Friday, December 29, 2006

To Rise Above this World of Pain Into Consummate Joy

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Ephesians 3:20 (The Message)).

I am one of those crackpot idealists who believes that I can experience near ecstatic joy here on earth… before the second Advent! I don’t think the pains, challenges, and conflicts of this life will cease by any means; but I do believe I can joy far more than is my current experience – in fact, I have come to anticipate it. By joy, I do not mean some sense of giddiness in which I lope in slow motion through the field of daisies this life is. I mean a sense of peace and calm amid the storms of life because I live on another plane.

Did not Jesus promise us:

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow (John 15:11 NLT)!

Look at Paul – the quintessential follower of Christ, the chiefest of sinners. Granted, I have done some reprehensible things in my day, but I would be hesitant to name myself the “chiefest of sinners.” This same Paul is chained in a rat-infested, stinking prison, and yet he reveled in the experience because otherwise his guards would not have heard the gospel! Read Philippians 1. Another plane!

He called the likes of shipwreck, scourges and stonings to be left for dead “momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Not me! I hit two red lights in a row and that’s an affliction neither momentary nor light! Another plane!

I must admit that I really envy Paul. I do not think Paul ever experienced acid reflux, ever contemplated taking Zoloft. He lived above the fray. I’m sure he was still human. I am sure he still cried and complained to God for relief. But, there was something exceptional in this man that I want for myself.

Oh, and by the way, whatever Paul possessed, I do not think it materialized simply as a function of his will. I don’t think Paul woke up one day and said, “Y’know, life is pretty much getting to me. I think I will just opt not to worry any more!” Pardon me for showing my anger right here, but so much of modern preaching is of the ilk: JUST TRUST JESUS, isn’t it? Preachers think that by their simple admonition, you and I will just – at the nod of our wills – trust Someone we (and the preacher, too, for that matter) hardly know!

Back to Paul. Much more could be said about this saint-cum-sinner, but let’s get right to the heart of the man and this plane on which he lives – the same one I want for myself.

Here it is:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it (Philippians 3:7ff, The Message).

Paul so knew Christ and His love for him that it totally revolutionized his heart. (For you “Bible-Belters”: knowing Christ is not equivalent to “getting saved.” That’s the problem: Our faith experience means we “get saved” (come to “know Christ”) and then begin to conform our outward behavior to what the preacher says. Ugh!)

There are a few people in my life I would die for. I am not speaking here of my family, although I would certainly die for each of them. I am talking about the few people who have come to like me so well that they value me simply for who I am. I love to be around them, they make me feel … valuable. I like that. It warms my heart. I want to do for them as well.

This is a function of relationship, of community. It cannot happen suddenly. It is a journey. It is a friendship. It is both costly and risky.

I have a friend named Paul. He likes me. We have been friends for over 10 years. He likes me for who I am, not for what I can do for him. I am drawn to this “like” like a magnet. I would do anything for Paul. I hurt when he hurts. I pray for him. I love it when he calls me on the phone just to “hear my voice.” I like him, too. He says he appreciates me “liking” him, too.

Our like for each other transcends the pains we encounter together. If we disagree or get into a fight, our like for each other is not violated – it is the very thing that helps us endure the pain. Our like has become very other-centered – it has taken us to another plane. We consider other things (reputation, pasts, the risk and cost involved) “rubbish” in order that we might enjoy one another.

Because I know he likes me, I can like others.

This change, this revolution we are talking about is not, as I have said, simply an intellectual endeavor. Telling someone that God loves them is good, but not enough. Love is caught relationally from someone incarnating Christ. Essentially, we do not love the other person, we love the Jesus in them. My friend Paul does not have the capacity to like me in a way that transforms me. But, because he has experienced the love of God in Christ (meditatively, cognitively and … incarnationally in the live of those who have loved him), he has what it takes to love me.

Wouldn’t you like to rise above the pains of this world? Wouldn’t you like to be a part of the transformation of the hearts of your friends? Wouldn’t you like to have deep infecting JOY? Me, too.


You might have come to think that the will has nothing to do with this revolution of the heart. Well, it does, but you cannot force it simply by willing it. Read (again) Paul’s words to the Philippians (2:12f The Message)

Dear friends … Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

You and I choose (“Work hard”) to position ourselves for change to occur. Yet, the timing and the events of change are under God’s Sovereign Providence (“For God is working in you”).

This is the definition of discipline: Position yourself for God to work. This is the essence of Psalm 46:10: “Be still (cease striving) and know that He is God.”

I would say do these things:

… Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance (Paul to his disciple Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7ff).

1. Keep company with Christ (John 15:1-12). Think deeply on His Word (this is called meditation).
2. Remove impediments from the heart-to heart connection with God (Psalm 66:18; 1 John 1:9). This is called confession.
3. Position yourself for change. Show up and shut up. This is called the discipline of Solitude and Silence. LISTEN for that still small voice that says, “I really like you!” Read others who have experienced this discipline.
4. Pray for God to send you into relationships. Be willing to invest and to be invested in. This is hard – the world does not value community. It’s too busy valuing the death of real intimacy – BUSY-NESS. Ask God for mentors (mature individuals who can teach you and love you), peers (fellow travelers on the journey) and disciples (friends of yours to whom you can incarnate Christ!).
5. Do your best to worship both corporately and privately. Dwelling on the character of God brings about good change (and it keeps the focus of you). Accept nothing but true worship – it might be hard to find.
6. Seek healing from the past. From past beliefs that effect your thinking in the present, and from past wounds that impede relationships in the present. I cannot tell you how to do this. Counseling, spiritual direction and outright miraculous healing come to mind. Healing, though, for the most part, occurs in community.

Friend, there is more! Our God is that cool and He is that eager to bless you with a Joy that is beyond anything you or I could dream up or fabricate!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Avoiding Idle Talk

The Imitation of Christ
Thomas à Kempis



The Tenth Chapter


SHUN the gossip of men as much as possible, for discussion of worldly affairs, even though sincere, is a great distraction inasmuch as we are quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity.
Many a time I wish that I had held my peace and had not associated with men. Why, indeed, do we converse and gossip among ourselves when we so seldom part without a troubled conscience? We do so because we seek comfort from one another's conversation and wish to ease the mind wearied by diverse thoughts. Hence, we talk and think quite fondly of things we like very much or of things we dislike intensely. But, sad to say, we often talk vainly and to no purpose; for this external pleasure effectively bars inward and divine consolation.
Therefore we must watch and pray lest time pass idly.
When the right and opportune moment comes for speaking, say something that will edify.
Bad habits and indifference to spiritual progress do much to remove the guard from the tongue. Devout conversation on spiritual matters, on the contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress, especially when persons of the same mind and spirit associate together in God.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What is Church Anyway?

What is Church Anyway?

I bet you think of a building, don’t ya? Or, maybe a congregation of people in that building? Think of it this way: If Jesus had in mind what you and I think church is, would it not make sense that He would have spent His time on earth doing things other than just hanging out with people???

Seriously folks! What about believers in other parts of the world, what about those in other centuries? Are they condemned because they didn’t dress up many times a week and go to a building for services and prayer meetings?

Might I posit the obvious: Our understanding of church needs work!

Church is Christ-followers living out their faith together (key word there!) which sometimes and occasionally includes corporate activities. Corporate activities are vital to church; they are not, however, most of what we do.

Neither, I might add, is small groups church… altogether. “Small groups,” in and of itself can be just a smaller corporate meeting. “Small groups” is “Community Lab.” I see it as a place where we learn to live out our faith and practice it safely in a hospitable environment (i.e., community).

Which idea of church are you living out? Is church a lifestyle – constantly relational for the purpose of building God’s Kingdom? (I know church staff people that are too busy with church work to do that!!!) Or is your idea of church something else? Something that is not congruent with the life of Christ we read about in the Gospels?

Improvement on our ideas is what I’m after here, not a change in behavior. That will come when our ideas change.

Read the Gospels.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Profundity in Simplicity

There is more wisdom in the simple than the profound and complex.

God is good.

Heaven is real and coming.

We will battle the tendency to reject God until the day we die.

Be still and know that He is God.

The one who listens to God hears Him.

Hearing God means that we spend time alone and silent.

If we don’t spend regular time alone and silent… we won’t hear God.

God want us to hear Him.

Hearing what He has to say is a good thing.

It seems we want to listen to any other voice besides the voice of God.

God ordains whatsoever comes to pass.

Precious little (in fact, nothing) depends on you.

God loves you whether you know it or not, whether you’re lovable or not, whether you have experienced any kind of love or not.

Jesus died to wipe out any penalty you owe for your wrong-doings.

Worry is a sin.

Alcohol in moderation is not.

Every prayer is heard by God.

Praying is the end of prayer (not answered prayer).

Joy is available. As you become the real you, joy will emerge.

The world stinks.

Hope motivates.

God’s gonna win!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ever noticed that you CAN notice?

Oh, what a beautiful morning! As I drove out this morning, I thought this to myself as I noticed the crystal clearness of the haze-free and dry early fall morning.

Then I had a metaphysical, existential moment:

I noticed that I COULD notice!

I noticed a beautiful morning with the gift of notice-ability.

I not only noticed the beautiful day waking up, I noticed that I was given the gift, the ability to notice!

God let me see, let me notice, let me behold.

Do you notice… you can?

What do you see when you look?

(Jesus said:) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God (1 John 3:1).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How Do You Know If What You're Doin's God's Will?

I am currently tutoring a rising senior in high school – Algebra II, ugh! We begin our summer mornings on the porch where we “solve the world’s problems” before we solve the ones in the math book!

Today went like this: You see, the young man is a committed follower of Christ, mature and apparently committed to God’s plan for him. He is an excellent baseball player. His decision du jour revolves around which school to attend (he has been home schooled and plans to go either to a Christian school without baseball or the public school with baseball). It seems it comes down to this: Christian school portends the end of baseball – what the young mans calls “laying it down.” And, public school is place of ill-repute in which one’s faith is attacked regularly and without mercy. There is more to it than that, but this young man really wants to honor God and has a love for baseball as well.

This scenario and millions like it face believers daily. Some simply do their best to make a decision and others seem to hear God speak to them clearly and decisively saying, “This is what I want you to do.”

Interestingly, this particular morning I was sitting reading a book on solitude and silence when the conversation began. What follows is a record of my mind’s ruminations on the subject of pondering God’s will. I purposely will not fire off the customary Bible verses with the “And, there you have it!” at the end. I want to talk in a rational tone to a rational mind.

The first thing I want to note is that regardless of one’s theology of determining God’s will, personal beliefs seem to bear on the decision with invariable certainty. For example, one might have the belief that in order to follow God’s will, personal enjoyment is out of the question. So, in our case this morning, the prospect of God’s will including baseball seemed self-promoting and therefore very remote. Now, don’t scoff! I’ll bet that hits close to home for many of us. Point is, though, our ideas and beliefs we bring to the decision table bear strongly on the proceedings.

This young man went on to tell me that “everyone” has been quick and generous with their “advice.” This is where I really began to think. Paul in Colossians strongly warned against this. (I said I wasn’t going to do it, but I am). Go read chapter 2, a polemic against self-appointed arbiters!

What place does advice have then? Here is the biggest point I want to make: I want to heed the advice of those who have done well hearing from and heeding Jesus themselves. Would it not make perfect sense that the advice of greatest value comes from the ones most intimate with the Lord – the ones who have been with Him, the ones who have spent time listening to Him in silence and solitude?

I want those kind of loving relationships, don’t you? Think about this in a church context. Suppose you are in a town meeting or an elder meeting in which the future trajectory of the church needs to be addressed and strategized. Traditionally, the meeting happens, everyone gives their “opinion” (“I think we oughta ….”), a token prayer opens and closes the meeting and decisions are made right there on the spot – ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH!

For those of us even remotely interested in doing God’s will, would it not make practical and plain sense for us to spend time with God, quiet and in the listening mode? I mean, really! Think about decisions you and I have made – from the brand of deodorant to the choice of a spouse. Have these decisions (at least the key ones) been preceded by times of intentional, protracted and meaningful times of silence with the hope of HEARING GOD? Then why, for crying out loud, do we think we are following God’s will?

Jesus in John 10 says (as plainly as the nose on your face) “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (v. 27).”

I guess the best indicator that one has “heard the voice of God” is that person has been still and quiet long enough to have heard it. Only problem is: The church discourages stillness, does it not? Even the silent prayer time in the worship service has an organ playing in the background! We are to be do-ers of the Word, winning the world to Jesus, right? Activity and busy-ness is rewarded in the church. (Sorry for letting my cynic show.)

So, where and when are we taught and encouraged to “Be still and know” that He is God? My God, may the church take a practical clue and stop and listen!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Stupidity is Not Necessary

"For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)

Neither of us, you and I, has to be stupid.

So, when the commercial comes on the TV and tells you that you can earn $10,000 a month in your spare time, laugh and ignore such a stupid and ignominious lie! In a more subtle, yet no less insulting, way, fall not prey to the promise that beer is the key to lasting happiness and fulfilling sex!

I do not mean to insult anyone, but we’re all stupid. Were it not for this fact, then TV would be refreshingly void of commercials! Is this not an accurate definition of a marketing expert: A person adept at taking full advantage of a person’s stupidity by using whatever spurious and manipulative means available to cause him or her to buy something he or she does not need by promising something the product cannot deliver?

Oh well, I am right in there, too! I am just as stupid as the next guy.

There is hope – in the Person of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, I can gain something (or Someone) worth more than “the whole world.” Possessing Jesus (or better, being possessed by Him) is what it means to be me. This is up against the lie of the world that says in order to be “happy” I must have things and be “someone” in the eyes of the society.

Satan is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44). Our mind is mostly convinced of that, but our other parts (body, emotions, etc.) will still covet that pair of Nike’s, receive that comment for the ego and make that ill-advised click on the computer.

Paul calls that doing the very thing we hate (Romans 7).

Don’t lose heart. We are in good company.

May we, on the other hand, seek the truth and the Father of all truth – the same truth that LIBERATES and opens our eyes to the unfailing truth in the statement: Gaining Christ is all that matters. What does it mean to “be my self”? Simply this: Knowing with all of me that I am loved and possessed by Love and am the beneficiary of eternal hope to the extent that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Go read John 15:1-11 in a readable translation over and over until you begin to see that trust is built upon intimacy and intimacy is built upon a relationship.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Do You Smell Like Jesus?

There is a restaurant in my town that I rarely patronize. It is one of those greasy spoons where profanity flows and smoke blows and the air could be cut with a knife. Breakfast is their forte.

Go there for any length of time and what? Right! You’ll emerge smelling like the place you just left, smoky. Most of us can identify with the scene, that is why I use this analogy, albeit negative, to make my point: THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN WITH JESUS SMELL LIKE JESUS.

Read Acts 3 and 4 (one of my favorite passages) and go as far as 4:13. No sooner than bold-speaking Peter and John had healed a man (not exactly a capital offense) they were arrested! Kept overnight and interrogated, these two men spoke with boldness! It must have come as a shocker to the powers that were that Peter and John did not cower and capitulate in order to attain freedom. In any event, they were hastily up and released! All the dumbfounded officials were left with was that they “recognized them as having been with Jesus.” They were as blown away by the Jesus in the apostles as the garrison of soldiers sent to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane. Read John 18 (4-6):

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground.

Here it was Jesus, Himself. In the case of Peter and John, they merely smelled like Jesus – they had the same impact on others that Jesus would have had if He had been there in the flesh.

Rocket scientist I ain’t, but I can put it all together to say this: Churches of impact into the gates-of-hell of this world smell like Jesus – they are an assemblage of Christ-followers who “have been with Jesus.” This is the opportunity afforded us all in John 15 by none other than … Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”

Churches of today do smell, stink even, but not much like Jesus. George Barna reminds us that the number of Christ-followers leaving the organized church in order to find Jesus is at 20 million and rising! Imagine that, leaving the church to find Jesus!! Now I’m dumbfounded!

Churches today are consumed with anything and everything but Jesus! We spend tons of time planning to worship Jesus, but do we … worship Jesus? We have the latest and greatest Vacation Bible School week complete with every creative craft known to man in order to encounter Jesus, but do we? We meet as a small group, go deep as heck, share our lives on a weekly basis in order to become like Jesus. Do we, really? Are we becoming more like Him with all this Christian “activity” we are given to?

Question is this: Is the product of the postmodern church human incarnations of Jesus, “little Christs”, Christ-ians? Are we turning out people who smell like Jesus? Statistically, the answer is no. We divorce like the world. We shun, gossip, abuse and molest like the world. We bicker and split like the world. We eat our own worse than the world ever did.

What to do? What to do?

We must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work us to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Ph 2:12f). First, we must find ways to simply “be with Jesus” (Mt 11:28-30 in 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. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

This is so simple it is nearly impossible, given the consumeristic, busy, traditionalistic, narcissistic, legalistic state in which we find ourselves. Yet, it is the next step for the church. The cost is high – it may take leaving or closing the doors of what we know as “church.” It will take a humble and daring heart that says, “I am gonna do it.”

If you will, start with ten minutes of alone time, in which your only objective is to be still and silent. It’ll kill ya! Fidget ain’t the word for what you will likely do! Ten minutes will seem like ten years. We are so unaccustomed to stillness! Yet, it is in the still times we will hear the voice of God saying, “I really like you, y’know!” And it is in the still times, close to Jesus, we will begin to smell like Jesus. We will be doing the right thing, and the world will see the building of the Kingdom of God if we do it!

Second, we must rest in the mysterious grace of God. It is God who is at work in us to will and to do. Do what you hear Him saying to you. Fight the guilts that say you haven’t done enough. Do what you can to “keep company” with Him! Then, pat yourself on the back because He is just glad you showed up!

He will bring you to discipline yourself. In the quietness and far reaches of your heart, see if therein lies a flicker of willingness to take the high road, the counter-intuitive, counter-productive path to holiness. I’ll bet it is!

May the Kingdom of God be built – may you and I so BE with Jesus that others smell Him on us and come to Him!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Letter to a Pastor Friend

Dear _________,

Today was good.

I am in one of those pensive moods as I prepare to paint the bathroom - long over due. Ya know the new bathroom is over due to be painted when your wife buys kleenex to match the color of the drywall!

Bear with me.

Jesus said that the world will be changed ("by this world will know") when believers "love one another" - as you said today... LOVE WELL. That is clear as a bell in John 13.

We live in a culture in which believers in Jesus have not been loved well. They have begun to journey with Him, but they have not experienced that kind of agape atmosphere (relationships, community) enough for life change (transformation).

You and I have to love well. The requisite for that is to have been loved well. We have to have been loved well by His incarnation in the form of another believer - we have to have been mentored, discipled.

The folks in the room have not experienced that. Sure, a few have to an extent, but the majority have not. So, for them to hear the admonition, "Love well," they don't have reference for that. They are like the young person in the slum making mudpies... he does not want to go to the beach!

Love well means to DO something they (in their current belief system) are not currently not doing, and the congregation doesn't want to. Each of us is doing exactly what we want to do.

We cannot talk about obedience, mission, and outreach until we have people motivated by the love of Christ found in people like you and me.

Step 1: You and I "keep company with Jesus." We allow others (mentors) to love, and nurture, and lead us to Him. Here is where we experience agape.

Step 2: You and I pick out a few friends to live with, to invest in, and to sacrifice our lives for... exactly like Jesus did. Here is where we give away (agape) what we have received.

Step 3: Once trust begins, you and I can invite our few friends toward life change.

Obedience, etc. is nearly automatic at this point.

You and I have got to live our lives as Jesus would live them if he were us.

We have to incarnate Jesus.

We have to create relational atmospheres conducive to life change.

It seems we will do ANYTHING but this - the tough work of investing in the lives of a few friends.

Change is going where we have never been with someone who has. The church is stuck on the Savor Christ step. We all worship what we know of Jesus. We get to know Him better as we journey with those who do. Telling others to go and Savor Jesus is not enough.

From John 1:

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.
45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Some how herein lies the key to the future of the church... loving one another.

Friday, April 14, 2006

On Easter - and the vital-ness of COMMUNITY

Each of us was made to love and be loved, cherished, admired and liked. No one honestly turns love down. I guess more songs have love as the theme than any other.

Burt Bacharach wrote these lyrics back in the 1960’s: What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love; no, not just for some but for everyone.

We were made to be loved and to share love. And, because, yes, there is a love deficit in our world, each of us feels – to one degree or another - unloved and even unlovable.

This thought pattern festers. Left alone in the mire of our own minds and thoughts, this feeling of “Nobody loves me” gains canon status and becomes as “true” as truth gets… at least in our own minds. Thomas Merton writes:

“The soul that picks and pries at itself in the isolation of its own dull self-analysis arrives at a self-consciousness that is a torment and a disfigurement of our whole personality” (No Man is an Island, p. 34).

We wind up as a society of empties demanding of each other what no one can supply.

Good news: You are not who you think you are! You are who God thinks you are… after all, He made you, right? So, who are you? It’s no big secret: YOU ARE THE BELOVED OF GOD! You are God’s child (John 1:12) and God’s children are His beloved – His loved ones (Mark 1:11).

Here’s where we experience a disconnect. You and I read that and say, “So!” Everything we experience existentially says the opposite, and it is this to which we defer. “I don’t care what the Bible says, I know I am not loved!”

What to do? What to do?

Will the knowledge that God demonstrates His love for you by dying for you and shouldering the vomit of your rebellion on the Cross make any difference? Read:

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God--all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God” (Romans 5:8-11).

How much are you and I loved? Enough to cause our Creator to say, “I’d rather die than live without you!” This is the Easter experience.

Well? Still hung up on the experiential level? Join the crowd! We western Americans have been so Easter-ized that the Cross has lost its luster, its effect. How tragic is that! If we have heard that Christ died for our sins once, we’ve heard it a million times!

So, what is it that will make the Cross real enough for us that we will abandon our selves and our “truth” about ourselves for the reality of our belovedness?

In a word, COMMUNITY. Community is that relational fabric upon which life is sown. Community consists of those Christ-following friends who have so experienced the love of God in Christ that they have excess enough to give to others. (Read the article by Henry Nouwen called “From Solitude to Community to Ministry.”) Incidentally, community is impossible without those in hot pursuit of it first having begun to experience that ruthless love of God in the Person of Jesus. Without that in place we all remain spiritual carnivores.

In COMMUNITY, I am free to assail and execute the need to impress. We become free and clear of “our own worst enemy.” We can hear the voice of Jesus’ love emanating from our friends – a voice, a message we would never give ourselves. We can experience the freeing effects of our own friends thinking for us! In community… we can hear others tell us – in word and action – “You have eternal value! You are special! You are loved!”

Jesus had this in mind when He gave the 11th Commandment, when He told us the key to the building of the Kingdom of God lies in the way Christ-followers love each other.

The upshot of this is obvious: the church must build community not institutions, not programs or services.

Bacharach’s song continues (with a few little emendations)

Lord, we don’t need another meeting. There are prayer times and socials, enough for all.

We’ve got so much stuff to do, all kinds of ministry,

Enough to last till the end of tiiiiime!

What the word needs now . . . .

Saturday, March 11, 2006

CHANGE ! ! !

What do Amway, exercise, ski boats and small groups have in common? Certainly it is obvious! No? OK, here it is: one word…


Each of these “things,” when taken seriously requires a fundamental, significant and ongoing change in one’s lifestyle. Buy a ski boat and you’re gonna use it… you’ll obviously use it more than you did! In other words, change. I remember the first time a friend approached me about Amway. I thought, “I can make and save money; but am I so willing to radically adjust my living patterns in order to make this thing work?”

The same goes for exercise and small groups! I have quipped many times, “What do you see most often in March yard sales?” Exercise equipment. The New Year’s resolution to “work out” that was brought about by the treadmill Christmas present fizzled in the first quarter of the year.

We joke about change. How many ____________’s (insert your religious denomination) does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: … CHANGE!?!

Without change there is no life.

How do we change? Just do it. Nah! That won’t work. Never mind to many church leaders! For most of my life I have heard preacher after preacher seek to inspire parishioners toward change by simply reminding them that the Bible says to grow, so GROW! Sorry, not gonna happen!

What is change for a Christian? It is becoming conformed to the image of Christ – becoming more like Him and less like the selfish sinner we naturally are (Ro 8:29). It is decreasing so He can increase in me (Jn 3:30). It is dying to self (Gal 2:20).

I’ve said this before: No one in their right mind is going to accept the admonition to change with a mere act of the will. Two problems: the will is weak and we lack the necessary trust and heart.

Again, what is change? Change for a Christian is a fundamental alteration in the way we act. Whereas we did not pray, now we do. We did not read our Bible, go to church, serve God and talk to those who do not know Him about Him… now we do.

Where do we begin? We begin in a safe relational environment conducive to those new kinds of behaviors, much in the same way a doctor learns to doctor. I am told that a physician’s first suture patient is an orange! Hardly life-and-death, huh?

OK, the place is right, what else? The heart! I must be motivated to become a mature Christian… or a doctor, a plumber, a statesman, a mommy, or whatever! Unless and until you and I are sold on the idea of change, it won’t happen. And, I become sold on the idea (my heart changes!) simply by keeping company with Jesus! We see this between the lines of Matthew 11:28-30:

"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. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Christ invites each of us to live with Him (John 15:1-11); and don’t you think that when we live with Him for even a little while, we’ll start to behave like Him?

From Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (IVP, 2005, p.17) we read

From its beginning the church linked the desire for more of God to intentional practices, relationships and experiences that gave people space in their lives to “keep company” with Jesus. These intentional practices, relationships and experiences we know as spiritual disciplines. The basic rhythm of disciplines (or rule) for the first believers is found in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching [a practice] and to the fellowship [relationships], to the breaking of bread [an experience] and to prayer [another practice].”

In the beginning, we don’t want to keep company with Jesus. Not only that, we don’t have what it takes to keep company with Him in the first place! We start by starting. Disciplines usually move from “have to” to “want to” in much the same way that playing the piano does.

Something inside us – a small voice – tells us that this Christian thing is real and we trust that voice and do things in order to hear better. We choose to conduct some rudimentary Christian practices and we align ourselves with fellow travelers and journey toward maturity together.

This is where community comes in – small groups. Ideally, small groups are a safe place to practice new forms of behavior. It is a place to shuck and be healed of the past and its ungodly and self-centered patterns. Small groups is not a formula, a recipe for maturity. Small groups does not oblige God to show up and transform everyone in the room.

But, if we show up, if we create space for our King to manifest Himself, He will … and our hearts will all be changed as a result.

This is a plea for those of us who have heard the tinkle of that small voice to take steps toward Jesus, to sacrifice in order to build community. It is a plea for many to keep company with Jesus, to practice the disciplines with dog-jawed tenacity in order to become more like Him so we might participate in the building His kingdom!

Change is what we’re after – may we keep company with Jesus and change into His image. May there be not one small group in the church’s spring yard sale and covered dish dinner!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

On Raking Leaves

Therefore, my dear friends, … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Ph 2:12f).

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps (Pr 16:9).

Can it be – could God be speaking out of both sides of His mouth? No. This is what J.I. Packer calls an antinomy, “an appearance of contradiction.” God, for all time, has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Is 55:8). And we know that He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11, my italics).

God is mysterious – He cannot be explained. And, that is OK! Mystery gives oomph to our faith. God is unpredictable, neither is He capricious. And, that is where we land. We plan, He directs. How, then, should I plan my way? What, if anything depends on me?

I saw this principle illustrated in a vivid way: God is sovereign, and my decisions matter and make a difference.

I raked leaves today for over six hours! I know it’s March; you come tell my trees that the fall is back a few months! I obsess over leaf-raking. I set out to rake every last one of them. I don’t like to rake leaves. I like to be outdoors, but leaf-raking to someone like me is bad. I also have a pattern. I rake in neat rows, turn exactly 90º, make identical piles, and generally rake downhill… when possible.

What do you think is the worse thing that could happen to me? (Pause) Wind! Wind is from the pit of hell to the leaf-raker. Leaves go back to where they came from, and there is no alternative but to rake them again! I hate raking a leaf more than once!

I could have planned the life cycle of the tree better, I think. Once I enjoy the Technicolor beauty of the fall foliage, the leaves could just disintegrate!

Oh well, this is what I learned. At 9:30 this morning, leaf-raking was down around 5000 on my want-to-do list, but it was Numero Uno on my Git-‘R-Done Today list. For the first half-hour or so, I … pouted and grumbled – sinning in full view of God, my family and all the neighbors. Lesson #1: Leaves do not rake themselves. God for-ordained from eternity past for you and I to do things, things that matter. Yet, learning the doctrine of human instrumentality is not the lesson that touched me most this morning.

Lesson #2: Wind is not a friend of the obsessive. So, I had a decision to make: Would I force my “pattern raking” to happen in the face of changing circumstances or not? Here’s what I did. I became very sensitive to the direction of the wind. I befriended him. Or … her. When the wind came from the north I raked … south! When it turned, I turned and raked the other way. I had to run to the other end of my area a couple of times, but I didn’t knuckle under and do it my way, regardless!

Here was a perfect example of God’s sovereignty along side my responsibility. The wind is God – blowing whither it wishes. I respond responsibly with cooperation. I seek not to harness nor alter the path of the wind – it is out of my control. Yet, by choosing responsibly, I actually do avail myself to the power of the wind to accomplish my task!

Cool, huh? Admittedly, there were times when the wind swirled and caused havoc on my neat piles and rows. But, today, I learned deeper the beauty and mystery of God.

How might we learn from this in our days as followers of Christ? I see at least two ways. One, we can relax and take ourselves less seriously. God is in control and “will accomplish what concerns [you and] me” (Ps 138:8). Two, we can learn to cooperate with God and His Spirit (“wind” in the original languages!), and again, relax in our diligence.

We have to listen to God’s Spirit to grow wise. Listening is a matter of removing distractions and diversions and creating space for
God to speak clearly. And He does, and He will!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What Drives Our Trust

I had a great 2 hours with my mentor of nearly 30 years yesterday. We go back to the Fall of 1977, when I was a strapping young football coach and a tadpole in the faith. Speaking of strapping, he obviously had no idea what he was strapping on when he moved into my life! I was quite a project! Still am!

In the midst of the conversation, I was waxing as eloquent as I could when I came upon the following line of thought. See what you think.

We are not our own. We were bought at a price. We are here on this earth with the sole purpose of bringing glory to God. This story is not about ME!

Nobody in their right mind is going to live that way!

Unless. Unless what?

Unless we know, love and trust God.

The BEGINNING point of all this is the love of God.

So, the words of Brennan Manning and others ring ever true and profound:


This is not an event nor is it a transaction. It only begins that way. IT IS A RELATIONSHIP; a hard, mysterious, unpredictable, un-manageable, thrilling, scary, life-giving, life-long and often frustrating RELATIONSHIP!

This is the first thing. Be with Jesus - the lover of you! Push back the stuff of your life so you can hear Him say, "You're mine! I birthed you. I love you beyond limits. You are worth a lot to me. Come and sit with me and be happy!"

Be with him in your alone times.

Be with Him in the lives of your Christ-following friends.

Run to the hem of Jesus as any child of His would (presume upon Him!), stand on tippy-toes, rear your head back so your eyes meet His, raise your hands and watch Him lift you to His warm, loving and secure chest.

And be happy.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Operating Assumptions - Help Me Write My Life

I am dealing with some stuff on a very subterranean level - just what is the story of my life. What have I become as a result of the past? Who am I? What are the values I'd die for? How has God fashioned me so that He can use me in the building of His Kingdom? I am trying to write this stuff down.

Today I have sought to write the Operating Assumptions of my life as a follower of Christ. They are below. I wonder about the following question in light of them: IF EVERYONE HAD THESE VERY SAME ASSUMPTIONS, WOULD THE CHURCH BE HEALTHY AND WOULD GOD'S KINGDOM BE BUILT? I need you to help me EDIT these Assumptions. By EDIT, I mean more than feedback - look for what's not there as it relates to me and my life. Help me as my community to ask: Where is my journey taking me?

I want so much to help build God's Kingdom by assisting in making His Bride, the church, stronger. I am starting by writing stuff down that is in me.

Will you please take time to read, re-read, read between the lines of the following as a way to see what God is up to and where He is taking me?

I know it will be risky - but any comments, questions, remarks, anything that comes from your heart... I'd love to hear it. You can write me back or we can talk in person. And , THANKS.


Being with Jesus is the First Thing.
Being with Jesus allows us to hear His voice.
His Voice speaks of His love for us.
His Voice tells us we are accepted by Him.
His Love motivates our life of Service.
Service is imitating the life of Jesus.
Being with Jesus is a hedge against sin and idolatry.
God’s Word, Prayer and the Disciplines (positioning ourselves for God to work) are vital for Abiding in Christ.

Community is deep life-sharing. It is Relationship.
Community is the essence of the Church.
In Community we become like Christ (Spiritual Transformation).
Community is imitating the life of Jesus with our friends.
We see and experience Jesus in Community.
Community is costly in nature and is not without risk.
Community builds Intimacy.
Community is the first place life change occurs – it is where we “practice” our faith.
Community is the fabric on which our life of Service is sewn.
Community is the “staging area” for Service.
Community is both intentional and organic. It cannot be forced.

Worship is the expression of the “Worthiness” of God.
Worship is both an individual as well as a corporate discipline.
Worship increases our Faith and motivates our Service.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Preface from Andrew Murray’s ABIDE IN CHRIST

During the life of Jesus on earth, the word He chiefly used when speaking of the relations of the disciples to Himself was: “Follow me.” When about to leave for heaven, He gave them a new word, in which their more intimate and spiritual union with Himself in glory should be expressed. That chosen word was: “Abide in me.”

It is to be feared that there are many earnest followers of Jesus from whom the meaning of this word, with the blessed experience it promises, is very much hidden. While trusting in their Saviour for pardon and help, and seeking to some extent to obey Him, they have hardly realized to what closeness of union, to what intimacy of fellowship, to what wondrous oneness of life and interest, He invited them when He said, “Abide in me.” This is not only an unspeakable loss to themselves, but the Church and the world suffer in what they lose.

If we ask the reason why those who have indeed accepted the Saviour, and been made partakers of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, thus come short of the full salvation prepared for them, I am sure the answer will in very many cases be that ignorance is the cause of the unbelief that fails of the inheritance. If, in our orthodox churches, the abiding in Christ, the living union with Him, the experience of His daily and hourly presence and keeping were preached with the same distinctness and urgency as His atonement and pardon through His blood, I am confident that many would be found to accept with gladness the invitation to such a life, and that its influence would be manifest in their experience of the purity and the power, the love and the joy, the fruit-bearing, and all the blessedness which the Saviour connected with the abiding in Him.

… I pray earnestly that He would, by whatever means, make the multitudes of His dear children who are still living divided lives, to see how He claims them wholly for Himself, and how the wholehearted surrender to abide in Him alone brings the joy unspeakable and full of glory. Oh, let each of us who has begun to taste the sweetness of this life yield himself wholly to be a witness to the grace and power of our Lord to keep us united with Himself, and seek by word and walk to win others to follow Him fully. It is only in such fruit-bearing that our own abiding can be maintained.

In conclusion, I ask to be permitted to give one word of advice to my reader. It is this: It takes time to grow into Jesus the Vine; do not expect to abide in Him unless you will give Him that time. It is not enough to read God’s Word, …, and when we think we have hold of the thoughts, and have asked God for His blessing, to go out in the hope that the blessing will abide. No, it needs day by day time with Jesus and with God. We all know the need of time for meals each day – every workman claims his hour for dinner; the hurried eating of so much food is not enough. If we are to live through Jesus, we must feed on Him (John vi. 57); we must thoroughly take in and assimilate that heavenly food the Father has given us in His life. Therefore, my brother, who would learn to abided in Jesus, take time each day, ere you read, and while you read, and after you read, to put yourself into living contact with the living Jesus, to yield yourself distinctly and consciously to His blessed influence; so will you give Him the opportunity of taking hold of you, of drawing you up and keeping you safe in His almighty life.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

There Has Got To Be More - Part 2

In Part 1, I may have done more harm than good. Those who read it looking for hope found condemnation... maybe. But, just like the one who has treatable cancer must hear the word "cancer" before hearing treatable, you and I must admit that we are screwed up before we can become ready for the answer. "If my people ... will humble themselves...."

The “More” we are looking for is ... Jesus. There are Bible verses galore to support this. There is the very life of Jesus, Himself, as told by the Gospel writers that supports it. There is Paul the apostle who said "Knowing Jesus” makes the things of this life (yachts, money, comfort, ease, power, achievement) seem like so much dog-do!

I want that, y'all, don't you?

I want to be so detached from the crap of this world and so enamored with the joy of knowing Christ that my joy takes on such a gleam so that I see my world the way Paul saw his AND others are drawn to that joy in me! I am not there, yet! Heck, I can fall apart if I hit two red lights in a row!

Joy can happen as we seek Jesus. Not service for Jesus. Not church. Not the experience of Jesus. Not His blessings or His comfort. JESUS.

Jesus was rather adamant about this, don't you think? (And, why do we miss the point?) Read.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you” (John 15:4a, The Msg).

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink’” (John 7:37, NIV).

There is a profoundness about seeking Jesus, the Person of Jesus and nothing else, for the simple and sole purpose of being with Him.

When we seek Jesus, we begin to know Him.

Some say, “I know Jesus!” No they don’t – they have only begun to know Him. This is why Paul just after saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…” (Philippians 3:8,13).

And, as we begin to know Him we begin to become like Him (Romans 8:29). And, as we begin to become like Him, the world is attracted to Him in us and the kingdom of God is built.

The “More” we are looking for is Jesus.

He can be found! In fact, Jesus is praying for that to happen!

"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: 'Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent'” (John 17:1-3)

Practically speaking, here’s what I’d do: Make time to be with Jesus. Sorry for sounding so simplistic, but I say that to say this: When you and I sit down with the sole purpose of seeking to be with Jesus, we will nearly instantaneously begin to realize everything we seek other than Him. We want stuff. We ask for blessings. Our arrow points toward self as we seek. Seeking Jesus turns the arrow away from ourselves.

This is not easy, it’s even foreign to many … Christians. But, seeking Jesus is the FIRST THING C.S. Lewis wrote about.

Service for Jesus flows from one who has been with Jesus. How can we expect to evangelize for Jesus if we have not been with Him and begun to “smell” like Him? What is the role of the church if it is not primarily to help people be with Jesus. This is the definition of worship!

The church began and grew because the world recognized the likes of Peter and John “as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

People will read this and think that it’s easy. It is not. The church today is seeking many things. To seek Jesus solely will mean major changes in the way we do church.

Good news: Jesus is not lost, He can be found! He wants to be found be you and me.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

There Has Got To Be More - Part 1

“Come to Me….”
“Follow Me….”
“Abide in Me….”
“Come to Me and drink….”

For quite a few years now I have heard the prevailing phrase, “There has got to be more,” as friends reflect on their church experience. So many of us are fed up with legalism, traditionalism, denominationalism, shoddy music and preaching, and the mentality that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

My knee-jerk response is, initially, there is something more! And there is! But a couple of things need to be said here at the outset. First, for those who seek more, I would say to you, nourish that need: That need comes from a place within you that can only be filled by the Real Thing, God, Himself. It is a legitimate and authentic longing for our Creator and Father (read Psalm 73:24-25).

On the other hand, it is likely the case that you and I have been substantially influenced by the culture of consumerism (under the rubric of sin, flesh and the devil). Just as when Satan enticed Adam and Eve to adjust their gaze a mere one degree off the object (or the Person) of their ultimate affection, namely from God onto themselves, so you and I have been drawn into thinking that “something more” has everything to do with “me.”

Here is what it looks like. It is Sunday afternoon around 12:30. You are finally in the car on the way home or to McDonald’s. You breathe a sigh of relief, loosen your tie and enjoy a prolonged period of silence, like say, five seconds. “I didn’t get anything out of that! Did you?” And the usual conversation ensues precisely as if you had just exited the local movie theater. Point is, we are not in church primarily to “get something out of” it as one would watching Pirates of the Caribbean.

For another way to see Christian consumerism surface is in the way we pray. Let me take this route: Were you ever taught A.C.T.S. as a pattern for prayer? “A” stands for Adoration, “C” for Confession, “T” for Thanksgiving and “S” for Supplication. Which of those prayer components is the hardest to do and which one is the only one not focused on me? The answer is the same… “A”! You may say not so… “T” is thanks to God, right? I say that thanksgiving is thanks to God for what He has done for ME. Those of us suffering from Christian consumerism to one degree or another see self as the locus for success of the church/God experience.

“There has got to be more” is an expression that is both legitimate and honorable. But, it must be refined and purified in order to lead us in the right direction. Step One is to repent of our self-orientation when it comes to church.

Next and now we need to recognize the church’s complicity in the problem. Yes, Margaret, there is an elephant in the sanctuary! And, she ain’t moving unless and until we first say with audible clarity, “There-is-an-elephant-in-the-sanctuary!” One of the main reasons you and I come away from church spiritually anemic is because

Remember C.S. Lewis’ quote: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”?
I am about to generalize what I feel are the few categories of second-things-first churches:
1. Church is a duty. You have an obligation before God to be here. Never mind that you are bored!
2. Church is about little more than evangelism. Even the Valentine’s Day banquet has an altar call.
3. Church is about church work. You come to church to serve… the church.
4. Church is where we receive our weekly stamp of absolution.
5. Church meets our social needs. It is a great place to meet friends. Belonging to XYZ Christian Church is a clear asset when running for the school board or city council.
6. Church is a generational thing. I go because my parents, their parents, etc. went.
7. Church is about learning the Bible and becoming a better Christian.

Each of these “second things” in this list is of some value. The problem lies in the fact that we have nearly forgotten the First Thing. And, because we do everything except the First Thing, people by the droves are leaving the church in order to find God! Imagine that!

In Part Two of There Has Got To Be More, I will attempt to describe the First Thing we all long for… essentially putting first things first.