Thursday, March 20, 2008

Palm Branches vs Perfume Boxes

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and Pastor Nathan Martin from Christian Challenge preached an interesting message on the difference between Palm Branch praise and Perfume Box praise. (The recording is posted to their website. I listened to it tonight...)

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people worshipped him with Palm Branches and shouts... but they did it because their expectations of Him were different than what He really was. They worshipped Him because they thought He would rescue them from their political and economic situation. These same people, not long after, call for Jesus to be crucified.

Palm Branch praise was loud and demonstrative... and cheap. Not only was it shallow, the palm branches probably didn't cost people anything, they just ripped them off the trees.

He contrasts that with Mary's worship -- breaking the perfume box and washing Jesus' feet with it. The perfume was expensive. The expression of worship was not public, not loud, not meant to draw attention... but it was real. It was personal.

There's a lot more to the message, but I'll let you listen for yourself and find that out!

I'm getting ready for a big weekend at my church. We're having five services this weekend -- five separate Easter Egg hunts for the kids -- five separate times for folks to get baptized...

And you know what else? At least five opportunities for me to lose sight of what Easter is really all about... at least five different opportunties for me to choose whether I worship with a Palm Branch or a Perfume Box.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Amazing Grace

I spent this weekend with a wonderful group of people -- a bunch of other recovering Pentecostals, folks who have all been a part of the United Pentecostal Church at some point in their past. We shared testimonies, meals, lots of laughs, and a few tears. Before this weekend, many of them were perfect strangers to me... but it's funny how a shared struggle can make perfect strangers feel like extended family in no time!

It was interesting (though sometimes difficult) to hear others share their experiences in the UPC. It brought back a lot of memories: some good, and some not so good. It was encouraging to hear how so many different people had made the journey from legalism to grace in many different ways.

But one of the things that struck me the most was the fact that the hosts of this meeting -- Bro Buddy & Betty Martin from Christian Challenge -- were celebrating the 32nd anniversary of their church this weekend. Of all weekends, this one should have been all about them... yet they opened their church, their home, and their hearts to a group of virtual strangers and ministered to them instead. They invited us into their home, let us keep them up late (even though they needed to be up early in the morning), and shared a lot of encouragement and wisdom. They demonstrated great grace (which also happened to be the subject of the of the service this morning) towards all of us!

I used to live in Louisiana, not far from Christian Challenge... but I had some bad / painful memories from my time there. I hadn't been back since I left many years ago, so I was a little apprehensive about going. Just thinking about the trip was bringing up some things I would have rather not stirred up... but I had to face it / deal with it / get it out. I was able to do that here in a "safe" place with folks who understood and could help me. I thought that if I just ignored this wound and avoided talking about it, it would go away on its own... but after 7+ years, that didn't happen. Now, after all that time, it's finally starting to heal. I finally have a "peace" about the whole thing... and if I hadn't confronted it, I don't think that would have happened.

This morning during the worship service, I sang Chris Tomlin's version of Amazing Grace. It's basically the familiar hymn with an added chorus... but that chorus is powerful. As I sung it this morning, those words were especially meaningful to me:

My chains are gone, I've been set free
My God, my savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy rains
Unending love, amazing grace...

In many ways, that old wound was a chain holding me down... and now it's gone. It's still a little sore, but now that the wound has been cleaned out, it can heal properly.

More later!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More thoughts on God's will

I stumbled on this quote tonight in another forum, and it goes so well with what I've been blogging lately that I had to share it here:

"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

Purpose & Obedience

My small group has just started working through a curriculum called "Breakaway" from Andy Stanley. It's interesting how the same "theme" can pop up again and again in different areas of my life. There are some similar things in this teaching at the Mark Batterson book I recently finished. The "Breakaway" series talks about how we all started out with big dreams about doing big things, but in the end we wind up living pretty ordinary lives. It talks about how to live an extraordinary life without running away from relationships or responsibilities -- by changing our beliefs and attitudes instead of our circumstances. Stanley says that our life is the result of the decisions we've made -- and our decisions are the result of our beliefs. Bad beliefs lead to bad decisions and bad outcomes... so we neglect the root of the problem when we try to change our circumstances without addressing the underlying beliefs that brought us there in the first place.

On the surface, it might seem that the Batterson book is actually encouraging the opposite of what the "Breakaway" series teaches. He talks about chasing lions and getting out of our comfort zones -- making the kinds of radical decisions that can change the course of a life. In fact, he highlights the stories of several individuals (including himself) who uprooted their lives, took dangerous risks, and came out on top. After reading some parts of Batterson's book, I imagined myself quitting my job to pursue some dormant dreams... chasing my own lions.

But here's where my "lion chasing" comes to a screeching halt: I've made a lot of big decisions (that wound up being bad decisions) because I thought that God was leading me in that direction. If I was wrong then... what reason do I have to be confident now? It all goes back to that idea of destiny that I blogged about...

So how does this tie in to the "Breakaway" message? Here's another Batterson quote:

"Obedience is a willingness to do whatever, whenever, wherever God calls us. And that looks very different for each of us. It doesn't always necessitate going halfway around the world. Often the most courageous actions only require us going across the room or across the street."

Maybe "big obedience" -- at least the way Batterson writes about it -- is not an option for me right now. But what about the smaller things? I don't need some earth-shaking revelation from God to tell me that I'm supposed to share my faith with others. How am I doing that in my everyday life? Is my restlessness and desire for "bigger" things clouding my vision so I miss a million smaller opportunities that present themselves every day?

Or, to put it in Stanley's terms from the "Breakaway" series: Can I identify a faulty belief that resulted in a bad decision and a bad outcome? Perhaps my "faulty belief" is that true obedience must take the form of lion-chasing: if it isn't radical, it isn't God...