April 29, 2009

The Table & The Altar

This Sunday our church family has the opportunity to share in communion together. In preparing for this I was reading this morning in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul is forced to rebuke some in the church there who are taking communion thoughtlessly and carelessly. I think it's a healthy idea for us to take his words to heart as we approach this element of worship together.

In verse 28 Paul says we should "examine ourselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup." And he also exhorts us that we should not "take the break or drink the cup unworthily...." I want to explain what this means for us (and keep in mind that this reinforces much of what we say about "worship"). If I take part in communion without really reflecting on it's meaning - if I drink that cup without remembering that Christ shed His blood for me - I am taking it unworthily. I'm not grasping that one of the significant purposes in me even participating is to remember. Remembering that Christ was beaten, broken, spit on, and crushed for me. Remembering that it's by "His wounds that we are healed". This is why He told His disciples, "Every time you do this...remember!"

On another note, when Paul says we should "examine ourselves", I believe that what he is telling us is that if there is unconfessed sin in our lives - if there are broken & fractured relationships among us - if we are going through the motions or keeping up appearances - if we are more concerned with our "sacrifice" than we are with our "obedience" - we are better off leaving the bread and the cup on the table. I think that David's prayer in Psalm 139 is something we should make our own before we participate in communion: "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me in the way everlasting." Christ would say to us, "Put down the bread, walk across the room, and seek restoration - ask for forgiveness. Put down the cup, stop pretending everything is OK, and confess." In other words - and hold on to your seat for this one - if communion is one more piece of our religious puzzle - one more opportunity for us to keep up appearances - we are much better off not even going to the table.

Some may read this and think, "Wow, that's a little harsh!" I don't think so. It's becoming evident that we're a whole lot more familiar with the table than we are the altar. We're great as the church at calling everyone to communion and fellowship, but we've grossly neglected the call to confession and repentance. And the worst part is we failed to realize that they should all go hand-in-hand!

I hope you'll join us for communion this Sunday.
But I pray that you'll "examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup." Christ has taken our sin and our guilt away. There is reason to celebrate!

April 28, 2009

The Long Fall Back to Earth

As I regularly express to those close to me, I'm not easily impressed by most music that's coming out these days. There are so many bands spitting out a reproduced copy of someone else's version of same song, second verse. It leaves you wondering when originality & creativity ceased to be part of what makes music come to life. That said, there are still bright spots bursting through the muck - there are bands (both huge & famous and independent & unknown) who are re-writing the face of music and giving us new songs to sing.

I'm going to keep this brief - If you still think that "Flood" is the best song ever written by Jars of Clay, you have some homework to do! Last week they released their 9th (if I'm counting correctly) studio album, titled The Long Fall Back to Earth. This collection of songs is far above & beyond most of what is being put out these days under the title "Christian" music. This band (much like U2) constantly refuses to rest on what once worked and they forge ahead, reinventing their sound, their songs, and - by default - themselves.

The album starts out with a melodic vapor-like intro that charges into the song Weapons, which is probably not about what you think it's about. Two Hands exhorts us to stop working against each other and find unity in purpose & heart. Another standout is the song Heaven, reminding me that the Kingdom of God is here - in me - as a follower of Christ. Maybe one of the most unique songs on the list is Headphones, with lyrics that are as culturally relevant as anything I've heard in a long time. And while I point out these few songs I can say that this is one of those albums that all you really need to know is to push Play. From start to finish - it's whole, complete, and lacking nothing in originality and musical courage.

And for all of you who still only have the debut Jars of Clay album in your collection, shame on you! We forgive you, but exhort you to do something about it! If you want to begin adding to your collection start with The Long Fall Back to Earth. After that, here are a few more to add:

- Who We Are Instead
- The Eleventh Hour
- Good Monsters
- If I Left the Zoo

April 23, 2009

Certainty & Clarity

I was reminded today of a statement Andy Stanley made (and I'm pretty sure often reiterates) - "It's OK to be uncertain, but it's not OK to be unclear." I find much truth and conviction in this statement.

You have to keep in mind that this is a leader saying this to leaders. When we are called of God to shepherd and lead His people and we're called to do it with vision & conviction, it is essential that we speak and lead with clarity. WHO we are and WHAT we are called to do cannot be fuzzy or hazy. And as the tide shifts and HOW we do WHAT we're called to do has to be re-written in the sand, there cannot be confusion. We cannot be talking out the side of our mouth. And as he said, it's OK to be uncertain - and it's OK to be very clear that you're uncertain. What is not OK is to be unclear. Want proof? Try driving down a country back road at night with your headlights off and your windows fogged up. Think clarity's important now?

I thank the Lord for those moments of crystal clear certainty - when everything falls into place and makes perfect sense. But I also long for those moments when I cannot possibly & fully understand what the Lord is asking of me - when uncertainty is sitting on my sofa - and I can trust Him enough to speak clearly, lead faithfully and confidently, and be OK with not knowing it all.

Clearly uncertain? OK.
Certainly unclear? Not OK.

April 20, 2009

Paul Was Seeker Insensitive!

I'm going through 1 Corinthians right now and this morning I came to chapter 5. This is the part of the letter where Paul rebukes the people of the church there because they know that a man within their fellowship is living in sexual sin - sleeping with his father's wife - and they have done nothing to rebuke, confront, or remove him from the fellowship. Paul gives them very direct instructions to "cast this man out of the church". He goes on and instructs them that they should have nothing to do (not even eat) with anyone who "claims to be a Christian, yet indulges" in this behavior. Reading this got me thinking about our churches and how we do certain things.

One of the first things I thought was, "I wonder if this would be considered 'seeker sensitive'?" You talk about taking an action that would shock the fool out of someone coming in from the outside. As I have experienced being part of a congregation that walked through this hellacious trial, I can tell you that this will not be a great catalyst for your next high attendance Sunday! In this politically correct, lawsuit happy, you can't tell me what to do world we're living in...it will take serious collective guts for a church to decide to truly follow biblical instruction here. Do we have that anymore? Collective guts?

It also got me thinking about how the general "church" public defines and thinks of "worship". It's mind-numbing to realize how many Christ-followers still hear the word "worship" and think we're strictly talking about singing. We have taken almost all the other biblical aspects of our worship and collectively & corporately disregarded them. I know I've asked this before, but when was the last time you were involved in a corporate gathering where people were confessing sin? When were you gathered recently with others who openly & honestly (and out-loudly for that matter) lifted up their burdens and struggles to the Lord? Have you experienced corporate prayer? Brokenness? Reading of scripture? If we don't embrace these biblical (spiritual, beneficial, crucial) pieces of the collective worship puzzle, how could we ever even fathom following Paul's instructions to the Corinthian church?

I love the New Living Translation's version of Paul's exhortation in verse 8: "So let us celebrate the festival, not by eating the old bread of wickedness and evil, but by eating the new bread of purity and truth". This is so penetrating because it reminds us that truth and purity are perfect for each other - they not only coexist well together, they are forever married to one another! They are unbreakably bonded. In coming to grips with that I wonder, is that what we desire when we come together as the body of Christ? Do purity and truth come flowing like a mighty river out of the room when we're gathered together? Not perfection or piety or the appearance of order...but real life, gut level, hearts laid bare honesty before God and each other. Is that happening? Or is everything so pre-programmed that we just can't bear the thought?

Life as a Christ-follower is messy, inconvenient & rough around the edges. I'm not sure how you make all of that "seeker sensitive". But maybe the real problem is that we've forgotten what all those seekers are really seeking. Truth. Authenticity. Restoration. Jesus. That's what they're seeking! The question is - when they walk among us - is that what they're finding?

Will we have the collective guts to BE the church He has called us to be?

April 19, 2009

The ME Monster

This morning we began our brand new series, Monsters. We kicked it off (very appropriately, I think) by unmasking the Me Monster - "self-centeredness". This is an ugly thing when it starts to manifest itself in our lives - whether in our words, thoughts or actions. And most of us have been guilty of becoming the victim of the Me Monster. But that doesn't mean we have to make a regular habit of it. We are not born or stuck with this trait - it's a decision. We decide who's most important.

We took a look at a great example of this in 1 Kings 12 with the story of Rehoboam. As he becomes king he has the opportunity to put his people before himself. They ask him to "lighten the load" a little. Rehoboam appears to wisely seek counsel in making this decision, but in reality we find out that he's really just looking for someone to tell him what he wants to hear - he's waiting on someone to tell him it's OK to think of himself first. Bad choice! As a result, his people abandon him, they stone his advisor to death, and he is left with only a remnant of the nation. Rehoboam's self-centeredness - his unwillingness to humbly put his people first - ultimately results in his own humiliation. And if you think humbling yourself is painful, it's nothing compared to the sting of humiliation.

When we look at Romans 12:9-10, Galatians 5:24-6:3, and Philippians 2:1-11, we begin to realize that as Christ-followers we are called to a life of leaving ME behind in order to put others first. No one ever set this example the way Christ did (see Philippians 2:5-11). We are called to love one another in a way that moves far beyond our words. We are called to choose a path that will often be inconvenient & messy - it will at times mess up our schedule and our clothes. But this is the way of Christ.

So as we asked this morning I ask you now, who is influencing you? Whose counsel are you seeking or listening to. Who does your life most reflect right now? The Me Monster? or Jesus Christ? [Are you just reading this - or are you allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart about those questions?]

Remember: When the most important person on the planet is ME, it's very difficult to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

April 13, 2009

Thinking About Thinking

Right now I'm standing at the threshold of a strange place - very soon it will be time to begin casting vision. While it may sound egotistical to some, for those who have been wired & fueled by the Creator to lead, we know that we have to have those "Burning Bush" moments where the Lord begins to reveal not only Himself but the direction in which He is leading. The moment in time comes when He begins to say, "I've told you what to do, I've shown you where to go...now go!"

Part of the prayerful process is listening. And as I've been listening (and continue to do so) it naturally evolves into thinking - you can't avoid it! And as I realize more every day that truly listening is a mountainous journey, thinking is just as monumental a task. Let me explain what I mean.

When we're presented with new ideas - when the thought of something new crosses our horizon - we rarely objectively give it consideration. It unfortunately has to pass through the filter of our comforts and preferences. As Will Mancini says in his book Church Unique, the hard "reality is that most people don't think; they only rearrange their prejudices. Real thinking can be disruptive to the status quo and requires a great deal of courage."

For me, I'm tired of deceiving myself into thinking that I'm thinking - you know. I want my heart & mind to be at a place where every once-in-awhile it says, "Let's wipe off the board and start from scratch". I know, that's a scary place to be. White board. Blank slate. But this is a journey, not a destination. And this part of the journey - especially together - takes our faith in the Lord and each other to heights we've never known. That's where I'm ready to go. Are you?

So, I've been doing a lot of thinking about thinking...and I think - that if you're like me - there are amazing things ahead!

April 8, 2009

What's Most Important.

When Easter approaches we naturally find ourselves gravitating toward the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection. I highly recommend all of us spending time meditating on these words of life-changing truth. There is no greater story or event in the history of the world!

That said, I also recommend that you spend time wading through other reflections of the work & power of what was done on the Cross and as Jesus conquered sin & death and rose from the grave. Dead. Then, NOT dead!

In his first letter to the Corinthians (chp. 15), Paul reminds them that he passed on to them "what was most important - that Christ died for our sins...was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said." In refusing to be presumptuous, and out of a desire to make sure that we're not missing the obvious, do you understand that this truth stated by Paul is what was, what is, and what will always be MOST IMPORTANT? If you miss this...you've missed everything!

And I also exhort you, as you humbly and intimately reflect this Friday on the passion of the Lord - and as you think on everything He suffered, sustained, and tolerated for your sin - don't forget that while the Cross conquered death...the resurrection gives us LIFE! You are not only forgiven, you are set free to LIVE! With this in mind I wonder - do I often keep living for the things that Christ died? He gave me life, but am I really living it? Am I living free? Am I living for His heart? Or am I going back to things that He purchased my freedom from?

"...if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world. But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead."

"God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has covered all our sins."

"I have come that you might have life to the fullest."

"God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ."

Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
This is what's most important!

April 6, 2009


Tonight is the Men's NCAA Basketball Championship. The North Carolina Tarheels are taking on the Spartans from Michigan State. I think this game will be a fun one to watch and I'm pretty confident the Tarheels will prevail (as my Father-in-law is hoping and praying!)

While tonight's game will be great, I bring it up to mention that it marks 30 years since Michigan State took on underdog Indiana State for the Title. This was a game to remember as 2 of the greatest "team" basketball players of all time squared off: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. If you've never had a chance to watch this game - or to see these 2 in action against each other - you should hunt this game down on the Classic channel and take notes!

These are 2 athletes that constantly made the people around them better. Their performance, their attitude, their unselfishness, and their desire to win were amazing. And so every time they hit the floor opposing each other...the potential for something great to happen was through the roof.

The Spartans downed the Sycamores by 12-13 points. I don't think the Spartans will have such luck tonight against the Heels. We'll see.