Friday, October 17, 2014

Hammers, Focus, and Impact

What sort of impact are you making?

Have you ever used a hammer? I mean a big, heavy, power driving hammer? The first home my wife and I owned was a seventy year old fixer upper – also known as a money pit. To a bright eyed young couple, though, it looked like a dream. We even romanticized working on it, picturing everyday of labor as being a work montage straight out of an eighties movie. You know the ones, where the plucky youths fix up the community center over the course of a three an half minute up beat song.

Yeah, real life doesn't work like that.

One of the valuable lessons I learned from this experience had to do with impact. I had done my fair share of “handy man” work over the years and was comfortable with various tools. I knew this house had to be stripped down to the studs and the joists and built back up. I knew that I would need a big, heavy hammer to do the job. So I went to the hardware store and bought a nice, new Craftsman three pound hammer with a rubberized grip.

It felt great in my hands. I could pull the hammer back and as it fell forwards I could feel the extra “umph” of gravity added to my meager strength. It made a nice thud when it hit the nail and made quick work of even the most stubborn projects. It made a wonderful impact.

… until it hit my thumb.

The impact it made then was equally as powerful as when it hit the nail but it made more of a squish sound that was quickly drowned out by my yelps of pain. I looked at the hammer in anger and felt almost a sense of betrayal. “After all we've been through together, how could you hit my thumb instead of the nail?” The problem was the hammer only did what I had directed it to do. The problem wasn't with the hammer – it was with me. Specifically it was with my focus. I had lost focus on what I was doing. I still made an impact but it wasn't the one I had intended.

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus Said:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” [HCSB]

We all want to live a life that makes an impact, in fact we are designed to make an impact. An impact on our family, our friends and the world at large. All of us will have an impact on this world – good or bad - whether we realize it or not. The thing that determines the impact we make is our focus. In this crazy world if we are only focused on our own needs, on getting ahead, on being popular then that will effect our impact.

If we are focused on Jesus and His commands (love God, love your neighbor) then we will make a positive impact on this world. If not? Well, let's just say we will end up with some sore thumbs.

Till next time,
God Bless

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Baptism As a Lifelong Commitment

I always enjoy the preparation that goes into corporate worship, but I especially love preparing for a baptism service. While some view baptism as a meaningless ritual – some atheist groups even hold a de-baptism where they “dry” you with hair dryers – I view it as a both a wonderful symbol and a sacred command from Christ Himself.

It is a symbol of cleansing and of joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection as well as a public confession of our faith and new life. As Lee Scarborough wrote, “[The believer] publicly puts a grave between himself and his former life of sin.” (1)

When I prepare for a baptism I am always reminded of a sermon by Andy Cook. In it he draws our attention to a little side trip in the Gospels that Jesus and His disciples take. A trip where Jesus drove home the reality of baptism as a lifelong commitment in a place called Caesarea Philippi.

Caesarea was known as a center of pagan worship and was one of the most evil and immoral places in all of Israel. Various cults had made it a sensual, wicked, and even murderous place. Here, the waters of the Jordan river flowed out of huge, dark cave on the side of a rocky cliff. Legends and teachings of the Baal and Asherah cults taught that the two gods went underground to Hades through the cave, giving it the name, "The Gates of Hades." In the thoughts of the religious cult that worshiped him, Baal had control over water, and the mysterious cave was a natural place for him to descend into Hades. Greek and Roman invaders liked the spirituality of the place so much, they added monuments to numerous other gods to the area. By the time Jesus arrived at Caesarea Philippi with His disciples, the beginning of the river was a veritable cafeteria of religion. In the midst of all the choices, Jesus walked 40 miles up a mountain to ask His followers a simple question. "Who am I?"

Matthew 16:13-18 [HCSB]
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.

And with that, the disciples walked back down the mountain, where they would soon hear Jesus ask His followers to be baptized as a sign of their commitment to Him. His followers would build the church in the place where Satan least expected it – right at the very Gates of Hell!

Because of the centuries-old stories coming from the mysterious cave in Caesarea Philippi, those men knew that being lowered under the water was far more than a simple sign of cleansing. Baptism would be a frightening descent into "Baal territory," and a commitment to carry the fight to the enemy. Though times had changed, the fears of Baal's hellish existence in the underground cave of the
Jordan's beginnings still caused fear in the minds of the people. If a person had the misfortune of drowning, for instance, the grief of a family was compounded by a frightening thought. Had their loved one been captured by demonic forces, and taken to Hades for eternity?

Through baptism, Jesus asked His followers to be willingly lowered into enemy territory, only to be
immediately raised to new life. With one act of trust, the reality of hell would be no more of a danger to
Christians than being briefly lowered in water. For believers in Jesus, death would one day be a momentary transfer from this life to the next. Baptism was a very visible statement of faith, of choosing Jesus as the way to safely make the transfer from this life to eternity. Almost immediately, baptism became a tremendous statement of commitment, too. During times of persecution, to be identified with Christ was a life- threatening confession. In the worst of times, a person willing to be baptized was taking the risk of his lifetime. (2)

As we baptize this Sunday morning we will risk little more than a chill from cold water. Yet the call of our Lord to a lifetime of commitment to Him has not changed. When we are called to baptism we are called to truly follow Him through anything – even against Hades itself. If you have been baptized, are you living your baptism today? Are you carrying through on your commitment to Him?

Till next time,
God Bless

1. Lee Scarborough, as quoted in the Baptist Faith & Message

2. “What's Water Got To Do With It” by Andy Cook

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hello World!

As I write this it is just before midnight on Tuesday October seventh.  The family is asleep and I have just started my first blog.  It's amazing it took this long since I have been on the internet since before the world wide web existed.

Why am I doing this?  Why now?

Simply because I felt I needed another outlet to speak.  That may sound strange since as a minister I have the privilege of preaching and teaching multiple times a week on the greatest subject there is  - our wonderful God. Those times, however, are highly structured and limited (some more so than others).  It always amazes me how during a week of sermon & teaching prep the Holy spirit will show me truths from the scripture that have always been there but I have been too blind or too stubborn to see.  It also amazes me how often those truths speak to the times we live in as well as to the trials I see others facing.

That is what I hope to do with this blog.  I hope to reflect Him, in some small way get you thinking more about Him and pray you see His presence around you.

As Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 2:17 For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.[HCSB]

Like Paul I have nothing to sell.  Unlike Paul I can lay claim to no great knowledge or wisdom.  All I can do is try to point you to a God who loves you, and a truth that will help you.

Till next time,
God Bless