If

7 August 2012

“Get your rest. It’s vital to life. But don’t use ‘rest’ as a cover up for fear, cowardice, irresponsibility, laziness, wastefulness, or indulgence.” – Yours Truly

 

Below is a piece entitle “IF.”

A friend and mentor of mine introduced it to me years ago, and he brings it up periodically – just enough to allow me to use it to gauge my progress into manhood.

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

– Rudyard Kipling

 

The last “IF” is what is haunting me currently.

Can I fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run?

I’m training for Tough Mudder right now, which will take place in Austin on October 6th. It is serving me as a living analogy for this question. As I train, I am in a constant state of deciding whether or not I will give 100% or not, whether I will push through some element of the training and feel the victory of having done so, or collapse into “rest” and feel the ease and comfort of compromise.

In the long run, the Tough Mudder matters very little. But what it represents for me right now matters very much.

We’ve all been given about 75 years (give or take) of 60 second runs. I’m 44.

Join me in developing a massive distaste for collapsing into ease. May God Himself make us all uncomfortable with comfort.

Moving in to Elderhood

22 May 2012

I’m making up a word for this piece. My automatic spellcheck has it underlined in red each time I type it, but I need it.

One of the tragedies of youth is that we receive truckloads and truckloads of good advice, truth, and wisdom that never makes it into our character. It seems that in our energetic youthfulness (most of which has come to us naturally) and our lack of attentiveness (most of which has been developed in us culturally), much of it is lost.

But more tragic is when these youthful qualities are never overcome, unlearned, and transcended as we age. I know far too many grown men and women who move far too frantically, ever-running after that elusive ‘something’ that is considered worthwhile, absolutely necessary, or required.

Now I admit that a big part (the biggest, I think) of growing up from childhood to adulthood is learning how to ‘take responsibility,’ and this quite rightly leads us in pursuits that are genuinely worthwhile, necessary, or required.

But should there not be another growing up? Should there not be a move from adulthood to, let’s say, elderhood?

In our culture these days, there seems to be a powerful lack of adulthood. Oh, there are plenty of folks who have passed their teenage years chronologically, but not socially or personally. I know plenty of chronological adults who have lived off their parents well into their 30s and only stopped once they could move on to living of their spouses, or their government, or the charity of good people.

But worse still, and I think far more problematic, is the powerful lack of elderhood. True elders seem to move more slowly, speak less often, control fewer things, and instead, contemplate more, notice people more deeply, and only walk into things if invited (and are not shy about letting others know that they are willing to be invited).

This lack of elderhood may actually be the real problem behind the lack of adulthood. Adults aren’t really that focused on the patient and painstaking formation of children into adults, and simply can not be in the business of forming adults into elders. It takes a unique depth of character, deliberation of thought, and real experiences of transitioning from “hood” to “hood” to focus on any kind of people development. And these skills and abilities are earned, and uniquely present in true elders. 

And there just are not that many. And the ones there are, we adults don’t have or make time to access, and we children don’t even know that we need to.

I was late to the game, but sometime in my 20s I think I finally made the full move, taking my child hood off and putting on my adult hood. I can look back and see clearly this lack of mentors. I remember as a youth minister in Houston, sitting in the shade at Astroworld between rides with a student that I was mentoring and pouring into, sharing about and eventually tearing up at my own lack of mentors pouring into me.

But looking back, I can also see clearly how God fathered me through all this, filling the gaps in my life with multitudes of unfinished men and women, all with different pieces of the puzzle, offered to me by God without most of them even knowing it.

But now I’m eager and hungry to fully and definitely, even if fearfully, lay down my adult hood and pick up the hood of an elder.

I mean nothing magnificent or honor-bringing about this. As a matter of fact, by all the worlds standards, this seems to be a “step down” in the social and institutional hierarchy of who we deem important these days. Less (but more powerfully) seen, fewer (but more intimate) relationships, smaller (but more impactful) work.

I want to move into a reality where I know the peaceful depths of what Jesus called the Gospel, living within what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, and proclaim it all to those who invite me into their lives as the Truth that will set them free.

Would it not be great if you were as surrounded by these interested and wise “elders” as you are by older people? Wouldn’t it be neat if, whenever you see anyone older than you, could could assume that they are more mature than you in every human way? Would it not be cool to have these kinds of sage-like “elders” to choose between for President and other offices?

I think that this “elderhood” is such a lost art, and goes so unacknowledged by our culture, that those few among us who find themselves in it don’t even know that they are. And don’t know how to enjoy it, let alone share it with others.

We need childhood. And we need adulthood. But, God please, bring to us elderhood.

Consuming Christ

9 March 2012

“When you are hungry, do you want to eat and drink the meal, or the vessels used to bring you the meal.” – Yours Truly

I love Jesus Christ.

And while I love the stories about Jesus Christ, the book that contains those stories, the writings in that book written by others that loved him, the literature in that book that set the stage for those stories, the histories in that book that record how those who first loved him went about showing that, the letters in that book between folks who loved him, and all the religious practices and sacraments and people that have pointed me to him, I would trade them all in for Jesus Christ himself.

This may sound odd to you at first. It did to me when I first found myself saying it. But two things opened me up to the idea:

  1. My longing for a real relationship with Jesus and the God he spoke of.
  2. What Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, said was possible in that regard.

These two things combined like water on a seed in perfect conditions, and a whole new landscape of Christianity came bursting from the depths and into view. It changed my life forever.

Better said, he changed my life forever. I started reading things, seeing things, practicing things, and experiencing things that, even though they had the Bible as their source, the Christianity I grew up with never taught me.

The Christianity of my youth taught me to be baptized, take the Lord’s Supper, and go to church services that practiced worship in a certain prescribed way. All of this, I was told, was “Biblical” – which everyone around me seemed to agree was a weighty and important word – and so I did it all. And I can even deem these teachings as “good” and better yet, “useful” in my journey with and towards Christ.

But let me tell ya (and try not to panic)…

…for one authentically spoken word from Christ to my soul securing its place with him in his Kingdom forever, I would trade my water baptism.

…for one moment of spirit-on-spirit communion with the living Christ, I would trade a lifetime of practicing the Lord’s Supper.

…for the the thick and real presence of Christ with me and on me, I would trade every single religious practice that I hold to, utilize, and teach.

How can this be, you may ask? Do you not need your baptism in order to get your Kingdom securing word from Christ, your supper in order to have actual communion with Christ, your religious practices in order to experience and enjoy Christ’s presence?

Allow me to attempt an explanation of why my integrity demands that I say no. And allow me to utilize Jesus’ words as a guide. (primarily from John 6)  

Many have participated in religious, Biblical things, and even though they were gifts from God, they still were caught in their sin, shame, guilt, and insecurity. This is because what really matters is the Person behind these things, the true treasure from heaven to which they point and lead: Jesus Christ. (Jn 6:49-50)

Jesus Christ alone saves from death. He alone allows you eternity. His giving himself, not his gifts, is what gives life to anyone in the world. If you do not have spiritual (comm-)union with him, have his spiritual presence with and on you, or receive in your spirit his personal word guaranteeing your Kingdom identity, then is it a surprise that you have no life in you, even if you practice Bible-based and truth-connected, but external, things? With a real and personal connection, resurrection is not only believable, but natural, and easy to live in confidence about. But without it (him), you will not be raised to life in the last day, no matter what you did Biblically right externally, because the power of life is not in you, because he is not in you, and you aren’t in him. (Jn 6:51; 53-56)

Jesus is a weighty and personal reality that is to be experienced, not merely an academic and doctrinal reality that is to be believed in and argued for. The intimate relationship that we witness Jesus having with the Father is supposed to be our model for what Jesus is saying we get to be experiencing with him. Tell me, what external practice can deliver on this? (Jn 6:57-58)

This is a hard teaching, you may note. Hard enough that you may not accept it. (Jn 6:52; 60)

And unacceptable enough, that it may offend you. But this is because of some predetermined and well-rehearsed ideas that you carry, not because it can’t or doesn’t fit with what God has done and told you. And this is tragic, because while you sit around being offended, there is so much more to come in this life with Christ that your limiting beliefs do not allow you a category with which to interpret! And getting past your “offendability,” and opening up to a deeper understanding, well, it is required work in order for you to appreciate it. (Jn 6:61-62)

So let me put it as simply and concisely as I can: The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (Jn 6:63a)

I wish I could make it simpler than that (but Jesus couldn’t either, I guess, so I don’t feel so bad), because even these nine words that explain what I’m talking about require that you open up to the truth they carry for you to understand, accept, and then experience them as the reality that they are. The irony is that this news is the best yet, and what every human is longing for. (Jn 6:63b)

Yet, surprisingly, I know there are many who haven’t the depth of belief to allow for this. For this, you have to be spiritual. You have to allow God to be inclusive of, but more real, vital and necessary than what you can do and experience in the body and with the physical senses and faculties. As someone said to me when I struggled with this, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you. And that is because this stuff is truly the stuff that can only be worked out between a man and God in dedicated, faith-fueled, practical experience. (Jn 6:64-65)

But many will leave this highest of all gifts, that of Christ himself, and instead will try to find their belief, hope, and eternal life elsewhere. (Jn 6:66; 68-69)

Many will, in direct opposition to Christ’s teaching, insist that the flesh counts for something, which contains just enough truth (when properly understood) that some will attach their hope for life in this world and resurrection in the next to earth-bound, history-based, temporal and physical actions and things. They will take what were meant to be powerful and useful from within the life-giving relationship with Jesus and pretend that they are mandatory and required in order to academically believe that you have the life-giving relationship with Jesus. Without intending to, and with some of the best motives available to man, and denying it all the way, they will look right at Jesus and ask for him to give them some external works to do that will save them. (Jn 6:28)

He won’t do it, mind you. He won’t. He will just constantly, faithfully, and creatively keep on offering them the very treasure that they are looking to gain from those works. He will offer himself. (Jn 6:29)

I love Jesus Christ.

He is the real food. He is the real drink. (Jn 6:55)

All the rest are serving utensils. Do I “need” them to partake of the meal? No. Do I “use” them to partake of the meal. Yes. Powerfully so. Beautifully so. Biblically so. But if I ever say “don’t forsake the assembly” or “take this cup in remembrance of Jesus,” or “this baptism saves you” – it should be taken in the same way as I would say, “you need this plate to eat dinner” or “here’s a cup to drink to some water,” or “this fork feeds you.”

The food and the drink are the point. They are what nourish. They are what sustain. They are what give life. All utensils that help me partake of the actual food and drink, I use faithfully, and I’m grateful for. But I don’t consume them. That would even be dangerous. I use them. I consume Christ.

He, and only he, is what gets me life now and forever. (Jn 14:6)

And life, the eternal kind, is, after all, best described as…him. (Jn 17:3) 

As Jesus often said, if you get it, you get it. (Mt 11:15)

The Blessing/Curse of a Christian Inner Life

8 February 2012

“We demolish arguments and every motive that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” -  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6

To “be like Christ” is never to be mistaken as a strictly outward project. Decidedly choosing discipleship is to decidedly turn your attention inward. As one progresses, the simple focus on transforming outward actions and behaviors moves to include transforming every thought, every feeling, every judgment, every attitude, and every motive. introspection

No one argues that these are found inside of us, as is the Kingdom of God (Lk 17:21). So it is here, folks, that you must go – into the inner world of thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes and beliefs – if the greatest Kingdom success is to be achieved in and through you.

It is effective, horrible work.

Effective because these inner inhabitants are the source of your outward behaviors that seemed before so hard to permanently change. As you advance in the skill of inward surrender to Christ (you could call this your own crucifixion), the Kingdom’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and motives crowd out your fallen ones, and you quite naturally begin to behave outwardly in alignment with Christ. So, this is effective.

Horrible because when you do exhibit an outward behavior that is not aligned with Christ, you are now quite sensitive to the fact that this superficial and relatively insignificant action is evidence of a much deeper and profound problem: there are still inward parts of you that have not been given over to God and to love.

Before, when you began your journey into Christlikeness, you explained your outward failures with the truth that your sins are forgiven, even when you “fall”. You learned to not feel guilt, receive God’s potent grace, and accept yourself as an imperfect sinner who will always fall in one manner or another. You learned that in terms of your eternal security, your imperfection is not a serious issue. This took time to grow into, partly because it is such good news that it is hard to believe, but partly because you also knew that your sinfulness is, in fact, a very serious issue. But if not because it threatens your eternal security, then why?

Your “falls” matter because you have grown to care about pleasing God.

See, when you advance, and you learn to spend time with Christ within yourself, where he resides and works powerfully (Col 1:27-29), you learn that his aim is nothing short of perfecting you, for your own good and God’s pleasure and glory. And as you are converted further, you begin to follow Christ not merely for the selfish desire of Heavenly security, but out of a selfless desire to love and please God.

As this conversion happens, you find yourself less and less able to remain in the theological hiding place that you fled to as a spiritual child (the one that says, “Don’t dare aim for or believe that you can be perfect, for you are merely human. You are not and never will be Jesus Christ”).

When this begins to happen, it is important for you to accept something and allow it to happen: Your reasonable side is being overcome by your belief.

This belief in your perfection comes not because of some high estimation of yourself or your ability, on the contrary, it comes from your high estimation of Christ and his ability. It is from humility, not arrogance, that you must come to believe in your own perfection. In other words, humility insists that your ability to sin is not more powerful than Christ’s ability to love and transform. When you are humble and lowly enough to admit this, you read the Bible differently, at face value, believing it rather than explaining it away with your earth-bound logic and reason.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt 5:48

“You have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10

“My power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Cor 12:9

“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Heb 10:14

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – Jms 1:4

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – 1 Jn 2:6

The blessing of the inner life is that we are free to believe, our frequent failures notwithstanding, that these things (perfection, fullness, holiness, maturity, completeness, Christlikeness) are indeed attainable. And we can do so without fear of thinking too highly of ourselves simply because we have finally allowed for the fact that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), and we have humbly admitted that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

The curse of the inner life is that we can no longer console ourselves that it is insignificant when we behave or think wrongly, which is any action outside of the realm of love for God and neighbor. It is a tortuously narrow road you walk, but not because you must fear losing salvation (which is also an arrogant position, by the way, to think that your sin is more powerful than your Savior’s blood), but because you fear hurting people, and worse, you fear misrepresenting Christ – who is your life.

So here is to the blessing and curse of the inner life – the life of the Kingdom – the life of Christ – the Christ who lives in you.

May God help us all.

 


 

Christianity: Who Is In and Who is Out?

3 February 2012

If Christianity is a certain set of theological facts, then whoever agrees with those facts is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is a particular set of worship practices done in a particular way, then whoever organizes their worship services with those practices is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is a specific set of moral behaviors, then whoever lives by those moral behaviors is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is active participation with or financial backing of the programs and ministries and services of a church, then whoever actively participates with or financially backs the programs of a church is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the steadfast practice of a regular quiet time with God, then whoever has a regular quiet time with God is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is knowledge of the Bible, then whoever knows the Bible is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the accurate application of Christ’s teachings to your political views and practices, then whoever applies Christ’s teachings to their political views is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the practice of tolerance, then whoever tolerates everything in everyone is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the practice of getting everyone to believe a certain way, then whoever goes around trying to get everyone to do so is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the thoughtful dialogue between those sincerely interested or invested in Christ, then whoever has a sincere interest or investment in Christ and engages is thoughtful dialogue about it is in, everyone else is out.

And if Christianity is the open and honest, skeptical but hopeful, courageous questioning and challenging of religious or theological beliefs, then whoever does that is in, everyone else is out.

But Christianity is not, in my humble opinion, any of that.

Nothing you can simply do is fully Christianity. While you can’t do nothing and truly be “in” as a Christian, it is not the simple doing of something that makes you Christian. Christianity motivates certain actions in one’s life, but those actions can not be called Christianity.

Nothing you can simply admit to believe is fully Christianity, either. Now, believing certainly matters. And one can not be “in” as a Christian without it, and the objects of those beliefs matter as well. But a simple profession of belief in some theological or historical fact, publically or privately admitted to, even if sealed as true with some sacramental religious action of some sort, is not Christianity.

So what, in my opinion, is Christianity, you may ask?

Before I answer, you need to re-read my list above as a confession. I have or do practice everything on that list. My crime, in my estimation of things, is not that I have or do practice any of those things – only that I call any one of them the sum total of Christianity. In fact, a secret to understanding my conviction about what Christianity is, and who is in and who is out, is to understand what I mean when I say that I think all of the above statements contain “some truth.” I won’t belabor the point today – I’ll just leave it at, “he who has an ear, let him hear.”

I believe quite passionately that Christianity is a way of life.

I believe this way of life is best defined by studying and conforming one’s life to the example and teachings of it’s namesake, Jesus Christ.

I believe the best (but not only) way of studying the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is done by diligently spending time in the Gospels of the Bible.

I believe the best (and only) way of conforming your life to that life and teaching is done by dying to (or putting to death) all other ways of living.

Said another way, Christianity is a life of following and being shaped by the heart, mission, character and priorities of Jesus.

Who is in? Well, it seems to me that Christ would admit anyone into discipleship who sincerely desired to follow him.

I know lots of people who believe like I believe, and practice worship the same I practice worship, and adhere to the same moral code that I adhere to, who simultaneously show very little desire to practice Christianity. On the other hand, I know others who believe very differently than me, who have worship practices that I do not, who struggle profoundly to live the moral life that I have come to practice, but are devoted to following Christ and to conforming their lives more and more into Christ’s way of life.

So who’s in? It’s not my call, praise God, it’s His. I admit that in my practice of “fellowshipping” with people, the farther along that I perceive someone to be in their devotion to following Christ, the deeper the fellowship (friendship, partnership, companionship) I invite. But as to the practice of proclaiming definitively and authoritatively to my fellow man who I think I can declare is “in” or “out,” I just can not do it.

Why?

Because Christianity is described, above all other words, as love. Every single thing I do has to make sense under the banner of Christianity’s greatest command to love God and love others. The Lord I follow said that everything is summed up by this way of living – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Well, I don’t want others to render judgment on me in God’s place, so I will not render judgment on them in God’s place. By doing my best to love everyone, up to and including my enemy, I find myself living in a way that looks more and more like Christ’s way.

God help me.

The Life I Want Most for Myself

1 February 2012

Some friends of mine and I were given the powerful assignment of sitting down and writing a letter to God explaining to Him the life we want most for ourselves. In my humble opinion, it is an exercise that everyone should do often. Here is mine:

Dear God:

The life I want most for myself is Christ’s.

I want a life of peaceful intensity. Intense because of a missionary spirit that relentlessly takes me into difficult circumstances in the name of love. Peaceful because of an intimacy with you so stable and real that those difficult circumstances can’t shake it.

I want every decision of my life to be motivated and explained by love, healing, and freedom, and every action to help inspire those things in others. I want to be a man of harnessed passion, who walks gratefully and confidently with God and people, creating true transforming community wherever I go.

I want this life with Christ to be so authentic that those closest to me, Carrie, Shade, Callie, and Jakin know it to be real and weighty. And I want its abundance to be so obvious that they are effortlessly drawn to it, constantly challenged to believe it, emboldened to give it a try, and naturally disgusted by anything the world offers, with all of it’s glitter, that is less.

While living inwardly for an eternal Kingdom, I want to be a good steward of my body while I live for that Kingdom here, maintaining the health and fitness required to live this adventurous life over the long haul, using as my target and goal the physical and mental ability to keep up with grandkids, should I be so blessed.

I want what I love about Carrie to always dictate how I see and treat her. I love her fire and vulnerability, her commitment to godly and thoughtful motherhood, and her non-stop energy for God and people. I want a partnership with her that is alive, connected, fun, open, passionate, raw, real, and respectful. I want us to take and be mutually supportive of our adventurous and faith-testing experiments – and I want us to take them often, sometimes independent of each other, sometimes in partnership. I want us to be unafraid of what makes each of us unique and challenging to the other, eagerly receiving those things from each other for our own growth in Christ, gratefully and joyfully embracing the mess of it all. Above all, I want Carrie to experience that hers is simply and unquestionably the most important human relationship in my life because I act accordingly at all times.

I want to be an embracing, exalting, playful, teaching, and uplifting Dad for my kids. I love Shade’s passion and zeal, his inclination towards truth and people, and want to partner with him to channel his energy as he creates a life of meaning and purpose. I love Callie’s competence and strength, her sense of creativity and laughter, and I want to give her both her space and my presence, within which she can have both her freedom and my guidance, to be and become the force of beauty that God has created her to be. And I love Jakin’s depth and humor, his light playfulness and deep inquiries, and I want to listen closely for his soul as he continues to show up and coach me on how to best serve him as he grows into his greatness.

I want to be an invitation to family for my Dad, Mom, and brothers and their families, and allow them to be that invitation to me. I want us all to be thankful and proud from where we have come from, and with whom we have come, a family of true believers in forgiveness, redemption, and the intentional, designing hand of God.

I want my life to be a model of the God-centered, Christ-like, Spirit-enabled way of living. I want it to be counter-cultural enough to be both noticeable and tempting for anyone in the world who is hungry, hurting, burned, or just plain sick-and-tired of mediocrity. I want my words, my work, my relationships, my dreams, my plans, my commitments, my decisions, my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, my reactions, my demeanor, my devotions, my prayers, my spaces, my priorities, my travels – and anything else that can appropriately go after the word “my” – to live in perfect harmony with one another, never competing with each other because they all humbly serve and exalt the same irresistible master.

I want a life that finds happiness only in you and in the loving relationships that are from you. And I want a life that is an invitation to, an inspiration for, and a catalyst of this abundant way of life for anyone who volunteers into any little piece of mine.

I want Christ’s life.

Converting from Christianity to Christ

5 January 2012

When I was young, I decided to convert from my self-centered life to the religious life. Since then, I have been converting from the religious life to Christ’s way of life.

There is a difference. A huge one.

As I study the teachings of Jesus, for the life of me I can not find where he commands, recommends, or even suggests any religious ritual as the point of what he offers. Instead, he seems to go straight for the heart.

He offers a way of life.

He offers a character.

He offers a set of priorities.

He offers a mission.

And the common denominator between everything he offers is not “religious practices done a certain way” – but LOVE.

Last week, I took another look at his teachings in his famous “Sermon of the Mount” (found in Matthew 5-7) and asked God to summarize them as simply and concisely as possible through me. Here is what came.

Be humble. - Mt 5:3

Be compassionate. – Mt 5:4

Be self-controlled. - Mt 5:5

Desire rightness with God above all else. – Mt 5:6

Show mercy. – Mt 5:7

Exhibit purity. – Mt 5:8

Make peace. - Mt 5:9

Willingly suffer for the good and true. - Mt 5:10

Find the blessing in every circumstance. - Mt 5:11-12

Influence the world appropriately by being the right kind of person. – Mt 5:13-16

Use external religion and rules as aids in creating a life with God. – Mt 5:17-19

Do not let external religion and rules replace your life with God. – Mt 5:20

Be rid of any anger you carry. - Mt 5:21-22

Be as responsible as you can for any anger carried against you. - Mt 5:23-24

Handle difficulties with others relationally, not institutionally. – Mt 5:25-26

Do not indulge sex as recreation. – Mt 5:27-30

Do the work necessary to stay married. - Mt 5:31-32

Have composure enough to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and character enough to stick by it. – Mt 5:33-37

Exert your right to lay down your rights. - Mt 5:38-42

Forgive and love everyone your enemy, like God does His. - Mt 5:43-48

Rebel against being seen as noteworthy by people. – Mt 6:1

Be indifferent about who knows that you give to the needy. - Mt 6:2-4

Pray inwardly always, and let any outward words flow from there. - Mt 6:5-13

Show your favored position in God’s eyes by giving all others favored position in yours. - Mt 6:14-15

Get what your heart needs by valuing God’s view of you only. – Mt 6:16-18

Your felt need for the world’s treasure will steal your possession of the real treasure. - Mt 6:19-24

Be rid of any worry you carry. - Mt 6:25-34

Don’t judge. It destroys your life more than the object of your judgment. - Mt 7:1-5

Do not offer your wisdom to anyone who has not asked for it. – Mt 7:6

Take the posture of seeker and learner to be among the few who find God and God’s way. – Mt 7:7-14

Who you really are shows in the actions you perform, especially when no one but God sees you. - Mt 7:15-23

And then, he finishes with a pretty astounding promise – one that I’m using my life and energy to test.

Live life this way and you will be invulnerable to the troubles of life in every way that matters. - Mt 7:24-27

While all of “God’s people” before (the Jews) and after (the church) him try to contain the Jesus way of life in a certain set of outward worship practices, sometimes self-righteously arguing, dividing, and even warring about them, Jesus goes underneath all of that to the point of it all.

How about this: as Christians, let’s all master the above way of life, which comes straight from the mouth of Jesus, and once that is done, THEN we can discuss what we think about the less important worship practices that would best help folks create, sustain, and share this life found in Christ.

Whattyathink?

Doubts

7 December 2011

“When doubts come, and they will, beware of taking them too seriously.” – Your Truly

Doubt is probably not usually listed as one of your primary villains in life, but it should be. This little demon is so subtle that I don’t even know what to categorize it as. A feeling? A thought? An instinct?

Is it emotional or rational? Be careful answering too quickly. I’ve seen it come initially as an emotion, and then quickly rationalized in order to justify feeling it. And I’ve seen it come initially through a logical thought process, only to be defended quite emotionally when challenged with more logic.

Have you heard of homeostasis? It is something in your brain and body that is constantly at work to keep things the way they are. I sometimes wonder if doubt is as much physical as anything else.

Whatever it is, it is potentially insidious, and is certainly responsible for gazillions of hours of people’s attention every single day.

People have a love-hate relationship with doubt, too, so it is very difficult to want it to just go away forever. Add to that the legitimate role that doubt can play in life when properly utilized and you have the perfect backdrop for a conspiracy to sabotage the potential of your life and freeze you in your tracks (at least in any meaningful way).

Here are some of the spirit-killing ways in which doubt merges with otherwise good people:image

  • The Incessant Doubter – This person has the finely tuned gift of locating the unarguably significant obstacle in any idea, disguising his desire for the status quo under a cloak of “wisdom”.
  • The Last-Minute Doubter – This person likes to see themselves as fearless and bold, and will go through all the motions that lead up to the daring leap of faith, but at the last minute, can not go through with it because of some glaring issue that “only just came clear”.
  • The Doubting Dead – This person has become so assaulted by the inevitable doubts that arise with any plan whatsoever, that they have decided to avoid it’s dark discouragement by never doing anything of significant risk again. These doubters are invisible, since they need not lodge their doubts about anything they might do, because they are not doing anything.
  • The Selective Doubter – This person only mentions the doubts they have concerning other people’s plans or ideas that they themselves are uncomfortable with, or just too ego-driven to let any major course of action be anyone’s idea but their own.
  • The Self-Doubter – This person, under the guise of humility, spends far too much time looking for every possible reason to convict themselves of some impure motive, some disqualifying characteristic or past mistake, and gets frozen from action in the name of being “self-aware”.
  • The “Honest” Doubter – This person never wants to be seen as the reason that a plan, his own or someone else’s, is not pursued. So when he is the reason, he puts forth doubts as deal-breakers, and hides behind some form of the words, “I’m just sayin…”. They are never just sayin…

Can you think of others?

We have to master doubt. Doubt should be something that we use to refine plans, it should not use us to stop us from our plans.

You can spot the person who knows how to do this by how they present their doubts. Two different people can say the same words (“You know, I think that Jim Bob is going to have a tough time signing on to that,” or “Wow, that is going to cost a lot of money we don’t have”), and one means it as an end to the conversation, and the other means it as a legitimate obstacle that needs some conversation, brainstorming, idea-producing, and action.

It’s all in the tone of voice, and that tone comes from the intent in your spirit, and that spirit comes from your ability to be a “believer” or not, and that belief is proven genuine by your faith, and your faith is not real unless it results in bold action, and that action is impossible without confronting and mastering doubt.

It seems to me that Jesus didn’t take people’s doubt too seriously. He wants us to consider the validity of it’s source (Mt 4:31), and he suggests that it’s a troubling and unnecessary nuisance (Lk 24:28), and even challenges us to be like the ones who have overcome it (John 20:27-29).

But he never, ever made it a condition of followership. Even after he was resurrected from the dead, and he was meeting with his closest and most committed allies, scripture notes that these who had least reason to, doubted (Mt 28:17).

Jesus doesn’t even address it, rather he immediately pronounces onto these doubting disciples the most important commission that can be pronounced on anyone (Mt 28:18-20), and they ended up being world changers whose mission is still on the move today.

Beware of taking your doubts too seriously. 

Don’t Be the Pig that Stomps on Pearls

25 October 2011

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet.” – Jesus

Two weeks ago, I was out at beautiful Lake Tanglewood to do a wedding. I had a little down time, so I sat down and read a blog post of someone’s on my smart phone. image

This post was full of profound point after profound point. I came across a monumentally significant and timely thought that has the potential of not only transforming my life for good, but was witty and universal enough to be useful for just about everyone I ever get into spiritual conversation with.

Want me to tell you what it was?

I wish I could. I’ve forgotten it.

This happens to me all the time. I don’t know exactly what to credit it to, but I have a rich life of getting to hear and have thoughts like this all of the time. I think it is fair to say that my life is saturated with them.

  • I spend a lot of time in the Bible, for instance, most especially prioritizing Jesus.
  • Additionally, I have stacks of books that I invest in, recommendations from folks who’s lives have earned my admiration. And these people are legion, so I have many books they say helped make them admirable.
  • I get profound, life-changing wisdom in my inbox every single day, so much that if I read them all, I would have time for little else (and these are the ones I signed up for and have proven themselves worthwhile, let alone all the others that come uninvited, equally worthy, I’m sure, but I just don’t read or watch unless I’m so overwhelmed that I do it just to feel like I accomplished something).
  • On top of this, I am in some thickly rich relationships with several small groups (a men’s group, a couples/family group, our church staff, our church’s elders and ministers) that have AS THEIR POINT the idea that we need to saturate ourselves in the wisdom of God and in each other’s lives in a way that we connect the two.
  • I go to a movie almost every week on date night with my wife, and we have honed our skill at picking movies with profound meaning (and then finding meaning in them even when they don’t)
  • This doesn’t even count my wife (who has a few small groups of her own), and my kids (who are teaching me every day if I will pay attention).

Pearls! Pearls! Pearls! I’m drowning in them.

But I have forgotten and lost (hear: “trampled on”) more great pearls than I will ever remember, and let’s save me from humiliation by not mentioning how few I have effectively incorporated into my being and lived out.

It makes me sick to think about it.

Back to Lake Tanglewood: when I read the profound, timely, and life-changing thought, I remember looking up at the Lake below me, and at a spot down there right by it that looked both accessible and comfortable (not to mention beautiful), and I thought, “I should go down there right now and just dwell on this sentence. I should visualize how it has and can be expressed, and use my imagination to script a fairy-tale future for myself that incorporated and utilized it’s wisdom. I should do that right now…or I’ll forget it.”

I did not choose the former. And sure enough, it is forgotten.

With all my might, let me discourage you from doing that.

I’m all about being a life-long leaner and stuff, but instead of filling your mind with 100’s of great thoughts, hoping that “something good will happen” by letting them pass through like wind does a screen door, pick one. Take it home, or out to a beautiful place, and dwell on it. Give it all over your creative energy…every last drop…and let it transform from a wise saying to an new action or “way” in you.

This will change you, and the world, more than all the great thoughts and books and quotes and readings and scriptures that pass through your minds all put together.

Ironically, an email from a friend of mine in Houston intrigued me enough to watch this 3 minute video, and it is the perfect example of what I mean.

Johnny was no pig. He took the pearl like no one else, and he changed himself and the world.

Please! Pick a pearl!

I Want to Do it Here

14 October 2011

I went and saw the movie “Moneyball” last night with Carrie, and it was long, interesting, and good. I wasn’t blown out of my seat or anything, at least not at first, it was just enjoyable.

  • I liked the portrayal of Billy Beane – his courage, his inclination to think out of the box, his fatherhood, and his belief in and obsessive focus on winning a baseball championship with the limited resources available to him
  • I liked his unlikely 2nd man, Peter Brand (who reminded me a bit of Mall Cop, both in name and demeanor), and his unique gift set contributing in a powerful way to the whole organization
  • I liked the baseball in the movie, but I really liked the subject of the movie that was shamelessly using baseball to express itself…

What subject?

Fundamental, DNA-level, hard-and-costly-but-potentially-revolutionary, wholesale change.

This movie is not for sports fans (although they will like it), it is for anyone who has ever dreamed of taking on a system that needs to be improved.

There was one scene that awoke something inside my heart that, unbeknownst to me, has needed some cattle-prodding for a while now.

It was at a point where Beane, in implementing a brand new system of how to field a baseball team, finally experienced some success. The Oakland A’s won a record-breaking 20 games in a row. They made history. But Beane, as he surveyed whether this milestone really mattered or not, told his buddy Peter, “Unless we win the last game of the season, everyone in baseball will write us off as a fluke. A romantic experiment that can have some momentary and significant success, but that ultimately is not sustainable and will fail.” (not an exact quote)

He said, “But if we win, then we will have fundamentally changed baseball and made it better. Now that would matter.”

My heart jumped into my throat with excitement, and I was borderline on the verge of tears. I had found myself in the heart of this movie…and I was reminded of how nice it is to feel so…explained.

Beane didn’t merely want a cool record for the record books. He wanted to win. Winning, in baseball, is defined as coming out on top of the MLB Championship game. But even that, at this point, would not be enough… Beane wanted to win the MLB Championship game while utilizing a new, better system.

This explains my heart for the church.

I grew up in a church system that steadfastly believed that regular church attendance, increasing Bible knowledge, and unified agreement on how we should worship on Sundays would produce the “win.” And the definition of a win was clear – it was posted on the bottom of a number-tallying bulletin board in the hallway by the exit door: “Weekly Sunday Attendance Goal: 1000!”

If we had 1000 people attending on Sundays, people who came regularly, were increasing in Bible knowledge, and worshipped in the way we thought was right we would have considered that winning the MLB Championship. Of course, and rightly so, we would not have stopped there – just like a MLB team wouldn’t quit playing just because they won a pennant – but it still would have been significant. It would have mattered to us.

But that doesn’t matter to me. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to do my part as a “General Manager” of a little “ball-club” in Amarillo, TX to show the world that there is a better way, a better system, a truer one, one that is both more effective and closer to the intent and heart of God.

What’s the better system I’d like to see us implement with our team? Relationships. Intimate, brotherly, sisterly, authentic, and Christ-centered relationships with God and others.

While I’m way more comfortable categorizing a “win” with the admittedly ambiguous words “Kingdom growth,” I certainly would not be discouraged if we starting having 1000 people in our pews on Sunday mornings each week. But I do not merely want 1000 people in the pews…I want 1000 people in the pews because of, and because they want to help co-create, our new, better, truer system.

At one point in the movie, young Peter was scared. He felt like Beane was living out the vision of the new system a little too purely, in a way and at a pace that was going to be too hard to explain or defend to the baseball establishment. He knew that if they implemented the vision too zealously, they could lose their jobs. Beane, on the other hand, knew that if they implemented the vision partially, the system-schizophrenic team would lose their games, and then they most certainly would lose their jobs. He knew that even if they by some fluke won, the establishment would point to all the things that remained of the old system (along with a little bit of pure baseball “magic”) as the reason for their success.

Beane, in the face of Peter’s fear and tentativeness, said definitively that he was going to see this through…all the way. Then he provocatively asked Peter, in a “be-careful-what-you-say-next-because-I’ll-expect-you-to act-like-its-true” sort of way,  “Do you believe in this system or not?”

“Yes. I do. Totally,” was his slow, methodical, fully-owning it reply.

Enough said. Because of this pair’s resolve, the plot of the movie could go on.

I felt like Beane was talking to me. Do I believe in this new system, this truer way of being God’s church? Do I believe that this matters, or not?

Yes. I do. Totally.

So, I too can go on. Praise God.

It’s an important question. Even the usually-resolved Beane found himself asking, at one point in the movie, while driving alone in his pickup contemplating, “What. Am. I . Doing.”

What I am doing is making disciples of Jesus Christ through loving, spiritual friendships. And I’m asking our church family to organize itself in a new way, within a new system, so that they can do the same.

I’m seeing some amazing milestones, some truly incredible fruit from our church’s intentional transition from the old faithful ways to these new and equally faithful ways. But I don’t want to be satisfied until we win the proverbial “last game of the season”.

I want to be able to look at our church family and see everyone in it actively and obviously living their whole life for God’s glory, obviously and willingly becoming more and more like Christ, and offering themselves as spiritual friends to all the hurting people in this city who need the relief and abundant life that Christ offers.

One more parallel from the movie: At the end, Beane is called by the Boston Red Sox and offered more money than any sports manager had ever been offered if he would just come there to implement his new system. He would have willing bosses, willing co-workers, and willing participants, and more money to implement it than Oakland had.

But he didn’t go. Why? “Because I want to do it here,” Beane said, while sitting in the Oakland locker room.

This captures the heart behind why, when given the chance, I decided against both planting a church or leaving the Church of Christ (and this is not to be mistaken as a condemnation of either). God knows that what we are doing here at Southwest, while rare, is not unique to us. There are church plants that begin with nothing but like-minded people, sparing their home churches the pain of transition, and themselves the discouragements of meeting resistance. And there are other denominations that are years, if not decades, ahead of us on this journey that I could potentially partner with.

But I want to do it here. The Church of Christ people are my people. They have loved me. They have raised me. They have tolerated me. They have survived me. They have enabled me. They have taught me. They have not been perfect, any more than I have. But they…they are mine. And I am theirs.

The Red Sox went on to win the MLB World Series two years later, without Beane, but with his new system. I don’t think this discouraged him. As a matter of fact, their success with the same system in Boston probably fueled his commitment to working towards it in Oakland.

And he still is.

And so am I. I don’t want to go somewhere were it might be easier to make disciples through relationships. I want to do it here.

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