April 30, 2011

Refuge (After the Storm)

To begin to sum up the thoughts and feelings from the last few days is impossible. I don't have words. Living in Kansas for 10 years, I saw plenty of devastation from weather and tornadoes. But it never hit this close to home. A tornado formed over my house! People I know and love are homeless. I've driven through areas 5-10 minutes from my home that have been sucked off the face of the earth. It's insane. And while we are broken over the 250+ lives that were lost during these storms, this also means that the Lord spared and saved some 4 million plus lives! I guess it's about perspective.

In the days to come I look forward to sharing with you the story of the Reeves family. It's a miracle that they're still here. Until then, this is the video that Meagan shot just seconds before the tornado hit their house and then just moments after it was over...and the house is gone! The time in between - the lost footage - is probably between 60-120 seconds. It only took that long. But as they will tell you themselves, the Lord is truly a refuge for those who seek Him! See for yourself:

April 27th Tornado

April 26, 2011

Fruit Salad...

This week I've been devouring fruit salad. (And sadly when I do, I can no longer help but hearing that stupid "Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy!" song from the Wiggles. One of the beauties of parenthood.) I only eat this in the summer. But for years now my wife has been making it just the way I like it - strawberries, blackberries, and pineapple. Oh yeah! I don't want raspberries in there. Or bananas or apples. Or even grapes. I want those 3 fruits. I believe them to be the sweet nectar of God's delicious creation. And in my opinion, anything else added to the mix is not only unnecessary, but it takes away from it's greatness. So I guess what I'm saying is, I want my fruit salad, but I want it MY way! 

This weekend I came to the conclusion that I approach my spiritual life this way as well sometimes. The difference is, you can't just go pulling the fruit you don't like out of the bowl. God has a plan here.

Like many other stories, verses, and principles in scripture, I think the Fruit of the Spirit passage in Galatians 5 has been diluted. For many of us, we start reading these verses and immediately bust into that stupid song someone made up so we could teach little kids to remember the fruits of the Spirit. (If you've somehow managed to go unscathed - you don't have this tune tormenting you - just be grateful and leave it alone.) When you read Paul's exhortation here what you realize he's saying is this: There is solid, visible evidence that we are living Spirit-filled lives. If you want to walk as Christ did - live your life being guided and controlled by His love and power - then your life will be characterized by LOVING other people, finding JOY when happiness isn't present, knowing the PEACE of God that is beyond human comprehension, somehow discovering PATIENCE when you know you don't have any on your own. KINDNESS begins to fill your heart toward others, you desire GOODNESS to saturate every corner of your life and your heart, in discovering God's faithfulness you long to be FAITHFUL to Him and to others. And then there's GENTLENESS - that one that I really didn't want in my salad at all. Until I began to realize that it's absence was spoiling the rest of the fruit. Seriously! One fruit left out of the mix...and it all seemed rotten! And last, but certainly not least, SELF-CONTROL - learning that as the Holy Spirit consumes and controls your life, you must gain control over your reactions, responses, and decisions. This is the evidence. And you can't just pick the fruits you like. They're forever divinely linked. Mixed together. Stop picking out the kiwi!

I had to confess to the Lord that I've been guilty at times of unknowingly telling Him what I did and did NOT want in my bowl. I'm learning that He says to us, "You may not like this one particular type of fruit. It may seem bitter to you at first - or maybe it's too sour or sweet. But I put it in the bowl for reasons you may never know. Eat it. Feast on it!" As David says in Psalm 34, "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" 

Is there anything you've left out of your fruit salad?
You might want to throw it into the bowl.

April 21, 2011

Itching Ears

He called me again yesterday. It freaks me out every time. Maybe he's called you, too - that freaky automated voice from CVS pharmacy. Almost makes me want to take my prescriptions off of auto-refill. Thankfully I recognize the number now - I know it's him. I've tried to surprise him when I answer, but he just starts talking and keeps going. And then he has the audacity to try and convince me that this is a "courtesy call". If he had any courtesy he'd shut up and listen when I'm trying to respond and converse. No such luck. He regurgitates his spiel, hangs up on me, and like clockwork, calls me back 30 days later. And freaks me out all over again.

The reason why this computer-programmed automated informant makes my spine tingle is not because he sounds like a computer or a robot. In fact, there's not even a hint of droid in that voice. It's just the opposite. The thing that freaks me out so bad is that it sounds WAY too much like a real live human being. And I don't like being deceived!

Sadly, I'm often reminded of (burdened and frustrated by) the fact that there are some out there (probably many) preaching something that sounds a LOT like the Gospel - it is even packed and wrapped with words like "Jesus", "Spirit", and "Blessing". But at the end of the day it finally shows it's ugly face and we realize that this "gospel" that's being sold is rooted in and leading others toward something other than the Jesus Christ who said, "If you would come after me you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me". The false gospel always points back to ME. And discovering true LIFE is dependent on me finally realizing that I have absolutely nothing to offer myself but sin, selfishness, and death. Nothing. ZERO!

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul warns Timothy that "the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth..." Itching ears love to hear things like, "God wants to bless you". Sure, He does. But WHAT He desires to bless me with is the key. The blessings He has in mind are holiness, righteousness, mercy, love, generosity, and sanctification - not more and more and more and more stuff. The false gospels abandons and neglects teaching us that the greatest prize of all is simply KNOWING Jesus Christ. It's ALL about Him!

I encourage you to ask God to give you ears to hear Him - to know and discern the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - not ears that itch for someone to tell you what you simply want to hear. Don't settle for something less. Don't be fooled. It's ALL about Him! Always has been. Always will be. Are your ears itching yet?

April 20, 2011

Motive & Meat

PREFACE: This blogpost is NOT in 3D.

Most Americans have grown bored (if not weary) with 3D. This movie craze was big in the 80's and very quickly died. And then for some reason over the last few years, someone decided to try and resurrect it. And most moviegoers who've been asked would rather it just crawl back in the grave. Yet, what are many churches doing this Easter? 3D. Where do I get my glasses?

I'm sure I've said something before to the effect of: "There's a fine line between being creative and relevantly communicating the Gospel (&) feeling like you have to reinvent or market the Gospel." And if I haven't said it before, I'm saying it now. But I'm not really sure there's a line. I don't think there's a balance or anything else of that sort either. I believe there are 2 key forces at work: motive and meat.

Let me be the first to admit that for years I have been part of (or led) creative teams - put together to bring creative, fresh, and unique approaches or ideas to the table for HOW we present the message from scripture. We ask questions like, "What songs have the most relevance with this message? Is there a video that brings this point home even further? Can we use visuals on our stage that capture this idea?" You get the point. But one thing we are NOT trying to do is make the message fit into our creative bubble. We are NOT under the delusion that the Word of God needs our help - or that the Spirit of God is not the one that draws hearts and changes lives. This is our MOTIVE: creatively and uniquely preach the Word.

In doing this, as a pastor it is my calling and commitment that in our quest to be creative and relevant we never sacrifice or dilute or distract from the message clearly presented in the Bible. Over the last 2 decades the idea of "seeker sensitivity" has prevailed. In response to this I've always wondered (and even asked), "Sensitive to what?" Are people who are seeking the Lord - searching for spiritual truth - somehow more easily offended? Are lost people who are looking for hope in need of better entertainment? Are they seriously sitting at home on Sundays wishing there was some good music to listen to? "What I really need to fulfill my life would be a semi-inspiring motivational speech with a witty video in the middle of it!" [I don't think so.] What they need is the Gospel! What they're searching for - and many times don't even know it - is the TRUTH and POWER of God's Word and the life of Christ to eternally change them. And I am by no means saying that churches who are being creative in their methods of communicating this are wrong. But when the creativity is the thing you use to bait and hook people rather than the Gospel itself, you begin to play with fire. You begin to walk toward an approach that dangerously borders on what Paul told Timothy was aimed at "telling people what they want to hear". The meat - the substance of the Word of God - better not be sacrificed. If people aren't going and growing deeper, that's an indictment on the one who's taken the responsibility to preach the Word. At my church, that's me. And my commitment is this: we're going to eat MEAT!

Again, please don't misunderstand me: I'm all about creativity. In fact, I wish I was 10x as creative and innovative as I am. And there are churches out there right now who are not only creatively knocking it out of the park, they're doing it while powerfully communicating the scriptures. But, there are also churches out there today that are putting on a pretty good show. And that's it. And at some point, the curtain will come down.

I'm praying that this Easter the Word of God is preached boldly, compassionately, and that the Spirit of God moves and changes the hearts and lives of people everywhere. Including you and me.

April 15, 2011

Muscle Confusion

Unless you've been hiding under a rock the last couple of years, you've probably heard of P-90X. It's this insane (and I use that word specifically) DVD workout program that has taken over infomercials and late night TV. And yes, 2 years ago I caved in and ordered it. It almost killed me! In fact, I turned it into P30X - I only lasted 30 of the 90 days. While I still use the individuals DVD's from time to time when I'm in the mood for getting my butt kicked, there's one thing I learned more than anything else from Tony Horton's experience and madness: the art of muscle confusion. And understanding this principle has not only helped me in the weight room and in physical exercise, but in all areas of my life. Allow me to explain.

Let's take Jim, a typical health club member who works out 3-4 times a week. Jim's not interested in looking like Vin Diesel, but he doesn't want to look like Steve Urkel anymore either. So he sets up a workout program. It would probably look something like this:
M - Chest & Back
T - Cardio
W - Arms
T - Cardio
F - Shoulders & Legs
S - Running
S - Rest

And the Repeat is what ultimately winds up killing you! Your muscles begin to figure out - or predict - what you're going to do. They become trained and more resistant to the punishment you're trying to impose on them. What muscle confusion teaches is that on week 3 you should come along and workout your Chest & Biceps, then your Back & Legs, and then finish the week with Shoulders & Triceps. What happens? You're muscles are caught off guard. They get hacked off at you! You put a beating on them that they weren't expecting. And...you GROW! And that's the point. Isn't it?

Can I make a suggestion? You need some muscle confusion in your life. Is it possible that you're doing what you've always been doing? Driving to work the same way? Eating the same thing for breakfast every day? Doing the same workout routine over and over and wondering why you're not seeing any results anymore? When's the last time you tried something new? Gone on a hike - just you and your Bible? Tasted something you've never tasted before? You know, they used to always say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, sometimes I think you need to rethink that: "If it ain't broke, maybe you need to break it!" SNAP OUT OF IT! Don't allow complacency or apathy to even gain a foothold. I once heard it said that we begin to lose our passion when something becomes too familiar. Sadly, many things in our lives have not only become familiar, we don't even notice them anymore. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that's healthy.

Are there areas of your life where you're just hitting Repeat? I'm sure you've heard it before, but Einstein defined INSANITY like this: Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.
Are you insane? [Maybe you shouldn't answer that.]

Stop hitting Repeat! Stop doing the same things...over and over!
Taste and see that the Lord is good! Jesus offers "newness of life" - seek Him, pursue Him, and live that new life out today!

April 8, 2011

The One-Upper

I'm sure you've been there. You had one of those experiences where you thought, "I have to be on hidden camera". One of those ridiculous, "No one could make this stuff up" stories. And when it happens, you know at some point this story is going to have to be told. It's your civic duty - moral responsibility - to allow your misfortune to be everyone else's entertainment. And finally - maybe at a party, at church that weekend, at the office the next week in the break room - the moment presents itself. It's time to share your tragic turn of events with the rest of the world. You gracefully and eloquently provide just the right details, watching with sensational satisfaction as they wipe away the tears brought on by the convulsive laughter you've provoked. This is your moment. The light is shining on your face. It was all worth it now. Embrace your destiny, you magic storyteller! Nothing can take this glorious feeling away from you now. Except.......

Bill. There he is. Standing behind the mass crowd of mesmerized onlookers. They're listening on pins and needles. But not Bill. He's waiting. Just waiting. Waiting on you to finally run out of air. Waiting for your ridiculous story to finally come to an anticipated ending. Just waiting....so he can finally leap from on high, pouncing on the unexpected crowd (and on your shining moment) to make sure that everyone knows that your story - your traumatic tale - while as captivating and awe-inspiring as it might have seemed - is a mere nursery rhyme compared to the Tale of Two Cities that he's about to share. Sit back everyone. Get ready for a REAL story!

The One-Upper. Do you know him? Or maybe for you, it's a her. You're talking. From the naked, uneducated eye they appear to be listening. But no. They really have no grasp of what "listening" really means. What they're doing is waiting on you to shut your pie hole so they can tell you how their's is one better than yours. You fell down some stairs? "Big deal! I fell off a mountain!" You had a piece of shrapnel stuck in your leg in Vietnam? Seriously? "Well, that would be something...except that I had an arrow shot straight through my skull and pulled it out myself!" They've always got one better. Your story - your once-in-a-lifetime, "You should have seen this!" experience - just fell short. The One-Uppers are always lurking. My favorite comedian Brian Regan refers to it as the "Me Monster". And when you least expect it, they'll parachute in, rain on your parade, and put out your fire. Beware.

Do you listen to people? Or do you just wait for them to finally SHUT UP so you can tell them what they don't know and desperately need to hear?
If you value people, you will learn to listen.
If you value people, you will value what they have to say.
And if you don't, you very well may be the One-Upper in the room. Beware.

April 5, 2011

Don't Keep It a Secret

This is Part 5 in the series, "Secrets". If you're just joining us, make sure and start with Part 1, "No More Secrets". Thanks for joining the conversation!

This weekend I received an email from someone who's been reading this series on Secrets - and it's apparently struck a nerve. She asked a question...and you can almost hear the heartbreak in her voice. She wrote:

"What if you did have the courage to tell someone your secret? Someone who told you that they cared about you, and loved you more than anything? That nothing could change that? And then after you told them, they couldn't even stand to be in your life anymore? I guess my question is: How can you move on from this kind of hurt? How can you move on after trusting that God was putting it on your heart to be honest and that everything would work out in the end - and so you do it, because you're trusting, and hoping and praying, but in the end, you're alone now, and everything is definitely not OK? After being HONEST. After TRUSTING God with everything you have inside of you? It makes you question everything."

So, what if you finally have the courage to lay the truth on the table - to bear your soul or confess your sin - and it turns out to be too much for someone to handle? What do you do? How can this happen? If someone says, "Whatever it is, I can take it"...and it turns out to be more than they can take...? As my friend asked, "How can you move on from that kind of hurt?" These are not easy questions - to ask or answer. In fact, I stared at the email for 3-4 days before I could even respond. But I did respond, and I felt that I should let you know what I said and what I think. This is what I wrote:

Thanks so much for trusting me with this question. It's not an easy one. 
I don't know the specifics of your situation, but I do know that there are times - and I've walked through them myself - where the unquestionable right thing to do was for me to tell the truth, be honest, come clean, and make sure that nothing was being swept under the rug or glossed over. And even though we've been brutally honest, the consequences still remain.
Again, not only do I not know the specifics of your situation, I don't know the person who walked away and isn't in "your life anymore". But I do know that sometimes people have no idea how they will react or respond to something until it actually becomes a reality. This doesn't make it right or easier, but it seems to be the way we are at times. Quite frankly, this is why millions of people who said "'til death do us part" are no longer married.
A couple of things I do know for certain: 1) Jesus is always trustworthy & 2) we aren't. We mess up. We fail each other. But I'm grateful that for every time someone in my life has failed me, turned their back and walked away, many others have stood by me and loved me. I'm praying that the Lord is placing people like this in your life - that you have a church family filled with grace-filled, loving Christ-followers.

I'm very aware that every word I wrote is much easier to write than it is to read. It's easier to say than it is to hear. But it's the truth. Just because we're honest - just because we finally have the guts to drag the dirty, molding, rotting laundry out of the closet and once and for all air it out - it doesn't mean that the consequences or going to go away. Reality doesn't say, "Oh, you were finally honest. You get a FREE PASS!" Grace and forgiveness? Yes. An exemption from picking up the pieces of the aftermath and destruction that can be left in the wake of our decisions and mistakes and (S)ins? No. 

What sparked this whole series to begin with is the fact that just 2 weeks ago another pastor's SECRET was revealed. I don't know if he independently, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, drug it out into the open...or whether or not it was forced out by an individual or circumstance. While I do know that he has been set free from living a lie, and he (and his family) can hopefully begin to walk a path of healing and restoration, the consequences still remain. There's a wife whose heart has been ripped from her chest. There's another husband who feels betrayed and manipulated and humiliated. There are children who have to attempt to understand why Daddy doesn't have his job anymore and Mommy's crying all the time. And you may read all of this and think, "Well heck, why even bother? I'd be better off just keeping it to myself!" At the end of the day, if that's what you think, all I know to tell you is that you just don't grasp what being a follower of Christ is all about. PURITY trumps PASSION. HONESTY & INTEGRITY always outweigh MANIPULATION & DECEIT. And HOLINESS - the hunger and desire and calling on our lives to be more like Christ - is the thing we pursue at all costs! And this will at times mean secrets can no longer remain secret. And consequences will show up at our door. And sometimes - even when we may not deserve it - people will walk away. People we love, who we thought loved us. They will pack their things and go.

But God never will.

Before I close the lid on this allow me to say (and this is no secret) that God's Word is the final authority on this subject. I encourage you to take some time and go deeper with Him. Only He can comfort and convict. Only He holds the truth. He IS the truth! Don't keep it a secret.

Dig Deeper:
Psalm 51:6
Galatians 6:1-3
James 5:16
1 John 1:9
Matthew 18:15-18
Proverbs 12:19, 19:1, 20:7

April 4, 2011

This Is NOT a Secret!

This is Part 4 in a series on "Secrets". I encourage you to read Parts 1-3 before reading this post. Hope you'll join in the conversation!

We have all these secrets - all these issues crammed into the closet that we don't talk about - growing mold and rot and bitterness down in the crevices of our heart and soul. They must be stopped! We have to expose them, live in the light of the TRUTH, and claim the victory that is already ours in Christ. Whether it's addiction, a hidden habit, resentment toward someone, unreasonable expectations you placed on another person, wounds brought on by someone else's carelessness, fear of the unknown - whatever the secret may be...you have 2 options: expose it, defeat it, and grow from it (OR) ignore it, keep pretending, and prepare yourself for the eventual moment when it decides for itself to crawl out into the light for everyone to see. It's your choice. 

Up to this point though, all of these secrets I've been alluding to have been things that (for most of us) we aren't readily going to take out an ad in the paper to inform the rest of the world about. Most of them would be considered "negative". They're habits or mistakes or wounds or assumptions. But what about the "positive"? What about secrets - or maybe I should say, a SECRET - that has no business ever being kept in the dark? Is there something we're not talking about that EVERYONE needs to know? And when I say "EVERYONE needs to know...", I'm talking about every person that lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes in the same world we do. Here's the question: Is your faith a SECRET? Do you speak the name of Jesus? And I'm not asking if some of your coworkers or neighbors or friends know that you "go to church". I stood in the garage the other day for awhile. I didn't turn into a car. I'm asking you - and myself - to examine if our faith is made out of the same thing the Apostle Paul's faith was made of - faith and belief and love and trust that compelled him to say, "I am NOT ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16) [Paraphrase: I am NOT ashamed of Jesus. He saved me! I'm ready to tell the world!] And then a little later in his letter to the Romans (10:14-15) Paul asks us "...how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?" If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, that someone is YOU! That someone is ME!

Are we telling them? Are we speaking His name?
Or are we - for some lazy, apathetic, unGodly reason - keeping this a SECRET?
What are we waiting for? This is more than an antidote for a disease. This is life and death! This is eternally life-changing information! Who on earth would keep that a SECRET?

Why do we keep this to ourselves?
Are you looking for an opportunity to share the Gospel?
Speak the name of Jesus. He is still changing lives!
And this is NOT a SECRET!