What a Christian can learn from the WSOP

As you get older you see a number of trends that just make no sense.  Some of the craziest and most unforseen trends that I have witnessed is the growth of the bottled water industry (especially in places where tap water is more than suitable), the growth of the Little League World Series as a television sport, and perhaps most strange to me is the growth of poker on television.

I learned to play poker as a child.  I was the youngest in my family and we would play 5 card draw, or 7 card stud to pass time and just hang out.  Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that a card game would be a made for TV spectacular.  Enter the World Series of Poker (WSOP).  I suppose the tournament was on television for years before ESPN picked it up, but I can remember watching the 2003 WSOP main event and being captivated by the show.  Guys would lose tons of chips on one hand and then win them back on the next.  The back and forth was great, and the human interest stories made the poker players likable.  I became familiar with the term “All In” when one player deemed his hand good enough to wager all his chips on one hand.  This player if he lost would be eliminated from the tournament.  Sometimes the player would win, other times the player would lose and go home, crushed.

The concept of going “All In” is a decidedly Biblical one.  We see in Matthew 13, two parables that show that we should be fully committed to following Christ.  The first is the parable of the treasure in the field.  When the man finds the treasure, he sells everything that he has so that he can buy the field, and the treasure it contains.  The next parable is the one about the pearl of great worth.  In this parable a merchant has been looking for the perfect pearl, and when he finds it he sells everything and buys it.  These parables teach us to not hold anything back from following God.  We are not to be half-invested in the Kingdom of God, but rather we are to liquidate all that we have and invest 100% of what we are into following the Kingdom.

Our youth have begun another year of school.  They are learning new things.  They are meeting new friends.  I challenged them, not to take this year for granted, and not to be half-devoted to Christ.  Instead, they are challenged to make this year count, and to be All In for the sake of Jesus Christ.  I am praying to that end, and I hope that the parents of our youth are praying for that as well.  Grades may come and grades may go, but the kingdom of God will last forever, lets invest fully in what lasts.

Biblical Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is a fairly long word that I was introduced to my senior year in college at HBU.  I needed to take a senior seminar and the only one that fit was a class entitled Biblical Hermeneutics.  I wish I could say that I walked out of that class and had a strong understanding of what it was all about, but I truly don’t know if I retained any of the information that I learned in that seminar.  However, I was reintroduced to the term in my seminary studies and the field has since become very important to me.

Hermeneutics is the study of understanding.  More directly, Biblical Hermeneutics, is the attempt to understand what the Bible is truly saying.  To understand the Bible like most things, you must first read the text in question, and then begin to ask a series of questions to determine the meaning.  The most important of questions is the question of context.  Who is the audience? What else was said at the time?  Who is the author and what is the purpose of the book that the text is within?  These probing questions point us toward the true meaning of the text.

I could say that the parable of the wineskin or the patch are parables teaching us to stop hanging out with people who are not like us, but that is not what the context demands.  The parable was told in response to the question about fasting, not a question about friends and followers.

The good news is the majority of the Bible is plain and clear, and even taught accurately.  However, there are a minority of passages that have been misused by pastors and teachers, so much over the generations, that the true meaning of a passage is hidden or obstructed.  In Sunday School we looked at one of those passages.  It is the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.

You likely know the story.  A shepherd has 100 sheep and one wandered off.  The shepherd then left the 99 to find his one missing sheep.  Upon recovering this sheep he returns home and a huge party is thrown because the lost sheep has been found.  The most popular interpretation of this passage is that the shepherd is God/Jesus and that he would risk it all to save one lost sheep.  While this is certainly true of what Jesus did on the cross, this is not the meaning of the passage.

A brief look at the context shows that Jesus was responding to the Pharisees who had criticized him for hanging out with the “sinners.” So Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Which one of you, if you had a hundred sheep…” The shepherd in the story is the Pharisees, and the point of the story is that lost people are more important than lost property, and the Pharisees, who we are told earlier loved stuff, were unwilling to see the importance of the “sinners.”

As a parent I want to encourage you to read well with your kids.  Help them understand what the Bible is truly saying.  Don’t settle for anything less.  If I can help, I’d love to.  Do your best to lead your kids to love the Lord.  Keep up the good work!

Service Starts at Home

Distance doesn’t make a missionary.  These words or something similar were taught to me by a former pastor.  What he was communicating to me is that the heart of servant must be evident at home before it can ever be used abroad.  This was the impetus for our annual local mission trip, and really has transformed the way that I view mission work.

For the last three Wednesday nights we have been talking about service: the act of going outside of yourself to help another person.  A majority of the focus on service is to help those who we perceive to be in the greatest need, perhaps the homeless or the military.  However, before we dive into helping those who are away I believe we need to get our hearts right at home.  For a teenager that means adjusting the attitude at home to being loving, obedient, and service minded to his parents.

So I challenged our youth to begin to serve at home.  That means taking an extra step beyond mere obedience to actually serving their parents.  The hope is that through learning to serve at home, they will be more fulfilled in their service of others.

As parents you have an opportunity to make your home a place where your child would want to go the extra mile for you.  You can help them want to be a better son or daughter.  So, as I challenged the youth to obey and serve you, I ask that you try to cultivate a home life in which appreciation is verbalized, and service is modeled.  If you are serving your kids in ways that they see, they will begin to understand that service is just a way of life, especially for believers.  Good luck, and keep up the good work…it is truly a tough job that you do!

Love versus Like

I had the opportunity to sit in during the junior high Sunday School class this week and was thrilled to have Matt Lundberg fill in for Jennifer.  Matt led a discussion coming from 1 John 4 which discusses love and how we are to love since God has loved us.  The discussion evolved into an interesting debate on the differences between true love and like (or “modern love” as one 8th grader termed it).  The concept of love is difficult to explain but I was really encouraged by the level of involvement  from the students in the discussion.

To like something is to be pleased with it at a certain time.  There have been times in my life when I have liked a certain food or color or person, but when I change and time elapses I do not like that thing anymore.  It is impossible to like something and be disappointed in it at the same time.  For example if you had a steak that was over cooked and nearly uneatable, you would not say I like this steak.  You might say I like steak in general, but this particular steak is not meeting up to my expectations.  The act of liking something is a temporary emotional feeling that goes away as quickly as it comes.

At its root love is not an emotion or a feeling, but rather something that we choose to do and have toward another person. Our love is a response to the love that has been shown us, particularly from Jesus Christ.  Thus we do not cease to love our God or another person because they have failed us.  We chose to love because God loved us, and we love even in the midst of disappointments, just as God loves us in the midst of our failures.

Love is an important concept that as parents we need to work to impress on our children.  Teach them to love properly both God and their fellow-man.  Keep up the good work!

Late Nights and Sunday Mornings

This past Friday we had our lock-in at the church and it was a blast.  Over forty kids came and enjoyed playing games, hanging out, and talking.  Sleeping wasn’t enjoyed by many of them, but still a good time!  If your child attended, thanks for having them come and if they didn’t attend they were missed!  Also, a special thanks to all the adults who volunteered their time and gave up precious hours of sleep, you guys are the best!

Following this night we had a full day of recovery before Sunday morning worship.  I was privileged to preach (even while sleep deprived) to both of the services in the morning.  If you missed it, that’s too bad, but have no fear I am here to give you a recap of the message!  Lucky you, huh?

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (highlights only)

  • There is only one God, and we are therefore responsible to respond to him properly.
  • Anything that you love more than God, has become a god to you and is therefore an idol.
  • The proper response to God is to love him completely and publicly, so that all who see you know.
  • The second response to God is to pass on your love to him to your children.
  • Teach them as you go through your day, and through your life, you matter most in your child’s spiritual journey.

So get to it parents!  Love the Lord, and teach your children to love him too!  I am here to support you in any way I can.  Don’t be afraid to use me as a resource!  Keep up the good work!