Who are You Lifting Up

“Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:331 NIV)

2016 has been  a difficult year for our rock  celebrities. If you are a fan of music from the “Seventies’s through the Eighties” you may glance at your news feed every day with a bit of a wince wondering who is next.

Last week rock icon Prince passed away at the age of 56.  As with any musician who’s music helped define a generation, especially one who dies at unexpectedly at an early age, the public mourned. Many other musicians did tributes to him at their concerts. The  Broadway cast of “Hamilton!” danced to “Let’s Go Crazy” at the end of their performance. People wept, placed purple flowers in  various spots, sang their favorite songs.

All of which, as I said, is to be expected.  But what to do when the church jumps into the act.  The day of Prince’s death this sign appeared at a United Methodist Church

I’ve no idea what the motivation could be for the church. It may be an attempt to be culturally relevant to their community (Hey were hip enough to know about Prince).  It could be an honest attempt to reach out in grief.  It could be the clergy will speak on the quote on Sunday  (Are we called to do more than get through this thing called life)I don’t know and haven’t reached out to them, so I’m not judging.

But it does say a lot about how important our celebrities are to us in our culture.  Maybe in any culture.  We mourn their passing, we sing songs of tribute to them. Their quotes appear on our places of worship. We lift them up almost to godlike status. Above everything else we tend to forget the ugly parts of their lives. It’s almost as if talent, fame fortune good looks, etc. somehow cancel out the darker parts of their personalties. And while I liked a lot of Prince’s music he had a lot of dark corners to who he was.

It’s always been that way, of course. The media overlooked Kennedy’s affairs, even though he wasn’t even discreet about them. baseball writers also never spoke of Mickey Mantle’s carousing and alcoholism.  The list goes one.

Not that we are exempt from that in the church. Several fairly prominent pastors, celebrities in their own rights with books and huge churches have left their churches recently. But most of them have started new ministries and churches.  Jimmy Swaggert publicly confessed his sins many times, yet in time came back to his ministry.

Now we might attribute some of that to the forgiving nature of the church. And that may be true. But some of  it also has to do with their celebrity status. When you’re well known, a celebrity, its easy for us to sweep the ugly under the rug.

Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed preaching this current series from Judges. All of the judges, even though they do heroic things, are tarnished. They sin, they struggle, they make huge blunders.  But the Bible doesn’t hide these things. Rather the Bible almost revels in honesty.  It’s as if Scripture wants to point out that the Judges all had faults yet God used them anyway.  In spite of their problems, and sometimes through them. The Book also points out the danger of celebrity idols, and calls us to look beyond the to the course of real power and joy, God.

That’s what Paul means by the Scripture at the beginning of the blog. Paul was no stranger to what it meant to have celebrity status. But Paul was always careful to point everyone to Jesus. And only Jesus.  For in the end its only the Perfect Lamb of God who bears no blemish and is worthy of  our adoration.

Does that mean we can’t enjoy celebrities on earth? Or mourn their passing? Of course not. I believe God gives people talent for us to enjoy. Just don’t let what they did blind you to who they are.  And remember in the end there is only one Prince of Peace who deserves our adoration.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones

 

Advertisements

Investment

“2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men[a] who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

You can tell a lot about the stage of life you are in by listening to the conversations of your friends.  If you are a teenager, most of the conversations will involve the upcoming weekend, the opposite sex, plans for your future, or the big game coming up.  Young adults will find their conversations  surrounding their career and relationships.  Young couples will find their conversations revolving around their children at the varying stages of their lives.   Not always, of course, but a good percent of the time.

whether I like it or not, I’ve noticed that I have moved into a different stage of my life in the past few years. I’ve noticed my colleagues talk a lot less about their babies and a lot more about the  cost of their medications.  Less conversations  occur about their kid’s t-ball game, a lot more over the angst of paying for college.  less about taking care of the kids, more about providing long-term care for aging parents.

Most disturbingly, I was at an event with several clergy a month or so ago.  I was a bit surprised about how many of  the conversations revolved around retirement. Retirement.  That has always seemed like one of those far away events that you would deal with, you know, later.  But the topic came up again and again.

It was a bit unsettling because while I’ve been doing this for a long time, I am nowhere near being ready to, or able to, retire.  And so are most of my clergy friends. But while it’s a long way off they are making plans now. They are investing now in their retirement plans so that when the time comes they will be able to reap the rewards of their preparation.

It’s a simple idea, really. If you don’t invest in something, don’t expect to be able to get a lot back.  That’s  a sound principle if you are planing on retiring some day. Invest now as much as you can so that you can get more out of your retirement.  It works for bank accounts as well. You can get out what you don’t invest.

We seem to have missed that principle when it comes to our spiritual life though. If we aren’t willing to invest in our spiritual growth, we aren’t likely to have anything to draw from.  If you put little into your relationship with Jesus, you’ll not get a lot back. Bonhoeffer referred to it as cheap grace …”Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”

Cheap grace is accepting Jesus as one’s savior, but not being willing to follow Him. Hoping for the benefit of eternity, without all that “picking up one’s cross” stuff Jesus talks about.  It easier to be sure. Ask Jesus into your heart. Show up at a worship service on a fairly consistent basis.

But the problem with cheap grace is that it’s cheap. What doesn’t cost us much doesn’t give us much.  It’s such a small investment we never really get a return from it.  It’s only those who are willing to invest all of their lives that truly experience the benefit of the grace of Jesus in their lives.

What are you investing? Are you investing enough in your spiritual life? Are you experiencing a costly grace, or hoping to get by on the cheap stuff?   Invest your life in following Christ. Go all in.  In the end, it’s the only investment that matters.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

What’s The Point?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NLT)

 

It might be cold outside, but the true sign of spring has finally emerged. baseball has returned.  As we have for the past 22 years straight, my son and I made our way down to Cincinnati to witness the true beginning of the baseball season (No matter what MLB and ESPN says, it starts with Cincinnati).

It was a cold, but good day.  The Reds won, which is always good, and in the past few years certainly not a guarantee by any means. But it’s interesting how much my focus has changed over the years. The score of the game isn’t as important as it once was. Oh it’s important, just not as important as it once was. I still love baseball.  But what I really enjoy is the time my son and I spend together. with differing schedules as he became an adult, we see each other but don’t get to spend as much time as we would like together. So that time is important for us.

Our drive to and from the game was filled with laughter and serious talk. We talked about  his plans for the future, the church and what we watched on television last night.  In fact, as I reflect on it, the topics of our conversation aren’t nearly as important as the fact we did talk. It’s not about an agenda as much as it is enjoying one another’s presence.

But the fact the game itself is no longer our real focus doesn’t mean it’s not important.  We root and cheer and yell as much as we ever did. Actually the joy of the game, especially a win, is enhanced, not diminished, by its role in our lives today. We come to enjoy one another’s presence. When something good happens, it simply makes the joy of one another’s presence better. It’s the difference between eating by one’s self and  going out to dinner with great friends. We enjoy being together. If we have a great meal, it makes our time together that much better.

 

I wonder, if in some ways, our spiritual lives wouldn’t be better off if we approached the church, especially worship in the same way.  I’ve often looked at the scripture at the top of the page as a description of the saints, looking down on us, making sure we don’t mess up anything they did.   In reality it’s a description of what the church is supposed to be. The saints  in heaven and earth gathered around the throne of God, simply enjoying His presence.  If we look at the book of Revelation,and how John describes Heaven, and eternity, it’s all about the presence of the Holy Trinity.  That’s the focus. It’s the overwhelming presence of God and simply enjoying being in His presence.

What might happen if we remembered that this is how it’s supposed to be for us here as well? That church, especially worship, is simply about being in the presence of Jesus, and just enjoying being with Him?  What if we attended church not because we liked the music program, or how welcome they made us, how good the coffee was, but on this criteria” Did I feel I was in the presence of Jesus today?  And did I enjoy just being in the presence of the saints around me today. Now, there is nothing wrong with good coffee, great music, great greeters. I’m merely arguing if this is our only criteria we’ve allowed worship to become too “customer satisfaction” driven. In other words, we become the center of worship, having our “felt needs” met rather than worshiping God.

It’s not an excuse to not have high quality worship. Actually the opposite.  When I come to be in Jesus presence I find the good coffee makes it better. That great band? They  enhance the joy. That smiling face and handshake? Just makes the day better.

This Sunday (or Saturday, Wednesday whenever) let’s all make this our criteria. In this short time I’m going to simply enjoy the presence of God.  You’ll find joy that’s unimaginable.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><