Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Shootings in Colorado

Language warning (particularly some of the links)--but that isn't really the biggest issue here. A much more important concern is that:
  • there are people who hurt so bad that a shooting spree seems to be the only solution,
  • a person's mind and spirit can be so blinded that they truly believe the things they say and write, and
  • far too many people hear the message coming from us as Christians as: ".........God hates...... ........do this, don't do that......." Instead of hearing: "I love you. God loves you. How can I help?"
As you read this, PLEASE don't let yourself get angry at Matthew. Somehow, we as (supposedly) the family of God didn't communicate God's love as strongly as we communicated His holiness. It looks like here was one young man in a lot of pain, and his response was similar to other similar tragedies. Somehow the enemy of truth, beauty, and love is able to make someone believe his lies, and the result is a lot more pain. Makes us realize how messed up the world is, and how much we need God's love and peace to deliver all of us.

Many of you know that I am on staff with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Victoria, BC. This is the same Christian missions organization that suffered the loss of two staff members in the Colorado shootings on Sunday, December 9th.

You can see some articles on the main YWAM website, linked from the main page. As well, here are a couple more links: Denver Post 1 and Denver Post 2. It appears that the gunman had been a student at a YWAM Discipleship Training School back in 2002 at the same YWAM location, but for some kind of health reasons was not allowed to complete the school.

If you have read any of my postings, you may realize that a big chunk of my heart is trying to demonstrate the love of God to those who need it. It seems that so many people are receiving a negative, condemning message from the church as a whole, and from us as Christians individually.

A few quotes from the
Denver Post:

"A message posted between the Youth With a Mission shooting in Arvada on Sunday, Dec. 9 and the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs is believed to be Matthew Murray's last posting. It contains language which many may find objectionable.

"... (It) copies from a manifesto written by Columbine killer Eric Harris before the 1999 high school massacre. Matthew J. Murray, 24, who police say carried out attacks at the Youth With a Mission dormitory in Arvada and New Life Church in Colorado Springs, left behind final words that are rearranged but otherwise largely word-for-word the same as Harris' writings. Some expletives from the Harris version were replaced by Murray with symbols."

  • "You christians brought this on yourselves
  • "All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.
  • "From now on I don't give a @#%$ about what all you mutha fuckers have to say, unless I respect you which is highly unlikely, but for those of you who do happen to know me and know that I respect you, may peace be with you and don't be in my line of fire"

And a quote from: KMGH Denver

Web site postings that authorities believe were the work of shooter Matthew Murray paint a picture of a young man angry at his religious home schooling and finding release in rock music.

"Nghtmrchld26 had been posting to the site for at least 11 months, ranting against conservative religious organizations."

  • "I remember how it was like every day was Mission Impossible trying to keep the rules or not get caught.
  • "The way I see it, why should we allow some Pentecostal charlatan "prophet," or church or group such as C. Peter Wagner or YWAM/King's Kids Denver or other self-appointed "source of Truth" like Bill Gothard to dictate who's going to hell and who's not and who's accepted and who's out casted?," he wrote Oct. 6. "I remember growing up in pentecostalism/evangelicalism, we were always told to support republicans/conservatives and to hate those evil satanic democrats. Jesus never said to put trust in any political leaders."
Let me repeat what I said earlier: As you read this, PLEASE don't let yourself get angry at Matthew. Somehow, we as (supposedly) the family of God didn't communicate God's love as strongly as we communicated His holiness.

I think the big issues now are:
  • to pray for the gunman's family, the victim's families, the YWAM staff, the church family and anyone else connected with the tragedy.
  • to decide again to live our lives towards everyone based on the love of God.
  • to pray for and actually demonstrate God's love and acceptance towards those who are in such pain that they strike out in violence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is church a verb?

I heard something else in church this week. I was having a conversation with one of my buddies after church, just kind of chatting, goofing off, and chewing through some stuff we had been learning about our own church. (Within our church we have just been going through a period of self-analysis, with outside assistance—if that makes any sense!)

My buddy makes the comment: ”I didn't know 'church' was a verb.”

I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. Finally I told him: “That is such a deep thought, that it is going to somehow end up in my blog.”

He was quite thrilled that his comment was going to spawn a blog entry! (lol!)

Meanwhile, I'm thinking: Is church a verb? Should it be? Most importantly, what significance is there in the question?

Let's look at that.

Wikipedia says: “In syntax, a verb is a word belonging to the part of speech that usually denotes an action (bring, read), an occurrence (decompose, glitter), or a state of being (exist, stand). “

"Verb." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 4 Nov 2007, 04:52 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 Nov 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Verb&oldid=169096834>.

Wow! It almost is as if the particular individual who wrote that definition was thinking about church as he or she wrote it!


  • should denote an action (acting like a family):
    John 13:34, 35 "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other."
    The Message.

  • is also an occurrence (the act of getting together:
    Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing.
    Good News Bible.

  • is also a state of being (together we are the body of Christ):
    1 Corinthians 12:27-29 You are Christ's body--that's who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your "part" mean anything. You're familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his "body": apostles prophets teachers miracle workers healers helpers organizers those who pray in tongues. But it's obvious by now, isn't it, that Christ's church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part?
    The Message.

So, what is the question?

Are we content with just getting together, having warm fuzzy thoughts about God, and then going home, having done 'church' for the week?

Or do we realize that really, 'church' means 'family' means 'loving' and 'living' and even 'fighting' when necessary? 'Church' means 'Kingdom' means 'action' not just 'building' or even 'group of people'.

Yeah, I think church is a verb. 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. It includes, but is not limited to, supporting your brothers and sisters, reaching out to your neighbours, loving people made in God's image.

I think if we get more into the 'state of being' the church, we won't be hung up on 'doing' church. It won't be a list of rules, but a way of life.

Sounds basic, impossible, and absolutely necessary.

John 13:34, 35 "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other." The Message

It fits in with the book I'm reading—Repenting of Religion by Gregory Boyd. (Don't you love how God says the same thing to you in 7 different ways?) I think it is something our particular group of Christians that meets together [church] is doing fairly well, but can always improve on. As Boyd puts it, we are loved by God, are to love God, and to love everyone, all with the same unsurpassing love that originates in the God who is love.

Salvation, worship, fellowship and evangelism are all results of beginning to understand this incomprehensible, unsurpassing, love. I accept God's love for me (salvation), I love Him (worship), I love the rest of His family (fellowship), and I love those who haven't yet accepted His love (evangelism). [As an aside, I believe evangelism is more about loving people than it is about preaching at them.]

So, I think church is a verb as much as it is a noun. I think it is most of all a state of being. It often involves action, and even an occurrence once in awhile!

Thanks for stirring my muse, Dono!

I Am the Church

I am the church, you are the church,
we are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world.
yes. we're the church together!

(1) The church is not a building,
the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place,
the church is a people!

(2) We're many kinds of people,
with many kinds of faces,
all colors and all ages, too,
from all times and places.

(3) At Pentecost some people
received the Holy Spirit
and told the good news through the world
to all who would hear it.

(4) And when the people gather,
there's singing and there's praying,
there's laughing and there's crying sometimes,
all of it saying:

Text: Richard Avery and Donald Marsh. 1972; © 1973, Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream. IL 60188 (800-323-1049).

The power of light

I heard something in church today. “Good”, you might say. “That's what is supposed to happen.”

True, but this was one of those 'moments'. You know, a flash of inspiration that you can only credit to the Holy Spirit bringing something to life.

Here's what was happening. We were singing Graham Kendrick's 'Shine, Jesus Shine'.

Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me

As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 1987 Make Way Music,

Here's the flash of inspiration: We all have areas of darkness within us. Things that aren't what they are supposed to be. We know it will take God to change us, cause we aren't having a lot of luck on our own!

Here are the phrases that caught my heart--”consume all my darkness
Shine on me”.

The way that the darkness is dispelled is by shining the Light. Simple? Profound?

Sometimes I make it seem so complicated, like a 4 year university program. Really, darkness leaves when the light shines. It's elementary physics. You don't have to chase out the darkness—corner it, subdue it, tie it up. No, since darkness is merely the absence of light, when light arrives, darkness is gone. Presto chango.

I know there are powers of darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness, and so on. I recognize that, and I'm not saying the enemy just disappears our of the universe when the light comes. But.... When God shines His light in, there it is. His light. In us. You aren't stumbling around, tripping over things you can't see, because now everything is visible. Light shows you where the furniture is, so you don't stub your toe on the corner of the coffee table. Light reveals where the top step is, so you don't fall down the stairs. Light shows you the garbage you chucked in the corner, so now you can actually throw it out. Light points out where the wall ends and the doorway begins, so you can leave.

Light is a wonderful thing. It's not even creating new things, just revealing what has been there all along.

Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light.

Thank you Lord for sending the Light into the world. To show us the way to You. To set us free from us.

Shine, Jesus Shine.

This says it so well...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Come and see

Exciting words, inviting words.

Have you ever been talking to someone about something new and exciting in your life? A new car, a new baby, a new anything?

'We just had an addition to our family. Come and see her.'

'I just bought a new ______. Come and take a look at it and we'll go for a drive.'

'We just renovated our kitchen. You've got to come over for coffee and see what we did.'

It's one thing to try to describe this new addition, but at some point words fail, and showing is much better than just telling.

It's more than just an invitation to talk about an idea, but to actually see proof of what you are talking about. It comes from a sense of joy and pride. 'I've got something I really want you to see.'

Don't just take my word for it, come and examine the evidence.

My description doesn't do it justice, come and see for yourself.

I know it seems too good to be true, so come and check it out.

Sometimes it's something that you want them to be able to participate in with you. You want to share your joy.

'I just joined this cool group (gym, quilting club, sports team, choir) and I think you would enjoy being a part of it too. Come and see what it is like.'

Sometimes it isn't quite so warm and fuzzy. You've just had a disaster, and rather than talk about it, you beg your friend to come and see for himself, so you don't need to go into all of the difficult details.

All of these scenarios have a 'God' connection. Sharing good news, showing proof of something wonderful, or inviting a friend to enter into your pain.

  • Matthew 28:6 after Jesus' resurrection: 'He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.'

  • John 1:39, 46 referring to Jesus calling His disciples: 'He replied, "Come along and see for yourself." They came, saw where he was living, and ended up staying with him for the day. It was late afternoon when this happened.

    Nathanael said, "Nazareth? You've got to be kidding." But Philip said, "Come, see for yourself.” '

  • John 4:29 Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well: ' "Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" '

  • John 11:34 at the tomb of Lazarus: 'He said, "Where did you put him?" "Master, come and see," they said.'

In every situation, the invitation is there: 'Come and see.'

For us it can become the basis of sharing our faith with someone who doesn't yet know the love of God. In effect we are offering to help them see the goodness of God. He has done great things in us and for us, and we want them to see the results.

Sharing your faith isn't so much arguing or twisting someone's arm, as it is showing them what (Who) you have found.

Don't be scared to invite someone to 'Come and see'. God loves to show His love in tangible, visible ways.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Integrity. I wish I really had it. It would be nice to be perfect, after all. I actually fear writing about it, because that means I need to start living it.


  1. an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting.

  2. moral soundness.

Dictionary.com. WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University.

In typical Christian useage we speak of integrity in a moral sense. This is not wrong, but I think we can gain some more understanding by seeing it in its' definition of wholeness, totality.

Note the additional understanding gained by looking at the derivative integral:



  1. of, pertaining to, or belonging as a part of the whole; constituent or component.

  2. necessary to the completeness of the whole.

  3. consisting or composed of parts that together constitute a whole.


Here's where I'm going with this. We only can live with integrity as we are undivided and complete in Christ. We only have integrity as we recognize that we are only part of the whole—He is 'necessary for the completeness of the whole'.

You and me, Jesus. Not just me. If you only knew! I am so not complete in myself.

One more derivative, the mathematical term integer. A whole number. Not a fraction.

Let me repeat, I am not complete in myself. In myself I am a fraction. With Christ I am whole, I am complete, I have integrity.

At any time that I start to separate myself from Christ, I am no longer whole; I am just a fraction, I do not have integrity.

Integrity. It's really only possible in Christ. With Him I am whole. Without Him I am not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lowered Expectations

I ride the bus. A lot. Sometimes it seems like I'm on it way too much. I suppose that realization comes when I see some riders pretty much acting like the bus is their personal taxi. No one else matters.

They sit right up front where the seats are intended for people with mobility problems, or baby strollers, and have to be told to move, or just sit there while someone unsteady on their feet has to carefully work their way back to an empty seat.

Or they slouch all over 2 seats, and still have enough body left to hang out half way across the aisle. Or they sit in the aisle seat, when there is no one in the window seat, and people end up standing because they are too polite to ask the person to move over. Or they don't offer their seat to someone who needs it worse than they do.

And then there's the phone calls. Oh, those phone calls! At least you usually only hear one side of the conversation. One side is definitely enough! It's worse when it's two friends together on the bus discussing ..... Well, if you've been there, you know the kinds of things they are discussing!

And that's only on the bus!

So, I think I have a solution. Lower my expectations. Don't expect young men to act like gentlemen. Don't expect the young women to act like ladies. (Oh, I know that sounds like an old guy complaining about the kids these days, but you tell me it isn't true!) So, if I don't expect decent behavior from people, then I won't be disappointed. If I don't expect people to speak English with proper grammar, or write it with correct spelling, then it won't bug me if they miss the mark a little. If I don't expect basic body grooming, I won't complain about the smell. If I don't expect others to have standards, then it won't come as a shock if they don't.

I think there is value in this philosophy. I probably would be more willing to accept people as they are with this attitude of lowered expectations. I'd be more likely to cut them some slack when they don't live up to 'my' pre-conceived notions. If I realized that they are just fellow humans, fallen from grace, I'd be treating them the way I often want to be treated. No, I'm not quite perfect, and I know I don't live up to your expectations all of the time.

I kind of think that is what grace is all about. Cutting someone some slack. Recognizing that we are all human. Humans in need of Someone bigger than us to lift us up, to change us, to transform us. I am totally dependent on grace. So are you! So, it's appropriate that I endeavor to walk in grace toward others as much as I hope they (and God) will walk in grace toward me.

I have just started to read Gregory Boyd's Repenting of Religion. I think it will be along the same lines. The sub-title of the book is Turning from Judgment to the Love of God. Not figuring out all of the ways that you aren't perfect, but loving you outrageously. Not so much loving you anyway, but loving you because. Because God does. Outrageously.


It's one of the buzz words of the day.

'Find your center'.

It's not something I have heard much about, but the navel gazers toss the phrase around like many other mantras. To me, it seems it should mean: Figure out where you are coming from, and direct your energy on focusing on that one thing. Bring it all to one place, and then start living from out of that place. I may not be describing it the way the new agers might, but I think that's what it should mean.

Particularly, because it makes sense to me. Do a bit of self-analysis, and see what really makes you tick. And then do a good job of ticking that way.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

It kind of started in church when we were singing 'Jesus be the center'. We need to figure out if He is. The center. Of us. Of who we are. Of what we do.

I suppose there are various ways of figuring out what philosophy is really the core of who we are. Like another thing I heard in church--”Who are you when you are alone, just as you go to sleep at night?” Or what takes priority in your life—energy, time, money. It's one thing to say your faith in God is everything, but does it translate in daily life? I know for me the answer isn't always yes. Way more often than enough my center is sometimes me. My toys, my enjoyment, my stomach, my free time.

This is another of those places where the Grace of God needs to be allowed to overtake us. Let Him gently point out where His Lordship isn't. And then allow Him to change us. It's not like we have a lot of success in changing ourselves!

Jesus, be the center,

Be my source, be my light, Jesus.

Jesus, be the center,

Be my hope, be my song, Jesus.

Be the fire in my heart,

Be the wind in these sails,

Be the reason that I live,

Jesus, Jesus.

Jesus, be my vision,

Be my path, be my guide, Jesus.

© 1999 Vineyard Songs Words and Music by Michael Frye.


Dignity and affirmation

It started with Social Insurance Numbers and Account Numbers. It seemed so much better to use numbers to identify us instead of our names. Instead of dozens of John Smiths in the country, now there is only one 123 456 789. So much more efficient. So much more impersonal. So de-humanizing. (I'm not sure where the whole identity theft issue enters in, since it requires both names and numbers.)

People have been decrying the loss of individuality for years, to no avail. I was watching a brief promotional video for a certain street ministry, and they touched on dignity. Now there is something that is missing in the whole number ID style of dealing with each other. But it's also missing in many other interactions we have have with people. It's so easy to just stick to business, to take care of the matter at hand, and not take the extra time to see how the other guy is doing. We are all so busy—lineups, busy signals, call waiting, voice mail, etc. If you stopped to ask the bank teller how his day was going, the guy behind you would be put out. If you stop to discuss the present political situation with the cashier as you buy groceries, the nice lady in line behind you will be looking daggers at your back. We hardly even talk about the weather any more!

But the realization that started hitting me was regarding the Friday night street ministry I am part of (CARTS). “But”, you will say, “That is all about people, it must be personal, it has to be touching people.”

True, but it is easier than you think to start treating individuals as just part of the whole crowd. Forgetting that they are unique. That they deserve you undivided attention, even if it is for a short time. Taking the time to listen, to encourage, to affirm.

Affirmation. That's another part of the story. If we only knew how many of the people we see each day think they are inferior, deficient, secondary, lacking in some way. Not as good looking, or smart, or coordinated than everyone else. Not as rich, or famous, or important. Not loved, not valued, not appreciated.

I expect this situation is bad enough in the 'general population', let alone among those who find themselves on the fringes of society. The more I hear the stories of people on the street, the more I recognize the broad scope of reasons for them being on the street. You certainly can't generalize, but for many of them, they come from a difficult homelife, job history, or health situation. Too many of us have been told we are hopeless, stupid, unteachable. Shouldn't have been born. Useless to society. Good for nothing. How many kids didn't fit into their parents hopes and expectations, and so moved or were kicked out?

When we pause to think about it, we can see value in all of God's children. Weren't we all made in His image? Even people who are mentally ill, criminals or queer (in any definition) deserve respect as human beings. They may not see life the same way we do, but is that wrong? It may be a challenge to be with them, but does that give us the right to snub them? Even if they smell, flail or cuss, they are still loved by God. (Remember the story of the 99 sheep? The shepherd left them to find the lost one. In other words, he acted more loving to the wayward one than the 99 well-behaved “normal” ones.)

So, how do we truly affirm people, show them the dignity that God does?

Well, what makes you feel wanted, respected, acknowledged? “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” Matt. 7:12 The Message

  • Take the time to talk. More importantly, take the time to listen. Probably shut-up lots and talk little.

  • Look the guy in the eye when you are talking to him. Give him your undivided attention.

  • Recognize his right to his opinion, even if it is diametrically opposed to yours. Honestly seek to learn from what he has to say.

  • Love without conditions.

  • Look beyond the cothes, hairstyle, persona. Accept them as they are, without an agenda of planning on changing them into a duplicate of yourself.

  • Have compassion, and let it show. Not some fake crocodile tears, but honest emotions. Most people can see right through your counterfeit smile. Be real.

  • Each person you meet is different. Don't categorize and stereo-type.

I wish I found it easier to live up to this ideal. I wish I wasn't so prone to ignore the druggies, the drunks, the forsaken. I wish I was a brighter light. I wish I would stop wishing and start doing.

I think I will.


Friday, September 28, 2007


I'm a YWAMer. That isn't a confession like at an AA meeting. It's just a statement of the mission organization I serve with. It stands for Youth With A Mission.

YWAM has been around for more than 45 years. It started about the same time as a few other missionary/parachurch movements like OM, Teen Challenge, Agape Force, and lots more. It seemed to be an era when people were stretching boundaries—within the home, the church, and the nation. Hippies, anti-war demonstrations, love-ins, and anything else that seemed to go against the establishment. Many kids got turned on, tuned in, and dropped out of organized culture, including the church.

Part of the Christian response (completely a God-thing, I believe), was to establish Christian communes. Kids who were dealing with the repercussions of leaving authority behind, and were now quite lost, could find a loving community where they could be guided (sometimes quite dictatorially) into a solid relationship with God.

YWAM and others entered this milieu by offering strong, solid teaching on discipleship. The model that quickly developed included several months of living, working, playing, learning and practicing together in a communal setting. This paradigm has a lot of value. It provides an opportunity to leave stress, temptations and culture behind, and concentrate on God. The YWAM Discipleship Training School (DTS) still follows this pattern in most places. Many similar discipleship programs have been developed by other Christian groups.

So, where am I going with this? We YWAMites (OK, YWAMers sounds better) talk about the 'YWAM bubble'. There are pros and cons of being totally separated from the 'real world'. I think it is a matter that the church as a whole is recognizing. I heard a guy (Jon Petersen) talk about two approaches to evangelism: the familiar church model of working to bring people into the church, and the opposite techniqe of sending the church into the world. He told stories of having church services where the 'lay' people in the congregation were ordained to go out as ministers within their workplace. After all, who is most likely going to influence the guys at the shop, but one of the guys who works there?

For too long we have tried to escape the influence of 'evil' culture by hiding in our happy holy huddles (thanks to Gordon Franklin, one of my old Bible College profs for that turn of phrase). It's time to affect culture by getting out of the salt shaker. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, we can either ignore it, or do something to change its direction.

Community is still a great concept. However, I think instead of forming our fortress Christian communities to keep the devil out, it's time to get out into the communities we live in, and be. Yes, be. Be a light. Be the church—the body of Christ. Be a politician/musician/actor/car salesman/lawyer/preacher who lives his faith. Loves people. Makes a difference. Be salt. Be yeast. Permeate.

What part of GO into all the world are we missing?

(Check out my buddy's blog entry that touches on this: Zon3

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Past, Present, Future

There are lots of interesting concepts within the notion of time.

  • The present is but a single point in the full breadth of experience.

  • The past is (theoretically) completely accessible by memory, but totally unchangeable.

  • The future is entirely alterable, but completely unknowable (except by supernatural means).

  • Even tho the present is but a moment out of eternity, it is the most important moment. It is within this instant that we remember the past, and determine the future.

  • The past and future are forever separated by the present. They do not overlap. However, in the words of poet and philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The past is an intriguing animal. The longer I live (and, I suspect, most people), the more 3 dimensional the past becomes. It seems to be gaining a depth, a 'thickness', an emotional quality beyond just the memory ot events. I recently spent a few days back in my old home town. I lived there for most of my first 45 years, and have been gone for almost 7 years. Things I hadn't thought about, people that never came to mind all of a sudden came flooding back into consciousness. I think the surprising thing was the emotional tug. Not necessarily deep, and not sad, but there none the less.

  • Walking down the aisles of the little country store I worked in for a few months over 20 years ago.

  • Walking though the cemetery—and realizing that some of the folks I remember knowing have been gone over 30 years.

  • Driving by the old farm. Trees have shot skyward—trees that my brothers and I (mostly them) helped nurture in their infancy.

  • Seeing teenagers I worked with that are now parents of teenagers.

  • Seeing the faithfulness of God over the years. Relationships formed years ago still bring joy and challenge.

My present with Youth With A Mission was once only a foggy dream of future full-time ministry. Now it has almost 7 years of past.

I think I am living in the present, in the moment more than I used to. Although I always have been involved in various aspects of ministry, it always seemed like something that would really only happen in the future. Well, that future is now, and I try to live each day with what it needs to contain.

The future is less of an unknown 'I hope' and more of an 'I expect'. That isn't to say that the future won't take some drastic unexpected turns, but I'm not spending all of today worrying about it.

So. Rejoice in the past, remember God's blessings, provision, and direction.
Plan for the future. Do it based on faith in God's unchanging character.
But live today.

Make a difference.

Say a friendly word.

Listen and share in someone's pain.

Let your light shine.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I Don't Believe in God Anymore

Don't worry, that is not an autobiograpical statement. No, it's the comment I've heard from more than one person lately. Christian family, raised in the church, Sunday School, Christian School, the whole nine yards.

What happened?

That's a very serious and important question. It deserves thought, wisdom, and action based on the outcome of the thought and wisdom. I'm no expert, but I have been doing some thinking.

First of all, I don't think the God they once believed in was the true God. Yes, He was a form of the one presented in the Bible, but missing some major aspects of His character. None of us truly understands the depth and breadth of who God is, but I think we need to work on it. Particularly parents, pastors, leaders—all of us. People are developing their understanding of who God is from the teaching and example of those of us who claim to know Him. And it's not only what we say, but how we actually live it out.

A couple of the people who told me they don't believe in God anymore are now living in a gay lifestyle. Now there are many issues raised by that statement, but I only want to comment on one. If a person is confronting some homosexual thoughts in his youth, and the God he as been taught/shown is all law and no grace, he probably sees very few options open to him. If his parents respond in anger and throw him out of the house, a lot more is left behind than just the house.

When a large segment of the church wholeheartedly supports one political party and leader (read 'Republican' and 'Bush') and all of his policies, there is a strong tendency to jettison everything connected with that leader (read 'Christianity') if an individual has serious questions about some of those policies. In fact, there are bound to be anti-war followers who feel they have a higher degree of personal morality than the man/party/philosophy they are opposed to who claim to be Christian. When the party is so closely aligned to the church, those opposed will find it very easy to be alienated from that church, and the God it worships.

I realize that I am treading on dangerous ground. But no more dangerous than that of the portion of the church I have described.

A lot of thinking lately has been colored by the idea of extreme vs.balance. It seems pretty normal for all of us to swing to one side or the other of a philosphical/theological debate. Often the truth is to be found in a balanced view. The example I think fits here is law vs.grace. As we look at Christ, we see someone who understood and lived by a concrete knowledge of right and wrong, but also accepted and forgave people who weren't living by the same rules. On top of that, He offered healing and victory to those who needed to overcome.

I think if we live more like Christ, we will be helping people get a clearer, truer concept of the true God. A God who:

  • knows the best way for us to live. (And knows the consequences of bad choices.)

  • loves and accepts people who have and are making bad choices, and offers them forgiveness.

  • Also offers redemption and healing from the consequences, and the power to make the right choices.

This is who our God is. Anything less is a different God—in effect an idol. If we truly know our God, those we contact will likely have a better chance of knowing Him to.

They'll know we are Christians by our...

So, I'm walking down a busy sidewalk, and the thought hits me: I wonder which of these people are Christians? How can I tell? It's not a really strategic question, but shouldn't there be something different about us? “Let your light shine” and all that?

Muslims, Buddhist monks, skinheads, all have pretty visible distinguishing features.

Maybe Christians should have a dress code? Ill-fitting dark suit, white shirt with a skinny tie, or a long dark non-revealing dress for the womenfolk?

How about a halo? That would be a good identifying mark.

Or how about a t-shirt that says it all--”I'm a blood-bought, sanctified, conservative evangelical Christian. You should be too, or you're headed for hell”. Now that should bring everyone to their knees in repentance. I'm being more than a bit facetious, in case you didn't notice.

No, the rest of the 'Let your light shine' verse says 'so they will see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven'. As I was still walking down the sidewalk contemplating this whole idea, I saw a much better message on a t-shirt: “My t-shirt likes your t-shirt”. That starts getting to the heart of good works—truly liking people. Choosing for their higher good instead of your own is a good start to actually making a difference.

It seems so easy just to think about myself, doing what will get me ahead in the rat race. You see it everywhere. (Now it's time for my rant.) No common courtesy, no thought of how my actions affect someone else. Walking (or biking or driving) like I own the whole sidewalk, and the street as well. Carrying on my phone conversations as if everyone else wanted to hear about my ongoing relationship problems. Making everyone else 'enjoy' my taste in music.

Chances are, if we as followers of Christ started being more Christ-like—well, What a Wonderful World it Would Be! At least the little chunk of the universe right around us. In other words:

John 13:35 This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other." Not just love for others who believe as you do, but love for everyone.

Try it sometime! Then you won't have to go out and buy the “I'm a blood-bought...” t-shirt.

Shall we sin?

No, that is not intended to be an invitation like: 'Shall we go for a walk?' or 'Shall we have pizza for dinner?'

It comes from Paul (you remember, the apostle?). It is part of his response to the tension between law and grace, and the church seems to be forever swinging from one extreme to the other on it.

'You can't have too much grace, or else people will take that as license to sin.'

'You can't have too much law, because Christ came to redeem us from the curse of the law.'

Paul saw it in his generation, I see it in mine. The pulling one way or the other. Or both, and that really hurts!

That's why Paul says in Romans 6:1 'Shall we continue in sin so grace may abound?' (KJV), or as in The Message: 'So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving?' The answer Paul gives is rather pointed and clear:

'God forbid. How can we who died to sin still live in it?'

O, how well I know. It isn't easy to move from the country where sin is sovereign without once in awhile going back to live in our old house there. (The Message).

But still, there is the whole thing about law vs. grace.

Let's do a basic definition of terms:

  • law: 'the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision; any rule or injunction that must be obeyed.' (Dictionary.com)

  • grace: 'the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.' (Dictionary.com)

Law—principles, regulations, enforced, must be obeyed.

Grace—influence of God to regenerate.

One is all about us doing it, the other is all about God doing it.

So, which is Biblical?

Gal 3:3 'For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? ' (The Message)

I think Paul's word for us is:

  • We are a new creation in God.

  • We should be living differently than we used to.

  • We can't do it in our own strength.

  • God is working in us to enable us.

Eph 2:8 'Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish!' (The Message)

The entire story of Redemption—Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Salvation, Sanctification, Glorification—it is all only by God, only by Grace. It is never by our works of righteousness, but according to His mercy.

Titus 3:5 'It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. ' (The Message)

To finish off, I repeat what Paul said in Galatians 3: 'only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.' (The Message) We couldn't do it to start with, and it still isn't possible.

Only by God's grace.



The symptoms:

We all (or at least I do!) sucker in to the power of advertising. Not only the blatant: 'Buy this!!' stuff, but just about anything that we see that we think might improve our status in life.

  • 'New & improved' (Did you ever notice, it is never new and inferior!).

  • 'All the taste and ½ the calories'.

  • 'The movie (or book, or whatever) everyone is watching (or reading, or whatever)'.

  • 'The hottest band since ______________'.

  • '__________ is the new black'. (By the way, did you know that 30 is the new 20? Kids used to be ready to move out, be established in their career, and be married by 20. now it's 30.)

This stuff is pretty much in your face, and you can at least make the effort to ignore the claims being made.

I think the more insidious stuff is the lifestyle, often totally unintended stuff. It could be specific advertising, or just something you notice as you walk down the sidewalk. Here's how it works:

  • You see someone who has a quality or characteristic you would like to have: status (rich), age (younger, of course!), hair (in my case just the presence of hair, but maybe color, or length, or texture, etc.), stature (taller, of course), body (skinnier, but with bulges in the right places), education, freedom (courage to wear that kind of outfit), or whatever. They seem to have something extra going for them, and you wish you had the same something.

  • You pick something about this person that seems to epitomize that illusive quality you wish you had. That cool kid who has it all together is wearing this totally cool G Unit hoodie. So... if I get a G Unit hoodie, I'll be as cool as I think he already is.

  • The young lady with perfect teeth, Barbie figure, and gorgeous hair is talking on a LG Chocolate flip phone. So... if I get one of those, my whole appearance, popularity and success will vastly improve.

  • The thriving productive CEO drives a Lexus. So...

  • The decisive lawyer is wearing Opium. So...

People who seem to be everything that you think you aren't—good looking, young, rich, famous, successful, etc.—drink Pepsi, chew Trident, wear clothes from the Gap, listen to music on their iPod, and eat out at Red Robin's. They brush their teeth with Crest, use Garnier hair products, and read Harry Potter.

Do you see how totally illogical that train of thinking is? As if talking on a particular brand of cell phone or wearing a particular brand of fragrance will make you better looking, smarter, or whatever.

The truth of the matter probably is that we buy house brands at Wal-Mart, wear vintage Value Village, and eat out at McDonalds.

The diagnosis:

We are trying to be something we aren't, forgetting that we are already exactly who God designed us to be. We would rather be fake, than genuine. God arranged my gene-pool. He knew before I was born what my body-type, balding tendencies and abilities would be—and He said it was good. Yes we can work on things, accentuate the positive, and make some improvements. But forget the obsessing already!

The prescription:

Take the following once a day, or more often in the case of an exceptionally difficult outbreak:

Psa 139:13 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb.

Psa 139:14 I thank you, High God--you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration--what a creation!

Psa 139:15 You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Psa 139:16 Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.

Psa 139:17 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I'll never comprehend them!

Psa 139:18 I couldn't even begin to count them—any more than I could count the sand of the sea. Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! (The Message)

The prognosis:

Complete recovery, with danger of a relapse if the prescription is allowed to run out.


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