Friday, December 16, 2005

How To Be Still

This is for those who have been so caught in the administrative trap, the consumerist trap, the busy-ness trap, the expectation trap, the rut trap that you are “mad as %#&* and you’re not gonna take it any more.” Or, maybe you are at the end of your rope physically, emotionally and spiritually. You’re counting on the remote possibility that this is not all there is. Well, good news… it’s not! Here is my premise: You and I can so make our home in the Person of Jesus Christ that troubles won’t go away, but they will lose their grip on us and shrivel to their proper “momentary light affliction” status, joy will rule in our hearts and all those around us will be glad to be with us!

Jesus promised us, promised us mind you in John 15, verse 11, “I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” C’mon! Seriously, do you really think that giving it all for Jesus means that we run around like chickens with their heads cut off, tired, lonely, frustrated, irritable, and too busy for anything meaningful? I sure hope not, too!

What can we do? (Now, be careful. This isn’t a recipe. But, in the scheme of things, we have choice, choices matter and have effects on our lives. We are to “work out our salvation” (Ph 2:12f)). I want to talk about the discipline of silence and solitude – an ancient practice largely lost in our day, but so necessary if we are going to reach balance in our lives. I define “discipline” the way Henri Nouwen did: Creating space in our lives for God to work.

Jesus is our model for solitude and silence. Periodically, Jesus became both physically and spiritually fatigued. So, Duh!, He pulled away. He had a remarkable sense for balance and rhythm in His life. So can we!

Now, this is written as a sort of “Beginner’s Guide” to the discipline of silence and solitude. I am not trying to seem pious nor insult your intelligence, but I am convinced very few of us practice this discipline, and we really need a starting point.

Begin by beginning. Cordon off a single hour somewhere in your schedule. Not at the end of everything else, give it prime time when you are fresh. Make it a time that reflects a significant sacrifice in your schedule. By the way, there ain’t nothin’ so blame sacred about your schedule in the first place! This is a hard step – we take ourselves far too seriously. This step is as important as taking your wife out to eat and canceling that committee meeting to do so! Mentally say, “This hour is of utmost importance!” Don’t broadcast what you’re doing, either. Matthew 6 takes care of that. If people find out you’re off alone “doing nothing,” they will see that as a vacuum and a waste of the time that they pay for and you will be in deep do-do.

Go to a place where the stimuli and distractions can be reduced to a minimum. Another hard step. No cell phones, no TV or radio. Make the place become quiet and comfortable visually. Keep your back straight, don’t slouch. Lie down or sit straight. Posture can create a significant distraction. If you need a nap, take one! Good grief. Fight the propensity to “do” anything!

Incidentally, the Evil One doesn’t like it when Christians get still. They hear God’s voice! Ach! Bad thing! He will pull out all the stops to keep you from this time of silence. Also, your mind is about to become a battleground. More about that as we go along.

Now be still. It is in being still that we “know that He is God.” We are not accustomed to this – you will realize this about 30 seconds into the hour. You must be convinced that this is the absolute best use of this hour, no matter what the sirens of this world screams in your mind! Squirming is predictable. Mark this challenge: When distractions come, when the tendency to quit is strong, when you get frustrated at the amount of noise there is in your mind, when you nearly become convinced this time is totally counter-productive, repent and come back to silence. The Prodigal’s Father is there to hug you, weep with joy over you, and be glad for your return!

THE TIME YOU ARE SPENDING IS A GOOD THING. Reject the lies of your Adversary!

Now listen with apathy. Huh? Do not feel like you must write something down or DO anything. Allow God to determine what happens in this precious hour! Brennan Manning calls this a time of “apathetic mysticism” – we trust God so much that we don’t care what He decides to do with it. You don’t determine what is successful anyway, He does. You are to show up and shut up. Become a sailboat in the sea of God’s love. Simply hoist your sail and go! Let God be God.

I venture to guess you will experience at least two things. One, if you are serious, you will come face-to-face to yourself. Busy-ness is the best distraction from facing our own worst enemy… self. But, it is self that must be faced. Here is who self is: nothing. More than that, we are sinful nothings! Outside the kindness and mercy of God’s grace, we are road kill on the highway of life. This is a necessary hurdle to peace and joy. It is part of what the ancients called the mortification of the flesh. As long as we clinch self, our hands are not open to what God would place there!

Two, we will begin to hear the voice of God saying, “You are my beloved! I am honored and glad you came to see me! I love just being with you.” An amazing thing occurs: Life takes on balance. Urgency fades and we can, for example, truly “smell the roses.” Recently, in a period of silence, I became nearly enamored with the grandeur and stature of an oak tree! Here is a created thing simply doing exactly what it was created to be and do – to reach for God and live! You and I are of much more importance than that tree. In solitude and silence we can replace the pseudo-value we place on ourselves and enjoy being valued by God.

That is all. Accept God’s acceptance. Wouldn’t the hour be profitable if you and I could walk away resting in the fact that we are loved by God and truly believe that truth is all that really matters? Oh, at the end of the time, Satan is going to try to convince you that your hour was a “waste of time” and “Don’t ever do that again.” Consider: You have just given God your undivided attention for an hour; how can that be a waste of time? Remember when Judas said just that? Here it is (from Matthew 26):

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. 9"This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."
10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
Giving God an hour is never a waste of time.
Now, finish, and plan your next time of silence and solitude. Enjoy these times. If you are not coming to experience the joy of John 15:11, confess your self-absorbed yardstick for “good.” Silence and solitude is not to be “liked” as we would a movie, a ballgame or a taco! It is an intimate relationship with our loving Daddy, and hour long hug in the lap of eternal comfort and acceptance.
Until we become convinced we are loved by God, there is no other message. There is a time a place for service, petitionary prayer, and other do-ings of the faith. I am convinced, though, that all that is preceded by time alone with God.

From The Message, we read Jesus’ words (John 15:5),

"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing.”

Paul told Timothy, “Discipline yourself for godliness (1 Tm 4:7).” That applies to you and me. It is a truth that sets us free! We can soar like the mighty oak in our Daddy’s kingdom! Imagine that – joy unspeakable!

“And, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Good News for Pastors

Are you a pastor or a church leader? Are things rosy? Church growing, everybody happy? Love what you’re doing? …Honest?

I have news for you… and it’s all good! Many, many pastors out there experience what I will call the Reality Gap. There is a huge gulf fixed between where you’d like to be (individually, spiritually, career-wise, church life) and Reality. It is not very easy to cope with it, huh? "It’s them!” we often say. Then when we are alone with ourselves, we wonder, “Where did I go wrong?” If you’re like me, you have a hard time getting away from your own worst enemy… self. We know about denial, but the pain of the Reality Gap is often nearly unbearable.

We pastor types really do well to dream! We even ask God to direct our dreams! We receive what we consider to be God-given, and off we go to make it into a reality. …It doesn’t happen! The Reality Gap! It’s the difference between my church and Acts 2:42-47!

Here begins the good news. Jesus said to those who would be around after His ascension (and that includes you and me)

“I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left--feeling abandoned, bereft. So don't be upset. Don't be distraught “(Jn 14:27, The Message).

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27, ESV).

If neither of those renditions is your life verse, help is on the way… help is right here! And, since we live in such a list-driven world (I hate lists!) here’s my list.

1. Stop readin’ books (metaphorically speaking, that is) ! Books are deceptive. For one, they seem to convey the idea that if you do all that is contained within, your ministry will soar! Not so. They also feed on your consumerist bent. “Buyyyy the booook! You NEEEED this book!” Plus, they charge too much for them.
2. Put first things first. A “successful” church (or ministry, or life, for that matter) is not the first thing. Do you see what is missing from this formula: Read book, implement book’s plan for successful church, BOOM - successful church? What is missing is what God wants to do in YOU! You are here first and foremost to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). What am I doing to become a Christ-like person is a better question than how can I build a successful church. Finally, success is not something you can do. Success is God’s business, faithfulness is ours.
3. Be faithful by being with Jesus. THAT is the first thing. Ever read John 15:1-11??? Christ is inviting the likes of you and me to make our home in Him! This is freeing! Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (The Message), “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.” It is the free and rested soul that is the Kingdom-builder in the crowd. SIMPLY FIND WAYS TO BE ALONE AND STILL WITH JESUS. Hear Him call you His Beloved child. Let Him stroke your hair with His soft comforting Hand. Let His eyes delight in you. This is the truth, the freeing truth. And, oh, by the way, if you “don’t have time” to be alone with Him for any period of time, your fuse is lit. You may not lose your job; worse, you may work for the next 20 years in a ministry only to produce “wood, hay and stubble.” You don’t have time NOT to be still and hear from God.

Be still and know that He is God – it is that simple. What is your SQ, your Stillness Quotient? When you are still in that Sabbath Stillness, you hear of your acceptance, and “the things of earth will grow strangely still, in the light of His glory and grace.” Oh, and the Reality Gap will lose its death-grip on you. Then, others will grow more Christ-like from being with you because they will say of you what they said of Peter and John, “They recognized them as having been with Jesus” (Ac 4:13).


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


The church does not have the luxury of “hanging in there” over the next few years. The church has lost her status in the community and people by the droves are leaving and will continue to leave if the church chooses to “hang in there” even if hanging in there means peddling harder and doing better.
From, and from an Update entitled “A Faith Revolution Is Redefining ‘Church,’ According to New Study”

"One of the most eye-opening portions of the research contained in the book [Revolution] describes what the faith community may look like twenty years from now. Using survey data and other cultural indicators he has been measuring for more than two decades, Barna estimates that the local church is presently the primary form of faith experience and expression for about two-thirds of the nation’s adults. He projects that by 2025 the local church will lose roughly half of its current “market share” and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack. Importantly, Barna’s studies do not suggest that most people will drop out of a local church to simply ignore spirituality or be freed up from the demands of church life. Although there will be millions of people who abandon the entire faith community for the usual reasons – hurtful experiences in churches, lack of interest in spiritual matters, prioritizing other dimensions of their life – a growing percentage of church dropouts will be those who leave a local church in order to intentionally increase their focus on faith and to relate to God through different means."

What!? Am I reading that correctly? Are people leaving church in order to find God? That’s insane! That is like saying that people are having difficulty finding a grocery store that sells… food! Or maybe it is a crazy as having to look long and hard to find a bank that cashes checks! Am I unreasonable to assume that the one place God could be found is the church? If the research is true, and I have no reason to cast doubt, that is about the most serious indictment on the church I have ever heard. In my estimation, that is right up there with the Crusades and the selling of indulgences!

I sure wish Francis Schaeffer were alive. “How then shall we live?” is even more poignant now than when he first posed it. That is what I mean when I say that the church cannot hang in there – she must, must answer Schaeffer’s question.

Here is my answer (I am not now interested particularly in the How? Another

post, possibly.) ….

1. The church must be about putting people in the Presence of Jesus. I am not referring to evangelism per se; I am talking about literally putting people in the Presence of Jesus. See John 15:1-11 and Acts 4:13 (“… They recognized them as having been with Jesus”).

2. The church must purify any and all that she does so that is building God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

3. The church has got to be a fellowship of intimate followers of Christ. If there is no community, there is no church and, therefore, no impact. Read Acts 2:42 and following.

4. The church must seek to enrich her worship experience. She is woefully lacking in this area. There is a holy God near by that we have yet to imbibe like we can.

5. We must maintain a sober and careful adherence to God’s written Word. We must learn it and teach it with passion and precision.

6. We must create community à la John 13:34,35. The church is not the church without love and koinonia as her warp and woof. This is hard, hard work.

7. We must forsake the negative side of Institutionalism, Individualism and Rationalism. I get this from Dr. Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Faith. We must embrace mystery.

Like Paul told Timothy, we must “discipline ourselves for godliness.” Nothing else will do. We certainly cannot hang in there! The process does not begin with our own resolve to correct or remedy something. We must find ways to “be still and know that He is God.”

“For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”

Until we begin to experience the transformation that comes with hearing and knowing the voice of the One who calls each of us His Beloved, there is no other message!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Many people shriek, “That’s not in the Bible!!” Well, … it is, too! I can think of at least 3 places in the New Testament where we read those words. Read Matthew 7:7,8; John 4:10; and John 7:38.

It is very unfortunate that the principle quoted above has been so maligned through the years; it is really sad, considering that it is very true! Allow me to explain. First, some terminology, namely, “help themselves.” In the original language it means “to avail oneself of,” or “to take advantage of.” For example, nowadays we hear that phrase used at mealtime. The cook (in my house, it is primarily my lovely wife) assembles the family and guests at a neatly set table and proudly hails, “Everybody help themselves, … there’s plenty!” The cook graciously and freely offers her bounty to all present.

So, in the case of this principle, “God helps those who help themselves,” a clearer rendering might be: “God shows immeasurable grace to those who simply help themselves to it.” Consider the 3 references above. The John passages liken the grace of God to water and say there is enough to go around, and then some! There is almost a silliness to it! If you or I were to see a $1 hundred bill lying on the ground, would we need to be coaxed into retrieving it? Never!

Such is the grace of God. Such is the nature of God: generous, fatherly, gracious, giving, lavish, extravagant, unconditional, caring, rich, adequate, satisfying, eternal, sure, trustworthy, committed, loving, confident, personal, tasty! Thus, we read the final words of John, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

The Bible is a book about God, God is the hero, and the story is about Him. It was written so that you and I might come to know Him (Jn 20:31!), come to experience intimacy with Him, come to be loved by Him, come to drink deeply at the well that is Jesus Christ – come to help ourselves at the banquet table of His bounteous grace – and then, and only then, gush over with grace into the lives of our friends. This is what it means when the Bible says, “… By this all will know.”

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Have You SEEN Jesus?

I am thinking about a conversation last Sunday night. What is it going to take for us to be a healthy, growing and ministering church?

I really believe it has to do with individuals (both individually and in groups) seeking to be with Jesus, starting to “look like Jesus” (transformation), and then being Jesus for others to see.

This is how conversion happened to each of us. We were drawn to Jesus by way of the Jesus in one of our friends. We were attracted to the love (and “God is love.”) shared with us in a relational way. Now, we have the honor and privilege of becoming Jesus for our friends!

For the church to “succeed” (I put that word in quotes because of the relativity of the definition of the word; although it is true that the church can experience true success!), she needs simply to be full of people who have been with Jesus!

We have to have seen Him! Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” God is great about giving us images we can understand to describe intimacy with Him. Tasting and seeing we know full well. I am thinking about how good Breyer’s ice cream or one of Marilyn Broussard’s small group goodies tastes!

And, seeing is believing. Those of us who have been to the Grand Canyon know the frustration of telling someone who has not been there what it is like. We invariably say, “You just gotta go there for yourself and see it!” When I finally went there myself and saw it, I could claim with authenticity that I had SEEN the Grand Canyon!

Seeing is a deep thing. Some see and don’t see – the psalmist says of the heathen, “They have eyes, but they cannot see” (Psalm 115:5b). Many claim to have seen Jesus, but the light is not in them and the church does not grow.

The Bible says that even when we do see, the sight we have is not fully complete. “For now we see I a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” Paul told the Corinthians (1 Co 13:12). Our view of God in the Person of Jesus Christ is limited and incomplete, but it can improve with time with Him!

Think of Linus this past week. He faithfully traipsed out to the pumpkin patch and sat in the cool night air with high hopes to see the Great Pumpkin. Though he for years on end has failed to have his goal met, he is buoyed by the fact that if he were not to show up for a viewing he surely would not see the Great Pumpkin.

To see we must simply show up and look. Linus will not see the GP if he does not position himself. And the great news is that, unlike the GP, when we position ourselves to see Jesus, WE WILL SEE HIM! Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells us, “I will be found by you” (29:14).

I believe the first step to a healthy, growing and ministering church is individuals and groups of Christ-followers who smell, look like and taste like Jesus! The mist of our dim view of Him right now can be lifted as we become still enough to know that He is God.

How can you and I take steps into the pumpkin patch of hope right now?

Friday, October 28, 2005

To the church ... on BUSY-ness !

Just a thought:

Imagine going through a day laden with a 75-pound backpack filled with rocks on your back, sunglasses, MP-3 buds in your ears cranked up to volume 10, and 25-pound barbells in each hand. How hard would it be to get through your daily responsibilities?

Isn’t that us, though? Satan can quote Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God.”) and Isaiah 30:15 (“In repentance and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust is your strength.”). He knows that stillness connects us with God; and he knows that distraction is the opposite of attention.

The church is too busy and distracted. Anemic faith is our best hope at the present rate. I am as guilty as the next guy.

But guilt is not my aim. Go back to those verses above. Stillness leads to knowledge of the God of the Universe! Repentance and rest lead to salvation – salvation from sin, yes, but also salvation from the weights that torment and distract our lives away from God! We are strengthened as we sit quietly and trust our Father!

God told Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) that “the battle is not yours but God’s” (v. 15). He went on to say, “You need not fight this battle, station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf. … For the Lord is with you” (v. 17). We need not take ourselves so seriously.

What can you and I do, even on a beginning level, to introduce a less hectic schedule into our lives? What can we cut out that clearly reflects a ruthless trust in God? How can we begin to reduce the clutter, noise and BUSYNESS so we can hear and respond to God?

The future of the church lies in our ability and courage to answer and act on those few questions.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why "The Wood Between the Worlds"?

In C.S. Lewis’ fantasy The Magician’s Nephew two wide-eyed children (Polly and Digory) find themselves in a new world by way of the shenanigans of Digory’s magician uncle. It seems by holding colored rings in the correct hands, one winds up in the Other Place, a “different universe.” Digory’s uncle fears the trip himself, but surely wants to “find out what it’s like” so he opportunistically enables his nephew and neighbor to go in his stead.

The two wind up in a lush and eerily placid forest whose moss-covered bed is rife with clear and beautiful pools of water. Incidentally, the kids have just arrived in the wood via one of the pools.

Once Digory and Polly collect their wits and realize they have, indeed, come to another world, they become conflicted between their spirit of adventure and their strong urge to return home.

While contemplating all the possibilities up against the risks, Digory exclaims, “I don’t believe this wood is a world at all. I think it is just a sort of in-between place - … a place that isn’t in any of the worlds, but once you’ve found that place [like the space under a house], you can get into them all [the rooms of the house]. … Nothing ever happens here. … Nothing goes on in the in-between places.” He goes on, “I think we can get out of this place into jolly well Anywhere.”

Their conclusion: Take hold of the rings, pick a pool, any pool, and leap to experience the world on the other side! Which is what they do, which is the balance of the book.

I firmly believe that is precisely where we as Christians, as church, are today.

Christendom is over and we have been thrust into a new paradigm. It is mysterious in nature simply because we have only just arrived… it’s an “in-between place.” My premise is this: We cannot know now fully what church “ought to” look like, but we must dream, we must change, we must experiment relentlessly, and yet we must also remain as balanced as we are adventuresome! We must move forward. We do know Who holds the future!

Might I change the analogy for a second. We are the children of Israel just after the Red Sea experience. We have seen clearly the Hand of Jehovah God, but the place we find ourselves now is foreign. How then shall we live – what are we to do? Do we gather several days of manna just in case? Do we go back to Egypt? Or do we press on in ruthless trust of the God who brought us here?

We are in the “in-between place” as the church. It is scary and unfamiliar. We can return to the familiar (essentially the post World War II “traditional”) or we can jettison any semblance of the familiar “because it didn’t work” (what I cynically call the “beatnik” church) and start all over again.

Our “situation” demands courage, sobriety, humility, daring, risk, the freedom to try and fail, and community. We must trust God and each other and seek to determine the path He has for us.
We are in “The Wood Between the Worlds.” God will uphold us. We must join together and talk, wrestle to exhaustion, and pray like there’s no tomorrow. And our ears will hear a voice behind us saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). We must be still and know that He is God. We cannot assemble in some smoke-filled room somewhere and expect to vote on whose opinion of the church’s future will prevail. His is a still small voice discernible by those who know Him, those whose posture is one of abject humility before the terrible and matchless throne of Grace! Grace yearns for beneficiaries! God longs to show us compassion and direction. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)”

Let’s grab the rings and jump!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Opening Day!

Welcome to The Wood Between the Worlds! I pray that this blog will honor God as we all stand poised in this wood among these many pools - pools that represent choices, choices regarding how we will do church. Oh, for crying out loud, God is Sovereign, the gates of hell will not prevail against His church and all that. BUT, we choose, and our choices matter. The world needs us to choose wisely how we will shape our expression of church. This is not a red pill, blue pill decision. Nor is it which chalice leads to the eternal youth. Nor is it some mystical bullseye that we either hit and the church prevails or we miss and the church collapses. But like I said, our choices matter.

How will we choose? What will be our bases for choosing? What makes church church? Now, I will be frank. We do not know enough about Postmodernity to make near-perfect choices. I mean, gee, the post-Christian age is merely seconds old in cosmic time. We must neither jettison all that has brought the church thus far nor seek to go back in time to what we consider the "Golden Age."

I believe there is direction. I believe there is wisdom. I believe there is balance. That is why this site has been created. Let's talk!