Not My Name

This week at my church is the incredible, exciting, draining, and yet fulfilling event known as Vacation Bible School. VBS has always been an extra special time around here, and last night was just the beginning of what I am sure will be a fantastic week.

Last night in the Bible lesson we talked briefly about the Tower of Babel. Do you remember that one? It’s in the 11th chapter of Genesis if you would like to read it for yourself. (You probably should.) One of the neat things that I have experienced at just about every VBS that I have ever been a part of is that the truth shared is just as relevant for adults as it is for the kids.

Anyway, back to the Tower of Babel. Actually, the story is more about the people than the actual tower. You see, God has told mankind twice now in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28, 9:1) It’s important for us to understand that God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth is about much more than just simply having babies. It is about obedience to God and making His name great.

The problem with the people of Babel? They chose not to obey God. The settled down instead of spreading across and filling the whole earth, and they tried to make themselves famous instead of God.

The ancient people ignored God’s instructions, clustered together, and tried to make themselves great.

Sadly, not much has changed.

People now, just like people then, have a tendency to ignore God’s clear instructions, cluster together in alike tribes, and make themselves great-often at the expense of others.

So, what do we, who have put our trust in Jesus, do about this? Or how should we respond?

We first start by looking in the mirror.

God’s Old Testament command is echoed in the New Testament when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) God told Adam and Eve to reproduce in order to produce children who would know, obey, and love God. God now tells us to produce disciples who know, obey, and love Jesus.

But the temptation to cluster together and build a name for ourselves is ever-present. Sadly, at times, churches can be so focused on programs and events that they lose sight of what is truly important.

We cannot worry about increasing our church empires, we need to be focused on increasing His Kingdom.

Francis Chan has a pretty matter-of-fact quote “Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.” Ouch.

The Bible is pretty clear that those who follow Jesus are to be lights in this dark and dying world. We need to shine in the dark and we cannot allow the comfort of our familiar tribe to prevent us from doing so.

Tribalism is a dangerous and unproductive thing and it has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

Now, let me be clear, I am not advocating that we stop spending time with the people whom we love and are comfortable with. What I am saying though is, let’s be sure to be active in our love and Good News witness to people who don’t fit inside of our cookie cutter vision.

There are a whole lot of people in this world. Many of them do not look, think, act, smell, sound, or see things the way you do. That is O.K. Our objective is not to make people become just like us. Our goal is to show people how to become like Jesus.

I don’t want to make my name great.

I want to make His name great.

Allergy Season at its Best

I have a confession. I have seasonal allergies.

Ok, if you have been around me at all during the Springtime then you know that wasn’t much of a confession.

The Spring and Fall have caused me to be a mouth breather for about as long as I can remember. (However, on the plus side, as I have gotten older the Fall side of things hasn’t been quite as bad as it was when I was a kid…so yay?)

A little less than a year ago I went to an Allergist to check what exactly I was allergic to and also to find out what I could do about it. The doctor confirmed that I actually wasn’t allergic to much, but that what I was allergic to I was really allergic to. He also confirmed that the few things that I had reacted to manifested themselves most during the Spring and Fall.

I remember saying, “Ok, I kind of knew that already. So, what can I do about it? How can we cure this?” I was looking for some sort of pill, shot, or miracle.

His answer was both annoying, profound, and completely spot on.

“The best, and only real, way to be cured is to stay away from the things that make you sick.”

That statement, while easier said than done, is still some of the best advice I have heard.

The doctor then explained to me what causes allergies. He went on to use a bunch of fancy words that I can remember, but I was still able to get the sense of it.

It wasn’t necessarily the ragweed itself that caused my symptoms, it was how my body responded to the allergen. My immune system sees certain “triggers” as threats and works extra hard to expel them from my body. The results are sniffling and sneezing. To quote Switchfoot, “The sickness is myself.”

I have been thinking a lot about that conversation with the doctor lately. And while I can’t avoid Spring, I do think that his words are still some of the wisest I’ve heard.

“The best, and only real, way to be cured is to stay away from the things that make you sick.” It doesn’t just apply to allergies.

There are many things in life that make us sick. There are many things in our lives that are harmful to us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. While I know that we cannot just simply gate ourselves off and avoid them all, that’s not typically how life works, I do think that we should make efforts to avoid our “triggers.”

1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to abstain, or flee, from every kind of evil.

2 Timothy 2:22-23 instructs us to flee from youthful passions and lusts and to “have nothing to do with” foolish debates that cause quarrels. Instead, Paul says, to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”

And Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The best way to avoid the consequences of sin is to avoid sin.

We become emotionally and spiritually congested when we try to work life out on our own strength and in our own way. The awesome thing is, that God knows that we are sick. He knows what harms us and He has given us the cure. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we can be healed from all that ails us. We must put our trust in Him.

But even after we trust in Jesus we still have a tendency to run back to our “allergens.” We still tend to grasp at the very things that make us sick. We need to avoid them.

But we can only truly avoid them with God’s help.

He can and will give you the strength to make it through your “allergy season.” But you need to talk with Him. Agree with Him that you are in need of rescuing, admit that you cannot do it on your own, thank Him that Jesus made a way for you, trust Him to guide you, and actually listen to and follow Him.

As the writer of Hebrews puts it- “let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…and cling to Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith.”

Ok, time to blow my nose for the 10,000 time today.

St. Patrick’s Day: You’re Doing It Wrong

Step away from the corned beef, put down that Shamrock Shake, and drop the phony accents. None of these things are what Patrick, the real-life Patrick would have wanted.

Well, maybe he would have been cool with the corned beef and shakes, but for sure not the fake accents. Those are silly.

This coming Saturday is a day that a whole lot of Americans seem to collectively lose their minds. My city dyes the river green, people drink waaay too much, you get pinched for not wearing green, and everyone claims to be just a “wee bit” Irish.

But none of this has anything to do with the man for whom this holiday gets its name. If we really want to be honoring this man’s legacy, we should go to our enemies and the people who have wronged us most in life and share a message of hope and love with them. That’s what Patrick did. And he did it because he loved Jesus.

When Patrick, who wasn’t Irish by the way, was about 16 years old his village was ransacked, and he was kidnapped and forced to become a slave. He was taken away from his home and family and was brought to Ireland. It was during his time as a slave that he put his faith in Jesus, whom he had heard about as a child but chose to ignore. It was Patrick’s relationship with Jesus that helped him to survive slavery. During his 6 years of captivity, his prayer life grew tremendously. Eventually, he escaped and returned home and was educated.

Now, there are a lot of different legends surrounding this man and his life, but what I would like to focus on today is the facts. The facts are that Patrick was transformed by God, loved God, and allowed himself to be used by God so that many other’s lives could be transformed as well.

Patrick devoted his life to sharing the Good News of Jesus’ love. His devotion to the Gospel eventually led him right back to Ireland and his former master.

Why would Patrick return to a place where horrible things happened to him, and to people that had, at one point, been his worst enemies and greatest oppressors? The answer is simple. The Good News of God’s love is really really good news.

Patrick knew that the Gospel is something that we cannot afford to keep to ourselves.

Patrick traveled all across the island explaining the good news of salvation in Jesus’ name to any and everyone who would listen to him. He cared for and loved the people of Ireland enough to share with them a life-giving message.

It wasn’t always easy, he was often met with resistance and persecution. But Patrick continued to speak about freedom in Christ Jesus in a place where he once was a slave. A whole lot of people put their trust in Jesus because of Patrick’s efforts and faithfulness.

So, if we really want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day I say that we go to those who have done us wrong and forgive them and show them love. I say that we share the good news of Jesus’ love with them.

Imagine what would happen if we went to our worst enemies and showed them this kind of ground-breaking, earth-shattering, barrier-breaking, life-changing love.

You don’t have to be Irish to do that. Patrick wasn’t.