Thursday, May 29, 2008

The List

Reading John 14:15-31, I can not imagine how the disciples would have felt hearing this. Jesus is leaving them. He makes it clear. He's gonna send help, and God is going to be with them. But Jesus is leaving. And His main point is to do what He has told them. What has He told them at this point? Love God, love others, don't fall into the systems around them, be pure, and tell everyone about God's Kingdom. Heal the sick, help the poor, laugh with the happy, and cry with the sad. Do those things, and you love Jesus. Don't do those things, and you don't.

How are we doing? How am I doing? What about you? What about your local church? Or the American church? Or the church worldwide? Are we known for these things? No, we aren't. We're known for a lot of stuff, but not much in the above list. How do we change it? We don't start by trying to change the church worldwide. We start on the other end of the spectrum. We start with me. With you. Am I known for that list? I don't think so. I need to love others more. I need to help the poor and outcast more. I need to do more to help heal the sick. There is much for me to change.

So do I love Jesus since I come up short? Yes. Because I hear Him call for these things, I take Him seriously, and I am always working on change. It's the desire to know Him that leads to the change. God isn't waiting on us to perfect it to accept us. He loves us enough to accept us right where we are. But He loves us too much to leave us there.

Where are you in the list? Find the areas you need to grow. Pray for that opportunity today. Then go look for it and do it. Do it now, before it is time to leave.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Only One

John 14:5-14 is such an amazing, powerful, gut wrenching passage. Jesus' tone here is unbelievable, when we remember what is coming for Him in a few hours. Thomas wants to know the way to God, what does he need to do? Nothing. It's not WHAT we do, it's WHO we know. Okay, okay, I know, this has been used for years in churches, and correctly so. It's a foundational piece of fundamental, evangelical Christianity. BUT, really think about it in terms of this passage. It's about more than works vs. faith salvation that attains heaven. It's about life itself. If we know Jesus, that's all there is. Not if we know about Jesus, but as we know Jesus, in a living, beautiful, developing relationship, we've found it. So much freedom! So much hope! So much fun! A friendship with Jesus, a relationship that has Him as the center and king is so life giving, so joyful, so fun! And it's straightforward and simple. He is all we need.

I can't put into words the feelings and range of emotions this raises in me. I'm so aware that if life is about how well I can perform, if it is about me chasing God and proving to Him my worth, then it's over. I am the most hopeless of hopeless on that level. I fail, fall, and run too many times each day to EVER impress a wonderful, faithful King like Him. But no, He comes for me, throws His strong, deep arms around me, and tells me He is enough. There is nothing more to look for. I can be done, I can rest, I can simply learn to know Him better. THAT is easy. He is a joy to know, and great and amazing friend everyday. I love Him more and more as the seconds pass.

You know, I'm trying to convince you of this with my words. That's pointless. Set aside some time today, open to John14:5-14 and read. Picture Jesus, His last day with His friends, preparing to go through hell and back for them. See them sit around in an intimate dinner meal, and Him speaking these words to them, and you. Read them over and then re-read them four or five times. Meditate on them today. Let them soak in. Talk to Jesus about what He meant, what He means. Spend some time with your Lord. It's worth it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thank You X 15

I just want to take a short time out to say how blessed I am. My church family is just stinkin awesome! I have watched parents come to our end of year parties for middle school and high school. My leaders have worked overtime to serve and care for our students. People have just jumped in and given so much to these students. I love it that we are hitting a point where parents want to be involved. It's beautiful. I'm not kidding, that is the exact word for it, it's beautiful.

I've been talking to Jim Farnsley this morning. We were discussing how the students are really getting it, how God is so clearly working for the long haul in these students lives. Man, what a blessing, what a gift that is. I am really overwhelmed with gratitude to God for all He is doing around our church.

We all have things to be grateful for. What are yours?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Room with a View, or a Mansion Alone?

Jesus is such an amazing leader. I mean, really, look at John 14, in the first four verses. I know, I know, He's God. I promise, I know that. But He's also human, as we see in the garden in the following stories. But here, He is under more pressure than we can imagine, and He has the fortitude and love to comfort His disciples. "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me." Don't worry, He says, we'll be alright. He knows He's going to die, and He believes He will come back to life. Trust. Don't worry.

Why shouldn't we worry? Because He says there is room for us in His Dad's house. Okay, here comes one of my pet peeves. I'm so tired of American Christianity teaching this junk about streets of gold and mansions for everyone. The next life is not our ultimate retirement package. Can we PLEASE stab that stuff in the dark, selfish, materialistic heart and kill it finally? Heaven is SO MUCH more than a big empty house that I'm going to live in alone forever. (If everyone has their own mansion, then we all live alone. That would stink!) Jesus says there is room for everyone in His Dad's house. We're going to be together, and we're going to be with Him. That's enough. Don't worry. It's all going to be okay, in the most realistic sense possible.

The idea is still true today. What are you facing? Pain, sickness, hurt, heartbreak, fear, death, loneliness, addiction, suffering, uncertainty? Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Oh how I need to hear that everyday. I'm so glad that Jesus is such an amazing leader. I will follow that leader anywhere.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Three Out of Three

The last words of a man heading for certain death are always such tell-tale phrases. For Christ, He lays out a new command for His followers. Love one another. It hit me reading this that I have been taught that Jesus only left a couple of direct orders behind. He tells us to go and make disciples, baptizing them. He also tells us whenever we break bread, to remember Him. This is where the church universal gets the ordinances of baptism and communion. It's why we carry them out faithfully as a church.

Yet here, He tells us that He gives us a new command. It seems the church is to have a third ordinance. Baptism, communion, and love for each other. I know, I know, we already try to love each other. But we practice the first two religiously (literally). Why not the third? Why doesn't love for each other become an inviolable order among those of us who claim to follow Jesus. We set it as a goal. But communion and baptism aren't a goal, they are expected. Maybe it's time we up the ante on this love stuff.

Or maybe it's just time that I did. Maybe if I will do it, model it, and teach it, it will change. Not because I'm a pastor, but because I'm a follower of the one who is Love. So, yeah, that means you too. Together, maybe we need to approach this Love Each Other rule with much, much more intentionality.

I could really see it catching on. Couldn't you?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

As Obvious as the Nose on Their Face

Okay, this story is one that I haven't gotten, and honestly still don't get. In John 13:18-30, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them is going to betray Him. John asks Him who it is. Jesus tells him that the betrayer is the one who Jesus hands the bread to. Jesus then hands the bread to Judas, tells him to go do what he has to do, and Judas leaves. But the disciples think he is going to do something good, not to betray Jesus. Why? Why don't they get something so obvious?

Maybe Judas was that trustworthy? Maybe they didn't think he would ever turn on Jesus. I don't know.

Maybe they couldn't imagine anyone turning against Jesus.

I've never understood this part of the last supper scene. Any ideas from anyone?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Story of Stuff

I want to encourage everyone to take some time and go to and watch their video. It's a thought provoker. Even if you don't agree with their angle, it still raises questions about what our response as followers of Christ should be. I don't so much care if you agree with what my answers are, but just that you thoughtfully continue to wrestle with the questions. The video is 20 minutes long, but it's well done and worth the time. If you watch it, let me know what you think.

It's Time to Get Down

Jesus does a simple act that forever changes the world in chapter 13 of John. In the first 17 verses, John paints a picture of Jesus showing the greatest form of love possible. John should know, because He was one of Jesus' closest friends, and is referred to as the "one Jesus loved". John gets this idea of love well. And he says that the story in chapter 13 is the greatest love Jesus could show.

What does He do? He washes their feet. It's the act of the lowest servant. Every house of any worth would have servants. The least important servant would be charged with washing the guests feet. Jesus does it, dressed as a servant. Then He tells his guys that this is their example for how to live.

No servant is greater than their master. It's true. And our master isn't afraid to get dirty, sacrifice for people who didn't get it, and give away love in dangerous amounts. Don't miss the point that He knows what Judas is going to do. He knows Judas has already decided to betray Him. And Jesus serves him in the same way that He serves John.

Who are you avoiding serving today? Who is not important enough for you to help? Who has stabbed you in the back, and you won't help them? Christ calls us to wash feet. Everyone's feet. No servant is greater than their master. Are you?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

If There is Time, There is Hope

Jesus had told the people that His life and power would divide, and in the end of chapter 12 in John, it keeps on doing that. John looks at two groups of people. On the one side are those who have rejected Him to follow their own ideas, and now they are growing hard to the message. The words used in verse 40 are the same used to describe someone who has grown calluses on their hands from constant work. They have turned their back from Christ for so long that now it is becoming hard for them to hear what He is actually saying, even though it would heal them.

There is another group of people who do believe, but still live in fear of the religious leaders. They haven't yet made the break from the system. That will come soon enough. If you're reading John and don't know how the story ends, then verses 42 and 43 add suspense to the story. They believe, but are afraid. What will they do? How will it turn out?

We live in light, according to Jesus in verse 46. We need to offer that light to everyone. Notice here that He doesn't write off the people who are growing hardened to His message. He keeps offering them salvation to the very end. We should too. There are people around us that we want to give up on. They are growing harder by the day to the truth and love of Jesus. Don't give up. Pray, offer them the light, and love them. Jesus says there will be a day when they will be judged, when it will be too late. Today isn't that day. Keep going. Don't stop. It's worth the effort.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Did You Hear That?!

We hit another cryptic story of Jesus in John 12:20-36. Some Greek Gentiles want to speak to Jesus. They are God fearing people, and the disciples don't know what to do with them. But we are never told if Jesus meets with them or not.

Instead, Jesus goes into a discourse about how everything has to die in order to produce life. Seeds have to drop to the ground and be buried in order to produce more seeds. People have to be willing to give up this life in order to gain a better one. Death precedes life.

He admits that He doesn't want to die, but knows it is God's plan and is resigned to it in verses 27 and 28. At that point, God speaks from Heaven, and the people hear it. They disagree on what they heard, but they hear it.

This whole passage is about the ability to hear God. The Greek people want to speak to Jesus, with hopes of hearing God. Jesus does what He does, because He has heard the plan from God. The disciples go to Jesus to hear from God. God speaks to the crowd, but not everyone actually hears it. Jesus tells the people about His death, but not everyone can understand it or hear it clearly.

What is the difference in who hears, and who doesn't? It's the issue of death. I think when we hold tightly to this life; a life of selfishness, self-protection, self-promotion, selfish desires, and selfish motives, then we can't hear God. Even when He speaks clearly, it sounds like a distant thunder to us and we ignore it. But when we die to this life, and embrace the fact that this world isn't the answer, that His world is the hope, then we can begin to learn to hear clearly.

The Jews who were looking for a king for this world (a Messiah who would live here and rule here forever vs. 34) were clutching this life and this world's values for dear life. When God speaks to them directly from Heaven, they can't hear it. The Greeks are seeking God, and left their culture, home, and comfort to try and find Him in Jerusalem. We are not told what they do. It's a forever open opportunity. Those who seek God will eventually find Him, but they are on the journey, their destination isn't decided in this story. Finally, we have Jesus, who is willing to die to it all, everyday. He hears God crystal clear. He is completely connected.

We can be too. We can live in that Kingdom if we choose. But it will require us letting this world's grip on us be killed. We will have to die to the selfishness in us. Everyday.

That can hurt.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

It's Jesus! Let's Have a Parade!

What an absolutely powerful and amazing scene we find in John 12:12-19. Its the well known story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem for Passover riding on the donkey's back. He is welcomed like a conquering king by hordes of people. The expectations of everyone have been building all week, and the people everywhere are wanting to know when He is going to show up. Finally, He does and everyone literally runs out of the city to meet Him.

Catch a couple of details though. They sing and shout for Him. They call out "Hosanna", which while we use that word to mean "praise God", it literally meant "save" in that day. They see Him as the one coming into town to save them. Not spiritually as much as politically. He's gonna kick the Romans out. The rumors are flowing, He has just raised a man back to life after being dead for four days. He's Superman. He's invincible. He's a real life super hero. And He is coming to save them. It's a beautiful day for these people.

Later, John puts two and two together, and remembers that in Zechariah 9:9, it says that the coming king will ride on a donkey, and scatter the enemy. I'm sure at the time they wondered about the riding the donkey part, but looking back it made sense. But when you read further down in Zechariah 9, it talks about this King freeing the prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. (I have the picture above set as my desktop, and this verse is actually in it.) He will have the power to set people free from dying. Jesus definitely fits that description.

I absolutely love the Pharisee's statement in verse 19. "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" The Message writes it as "It's out of control. The world's in a stampede after Him!" That has so much irony, humor, power, love, and grace wrapped up in it. They've lost control. If only they would have went with that moment, and given it to Him as well, they could have been saved. But, as we see in the coming chapters, they don't follow Him. And it costs them everything.

But I think this is Satan's take on it as well. People start running around telling everyone they know how Jesus has made the dead able to live again. I think when we do that, Satan is forced to stand by and tell His demons, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!" It just takes people living a life of faith and passion, and telling the truth. It's not complicated. But it's powerful.

I want to be someone who lives in such a way as to cause these kinds of headaches for Satan. Too often I compromise, and I stand by watching his destruction in my life that I have brought on, and find myself saying, "See this is getting me nowhere." I want to turn those tables. I want him to be frustrated at the power of Christ today. I want to be a voice, and tool, in the hands of Jesus to get the whole world to go after Him. Lord, please use me today! May everyone I meet go running after You.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Upside Down and Inside Out

I absolutely love how John writes. He is amazing. Take a look at the passage in John 12:1-11. I so wish I could write like this. Yeah, I know, it's inspired by God. But I also think he was a gifted writer. Check it out.

Jesus has been in hiding, because the religious leaders decide to kill Him. How does He know that? We aren't sure. But when He shows up, He does so at Lazarus house. He goes to hang out with the living, the one He raised from the dead. Mary comes in and anoints Him with perfume. Respect given to a king or ruler. So we have life and power demonstrated among people who are powerless and with one who is condemned to die.

Judas raises a fuss about the money, because it could be used for the poor. His cry is about being generous to those in need. But the reality is he wants it for himself, since he steals from the money bag that he carries for the crew. We have generosity being used as a cover for theft and selfishness.

Jesus, who is the king of life, the one who can raise the dead, declares that the day of His burial is on them. The perfume is for His death.

Finally, the Jewish leaders find out where Jesus is. These men of God, who are called to lead people to the One of love, compassion, and life make plans. They want to kill the only person who has ever brought someone back from the dead. They also want to kill the one who was brought back. Think about that for a minute. Their thoughts run something like this:"Okay, Jesus can raise the dead. He's done it beyond any doubt. It makes us look bad. So, let's kill the guy who is stronger than death. Let's kill the guy who already died once, and is back again, for good measure as well."

That is some crazy story telling. If you read that and don't get how backwards everything is, you've really missed the point (which I've done for years). John wants us to see how easy it is to get completely opposite of God when we take things in our own power, trust our own wisdom, make our own plans.

So, where are we fighting God? Where are we trying to kill of the one who can raise the dead? What in our daily path is God wanting to call to life, only to see us try and plan it's demise? It won't work. He wins. He's simply too great, too strong, too much. He is amazing, He is grace.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

So, Who's It Gonna Be?

John 11:45-57 is one of the saddest passages I know of. Jesus raises a man from the dead, with witnesses. It is proof that He is who He claims. Some people believe Him. Some. Only some. Miracles can not convince everyone. It's not a lack of proof, it's a lack of humility and willingness to admit that we are wrong. Some did. Some didn't.

Instead, some ran to the Pharisee's and told on Jesus. It gives me that feeling I get around little kids who are just tattle tales, who enjoy getting messes stirred up. That's the vibe I feel here. The Pharisee's don't care that Lazarus is raised, that God's power is at work. They are more afraid of the Romans than God. It's understandable. But they have placed Jehovah under the rule of the Caesars. They have bought the propaganda. They believe Rome's claims to be more powerful than anyone or anything. God may be staring them in the face in power, but let's not forget about Rome. The solution, keep Rome happy and kill off God.

This honestly strikes fear in my heart. The audacity, the sheer blindness to cower under the power of a system and push God out in order to appease it. It's terrifying to consider the consequences of a life lived like this. It's a life of fear, no peace, uncertainty, and pain. It's destructive to the very core of the soul.

And I do it. I allow the influence of money, acceptance, power, and selfishness cripple me. I push God out and make room for them. Why? They are unforgiving. If I don't fold under their pressure, they will leave me. I'll miss out. But God, He's always there. I can abuse Him easier than I can abuse these false lovers I have around me. What a terrifying, destructive lifestyle!

The more time I'm spending with the Jesus in John, the more I realize how out of sync with Him I can be. Please forgive me Lord. Change me. Make me new. I don't want to fall under the power of these forces. I want to stand with You.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A little help from you guys.

I'm spending today working on "big ideas" stuff. I took the day, hid away at an undisclosed location in town, and am praying, reading, and writing for this fall. I want to get a better handle on where we are, and where we need to go. It's been good so far.

Just for some feedback, here is one of the things I've been working on. We're going to use Doug Fields Purpose Driven stuff as even more of a framework than we have before. We've always used the values that underscore his stuff, but haven't embraced the framework before, mostly from a lack of need. But I think we're going to need a better spelled out framework as the ministry continues to move forward from here. Here is one of the pieces I've been working on today.

    Mission statement: We want students and families to be finding and following Jesus together.

    Focus - we want everything we do to point people to Jesus, not to us or our church



    Fun - we want students to laugh more with us than anywhere else, finding acceptance and joy with God



    Family - we want to encourage healthy families, and model for those who may not have one



    Faith - we want students to grow their own faith, not live off of ours



    Feet - we want students to learn how to go and serve the least of all people



The mission statement is an adopted version of our church's. The five f's weren't intentional, the first four flowed out, and I found a fifth to match. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. And yes, I am working on this in conjunction with my leadership teams. I am simply looking for as much feedback as possible.

Lysol Ain't Gonna Cut It This Time

Jesus gets down to business. He walks up to the cave where they have buried Lazarus, and tells them to take the stone away. So, here in chapter 11:38-44, the sisters have a choice to make. Jesus tells them to make some room for Him to work. Why didn't He just move the stone? He could have. But He tells the people to move the stone. It's up to the sisters, as Lazarus' family. What He is doing is wrong, according to their religious beliefs. Lazarus has been properly prepared, and buried. For them to touch the grave is equal to touching the dead body. Doing that would disqualify them from the Temple for a long time, with a detailed process to cleanse themselves spiritually. Martha reminds Jesus that Lazarus has been gone for four days. He's rotting. It's gonna stink. Are you sure about this, Jesus?

But then Martha or Mary one, we're not told, tells them to take away the stone. That's some really cool faith. These women get it. Once again, the Bible turns culture on it's head, showing that women were the ones of great faith in a time where women were considered objects to be owned. Jesus shows them as leaders, people who express incredible faith and are held up as examples.

Jesus' prayer is one for show. He admits it. He has already asked for God to raise Lazarus, and has His answer. The prayer here is merely for the benefit of the people standing there. Then He calls out loudly for Lazarus to come out. Again, why? He didn't need to. Lazarus wasn't far away. I think it's a show of power, of authority.

When he comes out, Jesus merely responds with "unwrap him and let him go." I'm sure the people there were screaming, terrified. He reminds them that it's Lazarus, and he needs help. He is always in control.

I wonder where I have a stone blocking Jesus' plans and dreams? I wonder what I have that Jesus is looking at me, telling me to move it? I know often I complain to Him that His plans are going to cause a stink if I do it. His reply is that if I want to see the glory of God, I'll have to be willing to stink a little.

Roll away the rock. I'm ready.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

So it's ONE! TWO! THREE strikes you're out at the .....

Today was such an interesting day. It was the first day of Liv's (my 9 year olds) softball season. Jill and I are coaching again, and I always feel out of my league. Never, ever played softball. (Baseball has really different rules a lot of the time.) Thirteen 9 and 10 year old girls. I don't necessarily like doing things where I don't know what I'm doing half the time. So, it's a bit stressful. (Did I mention the 30+ mph winds blowing across the infield the whole game?) Plus, I hate to lose. Very competitive. I just keep it buried anymore. BUT, I don't want to be one of those coaches I had (there were many) who could care less about how much fun it is, they just want to win. So, it's a huge balancing act, and it leaves me tired.

But I also saw Liv make an amazing catch, and look right at me to make sure I saw. I watched some girls do better than they've done at anything in a long time. I watched one little girl whose parent's just finished up a divorce have some time to laugh again. I am amazed at the power of positive encouragement in the life of a young girl. They just beam from within.

So, yeah, I'm tired. But it's a good tired. I fully realize how worn out that phrase is, yet its true. I'm going to bed now. . . . . Very slowly. . . . . .

Thursday, May 1, 2008

If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile....

Jesus shows up at Bethany, the home town for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (John 11:17-37). Both Martha, and later Mary, come out and tell Jesus if he had been there, Lazarus wouldn't have died. I love this part of the story. As we've been going through the book of John, everyone wants Jesus to be a political king. That is the messiah they are looking for. But here, these women get it. They know Jesus is much more than that. Martha's statement that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God who was to come is more than a political hope. She, and her sister, see Him as one with power over everything, including death. Martha also shows a lot of intelligence in verse 24, because she speaks of the resurrection. This was a theological debate among the religious teachers of the day. It was one of the main issues that divided the Pharisees and the Sadducees. And Martha, being a woman who wasn't expected to be up on such issues in her day, had studied and made a decision. It's no wonder Jesus loved this family. Their faith is so strong, so vibrant, such a model for me.

Jesus' reaction has been taught on and discussed for hundreds and hundreds of years, but I am still completely changed by it every time I read it. Jesus weeps. Not little tears. He is moved to a deep hurt and tearful pain. But why? Everyone else is sad because Lazarus is gone, and they won't see him again. That isn't why Jesus is sad. He knows He is going to bring him back to life. He's known it for the past week or more. So why does Jesus cry?

I'm not sure. I think it has something to do with the fact that he loves Mary and Martha, and hates to see them in pain. Even though He is getting ready to get rid of all the pain they are feeling, He still hurts deeply for them. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that since God is perfect, since He knows how everything ends, then He is insulated from pain. I don't think that's true. Jesus knows it all turns out okay by the end of the day. He knows Lazarus is coming back. He knows their pain is getting ready to disappear. He's not hurting because of a worry of Lazarus dying later, and the sisters feeling the pain again. Heaven is waiting on Lazarus. No, Jesus is hurting because His little girls are hurting. It has nothing to do with fear, uncertainty, or worry for Jesus. He is hurting because He loves Mary and Martha and all of the others so much, that their pain penetrates His perfect heart and He weeps.

He still does today, I believe. I can't prove it. I could be wrong. But I believe that when we hurt, God hurts with us. Remember, He has proven that He isn't afraid of pain. I believe in His choosing to love us, He chooses to hurt with us.

If that's true, we really are never, ever alone. No matter what happens here, there is always someone to sit with us when we are down, when we are broken, when we are lost. And He completely gets it. He sits with us IN our pain, choosing to take it on Himself 100%.

God really, truly IS love at the deepest level.