Sunday, March 29, 2009


Who are you?
What defines you?
It seems to me that guys in particular define each other by what they do. Their job, their career.
But go deeper than that, and gaze into the mirror of your soul.
What makes you tick?
When you peel off the layers, what is left?
When all that's left is the soft center, what does it look like?
Under the fashion, the facade, the social niceties, the mask.
It might not be too pretty, but then again it might be pure gold.
What's hidden inside might only be an embryo, the beginnings of greatness.
It might be more mature, having had years to develop.
It might seem to be like a teenager—all legs and arms, and not much coordination.
Or it may be more like a finely aged wine or a well-oiled machine, in the peak of its perfection.

Who is this you down inside?

Whoever you are, this Easter remember that as Jesus was telling His disciples that He was about to die, He said: “This is for you. I'm doing it for you.”
Whatever that you looks like.
However mixed up or awesome that you is.
Jesus was thinking of all the yous in the universe.
He knew the range of yous that will exist over the ages.
The ones that think they are too messed up. The ones that think they are too good.

is for you.
The you only you know exists, down inside.
The you buried so deeply even you don't know what it looks like.

is for you.

Take it.
Receive it.
Let it affect you.
Let it permeate you.
Let it change you.
Let it take the blueprint, the framework, the outline, and fill in all the missing parts.
Let it cut like a surgeon's scalpel.
Let it shape like a sculptor's hands.
Let it bring out the luster and fire of a diamond in the hands of a master gem cutter.

Let HIM into YOU.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I was a bad boy

Yesterday was Sunday.
And I didn't spend the morning in a church service.
For some people that is completely normal—they just don't go to church.
For others, it isn't too unusual—they attend when they can, but sometimes they can't.
But for me, I'm old school.
When I was a kid, I was in church at least 4 times a week—and that is counting Sunday school and morning service as one time. And we lived 15 minutes or so from town.
Even now, I basically never miss.
Partly because I am usually part of the tech team (and then I'm there 1½ hours early), but also still partly because I sort of feel guilty if I'm not there.
Did you notice what I didn't say? I don't tend to attend out of great personal enjoyment (although it isn't unenjoyable), or because of great personal fulfillment.
I expect that that might be significant. Maybe my church paradigm isn't based on the right criteria.
It could be 'the fault' of my present church setting--'They' aren't focused on the 'right' things.
Or it could be that I am missing the joy and value because I'm not picking up on the opportunity to be doing the 'right' things.

So, I felt a bit odd yesterday morning.
Instead of cloistering myself with fellow congregants, I chose to hang out at my favorite caffeinated beverage emporium, have some coffee, conversation, and read a good book.
It felt weird doing this on a Sunday, although it feels completely normal any other day.
But somehow, it felt closer to what a Sunday (or any day) experience should be:

By the way, I went to church last night—guilt, you know!
But, although the worship and sermon were good, the whole experience was:
--not relational at all (I literally didn't say a word to anyone except during the 'shake someone's hand' time).
--not particularly interactive, except for the hand shaking. Although I was singing songs of worship in the same room where others were also singing, I didn't really sing 'with' them.
--more ethereal than earthy, only moderately practical.
--and only moderately profitable.

The whole experience reminds me that:
--gathering together as members of the same club should be primarily for the purpose of encouraging, challenging, and helping each other. 1 Corinthians 14:26 So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all (edifying, common good, help each other grow, building up).
--The upkeep of buildings and paid professionals can easily detract us from serving people (especially non-members).
--since worship and learning can and should happen on an individual level, there needs to be effort put into including interaction, encouragement and mutual ministry when we do them (worship and learning) in a group setting. If our worship and study times in a church setting are essentially a bunch of individuals doing them privately in the same room, we are really missing the point.

The concept of house churches (autonomous house-sized and house-contained groups of Christ-followers) and small home groups (a larger church setting broken down into intimate house-sized groups) seem to accomplish these goals more successfully.

I plan on being back in my regular church next Sunday. After all, it's my turn to do some of the tech stuff! But I continue to look for the best ways of experiencing and expressing the Kingdom—7 days a week, and not just for an hour or two Sunday morning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tellers of tales, painters of pictures

We all know that Jesus was a great story teller. Just look at all the parables he told. It must have been great sitting out on the hillside as He held you spell-bound.
We tend to think of Paul (the guy who wrote half of the New Testament) as much more serious. His stuff is fodder for theology, not imaginative, poetic, artistic.
But don't draw that conclusion too quickly. He painted some pretty good word pictures that could hang proudly besides Jesus' parables.

Paul tells us that the rag-tag collection of Christ-followers is like a human body. (Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 12:12-27) Individually we have different purposes and goals, but put us all together, and we can accomplish a lot.
The see-ers and the do-ers each have a role. We really need to work together, led by the Head.
Quite a great illustration of the unity in diversity that we are.

To have the equipment we need to perform our particular function well, God has provided a tool box full of tools. (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) Don't get hung up if there are 9 or 15 or 21 or maybe even 50 different things in that tool box, just step far enough back from the pictures Paul paints to realize that God has given us an incredibly diversified set of tools to use. Anything from music to speaking skills to serving to giving to organizing to miracles.
When your 'job' as part of the body requires you to do something, there will be something in the tool box to help you get the job done. I like to think of it like this: If you are a carpenter, you will tend to use tools like hammers and saws. If you are a mechanic, you will use mostly wrenches. The artist needs paint brushes, and the cook needs measuring cups. Each one may think their job is the most important, and their tools are the most useful, but we need everyone. And the whole tool box is available to everyone, well-stocked with whatever you might need. There might be a day that the artist needs to swing a wrench to fix his car, or the carpenter needs to measure some flour to make a cake.

Be ready to look beyond the illustrations Paul gives to see how vast and specific God's gadget box really is. Look at them as illustrations of truth, not as an exhaustive list. Don't just see 'pliers'. See needle-nosed, insulated, wire-stripping pliers. Kind of like the biggest Swiss Army knife you could ever imagine.

Then there is Paul's picture of the soldier. (Eph. 6:10-18)
Of course, his soldier isn't carrying the latest assault rifle, driving the latest armored vehicle, or programming the latest guided missile. After all, Paul's exposure to military greatness would have been your classic Roman soldier.
Yes, the various items of his soldier's armor and weaponry are significant, but take a step back from the picture and visualize a fully equipped, battle-ready warrior. Just because Paul didn't mention some of today's technology doesn't mean that we aren't up-to-date in our equipment. In whatever sense that our 'job' involves spiritual conflict, God has provided us with the protection and gear we need to be successful.

See, Paul was a bit of an artist and poet as well as a preacher, especially when you allow his words to stimulate your own thinking on the diversity of our place in Christ. Look around you and see how varied our purposes and function are. Be glad you don't have to do it all yourself! Really be glad that you have a wide array of apparatus to accomplish your assignment. And be sure to thank Paul for giving us some vivid pictures to encourage us to succeed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's all in the label.

I like Canadian politics. Straightforward labels, easy to understand.
Yeah right.
You could probably safely assume that a Liberal is liberal, and a Conservative is conservative. At the very least we can figure out what those political parties originally believed in. (Not like those pesky US political parties of 'Republican' and 'Democrat' that aren't nearly as straightforward.)
The same would be true for using the same labels to categorize your religious beliefs.
But, of course, it depends on your definition of 'liberal' and 'conservative'.
I grew up in a home and church that would be considered Conservative, conservative, and Conservative Evangelical. Pretty much, anyway.
So, from my vantage point, conservative was obviously a good thing. Politically, ideologically, and theologically it meant fundamental, orthodox, down to earth, sober, steady, reasonable, restrained, moderate, temperate, traditional, clean, decent, moral. All of these sound pretty laudable.
And the liberals were other-wise. Lenient, indulgent, permissive, loose, unorthodox, casual, wanton, licentious. (You've got to love a thesaurus!)

Now, from the other side of the fence, other words could be used to describe things.
A liberal could say he was advanced, broad-minded, flexible, intelligent, progressive, tolerant, understanding, unprejudiced, humanitarian, receptive, unbiased.
And he could describe conservatives as die-hards, fearful, inflexible, obstinate, redneck, timid, unimaginative, unprogressive, obstructionist.
It's very easy to put quite a slant on something by the words you use to describe it.

Now lets see how a dictionary would define these two terms.
Conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions , cautiously moderate, tending to conserve, opposed to change or innovation.
Liberal: favorable to progress, given freely or abundantly, generous, profuse.

You will notice:
1.many of the synonyms don't necessarily reflect the actual meaning of the words, but more the bias we might want to put on the label.
2.most people would consider progress a good thing, as well as generosity—both 'liberal' traits.
3.Jesus wasn't very conservative, and was very liberal as far as the actual definitions of the terms goes.
4.if we are looking to attract John Q Public into joining our Christian club, chances are he would likely want to be a part of something that is considered progressive and generous, rather than something opposed to change and uncharitable.

So, tell me again why being a conservative evangelical is considered by some people to be a good thing?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blessing or cursing

One of the early characters in the Bible is Abraham. God shows up on the welcome mat outside his tent one day and says:
“I'll make you a great nation and bless you. I'll make you famous; you'll be a blessing.
I'll bless those who bless you; those who curse you I'll curse. All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12: 1, 2 The Message) Blessing is defined as: a special favor, mercy, or benefit.
Probably a bit of a shock to the old guy (after all, he was 75!), and he followed God's instruction to pack up everything and head out, destination unknown. He started in Iraq, and ended up being the father of the Jewish people.
The concept of those verses is often used to help us recognize the purpose of God's blessing on us—we are blessed to be a blessing.
In other words, receiving God's favor isn't the end, it is to be recognized as the beginning of our own journey. He loves us, so that we will love others. He grants us His mercy and favor so that we will in turn pass it along to others.
In fact, the idea of: “All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you” is used as an encouragement for us to make a difference in the whole world, not just our own backyard.
That is all well and good, but as I was reading “The story we find ourselves in” by Brian McLaren, I was struck with a third part of these verses.
1.God blesses us
2.We will be a blessing
3.He will bless those who bless us, and curse those who curse us.
As McLaren clarifies in the book, we need to consider the idea of 'cursing' as being the withholding of blessing, not necessarily as a wish for evil or calamity. The opposite of doing good might be no worse than not doing good.

Here's the thought that struck me: We can get on the wrong side of God's blessing if we aren't blessing others.
For example: If you had been on the outs with Abraham, and not blessed him, God says He would have cursed you (not blessed you). Even if you are a decent guy, worshiping God, etc., you would have missed out on some pretty good blessings if you weren't blessing Abraham.
Make sense?
Now, how about today.
We know God loves everyone. Even (or especially) the ones we figure are pretty bad sinners.
So, if God was out knocking on tent doors today, He might well be visiting someone you don't think deserves His blessing. But He still wants to bless people.
So He might visit a prostitute, or a murderer, or a shady investment broker. Or the pastor of a church you don't agree with. Or your gay co-worker. Or someone else that your theology tells you needs to repent.
And when He visits them, you have to admit that He loves them, desires the best for them, and may well say:
“I'll make you a great nation and bless you. I'll make you famous; you'll be a blessing.
I'll bless those who bless you; those who curse you I'll curse. All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you.”
Now when He offers to bless them, but curse those who curse them, you really don't want to be the one who curses them. You would be much better off being the one who is blessing them.
I don't think I need to say more.
Now go out, and be a blessing.
To absolutely anyone.
God doesn't play favorites.
Neither should we.

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