Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another Lesson Learned

This morning, after our gathering, we were waiting for some food to be delivered. I was on the front porch of the house talking with a friend. Partway through the conversation the food that we were waiting for arrived, and help was needed to carry it into the house. Without thinking, I immediately left in the middle of the conversation to help. There were others there who could have helped, so it wasn't like it was absolutely necessary for me to get involved. A bit later I thought about that and realized that I had abandoned my friend right in the middle of our conversation, and I wondered why I did that.

Part of it could be that I'm not a great conversationalist, so it was more comfortable for me to help out in a way that didn't require talking. That's something I need to continue working on, although I am better than I was. Part of it could be that I feel like I have a reputation as a servant to uphold. That is one of my gifts, and I do feel more comfortable behind the scenes than out front, so of course I don't want people to think I'm being lazy. Regardless of the reason, I should have stayed on the porch and not abandoned my friend.

I think that a bigger reason is something that most of us deal with in our walk with Jesus, and that is the tendency to feel that we have to do something all the time rather than just be in the moment. I know that I sometimes will let things to do draw me away from spending time with the Father or with my brothers and sisters. A lot of evangelicalism, especially the fundamentalist branch, is built on "doing something for God." Great churches are built on the efforts of the leaders and members. Christians are made to feel guilty if they aren't involved in one of the programs of their church. Pastors burn out because they feel that it's their job to build a great work. In the midst of all this busyness, churches find that their members are not being discipled and are not growing in their walk with God.

The thing is, many of the programs and things that we try to do for God can be done without the Holy Spirit. Huge, "successful" churches and ministries can be built completely on human effort. Some of those come tumbling down, some get even bigger, but they really don't have much impact for the Kingdom. We bemoan the fact that people aren't knocking down the doors of our churches, and young people are leaving as soon as they are able. I think one reason is that we have presented a gospel that claims to be all about grace and a relationship with God, but is really about working. Not for salvation, but to please God.

God invites us into relationship with him. He tells us to be still and know that he is God. God is our Father, not our employer. It is true that we serve God and others. It is true that there are things that each one of us is called to do. But, do we do them in our own strength or in the power of the Spirit coming from just being in a close relationship with the Father? It is out of that relationship that we walk in God's love through our day-to-day. It is in that relationship that we learn the Father's heart and find out where he is working so that we can join in. The closer we draw to our Father, the more sensitive we will be to his agenda, and the more we may realize that we need to let our agenda go. Our efforts will be to join God's work rather than trying to get him to bless ours.

Joining in God's work might just mean that we continue a conversation on the front porch and let someone else help with the other stuff.

Friday, May 28, 2010

TGIF

Summer is almost here officially. The temperature is climbing and each day brings a chance of thunderstorms. The school year is almost over, and I don't know if the students or teachers are looking forward to vacation more. Monday is Memorial Day, and we Americans will honor those who have given their lives in service to the nation, before we hit the great sales and have cookouts where we eat and drink too much. Hopefully, we'll reflect on our freedom and those who have died.

Here are the links of the week:

Over at internet monk, Chaplain Mike has issues with evangelicalism. Part 1 of the series is here.
A "what if?" question.
Getting real about hate.
Prayer is always subversive.
Evidently, there's not an app for relationships.
Training pastors.

A place in the Son.
Do you want to die?
Don't you hate it when people do a bad remake of a song.
This is funny.
A new sport?
Scot McKnight reviews After You Believe by N.T. Wright.

I wonder if he's going to sell this on ebay.
Heel grabber, Part 1.
What makes it "church?"
Great church sign.
Extraordinary churches (HT: Scot McKnight).
Modesty.

Have a great weekend. Thank you for reading my blog.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just a Sinner...

...saved by grace. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that description of a Christian. In the fundamentalist circles in which I grew up, that idea was drummed into our heads from the time we confessed faith in Christ. Along with that we heard Paul's admonition to not think of ourselves more highly than we should, and Isaiah's statement about our righteousness being filthy rags. We were taught that we really are nothing more than unprofitable servants, who serve God and others because that's what we are servants.

There seems to be a bit of tension in the New Testament between the passages that speak of us as servants and the ones that speak of us as children and heirs of God. In our gathering last Sunday, we were talking about how we often see ourselves more lowly than we should, rather than more highly. If we see ourselves as merely sinners saved by grace and unprofitable servants, then our service becomes something less than following the example of our Master. It becomes something that we do because our lowly status compels us rather than the love of Christ.

It is true that we can do nothing to save ourselves, that we need the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to go through our day-to-day. It is also true that if we are in Christ, we are his friends. We are sons and daughters of the Creator. Hebrews 2:11 says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. As we go through our lives we are being shaped into the likeness of Christ. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, individually and collectively. That doesn't sound like people who are just unprofitable servants.

Jesus served. He is the ultimate example of what it means to serve others. How did he serve? Did he serve because he had to, because he was just a servant? No. Jesus served as one who was the Lord of all. He served completely voluntarily, giving us the supreme fulfillment of the two greatest commandments; love God, and love others as ourselves. That is how we are to serve, voluntarily in love because of who we are. Who we are is the image of Christ in this world. We are children of the living God, and we have the calling and privilege to join in God's mission to restore all things. We don't have to love and serve in a sniveling manner. A Christian who thinks of themselves too lowly does not serve sacrificially or lovingly.

If we see ourselves as God sees us, as beloved children who bear the image of Christ, we can then begin to serve as Jesus did. We can truly begin to love God and love others as ourselves.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Dirty water kills a child every 22 seconds. Thanks to the efforts of World Vision, some villages in Niger no longer have to worry about their water. You can read this success story here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

TGIF

It's Friday again, and another work week has come and gone. I read a preview for Michael Spencer's book, Mere Churchianity a couple of days ago, and it is a definite must read. I have posted many links to Internet Monk so some you know the quality of the writing and the heart of Spencer, who went home to the Father way too soon. Just from the preview I can tell that this book is important. Buy it.

Here are the links:

A time to sow.
Too much heaven? Part 3.
The people behind the special effects in "Heroes, Season 3."
Is doubt an eraser?
The creativity of questioning.
Reaching the pinnacle.
Why it's not about morality.

A tale of two pigeons.
Alan Knox on Hebrews 2:9-11.
Jesus loves me.
A new tip from Bill Kinnon.
Ecclesial imagination.
Between church and state.
I guess I'm part of the problem.

Well, that's it for this week. Enjoy your Pentecost Sunday.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gold

According to G. Gordon Liddy and others, gold is what will save us in these tough economic times. At least it will save our financial portfolios. Besides the question of whether you would buy a used car from that man (a few years ago, Liddy was pushing mutual funds), there are other issues with the pitch being made by the gold sellers, at least for those of us who follow Jesus.

The commercials are based on fear. Fear of the future, fear of the government, fear of losing the American Dream. In contrast, believers are told to not fear. We do not fear because we are children of the Creator of the universe. God gives us a spirit of adoption, not a spirit of fear. Jesus tells us to not fear those who can kill the body (I would add, or take our things), but to fear God. We are loved by a Father who tells us not to worry about the material things, because he knows even the number of hairs on our heads (of course, it's easier for him to do that with some of us).

The other thrust of the buy gold campaign is security. In one ad, Liddy drops gold coins into one hand and say, "That's the sound of security." He's telling us that his security is in a bunch of rocks that come out of the ground. I wonder what he would say if the price of an ounce of gold suddenly dropped to a much lower amount. Where would his security be then?

As humans, we tend to put our security into what we can see, whether it's minerals, jobs, possessions, or people. It's perfectly natural for someone to put his security in gold. For the Christian however, our security is to be in God alone. In Romans 8, Paul tells us that there is nothing in the entire universe that can separate us from the love of God. I think that counts as security, don't you? All through Scripture, God's children are encouraged to trust their Father to take care of them and meet their needs.

I really don't have any problem with people planning their financial future. We do need to be aware of the danger of making things like gold, retirement accounts, and home equity idols that we put our trust in rather than putting our trust in the One who has promised to take care of us.

Besides, if the literalists are correct, when we get to heaven we'll be walking on streets paved with gold, so it can't be worth all that much. :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Next month, the G8 Summit will meet. The leaders of the most powerful and wealthiest countries in the world have set certain goals regarding extreme global poverty. The Millennium Development Goals were developed in 2000 and the desired outcome is the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015. With five years left, the goals are still a long way from being met.

The question is whether the countries who signed on to the Millennium Development Goals will keep their commitments. To read more about this, and to find out what you can do, visit World Vision's page here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Delight and Desire

Psalm 37: 4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." I was taught growing up that if you had God as your greatest delight, he would change your desires so they would be in line with what God wanted. and then those desires would be granted. This meant that our desires would become things like having bigger ministries, or other things that meant we were becoming better Christians. Another interpretation is that if we really delight in God, all of our wishes will be granted, even if those include a luxury car, a nicer house, and plenty of money.

Both of these interpretations have one thing in common. They both treat God as a kind of divine vending machine. If you put something in, you get something out. Usually the way you prove your delight in God is by doing more Bible reading and praying, by going to church more often, or by doing any number of practices. Any of these things are fine in and of themselves. The problem comes when we do them thinking that it will obligate God to do certain things for us. It doesn't matter if those things are material or not, if we see them as payment for the things we do, we are wrong.

We were talking about this in our gathering on Sunday, and I got to thinking. What if delighting in God is the desire? God doesn't put the priority on what we do, but rather on being in relationship with him. Jesus said that eternal life is knowing the Father, and knowing the Son. We are given life not just to live a moral life and then go to heaven when we die. We are given life in order to intimately know the Father and the Son. Everything we do comes out of that relationship.

When a married couple love each other, they each take delight in the other. That delight does bring about certain actions, but it is not the actions that bring about the delight, rather it is the other way around. The goal of the delight is not to get things from the other. Instead it is delight that is rewarded with greater intimacy, which brings greater delight, which brings...you get the picture.

I believe that it is that way in our relationship with our Father. When we delight in him, when our beings are wrapped up in getting to know him better and living in his love, God gives us the thing we desire, more intimacy with him. That causes more desire, which brings about more delight, and so on. As I look at Psalm 37, I see God blessing his people in ways that go beyond just material and physical.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

For Josh

Today you graduate from UNCC with a Master's degree in architecture. As you stated in your blog, the past three years have been more about how you've grown as a person than learning about architecture. You have certainly learned a great deal about architecture, both in theory and in practical terms. But what is most evident is your growth as a human being and a follower of Jesus.

We have always been proud of you as you have grown up. We have a son who shows love for God by a concern for those less fortunate. We see the Father's hand in your desire to build affordable, sustainable housing so that people who have to live in public housing have a good quality place to live. We see Jesus in you in your plans to move back to Nashville soon in order to help in the rebuilding efforts.

You are a special son, and we are grateful to God for you. We pray that God will continue to guide you and give you success in what you do. It has been a joy to have you here the last three years and we will miss you. We know however, that you must go where you'll be most alive and where you'll be best able to use what God has given you.

We love you, Josh. Congratulations.

Friday, May 14, 2010

TGIF

This week has flown by. We spent the week doing state standardized testing, and the school year is winding down. Tomorrow, Josh graduates from the University of North Carolina - Charlotte with a master's degree in architecture. It'll be a busy weekend for all of us.

Here's the good stuff:

I didn't know this before. Evidently, Craigslist supports sex trafficking.
A defense of art.
Don't waste your trials.
Pam asks, "What if...?"
Chaplain Mike on the Beatitudes.
Beyond the old soul.

A place for grace.
This is encouraging.
Spiritual experimentation.
Tim Hill on authenticity.
Jared Wilson reviews Holy Subversion by Trevin Wax.
Alan Knox on being more ready to submit than impose.

Graduation advice.
Keeping up appearances.
Scot McKnight has a series titled, "Perilous Times." Part 1 is here.
Scot McKnight on a Barna study. He asks what it means for churches.
A funny story with a serious message.
The Prodigal Son - in the key of F. (HT: Scot McKnight)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Afraid of the Bible?

Alan Knox linked to this the other day and asked the question, "Are we afraid of the Bible?" I commented that we are afraid of the Bible that teaches us what it means to follow Jesus, but we are not afraid of the Bible that we pull proof texts from in order to justify doctrine or practice.

I think the Church is afraid of the Bible. The Bible is full of things that are uncomfortable to us, things that challenge our thinking and way of life. When Jesus tells the rich young man to sell everything and follow him, we explain it away as something that was only for that particular person at that particular time (even though everything else in the Bible is a timeless truth for all people). Now I don't believe that every follower of Jesus is called to sell everything, but we are called to die to self, and there are some who God does call to sell all their stuff and give to the poor. Maybe we're afraid that someone might be us.

We're afraid of taking the Bible seriously when it tells us that Jesus is Lord.The early church fully believed that. It was what got them in trouble. They weren't persecuted because they went around telling people to say the sinner's prayer so they go to heaven when they died. They proclaimed the subversive message that the Kingdom of God was here, that Jesus was the King, not Caesar. We take the message of the Kingdom and try to make it about something that is far in the future, relegating much of Jesus' teachings in the Gospels to secondary status. Maybe we're afraid of the implications of Jesus being Lord.

We're afraid of the Bible that tells us to love God with every fiber of our being, and then to love everyone like we love ourselves, even if they are our enemies. We're afraid of the Bible that tells us that we not only are saved by grace, but that we live by grace and God loves us no matter what. We are afraid of the Bible that has things in it that don't seem to add up. We are afraid of the Bible that presents God relating to different people in different ways, rather than the one size fits all approach proclaimed from many churches.

We are afraid of the Bible because if we ever dug into it and took what it says seriously, it would change our lives. We would no longer be comfortable with our safe, manageable existence, choosing instead to follow a God who is not safe.

Who knows? It might even turn the world upside down.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Did you know that you can help the poor in other countries by giving to finance loans so they can start and grow businesses? Most poor people who want to start a business don't qualify for loans through banks. Through micro-loans they can receive funds given by many people and be able to provide for themselves and their families. Along with other programs, microfinance can help end extreme poverty. Currently only 3 percent of the need for microfinance is being met.

To find out how you can become involved in helping others through micro-loans, visit this site.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Praying in Faith? Part 2

I've come to some conclusions about this whole thing of praying in faith. One of the lessons God taught me during my time in the desert was that he wanted me to place my faith in him rather than in the things I thought he would do. That seemed to be the crux of the matter in how I prayed, and even what I prayed for. Not that God couldn't or wouldn't answer my prayers, but that my trust must be in my loving Father no matter what.

As the past four years have gone by that lesson is one that seemed to have faded a bit. Not totally forgotten, but I did need a reminder. In my case the answer to the question of praying in faith is to continue praying for the situation, to even desire it immensely, and then to trust the Father to simply do the right thing. I remember that my identity is that of a child of God, a brother and co heir with the King of Kings, and not in a job or title. Whether I do a certain thing or not, I am beloved of the Creator of the universe. It doesn't get any better than that.

My faith is in the God who loves me, no matter what. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

TGIF

There was a lot going on in the news this week. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continued to spread, New York City escaped a terrorist attack, and in case you missed it due to the inadequate coverage, Nashville, Tennessee was inundated by what was described as a 500 year flood. The estimated cost of the cleanup and reconstruction is one billion dollars. There are many who lost their homes and possessions. Please pray for the folks in Nashville.

Here are the links for the week:

Tim Hill on forgiveness.
Jared Wilson on maple syrup.
Dan Edelen on fuzzy church.
Erin on change.
Matt on a Christian enough nation.
Donald Miller on arguing.

This video showed up on a lot of blogs this week. It's a good commentary on modern church.
God is holy and here.
Home.
$2 days.
I agree. This is not okay!
Church leavers.

Becoming a dangerous Christian.
Walking barefoot. Part 1, Part 2.
I don't remember seeing this side of the sculpture.
Loving and leaving.
The elephant in the living room.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I hope you have a great day Sunday.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Praying in Faith?

I have a hard time praying in faith. To be honest, I'm not totally sure what that means. I've heard that praying in faith means believing and saying that God is going to give you what you pray for, and that you simply don't have enough faith if you don't get it. I've heard that we must pray with the faith that God's will is going to be done, regardless of the answer.

I've prayed for situations where I was certain God was going to answer in a certain way, and he didn't. In some, the answer was a clear "No." One of those times, I visualized a certain thing as a mountain and told it to move, fully expecting my desire to happen. When the "mountain" remained in its place, my faith was damaged. It was months before I could pray at all, and was an even longer time before I prayed for any of my concerns. I could pray for others, but I felt like God just was not going to answer my prayers for myself. If I had stopped to think about it, I probably would have said I was drifting close to fatalism. Over time, I came to the point where I could pray for myself. Maybe I didn't (don't) have enough faith. Maybe I was asking with a wrong motive. Maybe my faith was misplaced. (that's certainly been the case before)

All this musing has come about because there is a a particular thing that I really want God to do. There is a job that I've heard will come open. It actually would be more than just a job for me. It is something that will fit my passion, skills, and experience. It will allow me the opportunity to once again be involved in discipleship through athletics. Through a number of things that have transpired over the last two years, the timing seems right. It seems like the perfect situation. So, I am praying that God will be gracious and grant me this job.

The question remains. How do I pray in faith? How do I balance my deep desire and a trust that my Father will do what is best? Right now my prevailing attitude is, "Lord I believe. Help my unbelief." Maybe that's enough.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

World Vision is helping mothers in Haiti through a mothers' club that teaches women to care for their children.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hummingbirds II

Another repost:

A while back, I wrote about the hummingbirds that come to our feeder. A couple of days ago, I was sitting on the back porch and a hummingbird came to the feeder. It was interesting to watch because it spent all the time looking around to see if another bird was going to come chase it away. The poor thing never did get any nectar because it was afraid of the other hummingbird.

I got to thinking how often we are like that hummingbird. We are afraid to really follow Jesus because we are afraid of being attacked, by non-Christians and by Christians. Those of us who grew up in more conservative circles know what it's like to always worry about doing something that will "harm your testimony" or "offend another Christian". When I first began to realize that many of the things I was taught when I was younger were more in line with the culture that grew around the American Church in the past century than with what the Bible teaches, I still had times of looking over my shoulder in fear of what people might think or say.

That is not a Christ-honoring way of thinking. Jesus has set us free from the expectations and opinions of others. He has called us to follow him, not any system or philosophy concocted by human beings. A quick glance at the history of Christ followers shows the diversity in the ways we are called to follow. Beyond what we find in the New Testament, Jesus did not give us an exhaustive list of how to live our lives. Yes, there are certain principles that inform our lives, the most important being love God and love others. But there is a lot of life that is not as cut and dried as some would like to think.

Galations 5:1 Paul tells us that it is for freedom that Christ set us free. Galations 5:13 does tell us that we are not to use our freedom as an excuse to sin, but much of the time that verse is misused as a weapon to get people to do what a particular group or person wants them to do.
We are free. Free to follow Christ in the way that he calls us, without worrying about what other people think. What can they do? Take our things? It all belongs to God anyway. Will they refuse fellowship? We have fellowship with the Father. Will they try to damage our reputation? What reputation? We're all broken people in need of God's grace and none of us is better than another. Will they take away our position? That frees us up to pursue another avenue of service. The worst they can do is kill us. If they do that, then we are with Christ. If we realize that all we are is because of God's grace and that Jesus loves us no matter what, we can then be free to live our lives as the Holy Spirit leads us and become more like Jesus according to his schedule, not ours or any body else's.

Don't be like the hummingbird. Spend time drinking the nectar of God's amazing grace instead of looking around to see who might attack you.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hummingbirds

This is a repost of something I wrote a couple years ago.


We have a hummingbird feeder outside our back porch and it's fun to watch them hover and drink the sugar water. It's interesting that they have to come back often to drink because of the amount of energy they expend flapping their wings at such a fast rate.

Another thing I've noticed about hummingbirds is that they are very territorial. An aggressive hummingbird will chase others away from the feeder and will actually sit in a nearby tree watching for an interloper. In fact, a beautiful ruby throated hummingbird that was the first to come to the feeder was driven away completely by a brown one. It seems to me that an amazing amount of energy is wasted defending something that never belonged to them. The feeder is there because of the good graces of my wife and me. So instead of sharing the bounty with the other birds, one bird wastes his energy to defend something that is a gift and not his to keep.

How often are we, the Church, like that. We take the grace that has been freely given us and jealously guard it from those who don't agree with us in everything. We think that God's grace, like the sugar water, was given to us alone. We put God in a little box and try to interpret everything by the limits of that box. We waste an awful lot of energy defending things that either are indefensible, or are not vital. Then, we don't have the time or energy to spend on the real work that Jesus gave us to do - making disciples who follow the Christ.

I'm not saying that Biblical truth doesn't matter or that we should adopt an "I'm okay, you're okay" philosophy. I am saying that we need to take a hard look at what we believe and make sure that we believe it because it matches up with what God says rather than because "it's the way we've always been taught". Is our Christianity Biblical or cultural? Did the faith we hold begin in the 1st century or in the 19th and 20th centuries?

Are we disciples of Jesus? Or, are we hummingbirds?

Third Week of Advent: Anticipation

This was first published on December 12, 2012. Jesus, as Israel waited in anticipation for you to come, so we wait. We anticipate your ret...