Series: Restoring Vitality – A Little Deeper Grasp of Relationship.

iu-11In this series already we’ve looked at where we get stuck and lose touch with the life of God.  We create strategies that help us cope with our distance from God.  In the last blog, we looked at how we often make our faith about life-management over and above a relationship of intimacy with God himself through Christ.  Jesus came offering the promise of oneness with God.  We trade the hope of relationship with God for cheap religious trinkets in pockets with holes.

I’d like to take some space to consider the question, Why is this relationship-thing so important to God?  If relationship is at the center of what God desires, and it is the whole reason for all that has happened in our universe of time and space, then it is critical that we grasp at least a whisper of it, or be left out of it all together.

As we consider it, would you be open to use a bit of your imagination with me? By the way, there’s nothing wrong with using our imagination. It’s what we do when we put ourselves into a story in Scripture.  All good stories make room for us.  We imagine hearing the serpent hissing out his tempting lies in the garden.  We feel the grit of dusty roads caked on Peter’s feet as Jesus lovingly washes it away. For this little exercise, let’s take a step back a little further.  Let’s take the truths God reveals about himself and imagine what it might have been like in the time before time.

There was a time when all there was, was God.  It wasn’t dark because God was the light. It wasn’t silent because God was the song.  It wasn’t lonely because God was there. God is all God needs.  He is self-sufficient.  He is self-contained and self-fulfilled. This is the wonder of God being Trinity.  He was not some old man getting crankier and lonelier as time marched on.  He didn’t have some sort of holy boredom that moved him to create.  He lived in the perfect Three-in-One.  He lives in eternity-past and eternity-forever as Father, Son and Spirit. In creation He is Elohim; God, the Word and the Spirit who hovered over the waters.  Under the oaks of Mamre, he is the Three who came to covenant with Abraham. At the baptism of Jesus, He is the voice from heaven, the Son in the water and the Dove who testified of the chosen One.  In Revelation He is the Three-in-One that the angels exalt as they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

What core aspect of God’s nature does the truth of Trinity tell us about God? And what does it imply about our own nature and purpose?

The truth of Trinity, God forever being Father, Son and Spirit reveals to us the context for the revelation that God is love.  He is not love by principle, or by good habit. God is love by nature.  The apostle Jesus loved wrote it clearly.  “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:8)  If love is part of God’s nature, then there was never a time when God didn’t love. Love can only exist when there is one loving, one being loved and love itself.  Augustine wrote that all three were required.  “Well then, when I, who make this inquiry, love anything, there are three things concerned— myself, and that which I love, and love itself.” God being Trinity emphatically declares that God is a God of relationship. It also tells us that he didn’t need someone else to love. The Trinitarian godhead allows love to exist completely in God alone.

Another thing we know of God is that he is immutable, or unchangeable.  The Scriptures remind us “For I the Lord do not change…” (Malachi 3:6).  God is forever the same.  And God is love.  God has been and will forever be in deep communion as Father, Son and Spirit. And that communion is based on his nature of love.  He can be nothing else, ever.

So let’s go back to our imagination and think a bit.  God, before all time, enjoyed a self-sustaining communion of fellowship, unity and love.  Unlike the gods of the Romans and Greeks, he is not fighting.  He is not wielding his power in order to establish his place of superiority.  He is not acting out in petulant anger against some divine competition.  He is sitting at the heavenly table.  He is filled with joy at the glory of his goodness, beauty and power.  Around that table, love flows between Father, Son and Spirit.  If there was a place you would ever want to be, it would be at that table.  Because it is there we find our place, our reason, our mission.

One of the conversations at the table went something like this, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26). In perfect agreement, it happened, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27).

But what does that say about us, our nature and our purpose?

God is love. God lived in relationship.  Out of love, not out of need, God created a being.  This being would be different from all others. This being would be made to share in life around the table of God.  This being would be made with the capacity for love.  This being would be made to share in the sovereign work of God, as vice-kings of creation.  Imagine that. Life at the table.  Living life in God, his love, his fellowship, his oneness and sharing his rule.  Imagine just for a moment the joy, the safety, the perfect serenity of life at that table where all the love of the universe dances from one to another.

This is the relationship the first Adam had and lost. This is the relationship the second Adam (Jesus) came to restore.  When we lose our vitality, we’ve lost our vision!  We’ve lost the dream of being one with the Three-In-One. Can I encourage you to do something to step back into this reality?

I encourage you to read the following words, reflect and renew your commitment to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Then ask him for a new hope of sitting at the table again in Christ.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

NOTE:  If you were studying this series, what questions would you want answered?  Please put them in the comment section!  I want to hear from you.

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing.  I pray you find new depth as you consider the very nature of God and the relationship for which He created you and redeemed you.

Series: Restoring Vitality – What are you Hoping for?

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In the last blog, we looked at how we sometimes hide from God by trading his ultimate desires, for something we can feel good about.  We tend to trade the richness of intimacy with God for a substitute we can understand and manage.  We do this as congregations too. We hide in our traditions, our doctrinal correctness, and our ministry accomplishments.  And as our effectiveness starts to wane we double down on the substitutes.  We try to dress up the corpse, so we can believe she is only sleeping.  When deep down we know Life has left the building.

The Lord wants us alive, he came to give us his life.  We need to be honest.  We must have the courage to see how we’ve been hiding.  And then we need to ask God to replace our vision of a well-managed life, or ministry for the thing Christ wants most for us – honest and deep fellowship with him.

As you read the following, I hope you’ll let God give you a vision of his desires.

Let’s consider the Apostle John’s thoughts.  John was the one who probably had the most familiar and intimate relationship with Jesus.  In his gospel, John referred to himself as the “disciple Jesus loved.”  He was part of Jesus’ inner circle.  John was the only disciple at the crucifixion.  On the cross, Jesus gave John care of his mother, Mary.  John was the only disciple who wasn’t martyred for his faith.  He lived a long life, growing in deep oneness with Jesus through the ongoing ministry of the his Spirit.  It fits that John wrote a lot about Jesus, his nature and his invitation to a relationship for all who would trust in him.

Jesus spoke of this relationship as “abiding.” “Abide in me, and I in you.” John 15:4

Jesus saw that his followers would be united with Jesus and the Father.  “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…” John 17:23

Jesus knew his people would be familiar with him.  “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. …the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:3,4

John described a deep connection with God as the point of it all. “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

John used the phrase “in him” as a state of being in a relationship of oneness with Jesus. “so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 5:20

John isn’t the only one who records a God who is interested in a relationship with people.  In fact, the Bible reveals many instances which underscore this reality.  Let me rehearse a few generalities and then we’ll get to a few specifics.

God does relationship things.  First, God is a communicator.  He has spoken and its recorded for us in Scripture.  He reveals his thoughts, his desires and his disappointments. He gives us way more information than we would need, if all he wanted was for us to do the right thing. Second, God is a giver.  God provides and sustains. He provided a creation where we could live and thrive. And his giving is not based on the performance of man.  His rain falls on the just and the unjust. Third, God is an initiator. He approaches humanity rather than waiting for us to find him. Like a pursuing lover, he comes again and again to ignite a love for him within us. Fourth, God is a forgiver. We know forgiveness is part of every relationship because we fail.  God has chosen to bear that burden again and again.  He is a relationship God that’s why he does relationship things.

John wasn’t the only one who had intimacy with God.  Throughout Scripture others had close, meaningful interactions with him.  One of those is way back in Genesis 18:1-8.  Read this:  “And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring  a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to  your servant.’  So they said, ‘Do as you have said,’  And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.’ And Abraham ran to the herd and took a  calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young mean whop prepared it quickly.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them.  And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

This little vignette has relationship written all over it.  God showed up and had a meal with one of his creatures!  This God who spoke it all into being, one day showed up, sat down, washed  his feet and rested in the shade, while enjoying a feast prepared for him by one of his children.  He is a relationship God.

You may say, yes, but not today!  God is different.  God is distant.  No, he hasn’t changed.  He still wants a relationship with the creature he made in his image – that’s us.  This is so much a part of who he is that there was another covenant meal offered by God in Jesus. Though he did it a bit differently this time.  Jesus, who is God in the flesh met with his disciples around the table.   He washed their feet.  They didn’t stand by and watch him eat, they ate with him.  In Jesus, we see that God is even more interested in a relationship than we thought.  We still sit at that table today.

Can you grasp the thought of an intimate relationship with the God of the universe?  It’s a holy and mysterious thought.  Just let me encourage you with this – don’t accept a substitute.  Don’t hide from the hope of living into this mystery.  The revitalization of our faith depends on us having the right goal for our life with God in Christ.  Be satisfied with nothing but being one with him.

My prayer for you is that God gives you a hunger for closeness with him.

Thanks again for reading, commenting, and sharing!  If you have questions they may be the ones the propel us into greater truth.  So, go ahead and share them!

In the next blog, I plan to begin to examine a theological approach that might help us get to this relationship hope.

 

Series: Restoring Vitality – How we hide from God

TOY STORY 3This is the third in a series of exploring our own spiritual growth and health.  I’m calling it “Restoring Vitality” because there are many of us who feel like life is missing from our own spiritual journey.  We may feel stuck or oppressed. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like I should be where I am.  The question is, how do we experience the life God designed for us?

The first blog described the problem of being stuck in spiritual infancy.  There is a problem of not moving forward in our faith toward greater intimacy with Christ. The second blog identified some of the important questions we can ask which will help us honestly assess where we are.  In this blog, I’d like to explore our own strategies for producing a sense of movement when in fact they may be doing the opposite.

If you remember, the first question I thought we should ask was the same question God asked Adam in the garden.  “Where are you?”  It’s a question I don’t particularly like.  It is easier for me to move on with my plans, march through the days and years of my life, hoping and wishing and hiding.  Let’s consider some ways we hide from the intimacy God desires for us.  These are in no particular order.

We trade Jesus for moral rules.  Moral rules make us feel good.  When we obey them, we compare ourselves with those who don’t and then we can feel a little better about hiding in the bushes.  Rules soothe our consciences.  I once knew of two fundamentalist churches who wanted to have a combined church picnic.  But they got stuck on whether the women would be allowed to wear pants! One church felt good about their stricter rules because more rules equals more holiness. The other church felt good about their freedom!  Needless to say, no picnic happened.  I imagine Jesus sitting at the park with unbelievers wishing his kids were there with him.

We trade Jesus for conquests.  Maybe you’re not a rule person.  But what drives you is getting things done for God. Just like rules, we can hide from God in mission statements and in the efforts to accomplish great things for God. Planting a new church, growing a ministry, mission trips, fighting for justice can all make us feel better about being distant from God.  Even if God doesn’t seem especially close, I speculate he will surely like what I do for him.  That is a wrong thought.  Do you remember the condemnation of Matthew 7:22-23? Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many might works in your name?  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  God needs nothing we can do for him. Doing something for God without God must be abhorrent to the One who wants to be known.

We trade Jesus for our theology.  I love theology and theological discussions.  From the earliest days of the church, leaders and learners have been trying to summarize, contextualize and categorize what the Scriptures say about God.  It has a real benefit to the church.  But it can become like researching and writing a historical biography.  It’s great to know about Abraham Lincoln.  But I have no way of knowing him.  We rehearse traits, movements and mission of God, while missing the living God.  We easily speak of him out there, or back there, but we hide from him right here. Instead of humbly seeking him, we find significance in our own knowledge and understanding of the truth.  We become more sure while God remains distant.

We trade Jesus for religious practices.  All our religious activities can easily become a Jesus substitute.  I have been in church services where Christ was never mentioned.  And I’ve been to some that didn’t even include a real prayerful conversation with him – as if He wasn’t there.  Church becomes about church.  We judge our activity by how we felt about it, rather than if we actually interacted with the God who was in the room.  We fast at Lent, give our tithes and offerings, hold prayer meetings, teach the Word, all without Jesus being involved.  These things can lull us into a false sense of spiritual vitality all while missing the One who gives life.

Let me stop here and reassure you, there is nothing wrong with these things in principle.  Just like there was nothing wrong with the bushes in the garden.  Adam and Eve misused them to keep God at a comfortable distance.  And that’s what we can do. Morality, mission, theology and even religion can add depth, guidance, comfort and strength to our relationship with God in Christ.  Our temptation is that we forget they are means to an end.  Even our own spiritual maturity is a means to an end.  And that end is intimacy with the God who created us for oneness with him. He created us and redeemed us to live face to face with him.  Any replacement of that hope keeps us hiding from the One who faithfully pursues us.

I hope the Spirit of Christ is nudging you to think that there might be more for you.  There is. It is LIFE in and with HIM.  Hiding from him robs us of the life he gives.  Consider what stepping out from behind your bush might look like.

In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the kind of relationship God actually wants for us and with us.

As always, comments, likes and shares are welcome and appreciated.  Also, if you will subscribe to the blog, you’ll be sure to get the next installments.

Series: Restoring Vitality – Why Am I Still Here?

iu-9This is the second blog in a series I’ve titled, “Restoring Vitality?”  The first is here.

I’ve been graciously invited into the lives of congregations in order to help them assess health and discern what the Lord may be wanting to do in the future.  So like a doctor, we ask questions that get us to the symptoms a church may be experiencing and hopefully the process helps us find a path of renewed health.

I’ve been to a lot of doctors in my life, especially in the last 8 years.  The good ones ask a lot of questions and then they listen for the answers.  If they do that well and they have experience in the area of trouble, then they can guide me toward solutions that will lead to greater health.

Spiritually speaking, when we are stuck in a developmental stage, we need to notice something is amiss.  Is there a pain? How, when, why, does this present itself? What are the results?  Once we’ve done a little honest appraisal of our condition, we can begin to walk through a process by which we can engage the Spirit of God and experience his leading and his fruitfulness in our lives.  Let’s look at a few of the questions that might help us see what’s really happening in us.

WHERE AM I?

Where am I? is the first question.  This is the insightful question that God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden. If you remember, Adam and Even had sinned.  They immediately saw their need to cover up.  So they constructed loincloths out of fig leaves.  Then it says, “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”  And they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.” (Gen. 2:8).  Then God called out to the man this important question, “Where are you?”

I believe God knew exactly where Adam and Eve were.  And I tend to think he knew why they were there. So, why did he ask?  He wanted Adam and Eve to hear the question. They needed to notice where they were and how they got there.  They had a relationship of oneness with God.  The garden was a place of peace.  The relationships were rich and full.  But their world was now fractured.  It was broken.  They were alone, hiding from God and one another.

There are times it seems that God asks us that question.  “Where are you?”  Am I hiding?  If I am, why?  Do I find myself in the midst of broken relationships?  Am I motivated by fear?  Where am I stuck? Is life harder than it seems it should be?  If God were to walk into the room at this moment, would I expect his embrace, or his rebuke?

The first step of growth is always noticing where I am.  I need to look around within and without.  I need to notice the condition of my own heart.  I need to identify the thoughts and actions that rule my life.

WHAT ARE MY DESIRES?

Another question to ask in this process of honest appraisal is, “What are my desires?”  I think we need to dig deep into the desires of our hearts.  Our desires come from a life of being formed by our families, our own personalities, and our life experiences.  And our desires shape our decisions, our expectations and our reactions to the world around us.

Our desires also shape the way we experience Jesus.  Jesus was walking our of Jericho and there were two blind men calling out to him.  They called, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  And Jesus stopped and asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They replied “Lord, let our eyes be opened!”  And Jesus healed them.  Their need and their desire to be made whole shaped their experience of Jesus.  They needed a healer.  And they found a healer.

I wonder how my own desires have limited my experience of Jesus.  I have often just wanted Jesus to fix something, or provide something, or relieve me of something, rather than wanting him to transform it – or transform me in it.  I want my “daily bread.”  But I don’t really desire that “His kingdom to come.”

A.W. Tozer wrote in his book, “How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit,” “For instance, are you sure that you want to be possessed by a spirit other than your own? Even though that spirit be the pure Spirit of God? Even though he be the very gentle essence of the gentle Jesus?”  In this little book, he is telling us that our desires matter.  As long as we want a God to patch up the lives we’ve designed, we will hobble along going from crisis to crisis looking for those little slivers of relief.  As long as we look to Jesus as the guy who will save us from the flames, we will miss the joy of seeing eternity at work now.  Our desires either expand, or limit our experience of God in Christ.

WHAT ARE MY QUESTIONS?

A last appraisal question to ask is, “What are my questions?” This may seem odd to ask a question about questions.  But I think our questions reveal something about where we are in our spiritual journeys.  First, let me say there is nothing wrong with questions.  Questioning is an important part of development.  Job would never have been ready for God to reveal himself, if he hadn’t spent a lot of time asking his questions.  But what we wouldn’t expect is that the next time something went wrong, he would start asking the same questions again.

In Hebrews 6, just before a warning about not leaving the faith, the writer wrote “Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of a faith toward God…” (Hebrews 6:1).  He seems to be saying, “Guys, these are the basics.  We should not have to keep going back to the same questions again and again.  We should be past this by now.”

As we grow in Christ our questions should change.  There will always be mysteries to the faith.  But there should be areas we are becoming more sure of.  There should be questions that are getting settled as we live with Jesus.  And that should lead us to new questions which propel us toward a deeper understanding of our God.

ENCOURAGEMENT, A First Step

I encourage you to take a piece of paper, get alone with God and let him guide you in assessing your spiritual journey.  Even better would be passing this along to a fellow believer in Jesus and talking through it.  Often someone we know well will have some insight that we don’t have about ourselves.

Be assured of this, whether you are hanging out in the bushes, or are experiencing mixed desires, or if you’ve been stuck on the same questions for years, there is a God who is pursuing you with all his love, goodness and strength.  And he wants to lead you to new heights of knowing him.  That’s why Jesus joined us and that’s why His Spirit is still here.

Comments, shares, questions and likes are welcomed and appreciated.  I hope you’re looking forward to the next step in Restoring Vitality, I am.

 

 

Series: Restoring Vitality – Are We Still Here?

p3iQJk+%R5SHFqdjOrOTeQIn the next several blogs, I’d like to explore what it takes to move in our spiritual lives and in our lives together as the Body of Christ.  If you know me, you know I have a heart for the church.  There are many churches which seems to miss out on what it means to be the Body of Christ in a community.  I’ve been to their services – some are loud and energetic and some are subdued – something is missing.  People arrive and leave unchanged.  Christians who have lost their vitality are creating churches that look like them.  In this series, I’d like for you to come along with me to explore what could be different.  But I need something from you.  I need you to think, pray, comment and even critique.  We will enjoy this more, if we can have some interaction along the way.  And then, let’s see where the Spirit takes us on this journey.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 has gotten my attention the past few days, “But I brothers [and sisters], could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  And even now you are not yet ready for you are still of the flesh.  For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”

What hit me was that Paul wanted to speak to them in a certain way.  He wanted to address them as spiritual people – people who have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). What does it mean to address someone as a spiritual person?  If we contrast it with what is next in the passage, “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ”, Paul seems to mean, I wanted to talk to you like mature adults who understood the deep things of Christ.  But you’re still thinking like kids.  They were stuck in their development.  Their spiritual activities may have continued, but their spiritual growth did not.  Because of that, Paul was going to go over things they should have already understood.Instinctively, most of us know the difference between helping kids and helping adults.

Last summer I went to Canada for a conference.  I had a pocket full of change.  Canada loves its coins, different shapes, sizes and more denominations than we use here in the States.  I stepped up to pay for a cup of coffee and instead of trying to hold up the line by fumbling through my unfamiliar coinage, I just held out my hand full of change and said, “here, take what you want.”  The clerk changed her tone.  And she began explaining to me just what she was taking and why.  All the while she was adding it up, out loud, for all the shop to hear.  At the end she said, “Money can be hard, I’m good at it because I’ve been doing it a long time.”  I looked at my wife feeling like an empowered 4 year old – after all, it wasn’t my fault, “money can be hard.”

With children, we simplify.  With children, we make the mysterious more concrete.  With children, we take more steps, we go slower, we use simpler vocabulary.  And for children and the uninitiated that’s appropriate.  Once we’ve been in the faith a while, God might like to address us as adults.  As a Dad, I’ve loved having conversations with my kids at all ages. But I much more enjoy them now as adults.  When we talk, we can talk mystery.  We can delve into deeper things.  I can allude and analogize.  I can ask questions that poke, prod and dig beneath the surface.  This makes me wonder, how would God speak with us if we weren’t stuck in infancy?  Where would he lead?  What would he reveal to us about ourselves, our world, his work and his purposes?  How would my fellowship with him be different?

What were the signs of their continued infancy?  If you read the rest of the book of 1 Corinthians, there is a list of issues they didn’t understand.  The overarching result of being stuck was they weren’t living together well.  They were divided over which human leaders they followed. They were selfish and showed favoritism. They put people into categories. They had a pattern of unresolved conflict. Their worship was people-focused. The message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had gotten lost.  God’s glorious future had lost its shine.  Their lives were lived by the seen, not the unseen.

This is what they experienced as a body, but isn’t it also what we see in our own lives?  Is God having to address issues that should be second nature to us by now?  Do we take our eyes off the mystery of Christ’s love and live in comparison with others?  Are our spiritual activities more about us and how we feel about them, rather than what Christ is doing in them?

In my next blog, I’ll write about some ways to let the Spirit of God diagnose us and our development.  Do you have any comments, or suggestions?

Until then, here’s my prayer … “Father, thank you for not leaving us as infants, but wanting us to mature as your adult daughters and sons.  Thank you for your gentle touch that loves, comforts, guides, directs and corrects us along the path.  And thank you to the Son, Jesus who gives us his mind, that we might be changed day by day.  And thank you to the Spirit, who empowers and informs our journey.  Lord, there are areas of my life where I am still in need.  Forgive my stubbornness to grow, I pray, and give me the courage to grow.  Amen.”

 

Here’s the next step.

Polycarp and Pastors Gone Awry

Sometime between AD 120 and 140, Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippian church.  Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John and was appointed the bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey).  He died in AD 159, being burned a the stake for his bold proclamation of the gospel.  Polycarp, like John and Paul had a deep love for the church.  He also had a keen sense of the importance of godly leadership in the church.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Polycarp addressed an issue of pastoral misconduct.  That pastor’s name was Valens.  We don’t know exactly what the problem was, but we get a hint that it may have had to do with money and power, lying and integrity.  Let’s look at what he wrote.

“I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the church]. I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful.”

He goes on to write… “I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be then moderate in regard to this matter, and do not count such as enemies, [2 Thessalonians 3:15] but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body.  For by acting you shall edify yourselves. [1 Corinthians 12:26].”

There’s a lot of wisdom in this old brother.  Here’s what I notice.

1 – A pastor who falls has forgotten what God has given.  A pastor has a unique, hard, challenging, stressful and blessed position.  And when it is not handled well, it can do great damage to the Bride of Jesus. In the midst of the daily grind it is easy to forget.

2 – If a pastor fails, the church should take care to watch their own lives.  It is so easy to become embittered, angry, seeking revenge – hurt for hurt – and that just destroys us.  Mourning and grief are the appropriate responses.

3 – The failing pastor is not an enemy.  We must pray for repentance (healing requires honesty).  We must call them back as suffering and straying members (though not necessarily back into leadership).

4 – The goal is to redeem the whole body!  That includes the offending pastor. The miracle comes when hearts are broken and the reconciling love of God is displayed to the world.

This doesn’t discount the pain.  It doesn’t let anyone off the hook. It doesn’t mean that there may be times when legal issues have to be addressed. It doesn’t mean we ignore the victims, they need special care in healing. It does bring everyone back to the cross, so we can see our own need for redemption.  We must pray, hope and work together until that happens.

Whether it’s James MacDonald, Bill Hybels, or the local pastor at the corner church, we should mourn, watch, pray, hope and long for God to save us all – together.

Pray with me for the churches who are suffering from pastoral failure.  Pray for those who are walking away from church and Jesus because of the failures they’ve seen.  Pray for wisdom and honest repentance.  Pray for healing and wholeness in all the church.

The Question We Need to Hear When Saying “I Love You.”

1417514_10151936903281251_319192846_oIt would have been in the late Fall of 1983, years ago and just yesterday. These college juniors had started dating again.  The first time was a year before and it didn’t go so well.  That’s a story for another time. But after a year of growing up and becoming friends they thought they just might try it again.  It was different.

After a couple of months of hanging out, dating a bit, getting chummy and feeling like this was more than just a fun little romance, the young man wanted to express the depth of his feelings.  So he arranged an evening, pulling out all the stops.  He had it figured out and she was willing to go along for the ride.  It was dinner at the Magic Pan, a crepe restaurant in downtown Chicago.  Without Uber, they bundled up and walked the mile to the restaurant hand in hand. They had a nice dinner and then walked toward Water Tower Place.  There he planned to take her on a ride they had admired and talked about before – a horse-drawn carriage.  Somewhere along the way, he bought her some flowers – roses, I believe.  As they walked toward the carriages, it was cold, so they chose one with the top up. After all, it was alone-time he was looking for.  This was going to be a big night.

She seemed happy and a bit impressed with every gesture.  And he was proud, but nervous.  They rode a while in quiet, with his arm around her, keeping her protected from the cold nip of the Fall night.  As the horses clippity-clopped on the city street, he started to stammer.  This was it, the reason for the evening.  His words were something like, “Kris, the reason for tonight i-i-is, I wanted to t-t-tell you something.  She asked, “What is it?”  He said, “Well, I wanted you to know, I love you.”  Ta-da!  (play music to crescendo!)  It all led to this!  The dinner, the flowers, the 2 mile stroll, the carriage ride!  He could breathe again.

And then there were these two words, that felt like the stereo needle being dragged across your favorite vinyl album (kids, ask your parents). It was two words when he expected 3, or maybe 4.  Two words that made me think about his future… forever.  Two words that would make him examine the depths of his own heart, his emotions and the strength of his will.  These two words peeled back any romantic veneer that may have been put on the evening.  These two words formed as a question that made him, for an instant and for a life-time, question the nature of his love.  “Do you?,” she asked.

“I love you” should bring a response of, “I love you too!”  But not, “Do you?”  Who asks, “Do you?”  She did.  I knew instantly what she was asking.  She was asking if I was ready to change my life?  She wanted to know if this was an attempt to impress, or if this was a commitment.  Was this an evening, an event, a season, or a life I wanted?

Realizing exactly what she was asking, I was quiet for a moment and then I said, “Yes, I do love you.”  That is what I wanted. She was the one I wanted to give myself to.  She was the one I would change my life for.  When she was sure I knew what I was saying to her, she squeezed my arm and said, “I love you too.”

That was a big night that helped set the direction of a relationship that has lasted for 35+ years. How grateful I am that she asked me that question.  I don’t know that it really changed how I felt, or that it changed the commitment I was ready to make.  But it clarified the decision we were making. It cut through the fluff and laid a foundation that has anchored our lives together ever since.

So often, there are correlations in our human relationships and our relationship with Christ.  When I come to Jesus needy and longing.  And he gives me his joy.  He gives me his love.  He forgives me my sin. It is easy to say, “Oh, Jesus I love you!”  We sing the songs, we read the warm passages of Scripture, we hug the people around us.  We feel it, “Jesus, I love you.”  I hear those two words in my spirit, “Do you?”  How could he ask?  He asks for us.  We need to hear his question.  Are you ready to change your life?  Is this love a commitment or just a feeling? Is this an experience, a moment, a season, or is it a life that you want?  Only you can answer the question for yourself.  If you answer his question by saying, “Yes Lord, I love you.” It will set the foundation for a journey you couldn’t create on your own.

By all means, tell Jesus you love him because he does love you and he always has.  Just remember what you’re saying.

Thank you Kris, for asking me that question! I love you… yes I do!