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Cowboys and Christians

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I bet you’ve never heard ole Marshall Dillon say
Miss Kitty have you ever thought of running away
Settling down will you marry me
If I asked you twice and begged you pretty please
She’d of said, “Yes in a New York minute”
They never tied the knot
His heart wasn’t in it
Stole a kiss as he rode away
He never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place

(From “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith)

Do you like old westerns? Growing up, I always thought my grandpa was just like John Wayne, and he looked like him too.  We love it when the loner rides into town, cleans up the mess, and leaves like he came – independent and alone.

We like other kinds of hero movies for similar reasons.  When the hero, against all odds, saves the day without the help of anyone else, we cheer! There are no stereotypical heroes. Men, women, children, dogs. We root for the underdog and love to see him or her win.

They are the savior of the moment. They didn’t need anyone.  Everyone needed them.

We have adopted quite a liking to this loner mentality.  Our culture today is as individualistic as it has ever been.  We know more about our friends than ever through social media, but we are statistically more lonely and depressed than ever.  We pride ourselves on our independence and ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Even the “American dream” encourages this idealism that pits a person or family against the world to succeed in wealth, prestige and power.

But is individualism best?

My own personal savior, Jesus Christ.

The individualistic ideal of today that is standard thinking for many in America is foreign to so many others around the world, and it is a relatively new concept associated with the rise of industrialism, capitalism, and urbanization.

In days gone by, a family would need the entire community to survive.  Older generations weren’t carted off to homes for senior care.  They were incorporated into the everyday life of the family.  The nuclear family wasn’t separate from the collective.  People didn’t seek to be alone.

When you read the scriptures through the lens of individualism, then it would seem fitting that Jesus is our own personal savior. One for each of us.  But Jesus didn’t just come to die for you alone.  His plan was for the world.  The language of the scriptures isn’t that of individualism; it exudes collectivism.

Yet, when we read stories like the gathering of the first church in Acts 2, we immediately think of terms like socialism or communism or utopian societies or cults.  They thought of community.  They were using what they were blessed with to help those they considered family.  To seek independent wealth would be to show disdain for the collective need.

This collectivist mindset was the norm for those in the Middle East in the first century.  Yet, today, we are far removed from such thinking.  If we could refocus to see the collective view, the scriptures would open up to us in new ways, the church would mobilize again to look like she began, and we would find new purpose in our faith in Jesus.

When you read the word “you” in the New Testament, more often than not the word is plural – speaking to the whole church – not just the individual reading.

As it is, our individualistic mindsets convince us to hoard our wealth and give leftover to the church. We hide in buildings to see one another once a week or less, and we convince ourselves that we can seek this personal relationship with Jesus without attending services with other hypocritical Christians.

These ideas are entirely foreign to the church of the New Testament – the church of Jesus.

Jesus is your savior, but he’s the savior of the whole world, and you’re a part of it.  He’s the savior of the church, and you’re a part of it.  YOU (singular) aren’t the church.  WE (collectively) are the church.

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The Real Easter

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When I was little, I took everything that was taught me as fact. I questioned very little. But when I became an adult, I began to question many things that were being taught to me. Maybe you’re that way too. It’s good to seek the truth.

One of the truths that men throughout the ages have tried to clarify is the truth of what really happened the Sunday after Jesus was crucified. Did He really rise from the dead, or is this just a big hoax? With Easter coming this weekend, I thought it fitting to explore the three options for explanations as to why the tomb was empty on that historic Sunday morning.

Before we begin, however, I need to make one thing clear: I take the bible as a historical document. You can study this for yourself and find out that the bible is as much a historical document as any other document from that time, and there are some things about this book that leave me with no doubt as to it’s authenticity. If you don’t feel the same way, then I’d love to talk with you about that, but that proof is for another article.

The Swoon Theory:
Some people believe that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, rather he fainted and later woke up and escaped unnoticed from the tomb.

The Stolen Body Theory:
Some believe that Jesus did die, but that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb when the guards weren’t looking. This theory is actually recorded in the bible.

The Resurrection Theory:
Some believe that Jesus did die on the cross, that he was buried in a tomb, and that on the third day, he rose from the grave.

Well, there you have it…the three theories that I know of as to why there was an empty tomb that Sunday morning almost two-thousand years ago.  Without this empty tomb, millions of people have a faith that is useless (1 Corinthians 15).  So what’s the truth?

According to history, a person didn’t die quickly on a cross.  It would take a person upward of 36 hours to die, so the soldier that fateful day would have known that these three men (Jesus, and the two thieves) would not be dead by sundown.  He then made the decision to break their legs to speed up the dying process.  On a cross, you can inhale because your lungs are expanded, but you must push up with your legs to exhale.  He broke the legs of the two thieves, but when he came to Jesus, he saw that Jesus was already dead.  This man dealt with death on a regular basis.  He KNEW if someone was dead or just faking it.  Then, just to be sure, he thrust his spear into the heart of Jesus.  If Jesus hadn’t been dead already (which he was), then this would have been the point of no return.

Suppose Jesus didn’t die and the guard missed his mark (however unlikely that is), Jesus had been through hematidrosis – which is agonizing and weakens the body, and he had been severely flogged and lost copious amounts of blood.  Mark’s gospel records that the stone in front of the tomb was exceedingly large.  Jesus wouldn’t have had the strength to escape from the tomb. Thus the first theory is busted.

Matthew’s gospel records the second theory.  The Jews were concerned that the disciples might do this, so Pilate had the tomb sealed and a detachment of soldiers sent to guard tomb.  The detachment would have probably been 16 soldiers with four in front of the tomb at a time on 6 hour shifts while the other 12 slept.  These soldiers would have been armed and standing close to the stone.  The seal would have been two leather straps cris-crossing the stone with a wax seal at the cross.  The penalty for the guards falling asleep on their watch would have been death.  Thus this story would have been HIGHLY unlikely.  Besides, it would have been difficult for the disciples to roll away the stone without waking the guards even if they were asleep.

Thus the only acceptable solution is the third theory.  Jesus DID rise from the grave.  He was alive!  The bible records that over 500 people saw him after his resurrection.  Because of the resurrection we have hope in Christ.  All of our faith as Christians rests on the fact of the resurrection.

Have you put your trust in this historical event?  Have you been connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection by being baptized (Romans 6)? Do you regularly fellowship with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25)? I want to personally invite you to connect with a church that will help you grow in love for Jesus and for his followers.  If you’re in the Four Corners area, would you join us at Aztec church of Christ? We would love to have you be part of our loving family.


#aztecstrong #marshallstrong #churchstrong

Have you ever been in a situation where pain is imminent? Maybe you’re about to fall. Maybe you’re about to crash. Maybe one false move could cause loss of limb. In any case, your sensed are heightened, and you are keenly aware of every motion in effort to stave off the potential harm that could befall you. No longer are you drifting in semi-conscious automatic behavior. Now you are engaged, and your focus is keen.

How about another scenario. What do you do when you cut yourself badly? Let’s say you are in the kitchen cutting vegetables, and your finger gets in the way trying to pretend it’s one of the vegetables. The knife goes right to the bone. Do you continue in your course of action? NO! You immediately stop, and all your consciousness and efforts focus on stopping the bleeding and healing the wound. In fact, even as the wound heals, your body cannot help but remain focused on the sensitivity of the wound.

Pain focuses us. Terror unites us. Routine divides.

When I think of the terror of the Aztec and Marshall County High School shootings, it strikes me how unified the communities have become in the aftermath of the tragedies. People are reaching out to one another in ways they never would otherwise. Aztec is reaching out in prayer and support for Marshall County. Those two groups would never have even known each other. We are unified when we are singularly seeking to survive from similar circumstances. We have empathy and concern for one another, and we show it outwardly.

In the first century, the church was hemmed in on every side with persecution from a variety of groups that did not like how the Kingdom of God defines by selfless love threatened their power schemes. Christians were imprisoned and killed. People ran for their lives. But the church was growing. How could this be? It would seem the persecution would eradicate this loosely-banded group of misfits claiming such an outlandish story.

Instead of hurting the church, it actually caused its growth. People were unified in their drive to survive and invite others into a better way of love, and as the persecution came, they moved and continued to share, thus spreading the gospel to all the lands within a matter of about two years.

Tragedy and persecution united the church, and it grew.

Today the church is apathetic. Sure, you have ministers, pastors, evangelists, and a handful of people in each congregation that are actively trying to reach out with the good news of Jesus, but the majority of every church is apathetic concerning discipleship and righteous living.

When the church was being persecuted, you didn’t participate if you were unsure. You didn’t ride the fence because that would cost your life. You were either all in or all out. There was no place for another option. Those who were all in banded together in unity of purpose and message and turned the world upside down.

Today, churches are full of people who are riding the fence concerning their relationship with God. They aren’t atheists, but they aren’t sure they want to be fanatics about Jesus either. Thus the church merely survives rather than thriving as in the days of tragedy and persecution.

As the church continues day-to-day as it has for over two hundred years here in America, she becomes less and less energetic concerning the salvation of all mankind. She becomes complacent regarding righteousness. She becomes divisive when, in her boredom, she has more time to focus on petty arguments within her body than with survival and the central message of Jesus.

We must wake up. Just like a person who has become complacent regarding health needs to get back on an exercise and healthy-eating regimen, so the church needs to get healthy again. Away with the infighting. Away with the laziness. Away with the unrighteous behavior that makes church people indistinguishable from the world. Away with the lack of love.

Instead, let us be active. Let us follow the guidance of the Spirit and be lit on fire with passion for the salvation that only comes through Jesus. Let us love enthusiastically, and let us work together in our churches and in the community. Let us reach out to other communities of faith and, in unity, encourage one another and pray for one another as we singularly reach out into the world to spread the good news of hope in this life and in the life to come.

Today’s the day of renewal. Let’s not wait until persecution comes back.


Aztec, Silence is Golden

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The oldest book in the Bible is the story of Job.

In this story, Job is terrorized by Satan and his forces who destroy Job’s property, kill his children, and take away his health.  Throughout this process, Job refuses to curse God.

As Job begins to grieve, he puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes, a sign of mourning, and his three closest friends come to visit Job in his time of sorrow.

They sat with Job and said nothing.

For seven days they sat with him in mourning, grieving for their friend who had lost so much.  There were no words of comfort.  There were no quirky phrases that do more harm than good.  There was only silence and companionship.

Aztec is hurting.  Our children are grieving.  Three families especially are beside themselves with loss and grief and uncertainty.

I have spoken with families relaying that their children are not wanting to talk.  Parents want to help, but they’re unsure of how to do so.  They recognize the health that comes through emoting and discussion, but so many young people can’t talk right now.  They’re hurting on a tremendously deep level.  And they’re scared.

Sometimes people need others to be patient and simply sit with them in silence.

In the movie, “The Horse Whisperer”, it was imperative that Robert Redford’s character spend copious amounts of time with the horse simply being near in order to gain the trust of the horse.  After a long while, the horse would know the goodness of the man, and then relationship could be fostered.

This scenario is similar.  Kids need to know that it’s OK that they’re hurting.  They need to know that they won’t lose anyone else at this time.  They need to know you’re there beside them in times of quiet and in times of the flood of emotion that is sure to come. They need you to just be there.

Sit with them.  If they don’t kick you out of their room, sit on their bed with them and hold them in silence.  Just love them where they are.  Pray for them as you hold them.

As they begin to talk, ask questions.  Statements right now aren’t the best help.  They need to be able to talk things through and explore this new world on this side of the tragedy.  They need to discover their own way and find their loved ones supportive and caring in this new way.

For many of the young people in Aztec High last Thursday, life will never be the same.  Trust and security have been shattered.  The small-town atmosphere has been violated now that the thing that “would never happen here” has occurred.

We all need love.  We all need prayers.  We all need people who care for us enough to simply sit next to us and not say a word, like Job’s three friends. May we be that for our young people in the weeks and months to come.

If you need a safe place to talk, pray, heal, or just need someone to sit with you, I’m here for you.  Call us at the Aztec church of Christ at 334-6626 for support.  We have been praying and will continue to pray for you.


Aztec church of Christ

In 2012, my family and I were looking for where God was calling us to next. We searched all across the nation to find a church where I could preach, and we could live as a part of a family of Christ. In October, we came to interview at the Aztec Church of Christ. I’ll be honest. Google maps was discouraging me from being excited to move to a church with 17 families (that was the number of parking spots on the asphalt).

What I didn’t think of is all the gravel available for parking.

When we showed up, we were shown love and acceptance, and even our children felt this was the right move for us.

We had another interview across the country the following weekend, but after visiting that church, we were certain that Aztec was the place for us. On December 1, my son and I pulled in to Aztec to begin working here (my wife and our daughter would join us in a couple weeks). This weekend marks five years of living and working in the Aztec area, and preaching for the Aztec church.

Since that time, we have loved living in this area. It has not always been easy, but we can’t imagine living anywhere else.

The church is full of great people who genuinely love one another. We may not always agree, but even in our disagreements, we seek resolution and reconciliation because of our driving desire to love. This is what the greatest commands are all about. Love.

So why am I telling you all this? First of all, it’s because I’m excited for this milestone of five years. But I also want to talk about what I notice about the Aztec Church of Christ.

  • I’m not blowing smoke about the love of this congregation. Long suffering was how the preacher selection committee described the church when we came to interview, and this description has proven absolutely true.
  • I’m not the easiest person to work with due to my driving personality and constant desire to change. Yet, the leadership of this church has continually striven to work with me, and I have grown tremendously over these past five years.
  • You, my church family in Aztec, have become my friends. I don’t just feel like a hireling, for the church doesn’t treat me as such. This is important to every preacher, for they do not see themselves as separate from the congregation, but it is common for them to be constantly treated as outsiders or the hired help. My family and I are members of the Aztec Church of Christ, and I happen to also do the preaching.
  • This church has grown in many ways over these past five years. I’m not just talking about all the new members; the people in the church have shown and expressed growth as we journeyed together these past few years.
  • The fickle nature of the oilfield has brought new people and taken several families away, but the church continues to be a welcoming place of encouragement and acceptance to all who come, and she celebrates with those who have found new opportunities elsewhere, though we miss them.
  • The Aztec Church of Christ is a place where questions can be asked without fear, and topics can be discussed in genuine camaraderie. This is important as we all seek growth in our understandings and understanding in our ignorance. This is what fuels true growth as disciples. Where questions are not welcome, control governs.

There are many more things I’ve noticed about the Aztec Church of Christ, but these bring me joy and remind me why I’m glad to work in Northwest New Mexico. I hope and pray that we will have many more years of working in the Kingdom together. Thanks for these great five years!


Seasons

File Sep 30, 9 39 51 PMFall is a beautiful time of year.  The transition between summer, where plants are alive and temperatures are uncomfortably warm, and winter, where plants are dormant and temperatures are uncomfortably cold, is a window of pleasantness that can inspire the soul. To see the trees go from green to yellow to red and watch the animals scurry along getting ready for the bleakness of winter is, in many ways, rejuvenating.

This weekend I went up to the mountains to see the colors of the aspens and scrub oaks in all their autumnal glory. My family and I saw such colors and many deer and even a bear. We witnessed the grandeur of new places with majestic views and rushing streams.  We saw waterfalls and quaint towns. And everywhere was the feeling of fall – that transition to get ready for another busy mountain season.

Normally, such a trip this time of year into the mountains would provide opportunity to go where we want to go with comfortable (borderline chilly) temperatures and dry roads inviting us to explore the kaleidoscope of color that awaits.  This year, however, we were greeted by mountains capped with snow and temperatures that were downright cold.  The roads that usually invited us were wet and slick.

Yet we would not be undone by this unexpected change.  Instead of retreating and waiting for a better opportunity, we trudged forward and welcomed the unexpected.  Because of our boldness for adventure, we have pictures of mountains vibrant with color yet capped with snow.  We were even snowed on in one expansive valley above 11,000 feet on the last day of September! Coming down the mountain to return home, we were surprised by a magnificent rainbow at the summit of Molas Pass looking back toward the Animas River Valley.

It was totally worth it to brave the cold, wet weather to see what we had never seen before.

All this exploration of the change of seasons made me think about our lives.

We set things up so that we can live a certain way, and unexpectedly, God allows an abrupt change in our lives.  Some people have unexpected children.  Some have unexpected job changes.  Some even have unexpected changes within themselves.

Everything changes.  Everything is supposed to change.  Someone once said something regarding business that relates to all of life, “Change or die.”

But are you ready for change?  Do you handle change smoothly like the changing of the seasons, or does change feel like the severe storm that blows through and leaves you in a different time zone?

Some people resist change.  They want everything to be great, like it always has been, but they don’t realize that it hasn’t always been great.  There are always struggles.  There will always be struggles.  There is no possible way for things to remain the same.

So, the only logical option is to accept that change is coming and jump on board.

Within our very lives, change is expected.  Jesus loves you no matter where you were when you met him, but he loves you too much to leave you there.  He wants you to be changed. Daily. He wants you to become like him.

You have a choice.  You can joyfully embrace and seek after the change expected, and in doing so become the beautiful transition like fall in the mountains. Or you can resist. That resistance will not bloom like flowers in spring.  What usually happens when we resist change is we become more bitter and resentful.  Our trees begin to wilt and die.

How will you encounter the changes in your life?  Remember, you don’t have to face change alone. God has said He will never leave or forsake you.  Jesus said He would be with you always. You don’t have to be afraid of change.  Embrace it.


What Would Jesus Do?

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What Would Jesus Do?

When someone asks you, or your ask yourself this question, consider that overturning tables, beating people with a whip of cords, and yelling at people is an option.

Seriously.

Do you remember the story of Jesus droving out the money-changers in the temple courts? Some scholars believe the stories recorded in the gospel represent not just one event, but two. Imagine that. Jesus, meek and mild, got so beside-himself-mad that he disrupted the church money-making schemes and people’s businesses.

This does not quite fit the idea of Jesus being the Lamb.  If He’s the Lamb, He’s the Lamb who roars like the Lion of Judah.

These religious leaders were allowing outright corruption in the temple courts.  People were having to be fleeced in order to worship according to the Law of Moses.  Church services were overshadowed by immorality of the greedy kind.

Greed is called idolatry in the scriptures, and yet, here it is in the temple courts.

Is this a place you would want to give generously to?  Imagine a church like this.  Would you want to contribute to the work going on there?

Now think of another story.

Jesus gathers his disciples to the side of the temple courts watching the passers-by. Many rich people are coming with buckets of money.  Jesus isn’t impressed.

Then a widow comes, and when Jesus sees her, he tells his disciples to watch.  She barely put anything in – two small coins. Yet, this was all the money she had.

This woman just contributed everything she had to a system filled with corruption which is in complete denial of the presence of the Messiah. If I were Jesus, I might have stepped up and encouraged her to make her donation to another god-fearing charity (if such existed). It’s a good thing I’m not Jesus.

No, Jesus didn’t stop her.  In fact, he praised her.  He loved her heart of generosity and dependence on the Lord.

Would the temple use this money appropriately? Did they believe and teach the right things? No! In many ways, no.  In fact, many of the leaders of this religious movement would crucify the very man praising the woman for donating to the corrupt system.

Does the integrity of the system give value to the intent of the giver?

Many people want to get a list of all the good things being done with the money in the church treasury before they feel comfortable giving.  If a church isn’t teaching to their liking or doesn’t include the program they deem necessary, they threaten to withdraw their tithe. This currently culture seems to have a strong sense of wanting to know what the money is going toward before the wallet is loosened for giving.

Giving with expectation is tyranny in the same way that love with expectation is tyranny.  Giving with expectation is a form of blackmail. Generosity is a form of love, and love is not self-seeking, so how can one justify not giving because they have no control over where the money goes?

You may not know everything the church does.  You may not even agree with everything the church does.  Are you giving to the church?

When the offering basket comes around, are you giving to people, or an idea, or a cause? Or are you giving to the Lord?

Give. Generously give.  Gratefully give.

You haven’t been perfect in the ways you’ve spent the blessings of God, and you have sinned in spite of the love He constantly showers on you. You then, though you are imperfect, will you expect an organization full of other imperfect people to be perfect?  Will you seek to be in control of “your” money?

The next time the plate or basket or bucket is passed, give according to how you’ve been for-give-n. He has truly blessed you, and you are giving in response to Him – not anyone else.

 


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