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!

Spiritual Complacency Reversed

jesusstatue

A few years back I wrote what has become my most viewed blog post.  It is about spiritual complacency.  It pops up more often than others with the web searches people use.  This tells me that there are many who are concerned about their own spiritual complacency. And someone finally asked me, “How do we combat it?”

How do we move from spiritual complacency to a renewed spiritual fervency? Spiritual passion is more than emotion.  It is a fire that keeps drawing us back to the presence of God.  It’s the state of wanting to hear our Savior’s voice, not just so we can do something for him but because if we hear his voice he is near. Spiritual passion is like having a hunger and a sense of fulness all at once, but without that bloated feeling [smile]. But how do we get there from here?

It would be easy to say, we can’t.  We can conjure up feelings, but not true spiritual passion.  It can’t be manufactured, at least not in a way that will last.  It is a work of the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit always points us to Jesus.  So, what can we do when we find ourselves far from the oneness we were promised and hope for again? A most simple thought comes to my mind and has been haunting me the past month – “Make more of Jesus.”

Don’t make more of morality, make more of Jesus.  Any faith built on morality leads us to two ends.  One is shame.  When we fail, like Adam, we are tempted to run and hide from God. The second end comes when we begin to think we’re succeeding.  That end is self-righteousness.  Faith in Jesus isn’t based on a correct understanding of morals. It is based on a God who pours out his forgiveness freely on those who need it.  This forgiving Jesus is the one who came in person, to break into our own personal hells and invite us to new life in him.  Read John 8: and John . He is a generous forgiver.

Don’t make more of improving your life, make more of Jesus. Have you noticed that a lot of preaching today is filled with principles that we are challenged to live out under our own power to make us better Christians?  Jesus is not a principle. I don’t need more principles.  I need more of Jesus.  I find every effort at self-improvement is only covering over the old.  What I need is transformation.  Jesus is the transformer.  For sure, the words of Scripture can show me areas where God wants to work.  But that doesn’t change me. My growing love for Him and my growing understanding of His love for me does change me.

Don’t make more of heaven when you die, make more of Jesus now.  Faith secures our future, but it doesn’t diminish the present.  The present is so important that Jesus promised to be with us now!  His abundant life is now.  His eternal life is now.  We are forgiven.  We are reconciled.  We are made into a new creation – now!

Don’t make more of amassing Bible knowledge, make more of Jesus in the pages of Scripture.  The Bible’s big job is to point us to Jesus, who is God joining with His creation in the deepest and darkest places, death, and destroying the hold it has had on humanity since the beginning.  The word of God (Bible) points us to The Word (John 1:1), who then shows us in his life, death and resurrection, exactly who God is.

When I feel most at a distance from God, I find out that I have replaced Jesus as the center of my faith.  Complacency creeps in when I have stopped being amazed at him, or when I have forgotten that he is alive and present and active in my world. Make more of Jesus.  Stay with him and stare at him until you can say on your knees, with Thomas, “My Lord and My God.” Make more of Jesus by letting go of everything faith has become.
I’d love to hear your comments about whether this has spurred you Onward and Upward toward Jesus.

Come To The Table

rublev-trinity

Yesterday we were encouraged to spend some time reflecting on this painting of the Trinity.   It is by the Russian artist Andrei Rublev and is dated to the 15th century.  It is based on the story of Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by 3 angelic strangers.  This was interpreted by Rublev to be a visitation of the Trinity.  It envisions the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be one of peace, unity, mutual love and humility.  Yesterday, as we reflected on the nature of God’s relationship within the Trinity, we were nudged to remember that in Christ, we are invited into that relationship with God.

This is a little poem I wrote during that reflection. Think of it as God’s invitation to a life with Him around the table of relationship.

Beautiful, Good
Together as one
Joy, love, power
Dances between You

Considering, deciding
Your gaze outward
Creating, redeeming
Sacrifice without reserve

Calling, inviting
A familiar name whispered
Forgiven, loved
Welcomed to the Table

Broken, healed
Together as one
Joy, Love, Power
Dances between us.

I’m Tired… Tired of Christianity

broken church

Like you, I read several online papers, I keep track of social media.  I even subscribe to 3 email alerts each day for news items with the words, “church,” “pastor,” and “faith.”  I understand the brokenness of the world.  And I understand the limitations of the church.  But it seems like something else has happened.  We have built a system of faith that is making me tired.

So, on this December 20th morning, at 4 a.m. I confess: I’m getting a little tired of the Christianity we have constructed.

  1. I’m tired of a Christianity that believes in the kingdoms of this world to solve the world’s issues.
  2. I’m tired of a Christianity that relegates Jesus to the corner of our existence, instead of being Lord of all.
  3. I’m tired of a Christianity that offers tricks, tips and strategies for improving our lot, rather than leading others to the Jesus who comes to bring life.
  4. I’m tired of a Christianity that snipes at itself instead of learning to submit to one another for the sake of reconciliation.
  5. I’m tired of a Christianity that allows anger to motivate a call to justice, instead of love.
  6. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not distinct from the world in its words and ways.
  7. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not engaged enough with the world and doesn’t hear its questions.
  8. I’m tired of a Christianity that explains away the hard things Jesus said, instead of wrestling with them with open hearts.
  9. I’m tired of a Christianity that doesn’t look for the miraculous, but trusts in the mechanical.
  10. I’m tired of a Christianity that Jesus isn’t invited into and depended upon to lead.

I confess, I’m a co-conspirator.  I’ve helped build this Christianity.  I’ve chased human dreams sanctified by holy words.  It makes me sad and tired.  We’ve traded away our birthright for a pot of stew.

I’m not tired of Jesus.  I don’t think we make a big enough deal over him.

I’m not tired of the community Jesus started, the church. I love her and have big hopes for her.

I’m not tired of serving. I want to serve those Jesus loves and died to give life to.

Maybe Christmas is a good time to admit we’re tired and from there we can seek a quiet, humble, and prayerful way back to His path.  I think there we will find rest.

What are you tired of?  Is there a way back?

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.