Tuesday, January 30, 2007

what does jesus reveal?

At Faith, we are diving into a Sunday teaching series called "The Historical Jesus". We're taking a number of weeks to bypass studies of theology, and to just simply look at what the Gospel Narratives describe about the life, personality, Jewishness and culture of Jesus.

What amazes me about the study of Jesus is the realization that He gives us the window into God's nature. We don't have to wonder, "What is God like?" Jesus said, "To see me is to see the Father."

Philip Yancey said, "Books of theology tend to define God by what he NOT: God is immortal, invisible, infinite. But what is God like, positively? For the Christian, Jesus answers such all important questions."

Monday, January 29, 2007

getting what we want

Listen to this incredible quote from George MacDonald. "Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give because He (wants to) give the best, and man will not take it."

Recently I was teaching on how we live or lives with envy, comparing ourselves ot others. I made referrence to some of the new Christian books on the market right now like Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now”.

What kind of Christian books make to the top of the “best-sellers” list? Generally they're NOT books about sacrifice and contentment. They’re books about how to get a bigger house and live in prosperity.

Just read the first few pages of Joel Osteen’s book. Here are few quotes from just the first few pages.
 "Someday, I'll earn more money, and I won't have to worry about how to pay the bills." "God wants to increase you financially," (Osteen writes on page 5.)
 "Even if you come from an extremely successful family, God still wants you to go further" (p. 9).
 "Get rid of that small-minded thinking and start thinking as God thinks. Think big. Think increase. Think abundance. Think more than enough" (p. 11).
 "Many people settle for too little . . . 'I've gone as far in my career as I can go. I've hit the peak. I'll never make any more money than I'm making right now'" (p. 23).
And he goes on and on, teaching you how to get God to give you more money and more prosperity.

But here’s the PROBLEM with all that. Listen very closely. YES God wants to bless us with His richest of blessings. He wants to give us the best. But listen… HE is the one who knows what IS best. Not me.

MY DEFINITION of prosperity and blessing, and my definition of success… are often quite different from God’s definition.

Just read the Bible. Look throughout history at some of the most Godly men and women who ever lived. What would they think of the way modern Christianity focuses on money, and success, and having more and bigger and better all the time?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

head swimming

I tend to go through intellectual seasons of focus. As a pastor, these seasons are often centered around the seemingly exclusive pursuits of 1) church leadership issues and 2) philosophical, historical, apologetics issues.

Well right now, I'm in the midst of drinking from the waterhose of #2. In preparing for the 4 week teaching series "The Historical Jesus" (starting this Sunday) I have been devouring the research. Names like Soren Kierkegaard, Immanuel Kant, N.T Wright, Rudolf Bultmann and ages of philosphy like Existentialism, the Enlightentment, the "No Quest" era and the like... are swimming in my head.

On weeks like this, the teaching on Sunday is either going to be totally AWESOME...or so deep that no one can keep up. Usually God helps me filter it all through Scripture in such a way that the application is meaningful and relevant. So let's pray that happens this week!!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

pastor & cabbie in heaven

Bad theology...but a pretty good joke.

A pastor dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him is a guy dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter says to this guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?" The guy replies, "I'm Joe Cohen, taxi driver, of Noo Yawk City." Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the taxi driver, "Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven." The taxi driver goes into Heaven with his robe and staff.

Next it is the pastor's turn. He stands erect and booms out, "I am Joseph Snow, in ministry for the last 43 years." Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the pastor, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven." "Just a minute!" says the pastor. "That man was a taxi driver, and he gets a silken robe and golden staff. How can this be?"

"Up here, we work by results," says Saint Peter. "While you preached, people slept! While he drove, people prayed!"


So, what does God reward?

Monday, January 22, 2007

kierkegaard thoughts

This week I was reading a bit about Søren Kierkegaard (the 19th Century father of existential philosophy). One of his greatest concerns was how lightly people take their faith and spiritual commitments.

He said, “The difference between an ADMIRER and a FOLLOWER still remains, no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not BE what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.”

You ask anyone in America today and you will find that most have an admiration for Christ. But what is it that characterizes a true follower of Christ?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

snow saucer of death

Last night Tracy and I took the kids sledding. We laughed and had a great time. But it definitely started off a little shakey.

We went to this new monster sledding hill that just opened in a new park a few miles from our house. The first run we made was on a bit of a kiddie hill and Katie (9 years old) rode the snow saucer, while Seth (6) and I rode the more stable 2 seater sled.

We then asended to the top of the big hill and got ready to go. We hadn't seen anyone slide down the hill before us, so we had no idea how fast the ride might be. "But c'mon. How bad could it be?" Apparently we forgot all those episodes of "America's Funniest Home Videos"...

Without much thought we popped Seth on the little snow saucer and give him a push. Within a matter of .0085 seconds he had reached warp speed at Mach 2. Somehow, amazingly, he stayed upright until reaching the foot of the hill. But then came...the BUMP. At about 30 mph he lost it. From the top of the hill looking down, we see our 6 year old son in a death roll through the snow, ice and mud.

Immediately Kate and I hopped on the other sled and went down to get him. Seth was kind of wandering around looking for his hat (that had come off during the spectacular crash). The poor kid had a few tiny nicks and bruises on his head and a spot of blood beside his lip.

So I did what any compassionate father would do. I grabbed him by the shoulders and said, "Wasn't that awesome? You survived the greatest crash ever!" He wasn't so sure...until I told him, "If we had the video camera, I bet you could have won the best video on AFV!" That seemed to cheer him up a bit.

So on the next run I decided that I should be the one riding the "snow saucer of death". After reaching Mach Speed and hanging on for dear life myself, I couldn't believe that Seth did as well as he did.

I was so proud of my boy. He faced the mountain and survived. He crashed in a flurry of snow and walked away. He endured the most spectacular crash of the season...and went back up to get on the ride again. But not on the "saucer of death". From that point on the kids used the stable 2 person sled.

But how often in leadership do we set people up for spectacular crashes. We just plop them on the sled having no idea what lies at the bottom of the hill.

I should have gone first. I should have navigated the hill before him. I should have prepared him for the ride to come.

Make sure not to put your people on the "snow saucer of death". Set others up for success and not failure. But when they do crash. Give them encouragement and praise them for doing as well as they did.

See ya at the bottom of the hill!

Monday, January 15, 2007

animatronics church

More thoughts from our family visit to Disney World and pictures from my blooming career as an amature photographer.

One of the old-fashioned attractions that we enjoyed was "The Jungle Cruise". This is one of those rides that Walt really designed his original theme park around. You ride in a boat that runs on a track hidden under the water. The guide leads you on a journey through a river filled with various thrills and chills and all kinds of fake animals that move and make noise. Walt loved robotics and animatronics designed to mimic real life.

So here was my thought. A lot of what people are looking for today in their "Christian experience" is reminiscent of a ride filled with animatronics. We want the church to look a certain way, sound a certain way, have a certain feel and meet our needs. But not in a deep and signicant way.

Animatronics was a cheap way to get consistent labor for a theme park. You didn't have to deal with real workers. You didn't have to clean up the poop and worry about feeding real animals. You just cover them in plastic and let them go through the motions, as everyone cheers and pays to get on the ride.

Real life and authentic community in a church is messy. That's why most people would rather just come and and take the 5 cent tour on Sunday mornings. We watch the plastic people go through the animotronic motions on the platform and wonder if we're getting our money's worth. Each weekend we watch, as people file through the doors of our church looking for the no commitment ride.

But God's plan for the church is radical. It involves real people, and real emotions, and real life change, and real conflict resolution, and real confrontations, and real help, and real sacrifice, and real commitment.

You can't experience what God desires for your spiritual growth in an animatronic church, just riding the rails on on Sunday mornings. You have to get out of boat and start getting involved in the daily life of following Christ in spiritual community.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

disney gripe

OK, so we had a great time at Walt Disney World. It was a great 2 days and our children are the perfect age (6 & 9) to get the most out of the experience.

But I have always had a love hate relationship with the Disney Corporation. In the last 15 years, their judgment concerning what is appropriate has left much to be desired.

I remember back when "The Lion King" was released on home video. Around that time, there were many conspiracy theories about Disney animators imbedding hidden messages and sexually explicit symbolism into many of their children's movies. It all sounded like a bunch of hooey. But one night some friends were over at our apartment and we popped in the old VHS tape to see if we coud find the scene. Fast forwarding to the place we hit pause...and sure enough, there it was. As the dust swirls into the air, the letters clearly form to spell "s-e-x". At full speed, you'd never even notice. But closer examination shows you that Disney is not always as sweet and innocent today as Walt originally intended.

The dark side of Disney was driven home for me in a vivid way at the MGM Studios closing "Fantasmic" Spectacular. The evening show (designed to sum up the plot of most Disney movies) was 30 minutes of music, drama, video, lighting projected on fountains of water and fireworks.

What caught my attention however was the continual parade of evil characters. There was very little attention paid to the sweet and gentle side of Disney. The show was filled with evil villians screaming and howling and being scary and threatening. I cannot immagine the kinds of nightmares that these images could induce in a child.

As I reflected on our visit, I realized that much of the modern Disney experience is designed to frighten children. Yes, the plot always involves the hero triumphing in the end. But at the theme park, the rides and attractions seem to focus more on the scary parts than anything else.

For our evening meal, preceding the "Fanatasmic" show, we sat in one of the restaurants called the "ABC Commisary". The dining room was filled with television screens prommoting the shows from ABC. We sat through a loop of ads for shows like "Desparate Housewives" and worse. Do I need to remind you of the content of these shoes? And the promos for the shows were not totally sanitized for children's consumption. Yet, here sat a captive audience of impressionable young minds.

I know, I know. I sound like an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy who needs to just lighten up. But I was reminded of how often families at our church and friends just assume that if a movie or product comes out from Disney, that must mean it will be good.

But let's continually remember that just because something is entertaining, that doesn't mean that it is good. Keep your filter on at all times. Test and analyze everything that your family consumes. You may be able to discern the difference between fact and fiction, biblical and antibiblical worldviews. But your children are not equipped to make those distinctions.

Like so much of the world today, I enjoy Disney's entertainment value. But I would never trust them to teach my kids the difference between right and wrong. That's my job.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

tower of terror

Tonight we arrived home from our conference/vacation trip. And finally I have a consistent internet connection again!

So I thought for the next few days i might post some thoughts from our family visit to Disney World. This was the first time our kids have ever been to any amusement park larger than a fair.

Kate (our 9 year old) is totally into roller coasters. The MAIN thing she wanted to ride was the "The Hollywood Tower of Terror". It takes you up a couple of hundred feet in the air inside this building (in the dark) and then drops you into a no-gravity free fall, followed by a full force upward launch...and back and forth in alternating unpredictable sequences designed to freak you out of your gourd!

Kate was SO excited about this ride. She couldn't wait! She had been talking about riding this thing for weeks! Her little brother was freaked about how scary it sounded...and that cranked her up even more.

So onto the ride we go. They loaded us up, buckled us down and sent us up the tower in complete darkness (with creepy lights, video and sound). Then came the excitement. As the first unexpected drop took place, I broke out into uncontrollable laughter. That feeling of losing your stomach just cracked me up! But in a momentary flash of light through the darkness, I caught sight of Kate's little face. She was NOT smiling! Her eyes were HUGE and and she looked very, very, very serious.

With people all around us screaming, I asked, "Are you OK?" Her response was absolute silence. As soon as the ride was over, she had one thing to say, "Dad, I won't be riding that again."

For the rest of the day, I begged her to give it another shot. It was one of the craziest rides I've ever experienced. I was dying to do it again! But there was no budging her position. She would, under no circumstances, change her mind.

Have you ever looked forward to something with great anticipation...only to find out that it was not at all what you were expecting? Maybe you found yourself on your own "Tower of Terror". This was not the deal you signed up for and you're ready to get off the ride!

My advice? Trust your Daddy. I knew that nothing was gong to hurt Kate. She was perfectly safe. In fact, if she were able to relax and trust that it was going to be alright...she probably would have enjoyed the ride.

It might be dark and scary and you feel like losing your stomach. But here's the good news, the end is in sight. It won't last forever. And Daddy might even get you ice cream when it's all done.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

some trip pics

Here are some assorted pictures from the week in Florida.

It was great to spend some time with family at the Florida Holiness Campground where my father is the President. This morning I spoke in the worship service to over 400 people. It is a fun environment to hang out with saints who have devoted more decades to serving Christ than I have been alive.

Here's a pic of my brother and 2 sisters.

While I was at the Pastor's Gathering Conference in Orlando, Tracy and the kids (there were no afternoon sessions for the family) slipped over for the day to the beach.

We also got to spend a few hours at "Ripley's Believe It or Not". The kids thought the crooked angles on the building were awesome.

And the campground where my parents reside is in Lakeland, the home of Spring Training for the Detroit Tigers. I was just a month and a half early for practice. We'd stick around, enjoying the sun until then...but I don't think so! We can't wait to get back to Faith Church and what God is doing in Lansing!

Friday, January 05, 2007

pastors' gathering

The Wesleyan Gathering of Pastors in Orlando was a great 4 days. Speakers included Kevin Myers, Anne Graham Lotz, John Maxwell and Bill Hybels. The worship leader for the week was Robin Mark from Ireland (any musician with a foreign accent has the advantage of sounding cool and authoritative without even trying).

I heard from God in a few specific ways. My fire for reaching the world with the love of Christ was stoked yet again. I'm speaking this Sunday in Lakeland, Florida (the home of our Detroit Tigers' spring training camp). If all the stuff in my heart comes spilling out from the platform, I might teach for hours on end. I trust God's Spirit will help keep me within 30 minutes or so!

One of the highlights of a Pastor's Conference like this is the opportunity to connect with old friends. I saw college friends with whom I haven't crossed tracks in over 10 years. At every turn, there was another 5 minute conversation filled with updates on marriage, kids and church life.

In some ways it all feels quite shallow... But in another way it brings me great comfort to know that these are all genuine men of God who are giving their lives to the same cause of Christ as me. We share so many common values and priorities. I understand the things they're going through and they know the challenges I am facing. If I really needed help or counsel, they would be there for me in a heartbeat.

That is one of the greatest joys of being a member of the Body of Christ. I'm not on this journey alone. I'm thankful to be part of the Wesleyan network of churches. It isn't perfect, but neither am I.

Monday, January 01, 2007

a family blessing

What an amazing New Year's weekend! The Gorveatte family gathered in Lakeland, Florida for the first time in 3 years. Ken and Anne Gorveatte had 4 children (Mark, Ruth, Beth and Joel) who now have brought 19 grandchildren into the world. And the greatest part? All of us are serving Jesus and actively committed to the Body of Christ.

As the first family was preparing to depart at the end of the weekend, Father and Mother called everyone into the living room. They had been considering the pattern in Scripture of a parental blessing proclaimed over their children. They wanted to share with us an expression of their gratitude and a statement of faith in God's plans and promises for our future.

Each child was presented with this written blessing, printed upon a scroll. As I read this words, I give thanks for a heritage of faith and parents who model authentic Christianity. Thank you Dad and Mom for this:

A Family Blessing

3 John v. 4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

A family is known by what it values. For many families there is a secular, competitive mindset that sees value primarily in things or in status.

But there are some families who have chosen a different set of priorities. They believe that all life comes from God our Creator and Heavenly Father, and that we as human beings are made in His image, designed to be part of the great family of God by faith in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Our value system is based on our desire to serve and honor the Lord in all we do, and although as human beings we are bound to fail and often come short of the ideal, nonetheless in our hearts we have a sincere desire to be what God wants us to be.

We believe that the Lord has created two major plans for mankind to fulfill His plans and purposes: the church and the family. My deepest desire and most sincere wish for my family is that we may have hearts that want to serve our Lord both in the Church and in the family. When we choose to follow Jesus our Lord and Savior we become part of the Church; but we do not choose to be a member of a family -- we are born into that relationship. So we are father, mother, brother and sister. We do not choose who will fill these roles for us we just are!

But, we have special responsibilities to each other. We must care for each other and help each other as we move along life’s pathway. We must pray for each other and encourage each other to be faithful children of God as well as faithful members of our family. As father of this family, it has been my joy and privilege to provide, as best I could, a home,-- a shelter where you were loved and cared for. We have tried to be an example, though often we have failed in what it means to love and serve God.

We have tried to train you up in the way you should go and have prayed constantly that all of you -- children and grandchildren -- would come to know and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. Sooner than we can imagine, we will be called to our heavenly home, and it will become your sacred trust to pass on to your children and their children the faith we have come to share in our family. So we ask God’s rich blessing upon you -- Mark, Ruth, Beth and Joel. We pray that you will be guided into wise decisions and that God’s love will always be the motivating guide for your lives.

May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and with God-given wisdom may you enjoy the benefits of a God-directed life and pass that on to your children and their children -- the faith of your father -- and then I will say with the Apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in the Truth.”