Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wow! The year is over. Can you believe it? We have so much to be thankful for, so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. Thank God I decided to weed through my thought life on the blog this morning as I was interested in seeing what I became neurotic about these last twelve months (if you know me personally, the term neurotic is almost an understatement once I get caught on a subject). I'm so grateful that during this time of reflection I was able to recognize that outside of my own hand written journal this blog was true therapy. It became my way of asking myself to answer my own hard questions, challenging myself to search for truth and drawing a line in the sand that I was going to press into the truth of God in Christ even if it makes me seem nuts. My blog life became the area in which I could no longer lie, I could no longer deny and I could not run away from what I had typed. If I said it, I was going to have to answer to it.
Another great aspect of this personal blog review was that by His grace I was able to see that I/we never finished "40 Days of Psalm 37". In my defense, it wasn't that I actually forgot about the importance of going over this Psalm, but honestly, I have been on such a search for truth within the Christian culture (or lack of truth), that I unfortunately began to compartmentalize my "transformation" time with God as something I didn't need to share on the blog (even though that's where the Psalm 37 series stemmed from) and turned to asking questions about the way we Christians have been transformed by culture as opposed to God's Spirit. Just to be clear, my hope in leaving the Psalms series was never to make you feel bad about the way we've done "things" in our walk with God but instead to challenge brothers and sisters in Christ as well as anybody who stumbles on to this little blog (if they're a friend I'm aware it was out of pity) to search for truth. I pray that my questions and answers always turned them to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today's Psalm truly encompasses the answers to all of my questions and supports my thoughts about Christ as I've pressed into Him over the past year. It also sums up the entire series of "Trusting Truth...". Today's message of Psalm 37:40 is that we need to be reminded of where our eternal security lies and how much we can trust the Triune God to deliver us from finite evil. He is the only eternal security available in a world that is sure to burn. The author David states this so clearly and if we are to read the entire Book of Psalms the way it was written (without chapters and verses) we would see the beautiful, passionate, truthful, hopeful and authentic confessions of a man who knew the truth of God's love and eternal plan of salvation even as he struggled with depression, enemies, fear, violence and uncertainty in his own life. His words in the Psalms are a constant reminder of God's constant unchanging love for us, even in the midst of our sin, trial and denial.
From the point of view of a realist (I don't consider myself a blind optimist or pessimist) the year 2010 promises to be one of hardship, turmoil, suffering, uncertainty, fear, and downright panic in the lives of those who don't know Christ (as well as those who say "Lord, Lord..." but never have truly known Him). We live in a world dominated by those who desire power, money and control and that will not change no matter who is in office or running big businesses. In my opinion this passion to rule the world through politics has less to do with their position as much as it has to do with their eternal condition. Without the only One who is a refuge in the time of need, the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the One who causes all of creation to sing of His majesty and the One who makes His eternal Kingdom an option now through Christ; those who don't truly know God must continue in the darkness of a finite life trying to catch the air in their little finite hands.
I don't claim to be the Old Testament prophet type but these coming days of 2010 and beyond promise to be extremely difficult for followers of Jesus. We can expect to be persecuted, made fun of, mocked, starve, and even be killed (Sound familiar to somebody we know and love?). We can also expect continued disunity within the "body" as we love the Lord but don't look to Him as the Head that directs His members. Because of our forgetfulness of who wants "Headship" we lose sight that we are to be the expression of who he is, and resort to being an expression of who He'd want us to be if WE were Him.
With these coming days of tribulation I hope that we don't see this season as a reason for us to rise up and "try harder" to bring people to Christ through our own efforts of great teaching, evangelism, or through politics in the wisdom of the world. Though these things may be a great plan to man our own wisdom and hurried nature is never the best plan to God. Plus, for the record, I'm not sold on our own best ideas of marketing Christianity to the masses which have failed miserably in their attempts to bring people to actually know Jesus as opposed to hear about Him constantly.
Instead, I'm hopeful that we will be transformed by the "renewing of our minds" instead of by one great book by a Christian author who seems to be in touch with one area you are passionate about. I am hoping that we begin to become the ones who are willing to trust and obey God even if it means turning the other cheek so that the "slapper" may know the love of God. I pray that we will take on the mind of Christ in every area and be transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we may live out the love of our risen Lord. And while I oppose gay marriage, I am never actually for the gay bashing that goes on because of it. I truly do find it hard to understand why is it that we reach out in love to the drunk in the street, the witch doctor in Africa, the drug addict on skid row or the corporate millionaire who just lost His wife to cancer but our Western culture of Christians has decided to hate gays? Does that mean we need to "save them"? No! God is the enabler of the heart. But it does mean we need to love them, in spite of their lifestyle. In case we forgot, Jesus wasn't worried about positions, race, creed, religion, or social status, so we need not be. "Repent and follow me" was a message to the Pharisee as much as it was the Samaritan woman. All I can say is that our response and action towards those not like us should always be from the transformed version of us, not in our Pharisidic Christian version that picks and chooses the laws and sins we think need the most treatment.
In my opinion, the coming year is a time in which we don't need to figure out how to get Christianity right and instead need to re-focus on becoming like Christ through the transformation by His Holy Spirit and through communion with the rest of His body who serves under His headship. We constantly need to be reminded that "winning souls" has nothing to do with us or what we've done and instead has everything to do with Him and what He's called us to do corporately. We need to remember that loving people has to do with a calling from God to be the love of Christ to a world in the darkness, and not as another way for us to try harder to make God love us more by doing what He asks. He can't love you any more than He already does! Lastly, we need to remember like David tells us in this Psalm that we have an eternal refuge in God, we have the eternal answer to death in Christ and that we can put all of our trust in a God who promises to deliver us no matter how difficult things may get. The message of 2010 is the message Jesus gave a bunch of ragtag guys in the 1st century,
""If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)
Friends, brothers and sisters, the call is to trust and obey. To allow God to be God and us to be an expression of His love as we come to the end of our "self's" for His sake.
May your new year be prosperous in the relationships you build, in the truth you obtain, in the love you give and in the light you walk in! See you next year!
Monday, December 21, 2009
I had to share this quote. I feel it would be a disservice to only share things that "I think" without helping you know where some of these thoughts are coming from. I'm aware that I might have shared this before but it sure blesses my soul and I hope it moves your mind like it moved my own. As I can't say enough I love the Lord Jesus and I love His Church more than anything. From the inside out I desire to be transformed into Him so that the world may see and experience His love, grace and freedom. I love that we have the opportunity to be his DNA through belief, faith and then transformation. There is so much more freedom in Christ when we follow His word as opposed to the word of those who want Christ to be and look like their idea of a "perfect God", or even worse, share a created Christ that appears like the perfect American Christian with all the answers to the "problems" of life.
In this world we see "test tube babies" all the time. I just watched the movie, "My Sister's Keeper" in which a child was genetically engineered to perfectly match the organs, blood type and bone marrow type of a sister dying of cancer. Sadly, many of us have become "test tube babies" in Christ. We have genetically engineered our Spirits through our own effort and knowledge to look like, act like or feel like what we think Jesus to be or want us to be. Through great teaching, great books, great vision, great worship and great ideas, our culture has helped us to be "great Christians". Unfortunately, Jesus has so much more for us. He wants us to literally be Him, sharing His DNA. He even tells us how to be transformed into His likeness...by death to self.
Though the ideas of "Fire and Brimstone", "What would Jesus Do" preaching, and the push to "serve" (though many times out of guilt or shame) may marketable in the pulpit, make you feel better about yourself and may even be considered "good" things; It must be said that these good things are absolutely not the best things, nor is it God's plan for His children. As Oswald Chambers says, "Good is the enemy of the best", and as a culture who desires instant gratification, we accept the good as fast as we can get it even at the expense on missing out on the best things God has for us.
I encourage you to not fall into the trap of selling your life solely out to "movements" because they "feel" right even if they are using the name of God or Jesus. I pray that you don't follow Preachers simply because they say the right things about God or about something you are passionate about and scratch your itching ears. Be sure to "test everything" against God's word and allow yourself to be the person whom God can transform into the likeness of His Son as we trust and obey in Him.
Note: I also want to say that by seeing things like movements and great preachers as "good" vehicles that can be used by God, we never lose sight of the best thing which is Jesus our Savior, Lord, King and Bridegroom.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Being a "legalist" is something I've battled with in my walk with Christ over the past seven years. As I've gained more head knowledge through reading, conversation, "doing" ministry and knowing the right people I've missed out on the transformation of my heart that Jesus offers and Paul of Tarsus speaks of. As most of you who read this know, my goal in this blog is to encourage you to abandon yourselves, discern the truth and trust wholly in Him through obedience; unfortunately many times I get so caught up with being "right" in the way this life takes form that I fall back into my legalistic ways.
So, without boring you any further I encourage you to click on this link (or on the title of this article) and check out Frank's blog.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Christmas is a funny season for Christians. We, most of the time, out of the goodness of our hearts love to show those our love by buying them gifts. It's a beautiful thing to show people how much we care for them by giving them something we know they need or have said they want. As a person who loves to give, I never feel better than when that gift is received with grace, love and appreciation. Most of the time it is in a smile that I see I've done right, or in a few words like "I love you", but more than anything it's in the way I'm treated as a result of what I gave. When we give a gift out of love, and the response of the recipient is to simply receive this gift in love, and then respond by just accepting the gift as opposed to feeling like they must pay me back, my mission has been accomplished. In the same way, when we are just able to accept/receive God's gift of new life to us, and the death of sin, as well as the taking on of the DNA of Christ as his Church and bride that gets to live in His perfect Kingdom then we will begin to experience the freedom of who we "are".
This morning i realized as an advocate for "being" the church, I am part of a group that is still striving to "do" it right. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am already part of his Church and that is where freedom lies. Freedom is never a response of guilt but of love. The same way that Eve was Adam's DNA since she was made from his rib, I am part of Christ's DNA as I am a member of a church that was born out of him and I can find freedom in accepting who I am in Christ. I truly believe with all my heart that a revival and revolution is coming from within the body as we begin to see, in glimpses, how God sees us. The beginning of that revival comes from the fact that we are worthy to be loved, worthy to accept forgiveness and worthy to be a member of the Church regardless of what we've done in the past. If we are to believe in a God that is all knowing, all loving, all powerful as well as everywhere at the same time, then we have to believe that God knew of our sins before we would commit them. The proof of him being aware of that sin is the sending of His only begotten Son to take those sins to the cross so that we may have fellowship with Him.
Nothing surprises God! Nothing! Your sins of omission and your sins of commission do not catch God off guard. But...what pains God, what hurts the feelings of God is the fact that in spite of his gift of forgiveness for sin, in spite of his gift of new life and a new marriage with Him through Christ, we have responded in finding out how He we can "repay" Him. If I can urge Christians one thing this Holiday season it is to learn how to be a great receiver. When we learn how to accept a gift, we learn how to appreciate the giver and the thought of his present. When we aim to "repay" for what was given, it becomes more about us and what we can do to show we're worthy of such a thought. It's hard to accept but you are worthy of God's love. It's hard to accept but you are "His Masterpiece" according to Ephesians 2. We can't make ourselves any more of God's masterpiece by playing the part of His Masterpiece. As His church and bride we are perfect in His sight and therefore we can begin to experience the freedom of Christ when we see what we already "are" instead of what we need to do, be or play the part of.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
So, after he read multiple blog posts over the past month or two when it appears that I have been filled with the spirit of a renegade for the deconstruction of the institutional church, he decided it was time we meet and talk about the "elephant in the room", especially since in many ways it appears I'm calling for an end to his job as we know it. He noticed that even though I was and am posing important questions to those in the church, those who work in the church, those outside the church and anybody else who reads this blog, I have rarely included myself in the problems that I'm blaming on the "institution" and somehow separate myself from the very thing (the Church) that I'm trying to put back in to what we currently refer to as "church". Ironically, just last night as I was praying I felt something tell me (not audibly) that though my deconstruction may be correct and even important, unless I aim to build back up what I'm tearing down, then all I'm causing is disunity within the body of Christ (just as much of a sin as leading people to worship where they attend on Sunday instead of Christ or the creation of "churchilebrities").
So, without getting into personal details and with the encouragement of my brother-in-law it's time to clear somethings up...
1) Do I hate the church? Absolutely Not! I'm a member of the Church and recognize that I don't use the word "we" enough when speaking about the Church. I'm incredibly passionate about the body of Christ and truly believe that the revival and reformation that followers of Christ are hoping for will most certainly take place within the "institutional church" as we know it. This may mean a breaking off of some of the members to pursue house churches and just as likely it will be a reconstruction of how we "do" church by the Holy Spirit. This doesn't make you or me "emergent" or "emerging" but it does mean an end to the fear that we must be "relevant" within culture or fear that we are letting down John Calvin or Martin Luther. The Kingdom of God is above all Earthly cultures and wisdom and I expect that by the power of His Spirit, the culture of the Kingdom will regain its influence, power and attraction as the body hands the power back to the head who is Jesus Christ. I don't have all the answers to how this will work or what it will look like, but I know that it's already happening. I also know that it won't happen out of the wisdom of man (me included) but instead by the wisdom of God (see 1 Cor: 2 and 3).
2) Do I hate you if you work at a church? Absolutely Not! I feel terrible as I read anything that I've written or that others have written that aims bazookas and chucks grenades at those working "in the church" (guilty at times). Though i would not be true to my study of Scripture if I denied the fact that I don't believe in a paid "clergy", I don't know if that is the BIGGEST problem within the institution and I don't believe it's something that MUST be fixed. If it must be fixed, all I can say is that it's a God sized problem that can only be fixed by God himself. For the record, I do believe that a teacher should be paid a "fair wage" as Scripture says, I also believe in the financial support of missionaries which in my opinion now includes local churches due to the lack of those actually following Christ in America, and I believe in the cheerful giver who has the ability as a follower of Christ to prove that God has total control of the money he allows him or her to make (that's a tough one personally). With that being said, I only hope to encourage you, edify you, exhort you, and serve with you as part of God's "Royal Priesthood". I have realized that even though I am trying to raise important questions, I may have demeaned your current calling and in no way am I in a position to do that.
3) Do I believe that we all need to attend a church? Without getting fully into the semantics of the word "church" today, the answer is YES! Surprise coming from me? Let me be very clear, all followers of Christ are called to be part of a community of believers that without question meets together and lives life together. We are called to serve together, take communion together, pray for one another, edify each other, exhort one another and give to each person as they have need. With this being said, this doesn't mean that there is only way to experience church and that is by going on Sunday. It should also be said that showing up at a Starbucks with a Christian friend and reading the bible is not the same as "going to church" and should actually be referred to as fellowship which is also extremely important to sharing life together within the body. I must also note that most of my issues with the institutional church have to do with the squashing of the Spirit of God that is in so many of the "congregants" by the traditions of our liturgy. As we sit in pews, fall asleep, cheer, raise their hands, listen, think, or whatever else we do during a service time we are rarely encouraged to do anything but fill compartments of the "church life". Therefore, I'd urge the institution to let go of their tight grip on programs, methods, being relevant, being up to date, or being concerned with offending people and instead trust God that the building he wants to speak through is his people who come together as "living stones" (1 Peter). By allowing for this, even within the institutional church, we actually build one another up and become a real family. I doubt people at home aren't allowed to talk with the exception of 5 minutes of pre-planned time on a Wednesday night and I don't see what that should be any different whenever a community of believers meets together no matter the day of the week that they meet.
Is Jesus the only way? Yes! Not because I'm saying it, but because He did. "If God says it, that settles it" as my mentor always says. Next question!
Do I always think I'm right, and if you disagree should you stop reading the blog? The only person who is always right is God himself! I aim to be clear that when I pose questions, they are just that...questions. Many times I will give opinions, but more often I aim to present facts. It's a fact that the institutional church is on the decline and house churches are on the rise. But, that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit isn't in both. I realized this morning that there is an adrenaline seen in my writing when I get passionate about something and instead of being constructive, it is often times destructive. Please know, that in all humility, I don't always believe I'm right, but I do believe God is always right. Therefore, if I'm stating a fact, it's not always because I want it to be that way (see the Jesus question above) but because God states it SHOULD be a certain way. I also want to be clear that the institution, the house church movement and the missional church movement are all part of God's sovereign, eternal and moral wills. Anything we do inside of those wills of God are ok. In other words, we may disagree on some little things but our questions when reading the work of somebody else should not be whether or not we're personally offended. The question that should be asked is, "does this piece of writing offend the God of Scripture?" and if you answer no to that question you would then ask, "what can I personally do to remedy my own situation and relationship with Him"? Just so you know, most of the time the answer is to let Go and give everything to God. We have to get over ourselves enough to allow His Spirit to transform us because we can't transform ourselves into the image and love of God. It's not easy for me to be right in my head when I'm writing, only to be corrected by a friend, a reader or God. But we're all after truth and leaning on tradition and comfort never helped anybody grow in Christ.
I'll stop right here for now. If you have any more questions for me, comments for me or anything else I'd love to hear from you whether by email or by comment. The most important thing I was asked this morning was "Ryan, what are you hoping this blog actually does? Is it your ministry?". The answer to that question was that I hope I can be the hands of Jesus as I type that pull people out of the rut of being a "Christian" on paper but have never seen the Spiritual Transformation that produces the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Personally, I'm embarrassed to say that in my own life, things like anger and pride continue to have a hold on me. There are places and areas of my life that I need to let go, places where I still must come to the end of myself and places in which I block the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don't apologize for asking hard questions or making you uncomfortable, but I do apologize for creating any disunity in the body because of my lack of focus to "Be completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love. Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:2-3). I hope that from here on out this blog becomes a dialogue in which revival and reformation can spring up within all aspects of the church and the resurgence of God's people to influence a culture as opposed to us being transformed by it. My aim is never to be relevant, Jesus wasn't worried about relevance, he was concerned with truth. Truth is what sets people free and the truth of our freedom comes by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Amen!
I also forgot to mention that on the Goodfellow's blog there is a link to make donations. Please use that link directly in order to help give water to those who don't have any. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
So with the permission of Blake, I'm posting his blog below regarding the "Riley Project". I hope you will consider what he and his family are doing in order to take small steps to combat selfishness during this season and instead spread hope, love and actual life. It was Christ who is able to give us eternal life, and instead of focusing on the finite things like toys and food which both waste away, the thought of giving life through water to the starving and thirsty during the time in which we celebrate the birth of our "living water" seems appropriate.
On a side note as you consider helping I'd like you to realize that during the Holiday season Americans spend $450 Billion dollars celebrating the holidays. This means more consumerism which is just as prevalent in the "church" as it is outside (if not worse), and an additional 12 pounds on the average human belly (per another study I read outside of the blog). If we decided to gain only six pounds, that is most likely worth a minimum of $50 that we could donate just by eating half as much (less cookies, Starbucks, muffins, candy, etc...). Also, within the "church" I can't help but be discouraged during the Holiday season to see so much money wasted on the unnecessary construction of more "church" buildings including an embarrassing $120 million dollar project in Dallas. But I have to ask does God really need "bigger barns" to attract people? What a waste! During this Season I can't help but think that we have lost sight of what it means to be Jesus to the lost, the hurting, the widows, the helpless, the meek, the Poor in Spirit, and the like. Instead of trying to make buildings and cutesy messages to attract people, maybe, just maybe we can become eternally attractive as we bear the image of our Savior in the way we love.
Please take this as a small challenge to walk the walk. By no means am I saying you must do this or else you're selfish, instead I'm just asking you to consider it. And oh, by the way, even if Jesus means nothing to you, or being a Christian is silly, or maybe you're a Jew, Muslim, Agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist or something else, if you can find it in your heart to do something truly "good" during this season then please consider helping the dream of an eight year old come true. Starting now until Dec. 24th figure out a way to even donate a dollar a day to give water to those who have none. Please contact me if you want to help or contact Blake directly through the blog below. Thanks and have a wonderful Holiday season!
This article below was taken from http://www.goodfellowfamily.blogspot.com/
The Riley Project is close to being finished (although Riley says that she will never be finished raising money for wells). Riley has about 800 more dollars to raise to reach her goal. We are ready for Riley to reach her goal because we are ready for over 250 people to finally have clean water. They are dying while they wait (I know that sounds dramatic, but, well, it's the truth).
So, during Advent (November 29-December 24) our family will be eating rice and beans every night for dinner. We will be donating the money that we save on groceries to The Riley Project. We can't take credit for this idea. I first saw a blog where a family ate rice and beans for a month and gave the money that they saved to a friend's adoption. Then, our friends Kinzi and Jay approached us with the idea that they would fast and give the money that they saved to The Riley Project and asked us if we wanted to participate. As we discussed it and threw around ideas, we landed on eating rice and beans for Advent. I honestly can't think of a better way to both prepare to celebrate Jesus' birth and raise more money for the well then to sacrificially give of ourselves in this way.
In many ways we are very excited about rice and beans and what it will teach our family. But we are also very selfish and really, really don't want to eat rice and beans for 25 days straight. It's not going to be fun. I hate beans. But every night, as we eat our rice and beans, we will think of those we don't have anything to eat, we will think of those who are going to get clean water, and we will think of Jesus who sacrificed much more than us.
I mean, really, who am I to complain about eating rice and beans when there are millions of people who would be beyond thankful to know that they were getting rice and beans every night?
Who am I to think that I deserve more than rice and beans?
We are asking anyone who wants to, to please join us in giving something up in order to give to The Riley Project. You don't have to eat rice and beans for 25 days. You can eat rice and beans for a week or one night. You can give up Starbucks or Coke and give the money that you save to the well. You could come up with your own idea. I am also giving up my nightly ice cream which is a really, really big deal for me. We already had a family give up eating out for a month and donate their saved money to the well. We have so much that we can give up.
(I also just wanted to say that you can participate for any reason- it doesn't have to be in preparation for Jesus' birth. This is just one of our reasons. You obviously don't have to be a Christian to give sacrificially. In fact, most Christians are really bad at sacrificial giving.)
So, after 25 days of rice and beans, on Christmas Day, our family will write a check to charity:water for the amount of money that we saved. It would be so beautiful if the final $800 needed to build this well was raised by Christmas Day because of sacrificial giving on the part of people all around the country.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The devotional is based off an excerpt from Frank Viola's book "From Eternity to Here" and is a strong reminder of who God is, where he dwells and why need to get over ourselves enough to trust Him. In reading it I was also able to discern that in the body of Christ, it is of the utmost importance that the sum of the parts in the is always greater than the parts. Too often we are only edified individually due to the way Western Christianity operates ("me first" individualism) as opposed to strengthening the body as a whole . Regardless of how good a "christian" you may be, how many church services you show up at, bible studies you're a part of, or how well you've "got it together"; we always need to be aware of who we are in God's grand scheme of things. I hope this message blesses you like it did me...
A Homeless God
by Frank Viola
"As you come to Him, the living Stone -- rejected by men but
chosen by God and precious to Him -- you also, like living
stones, are being built into a spiritual house." (1 Peter 2:4-5a)
This week's devotional comes from Frank Viola's book From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God .
Part of my roots are in the Charismatic movement. In that experience, I was repeatedly encouraged to seek God for a "visitation" from heaven. As a result, I harbored the illusion that if God visited our church, He was pleased with it. I later discovered that God is not looking for a place to visit. He is looking for a place to dwell.
The pages of history are littered with the sobering fact that God is no longer present in the places He once visited. Go to the landmarks of past revivals, and you'll quickly discover that the crowds have diminished. The joy is gone. The life has evaporated. In many cases, those places are but hollow shells today.
For me the intriguing question is: Why does the Lord leave? The answer is telling: because he was not completely welcomed.
He was allowed to visit, but He was not permitted to be head. That is, He was not granted the right to make the decisions.
Visitations bless us for a short season. But a dwelling place for God is something for His interest and His desire. Blessing is merely a byproduct. It's not the prime product.
Contemplate this thought: If God "visits" a church, it betrays the fact that it doesn't belong to Him. A homeowner doesn't visit his own home. He lives in it. In a divine visitation, God will bless His people. But He will eventually move on and search for a home that He can call his own. Thus if the headship of Jesus Christ is not fully yielded to any given place, the best the Lord can do is visit. He cannot take up residency.
Our Lord is in a quest for a place to lay His head, a place where His headship is operative, a place where He does what He wishes, a place where he can feel comfortable and find rest. This is the indelible mark that a particular church is in fact His house. Anything else is but a layover for Him.
Like any homeowner, God builds His house in His own way. If the home is His, He arranges the furniture the way He wishes, for He is the master of His own home.
In this connection, I want you to imagine countless living stones scattered all over the earth. I want you to see innumerable living stones living their own individual Christian lives. I want you to see scores of living stones who loved God, but who are isolated and independent of other living stones. Many attend religious services, but there is little to no "building together" among the members.
That is precisely the situation we find ourselves in today. And what is the net effect? God is still homeless.
The burning intent of your God is that all of His living stones be built together with other living stones to form His house. Not for themselves, but for their Lord. To be the house of God, by God and for God.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." (Psalm 127:1)"From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:16)
Jesus Christ did not die and rise again just to forgive you of your sins. He died in order that His father could obtain a home. The Lord saved you and me for a high and holy purpose.
Without people who are being assembled together, God is a wandering, homeless God. And we are wandering, homeless Christians. Your Lord wishes to build Himself into a people, and He wishes to build a people into Himself. He is after a building, not a rock quarry. He wants a house, not a heap of stones nor group of scattered rocks. The Lord Jesus Christ is looking for willing vessels who will abandon their Western-style individualism and live a shared life with others under His exclusive headship. This is our high calling.
Make a home for the Lord in your life. Each day, give Him complete headship to arrange your life as He wishes. Then begin to connect with other "living stones" by building relationships with fully committed believers.
"Lord, take complete control of my life. Dwell with me so that I can be yours. Be with me and be my God. Amen"
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
There it was. That boring, overused word that has become the adjective of choice within my inner circle. Even with my dislike for the way we use the word so shallowly, I still find myself using it at times even if it has been my pet peeve over the past six months. "No", I replied to his question, but I'd say they are "Ama" (pronounced 'amay'), you know... about half way to 'amazing'." With a confused look on his face, one that clearly showed his inability to decide whether to laugh or be insulted, he quickly asked what I meant. I responded that I didn't mean to offend him, but that I've grown tired of our lack of creativity when it comes to words within our "Christian" culture.
The importance of our words in Scripture is seen numerous times. Their importance, power and influence (see Proverbs 18:21, James 3, and Luke 6:45 along with so many others) have the ability to give life or give death. I went on to say that when we pay no attention to what we say, letting our mouths run on auto-pilot we take God's word lightly. If there is importance in every word that rolls off of our tongue, then why do we pay such little attention to the detail of our words. Then, being the brat that I can be, I defined the word "amazing" for him according to dictionary.com. It means, "causing great surprise or sudden wonder." In my opinion, if biscuits and gravy can give us the same response as having a baby (clearly amazing) or accepting God's grace (which we sing is "amazing") then we have lost our sense of awe and wonder. A sense that young children have, and Jesus encourages us to mimic.
The conversation then blossomed into a discussion about what truly is "amazing". We came up with things like our ability to create (which in my opinion is what makes us most like God) through mediums like art, architecture, music, poetry. We also brought back the discussion of how a newborn and God's grace are truly "amazing". Knowing that I like to share my life in Christ on this blog, he then asked if this topic of discussion would become an entry. I answered with a resounding, "I hope so" expecting to write it about it within a few days. However, because of the busyness of life, I failed at that attempt. When asked why I hadn't written, I told him the truth, I hadn't been inspired to write about it yet, letting him know that once God gives me a reason, I will put my fingers to the keyboard without question.
Fast forward to this past weekend when God would inspire me to write about my biscuits and gravy. The inspiration came from my trip to "The Garden" in Long Beach. As I mentioned in a previous entry, one of the most beautiful aspects of my visit to this community of believers was that the Gospel, The Kingdom of God, was being preached unashamedly. The message being taught was taken from the "Sermon on the Mount" and dealt with making vows. It wasn't fluffy. It wasn't geared towards making a better individual in Christ, but instead was being taught in a way that would greatly increase the power of the body (which is another reason that I know the Spirit was leading that service). In a nutshell, the message, which was thoroughly researched and prayed over, dealt with the importance of our words. It dealt with followers of Jesus, not needing to "swear" by anything because a word coming from a person who has the Spirit of God in them has nothing to prove. Ironically, the message touched on how we use words to impress others and even more frequently impress ourselves. Many times we feel the need to "swear" by something because we cannot be trusted. In the same way, we use words like "amazing" and "awesome" in order to describe something we want others to see the same way we do.
If you are offended by this, then I'm missing my mark. In no way am I trying to tell people to never use the word "amazing". But I am saying that we need to pay more attention to what we say and why we say it. Are we using these words because they are truly how we feel or are we saying these words to make us feel better about our experiences? Are we trying to make others like the things we like by puffing up an experience, or are we possibly trying to make others think "highly" of us for finding something that is actually "amazing"?
I believe these are all valid questions for a person who follows Jesus. Too often we want people to see things how we see them, or to find us cooler than somebody else because we know where to find the most "amazing" food or clothes for example. When we are doing this, we are finding our worth outside of God. The way we use our words always speaks to something rooted deeper within us. Instead of using our words to allow the authenticity of our lives in Christ to flow out of our mouth, we many times, use words to create a fake excitement, make others jealous, make us feel better about what we're doing and actually reveal a strange insecurity about own life. I'm not urging you to drop words from your vocabulary but I am asking you to check the deepest parts of your Spirit to see why you feel the urge to market your life by using words that should be saved for the greatest gifts and delights from God. When we are able to allow the Spirit of God to take over our life, we come to find out what the word "amazing" truly means.
P.S- To my friend I had lunch with, I hope to have some REALLY REALLY good biscuits and gravy with you soon. This is also a disclaimer that I in no way thought you were insecure about how good these biscuits of gravy were. Instead, as creatures and habit, as well as being tired and lacking creativity, we used the word "amazing" for something that was truly "ama".
P.S.S- I am not blind to the fact that God's hand is in everything. His gifts and delights can be in things both big and small which makes Him (not the gifts) "amazing". But quite often, instead of thinking about what God's gift really means to us, we instead call it "amazing" to our friends and run off like that's a thank you note to God. Instead of taking the easy way out, knowing that he is the giver of every good gift, do Him a "solid" and use the blessing He's given you, to bless someone else without using words that may make somebody feel below you.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
For all I've talked about trusting God over the past four months, I still struggle with a lack of obedience to Christ in all things. I find myself striving, sprinting and struggling to provide my family all they need, as if I'm responsible to clothe them, feed them, and keep a roof over their heads (Matthew 6). Like most who claim to be a Christian, a Disciple or whatever us followers of Christ are now being referred to, my actions reveal a hidden belief that I can continue on in a life of stress even while I claim to be coming to the end of "me" for the sake of Christ. In other words, I constantly live in a lie because it's easier than trusting the truth. Of course, my own best thinking has only caused friction between my family and my friends, as well as causing an all out war between my flesh and my Spirit. As I ponder the reason that I've chosen to live in this ugly paradox of confessing Jesus with my lips, and trusting my heart to little "g" gods such as money, power, comfort, and good health; I came across today's passage of Scripture in Psalm 37 (fitting considering it's the second to last one in this series).
Psalm 37:39 is a blatant reminder to those who follow Christ and have accepted his gift of eternal salvation. What is the reminder you ask if it's supposed to be so blatant? It's that ALL of "the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord". Get that? ALL! So often we get wrapped up in God's grace only when we are feeling grateful for our gift of heaven (a good thing). But how many times have we received his salvation in the mundane things of life and have forgotten that "every good and perfect gift if from above"? (James 1:17)
The word salvation defined is: "the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc." Do you see where God is taking us with this passage? Every bill we make, every breath you take, He'll be saving you (tacky but couldn't help it, plus Sting and Puff Daddy gave me permission). But seriously, every breath is a part of His salvation for us. The gift that allowed you to pay your bills is part of his salvation. The love you receive from a complete stranger, or better yet your ability to show the love of Christ to one of your enemies is a part of your gift of salvation. Salvation is not just a one time thing when we die; salvation is an all the time thing we receive when we allow God's Spirit to live in us. Anything that is received in this life, is part of our salvation and a picture of God's amazing grace. The beauty of this salvation of course is that He gives it to us because of Jesus, we don't and can't earn it ourselves.
Can you trust God and his salvation for you? It's easy to freely give (especially when we refuse to be honest with ourselves that many times we give to feel better about ourselves or look good to others) but are you able to freely receive his saving grace. The end of the Psalm 37:39 says, "...he is their stronghold in the time of trouble". Do we really believe that the one who saves us, is the one who will keep on saving us? Do we believe that his love for us is unconditional? Do we believe that our God is all knowing, and knows what's best for us?
Freedom is not found in what we can do to get "more saved". Freedom is not found in being in the right Life Group, attending the right "church", having the right friends, taking the right trips, having the perfect job or "running a ministry". What I'm trying to say is that true freedom in this life is only found in coming to the end of ourselves, getting over our fears, our aspirations, and our shallow hopes in favor of trusting a God who gives salvation to those who ask and obey. A God who saves us in the biggest of things as well as the small ones. Quit treating God like He's just a "saving fairy" who gives you a cloud and a harp when you die. Just to be clear, he doesn't currently live where the Care Bears live or tickle you constantly so that you giggle your way through your toughest circumstances. He isn't a stork dropping off babies and He doesn't take you out to get ice cream while you walk your puppy together. God doesn't meet you at certain places more than others because you heard they are "holy". (hence the tearing of the veil) God is a God who is always with you, who desires to fill you and guide you, as well as love and protect you. Whether in the good times or in bad you have permanent access to God's salvation through Jesus. Sound a bit like wedding vows? Maybe that's why he offered us his hand in marriage.
The next time you use a debit card instead of a credit card be thankful that God has given you enough to pay your bills. The next time you are depressed, be thankful that God allows you to have feelings. The next time you question whether or not God loves you, envision Jesus dying on a cross. The next time you wonder if death is defeated, study the facts of the empty tomb and those eyewitnesses who saw our Lord. The next time you think you must save yourself, remember that without God you are walking dead. The next time you feel like you've "gotta make it happen", remember that there is another option, and that option is to trust and obey God with everything that he has already gracefully given you.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Showing up in Long Beach for "church" was new to me. It's the most diverse city in all of America and the community of believers (and those searching for truth and freedom) that showed up for the 6pm meeting undoubtedly reflected that statistic. From an 85 year old man in the front row, to numerous "hipster" or "scenester" 20 somethings, as well as Latino gang members and young women that resembled the girl from the reality show "L.A Ink", I quickly realized that the only thing in common for most of the people showing up to worship was that they loved Jesus Christ. Though it was my first time showing up to be with this community of believers, it felt like home. Sure, I knew quite a few people as they had attended Rock Harbor Church for years before The Garden was planted; but the love from those I didn't know, the authenticity of their brokenness and worship is what bound me to this group of "Ragamuffins" as Brennan Manning would call them.
If you are living in the Long Beach area, are interested in what it looks like to follow Jesus, have questions about God, desire a close knit community, need prayer, and/or wish to share in worshiping the Creator as opposed to a Pastor, staff, tradition, buildings or a "special message" used to market Jesus, then I'd recommend that you check out and hopefully serve with The Garden. I can truly say that it is a community that wholeheartedly yearns to worship Jesus, to become like him in the way they walk, talk, pray and love those who are members as well as those who sit outside the building begging for change. Knowing the humility that is in Darren, and having a personal relationship with so many that call The Garden home, I can assure you that their mission and vision of making disciples in the city of Long Beach while being led by the Holy Spirit will be realized.
If you want to know more about The Garden in Long Beach please check out their website at www.TheGardenLB.org. I've yet to attend a gathering of believers that unashamedly desires Jesus to be the center of their meeting like this group does. Their hope of transformation and reformation is something that can only be done by the Holy Spirit. If you live in or around the city of Long Beach and hope to see the Spirit of God move without the interference of programs, institutionalization, celebrity Pastors and a class system between the so-called "clergy" and "laity" this is the place for you. It's a true authentic, organic attempt to keep Jesus as the head of His church, and humbly accept the role of being his moving parts that show his love for a broken world.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The questions I'm posing are not whether we need to be worshiping together (we are commanded to by our King)? Or where we are able to worship (everywhere)? I'm also not asking whether or not the local community of Disciples meet at a building, house, coffee shop, etc (God dwells in us everywhere equally. No more in a Worship Center than a House or a Chapel than a Starbucks)?
The question is whether we have given up the truth of God's word in exchange for the comfort, novelty and nostalgia of our man made tradition and liturgy. By no means do I believe we (the body) have purposely defined church differently than Scripture. Instead, we have allowed the cultures of both the past and present define it for us. In the past, the importance of class and the traditions of previous religious beliefs helped to shape the gathering of the body. Today, being "relevant", "entertaining", as well as the business aspect of the church (along with previous issues) have taken our eyes and hearts away from what we are to represent as His body. Instead of allowing God to own every part of us, the loan on our Church buildings now own the congregation. Messages are crafted by man (1 Cor 2-3) in order to drive up attendance or make people feel good so that there is a reason to keep a "staff" (aka Clergy). Neither of these are Biblical and they take away from the beauty of the marriage between Christ and His bride.
I don't have the answers to this problem, and I'm having a tough time defining what my problem within the Church actually is. In a nutshell, I'm just feeling as though we've exchanged the truth of Church for the tradition of church and settled for it much in the same way that culture has settled for sex in exchange for true love. In our hurry to be able to define things, we put a box on God that makes him say what we want to hear and look a lot more like our Homeboy, Aunt, or Donut Shop owner than our Savior, Redeemer and King. All I know is those who love Christ always yearn for more love, more truth, and a more abundant life. Unfortunately we are settling for less when accept the status-quo, live a life out of Fear of the future and man versus the Fear of God, and aim to please our senses instead of pleasing His Spirit in us.
Below is that quote I read. I know I'm all over the place in today's post but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on what Mr. Snyder wrote. I'm not looking for those to agree, just to ponder whether or not we live for the truth that is in Christ, or the comforts that come from adding Him onto the life we are "making" for ourselves.
"The New Testament simply does not speak in terms of two classes of Christians -- "minister" and "laymen" -- as we do today. According to the Bible, the people (laos, "laity") of God comprise all Christians, and all Christians through the exercise of spiritual gifts have some "work of ministry." So if we wish to be biblical, we will have to say that all Christians are laymen (God's people) and all are ministers. The clergy-laity dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew up as an accident of church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical faithfulness.... It is one of the principal obstacles to the Church effectively being God's agent of the Kingdom today because it creates the false idea that only "holy men," namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry"- From "The Community of the King" (pp 94-95)
Monday, November 2, 2009
Just yesterday, I was listening to an evangelist named Paul Washer as I was doing some work. He is a man from the South with a heart for Christ and His message on YouTube has now been sent to me by numerous people meaning that it was time for me to finally listen to it in its entirety. This particular video has had an astronomical amount of viewers and it's clear why, this guy, with all his heart aims to teach the gospel of Jesus and nothing else. There is no fluff, no "Sports Center" style humor, no Seminarian structure, no watering down of what Jesus said, and no compromising of God's word. Sure there were some things that were tough to hear, offensive to the follower and non-follower of Christ who haven't died to their "self" for His sake, and even downright scary, but I could not help but be influenced by the truth being spoken through the mouth of this man by the Spirit of God to an approximate crowd of 5,000 teenagers.
The message was based on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:15-23 which says,
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
As I considered these words, I couldn't help but line them up to today's passage in Psalm 37 and what God has in store for those considered to be evil in His sight (not mine or yours). So often as American Christian's we believe that saying the "Jesus prayer" is enough to get us "in", that showing up on Sunday means being a "church member", and that if we give ten percent we've pretty much punched our ticket to paradise (in the NT there is no call that you must give 10%, it was mosaic law, and there was also no paid "clergy" in the early church). Yet the passage above says that unless "good fruit" is being produced in us, like all "bad fruit" we will be thrown into the fire. Scary thought, but if you've ever wondered if you're "saved", you only need to look at the "good fruit" being produced in your life. If what you or others see is "bad fruit" according to Scripture, you can consider yourself the "transgressor" in the Psalm above. This isn't meant to scare you, it's mean to remind you that just saying something isn't enough, and just doing the Christian thing isn't enough, what's enough is getting over yourself enough to let the Spirit work in you, producing the very fruit that Christ himself produced when we walked in Berkenstock's (right?) 2000 years ago.
Unfortunately, as humans, we've made being a Christian so much more difficult than God ever intended it to be. Heck, according to His word, we don't even see Jesus telling people to go make "Christians" of all the nations in the sense that we use the word "Christian" today (this does not mean I believe that being anything other than a disciple of Christ in which He is our Savior, King and Lord is enough to not be thrown into the fire according to Scripture). Even worse, is we've begun worshiping teachers as if they're closer to God than we are, we've created a hierarchy within the body, and we pick and choose who we love based on their agreement of how we believe Scripture should be interpreted. Because we have held on so tightly to being Christian, it's difficult to see Christ in much of what us "Christians" are doing anymore unless it's a big sticker on our car, a fish symbol on our business card or speaking Christianese at a Starbucks with somebody else who loves how great their messages are at "church" and don't live out the gospel in which they have the ability as a "royal priest" to share.
The more I contemplate and compare the message of Jesus in Matthew 7 and today's Psalm, I can't help but think that many "Christians" have continued to strive in their lives (guilty), aiming to complete their "Christian" check list and have never really walked WITH Christ. They have chosen to keep the goals of this life and try adding Jesus into that mix all while wondering how a life in Christ could be so uncomfortable. (Ironically, according to George Barna 65-70% of Americans call themselves evangelical Christians. If that was true, wouldn't the "fruit" look much different here?). Maybe the lack of comfort comes from your own will, refusing to lay down so that the Spirit of God may have all of you? Just a thought.
Like God's word says, a life without Christ is a life leading to eternal destruction and though we can become a "better Adam" here on Earth when we, in our own power, do some things like Jesus, we never become the new creation that produces the "good fruit" that reminds us of our salvation if we don't let the Spirit of God have full authority in our few years on Earth. If only we would believe that God through Christ wants to make us into the loving creatures He created us to be, we could truly be born again (emptied out) and made to be the hands, feet, mouth, ears, and heart of Christ that he intended when He called the church His body.
If you are creating a Jesus that makes you comfortable, that makes you want to make yourself a better person, and that gives you an insurance policy in case the Bible is right, then you are missing out on the true Jesus who gives an abundant life. Jesus never wants you to have the job of making yourself a Christian, what he wants is His permission to change you by His Spirit as you come to the end of your "self". The book of Hebrews states that, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being. "(Heb 1:3). According to God's word, this very Jesus, the one who is the exact representation of God's being, the one who came to forgive sins, and the one who has left His Spirit to lead and change us, is the only person or thing that gives this life meaning because He is the one who created life in the first place.
If you are striving to be like Jesus, to be a better Christian, to pride in being a "member" of a hip building because you consider that community or to be anything other than a new creation in Him in which "good fruit" is produced you are missing out. By Jesus alone, who is the head of the Church are you considered a "royal priest" (1 Pet. 2) and nobody can take that away. This being a "royal priest" however, by no means, gives you permission to do your "own" thing skipping out on living a life in Christ with other members of the body regardless of the building or day of the week. Even Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us against that very notion to go it alone when it states, "let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." If you are a new creation in Christ we are a family that will never taste destruction as nothing can separate us from Him."
As followers of Christ, a new creation, we need not worry about death and destruction because it has been defeated for those who are producing "good fruit". We need not concern ourselves with hierarchy because we are all a "royal priesthood", we need not worry about where we'll live, what we'll eat, or our health because Jesus calls us to total abandonment of self in order to completely trust in Him. Stop the striving, stop the trying, stop trying to be "relevant" and just follow Christ. It is the only thing that guarantees a life worth living, it is the only commitment that reconciles you to the one true God, and it is the only thing that promises an eternal life in the Kingdom of God in which your 401k cannot be destroyed, your investments never go away, and perfect Love surrounds all those who accept it.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I love watching people or is it "people watching"? Whatever... you know what I'm saying. Just yesterday I was having lunch (or a people watching session) with one of my favorite friends when he caught me looking everywhere but at him as he was sharing some of the great things going on in his life (because I handle multiple tasks on a daily basis, I did hear it all just in case you're reading this). I'd love to say the reason for my wandering eyes was that I was watching to see if a masked man was about to rob a bank so that I could be the knight in shining honor to the unsuspecting hostages and bring the victims to Christ with my heroism. But the real reason for my lack of eye contact was that I love to see how people live in their present environment. I love to study their mannerisms, their voices, the way a man treats a woman during a meal and the way people chew their food amongst other things. The irony of that discussion was that we were talking about what it would take for a disciple of Christ to put their foot into the mold that God willingly carves out for us as we walk through life. How could we come to the end of our own life (abandon self), our own dreams, our own ideals and our own aspirations in order to take our steps on the road of the life that God has planned for us? As I walked away from lunch with this "Man of God" I came to the conclusion that we are able to develop this walk in three ways, two of which involve "people watching". The first is by following/studying God's word, the second is by studying the life of Christ and the third is by emulating the lives of unapologetic followers of Christ in history as well as in the present. We come to realize that the way to a life of peace as mentioned in today's passage is by ending all fear and anxiety as those are not ways in which the "blameless and upright" live.
We all walk through life fearing things and I have personally had major fear issues. I spent a year and a half in fear as a prisoner to panic disorder with some agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder (to those reading this who have dealt with this or are dealing with it, I want to encourage you that this does not mean you don't love or trust God. He is stripping you of the areas that you are holding on to tightly. Be patient, it passes as we begin to fear it less. I also want to say, that you CAN be a follower of Christ and experience this. Be patient, it will go away.) During this time, my life was literally controlled by a fear inside of me that anything I did would lead to the end of my time on Earth or that I was going insane and would lose my wife and myself. It was a terrible time for me personally and was paralyzing in my personal growth as I was consumed with me (only now do I see the pruning (John 15) that God was doing by using this circumstance). During that period I had a difficult time watching others because all I could think about was how to get over this dreaded feeling of hopelessness. I was anxious about everything and with this anxiety came a true lack of peace, even in my walk with God. My wife, who should be Sainted for her support and unconditional love for me, taught me so much during that period. Somehow, while her husband was suffering and she was pregnant, she managed to maintain the peace of God that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7). I remember watching her wondering how she could have such a life of peace, even in the midst of not being able to do the things that she may have wanted to do. In hindsight, I see that the people who were supporting her during this time, namely some female mentors in the faith, played a major role in shaping her response to her circumstances as they were personally living lives of peace even in the midst of suffering and trial. Her answer to living a life of peace, was watching how others around her we're already doing it.
Today's scripture means so much to me personally because I know what it's like to live without completeness/peace. Though we may think we are doing what we were made to do, we never experience the peace of God that passes all understanding until our total contentment is found in His unfailing love and plan for us. As we read His word we learn to trust his perfect plan. As we follow the life of Christ, we see a man that "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6-8) Jesus was a man who found that eternal peace came from obeying and following His father even when he knew he would encounter trial and "death on a cross" in which he sweat blood at the thought. As I watch those around me who have helped shaped me in the faith, I see men (and women) who are anxious about nothing because they placed their trust in God and his timing for their death, their place on the economic ladder, and their willingness to be used by God even if it is out of their comfort zones.
I hope today's passage encourages you to look at the lives of Christ followers around you who you admire. I don't mean casual Christians, or people who say the right things. I mean watching the blameless and upright, who have found completeness (peace) in this life because they understand that they have amazing worth as bearers of the image of God. Because the Spirit is in them, they understand that they have no control over Earthly circumstances such as their time of death or IQ and manage to see this life as the mist it truly is. Peace is found in giving our entire life to Christ, letting Him lead us where he chooses, and being the Shepherd that he claims to be who will give us full life (John 10:10). We need to be reminded that we have a God who loves us, unconditionally, and is always willing to accept you coming home to Him. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, "...godliness with contentment is great gain", and we can only come to that contentment, and that peace, by allowing the Spirit of God to shape us into the upright and blameless people God desires us to be.
Friday, October 16, 2009
The message came from a Catholic man in regards to attending the ideal church. He quickly reminded me that in my search for the perfect "church" I'm destined to never find it for two reasons. The first reason, is that this side of Heaven, there is nothing perfect (in terms of church). The second part was that the second I begin attending the "perfect" church or congregation, that church will no longer be "perfect" because I am now an attendee. There is nothing we do can make anything perfect without the gifts of faith and grace. Praise Jesus for loving us enough to give us the ability to accept both.
Talk about being humbled without a response, today was one of those days! I hope you all have a great weekend. Enjoy the life God has given you, be who He made you to be, and live to grow His Kingdom!
Monday, October 12, 2009
..."We must live a useful life. Nothing good ever comes out of idleness or out of selfishness. The standing water stagnates and breeds decay and death. It is the running stream that keeps pure and sweet. The fruit of an idle life is never joy and peace. Years lived selfishly never become garden-spots in the field of memory. Happiness comes out of self-denial for the good of others. Sweet always are the memories of good deeds done and sacrifices made. Their incense, like heavenly perfume, comes floating up from the fields of toil and fills old age with holy fragrance. When one has lived to bless others, one has many grateful, loving friends whose affection proves a wondrous source of joy when the days of feebleness come. Bread cast upon the waters is found again after many days.
I see some people who do not seem to want to make friends. They are unsocial, unsympathetic, cold, distant, disobliging, selfish. Others, again, make no effort to retain their friends. They cast them away for the slightest cause. But they are robbing their later years of joys they cannot afford to lose. If we would walk in the warmth of friendship’s beams in the late evening-time, we must seek to make to ourselves loyal and faithful friends in the busy hours that come before. This we can do by a ministry of kindness and self-forgetfulness. This was part at least of what our Lord meant in that counsel which falls so strangely on our ears until we understand it: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations."
Again, we must live a pure and holy life. Every one carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one’s degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the color to our skies and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailings of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God’s works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music. So it comes about that this whole question must be settled from within. The fountains rise in the heart itself. The old man, like the snail, carries his house on his back. He may change neighbors or homes or scenes or companions, but he cannot get away from himself and his own past. Sinful years put thorns in the pillow on which the head of old age rests. Lives of passion and evil store away bitter fountains from which the old man has to drink.
Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow. Nothing brings such pure peace and quiet joy at the close as a well-lived past. We are every day laying up the food on which we must feed in the closing years. We are hanging up pictures about the walls of our hearts that we shall have to look at when we sit in the shadows. How important that we live pure and holy lives! Even forgiven sins will mar the peace of old age, for the ugly scars will remain.
Summing all up in one word, only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy. To have a peaceful and blessed ending to life, we must live it with Christ. Such a life grows brighter even to its close. Its last days are the sunniest and the sweetest. The more earth’s joys fail, the nearer and the more satisfying do the comforts become. The nests over which the wing of God droops, which in the bright summer days of prosperous strength lay hidden among the leaves, stand out uncovered in the days of decay and feebleness when winter has stripped the branches bare. And for such a life death has no terrors. The tokens of its approach are but "the land-birds lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven." The end is but the touching of the weather-beaten keel on the shore of glory!"
Find the whole work at: http://www.gracegems.org/Miller/beautiful_old_age.htm
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The word fanatic defined is, "a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal". In my own life, I refuse to call myself a fanatic of anything because of the word "uncritical" in the definition. This refusal includes how I envision my identity as a follower of Christ, and as I sit here tonight pondering bigger, more important things than the win-loss records of my favorite teams (all of which lost today in College Football giving this thinking session a bit more perspective) I have started digging into my own beliefs. Why do I believe them? Where did these beliefs come from? Am I following a belief because I've actually studied and prayed about it, or do I follow it because that is the cultural "norm" within American Christianity, and it's the way I've grown up? I have even begun to wonder if I read books because they make me cool or is it because I'm searching for truth? I've noticed over the past few months as I talk to close friends and family about their faith, even the ones who consider themselves to be part of the "reformers" in the church, I've noticed this "uncritical" attitude in their relationship with Jesus. The fact that we don't even know where are beliefs are coming from, and we in most cases refuse to dissect them help me to recognize that this attitude is due to one thing...FEAR!
We are a culture that loves comfort, security, and instant gratification. When it comes to our faith, which on paper is the most important thing in our lives as it develops our world view and should be transforming us from the inside out; we refuse to be uncritical because it interrupts those three aims mentioned above. Whether we realize it or not, we are a culture of Christ followers that is fearful that we may actually be wrong in the way we've been "doing Christianity". We are fearful that we may have to change our attitude, our friends, and our goals and aspirations. As you all know I typically write about dying to our self so that we may find life as we follow Christ, and tonight is no different. Below is an article I came across tonight by a man named Frank Viola who has been chasing after the truth of our faith. Through extensive research, prayer and sharpening by fellow lovers of Christ who believe that if "God said it, then that settles it", Frank has written two very important books called "Pagan Christianity?" and "Reimagining Church" (along with many others) that challenge our fear of reforming what we believe we have already reformed.
This article was taken from, http://beyondmissional.missionaltribe.org/2009/03/17/a-review-of-michael-spencers-the-coming-evangelical-collapse/. It was written by Frank as a response to a well known article circulating about the "coming evangelical collapse". I'd urge you to read it in its entirety, but below is an excerpt from that article. Frank is quoting a friend of his named Hal Miller. To give Hal's quote some context, Frank states right before it that current evangelicalism has, "rooted itself in modernity, it failed to fully grasp and teach God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:11), and it retained the Western individualistic bent that marks historic Protestantism."
To which Hal states,
"Christianity is culturally relevant when it offers a qualitatively different society. Jesus called it “the kingdom of God.” Paul saw its first outlines in the gathered disciples of Jesus, and so he called them ekklesia - we translate it “church”- a Greek word denoting citizens assembled to attend to their common project, their city.
The evangelicals missed this. Evangelicalism sought to transform people and so transform the world. They did not see that something might be missing from this vision, something their assumption of American individualism would hide from them. The true Christian vision is to transform people, transforming them into a people, and so transform the world. The evangelicals missed that middle term. They could not see the church as a foretaste of the new society; it was a club for the new individuals. The evangelicals simply dressed American individualism in Christian clothing. They ended up with new isolated individuals, but in the old society. Since their expression of Christianity did not take form as a new society, it quickly became culturally irrelevant, even though it was admirably culturally open.
To be culturally relevant, Christianity must offer an alternative. God has indeed chosen to deal with persons as individuals- in this the evangelicals were right. Yet they are not simply individuals; they become members of a social reality called ekklesia, which is the entering wedge of the new society of God’s making.
Too often, for example, we assume that evangelism involves the simple aggregation of more and more new individuals. If enough people are “born again,” the world’s problems will diminish. But the experience of the last twenty years- in which we had more and more people “born again” as well as more and more marital tragedies, more and more international tension, and more and more bondage to the demons of our age- seems a perfectly contrived counter-example to this theory.
The Christian calling requires being reconciled with God, to be sure. But it also requires being a new, reconciling society characterized by forgiveness, acceptance, and responsibility in a common task- a society qualitatively different from its culture, yet engaged with it. Little gatherings of Christians for worship and mutual help in being disciples become the seeds of God’s coming new society.
Such a new society will be culturally relevant because it springs from God’s movement among God’s people. The persons who make up this new society live their faith in the face of day-to-day problems that they share with the world around them. They face the same questions as unbelievers: finding joy and meaning in work, living at peace both personally and globally, raising responsible and compassionate children. And in facing those questions, Christian faith becomes relevant even for unbelievers.
Imagine a group of people gathering to help each other in the common task of seeing God’s kingdom incarnated in their work, in their families, in their towns, in their world, in their midst, and (rather than only) in their individual lives. This gathering is ekklesia. It will be relevant to its world because it lives the life of the kingdom in the world, not apart from it."
I couldn't have said it better which is why I shared this article with you tonight. As followers of Christ, me included, we must recognize that we have the ability to take on God's eternal perspective as we live today. The economy, the political outlook, the social injustice and the lack of peace are not things we can fix individually, but they can be affected collectively as the "ekklesia". We can't fully fix them this side of heaven, but we can improve them if the sum of the individual disciples of Christ acting as a body is greater than the individual parts. This means that your individual relationship with Christ is meant to be multiplied through true community and love for your fellow members.
Do not be scared to ask the important questions when it comes to your faith in Christ and how we are to follow him, experience him, love him and share him. Nobody has ever gotten in better shape by staring at the mirror every day hoping that they will see a difference without getting on the treadmill and lifting some weights (unfortunately I've learned this one first hand). Therefore, don't talk about wanting to "going deeper", challenge yourself, don't "start on Monday", ask God for His truth, study the words of Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters who followed Him in the flesh by reading God's word. Pray that the Spirit may transform you into an evangelistic tool that God will transform individually in order to grow and glorify God's "ekklesia". You are not a "member" of a building, but instead a part of God's living Kingdom and a team of fellow lovers of perfection if you have made Jesus Lord. Don't be scared, but study God's word for yourself, you may find out that you've been "doing the Christian thing" while you could have been following Christ.
To my fellow reforming friends, I am still with you in theology but the way I see it is that as much as I love Luther and Calvin, I love Jesus more and therefore, anywhere that those two disagree with Jesus, then I disagree with them. To my "emergent" friends, you got a lot of reading to do. Yes, Jesus saves, but we don't get to define him differently than the clarity in which he defined himself. You are right in assuming that we are "doing church" wrong in comparison to the early followers, but you're wrong in your Unitarian/Universalist approach to the grace of Christ. To all of you, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and the only way to the Father is through Him. (John 14:6) Following Christ is not easy and grace is not cheap but the message is simple; like the story in which Paul and Silas said to the jailer after he heard them praising Jesus in jail and wanted to know how to share in their life by becoming saved, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31)
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
We live in a culture consumed with what celebrities are doing on a day to day basis. Whether they are "hitting and running" in their Bentley's and Benz's, making fools out of themselves at award shows, or puffing themselves up through tabloids (even bad publicity is good publicity), we can't get enough celebrity gossip. We are so consumed with the world of celebrities that the news now lets us know what our favorite actors, actresses and socialites are eating, where they're partying and how they travel just as often as we hear the weather or traffic. The only thing we may hear more about than celebrities is the state of the current economy (which we've turned into a celebrity idol) and what our President (who is as big of a celebrity as it gets) is going to do to make sure his health care plan goes through. Even more nauseating is the thought that we honestly think other people care what we're doing via twitter or Facebook status updates as we rap off where we're eating, what weights we're lifting and how the purchase of a new toy is making our day. What does it say about our culture that we spend so much time thinking about ourselves and yet nobody can seem to "get it together" as depression and suicide runs rampant even for the "upper class" who according to the world's teaching are always happy because they have money, fame and notoriety (even if it's within smaller circles). Then, in order to like ourselves better, we do the humble thing and we make ourselves part of the most "cause" oriented generation in history. Of course, as we stand around talking about how we're going to change the world, the status of the human soul has grown darker and darker as it becomes more in love with the character it is making itself to be. As Leo Tolstoy once said, "Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself."
Today's passage of Scripture is a great reminder that no matter who you are, or how well you're known eventually you will be gone, and the people who once aimed to follow you, will no longer be able to find you. You see, we need to constantly be reminded that no matter how great we are in the present realm, unless we do something that can last for eternity, our life is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14) I don't know why we act as though we'll live forever, but clearly there's one thing that will certainly happen to everyone that has been born...we will die. I know we like to turn celebrities (this includes actors, actresses, musicians, sports figures, TV personalities and even Pastors and authors to us in Christian circles) into God type figures and our President into the Messiah, but one day, you can take this to the bank (the only thing you may have taken there in a while), every person on this Earth will cease to live and unless they've done something that builds up God's Kingdom eternally. This means that even they're greatest works on Earth will be forgotten at some point. So what can we do that will be seen forever? One of my favorite little poems out of the book "Don't Waste Your Life" by Jon Piper says it best, "Only one life twill soon be passed, Only what’s done for Christ will last."
When it came to living a life for eternity, Jesus of Nazareth was the expert. One day after making himself known to be the "Messiah" to his followers two of his disciples asked if they would sit with him in his glory (of course bringing them heavenly celebrity status) to which they were told that this life is not about getting what we can for us while we're here. Instead, Jesus stated "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." The way for us to do something for eternity is then twofold. The first thing is that we must not only accept Jesus for what He did, but also for who He is. Without recognizing that Jesus is God incarnate (see Colossians 1:15 and 2 Corinthians 4:4 as well as numerous other places), we are unable to grasp that the person we are following, though like us in the way he lived, is actually the "exact image" of the invisible God. Once we realize how bad the Creator of the Universe wants a relationship with us, and that the way to that relationship is by His grace through the death and resurrection of Christ, we can never get to the second part of making an impact that will last forever.
The second part to living a life that will echo into eternity is not by becoming a celebrity, puffing up ourselves by obtaining higher positions, a greater following or more money. It's not by dumping what we already have in terms of marriage in exchange for a more beautiful husband or wife and the perfect kids. The second part to living a life in which we will be "found" even after we're gone is to live a life of service. Like Jesus said, He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Personally, I have to be reminded of this daily as I, like the rest of the world desire to be known for things other than being one of God's children by the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, by becoming a true follower of Christ through the acceptance and belief in who He truly is, and then letting His Spirit fill you so that you may take on the personality of Christ that aims to serve others, you will be making an eternal impact on humanity.
I don't know why it's so hard sometimes to take Jesus at His word and begin loving others they way we love ourselves. I'm guessing that the reason for our lack of action in this way is due to the fact that we haven't died to our own ideas, agendas, dreams and aspirations in exchange for God's perfect plan for us. As we are reminded in Scripture of how short our lives are, and that the only way to truly live is by believing in and following Jesus Christ, we must come to realize that a life lived to glorify ourselves is not only shallow but literally worthless. Today, like every day you can choose to do something to fix the temporary or you can let go of yourself enough to affect the eternal. The beauty of course in this decision is that you are given the free will to decide, just another way God shows His love for us.