Believe it…or not!

Matthew 13:58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

“Belief” has become a very passive word. It’s not so much about actions, but about things. It’s not so much about movement, but about thought. It’s not so much about being in motion, but about inert ideals construed within ones mind concerning ones stance on this or that. In essence, “belief” has become an itemized list of thoughts about “things” and whether or not they are real or true. Once the validity, or lack their of, concerning those “things” has been established, we catalog the conclusions deep within our memories for future argument and discussion.

That’s really what “belief” seems to have become to many of us. A conversation piece at a party. Something we talk about or argue over with our friends. A stance we hold in our mind and try to win others over to through our rhetoric. But belief is not just what we think in our heads. It is not just a list of true false ideals. Belief is NOT PASSIVE! It is ACTIVE!!! It is not simply something to talk about, it is something to be lived. Belief without without life is nothing more than unseless empty thought and empty word.

It seems this kind of lifeless belief has become the default for many Christians in America today. We’re great when it comes to talking about our belief, but not so much when it comes to living it out. And, belief that is not lived out, is not belief at all…as a matter of fact, it becomes unbelief. That was the problem in Jesus hometown of Nazareth. The people there didn’t have a lack of beliefs. As a matter of fact, they held some very deep and sacred beliefs about life, and God, and people, but when the very God who gave life to the very people that held those beliefs comes walking into town, they could not see beyond themselves to believe. To put it into action. To truly live it out. That’s why Jesus couldn’t do any “deeds of power” there.

I wonder if the same is true for us today. Its so easy for us to blame the lack of God’s movement on the belief and moral systems of others. On the lack of faith of this person or that. On the music. The preaching. The person in the front of the sanctuary who is not as reverent as we think they ought to be. But what about ourselves? Are our beliefs just empty words? Or are we willing to look beyond the excuses, look beyond the distractions, and truly begin to take God at His word? And so, let me ask…do you believe?

Do you believe that God can heal the mortally sick?

Do you believe that God can restore the most broken of relationships?

Do you believe that God can provide the deepest of needs?

Do you believe that  God can change the most hardened of Hearts?

Do you believe that God has called us to feed the hungry?

Do you believe that God has called us to visit the imprisoned?

Do you believe that God has called us to house the homeless?

…clothe the naked?

…help and love single mothers?

…care for the poor?

…the elderly?

…the drug addict?

… the prostitute?

…the down and out?

…the lost?

Do you believe that God has called us as the church to Go therefore into all the world and make disciples of all nations? 

Its not enough to say yes! WE MUST ACT UPON IT!! And acting upon these beliefs means getting beyond ourselves, our own agenda’s, our own desires, our own wants. It means setting aside ourselves…our time…our discomfort. It means getting outside our church walls. Rearranging our church calendars. Doing more than eating meals and playing games and going to theme parks and calling it good Christian fellowship. The kind of fellowship God desires is fellowship that involves sinners and saints alike, as the hungry are fed, the sick are cared for, the imprisoned are visited, the naked are clothed,and  the lost are loved.  If we cannot do this, our belief is nothing more than empty words about sacred things. This lack of action, demonstrates unbelief. And with unbelief…there can be “no deeds of power” among us.

So the next time you want to blame the lack of God’s movement on something or someone else, pause for a moment, and ask yourself the question…do I really believe? Am I living like it?


How the church responds to God.

John 1:1-5,10-14 (NRSV)

1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people 5 the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

I want to ask you this morning, where do you stand when God shows up? …Where do you stand? …Do you reject him or accept him? you leave him out in the cold, or invite him into the home of your life? Where do you stand? Do you believe in him, or believe him to be a lie? Is he real to you, or is Jesus just another fairytale…just another story…or as a huge billboard just outside of New York City put it recently, is he just another MYTH that we tell every year at Christmas? Where do you stand?

Now I know most of you are looking at me this morning thinking, “well of course we accept him, of course when God shows up, we want to let him in.” But truth be told, its easy to say, but much more difficult to do. And truth be told, many of us this morning, from long time believers to first time church attendees, if we were to be honest with ourselves would confess, “yes I want to let him in, but yes I’m living like he’s a fairy tale.”

And so I am asking you this morning to be honest with yourself…where do you stand when God shows up? When Jesus becomes flesh…where do you stand, what is your reaction, how do you respond? Do you accept or reject this word made flesh that dwells among us?…

I really love how Eugene Peterson translates those very words in the message, instead of the “the word became flesh and dwelt among us, Peterson puts it this way “and the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Can you imagine being neighbors with Jesus? For some of us, that doesn’t sound like a bad scenario, but for others, Jesus is the neighbor you just don’t want.

When I was growing up as a teenager, we had dog named Rowdy. Rowdy was a small dog, especially compared to the Rottweiler that our neighbors right next door had. Now, you need to know that our house was only about ten feet away from our neighbors and you could stand in our kitchen, look out the window, and see straight into their dinning room. And everyday this huge, vicious looking black dog would stare out that dinning room window and bark at our house, like it was waiting to get us, like it was lying it wait for its prey.

One day, as I was walking my dog around the block, the evil Rottweiler was tied up in the neighbor’s back yard. As I cam around the corner of the house, he saw me and Rowdy. It started running straight toward us, but I wasn’t to scared, I knew it was tied up. I was waiting for it to get yanked back like the dog in the old foghorn leghorn cartoons. But, it never happened. It just kept coming. I picked my little dog up and began running. The Rottweiler kept at us, jumping up at me, trying to get my dog. Finally, we got away…but it wasn’t over yet.

A few days later, as I was getting ready to take Rowdy out again, the neighbors dog broke through their screen door, ran over to our house, and as soon as I opened the door, he was in our house, jaws locked around Rowdy’s little neck.

Many of us view Jesus as this kind of neighbor. We see him as this big cosmic dog out to get us.  This big dog that’s out to hurt us, that’s out to destroy us. Waiting for the right moment to attack.

But the thing is, when Jesus moves into the neighbor hood, he doesn’t just move in down the street or next to us…he wants to move in with us! Into our lives, into our homes, into our jobs, our marriages, our families, OUR VERY BEING!!

In Revelation 3:20 we hear the words of Jesus proclaiming “Here I am, I stand at the door and knock.” I want to ask you this morning, when God shows up…when he shows up knocking on the door of your life…where do you stand? You see the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us as John explains it here, is the LOUDEST knock you can imagine and its not just a little tap, tap, tap, God is poundings and beating on our doors of life…he wants to come in…he wants to live with us…he wants to live in us…I want to ask you, where do you stand? What is your reaction? How do you respond when God shows up…knocking?

A couple of months ago Becca and I heard a loud knocking at our door, which is not extremely unusual except for the fact that it was 2am in the morning. I grabbed my flashlight, and my metal baseball bat, becca grabbed the cell phone ready to call 911. I went to the door and through the other side I could make out a figure of a man standing on our stoop. I walked to the door and didn’t even give the man a chance. I don’t know why he showed up, if he was in need, or at just the wrong house. My only thought was that he was there to rob us, so…I yelled through the door as loudly and as forcibly as I could, “YOU NEED TO LEAVE, YOU CANT BE HERE, YOU NEED TO GO NOW.” And at that, the man turned around, got in his car, and left.

I cant help but think that this is how many of us respond to God when He shows up knocking on the doors of our lives.  He comes unexpectedly, at inconvenient times, we are uncertain of what he wants or what he might ask of us, and we are fearful if we let him in, he just might rob us of our lives, of our fun, of our joy…of ourselves…

And so I ask you…Where do you stand? What is your reaction? How do you respond…when God shows up… knocking on your door of life? Do you reject him or accept him? Do you view him as some pesky neighbor, a dog waiting to get ya, or a thief that wants to rob your life?

Or, maybe you react to God’s knocking  kind of like Thidwick, the big hearted moose, the 1948 Children’s book by Dr. Suess. Thidwick, who lived  in a herd “about sixty or more” , accepts a bug living on his antlers for free, because Thidwick has a big heart, and he wants to do the right thing, and to be a good host. Well, the bug tells a spider of the free housing, and both accept a “Zinn-a-zu” bird. The herd rejects Thidwick after the Zinnazu bird’s wife, a woodpecker, and four squirrels move in. But Thidwick, with his big heart, who wants to do the right thing and be a good host allows them to stay.

Soon after a bobcat and turtle settle, winter moves in, and although food is scarce, they refuse to let Thidwick travel to the other side of the lake. And Thidwick, with his big heart, who wants to do the right thing and be a good host allows them all to stay.  Even more pressure hits the poor moose after three mice, a fox, a bear, and 362 bees move in on his antlers, but trouble switches thoughts fast after seeing hunters who “must get his head for the Harvard Club wall”.

When Thidwick is trapped and about to loose his head…he suddenly remembers that antler-shedding season has arrived. And Thidwick, with his big heart, who wants to do the right thing and be a good host…finally has his answer. His antlers fall off, he abandons his guests to their doom, he swims to the other side of the lake to rejoin his herd, and his antlers, along with all the former squatters, are stuffed and mounted on the Harvard room wall.

Now, you may be thinking, how in the world does this have anything to do with how we respond to God?? Well, many of us are just like Thidwick. We want to do the right thing, we want to be good hosts…and so when God knocks, we let him in, not because we want to, but because we are supposed to. We live in relationship with God out of obligation…not out of love. Kind of like a shotgun wedding.

This kind of relationship with God is like visiting the Biltmore. Built in the early 20th century by the Vanderbilts in Ashville NC, it’s a 135,ooo sq/ft home, with indoor pool and bowling alley attracts thousands of people every year, only you don’t have full access to the house. There are places you can’t go. Rooms are roped off. Furniture is off limits.

When we let God in out of obligation, its like saying ok Lord, you can come in, but this room, don’t go in there, these things over here, leave them alone. We let him in…but we really don’t want him there.

So I ask, where do you stand when God shows up…knocking on the door of your life? Do you reject him or accept him? Do you see him as a big dog waiting to attack, a thief ready to rob, or do you let him out of obligation with limited access to your life? Where do you stand?

John tells us that to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

You see, when God shows up…knocking on the doors of our lives…and we let him in, with full and unrestricted access to everything we have, everything we are…when we give him permission to search through our deepest darkest closets, to know our most guarded secrets…SOMETHING INCREDIBLE HAPPENS…God does not destroy us…HE RENEWS US ….God does not rob us HE FILLS US!! He fills us with love, and joy, and peace, and life. Everything we need, have needed, or will ever need…Jesus himself BECOMES!!!! If…we let him in.

When we freely and humbly allow God into our lives, into our homes, into our jobs, our marriages, our families, OUR VERY BEING…we won’t find a fairy tale…we find truth, we won’t find a big cosmic dog waiting to destroy…we find a merciful loving God waiting to forgive….we wont find a thief waiting to rob, but a generous and gracious God longing to fill us, and overflow us with his goodness!!

And God today…right here, right now…is knocking!! And he has been knocking for a very long time! As a matter of fact, God has been knocking since …the …beginning.

You see, John is doing something very interesting in this first gospel. Notice that the first three words John uses…in the beginning, are identical in every way to the first three words in Genesis 1…in the beginning. And john has done this on purpose. He is making a distinct and intentional connection back to Genesis 1.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was formless and void, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep. The literally translation there in the Hebrew for formless and void…tohu and vohu…mean chaos and confusion…I really like how the message puts it…THE EARTH WAS A SOUP OF NOTHINGNESS, A BOTTOMLESS EMPTINESS, AN INKY BLACKNESS.

And john is making the connection to say that this is what our world is like right here…right now. It is full of chaos and confusion…life feels like nothingness, its full of emptiness…the world is overcome with darkness…as a matter of fact, those may be words that some of us use this very day to describe our very lives…BUT…GOD SAID LET THERE BE LIGHT…He spoke order in the chaos at the beginning, he spoke understanding into its confusion, he spoke light into its darkness, he spoke substance into its emptiness, and through Jesus Christ…THE LIGHT THAT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS…he does the very same thing today!!!!

God speaks….

He speaks love into lonely lives

He speaks restoration into broken relationships

He speaks purpose into desperation

He speaks fullness into emptiness

He speaks strength into weakness

He speaks provision into need

He speaks light into darkness

He speaks life into death

But before he speaks…he knocks

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And so I ask you…where do you stand when God shows up…knocking?

 

 

 

 

 


How the World Responds to God?

John 1:1-4,1o-14 (NRSV)

1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people 5 the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Where does the world stand when God shows up? Your family members, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, the check out guy at the gas station, your kids soccer coach, your bank teller? Where do they stand? What about the street our church is on? The neighborhood we are in? Where do they stand? Do they reject him or accept him?  Leave him out in the cold, or invite him into their homes? Where do they stand? Do they believe in him, or believe him to be a lie? Is he real to them or is Jesus just another fairytale…just another story…just another myth? Where do they stand? Do they reject or accept this word made flesh that lived among us?

I really love how Eugene Peterson translates those very words in the message, instead of “the word became flesh and lived among us, Peterson puts it this way “and the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Can you imagine being neighbors with Jesus? For some of us, that doesn’t sound like a bad scenario, but for many in our world, Jesus is the neighbor you just don’t want.

When I was growing up as a teenager, we had dog named Rowdy. Rowdy was a small dog, especially compared to the Rottweiler that our neighbors right next door had. Now, you need to know that our house was only about ten feet away from our neighbors and you could stand in our kitchen, look out the window, and see straight into their dinning room. And everyday this huge, vicious looking black dog would stare out that dinning room window and bark at our house, like it was waiting to get us, like it was lying it wait for its prey.

One day, as I was walking my dog around the block, the evil Rottweiler was tied up in the neighbor’s back yard. As I cam around the corner of the house, he saw me and Rowdy. It started running straight toward us, but I wasn’t to scared, I knew it was tied up. I was waiting for it to get yanked back like the dog in the old foghorn leghorn cartoons. But, it never happened. It just kept coming. I picked my little dog up and began running. The Rottweiler kept at us, jumping up at me, trying to get my dog. Finally, we got away…but it wasn’t over yet.

A few days later, as I was getting ready to take Rowdy out again, the neighbors dog broke through their screen door, ran over to our house, and as soon as I opened the door, he was in our house, jaws locked around Rowdy’s little neck.

Many people in our world view Jesus as this kind of neighbor. They see him as this big cosmic dog out to get them.  This big dog that’s out to hurt, kill, and destroy. Waiting for the right moment to attack.

But the thing is, when Jesus moves into the neighbor hood, he doesn’t just move in down the street or next to us…he wants to move in with us! Into our lives, into our homes, into our jobs, our marriages, our families, INTO OUR VERY BEING!!

Most of us know the familiar words of Revelation 3:20 “Here I am, I stand at the door and knock.” And so I ask you this morning, when God shows up…when He shows up knocking on the door of the gas station clerk, the door of the soccer coach, the door of bank teller…when he shows up knocking, on the door of our neighborhood, our city, our world…where do they stand? How do they respond when God shows up… knocking?

A couple of months ago my wife and I heard a loud knocking at our door, which is not extremely unusual except for the fact that it was 3am in the morning. I grabbed my flashlight, and my metal baseball bat, my wife grabbed the cell phone ready to call 911. I went to the door and through the other side I could make out a figure of a man standing on our stoop. I walked to the door and didn’t even give the man a chance. I don’t know why he showed up, if he was in need, or at just the wrong house. My only thought was that he was there to rob us, so…I yelled through the door as loudly and as forcibly as I could, “YOU NEED TO LEAVE, YOU CANT BE HERE, YOU NEED TO GO NOW.” And at that, the man turned around, got in his car, and left.

I can’t help but think that this is how many in our world respond to God when He shows up knocking on the doors of their lives.  He comes unexpectedly, at inconvenient times, they are uncertain of what he wants or what he might ask of them, and they are fearful if they let him in, he just might rob them of their lives, of their fun, of their joy…of themselves…

And I can’t help but wonder why? Why is it so many in our world view God as this cosmic dog waiting to attack, or this thief that wants to rob them of their lives? I can’t help but wonder that maybe…just maybe, it’s because so many in the church, respond to God in the same way. So many of us live as if God is that cosmic dog, or that thief at the door of life waiting to come in and clean out all that is good and precious to us.

Maybe it’s because every time the phone rings and someone on the other end is asking for financial assistance, needs a place to stay for the night, or money for food to eat, we never have the funds available, but we ALWAYS seem to find a way to fund our own parties and retreats.

Maybe its because we ourselves are moving out of the neighborhood, moving away from our churches and into the suburbs, or even worse, so many are moving their churches out of the neighborhood with them.

You see, if as the church we are God’s representatives in the world, we must realize, that we ourselves are the doorknockers we are the doorbells. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul proclaims, “so, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

So, maybe the question today isn’t how does our world respond when God shows up knocking, but how do WE respond? Because it is in OUR response to God, that we will find the answer to the worlds response to Him. Let me put it this way…I once heard someone say, show me your faith, and I will show you your image of God. What image of God are WE portraying to our neighbors…to our world?

Right now, there is older man down the street who is convinced that God is out to get him. For 63 years his life has remained in constant chaos and turmoil. Nothing good has every come from God and nothing ever will. And God to him is nothing but the big dog waiting to attack.

Just a few blocks over, there’s a teenager who is convinced that they can create their own life. They don’t need God or want anything to do with him, because to them all He is, is a thief, waiting to rob fun, joy, and happiness out of life.

There’s a couple that lives right next door to the church. They’re not married, but they live together. Every time they step in the doors they feel like condemning eyes have already sentenced them to death. And Jesus is just the pesky, nosey, neighbor that nobody wants to have.

BUT THIS IS NOT THE IMAGE OF OUR GOD!

You see, when God shows up…knocking on the doors of our lives…and we let him in, with full and unrestricted access to everything we have, everything we are…when we give him permission to search through our deepest darkest closets, to know our most guarded secrets…SOMETHING INCREDIBLE HAPPENS…God does not destroy us…HE RENEWS US ….God does not rob us HE FILLS US!! He fills us with love, and joy, and peace, and life. Everything we need, have needed, or will ever need…Jesus himself BECOMES!!!! If…we let him in.

When we freely and humbly allow God into our lives, into our homes, into our jobs, our marriages, our families, OUR VERY BEING…we won’t find a fairy tale…we find truth, we won’t find a big cosmic dog waiting to destroy…we find a merciful loving God waiting to forgive….we wont find a thief waiting to rob, but a generous and gracious God longing to fill us, and overflow us with his goodness!!

And God today…right here, right now…is knocking!! He is knocking on the doors of our neighborhood, our city, our world. He is knocking on the door of the gentleman down the street, the door of the teenager a few blocks over, the door of the couple right next door. And he has been knocking for a very long time! As a matter of fact, God has been knocking …since… the… beginning.

You see, John does something very interesting here in this first gospel. Notice that the first three words John uses…in the beginning are identical in every way to the first three words in Genesis 1…in the beginning. And john has done this on purpose. He is making a distinct and intentional connection back to Genesis 1.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was formless and void, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep. The literally translation there in the Hebrew for formless and void…tohu and vohu…mean chaos and confusion…I really like how the message puts it…THE EARTH WAS A SOUP OF NOTHINGNESS, A BOTTOMLESS EMPTINESS, AN INKY BLACKNESS.

And john is making the connection to say that this is what our world is like right here…right now. This is what the world is facing. Our family members, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, the check out guy at the gas station, your kids soccer coach, and your bank teller are all living in worlds of chaos and confusion…life feels like nothingness, its full of emptiness…the world is overcome with darkness…BUT…GOD SAID LET THERE BE LIGHT…He spoke order in the chaos at the beginning, he spoke understanding into its confusion, he spoke light into its darkness, he spoke substance into its emptiness, and through Jesus Christ…THE LIGHT THAT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS…and we as his church, …he does the very same thing today!!!!

God speaks….

He speaks love into lonely lives

He speaks restoration into broken relationships

He speaks purpose into desperation

He speaks fullness into emptiness

He speaks strength into weakness

He speaks provision into need

He speaks light into darkness

He speaks life into death

But before he speaks…he knocks…he knocks through you, and me…and when the door is open, he speaks the very same way…through you and me!

And so I ask you…where does our world stand when God shows up?  That my friends, depends on where we stand! Or…better yet, where we live and how we live. Are we willing, to join God in moving BACK into the neighborhood?


Patience, Mercy, and Grace

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Philippians 2:1-8

I am thankful that God does not treat us with the same amount of patience, mercy, and grace that we many times extend to each other…even in the church. If God treated us in similar fashion, there would be no hope of salvation from sin, redemption of life, or restoration of brokenness. We would be…lost…helpless…hopeless…lifeless!

Many times we excuse ourselves by blaming our humanness, our weakness, and our limited point of view. We chalk it up to our personalities. We downplay the call of God in our lives. But the truth is, we are ALL to “have the same mind as Christ Jesus.” We are to think of and see the world around us, including enemies, the very way He did…and does!

We are to think of each other the way Jesus thinks of us. We are to think of our enemies, the way Jesus thinks of our enemies. Before we act against someone, speak roughly with them, or write witty words to put them down or “tell them how it really is.” We must THINK!!! We must think like JESUS! Would Jesus act, speak, or write, what we are about to act, speak, or write. If we are truthful, the answer is probably NO!!

I wonder, if we are to take the words of Paul seriously, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves, how might those actions, words, or e-mails look different? How might our churches look different? How might our world look different? I wonder, what would happen if we were more concerned with pouring ourselves out for the sake of others, than being filled for the sake of ourselves? What would happen if we took Paul’s call serious?…We would look, act, and speak like Jesus!

This is who we are called to be. This is how we are called to live. Everything we think, speak, and do, should be filtered through the mind of Christ. We are called to live in humility. We are called to give ourselves up. We are called to live for others. We are called to think of others first. We are called to live and love like Jesus! THIS IS WHO WE ARE TO BE! This is our calling!

To live in such a humility as Christ did can seem like such a huge divide to cross. But the truth is, we will never have to cross a divide as great and expansive as Jesus did when he left heaven to become like us. Because Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

THIS IS OUR CALLING! THIS IS WHO WE ARE TO BE!

I am thankful that God does not treat us with the same amount of patience, mercy, and grace that we many times extend to each other…even in the church. My longing, my hope, my prayer, is that as the church, we can extend to each other, to our world, and even to our enemies, the very same patience, mercy, and grace, that God extended and still extends to us! Lord help us…be less, and less, and less, like us, and  more, and more, and more like you. AMEN!


On Love of Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, .so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus Christ

Every good movie has a good…or more appropriately a bad, antagonist…you know, the classic villain…the typical enemy….the plain old bad guy. Think of Biff Tannen of Back to the future…. The wicked witch in the wizard of oz…Think of Darth Vader of Starwars…Lex Luther of Superman…or the Joker in Batman…

Now these are not just conjured up characters of the silver screen. Our world is full of real life antagonists and villains…it’s full of enemies and bad guys. They are very real people, doing very bad things. Think of Osama Bin Laden, Nidal Malik Hasan (the recent shooter at Ft. Hood). Think of Charles Manson, child molesters, rapists, murders.

Truth of the matter is, these bad guys don’t stay on the silver screen, and they are not confined to the evening news…they emerge in our very own lives. Think of your antagonist…who is your villain… your enemy… think of your bad guy? Can you see their face? What is it that sets them against you? Is it something they did to you? Something you did to them? I want you to let their name echo in your mind for the next few moments…

For me, the first name that rings clearly in my head is the name Joe. Joe was my very first true enemy…he was my very first bad guy. Joe was two grades ahead of me in school. He was bigger than I was. He was stronger than I was. He was scarier than I was. Much scarier. He looked just like Slash, the guitarist from Guns & Roses…long black hair always in his eyes, and this permanent painful expression on his face that simply told the world “Don’t mess with me!”

So…I don’t know what it was that made this twerp of a 6th grader mess with the most frightening kid in the school. I don’t know why, when he passed me in the hallway that day, I said what I said. As a matter fact, I don’t even remember what I said, but whatever it was, was enough for him to want to beat the living daylights out of me…luckily, I was really good at avoiding him, and the school year was almost over…Joe would be moving on to high school, and I would have two peaceful years without him…surely two years is enough for a fella to forgot something said in the hallway…don’t ya think?

But…he didn’t. I was reminded of this fact the summer before my freshman year while at a convenient store down the street from my house. Walking out of the store I heard two of his goons yell, “there’s Andy, lets go tell Joe….lets go get him” I never ran home so quickly in my entire life. And never had I been so scared to go back to school.

My first day felt like a war zone. Every corner I turned, I was looking for Joe, every class I had, I was looking for Joe. First period…nothing, second, third, and forth…nothing, fifth and sixth…nothing. I sat down in seventh period, my last class of the day…Geology with Mr. Dewald. I hadn’t seen Joe once. I breathed a sigh of relief. Took one last glance around the room just to make sure, and in the corner of my eye…I saw him…sitting one row over and a few chairs back. My antagonist, my villain, my enemy, my bad guy.

You know, the people of Israel around the time of Jesus had their very own Joe, their very own bad guy. Their enemy lived in a place called Rome, went by the name of Caesar and ruled with goons called soldiers. Their antagonist came in the form of an occupying army, and when you believe you are meant to be your own nation, set up under the authority of God Almighty, an occupying force just doesn’t cut it. So…what do you do…you hope for your enemy to be destroyed, overthrown, beat down, kicked off the throne.

Think of Peter in the Garden when they come to arrest Jesus, pulling his sword to defend against his enemy. Think of the disciples in Acts asking Jesus “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Let me paraphrase that for you with a little bit of freedom…”Lord when are you gonna kick those goons out?” It’s what they hoped for.

Its what we hope for…isn’t it? Think of the movie villains we started with. How many times do we find ourselves rooting…longing…and hoping for something bad to happen to the bad guy? We hope for Marty McFly to put Biff Tannen in his place. We hope for another house to drop on the other wicked witch. We hope for Darth Vader to fall by the light saber. We hope for characters like Lex Luther and The Joker to face…jail time, punishment, and even sometimes…we hope for death.

Think of the real life bad guys we talked of earlier. Do we not hope for horrible things for horrible people who hurt and abuse women and children? Do we not hope for someone to finally catch Osama Bin Laden…to even kill him? I’ll tell you this, where I’m from, just down the road by Ft. Campbell, if this did happen, the cities signs would be filled with congratulations and way to get em boys. Why…because we hope for bad guys to get what’s coming to them!!! Don’t we?

That’s what we hope for our own bad guys…isn’t it? That name that’s echoing around in your mind? Maybe we don’t hope for death, but if we are honest, a part of us smiles and rejoices inside when something bad happens to our bad guys. Maybe a bad case of the flu, or a skip over the job promotion, or a little fender bender where no ones hurt. I’ll tell you this, if I saw someone else beating the living daylights out of Joe in the school parking lot, I would have been the first one on the sideline rooting it on. And if we’re honest, some of us hope to be doing some rooting of our own as well!

But you know, Jesus has a different kind of longing, a different kind of hope; he has a different kind of view of the future. A different kind of calling for us and our enemies. That calling is love. And it is not a convenient love. It is not an easy love. But the most difficult and pure kind of love you can imagine…love that is whole and complete, encompassing even the worst of our enemies. The righteous and the unrighteous.

It is the kind of love that gives the skateboarders in the parking lot a cold drink
The kind of love that intentionally goes through the same check out week after week to build a relationship with Sally the cashier.
The kind of love that prays with the man that tried to rob you
The kind of love that forgives the killer of 5 Amish girls
The kind of love that compels a preacher to invite a convict to live in his home
The kind of love, that if it could, would invite Osama Bin Laden in for dinner…and wash his feet. Love your enemies…pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus isn’t exaggerating here. He means it…he lived it…
He ate with sinners and tax collector. Touched the untouchable. Went lovingly and purposefully to places no other Religious person would go. And even healed the child of a roman official and the servant of a roman centurion… who technically are…the enemy. And he calls us to do the same. Love your enemies…pray for those who persecute you.

The other day, my little boy, Isaac, who is only 5 years old told me that when he grows up, he wants to be a soldier and go and kill all the bad guys. My response was simple. Isaac, do you know what Jesus tells us to for bad guys? Jesus tells us to love and pray for them. That night when we said our prayers, Isaac asked if he could pray for the bad guys. “Dear Jesus”, he said, “I pray for all the bad guys. Will you help them to stop doing bad things and to help them love you?” A couple of days later, my 2 year old Caleb was running around the house, pretending like he was shooting bad guys. Isaac looked right at him and said, “brother, we don’t shoot bad guys…we pray for them.”

To be the church is to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…antagonists, villains, bad guys… and you already have a name echoing in your mind…


Experimental Grace for the Sake of Hope

Philosophy of Ministry: Experimental Grace for the Sake of Hope

The apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” I believe that the church exists to proclaim the name of Christ, build His kingdom, and set the world right, through any and all means useful and available as long as those means do not hinder, hurt, or detract from the doctrine and dogma of the church of the Nazarene. We are not simply building a congregation, a church, or a denomination. We are participants in something much larger than ourselves. We are participants in the Kingdom of God.

Ministry is the act of God making the world right, through His son and through His people. Ministry is the act of proclamation. It is the proclamation of life into a world of death, restoration to broken relationships, healing to the sick, and guidance to the lost. It is the proclamation of love to the lonely, hope to the hopeless, rest to the tired, and wholeness to the broken. It is a proclamation that God is making through His church.

I believe the church is called to be creative in its approaches to proclamation and kingdom building. In the tradition of John Wesley, we must practice what he called “experimental grace.” We must take chances, attempt new things, try out new approaches, and even allow ourselves to fail, for those who never fail, are those who never try. In the words of Thomas Alva EdisonMany of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

We must never give up. We must work with the utmost of urgency and determination. Our task is no simple calling. It is the greatest mission in all of history; to see the lives of as many children, teenagers, and adults, as possible, made right by God and ushered into His kingdom through His church.

The practice of “experimental grace” is not always a concept easily implemented. It stretches and challenges our abilities. It puts us in places of discomfort. It calls for change and forces us to believe the God of the possible for the impossible. Not every church is ready for this challenge, discomfort, and change. The implementation of such urgency in Kingdom building must first be exhorted in the life of a patient, loving, and gracious, Pastor.

John Maxwell describes a leadership concept that states you can only lead your people as far as your current abilities allow. He calls it “the law of the lid.” Essentially, leadership is the determining factor for how far one can lead the people. If you raise the lid, you raise the potential for how far the people can be led. In a church, there are many “lids” of leadership and life. One the most important of course, is that of the pastor.

From church administration and finances, to discipleship and outreach ministry, the pastor plays a major role in setting the bar or the “lid” for the people of the church. The pastor must be the example “kingdom builder” for his or her people. They must deeply love God and their neighbor, including their enemies, and they must be able to put this love rightly into action. Their heart must be broken for the lost. Their commitment to God and to family must be unwavering. Their integrity must stand without question. He or she must be “real” to and with the people, willing to show vulnerability, admit mistakes, and live in humble leadership. They must be compassionate, relational, and approachable.

The pastor must be prepared for any and all of life’s situations that affect the people, and be able to speak grace into those circumstances. The pastor must be able to understand where the people are in order to lead them to where they need to be. In other words, the pastor must help his or her people raise their own “lids” of life. He or she must help them, and join with them, to become more effective participants in the proclamation of God to make the world right and build His kingdom.

If the pastor is one “lid” of leadership within the church, then the board along with other key spiritual leaders, such as Sunday school teachers, youth and children’s workers, are other “lids”. It is the role of the pastor to influence these key leaders into lives of “experimental grace” that leads to hope. Working together as a team, the pastor and the people will see this influence spreads like wild fire within the heart of the whole church.

This wild fire will then ignite the community around it and begin sparking connections to Jesus and the body of Christ through evangelism, discipleship, worship, fellowship, outreach, and evangelism. The making right of the world, and the building of God’s kingdom, is done through His people, by means of prayer bathed means of grace that lead to hope. The church must become all things to all people so that by all possible means, we might save some!!

 


Emptied Cups for the Kingdom

My sophomore  year in college was the driest and emptiest I have ever felt in my soul and spirit…ever!  God was no where to be found. I was lost in a dying desolate  desert. Alone.  Abandoned. Hopeless. Standing in worship, I would observe someone to my right or my left, in front of me or behind me, worshiping God, raising their hands, tears flowing from their eyes, and I would wonder, “God, how can this person just feet away from me clearly feel so close to you when I feel so far away?” I was frustrated, confused, and angry!

My prayers during this time all focused on ME…what I wanted God to do for me…what I wanted to feel…how I wanted to be filled…it was all me, me, me. Around this time I heard someone make a very profound statement that still resonates in my mind today, “If you ever find yourself empty and dry, its probably because you are not pouring yourself out.” WOW!!! My focus had all been on what I wanted God to do in my life….for me….when in reality, I wasn’t empty, I was just filled with the wrong thing…ME…and I was asking God to fill me with more of him so I could be a happier, more satisfied, less lonely ME! At the time I didn’t realize that it makes no sense to ask God to fill US, when we are already too full of US, and expect that anything is going to change! WE MUST BE POURED OUT FIRST!

I believe the statement that invaded my emptiness so many years ago still rings true today. And not just on a personal level but on a corporate one as well. You see, IF THE CHURCH EVER FINDS ITSELF EMPTY AND DRY, ITS PROBABLY BECAUSE WE’RE NOT POURING OURSELVES OUT!! And like myself in college, the church tends to pray for spiritual filling in very selfish ways. Prayers like…”fill us Lord, bless us lord, pour yourself out on us Lord” seem to take precedence  over the less popular and seldom prayed “Empty us Lord, make us a blessing to others Lord, pour us out for you Lord”

Truth be told the later is the more appropriate prayer when it comes to finding ourselves…our churches, empty and dry. If you want to be filled with Jesus, ask him to empty you…of you. If you want to be blessed by God, ask Him to make you a blessing to others and GIVE more than you get…even when it doesn’t make sense, and do it cheerfully without complaint! If you want to be filled with His presence, ask Him to pour you out for the sake of others. That’s what it means to be Christian! Its not about being full for Jesus, but being poured out for His kingdoms sake!!

Now, let me be clear, I DO believe that there is something that God wants to DO for us. I believe that God wants to give us life, and not just any life, but life so great and abundant that it supersedes anything we could create, Disney could imagine, or the world could offer. I believe that God wants to fill us with His presence, His goodness, His love, His mercy, His kindness, His spirit, His blessings. The problem is the church has been bombarded with bad theology. From certain songs, to the thousands of books that line our over marketed “Christian Book Stores,” to hot aired sermons flowing from hot aired preachers proclaiming from pulpits and television alike that God is all about YOU.

God certainly wants to do something FOR you…for us, but if we just stop there….and MANY of us have, then we have missed the entire point of the Gospels and the truth found through out scripture!! If we just stop there, then we are missing out on the totality of God’s work and desire for the world!  We are LATE for our role in the story of God redeeming the world and building His kingdom! God certainly wants to do something for us, but more than that, GOD WANTS TO DO SOMETHING THROUGH US!!! For others! For His kingdom!!

We must get beyond ourselves! We must get beyond how we feel, or want to feel on Sunday morning in the worship service!! Truthfully, if you want to measure the spiritual health of a church, base it on how the people pour themselves out for the Kingdom through out the week, NOT on how you “feel” in the worship service on Sunday morning! Christianity is an ACTION, not a feeling! Longing for a feeling makes it about US! Pouring ourselves out, regardless of feeling, is the true mark of the Saint!

Paul says it best in Philippians 2:3-8 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing,taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (NIV)

Are you finding yourself empty and dry as a church? Maybe its time we start pouring ourselves out! Pouring ourselves out in prayer, in love, in trust, in giving. Pouring ourselves out the same way Jesus poured Himself out for us. Emptied cups for the kingdom!!

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.


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