A Beautiful Bouquet

I don’t know any kid who doesn’t love dandelions.

As a kid, I remember rubbing the pollen on my forehead. It would leave yellow oily smudges like it were cheap face paint. I remember having a contest with my friends to see who could blow the seeds off of the dead dandelions the fastest. It was a contest I would have with myself to see if I could blow all of the seeds off with one fatal gust of breath. I also remember getting off the bus after school and picking the biggest dandelions I could find to give to my mother. I would find a cheap cup, fill it with water, and place them on a windowsill as though they were flowers.

I think now as an adult, if I would pick dandelions for my girlfriend, I would soon be without one.

There is a popular story in the gospels where Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It is coupled together with a couple other stories in Mark explaining the expansion of the message of the gospel. At the root of his parable, Jesus was saying that though his message has started out small, it would soon grow a large following. It isn’t necessarily a parable of growth, but it is more of a parable of contrast – explaining how great things always start from things that are small.

A Tree and a Weed:

As far as dandelions are concerned, I think you understand. You can have one dandelion in your yard, and in a day there could be dozens. This is the focus of the parable, but like with the dandelions, there is one crucial aspect people are missing when they read this passage. And though this might not be the main idea of the text, it was still an intended illustration made by Jesus describing the Kingdom of God. Mustard plants, much like dandelions, were a nuisance to those whose gardens they overtook.

I don’t think any Jew at the time would describe the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Many Jews would describe the Kingdom of God or Israel like a mighty Cedar – a strong lavish tree with many uses. Cedar would be a sign of strength and a sign of stability. Jesus instead likens the Kingdom of God to a bush that overtook one’s garden. Once mustard was in one’s garden, it was most likely there to stay. To take out the plant would be troublesome, because the seeds alone germinate as soon as they hit the ground. Jesus knew the Old Testament. He could’ve equally used a parable describing the Kingdom as a Cedar, but his use of the mustard plant is important.

The Kingdom of God isn’t going to look like what the Jews were expecting.

Where many Jews thought they were God’s only people, Jesus made a way for ALL people of every tribe and every tongue to be part of the People of God. The mustard plant will grow so large that birds will perch in its branches. No one wants birds in their garden much like how many farmers put scarecrows in the cornfields. Yet Jesus makes this sound like a good thing.

Where many Jews and others thought they should revolt over Rome and rule the world, Jesus instead taught to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemy, and to put other’s in front of oneself. When many Jews and even the disciples thought the Messiah would come and deliver the people from their physical bondage, Jesus instead died at the hands of the very government they were trying to overthrow. Jesus came to deliver them from their spiritual bondage.

The Kingdom of God might not look like what we are expecting either.

While many churches spend their time looking to bring in young suburban families, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God is longing to see people in the slums and ghettos and cities. While American churches long that our government be right-wing conservative Capitalists, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God will welcome the Socialists who follow Christ as well. While many in church praise their pastors, I can’t help but think the people in the Kingdom will praise janitors and ushers, teachers and social workers, and the developmentally disabled as well.

Have we been looking at the Kingdom of God all wrong? What are our priorities as the body of Christ? How are we bringing heaven to earth? What are we doing to point those who are lost to Christ? How are we making the physical world a better place?

We need to learn how to stop saying we love people, and we actually need to start going out and loving people. We need to not get bitter at those who we don’t agree with. We need to love our enemies, and we need to encourage those who are going through difficult times instead of continually kicking them to the ground. We need to stop quoting the Ten Commandments, and we need to start following the One who perfected the Law. We are not only representatives of the Kingdom. We are representatives of Christ.

Embrace God like you’re holding a bouquet of beautiful dandelions.

Becoming The Abstract: The Start of a Beautiful Journey.

Recently I moved to Greenwich, CT from Springfield, MO to start a College-Age Ministry at Harvest Time Church. The past few weeks have been crazy. I traveled across country, then halfway around the world with my boss, then I moved into an apartment, all while writing and developing stuff for this ministry I am creating ex nihilo. This is my reveal. It isn’t official. This isn’t like a junior high Facebook official romance. This is my heart and my passion for those in transition. It is to reach a demographic that has been overlooked for too long. Introducing: The Abstract.

The Abstract Large Logo

The Abstract College-Age Ministry:
John 14:6 – “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”

The Purpose:

Too often the world tries to put God in a box. “The Abstract” is about coloring outside the lines. It is about taking a journey in discovering what “truth” really is. It is about teaching rather than telling, listening rather than talking, and experiencing rather than spectating. “The Abstract” is about finding the Constant in an ever-changing world.

The Process:

The mission is three-fold yet inter-connected.
1) Be Abstract: This is the process of pursuing the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ.
2) Live Abstract: This is the process of allowing God to transform your inner character.
3) Act Abstract: This is the process of allowing God to transform the expressions and actions in your every day life.

The Point:

Amidst the impressionist era there was an artist named Georges Seurat. His art was unlike any of his contemporaries. All of his paintings were done completely with dots. This type of art is called “pointillism.” If one stared at his paintings up close, it would appear to only be polka dots. But it isn’t until one takes a step back that they see the full canvas, and the full beauty of the painting is seen.

Many times in life it seems like the world is crashing down around us. It isn’t until later when we take a step back and see the big picture that we understand the purpose of all the events of the past. The Abstract is meant to help college students at their spot in life to take a step back and see the big picture of Salvation History and their place within the story.

Join the Journey and follow us on Twitter: @TheAbstractMin

The Abstract Logo

More Than A Four-Letter Word.

Something that has become predominantly popular in movies as of recent is using the Lord’s name to replace a 4-letter word. Jesus Christ, can we stop?!

This supposed breaking of the Third Commandment (Exod 20) is something that Christians have been trying to counteract for years. Instead of “OMG,” Christians replaced it with “OMGosh” – an act almost as highly offensive as making certain “Christian bands” comparisons to “secular bands.”

But how did the Hebrew people hearing the Ten Commandments for the first time receive this instruction that they shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain? First of all, in the Hebrew I feel like almost every word is a four letter word. So, if you are replacing a four letter word with God’s name, I feel as though the ancient language would cease to exist entirely. I think Christians are really hindering the meaning of the text if they think that this Commandment only refers to substituting God’s name for a synonym of poop. I think of the popular YouTube video from sketch comedy group “Harvard Sailing Team” where one of the actor’s cats, named “Poops”, dies: “Poops is with God now… and I am sure God takes Poops EVERYWHERE!”

So what does this Commandment mean then? What does it mean to use the Lord’s name in vain?

In simplest terms, it means not to misrepresent God.

There have been times in my life where people have “prophesied” over me or my family or a situation “in the name of the Lord.” If some one is speaking as though their words are the words of God, they are “using the name of the Lord.” And if they are speaking as though they are the Ultimate Power of Authority in the universe, they better get right what that Being is trying to say. If someone speaks wrongly as though they have the authority of God, then they are using the Lord’s name in vain.

I know what you’re thinking: “This makes me a lot more scared than when I just thought it was telling me not to replace a crass word for fornication with the name of God.” If it was that easy, then all we would have to do is say, “Geez” instead of “Jesus” and “Gosh” instead of “God.” But it isn’t that easy. We need to be careful whenever we translate or apply a biblical passage, because we might be using the Lord’s name in vain. We need to be careful when we give people counsel, because we as Christians are speaking for the Heart of God.

When we wrongly judge others, we are using the Lord’s name in vain. When we say that certain actions that aren’t acceptable really are, we are using the Lord’s name in vain. When we condescendingly rebuke another Christian’s theology when it is truly ours that needs checked, we are using the Lord’s name in vain.

Strive to be a good representation of God. Don’t speak with authority that hasn’t been given to you. Use discernment. Seek more to learn the truth, so that you can take in everything through the filter of God’s Word. And lastly, remember that if I am wrong, then I have just used the Lord’s name in vain.

What else can you do to help you not use the Lord’s name in vain?

Bless ’em, Lord.

The scene is familiar to anyone who has been on a mission trip.

Wherever you are, it resembles a shanty town. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a Prawn from District 9; “buildings” being more like “pre-evicted establishments” in the United States. There is graffiti on the walls. There are dirt floors, and habitants who fill in the rest of the description quite harmoniously. Motorized transportation seems to be a luxury for less of the populace than more, and the same goes with laptops, and cell phones, and in some places, electricity.

Many people come back from mission trips, and they tell stories of people with whom they got to make a small impact. Some tell stories about the missionaries they worked with, or maybe even a story about a chance they had to present the gospel message with another person (who half the time, does not understand English).

But what I hear most from people, the reaction that far exceeds the others, is a statement of how “blessed” they feel for the provision God gave them.

I don’t think there is a typology in the bible to merit a “prosperity gospel.” But not even an oblivious person would deny that there exists in the world people who seem “blessed” in some fashion or another. And though hard work, birthright, or geographical upbringings are all a factor concerning this, in the world, someone can always find another who is worse off than they are, and also, someone who is better off.

So everyone is blessed in one way or another.

But what is the point of being blessed? If there are not any grounds for a “prosperity gospel,” than being blessed is not a “gold star” given to the faithful from God. God does not give more to people who are more faithful, or have more faith, or whatever those “yuppies” say. But, I think the “gold star” goes to those who bless others (yeah, like that one, “Pay it Forward,” movie).

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James, leader of the church in Jerusalem during the first-century and brother of Jesus Christ

I remember reading as Shane Claiborne described a gift his homeless mission received from a local church. I now describe common scenarios by referring to this one – microwave popcorn to the homeless. A church donated microwave popcorn to homeless people. The church of America is so unaware of the world outside its walls that it gives homeless people – men and women and children who don’t even have electricity, let alone microwaves – microwave popcorn.

I, of course, am generalizing.

Giving to others is not just a suggestion that should be done at one’s convenience, but in the first-century it was seen as a requirement for those who considered themselves to be followers of Christ. James was not saying that it would just be nice if people would give. But he (and others) seemed to put it as a high ritual among believers of the faith. As Jesus said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5:42).

Are we so encapsulated in our upbringing within a Capitalistic America that we have taken its large-scale structure of economics and justified it to ourselves as individuals, even more so as Christians? When we feel the urge to give, are we just giving our hand-me-downs while simultaneously living out of our means? We need to start giving to others as though they are our family. We need to love and invest in those around us, because we, as mankind, are one.

We need to stop feeling so blessed and start being a blessing to others.

Pointillism. Picture. Perseverance.

This weekend is going to be a rough one. With coffee as my ally, I will attempt to complete the feet of a lifetime! I have a 300 page book to read and take notes on, I have a study guide to complete and a test to take, I have 9 chapters to read on church history and a test to study for that I’ll be taking on Monday, and I should probably find time to sleep in the midst.

Sometimes life kind of… sucks. Events and circumstances come to a point where they all seem to eclipse, and here we are… stuck in the chaos.

It’s times like these where we learn we need to persevere.

I would pull up some text that has the word “perseverance” in it to help encourage you, but it is cheap. Most texts dealing with perseverance deal mostly with physical trials and tribulations. One deals with persevering to the goal heavenward – holiness. But I don’t want to cheapen what those texts have to say. I don’t want to weaken the text, especially in correlation with the little comfort it would bring those who need it.

The fun thing about worrying and being stressed is that nothing any one says will be consoling. If someone is stressed or is going through a rough time, reading this WILL NOT make them feel better. So… why am I writing this blog if it isn’t going to change people? – Because people need to choose for themselves not to worry or not to be stressed. People have to choose themselves to persevere.

You have to choose to persevere.

I think about my life as a Seurat painting. Seurat was an impressionist painter, most famously known for his pointillism. Pointillism is a type of painting where the artist uses dots to create works of art. Thousands of tiny dots, used across feet of canvas, come together to make a beautiful painting! Seurat is one of my favorite painters. I love to see how he uses all the different dots and brings them together for his unifying purpose.

I feel like these dots are like our trials. We see this single dot (or circumstance) that we are in, and we don’t seem to be sure what is going on. But later, looking back over the course of our lives, we see that God was using these trials to make a beautiful masterpiece (our character).

Maybe you need to step back away from your circumstance and see God might be using this time you’re in to help build up who you are. Maybe God will use this circumstance to help you minister to others who will be facing this trial in the future. Maybe God is trying to make you more mature. But take time and realize maybe your life isn’t so sucky after all. Just take a step back from your circumstance and see the big picture.

Free Will, Faith, and Folly.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” –Romans 8:28-30

Springfield, Missouri’s roads are mapped out like a grid. Almost every single major byway has coordinates facing directly north, south, east, or west. But yet, there are still people who seem to get lost. Oftentimes, I find myself riding shotgun, calling out directions to one of these disoriented drivers behind the wheel. Some drivers don’t trust where I am taking them. I can tell by the way they ask at every intersection if they are supposed to turn or keep going. If they want me to tell them the directions, then why don’t they trust I’ll tell them when to turn when the time is right? Why don’t they have faith in me?

One thing that I’ve been wrestling with these past few months has been defining faith. I’m not talking about faith in God in a salvific sense – the faith that it takes to believe and be saved (Rom 10:9-10; Eph 2:8). But I am talking about trusting in God and allowing him to guide the steps I take. Most of this has been plaguing my mind because of graduation, and sometimes I wrestle and wonder if I am just supposed to do what I think best to do, or if I am supposed to wait until I hear what God through the Holy Spirit tells me to do.

Then one day I remembered this passage in Romans 8 (quoted above). If I am loving God and being faithful to walking the way Jesus did, then shouldn’t things work together for my good? I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit doesn’t give me direction, but maybe I have a little bit more decision than I thought.

I think oftentimes I am the person going on with my life asking God at every intersection, “What am I supposed to do?” Am I showing faith in God in those moments, or am I showing a lack of faith because I don’t trust He is guiding what I am doing in those times? As a Pentecostal, I feel as though we fall short here – asking God for everything what He wants to do, when in reality, if we just stay faithful to Him, His will will be done.

Faith and faithfulness have more of a correlation than we give credit.

Ask yourself if you really trust God, or are you using your questions to God as a façade for, “wanting to know His will.” Have faith that God knows where you are at, and that He will give you direction when the time is right. Remain faithful to Him, because you were called by Him. And if you love God and are called by Him heavenward, then believe and know that all things will work together for your good.

Preference in Performance

One could imagine the shock of terror on the rigid man’s face as the music began to play. Were people actually taking a part in this? Were people singing psalms over the popular bar melodies that had become so popular within the culture? This wasn’t the convoluted orchestral music that the man in the congregation was used to. This was blasphemous! Bar music and church music should not mix, and it was equally nonsensical for the people of the audience to join along. What has the world come to?

I am currently enrolled in a church history class at Central Bible College. This past section we went over the life of Martin Luther. It was both informational and inspirational. One thing that I never considered before was the way in which Luther changed congregational worship. The professor, Dr. Crabtree, vividly illustrated the emotion behind this idea. Before, the congregation merely listened, not participating in congregational worship (i.e. singing along with the music), but the service was directed towards the Lord’s Supper. When the Reformation happened, Luther took many of the popular secular bar songs of his time and put Christian words to them. Singing and participating in worship has since been an integral part in many evangelical church services.

But has the “American Church” gone off the deep end lately? Many have thought so and have dubbed a new genre of worship in the American Church that has been whispered across the pews… no, not pews… this church is too relevant for pews! This genre is unofficially known as, “Performance-driven Worship.”

But isn’t every “worship service” a performance? Once music is added into the mix, the shindig is on! I find it appealing that some people pick and choose what they consider a performance. I find it even MORE appealing when churches mask their approach to their performance, wanting it to seem as though they aren’t performing at all! Let me be frank: a lonely woman tickling the ivories and wailing “Days of Elijah” can have just as much of a performance factor as an immaculate, well-practiced worship team with strobe lights and fog machines.

The big question here really is: “Who are we performing for?”

I think one of the problems here coattails along with my previous blog – that people are trying to integrate personal and corporate worship. If worship is to be a performance towards God, then it is in the hands of the worship leader to make sure that God receives the most glorious and richest performance ever! This means that the music genre will have to be culturally specific – meaning that there will be churches with an organ, and there will be churches with a fog machine. This also means that the person leading worship picks songs that glorify God and are conducive to a corporate worship setting. But this problem isn’t the only one.

I think another problem is that people are confusing “performance-driven” with “self-gratifying.” The point of a “worship performance” is to point the people to God not point people to oneself. I’m sure that people can stand in awe of both God and in awe of the guitarist’s mad, face-melting solo, but just make sure the point is not lost. Remember that this is a weighty balance. Some ego’s can handle it and some can’t (from an on-stage perspective). If leaders don’t have patience and understanding about these issues, I don’t know if this balance can ever be resolved.

Maybe you need to reflect on a time when you weren’t gracious with the worship at a church you attended. Give the key-tickling, 90’s-song-wailing, sister in Christ a chance! And don’t assume that the fog machine is there to replace the “Holy Ghost.” Learn to live with one another. And remember that EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION ABOUT WORSHIP MUSIC!

This is just my opinion.