Doing Church: Obadiah

This Sunday I have to admit I was extremely tired. I had worked a long hard day at the restaurant I serve at and really did not want to go to church (I am sure I am not the only one who has ever had one of those days). I did go though, not really expecting anything exciting or memorable to occur. After saying a few hellos to those I recognized, I went and found a set. With my coffee cup in hand, I sang songs I wish I lived out in my personal life more often than I really care to admit. Seated once again, and after the announcements, Gary took to the podium and began his discourse on one of the most unlikely books of the Bible I would have thought he was going to teach on: The book of Obadiah. My mind first went to that song you might have been taught in remembering the books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus… can I get a witness?)

I finally found Obadiah between Amos and Jonah. Obadiah is a very short book of the Bible (you would sneeze past it if you were not looking for it). I would agree with Gary that it is probably one of the OT books that is most neglected in the local church (there is no ‘feel good’ or ‘Jesus loves everybody’ message in the 21 verses of Obadiah). The God we read about in Obadiah is very much unlike the God we are taught in most churches today. Hence, it is often overlooked and not taught. Gary mentioned though that it does exist in the Bible, so it must have some merit for it’s placement in the OT (even if it is a ‘one-chapter’ wonder).

The message of Obadiah is simple: God was angry at the Edomites and was going to destroy them. I am not going to go verse-by-verse through Obadiah but I will share a few of the verses that have made my reading of this book more valuable and meaningful to me and my walk with Jesus.

“Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the LORD” (v. 2-4).

I do not like it when people benefit from others unfairly. There are people who work in sweatshops for a very small price. The articles are then shipped to the USA and sold for hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, there are people working 14 hour days, making only pennies for their long hours of labor. They cannot complain though because they have nothing to begin with. They are so desperate to provide for their families the essential needs of any family so they work unfairly just to survive. This is materialism, commercialism, and consumerism all wrapped into one. Do you know where the clothes you are wearing are made? Do you even care? Maybe we can take a cue from God on this one and say that God cares deeply about the issues facing people who have been mistreated at the expense of other people’s gain. If God takes it as seriously as Obadiah envisions, we need to honestly ask ourselves why we do not take a more proactive role in making sure people are paid an honest wage for their work (even if that means the big companies making billions of dollars a year lose out on their yearly bonuses). God knows what’s going on. It will only be a matter of time until He returns and judges the ethics of man in the workplace. We serve a just God.

The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken” (v. 18).

These are pretty harsh words aren’t they? And yet they are words spoken by a God who loves justice. God is going to come and make things right in a world flourishing in sin and corruption. It is truly God’s love which brings about this destruction. From a personal perspective, God continually puts me through the fire to make in into the man of God He has called me to be. When those times of ‘going through the fire’ come, it is at times painful. No one said being a Christian was an easy task. It is a lifestyle of being put in the fire yet another time until we reach a point of perfection; having no blemishes or sin remain in us. It is a long process but it is the only way. There are other things I could share about this passage but I will leave that up to you all to read on your own time.

My challenge is to read the book of Obadiah on your own and learn all that you can about this small 21 verse book of the OT. It is filled with a lot of information, truth, hope, and joy. It is also an equally hard book to grasp. Grasp we must though in order to know God and to know His ways. This is the call we have been given by God Himself and we must be diligent in doing so. I hope this has been a blessing to you all.

I will end this post by saying: Each Sunday, I will post my thoughts concerning the message I have heard in church earlier in the day. It will be my time to personally interact with the text and share some thoughts from both the pastor teaching that Sunday and my personal study of the Word. Hence, it will be my reflection called, “Doing Church.” God bless.

Maturity: Lessions From a Young Child

I love watching kids draw pictures. Working in a restaurant in a nearby town, I have the privilege to watch young kids design some pretty cool pictures while waiting for their food. The routine is basically the same: A family comes through the doors of our restaurant and waits to be seated. As they are waiting, the host or hostess observes the family and notices two younger children that are accompanying them to dinner. The host or hostess then picks up four small crayons per child and a coloring sheet per child along with the needed allotment of menus for the table. The host or hostess then takes the family to their dining destination and places both the crayons and the coloring sheets in the center of the table. Immediately little hands begin to grab crayons and paper as the server takes the table’s drink orders. Each child is awestruck with the different color crayons they hold in their hands and begin to draw. One crayon is used and then discarded for another one. Lines and circles begin to fill the page; Squiggles and zigzags make their way onto their canvas. As the food arrives and is placed on the table, the coloring is over and the eating begins. But before the child can make peace with his task, he finishes the last needed scribbles and rejoices with a booming announcement that he has finished. The family members take a moment to observe the colored page their child has toiled over for the past fifteen or twenty minutes (we are not fast food you know). The parents then usually praise their child for accomplishing their artwork. Words like ‘fabulous, good job, and awesome’ are often used. With a smile on the child’s face, he puts down his picture and eats his dinner. He knows when they go home the refrigerator will be awaiting his new work of art.

These are the basic steps I see almost everyday I work. Until lately, I have not thought much about it. I guess because I was unable to see what it was God was trying to show me about myself through the innocent drawings of a child.

I am not a psychologist at all, nor do I claim to have any real knowledge in that area at all. I am only sharing my personal thoughts after reflecting on the subject of maturity: Through the drawings of a child.

As I see young children drawing at the restaurant, something struck me. Young kids (new born – probably like 2 or 3) could care less about the picture on the coloring page! They most likely could tell you who is on the page, but when they color, they dismiss the character on the page and color their own thing. As a child gets older, they begin to carefully study the picture and color inside the lines. The only thing is, most times, the child does not match up the correct colors that we would normally select (i.e. green for the skin, or purple for grass). The main focus seems to be that the child recognizes that there is something on the page and that there are lines given to color in. Thus, the attempt to make the picture “perfect” is thoroughly endeavored. There comes a point then, when a child is old enough to understand what colors go where and effortlessly color the page in a moment’s time. They incorporate shading and other advanced techniques so that the picture looks ‘real’ to the human eye. These three kids represent three stages of maturity I would like to discuss.

When we are first born into the body of Christ, we are on a high. A lot of times, I consider this part of the Christian faith as the ‘honeymoon’ period. All is well with the world because “Jesus has entered the room” of their heart and life is ‘so good.’ They do not care about theology or hermeneutics. They only really know that God has redeemed them from the power of death and they want to go out and tell the world about Him. I am sure you know at least one person who fits this mold. This person is no more different than a young child who receives a coloring sheet with a picture, yet draws his own art. They are not stressed over it; they just want to enjoy coloring for the sake of coloring.

As a believer grows, so does his knowledge of the Word of God and faith. He learns that there are responsibilities, we as believers need to up hold. These things separate us from ‘worldly living’ and are done for obedience sake. This matches quite nicely the young child who is old enough to realize that there is a picture on the page and the task is to color in the picture with the lines provided on the page. Though the child may not have any clue what colors go where, he has figured out that the younger child has not: I should be coloring in the picture on the coloring sheet. Not coloring my own picture. Sometimes this is done with the guidance of a parent or accompanied guest. In the same manner, young Christians are learning how this God stuff works out. Through the help of others, maturity begins to take place within the individual’s life. As the young believer begins to understand, there is a focus and a reason for doing what they do. It might take them a little longer to find the book of Hosea, but they are learning the basics of being a Christian.

The third child I would consider a veteran in the faith. He knows all the pictures. He understands the colors of the rainbow and how they relate to ‘the nature of coloring a picture,’ and he is able to accomplish the task usually with very little or no help at all. A lot like the maturity of a believer in Christ, there comes a time when a person is able to navigate their way through the Bible and look up questions they have concerning what they read. They buy ‘advanced ways of evangelizing’ and study the Word to show them approved to God and God’s work. He still might need help in answering the ‘hard questions’ of life but in general he is able to understand the basics and even many of the hard questions because of his experience, study, and community in which he has grown in for a period of time.

I just think that is cool to consider. I never would have put the drawings of a young child next to the aspect of maturity. Through my personal observations, this has been a very frequent finding though and I am guessing it would be for you all as well if you attempt this test for yourselves.

So what’s the challenge? The challenge is simple. Take a moment and figure out where you are in your artwork. Are you a child that does not see what’s on the page? Do you decide to draw your own thing even though a picture exists on the page? Or are you the child who understands that a picture is on the page and the object is to draw the picture provided? Do you sometimes pick up the wrong crayon color to color in the face or the grass? Or are you the child that draws the picture effortlessly (for the most part) and make the picture look real?

It does not matter which child you are. You are that type of child for a reason. It takes time to grow in maturity; time to grow in Jesus. Do not try and hurry along your faith or your walk with God. You will become frustrated with yourself and others. Accept who you are and where you are on your faith journey and know that Jesus is walking along side of you. It only matters that you are coloring on the page you are given. Take the crayons in your hands and draw a picture that is worthy of putting on the refrigerator. As you grow, your pictures will be more esthetically pleasing and you will find more enjoyment in your work over time. Finally, take some time to look back at the past drawings of your life. You might laugh at your previous attempts but it is important to see how far you have come. It gives you something to be thankful for. Do not stop coloring the picture you have been given. We can learn so much from the drawings of a young child. God bless.

Virtual Community?

The internet has opened up a vast array of possibilities no one, even Al Gore could or would have expected. Within seconds (unless you are still using dial-up, which in that case, splurge a little and get Verizon or something!) you can view almost anything you want (and most likely a lot of what you do not want to see). Anything from up to the moment sports pages, movie clips, music videos, environmental issue – you name it!

I have recently read that there are 12 million Americans (that’s with an ‘m’) blog sites on the internet right now! 12 million blog sites in America alone! 37% of bloggers cite “my life and experiences” as a primary topic of their blog. I do not even think the makers of these blog seen had a clue it would take off like this in the beginning. Perhaps they thought it would be ‘cute’ or even ‘interesting’ to see what would happen when people put their personal thoughts for the whole world to see. I am not sure. What I am sure of is that there has to be a reason why the idea took off like it did.

I have a personal suggestion and thought as to why. I perceive its popularity exists because people are seeking community. When they are unable to find someone worth while to provide genuine community, they find solstice in ‘virtual friends’ on the internet through blogging. How sad it is when someone is so desperate for true community with other people and yet finds no one. I am not suggesting all blogs are for this reason only. I am sure there are a variety of reasons why blogs have made their claim to fame in cyberspace. Schools use them, businesses use them as well. Whatever your personal reason, the issue of community for some will remain vital for those who have no one to communicate with on a daily basis.

The reason I am writing this is because the church is in need of community. We need to make an environment where people can interact with one another and build the very thing people want: Community with other people. There is no justifiable reason why anyone should have to resort to a ‘virtual community.’

We need to open up our hearts, souls, minds and strength to others. That is one of the greatest commandments Jesus gave us: Love your neighbor as yourself. When we love others as Jesus commanded us to do, community can be shaped and matured in a right way.

My challenge: Be the Church by loving others and building community with those around you. There are plenty of ways to do it. It is not hard. As you build relationships with others, you are fulfilling the commandment of Jesus. So let us stop making excuses and start being the Church. God bless!

Stupid is as Stupid does

 

I have done lots of stupid things in my life. I remember stealing a 5.00 bill from my mother that she had left on the counter of our kitchen. I was probably 4 or something like that. I still remember her asking me if I had taken any money off the counter. I lied to her and told her that I had not. Well, to make a long story short, she had caught me in my lie, as most mothers seem to do, and I was punished for it. That was pretty stupid.

When I was in elementary school, I read how the Jewish people were killed in masses simply because some wacko guy named Hitler wanted to make a ‘pure race.’ 6 million Jewish people were killed because they simply were Jews by birth. If that was not enough, I also read how America (the land of equal rights) hated people because of the color of their skin. If you were black, you could not sit in the front of the bus because that was a privileged place where white people sat. Nobody wanted black people to drink from the same water fountains or even eat at the same restaurant solely because of the color of their skin. That was pretty stupid.

I thought today we have left all of that ’stupid stuff’ in the past but I was wrong. The stupid thing about it is: It has continued throughout its history and seriously needs to be addressed. It might surprise some to read that there is still a race issue in America that has continued far too long. Do not worry about calling your congressman. It is not in a specific workplace or a school. I am not talking about the Imus issue. The source of this racism is closer than anyone would like to admit. It is found in the American Evangelical Churches most people attend every Sunday of the week.

There are churches today that are solely black and there are churches that are solely white. The problem extends further than a white/black situation though. We also have churches that are solely Korean, Latin American, and Jamaican. In a country where we believe we are ‘One nation under God,’ we find the Church separated by race, material status, and even age. Because of this, we are crippled as the body of Christ.

Each culture possesses valuable resources and aspects of worship that would enhance our walk with Jesus. I am sure this is not the most comfortable topic on most people’s minds. We are comfortable and we can relate to those who are apart of our private culture.

I remember the first time I stepped foot into a black church in Philadelphia, PA. As I looked around, I saw that I was one of four white people in the whole church of about 300 or so people. Within moments though, my nervousness was transformed into a love that can only be experienced when we engage in the culture of the black church. I had never heard worship music like that before. It was contagious. The harmonies and the upbeat music running through my veins as I listened to a gospel choir of 40 singing their hearts out for the Lord. The pastor stood up and began to preach. And I mean, he preached. The man could have filled a bathtub full of the sweat that was pouring down his face. In his message, I heard a love that I had never heard preached in a white church before and a ‘call to Jesus’ that was powerful. As I was leaving the church, I was welcomed back by several young black men in three-piece suits as we walked out the door. That was an experience I will never forget or ever pass up if the opportunity is given.

The book of Revelation paints for us an amazing picture of what heaven is going to be like: A place where people from tribes, tongues, and nations will worship God around His throne in glory. What an amazing picture! If we do not break free from this bondage of separation, we are no better than the past events people like Martin Luther King Jr. and others fought for: Freedom.

So what is the challenge? The challenge I am giving the American Evangelical Church is a call to be led by the Spirit of the Living and active God whom we are called to worship in Spirit and in Truth together as the whole body of Christ. It should not be a challenge though. It should be wired in our DNA from the time of our rebirth in Christ. God has called us first and foremost to love Him. The second and most important command is to love others as ourselves.

How do we accomplish the challenge? Visit other faith communities you have never been to before. Meet people there and invite them to have fellowship at your house. Learn the names of the pastors that teach there and ask them how you can pray for them and their faith community. Share the vision of Revelation with them and ask them to come on this journey with you. Ask your church leaders to plan a Sunday service where several faith communities can worship together (perhaps each pastor and worship team taking an active role in the service) and worship together in the presence of God’s creation. If you have a large park in the area, pick that place. After the service, gather together and share in food and fellowship with one another. Build relationships together and learn from one another. If we could do things like this, perhaps we might actually embody the picture Revelation speaks of here on earth as it will be in heaven. The time is now.

To do nothing and continue to be a separated body of Christ is just stupid.