) I came out of the movie thinking it was so-so. It certainly wasn't amazing but it wasn't awful either. I think what really bummed me out was that Pacino and De Niro are great actors, and both did a nice job but it just felt like the story wasn't deep or developed or intense enough to really let them work their magic.

This movie is rated 'R' for a reason and so I would certainly not recommend anyone under 18 seeing it or anyone that is offended by very strong language or violence. Ya know what's funny, as I just wrote that last sentence I thought to myself, "Shouldn't we all be offended by strong language and violence?" I guess I kind of just nailed myself to the wall on this one too huh?!? Well anyways, overall I would give it a B/B- and tell you to save your $10 and rent it when it comes out on dvd (and this is coming from somebody who typically loves Pacino and/or De Niro movies).

September 11, 2008

Out of My Hands

There is such a fine line between frustration and disappointment. I'm having a hard time figuring out if my frustration is leading to my disappointment or if the disappointment is causing me to get frustrated. The equation gets much more tricky when the resulting frustration and/or disappointment involves other people. It's one thing when I am the one who is solely responsible or could have somehow made a difference in the outcome because then it is on me but when it involves others, there is only so much I can do and after that it's out of my control, which can sometimes be hard for me as I am forced to sit back and watch things unfold in front of me.

I guess when you think about it, frustration and/or disappointment can be a good or bad thing depending on what you do with each of them. If you dwell on them, never letting go to the point of not being able to move forward then they have clearly become a bad thing but on the other hand, if you can take a step back and find out what caused the frustration and/or disappointment they might be enough to motivate you to make a change so they don't happen again. Then it would almost seem like they could be good things or at least be used in a good way but even then they are still not fun to deal with.

September 9, 2008

Made From Scratch

One of the promises of Christianity that I really like is the ability to start over with a clean slate. Of course this doesn't mean that the consequences of decisions or choices we've made disappear but it does mean that we don't have to be defined by them any longer. It really comes down to the idea of identity. When I enter into a relationship with Christ I no longer have to be defined by the stupid things I have done or said, the hurts I've caused or failed attempts at being "good".

No doubt there are times in our lives when we wish we could just start over. Sometimes it's as though we get caught in this cycle of doubt, depression and despair (sometimes out of our own creation and sometimes the result of others) and we begin to find our identities in these things rather than who we really are. I love that Jesus desires to burst into our lives and give us a fresh start that is only possible in and through Him. How many of us need to hear that promise that the old has gone and something new has come or is coming? Think of all this promise could mean for you in your life; your relationships, your attitude, how you deal with struggles, your physical and spiritual health...sometimes 'scratch' isn't a bad place to start.

September 7, 2008

6 Years and Counting

Today is mine and my wife's wedding anniversary. The big number six. For our anniversary we (mostly Tai but I was cool with it) decided to take a roadtrip to IKEA in Cincinnati. Now, if you have never been to an IKEA store before it's kind of like an airport, museum, tourist attraction, mini-United Nations, and a more modern design of Target all rolled into one. I have to admit that I really didn't know what to expect other than it was supposedly one of the greatest places on earth according to my wife of 6yrs and as soon as I walked in the door, I was blown away. It's HUGE and there seriously TONS of people. It was crazy!

After spending 2hrs there and only getting lost once we were able to find the checkouts and leave with a couple of things we're both pretty excited about. By this time it was about 6pm and we were pretty hungry. We wanted to do something somewhat special for the occasion so I suggested Skyline Chili but that was quickly vetoed, not to worry as we quickly decided to wait until we got back to Indy to hit up Naked Tchopstix in Broadripple for quite possibly the best sushi we have ever had. Though I was pretty hungry when we left IKEA, it was well worth the almost 2hr drive.

Well, I think I'm going to call it a great day and see if I can get some sleep while my wife works on putting a dresser together....

September 6, 2008

A Great Day for a Parade

When was the last time you marched in a parade? For me, it was this morning. I am the JV coach of a girls volleyball team for a high school in the area, an area which happened to be having their annual "Fall Fest" this weekend. Apparently, part of the festivities is having a parade through the middle of town and some how, some way the high school volleyball program got "invited" to be in the parade today. Fortunately for everyone involved it ended up being a beautiful day.

Believe it or not, this is not the first parade I have ever been in. See, when you grow up in Holland, MI you experience this thing every year called "Tulip Time" which lasts just about an entire week and has 3 separate parades on 3 different days. So needless to say there are plenty of opportunities to march in a parade one way or another. I wish I had a pic or two of me all decked out in my Dutch costume but I can't seem to find one, if I do I'll be sure to let you know. I was able to take a couple pics with my iPhone from the parade today...

*the names have been blurred to protect the innocent

September 4, 2008

A Decision for the Ages

Research suggests that something like 80% of Christians make a decision to follow Christ before the age of 18 and after that, the percentage drops significantly of people that decide to follow Christ. I was talking with a couple guys a day or so ago and one of them mentioned how they knew a guy that had decided to be a dentist when he was 18 and now in his 40's, has come to the conclusion that dentistry is not for him.

This led us to start talking about what the implications might be for someone who chooses to become a Christian at an early age, say sometime before they turn 18. Does the immaturity of the individual at the time of "conversion" make a difference in the significance of the decision? Or does the idea that choosing to follow Christ is more a relationship that grows and matures with the individual mean that it doesn't matter how young someone might be when they decide to follow Christ?

I think there is a difference between choosing a career-path at a young age and choosing to have a relationship with someone at a young age, especially if that relationship is with Jesus. It seems like a career "is-what-it-is" whereas a relationship is always able to change, grow, and adapt as the individuals involved change, grow and adapt to life around them but maybe I'm biased since I started my walk with Christ when I was 11.

September 2, 2008

None of Your Business??

With the Democratic National Convention behind us and the Republican National Convention underway it has been an interesting week or so in American politics. Obama gave a nice speech, lots of stuff he's said already and McCain picked a running mate that not many people could have guessed, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.

Now, I'm not going to spend any time talking about whether or not she's qualified or has the experience or what reasons McCain might have used to giver her the nod as his VP selection (but you are certainly welcome to and I look forward to hearing your thoughts) but I will take this opportunity to say something about the recent "scandal" involving her pregnant daughter.

I think Obama said it best when he said that "family is off-limits in presidential politics, especially children." It seems unfair to judge the competency of a candidate because one of his or her kids makes an unfortunate decision as a 17yr old. Sure you could try to make an argument about "what kind of parent" he or she might be if his or her daughter gets pregnant but that argument seems to fall to the wayside when we all realize that we have all made stupid choices at one point or another and weren't able to blame our parents for it anymore. I'm impressed that the candidates have no desire to even discuss this issue, showing a level of privacy and respect that seems somewhat uncommon in our more recent political campaigns and yet the media insists on pushing this so called "scandal".

What I've found interesting today is hearing how both sides, Republican and Democratic supporters respectively, are using this issue to make the point that she clearly is or isn't the appropriate choice as the potential VP. You say to-ma-to, I say to-ma-to...

September 1, 2008

The Wheels of Justification Go Round and Round

It's amazing to me how often we find ourselves giving in to temptations that we would have never imagined ourselves giving in to. I'm sure we all know someone that after doing this or saying that has found themselves in a situation they would have never thought possible. Maybe it's just me but I find it scary how easy it is to justify just about anything to myself. I wouldn't say that I am a masterful debater by any means but when it comes to convincing myself of why I should or shouldn't do something, I can make a strong case.

I'm finding that how I deal with temptation and the justification process that starts to take place in my puny little brain go hand-in-hand. I start telling myself things like: "I need this", "I like this", "I will gain something from this", "I've earned this", "I am the only one that will be impacted by this," and so on and so on.

I am guessing we all face different temptations on a daily basis, I know I do and ya know, sometimes I win and sometimes the temptation wins. The difference between who or what wins I've realized has to do with my focus. Obviously as someone who is trying to be like Jesus, my focus must first be on Christ and then on everyone else and when I find that I am out of focus, I become much more susceptible to giving in to temptation, even temptations that seem like they would never be a temptation for me. It's a slippery-slope when our focus becomes all about "me", its then that we find ourselves looking up from the bottom of the ditch wondering how we got there.