Merging faith with Jesus by Pastor Ron

Faith, Fads and Pop Culture

Losing My Religion


“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion…” – R.E.M.

You know, I’ve always been puzzled about what Michael Stipe intended when he wrote that hit song for R.E.M. back in 1991. Yet, the older I get the more I find that I can relate to it’s title. You see, I’ve been “losing my religion.”

Now before you get in a panic and wonder if I’m going though some kind of mid-life faith crisis, I think I should explain what I mean. For too many people, “religion” is seen as an institution, a set of legalistic hoops that one has to jump through to win God’s favor and blessing. If you want to be cool with God you’ve got to do the right things, worship a certain way, pray a certain way, dress a certain way and wear a halo in the public’s eye. The truth is, by these standards, most people don’t measure up. I know I can’t! In fact, a lot of people find that “religion” tries to put God, you and me in a box. If you don’t do the right things then God won’t love you…or at least His people may not! I know a lot of people who have experienced “church” in this way. Institutional religion gets in the way of people experiencing Jesus all of the time!

The trouble is, I don’t think God ever intended us to be boxed in by religious rules and regulations. Heck, Jesus even balked at being put in a box by the religion of his day. He healed people on the Sabbath even though it broke the rules. He ate out with the wrong kind of crowd which tarnished his image. In fact, when Jesus visited Jerusalem, he even overturned the tables in the Temple when religious practice turned a House of prayer into a lare of empty ritual. In the end, it was the “religious” leaders who wanted Jesus nailed to the cross. Why? Because he was making people lose their “religion” and yearn for something more.

Want the gospel truth? God doesn’t want “religion,” He wants a relationship…with you! He loves you even with your messy past, despite of what people think about your weight, your tattoos or the way you dress, and even though you might have a few bad habits. God loves you! That’s why Jesus let himself be nailed to that cross, so that you could experience the power of God’s love and that He wants a new kind of relationship with you that is deeper and more profound than any “religion” could ever be. He died, He rose again on the third day (we call it Easter), so that you could be freed to live faith and to live life outside of the box!

I discovered that “religion” is a lot like that old Wendy’s TV ad leaving one to ask, “Where’s the beef?” when you want something of real substance to chew on in your life. Given up on “religion?” So have I.

But I found something far greater when I merged my life with Jesus and made him not only my Lord and Savior but the King of my life, finances, family and future. Sure life is tough. But since I merged with Jesus I’ve found the road that’s given me the peace to face tough times, the hope to not quit…no matter what, and the faith to believe that the best path is the one I haven’t discovered yet. Most importantly, having merged with Jesus, I now see life and people through Jesus’ eyes. The world looks a lot different when you see it from the vantage point of the cross!

Losing my “religion” has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Are you ready to lose yours?


Status Change


Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ve probably seen this news report about the wedding in Maryland where the groom interrrupted his wedding ceremony to update his Facebook status from “single” to “married” to let all of his online friends and family that know that he was officially hitched…

As funny as this video may be, changing one’s status is an important ritual for those of us who use Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. I keep getting updates from friends and family members who post comments about their ever changing status.. “off to work,” “home from school,” “studying for my exam,” “taking my exam,” “walking the dog,” “just put the kids to bed,” “watching the big OSU game,” etc. It seems that in this digital age we have quite a fascination with getting the word out about what we’re doing so that everyone we know in our online community can share in our experience.

It occurred to me this morning, while I was brushing my teeth [Facebook status alert!!], that getting the word out about our change in status isn’t a new thing invented by Facebook. Luke 5:19-20 recounts the story of a man who Jesus freed from demons. Jesus tells him, “‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell…how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” Just imagine if he could have shared the miracle on Facebook back then!

You see, while it may be cute to let everyone know that you’re “doing laundry,” “headed to the grocery store,” or “visiting the grandkids,” there are some important status changes that you ought to share as well… the changes of status that come when we’ve been touched by God: “I witnessed a miracle today.” “I got a second chance.” “I’m forgiven.” “Jesus touched me!”

Hymn writer, John Newton, tweeted his changed status when he wrote the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”: “I once was lost but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.” William Gaither updated his life status when he wrote these famous lyrics, “He touched me, O, He touched me, And O, the joy that floods my soul! Something, happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.” Finally, Kurt Kaiser shared the result of his status change in the camp song, “Pass it On” when he wrote, “I’ll shout it from the mountain top, I want my world to know: the Lord of love has come to me, I want to pass it on.”

What status change has Jesus made in your life? Get the word out! Share it on Facebook or Twitter. Tell your family and friends. Believe me, the world wants to know!


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

I still remember the day as if it were yesterday. Mom had taken my older brother, Jim, and I to the mall to go Christmas shopping. That’s when it happened. Jim blurted out that Santa Claus wasn’t real! I was shocked! “What do you mean, Santa isn’t real?” Mom and dad had told me every Christmas that Santa Claus was coming to our house on Christmas Eve to bring presents to good liitle girls and boys. How couldn’t he be real? Then Jim gave me even more bad news, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real either. This was just way too much information for a little boy to handle!

Most parents understand the trauma I went through as a kid when I discovered that Santa Claus was a myth. That he didn’t really live on the North Pole, make toys, have elves, or go on a world wind adventure every Christmas Eve with a sleigh full of toys and eight tiny reindeer. So many kids get disillusioned when they find out that part of the magic of Christmas is just a ficticious story. But I’ve got some good news! It doesn’t have to be that way. There really is a “jolly old St. Nicholas!”

Sure, he doesn’t live in the North Pole or have a reindeer named Rudolf with a very shiny nose, but St. Nicholas is a very real person that your kids might enjoy learning more about during the Christmas season.

The real St. Nicholas lived in the fourth century A.D. in the city of Myra which is located in modern day Turkey. He was a Jesus follower when it wasn’t cool to be a Christian. In fact, Nicholas was put in prison because of his faith during the persecution of the Roman Emporer Docletian. After his release from prison, Nicholas, who was a pastor (bishop) of the church in Myra, attended the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where he helped write the Nicene Creed.

Now here’s the really cool part. Not only was Nicholas a Jesus follower, but he lived out his faith in a really cool way. He took the Apostle Paul’s advice in Philippians 2:5-7, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…taking the form of a servant,” and Nicholas used his wealth helping out children and others who were in need. That’s where the legend of Santa Claus giving presents to children all got started.

People were amazed at the way that Nicholas cared for people in need and so, after he died on December 6, 343 A.D., he was declared a “saint.” People in Europe have celebrated the living faith and generosity of St. Nicholas on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) for hundreds of years. It’s from this celebration that the origins of Santa Claus later came into being.

So, if you want to celebrate Christmas this year in an out of the box kind of way, introduce your kids to the real St. Nicholas. Take some time this Christmas season to tell them his story. Need help? Here’s a link to online St. Nicholas resources: stories, games and coloring pages that you and your kids can share together. Better yet, follow in St. Nicholas’ footsteps and take some time together to help someone in need. Give away some groceries or presents to a neighborhood family who recently became unemployed. Visit a shut-in or a hospital patient. It’s a great way to make the faith of St. Nicholas come to life today! That way when your kids someday discover the truth about Santa Claus, they’ll have something real that they can hang onto. St. Nicholas is the man!!

Merry Christmas and have a great St. Nicholas Day!


American Idols to Admire

This past spring my wife, Deanna, and I were shocked at the finale of American Idol. All season long we had expected Adam Lambert, the flamboyant rocker, to steal the title. Each week his vocals and performance just got better and better. He was the judges’ favorite as well. But then, it happened, Lambert got paired up against Kris Allen in the season finale. The votes were cast…and America voted Kris Allen as the winner of American Idol!

I have to admit that I enjoyed Kris’s performances throughout the season of American Idol. Yet he was never as flashy as Adam Lambert. He seemed so humble up there on the stage. There was something about Kris Allen that I couldn’t put my finger on. He seemed different from the rest of the contestants on the show.

Then I heard what Paul Harvey, the late radio broadcaster, would term “the rest of the story.” Kris Allen was a Christian. More than that, we was a worship leader at New Life Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Now here’s the amazing part of the story. The church’s pastor reports that while American Idol was going on, Kris was flying home so that he could lead worship at his church on the weekends. No wonder he acted so humble on stage. He was used to performing not for himself but for the King of Kings!

Kris Allen is a different kind of American Idol. He’s one who put God and leading God’s people in worship over his own fame and musical ambitions. I don’t know if Kris will be able to sell as many records as Adam Lambert or not, but one thing I do know, he’s an American Idol that we can all admire. He’s an American Idol who has shown us what it means to live faith outside of the box.

Take a moment and let Kris lead you in a moment of humble worship with this YouTube video of the song “God In This City.”

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Watching Commercials


I don’t know about you, but I like to watch commercials on TV. Most people I know flip channels as soon as a commercial comes on. I don’t. I find commercials interesting…even amusing at times. How else would you discover the drying power of Sham-wow, the cleaning power of Tide, or that eating Taco Bell helps you “think outside the bun.”

To be honest, I guess the real reason I like to watch commercials is that sometimes they make me stop and think. Remember the classic Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” ad?

It was hilarious. Yet it also made a real point. Sometimes, there’s more bun than there is meat. Sometimes products don’t live up to their advertising. That goes with sandwiches as well as people. Have you ever met someone who looked great on first impression only to find that they lacked substance? You walk away asking, “Where’s the beef?”

This brings me to the reason that commercials make me stop and think. The 30 second ads on TV are not the only commercials that leave lasting impressions on people. You and I are walking TV commercials. What we say and what we do tell a lot about us to those who watch us. Believe me, we are being watched, everyday, everywhere. Country singer Rodney Atkins proves that point in his hit song “Watching You.”

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The question to be asked is what are you broadcasting about yourself? What lasting impression do you leave with people who run into you at work, at school, at the grocery store, while you’re walking your dog or applying for a job? That question takes on extra meaning for people who claim to be Jesus followers. Do people who see you also see Jesus in you? Or do they walk away asking, “Where’s the beef?”

Remember actions speak louder than words. I remember once asking a lady in inner city Indianapolis why she attended the church she did. Her response: “They don’t just talk the talk here, they walk the walk!” There was no asking “Where’s the beef?” That church loved and cared for people like Jesus did and it showed. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel to all the world and if necessary, use words.” Jesus put it this way, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

It’s good to watch commercials both on TV and on the street. It’s more important to remember that you are a living commerical. Just make sure there’s beef inside the bun and that you really live what you advertise. Why? I’ll be watching. Everyone else will too!


Finding The Solution

Remember the Rubik’s Cube? It was the iconic fad of the 1980′s. Everyone had to have one. I knew it really was the craze when one of my dad’s farm magazines arrived in the mail one day with a picture of an Amish boy on the cover trying to solve the puzzle.

Solving the Cube was the quest of everyone who could get their hands on one. I remember my first attempts. I’d twist and turn trying to get all of the sides one solid color. Yet, my efforts were fruitless. And then it happened. I found the solution! I discovered that if you made the center of each side of the Rubik’s Cube resemble a cross, then within a couple of turns, the Cube was solved.

The cross was the solution! It was the pattern needed to solve the Rubik’s Cube. I found it ironic then, and now that the world’s most popular puzzle was solved by turning it to the cross. In my hands was the solution to one of the world’s most perplexing problems.

The truth is, the cross doesn’t just solve the Rubik’s Cube. Turning to the cross can help solve some of life’s most difficult problems today. It was there that God gave us the real solution to overcoming brokenness, anger and sin that keep us from experiencing real love and living the kind of life God intended for us to live. The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:9-10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Country singer Jimmy Wayne filmed a powerful music video for his hit song I love You This Much that demonstrates how turning to the cross can become the solution needed to overcome real hurt in your life and mine. Watch it now.

The cross isn’t just the solution to some fad. It’s God’s gift for you and me. Test it out for yourself. Turn to the cross, to the Jesus of the cross. Discover the power of the love that is offered there. Don’t just take my word for it. Experience it all on your own. I did. That’s what living faith outside of the box is all about!


Pierced


Anyone who has ever had their ear (or some other body part) pierced or got a tattoo understands that these events leave a permanent mark on one’s body. Sure you can take the earring out, but the mark remains. Tattoos are hard to cover up. Their design remains imprinted in your skin for the rest of your life.

James Langteaux, writes in his book God.com, “In the ancient world, a slave wore an earring as a sign that someone or something else controlled him. It was a covenant fomed in blood. With the piercing of the flesh came shedding of blood. After the piercing and the bloodshedding, the slave wore a ring to symbolize the covenant with the master.” The Bible describes this practice in Deuteronomy 15:16-17. A buddy of mine in college got his ear pierced for that reason. He wanted to show the world that he was a servant for Jesus and bound to him forever.

I’m not sure I had such noble reasons when I got my ear pierced as a freshman in college. I got it done because I thought it was cool. I still do. Yet, as the years roll on and I see my pierced ear in the mirror every morning, I’ve come to sense that my piercing has developed a more spiritual significance than that.

First of all, I’ve come to realize that I’m a pierced person…and I’m not just talking about my earring either. Over 10 years ago I was pierced right through my heart when my wife, at the time, left me in an affair with a friend and member of the church that I was serving. They even had a baby on the way before she filed for divorce. Thanks to God’s awesome healing love I made it through the ordeal. Yet, it has left a permanent mark on my life. I’m a wounded healer and every time I see the holes in my ear I’m reminded that since God saw me through that heart piercing, I need to lend a healing hand to those I meet who have also experienced emotional and spiritual piercings in the lives.

Secondly, I serve a pierced Savior! When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, spikes were driven into his hands and feet. All of our sins pierced his heart and he experienced the weight and pain of sin bodily and spiritually. And at the cross, his piercing healed ours. The love of God, shed through Jesus Christ on the cross, the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-14, “forgave us all our sins.” “He took it away nailing it to the cross.” This forgiveness of your sin and mine was not a temporary thing. It is a permanent thing. Christ’s death marks you and me for life! Nothing can take that love away once we put our faith in Jesus. Nothing!

Yet, John 20:24-29 recounts that after Easter, when Jesus had risen from the dead, he still bore the marks of the cross in his hands and feet. Those marks helped Thomas to believe that Jesus really had risen from the dead. When I see the holes in my ear I am reminded that I serve a pierced Savior who was pierced for my sin to give me new life today.

That brings me back to my friend in college who got his ear pierced to represent that he was bound to Jesus for life. Perhaps his reasoning wasn’t that flawed after all. If a little hole in my ear can remind me of Jesus, and the way that I’ve been pierced and called to touch those who’ve been hurt by the world, then maybe a little reminder that my life is bound to serving Jesus isn’t such a bad thing.

It’s called living faith outside of the box!


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