Thursday, April 28, 2005

Audience of One

"The more one sees life, the more one feels, in order to keep from shipwreck, the necessity of steering by the Polar Star, i.e. in a word leave to God alone, and never pay attention to the favors or smiles of man; if He smiles on you, neither the smile or frown of man can affect you." - General Charles Gordon
"I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt." -- Harry Truman
"I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless." -- The Audience of One
When I am alone with no one looking, no one to impress, and no one's approval or applause is being sought...and this is a rare time indeed, for I am always conscious of, surrounded by, and helpless to the power of the audiences around me...and it is just myself and God, I think about Jesus.
I get really obsessive about Jesus, the human being...I want to know him, imitate him, talk like him, look like him, repeat him. Just today I took my Bible to the toilet with me and looked for all the ways that Jesus addressed God when he prayed, because I want to address God the way Jesus did. Yesterday I was talking to my buddy Landon about something really important, but had to stop and wanted him to join me in brainstorming all the ways that Jesus got his disciples to look inwardly at themselves, because I want to help people do that like Jesus did. I'm going next week to speak at the Pepperdine Lectureship (which someone told me today that they were really impressed with that. Why is that? Because of the audience that will be listening? The institution that is represented? Or because the Audience of One will see me more clearly in Malibu, CA than at a youth retreat in Houston?) and it afforded me the opportunity to ask myself, "What is my one message to 'the brotherhood', if I had only one?" You know what my answer was? That we should be striving to be what our sign's say we are...churches that are actually OF Christ.
I love Jesus. I get distracted from him all the time, even with my serving of him sometimes, but ask my wife, even when someone asks, "What does your husband do for fun?" she has to say, "think about or talk about Jesus." (Okay, she would say skydiving, too...but even that just makes me think of the analogy of having life or death faith in Jesus!)
It really is an obsession, almost to the point of fanatic, and I think I might just actually worship the ground he walks on. When my friend Jerry Cox went to the Holy Lands years ago, I just had one request, "Bring me a rock from someplace that Jesus was." A rock!!!???!!!
I'm really strange about this, and I wonder where it comes from. I've been a preacher for almost year now, and preached about 45 sermons or so, and when I look back at them, you know who's teaching or example I've used pretty much every time? You guessed it, it was Micah! (Just kidding, it was really Jesus.)
I know where it comes from. It's from those few times in my life that I found myself really alone with God. Every time...not sometimes...every time I actually find myself spiritually connected to the Father, I hear the same thing, every time..."It's about my son, Brian. It's all about my son. If you want to love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then get to know my son."
And He is the only One I want to perform for.
Most of the time, my performance is diluted with my focus on a bunch of other, wrong, audiences. It's then that I compromise my singular focus on worshiping, imitating, and following Jesus. But even on my compromised days, I at least know where home is. I know the way. I know the truth. I know the life. And I know why Jesus said so forthrightly "No one comes to the Father except by me."
It's because Jesus knows how much his Dad loves him. And he knows the grace that will abound for those who love God's son.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Semper Reformanda

“In a fallen world the Reformation maxim Semper Reformanda ('always reforming') really hits the mark.  We are always in need of reformation.  Today our deepest need is not just for reformation but for the 'reformation of reformation' as well.” – Os Guiness


“Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God.” – The Prophet Jeremiah


I know how to talk of reformation, but I’m not so confident that I know how to reform.” – Yours Truly


For better or for worse, I am a member of the denomination called the Church of Christ. My highest loyalty is to Christ, and it has usurped my loyalty to the Church of Christ, and compelled me to be more closely affectionate with the church of Christ. Long ago, I thought they were synonymous and the exclusive property of one another.


What got me thinking about this distinction was my discovery that I didn’t need to be like Christ at all to be a member in good standing of the Church of Christ. This took me on my first tour of personal reformation…and this tour hasn’t ever ended (even when I thought it had on several occasions).


I looked around at who I was in fellowship with and saw that many around me WERE like Christ, even though they didn’t have to be in order to be accepted by our denomination. It was these, I noticed, who had people surrounding them who needed the real and genuine love of the Father. I fell in love with these people, and longed to be one of them.


Now, as I look in the Bible that I had grown up learning, I see that these people were the only true followers all along! They loved people and looked for opportunities to do it more and better! They did it in the name of Jesus, and they did it with a selflessness and openness that I couldn’t call anything but inconvenient and courageous.


Now I teach from that Bible every week to a group of people in my denomination, the Church of Christ. From what I can tell after almost a year with them, the majority of them are just like me…longing to be one of “those people” that make a life-changing difference in others…marking themselves as followers of Jesus, members of the church of Christ.


I’m always trying to ask myself, “What is the Christianity that I want my children being raised up within?” And when I ask that, I feel the attack of an enemy upon me to stop asking. That single question wakes up the best parts of me…it guides me in my current role as “a voice of reformation” as well as any question I ask. But instantly, when I ask it, I hear voices saying, “Don’t be so idealistic,” “Asking that will just depress you”, “Just protect your own children from the denominational parts, and only let the Christ-like parts influence them”, and “That’s not what you are here to do, Brian.”


I need to reform some more. And God has never let me reform alone. He always, always, always has had me drag people with me. I’ve always needed them, too…and I just hope and pray that I am someone they needed. It’s pretty much all I’ve got in the wake of my life, and I don’t plan on having much else. I’m just running after God’s Son with all that I am, and as little as that is, what else can I do?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” – Paul, to a group of folks in Ephesus


My wife doesn’t call me Brian, not usually, not unless I’m in trouble. She calls me “Husband”.


It goes back to our transition from courting, to dating, to engaged, to fully and irrevocably committed to each other until the separation of death comes. I could tell instantly after we got married that my wife gloried in my commitment to her. She had made the risky commitment to me in her heart long before I had. She chose to put her heart “out there” before she ever got the commitment from me that I would care for it as she deserves. She moved to Houston, where I lived my jam-packed life, without any guarantee from me that I would have room for her. There she lived, allowing me to pursue her at my own pace, longing for me to accept her love and the life she would bring to me, her heart totally vulnerable to my indecision.


Suffice it to say it was an emotionally painful journey for her. But she courageously waited in pain and fear. She had no way of knowing if this would ever lead to “will you let me spend the rest of my life thanking you for waiting?” or “I’m sorry, Carrie, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be married.”


And so, when we walked the beautiful path, finally together, to our vows of forever, her joy (and my glory) came in her changing my name from Brian to Husband. Shoot, just thinking about that first year, seeing her face say “Husband” to me so intentionally, so proud, so victorious, and so full of beauty packs the title with privilege and honor for me.


Since then, we have continued our introspective journey’s together, trying to continue the transformation of our lives into greater and greater Christlikeness and God-awareness…doing so as partners. But…


We sometimes get confused. Instead of staying on the introspective journey, we go extro-spective, inspecting each other, trying to change each other for our own good.


But I have to wonder. I wonder how my wife would change if I loved her just like Jesus loved the church.


How many moments in my day do I fail to heed the simple words, “Husbands, love your wives”? Dude, my new name is written right into the verse, you’d think I’d get it.


This verse goes on to suggest that I can do it. That I can love my wife so completely, so totally, and so appropriately that I can even shoulder her “issues” and love doing it! And that by loving her so comprehensively that I would actually then we loving myself appropriately! Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? It says here that I can present my bride to myself holy, blameless, and without wrinkle! What if ALL of the work I think needs to take place in her is really my message from God that I have work to do in ME? This stirs up the wild adventurer in me, I’ll admit. I want to believe this is true. I will feel like a genuine hero in the eyes of my wife, because I’m so intimately fighting for her heart. It might even put the sparkle and pride and disbelief back into her eye when she says “Husband” to me.

My friend Jim Spivey said it like this once.

 "The condition of my marriage is a perfect reflection of the condition of my life, which is a perfect reflection of the condition of my faith.  If I want to improve my marriage, I must check my own integrity and straighten my own life out and get right with God.  Life is about continually learning to be more powerfully loving, and genuine love only attracts itself.  How much my partner loves me is really none of my business." 

This is how I’m going to love my wife. Ya’ll can measure how well I’m doing through the growing sparkle in her eye, the calm ease at which she walks through life giving the strength of her beauty away to friends and children. I know I’m on the hook for this (she will read this, too!), but this is a hook I want on. Pray for me.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Hard Simplicity

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” -- Soren Kierkegaard


Question from Brian Mashburn: “What is your definition of ‘Biblical Depth’?”

Answer from Kerry Shook: “Someone has Biblical Depth when they read the Bible and they don’t know any better than to do it.”


All week I have been in some turmoil over the series I will be preaching on over the next couple of months.


We are calling it: “Heart Attacks: Seeking the Person Behind the Behavior”. We are trying to call attention to the blatantly obvious teaching of the Bible that God is after the hearts of men, not merely their behavior, and we should be too. This truth affects every stinkin’ relationship so dramatically that it is very intimidating for me to preach the series. I have put so much stock in my behavior towards God (and others) that the simple truth that He really wants my heart scares me.


I’m supposed to shepherd the hearts of my children, not their behavior.

I’m supposed to be after the heart of my wife, not “be a good husband”.

I’m supposed to minister to the hearts of my parents, not complain about what they did or didn’t do.

I’m supposed to love the hearts of all mankind, not merely “give the lost a certain set of information.”

I’m supposed to remember that there is a wounded heart in my enemy, not merely react to my enemies attacks on me.


And most of all, I’m supposed to walk in the authority that my heart is surrendered to God, not merely “follow God’s rules”.


For some, the call to give their heart to God disarms them. They, in the face of their “condemning” behavior and can’t seem to imagine changing it, seem relieved when the starting point is to give God their hearts so that He can in turn give them a new one.


For us religious folks, though, it’s totally different. We have conformed our behavior and feel secure in it, so the idea of having to rework and rethink what is pleasing to God is hard. In addition to having to change everything in our thoughts and actions, we struggle with thinking that we have to condemn those who have taught us what we think now, and we love them way too much to do that. So we hide in the safety of our beliefs that it is our beliefs that save us, rather than a personal, relational, powerful God who will bypass our heads, our actions, our behaviors, and go straight for our hearts to see if He knows it.


God save us. Solomon told us that God has set eternity in the hearts of men, and we religious folks look for it in their minds. God save us from such small existence. Give us the dread that we must face by being alone with You, alone with Your Word, and give us the salvation from smaller things through it.