Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Revolution


As we come into a new year, I like most, are thinking about my goals for the next year. However, I want to make goals that aren't so much 'new' as they are a return to doing things right that may have been overlooked in the past. Things like running. Concepts like reading more of the Bible, and letting the Bible read through me. Giving more. Things like that.
One of my goals is to continue to write. I was inspired by Mark Batterson in his latest prose, Primal, where he shares about "taking every thought captive" and what that means to him. He explains how it does capture the idea that historically we would hold: namely, that we are to take any sinful thought and put it in the pokey, and not dwell on it. But with a sense of revelation, Batterson also shares that for him, this verse has come to mean something in the realm of creativity. When a 'God-thought' comes, we must capture it.

"But whenever or however a God idea is conceived in your mind, you need to take it captive and make it obedient to Christ. God ideas are like melting snowflakes. They are delicate things of beauty, but they have short shelf lives." (Primal, pg. 119)

One God thought that I am capturing here in this blog is an idea that I hope takes hold in all of church culture. I want to coin a term for our culture: "Our Rugged American Anti-Individualism. " There. Now, you may have heard of the phrase "rugged American individualism", and this concept is in large part a foundational value of our country. It had value in breaking free from the tyranny of England, and their heavy handed rule. Perhaps this self-reliance has become the undoing of us now.
God lives, exists in community himself. Jesus lived with 12 men, and did not afford himself the luxury of a private room in the cities he visited. Jesus' prayer was that we would be one; one unit, not a group of a bunch of individual "ones". The early church as seen in Acts was very communal, very tied to one another. We must return to this understanding, and we must begin to apply ourselves to the truth contained in this. To do Christianity alone isn't optional, it's forbidden. God made us to depend on one another.
I realize that there may be some great hurts in our lives from being so dependent on others, and being so vulnerable to people, but this is the Jesus way. Even in the Garden, God sees that it isn't good for man to be alone. In the church, we must develop a deep sense of dependency on one another. It must become culture to us. It must become a strong, visible, tangible part of our faith, and it must be rugged, unable to be sifted out of the fabric of our lives. We must value our rugged American anit-individualism as a counter-cultural prophetic lifestyle.
So for my new year's resolution, I determine to capture God thoughts, to live them out, and to do so in the context of deep immersion in the community of God, the Church.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Mark Batterson's new book, Primal, is outstanding.

As most college kids, I was very into music and found great meaning and solace in it. During one descriptive conversation with a fellow student regarding the power of music and why it held such sway on our young souls, I found myself in an epiphany regarding the source of such force: "Music has the ability to put words which are tangible entities, around a feeling, which is in-tangible. Music puts flesh on the soul of a thought or feeling, that otherwise can't be expressed". Then I ate my $.59 bean burritto from Taco Bell.
Primal has had the same effect on me. It has managed to gather some of the thoughts, feelings, musings, and prayers I have emoted toward the church and christianity at large and put them into a tangible, logical, inspiring format.

"When all of the rules and regulations, all of the traditions and institutions, all of the liturgies and methodologies are peeled back, what's left is the Great Commandment It is Christianity in its most primal form." (pg 5) Agreed.

One of the concerns that I see in friends, and in congregants, is the lack of a LOVE of God in their lives that translates to willing obedience. Many of them have a belief in God, and a reverence for him, but they have lost the soul of their faith: a primal love for the person of God. Primal addresses that in four sections. These four sections are straight from the response Jesus gives to the lawyer-Pharisee, who was trying to test Jesus, recorded in Matthew 22. Jesus tells him, and all of human history that the greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And thus, an outline for a book's take on that passage.

Batterson is easy to read, and has poignant stories, quotes and illustrations that are effectively concise. It's only 174 pages long, which show discipline, as Batterson could have elaborated in many places. He hits strong with a call back to the place of faith that is filled with wonderment: "In fact, it's our capacity for wonder that determines the size of our soul." (pg 57) He starts with the heart, and then moves to the soul, followed with how we can love God with all our mind, and ends with our strength. His call involves many well known biblical disciplines, but they find great life and freshness, if you will, when placed in the context of a love-passion relationship to Jesus, as is the point of this book. For instance, a whole chapter on giving and tithing? Chapter 3 no less? And you feel as though he is right, that you should give more, and consequently love Him more. Wonderful treatment of such primal, essential issues of our grand Faith in Christ.
If you received a Barnes & Noble or Amazon gift card for Christmas, this should be a first choice for you to read in 2010.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't kill the Pizza Delivery guy

This is kind of a free-flowing devotional thought from Acts 7-8. To get this, you need to read these chapters about the young man named Stephen.
Okay, are you done with that? Go ahead and continue here...

I love that Stephen was a Spirit filled food distribution guy.

But his message to the Jews was to show that throughout the history of God's people, they rejected God's ways in favor of their own. They killed the prophets, rejected Moses, sold Joseph, and crucified Christ. And now, they are about to murder Stephen for doing miracles.
The funny thing is that Stephen's message to them is about rejecting the leaders that God has sent them, and that ultimately they reject the Holy Spirit. He says we have Heathen-Hearts, which to me is heart bent on doing my own thing, pleasing myself. The irony of Stephen's sermon, his last Opus, is addressed to a group of religious, powerless leaders who are from a group called the Synagogue of Freed Slaves.
We all want our freedom, but our Heathen Hearts tend to want freedom from leadership, God-sent leadership, and from leaders who call us to the reality of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. We will kill those voices, in the name of "freedom", in order to maintain our maintainable sense of religious duty, our own controllable religion.
Jesus reveals himself to Stephen from the place of honor in Heaven, and Stephen get's the honor of seeing Jesus standing, Himself in a place of submitted authority to the Father (at His right Hand).

Stephen's life speaks of being Spirit empowered in any position or title life gives us. God can use the common person to do extraordinary things.
Stephen's life message also speaks to the power of being submitted to the authority in his own life, from the church. Why do we buck at this so much? It's what gave him his power to do miracles.
And Stephen's life is truly speaking to us about the nature of what freedom really is--the ability to obey God, and the leadership he sends us.
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Driving with Abandon


Luke 18:15 One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.
16 Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.

I am trying to extend the days of my little girl staying my little girl. My boys have grown so fast, and somehow I believe that I have the power to stop the growth process for my girl. Just to keep her enthralled with me, the man in her life, the wonderful daddy that she looks up to. Though it's in vain, I am still cherishing all the little wonderful moments that make her special to me.

One of these moments I'll never forget happened in my green Honda Civic. Trying to be a good neighbor, I slow way down to the speed limit when I enter my Cul De Sac. It's habit now, and I can wave to the folks I pray for as I drive in. One of these times coming home with my princess as the co-pilot, she asked if she could drive. With big eyes, full of anticipation and wonder, she had me. "Sure, but I will have to help", I replied.

I scooted my seat all the way back and placed her in front of me. I remember smiling a bit, noticing how proportionately huge the steering wheel was in comparison to her small frame. She was so full of joy, the sheer joy of handling a big car, with the safety of her (amazing) father right behind her. I asked her later why that was so fun for her and she said, "because you do it, daddy".

Part of the joy for fathers is to see their children love to do what they do. They should have a healthy sense of wonder and ambition to be like their parents. I believe God wants us to have this simple sense of wonderment and joy at the prospect of being able to "take the wheel" and become busy "doing my Father's business". Jesus healed people, loved the sinner, included the outsider, and sacrificially gave to people in need. Our joy is to do the same.

In fact, we can't come into his kingdom without this kind of joyful, run-up-to-Jesus kind of love. All He has is ours, and belongs to us. Although the joy is ours to do what we see Him do, the Father gets great joy out of seeing his children doing the things that belong to us.

Jesus, keep me childlike in my faith, joy and love!
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

When Doubt & Honesty Build Faith


Our culture wants it all.

I know that when the new iPhone 3Gs came out, suddenly my regular old pitiful 3G seemed slow and out of date. Which is funny, because my kids would die to have my phone. But I want more, or should I say, I want it all. I tend to be this way in other ways as well.
For instance, when I am going to a movie theater. Now before I throw my selfishness out in plain view, let me contrast that with my friend Phil's approach to movies. Phil, a godly man, when he hears that I want "to watch a movie", will offer me the option of one of his downloaded movies from his computer, and excitedly tell me that its free! Whereas, when I think of going to watch a movie, I am thinking of Cinetopia (an all digital, leather recliner seat, waiter-take-my-order theater, with a butter bar), I am thinking opening night, and I am thinking of the full bucket of perfectly seasoned and buttered tub of corn; all while paying full price to make the most of the experience. I want it all.
Now I realize that this is a basic selfish response. However, when their are options out there, or when you have already had an experience one way or another with a part of life, you can tend to want to match or one-up that experience the next time. And some of this is good. We should want more in our relationship with God for example, and never live on the times of the past.

Not only do we seem to want to have all the latest things, but we as a culture also want more out of our leaders. I find myself politically torn between complete disinterest and unashamed bias at different times. When I am disengaged, it is because another public servant has fallen morally (and to add salt to the wound, more of these have been exposed from the party I grew up "believing in", then from the "other side"). And when I am passionately interested is when I feel that someone rings true, in their speeches, conduct, record and character. I can track with those people, especially when they seem to go against the grain, and when they tend to blur the traditional party lines. That is when I am engaged, interested; when the established systems are challenged and chided in the public arena. Those people seem to be who I think can actually bring a change. I want that from a leader. To quote an old Switchfoot lyric, "We want more than this world's got to offer, We want more than this world's got to offer, We want more than the wars of our fathers..."

So something struck me about a passage out of Mark 15 today along these lines.

33 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 34 Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”f]">[f]

35 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 36 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”

37 Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

39 When the Roman officer who stood facing himh]"> saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

The part regarding the Roman officer gets me. Here, his battalion is assigned to take Jesus from the court, all the way to the cross. They beat him, mock him, crucify him. But this one guy, a Roman officer who was posted right in front of Jesus, sees a person dying who blurred the lines of the existing political parties. This Roman officer probably wanted all life could give him, like I do. He probably enjoyed many of the finer things in life, and was looking for a bit more than what he had experienced. And then he hears Jesus' last words, which seem like despair and failure and desperation all wrapped in one. "My God, why have you abandoned Me?".

Something about Jesus' life; something about how He did and didn't respond to his accusers; something about the visceral, emotional, and honest cry from Jesus captured this worldly-wise Romans attention. This guy actually believes in Christ, at the moment when the disciples had all fled away in hiding. Jesus' honesty and his fearlessness of the moment captured his heart.

Maybe we can learn from this.

People are expecting more from their leaders today. There is competition for our time today. podcasting, and internet access have made it easy for truth-seekers to find leadership. Because of all those options, some local church sermons are boring in comparison. Leaders with character flaws are less attractive. Our options have raised the bar for all church leaders today. People are comparing us, our character, our teaching, our life to those around the world. And they are following those who ring true, not just the ones who promise good times and cost-free faith. Jesus led with hope and with honesty. For us to lead well today, we must let Jesus' character permeate all we do and all we say. And the Romans will be saved.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jesus Observations Pt 2: Believing is the Only Thing



Some people won't believe no matter what. I might be prone to believe, however. As a kid I was pretty gullible, especially when uncle Jerry was doing magic tricks. I loved those, and wanted to believe so bad that he could pound that quarter through my grandpa's table. But even when he did the trick a third and fourth time, I would begin to doubt that he had super-powers. I don't know why. I want to believe.

What if all we had to do to please God was one thing? What would that be? Writing the rules of the universe, I would require someone to save a life--that would do it for me; if I were God. Or maybe if we took care of two people worse off than us in the world. That would seem to do a lot of good, actually. But what would God want for us to do for Him, and to get to Him?

In John 6, we get a clear answer.

They replied, "We want to perform God's works, too. What should we do?"
Jesus told them, "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent."

Whoa, way to simple. Okay, we can do that. Or can we?

Believing in Jesus seems so hard for the folks in John 6. First off, Jesus secretly escapes from a crowd of thousands and no one can find him, even if they yelled "Ollie, Ollie! Ox in free!" Then Jesus shows up on the water mysteriously at night. I would have pooed. They get him in the boat and then they are instantly across the lake. The next day, the folks notice that Jesus is gone, and they want their free 100+ points Chalupas again. But they note that he is on the other side of the lake, but miss the miracle in that. This is after the BIG miracle the day before, where Jesus, in some kind of magical sea-monkey-like expansion trick, makes one lunch feed a whole town. Everyone knew about that one. That's exactly why they were chasing him across the lake. And also why they wanted to make him king immediately.

So here's what I caught from this: Jesus does some miracles out of compassion for the people, and to teach his disciples. But in that, some people still didn't believe. Do we really just want to believe if we get our personal wish list met? Maybe.

Jesus goes on to get ticked off at the folks in this chapter. You can read it in the text, he gets mad at the disciples too, and some of them leave. But his point here is that we need to believe in who Jesus was saying he was. I believe it was in Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God, where I got this concept: that faith produces miracles, but miracles don't always produce faith. True. Jesus wants us to believe in Him as God. To do that, would require some changes in our lives.

Obedience is the expression of faith. So teaches Bill Johnson, of Bethel, in Redding, California. To really believe Jesus, is to obey what he teaches. That's where it gets difficult, honestly. I have chosen in my life to believe in Jesus, & to believe Jesus (both are crucial, but that would make this entry too long to develop). In that, I accept that his words are life, and that his words are spirit and produce life in me. My belief also means that I accept that Jesus is the only one who ever saw God the Father, and that he claimed exclusively to be the Savior for the world. That is so narrow, so limiting in today's mindset. But that is what Jesus said. I'm either following a crazy Jewish person, or I am following God.

Jesus by the way, can pound Himself through doors (and tables too, I bet) when He wants to.
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Jesus Observations Pt 1. Unafraid of Criticism


I am on a passionate pursuit of the person of Jesus right now. Really, I'm fascinated by him. In re-reading the Gospel accounts, I find him to be such a rich character, such a majestic man, and he has more complexity than the "americanized" paintings we have seen of him. His words are life, literally, and they are obviously from the Father, and Jesus didn't change his mission or his words based on peoples' biases. He responded so differently than I would have or you may have. And the miracles: how he touches and changes people really shows us the love that God has in his heart for us, through Jesus. I love this man.

Observations about Jesus, Part 1:

John Chapter 5.
Here Jesus heals a guy, about my age, who has sat near healing his whole life. Jesus makes him well and then the world turns against him. First, the Pharisees can't believe that he would say to the cripple "pick up your bed and walk", on the Sabbath. But to add gas to their fire, they find out that Jesus actually HEALED the guy on the Sabbath. This was bad. They now plot to kill Jesus.

What strikes me about this episode, and all of chapter 5 of John, is that Jesus never backs down from who He is or what his mission is. Later in the Gospels, people want him to plainly admit who he is, and Jesus veils it to them, not answering directly to his critics. But here, in Chapter 5, very early on in his ministry, Jesus come out with it. He makes radical claims, does radical things, and says clearly who He is, why He came, and where He came from.
It is so clear in fact, that soon everyone wants to leave him, except his closest disciples. But Jesus detects that they may want to leave as well, when they complained, "Master, these are hard things you are saying. Who could stand to hear this?".
All this because Jesus heals a guy.
I just watched a recommended youtube video called Disneyland Revival. In it, this un-named couple goes to Disneyland with a camcorder, and documents some real live healings that happen to teenagers there that day. And then, more kids get healed! They keep bringing their friends around for prayer, too. (Which seems pretty normal to me.) Some of them pray to follow Jesus with their lives, others get touched with the power of the Holy Spirit in a manifest way. God's presence is so strong that one girl keeps saying, "holy s^*t" over and over again, not knowing how to describe what she is feeling.
The couple praying for the teens are full of joy, and laughing and pointing everyone to Jesus. "Jesus is healing you!", they declare. They talked to them about how great God is and how much He loves them, and that's why He is healing them. Wow. Does God really love sinners that much? Would He heal them right there, in Disneyland, while they are swearing? I think that is exactly what He would do.
And I think, that He would go on to say out loud, in the Magic Kingdom, un-ashamedly declare that the Kingdom of God is near, no matter what anyone said.
What anyone else said? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. People said stuff about this couple praying for teens at Disneyland. Youtube's comments were along these lines:
* These are fringe religious wackos
* Why would they invade teens' space, when they came to enjoy Disneyland?
* Where are the parents of these kids?
* The couple is not of God, they are from a cult, using mind manipulation techniques
* Why didn't people get out of wheelchairs then? Why don't limbs grow out?

These comments make me mad.

But they said that junk to Jesus. But He didn't shrink back. He says things like:
* If you believe in me and who I am, you will live forever
* (to the critics, who were the church leaders of the day) You are already judged, and not from God
* God is my Father. (think about that. If someone said that today, we would have them committed.)
* I have been given power to judge the whole world (ouch)
* If you don't eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will die. (this statement is weird.)

Jesus drew the line in the sand, and did what his Father told him to do. And where I would have backed down and tried to explain it all in a culturally relevant manner, Jesus says things that make it even harder to follow him if you already had issue with him. And so it is for the "mystery healers" at Disneyland. And may it be so for me. May I be bold enough to obey God, love people like Jesus did, perform miracles in His name, and declare exactly who I am in God.
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