Friday, May 27, 2011

Faith and T-shirts

I’m a t-shirt and shorts kinda guy. So much so, that half my closet space is reserved for them.

I have new t-shirts, old t-shirts, and ANCIENT t-shirts (my oldest and softest is my high school gym class shirt; a purple cartoon eagle showing off his biceps). Many of these shirts carry sentimental weight and so I have found it difficult to part with them.

Over time, some shirts just can’t keep going and I sadly relegate them to the garage for rags. Such was the case a few years back with a bunch of my old “Christian T-shirts”.

Back in college, most of my t-shirts came from either local Christian bookstores or youth ministry conferences. They all shared a common thread; the t-shirt designers would find some popular slogan and “baptize” it. Hence, “GOLD’s GYM” became “LORD’s GYM” and “No pain, no gain!” became “His pain, your gain!”

I found the following survey at an online retailer of “Christian Clothing”:
How many times a week do you wear a Christian t-shirt?
I Don't Wear Christian Clothing (415) 28%
Once A Week (323) 22%
Twice A Week (198) 13%
Three Times A Week (137) 9%
More Than Three Times a Week (329) 22%

Christian Clothing? What is that? Seriously. Does wearing a t-shirt make you more of a follower of Christ? On the flip side, does your refusal to wear emblems that represent your faith mean you’re somehow ashamed of Jesus?

Now, I’ve heard people say that these t-shirts/bumper stickers/fish/WWJD (don’t get me started!) bracelets, etc. help them to be a better witness for Christ by keeping them from doing what they shouldn’t. But shouldn’t we be living from the inside out instead of vice versa?

That’s the reason I stopped wearing “Christian Clothing” years ago.

I discovered that (for the most part) the people I knew who were most like Jesus never wore their faith on their sleeves. They were being transformed on the inside, which showed up on the outside.

The Christian’s hope is rooted in the Person of Christ changing them from the inside out. This is an organic process, a journey that takes a lifetime.

A t-shirt won’t speed it up.

This is reflected in the fourth part of our Vision:

Inner Growth
No Lone Rangers are allowed here. We were created to live in community with God as well as each other. We want to be like Jesus so we take hold of His identity and allow Him to wrap His life around us, above us, beneath us, yes, even within us. We recognize that truly following Jesus is a process that does not come from just reading the latest books and taking a bunch of classes. Rather, we learn His ways as we serve others and walk with those on the Journey. The Way of Jesus is caught more than it’s taught. As we follow Jesus, we begin to see changes that we couldn’t bring about in ourselves. Miracles happen. We become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient and self-controlled. We choose a lifestyle of purity because it’s how we were designed to live and who we are called to be.


Related Verses
Matthew 23:27-28
“You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.

John 15:1-17
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done—kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.

“You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.

The Message

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

1 Peter 3:13-17
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.

Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!


Friday, May 20, 2011

The North Star

Kathy and I recently visited Paris. I mean, we were in the neighborhood and thought, “Why not check it out?”

Paris, Virginia (population 51) is comprised of an antique shop, an inn/restaurant, a church, and a street lined with nice houses. I should add that we saw many expensive cars parked out front of these nice houses.

We were in the neighborhood because we were visiting a little gem of a state park called Sky Meadows.

Sky Meadows (on Route 17 a few miles north of Delaplane, Virginia) is known for wide expanses as well as forested trails. The wide expanses are taken advantage of by local astronomers once a month. Kathy and I have been to one of their “star parties” which usually take place on the first Saturday of the month during the warmer months of the year.

On May 7, 2011, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club hosted Astronomy Day 2011. A field of telescopes sprouted up throughout the course of the afternoon in eager anticipation for nightfall and the eye-popping clarity of the rarified air (that is, when it’s not raining or overcast as it was for most of that afternoon). During the daylight hours, various lectures and demonstrations were given…if anything to speed up the clock till nightfall.

Kathy and I happened to catch a demonstration concerning the earth and its position in the solar system. If you watch a time-lapse movie of the night sky, you’ll see a parade of constellations, and one barely moving point.

Polaris, or the North Star is almost exactly lined up with the earth’s axis of rotation. That’s why it doesn’t seem to move. If you can find the Little Dipper, you can find Polaris. If you find Polaris, you can be certain where north lies.

The North Star has been used for navigation for this very reason for millennia. Countless sailors on the open seas have staked their lives on being able to find a tiny point of light in the darkness.

It is used because it is trusted and true.

The word “true” gets tossed around quite a bit. Can something that is “true” shift over time? Is what is “true” for me necessarily “true” for others?

Is “truth” a series of statements of doctrine, or is it more than that? I believe truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that through His death and resurrection, He made it possible for all to reconnect with God.

For that reason, I see the person of Jesus Christ as not only the King of Kings and Lord of lords, but my guiding star. In a stormy midnight sea, I need not be afraid because I hear His voice which always leads my soul to safe harbor.


Part Three of our Vision:
“We stand for truth. The Truth that shouted "It is finished!" and passed into death, only to reclaim life three days later. We believe that because of the Cross and only because of the Cross, broken people like us can reconnect with God. And we believe that this reconnection is only the beginning of true life. God is making all things new. We believe that God's vision of heaven, a kingdom of reconnection and restoration, starts here and will one day culminate with the return of Jesus. Everything will be restored to the way things were created to be. That longing in our hearts that something just isn't right in this world will vanish along with death, pain, sorrow, and isolation.”

Related Verses
Psalm 25

O LORD, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O LORD, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past.

Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O LORD. The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.

The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. For the honor of your name, O LORD, forgive my many, many sins.

Who are those who fear the LORD? He will show them the path they should choose. They will live in prosperity, and their children will inherit the land. The LORD is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant.

My eyes are always on the LORD, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies. Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all!

Feel my pain and see my trouble. Forgive all my sins. See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! Protect me! Rescue my life from them! Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge. May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you. O God, ransom Israel from all its troubles.


John 8:31-36
Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

Surprised, they said, “But we're descendants of Abraham. We've never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, ‘The truth will free you'?”

Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a transient, who can't come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.

John 18:33-38
Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, “Are you the ‘King of the Jews'?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?”

Pilate said, “Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?”

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn't consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king.”

Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”

Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”

Pilate said, “What is truth?”

Then he went back out to the Jews and told them, “I find nothing wrong in this man.”

The Message

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Love, Redefined

I spent all night working on it.

Actually, I spent several days working on it; I just had to burn some midnight oil in order to finish it in time for my freshman year art class at Florida International University.

It was an “art book”. A 3D rendition of something that was important to me. I had decided to put together an illustrated manuscript of sorts of the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. I was going to truly make it 3D by incorporating various “pop-up” features surrounding the text that I painstakingly copied in calligraphy.

As usual, I had bitten off more than I could chew (if you’ve ever seen me eat, you’d understand this in a literal sense as Kathy often has to remind me to “BREATHE!” between bites).

It was very late, but I was thoroughly enjoying myself in my quiet dorm room that for the moment I had all to myself.

The theme was “Love”.

Love serves up such a contrast in our world. We live in a world that often seems devoid of it. Love breathes life into our lives because it is a brilliantly colored flower in a grey sea of melancholy.

You see, the opposite of love is not hate.

The opposite of love is indifference.

Indifference refuses to acknowledge anyone outside the scope of our narrow and selfish world-view.

In shame, I look back at this week (just this week!) and think of all the times that I was indifferent to people or their needs.

This is not the way that we were created to live. To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

What would we love for someone to do for us?

Who can we love in exactly that manner this week?


Vision Part 2 - Love Redefined
Love is the melody and chorus of this song. Taking the example set by Jesus, we focus on loving and serving people as they are and where they are; no strings attached. Our motivation is to love people simply because they are loved by God. Instead of trying to get people to come to church, we bring the church to the people. When we tell the good news by BEING the good news, we offer Jesus in person to a world that is weary of being tied to religion. Living our faith in this manner results in light invading darkness. We believe that the love of God is realized with every kind act, every addiction broken, every injustice made right and every truth proclaimed.

Related Verses
John 1:1-5

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 15:9-17
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.

1 Corinthians 13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.


Friday, May 6, 2011

A Mustard Seed

In our Miami backyard growing up, we had a Melicoccus bijugatus. Yes, a mamoncillo tree. For those unfamiliar with this tropical delight, it bears clusters of fruit which look like a cross between a lime and a grape. You crack open the pod with your teeth and then enjoy the sweet creamy pulp surrounding the large seed. I spent many a summer afternoon harvesting and consuming scores of these delectables.

However, it wasn’t always this way. The tree stood ignored (by me at least) for several years after it first got planted. It took almost a decade of growth before it began to produce ANY fruit. Then one year, a few clusters appeared. As it produced larger and larger bunches of fruit with each summer, I was forced to take it upon myself to make sure as little went to waste as possible. Truly, I did my best.

Sometimes good things start in little packages and we don’t see the sweet potential until it has fully taken root and developed. However, this isn’t about size or numbers. This is about living the Good News as followers of Jesus and changing the world around us for the better as He changes us with His indescribably deep love.

This is summed up in the first part of our vision for The River.

Life Changing
Small groups of people are where it's at. When asked where our church meets, we laugh. "All over the place," is our response. The church is about people, not buildings. Our Small Groups ARE the church. They meet regularly to share life; both its joys and struggles. You'll find them meeting in bars, malls, coffee houses and diners. You'll see them serving others in our community and beyond. And you'll hear about them starting new groups. There are people all over the place who need to reconnect with God and with others; without new Groups we'd never get to share this journey with them. All kinds of friends are invited to walk along with us. They come because here they discover acceptance and love.


Related Verses
Matthew 18:20

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Luke 13:18-21
Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Colossians 4:7-18
Tychicus will give you a full report about how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper who serves with me in the Lord’s work. I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will tell you everything that’s happening here.

Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way. Jesus (the one we call Justus) also sends his greetings. These are the only Jewish believers among my co-workers; they are working with me here for the Kingdom of God. And what a comfort they have been!

Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas. Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house.

After you have read this letter, pass it on to the church at Laodicea so they can read it, too. And you should read the letter I wrote to them.

And say to Archippus, “Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you.”


Remember my chains.

May God’s grace be with you.