stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

leave behind the chains

What’s your favorite TV theme?  I’ve always liked the intro to the Office.  Jakob also really likes that one.  When he was a baby, we could play it when he was crying, and he would immediately stop.  It was magical.  I ended up putting it on my phone for emergencies and long car trips.

We’ve had a theme song in this current series on spiritual warfare.  By now, you’ve probably noticed that you’ve sung the words, “break every chain,” numerous times.  Jesus breaks the chains of bondage in our lives and sets us free.  It’s something we should never tire of singing and celebrating.  If we are walking in freedom – not to do whatever we want, but freedom from sin – then we should excitedly be singing of the One who has set us free.  Sometimes we don’t feel like celebrating, though, because we don’t feel very free. I think the primary reason we don’t feel free is that we tend to carry around the chains from which we’ve been set free.  They’re broken.  They have no power over us. We just like them too much to leave them behind.  We tell ourselves that we can’t help ourselves.  It’s just who we are.  We’re only human after all.  But the reality is that, in Christ, we always have the freedom to choose not to sin.  We have the power to leave behind the chains.  Hebrews 12 tells us to set them aside, so we can run well the race set before us.  Jesus also says in John 8 that although you were once slaves to sin, but you are no more, because when the Son sets you free, you really are free from it.  And finally, we’re told in 1 Corinthians 10 that God will always make it possible for us to walk away from temptation.

The chains are not holding us.  It may just be that we’re holding the chains. Leave behind the chains.  Walk in freedom.  “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.”

I will leave you with these lyrics from the OC Supertones, from their song “Go Your Way.”  They have spoken to me in times when I was stuck in false freedom, choosing sinful bondage over freedom in Christ. “What I thought of as my freedom was a prison without walls. I held on tightly to the shackles that I hate, but this wasn’t freedom at all… I thought that I’d gone too far.  Then I heard You call my name.  Return to me child.   I am eager to forgive, but leave behind the chains.”

identity and dedication

Have you ever been so dedicated to something it became your identity?  Sarah has said before that she feels like she’s “Jeff’s wife” or “Jakob’s mom,” because her identity is so wrapped up in those roles, and although she’s really great at both of those roles, it’s not the whole of who she is.  Sometimes someone’s career becomes who they are to people.  Some may become that by choice (like a doctor who insists you call him doctor even if he’s not your doctor) and some are pigeon holed by others.  I’ve felt like to some people, I’m a pastor more so than being Jeff.  These people tend to be the most surprised by things that I do, because they see me as a pastor.  They have a preconceived notion of what that should mean, and I don’t always fit the mold.  But I am grateful to be a pastor, and I don’t mind it being how people see me, so long as they see me that way due to my actions, not my title.  Having this job doesn’t make me much of a pastor; I still need to be a pastor, doing pastoral things.

Another part of my identity is that I am a Christian.  I want being a Christian at the forefront of my identity.  Now, I can do nothing further about being a child of God.  That matter of identity was wrapped up when I placed my faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12-13 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God”.  So being a child of God is taken care of through the work of Jesus Christ and my faith in Him.  It rests on His saving work and power.  What rests on me is whether I choose to live out a Christian life or not.  People will not identify me as a Christian simply because I placed my faith in Jesus a long time ago.  Unless I live out what it means to be a Christian, they will have no idea.  If I lived out my faith years ago but have sat still for several years, they will not know.  I need to keep on keeping on in my faith.  I need to press forward.

Philippians 3:12-14 says,  “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

We need the dedication Paul had in our faith.  We need to never be content with what we have already done, but be motivated and dedicated to moving forward and making greater strides for Christ.  He didn’t call any of us to sit and reminisce about what we’ve done.  He’s called us all to a race, and we should run.  When we run towards Christ and the things that He wants of us, people will know we are Christians.  It will become an intrinsic part of our identity.

don’t just know

Do you, like me, know a lot of things that you cannot explain?  I may remember the how-to but have forgotten the how-come on a lot of things.  I know that if I rig up a peppermint mento to fall into my dad’s Diet Coke the next time he opens one, it will be funny.  But I cannot explain to you why that happens.  I just know it works and enjoy the thought of it working all over the ones I love.

There are times in our faith that we just know something works or that something is true.  We cannot really explain why, but we just know.  I mentioned Sunday that when I read the note Dave sent over about Sunday’s message, I just knew it was true, but it took me a long time to figure out why.  I think that process is important.  I think it’s important to study to a point of being able to correctly explain what we know is true.   Sometimes it’s okay to just know, but when it comes to our faith, it’s important to know, to know why, and to know how to explain it.  If someone asks you why you’re a Christian, what are you going to say?  Do you know why you believe what you believe, or do you just know it to be true?

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be useful

There is a passage of Scripture that I have heard butchered numerous times, to the point that I now cringe when I hear someone begin talking about it from fear they will do the same.  The passage is in Revelations 3, when Jesus is talking to Laodicea.  Here’s what Jesus says:

15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!
       16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Here’s what we’ve been told: God would rather have us far away from Him, deep in sin (cold) than to be wishy washy.  We’re told we should either be on fire for God or completely cold to Him.  What is happening here is people are translating the Bible using an American colloquial understanding of the words, rather than actually studying what it is saying.

Here’s some context: the water in Laodicea was lukewarm or tepid.  It wasn’t hot.  It wasn’t cold.  It wasn’t particularly drinkable, because lukewarm water isn’t satisfying.  You could use it, but you wouldn’t be pleased.  You could not, however, use it medicinally, because it just wasn’t hot enough.  In contrast, Hierapolis had very hot springs, and Colossae had very cold springs.  The hot water was very useful for medicinal or healing purposes, and the cold water was very useful for drinking or refreshing purposes.  Unlike lukewarm water, hot and cold serve a purpose.  Jesus is telling them that they are not serving a purpose: they neither bring healing or a refreshing spirit to those they meet.  They weren’t useful at all.

In your walk with God right now, are you hot or cold?  Do you bring God’s healing Word to people in need?  Are you compassionately available to those in pain?  Or maybe you are a refreshing spirit, one where people feel like they’ve met with God or been to church after talking with you?  Do you bring joy to people’s lives?  Maybe you do both, and that’s great, too.  But if you were to examine yourself, do you tend to do neither?  Do you bring nothing to the table?  That’s being a lukewarm Christian, and that is what is unpalatable to Jesus.  Don’t just skate by; be useful.

and the gender is…

As many of you know, Sarah is expecting our second child.  That child will be born at the end of June.  Many of you may even know the gender by now, as we publicly announced it in youth group on Sunday.  But many of you probably don’t know, because we may not be friends on Facebook (what’s up with that, anyway?), and you may not be related to anyone in the youth group that was there.  So I want to tell you what we’re having, but I’m really dragging it out.  That’s my style.

The Selphs will be having a boy!  His name is Jaxon, and we cannot wait for him to get here.

how’s your mind?

“Just hold still!  This will be much easier if you just cooperate!”  I feel like my mom, doctors, dentists, and nurses have had to say that to me for the last 30+ years when trying to get a needle anywhere near me.  I’m not one for needles, I suppose.  They thought it was a good idea to stick a needle in me and leave medicine behind or come out with blood, and I thought it would be better to die a slow, painful death.  We saw the situation differently.

How you view a situation will change your attitude and behavior in the situation.  Where your mind is at is very important, and just as I said Sunday that our actions will reveal our level of love, our actions will also reveal where our mind is.  A harmonious person works towards harmony.  An acrimonious person will work towards hostility, whether consciously or subconsciously.  That’s why the Bible says so much about the human mind and our thoughts.  Getting our minds right is crucial to getting our lifestyle right.  How is your mind?  I know I need to check mine.

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press on

One verse that I said hundreds of times as a child was Philippians 3:14.  It was the motto for the kids program I attended at church, and we would say it every Wednesday from my third grade year through my sixth grade year.

“I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God, in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14

I know the verse well.  I can say it without looking it up.  It’s in my head.  But I don’t often think about what it means.  I think we tend to do that as Christians.  “Yeah, yeah, I know.  I’ve heard this before,” is a common attitude.  Since we have heard things before, we tune out when they come up again without even considering whether or not we have accomplished anything.  It’s funny that I would do that to this verse, though, because the point of this verse is the opposite of that attitude.

This verse is about constant pursuit of the prize.  We are trying to win something here.  We are to be like athletes in that we repetitiously go through the same exercises in order to perfect our techniques.  Just Ray Allen has taken thousands upon thousands of 3-point shots and can make one with higher probability than any other basketball player (and by the way, he still takes thousands and thousands of shots, despite his already being great), we are to do the same spiritual practices over and over and over again, seeking to get better and better at our calling to be Christ like.  So what if you’ve read the Bible through 20 times?  You keep reading your Bible.  So you’ve prayed?  You keep praying.  You’ve led several friends to the Lord?  That’s great!  Keep studying and learning and getting better at doing it, so you can do it more and more.

This is how we win the prize.  What prize?  Standing before Christ and hearing Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  What will He say to you?  Press on.  Press towards that calling.  Practice your faith with tenacity.

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