Monday, April 20, 2009

Life as Story & God as Author

“Once upon a time...” That’s how we’re used to saying it these days; but it’s the same thing. “In the beginning...” It’s an opening to the history of our world which is still being written and read. Our English word “history” comes from the Latin historia, meaning, “a narrative, account, tale, or story.” The terms story and history weren’t even distinguishable until the late 15th century.

Naming the human experience not merely as history but also as story is helpful because of what the idea of story uniquely imparts to our conceptual understanding. It comes with the assumption that behind its pages is a personal author who, in writing, is pouring out his deepest perspectives, priorities, passions, and personality with every page. An author through whom “all things came into being” (John 1:3).

When the Enlightenment brought about the Age of Reason, western culture began segregating history's past, present, and future and began thinking about it largely apart from its origins. John’s gospel account helps us avoid that weighty error by reminding us, once again, that we are characters in an epic story that, like all stories, has a deeply invested and involved author who is committed to all his created characters and to the grand conclusion he has in mind for them.

Unlike other stories, however, the characters in ours are not merely passive reflections of the author’s pen but, rather, active and contributing participants. Our divine author has given us the ability to choose how we will participate in our own narrative. It’s a mysterious paradox that an author has written and is writing every detail of our story while we, the characters, have at the same time so much impact on the events and relationships in it. It can be confounding; but then, isn’t it good to know that God is bigger than our ability to contain him in our limited, mortal minds?

When the Apostle Paul writes about this mystery in Romans 9-11, he ends by simply saying, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his judgments and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him anything that he would need to pay it back? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” It’s humbling to recognize the bigness of God. And for those who know that his bigness works in favor of his creation, it leads to humble worship.

Of course being actual contributing participants in our own story can lead to problems. Sometimes we complain about how long it’s taking to get to that big conclusion we’ve heard so much about. You know the one... golden streets, sinless beauty, etc. Or sometimes we lament the nature of our present chapter when circumstances are troublesome and life has become hard. It’s as though we believe our author has made some wasteful mistake by allowing this present part of our story to go on or else has forgotten us all together. Of course, when you think about it, there is something very empty about reading the last few happy pages of a book without taking the surprising and often painful journey that gives those last pages their full significance.

Cinderella’s wedding is nothing more than a few snapshots in a Hollywood tabloid without her tragic beginning, impossible predicament, and magical intervention that led her from cruel slavery into the tender embrace of her Prince Charming via one very unique shoe. Her crown and those loving arms were made most meaningful because of the old chains that once bound her and the former arms that once struck her.

    “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
The perspective of human history as a real story with a personal author implies that the end product, our grand conclusion, is neither significant nor truly even possible without the many exhilarating and tedious, clear and confusing, joyful and tragic pages that make up the journey leading us there.
    “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
It makes one think harder about the now... the right now. The now in which you read these words. The now you had this morning. The now you will have in a little while. The now with which we are interacting and to which we are contributing. The now that was wrought in the wisdom and imagination of our divine author. The authoritative author on whom we were designed to utterly depend. The author who lovingly breathed life into us with words and is still breathing words... even now.

And what is he saying? What is he saying now, in this present moment in which we breathe and think and choose and act? What does he desire to write in us, on us, through us, around us? Do you know? Have you asked him? It will be very hard for us to knowingly and willfully participate in the intention of our author if we do not know what it is. It leads to the realization that for us to successfully “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” we will have to run while constantly, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” 

It’s true, “The mind of a person plans their way but the Lord directs their steps.” But how much better is it to pray, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust . . . Make me know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me. For you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:1-2, 4-5). Or, again, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; let your good Spirit lead me on solid ground” (Psalm 143:10) 

Again and again God encourages us to seek his kind intention in our moment by moment decision making. He promises that if we seek we will find and if we ask it will be given to us. He continually offers gracious invitations of the biblical promise like this one, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and he teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep his covenant and his words. For Your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my sin, for it is great. Who is the one who reveres the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity . . . The secret of the LORD is for those who revere him, and he will make them know [i.e. experience] His covenant.” Those are the words of Israel’s King David... a sinner like us who, despite his habitual failure, continually returned to God with a compelling desire for his gracious author to lead him in “the way.”

Many of us forget that God actually has a way for us. It’s easier for us to grasp that, in broad terms, he has a kind of a way... one that can be expressed in practical generalities and taught to wide and diverse audiences. But then, he also has a specific way for each one of us. It’s been referred to as, “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus, living a perfect human life, knew that each living character breathed into existence is created with a uniquely crafted destiny revealed through moment-by-moment interaction with the Author. Allowing people to embrace their destinies as a matter of choice was God’s design for fostering cooperation, mutuality, and attachment. It was the design Jesus himself lived and often spoke of to his disciples.
    “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19).

    “I can do nothing on my own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30).

    “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).

    “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (John 7:16)

    "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me” (John 8:28).

    “For I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).

    “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father abiding in me does his works” (John 14:10).
How amazing would it be if we could all have access to the Father like that? Can you imagine pausing at any moment, asking God what he would have you say or do, and actually getting an answer? The remarkable truth of Christ’s example is that it is just that... an example. A life lived intentionally on display for all his followers to imitate.

Before his death and resurrection, Jesus explained the connection between his experience and the experience of his followers by describing the unique ministry of God’s Spirit.
    “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself to him. . . If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:20-26; emphasis added).
Another way of understanding this reality is by Christ’s often misunderstood exhortation, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness...” (Matthew 6:33). I like how Dallas Willard clearly and simply defines the kingdom of God as, “the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done”. In line with that, seeking God’s kingdom is about us surrendering and conforming the range of our effective will to his... where we do what he wants done. The thing about such a command is that it makes little sense if we’re not actually able to discern what God wants done.

Fortunately, God knows this.
    “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1: 5).
So here is the first kingdom characteristic we discover... That since the beginning and even now, Jesus, our loving author, as God and with God, has been putting the living ink of history on the living paper of time, moment by moment, page by page, interacting with us as active participants in the grand narrative of creation, fall, and redemption.
    “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:15-17).
The story is not ours, but his. He writes it according to the kind intention of his will in all wisdom and insight, and invites us as living, contributing characters in his story to seek, discern, and willfully participate in his author’s intent, partnering with him even as we utterly and dependently surrender our whole selves to him.
    “May those who fear you see me and be glad because I wait for your word” (Psalm 119:74).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where are the Miracles?

For many of us in the satiated, scientific, self-sufficient west, life looks much different from the early church experience that was apparently much more frequently marked by the miraculous. But we are not the first people in history to have "lost" the miraculous in our midst.

After Israel's and Judah's continual rejection of God for their own selfishness, judgment comes in the form of the Babylonian destruction of the temple in 586 BC and mass deportation of those remaining in Judah. Despite the past promises and demonstrations of power in the midst of his chosen people, they now cry out,
"O God, why have You rejected us forever? We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, nor is there any among us who knows how long. Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?" (Psalm 74)
The reason "why" was because it was actually God who had been thoroughly rejected by Israel. His absence was simply a long-overdue response of withdrawal after generations of abuse, rebellion, and idolatry. He, along with the outpouring of His Spirit, were agreeing to the divide Israel had pursued for so long. And the consequences of that divide left for present and coming generations would be painful... seeming, from the subjective myopic human viewpoint, as though God had somehow changed.
"My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted. When I remember God, then I am disturbed. You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of long ago. Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Then I said, 'It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.' I will remember the deeds of the LORD; I will meditate on all Your work. Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeemed Your people." (Psalm 77)
It feels to the psalmist as though God changed, rejecting His people like never before. And yet, this captivity song, like the last, arises from a suffering that was first and ultimately brought on by Israel's rejection of God... not the other way around.

Today, when we look for the signs and wonders of God, the healings and miracles promised and encouraged by Jesus and the Gospel authors, we see very little here in the west. Either they seldom happen, or some great hush prevents news of them from reaching our ears.

Could it be that we, like post-exhilic Israel, are experiencing the absence of the God we've rejected? If so, could it also be that our way back to the normal and normative experience in the NT description, is the same as Israel's? Deep sorrow and repentance... both individually and as the kingdom community?

What would such repentance look like? Maybe this would be a good place to start:
"O LORD, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry; for my soul has had enough troubles. I have become like one without strength. My eye has wasted away because of affliction. I have called upon You every day, O LORD; I have spread out my hands to You. I cry out to You for help; and in the morning my prayer comes before You." (Psalm 88)

"If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why Grieve?

Why grieve when there is so much Scripture on hope and when hope is a so much more enjoyable and immediately (seemingly) rewarding experience?
Psalm 18:27 ... "For You save an afflicted people, but haughty eyes you abase."
We grieve because we are an afflicted people who need saving.

We grieve because we and our people are afflicted with satiation, distraction, consumerism, independence, isolationism, self-service, and a numbness that keeps us comfortable as our illness grows.

We grieve because the world of "others" - even those others in our own city - are afflicted by poverty, injustice, abuse, neglect, violence, addiction... and they are afflicted by our own inability to see them or know them.

We grieve ...
... because
we need to be saved
from our affliction.

Championing hope while our hands are still so blood-stained with American idolatry, while the exiles still remain so far away and so invisible to us, seems the wrong response to our predicament.

I am a child of American privilege. Many of my people, my beloved friends, are children of privilege too. Our culture has shaped our assumptions and taught us to believe that such self-serving rhythms of life are normal and acceptable to God. We have been deceived in the subtlest of ways.

Through grief, we learn to see our affliction and the affliction of others. Grieving leans us toward sympathy, humility, and repentance. If grief takes hold, it can drive us to desperate prayer and motivate us toward obedient change that cultivates hope and reconciliation as we forsake our idols and rediscover Jesus.

And, by the way, grief is never to be a passive-aggressive cover for self-righteousness or judgment.  It is to be the grief God feels for those he loves.  The grief out of love that compelled him to the cross.
Matthew 5:3-4 ... "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who grieve, for they will be comforted."

Late Morning Prayer

Abba, I long to know your kingdom...

...You have sowed the seeds of it in my heart. We were created for you, for life in your realm. The kingdom of God is imprinted on our souls and on the essence of every created thing.
Romans 8:19-23 ... "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. "
Even all creation longs for your kingdom, O God. How can you delay?

We suffer, and mourn, and grieve, and fast... increasingly...
... and some of us die, and die, and die until we are dead. Have mercy on us, Lord.

Abba, my own longing is a whisper and a shadow of a reflection of your longing. Make me to want like you want. Be more than my Shepherd and make me more than your sheep.
John 15:15 ... "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."
If we are indeed more than slaves, more than servants, even friends, then bring us in to share your heart, Lord.
John 17:21-26 ... That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."
Make us one, Abba... with you, with each other. We have your Spirit, your Spirit who feels with you, longs with you, knows as you know, sees as you see, loves as you love, grieves as you grieve, and hopes as you hope. You, Spirit of God, are inside me, joined with my own human spirit as one new creation. Open my heart to receive all that you want to give... your own living experience of all things. And fill me with the ability to receive it and handle it well - unto life.

O God, change me, grow me, transform me, breathe into me and through me. I need more of you, Lord! Connect me, as a branch, more deeply to you, Jesus! Help me connect more deeply! Help me know how, make me strong and motivated, give me the will and the wanting to take me there.

Oh, that you had a tabernacle here, Lord. I would stand in it's gate all day. But now, I am your tabernacle. Your Spirit is in my body. How then do I stand at this gate, undefiled?
Psalm 25 ... "Make me know your ways O Lord. Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me. For you are the God of my salvation. For you I wait all the day. . . Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice. He teaches the humble his way. All the ways of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep his covenants and his testimonies. For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. Who is the one who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity and his descendents will inherit the land. The secret of the Lord is for those who fear him. He will make them know his covenant. My eyes are continually toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net."
O Lord, please speak to me today. Please speak, Lord. Your servant is listening...

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Need to Grieve

Imagine what it must have been like for those sincere worshipers in first century Israel who walked such a long way to be in Jerusalem to worship Yahweh in the temple. To their shock and dismay, when they arrive, they do not feel the awe, reverence, fear, and love they expected but, rather, when they enter the holy place it's like someone punched them in the stomach when they weren't ready. The smell of livestock and chaotic noise of ambitious traders and opportunistic swindlers make the place look like more like a 1st century version of Las Vegas than a temple of God.

They stand at the gate, dazed and hardly breathing as they take it all in - the crowd, the animal cages, the sales people, the frenzy of money changers. They see people wearing fine clothes purchase the finest sacrifices while those in humble rags receive only the most common and poorly looking creatures.

Most of all they see hundreds of faces. Faces that appear unconcerned and even annoyed as they stand in lines or hustle from one spot to another. Faces that don't know or care about the people standing next to them. Faces that reveal how normal and mundane this insane violation of God's person and purpose is. The temple of God has effectively been lost and no one seems to notice!

Grief swells in their hearts as they begin to hear themselves think, "How can I worship here when all I want to do is cry out in anguish? How can I praise God when my heart is so angry at what I see? Such self-centeredness and self-deception... This is not the God I worship! This cannot be his temple! And who are these people? Impostors? Victims of some deception? How can these things be?"

Thankfully, here in 21st century America, there is no market in our places of worship (unless you're watching Christian TV). Financially struggling people are not preyed upon by religious representatives (normally). In fact, in many worshiping communities, people hardly give any money at all. It must be nice to live at a time in the world when there is so little need.

We have high quality worship services in which we "get fed." We're served worship like a meal at a restaurant by professionals who make our experience enjoyable and meaningful. If the food and service pleases us, we come back. If not, we go somewhere else.

We're big on community too. No, we don't actually live in community or even see each other all that much; but we do have weekly or biweekly small groups where we read our Bibles and pray and judge the quality of our meetings by how pleased, comforted, or encouraged we feel when we leave. Sometimes we even volunteer, especially when the experience feels "rewarding." We fit these things into our schedules when we can because we're busy people with important things to do.

When we get really serious, we start "sharing Christ." We look for "divine opportunities" at the job, neighborhood, or gym to help people know what they should believe. Of course, the appointments aren't entirely divine because we already chose what job, neighborhood, and gym would be ours without God's input. That's sort of how we live all of life, though. We do what seems best to us and then we ask God to bless it.

Yep. We've come a long way in 2,000 years. Back then, it was all about those few people who had the leverage to make money and exercise power in self-serving ways. Now, we all make money and exercise power in self-serving ways. (Unless you're poor. If you're poor then it's often a lot like it was back then.)

It's great to live in a time when we feel so good about ourselves and our lives. Then again... maybe it's not.

Maybe the reason we feel so good is because we've effectively distracted ourselves from realizing how needy we and others actually are. Maybe we're so satiated by wealth and possessions and comfort and convenience and entertainment and gratification - even in our church experiences - that we've managed to silence the deeper cries of our hearts and the voices of those who suffer outside of our immediate vision. (It wouldn't be the first time. Remember the Tower of Babel and how positive its builders felt about themselves?)

Maybe we need to admit the possibility that we don't naturally see what's wrong in us or around us because we're so good at insulating ourselves from the pain of it. Maybe we need to think more seriously about how Jesus lived, about what he said, and ultimately about what God wants for and from us. Maybe we need to quit living in denial and begin grieving the corruption of God's temple (the Body of Christ) with such desperation that even worship becomes difficult as we cry out for God to save us. And, if we're very, very fortunate, maybe we'll do all that with others who feel the same way.

"And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He said to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you are making it a robber's den.' And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them." (Mt 21:12-14; Mk 11:16; Jn 2:13)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Becoming - Accessible

Jesus was and is accessible and responsive, always welcoming to those who sought him, however needy, goofy, or messy they were.

I want to become like Jesus - the kind of person who answers his phone and replies to his emails with a welcoming and gracious tone and is accessible and responsive to those seeking meaningful relational interaction.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Desperate but Disciplined

I'm desperate in what I don't know ...

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when will I come and appear before God?  My tears have been my food day and night ... Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. O my God, my soul is in despair within me ... Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me" (Psalm 42:1-7).

... while trying to be disciplined in what I do know.

"Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness... For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline... You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin... All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 12:4, 11).

I don't know life in the kingdom.  I'm seeking it as commanded and thirsting for it as my spirit drives me and crying out for it as my heart grows more desperate; but I don't yet have it.  I don't have plans for getting it.  I don't know what needs to happen for God to move in forming it.  So I cry out, without preconceptions except the one that unless the Lord leads clearly and empowers supernaturally, unless he builds the house, our labor will be in vain.  In this, I cry out and actively wait for him because I'm helpless.

And yet, I do know I'm being personally pruned and disciplined.  I do know that the Father has told me to surrender my appetites, specifically those of food, sleep, and physical comfort.  While I don't pretend to know what path will lead to the kingdom reality God desires for us, I do know this one next step he's set me to.  In this, I prayerfully choose and act because I am not helpless, but rather - responsible.

So I'm desperate, open to anything, needy for Christ and his kingdom, crying out as a blank canvas hungry for the Lord to create in beautiful and unexpected ways.  And I'm disciplined (or trying to be), set on something specific, the small thing I can do that is before me.  I don't know how they relate.  Then again, how does walking around a city seven times relates to its walls falling down.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mission Produces Community

Alan Hirsch recently wrote the post, "Mission as an Organizing Principle," in which he talks about joining the Mission of God before us as the beginning for bringing kingdom community together.  The post and comment-discussion that's resulting is pretty interesting stuff.

Two Things

Two things I am coming to believe in this season of pain and rebirth.

1) The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

It wasn't Moulin Rouge that coined those famous words, but songwriter and hippie idealistic practitioner, eden ahbez, in his song, Nature Boy, performed by Nat "King" Cole.

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy
And sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
Then he said to me

"The greatest thing 
You'll ever learn 
Is just to love 
And be loved in return"

Jesus says that life is all about community. Loving God, loving people, living in intimate unity, utterly dependent on God through Christ.   I can't think of any other reason for living that doesn't leave any loose ends or unsatisfied desires in my heart.  Enjoying and expressing mutual love with God, his people, and his creation is what I want more than anything else.  

... And I can't have it now.  That's the other thing.

2) I will never fully know that kind of community this side of glory.  

There is too much independence competing with the Spirit of shalom.  Too much shared ground with self-centered realities.  Too much distance and disconnection in our relationship with God.  Too many distractions.  Even in the best kingdom community experience available on this earth (for which I long with tears), I believe we will still feel the lack of and longing for a community that is fully surrendered to and loving God while fully loving each other.  As an alien and stranger surrounded in a world, a nation, a culture that is fiercely devoted to independence and the worship of self, I suspect I will always feel lonely and disconnected... even as I rejoice for the Christ I do experience, both alone with him and in community.

So here I am, seeking first the kingdom of God on earth, a reconnected kingdom community in which we love and are loved, while simultaneously  realizing I will never fully find it until Christ sums up all things.  We are "looking for a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God . . . longing for a better country, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:10, 16). 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lynch Update - Season of Surrender

I know these updates are coming in bite-sized pieces; but, such is life for us right now.  Today,  it's nice to be able to name what God's aiming at in us right now; so we're eager to share it.

For me, it is the arena of appetites (thus the recent blog post on the topic).  Specifically, the idolatry of appetites.  I have much to surrender that still rules over me in the place of God.  Examples include sleep, food, rest, and physical comfort.

For Aleta it is the issue of fear.  The Lord continues to lead us on into increasingly risky contexts for life and ministry. Trusting him for safety while walking, home alone, etc. as an attractive, young, woman in a poor neighborhood with increased crime brings some very  real fears into focus.

For both of us, our aim is the same.  Aleta and I desire for our self-service and self-reliance be replaced with an utterly overwhelming love for God that outweighs and redefines the false beliefs our hearts, minds, and bodies have been trained in.

In the words of our friends Dave and Pam... We long for the "expulsive power of a new affection".  A love so big that it pushes our current devotions, idolatries, assumptions, etc. off the throne of our lives.  Radical surrender.  The kind of utter dependence that lies at the heart of abiding in Christ and allows his life to flow in and through us.

Thanks again for praying.  This is so much more than merely increased spirituality.  We need this change to take our next steps into his life.  Without it, we whither and die.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lynch Update - Tough Month

This last month has been a tough one for us.

It feels as though the Lord has placed us on pause, setting us aside.  The lack of next steps in this last month as well as a sense of distance from God in me has left us feeling that specific calling, context, and community are all hidden from us.

We're left feeling discouraged, but also that maybe God is leading us to focus on areas of surrender in us before he moves us onto the next outward steps toward calling, context, and community.  Aleta and I have both identified areas in our lives that God has been calling us to give over to him.  Areas in which that kind of abiding surrender is difficult for us.

And without the institutional structure that can often artificially roll on even without the presence and power of God, we are left naked and utterly dependent on his provision.  The life we've begun moving into is like that.  If God doesn't hold us up, we fall down.  It's that beautifully and terribly simple.  And for God to hold us up, we must be all his... entirely surrendered in his hands.

That's my best attempt at explaining what's happening right now.  Thanks for praying.

Friday, December 19, 2008


In the long list of God’s gifts to humanity stands the awesome bestowal of … the barbecue. I must confess, I love to grill. There’s just something good and right about standing over a smoking barbecue in my “Kiss the Cook” apron, wielding those mighty tongs. I open the lid and smokey goodness billows out, filling the neighborhood with the delicious smell of sizzling steaks. Even my vegetarian friends seem to have a special place in their hearts for that savory aroma. Eyes brighten, mouths water, appetites are aroused.

Appetites are a pretty normal part of the human experience. Stomachs grumble to be filled. Nostrils breathe deeply to smell the fragrant air. Eyes widen to behold something remarkable. Ears strain to hear a beautiful song. Bodies desire sexual release. We all have cravings that call out for satisfaction.

One time, Israel's King Solomon commented on how persistently these natural desires stick with us, “The eye is never satisfied with seeing nor the ear ever filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Appetite and satisfaction. It’s a cycle that grows and wanes, but never really goes away. With various measures of strength, every physical sensation we have comes with an accompanying itch that longs to be scratched.

Our immaterial senses are much the same. Minds hunger to discover, organize, and choose. Hearts thirst to love and be loved. Imaginations long to discover and create. Souls crave meaning and destiny. Spirits long to know God.

The wanting we carry inside is inescapably embedded in our humanity. Inescapable and, in fact, good, when understood and stewarded correctly. When left to its own independent, unsupervised impulses, however …

Amidst the beautiful and joy-giving cycle of hunger and satisfaction, our appetites come with a warning. When unrestrained or misdirected, these things that move us toward motivation, growth, and joy can become unthinking masters that drive us to excess at great cost to our person and community. Hunger becomes gluttony. Sexual intimacy becomes lust. Rest becomes laziness. Organization becomes obsession.  Enjoyment becomes hedonism. What was once good becomes a destructive force of evil, hostile to us and those around us.

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).

When appetites turn self-centered and indulgent, they quickly become what the Bible calls, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). On one hand we’re reminded that, “Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude, sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-6). On the other, we’re challenged to, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).

The tension between gratefully participating in the satisfaction of our appetites and restraining them from becoming chaotic masters of our personhood has caused great angst for many. Some have gone so far as to vilify appetites all together, prescribing various systems of ascetic self-denial in the hope of liberating themselves from all desire, internal and external.

From the 9th century BC, Jainism or Jain Dharma has taught that the soul’s true divine nature is accomplished and freed from reincarnation when the inner enemies of desire are conquered. Buddhism, beginning in the 4th century BC, teaches that the experience of suffering is ultimately from appetites or attachments to desire that should be transcended. Greek Stoicism, starting in the 3rd century BC, considered all passions evil and to be overcome. Even many Christian monastic groups, including the Desert Fathers (3rd century AD), have embraced similar philosophies in an attempt to become more holy and wholly surrendered to God. The common belief these systems share is that human effort or will power can effectively conquer appetites and cravings.

With such religious ambition to be rid of the cravings that trouble us, it might be surprising to hear that the Bible says, despite the measure of effort applied, such legalistic methodologies do little to set straight our demanding appetites. “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). Sure, some cravings get shifted around or hidden, some behaviors get redirected or subverted; but ultimately the result is simply the rise and indulgence of yet another appetite… the appetite for independent control and the vanity of external appearance.

And there’s the rub.

While practitioners hope for liberation from their appetites, the great irony of legalism is that it actually becomes a form of bondage in itself (Galatians 4:21-26). The ten commandments are famous symbols of Christian faith; but the Bible explains that the real reason God gave them to Israel, along with the rest of the Mosaic Law, was, “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God. No flesh will be justified in his sight by the works of the law; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20). God’s law was never intended to be a path to liberation, although it did help curb at least some measure of destructive indulgence. The primary purpose of the law, however, was and is to reveal the impossibility of overcoming self-centeredness and appetite-idolatry through mere human effort. It was designed to reveal our great need for a Forgiver, a Helper, a Savior.

What’s so great about Jesus (among the many things) is that he came to set us free not only from the destructiveness of self-centered appetite-indulgence but also the impossible demands of the law. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Galatians 5:1). “Therefore, brothers and sisters, you also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ and were joined to him when he was raised from the dead so that we might bear fruit for God. We have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own son in the form of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who no longer walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 7:4, 6; 8:3-4).

What we could not do, Jesus did for us. And what we cannot do now, God’s Spirit, given to those who receive him, does through us - leading and empowering us in supernatural ways to live a life that is otherwise impossible. Ultimately, through this functional union, both our appetites and our will are reconnected in utter dependence to the God who directs and empowers them in life-giving ways. And that’s where the tension is resolved - in the person, presence, and power of God, living in and through us. In him is the perfect balance between satisfying appetites and denying their idolatry. And in living that balanced self-stewardship through us, Jesus achieves his desire, “that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).

Once again, reconnection to - and utter dependence on - God are revealed as the most beautiful, enjoyable, life-giving realities humanity could imagine.

As we continually entrust ourselves to God through Christ, we are increasingly freed to celebrate our experience of appetite and satisfaction while empowered to subject those appetites to his lordship through periodic exercises of self-denial, reminding our appetites that they are good but not god. So, in the supernatural leading and power of God's Spirit within us, we savor food, resisting gluttony, and at times we fast. We enjoy marital sex, resisting immorality, and at times we are celibate. We engage in learning and intellectual reflection, resisting pride, and at times we are still.  We welcome comfort, resisting sloth, and at times we intentionally choose hardship.  We appreciate fashion, resisting vanity, and at times we are purposefully plain.  We delight in good music, resisting compromise in the message or mood, and at times we are silent. The only craving we do not periodically cease from is the one for which satisfaction is actually God. It’s the appetite for God himself. That’s a craving we can never indulge enough.

While all this is, indeed, good news, there still remains the question of how to practically enter in to the reality of God directing and empowering our will and appetites in life-giving ways... 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lynch Update 11/24/08

This is the abbreviated, 4:45am version of the update (headed to work)...

Living downtown has been the single most fruitful step we've taken so far.  Being close to the people God is calling us to join in kingdom community and reach out to in his loving ministry of reconciliation has changed everything.  We take several prayer walks a week, all of which yield awesome conversations and opportunities for relational next steps that, we pray, will soon lead to spiritual interactions and "Yes!" responses to Christ.

4 weeks ago, the Spirit told us to plug into Neighborhood Ministries; so, despite our institutional wariness, we are diving into that community every Sunday and several relational and service moments in-between.  We're excited to see where that leads.  It appears that some significant portion of the kingdom community God is calling us to are from the relationships he is developing for and with us there.  We'll be gathering with Billy Thrall, one of the staff members there, soon to talk about where we might begin plugging in and serving more there.  Aleta and I are full of prayer on that one... especially for me.  She's already serving in the food pantry; but I've not found a place yet - nor am I sure if a place exists in their structure.  We're trusting God for that one.

Zack and Kelli Newsome, who live across the street, have found a partner in a brother and friend who is moving down here in the very near future.  He'll also be partnering with Neighborhood Ministries once here; so we look forward to more overlap there.

Monday night prayer gatherings are awesome.  We meet every other week at our place and opposite weeks at Dave and Pam's place in the North Valley.  Meghan, Dave, Pam, Aleta, and I gather to pour it all out to each other and the Lord in wonderfully life-giving ways.  Additionally, Gwen will most likely be joining us as we partner with her to pray for God's complete healing of her in the months to come.  Also, another friend, Lorri, will be with us tonight.  

We've connected with Rocky and Meredith, two awesome people we've befriended and look forward to going much deeper with.  I'll be inviting them to tonight, too.  They're both fresh back in town from a five month Alaskan endeavor and both need jobs (and a place to live).  We're praying diligently over them as well.

Please continue to pray for the relationships God wants to connect us to, that kingdom community continues to form and that the lost would find Christ!  Also, please pray against the Enemy as he continues to work to discourage and distract us from our daily focus on and surrender to Christ.  And as usual, the evolving dream of a central community space made up of cafe, apartments, art gallery, and studio space continues to swell in my heart and mind.  Please pray for the Lord to do whatever he desires in relation to that.  It's a major passion in my heart.

In all things, may God have the victory in, to, and through us.

In Christ's love, John.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Worship of Feelings

This question of feelings and idolatry and worship sounds so theological, philosophical... even theoretical.  But the more I think on it, the more I see it's practicality... and it's sobering to me.

We know TV consumes our time, removes us from community interaction, dulls our minds, feeds our consumerism, and shortens our attention... but we feel inclined to watch TV... so we keep them, upgrade them, and continue watching them.

We know that Jesus refused opportunities for personal wealth, told those who would follow him that they would have to give up expectations for money and financial stability, lived and ministered mostly among the poor, and explained that real discipleship means imitating his lifestyle... but we feel inclined to security, self-sufficience, comfort, control, and convenience... so we enlarge our lifestyles and remain detached from befriending and relating to the poor.

We know that prayer is powerful and the Word renews our minds and feeds our soul... but we feel inclined toward entertainment, uncomfortable with silence and solitutde, and waiting, and we find reading tedious... so we neglect substantial and meaningful one-on-one time with God.

We know that many who will cry out, "Lord, Lord!" will be revealed as having never actually known Christ... but we feel more comfortable with a "safe" religion we can control than a "dangerous" relationship we cannot... so we keep our distance from the God who rescues.

We know that we need real love... but we feel fear of pain in the depths of our broken hearts and inclined to hide ourselves from it... so our relationships remain largely shallow, deep counsel never has opportunity to heal us, and community has no ground in which to take root.

We know we need authentic community... but we feel inclined toward independence, privacy, and the appearance of strength... so we fail to be truly honest, vulnerable, and available to others - preventing the possibility of kingdom family from ever forming around us.

We know we need life... but we feel inclined toward the selfishness that prevents us from gaining it... so we never sacrifice our self-life and never experience the treasure we were made to have.

We know God... but obey our feelings. So whom do we truly worship?

Luke 9:23-25... "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a person benefited if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

2 Peter 1:10... "Therefore brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you."

Luke 18:8... "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Connection Event

This weekend, bring your neighbors to this fun, laid back Scottsdale event... grab an iced-coffee... and pray that God opens a conversational door to areas of the heart.  Shared experience, space, and time are key to real relationships.  Events like this are easy ways to come together with those you seek to bring Christ's love to.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Giving Opportunity this November

Operation Christmas Child is a unique ministry that Samaritan's Purse (Franklin Graham's organization) runs every Christmas. I love participating in it because it's a really easy way to give during the holidays and also reach out to the impoverished across the world. 

To summarize the program, you put together a shoe box full of little toys and school supplies for a girl or a boy, and then drop it off at one of their local drop off locations (nationwide.) They collect these boxes from people all over the US and send them out around the globe to kids in need. It's a super easy way to give at the holidays and make a maximum impact. I love seeing the photos on their website of kids who just received a box of goodies! The joy on their faces says everything. 

The shoe box collection week this  year is November 17 - 24. Check out this link on how to assemble a box, and where you can drop it off.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How Does God Speak?

One of the unfortunate results of our present postmodern cultural shift toward idealistic uncertainty is a new skepticism regarding the ability for a Christian to hear God speak to them in real time.  Even more frequently questioned - and rejected - is the notion that we might actually understand his words with any measure of certainty.

Consequently, when I ask people what God's been saying to them, they generally respond in several predictable ways.  First, they frequently begin by explaining they don't hear an "audible voice" - a way of casting the notion of definitive real-time communication from God as something inaccessible and even a little silly.  Second, they often cite their circumstances as the primary way through which God leads and confirms their course of action.  Third, they generally infuse their response with a healthy dose of what they personally want and the rational reasons for it.

Now hear this... Divine audible voices, circumstantial leading, and the desires of our hearts are all good and fine; but God has gone to great lengths to put in us his very personal, constantly speaking Holy Spirit.  If we do not have two-way communication with the Spirit of God inside us, then we ought to recognize the great opportunity before us to deepen our relationship with him - which, at present, we must confess would be lacking communication (a fundamental element of any healthy relationship).

Here are a few things Scripture says on the topic and what our expectation of two-way communication with God's Spirit should be:
  • Romans 8:14 - God's kids hear and follow the Spirit's leading
  • Romans 8:16 - God's Spirit and ours speaks to remind us we're born again
  • Galatians 4:6 - God's Spirit is in our hearts calling out, "Abba!"
  • John 14:26 - Jesus promised the Spirit would be in his followers, teaching us Christ's words.
  • John 16:13 - Jesus promises that the Spirit will teach us what he, himself, was unable to teach us in person.
  • 1 John 2:27 - The Spirit, living in those who have received him, teaches us directly
  •  Revelation 3:20 - Jesus waits for us to hear his voice
  • James 1:5 - If we lack wisdom (i.e. God's insight or instruction for us) we're instructed to ask expectantly, since God is eager to give it.
  • 1 John 4:1 - As we hear internal speaking, we are to "test the spirits" to see if it's God we're hearing or a deceiving voice.
  • Hebrews 5:14 - Discerning internal voices is the result of practice and training, a product of spiritual maturity
Additionally, the frequent audible communication of God to his people in the Old Testament indicates that he desires to speak and be heard.  Now that his Spirit, once an external reality, lives inside those who have received him, it makes sense that his continued communication would also be more internal than external.  

What I am beginning to hear among my "emergent" Christ-following friends is a discontentment with the apparent lack of the visibly supernatural in their midst, and yet, simultaneously, a refusal to pursue or receive God's immediate communication that lies at the heart of such miraculous events.

There is such an overwhelming treasure God has laid before us in this.  He is eager to speak, if only we will learn to listen.  Can you imagine living each day, hearing God's voice in your heart and mind?  Hearing him lead you, encourage you, correct you, and give you insight into people and circumstances you interact with?  This is part of living daily in the kingdom!  I'm interested in hearing if any might be willing to seek such a gift God so eagerly desires for us.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Where Life Happens

If I had to describe God in a single word, I would choose "love." Then again, I more often say, "life." In the depths of his person, it seems the two concepts are interpenetrating and largely overlap. Anyway, the word I'm thinking of today... is "life."

Jesus once told a story about life and how it happens. It went like this, "Once a sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell around the road; and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on the rocky places without much soil and immediately sprang up; but they withered when the sun rose because they had no root. Others fell among the weeds which choked them out. Finally, some seeds fell on good soil and produced fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty" (Matthew 13).

Later, Jesus explains this parable is really about spiritual life. The kind of inner life source that gives new life to our heart, mind, and (soon enough) bodies. He says the seed is the message of God's "kingdom" and the soils are the kinds of people who hear it.

The soil "around the road" is the hard heart, made impervious to life's seed by the habitual action of closing it off, ignoring it, desensitizing it, and shutting it down. It's not open or perhaps even able to receive life because of its previous conditioning. It was once good soil; but now, it's the hardest soil of all.

The rocky, shallow soil is the emotional believer. They have no root, no depth, no real relationship with the seed or sower, and so no sustainable life. There is a temporary rush of excitement that looks life the promise of life; but it's quickly extinguished when the person loses interest or when the life and relationship behind it are tested. Soon, it becomes clear that the kingdom life had never actually penetrated the heart. It had only caught the fleeting fancy of the person, as countless other stimulating experiences have done in the past and will do in the future.

The weedy soil is the one who wants to add Christ's life and kingdom to another life and kingdom they already have living in their hearts. Soon, however, the individual discovers that the two kingdoms aren't compatible with each other. One focuses on Christ and is utterly dependent on him. The other focuses on self and clings to independence. One life must go. Unfortunately, in this case, it's Christ's life. The weeds stay, growing and depleting the soil while offering no fruit in return.

And then there is the good soil. It's ready. It is either done with rocks and weeds or was fortunate enough to have few of them to begin with. The seed falls on this soil and the message of Christ's life and kingdom is understood and received. The seed grows and grows and continues to grow... becoming a strong, deeply rooted life, that produces life-giving, life-sustaining fruit.

When this soil and seed come together, it results in ever-increasing life. It results in a life that flows in and life flows out. It results in a life that was once a ready recipient but has now become a mature sower of seeds.

Many of us have become, by God's love and grace, matured (while still growing) sowers in this world. We meet people and love them but never fully know what kind of soil they are or what kind of soil they will become. Some were hard, but, by God's loving intervention, are now merely weedy or rocky... perhaps on their way to becoming ready, or "good" soil.

I used to work with a young, hard- and weedy-soil kind of guy named Justin. During our months together, I had many opportunities to share Christ, pray, and express some love. When I left that job site, I was sad at the thought that Justin would probably never find Christ. Yesterday, Justin called me. He's in the Army now and has either accepted Christ or is about to at any moment. Staunchly anti-anything God... he's now eagerly participating in both Catholic and Protestant services and seeking Christ with a fervor I never thought I would see. He is becoming (or has perhaps already become) ready soil. Life is about to take root in him.

Seeds get sown. Soils change. Life happens in strange places. It takes root in the small patches of ready soil that are peculiarly not too far from roads or rocks or weeds.

Abba, thanks for Justin! Keep going, Lord! And make these hard, rocky, weedy soils ready for you! ...Linda, Liz and Charlie, Tracy, D, Jeff and Matt, Evelyn, Brandon and Gina, Samantha, Ash and Janice, Sue.

You are the God who "gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist" (Romans 4:17). You can make these soils change. You can make them ready. We're asking you to do that, Abba. We need you to do that! And we love you for wanting to do that.

Friday, October 31, 2008

One last interview

For those of you who are still doing research on the candidates in these last hours before casting your vote, I'd like to highly recommend Rick Warren's interviews of the candidates hosted at Saddleback. They're posted at the Relevant Magazine political web page, along with a host of other campaign related articles. I hope that they're helpful for many as we all move prayerfully towards this big day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sister Gayle Williams, Martyred

Our sister, Gayle Williams, was martyred in Kabul, Afghanistan yesterday by two Taliban gunmen who accused her of spreading Christian propaganda.  The attack will likely further discourage humanitarian activities in Afghanistan where Taliban insurgents are increasingly targeting aid workers.

Gayle's life and death are testimonies of glory that give witness to how far God's love will go in his attempts to reach the lost with his life-giving love and work of redemption made available to all through Christ. May the Lord shine his light increasingly to that wartorn area through Gayle's story and the lives of others still there.  And may kingdom seekers around the world be stirred by her testimony to live a life that matters.  

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Our First Walk in the Way

Abba, thanks for finally putting us in this apartment, in this part of town, and for all it means and does in us... humility, simplicity, trust, grace, nearness, vision, purpose, community, flexibility, contentment, love, cheer, peace, etc. Only you can sanctify your earth to become all this and more. And we get to participate in your anointing here! Thanks so much.

Thanks for our walk yesterday in this new neighborhood of ours that you have provided. It was great meeting Wayne and being invited to his huge Day of the Dead party this month. It was fun meeting D and teasing him about being on his phone every time we passed each other on the block. It was rich talking with Ash and Janice in their front yard and being invited to call them out in the future as we’re out and about. And our curiosity was fired up when we met Marcus, the friend from Minnesota who bought and is working to sell that run down house on our street that we’ve talked about as having such great potential. We walked and we prayed as we will countless times again, Lord. Please unleash your life and Spirit in this place and in these people!

First Friday was awesome too, Lord. Spending time hanging out with friends on Zack and Kelli’s front porch was made even more wonderful by the fact that we only had to walk across the street to get there. True community expression. And I loved connecting one-on-one with Jake. I'm eager to see you bless and grow your life in him. And Aleta loved her time with Jake's wife Kim.

And as for your contextualized mission for us in this place, the formation of real local kingdom community, our connection to the poor and needy, and your protection and providence for us in this culture of such intense joy and pain... We simply confess with our brother David, “I trust in you, Lord; for you are my God. My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:14-15).

We don’t have to make it happen. It’s all you. We don’t have to worry about safety or finances or next steps or personal harm. Again, it’s all you. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

In a world that seduces us so powerfully to serve self, security, status, false self-esteem, wealth, and fleeting happiness, we are humbled and overjoyed to have stumbled onto your way. A way in which we know, “God is able to deliver us - and he will - but even if he does not, we will not serve your gods” (Daniel 3:17-18). A way in which, “everything works together for the good of those who love God, being called with a purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Please keep us humble and make us more so, Abba. Make us better vessels for your Spirit... better friends who know love more than we do now. Write your story in our hearts and through our bodies, God. You alone are the author of all these great things. And please bless those who watch us and pray for us... drawing them into the same radical vision of kingdom life that Jesus calls us all to.

Thanks for your love, Abba. Once again, it's saved the day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Trendy Thing To Do

My wife and I are taking adoption classes and discovered this week, in the class with us, a pastor of a local church we've visited and his wife. Both are passionate for the Lord and for his justice on behalf of the victimized. Naturally I was immediately hopeful for a new kindred friendship.

As we shared each others' stories, they asked us where we went to church. When I explained that we regularly engage in corporate worship, prayer, and fellowship but have chosen not to identify with any particular church institution, the wife replied curtly, "Yeah... That's the trendy thing to do."


Without needing any explanation from us at all, she had already decided that we were merely drifters floating in the currents of modern day western trends. I could feel the defensiveness swell inside me.

In my gut, a stormy argument whipped up saying how identifying church with formalized church services is actually more of a worldly trend than an authentic, biblical mode of kingdom community. I wanted to explain that our decision is more than an expression of some short-lived, postmodern cultural upheaval. I wanted to explain our reasons for rejecting institution identification... it's reinforced worldly paradigms of power, hierarchy, performance, consumerism, stage-and-audience, passive posture, self-serving atittudes, and Christendom.

I know... pretty reactionary thoughts.  Fortunately, by God's grace, I didn't say any of that. I don't think our new friends were very interested in our reasons anyway. It seems they had already categorized and labeled us. Anything we might've said would've just been white noise.

To be honest, it hurt. And it still stings a little.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is God Really In Control?

Over how much in this life is God really in control? I'm not asking over how much God could control... but how much he actually does control. Over how much of your life, your day, even your actions right now is God in control? Did He cause you to visit this blog post right now or was that your idea ... or maybe just a happy accident? (Thanks for visiting, by the way.)

After all, doesn't Proverbs 16:9 say, "The mind of a person plans their way but the Lord directs their steps."

It's the famously core question of free will and predestination that leaves honest and aware biblical students confessing the great paradox that Scripture intentionally and unapologetically teaches both... although reason seems to indicate that they are mutually exclusive realities. Just one more tantalizing thing that reminds us of our mortality and the unfathomable bigness of our God.

Still... the question remains; and it's invasively practical. Especially in the present day, in which we are ever more fiercely committed to independent choice and the "right and responsibility" of personal free will.

Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains - the world, and those who dwell in it.” It's all his. The clouds that water and drown. The sun that sustains and burns. The winds that refresh and destroy. It's all firmly in his possession and under his control.

This one got me... Psalm 74 says, “Yours is the day; Yours also is the night. You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.” As a former Chicago resident, it's hard for me to imagine how such a brutal, painful, unforgiving, unrelenting season as the Midwestern winter could be God's innovation. But there it is.

Then there's the often quoted Romans 8:28, which says, “And we recognize that everything works together for the good of those who love God, being the called ones of purpose." At first blush, it's a Hallmark statement designed to fill the hurting with comforting, warm feelings of hope. But then we see that word, "everything"... and it becomes a statement dripping with scandal.

Everything works together for the good of those who love God? What about our Christian friend who was raped in her own apartment, on her own bed, with her own Bible sitting on the nightstand right next to her? What about the young child who is continually beaten and told that he's worthless shit by his own father? What about the teenage Christ follower in Southern Sudan who's body is gang-raped by a band of militants right before they mutilate her sex organs with knives and machetes?

Everything? ... Really? ...Come on!

There are no Hallmark warm fuzzies in those words when we think of the many extreme evil circumstances that still roam and rule our earth today.

A few chapters later, Paul presses his point of God's total sovereignty into even more practical and challenging waters. Romans 13:1-2 says, "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God."

Remember, Paul was talking about Rome, here. Famous for their regional injustice, life-sucking taxation, public crucifixions, and advocacy or tolerance of such murderous movements as the one Saul (later called Paul) was participating in against Christians before Jesus appeared to him on that grace-filled road to Damascus. And he is saying that as tyrannical as it was, it was "established by God."

Where does this leave us in our current methods of justice work? As Christians, how do we participate in Christ's work of redemption amidst our day's corruption in the same way he worked in the climate of his own corrupted age? Does standing with the exiled, weak, oppressed, tortured, and murdered mean standing against the government that does all these things? What of Israel's very physical and forceful example of standing for justice? In what way to we oppose? Certainly we pray against evil, don't we? How does that fit into Paul's theology?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Shack

I just finished one of the most powerful novels I've ever encountered. The Shack was written by William Paul Young as a truth-informed work of fiction intended to help his kids encounter God. But, although the events of story aren't factual (the foreword and epilogue are both part of the fictitious story), I'm left feeling that I have just had a deep encounter both with truth and with God, himself.

Through it, I've discovered areas of fear and distrust in my heart and have been challenged deeply to think about God and his involvement in my life and this world in powerfully new ways. Most painful, for me, is the rift this book has helped me discover between the ever-near God my mind believes in and the not-so-near God my heart believes in. It's an open wound that I need him to come and heal.

In some ways, the book is like one of Jesus' parables... A form of teaching that reaches deeper than the mind to answer the painful cries of our wounded and shut-up souls. I encourage you check it out. You won't be disappointed.

(Also... See the author's helpful blog entry explaining the factualness vs. the truthfulness of this book.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Faith and Politics

(In response to a conversation taking place at my Facebook...)

Admittedly, I've been engaged and perhaps even a bit swept away with the coming election and the political, governmental, and social issues it stirs up. Here are a few fresh thoughts God's been working out in my heart these past few days as I've slowed down to reflect on it all.

1) Politics as we know it - a human institution based on human control - is a reality separated from God's plan for the world. Even Israel's move toward monarchy, the first formalized political institution in their national history, was a move away from God... one that he judged was actually a form of rejecting him.

That being the case, God graciously works within the broken structures we imagine (even our institutional religious models). It's influencing me to feel differently about my political / governmental involvement. Instead of assuming involvement based on principles and ideals, I'm beginning to lean back toward a less formulaic and more moment-by-moment dependence on God's leading as to whether or not, and then how, I should involve myself politically. Perhaps even every voting opportunity should prompt us to ask him what he wants to do through us. At times, he may will that we abstain from voting. At other times he may lead us in unexpected voting directions.

2) With that new attitude emerging in me, I'm discovering a new level (and challenge) of trust in God's presence and involvement in all human affairs. If there is any universal principle, it seems to me that it has less to do with "right vs. wrong" than with love. To truly love requires utter, moment by moment, dependence on God. A rejection of our independence and personal rights. Perhaps even our independent right to vote.

3) To stray a bit from this direction, I might suggest a thought regarding the abortion issue simply to open up our minds to whatever surprising ways God might work. I'd like to suggest it may not be so much a question of whether or not a president is pro-life or pro-choice but, rather, what effect will they have on the number of abortion-related deaths during their term. I believe the last time the issue came before the Supreme Court was in 2000. It's difficult to say when, or even if, it might ever come up for vote again.

On that note, John McCain seems to suggest he would push for tighter restrictions on abortion. Barack Obama seems to suggest he would push to eliminate the source causes for unwanted pregnancy and abortion to begin with. Ironically, it may be the latter which reduces the overall abortion numbers more than the previous.

** Even so, I return to my first thought... I might be pushing too hard to control and influence government as an expression of my own independent self-reliance. Here I think of two contrasting examples: 1) Martin Luther and 2) the Anabaptists. Whom do you think is closer to the heart of God for human living?