September 29, 2008

My Pet Gray Elephant

Just a few weeks ago we talked about the "Gray Elephant" of legalism - our tendency to take what God has purposefully and intentionally left "gray" and try to make it either black or white, right or wrong. We have historically fallen into this temptation corporately on issues like drinking. We've been professionals at sort of publicly reacting to issues rather than carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully responding as Christ would. This has to change.

Over the last few weeks since I preached this message I have seen the Gray Elephant exposing himself in more ways than one. It's as if I taunted him and made him mad, and now he's got something to prove. I've seen and heard discussions about things like "I can't believe he's wearing that..." and "he can't seriously be considering letting them do that". I've witnessed grown, "mature" Christians dragging the Gray Elephant behind them, refusing to just let him stay outside where he belongs, in the ditch. What gives?

Are some of us just convinced and determined that "we" have all the answers and that "we" were burdened by God with the responsibility of levying out the list of do's & don'ts to everyone outside our circle of thought? Are we seriously still hung up on what people wear, how their hair is combed (or not), and whether or not they have 2 earrings or 10? Are we still seriously clinging to this "You can't do this or that in God's house" bologna? Are you kidding me? Because if we are - if we're going to go that direction and hold fast to our "traditional" guns - then it's time for us to take a dive into 1 Corinthians 11. 

If we're going to let the Gray Elephant run the show and we're going to impress and impose on everyone else how we "feel" about things and the way we've "always done it", then it's time to answer some questions. Questions that Paul answered for us. "Is it right for a woman to pray to God in public without covering her head? And isn't it obvious that long hair is a woman's pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering. But if anyone wants to argue about this, all I can say is that we have no other custom than this, and all the churches of God feel the same way about it." (italics mine)

This is one of the most culturally-contextual statements made in scripture. It is by no means a mandate for churches to live by today, at least in a literal sense. It is referring to the call for us to be culturally sensitive. So my question to the "mature" believer is, "Are you being culturally sensitive?" Not traditionally sensitive, or comfortably sensitive, or preferentially sensitive, but culturally. Do you know what is or isn't acceptable in your culture? And when I bring up your "culture" are you objective enough to even realize that we are talking about something way outside of just your little world and the way you see things? Is this ringing any bells?

I don't think I can encourage believers enough to go back to Romans 14 repeatedly and frequently to ask the Lord to give us compassion and grace for other believers around us. We get so hung up on everyone else's garbage that we seem to be forgetting our trash is stinking up our own front yard. And if you're not a fan of the Gray Elephant and you don't own one for a pet, don't be caught dragging one around behind you.

"Who are you to condemn God's servants?"
Good question.

September 23, 2008

Imaginary Eggs Make Crappy Cookies

All this talk about the economy and who's to blame for the state of the economy and wondering how in the world these major American financial institutions are having to be bailed out by the government (or wait, excuse me, bailed out by us!) has really got my head spinning. I'm sick of it honestly! And yesterday morning as I'm hearing about AIG being the latest victim, I see Dave Ramsey on GMA, telling anyone listening of his advice during these times.

First off, if you need any financial advice, Dave Ramsey is a great person to listen to. But I don't want to talk about him. What I want to talk about is how idiotic and perplexing it is that Americans are wondering, "Why are we in this state? How did we get here?" I think the explanation is pretty simple. We spend what we don't have. Period.

Americans (on average these days) not only have no concept or idea of what it means to save, but we spend money that we don't even have...and we spend it like it's going out of style. We're in credit card debt up to our eyeballs, paying for our kids braces, adding more packages to the cable bill, renewing our cell phone contracts, paying Booster Club fees, and on and on...and then wondering, "Where did all my money go?" Are we serious?

And then we wonder how institutions like Fannie Mae and AIG get into trouble. Because WE are borrowing money from them. And who are THEY borrowing money from? US. The government. We're spending money we don't have and "borrowing" it from institutions that, in all reality, don't have it either. We're nuts! 

And I know, all my financial friends are going to give me some kind of lecture on the macroeconomic principle of it all, but here's the way I see it: If you come over and ask me, "Can I borrow some eggs" and I say, "Sure, let me go grab a few" and I go to my refrigerator to regretfully find that I have no eggs, I can come back and tell you I have some eggs, hand you a piece of paper that says, "EQUALS 2 EGGS" or whatever I want to do. But if I don't HAVE the eggs, there is nothing there to borrow. And what are you going to do? Go home and finish baking your cookies with the imaginary eggs I gave you? I think not.

So for me the lesson is simple: If I don't have it, I don't spend it.
But stating this principle and actually living by it are two completely different things!

September 22, 2008

The Knock at the Door

Do you screen your calls? Liar. We all do. If we don't want to talk to someone...we just don't answer. If you get an email from someone about something that you'd just rather not talk about or address you just don't respond. Or if you see that neighbor coming up the driveway and hear the doorbell ring, you just sit really still, pray the garage door isn't open, and wait for them to go away. Welcome to America. But what if the option wasn't there? What if you had to answer? And what if it was Death knocking at the door? "Everybody quiet! Maybe he'll go away."

Nope, sorry. There's no hiding, screening the call, pretending the email didn't come. When he comes knocking - and he means business - he usually doesn't wait for you to open the door. He just kicks it in.

My Dad - after falling through a ceiling, being in a coma, slowly recovering, and battling the enormous load that comes along with being a traumatic brain injury survivor - has now had the distinct privilege these last 2 years of fighting cancer. Once the Nerf football sized tumor was removed from his hip, it was on to chemo, radiation, and every other variety of drug and remedy you can imagine. And according to the assessment of the doctor at MD Anderson, as of today, my Dad has already outlived his prognosis. Some might call this "living on borrowed time" or other insensitive poetic descriptions. I don't find the need to label it or categorize it. This is my Dad's life for cryin' out loud. Mortality is a lot less metaphorical when it gets personal.

My Mom is not only dealing with the indescribable weight and stress of my Dad's frailty and illness, the unbelievable truth of ecclesiastical bureaucratic decision-makers who determine who's worthy of a certain level of insurance and who they'd rather just retire than have to float the bill for (yes, this goes on in churches), but she's also dealing with knowing that my Dad's desire is to hang on "for her, and for us." Are you kidding? How are you supposed to carry that weight? Are you supposed to live with the idea that YOU are the one in the course of history who is going to manage convincing Death that he should actually go away, find someone else whose door is unlocked, and come back to our street later? Sorry. No one can carry that load. Not you, not me....NO ONE.

I think for my Dad the prospect of Death is a little easier to swallow because he was medically dead 3 times after his accident. According to many, after that fall, he was never going to have "life" back. In your face! And so when it comes around again, it's not like the person has this experience that says, "Wait. I've been here before. I know how to beat this, to get him to go away and never come back." No, I think it's more like, "Here's the thing: I was for all intents and purposes dead already. God gave me a second chance. He gave me years that I might not have had. So, in all honesty, I'm not scared of hearing that knock at the door. I knew it would come eventually. The question is, are you going to cover your ears, pretend you don't hear it...or will you bravely come with me to answer the door?" 
I think we think that people facing Death (especially people we love) are scared of Death and in actuality it's us - the ones who haven't faced him down or heard him knocking - who are scared out of our minds. We're not ready to let go!

Please hear me loud and clear: I do NOT want that knock to come to my Dad's door. Who would? But I also don't want my Dad to think that he has to screen the call or ignore the knock for my sake. I don't want my Dad to fight for existence...I want him to live! After all, we know the One who is the "first and last...the living one who died...alive forever and ever...who holds the keys of death and the grave." And because of Jesus Christ "Death is swallowed up in victory". Hello. Did you catch that? "Death is swallowed up in victory". And if "swallowed up" means what I believe it means, he has no right to be standing on my front porch!

So, who is that knocking at the door? Who is that inevitable visitor that will come calling on each of us at some point? Well, one thing I know for sure: for those of us who know Jesus Christ, it's not Death out there knocking. I'm pretty certain it's the One who "holds the keys". And that is what we hope for!

Revelation 1:17-18
1Corinthians 15:54-55
Romans 6:9
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

September 19, 2008

Wood Choppers & Water Carriers

I was talking to a friend last night who was sharing frustration over dating someone that (in hindsight) didn't turn out to be who he thought. And of course there's the added frustration that everyone else seemed to see it all clearly. Why did no one say anything to me? That's a story for another day - you know, that we're all a big bunch of chickens and scared to really confront and admonish each other. But how is it that so many wind up looking back on decisions or circumstances and thinking, "Why didn't I see this before?" Enter God.

This morning I read in Joshua 9 how Israel was getting ready to attack all the other people west of the Jordan. They were going to make what they did to Jericho look like a calisthenics warmup next to the whoopin they were going to throw down on these other kings. But one group of people - the Gibeonites - got smart. They knew they couldn't withstand an attack from Israel. They heard what they did to Jericho and Ai. So they used their heads and deceived the Israelites (Joshua included) into thinking that they were from a very distant land and had traveled a long way to come and be their servants. They stretched and aged their wineskins; they waited for the bread to get moldy; they even scuffed up their clothes & sandals. This was delicate deceit.

Here's the problem: Joshua 9:14 tells us that "...the Israelite leaders examined their bread, but they did not consult the Lord." And Joshua went right on ahead and signed a peace treaty with them. In one fail swoop, binding friends with the enemy. And here's where we enter the picture. There are times in our lives when we forge these relationships - whether what we perceive to be a simple, harmless dating relationship, or even more serious and binding - and we consult our eyes, we consult our hearts, we listen to our longing for someone to affirm us and validate our worth...but we forget to "consult the Lord". And eventually, as it was with the Gibeonites, "the facts" come out; we see who they really are and what we've allowed ourselves to do. And this can be indescribably painful, for us and everyone around us.

Joshua and the Israelites forced the Gibeonites to "chop wood and carry water". When we realize that we've taken steps like this without consulting the Lord we often put the other person through hell - we make them "chop wood and carry water". And this puts us in a position where our calling is crippled. WHY? Hold on to your hat. It's because once we've slept with "the enemy" we relinquish our ability to reach them. Once we cross over into a realm we were never supposed to go with someone, it makes it virtually impossible to love them the way we were intended to. When we fail to "consult the Lord" it just seems to always end badly.

If you're thinking of judging my friend, you best stop dead in your tracks. I have nothing but amplified respect for him (or maybe it's a her?). The courage to confess this and openly repent is HUGE. My admonition to you - before you let your heart do the thinking or your eyes persuade you on - is to "consult the Lord". And don't wait for your heart to flutter to make this a natural, daily part of your life and who you are. After all, there are a lot of wood choppers and water carriers out there who still need to know the King.

September 18, 2008

September 17, 2008

One of THOSE Days!

Let me just be blunt - not for your benefit, but for my own therapeutic longing. This was one of those days. Actually, it's just one in a long line of many, but it happens to be the one at the end of the long line where finally something on your insides just finally says, "I've had enough of this!" Maybe it's what you refer to as the "end of my rope". That sounds a little drastic - a little too final - for me, but to the point nonetheless. 

I don't know how to rub shoulders with this infectious, unenthusiastic, hum-drum, middle of the road, 10 minutes behind, irresponsible, spectator, "whatever" attitude that seems to be permeating and penetrating so many people on the planet. And that's a problem because many people on the planet who happen to be near me are eating from the "whatever" menu and super-sizing their meal. I don't want to look at that meal, smell that food, or even sit in that restaurant. Check please!

I know that sometimes we just have "those days" and there are times when more than one person "drops the ball" at a time - welcome to life! But when those days just keep pelting you like rain in the face you eventually want to close your eyes and scream, "CALGON, take me away!" Yeah, right. Like I really ever wanted to scream that. Bath soap is NOT going to help me at this point. 
"SERENITY NOW!" Nope. Didn't help either. If you're waiting for me to get to the big spiritual point please stop reading now because I am seriously doing nothing more than venting my frustrations to a MacBook. I don't WANT spiritual insight - I want things to go right and people to step up to the plate and care and start looking outside the circle of "ME" and things like that. Am I crazy? Don't answer that.

At the end of the day - the one at the end of the long line of days where it really does feel like the "end of the rope" - I have a few things to cling to, rest on, and to find peace and comfort in. They are as follows:
Philippians 4:6-7
Jeremiah 29:11-13
Matthew 11:28-30

Good night.

September 15, 2008

Completely Means Completely

The moment you begin to think that you've "read it all" in scripture - the second you start to feel like you've heard it all before and that you've got God all figured out - I suggest you keep reading! Finishing my study over the book of Numbers I felt like heading straight to Joshua. I'm already seeing things that I haven't noticed the other countless times I've read this book. But this weekend I read something that honestly shook me up.

In reading the account of Joshua leading the Israelites in victory over Jericho, one thing God has demanded of His people is that "...the city and everything in it must be completely destroyed...." (Joshua 6:17) When God says something like this, He means business. Knowing this, Joshua and all the people did exactly what God had commanded them. Except for one person. His name was Achan.

To make a long story short, God exposes Achan - in front of EVERYONE! You talk about humiliation. But honestly, humiliation would be a welcomed treat compared to what ultimately happens to Achan. And this is the part that I had a hard time choking down. Just as God commands, Joshua and all the Israelites take "Achan, the silver, the robe, the bar of gold, his sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep, tent, and everything he had...and they stone Achan and his whole family and burn their bodies...piling a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day."

Do you think that when God says to "completely destroy the thing among you set apart for destruction" that He is serious? That He means "completely"? Living in the age of Grace - knowing that Christ has paid for our sin debt - do we take our freedoms and liberties a little loosely? It's my belief that God is still just as serious about our sin now as He ever was. So why aren't we? Why doesn't this story of Achan leave us in silent awe, unable to even muddle up some sort of incomprehensible response to the weight of our wanderings? I think it's time to pray and ask God to give us a renewed sense of the seriousness of our sin.

I think it's telling that immediately following this experience God sends Israel to attack, defeat, and destroy Ai. What happens to Ai? "Joshua kept holding out his spear until everyone who had lived in Ai was completely destroyed..." and it became a "permanent mound of ruins, desolate to this very day." 
When God says "completely", only completely will do.

September 5, 2008

The Unspeakable Power of Presence

Leadership. It's a scary word. For some it evokes feelings of terror - the thought of being in front of people or having to actually make decisions that affect other people! For others it's like one of those gnats that gets in your car and keeps buzzing around your head while you're trying to drive, talk on the phone, and listen to your iPod - it won't go away! And then for is life. It is what you know you were put here for. It weaves it's way into the casual and formal parts of your life, never truly letting you rest or go on hiatus from it. Leadership loves to be loved and wants to be taken seriously. (I could really go down analogy lane here, but it's in my best interest to abstain.)

In recent years there have been all kinds of new thoughts on leadership...all kinds of fresh and innovative philosophies, tactics, programs, and ideas for leaders. There are always these "buzz words" floating around out there and fresh new adjectives to put in front of everything, like "fresh". You can read John Maxwell until you're reciting the 21 Laws of Leadership in your dreams. Sign up for the conferences, go to conventions, learn to listen and articulate, forge ahead and plow through. It's all good. 

But I believe that there is ONE KEY ELEMENT of leadership that I don't ever seem to hear anyone speaking on at conferences or writing Best Sellers about or hashing out over lunch at Olive Garden. There is ONE THING that - if you are truly going to lead - you simply cannot avoid, ignore, put off, or minimize the importance of for one more second. The greatest and most pivotal piece to the puzzle of PRESENCE.

This is pretty simple really. If you're not can't lead. Get it? For leaders, the idea that "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" is a big load of hoo hah! You cannot blaze a trail, you cannot influence, you cannot exemplify the consistency or earn the trust and respect that leaders must have for followers to follow. It won't happen. There's no math or fraction or survey to show you the statistical evidence of this, it's just pure, simple fact. There is unspeakable POWER in PRESENCE.

So, are you leading? Are you called to lead? Are you supposed to be leading? Is there anyone following you? Turn around. Look! You'll know. If you have any doubt...if there's any second guessing...just ask yourself, "Am I there?" If you're not can't lead. And there's no fresh idea, philosophy, or buzz word to prove otherwise. BE THERE!

September 3, 2008

The Beauty of Plan B

I have a friend who went through some rough times over the last year. It was one of those "valleys" where you feel like your heart is being drug through the desert by a sleepy turtle. It was long and dry and painful. Over the last few days she pulled out her journal and was reading through some of the things she thought and felt during that period. Some questions came out of that reflecting that she shot my way. One of them got me to thinking.

I think that Psalm 37:4 brings us quite a bit of confusion - David says, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." I think the "spiritual" response or interpretation to this is usually something to the effect of "If your heart is in line with God's - pursuing Him - then you will WANT and long for the same things He has for you." In essence, if God IS your delight then everything He brings your way will satisfy you. Right?

Not that I disagree with that, but once again we're found bringing things back to what we WANT. My friend was wrestling with why, during that time of spiritual struggle when she was seeking God like no other time in her life, was there this deep heartache and agony. Why during the time when she was closer to God than ever was it accompanied by this free fall into a spiritual death valley of sorts? I think it's because of Plan A. Here's what I mean.

In almost every circumstance, situation, decision in our lives we have Plan A. We have this contrived and predetermined idea about how it all should unfold and pan out. And very often it just doesn't happen that way. Most likely because - going back to Psalm 37:4 - our Plan A has been intoxicated by our WANTS. Here's where Plan B comes in. I think God is in the never-ending business of leading us through Plan B. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's God who has Plan B - it's Plan A to Him! We come up with our Plan A because we either don't want to wait on Him to reveal Himself to us or (more painfully) we KNOW what it is He wants & desires for us...and we don't want it! So follow me: we say (and pray) we're waiting on God to reveal Plan A --> He either hasn't yet or He has and we don't like it so --> we come up with our own Plan A --> somewhere down the line God has to drag us into the desert and strip us of our self-centeredness and it's there that we discover, "O Holy Crap, I've done it again!" --> It is there we discover Plan B.

Take Elijah, hiding in a cave and God finally speaking to him. Or how about Moses, alone in the wilderness with sheep and God finally speaks to him. During these times you know that these men had to feel this miserable sense of isolation and loneliness, like there was no one else in the world who could possibly understand what they were going through. They had to feel like they had brought to the end of themselves in many ways - a feeling of "I have nowhere else to go...but to You, God." And there you have it. Think long and hard on this one.

Why is it that many of the times we find ourselves pursuing and seeking God like a drowning man for oxygen it comes with sorrow, suffering, pain and isolation? Because it is there that we come to the end of ourselves and realize that it is only God who can satisfy. And that is why Plan B seems to be where we spend most of our time and where God seems to use us most often. The end of myself.

So if you're currently walking through the "valley" or finding yourself wandering the spiritual wilderness like a lonely nomad...keep walking! Keep walking until your vision becomes so blurred that you finally lose sight of YOU. And patiently wait there. Plan B is coming.