Friday, August 31, 2007

A Prayer for the Southwest Church

It has been about year since I wrote down this prayer. I stumbled upon it last week and have had it sitting on my desk in front of me since. When I read it, it made me jealous to be in a place where I could write such words again. It's not that I'm in a "bad" place...just different...I trust God with when he wants me in and out of certain "places". But that doesn't keep me from liking some places more than others. And I like it when I'm full of a grace that inspires thoughts, desires, and prayers such as these.
I think I'm typing my scribble out, and sharing it with you, to see if it helps me "get there". But at the very least, I offer this prayer again sincerely, even if I need to rely on my "year ago self" to lead me in it.
Dear Father:
You are.
You are who you are.
And who you are strikes me with fear. But I have no need or desire to back away, because this fear is the beginning of wisdom.
And who I am requires me to need wisdom.
That is also who you are. Your are my Father.
This is my favorite name for you, I admit, because it takes away the fear and replaces it with love.
Knowing you as love -- is this where wisdom leads?
Whoever you are, I do not presume to know you.
Nor do I presume to have life apart from knowing you.
Your greatness is beyond my capacity to embrace and your greatness is my life's pursuit.
With full realization that I am infinitely small when contrasted with your infinitely big nature, I appeal to your own greatness, your own love, and your own fame as your motive for making your church at Southwest great.
I am a failure at separating from myself my own motives and desire for greatness, love, and fame from this request, and so, lay these before you as well to do with as you please.
Give me a proper love of this church.
Give me the affection for it that Jesus has.
Use me in the restoration of people's hearts, in the healing of people's wounds ands sicknesses, in the feeding of the hungry, in the clothing of the poor, and bless me with tearful hurting that comes from a deep love for this world.
You so loved this world that you gave your son.
I dare not ask for such great and sacrificial love.
My love for my own sons forbids it, and I fear that you will answer, which scares me.
I'm stuck wanting your heart, and unable to grasp it.
Forgive my unbelief.
Have mercy on me.
Show me your glory.
I offer hesitantly to you my weakness, for it is what I have, and what you ask for.
Thank you for the immeasurable significance that I have simply because you said so.
With whatever leverage it gives me as a fully devoted follower of Christ, as a "chosen one" from among mankind, as a friend of your son Jesus, and a royal priest representing you to man and man to you, I bring it all to bear, turning it all in, and ask you to magnify yourself using this church.
In the happy name of Jesus Christ, and out of your great love for him, I pray.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I'm finishing up sabbatical, but I'm not refreshed

"But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." - St. Paul

God gave me these words about 18 days ago, just as I was beginning my annual "sabbatical" (a 3-week "excused absence" pass from my regular ministry duties that I use for time with God, with family, with ministry mentors, and focused Bible is a beautiful gift from the group of Christians I serve in Amarillo).
I was very excited about the discovery of this little sentence embedded in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. I called my good buddy and partner-in-crime Doyle Corder and shared it with him, and he was appropriately excited for me (I lose great treasures very quickly if I don't share them with someone, Doyle often provides this gift of friendship to me).
Since getting this verse, I have spent 3 days with Jim Spivey, a ministry mentor of mine (I wrote in my journal that God sent me Jim Spivey to give me the view of someone that is eons ahead of me in living out what I believe). It was 3 days of relationally loving others; depending on, trusting, and expecting God to deliver life-giving revolution to us and to those we came into contact with. For those of you who made the mistake of asking me about how this time was, you know how impossible it would be for me to try to articulate it here.
I have also spent 7 days in Colorado with my whole family. 3 of those days was in a mountainside cabin in Estes Park, where I took in the beauty of God's creation. 1 of those days I got to spend exclusively with my daughter Callie, and 1 with my son Shade (my son Jakin gets his day this Thursday, right before I head back to work, for those of you worried he is getting shortchanged). Bookending this trip were days with Carrie's parents, who I got to share great times together at church, at meals, on the back porch, and around the kitchen counter (they were some of the people who asked about how my trip to Houston was). 
We got home last Saturday, went to church at Southwest (my home congregation, for those of you who don't know) on Sunday morning for our "5th Grade Blessing" service where the new 6th graders are welcomed ceremonially into the youth group. Additionally, the Kindergarteners (this is new this year) are called up and prayed over as they enter the elementary group (of which my daughter Callie is one).
And now, I have entered into 3 days of silence and solitude with God. After being ushered into it richly and spontaneously by one of my Shepherd's and his cool family, I have spent this morning completely alone, in another beautiful and lonely setting, praying and singing my heart out loud to God as I prepare to sit down with my Harmony of the Gospels to continue meeting with, studying, and knowing Christ.
As I must, I started "letting go" of all the demands and baggage that I carried into this place with me, asking God to set them all aside for me. I started laying them down, but two remained and would not die. These two would not let me go.
The first is the plight of a very good and dear friend of mine. He has a very compromised life...desiring above all else to live the life of Christ, but falling to the world's life with regularity. The second is the plight of a very devoted and sincere church member. She is very convinced that her interpretation of the Bible is accurate...desiring above all else to live "Biblically"...but equating the Bible's external "religious practices" with following Christ. She is feeling strongly enough about this to consider leaving our fellowship of followers, in no small part because of me and the "Christ alone" message I preach.
I love these two people very much. I believe that they have been sent to me for my good and God's glory. I have seen Christ in both of them in unbelievable ways, and they have sharpened me as iron sharpens iron. So you can understand my feeling a sense of urgency about being with these two. But this is the common daily experience of mine. And I have been on both sides of the pendulum of "killing myself to try to meet the needs around me" and "saying no to all needs around me because it is an impossible job". By God's grace, and by walking with Him, I feel that I generally, but not perfectly, hit the stride of doing all that I can do, but only what I can do.
I hope you might understand when I say that I often feel like Paul when he says, "I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches". Because of this, I REALLY, REALLY NEED God to take that concern away from me when I want some intimate time with Him. But today, and this is not a common experience for me in times like this, he won't let these two plights leave me.
As I submitted to my concern for these two sincere followers of Christ, the verse came rushing back into my head, explaining how I feel for them: "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
I see two foes standing against "the simplicity that is in Christ". Two enemies that would dare contend with Christ's spirit: the religious spirit and the worldly spirit. And God blessed me with these two friend's current situations to expose them.
They are outright "counterfeit life". Why would my two friends choose them? And upon deeper reflection, why do I myself choose them? Paul gives me, at least, a general answer: because just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, our minds may be led astray from our sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Led astray to what? One of two things: religion or the world.
This is Satan's genius...really.
The religious spirit makes a promise. "Follow me and I will give you confidence in your salvation." In other words, follow the right religious practices (and you can be sure that they are right if you find them in your Bible) and you will be saved.
The worldly spirit makes a promise, too. "Follow me and I will give you fun, excitement, and ease." In other words, do what your flesh feels like doing and chase after money, and between those two things you will have non-stop recreation and ease of life.
Neither promise pans out. I followed the religious patterns perfectly and I still didn't walk with confidence of my salvation. And my older brothers and sisters who are dying speak of wondering if "they've done enough" after decades of accurate religious practices. I have also stepped into the world's ways, focusing too much on money or "doing it cuz it feels good", and while it has momentary rewards, without exception the fun, excitement and ease has attached to it troubled consequences that include dissatisfaction, guilt, and pain. Even death.
The worldly spirit and the religious spirit have no answers for the problems they cause.
Christ does. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpents cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your pure devotion to Christ.
Continuing this stream of thought, it occurred to me...people of the world love when a preacher preaches against "those of religion". Equally so, people of religion love when a preacher preaches against "those of the world". Why? Because those 2 spirits have contained within them a self-supporting animosity toward each other. Worldly people comfort themselves by seeing the legalism, irrelevance, and futility of Biblical religious practices and saying "at least I'm not like that!" Religious people comfort themselves by seeing the immorality and disregard of "Biblical" religious practices by worldly people and saying "I'm so glad I'm not like that!"
Wow. We really think they are on opposite sides, dramatically different from each other. When both of us need saving. Both of us have some truth, but mixed with the "serpents cunning"...our minds led away from the simplicity that is Christ.
To add insult to injury, both of them look at Christ and do 2 things (not usually at the same time, but when each suits them): 1) they try to call him THEIR FRIEND, appealing to his name against the other; and 2) calling them THEIR ENEMY, b/c he demands they lay down both religion and the world and follow him alone.
Christ comes to both of them, with tears in his eyes, and hope in his voice and says "follow me, and I will give you life to the full." When the religious man gets sick of pretending like his practices are life to the full, and the worldly man gets sick of pretending like his practices set him free, they will lay them down, along with the serpents craftiness in their minds, and they will come to Christ.
Maybe the perfect combination of both of these, Biblically illustrated, is the apostle Matthew (or Levi). Levi was a Jew, no doubt practicing all the Jewish practices because he is one of "God's people" and must do so for salvation. Levi was also a Tax Collector for the Roman government, no doubt taking such a job because it was lucrative and provided him with a life of ease. Jesus looked at Levi in the eyes and said, "follow me". But to do so, he would soon learn, he would have to leave both the worldly spirit and the religious one. He would have to depend on Christ alone.
I want this for my two friends. And want this for my children. I want this for everyone in the world. I can lay all my life aside...and go spend it in the gospels with Jesus.