Thursday, December 29, 2005

What Passion Would Look Like in Me, Were You to See it...

Master: "Do you know the Holy Scriptures?"
Disciple: "Not really. Though my eyes have scanned their pages many times and many of it's stories are in my head."
Master: "Yes! I have asked the same question of you many times and received a much different response! How have you come to realize the difference between believing and becoming?"
Disciple: "I come to it when simple knowledge in my head, however true and however much, leaves me still longing for life."
Master: "You diligently have studied the Scriptures because you have thought that by them you will have eternal life. These Scriptures are there to point you to intimacy with me. Refuse no longer to in reality come to me for the life you seek."
                                    -- The dialogue in my head, after reading both a story from Paramahasa Yogananda and John 5:39-40
In my wisest moments, I would give up anything for intimacy with Christ.
I would sacrifice every spiritual practice that I hold important and necessary for life and salvation, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would be willing to be alone, even without my family and friends, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would give up my capacity to walk, talk, smell, see, hear, touch and any physical health, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would sacrifice my ability to help out any of my fellow man, materially or emotionally, mentally or spiritually, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would be without every conceivable material comfort and security on earth, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would willingly delete everything I know about the Bible, never to be remembered again, if I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would never lay my eyes again on the beauty of canyons, mountains, waterfalls, oceans, caves, and everything else in nature, if I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would gladly give up the profoundest thoughts, ones that could lead me to high esteem in the eyes of great spiritual men, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would let go of my right to rest, exercise, and eat and drink freely, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would sacrifice athletic ability, sharpness of mind, capacity to lead and influence others, and any high and noble dream, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would gladly be forgotten by all mankind, and even make no lasting mark on my own children, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would be wrong on every detail of every issue with every human being with whom I came into contact/conflict with, and it be shown in a publicly humiliating way, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
I would suffer overwhelming defeat in the face of any sort of test, battle, competition, or endeavor, if only I could have real intimacy with Christ.
But I don't have many moments within which I am this wise. I know this because I pursue these other things with great fervor and zeal, and usually attain them, and yet crave something else.
And as I wrote the above statements in an exercise of discerning what my ego's greatest attachments are, and faced the prospect of sharing it with all of you, I started wondering if it is even right to long for Jesus' personal presence in such a way. Then as if in answer, I thought of the below words of Jesus, affirming me I think...daring me to trust him...
"Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:33
And then as if to affirm me one more time (as God has patiently done with me all of my life because of my denseness and unwillingness), he cast my eyes on the following words from Charles Spurgeon's Daily Devotional (this happened JUST NOW...)...
"What think ye of Christ?" --Matthew 22:42

The great test of your soul's health is, What think you of Christ? Is He to you "fairer than the children of men"--"the chief among ten thousand"--the "altogether lovely"? Wherever Christ is thus esteemed, all the faculties of the spiritual man exercise themselves with energy. I will judge of your piety by this barometer: does Christ stand high or low with you? If you have thought little of Christ, if you have been content to live without His presence, if you have cared little for His honour, if you have been neglectful of His laws, then I know that your soul is sick--God grant that it may not be sick unto death! But if the first thought of your spirit has been, How can I honour Jesus? If the daily desire of your soul has been, "O that I knew where I might find Him!" I tell you that you may have a thousand infirmities, and even scarcely know whether you are a child of God at all, and yet I am persuaded, beyond a doubt, that you are safe, since Jesus is great in your esteem. I care not for thy rags, what thinkest thou of His royal apparel? I care not for thy wounds, though they bleed in torrents, what thinkest thou of His wounds? are they like glittering rubies in thine esteem? I think none the less of thee, though thou liest like Lazarus on the dunghill, and the dogs do lick thee--I judge thee not by thy poverty: what thinkest thou of the King in His beauty? Has He a glorious high throne in thy heart? Wouldst thou set Him higher if thou couldst? Wouldst thou be willing to die if thou couldst but add another trumpet to the strain which proclaims His praise? Ah! then it is well with thee. Whatever thou mayst think of thyself, if Christ be great to thee, thou shalt be with Him ere long.

"Though all the world my choice deride,
Yet Jesus shall my portion be;
For I am pleased with none beside,
The fairest of the fair is He"


Friday, December 16, 2005

The Life of Flying

Hey Team:
My son Jakin, 2 years old, will jump from anything when I am near, whether I am ready or not to catch him or protect him from harm. He's too young (and has been too successful in his jumping) to think that his dad won't come through for him when he's on the edge of a "cliff" (be it the side of swimming pool, the arm of a couch or chair, or the side of a bunk bed).
If you can get past the "floweriness" of what is about to come out of my e-pen, and the attached video clip link, you will enjoy another glimpse into my deep heart for you, but even more for "us" -- the us that has been called together, called to jump in actual faith, and called to live in ways we have not known or considered possible thus far.
I couldn't help but think of this staff when I watched the video link...(and you may have to read this, watch the video, then read it again).
Children, all of least Jesus says that we are supposed to be. And that we cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven without being such, either.
But we children have forgotten. We have pretend to be adults and have been and are still daily about our life's busy-ness. Even if it is in the name of Christ, even if it is in our ministry and service to the church, we often go about doing our busy, powerless things.
Some of us living safely behind a mask, always deciding whether, when, and how to take it off or put it back on.
Some us are sleeping, unaware of the community around us and our need for real connection with them.
Some of us are out there hanging out, around many, many people, but still alone.
Some of us are building things from the material that happens to surround us because it is there, and because it feel productive, and others even admire it.
Some of us are working hard, and even together with another, but maybe doing something that is more destructive than true.
But Jesus passes by, and is still passing by, into our world and calling for our attention with his little drum. He is calling for our attention from what we are doing, and to himself and where he is going. Asking us to line up to His "beat". To go where he goes, just like he is going. To be like him in what he is doing and what he is going to do.
Although it is what grabs our attention, and is the sound that we march to, the actual drum beat he uses isn't the point. It's not the drum we follow, but the Drummer. And the leaving of what we were doing isn't the point, either. While it is great to stop doing the things that are useless, he didn't pass by to just stop us, he passed by to get us going. Yes, he has intentions for us. Incredible intentions.
If we follow him, it will be to a nearby cliff. He looks up at the cliff and invites us to do the same. The cliff has always been there, we just never look at it like is. We look at it as a dangerous place. Beautiful to look from, but dangerous, threatening accidental death if you get too close, and guaranteeing it if you were to jump.
But he looks at it differently. He looks at is as a means to an, maybe as an entry point to a beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning of our becoming what he intends for us.
And he intends for us to fly. He intends for us to experience his Father and each other in ways that can not be experienced in our fleshly activity, even if that activity is done in Christ's name, even if that activity is done together.
The problem is we don't know how to fly. We don't even know if flying is realistic or if it really is God's will. And we don't know if anyone else with us is really about to jump and find out.
So Jesus comes himself, once and for all 2000 years ago, but over and over with each of us each day, and he calls us to follow him where he the cliff, into our fear, against the laws of nature, in order to experience together, with him, His Father's unbelievable power and love.
As I personally continue my journey towards the "life of flying" with God and with you, I am always tempted to stay on the cliff and just call it 'flying with God'...and it seems I can find plenty of people to agree with me. But, alone with God, there is no one to impress or convince but me, and I always must look down at my feet and see that they are still often safely standing on land. And even though the view from the cliff is awesome, my heart of hearts knows that the cliff is not there to give me an great's there to give me my launching spot.
Following Jesus is what I want to do, because I love his love for me so much and want to be just like him. But another powerful motivation for me to follow him is represented right at the end of the video, the little one who walks behind the main group up to the edge, hesitates to get his footing, and then jumps. That little boy overwhelmed me with thoughts of Jakin, my youngest son, who would so blindly follow me anywhere even if it looked impossible. Threatening views don't look threatening to him when I am there. 
He trusts me (and others want to). Where am I leading him? To the freedom of Christ that comes only by following Christ off the cliff of fear and weakness into incredible, unbelievable life? Or to a fraudulent "pretty good life" that he too can grow up into adult-likeness and learn to effectively present it as the incredible, unbelievable life?
I don't know what the creator of this video clip intended, but when I lost myself in it (a fairly cool endeavor in and of itself), the above is what came to me. Check it out, if you are so compelled. Consider this another invitation to you to try something you haven't before...jumping, if you will...and seeing if God ends up being there in it for you like He was for me. I'd really love to hear what (or who) you find.
In any event, know that I love you all, and am grateful for the common following we are doing, and the flying we work to believe is possible.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How My Children are Raising Me

"Why is it so hard to believe that God intends our children to train us just as much as he intends us to train and guide our children?" - Dan Allender, in his book, How Children Raise Parents
"A change in our perspective will not only increase our joy and freedom in parenting, but in the long run it will invite our children to become coheirs [with us] of eternal life." - Dan Allendar
Here is what I wrote to my 5-year-old son, Shade, late last night in his journal:
I think I learned a valuable lesson from you today about being a good dad.
You've been quite a whiner all day today, struggled to be kind (especially with your sister Callie), and also 'bent the truth' a few times when it seemed like it would get you what you wanted in the short term. This not to say you've done no good today -- on the contrary, you've shared joyfully, played and laughed willingly with the whole family, shown special care for your brother Jakin who is sick, and even remembered to bring up a 'talk' I needed to have with you at the end of the day that I told you we had to have about your behavior from this morning when I had forgotten. You are a good boy, even on your worst days.
When I started to talk to you about this behavior, you also talked to me about mine. You said, "Your like the dad of Chicken Little!" (We went and saw that movie together today. The whole thing was about how Chicken Little's dad didn't believe his son.)
"How am I like Chicken Little's dad?" I decided to humbly ask, allowing the conversation to become about me, sensing that I probably needed this.
"You don't ever believe me when I'm not being nice!" you replied.
I reflected back instantly, not just on the day, but on our entire relationship history (all 5 years!). I realized that you were right. Whenever I have already 'busted' you for not nice behavior, I don't believe you, and am skeptical and questioning and doubting towards you about anything you say. It started occurring to me that this skepticism might be creating an anxiety in you that would actually produce the pressure in you to feel like you might need to protect yourself from me by lying...
And then, AS I WAS THINKING THIS VERY THING, you said, "...and it makes me very, very, very, very nervous!" (!!!)
I felt like I was in a scene from the movie, The Butterfly Effect, where you jumped back from your adult or teenage years into your 5-year-old body in order to correct me from issuing years of this subtle poison into our relationship. I promptly apologized to you for not believing you. And I am so sorry. I've been thinking about it all evening and have come to this conclusion which is revolutionary for me, and I hope transformational (and formational) for both of us:
It is more important for me to believe you than it is for me to correct your behavior.  
I may struggle with this, son, as we go, and I will still lovingly correct your behavior, but I would rather get personally hurt by your lie than have you be personally hurt by my mistrust or disbelief in you.
I love you, Shade, and with every step I take as your father, I take it humbly and prayerful to God that He make useful to you and a help for you -- that He make me your truest friend. And again, son, I'm sorry for mistakes I've made, am making, and will make. May God use even these in showing you Himself - your only perfect Father."
What struck me so dramatically was Shade's use of the word "nervous" in his "it makes me..." phrase. I would expect him to say mad, or sad, or maybe even "not like you", but nervous is what he said. I so totally get this nervous feeling that can be caused by someone else's skepticism, especially when it's aimed directly at me.
I never want to be a carrier of that with anyone...most of all my sons or daughter. 

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Anxious for my NEXT trial

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." - The Apostle Paul
"Some of my battles seem embarrassing to me because they come in the midst of my greatest blessings. Some seem humiliating because they are recurring. Some seem petty because they are so small compared to those of others. Some I think I should hide because they don't really exist outside of my own heart. Some I think I should just let go and "get over" (meaning: ignore) because they are common to all men, and that's how they deal with them. But I must embrace my battles as battles and learn their great lessons, allowing them to mold me and make me into what I am becoming. You see, my God loves me enough to send me more obvious and impressive trials if I need them to move more comfortably into the refining fire of struggle." - Yours truly
My Father:
As I sit on a Saturday night thinking about a speech I will be giving to a group of Christians in Amarillo, TX tomorrow morning, the tug-of-war between the "desire to perform well" and the "desire to experience Christ" has begun once again.
What must I do to be saved from such petty thoughts and fears? What must I become in order to be without this recurring trial?
When my thoughts are on You alone, and I surrender all desires but You Yourself, I find perfect peace and easy sleep.
Your son is so incredible. His friend John said that if all the things that Jesus did in a mere 3 years of ministry were written down, there would not be enough volumes to contain it. And the few scenes recorded in the Gospels are more than enough to fill my life with all that is needed to know him and live life to the full, and to never stop growing in both.
What irony it is that I am speaking tomorrow on "calling". I am grateful for your call to salvation, and to the life of calling that I get to now live. I thank You for such leading that I feel I am in the very spot on the face of this planet that you intend for me to be.
And yet, the Enemy manages to steal my joy in it tonight.
These moments of discomfort will pass, I've learned many times, and for that I am also grateful. The joy of my calling will rush back in and I will thrill in it once again. But I look longingly now for the "fine-tuning" you are doing to me, the "adjustments" you are making in my life, and the "movement" of my soul that will re-orient me in a way that I will bring more glory to You. What I have experienced in the past gives me faith that my current discomfort is serving that purpose for my forthcoming future.
And so I wait. This "suffering" is not too much for me, and is so much less than many of my fellow man, yet this one is mine. It is an honor to have it, and I embrace it for the refining tool of my life that it is, anxious to experience it's fruits, ready to embrace the life it will bring and the trials that you will use after this one.

Monday, October 24, 2005

God Over the Rain

"I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions." -- The Mighty God
"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." -- Jesus, speaking of the the Mighty God
"The abundant life does not come to the wise because 'the weather that God sends him is good'. The abundant life comes to the wise because he knows that the God over the weather is with him." -- Yours Truly
It was Wednesday morning, and my son, Shade, who is in Kindergarten asked his mom if he could go to school after the bell rang. Upon probing, Shade said that the day before some big fifth grader had "touched him on the shoulders". I was watching the news about Hurricane Wilma, the most powerful hurricane ever seen in recorded history, when mom told me, I decided to escort Shade in to class rather than just dropping him off so that I could kick some fifth grader's butt.
Instead, I escorted him in and took him to Mrs. Hill and had Shade tell her so that she would be aware of the potential problem. While I was in there, Mrs. Hill showed me a pile of Shade's work that I didn't get to see the night before at Open House. I stood alone in her class flipping through his writings, his work, and his illustrations. Mrs. Hill had written titles for each illustration that were given to her by Shade after he drew them. I got to one of those sheets of manila paper with a couple of cool pictures on it. The titles floored me.
One was called "God over the rain" and the other was "Dad alone with God".
I had no immediate introspective epiphany or anything, but I just sat there looking at the pictures...then at the titles...then and the pictures. Something was happening to me that was hard to describe. It involved joy, but not from just one source. I had joy because these pictures are obviously somewhere inside of my son. I had joy because my son, who has tons of pictures inside of that imaginative heart of his, when choosing to draw anything, chose to draw those. I had joy because of the truth that was contained in them that is bigger than the pictures themselves, and bigger than Shade (or I) consciously knows. I also had wonder...and it, also, was not from just one source. I wonder at how these pictures got inside my boy. I wondered what it meant that they are in there. I wondered why I was standing there experiencing them on this day. And I was grateful...and yes, for more than one thing. I was grateful that my boy has those pictures in him, grateful he expresses them, grateful for sense of wonder and awareness and curiosity it gave me for the day.
A few hours later, Doyle, my friend and the worship leader I work for (and sometimes with), came in and said the word "Immanuel". I knew that he was suggesting this particular name of Jesus (which means "God with Us") as the focus of that night's devotion, which was great, but also did me some serious good personally in conjunction with what I was listening for because of Shade's pictures.
I know there is a mighty God, the God over the Rain, more powerful than the most awesome forces of nature that humanity has ever or will ever see. And my life has been and still is a longing to know that Mighty Being, to be special to Him, to matter to Him, to love Him, and to be with Him. And I have done many, many things...good and bad, and mostly get to Him. But today, God has reminded me personally...through my son, through the weather, through my work, and through my friend...that it is HE who longs to be with ME. And that He wants it, has done it, and is doing it. He is Immanuel. He is with me.
I didn't even have to slow down and reelect on it to know and remember instantly what direct, practical effect it has on me to know this either. He showed me right in the same experience of my son.
My son, who showed some signs of hesitation (but not defiance or paralyzing fear) about wanting to go to school before the bell rang, stopped even thinking about the 5th grader as an issue to be dealt with when I told him that I was coming into class. Instead, his attention turned fully and joyfully and passionately to that single fact... that his dad would be with him. His hesitation that he most assuredly, I'm convinced, could have and would have "handled" on his own as he went where he had to go was replaced by excitement, confidence, and eagerness to just go, because his dad was with Him.
That's exactly what happened, and what happens, to me. I only rarely experience outright defiance or paralyzing fear. I think my Enemy knows by now that I turn shamelessly and dependently to God in the face of those situations. He now challenges me with small things, that just make me hesitating, to get me to appeal to my Self to "be strong" or come up with some strategy to "deal with the problems" on my own as I go where I have to go. But when I live fully present in the reality that the powerful God Over the Rain is with me, I can't even see the problems I get so excited to just go... with excitement, confidence, and eagerness...simply because God is with me.
So simple.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Scholarship, Lectureship, or Relationship

This piece is a longer than usual, and has taken me days to put together, but I think it is now what it is supposed to be. Read it when you have an extra minute...and I'd love to hear what it brings up in you.


"Which is more influential and life changing for you personally -- relationship or lectureship? Does being deeply moved by a really awesome sermon typically equate to being moved into action? Do you feel as though God exerts more life changing influence through your investment of time, resources and energy into preaching to the masses or through your investment of time, resources and energy into this small church you've planted? Do your passions and investments reflect your answer?" - a question posed to me by my friend, Chuck Griffin


"I am He who instantly enables the humble mind to understand more about eternal truth than could be learned by studying ten years in schools." -- Thomas a' Kempis, reflecting what he heard from God


"Perhaps some have been called to find great satisfaction in their service to God through lectureship. Maybe some will make their mark for the Kingdom through scholarship. While both of these are a part of my life's work, neither of them can contain or be my life's work. Neither of them can by themselves contain my passion for life (and sometimes, quite honestly, when I elevate them above their proper place, actually sap my passion for life!). My impact, if I am to have any impact at all, and my satisfaction in Christ, if I am to have any satisfaction at all, will be through relationship." -- Yours Truly


For just over a year, I have been a preacher.


One of the inward struggles I have is the constant conflict between two priorities. My clear call and desire to have my life be defined by the priority of relationships, and my clear duty to produce a "quality sermon" each week.


I didn't know these two things would clash when I began in this new post, and it is true that I could (and still can) logically explain their co-existence in a way that they don't have to (i.e.: "your sermons help you earn your right to be heard in your relationships" & "your relationships make your sermons more effective because they know your heart."). And I did so, to myself and others, throughout the whole year. But in my heart, they clashed like two white knights claiming that the other was a fraud and in the way of his work. What can I say? It doesn't really matter if they should or not, the fact is they did. And all this despite my constant best efforts and prayers.


Imagine a guy preparing for a sermon, but feeling like he needed to be investing in relationships. Then watch that same guy get up and leave his office and invest in relationships, but carry with him a nagging feeling of needing to prepare for a sermon. This was present, in one way or another, in almost every moment of my life this past year. The first one showed up externally through things like my constantly accepting (and craving) interruptions from people, studying "out loud" with anyone who would listen, and working on it late at night when fewer people were available to be loving on directly anyway.  The second manifested through my hurrying through conversations when they didn't seem "spiritually productive" enough, little snide comical comments to people about the horrible albatross of having to prepare a sermon (there is a little truth in every "joke"), and saying no to relational ministry and family opportunities because my stress was mounting.


Needless to say, this wasn't working. But I "made it work" (which doesn't work), because I felt selfish and petty about wishing for better (imagine me complaining to my 91-year-old Louisiana hurricane victim friend (see my "Finding Frank" blog entry) about my high-stress struggle of deciding between studying the Word of God for people or acting out the Word of God to people. Poor me!)


Add one more subtlety here to the mix: there is also the regular thought that it would be good to continue my education. I am admittedly under-educated (as far as formal scholarship goes) compared to most of my peers who do what I do, and that makes some nervous about my lack of knowledge, my future career stability/marketability, and credibility with intellectually impressive audiences. 


Three weeks of total freedom from this tension came in August, when my elders sent me into a sabbatical from my regular duties. It was during this time that I realized what I was living with (and making everyone else live with). It became increasingly clear that I had no real choice if I wanted to be faithful to God's call: I am to make my impact through a 100% commitment to relationships. So it seemed to me that my choice was clear...I had to quit preaching in order to quit compromising...


Yeah, that thought only lasted about a fraction of a second before I admitted that that was the wussy, not faith-filled, way out. Quitting preaching, while it would get rid of the temptation to elevate lectureship impact over relationship impact (and ease the presumed necessity of increasing my scholarship impact), assumed that there was no way to be 100% relationally focused AND preach on Sunday, too. So I decided I need to give my God a chance to show me that He is bigger than I give Him credit for.


I'm a little nervous to admit it, but since September, I have given up on "sermon prep" as I formally knew it. I now strive to focus in every moment on the people who are with me in those moments. I strive to be fully present and available for them, giving all that I am to them completely. Whether it is my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my co-workers, a stranger or just myself, I want to be totally "awake" to what is going on in and around us...totally awake to what the Spirit of God is inviting me to give and do and be and become, and be very spontaneously responsive to it all.


There hasn't been much of an outward change, really. But what has happened inside of me has been incredible (and it has nothing to do with the quality of my sermons since I've committed to this). It has been liberating, freeing, costly, fear-conquering, insecurity-demolishing, ego-killing, joy-filled, life-giving and self-sacrificing. In other words, it has been "Christ-like".


My friend and Life Coach, who played no small part in ushering me to this jump of faith, sent an email that describes well what this feels/felt like on my first Sunday home from sabbatical, and also articulates well why I am requesting every one of you to find your next step of Christ-likeness and take it. The life that Christ promises to bring you and give you is just beyond it.


"Today Brian is giving his first "unprepared," or make that "less-prepared-feeling" message to his congregation.  What this means is that he has resisted the habitual temptation to put the bulk of his time this past week into "message preparation," and has instead devoted himself and the bulk of his time to loving like Christ did - first God, then himself and his family, then his ministry leadership team, then the people God sent to Him during his walk through the week, thereby spending his time and energy in a deeper kind of "preparation."  It's definitely not about defiantly "not preparing;" it's about preparing better, and differently.  Be that as it may, I know he feels a little naked and unprepared this morning as he prays, as if he has shirked or slighted a major job responsibility.  But I know that he hasn't.  I know Brian's servant heart.  I reminded him Friday that he is surrendering to being "called by God" to "be a shepherd," according to the model of His Son, vs.. surrendering to being "required by man" to "do a job" in a certain prescribed way, and that he has never been better "prepared" to be used by God, for His glory.  Please pray for Brian this morning, that he might empty himself completely and, as a clean and perfectly prepared vessel, God will fill him up and use him as a wide and deep channel through which He pours His abundant blessings on everyone He touches through His words." -- Jim Spivey 


I'm still a baby in this new venture of faith for me, facing my fear of failure weekly, denying myself the option of "preparing out of fear", and weekly wondering if I'll be able to do it again.


This is the life, people...the one where you really need God to show up for you and you depend on Him to...and He does. Every time.


What is your next step. Stop struggling with it and take it.



Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." - Jesus Christ
"And in the spirit of God the fact that you are chosen and blessed and beloved does not mean that others are less so.  In fact, the opposite experience unfolds when you discover your belovedness.  You have an inner eye that allows you to see the belovedness of other people and call that forth.  That's the incredible mystery of God's love.  The more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you'll see how deeply your brothers and sisters in the human family are loved, and the more you will love them." -- Henri Nouwen
I have experienced the proverbial "perfect storm" this weekend. A storm that has assaulted me, conspiring to open me up to receive the incredible truth and mystery of God's love, once again.
I spent Friday afternoon to Saturday night with 12 people who have given their lives over to Jesus and to people for Jesus' sake. These amazing people spend their lives giving, serving, teaching, coaching, forgiving, enduring, and praying on God's behalf in this world among all us crazy people. In my 15 months with them, God has used them to "call forth" my belovedness, and I truly feel more beloved and chosen and blessed of God than I ever have before.
So, the first part of the triple-pronged "perfect storm" was being with them, asking them to put down the mantle of responsibility that comes with such a dedicated life of servitude to others and let me and 2 of my friends give, serve, teach, coach, forgive, endure and pray for them. And they did. They exposed their hearts...their fears, failures, shame, desires, hopes, dreams, trials...many with tears. It was a very human weekend with a bunch of real-life superheroes. Each of them had to confront the fact that they are CHOSEN by God to be His friends and representatives on earth, not duty-bound. That they have been APPOINTED by God to go and bear fruit in their lives that will last in this life and eternally, and that it is a gift to them not a responsibility. And they had to swallow that the God supports them in this high honor, that they can ask for ANYTHING in Christ's name, and He will give it to them. What can I say? Anytime the mature in Christ are reminded of who and whose they are, it moves them to their knees in humility and godly desire. I had an "inner eye" as I watched (and couldn't help but participate in) the whole thing, aware that I was watching God summon belovedness from these amazing hearts.
The second prong is pictured in the attached picture. That's Jakin Major. My just turned two year old son. His name means "God Establishes Greatness", and it's more and more obvious that that is exactly what God has done with this boy. We are about to throw a party in honor of his two years of life, and while we are celebrating him, I am secretly accepting the mighty reality that I am deeply loved, exhibited by the incredible gift that this boy is to me. Happy Birthday, buddy!
The final prong of this assault happened this morning. I delivered a talk to several hundred people that I didn't feel very prepared for, in the traditional sense of the word, but accepted the truer reality that I have been through a lifetime of preparation to deliver it. And God told me what to say, once again, as He is faithful in doing every single time in my life. It was on the subject of God's appointed human leaders for His church. And then afterwards, I met a nice man named George who I asked if I could take him to dinner tonight and visit and pray with him, to which he graciously accepted. He found us because he felt he had been blessed with a little extra money, and wanted to give an offering to a church, and had a tough time finding a church that would take his money (which we just couldn't stop laughing out loud about) and finally found someone at our church who would take it. My friend Landon was who he found, George told me, who invited him to worship with us this morning, which he obviously did. Inside I thought, 'How easy God has made it for me today to love and shepherd someone. I am chosen, appointed, and supported in doing my hearts desire.'
Why these unrelated (?) incidents conspired to explode in my life today to remind me of how much I'm loved by God, I'm not sure. But I think it has something to do with God wanting me to see how deeply my brothers and sisters in the human family are loved. And I am grateful.
May I remember when my days pass me by and they appear to be something they are not.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Finding Frank

I loaded up 3 big zip-lock's of warm cookies, and 3 hot, tender, good-looking cakes into the back of my Blazer. My wife and our friend Kacy (who was here for the weekend to visit my family), had hurriedly gathered the supplies and cooked them for me to join a large team from our church who were headed down to the Amarillo Civic Center to feed a meal to the Hurricane Katrina victims that flew in Sunday from New Orleans. I could not have been prouder of my church family. They have enough deserts for a month, it looked like. And we'll be returning this Thursday to feed these sweet, appreciative people again.
As the refugees slowly started to trickle in, I met a man who looked to be in his mid to late 60s, and I initiated conversation anxiously by asking him if he was hungry. He, equally anxious to talk, said he was and quickly informed me that he was 91 years old. I asked if he needed help, and I got to walk him through the line, carry his food to the table, and sit down with him and listen.
Frank was a very kind, gentle, patient man.
He moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in the 40s and worked in construction most of his life. He helped build the Superdome back in the day, the same Superdome that barely houses some of his New Orleans neighbors. He remembers working for 65 cents an hour. He lived on Canal street in a 5 or 6 story building on the 3rd floor and witnessed trees flying by his (thankfully, unbroken) window. Frank told me he grew up with "white folk" and it was always just fine, that they even trusted him to cash checks for them, and he would walk with 2 or 3 hundred dollars for someone else, and was always trustworthy with it. He has buried 3 wives, 2 sons, and all his siblings. One son was in the army and was killed somehow when he returned to the States, and his other son was at truck driver and died in a crash in California. He attended a Baptist church back home. He shook his head sadly at both the looting that he saw taking place in his city and that we went to war with Iraq. He met several of my friends from church, and was gracious with all of them.
He has no one, and no plan, but doesn't seem worried. I gave him my name and number, offered for him to stay in Amarillo, and assured him I would help. He might. He has no plan. He's working with Red Cross workers to get his monthly Social Security check sent to him here. He gets enough to pay his $400 rent back home, his bills there, and still have a little to live on. I think that's enough for him to make it here.
I found myself committed to sitting with Frank the whole time I was there. You know why? I could tell you that it was because there was so much to learn in this one spot I was sitting, so much experience, life, love and love lost. I could tell you that it was because with every piece of information, Frank became more and more someone I loved and cared about.  I could tell you that it just felt good to help someone. I could tell you it was because it is what I think Christ would have done. And all of that would be true...
 But let me 'fess up to the deeper, truer answer...I was scared to get up and meet someone else. Scared because my heart was already breaking for Frank, and I'm finding myself wanting to do whatever I can to help him. And as long as I don't meet any more of the people here, they will stay just "the people here". "The people" who I helped feed a meal to. "The people" that I've been watching pictures of on the news and reading about in the paper.
But if I allow another one to become who they really are to me, a personal name with a personal story, I will fall helplessly into my desire to desire to do anything to help...and feel helpless. I would want to do all that was needed for each person...then I'd have to admit that I'm just unwilling, unable, or under would leave me going home feeling helpless, and maybe even guilty for how good I have it.
Now forget the compassion that was initiated because of this Hurricane thing...I'm loving Frank, this sweet man, for who he is...not because of what he has recently been through. The same thing would have happened to me if I just took the time to sit with him on the porch of his 5 or 6 story tall apartment building watching people walk by on Canal Street.
So gets me thinking, I bet there are plenty of "Frank's" in Amarillo who should not need a Hurricane to hit their home for me to find them. They should be found by me simply because I've been commissioned to by my God, Jesus Christ, to go and find them.
No wonder Jesus said that unless you give up everything you have, you can't be his disciple. There is not any time to do anything else.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pretty Serious Stuff

"You should think of the greater sufferings of others so you can endure your own small troubles easier. And if they do not seem small to you, then be careful that your impatience is not the reason they seem greater." - Thomas a Kempis
There are a few people at our church in the middle of some semi-heated, emotionally charged theological discussions right now that are pretty serious. I know it shouldn't be possible, but some strong Christian people that I know are coming close to hating each other. There is a lot at stake for these few...people are tempted to leave and go to another church unless someone else does, or at least changes, to satisfy their own perspectives on church doctrine or their own convictions about how to present it. It's tricky and messy, because we are talking about people's convictions here. And they all believe that people's souls hang in the balance based on "who win's". I, as the preacher here, am admittedly consumed by it...wondering how to be like Jesus in the midst of it. It's pretty serious stuff...
Until, that is, I hear about the man on the TV telling his story of struggling to hold on to his wife during the Hurricane in Louisiana as his house ripped in half. He said that his wife saw his inability to hang on without losing his hold on the house, so she said, "Let me go. You take care of our children and grandchildren. I'll be alright." That's the last he's seen of her. It sort of redefines what pretty serious stuff really is...
Until, that is, I hear about a man in Kenya who was quoted as saying, "Today, the United States is dealing with what much of the world deals with every day." I had to stop and think about that one. And a good friend of mine, as he spoke about it, made me realize that this dude in Kenya is wrong. Because in the United States we have boats going in there searching for people, helicopters lifting them out, relief food and water being collected to send down there, rebuilding plans and funds in the works...and all of this is happening without my having to sacrifice one necessity of life. In much of the rest of the world, the people are just left to die with no one even noticing (that's why we haven't heard about it). I sort of redefines what pretty serious stuff really is...
And I bet there is more. Back here on planet Amarillo...I can just shut off my TV, and stop talking to my friends on the phone who know better, and pretend that the problems around here are pretty serious.
Wow. That my fellow Christians believe that it's okay to not act like Christ with each other because they think the other one doesn't quite "get it" is pretty humiliating. Equally humiliating is that I'm talking about me.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Question in Question

"A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed." -- Dresden James
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -- George Orwell
"If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people!" -- The prophet Micah, to a group who only wanted a truth that was reflective of their own wills

The sentence that came out of her mouth had the appearance of a question, but it wasn't really. It was a proclamation. In her mind, it was more of an informing. The "question" in question was, "Daddy, can I do the slip and slide?"
To my 3-year-old, this kind of question isn't really a question. Her tone and demeanor betrayed the fact that in reality this was a warning. "Give me the right answer, dad, and you will get my joy-filled approval, gratitude, excitement, kisses and support! But give me something else, buddy, and prepare for my ritual pouting, accusations, fit-throwing, cursings, and just over-all, general uncooperativeness."
Sure enough, when I answered with, "Yes, sweety, but we are going to wait a little bit to do that," she instantly put her upper lip out and her head down in utter disapproval...usually the first event in a series that show her displeasure and serves as her effort to get things the way she wants. 
You see, in her 3-yr-old mind, there was only one right answer. And that would be, by the way, the answer that she wanted and was sincerely convinced she was right about.
I have met 70-year-olds who have not outgrown this 3-year-old mentality...and the only "growth" they've had concerning it is that they have learned to manipulate and twist words and meanings in order to sound right to themselves. I, too, find myself adhering to this. "Tell me what I want to hear, what is agreeable to my ears and my already determined beliefs, and I will reward you with my joy-filled approval, gratitude, excitement, kisses and support. But tell me something else, and prepare for my ritual pouting, accusations, fit-throwing, cursings and just over-all, general uncooperativeness."
Oh, for the capacity to see through ourselves in this! The truth is that we are sinners and subject to and entangled in deep emotions. We are easily disturbed, easily confused, easily offended, easily overcome, and easily destroyed. And so we appeal to puny, childish games that shortcut real growth, raw and real relationships, and spiritual progress. And if someone dares look for, find, and speak the objective truth, even with perfect love, the rest of us punish him with these assaults to try to get him to stop and fall in line. God help us ask the right questions, rise above ourselves, and see with Your eyes.
Look in the mirror for 10 minutes at your own face, asking yourself this question, to see if you are inadvertently behaving as my 3-year-old: "Is there anything on earth that offends me so much that I stop loving someone?"
You are stuck with your answer, if you have the courage to ask it and meditate on it. That's why many of us will not ask it. Not asking is one of our best strategies to protect ourselves.
For those of us who take a knee to the Christ, we are not being faithful and obedient to our religion when we merely survive an offense and keep on going (often called, inappropriately, the virtue of perseverance). We are only being faithful and obedient when our dedicated love for the offender is not compromised in the least when they offend us (true perseverance).
Religion, for decades, has taught that you need to be right in order to go to Heaven. This half-truth, accepted as the whole truth, has made such a mess of us.
God help us. We have a higher commitment to believing we are right than we do to actually being right...and we can't tell the difference between the two.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Not-Often-Thought-Of Need for Work

"I need rest." - The usually silent, but screaming, unspoken words of most people I know
"I need work." - The usually spoken, excited, motivated words of deeply rested people
The deeply rested people that I know are not the people who have just returned from a vacation. The deeply rested people that I know are the ones that live life constantly "rising up above themselves" and escape the trappings of their own making. It is these people that seem to love work in a way that I desire to love work.
Oh, tons of people I know love work. Just not the way I want to love work.
The ones that love work because they find their identity in it...have an identity that is too small.
The ones that love work because they have a "spot" on the planet that they can feel some sense of control...have an illusion that bears no lasting satisfaction.
The ones that love work because it is their hiding place from family relationships, Godly relationships, or just relationships...have a lonely existence.
The ones that love work because it's giving them money to do something they want to do that is other than their work...are wasting time doing something other than what they want to do, thinking it's the only way to do it.
While I have a little bit in common with all of the above people in regards to my "work", I would not put any of those reasons on my list of "why I love work."
I love work because I need it. I was made for it. Created for it. Incomplete without it. Lost without it.
The work I speak of does not stop when your "regular duties" are altered for a time due to a Sabbatical, a vacation, a resignation, a firing, or a job change.
Work, to me, is synonymous with life.
Work is synonymous with love.
Work is synonymous with truth.
It's synonymous with family.
It's synonymous with relationships.
Work, for each of us, is the only thing we are alive to do, when we understand what real work is. Jesus said that "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
A loaded statement, to say the least. And I don't think being a preacher means that I'm just one of the "lucky ones" who gets to be paid to do the work of God. This may sound strange for many, but I don't even think of myself as a "full-time minister"...never have. Maybe I just like imagining this, but I'm just striving to be a normal, God-directed, listening human being who believes that there is always a call on my life to do something for a Caller out there, and in my listening and responsiveness, it just happens to mean I'm in a pulpit right now, preaching about Jesus to a group of people I love in Amarillo, TX.
You were created for the work of God. I don't care who you are, I know that whatever your doing, your full time work is to believe in Jesus. To believe what he said, and live your life based on it. And, from personal experience I'll tell you, when I'm doing that work it changes my life daily.
And I need it to feel alive.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Silence and Solitude

"When I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased." - King David
I am in the heart of my first, 3-week-long Sabbatical (rest) from the regular duties of my preaching position at the Southwest church. I call it the heart, not because I'm smack dab in the middle of it (which I am), but because I am on the last of a 3-day-long retreat of silence and solitude. I have not seen nor spoken to another human being for 2 days now, and will spend one more night here and then reunite with my family and my world tomorrow. If you asked me right now about it, I'd tell you that I wish it were longer. But the pause I'm now taking to write this email suggests to me that I am longing for human contact more than I might admit.
I had elevated this 3 days "with God" as the pinnacle of this "productive rest", everything I've done previously building up to it, everything that I will do starting tomorrow coming out of it.
My friend Andy, on the Sunday of this Sabbatical's beginning, wishing me well articulated my hearts desire for this time (something like) these words: "We all wish, and probably should, do what you are about to do, but either don't or won't. As you do it, do it for all of us." 
While standing under the shade of a tree, listening to the deafening silence, asking God to break it with His voice...I was compelled to open my Bible to a random Psalm, which ended up being the 39th one. The comment of David above comes from there, and probably best describes my time here.
I have immersed myself these last two days in the Gospels of John and Luke, the teachings of historians Thomas Cahill and Ray Vander Laan concerning the times and peoples surrounding Jesus' appearing, and the memoirs of George Muller (who's courageous and literal dependence on prayer is what my heart both longs for and is unwilling to try). When I have been sleepy, I have slept. When I have been hungry, I have eaten. I have gotten to see some cool wildlife in action (it doesn't take much of this to impress me), was interrupted by an awesome lightening storm that I watched travel from the distance and pass right over me (admittedly scary, but awesome to stand with in).
A I have paused many times in order to, unsuccessfully, be still and know that God is God.
Each time, my anguish increased. I felt I must do something. Read something. Study something. Serve someone. Be interruptible. Plan a sermon series. Go to the bathroom. Listen to a tape.
So, what I have learned? Many things.
1. I need to take extended time with God much more than I do now.
2. My prayer life stinks. Extended time with God is only beneficial for those who know how to be with God.
3. God wants me to be dependant on Him day by day for things like sermons, and more dedicated time spent on them will not earn me a better sermon (no, I'm NOT saying I don't need to study...he who has an ear, let him hear).
4. Having people in need around me to serve is a gift from God, so that I can do here on earth what is done in Heaven.
5. That earthly luxury and security gets in the way of knowing what it is to have God's luxury and security.
I am going to go out again and be still and know that Yahweh is God. I've mastered the "be active and know that Yahweh is God" thing, and I've flirted with the "be still" thing, but I've got a long way to go. King David continued in that Psalm to say "My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned, then I spoke with my tongue." That may be what just happened to me with this email, although in an atypical tamed sort of way for me.
David went on to ask God to show Him exactly when he was going to die so that he could understand how puny his life really is in the big scheme of things. How fleeting his efforts on earth are considering the hugeness of God and His efforts.
That's what I need before I go home, too. It just occurred to me that I have not yet cried while being here alone. That is not like me, and it is a sure sign that I am not connected to the overwhelming heart of God. I go out into my lonely "wilderness" one last time tonight, looking not for tears, but for the God that I always find when they come. As in David's last words in this Psalm:
"Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more."

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Day That is Coming...But Not Yet

"You remind me of the Apostle Paul." -- said to me by my friend, Ben Wall, years ago, as we did ministry together
I have long felt a kinship with Paul of the Bible. I think that anyone who has seriously committed his life and soul to advancing Christ's Kingdom can find a version of his own story in Paul's story, but I still like to think that he and I have a special affinity. And while I like to imagine having a powerful, global impact like he, that's not what I'm talking about.
Remember when Paul (he went by Saul then) used all his zeal and passion to defend "God's religion" from moving into error by Christians?  I used to do that. Remember when Paul was then interrupted by Jesus and was told to stop what he was doing because he, in fact, was working against God and didn't know it? I feel like that happened to me. Remember how Paul sat in Damascus, dazed and confused and blinded, waiting for Jesus to tell him what to do? I experienced that.
And remember when Jesus promised and then commissioned Paul personally, "I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." I so totally feel like I have had this experience.
I feel sent, like Paul, to the "gentiles" of our day. No, not "non-Jews", for I am one of them, and indebted to Paul for initiating such a powerful ministry to us. The gentiles of our day, at least in America, are the "non-churched". I don't really like that word, but haven't found one I like, and so will trust you know what I mean.
And you know how Paul went first to the Jews in each city he visited to see who would accept the Messiah so that he knew who he could count on in that city to be a church fellowship for these hard to accept gentiles? I feel like I'm supposed to do that, too. The way Paul and his buddy Barny explained themselves to the Jews was, "We had to speak the word of God to you first." (Acts 13:46) And I honestly feel like, too. As a matter of fact, that is a PERFECT description of the season of Paul's life that I am in right now, right here in Amarillo. The "Jews" in my life (per this analogy) are my friends at the Southwest Church of Christ. Probably the best statement from Paul's life, that reflects this current priority of mine, is a comment by Luke when he said, "Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." (Acts 18:5)
Up ahead, however, a dramatic decision awaits me. (I am fortunate that I have many brothers and friends and intimate allies that surround me. And I don't know about Paul, but I need them. They remind me of what matters most when I'm weary. At the first sign of possible discouragement or distraction, they notice and firmly keep my eyes on the Goal.) And sometimes I put my head down to the ground and watch my feet take one step at a time and forget, but God oftentimes forces my head up to look ahead...and when He does, excitement and passion and conviction (and emails like this one) just pop out of me.
Before too terribly long, the day is coming that I will turn resolutely to the "Gentiles" and take the Word of God to them. It will be great because I know there are folks out there who are just waiting to hear about this life-giving message from me, and are ready to embrace it with both arms by letting go of everything else...and that many of my "Jewish" brothers will go out there with me. But it will also be sad because it will mark an end of the current season of life for me, the one where I get to preach Christ to "my own people" first, inviting them from the religious life we were brought up with to the abundant life of a singular focus on Christ's mission.
The way Paul said it, when it came upon him, was..."We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us." (Acts 13:47)
The way Luke continued his commentary about this was..."Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:5-6)
I am currently preaching to the Southwest Church of Christ, explaining and declaring to them the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and from the Prophets and from the Gospels and from the Letters (see Paul's version of this in Acts 28:23-25). And it is awesome. I have joined many among these people who have been doing this for years before I got here, most notably the elders and ministers that I get to work with, and there are dozens more.
So for now, I am full of joy as I pursue this season of life and calling, patiently watching to see who else has already and will continue to join us in discovering the "more and more" available to us in Christ. But I also enjoy lifting my head, looking forward, and seeing that the time is coming (the day and hour I don't know) that my heart's desire to see new life flow into the hearts of those outside our Southwest walls, because of the people inside of our walls. It will be a time in my life where I feel I will have been faithful to God's commission to go to "the Gentiles" and share with them our lives and this great news.
Then, I hope and pray, what happened in Paul's life will happen in mine..."When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region." (Acts 13:48-50)