Thursday, April 24, 2008

I see Jesus

"One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple." - King David, in Psalm 27:4, which inspired Chandra to write it
"I am speechless. This is incredible. From beginning to end. From 'it's all about leisure with us' on your walks, to the specific insight & creativity of your son, and the attentiveness & appreciation of his mom. I love you for sharing this with me. I must repeat it. Thank you, sis..." - Yours Truly, in an email back to Chandra, who wrote the below story to me today
"Hey Brian, I wanted to tell you how your lesson tonight struck me personally.  I thought I would talk to you after services, but having two little boys to keep an eye on proved to be more consuming of my attention than I would have preferred. You spoke tonight about seeing Jesus everywhere we go, about dwelling, lingering, on the beautiful sight.  All I could think about was when I took my kids on a walk last night.  It was evening actually, the sun still bright, but very low in the sky.  Canon, Creed, and I were on the tail end of our walk around the block.  It's all about leisure with us - we stop cold if a car is a coming, a puppy is within petting distance, a helicopter flies overhead, a particularly fascinating acorn is laying on the sidewalk, or if Canon thinks Anna Street is as good a place as any to teach me how to do the "cha-cha" that he learned at pre-school that day.  At this point, it was a two-foot brick wall dividing one yard from the other.  The boys climbed on the wall and made the dramatic jump a couple of times.  I was just fixing to say, "All right, let's keep it moving," when I heard Canon say, "Look Mom, Jesus."  I turned to see Canon standing on the wall, arms outstretched, studying his shadow on the ground.  The low evening sun stretched his shadow all the way across a driveway.  And the three of us stood there and saw a willowy shadow of Jesus.  It was the strangest thing, but the shadow actually looked like Jesus to me.  The cars seemed to stop, the birds seemed to quiet, and the open-armed shadow seemed to be reaching for us.  Sounds weird, I know.  He held the pose for quite a while, time enough for me to shift my gaze to my son, standing on a wall, arms wide, trying to make his shadow look like Jesus.  I don't know if I'm communicating the feeling that hit me.  Somewhere between the pride that my son was quick to see Jesus, the psychological interest that the pose that "looks like Jesus" to him was one with his arms stretched out, and the humility that he spent so much effort making minute changes to his stature to maintain the picture even though he was tiring of the balance on the wall and holding his arms up.  I continue to wonder if I ever spend any effort at all really making sure that my posture, if you will, looks like Jesus. As he climbed down to walk back home, he said, "I looked like Jesus, didn't I?"  I grabbed his hand, "You look just like Jesus to me," I told him. Anyway, I just had to tell you that story - and writing it down will help me remember it, too.  Thanks for the insight into Psalm 27:4!"   - Chandra Perkins  
What is there to add?
Perhaps we all should just dwell leisurely a bit more, gaze with amazement at the beauty that we walk flippantly and hurriedly by, and seek to see Christ everywhere.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

See Where He Took Me From

Elaine is an elementary school teacher. And a Christ follower.
About three years ago, her church family decided to have a weekend together to consider what it might look like to deepen their loving relationship with God and the world in which they live in a way that might effectively bring Christ's life to it. The weekend took Elaine and her church family through 5 movements of thought, each intended to lead and blend seamlessly into the next, and all together intending to inspire this little band of Christ followers to band more tightly together, and more tightly to God, and to agree to engage (or re-engage) the rapidly changing world around them with the love of hopes of taking that world from the darkness and bringing them to something light.
Put in outline form, the 5 movements of thoughts could be titled:
1. Encountering God's Love
2. Seeing people through Christ's eyes
3. Loving through Listening and Learning
4. Connecting people to Christ's church
5. Sharing God's truth

Some of the teachers and ministers who were facilitating the weekend called the gathering the "Line of Departure"...dramatic language to articulate their desire to "depart" from the "fortress" mentality of church that buffers them from the world and go into a "force" mentality that would take them lovingly into the world. (check out more about this seminar now available for churches to host their own weekends at
After her church spent time meditating, studying, and engaging with each other on what it means to see people through Christ's eyes (session 2), they sent Elaine out of the gathering place for a couple of hours (along with everyone else). She went to eat lunch, yes, but more importantly to notice the world around her, the people in it, and to look at them like Christ might, and then just do what comes naturally.

Her church was gathering in her city's civic center downtown, and as she left the room they were gathering in, she went around the corner and saw another gathering taking place. She recognized some of the children gathered among them as students from her school. These students stood out because they are a part of refugee families, mostly from Africa. With her church's "assignment" fresh on her mind, she saw these students anew with deep love and compassion. And then she had a vision and dream that both intimidated and inspired her. She didn't even have a clear picture of where the dream would take her or what it would look like practically, it was just the a dream to figure out a way to love filled her heart to move (or stumble) into this one step at a time.

She faced her fear and ended up finding herself watching and listening to these students closely. She learned enough to step a little bit more into their world. She ended up going to the apartments that many of these children's families lived in and she started being welcomed (well, mostly) by families from Somalia, Liberia, the Middle East (Turkmenistan, I think), and other places I can't remember. She didn't realize that "the nations" lived so close by! Many were Muslims, and she walked into the awkward feeling of not knowing their culture, customs, or beliefs, in spite of sometimes crazy was only explained by of this love that compelled her.

Then, having become much more than a teacher at school to them, she found it quite easy to pick the kids up (with their parents permission secured) and bring them to the children's and youth gatherings that her group of Christ followers religiously organized for their children on Wednesday nights. Each week, she quickly noticed that she could pack her car with as many children as she wanted. So reached in to her band of Christ followers asking for more people to come with her, to basically "adopt" a family of children, and pick them up weekly, which some families did. Many of them would take them to eat first, then to the age-appropriate gatherings at their church family's nearby building.

The teachers of the classes had to do some major adjusting, loving, tolerating, and learning of their own in order to overcome the inconvenience of these kids from a totally different culture and mindset. These kids were entering into a church culture full of assumptions and rules that they didn't understand. But the church family did it, sometimes with great pain, and a little rhythm was created. A few courageous families (not enough) were faithfully following Elaine and picking up the same kids consistently. And a few courageous teachers and group facilitators where integrating them into the gatherings of students and children.

Eventually, and sadly, Elaine and her family moved from the city. But the families who answered her call courageously carried on in their growing relationships with these children, and in some cases the kid's families and neighbors.
Mike is in one of the families that took in a few kids from Liberia faithfully. One of the precious moments that he will always recall is when one of his young, wild, sometimes hard-to-handle kids noticed that Mike was kind of somber on a Wednesday night and asked Mike why? Mike told him, and this crazy, hard-to-handle, sometimes seemingly ungrateful kid prayed for him. Wow. Movement.

It's been months, maybe a year, since that neat story. And dozens and dozens of more "touches" with these kids and others from the "little Africa" right in his city's midst. Two of those touches were with two grown men, also from Liberia. They started being Mike's guests at the regular Sunday morning gatherings that his little band of Christ followers religiously hold, and these men started enjoying a very kind fellowship, weighty and sincere, in the name of Christ, through Mike's church family.

Over time, these two men, Bob and Hanson (many of these refugees take on American names when they come over here), after being in the midst of this group of Christ followers, hearing the life-giving teaching of Jesus, and wanting Christ's life more, asked Mike about baptism.

This last Sunday, these two sweet Liberian brothers, one in his 20's and one in his 50's, wanted to be baptized into Christ. They wanted their neighbors to be there, if they would come, so that they would all know their decision to live a new way. Hanson, the one in his 20s, has a big dream of going back to his homeland and telling his people about Christ. Hanson, the one in his 50's, had a song that was written on his heart during this incredible time of life-change. Right before he was baptized, the brother who baptized him asked him to please sing the song that was written on his heart over his new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Standing in the water, right before he engaged in this incredible act that symbolized his death from an old life and his birth into a new one, he sang these words, in a booming and deep African voice, with conviction, confidence and appreciation in his eyes...and all of the Christ followers there witnessing it had tears in theirs. He simply sang:
See where he took me from.
See where he took me from.
He took me from the darkness and brought me to the light.
See where he took me from.

It was so moving, that the the whole group decided to sing it together at the end of the service. Our new brother Bob came forward, clothed in his traditional African garb and in Jesus Christ, and led his new church family in the song that describes us all, written on his heart.

You have to hear I've attached it. While you listen...thank God for Elaine, who three years ago, went into the darkness courageously in order to love like Christ and offer the Light.


I can barely stand another minute of this glorious stuff, it's so good. If it can be this good here, what the heck will Heaven be like???

Life to the full. Life without end. Life abundant.

I love you Elaine, for your small/giant steps of faith.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I'm having some trouble writing.

It has been a while since I've written.
I've sat down to write. I've had thoughts and inspirations and things I'm working out.
But when I start it, my mind derails for various reasons and I don't want to jump back on the tracks.
Sometimes it's because there are so many doggone good things, I can't isolate one to write about.
Sometimes it's because I get interrupted by a phone call or knock on the door.
Sometimes it's because I just don't feel like it.
Sometimes it's because I confuse myself.
I claim that I write in order to "keep it real" with all of you whom I love and live, and also to stay in community, and also to share whatever message there is to be found in my life.
I've been reading a bunch.
I'm always ready for my next revolution.
I always feel like it is right around the corner.
I love revolution.
So here's to all the doggone good things, the interruptions, the feelings, the confusion, the keeping it real, the loving and living community, the message within my life, the reading of other's messages in theirs, the reflections, the corners, and the revolutions that lay right...around...them.
I love it. Whether I'm writing or not. I love life and want more of it.
And now it has not been a while since I've written.
And to those of you, my friends, who trust daringly, who courageously enter into my life and each other's lives for the sheer love of it, who cling to the ideal and belief that everyone can have the life that Christ lived, and especially those of you who allow me to join the symphony that we are all contributing a verse the most humble way that I can muster, with sincere gratitude for your trust and participation...I can say that I have been writing with the words of Paul:
"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." -  2 Corinthians 3:2-3

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Other Things I Find Myself Repeating

Admittedly, I have quite a few "It's all about..." statements that I find myself repeating. I know, I can be "all about" more than one thing? Technically, it can't. But I will still hold that each of these statements are true (and many of them are close to being synonymous) given the right context or lens through which a dialogue is taking place...
"It's all about Christ."
The Bible is about Christ. The whole world was made through Christ, by Christ, for Christ, and in Christ it all holds together. Any part of anyone's life or philosophy of life or practice of life that is actually giving them "life to the full" comes from Christ, whether they know to call it that or not. Christ's priorities, mission, and character provide every human being with the priorities, mission, and character that will give their hearts purpose, passion, peace, and joy. Any religion that does not teach, model, and embody Jesus Christ, and help the world conform to Christ's teaching and heart, is absolutely and utterly worthless (including religions that where Christ's name claiming to be "right"). To become more and more like Christ is to become more and more aligned with God's very heart. One way my lord said it was, "I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you." Which leads me to my next repetitive statement...
"It's all about relationships."
I can't think of one thing that is not related to relationships. We do everything, and understand everything, in the context of "others" or "someone" or "everyone else". Even the word "loner" is only understood in the context of other people. In my experience, the sooner someone accepts that their life is all about relationships (even if it starts only with their relationship with self), the sooner they start finding life. My master, after being asked what the most important of all the commandments that come from God was, answered with two...both relationally based..."Love God, and love your neighbor." He said that every single "command"...if you want to look at life through a commandment based on these two relationships. The very word "love" makes no sense without the concept of relationships. And for my friends who are hyper-focused on "Heaven" or "Eternal Life" should know that Jesus even defines it in terms of relationships when he says, "Eternal life is this: to know God and to know me, Jesus Christ, whom He sent." It's all about relationships.
"It's all about life in your heart."
My fried Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full." That was his point. He died to give us full life in our hearts...a life that is untouchable by the things of this world. I remember sitting with a good friend who was feeling so guilty because of his drinking problem. He had tried to quit countless times, trying to be "good enough" to be called a Christ follower (for this brother, this included a sinking feeling that he wasn't 'saved' unless he kicked his drinking habit).
I asked him the question, "If I ordered your last beer tonight (we were at a restraunt) and you drank it, and NEVER drank another drip of alcohol...would that work? Would your guilt be gone and you would be confident of your salivation? Would you now be 'good enough'?"
He said, "I've never thought of it like that. No, I wouldn't. I'd still not be good enough, and I'd probably still be feeling guilty about other stuff."
I went on..."So your heart 'knows' that this won't work. Since stopping drinking won't clear your conscience, why would your heart stop something that gives it a little bit of what it perceives to be 'life' or 'enjoyment'? What if you try this...believe you are forgiven with no strings attached because of the blood of Christ. Believe it has absolutely no connection to your religious life, your moral life, or your good works. Believe it has everything to do with grace through the blood of Christ. Then ask yourself, 'Does the best possible life for me here on earth involve alcohol?'"
"It is for freedom that I have set you free, Jesus said," I continued. "So if the best possible life for you and your wife and your kids and your co-workers and your friends and YOUR HEART involves drinking alcohol, well then, not only is it okay to drink alcohol, Christ died to give it to you."
Suffice it to say that I was as surprised as he was that this line of reasoning sounded so close to license to drink. You might need to read it again, slowly, to follow my feeble attempt at communicating this conversation. All I can tell you right now is that my friend had one of those re-orienting stares on his face while he looked down at his plate of food.
Guilt never transforms people, grace often does.
My friend just texted me a few days ago telling me it has been one year since his last alcoholic beverage. And you should see this guy's "life". He has it in his heart, he wears it on his face, it's noticeable through his family, and he's giving it to every person he is in relationship with.
It's all about Christ. It's all about relationships. It's all about life to full in your heart.