Monday, December 31, 2007
My prayer and hope for you in 2008 is that the Holy Spirit will convince you—more than ever—that Jesus has done everything for you, has given everything to you, and, because He's now in you, will do everything for you.
Christ in you, the hope of glory! In 2008, and always.
To that end I also labor with Him. I'm a fortunate man.
Happy New Year!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
And it just so happened that my wife and I took our girls and a friend to see Irving Berlin's, "White Christmas," on Monday, Christmas Eve! A coincidence? We don't think so. . .It has been great. Going to see the musical and then having snow on Christmas was wonderful.
Anyway, we'll be seriously playing together for the next few days, and "exercising" via our new Wii. It's a work out! And, of course, we didn't get it because of the games and fun--no. We got it because of the exercise we'll get playing it. We think of it as an investment. Right?
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Now and every day, what is it that teaches and enables us?
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:11-14)
Our hope for you is that you remain dazzled by His grace! What is it that we work for? Both to keep ourselves in the knowledge of His love and grace (dazzled), and to assist you toward the same—dazzled.
Monday, December 24, 2007
It's Christmas Eve, and around my house, we're scurrying.
No, there's no last minute shopping--we've been done for a few days now. But we're sort of hiding from each other so we can wrap presents, make cards (a tradition around here), and assess our readiness for tomorrow.
Every now and then we kind of bump into each other--"Mom?! Where's the tape?"--or--"Someone has to vacuum the living room!"--or--"We have to be ready to go at 12:45!" My daughters don't know it, but we're heading to Denver today to see a performance of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." Sarah and I are really excited to take them. Two years ago we saw The Rockettes' Christmas, and it was fantastic.
So, a-scurrying we will go. . .all the way through Christmas.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
And about this one, I don't actually want to be honest, but, well, I must. My wife likes fruitcake. A tragedy. I weep.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
While I was sitting at my desk, she opened the study door and walked calmly over to me. She wasn’t overly animated or particularly dramatic as she can often be when life requires her to burst into my study. “Daddy, guess what?! You won’t believe this, but. . .” Not this time.
She simply looked at me and said softly, “You know why I like reading my Bible, Daddy? I feel really good when I do. I just feel great. Hmmmmmm.” She stared off into space for a bit, and then titled her head thoughtfully, blinked a few times and left.
We don’t require Bible reading from our girls. Pardon me if that shocks you, but we talk about God and what the Bible says all the time. All the time. The Bible and God are totally relevant in our days. But Sarah and I count upon the Holy Spirit’s conforming of our daughters—He promises to do it. And on this morning I saw it. He is giving His daughter the appetite that pleases her and Him most.
Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Sometimes Sarah and I have a front row seat on His predestined conforming work with our daughters. They’re finding His work and life within them is the best of this world, and that will induce them to want to be transformed (a cousin of conformed) by the renewing of their minds (Rom 12:2). Reading the Bible will be a delight and not a chore.
And I’m a really glad dad.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Have you ever seen The African Queen? Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, it’s a film classic, one I’ve seen lots of times if you count seeing it in bits and pieces.
A part I’ll never forget—probably because it’s so gross—is when Charlie (Bogart) pulls the boat through acrid swamp water, clogged with muck and reeds and algae and bugs and crocodiles. The worst part of it? Leeches. I hate ‘em. Because Charlie and Rose (Hepburn) are riveted upon their destination, the slimy, blood sucking critters latch on to him without his knowing. When Charlie climbs back into the boat for a break, there they are, in all their awful sycophant glory. Horrors. I hate leeches.
Ever ready, Rose applies salt to the bloodsuckers, which don’t take kindly to it at all, and regretfully drop off. (Side note: the film could have been better if, like snails, the leeches had gone all bubbly from the salt. Opportunity missed? I think so.) Rose and Charlie knew that if they were to proceed toward their goal of freedom, they had to momentarily break their focus and deal with the life-sapping leeches.
Yesterday I noticed there were some leeches hanging on me.
Simply, what was leading me through my day was not Jesus, but a crude, almost unrecognizable form of legalism. This time of year produces a bumper crop of standards and behaviors by which to measure oneself—and I was. I wasn’t entirely into Christmas joy and all that, so my family couldn’t be, either. I hadn’t done enough to secure Emma’s gerbil, Despereaux, so he was killed. I wasn’t properly shepherding my girls, reading to them and praying with them. I wasn’t encouraging my wife enough. I hadn’t written or called or emailed enough people, and God knows how tragic that is(!). Sheesh.
Do you see it? In each case there was a perfect “A” I could get on the report card of my day, and in the fleshly estimation of that perceived goal, I fell short. I didn’t bother to check with God. After all, wasn’t it true?! I mean, look at the evidence! So why check?
Leeches. I had ‘em all over me.
So last night, almost in a ritualistic way, I climbed out of the routine boat of my day, and said a few fairly meaningless words to God. “Hey, Lord. How’s your day? Ready for Christmas?” or something like that. And perhaps because I didn’t come to Him carrying my deserved condemnation, but my weary carcass only, He began to lift and free me of worldly estimations. For the 905,000 time I remembered—God is my life and peace and freedom and rest and joy and love. I do not live well by what I do (which is not to say it’s unimportant), but by who I know. When what I’m doing is influenced and fed by that (life by the Spirit), it’s all good.
Damn the leeches.
You and I have been made free in Christ—stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . .you, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;. . .(Gal 5:1, 13) The “yoke of slavery” or the indulgence of the flesh threatening the Galatians wasn’t drunkenness or cheating or lust, it was life by measurements, life by standards on the way to getting the “A” on life’s report card. Trouble was, they already had it! But Satan had induced them to believe that life by checklist was better than life by knowing and trusting Christ—God for us and God with us and God in us. As long as they believed they weren’t yet free, weren’t yet good enough, hadn’t yet done enough, or hadn’t received absolutely everything from God for entirely nothing, living was a mucky, leech filled swamp.
If that’s where you are, get some salt—you’ve got leeches.
Do almost anything toward God, with Him in mind (cook a meal, sing a song, read a verse, tie your shoe), and see what He does for you—the inside you. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He loves being that for you, since He made you a perfect place for Himself.
Take a moment and stop pulling so hard. You are His boat—He’ll do the pulling. And He’ll mix salt with your leeches.
I enjoyed this and thought you would, too. It's by Peter Chianca, and you can go to his blog here. It's a good one.
To: Mall Santas
Welcome aboard in your new role as one of "Santa's Helpers." Please review the following guidelines carefully, so that the mall and its patrons can have a happy, healthy and non-litigious holiday season.
1.) As you've no doubt heard, "Ho Ho Ho" is no longer considered an acceptable holiday greeting, having been deemed potentially offensive to women and gardeners. The substitute "Ha Ha Ha" has also been banned, as it is possibly damaging to a child's self-esteem. Also, Santas overheard saying "Merry Christmas" will be summarily removed from the premises. Instead, we recommend you listen attentively to the children, nod, and affect a blank stare devoid of any emotion, particularly fear. They can sense fear.
2.) Please keep in mind that not all children believe in Santa Claus or celebrate Christmas. However, please make no attempt to determine this based on physical cues, such as yarmulkes or "Proud Jehovah's Witness" T-shirts, as this would be considered profiling. If you have any questions, please consult the mall's attorney, who will be standing behind the fake snowman.
3.) Plump Santas are no longer considered "jolly." Instead, they serve as a bleak reminder of our nation's struggle with obesity and are a poor role model to our increasingly overweight and inactive children. Please make every effort to appear slim and fit, and to encourage children to leave you celery and soy products rather than cookies and hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.
4.) Please do not promise children that Santa will bring them anything in particular, as promising a gift that the parents cannot afford or do not approve of could result in a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. Be pleasant but non-committal. If the child is persistent, try to distract him with one of the celery sticks we now give out in lieu of candy canes; if that doesn't work, send him behind the snowman to speak to the attorney.
5.) It has been deemed inappropriate, and a serious legal risk, to have children sitting on a strange bearded man's lap. This year the children will sit on a stool, separated from you by a sheet of soundproof Plexiglas. This also serves the purpose of keeping you from being able to hear their gift requests (see No. 4).
6.) The concept of elves has been determined to be offensive to a host of protected groups, including little people, pointy-eared people and people with high squeaky voices. However, so as to give you the support you need, we are looking at several possible replacements. Right now we're leaning toward attorneys.
We're sure that if you follow these simple guidelines you will succeed in making the children's visits with Santa as unremarkable and non-offensive as possible. Welcome aboard the team here at the mall, and have a merry ... a happy ... Oh, whatever.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
During this peak-season of happy consumerism, I think it's all about what shopping can do to us. What do you think?
Friday, December 14, 2007
Phillip's father and sister spoke, as well as a couple of friends and his pastor. All essentially painted a picture of the Phillip I knew. He was zealous about life, and whatever he jumped into, he went in all the way--over his head. He did and tried things because he wanted to see if he could do them. If he thought he could, he went after it, no matter what.
I was deeply moved by Tiffany Johnson's family and friends, who spoke of a young woman that loved widely and freely, and who lived fully. I wish I had known her. I was jealous that I hadn't.
One other marvel. Tiffany's family (there must have been fifteen people on the stage) revealed that they were that afternoon meeting with the father and mother of the murderer. They were going to tell Mr. and Mrs. Murray that they were not responsible for their son's actions, and that the Johnson family in no way held them accountable. Further, Tiffany's family had forgiven their son for his heinous act.
Dear God, what love. Clearly, the Johnson family knows God--what He's like and how He works and how He loves in us and through us.
These are wonderful, marvelous people, and that was obvious at the memorial. As difficult as it was, I loved the day.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
She teared up, got a little perturbed with Despereaux ("He always tries to get out--bet he wishes he hadn't now. . ."), and we prayed together. "Jesus, we know you care about everything. So we ask that if it would be great with you, would you heal Despereaux? And if it would be better for him to go on, would you make it easy for him?"
She was great and settled with that.
She then looked at him (I had prepared her) and talked with him--"Ohhhh, Despereaux, I'm sorry you got out. . ." She also talked with Chester ("Don't lie on him, Chester! He's not well. Get off Despereaux!"), and did the best she could to get it all secure. I took her to school.
Chuckling to myself, I called the Vet. She said I could bring him in and that they would comfort him and/or put him out of his misery, but I opted out. It's not that he's just a gerbil; after all, he's Emma's gerbil. It's that I thought he had as good a chance here as he did there.
And Despereaux just now died.
So, we'll have more time together after Emma gets home from school. This isn't easy, but it's a kind of good. Emma and I were together in Despereaux's rescue, and we'll be together in this, too. I won't tell her what to feel or what to say, but we'll talk. I'm sure we'll navigate fault and blame, and, hopefully, remain in the knowledge that God is correct about this life--it often doesn't work. So we've got to know Him and help each other through the hurt.
We'll do that.
I have yet to tell Emma, who is sleeping late today before school. I am about to go and wake her and tell her. The Spirit has been telling me to simply be with her in this, so that's what I'll do, humbly and meekly. My hope is that we'll know God together in this.
I'll post back and share how it goes.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
One day last week I noticed that most every approach she made to me included a desire for something other than to please me. She had come to doubt that I was pleased with her simply because she was actually pleasing to me. So she began the ugly attempt to earn it.
She cleaned up her breakfast stuff (plates, containers, glass, etc.) and announced loudly, “Well, that’s done.” She told me she was mad at one of her classmates that doesn’t believe in Jesus, but who instead believes in the elephant God. “He’s such an idiot! I mean, c’mon—the elephant god?! That’s ridiculous. Right, dad?” She offered to get me a glass of water and to bring the morning paper to me. And she chattered incessantly about topics and viewpoints she thought I’d like. It was like she was creating evidence and at the same time verbally building a really strong case that she was, in fact, pleasing. “Here’s the evidence before you, Judge Daddy, and here’s why it’s proof that I am pleasing.”
What really got my attention was that I began to grow weary of being with her. I thought, “Good thing school starts in a half hour.”
Now, I absolutely love my daughter—I know it, and so does virtually anyone and everyone around the two of us. Ask them, they’ll tell you. It’s obvious. But what I didn’t like was what was happening to my girl because she wasn’t sure, having been listening to the mind of the flesh, or to the whisperings of the enemy. Her approach and involvement with me was no longer because she just had to be with me, you know, really wanted to be with me because it meant fun and goodness and delight and laughter and unity. She came to me to prove something—“See, daddy? I’m good. I’m faithful. You like me, right?"—as if I didn’t agree with her.
I know there are lots of people who would say, “Well, Ralph, you haven’t been spending enough time with her, you haven’t had enough quality time with her, you need to brush-up on your daddy skills.” But I didn’t care about any of that, neither did I sense the Holy Spirit saying it to me. (I think we too often out-think the Spirit, instead of just wanting to know what He’s saying and doing.) I wanted to be with my girl, so I spent what seemed like all day with her on my lap. We watched movies and silly kids shows, ate breakfast and lunch together, talked about her friends and not-so-much friends, and more.
And you know what happened? She figured it out. Now she seeks me out when we’re home together (she was just in my lap five minutes ago) because she likes being with me, and she knows I like being with her.
Moral of the story? I think we sometimes get used to approaching God while wondering the same thing—“See, Daddy? I’m good. I’m faithful. You like me, right?” If we don’t hear or sense anything bad from God, we move off, settling for half satisfaction. I want to suggest that you forego the effort to prove to God that you’re good or lovable or faithful—“See, Daddy?”—and that, instead, you ask God what He thinks of you. He’s really good at loving us without our having done anything to deserve it. Remember? Didn’t He love you like crazy before you had done anything good anyway? I’ll bet the same thing goes for now, too. You've got nothing to prove, nothing to earn.
Believing that we need to prove ourselves to God sets us up for a lifetime of fear and distance from Him. We may come to believe that He only likes us after we’ve done something heroic or Biblical, but not until, not unless. And that’s nuts.
So, how about approaching God as though He loves you at least as much as He did before you were His, before He made you holy and blameless, as well as the home in which He now dwells.
Have a go at it, and see what Daddy does. I bet you'll be pleased.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
This is Philip Crouse, a man I knew who was murdered early this morning, Saturday, Dec. 8. While I didn't know him well, I spent some three days with him and fifteen or so other leaders at the YWAM Arvada base last spring while teaching my series, "Putting Amazing Back Into Grace." I knew him to be a funny, zealous, and quirky kind of guy, who also had a deep interest in language and the grace of God.
Back in April he shared with me that he was headed to Kazakhstan, whenever God brought that about. And I am told that in the last six months or so, he was really growing up in Christ.
Think how grown up he is now.
Have to wonder if they're related more than on the spiritual side of things. . .which is THE side of things.
What will come of this? Hmm. . .
I received a call at about 1:00 a.m. this morning from a dear friend and staff member at the YWAM base in nearby Arvada, CO. She told me that four staff members had just been shot by an intruder. Looking out her window from across the street, she described a surreal scene of police and dogs combing the neighborhood, which had just received five inches of snow.
In phone calls since, I learned that a young man I knew had been murdered, as well as a young lady. The two who were wounded, while critical, are in stable condition.
Would you pray about all this?
The effects will be as far reaching as you can imagine. Because I have a close and longtime relationship with a number of people at the base (including two great friends and members of our home church), I may be visiting with them in the days ahead.
One of them emailed me this morning and included this note:
I can't help but remember that in worship on Friday we were called to step out for prayer to declare if we were prepared to do what it took for the Kingdom - even to death!! Who would have thought that a young white American missionary, in America itself, would be killed on the mission field for being in charge of hospitality.....a day later?!!!
Wow. Our battle is a spiritual one, and this brings it home, even to my doorstep.
I'll post back when I know more.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
However, here's one for the cat-lovers. . .(Secretly, I think the dogs in this video are really cats in disguise--don't you?)
Have a great weekend--it's snowing where I live.
Friday, December 07, 2007
I’m sitting in my study when from upstairs comes a terrible scream. A real ripper. Only Emma and I are in the house, so I’m out of my chair with all the adrenalin needed to blast a rocket off the earth. I don’t even remember running up the stairs to my screaming Emma.
As I rushed to her bedroom door, she yelled, “Despereaux is out of his cage and loose in my room! Daddy!” And I thought, “Ah, ha. One of her gerbils has broken out.” You should know that my family is one of those rare groups which thinks mixing animals that like to eat meat with those that would rather remain off the menu is a great idea. We’ve already been through one catastrophe—our dog killed Ellen’s prized parakeet when it fluttered within reach of her mouth—so I knew that event was playing on my daughter’s inner movie screen. Why wouldn’t it be? (Click here to read that story.) Closing her bedroom door behind me, I stuffed a towel into the gap between carpet and door in order to block Despero’s exit.
For the next six hours (well, it was only about ten minutes, but it seemed a lot more), we prayed together and all the while lured Emma’s gerbil with soothing words, outstretched hands, sunflower seeds and promised rest from his traumatic day.
Looking back, it was strangely fun. While muttering our hopes to Jesus—“Oh, Lord, will you rescue Despereaux? Will you guide him into our hands? Would you be a part of this?”—we watched that cute little rodent scurry about the room, dart in and out of our hands, pluck food from our fingers and run under the bed—universal safety, I think. As God would have it, Emma finally secured Despereaux herself, and placed him back in his cage, which she then fortified and secured like a bank vault.
Ten minutes later, Emma was at school with a terrifying story to tell her classmates. Me? I just now ran upstairs to make sure that little rat is still in jail.
I’m lately aware that faith is so practical, and that God is determined to exercise it with us. To Him it’s normal. To Him it’s how we live, only sometimes we’re not so normal. I’m thankful today that He is working in everything for us—even with little gerbil breath, Despereaux—and that my daughters are living well and becoming normal with their faith. We talked to God together during that harrowing experience, and because we were sowing to the Spirit thereby, we reaped in the moment God’s life and production of peace, patience, gentleness and self-control—and a little joy. Emma giggled even before we’d captured her little escapee.
Emma and I will chat about Despereaux’s jail break this afternoon, and I’ll ask her what she felt during the gerbil hunt and capture. I’ll ask if she felt some of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we talked and wished our desires to God. I know she did because my little girl knows God, and she knows where He lives—in her. So, I want to help her understand and comprehend what it feels like to be a vessel in her day, with God moving about within her. What a thrill that is.
Even during a jail break.
We’re better off than we think.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
It should be evident that those of us under the influence of the flesh may look particularly bad, or we may look particularly good. And that’s a more difficult thing to see and a more difficult thing from which to turn. But it’s just as fleshly, just as foreign, and just as dangerous. I might appear to be the most faithful church attender in the world, but I might be doing it because I fear God will bless me only if I do, and not at all if I don’t. So, I go…under the influence. I don’t mean to imply that regular church attendance is a bad thing; it isn’t! It’s just that under the influence of the flesh, it becomes the thing. Going to church gets the greater influence—not knowing God. The evidence might include condemning thoughts and feelings toward those who fail to attend as regularly or I might frequently and strongly encourage others to attend as the solution to their lack of blessing, or, perhaps, I take a leadership position on the “Let’s-get-the-church-to-church-on-time-every-Sunday” committee. I’m active, but I’m nevertheless fleshly.
Under the influence, I’m not free to ask and trace out the godly and good reasons for going to church, sowing to the Spirit who might lead me here or there, finding His gifts in me to do this or that, and helping me to live by faith. Instead, I’m captive to what looks right and to what ought to be, and that’s where the flesh is found.
Fleshly activity is not you, but something which influences and drives you—it will become much more evident having read this chapter. Should we now run off and point out each other’s flesh types? Be very careful because the flesh may be motivating you to do that and not the Spirit. It’s not hard to imagine the fun you could have with this new knowledge. That could become as fleshly a lure as anything else—resist the nibble by pausing to offer yourself to the Holy Spirit.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Gal 5:25-26 NIV)
The flesh is not you, but it would like to provide a way for you to look. If you follow its tin lure of promised control, it will behave through you. You know how that will look and feel, and you want to be done with it. Now that you know better, now that you believe life “by the Spirit” is both possible and desirable, chances are good you’ll refuse the bait and go for the Spirit.
(Excerpted from my book, "Better Off Than You Think--God's Astounding Opinion of You"; chapter 7, Hitting My Pause Button.)
Saturday, December 01, 2007
It's an oldie and a goodie. I think you'll like it.
One of my daughters and I, along with two of her friends, were traveling to a rocket launching site about an hour and a half away when the driving conditions suddenly became terrible. We were in a caravan going to a school sponsored event, and the road turned to ice. No one could stop--it was like driving on an ice skating rink. Fortunately for me, all six cars ahead of me in the caravan took the same amount of time to finally come to a stop on the side of the road. What should have taken twenty to thirty feet, took about fifty yards.
With The Beatles, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" rocking the car, I quietly said, "Lord, Jesus--I need you. I need you to stop my car. . .I need you to help me. . ." My daughter figured out that we were in trouble, and joined me in prayer. With the music off, the girls in the back seat clued-in, too. We slid and slid and slid, always in a straight line. Finally, we stopped.
We decided to cut the field trip short and turn around, but on the way back we found that one of the last cars in our caravan had slid across the road and rolled over. Fortunately, everyone was fine--amazing. (The back and other side of the car pictured at left were destroyed.) All the way back we crept along at about 5-15 mph, and saw about ten more accidents, four of which were horrible.
Loaded with people, sliding on ice in a car is a terrible feeling and predicament.
My daughter, Ellen, and I will not soon forget today. And we'll not soon forget our shared prayers to Jesus in a really difficult time. In the end, I think today will serve us well, not only because we were rescued, but because we were together in such focused prayer.
I've seen quick-change artists before, but nothing even close to this. When I first received it from a friend, I only began watching it because he always sends good things to me.
I was really glad I did. You will be, too.
Friday, November 30, 2007
When the battle for Stalingrad was almost lost during W.W.II, a few Russian soldiers concocted a plan to get so close to the enemy that while killing them, they would go undetected. Carrying a high-powered rifle and their daily ration of half a chocolate bar, the starving and desperate soldiers set out from their last remaining stronghold and crawled through the sewer system until they were well behind enemy lines. The Germans had not prepared for such an attack, so they hardly batted an eye when men they didn’t know walked past, even joining them in their own food lines. "Must be one of ours," they thought.
Two Russian snipers, Nikolay Yakovlevich and Ilyin Vasili Zaitsev (made famous by the movie, “Enemy At The Gates”), killed 896 men, many of them high-ranking officers. There were two other effects: 1) the Germans were demoralized, and began to distrust themselves since they didn’t know from where the attacks came; 2) the success of the Russian snipers invigorated the Russian army, which not long after mounted a successful counter-offensive and won the war.
Employing the same tactic, a five-foot Finnish man, Simo Häyhä (pictured at left), crept in amongst the unsuspecting and unprepared Germans and killed on average five men per day. He is credited by the Finnish government with almost one kill per hour of the short winter day, for a total of 542.
For a while the Germans didn’t know anything about this enemy that came from amongst them. It was months before they used the same strategy, and sent snipers after the snipers. For a while now, we haven’t known anything much about the enemy that comes from amongst us either.
You must know that the enemy that hinders you is not you—but it does hunt from within. Unless you know that you are not the flesh and take precautions against the flesh, you’ll be demoralized by your losses, you won’t trust yourself, and the enemy will be invigorated.
When God dropped the new-creation-you into your vessel, for the first time you were no longer found in the flesh—you’re outta there! You are now in the Spirit because you are now spirit! For you to live now means knowing God, and staying in step with the Spirit. It’s the new normal way for every born from above Christian.
If lately you’ve been thinking that you are your own worst enemy, or as though God’s biggest trial today is you, think again—and let the truth guide your thoughts. Up from the sewers, there’s an enemy in your midst—it’s the threat, it’s the problem—you’re not. Go for a revival this weekend. Get back to knowing and enjoying Him. Do some of the things you know will invigorate that. You’ll be living by the Spirit, and that will expose and disarm the sniper.
You’re not the problem and you’re not the flesh—you’re better off than you think.
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
"Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep. I must sleeeeeeeeeeeeep. . ."
The effect of eating turkey reminds me of the film classic, "The Wizard of Oz," and the Wicked Witch of the West. Determined to thwart the plans of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, the Witch leads them through a field of sleep-inducing poppies. Have you seen it? "Pahhhhhh-peaz. Pahhhhhhhh-peaz. To make them sleeeeep. . .sleeeeep." As she waved her crooked wand, our heroes nodded off to sleep at the most inopportune time in their journey. Sort of like what happens in this video.
Have a look. You'll like it.
Wouldn't that be something?
Maybe we'll see more of it in the coming year.
Thank you for your love and support.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
14. To Kill A Walking Bird
13. My Best Friend's Dressing
12. The Texas Coleslaw Massacre
10. The Fabulous Baster Boys
9. 12 Hungry Men
8. Silence of the Yams
7. For Love of The Game Hen
6. I Know What You Ate Last Winter
5. All the President's Menu
4. White Meat Can't Jump
3. When Harry Met Salad
2. The Story of U.S.
and the Number 1 Upcoming Thanksgiving-Themed Movie...
1. The Wing and I
(This is from Mikey's Funnies, a five-days-a-week email. Sign up here.)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Well, here's a video I think you'll enjoy, summing up those weirdos in one neatly packaged whack-o.
Have a look. . .and a great weekend.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Now here’s a fascinating little article. The picture at left is of Muslims putting a cross back up where it had once been, atop a church. What a picture. And the ceremony of mostly Muslims and a few Christians reopening a church took place in Baghdad! With violence and terrorism down nearly 80% in the last few months, things really are getting much better there. What's God up to?
To read and see more, click here.
Michael Yon (who took this picture) is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. He has quite the interesting take on things.
Have a look.
I have wrestled and struggled with obedience all my life. Well, perhaps not when I was one year old, but put that aside. Besides, everyone obeyed me during that first year or two.
Obey. How does that word make you feel? Obey! Does it stir warm feelings and fuzzy memories of days gone by? Not for me.
The command to “obedience” has provided me with lots of opportunities to navigate or negotiate with it. I could obey the command on the outside, while screaming with resentment on the inside. I could obey if I thought there was an immediate benefit secured by the act—I win. Or I could obey part-way—make it look as though I were carrying out the command when really I was obeying by a percentage less than 100%.
So when as a new Christian I read how important obedience is to God—it’s a pretty big deal with Him—I got to work on it. I had help. Loads of sermons and books focused me on obedience, and my Christian friends were walking along with me, determined to live a life of obedience. What an intense phrase that is.
Here’s what I’ve found: while I am a new creation and obedience to God is perfectly in keeping with who I have become, my flesh is anything but new. In continued rebellion against God, it presses me to keep on navigating obedience. In other words, the mind of the flesh suggests I obey God only when I can predetermine a desirable outcome. Obey if it will make my life work better. Obey if I’ll feel better. Obey if it’s more fun. Obey if people will see it—and honor me. But obey if I have no idea what the result will be?
Hmm. . .Can I have another choice, please?
Here’s what I’m learning: obedience is best and most true when it is to God Himself, and not to an acceptable or good plan, or an outcome I can imagine. To be clear, I like it when I can expect or imagine a good outcome; pray, and I’ll feel better; read the Bible and I’ll gain knowledge and wisdom, etc. But offering obedience to God when I have no idea if the result will be what I like is quite the adventure. Isn’t it?
What if I don’t like the result better than what I could have had by the flesh?
So I’m talking and thinking through obedience like this: “Well, Holy Spirit, I am offering obedience. There are accomplishments and pleasures and outcomes that seem preferable and within my reach just now, but I believe obedience to you is the proper first course. And that may lead me away from those other avenues. I offer obedience—and turn from college football on Saturday in order to turn to my girls, simply to be with them because I believe you want me to. When ‘Get off the computer and go walk the dog’ bursts into my mind, I offer obedience to you in case it is you. If it is, I’m outta here. When my fleshly compunction is to fiddle with a dazzling electronic device I’ve just purchased, and I sense you leading to something else, I offer obedience to you. When my fleshly mind suggests I crack down on my kids and set some rules(!), I pause and offer myself to you, Holy Spirit—you may not be leading me to do it at all. I want to find out. I don’t know if I’ll actually like obeying you better than what could have been, but I offer obedience. I trust you for life.”
Does this make sense? There is nothing, nothing better than actually knowing God, and obedience to Him at least gives me that opportunity. I feel like a happy kid when I’m knowing and resting in Him. But while I have my highest delight in knowing Him, I may not actually like His leading away from what the flesh offered. I might, but I might not. That can’t be the issue.
God, the Holy Spirit, actually lives in me! And in you. And not only do you and I want to know Him better, our life is found in the knowing. Believing Him and knowing Him delivers us from the dead life we had before God came to live in us, before He made us new and young at heart again.
A believing and offered obedience plays a big part in that life.
(See The Message passage from Romans a couple of posts below this one.)
Thursday, November 15, 2007
3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.
9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!
12-14 So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Monday, November 12, 2007
A Brit friend of mine recommended this short song and video last night at our home church gathering. I like it quite a lot. It's about a boy and his dad and the love they share. You'll need to put on your British accent translator (they have an accent, Americans don't, right?) in order to get the lyrics. Here's a thought--I'll post the lyrics below the video. Oh, and I think a JCB is like a bulldozer.
Have a look.
Well, I'm rumblin' in this JCB.
I'm 5 years old and my dad's a giant sitting beside me.
And the engine rattles my bum like berserk
While we're singin', 'Don't forget your shovel if you want to go to work!'
My dad's probably had a bloody hard day
But he's been good fun and bubblin' and jokin' away
And the procession of cars stuck behind
are gettin' all impatient and angry, but we don't mind.
An' we're holdin up the bypass, woah
Me and my dad havin a top laugh, oh-woah
I'm sittin on the toolbox, woah
And I'm so glad I'm not in school, boss
So glad I'm not in school, oh no
And we pull over to let cars past
And pull off again, speedin' by the summer green grass
And we're like giants up here in our big yellow digga
Like zoids, or transformers, or maybe even bigga
And I wanna transform into a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
And eat up all the bullies and the teachers and their pets
And I'll tell all my mates that my dad's B.A. Bahraccus
Only with a JCB and Bruce Lee's nunchuckas
And We're holdin up the bypass, whoa
Me and my dad havin' a top laugh, oh whoa
I'm sittin' on the toolbox, oh
And I'm so glad I'm not in school, boss
So glad I'm not in school
And we're holdin' up the bypass, oh
Me and my dad havin' a top laugh, oh whoa
I'm sittin' on the toolbox, oh
And I'm so glad I'm not in school, Boss
So glad I'm not in school
Said I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round
And we're holdin' up the bypass, whoa-oh
Me and my dad havin' a top laugh, oh-whoa
And I'm sittin' on the toolbox, oh-oh
And I'm so glad I'm not in school, Boss
So glad I'm not in school
I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his
Aw, I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Since it's the weekend (time for a bit of fun!), I offer this short video of Bob Newhart "counseling" a needy Mo Collins, a long-time cast member on MadTV. While I have never seen even one episode of MadTV, it would seem that I have missed some great humor. Drat.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
If God were to say that to you, would it come with a negative or positive inflection? Imagining Him saying it, would it build you up and provide life and faith and grace for your day, or would it bring you down, taking your faith and hope with it? Looking at you, when God says it to you, would it reflect what He thinks of you based upon what He has done for you, or would it reflect only what you've been doin' lately?
To believe what God thinks of you and to live from it, you need regular exercise by the Spirit and through the truth. If you don’t get it, you’ll read that first sentence negatively, rather than positively. And that means you'll be frustrated in life with Jesus because you'll be living by the standards of this world. It happens to me, too.
When that happens, it won’t be long before your flesh will be in evidence in most all you do, and your Christian life will become about restraining yourself from ugly and ungodly stuff, rather than about living in Christ, holy, righteous and free.
That’s no way to live.
Take a little time and ask God what He thinks of you. You'll like what you hear.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
If you've yet to read it, ask for it at your local Christian bookstore, or you can go here to buy it online.
Here are a couple of quotes:
“If our sense of well-being and value come from the behavior of another person instead of God, we will always be giving off messages that say to others: You’d better perform right. The innate problem is that no human being is capable of performing well enough to establish another’s self-esteem—that person’s behavior will always fall short at some point. If the other person is not willing or able to change their behavior fast enough or in the ‘right way’ to meet our needs, most of us decide that their behavior is an issue we must do something about.” (Page 26)
“Most people who feel worn out in a relationship think they are tired because of the other person. ‘If he would just change,’ or ‘If she would only stop pressuring me, I wouldn’t be so tired.’ This is not true! You and I are the cause of our own tiredness, by trying to make changes in someone else that we do not have the power to make.” (Page 31)
Sunday, November 04, 2007
THE BOAT RIDE
By W. Bruce Cameron
I am a member of that nearly extinct generation of Americans which actually thinks it possible to enjoy a vacation without hours and hours of cable television. I believe that a lake can be fun even if you don't rent jet skis and blast around at high speed, and when I come up with a list of exciting things to do on a trip, "go to the mall" is not likely to be on it, even if they do have factory-outlet stores.
Because of my antediluvian attitude, I have forced my children to suffer through several "horrible vacations," including one just this summer in which my younger teenage daughter "almost drowned."
She didn't almost anything. I took her out in a rowboat by promising her an opportunity for one-on-one quality time with her father, during which the two of us could talk intimately about anything she wanted and then I would pay her twenty dollars.
I know it sounds as if I were bribing her to spend time with me, but in my view, she was going to get the money out of me anyway, "borrowing" it so that she could go shopping later. This loan would join all the others in a non-interest-bearing note which even Enron's accountants would have ethical trouble calling an asset.
Okay, maybe not "ethical" trouble.
At any rate, we rowed along for awhile, enjoying a silence disturbed only by the occasional gurgle when my oar dipped into the water. Then she took me up on my offer to discuss anything she had on her mind, which turned out to be this:
"Can we go back now?"
"We've only been out for five minutes; let's drift for a bit," I suggested.
"I can't believe this boat doesn't have a motor."
"I don't mind rowing. Do you want to try it? It's a lot of fun," I offered seductively.
"I brought a rod; do you want to try to catch a fish?"
"What do you want to do?"
"Wouldn't you rather be out here on the lake?"
It was, I reflected, one of our more pleasant conversations.
"Dad, what's with the water?" She pointed at my feet.
I frowned. A steadily growing pool of water was forming on the bottom of the boat. As a sailor of considerable experience, I immediately recognized we were in the nautical condition known as "sinking."
"The plug fell out," I noted.
"Oh no!" my daughter shrieked.
"Don't be afraid. We won't drown," I assured her.
"These are new shoes!"
"Just put on a life vest." I held one out to her.
She glanced at it disdainfully. "Could they pick a more hideous color?"
"I'll get us back to the dock." I began heaving on the oars, but the boat had gained considerable weight and responded sluggishly. Not wanting my daughter to panic, I decided to distract her with a question. "Well, we seem to be taking on about a gallon a minute.
With every gallon, our speed slows down by about one percent. Our current rate of travel is around a foot a second, and we have a hundred yards to go. How long will it take us to get to shore?"
Her eyes bulged. "The boat is sinking and you want me to do math?
"It's an interesting problem, don't you think?"
"You're making me nauseated."
"You could take that coffee can and bail."
She gingerly picked up a rusting can. "It has dirt in it."
"Right, that's where they keep the earthworms."
She dropped the can. "Ew!"
"But if you bailed a quart of water every ten seconds..."
"If a boat were sinking an inch a minute, how long would it take my dad to realize he's a complete dork?" she wondered out loud.
We didn't sink, but by the time I got us to shore a considerable amount of lake had joined us in the boat. Our pants were soaked, and my daughter couldn't wait to tell her siblings that in the midst of drowning, I insisted on torturing her with algebra.
Also, her shoes were "ruined," so the twenty dollars I gave her would go toward a replacement pair.
She borrowed the rest.
Friday, November 02, 2007
Know what I mean?
Well, I have a couple of great friends who have a bunch of cats. They were her gift to the marriage, but he had to fight them off in order to sit next to her, eat dinner alone, watch a show, and just about anything and everything married people like to do. He knew that, win or lose, it was a turf war.
But now his wife is spending some time in the northwest, leaving him all alone with the cat gang. This short cartoon is something of what's happening every morning while she's away. You'll like it. . .unless you like cats, in which case you'll think it's an unfair characterization, and then you'll start yeowling. . .like a cat.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
"Have you ever gotten tired of serving, serving, serving? What ended your fatigue? Wasn't it when you stopped and got off the job? Doesn't that tell you that there's something missing in your service? There is! It's friendship with God. While ultimately He is the Big Boss in the Big Office, He doesn't confine Himself to proper relationships commensurate to His status, shunning interaction with the lower subjects of his corporation. He's with you! Right there on the job, sharing in your labor, delighting in your style, making much of Himself by pointing at you in front of the angels. He enjoys you!
"I don't mean to demean service to God--it's just that many of us have been kept from the delight and honor of it because we're so concerned with how we're doing it and that we have to! Nowadays we commonly measure ourselves by the amount and quality of our service but rarely by the enjoyment of our friendship with our Friend.
"One of the most startling things I tell the people in ministry with me, be it Children's, Youth, Music, Women's, etc., is that they don't have to do it. 'Cathe, there's no one collecting your time card at the end of this week, you know.' If service to God has become a grinding drudgery, the antidote is not more service or less--it's a renewal of friendship with God. Discovering that we can enjoy His friendship on the job is what keeps us well in the job. When serving becomes more important than friendship with Him, the life and value go out of it, and you probably know what a power outage that is.
"Serving God is a high calling--friendship with God is not the cost but the fuel. Yet if we can be sold on the idea that service is the highest compliment to God and not love reciprocated and friendship enjoyed, then Satan can soon weary us and prevent the full stature of who and what we are from emerging. Something of the glory of God gets hidden.
"But what if we give ourselves to enjoying God and His friendship with us? Will we get much out of it? Will we still serve Him? Will it help us on the job and make a car payment? Yes! Sort of. Friends love each other and love works. More specifically, love invigorates and compels us; it motivates us and carries us into the day in order to see where it might rush out, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14. It's relatively effortless, like a perfect stream moving through you. And couldn't you use a little bit of that on the job? How about around home? Or in your relationships?
"Let me ask you this: if you spent a day dwelling upon and enjoying the love God has for you, would you expect to receive an infusion of power, some real 'Ooomph' for your day? Would you expect to be supplied, pushed, and driven by it and think that it would be the best thing for your day?
". . .When we fail and break down, it's not a failure of service or of proper discipleship, it's a failure of love. And God's love is at all times lavished upon us because of His grace to us in Christ. Knowing what He thinks of you, knowing why He approaches you in the manner He does (as a friend!) is all because of grace! Approaching Him as a friend will affect your life. In love you'll look and act like a servant and disciple of Christ. With appreciated grace in evidence--you'll look great."
(Excerpted from my book, Better Off Than You Think--God's Astounding Opinion of You; Chapter Ten; Friendship With Our Friend.)
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
This short video could be titled several ways including, "When Opposites Marry," "It's Better Than Yelling At Her," "Chicken For Breakfast," or "Not A Morning Person."
Friday, October 26, 2007
Do you think God loves it when we discover Him to be as good as He says He is? I do too. So, take a look at the following:
"He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will--to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
I used to picture the sins of the world, the sins done long ago, sins now being done, and those that will be done by everyone everywhere, as sort of heaped on Jesus nailed to the cross. There's the scene--Jesus bloodied and battered, with sins piled atop Him reaching skyward. What a terrible burden. What a sight.
However, a while back it dawned on me that all those sins, yours and mine, weren't just stacked up on Jesus, they became His. No, He didn't commit them, but He took ownership of them. And as was just, God punished Jesus with the punishment due each and every one of those sins--the punishment we would have borne had they still been our sins.
Think of them all! Or, just think of yours. Every single failure became His failure, every nasty deed you've done, every ugly thought you've had, every act born of jealousy or vengeance, each impure act or prideful thought, every deception you've ever offered became His. As though He had done it.
Immediately following Paul's description of our being made new creations through Christ, he writes a single sentence describing how that happened: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21, italics mine.) Not only have we had our sins forgiven, we've had them removed, as though we had never done them. And, we've been given the righteousness of Christ as our own. What a trade.
We have been entirely redeemed, made completely right with God! In Him (which is where you and I are), we are perfect sons and daughters, without stain or blemish, or any question as to our belonging in the family. C'mon, that's amazing!
It's God's amazing grace that He knowingly and delightedly lavished on us, "according to His good pleasure." What does God like? What gives Him pleasure? Lavishing His sons and daughters.
We're better off than we think. . .and it's sure good to think about it. I think He likes it when we do.
One of my most favorite books is Needham's—Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?
To go get it and for more information, Click here.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Raising my hand during Q&A, I asked, "If what you, the leader, is most concerned about is that people are watching your leadership style, so you'd better do it right so they can copy you, doesn't that make you very self-centered? And doesn't that simply induce people to copy you, rather than assist them toward transformation? Doesn't that make ministry about copying, rather than about the Spirit's ability to live in us and through us, making of us what He wants? The way I see it, that kind of leadership sets people up to be your groupies, not the people you serve so that they may grow in Christ. It seems to make the whole thing, well, fake; a put-on, rather than who we really are."
If one were to gage the acceptance of my remarks by the look on the leader's face and the discussion which followed, I failed utterly. Except with one youth leader, who shot me a look of, "My God! I agree!" Looking back, I'm not certain my line of reasoning was appropriate for the occasion. I might have been wrong to have brought it up. . .maybe. However, I was becoming weary of hearing how ministry is about copying the most successful, 'duplicatable', user-friendly method available, and about modeling and teaching others to do the same. After all, I reasoned, why would you need to know God for that? Further, wouldn't that cheat those around you from knowing Him, too? Yes, it would.
And it does.
Look, I don't mean to say that we shouldn't have mentors and heroes and leaders we admire and such. But if those leaders induce us to copy their style of ministry or their style of leadership, and that's the sum and substance of what we get from them—choose another. Leaders who tell you and show you how to know God and how to let Him do what He wants with you are the ones we must choose. That's what makes life genuine, and not an external put-on or a show-off. It's all about transformation, not imitation. The former is what God is now doing with you and me; it's what's now most natural and invigorating because it has to do with life—His life, real life for which you were designed.
Anything less is a distraction.
Just below is an excellent article along the same lines as the rant above. I think you'll benefit by the reading.
Leader's Insight: Hero Boycott
Why the big-name celebrity leaders are turning me off.
by Angie Ward, Leadership contributing editor
A few years ago I attended a large ministry conference that included breakout sessions featuring a variety of speakers and "experts" on all things related to ministry and leadership. At one point during the conference, I was waiting in the lobby when one of the speakers (we'll call him Mr. Jensen) walked by, surrounded by at least 25 groupies who hung on this man's every word, nodding their agreement. I actually like this man's writing and philosophy, but was struck by the groupie mentality. A friend who was with me observed, "You know, I like what Jensen says, but God save us from the Jensenites."
Sadly, I've seen that "Jensenites" are becoming the rule rather than the exception. I've heard dozens of pastors speak breathlessly and reverently about their ministerial and spiritual heroes, reading their books and their blogs, listening to their podcasts, following them at conferences, hoping just to get a glimpse of them or to touch their robe so they can receive some magical leadership or teaching power that will result in overwhelming ministry success and their own fame.
It's like comedian Steve Martin said long ago in a standup routine: "Repeat after me: 'I will be different. I will be unique.'"
It's no different today than it was in the first century, when Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that the Christ-followers there were dividing themselves over who they followed. "I follow Paul," said some, while others countered, "I follow Apollos."
Today it's the same story, just a different millennium: "I am of Hybels." "I am of Warren." "I am of Maxwell." "I am of Stanley." "I am of Moore." "I am of Groeschel." "I am of McLaren." "I am of Driscoll."
Others play the same game, but go back a few centuries, as if attaching yourself to an older (or dead) personality is somehow more spiritual: "I am of Calvin." "I am of Arminius." "I am of Augustine." Or impress others with their intellect: "I am of Irenaeus." "I am of Tertullian." "I am of Clement of Rome."
"Stop it!" Paul says, in essence, in 1 Corinthians 3:5. "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task."
I have nothing against any of the leaders I mentioned above. They are doing what God has called and gifted and assigned them to do, and they have all made a significant impact for the Kingdom. Many of them are worthy mentors and models. But they are also just servants, just like each of us who follows Christ. My problem is not with the celebrities, but with the groupies who have made them such.
These groupies try to become clones of their heroes, instead of becoming who God has made them and ministering in a uniquely personal way that no celebrity could ever attain. Instead of claiming their standing in Christ and asking what He wants of their leadership in their unique situation, they settle for a trinkety-bracelet approach to ministry: "What Would Hybels Do?"
I have a friend who goes to an Anglican church because, as she put it, "I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience." What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.
Believe it or not, ministry celebrities do not hold mystical powers or keys to success. All of them stumbled repeatedly in their journeys, and continue to struggle with the temptations common to every man and woman, except that now, they also have to deal with the trappings of celebrity and cult followings. Each was assigned by God to till the soil in one corner of the Kingdom and faithfully invest the talents entrusted to him or her. Are we doing the same? Or are we so busy mining tips for success in the latest book by our favorite author that we ignore our own calling?
Who do you follow? Is it Paul, or Apollos, or some other megachurch pastor or missional prophet? This may come as a surprise, but I believe that it is actually much easier to imitate your hero than to be yourself: to claim your own identity and calling; to wrestle with your own brokenness; and to struggle minute-by-minute with God to figure out what is the best way to lead in your context.
For just one season, forget the celebrities. Get in touch with God's unique design for your life and ministry. In the words of Fernando Ortega and Anne Graham Lotz: "Just give me Jesus."
Angie Ward is a church leader, ministry coach, forward thinker, ministry spouse, and follower of Jesus living and serving in Durham, North Carolina.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
They have become perfect and magnificent sons and daughters of God, have received everything for nothing, are suddenly the sacred, Spirit-filled vessels of God, and must know how to live from God's opinion of them--and that's stunning. If they don't know it as soon as possible after receiving Christ, every moment of delay dulls and deludes them from ever knowing it.
And that delay keeps them from living by the Holy Spirit, the only actual way for a son or daughter of God to live. If and as we offer them something other than that, we’ve likely crippled them. Maybe this will assist us toward the revival of the church I believe draws near.
So have a read. Strangely, I find it encouraging. I’ll post again tomorrow some of my comments and feelings and beliefs about it all.
October 18, 2007
Willow Creek Repents?
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”
(If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.)
In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”
Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.
Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.