Thursday, December 30, 2010

"You Can't Always Get What You Want"?

I love the rolling stones, especially "You Can't Always Get What You Want."  I love the melancholy groove that leads into the upbeat "you-get-what-you-need" chorus. One of the things I've always liked is that the message of the song teaches that life isn't always roses and bubble gum but that it's ok anyway. It is the anthem of contentment.  However, lately I've been questioning that belief.


I've always had a problem with "health and wealth" Christianity. These are the Christians that only talk about God's blessings in the form of nice cars and fancy watches while they ignore biblical passages like "blessed are you when men revile you" (Matthew 5:11-12) or "count it all joy when you endure various trials and tribulations" (James 1:2-3). Sometimes they accuse you of not having enough faith if you lose your job or get sick. (Confession: I have thought about punching these guys in the face and blaming them for not having enough faith that I wouldn't punch them.) I've often wondered what these guys would say to the people of God being tortured for Christ in Saudi Arabia or losing their human rights in China.


I still can't get on board with the overemphasis on blessing, but I have had to reevaluate my thinking lately. The truth is I'm really blessed. I have great friends and a great family, not to mention my warm house, comfortable clothes and reliable cars. Here is where it gets really crazy: I have been blessed to receive things I don't need but really wanted.  I remember wanting a drum set from the time I was old enough to remember.  I prayed and saved and practiced my rhythms on buckets and cans for years.  The desire never went away, and God eventually blessed me with a drum set.  


All this got me thinking about Psalm 37:4 when it says "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."  I think a lot of health and wealth pastors have used this verse to infer that God is a cosmic vending machine.  "Show up with your desire, put in your tithe and get what you want."  A friend of mine who worked in a Christian bookstore during "The Prayer of Jabez" craze said a customer once told him that if you pray the Prayer of Jabez a certain number of times daily, you can get whatever you want.  This still bothers me. I don't like treating God like a sugar daddy.  Isn't He more important than all this stuff?  Isn't it ridiculous to have all this stuff when people are starving in other parts of the world? 


So, what's the difference?  How can I scorn blessing oriented theology when I have and enjoy God's blessings every day?  


I think the answer is in the order of the verse.  The psalmist never says "You will get the desires of your heart, if you do the Christian thing."  He says to delight in God.  Everything else is frosting.  This is where we miss it so many times.  God never meant for us to show up to church looking for a feeling.  He never wanted us to enter into relationship with Him for new cars and financial stability.  He just wants us to love Him.  It's that simple.  


My wife bought me a great Christmas present this year, something I have wanted but never thought we could or should afford.  She went to great lengths to pull extended family together to chip in, because she loves me and wanted to bless me.  She does something special like this every year.  One year it was a mandolin, another year it was a Marshall Amplifier.  She is amazing.  But, when I married her, I wasn't thinking about amps, drums and clothes.  I married her because I'm crazy in love with her.  If every gift she gave me burned tonight, I would wake up tomorrow thrilled that she was with me.  I delight in my wife.  The gifts only serve to remind me how much she loves me.


It gets better.  The more I know and love my wife, the more I want things that help me bless her.  I have grown to desire gifts that benefit our home.  I got pretty excited about a Rigid wet vac that I wanted to clean our sump pump.  My desires have shifted since becoming a husband and a father.  I am so in love with my family that I want things that help me serve and love them better.  


The same is true in my relationship with Christ.  The more I delight in Him, the more my desires mature into His desires.  How small a flat screen TV looks in the presence of the infinite God of creation.  Delight is an irresistible compulsion for the one who has encountered God.  


This is what makes me proud of so many people in our church.  There are days where babies cry and music doesn't come together well.  People who show up hoping for chills during worship lose interest.  Sometimes even I get distracted.  But there are faithful men and women of God who don't care.  They showed up to delight in God.  The video feed could go out.  The speakers could feedback. They wouldn't notice or care.  All they see is God.  They delight regardless of circumstances.  They can do it because they've been doing it all week.  They delight because of who God is.  They just love Him.  


As we enter into a New Year full of anticipation and hopes, I want to delight in God like never before.  His love is deeper than we can fathom.  His grace is more powerful than our most depraved thought.  He delights in us every moment of eternity.  I want to love Him like He loves me.  That's what I want this year to be about.  


My resolution is to delight in God.  How about you?  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Psalm 146:7-10

Where: My office.
Listening to: Coldplay
Drinking: Starbucks Pike Place
Pray:
God, I'm facing a lot of tasks.  There is so much to plan, prepare and do these next few days.  So much of it is beyond my abilities and control.  Fill me with Your Spirit today.  I want to be connected to you, so that everything I do brings You glory and blesses everyone around me. 

Read: 

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
   and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
 8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
   the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
   and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
   but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

 10 The LORD reigns forever,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.

   Praise the LORD. --Psalm 146:7-10


Think: 
(Ask, Analyze and Apply)


Write:
In a culture of abundance and freedom, I have opportunity to blind myself to the cause of the oppressed.  If I let my pride have its way, I would even blame the oppressed for their suffering, citing sin and poor judgement.  That would be a tragedy.  Do gays not suffer oppression?  Doesn't God love them the same way He loves me?  What about predatory lenders, murderers and rapists?  The fact is, these were the guys He made his disciples.  I think its interesting that oppressors always have a reason.  They point out why they are right and the oppressed are wrong.  Its easy to forget that we are all messed up.  The least of this world need God's love as much as the great.  They may even be one and the same.  Our God defends the broken and fights for the cause of the marginalized and imprisoned.  I don't want to ever forget that I was once blind and broken.  He redeemed me and entrusted me to care for the broken (Matthew 25).  Christ-like, unconditional love is the goal.  


Also, when I think about how God frustrates the ways of the wicked, I think of how much falls apart when I'm not operating according to His will.  Sometimes, "the wicked" is me.  


Do:
Today, I'm going to check up on our Life Group Leaders to see how caring for the broken is going.  I also have a few oppressed friends that I'm going to remind I love. I think I also need to consider if there is a need God wants me to meet this week, something I have been blind to until now.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Come and Live


Sharing the Heart of Come&Live! from Come&Live! on Vimeo.

Over the summer, a musician friend of mine shared with me about a non-profit record company called Come and Live.  While a lot of record companies are involuntarily becoming non-profit, I found it interesting that someone would choose such a thing.  I was even more amazed to hear that the record organization gives all of the music away.  They see their bands as missionaries and operate like a mission board that blesses hearers with music.

Something about this ministry amazes me, and it isn't merely their vision (though I think their vision is incredible).  What amazes me is that this is a genuinely new idea.  A follower of Christ sought God and allowed his creativity to operate in the power of the Spirit.  The result was a brand new idea.  Come and Live is not a Christian version of a secular organization.  It is not a re-packaged version of something tried before.  It is a brand new idea from Christians.  Praise God!  I was afraid we had forgotten what that looked like.

I have grown so weary of Christian versions of secular ideas.  I nearly vomited when I heard that someone came up with a Christian version of Twitter.  For so long, we have embarrassed ourselves with timid, unimpressive versions of secular ideas that only serve to keep us and the gospel away from the people who need both so desperately.

We were once the leaders of culture.  For centuries, Christians were at the forefront of philosophy, science and the arts.  I'm not sure why we quit creating and started imitating, but I know how things must change.  Come and Live is something brand new.  Let's start making things new again.

Here are a few thoughts on how:

  • Don't try to copy someone else's idea!  If I see another "Christian version of..." I will throw a case of Testa-mints at you.  
  • Allow the Spirit to lead.  Stay connected to Him all the time (Word, worship, prayer, etc.)
  • Vision first.  What has God laid on your heart?  What burdens you?  What are you passionate about?  Decide on a need first (one there is no answer to yet) and then ask God how He wants to use you to make a difference. 
  • Risk. Don't drop the idea because it seems hard or impossible.  If God gave you the vision, He will provide the resources.  Start the process now.  
  • Believe your critics, but don't believe your critics.  Someone will tell you why it won't work.  If they share your vision and want to help, listen to their thoughts.  If they aren't doing anything about your vision, hear them out and keep moving forward.  
  • Change.  Your idea will have to change a lot.  Keep working it.  You may have to cut away things you have worked on for years.  Keep working.  Lose what doesn't work to focus on what does.  
  • Believe God.  I know it sounds simple, but its true.  If God gave you the idea, He will see it through with you.  Keep moving forward.  

What has God burdened you about?  Do you have a brand new idea?  What is your next step to make it reality?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Revelation 5

Where: My living room floor
Coffee: Just finished Twinings Lady Grey Tea
Listening to: Showbread--Who Can Know It? (Available for Free from the Band!)


Pray: 
God, I am parched in spirit and heart.  Fill me with your Spirit.  Speak through your Word, and overflow into the people I meet and the work I do.  Help me to love You, love people and live surrendered.  


Read:
 1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” --Revelation 5:1-5 


Think: 


(Ask, Analyze and Apply)


Write:


There are great deeds to be done at the end of all things, and the One who will open the seals to start it all will be Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain.  How amazing that Jesus, who came as a servant and was crucified in our place will be the one calling the shots as Lord of all when the finale starts!  I can't say it better than this.  Read it!


On that great day, the world will wait and weep, thinking none is worthy to break the seals.  But, like a Stone unbroken the Lion of Truth will step to the throne with all authority under his feet.  And, all the saints of God will worship and adore.  We'll sing songs of adoration and worship with all hope as every creature in existence will worships the Roaring Lamb. 


Do:


I'm going to sleep in anticipation of what God is going to do as we worship Him tomorrow.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Empty

I must confess that I have experienced envy recently.  My friend Micah Hasty has a blog called The Common Cup where he posts a constant array of art, quotes and thoughts for his readers.  While there is plenty to envy (the beautiful design of his blog, his miraculous ability to find and post an array of content daily, etc.), I have found myself most envious of Micah's devotional postings.  Being a gifted photographer, he posts a picture of the coffee he is drinking, the music he is enjoying and the text he is reading, along with thoughts from the study.  As strange as it sounds, I have devotional envy.

I feel alive when I have been alone with a substantive book and a cup of coffee.  There is an aligning of body mind and spirit that occurs when I am at the coffee house reading or planning or studying the Word.  It is a simultaneous filling and pouring out that I cannot explain any other way than to say that it is a Holy Spirit work (In this way, pouring and drinking coffee is a liturgical act of worship).  I'm envious of my friend, because it has been at least a few weeks since I have been in that place.  It's not that I haven't read the Word or been in prayer.  I just haven't had one of those rich moments of time alone with God, the ones where everything else in the world seems simple and insignificant in the presence of God, the ones where He allows His presence to be made known more than usual.

Today, I came to a realization that has been haunting me for the last few weeks: my spirit is dry.  Don't get the wrong idea.  I'm not in sin. and I'm not far from God.  I feel connected.  I just haven't had one of those moments of closeness in while.  They don't come every day, even in the best of times (at least not for me), but I think I'm due for one.  For me, these last few weeks have been full of people in crisis.  I feel like I've been hearing a lot of sad stories about sin, loss, and brokenness.  I'm honored and privileged to have a job that allows me to be there for people in their suffering.  But since the only hope I have to give is from the Spirit, I have to get refilled often.  I haven't been filling up as much as I have been pouring out.

I had a friend tell me once that it must be great to be a pastor and get to study and pray all the time.  I wanted to punch him right there just to prove that his assumption isn't true (otherwise I would have remembered the whole "slow to anger" thing).   I think I have less time for devotions now than ever.  My days are filled with e-mails, meetings, documents, crisis phone calls from hurting people, strange requests from people needing help, missed meals and unexpected tasks, not to mention planning for upcoming projects.  Just when I think I'm getting all my work under control, I realize I've forgotten something huge that should have been dealt with months ago.  So, I scramble to get it back on track and pray God keeps it from falling apart.  Is this familiar?

On my best days, I'm like a hero in a stylized action movie.  Everything is running a mile a minute, and I'm thinking on the spot, making things happen in sync with the Spirit.  Its like I'm shooting from the hip and slaying the enemy at every turn.  Bullets whiz past me as I dodge in Neo-like fashion.  Amazing things happen.  I love it.  But, if I'm not filled up, I'm more like nameless character who steps in the quicksand and is forgotten by Scene 3.

Pastors are just like everybody else.  Time with God doesn't count as part of the work week.  We have to make it fit somewhere.  Right now, I'm making mine at 10:59 on a Saturday night.  I'm getting up early tomorrow, but I need this more than the extra sleep.

So, here I am.  It's quite.  There is no crisis to deal with.  I'm not opening my e-mails.  My family is asleep.  I'm going to re-connect with the Creator of the universe by the light of my computer screen.

I'm writing tonight to let you know that this time doesn't come naturally for anybody (not even pastors).  We really aren't superheroes (though I like to pretend I am John McClane from Die Hard).  So if you are reading this and feeling empty, do whatever it takes to make time today.  Cancel something you thought was important.  Stay up late.  Skip a meal.  Do whatever it takes, but connect.  Nothing of any value will happen until you do.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wimpy Daters

Last night, my wife and I were privileged to serve on a panel discussion about dating.  The event was hosted by Oberlin Christian Fellowship and was held in one of the new Oberlin College dorms.  The worship was wonderful, led by musicians that will one day play at places like Carnegie and Severance Halls (Oberlin is renowned for its conservatory).  Additionally, the questions from the students were thoughtful and honest.

Most of the questions related to choosing a mate and physical guidelines.  Some good dialog was had as many marriage was celebrated and God was honored.

Interestingly, what struck me most about the night was not the discussion itself.  I have served on panels like this before and tend to see the same kind of questions.  I really enjoy it, and it is exciting to talk to students who had the same questions as I did in that stage of life.  However, I continually come across an issue that doesn't get dealt with much.  It came up in a post-panel discussion as a student approached me directly.

She explained that she dearly loved God and wants to be with a godly man going the same direction.  Her problem: Christian guys aren't asking her out.  We just finished a meeting with a packed out room of young men her age that she sees every week on her campus.  None of them have had the gumption to approach her for a date.

There was nothing wrong with this girl.  Very intelligent and attractive, she had a clear plan for her life and a desire for a godly man to walk along sider her, but no one was taking the opportunity.  I've seen the same thing at our young adult ministry.  Plenty of good guys and even more godly women, but no action taken.

This wouldn't e so bad except for how often guys talk to me about their interest in a particular girl.  "You should ask her out," is my response.  I even have a motivational speech about how it's better to get shot down that to never know about what could have happened.  "I'll pray about it" or "I don't know" is a common response from the lovesick pansies.  They seldom do anything about it.

I've decided that I'm tired of these guys "praying about it."  Action needs to be taken.  So, I've created a guideline for single guys:

  • Is she single? 
  • Are you attracted to her?
  • Does she love God?

If the answer to all three is "yes," then ask her out.  Pray about it as you pick up the phone or walk over to her at church.  If God somehow convicts you that this is not in His plan, then back off.  The nervous feeling you get before you ask her out is not God's conviction, it is your fear.  Beat that dog of fear with the rolled up newspaper of adventure.  If you are waiting on a smoke signal from heaven or a floating finger to write her name on the wall, you will be waiting until Jesus comes back.  She won't.

This is part of the problem.  The young woman I spoke with said that she isn't having trouble getting dates.  She's just having trouble getting dates with Christian guys.  Plenty of ungodly young men want to be with her, and she desperately wants a relationship.  She is experiencing increasing levels of temptation, because she doesn't want to miss out on love.

Guys, are you hearing this?!  Godly young who would love to go out with you are dating pagans because you won't man up.  I know; it's still their responsibility to honor God with their relationships.  But what are they supposed to do?  Man up guys.  Be a hero and ask a girl out!

So, ladies (married and unmarried) what do you think about this?  Guys, I've called you out.  Do you have anything to add?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Feed 1,000 Families

We have the potential to feed thousands of people in Lorain County and you can be a part of making that happen!

We have an excellent opportunity to receive a $25,000 grant from Pepsi Refresh to purchase 1,000 gardens for this year's Serve Elyria.

Grant recipients are determined by the amount of online votes, so we need your help to get those votes!  You can vote three different ways every day in the month of December.  We hope you will take just a few minutes each day to help get as many votes as we can. 
You can make a real difference!

The following website, www.voteopendoor.com, outlines the easy ways you can vote for the project - online, text message, and Facebook.   


3 Ways to Vote in December - Vote Every Way, Every Day!!
To vote through Pepsi: www.refresheverything.com/serveelyria
To vote through text: Text 104402 to 73774
To vote through Facebook: Pepsi Refresh Voting App

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ride The Lion 1: Grasping the Mane

Chapter 1: Grasping the Mane
(For those of you who did not read my previous blog.  This is the first chapter of my book.  I'm sharing this chapter to get your feedback as I work on the book.)


I think it started with a song.  Great movements are often sparked by artistic inspiration.  For me, it was “The Sheep and the Goats” by Keith Green.  If you’ve never heard that song, get it.  It is essentially a recitation of Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about the Day of Judgment when He will separate his people (the sheep) from His enemies (the goats).  I listened to Keith pour out the words as though it were bitter medicine.  It had to be taken, but it didn’t taste good.  “The Sheep” in Matthew 25 are not pastors or worship leaders or pious, closet Christians, untangled from the affairs of the world.  The sheep are those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, and welcomed the homeless.  The sheep were people who loved people. 


I first heard this song as a student at a fundamentalist Christian college, where social reform took a back seat to Republican activism.  At this point, all it did was get me thinking.  What does a sheep look like? 

It didn’t really matter at that point.  My life was tied to the campus.  I ate there, slept there, learned there, and played there.  I could go weeks without stepping more than 100 yards from the front gate.  Curfew was midnight and I had a lot to do.  Things would have to remain status quo for a while. 

They did.  For 3 years, I did the usual.  I went to class, ate in the cafeteria, enjoyed good times with friends, and studied theology.  I was soaking up theology like a fresh sponge.  I was learning amazing things about the beauty and perfection of Scripture.  Theological truth about salvation and the second coming of Christ were inspiring to me.  The perfect harmony of Scripture energized me.  The more I learned, the more beautiful it became to me.  I was in awe of the Word of God.  But I was the same. 

Truth does not sit still.  It pursues us.  It chases us down like a lion and doesn’t let us go.  Matthew 25 wouldn’t leave me alone.  It would come up and I would push it away.  Thinking I had managed to forget it, I would move on with my life.  But, not for long.  Sooner or later, the lion crept up on me again.  I could run, but it was faster than me.  I could hide, but it would sniff me out.  I had a choice: I could fight the lion and die or grab it by the main and ride it for all its worth. 

I still remember the day I chose to ride.  I had signed on for my second year as an RA.  You might remember having RAs at your college.  Unless you went to a fundamentalist college, you have no idea what I’m talking about.  RAs at state schools function a lot like older siblings.  They’re a pain to deal with, but they aren’t that much different than you and they really just want to look out for you.  RAs at a fundamentalist college tend to operate a little bit more like the Gestapo or the SS.  They sign allegiance to the schools code of conduct and enforce it to the letter.  When all else fails, the code of conduct gives the final say. 
I remember getting caught up in the fury of it all.  I really believed I was doing something good.  After all, people who broke the rules were sinning, and sinners needed to be punished so that they could change.  Right? 

Part of the code of conduct involved a dress code.  My Freshen year, this had involved a tie and dress shoes.  By this time, it had degenerated into a polo and khakis kind of code, a degeneration some called “a slippery slope to Sodom.”  (How the elimination of ties in the dress code could ever lead to mass homosexuality was beyond me.)  While this code was less dressy, it was by no means less strict.  The administration sent down a summons to the RAs.  Things were getting bad, real bad.  People were in sin.  Shirts were un-tucked and tennis shoes were being worn.  “Calling all Gestapo!”   Mind you, I was caught up in all this.  I really believed (with some good reason) that these people were in sin and that it was my job to judge them.  We started organizing RA “blitzes,” which involved whole teams of RAs standing in the middle of the main class building and writing reprimands to anyone who walked by in tennis shoes.  It is interesting that we actually used the word “blitz” (a term used to describe Third Reich war strategy) to describe what we did.  We might as well have been speaking in German accents and asking, “Are your papers in order?” 

Something happened during that time that changed me.  I realized that the best ministry I had on my dorm involved walking from room to room helping guys out.  A lot of the guys on my dorm were freshmen who were having trouble adjusting of the rules.  Some of them didn’t even realize they were breaking rules.  We had guys with social and emotional problems, guys who needed help.  The guys on my dorm respected me, because they knew I cared.  They knew me.  I had met needs.  I had even gone easy on them when it came to room cleanliness when things had been stressful for them. 

The guys I wrote up out of the blue during “blitz” did not respect me.  They hated me.  I was the SS to them.  I didn’t care about them.  I didn’t know them.  All I was doing was interrupting their already stressful day as they tried to make it to class on time. 

Some truths hit you like a butterfly landing on your shoulder to remind you that you need to change something.  Other truths pounce on you like a 500 pound lion biting off that evil part of you that you thought was good.  This truth was a lion, and I was on my back feeling its teeth pierce the evil part of my chest.  His teeth struck my pride and my blindness to human suffering.  This was the day I mounted the lion. 

Bloody and limp, I grabbed his main as he swallowed my pride.  This was change and it hurt, but it was a bloody, beautiful mess. 

Ironically, it was around this time that my supervisors in the RA program (who really were caring people that wanted the best for us and the students) started focusing their training on servant leadership.  The same people who were telling me to interrogate unsuspecting freshmen for letting their hair touch their ears, were the same people who were telling me that Jesus Christ made the most significant impact on people when He served them.  We talked about how He washed the disciple’s feet, and how he met people’s physical needs for food and health. 

One day, after a meeting, the administration asked for some RA volunteers to help pick up some chairs.  I could have, but I wanted to see my girlfriend (who was also an RA), so I bailed out.  This servant leader wasn’t going to sign up for chair moving when he hadn’t spend time with his girl in 3 days. 

A few days later, at another meeting, our RD (the guy who led our RA group) mentioned how disappointed he was that no one was willing to serve when asked to move some chairs.  The lion was roaring, reminding me that I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  He and I had places to go.  Things to do.  You don’t ride wherever you want to go.  He’s the one who decides where you are going and what’s going to happen when you get there. 

I stood up and confessed that I was a selfish man.  Right there in the meeting I confessed my sin of selfishness and committed that my dorm and I were going to ride the lion.  We were going to serve people.  We decided to start serving food at the homeless shelter in town.  I wasn’t ready for where the lion was taking me. 

All I knew is that my old faith, the one that kept to itself, that believed everything Jesus taught but focused on the easy parts, that faith was being reformed into something new and exciting.  I was riding the lion of truth and it was moving faster than I ever thought it could, taking me some place that was both exciting and frightening.  I was being reformed. 





The first time we visited the homeless shelter was very uncomfortable.  There were about 10 of us, 5 girls and 5 guys.  I remember driving into the city that day trying to find the place and wishing I could be doing anything else.  Benevolent servanthood sounds good when you are standing around a campfire talking about obeying God.  It seems like a really stupid idea when your lost in the middle of the bad part of town looking for a place you hope you can’t find. 

We did find it.  All of us walked in and took a look at the building.  It was a heap of depression.  The building was obviously donated by someone who could think of no better use for such an ugly place.  The halls looked like a jigsaw puzzle gone bad.  Nothing made sense.  Nothing matched.  It all just looked so sad.  It was hopelessly plain. 

Some of us started cooking.  I posted myself next to the sink to wash dishes.  Somehow that felt safe.  I wasn’t actively thinking this through, but secretly I was glad to be in the kitchen where I wouldn’t have to make direct contact with the needy people who came in from the cold for food. 

When you don’t want to do dishes, they are a repulsive, time-consuming bore.  When you want to do dishes, they are a vapor, lasting only a blink.  This dish job was a blink.  Now, these people who for whatever reason had followed me to this place to serve the needy were looking to me to do my part.  It was time to lead the devotion.  Uhg! 

I dried my hands and picked up the Bible I had brought with me.  The kitchen seemed safe now.  I didn’t want to leave.  The kitchen was where the leaders met.  The kitchen was what separated me from the homeless.  I was serving them from a distance.  Six inches of cinder block was the barrier that was keeping me away.  I was better than them, because I was helping them.  Sitting down at the table with them meant I was one of them, and I didn’t like that. 

Nevertheless, I was riding the lion.  When you are riding on the truth, you let it decide what you do, and it was telling me to sit down at the table and open the Word of God.  So I did.

The TV was on in the adjacent room, and some of our customers had chosen to sit on the couch and enjoy some entertainment.  For some reason I remember seeing a commercial for “The Best of Rod Stewart” on while I was walking to the table.  I guess I remember, because I had just gotten hat CD and loved it.  I still do!  You can’t beat the smoky voice of a good Scotsman singing rock and roll.  When you don’t want to communicate with someone, television is an easy distraction.

I managed to make it to the table, which by the way was only about 10 feet from the kitchen.  As I looked around, I was surprised at who I saw.  One of the guys there worked at our school cafeteria.  Cab Calloway was his name.  He was an elderly man who served the ice cream and had a tremendous voice.  He used to sing every year at the cafeteria’s annual holiday dinner.  He pretended like he was there to help out.  He wasn’t.  He was hungry and had done nothing but eat since he got there.  This guy was a beloved face on our campus and no one knew what his life looked like away from serving us ice cream.  I was ashamed to think that I’d known this man as my servant, but had never thought to asked him where his home was or if he had one at all. 

Another guy there had been a bouncer (so he said) at a bar my band had played 2 years ago.  He was probably homeless then too.  I remembered him.  He wasn’t so beloved as Cab, but I still felt sorry for him. 

I can’t for the life of me remember what I did the devotion on.  I seriously don’t remember anything other than the people there.  I hope I didn’t screw anything up.  All I know is that the devotion very quickly became an open forum to share hurts.  One of the guys there was a father.  He loved his family, but had made some bad decisions and was on the street.  People were depending on him, but he wasn’t coming through.  He was ashamed.  I wanted to weep for him.  He had years of pride and brokenness in his way, stopping him from getting the help he needed to change his life.  This is not a judgment.  It’s what he told me.  I don’t remember his name.  His face and the clothes he wore may never leave my memory. 

Another man there wouldn’t shut up.  He rambled about this and that.  He tried to hit on the girls with us.  He even took over the devotion for a while, trying to minister to us.  “I just like to come here to help out now and then,” he said.  He was there for the food.  Taking over the devotion was just an opportune time to mask his need and look like he had it together.  I’m pretty sure he was there every time we came to help out.  Eating was his first priority every time.  He had a need, but he didn’t want us to know.  He wanted to be one of us.  In reality, we should have wanted to be one of them. 




After the devotion we finished cleaning up the place and started back to campus.  We stopped by Wendy’s to discuss the experience and talk about when we were going to do it again.  Honesty, I felt a little crappy for eating Wendy’s.  I wondered if we should have eaten at the shelter.  I guess we were too busy serving to eat.  I guess that’s ok. 

Our little band of social reformers sat around eating dollar menu chicken nuggets and fries with a feeling of exhausted contentment.  We were drained, but it felt good.  We had done something good that night.  That night, we were sheep.  It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  We agreed to go every other week to help out.  That’s a pretty meager volunteer effort, I know, but it was something, and something is better than nothing. 

Pretty soon, another team formed.  They were going on our off weeks.  I was proud of the men on my dorm and the ladies who had served with us that night.  We rode the lion hard.  We were sheep.  That night, both were at peace and resting on dorms 5-2 and 28-3. 

I learned 3 very important things through that experience.  First, God’s truth reforms people.  His truth is like a lion that coaxes, moves, and dare I say, mutilates people into something worth while.  Truth reforms.  Second, reformation is not something that happens on a broad scale (at least not at first).  It’s not something that you hear about happening in some other country or in some other time.  Well, it is that, but it doesn’t start with that.  Reformation is something that happens to me.  When I allow my life to be formed by the truth of God, when I am radically surrendered to Him, when I actively conform to His truth, I am reformed.  Third, I learned that reformation inspires others to reformation.  People were willing to follow me, because I was riding the lion.  The lion is a fast and scary ride but it is exciting, and excitement about the truth draws people to reform. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Blook"

I have come to an uncomfortable realization.  It is more of a facing of facts, really.  I now know that books, the ones made of paper are quickly fading away.  More than that, publication and industry promotion of creative works of any kind are becoming less of a reality for writers and artists.

This bothers me just a little.  However, it also creates a wonderful opportunity.  For the last 5 years or so, I have written chapters for a book.  I didn't feel like the whole book was in me, but I kept writing a piece at a time.  As time goes on, I fear that the book will be less potent for me.  I may lose interest and stop writing, maybe even forget about it.  I don't want that to happen.  I'm also not sure that a publishing company is going to knock down my door this year for me to write on the topic of my book.  So, I have decided to post the first chapter of my book.  Read it and give me your feedback.

Here is what I would really like to know: Should I post this book in my blog or hold out try to finish it over an indefinite time frame that may or may not lead to publication?

Look for the post on Black Friday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

David Crowder Band - SMS [Shine]


I am most thankful for the abounding love God has put in my life.  Somehow, even grief plays a role in establishing the enduring vibrancy of God's love.  This video and song by David Crowder Band speaks that truth.  I have never been so moved by a Light Bright.

Rather than merely asking what you are thankful for, I'd like to know what you never thought you would thank God for but now can't imagine your life without.  What are you surprised to be thankful for?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas Music and the Intersection of the Divine

The Christmas music has already started, and with all respect to the Christmas curmudgeons who scorn pre-Thanksgiving carols I love it!  Who made up that rule?  Why should we wait and then be limited to such a small window to getting into the Spirit of Christmas? Today, I thought I'd share a little about the nature of Christmas music as it relates to the Incarnation of Christ.  

In the insert to Sufjan Stevens' "Songs for Christmas" collection, he points out that there is something different about Christmas music.  Christmas music seems to reflect the Incarnation it celebrates.  Just as the birth of Christ is an intersection of divine and human, so its music seems to touch a special place in the human soul.  We react differently to Christmas music than to anything else.  I can't really explain it.  I liken it to what C.S. Lewis calls "Joy," an intense desire that nothing in this world can fulfill and is itself greater than any pleasure in this world.  Christmas music makes my heart long for eternity in a way that nothing else does.  

If you aren't familiar with Sufjan Stevens, you really should get acquainted with his music.  It is different, but beautiful in a profound way.  If you want to start getting into the Christmas spirit early, pick up this Christmas collection.  

Speaking of Incarnation, now is a good time to dig in and study the nature of God descending to earth to reveal Himself to us.  Think about reading John 1:1-14.  Or, if you really want to geek out, you can download and read my thesis: Incarnation and the Nature of Miracle.  This is a shameless plug, but it may be of interest if you have ever wondered what it means that God became flesh.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crucible

God takes His Word very seriously.  So does the Enemy, as I learned this week.  I don't think it is an accident that my son who usually sleeps through the night, screams for hours on the night before I speak.  I don't think it is an accident that my basement only floods on important ministry days or that my computer quits working two days before I speak.  There is something about preparing a sermon that involves suffering.

This week was going to be unique.  My plan was to get my sermon outline done early.  This would allow me to spend some more time with my family over the weekend.  Amazingly, my outline did come together early.  I went right to my PowerPoint and laid out the bulk of it by mid-week.  "An easy week," I thought.  I was wrong. I had forgotten the single most significant aspect of sermon preparation: the crucible.

I have never had a sermon come together absent of struggle.  I can study, outline, and PowerPoint the heck out of a sermon.  But, it never gets refined until the night before.  Several times, I have finished a sermon early and  tried to practice it.  Thursday sermons are always flat and boring until Saturday night.  Something happens Saturday at around 8:00pm.  Intense desperation over the realization that I can't write good sermons leads to surrendered prayers.

There is something bout knowing that in a matter of hours 1,000 people will sit down to hear you preach a sermon that currently sounds like page 247 of the Lorain County Phone Book.  They have taken time out of their week.  They are hungry for truth.  Mess it up, and you just wasted 1,000 hours of time that could have been spent doing anything else.

I'm not saying I'm not prepared.  I'm saying that until the Holy Spirit shows up, a sermon is just words.  

Putting hours of study and preparation into a sermon can give me the false sense that it is my sermon.  I think God likes to remind me that I can't do anything without Him.  That's why my sermons don't have any fire until Saturday night.

So, here is my process for putting together a sermon:

  1. Ask God to show me what He wants preached. 
  2. Study the passage. This means reading it over and over until I'm soaked in it.
  3. Make observations. I create a list of things I see in the passage.
  4. Pray again that God leads me to the most important thing I'm supposed to preach.  
  5. Identify the "Big Idea."  I write down the one thing that I believe God wants me to communicate. People will only hear one point.  Everything else is just sub-points.  
  6. Pray again that God leads me to write the outline He wants.  
  7. Create an outline.  Big Idea + Observations=Outline.  The Big Idea dictates how I organize m supporting points.  
  8. Create a PowerPoint.  The PowerPoint is the most important tool for organizing your presentation.  It can make sense on paper without making sense coming out of your mouth.  As I create every slide, I figure out what I am going to say or do to get me to the next slide.  
  9. Practice the sermon out loud.  I actually preach through my sermon (sometimes several times) until I feel confident about every point and transition.  This is also the point when I feel like I have written the most boring sermon in history.  
  10. Acknowledge that I do not know what I am doing and need God to breath into this sermon.  This has never happened to me before Saturday night.  This is where I pray like crazy and ask for a miracle.  
  11. Receive the Holy Spirit.  This is when everyone else is in bed asleep.  Its just me and God.  This is when the most powerful illustrations, applications and sentences come out of my mouth.  They can't be mine, because I've been thinking about this all week and none of it came to mind until now.  
  12. Sleep...if possible.  Sometimes this is when the Enemy fights the most to keep me from resting.  
  13. Wake up and feel terrible, nervous, tired and desperate.  This forces me to pray more.  I also use coffee and/or 5 Hour Energy to lubricate my heart for the Holy Spirit to work. 
  14. Run through the sermon one more time.  
  15. Acknowledge that I need God and ask Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.  
  16. Preach the sermon and watch God work.  
By the way, I was privileged to hear several people apply the sermon immediately after church yesterday.  I was privileged to lead one of them to Christ!  Praise God! 

Jim, I don't know how you do it every week.  

Sweet Spot Serving and the Glory of God



Yesterday, I spoke on Discovering Your Servant Profile or ("sweet spot").  Had I more time, I would have liked to speak even more about the glory of God in our serving.  This video and song addresses the nature of God's glory as He weaves his poetry into the story of our existence.  The result is our redemption and His glory.  If you are grieving today, please watch this video.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Questioning Your Faith

What would you let God do with you if you knew no force of Hell could stop God from accomplishing His will for the Church?  

We are far too timid for followers of the God who spoke the universe into existence and created the fire of suns with mere words.  I grow weary of cowardice and comfort when God said no force of Hell would stop Him from building His Church.  Today I was shaken by my own forgetfulness of God's promises, and I was inspired by Jesus words to Peter in Matthew 16.  

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. --Matthew 16:16-18

I noticed three profound facts about Matthew 16:16-18:

  1. This conversation started because Peter realized that Jesus is God. (Matthew 16:17) Our capacity to understand what God will do is directly associated with our faith in Him.  
  2. God promised that He would build His church, not us. (Matthew 16:18a)  Our role is to obey Him and watch Him make it happen regardless of our weaknesses.  
  3. God promised that all Hell wouldn't stop Him. (Matthew 16:18b)  The Enemy might try to foil our human plans, but He can do nothing to hinder the work of Christ.  

 I believe that if we believed Jesus we would...

  1. Pray with confidence
  2. Worship faithfully (individually on a daily basis and corporately on a weekly basis)
  3. Fight to preserve every relationship we have.
  4. Tell our pre-Christian friends how much they need God.
  5. Serve regularly in the church and the community.
  6. Give sacrificially to God's work in the church and the community.  

Our obedience in these areas is indicative of our faith in who He is.  What would happen if we really believed nothing could stop Him from building His church?  I'd love to see that kind of faith in action.  I'm pretty sure it looks like an overflow rooms for prayer meetings, an overflow of people sitting on floors to worship God on Sunday, an overflow of volunteers in every ministry, an overflow of giving that forces the church to find new ways to use God's money, an overflow of volunteers in every community organization in the region, and an overflow of people surrendering to Christ that forces us to send mature believers away to make room for the new Christians.  Until I see that happen, I will continue to question our faith.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Living and Suffering

"I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith."
— 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer


I am on a bit of a Bonhoeffer kick right now.  I am intrigued by the concept of a man who would willingly surrender his life for the gospel as he sought to deliver the oppressed.  When I think of the daily stresses of life, the losses great and small, the hopes realized and crushed, I find great comfort in knowing that this is how God makes disciples. We aren't born holy.  We are born evil and broken into perfection.   Just as we think we are doing well, avoiding sin and doing good, God reminds us that Christianity isn't just about being good.  It is about being like our Savior who was well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

This week, I have spoken to several friends who are in the midst of trials.  Their trials aren't brought on by their own sin.   They are simply facing great pain.  As is often the case, they are doubting their way to increased faith.  One friend told me that in his hurt, he wondered for a while if there was any benefit in being a Christian.  Then he said, "Who else is worth of worship?  He's the only thing worth living for."  That's a great response to suffering.  I'm honored to have friends like that.

Do you have any stories of suffering and increased faith to share?  A few good stories might really encourage my friends.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Losing the Gospel

"A servant of God has but one Master. It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised." --George Muller




This Sunday begins The Adventure of Greatness at Open Door.  Together, we will take our next step in Christlikeness through Spirit-led service.  Jim did a great job setting up the series by asking one of the greatest questions a leader can ask: "Do I seek to serve or be served?"  I've been thinking about this question today, and I've realized something as a result.  


There are two distinct mentalities among Christians: 

  1. Those who follow Christ for blessings (friends, money, connections, eternal life),
  2. Those who follow Christ for God's glory as they live in relationship with Him.  

I used to think that self-centered Christianity was limited only to what I saw on TBN, "the health and wealth gospel", as it is called.  It was easy for me to cast judgement on the makeup, big hair and expensive jewelry as I boldly proclaimed that the gospel was all about me getting into heaven.  For me, not sinning was a good way to not offend God, but there wasn't much else to Christianity.  


God renovated my view of the gospel with Romans 1:16-17 when it says that in the gospel, "the righteousness of God is revealed."  I was surprised that it didn't focus on the fact that in the gospel the blessing of eternal life is revealed (though that is also true).  My paradigm realigned when I realized that while the gospel has many benefits for me, it is ultimately about God's glory.  


When I lose site of God's glory, I lose site of the gospel.  


Consider this.  The gospel is the story of God humbling himself, becoming a servant and dying the most humiliating death possible in order to pay our sin debt (Philippians 2:5-11).  This is how God chose to bring himself glory.  This is how He reveals himself.  


I don't want to lose site of God's glory.  I want the thought of His greatness to consume every breath, every thought, every step.  I want Him to get the glory when I step out of bed, when I kiss my wife, when I talk to my son and when I go to work.  I don't want to forget that every moment is for His glory, and as such every moment should be used to glorify Him by serving others.  It's all about God's glory.  


If you haven't signed up for the Adventure of Greatness, its not too late.  Click here to join a Life Group and the Adventure of Greatness.    

Friday, October 1, 2010

Four Things to do When You Feel Overwhelmed in Leadership:

Last week, I felt myself sinking into the chaos of good things (new ideas, new leaders, new ministries, new initiatives).  I take shepherding very seriously.  I don't want to miss one opportunity to see a person take their next step toward Christ.  I don't want to see even one leader burnout, because they weren't getting support from me.  I want to make sure that I am doing everything possible to make disciples.  Sometimes doing "everything possible" can be overwhelming, and I was feeling the pressure last week.  

So, in an attempt to preempt desperation, I spilled my guts to a few teammates and asked for prayer.  Along with prayer, Pastor Jim gave me a suggestion that I won't forget.  He told me to write out all the things I am responsible for (ministry, family, etc.) on a piece of paper and lay it out before God.  I did.  Since then, I have had one of the most effective ministry weeks in the last 2 years.  God is good!  

As a result, I have a few suggestions for anyone in the position I was last week:
  1. Consecrate your work to God rather than trying to work yourself out of the hole. I'd been trying to work myself out of the hole, but the e-mails, ideas, needs and great commission never stops.  God was reminding me that He needs to be in control of ministry, because I will never be.  I gave back to Him what was already His.  
  2. Get organized.  Map out the next steps for every area you oversee.  Keep it somewhere you will check often. I started using Google Smartsheets to organize ministry and Gmail to organize my e-mails.  Google is the electronic equivalent to Mary Poppins.  I'm pretty sure I could hear "Spoon Full of Sugar' play as I watched my e-mails organize into threads to be archived, deleted or answered with ease.  Seriously, this thing is awesome!  
  3. Hold your leaders accountable to their commitments, even if they are volunteers.  Leaders feel valued when they are held accountable.  It is a very real way of saying, "What you do matters."  
  4. Trust your leaders to take on more.  God doesn't want you to do more than you can.  If He has given you responsibilities, He has also given you leaders to help you get the job done.  Look around.  They are already there.  
It is a good thing that Christ has promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18).  I'm just here to obey as He does the building.

So, what do you do when your responsibilities seem too much?  Have I missed anything?