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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Lazy, Disruptive Busybody in the Church - 2 Thessalonians - pages 111-118

"Keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you heard from us...they are not busy, they are busybodies." - 2 Thessalonians

Some verses don't need much of a breakdown.  This is one of them.

I think Paul is trying to protect people here.  He is tired of watching people expend inordinate amounts of energy on people who drain them dry.  He is tired of good people being taken advantage of by leaches who pirate off of the good graces of others.  Paul even writes matter-of-factly about slackers saying: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."  Basically if you don't invest you can't ingest.  It's that simple.  No more illegal downloading.  If you don't upload, you can't download.

Idle people expect everyone else to do things for them.  They don't do what you tell them to do to better their lives.  They want you to do it for them.  They want you to notice when they aren't at church, they don't want to notice when someone else isn't there...heck, that has never crossed their mind that there is the flip side of the equation!  I mean, what would it look like if you went to church "to be love instead to be loved"?  Why, you wouldn't have time to think about what everyone else "is or is not" doing.  You wouldn't have that kind of time on your hands.  But idle people wait for everything to come to them.  They want to grow, but not as much as they want others to help them grow.  They want to serve, but not nearly as much as they want others to notice them to serving.  They are addicted to being serviced.  And consequently, their laziness makes them fat and sassy.

And sassy people are disruptive people, as the text describes them. They're among the most dangerous of all humans, in my youthful opinion.  And the idle ones tend to be the most disruptive ones because with all the extra time on their hands they tend to create drama out of thin air.  They are people-watchers and nit-pickers.  They spread gossip like a manure spreader and feed on negativity like vultures.  They love to drop hints and ask leading questions, so just in case they get caught, they can act as if they meant no harm.  They back-stab leadership, mostly out of jealousy because they either wish they could be them or they wish they could be around them like others they see.  They love to cast shadows of doubt and plant seeds of discord.  And these people find each other.  They can tell when someone else feels slighted and marginalized along with them, and they talk with each other commiserating in their "self-constructed reality".  The reason Paul said keep away from people like this is because "he wanted people to keep away from people like this".  It's not rocket science.

He finished up by calling these people busybodies.  I love how hard-care Paul is with flakey followers who feign faith and live like Lucifer.

Let me finish this post with my protective pastoral side:

"If you are this person I pray that the very Spirit of God would tackle you, put you in a full-Nelson, and wrench on you until you say 'uncle'.  If you hang out with people like this, do not pass go and do not collect $200 dollars...get out of this toxic relationship before you lose your reputation through association.  Sever it and don't feel bad about the amputation one bit.  You have my permission to get aggressive with this kind of "so-called Christian" in the church.  If we don't root this out of the bride of Christ, the gangrene will spread and eventually kill her anyways.  Eating without working, moving your mouth without moving your body, and spreading lies instead of love can no longer be tolerated in the church.  It is "kill or be killed" when it comes to this kind of person and we would do well to wake up to this before it's too late."

Signing off.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The truncated truth - Thessalonians - Pages 103-110

"The whole gospel to the whole person in the whole world."

This phrase kept pressing its nose up against the window pane of my soul today as I read the Word.  I find that I have a truncated definition of the gospel at times.  It's been reduced to "Jesus died for your sins. Ask him into your heart. You are now saved."  Or the ABC's of the Gospel.  "Accept - Believe - Confess"  Maybe you think in terms of The Bridge, or The Romans Road, or The 4 Spiritual Laws when you consider the gospel.  Each of these expressions provides a piece of the puzzle, but the gospel is much bigger than trite "reduction-ary" bullet points couched in a three-fold pamphlet.  The Gospel is simple, but not simplistic.  When we share the dwarfed version we look like simpletons.

As I was reading Paul's letter to the Thessalonians my eyes moved across the words and a verse stuck out to me...

"Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." 


The gospel is not all that matters.  It's not just about "getting the gospel out there" and letting the Lord work.  You don't just throw a verse on a poster board and hold it up in the stands at the footbaall expecting God's word not to return void.  God's word is not pixy dust that mystically seeps into the soul of someone through osmosis or telepathy.  No, the gospel must be accompanied with someone's life as well.

I think we have all seen the damage of the "lifeless exchange of the gospel" over the years.  People trying to get the message out there without putting their own life on the line.  People caring more about conversion than conversation.  People engaging in smash-mouth evangelism without any personal equity built into the relationship.

What does it mean to "share your life as well" going beyond just the gospel (God's Story) to your own story?  Make no mistake, the implications of this intangible variable are incalculable!  I think what made Paul's ministry so effective was his ability to remember names and narratives.  You see him greeting people by name and signing off his letters with lists of people he appreciated--again, with names and memories. He took time to share his life and to know their lives intimately.

In 2 Corinthians 12:15 he says, "So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.  If I love you more, will you love me less?"

To spend and expend yourself "because you love so much" sounds almost like John 3:16 lived out in a person's life.  This is why it is quite possible that Jesus didn't just die for us so that we wouldn't have to, but also to show us how to.

The other John 3:16 which is I John 3:16 says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

The gospel isn't something that ends with Jesus, it is something that begins with Jesus and flows over into how we "share our life" and "God's life" with the world.  This is the whole gospel to the whole person in the whole world.

God, help us to share "not only the gospel"..."but our lives as well".

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A prayer before I read the Word this week...


I come to you through the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.  My appeal to be heard isn't based on my goodness, but your grace.  As I interact with your Word this week, I need your Spirit to illuminate the eyes of my heart.  I realize that my expectancy as I approach your Word makes all the difference in the world in how I experience you, so I desire to start each reading with anticipation.  I will read each and every word for transformation instead of information.  I pray for spiritual protection against all distraction and deception.  Surround our time together with angelic armies warring off all darkness.  Make me acutely aware of each detail that you desire to reveal to me.  Give me increased sensitivity to the motions and emotions of the sacred text.  Above all, let me leave each time spent in your Word with an increased hunger for more, that our times would both satisfy and create longing.  And may you be held in high honor, taking your rightful place as the King of my heart.  You are my Rabbi.  I am your Talmid.  Teach me your ways.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The tension of "conversion-based" Christianity - Acts - pages 96-102

We've all met people who flaunt their faith with spiritual platitudes, bumper-sticker belligerence and demonstrations so demonstrative that people are "put off" in the worst way.  They make declarations of judgement and predictions of the future that make your palms sweaty as you set the drag on the conversational reel and let them take the line down stream.  Sometimes you just cut bait and check out of the conversation while they are still "making their point".  You nod your head and figure out your taxes while they pontificate about some religious matter that matters very little, or worse yet, matters very much but they're talking so loudly you can't even hear them.

I have a love hate relationship with "demonstrative" Christianity.  I've witnessed such abusive proselytization and evangelism that I don't want to be held guilty by association, and yet, I want to be expressive about my beliefs and proud of my faith in Christ.  I don't want to "hide it under a bushel" or be a city on a hill that is "hidden".  I want it to be seen, heard and felt.  But how do you do that in such a way as to not be the obnoxious and noxious fool with a bullhorn outside of a Toby Keith concert?  How can it somehow feel to others like you actually care about them, even if they don't convert?  How can it come across as a human interaction instead of a human transaction?  This is what I'm wondering about.

Toward the end of Acts, Paul has an interaction with King Agrippa that stood out to me:


Acts 26:24-29
24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” 
25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable.26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”  28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 
29 Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” 


This conversation between Paul and the powers that be is telling.  It pokes some holes in the argument that you're supposed to "witness without words" or "let your actions do the talking"...the mantras of "lifestyle evangelism".  Sort of like the quote that says, "Preach the gospel everywhere you go, if necessary, use words."  I will be the first to admit that this approach of "relational evangelism" is so refreshing in comparison to "bait and switch" surveys and "agenda driven" conversations that lead to a punchline or "Amway downline" of sorts.  There is nothing like feeling like you "got played" thinking the person was interested in you or listening to you only to find out that they had an angle all along and it was really about them and their desired destination.  Ugghhh!  NO, no way will I be like that!  NOOOOO!

But then, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far over to the "wordless" evangelism approach because there is a time to "come out of the corner" with our Christianity.  We don't want our love for God to "escape people's notice" because we were covert operatives (covert converts).  This section of Scripture makes no bones about witnessing with boldness.  Boldness is different than Belligerence.

King Agrippa knew exactly what was going on.  He felt the pinch.  He acknowledged the pressure.  "Are you trying to persuade me to be a Christian?"  Paul could have answered in a real post-modern way like: "No, I'm just sharing my own story, dude.  I'm not trying to impose my belief system on you.  We all have our own narrative and it's more about the journey than the destination....blah, blah, blah..."  But he didn't.  He said straight up "Yeah, I am.  And not just you, but everyone else listening in on this conversation.  And I don't care if it's a short time or a long time, I want people to become what I am."  Whoa...this is boldness!  He doesn't care how long it takes, what it takes, who standing around listening in...he loves who he is and he wants other people to have his life.

When something is so real to you that you wish your life could be experienced by others, this is the contagion of sharing your faith.  If you are simply sharing a set of ideas or ideals, but you very obviously don't love your life, nor do others around you love being around your life, whatever you have to share becomes irrelevant.  The power of someone sharing their faith is when their beliefs match their emotions that match their words that match their life.  This is "evangelism".

Did you see the word King Agrippa used: "persuade".  This is what Paul was trying to do.

And persuasion is important.  It's different than using power plays and pressure points to get someone to do something.  The art of persuasion is a critical component to sharing our's nuanced and layered.

I needed to see this again today, because there is a ditch on both sides of the road, covert or overt.  And we need a fresh expression of bold faith that doesn't look like the "cheap tricks" of fanatics and dramatics.

God, teach us how to be bold for you, not just to be bold for you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does God care about Intellecual Credibility? - Acts - pages 90-96

Acts 21:37 & 22:2 -

 37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
   “Do you speak Greek?” he replied. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
 39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
 40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
 2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. 

It is important to not check your brain out at the door with your faith.  It's not all about having a good heart I guess is what I'm trying to say.  Remember, a facet of the Great Commandment is to love the Lord your God with "all your mind".  Worshiping the Lord with our mental and logical self brings him great pleasure.  But more than that, it lays a groundwork of respect in our interactions with society at large.

I fear that the church has let themselves off the hook in the area of academics and scholarship.  We focus so much on the heart and the attitudes that we forsake the preeminent value of the mind.  In fact, often in the Bible the mind and heart are used interchangeably signifying God's desire to not divorce these two all-important faculties of faith.

But in the interest of time, I wanted to make a quick point.

I loved how the people became respectfully quiet at the point he spoke to them in Aramaic.  It's one thing to "want to speak"--Paul said 'my I say something to you?' and 'let me speak to the people'--it's another thing to "have something to say".  I remember someone saying that most people have nothing to say but won't stop talking.  This is what I'm gettin' at.

I think people know when someone is credible and a part of that credibility comes from being studied, not just spirited.  You don't just show up and know "Aramaic".  You have to work hard for book smarts.  I would submit to you that you don't just show up in our culture with a "good heart" and expect people to "listen" to you.  Intellectual credibility is as important as spiritual credibility.  You have to be a "workman that need not be ashamed rightfully dividing the word of truth".  A workman.  Slackers who study the art of Slackology can talk all they want, but people won't "quit themselves and listen".  They just won't.

In order for people to listen you have to have something to say, and in order for you to have something to say you have to be a good thinker, and in order for you to be a good thinker you have to study, and in order for you to study you have to be a good student, and in order for you to be a good student you have to make time to challenge yourself and be curious about what you don't currently know.

And when it comes time to step on that platform and open your mouth, this "moment of truth" will actually be a "true moment".  Because you can't fake presence, you can't fake truth.  People have a crap detector that God gave them to sniff out fraudulent faith.  The good part about this is that people can also tell and feel when the person who is standing before them is studied, spirited & storied.  And when they come across this they get quiet and listen to what you have to say because you actually have something to say.

Don't just speak, say something.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just "don't it" and the Art of Saying NO - Acts - Pages 83-90

If I asked you to define "personal boundaries" what would your response be?  Let me ask it another way, "How do you know what to say 'yes' and 'no' to?"  What guiding principles form the creed by which you govern the decisions of your goings on?

I've noticed several little interpersonal exchanges in Acts that have been good for me to detect.  I especially am interested in the logic behind saying "NO" to invitations and opportunities that, in and of themselves, are fantastic.

In Acts 18 Paul was reasoning with the Jews and it says, "when they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined.  But as he left, he promised, 'I will come back if it is God's will.' Then he set sail."

Bwahahahahaha!  I think that's maybe one of the funniest leadership verses in the Bible!  Let me unpack it just a little...

"when asked to spend more time with them, he declined."

My question is how you know when to decline offers like this?  They are honestly wanting more time to ask him honest questions and soak in his teachings.  This is very, very good.  But something inside of him told him to say, "No".  He had a grid of priorities to adhere to.  They must have been internal, because it gives no indication that he provided a reason why.  He just "declined".

The words that stands out to me are "spend more time".  I feel like this pressure is constant and most of the time it's the voices in my head or as Seth Godin calls it "the lizard brain".  The things that require us to 'spend more time' are not diminishing as time marches on.  Everything is wanting our time and to be honest, every one of those things has a pretty good reason why.  "just stay a little longer", "just take one more night", "just watch one more show", "just get involved in one more extracurricular activity", "just say yes one more time".  And BAM.  The boiling point.

Wouldn't it be fun to be asked to do something and just flat out say? Declined.

If we would ever seek to do something with our lives we must decide to not do some things.  Some things always crowd out something.

The funniest part is his promise: "I will come back if it is God's will."  That is the most hilarious promise I've every heard.

Try this out when someone asks you to do something.  Promise them that you will if it's God's will, then SET SAIL!  Now that's a promise that I don't mind making.

Essentially..."No, maybe later".

Declining an invitation is critical to maximum influence.  Know when to say NO.  And after you do, set sail.

Homework:  Next time someone asks you to do something that you know you shouldn't, just say this:

"Request Denied."  (and give them a 'talk to the hand' expression...while bracing yourself to get punched)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jason is in the Bible - Acts - pages 76-83

Acts 17:5 - But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house..."

Didn't know my name was in the Holy Scriptures, did you?  Jason wasn't a mighty warrior or an eye-witness of Jesus.  He wasn't going around preaching the gospel, nor did he serve as an elder in his church.  He didn't appear to have a position of authority or a deep knowledge of the kingdom. He was just a guy. 

But he was more than a guy.  He was a good guy.  

I love this little account of Jason.  All he is known for in the Scriptures is the way he welcomed people into his house that were fleeing jealous people.  And jealous people are some of the most vicious in the church.  Once they get their cross-hairs on someone, it doesn't take long for them to form a bloody coo and plot an assault.

Rabble rousers are in every church, every extended family, and every workplace.  "Birds of a feather flock together" as they say.  Flies find the Feces...they swarm.  And they don't just find it, they eat it...they love it.  I hope you saw the plot of a divisive person...this is so universal you can take it to the bank.  Bet all your money on this horse.

This text pegs them to the dart board...check it out:
1.  They were jealous.
2.  They rounded up some bad characters.
3.  They formed a mob.
4.  They started a riot.

If I've seen it once I've seen it a thousand times.  It's clockwork.  Jealousy...bad characters...mob all out riot.  Jealousy is serious business...I'm just saying.

So Jason is like the coolest guy ever.  Where do the disciples go when they need a trusted friend to protect them from the angry mob of jealous characters?  Jason's house.  I want to be this kind of person...the one who protects leaders who are being harassed by nutjobs.  The one who doesn't get in on the mud flinging.  The one to whom people go when they need someone to trust.

I want that house.  I want that heart.

I want to be like Jason.  Oh wait, I am Jason.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Robe, the Throne, and the Microphone - Acts - pages 70-76

Acts 12:21-22 - On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man."  Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

We don't fear the consequences of pride near enough.  The celebrity author/speaker/pastor has never been more widely accepted in the church.  Many leaders actually try to position themselves to garner this kind of platform in order to market their wares.  Twitter feeds and personal websites slam us with self-promotion leading to the clicks, hits, subscribers or Facebook friends.

Let's be honest, we want to be gods.  We want to sit on a self-constructed throne wearing the garb of power delivering a public address to the masses.  We want to go as public as we can, drawing the widest net of net-worth.  Even in false humility it is easy to respond to praise with: "oh, it was nothing" all the while baiting for another stroke of the ego.  False humility is maybe the worst in the pride-category of crimes.  

"This is the voice of a god, not a man."  And we're addicted.  Just a taste of this treatment can go to our heads like a hit of cocaine.  Everything within us wants to make like it has little to no effect/affect, but it's impossible to not crave this sort of worship.  And make no mistake, it is worship of the highest order.  We love the robe, the throne and the microphone.  This is the stage we all dream of standing on.  

And the sad reality is that people don't get struck down by God when they steal the show.  Sometimes it feels like the ones who bathe themselves in self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement are the ones who get the lead role in the play.  Their ministries still grow.  Their influence seems to spread and it looks every bit like they are on top of the world.  

I wish the angel of the Lord would strike down people who steal God's praise these days.  Oh wait, I take that back, cause I'd have been dead a long time ago.  If I tried to recount the times I've pilfered God's glory, it would be innumerable.  So let me be sure to express my thanks for grace along with my issues with grace.  

Grace is great, but sometimes it dilutes what is truly true.  If leaders would be struck down "immediately" when they forgot who they really were and who God really was, it sure would make it easier to discern the shepherds from the schmucks.  And then if they were "eaten by worms" to put the finishing touch on things, it would make it even easier to pick out and pick off pride.  I think I would think twice before basking in the limelight.  I would measure my steps very carefully and make sure my motives and methods were completely vertical in value.  
I find it hard to know what I really want.  Grace or the Guillotine.  Probably if I was real honest I would want others to get the guillotine as long as I got the grace.  This is what makes me think I'm a great candidate for being smitten by the angel of the Lord...truth be told.

God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Oh, one more thing to note:  Did you notice the progression of death?
#1 - Struck down
#2 - Eaten by worms
#3 - (then) Death

How painful would it be to have the worms kill you and not the strike?  Just a thought.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who knew the Bible was enough all by itself?

Bible + Nothing = Enough

We have so many "Bible Studies".  So many supplemental materials to help us along in our interaction with the Bible.  I think over the years people have just settled into the assumption that the Bible all by itself isn't enough.

Almost like the Bible can't stand alone.  Left alone, it's insufficient or in need of backup support.  I think people, in general, believe some lies about bible engagement.

First, that you have to understand everything in order to get anything out of it.  Second, that the stories of the bible are detached from the realities of modern civilization.  Third, that you need a professional to feed it to you (like Gerber baby food).  Fourth, that if you've read it once there is no reason to read it again because it will say the same thing. (true, if you mean it doesn't change; false, if you mean how you read it doesn't change)  Fifth, that you need "fill-in-the-blanks" and "additional commentary" in order to not lose interest.  Sixth, that you can't make a mistake in interpretation or else you'll be banished from the assembly.  Seventh, that the words will be too deep and make you feel more stupid than you already do.  Eighth, that when you compare your observations with other people's, they won't stack up and make the "maturity" cut.  Ninth, that you have to read into everything with some deep spiritual meaning and that it couldn't be as simple as it seems.  And tenth, that you can't be bored by the Bible sometimes without feeling unspiritual. (I'm bored by the Bible at times, but I've learn to not over-think it and carry the self-fulfilled prophecy into tomorrow.  It's not a big deal, just keep reading and don't beat yourself up.  It might be something that you'll understand in 2 years or 10 years or 20 years.  It's ok, don't sweat it.)

As I read the New Testament the last couple weeks, I was surprised how sufficient it was all by itself.  There were passages that went over my head, yes.  There were other passages that I already knew and breezed through.  But then there were new nuggets of truth that I felt like I mined out for the first time.  New nectar tucked in between the pages like buried pollen packed in the pedals of a flower.

Letting God speak for himself and letting God be himself without anyone else's augmentation was surprisingly fresh and refreshing.

So if you're feeling intimidated to read your Bible, don't be.  Just crack it open and take it in.  When you come to something you don't understand, make a note of it and move on.  Don't get hung up on trivialities and incidentals.  Look for the overarching storyline.

And remember, it's just as important to hear God's voice as it is to read God's word.  It would be a travesty if you stopped at the words and didn't take in the voice.  The voice is what brings to personality and vitality to the words.

So as I start another week of reading the Bible with my "faith community" at Impact.  I'm starting tomorrow with an expectation that God wants to say something to me, maybe not everything, but something.  And that is enough.  He is enough.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Church needs to Chill - Acts - pages 62-70

It's easy to think of church as a busy fast-paced movement full of near-death experiences and close calls on the razor edge of faith.  Like it says in Matt. 11, "The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it".  It could be easy to assume that the church is supposed to be going at break-neck speed full of painful toil, sacrificial service and daily opposition.  We can even pride ourselves in thinking that the more "difficult" it is, the more we must be threatening Satan and prevailing against the "gates of Hell".  There are certainly seasons of difficulty, but I saw something in Acts today that hadn't stood out to me before.

"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened.  Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers."

I can't tell you how much I needed to hear this today.  I feel like my mind can race with pressure to do more.  Little peace.  Little encouragement.  Little strength.  I start to tell myself that this is the Christian Life...striving.  It's about standing against darkness and battling the spirit of this age.  It's about burning the wick on both ends to the glory of God.  It's about persecution and revolution born out of strain and struggle, weakness and worry.  Sleepless nights combined with tireless ministry.  Read that last sentence.  This is nuts.

There are days like this for sure, but isn't it nice to know that there are times of enjoyment.  I love that word.  The church enjoyed itself for a time.  And this expressed itself in 4 forms:

1. Peace.  The church had a season where peace descended on them like a warm comforter right out of the dryer.  They knew seasons of persecution and pain.  They had witnessed their friends being martyred before their very eyes (Stephen).  They had run from the law and hidden in the catacombs.  They had been thrown into prison and beaten silly for sharing their faith.  Believe me, they knew seasons of suffering.  But God granted the church a time of peace.  The church needs this respite from the restless and reckless advancement of the kingdom.  In fact, the kingdom can't advance on the backs of the beatdown.  They must experience rest and peace in order to create movement and meaning.

2. Strength.  They get pumped up by God again.  They spent time getting nourished and nurtured.  They got invested in and trained.  They got ministered to instead of ministering.  It's easy to go, go, go...but there are times to say no, no, no.  No more doing.  No more serving.  No more giving.  Not until I get strengthened.  You will give and give and give until you give out and give up.  God wants us to enjoy time of strengthening and once we're strengthened, we can use that strength to move the movement.  It's hard to enjoy movement when you can hardly move anymore.

3. Fear of the Lord.  We don't know much about this refreshment, but I think it has something to do with an orientation on our origin (how things things are).  We are not God.  He is not us.  He can do what he wants.  He is powerful and more than capable of pulling things off with our without me.  It's a time to stop thinking about "Me" or "We" and getting our thoughts on the great "He".  He is timeless and boundless.  He is gorgeous and glorious.  He is self-sufficient and omnipotent.  He is "I am".  Quite simply, "He is to be revered and reveled in."  He is awesome.  That is refreshing to know that we don't have to be awesome.  We just have to know he is.  Enjoyment follows this realization.

4. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit.  Really?  Really?  You mean we don't have to live discouraged and disappointed the better part of our lives?  The Spirit will breathe courage into our lifeless lungs?  The church must have the intimate friendship of the Spirit in order to make it.  You simply can't carry on with your "Human Spirit" if you're going to "be the church".  You can "go to church" and make it with just your "Human Spirit", but "being the church" requires the "Holy Spirit".  His encouragement.  His empowering.  His inspiriting life.

The text says that during this time when the church enjoyed peace, strength, reverence, and encouragement...the church increased in numbers.  It is a lie that the church can only grow if you kill yourself making it happen.  Sometimes the church explodes when it relaxes into a time of enjoyment.

May your peace hover over your church, Lord.  Grant us seasons such a this.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Great fear seized the church - Acts - pages 55-62

God is love, of this we are certain.  The Bible makes that clear.  But what we are not so certain of is what kind of love he is.  Our definition of love drums up images of hearts, dating, flirting, crushes, sex, and romance of some sort or another.  Love is plastered all over malls and greeting cards.  It fills prime time television.  The word is used to describe what we feel when we listen to the new release of U2's hit single..."I love it"--"you'll love it"!  We love steak and skyping.  We feel loved when someone takes out the garbage without being asked.  Love is a warm feeling or a hot romance.  These are all aspects of love, but I have a feeling it only grazes God's version of love.

Love in the Bible seems to entail something rarely associated with warm fuzzies.  Love in the Bible is--at times--furious, jealous and exclusive.  It asks for faithfulness and obedience.  "If you love me keep my commandments" Jesus said.  And Paul said that those the Lord loves, he chastens (disciplines).  Just punishment seems to be a by-product of deep love.  Love doesn't just let things go without justice.  Justice is as much a part of love as mercy.  Love gets angry.  Love defends to the death.  Love cries and gets hurt.  Love is holy.  By that I mean more than is pure.

The part of the reading today that struck me was the story of where Ananias and Sapphira held back money from the land they sold and lied to the assembly leading them to believe they gave everything.  It was something we all do from time to time, letting someone believe we did more than we really did or less than we really did.  Embellishing a story, sharing only the parts that make the greatest impact...come on, this is standard fare for humanity these days.

But here's the kicker.  They tried to lie to the Holy Spirit, not just people.  The thought they could pull a fast one on God.  And there was something about this offense that aroused the side of love in God that demands justice.  In my mind, the crime doesn't fit the punishment, but that's what I'm learning about my faith in this New Testament's not about what makes sense "in my mind".  As I see the "mind of God" on the pages of His Word I'm struck with how domesticated and tame I've made Him and, thus, my belief system.  I have been shocked how uncomfortable I am with this casual read-through of the Bible wanting, at times, to just tone down and calm down Jesus.  The demands of pure love seem to bring tension.

When God killed Ananias and Sapphira for their lie, it said that "the whole church was seized with fear".  That's not a very popular notion, right?  I mean First John says that perfect love casts out fear, right?  But in this case, there was an appropriate fear of God that overcame the church.  It is a fear that the Bible calls "the terror of the Lord".  In fact, the Old Testament says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", meaning that the beginning of living a life based on reality is having a proper fear of the Lord based on his complete "otherness".  He is powerful beyond words and if we really knew who he was we would have a sense of awe, respect, reverence, and fear in his presence.  To dumb him down just so that we can have a "little buddy in the sky" leads to things like we saw in this story.  Jesus isn't our "homeboy".  God isn't our grandpa who doles out dried apricots from his lazy-boy at Holiday reunions.  He is the Almighty God of the universe, and he is to be feared and loved.

And I don't think Fear and Love are mutually exclusive as we relate to God.  The one causes the other and vice versa.

I think "great fear needs to seize the church" again.  We have our fill of fun.  We have created family-friendly, user-friendly assemblies that don't scare off people or give our children bad dreams.  This is not all bad, but I think we could use a healthy dose of fear to fill our churches again causing us to bow down before the Great King giving him the glory due his Name.  We toss him around like a rag doll and one day, I fear, the sleeping Giant will awake.  When you tickle a dragon, don't be surprised when you're torn asunder.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The 5th Amendment and Jesus - Luke - pages 47-54

I feel as though my emerging objective in writing these daily reactions to the reading of the New Testament is to share my utter shock at the new things hitting me in new ways.  Originally I thought I would discipline myself to give an account of my thoughts concerning key points Jesus was making (that I already knew about, but wanted to pontificate on).  I have been humbled to realized how many details of the narrative of God's Word I have missed and how many misrepresentations I have made about who Jesus was and what he was like.  He is much more human that I ever imagined and his sinlessness what certainly not to be confused with being "behaved" or "nice".  He is, as I've discovered the last couple weeks, unlike any man that has ever stepped foot on this planet.  I think I've thought of him as a sinless version of Ghandi...this couldn't have been further from the truth.  

A detail that reached out a grabbed me today was the verse that said, "that day Herod and Pilate became friends--before this they had been enemies."  How interesting.  Jesus did bring about reconciliation between they banded together in solidarity against him.  People that were enemies became friends under the banner of their common views of Christ.  The couldn't get along on anything but their opposition to Jesus.  They had no earthly connection beyond their combined efforts to thwart this man and his mission.  

Friends.  They became friends through this conspiracy to kill Christ.

Something about their interaction with Jesus caused them to find friendship where before there was no relationship whatsoever.  I found this intriguing.  I see this in our world.  A conspiracy against Jesus that brings the most unlikely and uncommon people together in communal vitriol.  People of other faiths can do as they please in public places, but any public display of affection for Christ causes shockwaves that measure at a 9.7 on the Richter.  There is such tolerance of all manner of expressiveness regarding 5th amendment freedoms of speech, but when it involves in the slightest the person of Jesus, it evokes such reactions of anger by people claiming to be violated as if they were being mentally molested or spiritually abused.  The tolerance for anything and everything truly vile goes without saying, but the allowance of Christ in conversations or celebrations provokes rabid tirades.  

People come out of the woodwork and rally together even as enemies against Jesus.  Not God, but Jesus.  He is the centerpiece of controversy.  He is the talking point of tabloids.  He is the fulcrum.  The spine.  The center of gravity.  You are more than free to not believe him, but one thing is for can't ignore him.  You can stand neutral in your opinion of several things, but there is no neutral ground on either love him or hate him.  He allows no borderland.  

How could a man be so influential that even peoples hatred of each other is set aside in order to join forces in friendship against this man?  You can tell what's true by the level of defensiveness people have in opposition toward it.  People rarely get flustered over things that have no credibility, they simply let them neutralize themselves in time.  Only truth induces this kind of enemy alliance.  There is no need to raise up and kill what has no merit in the first place.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Crying over the City - Luke - pages 40-47

"Jesus saw the city, and wept over it."

There is something powerful about this mental picture.  I remember the first time I saw my dad cry.  He wept in our living room as he confronted my brother and I about pornography.  He didn't even spank us that evening, he just wept.  I would have rather been lashed with a horsewhip.  Seriously, seeing him cry absolutely crushed me.  There is something about watching a grown man weep that seizes your soul.

Thinking about Jesus balling like a baby over the city of Jerusalem moved me.  He wasn't just task-driven and results-oreiented.  He loved the city.  He loved the lives that filled the crowded city streets.  His heart has always been moved to tears by cities.  Because cities represent people.  And people represent souls.  And Jesus was about souls.

He wept "over" the city.  Looking over the cityscape he burst into tears knowing all that he invested and how little the return currently was on that investment.  He mourned the reality that though he did all he could do to explain eternal life and the economy of the kingdom, for most, the concept was still foreign and the meaning still "hidden".  He couldn't bear that thought without getting choked up.

I feel God inviting people to cry over their city with him.  To drive through the streets and weep for the community and those whom it represents.  To shed tears for the ones slipping through the cracks.  Every city needs weeping prophets who care enough to cry.

First, do you "see the city"?
Second, will you "weep over it"?

We can't get so busy with the church that we forget about the city.  Any church that isn't crying over their city doesn't understand the purpose of the church in the first place.  It's time to go out have a good cry.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jesus doesn't back down - Luke - pages 33-40

Luke 13ish - "At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day...

After reading the Scriptures today, I simply cannot overstate how flabbergasted I was at how my interpretation of Jesus has swung from one side of the pendulum to the other.  I remember the feisty, fiery Jesus growing up with hellfire and brimstone, and sulfur and weeping and gnashing of teeth and flames and such.  As I studied further I came to know the human, tender, relevant and--shall I say--gracious side of Jesus that spoke to the postmodern in me.  I gravitated to verses that highlighted his love and mercy and grace, and conveniently side-stepped the verses that were--as they say--the "hard sayings of Jesus".  

I can't enumerate the times that I felt like I needed to tone down Jesus' language today as I read Luke.  I was frankly uncomfortable with his "matter-of-factness" as he told it like it was.  He spoke as one who didn't care about popularity one bit.  He was on a mission, and he had a message, and it was non-negotiable.  The thing that is hardest to reconcile is that in the same paragraphs he seemed to communicate almost contradictory thoughts, like a mixed message or something.  On the one hand he would be the Father who welcomed the son who squandered all his inheritance on prostitutes and decadence, but then--after being asked if there would "only a few people going to be saved"--he would be the owner of the house who had a narrow door and called anyone who did not enter it evildoers.  The margin of error didn't seem to have the slack I'd made up in my head.  I was tossed about in the reading today trying to get my feet on the seabed but to no avail.  The undertow of undulations in the text today threw me around like a jellyfish in the tempestuous surf.

The verse I mentioned in the beginning tugged at my heart.  It spoke of Jesus' certitude in who he was and why he came.  When threatened by fears of man and asked to leave and "go somewhere else", he retorted with the snark of a offended UFC fighter.  "Tell that fox that I'm gonna..."  I love it!  Just when you thought the gentle Jesus would roll over and play possum, he shows us that he's got some pluck in 'em!  He doesn't get pushed around or intimidated.  He isn't going to let people tell him where to go and what to do.  He's following higher orders and leaves when he's good and ready to leave.  I wonder what Pilot did when the messengers took back this response to him?  He must have keeled over that someone would have the audacity to call him a "fox"!  

His reason for not backing down wasn't a "muscle-flexing" macho-man contest.  He wasn't fighting for his masculinity, he was fighting for his ministry.  The mission drove him.  Did you hear him, "I will reach my goal."  He has is eyes set on the objective that no objection could shake.  He knew who he was and why he was here.

I love when he said, "In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day..."  Sometimes it's a simple as this line of logic.  I need that on somedays.  Strike that, I need that today.  It's been a day of slogging through sludge.  I feel like it just poured down "leave-this-place-and-go-somewhere-else" today...not in the sense of leaving Impact or Lowell, but just backing off on "putting my heart out there" and "fighting for the vision God's has planted in my heart for our church".  I encountered some attack and I felt the levies almost give a couple times.  It was great to read the galvanizing response of Jesus to critics.  "I must keep, tomorrow, and the next day."  Yeah, I must.

I hope today you feel stirred by this random collection of responses to the story of Jesus.  I'm thoroughly enjoying how Jesus is messing with my "categories".  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A prayer before reading the Bible this week...

A Prayer to Pray before you begin reading God's Word each day this week:

"God of this book in my hands, come to life!  May words jump off the page as your Spirit adds His illuminating color commentary.  Give me the ability to climb into the context roaming about in the towns, streets and homes where the characters are walking.  Let me hear their voices as though I was listening in to their conversations through a thin veil.  Where I am confused by the content, bring clarity.  Where I am losing my way, turn on the lights.  Where I am reading into the Bible, show me my imposition.  Where I am only absorbing what I agree with, give me a spirit of surrender.  Where I am lazy, light a fire under me.  Where I am rushing through, slow me and calm me down.  Where I feel distracted, give me uncommon focus.  I need this Book to be so much more than a book.  I need these Words to be so much more than mere words.  I need this Moment to be so much more than just another moment.  Please introduce yourself to me in brand new ways as well as old familiar ways...with the peace of an old friendship and the curiosity of a budding love affair.  More than anything, I want to know who you really are.  No more "hand-me-downs" or "hear-say".  I want to discover you without a middle man.  No more secondhand information.  Speak for yourself and be yourself with me today.  And where you don't make sense let me embrace your mystery.  I believe you want to say something to me today and I'm all ears.  I come expectant, exceed my expectations. In Jesus name, Amen."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Luke - pages 26-33

This weekend, I'm talking about women and Jesus.  I don't know why, but one of the astounding elements surfacing in this first week of reading Luke is the number of women mentioned so far in this narrative.  Women were not highly regarded nor respected in this culture, so Dr. Luke is obviously wanting to hint at something in the life of Jesus.  Namely, Jesus may have never loved a woman, but he did love women, and wasn't shy about entering the woman's world.  Though never married, his life was given to restoring dignity to femininity defending that dignity to the death.  The reason I say it like that is because his interaction with women was one of the things that disqualified him in the eyes of the religious leaders of that day.  More than one time he was questioned for his comfort level in the presence of prostitutes, the promiscuous, and the peasants.

Jesus treatment of the female heart is remarkable.  So let me make a few remarks.  They were not sex objects to him.  They were not baby makers.  They were not even the weaker vessel in his eyes.  They were not intellectually inferior or emotionally unstable.  They were not slaves under the dominion of the man.  They were not to be trifled or toyed with.  They were not to be abused or abandoned.  They were not to be exploited or exposed.  No, they were--as he stated-- "His daughters" and in this section today he called this woman the "daughter" of Abraham.

The woman I speak of was crippled by a spirit for 18 years.  She couldn't even stand up straight she was so vexed with demonized discomfort.  I love it...the text says "he called her forward".  That's what I long to do for women in this culture.  To call them forward.  To call them toward healing.  To call them to the light.  To call them to the front instead of letting them stay in the back for another year.

It says that he spoke into her hurting heart: "Woman, you are set free..."  He wasn't afraid of that word, "woman".  He named her.  He knew its crowning origin.  He knew its power and preciousness.  "You are free."  Remember, in Luke 4 this is the expressed reason for his 3 year ministry..."to bind up the brokenhearted and to set the captives free..."  He was consumed with his focus of freedom fighting.

It says that "he put his hands on her"...gentle, appropriate, merciful.  I'm sure she had felt the touch of a man before, but nothing like this man.  His touch was full of respect and resurrection.  He had no hidden intentions, no ulterior motives that drive many a man to touch a woman.  No, his hands were holy.  And holy hands bring wholeness.

The religious leaders were indignant (ticked) that he healed on the Sabbath saying "There are six days to work.  So come and be healed on those days."  Wow.  They didn't view spiritual healing as spiritual. How could you be so blind as to think "healing was work"...healing was "secular"...healing was "labor".  This is why Jesus came, to reclaim religion from the hands of the despotic and deceived.  As it says in James he came to start a "pure religion that was undefiled".  And one of the main priorities was healing women.  Women of all backgrounds and ages.  Abused women, used women, and misused women.  Isaiah 61, his "ministry vision passage" says that he wanted to restore "beauty for ashes"...because so many women have been burnt and burnt out, a pile of ashes.  And Jesus would see beauty and speak it back into being.  This is why women would seek him out even if they didn't trust men, because he wasn't like other men, he was good.  He was true.  He was God.  And they felt like his daughters.  Protected and secure in his strong presence.

After he set this "daughter of Abraham" free, it says that his "opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing."  I love how Jesus humiliated people that were used to humiliating people.  And more than that, I love how he delighted people that were normal, everyday human beings looking to catch a break.  Oh, the wonderful things he did.  This is what has always and this is the only thing that will ever change the world..." the wonderful things you do".

I can't wait to speak on this subject this weekend at Impact.

Until then, "Women, you are set free."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Luke - pages 17-26

People absolutely hate what is called "organized religion".  I saw a shirt a couple years back that said, "I hate religion" on the front and had a definition of religion on the back: "An institution that provides a structure of rules and rituals for people to follow in order to please God and control humans."  That's what people hate.  So when people say they hate organized religion, what they mean is they hate the "hypocrisy and bureaucracy" of institutionalized church, where religion is a list of rules and where a leader uses his or her power to manipulate people."

But I was struck by the "organization" of Jesus in the story I read today.  I fear that the term organized religion has made people question any church that provides an org chart or tries to organize a ministry plan, policy, or procedure.  There is something worse than "organized" religion and that is "disorganized" religion.  Organization isn't the problem, structure isn't the problem, leadership is the problem and the heart with which the leader leads.

Jesus was teaching a large group of people and the disciples came to him and said that he should send them home so they could eat and sleep.  His response showed his leadership responsibility.  It always does for anyone who's a leader.  He replied, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty".  I love it!--"about fifty"--as if to say, don't get too hung up on the exact number of 50, but shoot for something in that ballpark.  The apostles did what he said, he manufactured the food, and the distribution began to take place.  Organization, manufacturing and distribution have always been a part of ministry.  Organization and order allow God's heart to be experienced in a distraction-free, user-friendly fashion.  The gospel is offensive enough, so don't create a model, mode or method that offends them needlessly.  What Jesus was implementing here is strategy.  Strategy is an apparatus to serve the mission, a template to make ministry actually happen.  You need this.

Just in case you thought Jesus wasn't into organization, I wanted to highlight this administration move.  The problem isn't the order of worship, it's the worship of order.  When the program serves the people, you do ministry Jesus' way.  It's when the people serve the program that religion starts to go foul.

Speaking of breaking into groups...are you in a Life Group yet?  This is where we manufacture Christ-followers to distribute the gospel by swapping stories, God's and ours.  If not, join one this weekend!  We are getting together all over the greater Lowell area to talk about what God is showing us in the Biblica New Testament study.  Sign up in the cafe' this weekend.

Nothing like a shameless plug.  If it felt like product placement, it was.  Welcome to organized religion.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Luke - pages 11-17

Once again, I'm scrambling to make a blog out of beauty.  Over five times since the start of reading this Biblica New Testament, I have checked the cover to see if it is really the NIV.  I have taken out my Bible to check and make sure words haven't been changed.  That's how shocked I am at the new things popping out at me.

Jesus reveals himself to be the Messiah with a "coming out party" at the synagogue.  It is thought to be the inauguration of his 3 year earthly ministry which started at age 30 after 3 decades of carpentry and study.  A great example of the importance of preparation before presentation.

He stands before the religious leaders and opens the scroll of Isaiah to read publicly.  A few phrases gripped me and got me thinking.

"Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written..."  This was none other than Isaiah 61.  Now I don't know how much casual reading you've done in the book of Isaiah, but trust me when I say there's a load of material that isn't the most cheery.  In fact, the better part of Isaiah, though sprinkled with encouragement, is checkered with judgement for sin and the promise of retribution for rebellious idolatry and spiritual prostitution.  It is heavy.  Really heavy.  Put it this way, he could have chosen from 66 chapters and 1292 verses in Isaiah and yet this place he want to camp out.  It was this verse that he wanted to be known for.  And just so we understand the intentionality of our Lord, he started the quote and stopped it with precision.  In fact, he closed the scroll half way through a verse because he didn't want the second half to be read.  Let me tell you what I mean...

He ended the reading in Isaiah with the verse "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor..." but that is only half the verse.  The other half reads: "...and the day of vengeance of our God"  Really?  Can you do that? Can you choose to open a passage, read the part you want to ready, and stop just before it takes a contextual turn in another less encouraging direction?  Hmmm.  I was told this wasn't good expository, exegetical preaching.  I just found it strange that Jesus "opened the scroll where it was written..." and then made the decision to end at the comma instead of the period.  He can do whatever he wants, I'm just saying.

I think it should at least cause us to understand that there are certain contexts of people where you have the right and, dare I say, responsibility to choose your words carefully based on your context, not just the Bible's.  If the people group you're talking to need to hear the first half of the verse today, share the first half.  If they need to hear the second half tomorrow, share the second half.  If they need to hear the whole kit and caboodle, by all mean, lay it on them.  Sometimes I think we get overly hung up on not taking God's word out of context that we forget that Jesus did it on certain occasions for certain purposes.

I don't encourage this as a practice, I just think we need to be careful not to make up an air tight theology just cause we are "erring on the safe side".  I think God wants us to ask ourselves the question every time we open our mouths with other people, "how much should I say and how should I say it".  From there, we ask God to do his thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Luke - pages 6-11

So much could be said, but I haven't the time to share all the new nuggets I mined out of the text today.  I've read these passages countless times, and somehow certain facets alluded me.  It's like they appeared on the pages sometime since the my last perusal of Luke, but I know this can't be true.  This is the genius of a book that is living and active.  (Hebrews 4:16)

I want to point out two things that piqued my interest.

First, Anna the prophet.  I don't know why, but I haven't thought much about her as it relates to the Christmas story.  This, I suppose, has something to do with growing up Baptist and believing women shouldn't be in leadership unless, of course, it's leading the potluck or the childcare.  So for me, this idea that the words "prophet" and "Anna" could be one in the same is quite striking.

I love the idea of seeing a women given a platform and a voice.  Not just any voice, but the voice that is the oracle of God to the people.  I think many women have been told and come to believe that they don't get to play in the "big leagues" with the "big boys".  They quietly assume their role in the shadows, seen but not heard.  This is tragic.  The idea of Anna being the megaphone of God standing in this crucial gap between heaven and earth puts a smile on my face.  I want to humanize women instead of patronize them.  Thanks, Anna.

Second, when John the Baptist goes out and starts preaching repentance that produces fruit, the crowd asked him, "What should we do then?"  I absolutely love his response, because it is the furthest thing from a classical religious response that you could get.  "Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same."  I don't remember ever reading this before.  I know I have, it just didn't register.

We live in a day and age where the gospel has been reduced to a prayer, a sermon, a "to do" list, a song, or worse, a privatized (or personal) relationship with Jesus.  John hadn't even met Jesus yet and he knew the ropes.  How do you repent?  Easy.  "Got two shirts, give one away."  Really?  Really?  Yep.  "And anyone who has food should do the same."  What are we running here a Salvation Army?  What about repentance?  As John said earlier "produce fruit in keeping with repentance".  So how do you know whether you have really repented?  Well, you will give stuff away to people that need it.  This, for too long, has been the gapping hole in the gospel.

We have turned following Christ into going to church.  We have turned church into a service.  We have turned a service into songs and a sermon.  We have turned the sermon into principles.  We have turned principles into steps.  We have turned steps into spiritual laws.  We have turned spiritual laws into evangelism.  We have turned evangelism into tracts.  And finally, we have turned tracts into the gospel. This is, much like the women issue, also 'tragic'.

We need a recovery of practical gospel living.  Things like shirts and food.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Eve of Reading the New Testament with the rest of Impact...

Our church is beginning and 13 week journey tomorrow morning that will conclude the week before Easter.  Over 500+ New Testaments have been purchased and we ran out of all of our Bibles and daily journals.  Hopefully we will have more in the office early this week so that people who weren't able to get one can stop in a pick one up.

I'm nervous to do this, but I feel like I want to write one blog each day that concentrates on my reading that day.  This commitment hopefully will deepen my experience and as well as connect our body together as we "Herd the Turtles" and start this marathon.  Remember, just like the tortoise and the hare, "slow and steady wins the race"!  Little by little (6 pages a day) and before you know it, we will have ingested and digested the whole of the New Testament!  I can't wait to see how this will deepen our body in the coming months.

"Lord, be with our body as we take your very words into our hands and please move them from the paper page to our hungry hearts.  Deepen our community through Life Groups, allow people to connect with each other and with you in ways that bring your Word to life.  When people get tired, or bored, or lazy...stir them out of their stupor and light them up!  Do what you did in Acts when it said the 'Word of God spread in power'!  More than anything, be glorified as you take joy in the pursuit of your people and reward us with a glimpse of you.  Be all over these 13 weeks!  We are expecting great things.  Don't hold yourself back but do what you said you would do in Isaiah 42 and 'cry out and gasp and pant'!  Let us see your passion and feel you power.  We are coming after you, Lord.  Looking forward to seeing you and talking with you tomorrow.  Until then, hover over us.  Amen."

On January 9th the army will convene and advance. we come.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Bad Attitude.

We typically attach this idea of a bad attitude to children.  They are the ones who cop an attitude when something's not fair or throw a temper tantrum when they don't get their way.  Juvenile delinquents get pegged with this label more than not.

My mom used to say, "We need to have an attitude of gratitude."  We used to call her a sermon in shoes.  She would come out with these little phrases like it was her job, and looking back, it was.  "Jesus is the reason for the season."  "Delayed obedience is disobedience."  And so on and so forth.  She was a stickler when it came to attitude.  "You need an attitude adjustment", she would say.  "Change your attitude, young man" she exclaimed.  Attitude was more important than actions, because it was the wellspring of what was really in the heart.

I've learned that attitude isn't just a kid thing.  It's a human thing and it doesn't get any easier to have a good one with the accumulation of years.  It takes militant discipline to keep your attitude in check.

There are days when I want to just go off.  Something that should have taken 10 minutes takes 2 hours.  Someone that should know better didn't appropriate the "better" that they knew.  A car repair that was supposed to cost $80 instead breaks the bank for $230.  Your kids won't stop talking to each other in cutting tones.  These little things can cause a stress fracture (compound fracture).

I'm learning that it is important to "put on" Christ.  There is no way to overcome a cruddy attitude without "clothing yourself with Christ".  His attitude, His mind, His perspective.  He is the only shot you and I have at really being different than we are.  His Word becomes our "garment of praise".  His truth becomes our "cloak of character".  His fruit grows on our tree, instead of our rotten fruit, our rotten attitudes.

Are you sick of being rotten?  Me too.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Good Gossip...

Talking about people is, without a doubt, the most powerful transmission of revolutionary movement.  It always has been.

We call it "word of mouth".  In marketing this is what you can only dream will happen when your product hits the streets.  You want people talking about you and what you're doing.  You want the viral spread of sentences that begin with phrases like...

"Have you seen the..."
"You gotta try out..."
"You wouldn't believe the way she..."
"I found it remarkable that he..."
"What I loved about them is..."
"If you're looking for quality you've gotta check out..."
"Make sure you go see..."
"I've never met anyone like them before."

Talking about situations and people is what the gospel means at the core, "good news".  You can't transmit the gospel without talking about the new news of life change and the good things God has done and is doing in mankind.  This is how news spreads.  This is how good spreads.  This is how good news spreads.  This is the quintessential power of the gospel.

So talking about people is essential to the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.  This is why Paul was constantly "talking up" other churches to other churches.  At the end of his letters he spent time affirming people to other people.  This is godly gossip that unleashes a contagion of community.  We need more of this.

There are several ways to do this, but let me leave you with one today.  I think if we would utilize this phrase at the beginning of sentences in conversation, we would see a growth hormone injected into humanity and Christianity that has become extinct.

Here is the phrase:

"What I love about them is..."

Whenever you're talking to people, make time for "talking up" other people using this pump-primer.  You will be amazed how contagious this kind communication and community is.

"What I love about her is how committed she is to her kids."
"What I love about him is the simple way he approaches life."
"What I love about them is their passion for excellence."

 Give it a whirl today.  Try talking up people using these six words.  Find the good to affirm rather than the bad to expose.  This is Good Gossip.  This is the Gospel.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The truth about gossip...

Gossip is not just spreading rumors about someone that aren't true, gossip is spreading around something that may be true but isn't constructive to the other person's reputation.  I think people think it's more than ok to talk about someone as long as the conversation is factual.  This couldn't be further from the truth.

Gossip is spreading lies or truths that damage another person's reputation.  It is sharing with the intent of preying on another person's misfortune, making sport of their story for the purpose of mere amusement or interpersonal entertainment.

Here is a list of questions you can use as a "gossip gauge":
1. Does what I'm about to say about that person put them in a good light or a bad light?
2. Do the facts I'm about to share build up or tear down?
3. Is this conversation talking about solutions or problems?
4. Will my remarks encourage grace towards the person or judgement?
5. If this got back to the person would they thank me for sharing it?
6. The question is not whether it is true or false, the question is whether it is good or bad.
7. Can the person I'm sharing with do anything to bring about positive change in the situation?
8. Does sharing this story promote me by making me look good or feel better?
9. Lastly, have I talked to the person before talking about the person?

And speaking of #10, even if you have talked to the person first it doesn't make it right to talk about them if it breaks any rule in #1 through #9.  I've heard people saying when confronted about gossip, "I'm not telling you something I haven't already told them!"  That's not the point.  The point must remain centered on whether what I'm sharing is constructive or destructive to the person's reputation.

There are contexts where sharing concern is appropriate, but only for the purposes of restoration, safety or finding a resolution (solution).  But even then, you go to the person first and if they wouldn't respond to you then you go to the person with someone else who desires biblical restoration.  At that point you either let it go and let God be the judge, jury and executioner, or you take it to spiritual leadership and let them decide on the next steps forward.  The Bible says in a multitude of "counselors" there is wisdom, not the counsel of the multitudes.  Spiritual counsel is different then "pooling collective opinions".

It must be said that sharing concerns and prayer requests with someone who isn't involved in the situation and doesn't need to be can be a "spiritual way" of spreading slander.  "Can you pray for so and so, she is really struggling with..." or "My heart really goes out to "John Doe", I heard yesterday that his wife left him for another man.  I just feel really bad for him."  Sound harmless, doesn't it?  But right under the religious guise of concern is a fleshly scavenger feeding on the road kill.

Gossip isn't just telling a lie about someone, sometimes it's telling the truth about someone in a way that throws them under the bus.