River City Days

leonJoin us Friday and Saturday, July 29-30 at City Square Park in downtown Chaska for River City Days.  Every year we have a booth where we hand out FREE balloon animals and connect with the community.  Last year we went through 1,300 balloons and connected with some great people.  It is a lot of fun to see the faces of the kids who love our balloons.  Each year we hear from parents who tell us that their kids remember us from the year before.  If you are in the area, come on by and say, “Hi!”

Ordination and Mission

odell ordinationThis past Sunday we were blessed to host the ordination service for Chris O’Dell at The River.  Chris and his wife Jamie were part of The River in the early days and then left for ministry in Taiwan.  They serve at a coffee shop/church called The Aroma.  You can find out more about their ministry and how to partner with them on The Aroma Website.  Chris and Jamie and their boys continue to be part of The River extended family and we partner with them as they are ministering in Taipei.  It is a great partnership considering our similar kind of ministry focus at Dunn Bros. here in Chaska.  This is a way for us to be fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission for us in Matthew 28:19-20 where he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are in the process of making disciples here in Chaska, MN and at the same time we are partnering with them in making disciples among people we may never meet this side of Heaven as we partner with Chris and Jamie in Taiwan.  Please join us in supporting them.  Check out The Aroma Website for more information.

Traps and Snares

pexel trapOne of my best friends in college was a kid named Eric.  He was a country boy from the farmlands around Lancaster, PA.  We were very different.  He grew up hunting and fishing, hanging out in the woods and living on a chicken farm and I grew up playing games at the video arcade and hanging out at the mall.

At one point Eric had to take a speech class and one of the assignments was to give a persuasive speech.  Eric came up with the bright idea to do a speech on trapping animals.  He wanted to talk about how using traps to catch animals was actually a very humane way of capturing them.

He decided that the best way to do that was to bring a trap to class and during his speech he would set it off on his own hand to show that it was not that bad.  Unfortunately he did not practice that part and so he found out in the middle of the speech that it hurt a lot worse than he thought it would.

No doubt there are some traps that are much more humane than that trap that Eric used in speech class.  But no matter how non-lethal a trap is, the purpose is still the same.  The purpose of a trap is to lure and ensnare an unsuspecting victim.

In Luke 17:1-4 Jesus talks about traps.  He is not talking about the physical ones like Eric was referring to in his speech, but about spiritual traps and snares in the form of temptation and false teaching.

In verse 1 Jesus tells his disciples that temptations to sin are sure to come.  That means that we should expect temptation to be a normal and regular part of our lives.  The original Greek version of the phrase “temptations to sin” in this passage actually uses the word skandala which means something along the lines of a snare or a trap.  It is translated as stumbling blocks in the New American Standard Bible.  In other words it is referring to the things that trip us up and cause us to fall.

That is an accurate word picture for us.   Think about it like a snare laid out on the ground in our path that is specifically there with the purpose of tripping us up.  Because of our sin nature we see those traps as desirable, or harmless, but the concept of a trap or a snare is that it’s very purpose is to cause us to fall.  We need to recognize temptation for what it is.

We also need to realize that Satan wants us to trip and fall and that he is actively trying to destroy our relationship with God.  We need to be aware of his schemes and the traps and snares that he intentionally puts in our way.

When those temptations arise we have the opportunity to choose to follow what we know to be God’s will for us or we can embrace the temptation and move into sin.  The more we choose to follow God’s will and turn away from sin, the more we are going to get to know God’s will and be able to recognize those stumbling blocks and snares for what they are.  Unfortunately the opposite is also true. The more we choose to ignore God’s will and choose to give our bodies over to sin, the less we are going to be able to understand God’s will and the more likely we are going to be fall into those tempting traps.

While we are saved by grace and not by our ability to stay away from bad things, choosing to ignore God’s will and give ourselves to sin, leads us down a path away from God.  Sin is a harsh slave master.  Temptation looks all nice and pretty and desirable, but it is a snare and it leads to slavery.

Jesus goes on in verse 1 to specifically challenge us to not be the ones leading people into those snares.  When I was younger I watched movies that contained nudity.  Over the years I started specifically staying away from those kind of movies because I know that is a temptation that I should avoid.  However, when I was younger, not only did I watch those movies, I also watched them with friends or with my younger brother.  That means that I was not just exposing myself to temptation, I was exposing them to it as well.  And in this verse Jesus is saying woe to those who would do that.

In verse 2 he goes on to point out that it would be better to have a millstone hung around his neck than to cause a little one to sin.  A millstone was a heavy, flat stone that was used to crush grain.  Imagine for a moment the terrible death these words are illustrating.  And yet Jesus is saying that it would be better for that to happen than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

I look back at my life with a lot of regrets for what I was like in high school, college, and early adult life.  It was not that I was terrible, but I probably had more bad influence on people than I had good influence and I didn’t even realize it.  I probably had heard this verse, but I never really connected the dots to myself.

We need to recognize the role we play in the temptation of others.  In verses 3 and 4 Jesus goes on to point out that it is not even enough for us to just not have a negative influence on others, we have to take it a step further.  Jesus challenges us to confront our brothers when they sin.  This means that if we see one another sinning we are not supposed to ignore it, we are to confront one another.  We don’t do this to condemn them, but to lead them to repentance.  And if they repent we are to forgive them, even if we have been wronged in the process.

These verses are a powerful reminder of the important role we play in one another’s lives.  Imagine us all walking on a path together like some kind of giant nature hike.  As we walk, we need to recognize that there are traps and snares all over the place that would trip us up and cause us to fall.  We need to be watching out for them, not just for us, but for one another as well.  We need to point out the traps as we walk and we need to be especially making sure that we are not the ones leading people into those traps.   Then, if one of our brothers falls into a trap, we should be there alongside them to help them out and to help them get back on their feet.  It is like we are walking this path together, and we care for one another along the way, helping each other on this journey of following the Lord.

 

Footwashing

pexel feet waterIn John 13 we find a well-known story about Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.  In Jesus’ times people walked around all the time in sandals or barefoot and picked up a lot of dirt and other grime along the way.  Footwashing was essential, but it was a menial task that someone usually did themselves or had a servant do for them.  Yet in this story we see Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.

In verse 8 Peter objects saying, “You shall never wash my feet.”  Why was Peter so appalled by the idea of Jesus washing his feet?  Because it was a task reserved for servants or slaves.  Jesus was their teacher, their master and their Lord.  And yet he put himself in a subservient position, stripped down to his skivvies, grabbed a bowl of water and a towel and went around on hands and knees washing their feet.

Should somebody else have washed the feet?  Maybe.  It was customary at the time for the host to have a servant wash the feet of those who were guests.  That doesn’t happen here.  No host or servant is even mentioned in the room at the time.  But it does seem that there was a pitcher and a bowl and a towel readily available.  Any one of the disciples could have offered to wash the feet of the others.  But I would imagine they all that task was beneath them.  Knowing the disciples they were probably looking around at each other figuring that one of the other guys should do it.  They did after all get caught on multiple occasions arguing about which one of them was the greatest.

In reality, one of the disciples should have done this footwashing.  If there was one person in the room who should not have done it, based on the customs of that time, it was Jesus.  And yet he is the one who did it.

This would have been an emotional, powerful, jarring image for the disciples.  And that is probably what Jesus was going for, because the lesson is not just about serving one another.  This is a lesson in humility.  Jesus is saying, if I would wash your feet, then whose feet could it possibly be beneath you to wash?

Jesus then goes on to challenge them to follow his example in verse 17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Jesus wants us to serve one another, but I think we can serve others without really getting the lesson that Jesus is giving here.  We can approach this almost like a boy scout approaching getting a service merit badge, but I don’t think that is the point.

I believe Jesus is challenging them to a brand new way of viewing their lives.  I believe he is calling them to a radical self-abasing, others-focused kind of life.  It is the kind of life that Jesus himself exemplified in the way he lived and died.  He didn’t just sacrifice his life on the cross, he sacrificed it every day he lived on this earth by the way he cared for and served those around him.

I don’t think that Jesus is calling us to acts of service.  I think he is calling us to heart change.  He is calling us to a heart of humility and servanthood and that is harder than just volunteering for some service projects.

This is a lesson or us to have different view of our lives.  It is for us to humble ourselves to look at our lives with a different perspective recognizing that we are servants of Christ and therefore servants of one another.  Remember, as followers of Christ, we are to be becoming like the one we are following.  Well, this passage is who Christ is.  He lived a life of humility and servanthood.  And I believe the only way for us to become like this is for him to work supernaturally in our lives to make us more like him.  The question is, do we want this and are we willing to yield our lives to someone who wants this for us?

 

Guilty Pleasures

pexel pizzaThere are many things that I love that I am somewhat embarrassed to share with people.  For instance, I love Totino’s froze pizza.  It is one of my guilty pleasures.   I enjoy it, but I don’t tell everyone.  I want them to believe that I have a more refined palate.  Sometimes I do.  But I also still love a good Totino’s frozen pizza from time to time.

I am willing to confess that to you in this blog, because it is funny and quirky and interesting.  But how willing would I be to confess more than that?  how willing would I be to go deeper and share some of the deep, dark things that I don’t want anyone to know about my life?

James 5 contains an excellent passage on healing ministry within the church, but sometimes we pay so much attention to what James is saying in verses 13-15 on healing, that we miss out on what he says in verse 16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV)

James says to confess our sins to one another.  That idea seems somewhat foreign to us.  We are okay sharing things like our silly love for Totino’s pizza, but we don’t really want to go any farther than that.  We don’t want to be that vulnerable.  We don’t want to let others know the stuff we struggle with.  We don’t want to air our dirty laundry.  We are more comfortable letting others think that we have our act together.

But James is telling us to not hold that stuff in.  We are to confess to one another.  There are many benefits to this type of confession.  It allows us to welcome and invite accountability into our lives.  It allows us to publicly recognize our struggles.  It brings dark things out of the shadows and into the light.   It invites others to get involved in our brokenness and to pray for us and help us in our spiritual journey.

Also, it is interesting to note that verse 16 is part of this passage on healing.  Sometimes when we have unconfessed sin in our lives, it can eat us up from the inside out.  We can literally be stressing about our unconfessed sin to the point where it is causing physical problems and sometimes we don’t even realize what is going on.

It is also a benefit for the church as a whole.  I believe the church over the years has done a disservice in that we have hidden sin, and pretended that we all have our act together.  Confessing to one another breeds intimacy, and helps others be open to sharing what is going on in their lives.  It allows those who struggle with similar things to recognize that they are not alone.  It allows us to reach a new level of authentic community.

In order for this kind of confession to happen, we must not be judgmental and we need to be trustworthy.  We have to be a safe place where people can be vulnerable without worrying that it will be used against them in some way.

James then goes on to challenge us to pray for one another.  It is a natural progression for us to go from sharing with one another about our sins, our struggles, our failures, and our needs and then to simply pray for one another.  And that also is good for both the individual and for the church as a whole.

But for this too we must be vulnerable.  We have to stop asking for prayer for our neighbor or our great aunt, and start asking for prayer for ourselves.  We need to let other people know of our struggles, our failures, our hurts and our pain.   And then we can really pray for one another.

It doesn’t seem natural for us to be that vulnerable with one another.  We are more comfortable sharing about the things that don’t really matter.  But if we are going to become the church that God is calling us to be, then we need to put aside those barriers that get in the way and confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.

 

Ultra-Marathon Life

malcolm mcA few weeks ago at Crown College I had the opportunity to meet Malcolm Mcloughlin. He is an Irish author who was at Crown to speak for their Missions Fest. He shared about running ultra-marathons of 40, 50 and even 100 mile races and compared that to the endurance of a lifelong journey with Christ.

Hebrews 10:19-39 is a powerful passage about recognizing who we are in Christ, drawing near to God and having endurance in the faith.  This call to endurance reminded me of what Malcolm Mcloughlin was talking about at Crown College. He referred to how someone could fake a 5k or a 10k race. You don’t have to be a runner to run those races. Malcolm also said that you could even train for a bit and fake a half marathon, or maybe even a marathon. But ultra-marathons are different. They take a different amount and level of training and endurance that you can’t fake. And then, he likened that to the Christian life.

This theme of endurance seems to be central to what the author is talking about. But what jumped out at me is that right in the middle of the passage there are a couple of verses that are focused on our relationships with each other. In verses 24 and 25 the author writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)

That word spur is actually a word whose meaning is more along the lines of irritation or exasperation, contention or argument. The overall wording would direct us toward the idea of provocation and it is used with one another to denote the idea of like mutually provoking one another.

It brings to mind that training buddy who pushes you to go on even when you think you can’t do anymore. The one who challenges you to do one more push up, or to do one more weightlifting rep, or to run one more mile.  And in the midst of those times when we are being pushed to continue on, we may even become annoyed with that training buddy, but we know that we need them. If we are going to run this race, we need them in our lives.

In these verses the author says do not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some. We need to realize how important we are in one another’s lives. When we come together it is not just about singing a few worship songs and listening to a sermon.  The times that we get together are opportunities for us to connect with one another and become a body, so that we can be in position to speak truth into one another’s lives and encourage each other, and correct one another’s theology and help each other stay strong in the midst of weaknesses and hold each other accountable, because enduring through a life long walk with Christ is hard.

If all we look at church as is a place to sing some worship songs and to hear a sermon, then church hopping, or occasional attendance, or staying on the periphery, or even just catching sermons online and listening to worship songs in our car can take the place of that kind of church.

But this passage is telling us that there is more to church than that. We need each other. We need the relationships within the church to help us endure. We need to recognize that we are running a marathon, not a sprint. And while it may seem easy today, there will be days ahead that will not be as easy.  So let’s not give up meeting together, but rather let’s intentionally develop the kind of relationships with one another where we can encourage each other and spur one another on in this ultra-marathon of life.

Bear With Me

pexel bearIn Colossians 3:13 Paul writes, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

When I think of bearing with one another, I tend to think of putting up with someone.  When I was growing up and we had to do something that I didn’t really want to do, I was supposed to grin and bear it.  And when someone is talking about or doing something boring or tiresome they might say “bear with me.”  So along those lines, when I hear the phrase “bearing with one another,” I get the image of putting up with one another.

However, I think Paul is challenging us to do more than just put up with one another.  I think he is challenging us to choose to be in relationship with one another regardless of how comfortable or easy that relationship might be.  I believe that “bearing with one another” is a choice to make the relationship important enough that we will work at it.

I think in typical church society today it is easy for us to have the kind of relationships where as long as things are good, we are good, but as soon as things get tough we drop the relationship.  We do that because it is easier to drop the relationship than to bear with one another and make it work when it is no longer easy.

And that means that we need to forgive one another.  We need to be willing to let go of the stuff that separates us, and stop being offended so easily.  Sometimes we can be so petty that it seems like we are just looking for people to offend us.  We need to have thicker skin and assume the best about one another.

And then when real problems come up or when there is a legitimate complaint, we need to be willing to make things right.  We need to seek and grant forgiveness and do everything we can to work things out so that our relationships stay intact.

Let’s face it, if we are really going to go as deep with one another as we are talking about.  If we are really going to develop that level of intimacy, then we are going to annoy one another and step on each other’s toes.  And if we are not committed to making this relationship work, or if we are not willing to forgive, then we are going to just give up and walk away.

And notice also what Paul says in verse 16: 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

There is something incredible that is happening when we are together.  It is supernatural.  As followers of Christ we have the Holy Spirit alive inside of us and so when we talk with one another, we have the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to allow us to communicate on a whole different level.  When we share our struggles with someone else from church we are not just relying upon their ability to understand our problem or give us advice from some great life lesson that they have learned.  We are providing an opportunity for God to speak to us through one another.

We need to understand that church is God’s gift to us.  He has brought us together to make our lives here on earth better as we help one another follow him and walk through this life together.  Let’s put a priority on these relationships and be the church he is calling us to be.

Stop Lying

pexel tape mouthIn Colossians 3:1-17 Paul is talking about putting off our old lives and putting on our new life in Christ.  He challenges us as followers of Christ to focus our lives on Christ rather than on the things of this world.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t live in this world or we don’t partake of the things this world has to offer, but we are not to look at the things of this world in the same way anymore.  Christ is to be paramount in our lives.  If we are followers of Christ, our focus should be on following him.

And so in verses 5-11 he then begins to unpack that idea by talking about things that should no longer define our lives.  Since we have been made alive in Christ, there are some things that were part of our old life that should no longer be part of this new life that we have in him.  So he is challenging us to recognize those things and get rid of them.

Christianity is not just about receiving a list of things that we are not supposed to do anymore.  Rather, I believe, God has a better life, a deeper life in store for us than whatever defined our old lives.  However, that old life is still there for us to choose, so Paul is calling us to choose to turn away from that old life and to embrace what God wants for us.

With that in mind Paul moves on to talk about the new life and what it should look like in us in verses 12-17.  This list has some similarities to the Fruit of the Spirit from his letter to the Galatians and overall it is pointing us in a direction of what new life in Christ should look like.  Hopefully we are growing in these areas.

Overall Paul’s emphasis is on putting off our old self and putting on the new self in Christ, but he makes several significant points that specifically revolve around our relationships with one another.   Right now that is where we are focusing as a church.  We want to learn and grow in this area of our relationships with each other as a church.

For instance, look at what Paul writes in verse 9: 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.  (Colossians 3:9, ESV)

Now notice that Paul doesn’t just simply say stop lying, but specifically addresses the issue of lying to one another.   Lying amongst ourselves is divisive and leads to distrust and disunity.  We are called to be one body, and lying to one another directly attacks that unity and harmony within the body.

Considering the context, this could be referring to false teachers and lies they may be spreading.  That is definitely a problem that needs to be dealt with.  We need to treat God’s Word well and there is no room for false teaching.

However, what this verse really brings to mind for me is when we put on our church faces and go to church and tell everyone that everything is fine and that we have no problems.  We lie to one another all the time to hide what is really going on inside, the sin and temptations we deal with, the struggles we face, the failures we’ve had, and the pain we feel.

We also sometimes lie to one another because we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings.  So when we see something in their life that we know is contrary to God’s will, we are afraid to hold them accountable on it.

We need to be real and authentic with one another.  And that means being both brutally honest and completely vulnerable with one another.  That is scary, but if we work hard to build those kind of relationships with one another where that would work, then imagine how good it would be for us.  Imagine if this was the kind of place where we could stop lying and just be real with one another.  That would be refreshing wouldn’t it?

Kiss One Another

pexel kissDid you know that there are about 59 one another statements in the New Testament that specifically deal with how we are to be in relationship with each other?

Some of the verses overlap so that there are more than one verse about the same instruction.  15 of the 59 verses specifically talk about how we are to love one another.  That is the most talked about one another topic.  The next two most referenced one another instructions are tied with 4 each.  One of them is to encourage one another and the other is the instruction is to kiss one another.

In 2 Corinthians 13 we read: 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor. 13:11-14 ESV)

In these verses Paul instructs the church to greet one another with a holy kiss.  That instruction is mentioned four separate times in the New Testament making it one of the top three most talked about instructions among the one another passages.  We find it mentioned in Romans 16, I Corinthians 16, and I Peter 5 as well as here.

Paul actually gives us several instructions in this passage about how we are to relate to one another.   He is probably summing up what he has said in this letter with a few perfunctory statements about how they were to live.

He tells them to rejoice, to be restored, to comfort one another, to agree with one another and to live in peace.  Overall there seems to be a common theme of unity that is to exemplify the way they treat one another.

And then he tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss.  Apparently the early church used that method to greet one another.  In the ancient world this was not uncommon and actually today in many societies it continues to be a tradition.  However, in the early church it appears that the kiss was meant to signify the special union that they had with one another in Christ as part of one family.  Notice it is a holy kiss.  It was not meant in a sexual way at all.  It is devoid of that kind of emotional desire or intent.  It is a different kind of kiss that symbolizes the unity and intimacy that they have with one another in the Lord.

So is this something we should do?  I am not suggesting that we should start this practice, but when I read this and picture the early church greeting one another the image I have is of a church that was excited and happy to see one another.  I picture a church that was so invested in one another’s lives that they were like family.  I picture a church that had gone deeper into an intimate relationship with one another than we would typically consider with the church in our society today.  I picture a church that truly loved and cared for each other.  I picture a church that had authentic, real relationships with one another.

So while I might not be that interested in beginning a tradition of kissing one another, I do like that intimate family like picture of the church.  I like the depth of intimacy I see in this passage.  And I would love to see that at The River.  That is my challenge for us as a church family.

Emptied

pexel pourIn Philippians 2 we find a somewhat well-known passage that is often referred to as the kenosis passage, referring to the Greek word for “emptied” that is used in verse 7.   It is an important Christological passage that reveals a lot to us about who Christ is, although it also opens up a lot of theological questions about what it all means.

One thing we find out from this passage is that Jesus’ existence did not begin with his birth in Bethlehem.  He was with God before coming to earth as a baby.  And not only was he with God, but this passage points out that he was equal with God and shared the same nature.  In other words we find out that Christ and God are one.  We also find out that rather than holding on to that equality with God, he chose to humble himself, leaving heaven to come to earth as a servant for us.

This is a deep theological issue that is very difficult to understand.  Biblical scholars have spent a lot of time and a lot of words diving down deep into the Christological ramifications of these verses.

However, because it is so theologically significant, when we look at this passage, we tend to focus so much on the theological underpinnings that we sometimes miss an important point that Paul is making.  He is not just teaching us doctrine.  He is actually making a practical point.

First of all it is important to understand that what Christ did in leaving heaven and coming to earth for us is a big deal and that he did it in humility and servanthood out of love for us.

With that in mind, notice the beginning of verse 5: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

Paul is saying that this example that we see in Jesus, leaving his lofty position and humbling himself to the position of a servant for us is the same kind of attitude we should have.

Actually, if we look at the verses leading up to the kenosis passage we find that Paul is talking about our relationships with one another.  He is talking about how we are supposed to take our eyes off of ourselves and start living for the good of one another.  Instead of my job to be to take care of myself, it is my job to look after your interests.  My role is to be your servant, just like Jesus showed me.

He is not saying that we are to have a low self-image or to think poorly of ourselves.  He is talking about putting others needs ahead of our own and being others-focused rather than self-centered.

When we consider the surrounding verses, we recognize that the kenosis passage is still theologically significant; but, it is also extremely practical.  Paul is teaching us about how we are to live with the kind of humility and servanthood that Christ exemplified to us.

Instead of each of us looking out for ourselves, what if we all looked out for one another and served one another in true humility?  That sounds like the kind of community that I would like to be a part of.  How about you?

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