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.

“Taking Initiative in Tough Times”

Last Sunday, I had the joy of sharing the Word at Village Green Baptist Church, Glen Ellyn, IL.  This was the church I last pastored.  And they graciously invited me back.  It was a good Sunday of worship.

If you’re going through any difficult times, I thought my sermon might be an encouragement to you.  If there’s nothing wrong in your life, then bookmark this page because it will! 🙂

Blessings!

7 Ways to Step Up My Spiritual Formation

In our Conference of churches, the North American Baptist Conference, we are being challenged and encouraged as leaders, to ask the questions, “How am I being spiritually transformed (changed toward Christ-likeness)?”  And then, “How are our churches spiritually forming people?”  These are two crucial questions, if we are going to develop growing, active and faithful disciples who live with Christ on His mission.

If we are going to have spiritual change, leaders must lead spiritual change.  In a meeting with Kent Carlson, VP of Leader Formation and Dave Johnson, Lead Pastor of Church of The Open Door, a couple of years back.  They shared a list of things we can do to create space for God to bring ongoing, long-lasting spiritual change.  These notes are a summary of their ideas and a few of mine.

  1. Carve out large blocks of unhurried time to spend alone with God.  This is hard work.  Ministry and life is demanding.  But how can we lead spiritually if we’re not taking time to discern the presence and the leading of God?  I am thankful for the times that God broke into my life and made himself known.  But the truth is, it shouldn’t have been necessary.
  2. Find someone who can handle hearing about your sin.  There is something powerful that happens when we are completely honest.  When our sin is brought the light of day, we find freedom.  The connection is highlighted in James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
  3. Make friends with one of the “least of these.”  We need to make friendship with people at the margins of life.  When we see and experience the humanity of those with needs that are different from our own, we have new opportunity to learn how to practice the love of God.  And when we love them, we are loving Jesus.  Remember he said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).”  Something I need to remember is that friendship is an equalizer.  I can’t come as the one who has the answers, or the power to fix.  But I come as a friend who walks with another where they are.
  4. Nurture humility.  Humility is the foundation of spiritual growth.  As I think about this, I wonder how to do that?  Here are some ideas for me.  I can discipline myself to ask questions instead of giving answers.  I can learn to take time to wait for direction, rather than come up with solutions.  In the end, I can develop a trust that God will take care of me which will free me to focus on what he wants me to do for and with others.
  5. Pay attention to inward rightness.  This inward rightness is a peace we can have with God and others.  One danger sign we were told about was “defensiveness.”  We were told that “defensiveness is a hole in inward rightness with God.”  The point is, if we are living life with a pervasive defensiveness, we know we’ve lost the sense of “settled-ness” that comes when all is good with God.  This unsettled-ness drives us to justify, over-explain, and even fight for people to understand us and agree with us.
  6. Live with an expectation that the Kingdom of God is operative.  We should expect that God is up to something.  And our job is to make space for it, rather than create it.  I look at the Lord’s Prayer.  And if Jesus taught us to pray “give us today our daily bread,” he must have expected that prayer would be answered today!  In the same prayer he told us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that he thought this would be answered today, too.  I believe the Kingdom, in its fullness is yet to come, but that doesn’t mean the Kingdom isn’t on the move today.
  7. Embrace not getting what you want.  When we are denied our desires, it opens the door for us to pray, like Jesus did “Not my will, but yours.”  The way we handle this kind of denial in the little and big things of life reveal our real spiritual condition.  It also is the first step to all the other steps above.  We won’t move forward in our spiritual walk, until we subdue our desires, one by one.  If Christ will reign in our lives, he must reign over our  desires.

What do you think about these?  Which ones are you inwardly fighting against and why?  What might happen if you became intentional in just one or two areas?  What would other start to see if you did?

Thanks always for commenting, liking and sharing!

What is better than WINNING?

trumpclinton

“Dear Lord, we pray for the Emperor Domitian and his court…”  How do we imagine 1st century Christians finishing that prayer? Would they have prayed for freedom?  Would they have prayed for victory over these evil forces?  Would they have prayed for the protection of their rights?  Would they have prayed for power and influence?

There is a passage that tells us to pray.  So we do.  We often pray that God will help us win!  We pray that God will lead leaders to be more like us.  We pray that God will use the powers that be to Christianize our culture.  But I think there is a grander plan expressed in the admonition to pray.  Let’s look at this oft-quoted passage.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

1First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

Why Pray for leaders?  THAT we might lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.  Now, doesn’t that blow most of our Facebook and Twitter posts out of the water?  The passage doesn’t tell us to pray for the success of our political battles, or the bending of wills toward our solutions.  We’re called to pray, so we can live peacefully, quietly, godly and with dignity in every way!  God’s desire is for leaders to provide a society where we can live out our new life in Christ.  This goal confronts the church that tries to conquer and control culture.

Why is this kind of life so important?  Because God has a mission.  He has a desire.  He has a plan.  God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth!  How will those God loves come to salvation?  How will those God loves come to a knowledge of the truth?  They will see it, hear it, and experience it through our peacefulness, our quietness, our godliness and our dignity.  They will see a people who are qualitatively different from the world they live in.

So what should we pray, if not to pray for winning the culture and politics wars?

  1. Pray that our leaders will understand their accountability to the God of heaven.
  2. Pray for the health of their souls through repentance, faith and faithfulness.
  3. Pray that God will use leaders to provide an atmosphere where the church can live lives of humble, sacrificial, and generous obedience.
  4. Pray for our own understanding that nations are temporary and are appointed for seasons to move the gospel forward in the world.
  5. Pray that leaders and members of the body of Christ will be so distinct from the world that people will see a difference and be drawn to the Savior who loves them.

So, there is something better than winning:  To have an atmosphere wherein we can live a transformed life, pointing others to the Savior who so wants to be known by them.

What do we need from our leaders, so we can live this quality of life?  Over time, what would you say is the potential impact of us living differently?

As always, thanks for reading, liking, and commenting.  And most of all, thanks for praying!

What Should Donald, Hillary, or I Be Afraid of?

160302005451-trump-and-hillary-exlarge-169Hopeful ramblings…

I fear, it’s time we had a little less confidence and a little more fear.

Psalm 47:2 “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,  a great king over all the earth.”

This fear is rooted in the reality that God reigns supreme.  This world is His.  And all who have power are accountable to Him.

Psalm 47:7-8 “For God is the king of all the earth… God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”

None of us are open to the wisdom of God for his world, without the fear of God.  Without fear, we determine our own values, we define our own problems and we devise our own solutions!

Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

In the book of Proverbs, 14 times the fear of the Lord is tied to some aspect of living in wisdom and understanding.

When God’s character and sovereignty are ultimately revealed, it will evoke the response of fear and worship from all.

Revelation 15:3,4 “…Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God Almighty!     Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship you,  For your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Life will be better for all, if we would open our hearts and minds to this reality now.  My fear is that whomever we elect, God will need to teach him/her or them the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar.  Reading Daniel 4, God loved King Nebby and his world enough to force him to realize his pride and God’s right to rule and reign.  It took a humbling downfall to get him there.  But he got there.

Daniel 4:37 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Now, just in case we Christians are tempted to say, “Yeah, that’s right Donald!  That’s right Hillary!”  That same fear must reside deep in our hearts.  It is not fear of the world.  It is not fear of a ruthless, vindictive God.  It is fear of the God who rules and reigns over His creation.  Let’s call it supreme respect and awe.  It compels us to long for his salvation and live under his rule, leadership and authority.

It has been a mark of God’s people. And it should be again. It empowers our witness and enhances our effectiveness.

Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

2 Corinthians 5:11 “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

I don’t really know how I’ll vote.  But what I hope to see before election day is a crack in the facade of self-confidence and a glimpse of humility, however small it may be.  I pray that this fear would also reside in me.

It is only in humble fear that any of us will be ready to receive the wisdom of God.

From Dependence to Glory

Advent – December 4, 2015

Advent-2014-BannerFirst AdventPsalm 22:9–11 (ESV)   Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.  11  Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

Second Advent2 Peter 3:10–13 (ESV)  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.   11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Psalm 22 is a prophetic psalm that Jesus quoted while on the cross.  That was the end of his first coming.  It was a life lived in humbled dependence on the Father.  As he hung on the cross, he felt the distance our sin creates.  One day he will return.  When he comes it will be the ultimate shock and awe.  As we wait, we ought to wait in holiness and godliness.

Prayer – O Lord Jesus, I praise your name.  I know you are the one who humbled yourself and felt the pain and rejection that my sin produced.  I thank you for wearing my pain, my shame and my death.  As I wait for your glorious coming, as the King of kings and Lord of lords, keep me humbled and obedient.  Help my life reflect your life.  Guide me in a life that lives in anticipation of your new heave and new earth.  Amen and Amen.

A Sermon from My Doctor

20130713-090857.jpg

The journey continues. It isn’t a journey I ever wanted to be on. But here I am. This week, I was back in the hospital with chest pains. I know what they feel like now! But I still like to deny their reality. I went into the emergency room and the flood of emotions came rushing back.

I’m always so glad for the help they give, I just wish I never had to be there. Tests didn’t immediately show a problem. The next morning my cardiologist came in (I never wanted one of my own) and said we should go ahead and do an angiogram. In a short time the team was coming to get me. One of the Cath Lab techs said, “Jim, what are you doing back here?” We laughed, but inside I was thinking, “good question.”

After my bypass surgery nearly 2 years ago, I’ve been doing what they told me to do. I exercise. I watch my sodium, fat and cholesterol. I’ve never missed a day with my medications. Just 9 months ago, one of my grafts failed and there was new blockage, that meant two stents! The doctors just said, “that sometimes happens.” And now, I was about to have another stent placed. So, within 2 years, bypass and 3 stents. While this is hard to go through, my biggest questions are, “what’s next?”

This time the doctors had no real recommendations except to keep doing what I’ve been doing. And then the sermon came. It wasn’t what you normally hear from a doctor. He said, “Jim, this just may be your ‘thorn in the flesh.'”

I knew what he was talking about. He was referring to the biblical passage in 2 Corinthians 12, where the apostle Paul described a physical ailment that he prayed for God to remove. God didn’t. It was given to humble him. It was given to make him more dependent on God. In fact, when he asked, Jesus gave him a word, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul went on to write, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that he power of Christ may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I know the sermon the doctor gave me. I’ve preached that sermon. But truth is, I’ve always wanted to the one who is “large and in charge.” I’m the go-getter. I’m the one who loves to make things happen. I’m a hands-on pastor! I love to be “in the game.”

I want to have Paul’s heart, truth is, I’m not there yet at least with any consistency. But I do believe that when I am weak, the power of Christ does the work and gets the credit! I think I know what God is doing in me. This wasn’t my plan, or even my desire. I do believe He knows best.

Thanks Doc for the sermon! In this journey, I pray my heart will grow to be like Paul’s or even John the Baptist’s who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”