We love formulas, don’t we? Formulas make things easy. Patterns make things simple. But when it comes to Christianity this can be a serious problem. Why? Because God is not a formula. He’s a person.
Friday, November 30, 2012
We love formulas, don’t we? Formulas make things easy. Patterns make things simple. But when it comes to Christianity this can be a serious problem. Why? Because God is not a formula. He’s a person.
Jesus is not a concept, He’s a living God.
When it comes to evangelism, we prefer the easy formulas. Give me the Roman’s Road, the Four Spiritual Laws or the King’s Way of evangelism. Even though Jesus never used any of those patterns to communicate the Gospel to anyone. Neither did the Apostles. The truth is, they never once repeated their message or their pattern. Instead, they took each person on an individual case-by-case basis and allowed the Holy Spirit to tailor-make a response based on the specific needs of that one person.
When it comes to theology we love patterns. Give me the TULIP, the Dispensations, the Apostle’s Creeds. The problem is, faith is more elastic than that, and our God isn’t a theorem to solve. He’s a living God with ideas, and plans, and emotions, and desires, and an agenda that is so far beyond yours and mine that it’s more than a little ridiculous to think for even a moment that we can figure Him out.
The real problem with patterns and formulas, however, is that once we think we’ve got everything reduced down into a formula, we don’t need God anymore. We can do everything by simply following our liturgy and our process.
But God does not work that way. He will always slip out of your box. He refuses to do things the same way every time. He is not on your leash. He is far and above every idea and concept you could possibly imagine.
How audacious to think that we can boil God down to a formula. If we’re honest, our formulas about how God works are almost always very simple. If God was ever to be expressed in a formula it wouldn’t be anything as simple as A + B = C. It would take an entire universe of chalk and an infinite blackboard beyond our comprehension to contain such a complex and unique formula like God.
Once we have a pattern we no longer need a person. Jesus is determined to slip out of our patterns because He does not want us to settle for anything less than His dynamic, constant, immediate presence and power in our lives.
How foolish we are to think that God could ever be reduced to a simple pattern. If anything, He is an enormously huge algebraic equation for whom there can never be a large enough white board to write everything down.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a relationship with a living God than with a set of formulas and predictable patterns.
Now, this doesn’t mean that God is just too complex to know and understand. The truth is, He does want us to know Him. But that ability to know Him more comes from His side of the process (revelation) not from our side of the process (formulaic faith).
Knowing God is as simple as having a conversation. Get on your knees, or take a walk in the park, or drive down by the beach, or just get alone with God and start sharing your heart with Him. Listen for His voice. Meditate on His goodness in your life. Be thankful for all you have. Trust Him with your life. And know in your heart of hearts that He loves you more than words can ever say.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
A few weeks ago I was reflecting on my need for inspiration in my life. I thought
about my half-hearted attitude and lack of passion and I concluded that what I was
missing was someone like Jackie Pullinger or Heidi Baker or Shane Claiborne to
jump start my zeal to serve God.
Almost immediately, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me and I heard the Lord say,
“No, you don’t. What you need is more of me.”
That made a lot more sense to me, actually. What was missing in my life lately was
simply a more immediate and vibrant connection to Jesus.
Don’t you do that sometimes? When you feel disconnected from God or far away
from the path you tend to gravitate towards a person, or a ministry, or a book, or a
church, or basically anything other than the actual source of life and peace and joy
“For He (Jesus) Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:14)
Plain and simple: What I need is more of Jesus. Don’t settle for anything less than the
author of life.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
"I urge you, therefore, in view of God's mercies, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God." (Romans 12:1)
You know, I've not only read that verse over a thousand times, I've also blogged about it here nearly as much. But the other day I actually saw it again and understood it as if reading it for the very first time.
Yes, we are called to be living sacrifices to God, but with an emphasis on the “living” part. See, it’s “life, life, life” that God wants to give you, not the constant pain of the dead flesh being consumed on the altar.
Notice that Paul in Romans 12 follows up this statement about being a living sacrifice with a list of things he wants to emphasize, and all of them are great things:
First, Paul says that this act of becoming a living sacrifice is our worship to God. Worship is good. Then he talks about transformation and renewing our minds. Those are also great things. Next he says that this will result in knowing God's good, perfect, and pleasing will for our lives.
All of this is good. What's the downside to being a living sacrifice? Nothing. In fact, if you keep reading Romans 12 you'll end up with an even longer list of blessings, including a more loving fellowship in a Body of believers and a more Christ-like spirit towards others.
I suppose my entire paradigm has since shifted regarding this idea of death to self and my need to embrace the continual life of Christ that such sacrifice produces in my heart. For too long now I've been fixated on this idea of death to self (which is still quite necessary) without fully understanding my need to go onward to the part about how God wants to pour into my heart an overabundance of his astounding love and his glorious life.
So, the next time you hear someone talk about the need to die to yourself and become a living sacrifice, be sure to picture in your mind a happy, dancing, life-filled clown like me who is absolutely so full of the life of Christ that he’s about to explode. Because that’s what it actually means.
As God says, “I want your loyalty, not your sacrifices. I want you to know me, not to give me burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 )
Monday, November 26, 2012
“Therefore, I began to think, my Lord, you purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed. Perhaps that is the very reason why we are here in this world, where sin and sorrow and suffering and evil abound, so that we may let you teach us so to react to them, that out of them we can create lovely qualities to live forever. That is the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good.” – Much-Afraid, from “Hinds Feet On High Places”, page 242.
My wife Wendy has been reading to us for a few weeks now from the book, “Hinds Feet On High Places” by Hannah Hurnard as part of our family devotion times together. So far, I’ve been very blessed by this allegorical story of faith, and often moved to tears at the beautiful devotion to Christ and the simple trust that Much-Afraid, the protagonist of the story, so effortlessly expresses from her heart.
But the other night my wife read the passage above out loud and it was as if a giant searchlight flashed out of the sky over my head and beamed pure wisdom down on my tiny heart. This is important. We need to stop and consider this profound truth. We must chew on it, swallow it, internalize it, digest it, and hold it forever in our beings so that we never forget it.
See, this is the key to something most followers of Jesus struggle with the most. We go to God with our sufferings and our trials and our only prayer is that He take the evil away. But what if the whole point of our being immersed in this world of sin and suffering and pain and evil is to recreate – over and over again – the amazing victory of Jesus over sin and death? What if God’s entire purpose and plan for our lives is to provide example after example of love overcoming evil and forgiveness overcoming hate?
Yes, Jesus prayed for those who nailed him to the cross saying, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” But what if you and I undergo suffering and persecution in order to duplicate that same scenario? What if every Christian is called to overcome evil with good, and to pray for those who hate us, and to love those who despise us?
Even more, what if God’s big plan is to defeat evil itself by this same testimony of love?
That would mean that our suffering has a purpose far greater than we ever imagined. Our response to hate is more critical than we might think. Our obedience to Christ could have eternal implications for those who are not yet citizens of His Kingdom.
This, I believe, is what Paul the Apostle has in mind in Romans chapter 12. First, he appeals to the unspeakable glory of God (at the end of chapter 11) and urges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Then he tells us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed.
But why? So that we can love others (v.9-10), and so that we can bless those who persecute us (v.14), repay the evil with blessings (v.17), live at peace with all men (v.18), refrain from vengeance (v.19), feed our enemies (v.20) and overcome evil with good (v.21).
Do you see what Paul suggests? He’s saying that once we are transformed we need to live transformed lives. This transformed life looks nothing like what we’re used to. Our new, transformed lives are upside down from what anyone would ever expect, and apart from the indwelling spirit of Jesus such lives are hilariously impossible to duplicate.
Ask yourselves this question: “How could you ever defeat an enemy who only gained strength as it got weaker?”
Answer: “You can’t.” And that’s the point of 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 when Paul tells us that God refused to remove his thorn in the flesh. Why? Because God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” It is, in fact, “the power of Christ”.
This means that we who embrace our weakness and our suffering are carriers of the unlimited and infinite power of the supreme deity who created the universe, and the way we unleash this power is to do what He did – let go of our own identity and status and rights and lay down everything, even unto death (see Philippians 2:5-10), so that the power of Christ can flow through us and rip gaping holes in the fabric of evil like super-charged thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction.
God’s love changes everything. It has changed us. It can change others. It overcomes evil. It lays flat the proud. It devastates the oppressor. It silences the mocking voice. It transforms a sinful world of selfishness into a selfless Kingdom of joyful service to all.
This is why we turn the other cheek. This is why we pray for those who hate us. This is why we are called peace makers. This is why we are called upon to suffer as Christ suffered. (see 1 Peter 3:9-18) Because, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.” (1 John 4:17)
Truly, we are called “Little Christs” (the literal meaning of the term “Christian”) for a very good reason. As Jesus loved others in suffering, we also are called to love those who hate us and to bless those who curse us. This is part of God’s amazing plan to change the world from the inside out.
We are each like little viruses that are transforming an organism from the inside out. Only the life of this organism depends on the success of this transformation.
This is Subversive. This is the Kingdom of God.
“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” – Jesus (John 16:33)
Thursday, November 22, 2012
At this time of year when we're all encouraged to stop and make a list of all that we're thankful for, I'd like to suggest we ask ourselves, "Who is thankful for me?"
As great as it is to cultivate our gratitude for all the blessings we've received from God and others, I think it's also very important to do our part to be a blessing so that others might stop and be thankful to God for our acts of kindness and compassion.
The way we live our lives matters to God, and it matters to others. This is why Jesus says that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. In fact, he says that these two commands are alike. That means that loving God and loving others are related actions.
"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21)
So, our mission is to be a blessing, not to be blessed. Our calling is to behave as ambassadors of God's love to everyone we meet, so that they might glorify God and develop a strong desire to know Him more and to love as we do.
The only way this will work is if we practice being a blessing to others every day of our lives, not just one day a year. It's also something we're expected to do even if we don't appear to be getting the intended results. Even if our kindness and compassion aren't reciprocated, we're still expected to continue in love, because that's what our Lord would do.
For those who hate us, we're still expected to love them, and serve them, and to pray for them. Of course, that's where it really starts to get difficult, but we continue to love in spite of opposition because we know something that they don't know: Love has the power to heal and transform. How do we know this? Because we have been transformed by God's love. We have been healed by His love. And we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that perfect love casts out fear, and love never fails.
This Thanksgiving, my prayer is that, by the grace of God, I will be a person who loves others and serves others, because my Lord did this for me, and because I was made to love and serve others. Because I've experienced the transforming power of God's love first hand, and honestly, I really want to see it happen again to as many people as possible before I see Him face to face.
Happy Thanksgiving. Now go and be the kind of person that others would be thankful for.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I think the older I get the more I realize how desperate I am for Jesus. It's sometimes even difficult for me to really enter into worship because I'm constantly aware of my selfish thoughts and prideful heart.
The best I can do is to fall on my knees and beg God for mercy. My hope is that, somehow, He will change my heart and work that miracle where I am mysteriously transformed into the image of Christ.
Until that day, I am simply broken.
Maybe that's why I was drawn to this verse in 2 Corinthians last week?
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Cor. 4:7)
How true this is. There is nothing good in me. The more I know myself the more amazed I am that God could love me. Yet, I don't doubt His love. I've experienced it hour by hour, day by day, every second of my life. His love is constant and completely undeserved. That's why they call it "Amazing", because there's no other word for a love so strong and a price so high for a people so flawed and broken - Amazing.
Recently I had to confess to my church family that I felt like I was going through the motions. The reason why I wasn't connecting with God, or loving others the way I'm supposed to, is rooted in fear. Mainly, fear of being hurt again.
About two years ago, a man I had befriended died of bone cancer. He was homeless, alone, and far from God. I did everything I knew how to do to show him the love of Jesus, and in the end I'm not entirely sure I succeeded in this attempt.
That experience has left me fearful of putting myself out there again. So, I've slowly retreated more and more into my comfort zone and closed myself off from the needs and struggles of others.
The word "compassion" means "to suffer with" and frankly, the last thing I want to do right now is to suffer with anyone else ever again. So, I've kept people at arms length. I've pulled back into my little safety zone and wrapped myself in layers to protect my heart from ever hurting again.
But, I know that's not my calling. I know that's not God's will for my life. I know that following Jesus means laying down everything and enduring the pain of death in my flesh so that the life of Christ can change me from within. In fact, in that same verse above, Paul says as much:
"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Cor. 4:8-11)
What's so beautiful is how my church family responded to this confession. They surrounded me and placed their hands on my shoulders and arms and head, and they prayed over me the most healing words of hope and restoration.
One brother was reminded of Jesus, in the Garden, kneeling before the Father and asking that, if it were possible, that the cup of crucifixion be removed. Nevertheless, Jesus was resolved to follow through with his mission and ended by saying, "Not my will, but yours be done."
And that's really what this is all about, isn't it? Living for Jesus means experiencing the death of our flesh, which, by the way, is quite painful. Yet, we are not allowed to shrink back from this suffering simply because it hurts. Our calling is to follow Jesus, and following Him means taking up our own cross, much as He picked up His long before we were born, and stepping forward into the path of obedience to share in His sufferings, so that we can also share in His life.
As Paul concludes:
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor 4. 16-18)
What God has been constantly reminding me of lately is that my focus needs to be more on what I am gaining and less on what I am letting go of. In other words, my focus has been too much on the idea of dying to self and not enough on the idea of living in Christ.
I had lunch with a dear brother in Christ a few weeks ago, and this perspective shift was highlighted for me in an interesting way. We were both talking about this idea of needing to die to ourselves and let go of earthly things in order to follow Jesus. My response to all of this was, "It's sometimes hard to follow through with what God expects of us" and my friend's response was, "Not just what He expects of me, but what He wants to give me and what new blessings He has for me to enjoy."
That was it. My friend's focus was on the joyous treasures of the Kingdom. My eyes were on the things I needed to give up and let go of.
So, if you're one of those people who is praying for me, I'd ask for your prayers to simply be that I could experience this slight, but very necessary, shift in perspective from the worthless things I must surrender to God, to the glorious treasures that are found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I used to say that the Church in America needs to go out of business. But now I believe that the best thing that could possibly happen to the church in America is for it to just lay down and die.
Forget about business as usual. Forget about that new program or the next church growth seminar. Forget about hiring a new pastor or cranking up the volume on the worship team.
Seriously? Just die.
Jesus was pretty clear that no one could possibly follow Him unless they first took up their cross daily and died to themselves. That’s what the Church needs to do. She needs to die.
Without death, there can be no resurrection. Without death, the life of Christ cannot be released into the Church.
We all know you can have better worship bands and still not have Christ in your midst. You can also have a great preacher and still not have Jesus at the center.
In fact, you can have all the best programs, staff, doctrine, leaders, facilities and an unlimited budget and still not have the heartbeat of Jesus at the core of your Church.
So, that’s why we all need to die. So that Christ can live in us and resurrect us from within.
As a wise man once said, “unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers toil in vain.”
Another wise man said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Without me you can do nothing.”
So, maybe it’s time for our churches to die. Neil Cole, in his book “Church Transfusion”, even goes as far as to suggest that every church hold an actual memorial service to celebrate all the good things that our old way of doing and being church used to stand for. Dig a hole in the ground and drop in everything that symbolizes that old way of church. Say a few words. Sing some favorite songs. Enjoy some pies after the service. Go home and mourn for church-as-we-once-knew-it.
Next week, host a Baby Shower. Talk about what this new life might look like. Pray together and ask the Lord to show you as a people what His will and His plans and His purpose for your church might be.
Don’t use this as an opportunity to manipulate people into doing things your way. That’s the old church formula that you buried the week before. Instead, listen to Jesus. Really. Pray and ask Him to speak to you as a Body and wait for His direction. Not just to the senior pastor (like you used to do) but to the entire Body. As Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd, and my sheep hear my voice”.
Scripture tells us that, “if anyone lacks wisdom let him ask” so go to Jesus and ask Him. Then, do whatever He says.
If our churches in America would honestly lay down everything they have been clinging to and die to their old ways, then the power of Christ which is made perfect in weakness would be released within us. The resurrection of the Church would begin. And this nation, and the people of God, would be empowered to live surrendered lives of service to one another and the world.
Let’s all lay down and die. The Church needs a resurrection. The World needs a resurrected Church. We all need Jesus to live and breathe in us today.
Friday, November 09, 2012
Yes, 46 years ago today, the fabric of space and time pulled back to reveal this fragile and yet strangely troubled soul.
It was a day of wonder and tears.
Cigarettes were burned. Laughter echoed down the hallway. A mother's heart slid into gear.
The angel's sighed, and one of them farted, but no one knew which one it was so they pretended not to hear.
It was a day of love so great it hurt to breathe.
Glad to be here, my friends.
Hope to be here a bit longer before I join the flatulent angels.
Thursday, November 08, 2012
I'm very excited about publishing the print version of "The Power of Weakness" early in January.
This new print edition will feature a foreword by author Ross Rohde (Viral Jesus), expanded chapter content, and a brand new chapter not found in the Kindle ebook version available now at Amazon.com.
The cover image was created by Elim Feliciano.
So, what do you think about the cover image? I could almost see this on a t-shirt.
More details about the book, and the book release party coming soon.
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Someone told me this week: “Pastors who don't have pastors usually head towards not being a pastor.”
This prompted me to wonder, “Who is pastoring Rick Warren?” and “Who is pastoring the guy who is pastoring Rick Warren?” and “Who pastors that guy?”
Not to pick on Rick Warren, of course. We might also ask, “Who pastors the guy who pastors the guy who pastors Joel Olsteen? And who is pastoring that guy?”
See, the problem I have with this concept is that our hierarchical system of religion is hogwash. It’s not based on the New Testament scriptures. It totally ignores the concept of being a Body of Believers made up of equals who lovingly serve one another under the direction of Christ.
With our Americanized version of Christianity, we have a large mass of “believers” (not “disciples”) who are all being pastored by a “Pastor” and that guy isn’t pastored by anyone. Even if he was, it would be something totally man-made and in defiance of scriptural principles.
See, the New Testament church is built on the premise that we have one teacher (Jesus) and we are all brothers and sisters. None of us is to allow anyone else to call us “Teacher” or “Rabbi” according to Jesus, because that would be disobedient to His command not to duplicate the top-down hierarchy of the pagan leaders, and of the Jewish leaders.
This does not mean that none of us can be teachers or lead others. What it does mean is that we cannot allow others to single us out and treat us as if we have more authority than others in the Body of Christ.
The problem with the non-biblical hierarchy model of church leadership is that it quickly reaches an end with one person sitting at the top with no one over them. Most of us are ok with this. We like paying someone else to do all the spiritual work that we’re supposed to do. Well, some of us do, anyway. But, that’s not the Biblical model. Remember:
“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..” (Eph. 4:11-12)
See that? The “works of service” are to be done by “his people” not by the one’s given by Christ to equip them. In our Americanized version of Church, we’ve placed all of the “works of service” at the feet of one guy, (the Pastor), and the rest of us sit around and watch him. But, Christ’s intention was that some within the Body would equip, teach, train, and empower everyone else to do the teaching, preaching, evangelizing, praying, serving, giving, sharing, blessing, etc.
Most would answer my question above by saying that Jesus pastors the senior Pastor, and they would be half right. The truth is, Jesus is meant to be the Senior Pastor of every single one of us in the Body. He alone is the Good Shepherd. He is our Head. He is our Leader. Those who serve as Elders in our Body are being pastored by the same Shepherd as the rest of us. We’re all following Christ individually, and corporately. That’s how it was meant to work.
Paul encourages us later in the epistle to the Ephesians to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)
Let’s all submit to Christ together, not to another person in our fellowship. Only Jesus is worthy of our awe and our complete obedience. We are all brothers and sisters.