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forgiveness and more

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recently thinking & talking about what it means to follow Jesus.  i think the church has done a more than through job of communicating the need for the forgiveness of sins in order to come close to God; we must seek Him out, ask for & desire His forgiveness in order to come close.

but beyond that, what happens?

what needs to happen?

why do there seem to be so many people, at different points in their lives, that used to have some sort of relationship with God, then at some point turned away;  decided it was no longer for them?

those who hold that position seem to have lots of company.

in this recent conversation i was having i inadvertendly; or God-designed, seemed to have landed on something we don’t talk about too much.
LORDSHIP

this is a big issue; and this is the issue that so many other things stand on, including forgiveness.
if forgiveness it to truely take root in our hearts, and we begin living differently, that means that we’ve given our choices & decisions over to something or someone else. we’re realized that our way of doing life of the things of life don’t work for very long & we must seek out a new path.
so when we seek forgiveness from God we need to be sure we’re after what He offers.

God is not just offering a way out of sin, He’s offering a new way to live.  but for some reason we’ve come to believe that seeking forgiveness is about just getting the offence taken off our records.

an understanding of the mission & existance of the church is found if this statement:

a place where God is present, love is found, help is received & friendship for the journey is found

i’m all for the kind of help that address the physical needs of a group of people, the kind of help that those who are in need get some legitimate help; help for today, the kind of help that leads into tomorrow.  there are tons of ways to do that & be effective at it while allowing your heart to remain soft & not see people as projects, but as sons & daughters of God.

but the primary help for people; both those who have physical needs & the ones whose physical needs aren’t as great, comes in the ultimate form of LORDSHIP.

this is where we, as finite & limited humans, recognize our need for what God offers – a life with Him.  and that life is better than anything we could imagine.  within this LORDSHIP issue comes an admittance that on our own we will make a mess of our lives.  this might be a hard point for some to wrestle with but humanity is full of examples of humans making a mess of things.  and this is really the core of the gospel:

sin doesn’t make us bad it makes us dead

Jesus doesn’t come to make us better, He comes to give us life

faith in Jesus delivers that life

that’s basically romans 8 in 3 statements

this is the beginning point of LORDSHIP & it’s something that we, as a church, desire to walk in with any who would join.

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the statement for our church reads like this:

“a place where God is present, love is offered, help is received & friendship for the journey is found”

i’ve written about love being the highest value here before, check it out if you like.  recently though i’ve was thinking about “friendship for the journey’.

this one is of particular importance to me right now for a number of reasons.

one reason in particular has to do with how we treat one another on social media.  things we write  to a computer screen & tag someone in a post, many of us would never consider saying to a living breathing person standing in front of us.  we used to know that not everything we think should be said.  but with the accesability of modern things we seem to have forgotten that part of life.

one of the things that was said to me a few years ago at a church i serve was this; “we’re a kinder, gentler church now.”

i, naturally, asked her to unpack that for me.  she was remembering a time when the church had more of a requtation of relationally running over people & not exercising grace & the dignity of other people; and insistance on being right over getting it right.

so as a church it’s important to realize that God has placed friends in our path to walk with us along the way; and, as usual, we use biblical foundation as the building blocks for the stance.

1 Corinthians 15:33 

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Job 2:11

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.

Proverbs 18:24

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Colossians 3:12-14

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

so know that when you are a part of what we’re doing here as a church, that friendship is one of the key coponents of life with the body of believers, centered on relationship with Christ.  it matters greatly how we treat one another, honoring the humanity that we share.  it’s not necessary to agree with everyone on every single thing.  in fact, i don’t even believe that’s healthy.  i make it a point to listen to & read people that i know i don’t agree with; that’s one way that learning happens.
but even beyond that, those that i don’t agree with & they stand at the opposit end of the spectrum i still am reminded that they are imago dei – image of God; and that matter much more than a diagreement about politics, race, the rich & poor and so on.
so know that if you choose to trust us, the church, with your friendship; know that we may not always agree.  but we will work so very hard to honor the humanity you hold while asking you to do the same.

 

shame

recently saw a TED talk with monica lewinski…yea that monica lewinski. very interesting piece on shame & our on-line culture.  here’s the link to that talk if you’re interested; it’s worth the watch [22.5 minutes of time].

as i was watching i was reminded of how much our world has changed & the way shaming plays such a huge role in our culture; not american culture but human culture.

in today’s world if you & i do something wrong, even at a low level of “no harm, no foul” kind of wrong; chances are someone is going to hear about it.  the post, tweet, pic, ‘gram can happen in an instant & the world can know right now.  this can create an angst in us, especially if we’ve been burned by the social media machine before.  we will be tempted to live ordinary, uninteresting lives; unwilling to stretch & try new things.  fearing that someone will find out if/when i fail & land on my face.  caveat – this can create a different kind of response; with a desire to be famous for the sake of fame alone…but that’s a conversation for another time.

the way we use the inter-webs is an interesting one.  we can learn almost anything we could even think of, and learn of some things that we did not even know existed.  i recently needed to change the brakes on my vw & wanted to make sure it was within my abilities; and that bar is pretty low.  turns out, there are a number of videos to walk me though the process with lots of helpful commentary.  but one thing that continues to happen is we’re all to willing to use it as a way of propping ourselves up as the expense of others.  shaming someone else because of the way they live, vote, dress, whom they love seems to be be a very common thing right now.

and this really is the hing-point of this writing…IDENTITY

how we identify ourselves is key to weather or not we see the thoughts & opinions of others completely guide our lives.  the immediate response to that statement is, “well, i never let anyone’s opinion completely guide & rule my life.”  but to suggest that it doesn’t have influence & impact simply isn’t true; we care what others think of us.

there are a number of different conversations we could have at this point, but the thing that struck me as i watched monica lewinski is that conversations are so much more important than judgements.  as a follower of Christ my first job is that of love.  love always leads to conversations; and that’s what i’m trying to choose.

this, in fact is the path that Jesus chooses.  john 4 is a great example of this “love first, conversation matters” approach to life.  check that out if you’re not familiar & be aware of the social tension that exists in with that situation.

love first – choose conversation…

listen-1g4cw1srecently i was confronted on a decision i had made that hurt a friend.  this friend of mine couldn’t have done this any better; he was hurt & wanted me to know that a choice that i had made affected him in a personal way.  he didn’t confront in an accusing or hateful way, he didn’t threaten the end of our friendship, he simply pointed to the value of our friendship & said that it mattered so much to him that if he didn’t say anything then he’s not being a good friend to me.  wow, that’s some good self awareness there.

so as he said these things; things that, by the way, are all true; i had a decision to make: am i going to give rebuttal or sit there and take it.

that’s what it feels like right?  when someone comes at you with a hurt or something you may or may not have done the defenses go up, & “i’ll tell you why…” – fill in the blank with whatever you’ve said in the face of hurt.  after all, “you’re not just going to sit here & take this are you?!”  that’s a voice that runs in my head, your voice might be different.

so i could do that, OR, i could just listen & hear the hurt in his voice.  and like i said before, this guy couldn’t have been more genuine & put a great deal value in our friendship.

important point: this isn’t me telling you how you should act, this isn’t instructional; this is a confession.  truth is, i can be a better friend.

there are times when it’s important to defend your actions & speak up, but i’m finding that there are many more situations that require me to be quiet first & just listen.  in the case of this friend, who continues to be someone i can trust & will continue to lean on; i had acted a little selfishly.

again, really important here…this isn’t instructional, it’s confessional.

i can always do better & there are some people that God has put in my path to help me do so.  and if i’m always talking i won’t be able to hear it very well.

james 1:19

there are some core values we’re trying to establish lately:

the first one we’ve been talking about a lot recently in teaching times & that’s the fact that love is the highest value.  i’ve written about this before & you can find it through this link.

another part of this value system is that God is present.

i know, that’s not exactly ground breaking info. for a church, that we would want God to be present in what we’re doing.  but if you hang with this for a minute there might be something good.

in genesis 28:16 jacob, waking from a dream where God is speaking to him, he says; “God was here & i didn’t know it.”  now that’s significant, because he has this encounter with God & then realizes that God was present.

a little theology:  God is everywhere all the time.  that’s what we know as omnipresence – everywhere at all times.  so everywhere we God is there, because that’s His nature…to be there – wherever there is.

so when we say, as a church, that “God is present” [that’s one of our core values] we aren’t claiming that God is at our church & you’ll not find Him at the church down the street.  not at all.  the truth is about the church down the street; i know those men & women leading those churches, & i like them.  they’re doing great things in the name of God & wanting more, than anything, to bring glory to Him.

the thing that we’re trying to acknowledge is that not only is God here – & everywhere – but we’re going to do our best to make sure that we see Him.  because if it was possible for one of the “hero’s of the faith”, jacob, to be in a place where God was present & he missed it, didn’t realize that God was there; if it’s possible that God was missed then & there, it’s possible that we could miss Him too, here & now.

so when we gather as a church; & we sing, pray, love one another, open His word, share the struggles of life, celebrate, and on the list goes…

when we do these things we’re going to pursue the presence of God above all other things.  and in the pursuit of Him & His presence mighty things will happen.

that, i think is key:  as we pursue Him, we find Him.

patriotism & football

Image result for freedom and football

trying to put into words what’s going on in our country & how the actions of another affect us all…not easy; but necessary.

as you probably already know, a marginal quarterback on a bad team made a statement by sitting down during the national anthem of a preseason football game.  for the record, he did this for the previous 2 games & no one noticed.  also noted on the record, this young man’s outspoken nature on issues of social justice are well documented on his twitter & instagram accounts.  [no, i’m not going to give you all the links, you know how the internet works]

for a moment, let’s set aside weather or not we agree with his action & consider his message, his protest.  what is he protesting?  his assertion is that the words we sing & pledge do not represent the nation we currently live in.  and i’m aware of the fact that the songs & the pledges we make call us, as a nation, to an ideal & a better way.  so when this athlete makes a statement by sitting down what he’s saying, through words he’s later give,  [my paraphrase] we’ve missed the mark.  the inequality that exists in this country is real.

freedom defended & lived out

many, many people have said that for him to not stand during the national anthem is a direct disrespect to those that serve to defend & provide that freedom.  so the qb said that his protest in no way is a disrespect to those in the capacity of freedom protectors.  i think it matters what those in that service have said about the protest.  yes, there have been many that have said it’s offensive to them & the job they have.  but there have been many others that have said, openly, that the freedom they protect is the very freedom that allows him to protest.  let’s remember, this was not a violent outburst; it wasn’t even, at the start, verbal; it simply was an objection to the inequity that exists in our country.  additionally, the minute we’re telling someone how they can protest & what they can or cannot say – that’s no longer freedom.

suffering’s voice

there has been some debate about whether or not a wealthy athlete should have anything to say about suffering & those that are on the bottom.  the idea that because he’s rich, & lives in the pretend world of athletics, and doesn’t understand suffering & struggle, so therefore; “go play your games & shut up.”  the approach baffles me.  in the world at large it’s understood that those who have a platform [wealth, fame, power] should, at some level, use it to speak up for those who have not.  in this country especially, the poor, abused & used have no voice.  we don’t listen to someone who’s down & out.  so it is the job of those who have to speak up for those who have not.  this is not just a “good thing to do as a good person”, but this is a biblical principle.  your life isn’t just about you, and at some level; regardless of position & power, you should pour your life into the lives of others.

“he should have done it differently”

this is something that i’ve heard, you probably have too.  “if he was going to protest, he should have used a different method.”  what should have been the “different method”?  and even in choosing a different way to protest or bring attention to the issues, would it have been as effective?  the road to change beings with conversation & that is what’s been happening lately.  i’ve then heard some say things like, “his message is getting lost in all the conversation about the protest itself.”  if we’re too willing to talk about the protest instead of what the protest was about, that’s on us.  we’re the problem then.  that leads me to this…

the biggest problem

this is my opinion & i’ve not heard much else said about this, but here’s what i think is at the root of our nation.

we don’t want to talk about racial tension & inequality.  we’ll debate about who’s right & who’s wrong.  we’ll talk about guns & police brutality.  we’ll even try to talk about the politics that surround this issue.  but when it comes to racial & gender inequality we will talk circles around it, distracting ourselves with peripheral issues that may or may not be contributing factors.  they may just be things that distract & dilute issues at play.  this is not good!

listening in the midst of disagreement

this is the hardest part.  congratulations for making it this far in the article, i suppose that there are some who may have rushed to the comments section or have found the unlike/unfriend buttons by now.  and if you decide to unfriend/unfollow/delete/rail against that’s fine.  you’re entitled to your opinion & subsequent action.  but this last part is really important:

dialogue is hard because it requires us to listen to the other side before we jump in & try to change their opinion.  to truly hear what’s happening behind the words.

the book of james [bible] speaks to this idea strongly:

"everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" [james 2:19]

man this is hard!  to be willing to listen to someone that you are certain you don’t agree with.  our wheels are greased on this because of the political we find ourselves in.  we find ourselves primed & ready to pounce the minute that someone speaks.  we’ve found an issue or two we agree with & that becomes our point to make.  and we’ve stopped listening & instead are looking for a break in the conversation to speak our mind; finish reading, but not digesting the content, instead racing to the keyboard to get our response on-line.

patriotism is a delicate & valuable thing.  & when it’s challenged we want to push back; and we should. but we should also remember that the founding fathers believed in an ideal of what it meant to be a nation; where privilege isn’t dependent upon social status or wealth, where speaking up should not be censored simply because we don’t like the message or method, where dialogue matters & challenges to the system are in our roots.

so listen well, think hard & speak with wisdom…

in a new learning opportunity through udemy i’m taking a course with seth godin as the facilitator.  if you’re not familiar with him you should be…if you’re interested in learning & thinking about things in new ways.

part of this course if an interaction with others through the on-line community, both that we’re already connected to & a new community of those that are also taking the course.

the first session is distinguishing the difference between leadership & management.

the prime difference here is that management maintains the direction that a group or organization is already heading.  so managers are important, very important.  leaders are different though.  they are the ones that have an idea or a new approach to something.  they may not know how to get there but know that it needs to be pursued.  godin says that it’s even possible; likely even, that they don’t quite know how to get there, to that thing that needs to be done.

so one of the questions posed to us doing the course work: is leadership a choice?

i do believe leadership is a choice.  any of us can choose to follow the lead of another, and we often do just that; again, nothing wrong with that.  i sure don’t want to  have to discover everything on my own, i want someone to show me which car to buy & where the best new place to eat is located & what to order when i get there.

but there are places that i desire, very much, to seek out the thing that hasn’t been done yet, the new thing, the refurbishing what was once discarded, understanding a new direction.  i could look at those things, which are difficult & filled with potential problems & chose not to engage.  but i make a conscious choice to jump in & pursue what others may set aside.

another part of this is that leadership is something that’s done in concert; there are those that come along with you; and without them the new thing, the unattainable, the impossible remains just that.

i love the communal aspect of this, that together we do something that cannot be done alone.  if you work alone, godin says, you’re an artist.  but it you engage in something that requires the addition of others then you’re a leader.

oh may i be a leader…

gracerecently i had a very interesting conversation with some people about grace & its activity in our lives.

i think that we often define grace through it’s rescuing nature.  that the grace of God shows up in times of our great need & delivers what we need when we need it.  and this understanding of grace is apt & accurate.  we love the pictures of a rescuing God & doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  so the understanding of Jesus on the cross for our sins is the greatest demonstration of grace [among other things] we have & is the thing that all of humanity hinges on.

but there is another aspect of grace that i think we don’t always consider.  that is that grace isn’t always rescuing…

that is to say or clarify, grace shows up in the desert, the wilderness & simply delivers the ability & strength to continue to walk on.

there are loads of examples of this kind of grace in the bible.  one we could look at is that of moses.  he’s called by God to lead the people.  but before all this he kills an egyptian because of how he was treating some of his country-men.  so he does what many of us would do, he runs away to escape certain punishment, ridicule, maybe death.  in his time away is when God speaks to him & calls him into a place of leadership.

this is the instance of grace that we sometimes read past.

tim keller once defined grace like this:

it’s when you’re welcomed into a place you don’t have a right to be

&

it never given out of obligation

before things were right with his fellow hebrew people, possibly before even things were right between moses & God…

yet God calls moses out of his wilderness.  grace shows up sometimes in the place where rescue hasn’t shown it’s face yet.

IT’S ABOUT JESUS…

something else about grace – it’s rooted in personal relationship with Jesus.  if we don’t have this relationship as a guide for life the offering of grace to others is going to be impossible & the receiving of grace will be equally difficult.  because grace is when you stand in a place you don’t have a right to be & it’s never offered out of obligation.

COMMUNITY MATTERS…

and here’s the last part of this discussion;

there isn’t a person on the planet that doesn’t want something about them to change.  we can look at our weight, our eating habits, our job, our family situation, etc. & say; “i wish that were different.”

some of us take steps toward that difference & some of us just wish.

when we talk about wanting different things that is a conversation about transformation.   the desire for transformation is a part of our humanity & the kind of transformation that lasts is done in community.

when we have others around us pushing us on to higher goals & talking through the struggle it is easier to achieve those goals.

i know this though the simple fact that recently i was getting back into the gym & there was a guy that i bumped into as i was leaving & he was coming in.  we talked for a little bit & decided that we could adjust our schedules & start meeting a few times a week at the gym.  we did that for about a month & his summer schedule got crazy busy & he hasn’t’ been able to make it recently.  you know who else hasn’t been going?  me…

grace & transformation are linked & cannot be experienced alone.  the beginning of true transformation is when we admit that something needs change, that requires a willingness to be honest about what’s broken in our lives.  when we admit that we’ve got some broken pieces to our lives that opens us up to judgmental attitudes, or  a lack of grace.

my hope is that the churches i’m leading, as we talk about grace, that it’s not just a conversation about what we “ought” to do.  but it’s a reality that we’re really doing something significant.  that we’re the kind of people that exhibit grace, that we’re a group of people that are experiencing transformation, that we’re a community bonded together through Christ.

so in my considerable drive time that i log each week there are times when it’s very ordinary; “look, there’s a deer, there’s a turkey, there’s a whole family of turkeys!”  seriously, one sunday morning i could have taken out a whole family of turkeys as they were just standing in the road.

other times it’s profound; other times i feel like God must be sitting in the seat beside me.

not long ago i was thinking about the group of pastors that i have breakfast nearly every monday & the close bond that we share.  it’s truly an unusual thing for pastors of different churches, different denominations, different ages & experiences to share this kind of closeness & friendship.  i know this because i have seen the other side of this kind of relationship & have heard stories of disconnectedness & competition between pastors.  so i’ve become well aware of the uniqueness of this shared friendship & shared ministry.

one sunday of driving from one church to the other, feeling like God is riding with me, i was thinking about these friends of mine; and then the thought hit me that there are times that i am intimidated by the closeness.

if  someone is too close to me the chance of me hiding the dark corners of me from them goes way down.  i can’t hide as easily as i’d like if they’re too close.  and i don’t really have any deep secrets that i’m keeping from them, but what if i did?  what if there became something i didn’t want them to see?  kind of hard to hide if they’re all a little to close.

let me be clear; it’s not them, it’s me.  more on that in a minute…

just recently i was speaking out of hebrews 11:6

“without faith it is impossible to please God…”

originally had always thought & taught from the angle that this statement would have been a world-changer for the 1st century Christ-follower.  for them, & for us still in many ways, pleasing God was about adhering to the law.  “complete these tasks & God will like you better” was the thought.  and we, in our enlightened way of doing life still live like this to some degree.

Jesus comes along & reminds them [& us] that it’s not what we do that gets us close to God but our belief in Him & belief of His desire to save us…our faith in Him to do these things.

for the record, i still think this is a legitimate way of teaching this passage.

but the monday after teaching that passage, in that fashion & with those points made, the meaning took on a new color for me.

faith, at it’s core, is about a belief that God is going to do something with the future that we can’t yet see.

back to my friends & why it’s about me & not them…

the reason we don’t like to get too close to people is rooted in our insecurity.  we believe that if people saw the real us we’d be out on the street with nothing.

they’d find out that we’re not really all that great,

we’re not that good a friend,

we’re not that good at our job,

we’re not that great a parent,

and the list goes on & on & on…

insecurity about who we are & how we’re defined by others & ourselves can cause great havoc.

this ties to faith & what i believe about God & what He does to & through me.  specifically, my faith is revealed in how close i let people get to me.  it’s a faith issue because of what i believe about what God is doing, that He’s always in the process of refining & reshaping me & my life.

do i have the kind of faith in God that even as i get close to people that really trust, that He’s already been involved,  that and grace & mercy are at work in their lives?

do i have the kind of faith in God that i trust Him for the future in those relationships?

“without faith it is impossible to please God” because, in part, we will try & hold all the details of life in our own hands; trying to control the pieces on the game board so much that we’re not exercising any faith & not trusting God for a future that hasn’t yet arrived.

so in spite of the occasional encounter with turkeys & the struggle to be real with my closest of friends i’m trying to figure out how to let go of my own insecurities through the growing of my faith:

the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen

so this issue, that moral truth is highly subjective & cultural, has been a talking point for people for quite some time.  it’s on the lips of political candidates [when it suits them], it’s water cooler talk [if there is such a thing anymore], &  it can be a dividing point for many people.

but, in a recent article by johnathan merritt, he explores the possibility that it may be, at least for now, in a downward trend [good read, he is a very engaging writer].  his premise is built on the cultural trends in media; movies, social circles & the like.  and i think there’s some verifiable merit to that line of thinking.  but my thoughts went down other paths as i came to the end of the article.

if the culture is bent, for now, on setting the boundaries [to some degree] of what’s good & what’s tolerable, what’s right/wrong or otherwise; that seems like a precarious situation.  my belief is that when God isn’t involved in that process it can lead to some pretty dark places.

one caveat to put out there – when we seek the unadulterated truth for the sake of truth we end up with God at the center point.  if, on the other hand, we’re seeking something that looks like truth to simply validate our line of thinking or behavior then we’ll concoct any belief system that props it up.

now back to the larger point…

as a follower of Christ i firmly believe that love is our greatest asset & the one that Jesus uses consistently in His life on earth.

so if the world at at large is beginning to rejoin the moral truth conversation again, i know that i must be very careful to not react too harshly toward their desire to reconnect to the unchanging truth of what truth is; God-mandated, Christ-centered, relationally-bound, and a host of other hyphenated words we could list here.

i’m convinced that if i, as a Christ-follower respond with the love of Christ that eventually people will find God at the end of the road.

yes, there are times & places when the truth is spoken in louder tones.  but it is never spoken with hate & discrimination as it’s fulcrum.  there are times when love is confrontational.  but never at the expense of someone’s dignity, devaluing them as less than whom God-created.

this premise of mine, love as the highest value, is one that i’ve written about before & firmly believe that this is the cornerstone of God’s church being a more vital part of the cultural landscape, a relevant stop of people as we continue to figure out what this life is supposed to look like.

do be someone that’s full of grace, a person of great hope & one who leads with love.