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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Personal Relationship, Personal Devotions...rubbish?

When you want to believe something really bad, you’ll find a way to get the Scripture to say what you want.

For instance, the verse: “God is love.” This verse can be twisted to fit our vacillating passions quite easily. In fact, I just heard a new song on the Christian radio station where the chorus said, “Love is God and God is love, no one's below no one's above.” Sounds so true the only problem is that it’s not. Love is not God. Love can be of God, but there’s a lot of so-called love that shouldn’t be turned into “God”. You can’t just take Scripture and turn it upside down and expect anything more than upside down theology.

Take the popular verse “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It seems formulaic doesn’t it? If I put in some time delighting in God, I get what I want. God’s delight is directly connected to my desire. It becomes an easy way to do what you want to do under the guise of God’s favor. I can’t tell you how many people use this verse when they are looking for God’s will in a decision only to end up following their own will thinking it God’s.

And the worst of it is that it isn’t hard to read into the Word your particular angle. Phrases like, “I really feel that God wants this.” Really? Last I checked, feeling something isn’t the place to start in looking for God’s wisdom. “I don’t know why, but I sense this is what’s right.” Really? You not knowing “why” is a great reason to stop dead in your tracks and seek out rationale before taking off. “God moves in mysterious ways.” No ones arguing that, but he doesn’t move in un-counseled, un-biblical ways. He can often lead you toward the unreasonable, but I’ve never seen him lead someone toward the unreasoned.

“I know it doesn’t make sense, but trust me, I’ve been praying about this.” I don’t know where this line of logic is coming from. People making abrupt decisions in their “prayer closet” (I tend to think it’s a pretty one-sided, lop-sided prayer if they are praying at all) outside of godly counsel is not biblical. It’s just not.

This is the danger of having a “personal relationship” with God. “It’s just between me and God.” No, it isn’t. When you come to Christ you enter into the fellowship of a faith family. You don’t get to be a latchkey kid wandering about orphaned and homeless. You are grafted into a community of counsel. The reason for this is not just provision; it’s protection. We come under authority and submit ourselves to the whole. There’s no going rogue.

I think this “personal relationship” thing is bred partly in the personal ownership of our own copies of the cannon, the Scripture. Now let me be clear, I am all for owning a personal copy of the Bible and am grateful for the development of the printing press and the men and women that have translated the bible into the tongues of each tribe that is blessed to read the Word for themselves. We all know the carnage that came with a powerful and precious few lording over the peasant masses with a twisted translation of truth.

But throughout the Bible, people didn’t have the luxury of translating the Bible “for themselves, by themselves”. They came together in community and heard the “reading” of the law/letters in community and then talked about its meaning together. You didn’t get to have “personal devotions”. They were devoted to the “apostles teaching” if you remember in Acts 2. They were asked to not “neglect the public reading of the Scriptures” in Timothy.

I don’t want to discourage the personal reading of the Bible, but I do want to discourage the personal interpretation of it. I don’t think the Bible was to be consumed in private completely divorced from the counsel and accountability of the community. If we read the Word, we should be in discussion with others concerning the details of our findings. Collective commentary, in my opinion, leads to the best shot at truth. Not just in biblical interpretation, but in finding out things like who should build your house and how it should be built. The more research and references you gather, the better your chances of health and success, whatever the endeavor.

The reason I feel strongly about this is because I’m continually seeing people making choices apart from community in the name of God. It goes something like this: “I’ve really sought the Lord on this and I don’t expect people to understand, but this is what I have to do.” This is rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

To make matters worse, they find “pieces of verses” to validate their belief system and justify their decision. You have to believe this is what Jesus was dealing with when he told Judas, “What you must do, do quickly.” In other words, you’ve already made up your mind and figured out a way to rationalize your behavior, and I’m not going to talk you out of it so get it over with.”

Do you ever talk to people that are coming to you with their decisions wanting your approval without ever seeking your counsel? They’ve already “made up their mind” but are trying to fake like they are asking for your perspective or permission. You can tell they already have signed the papers, or purchased the tickets, or moved out of the house, but they are trying to make you feel like you have a say. I think this is what Jesus would say, “What you have already decided to do, do it quickly.” Don’t waste my time like you really are asking my advice. Don’t pretend like the dye hasn’t been cast and the choice isn’t already set is stone. Do what you’re gonna’ do.

The Word of God is personalized to fit their belief system and the Wisdom of Counsel is avoided where it pushes back on their preconceptions and presuppositions. They go to people that tell them what their “itching ears want to hear, turning aside from truth and embracing myths of their own making”

…sound familiar?

I’m guilty as charged as well. So this isn’t a rant against others, it’s a rant against us. We have a problem, and I’m sick of it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a sucker punch to the temple...

Last night as I put the girls to bed, I climbed up into their bunks with them and began my nightly tradition of tickling them and then talking to them when the ground has been cultivated with relaxing laughter.

Aly was showing me how she makes shadow animals on the wall with her hands from the light of the closet. She made a dinosaur, a duck, and a vulture. She asked me if I knew any so I put my hands in the form of a traditional church and cast a shadow of a building with a tall steeple. It triggered a little memory from my childhood Sunday School days where the teacher taught us how to interlock our digits, make a steeple with our index fingers, and chant out a this little poem:

“This is the church, this is the steeple,

open the doors, and there’s all the people.”

As I showed the girls how to do it, I balked. Like an allergic reaction to cat hair I felt my heart send off alarms of warning: “Don’t teach your kids that the church is a building! You know you don’t believe that…why perpetuate perverted theology in the form of a cute little incantation? Teach them about the church!”

The ball was already rolling and they were beginning to practice the poem accompanied with these clever hand motions. While they were in the middle of parroting back to me what I had just taught them I yelled out, “NOOO! no, No, NO, NOOOOOO! That is not what the church is!” They looked at me like I was “cookoo for cocoa puffs” half wondering if I was serious. In a weird way, I was. Dead serious.

I told them that though this witty little rhyme was catchy and seemingly innocuous, it was not true. I told them that the church is not the building sporting a sweet steeple, but that it is, in fact, the people inside who are the church. They looked at me puzzled and probably wondered why I was making such a big deal about something so benign. I couldn’t help it. I hate the belief system of “meeting at the church” that has crowded out the biblical model of “meeting as the church”. It seems subtle, but it is central.

I then smashed my hands together and rewrote the Mother Goose-like rhyme:

“This is the building, this is the steeple,

opens the doors, and there’s all the church.”

It doesn’t rhyme anymore, which sort of stinks, but at least it’s true. Kami was the first to point out that it didn’t rhyme anymore. I told her I didn’t care because the other way of saying it was heresy. She asked me what heresy was and I said, “Something that sounds true but isn’t.” She could tell I was dead serious about it. I could feel that I was dead serious about it.

They wanted me to make it rhyme so it sounded as cool as the first one, but it was late and everything I tried sounded dumb.

“This is the building, here is the mezzanine,

open the doors and meet all the drama queens.”

“This is a steeple on a makeshift pole barn,

Where inside the people could not give a darn.”

Ok, maybe I need to work harder on the rhyme, but I’ll get it nailed down post haste. It’s a work in progress.

I know, you may not think this to be that big a deal. You have the right to your opinion. But if I were going to die on a mountain, it would be to murder the deadly doctrine I call “The Objectification of the Church”, not for Calvanism or the Pre-trib rapture of the church. You see, the church is not a place, and for the record, it is not a person. It is a people--a motley crew of recovering hypocrites who need a Savior really, really bad.

There are few things, in my estimation, that have struck such a mortal deathblow to the kingdom—like a sucker punch to the temple (pun intended)—than the belief that the church is a building.

These are the phrases that indicate you believe that the church is a place:

“I’m going to church.” “What church do you attend?” “We have great worship at our church!” “I left church and went home.” “If we keep growing we’ll have to build a bigger church!”

These are the phrases that indicate you believe that the church is a people:

“I love being with my church.” “The church sang with all her heart today.” “I love my church’s passion.” “I’m meeting my church down at the food-mobile today.” “I love seeing my church in the community!” “I love being a part of the church!”

“Christianity isn’t about going to church, it’s about being the church.”

I’m going to teach the girls this little jingle tonight. I hope it sets the record straight.

“This is a building with a fancy white perch,

inside or out, the people are the church.”

A Day Off...

It’s my day off. A day to turn off and go off. A day that says, “Off is good. On is bad”. A counterintuitive day that declares war against all that speaks of production, productivity and cranking out product. A Sabbath from busyness and business. A respite, an oasis, a refuge.

But dang is it hard to really “take” a day off. It’s this gift that is being handed to me that I don’t want to take for some reason. I don’t want to reach out, grab it and let it have its way with me. I’m starting to learn why.

I’ve come to realize that busyness means importance inside of me. I feel important when I’m about the business of making something or making something happen. I feel significance in this mass production, a security that my identity is unquestionably useful. A validation that I am very much needed. That I’m not just matter, I matter.

I matter to life, to people, to myself. I’m important, I’m essential. Things can’t go on without me. I’m quite a catch. I’m unique in my contribution. I’m one of a kind in a world of almost 7 billion.

The funny thing is that even when I’m not doing much of anything that makes a hill of beans difference, I just keep moving “as if”. That’s what Americans do, “just keep moving, it looks like you’re important when you simply move about, the faster the better.” And so I’m a veritable pinball machine bouncing to and fro making a racket, setting off sirens and racking up points like a champ. The more frenetic and frantic the pace, the more points you get…and the more points you get, the better you are compared to someone else, and when you’re better than someone else, in our culture this makes you somebody special. Boy, do I want to be special. So special that I, unlike many others, can’t afford to take a day off. And so on and so forth.

Another wonderful thing about moving fast is that nobody, not ever you yourself, can catch “you” and ask you probing questions about the quality behind all the quantity. Your heart, your built in “quality control” mechanism, gets gagged and thrown into the internal mechanical closet, forlorn and forgotten. Quality of life is lost, as quantity becomes the barometer of success.

And it’s godless. Godlessness is different than ungodliness. It’s more insidious and undetected. It’s, by way of definition, “life without God”. . . and who actually can tell whether that’s happening these days. Ungodliness is more pronounced and far harder to hide. It’s glaring addiction or an obvious “misaction” or reaction that we can spot that from a mile away. But godlessness looks so slick, so savvy, so seductive. Unfortunately, busyness and preoccupation and multi-tasking and crowded itineraries are often applauded as a “move of God”, a “blessed life of opportunity”, an “abundant life”. It is rewarded with more hyperactivity leading to more adulation leading to counterfeit “closeness to God”. It’s because we have been led to believe that “God is always moving”. He’s always “on the move”. Really?

What about “be still and know that I am God”? Another way of saying, “Slow down and let me catch up, would ya?” What if God is “still” sometimes? What if knowing God involves being still, sitting still and staying still? What if the “rest of God”, as Mark Buchanan cleverly calls it, is found in the “rest of us”, and what if the “rest of us” is the path to the “rest of God”? We miss the rest of life when we miss the rest of us found in the rest of God. It’s that simple, it’s that profound.

How do I know that this civilization is obsessive-compulsively addicted to manic energy and performance-enhanced self-importance? It takes one to know one as they say. I’m an addict myself who goes into withdrawal given small amounts of free time with nothing to do. I get fidgety and unnerved. And my days off are spent as a stir-crazy rehabilitant trying to kick his habit. Itching my crawling skin, winding my hair into tight, wool-like circles, chewing my nails down to the cuticle, and nervously tapping my foot on the ground nursing my medically diagnosed restless legs syndrome.

Restless legs syndrome…tell me our culture hasn’t gone raving mad.

Yet here I am, fighting for the rest of God, the rest of me, the rest of life. Ironically enough, there’s no place I’d rather be…that is if I’m listening to the right voice, of many, inside my head. The rest of the voices are telling me something is falling apart without me. Those voices sound much more affirming and validating stroking my uniqueness, my importance, my worth…but they are full of hogwash. Which is the Greek word for bologna.

And so I sit still in the papoose of God’s presence. Is he enough?

Yes.

"Genesis" words...

These are the words that stuck out to me as I read through the first 2 chapters of Genesis. I love those chapters...they breathe something into me about my design and God's desire...

____________________________

Creative, primal, original, innovative, unique, novel, fresh, clean, unusual, inventive, ingenious, new, imaginative, ground-breaking, matchless, distinctive, exceptional, artistic, inspiring, revolutionary

Good, beautiful, stunning, striking, gorgeous, dramatic, dazzling, spectacular, astonishing, surprising, arresting, remarkable, elegant, lovely, alluring, brilliant, fabulous, fascinating, extraordinary, charming, enthralling, intriguing, mesmerizing, captivating, riveting, entrancing

Form, sculpt, carve, shape, mold, craft, fashion, chisel, whittle

Touch, feel, handle, squeeze, contact, stroke, hold, caress, embrace

Dust, terracotta, dirt, soil, mud, earth, clay, loam, ground, sand, land

Breathe, exhale, respire, inspire

Attractive, robust, hearty, healthy, vigorous, energetic, enthusiastic, brisk, full of life, lively, dynamic, vibrant, animated, exciting, pulsating, effervescent, alive, vivacious, stirring, stimulating, electrifying, thrilling, sparkling, spirited, inspiring, breathtaking, radiant

Delightful, idyllic, peaceful calm, tranquil, pleasant, heavenly, serene, soothing, wonderful, blissful, pastoral, countrified, green, rustic, bucolic, agrarian

Freedom, liberty, independence, free will, choice, emancipation, liberation, release, unrestraint, deliverance, rescue

Friendship, companionship, camaraderie, closeness, alliance, amity, company, intimacy, nearness, coalition, association, union, harmony, community, relationship, confidence, partnership, connection, bond, communion

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Hunter or a Hoper?

The past two mornings I have woken an hour and a half before daylight in hopes of bagging a deer.

To set the record straight, I’m not a hunter. I don’t know the first thing about deer urine, bait piles in the off-season, looking for scrapes, evaluating the constitution and consistency of a deer’s feces, doing reconnaissance on a wooded lot and positioning myself according, setting up a tree stand, rattling fake horns together or grunting with one of those kazoo-looking contraptions.

When I get into the woods, I don’t know what I’m looking for. It seems like hunters know the lay of the land, the prevailing winds, the nearby fields and what was harvested the past month. They know what the deer feed on and whether there are good oak trees dropping a steady diet of seductive acorns. They know where they bed down and how early to get in the woods in order to not spook them in the middle of R.E.M. sleep.

Hunters seem to know what to wear, I’ve noticed. They have camouflage outerwear…heck, they probably are sporting camouflage underwear for all I know. They have insulated boots and gloves that are often matching the rest of their clothes. They have fanny packs filled with “only God knows what”, I’m thinking things like a good sharp knife to field dress the deer when downed, a deer call of some sort, and maybe some granola in case the stomach starts growlin’. Who knows, I just know they look like they know what they’re doin’, that’s all.

I, on the other hand, borrowed every bit of hunting gear I wore from my buddy Marcus. I do have a gun. It’s a 12-gauge Remington that a friend bought for me. I know how to load it and unload it. The reason I know that is because the last two mornings I’ve loaded fives shells and unloaded five shells right next to the car. I know that some hunters only put a couple shells in since you’d have to be a pretty stupid hunter to unload 5 rounds on a dumb deer. But I feel more like a hunter when I fill the chamber to its max capacity. I know I won’t need them, but it makes me feel more manly to load five and unload five when I pumped that “thingy” that empties the other “thingy”.

I don’t know if “real” hunters purchased these, but I got me some hand and foot warmers for the occasion. Last time I was out in the inclement weather of Michigan fishing I nearly froze to death, so I called my wife on Sunday and asked her to pick me up something to keep me warm. After texting back a couple snide remarks, she obliged. I’m almost sure “real” hunters have thick calluses and a higher pain tolerance so that they don’t have to have the artificial life support of “digit warmers” and the like. But I do, cause I’m a wanna be.

It hit me this morning as I sat the base of a hard maple that I’m not a hunter. Not in the real sense of the term. Hunters know how to hunt. If I’m anything I’m a hoper. I aimlessly walk into a 100-acre lot and hope that a deer comes my way. I’m hoping that I’m in the right place at the right time, hoping that I get lucky enough to pick a random spot where there is a chance encounter with my prey. I’m wishing, wanting, wondering and waiting…

There is a difference between hoping and hunting. I know that now, because as I sat there this morning looking around me, scatterbrained and schizophrenic, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have no idea what is really going on in the woods around me. I’m just hoping to get lucky. Banking on the luck of the draw.

Sometimes I think I do this with church as well. I hope people will come to church. I don’t know why they, out of nowhere, would decide to, I just hope they will. I remember praying these prayers that I found myself praying today, “Lord, just please help them to come.” “Lord, please wake people up this morning giving them the urge to get out of bed and come to church. Please Lord, draw them to these doors today.” Hahaha. All the while God must be sayin’, “Is that how you think it works? I just randomly sprinkle some pixy dust on someone while they are in bed on Sunday morning and they sleep walk to church entranced with an irresistible urge to attend for no apparent reason? I don’t think so.” We are really asking to get lucky. Wishing for a miracle. Hoping instead of hunting.

It happens, but not often. More than not, you have to put in some serious time and intelligence and relationship to be a good hunter. Deer don’t just show up broad side at 30 yards, you have to lay the groundwork for that moment. You have to put some skin and sweat into that experience. You have to know their world, their patterns, and their story. You have to watch them in their natural habitat and do your best to enter their habitat as an indigenous creature that relates to their environment. If you don’t incarnate yourself into their “neck of the woods”, you will stick out like a sore thumb making your intentions obvious and obnoxious. You can’t just pray for people to come to church; you can’t just pray for deer to come to your tree stand. That is a hoper, not a hunter.

To be an angler of fish, you have to study fish.

To be a trapper of mice, you have to study mice.

To be a fisher of men, you have to study men.

Am I a hunter, or a hoper?

Right now, I’m more of a hoper to be honest…in both the world of mice and men…and deer.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My wife...she's a good "thing".

Proverbs 18:22 - Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

This verse may be the greatest understatement in the whole Bible.

A “good thing”? Really? That’s the best you got?

Heidi just loves being reduced to a thing. Objectified into the equivalent of a toaster. “Good morning, my little thingy.” She loves it when I refer to her as a thing I have to take care of, a thing I have to make time for, a thing in my schedule to do. She’s my little plaything. It just makes her come alive. Not.

But she is the best thing I’ve got going. There is “no-thing” more important to me than her in the whole world. And yet as one author said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

I love the word “find” in this verse. It’s the greatest find in the world. Some look and look for years trying to find the “love of their life” without success. But when you find a “wife”, there isn’t a better find in the world. And when you get it wrong and settle for the best you could find instead, there isn’t anything more terrible. There is nothing good about that.

My life with Heidi has been so “good”. We have shared almost 14 years together in marriage and it keeps getting better and better, gooder and gooder. When I think about my life I would say with the Psalmist, “Surely ‘goodness’ and mercy has followed us all the days of our lives”. The days of our lives…sounds like a Soap Opera, doesn’t it? Our lives together are filled with goodness, tons and tons of goodies. We are blessed.

I have found a wife and she is the best thing I’ve ever found. Our life together is so, so good. And today I wanted to celebrate that goodness.

I love you, Heidi.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Wrong Tool for the Right Job...

It’s hard to do something with the wrong equipment.

Two weeks ago I couldn’t find a screwdriver anywhere so I decided to Gerry rig a butter knife into a Phillips head screwdriver. I was stripping the screw and ruining the knife, but eventually with persistent toil and brazen determination I removed the screw. What would have taken about 20 seconds with a screwdriver and about 3 seconds with a drill and the right bit, took about 5 minutes and took 2 years off my life.

Last week I jumped into my car at 6:20am and looked at an opaque frosty windshield. I searched the car high and low for an ice scraper to no avail. I scoured the garage and even looked in our van to steal one from my wife. Nothing. After a few minutes of this scavenger hunt of sorts, I resigned to the fact that for whatever reason our scrapers were long gone and set my affections on finding something else with a sharp edge that could get the job done. I eventually decided on a CD cover that was under my seat. I took the CD out of it as well as the little pamphlet with the lyrics and proceeded to scrape the thin layer of frost off my windshield. The plastic was scraping unevenly and when I would press it harder against the glass the case would crack and chip away at the edges. By the time I finished clearing a little hole in the windshield to look out of, the CD case was cracked into pieces and my hand felt like there were little shards of plastic lodged under the skin of my irritated palm.

This morning I decided to edge my mulch beds. The weather was beautiful and the ground was perfect for digging, neither too wet nor too dry…like the soup in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it was “just right”. I opened the garage and looked around for a good shovel only to find one with a broken handle from this past Spring. I had forgotten that I broke it when I was digging out a tree trunk that ironically is still sitting in my yard as a memorial of yet another half-finished project.

The only other tool in the shed, so to speak, was an ice pick that I inherited from my father who inherited it from his father. It is weathered, but solid--seemingly unbreakable. Tools come and go, but this one stands the test of time as the grandfather of gardening. I have yet to use it on ice ironically, which was its intended purpose, but almost every year I pull it out after looking hopelessly for a shovel and use it to edge my cedar mulch beds around my landscaping. Today was no exception. After an hour and half of pushing that doggone ice pick into the sod and turning over the ground, I emerged with 2 massive blood blisters and 2 smaller puss blisters on my fingers. My hands feel dead even as I stroke these keys to write this entry, shaking like they have endured a shocking trauma. And they have.

It got me to thinking about how often people do things without being equipped with the right tools. They live their lives making the best with what they have in the garage of their hearts. The come upon situations and dig deep inside of themselves to find the equipment needed to respond appropriately, but after coming up empty, they sheepishly either back away or foolishly fire away with a random tool that doesn’t fit the bill.

It does no good to give someone an opportunity if you first don’t equip them to succeed. It does no good to expect someone to grow and then never give them to tools to do so. I’m guilty of doing this with people all the time. I think they should just know what I’m talking about and go and do what I preached on…but they sit there saying, “If you knew how empty my tool shed was, you wouldn’t be taking me to the woodshed right now! I've got nothin’! No one has taught me, tooled me!”

And if it feels anything like using a butter knife as a screwdriver, a CD as an ice scraper or an ice pick as an landscape edger, I feel their pain. This kind of life is filled with blood blisters, shaking hands and salty sweat.

It helps to have the right tools because...Equipped people are empowered people.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Human Spirit and the Holy Spirit...

Permit me to flush something out of the bushes. I’m sure you’ve thought about it before, but it never hurts to try and put something into words.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the boundlessness of human experience. I’m not a humanist in the sense that I believe that everything exists for man orbiting around him as the center of all things. But I am a humanist in the sense that I believe man has exceeding value due to this little thing called Imago Dei, the image of God.

When God ensconced man with the mind, will, and emotions that represented his very nature, he planted within us immeasurable possibility. We are the image of God carrying around the imagination of God. Thus, the human spirit is potent, the root word of potential. Imageless we would be as worthless as ice in Iceland. It is the image of God that makes the spirit of man “inspiring”. Spirited, if you will.

Humanitarian causes resonate with me. When I peruse the gospels and watch Jesus’ meanderings, he seems pretty humanitarian to me. Feeding people when they were hungry, talking about social issues like poverty and inequality and seats of privilege, meeting physical needs like hearing loss, paralysis, a 12 year bout with vaginal bleeding, and a variety of disabilities. He was all about fighting for the marginalized and becoming vocal chords for those who had no voice.

I am sensitive to things that are inhumane. Injustice fires me up. Treating people with dignity regardless of race, creed, image, education or gender is a big deal to me. Abuse of the innocent, weak, or defenseless will cause an allergic reaction inside of me forcing my hand and demanding action. Humane treatment is huge for me.

There is a reason why these things strike a chord with me…I believe in the dignity of human life. I don’t think there is even a close second to its value. A smile, a tear, goose bumps, and laughter…all these things speak of something spiritual that is woven into the tapestry of our souls. Humanity is precious.

And there is nothing so powerful to me as a person who shows up in life. A person fully present and unabashedly comfortable in his or her own skin. When I meet an individual who shines in all their God-breathed glory without put-on pretence, I am moved profoundly.

Humans seem less human every year to me. I don’t know if it’s because we know too much or if we are mistakenly convinced that we have to try really hard if we ever hope to be noticed, achieve greatness or wield influence. Maybe it’s all the plastic we deal with every day. Plastic money that doesn’t exist (green that isn’t backed with gold, so to speak), plastic personalities quintessentially represented by politicians giving stump speeches, smear ads and empty promises, and plastic bodies made up with cosmetics and airbrushing, doctored up until they are too good to be true. Most of life is very, very inhuman, and all the more as our world values the generic over the authentic.

But due to “supply and demand’, the hunger for ‘human’ is on the rise. “Human” is rare. People want the warts, zits and birthmarks. They are suspicious of the slick shtick. Get this; people are so desperate for ‘human’ that they will forfeit truth for something true. This is where it gets dangerous; because when someone is genuine it is so intoxicating that people will naturally pick what is “real” over what is “right”. That is how hungry people are for human. They are dying to encounter something real, someone real.

St. Ignatius said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Another way of saying this is that the Holy Spirit is never more evident than when the Human Spirit is unveiled and unleashed.

I really believe that churches would see almost 100% growth over the next year if they would concentrate on the freeing of the Human Spirit as much as the filling of the Holy Spirit. The fact of the matter is that they are practically the same thing…which is to say that one can not happen without the other. And if a person is deemed filled with the Holy Spirit without any affect on the person’s Human Spirit, I would submit that the entire ruckus was nothing more than a false alarm, a fire drill if you will. Cause when the Holy Spirit shows up in a person’s life, their human spirit moves from being dehumanized to “humanized” and it is evidenced by effectual life.

I have never quite gotten the conversion of the heart that never translates into the conversion of the face. The heart has to inform the face of the “so-called” conversion somewhere along the line. The Holy Spirit and the Human Spirit have got to be in cahoots with each other.

Remember, the Bible says, “The Holy Spirit bears witness with our Human Spirit that we are children of God.”

I love the marriage of strong Anthropology and Pnuematology.

This is where the Kingdom heaves with anticipation, contracting with the birth pangs of redemption. It’s human and holy. It’s incarnation.

“When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” – Jesus

“When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen Jesus.” – I hope to say this.

When you see the unadulterated human, you are looking at the unapologetic holy.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Jesus follows us...

Luke 10:1-4

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

_______________________

There is a moment in discipleship that I’ve found intriguing. If we are over-schooled in the theology of God’s sovereignty we might even miss it. I fear there have been days when I have.

We have been taught to follow God and rightly so. In fact, over the last several years many believers have tampered with terminology converting from the term “Christian” to “Christ-follower”. The theory is that the label “Christian” has lost its meaning and that in order to recover the quintessential desire of God we must embrace a new name, which represents a more nuanced representation of Biblical discipleship. Hence, the term “Christ-follower”.

Now I would submit that we’re largely nitpicking over semantics, but I do think there is something to the label “Christian” that needed some new branding and with it an awakening of the original theological intent.

But regardless of where you stand on the aforementioned issue of terminological rebranding, no one would argue that we are called by God to be follows of Christ. This is bedrock to our faith, a cornerstone that mustn’t be touched…

…but if you will allow me to touch it for a moment, I want to wonder out loud about something.

I want to touch it because I think this verse talks about a critical time in discipleship where Jesus sends us to go before him and he follows us. If we aren’t careful, we will walk in the “shadow of Jesus” our whole lives and miss the opportunity Christ gives us to strike camp and test ourselves.

It’s easier to always have Jesus to fall back on as the kneejerk default. When you stumble with your words, you look to him and he fills in the blanks. When you start to falter in the execution of your plan, he promptly takes over and bails you out. When you come to a situation that seems a little out of your league, you back up and let him step up to the plate as the pinch hitter. As you move to the bench, you watch him hit the homerun musing to yourself, “I’m glad I didn’t try to come through, I would have struck out. Only Jesus can hit the clutch homerun in the bottom of the ninth.” It seems like a Christ-o-centric model of ministry that is theologically airtight. There’s only one problem, Jesus doesn’t agree with it.

Jesus knew that if all his disciples did was watch him and listen to him and follow him, he wouldn’t ever be able to leave the planet. His goal was not to monopolize; it was to mobilize. This is the moment in discipleship that is talked about in this passage where Jesus sends them out and follows them to the towns they decide to go. He lets them encounter people cold turkey and doesn’t provide ice-breakers and crowd-teasers. He lets them decide where to stay and when to leave. He lets them cast out demons and heal diseases. And get this, before they go and do all this stuff he takes things away from them that could easily become security blankets like their wallets, shoes and luggage. He wants them to go forward with nothing but their own hearts and each other so that they would know without a shadow of a doubt that “they could do it”.

It says that Jesus sent them out “like sheep to the wolves”. I find it disturbing that Jesus knew they were going to face insurmountable odds and that he lets them go anyway. What must Jesus have been thinking?

Well, maybe something like this…

I know they believe in me, but they must know that I believe in them, too.

I know they count on me, but they must accept that I count on them, too.

I know they follow me, but they have to believe that I follow them, too.

And he did. And when they returned from this mission trip and told Jesus about how cool it was to “do the stuff themselves”, the text says that Jesus was “full of joy in the Holy Spirit”. This is the only time where we see Jesus described in this way. This is the only time where we get the sense that Jesus was smiling and laughing and clapping with delight.

I still think it moves Jesus to joy when he sends us out and follows us around watching us “do the stuff” he taught us to do.

It’s a beautiful thing to follow Jesus.

It’s a beautiful thing that he follows us.

It actually brings him great joy to do so.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

an orchard in apple...

Genesis 1:29 – “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

I’ve always found Genesis 1 and 2 to be life-giving to me--seed-bearing--I guess you could say. Tucked within its tender and poetic expressions are nuggets of hidden treasure. I’ve always been fascinated with treasure hunts and the idea that I may find a treasure map that leads to sunken treasure of some sort or another. I’ve never happened upon treasure that could assist me toward early retirement, but I have discovered treasures in the Scripture that have thoroughly exhilarated me as if I stumbled upon a treasure chest full of gold. Today was such a day.

As God put his dreams to drama and created the world of his imagination, I’m struck with the ingenuity of his ideas. Some of them are so common to us now that we miss the brilliance of their origin. The phrase that hit me today was one such idea.

“every tree that has fruit with seed in it”

No dugh. What’s the big deal?

Well, I grant you that response and respect its origin because this little 9-word phrase doesn’t seem to have anything profound in it. I get your puzzlement. But this is a puzzle that has pieces that are alive with meaning if we could but piece them together.

A tree has fruit that has seeds.

It is amazing that a tree bears fruit. But that is easy to appreciate and applaud. You walk up to the tree, pick the fruit and eat its sweet flesh with pleasure. You value it for its taste and nourishment. You value the tree for its usefulness and production. You can see the product. Most people are drawn to product and the marketing of produce from a production. Supply and demand leads to mass production for mass consumption. Supply and demand. Consumption and Production. It’s a trees and fruit conversation.

But there is something that is unseen going on here that is pure genius. This is what most people don’t see and, as such, don’t notice or value.

When God dreamt up fruit he had another dazzling idea. An idea that was, in fact, more important than the fruit. It was unseen, buried within the product. It was something that was infinitely more important than the fruit itself. Every piece of fruit was impregnated with seeds.

It was amazing enough that there were apples in the orchard.

But the best idea was that there were orchards in the apple.

This is the power of the seed. God created “fruit with seed in it”. But you mustn’t eat the flesh and throw out the core. The core is where the reproductive power lies. This is where the everlasting life is hidden. This is where a life is literally “born again”.

I love the creative design of God. Any entrepreneurial heart must learn from the master if he or she would hope to invent something extraordinary. It is ordinary for people to get distracted with the “seen product” and completely miss the “unseen process”. Few get to the core and fewer still crack the code of the core getting to the seed.

When you create, are you thinking about the seed you’re planting in your product? Are you giving people an apple or an orchard? Does your product possess the process of “life-reproduction”? This applies to all of life, not just industry.

Does my conversation have a seeds of thought that sprout up later in a person’s life?

Do I plant seeds in my sermons or feed people?

Am I so focused on product placement that I neglect the planting of a process in the product that berths life later taking the product further than its initial consumption?

Do I evaluate what I’m doing based on the “fruit of my labor” or the “seeds of my labor”? Am I about “picking fruit” or “planting seeds” with my life?

When I create something is it embedded with time-release capsules of energy-producing beauty? Is there an after-effect to my product? Is the experience something that can be “born again” in the person enjoying my creative expression or is it a “one and done” experience?

God had this great idea: Create trees that create fruit that create seeds that create trees that create fruit that create trees, etc. I’m finding that the more I hang out with God the more I’m amazed at his creative genius.

He is the God who puts seeds in fruit.

There’s an orchard in every apple.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Sickness...

Sickness.

It began to fill my body last night at precisely 9:18pm. I know this because the minute I felt the “infamous ache”, I turned and caught the time out of the corner of my eye. The time seared itself into my mind and came to represent the exact moment I crossed over to the other side. The side filled with slow boiling misery.

You know that you’ve crossed over when despite your best efforts to muscle back it’s intrusion; it prevails anyway and fills your throat with the mucus of infection. Once your will is broken and you’ve resigned yourself to its sickening sovereignty, you begin the indefinite prison sentence in the concentration camp of nasal congestion and swollen glands. Last night, this was my story; this was my song, praising my Savior, all the night long. (a “Blessed Assurance” reference for those of you unschooled in church history and hymnology)

To make matters worse, adding scorn to scars, I’m at a leadership conference and last night I was in a hotel room with two other fellow pastors, Bruce and Ed. For anyone who is a “sickness baby”, you know that not being home in your own bed when you’re sick, being either coddled by your mom or cuddled by your wife, is akin to Hates itself.

I lay there with crappy pillows and scratchy blankets trying to manufacture the cozy feelings of home. It wasn’t happening. To make matters worse, Bruce was snoring and I forgot my “barn fan” to create the white noise that cancels out all sound variables. I tried to cover my head that was pounding with pain, but when I would do this, my head wasn’t propped up high enough to keep my nose from draining back into my throat. So I was either using my pillow as a muffler, or a wedge all night long. The sheets felt like burlap. The comforter was anything but comfortable. The pillows collapsed into pancake thickness—what’s inside hotel pillows anyway? Needless to say, I wasn’t finding the healing touch I pined for.

I’m on a break at the conference right now, infected blood coursing through my veins.

I thought I’d record this for posterity.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Reading the Word vs. Competitive Cow Tipping...

There is something about waking early in the morning that I just love. My brother, Tim, thinks me queer to have such a penchant for the darkness that precedes the dawn. He likes to stay up late and get up late. I like to bed down early and get up early. He is Abel; I am Cain. The only difference in the status of our brotherly relationship is that I haven’t killed him yet. But I digress.

As the sun rounded the bend of the horizon this morning and cast its reflective light off the cottony clouds, the most beautiful array of colors filled the eastern sky. Hues of orange and pink covered the low hanging clouds like a water-colored canvass and from the Backwater Café, on the banks of the slow moving Flat River, a perfect reflection mirrored the resplendent skyline. The aesthete in me lurched forward expectantly.

I sat among the company of men this morning, my Talmidim (group of Talmids following a Rabbi), my Intimates, my Brothers, my Allies. We talked of politics, hunting, and church. But it wasn’t long before we landed on what I believe was the issue of the hour, the jewel of great price. The topic was the Sacred Scripture. Namely, whether or not we were reading it with regularity and reverence.

I have been stirred lately by the nagging sense that people aren’t “really” reading their Bibles. I mean, really reading. You could ask people, “Are you reading your Bible?” and they typically shrug and mumble something with the words “kinda and sorta” laced within their roundabout response, but that’s not reading, that’s gadabout grazing. I’m talking about the face-full feeding, honey on my lips, heart-panting consumption of the spoken and written word of God Himself. And the answer to that question of reading is a resounding “NO”. There are more people participating in competitive cow tipping out there. This trend has got to change.

We read this verse together and it eviscerated my hardening arteries.

Jeremiah 23:25-29

25 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

At best, so many of my conversations among Christians are “I had a dream! I had a dream!” which translated into our modern vernacular would be something like “I have an idea! I have a story!” Without knowing it, we are following the “delusions of our minds” all the while we are forgetting the name of God, the nature of God. The notions of God get shrouded with our nonsense. God and His Word become part of the supporting cast at best, the stationary fixtures in the set design at worse. The real plot of the story is crowded with our dreams, desires, demands and directives.

These are not all bad, “let the one who has a dream recount it”. Fine. Share your story. Float your idea. Pitch your plan. But at the end of the conversation…the operative word is “your”. There must be a sacred shift to “His”. And it’s interesting to me that God says, “let them share their dreams” but I want the one “who has my word to speak it FAITHFULLY”. He goes on to juxtapose the two using the metaphor of straw and grain. They both have purposes that are useful, but the grain is far superior to the straw. Straw is used to bed stalls catching the dung coming out of the butts of beasts, but the grain feeds and fuels, strengthens and stabilizes.

The Word is a fire. It is the agent of purification. It brings the passion.

The Word is a hammer. It demolishes delusions. It breaks down walls of bondage like a wrecking ball.

As we wrapped up the morning, I was challenged afresh to latch on to the Word. Our Brotherhood is setting out to drink deep of the Word in the coming weeks and months and years.

We are putting away our snorkels and putting on our scuba gear.

It’s high time. It’s about time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

JOY and the Pinta Island Tortoise...

You know what I love?

Joyful people.

I love being with someone who listens with expectation. Someone who talks with great enthusiasm about life. Someone who reflects on the good parts of his or her day and comments on the blessings in life.

I love it when I'm swallowed up in someone's laughter, the medicine for the forlorn heart. Laughter is as contagious as yawning. When someone is producing happiness, it's hard to sit on the sidelines and critique the quality of its production. There is never more jealousy than when someone who is bitter and miserable witnesses someone who is free and alive. You can cut the envy with a dull switchblade.

There is so little joy these days that when someone possesses this quality they stand out like a naked guy streaking at a baseball game. It's distracting. It's attracting. It's hard not to stand and stare at someone who is caught up in the beauty of life, captured by the sheer simplicity of being alive and living to tell about it. This person is as rare as the Pinta Island Tortoise.

There are simple keys to having joy:
1. You must wake up and discipline yourself to see the good in life.
2. You must talk to others about what you love about them and the world around you.
3. You must accept misfortune as the black backdrop on which the diamonds of blessing become all the more resplendent.
4. You must walk with God as if he were your tour guide and your rear guard.
5. You must encourage everyone you meet with a kind word.
6. You must listen to music that affirms the good in life and inspires you to create something pleasant and pleasurable in your world.
7. You must listen well, catch the little clues people drop about their heart, and speak something into them that is custom fit for their "hope shortage".
8. You must resist the urge to feel like you're growing when all you're doing is tearing everyone else down around you (even if just in your mind).
9. You must dare yourself every morning to be different than the world you live in by doing something outrageous and outstanding. Especially if it's small and simple.
10. You must give away money when you see a need protecting yourself from miserly behavior than leads to miserable living.
11. You must forgive quickly and overlook shortcomings in others granting them grace.
12. You must live with the constant hope that the next moment could make all the difference in the world, even if it's just one person's world.

Joy is infectious. Today I want to be infected.

Monday, November 01, 2010

As a man thinks in His heart...

Some things on my mind today…

1. - When am I going to be able to go to Europe again? I can’t imagine another year going by without figuring out a way to get Heidi and I over there. I met a guy in church yesterday from the UK and he said to contact him when I want to come over and we could stay with he and his wife. I want to figure out how to do this as a study leave or something as I get ready to launch into the a new ministry season.

2. - Are Heidi and I called to adopt a child? My daughters are passionate about this and I’m not sure what’s holding me back. Finances? Time? Energy? Commitment? A variable that could mess up the equilibrium of our family? Size of the house? What is it? I need to plummet the depths of this question. I sense a deep fear that we would invite disaster upon ourselves…is this a lie or a truth that must be embraced as the risk God is calling us to pursue?

3. - How can I plan now to go with my family to a Third World country? It might not be for several years, but I want them to see poverty and hunger and need up close. It would bless my heart if something touched them so deeply that they wanted to go to the mission field and spend their lives carrying water to the thirsty in far away lands.

4. - Should we get rid of our television? There are days when I’m ready to just chuck the thing out the window I’m so tired of monitoring its unpredictable content. But there are other days that I love watching a Yankee game or a Sunday afternoon football game or a good movie or the news. I’m torn. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve about had it with television and the time is consumes and the heart is consumes as a counterfeit family activity. Would our family play together more without it? Sometimes I wonder if our home would calm like the sea did when Jonah was thrown overboard. What if we threw our television overboard and only used it to watch movies we rented? Hmmm.

5. - Am I falling prey to the cultural seduction of doing things for my kids instead of doing things with them? Am I carrying them to games and practices and parties and activities and thinking this is parenting? Am I letting others educate them, disciple them and coach them? Am I letting television rear them as I try to catch my breath after a long day of work? It is so much easier to give them money instead of energy…and I know this is wrong and futuristically fatal, but it’s so easy to be lulled into thinking this is sufficient. How much time am I spending doing things with them…playing with them, talking with them, reading with them, watching a movie with them, eating with them. This is parenting.

Just a couple thoughts bouncing around in my head this morning as I start the week? I wonder what other people are thinking about this morning?

“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” – The Bible