Thursday, November 30, 2006

Jesus is the answer

Philip Yancey writes of Ron Nikkel, the president of Prison Fellowship International. Ron travels the world ministering to people in prisons. He always hated to use the cliché, "Jesus is the answer" when speaking to the inmates.

Although Ron knew that it was true and he had believed it since childhood, it was in visiting the prisoners themselves that he finally grasped the meaning of "Jesus is the answer."

The prisoners showed him the reality of a theology that had been little more than a mental exercise for him. They showed him faith at its most basic- the opposite of the kind of health and wealth gospel you hear in North America.

The lives of most of those prisoners may never improve, yet they heard the voice of the Father that enabled them to show love and joy in the most difficult of circumstances.

Lets let God strip away all the garbage we've heaped up in our minds to define life, religion, self, and God. Lets not deceive ourselves- our hope is only in Jesus- not in cars, nor in boyfriends or girlfriends, not in our abilities, not in our education, not in the schemes and dreams for our children, but in the living God himself.

Ephesians 1:3-6
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Our research shows that transformation does not occur in the church." George Barna

Barna is referring to all of the events, programs and activities of a regular church. All of them amount to futility in Barna's eyes.

Joe Schimmels asks the following questions to help us frame the issue at hand:

1) As you look back on your own transformation, how much was related to the church as an institution?

2) Where in you current church, are you seeing the most transformation? The least?

3) Is the home church movement proof that his research is accurate?

4) How many ministries in your church start from the ground up or do they begin from the top down?

Barna's results don't surprise me at all. Sadly, many ideas in church are good ideas, but they aren't God ideas. We must quiet ourselves in order listen for the Father's voice. Hearing His voice leads to transformation.

When we hear the Father we won't fear our own spiritual poverty. We won't need to hide, or puff ourselves up, or raise our own voice to get a hearing. We'll be able to live in genuine community. Lets all go there now....

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Which one?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Psalm 34:18
If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath.

Isaiah 40:29-31
He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind.

Matthew 5:4
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Speak to the Father about your hurts today. He really cares.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The School of Dying Graces

There are times when deep challenges scour our soul, changing us forevermore. These are not pleasant times of going 'all in', but nonetheless one of God's ways with us.

Richard Felix lets us in on such a journey that he and his wife Vivian travelled in the book, The School of Dying Graces.

This is a must read if you or a loved one faces uncertain health. It should be mandatory for those seeking to be caregivers or undertake ministry. Read at your own risk!

Richard writes about how he prayed that his wife would be healed from her breast cancer. After more than two years of battling the beast called cancer, including undergoing a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, double mastectomy, radiation, bone-marrow transplant and experimental drugs, Vivian died.

We are all undergoing the 'dying graces'. The only question is are we accepting the lessons or not.

The grace of letting go
The grace of seeing with the eyes of faith
The grace of dependence
The grace of surrender
The grace of gratitude
The grace of transformation

“Lord, make me beautiful of soul, and then let others see into my soul. . . . Expand my life outward, Lord. Let my life have ultimate meaning. Allow me to bring hope and your love to others.” Vivian Felix

“The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” King Lear

Chapter one

"The lessons may be costly, but the wisdom is priceless." Richard Felix

"It is possible to stand on the cusp of our very worst fears, endure the nightmare of their coming true, and find that on the other side we have been transformed rather than destroyed." Richard Felix

Psalm 116:15
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Who Has Burned You?

A former lover?

Business partner?

Son or daughter?

Husband or wife?


Brother or sister?

Do you think God has burned you?

What are you doing with that baggage and pain?

2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 20
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.

When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it.

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

1. If you’ve been calling yourself a Christian, you should stop. It is exactly what you and the church need—forget ever being a
Christian again.

2. If you have ever encouraged someone to become a Christian, you should never do that again. Seriously, I hope you will never again ask a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor to become a Christian.

Why? Because the last thing the mission of Jesus Christ needs is more Christians. Here is the brutal fact: 85 percent of the people in the United States call themselves Christians. Now, let’s pause long enough to realize that’s a whole lot of people—247 million people, to be exact. But how are those 85 percent doing when it comes to accomplishing Jesus’ mission?

Here is what research tells us about people in North America who call themselves Christians:

• Those who call themselves Christians are no more likely to give assistance to a homeless person on the street than non-Christians.

• Those who call themselves Christians are no more likely than non-Christians to correct the mistake when a cashier gives them too much change.

• A Christian is just as likely to have an elective abortion as a non-Christian.

• Christians divorce at the same rate as those who consider themselves non-Christians.

• Even though there are more big churches than ever before filled with people who proudly wear the title Christian, 50 percent of Christian churches didn’t help one single person find salvation.

In fact, when the Barna Research Group did a survey involving 152 separate items comparing the general population with those who called themselves Christians, they found virtually no difference between the two groups. They found no difference in the attitudes of Christians and non-Christians, and they found no difference in the actions of Christians and non- Christians. If the contemporary concept of a Christian is of someone who is no different than the rest of the world, is Christian really the word you want to use to describe your willingness to sacrifice everything you have to see God’s dream fulfilled? No way. Dave Ferguson in The Big Idea

Pretty radical stuff, but I must concur with what Dave Ferguson highlights in the first chapter of his soon to be released book. I don't believe that the results in Canada are any different.

Let's get back to following Jesus on a transforming journey. Let's crane our neck, and still our heart to hear the Father's voice. He is speaking. He is beckoning...It's time to follow....

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Animal Tales

"We are like a whale; when you are near the top and ready to blow, that's when you get harpooned." Rick Warren

Patty Vogan highlights animals that reflect our energy state and emotional wake:

Shark Heart
You're a shark if you have a high level of energy but it’s coming out in a negative form. Simply put, you look and act like a shark! You're biting everyone’s head off no matter what they say to you. Your outlook is ugly and negative for the current state of affairs in your relationships, work and family. No one can do anything right today! Sound familiar?

Dolphin Heart
You're a dolphin if you have a high level of energy and it’s coming out in positive ways. Dolphin people are inspiring and not controlling. People want to be around you because you give encouragement and are full of enthusiasm. You create a fun atmosphere in your relationships--everyone wants to play on your wave!

Gray Whale Heart
You're a whale if you have a low level of energy and it’s coming out positive. Just like the whale, you have no teeth, so you won’t bite anyone’s head off, but you're so slow you just aren't getting much done. In fact, if you were any slower, you might be a beached whale! But at least you're happy and serene and have an overall good attitude as you cruise along the coast of life.

Jellyfish Heart
You're a jellyfish if you have a low level of energy and it’s coming out negative. You're so slow, the only thing moving you forward is the current. And you have such a negative attitude that you'll sting anything in your way. You're not productive and you are mad at everyone. Sometimes your sting is invisible and it catches people off guard and really hurts. No one wants to be around you.

Take a few minutes and ask God to reveal your heart today.

Galatians 5:16
Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I Will Follow

Jesus was not a Christian.
He never asked anyone to become a Christian,
never built a steepled building,
never drew up a theological treatise,
never took an offering,
never wore religious garments,
never incorporated for tax purposes.
He simply called people to follow him.
That’s it.
That, despite its simplicity, is it.

He called people to follow him.…
It is never more
than Jesus’ call: “Follow me
and a response: dropping familiar nets
and following, in faith,
this sandaled Jewish man.
It is never more than that.

Two thousand years of words can do nothing
to the simple, basic reality of Christianity:
Those first steps
taken by those two brothers.
Peter and Andrew’s theology
was as pure as it gets:
Jesus said, “Follow me.” And we did...Don Everts in Jesus with Dirty Feet

How about you?

Monday, November 20, 2006

I want to know what love is, Discovering God’s Love among Kingdom Friends

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I’m older

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
I through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Cant stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life

I wanna know what love is- I want you to show me

I wanna know what love is... Foreigner – I want to know what love is. In 1984 this song by Foreigner became the Billboard’s # 1 hit several weeks in a row. The popularity of this song is quite surprising considering the content and style of most of the music during the big hair and spandex era. Yet this song evokes something deep inside of all of us if we truly want to hear it. I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.

Some of us have taken the long and difficult road of asking this question in all the wrong places. We find ourselves, sometimes decades later, asking the same question that we asked in our teens and twenties and thirties. I want to know what love is, I want you to show me. We went looking for love in all the wrong places. Expecting to find it in people, material possessions, work, recreation, t.v. movies, or romance novels. Some of our expectations that we develop as a result of these influences are good, and some are not so good.

I want to know what love is.

This is the question that we are going to look at today as we attempt to understand the seemingly ever elusive question about love, and how the development of what we have come to understand as Kingdom Friends will assist us and guide us on the lifelong journey and discovery of love.

We are in a series about building Kingdom Friendships and the understanding of kingdom friends comes to us from the understanding of God’s will in our lives to be a part of His kingdom here on earth. God’s kingdom has often been called the upside down kingdom because when we come to understand God’s teaching, will, and transforming action in our lives we find that it is an almost upside down understanding of what we thought to be real and true in our lives before we came to desire a relationship with God.

If there is one word that has been used, misused, misunderstood, disregarded, scoffed at, cried over, sung about and written about surely it is the word love and what that evokes in all of us.

So why is love so misunderstood? Everyone has a definition in mind about what love is. For most of us this is unspoken or unwritten or worse yet, perhaps unexamined. In my home we have a saying about “they”. You know the familiar phrase “well you know they say that the movie is good.” Or “They say that it’s going to snow.” Or “they say that microwaving with saran wrap causes cancer.” Our tongue in cheek response to these statements is “who is they and how did they get so smart?”

So if we are going to look at what love is maybe we should first begin with what “they” say. It seems that most everyone famous has an opinion on love and it’s importance in their lives, some are quite profound, and others…..well you can be the judge.

Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots. Hoosier Farmer

We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. Author Unknown

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals."Benjamin Franklin

You can't go home with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't sleep with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't get hugged by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you don't have children with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want what everybody else wants: to love and to be loved, and to have a family. Being in love has always been the most important thing in my life." Billy Joel

Forget love - I'd rather fall in chocolate! Attributed to Sandra J. Dykes

"Bart, with $10,000, we'd be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things!" Homer

There are so many more “theys” out there. Love has become an industry in many ways. Sex shops are often euphemistically called “love” shops. But the ultimate industry is the love song.

How many love songs have been written, and what is your favorite? Don’t get me wrong, I like love songs. But there have been times in my life when love songs have influenced me to the point where they have evoked a yearning in my heart that told me that I would only feel completely and wholly loved if I were to find the right woman, and then the movies and magazines and novels and t.v. shows played their role in defining to me what the “right” woman may look like, act like, and be like.

I detest 'love lyrics.' I think one of the causes of bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on 'love lyrics." Frank Zappa

Now, at first glance Frank Zappa seems to be cynical and unfeeling towards our understanding of love and the yearning of our hearts. But I wonder if maybe he is not on to something here. How many love lyrics have we been influenced by? That have told us that we will only find true love when we find it in what someone else can give to us, do to us, do for us. This wistful yearning in our hearts that is evoked when we hear a song that touches us deeply, and yet, while perhaps suggesting that we can discover the answer in another person, maybe this yearning is a prompting of God that is calling to us. I truly believe that we are all trying to find the answer to that elusive question, I want to know what love is.

Often times we hear the term “being in love” yet if we were to be truthful with ourselves being in love is usually translated into “being in lust.”

When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. Oscar Wilde

Being in love, and loving are two very separate things.

What if we are being influenced by an illusion?

What if what we are reading, watching, playing, and spending our time thinking about is an illusion?

What if “they” are wrong? I think I chased this illusion for much of my life. Searching for affirmation, purpose, meaning, and inevitably love in my career, my possessions, other people, romantic fantasies, sex, play, recreation.

But the yearning in my own heart continued. I didn’t understand love and I avoided pain, struggle, hardship and sacrifice. My desire to find love was real but if I was to be honest with myself, it was very self centered. I was once described as wanting to live my life as a beer commercial. You know those old commercials where you had healthy and happy looking people talking and laughing, and enjoying a good time in a ski chalet somewhere?

In many ways this was true. I was always touched by movies and TV shows that evoked a picture of true and deep friendships, genuine love and care for one another, in good times and bad. The sad part was the illusion. I didn’t find what I was looking for in the beer world. In fact I have often said that I found my “beer commercial” life in the most unusual of places, I found my beer commercial of fellowship and love and laughter and genuine care and love among Kingdom Friends, fellow followers of Jesus who have taken the road less traveled of faith, and growth, and who have committed to growing in God’s way of love. The upside down Kingdom.

We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love. Tom Robbins

Many people believe in God. But when we think about God, why do we not think that He may have something to say about love?

Perhaps it is from our own understanding of God based on our backgrounds, experiences, influences, both good and bad. Of who God is and what He may have to say to us about our lives.

“If you were to define God by only one word what would it be?”

“Obedience, he replied.” I then took him through a very highly oversimplified, and perhaps spiritually immature process of comparing his understanding of God compared to what the bible would have to say. I took him to his concordance at the back of his Bible and asked him to compare how many times the word love appeared verses how many times the word obedience appeared. It was about ten to one in favor of love.

Don’t get me wrong, I desire to be obedient to God, his desires, his standards of living. But I do so first and foremost out of an understanding that God loves me, and I desire to obey Him from a passionate pursuit of Him through my own love for Him. The Bible tells us that we learn to love God when we begin to understand and experience the fact that He is radically in love with us. The love and pursuit of God transforms everything inside of us to a burning desire to know Him more.

We cannot develop a burning love for God if we do not have a burning desire to know Him more. There is absolutely no doubt that if we begin to understand and know God, we come to realize that what God’s own Word, the Bible, says about Him is true.

One of Jesus’ followers, John, wrote this about God and our relationships that stem from our understanding of God.

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love, so you can’t know him if you don’t know if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about - not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”
1 John 4: 7-10

If we can come to the understanding that God is love and his perfect love casts out all fears, then why is it that we spend a lot of our time pursuing what “they” tell us love is, and not pursuing what He tells us love is.

Are we going to believe “them” or are we going to believe God?

If we believe that God is the giver of all life, the maker of all things, our passionate and loving Father in heaven who desires good for us, then, perhaps, we need to turn to him to ask the question, I want to know what love is? I want you to show me. Because it is this question that is the ultimate question in life.

God is love
He made us to love and be loved

In the minds of many, including song writers and romance novelists love is often simply an emotion
a) A feeling that cannot be forced
b) an emotion that can come and go (example: I don’t love you anymore)

Yet the greatest commandment that Jesus gave when he was being questioned and tested by the spiritual legalists of his day was that we are commanded to love. In other words, it is something he tells us to do, not necessarily feel. But this sounds rather dry and just another things to put on our “to do” list. Another form of legalism and relationship with God that requires effort. But lets go deeper into this command and discover together among Kingdom Friends what this command really means.

Before we can love and be loved as God would have us do, we must first look at the intimate desires of our own hearts.

Psalm 37:4 says,
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will do this.”

But then in Jeremiah 17:9 we read
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?”

So if we delight in God and commit our way to him and we believe he will give us the desires of our hearts, how can we trust that those desires are real and true. What if our desires come from what Jeremiah tells us is the condition of our own heart.

The key here, once again, comes down to God.
“ When we commit our ways to God, when we love him with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, our desires are transformed into his desires.”

This means that our desires no longer pursue the way of self, rather they pursue and are transformed into the way of God. It is then that we are able to comprehend what God has to say about love. We turn to Him instead of “them” ( how did they get so smart anyway?) We learn to love God and commit to him and seek after Him through purposeful intent. We do not get to understand God by a magic wand, or an epiphany ( although we can learn something about him this way). We love him with our hearts, minds, and strength through intentional pursuit in through his word, silence and solitude, prayer, listening and discerning in a community of Kingdom Friends.

“Grace is opposed to earning. Grace is not opposed to effort.” Dallas Willard

A few years ago I was asked to do a reading at a wedding. The familiar verse that was requested was 1 Corinthians 13. This is the famous verse on what love is and isn’t. And if we are going to ask the question of what love is, it is one of the most obvious places to look.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding going or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. IF I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

This is the first part of the verse and really what it tells us is that no matter how gifted, talented, smart, wise, or pious that we are. If we do not have love it is all for nothing.

When it comes to relationships, anything minus love equals nothing. Zero. Love is essential. We are bankrupt without love.

The verse goes on to tell us what love truly is.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

This second part defines the character of love.

Paul originally wrote these words to a church that had all kinds of things going on. They were a growing church. They were a church full of people who knew their spiritual design and knew what their spiritual gifts were and were using those gifts. They had enough faith to pray big prayers and to expect big answers from God and yet at the same time they were a church that argued constantly. There were groups that felt superior to one another and they tolerated all kinds of immorality in their lives and in the lives of other people.

But it's the second section, this section that talks about the character of love that I think we need to give special attention. Twelve bachelorettees compete for the affections and attention of a man on TV and gradually the group is whittled down to the point that there is only one. And so then there is this couple. At that point when it's just the couple, what do they have in their relationship at that point? Is it love?

It seems to me that most of the time we use the word love for relationships. We usually are thinking of romantic love and romance is good. But romance presumes some things. It assumes that the loved one is attractive and it assumes this incredible emotional intensity and energy so that the one who loves can't help but pursue the one loved and serve them and that's beautiful, but this idea of romantic love is a far cry from what Paul is talking about here because the love that Paul writes about is more than emotion. It's a love that can even love the unlovable.
My friend Jack who passed away last year epitomized the type of love that Paul is talking about here.

Now sometimes when we use the word love what we mean is tolerance. Let everyone do what they want. You do your thing and I will do mine and this you know is a beautiful thing and it's you know, this is love. But it isn't. Tolerance is good, but it's not the kind of love that Paul is talking about, because sometimes love demands change. If you live in a culture where people abandon babies just because they are female and they want a male child. Love, If you are living in that society, might compel you to seek change. If you love someone who is having a problem with drug abuse, love may lead you to intervene and not just tolerate the behavior.

God loves us enough to accept us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. C.S. Lewis

So sometimes love demands change. So the love that Paul is talking about here is more than just tolerance.

We are looking here today at love and kingdom friendships. Before committing my life to God through Jesus I had many friendships. Some of them seemed to be deep. But they often remind me of the movie or t.v. scenes where the only times that guys can admit their affection for each other is when they are drunk. They are at a bar, they are a little loose, and they have been talking and one of them is starting to realize that this other guy he really has been listening to me and we really have something in common and we really have some kind of level of understanding and so you know he kind of tears of little bit and "I love you man". And then there is some kind of awkward you know hug or something, but we all experience that, that friendship that is so deep and touches us in such a way that we use the word love and it's a beautiful thing.

It's not what Paul is talking about here. But Paul doesn't let us guess what love is all about. He gets real concrete about expressing what love is about. So he talks in verse 4, he says love is patient. It can relax in the present. It doesn't always grumble about the current state of affairs. It's willing to tolerate slow change and its willing to try again. Love is patient. Love is kind. It's warm. It's sympathetic. It sees and feels the difficulty of the other person. It's not cold and analytical. Love is kind. Love doesn't envy. It doesn't boast. It isn't proud. There is no we/them, superiority in love. Love recognizes its own weaknesses and its own need for grace. It's not rude. It avoids abrasive, contemptuous language. Love listens. Love is a dialogue and not a monologue. Love doesn't treat a person like a family pet and scold them. It's not easily angered. It's more than putting a clamp on the tongue. Love works at that inner part of us and tries to deal with that inner part of us that gets angry too easily.

Love is not easily angered. It always protects. It always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. In other words, love expects God to work and love is constantly hoping for change in people and love doesn't give up after one good try. It's going to try again and it's going to try again and it's going to try again. This is real love.

Now this is different than something that we hear as a bunch of celebrities talk on the Oprah Show. I mean, there are real things there, but there is something different about this. And it's only this kind of love that's going to stand the test of time.

It is this love that will stand the test of time

Love is not always a feeling, it is always a choice

You see there is a part of us that really longs to be accepted this sort of way. To be secure in a love that can love us like this and there is a part of us that wants to love like this ourselves. There is a part of us that really wants to be big enough to love others with this sort of love.
Paul is not speaking in this passage to married couples or about romantic love. This is found elsewhere in his writings. He is talking to a church, and he is telling people within the church that this is the kind of relationships that you need to have. And this same principle applies toward any deep relationships we have outside of the church. This is the characteristic of real love wherever we experience it and give it. It's even true in our relationship with God.

God loves us like this. God is patient with us. God is kind to us. He is not easily angered with us. These things are true. If we put Jesus' name instead of love in this passage, Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind, Jesus doesn't envy, we see a picture of the kind of life that Jesus lived and so we have this assurance that this is the way God loves us. So that means that God accepts us right now as we are, but God loves us enough to not leave us there. He wants us to change. He wants our desires to be transformed to His desires, and he is patient with that.

Kingdom friendships, including our marriages and family, is about changing and growing and transforming together. In God’s grace. This change does not come about as a way to gain favor with God and each other. God’s grace is his gift to us. Kingdom friends walk alongside us in love and patience and kindness as we discover some of the character issues that God is encouraging us to let go of as he transforms our hearts and souls and minds into his own likeness.

God will not give up on us. He is the God who was revealed to us through Jesus who told Peter that we must forgive others seven times seventy times. Jesus would not have said this had it not been his own character, that is the character of God.

God is love, and love does not give up

God will persevere in his love for us. But since he wants us to change, one of those areas he would like us to change is for us to love like this. So that's the other part of this, is that we are called to love. To love like this.

If I were to put my own name in the place of love in the second part of 1 Corinthians 13 I would have to wince, why don’t you join me…. Bob is patient, Bob is kind. Bob does not envy, Bob does not boast, Bob is not proud. Bob is not rude, Bob is not self-seeking, Bob is not easily angered, Bob keeps no record of wrongs.Bob does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

I know that I want to love like this. I also know that I can’t do it on my own strength. I need something more. I need God, and His character of love will transform my character of love. This type of love becomes who we are, not what we do.

So we need to do a little soul searching. If we are thinking about the issue of kingdom relationships and if we are thinking about how important these are in wanting to grow in these relationships no matter how we experience them, whether we are married or not, whether we are young or old we need to look at ourselves and look at how we define love, and ask God our Father to shape and mold us into His love.

For C.S. Lewis, the definition of love was what most sharply differentiated the Christian worldview from the secular worldview. In 1960, he wrote a book called The Four Loves, which compared the divine, unconditional love inherent in Christianity to the affection for family and friends and sexual love that Freud covered in his work. The difference, he said, was that the divine love enables a person to love without any direct personal benefit, while most other forms of love are at some level motivated by a desire to fulfill a self-interest. This unique form of love did not simply evolve from human experience, in Lewis's view, but rather, was implanted in every human being by God through what Lewis termed "the moral law."

When God produces within us the ability to love ourselves and to love other people. That’s the miracle, that’s the good news.

"Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained." C.S. Lewis

You don't have to go looking for love when it's where you come from. Werner Erhard

True love, God’s love, the way of a follower of Jesus is radically different than what we may read, hear, see and experience. This is the upside down Kingdom. This is the Kingdom beer commercial if you will.

The character of God’s love becomes less and less what I am getting and more and more about the eyes of my heart changing towards others. It is inner transformation through God’s grace and power, that allows you and I to see as He would see.

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. St. Augustine

God invites us in community to discover what love is. If we want to know what love is and we want him to show us, he is faithful and true and good. He will show us. The more we understand Love the way God is love, the more we turn to Him and the less we turn to “them”.

Instead of asking “who are they and how did they get so smart?” We begin to ask “Who is God, and how can I love and be loved like Him?”

I challenge us all today to ask that question and truly desire to seek the answer, with all your soul and might and mind. “who is God, and how can I love and be loved like Him?”

God’s love is extravagant, His love is overwhelming, His love will bring us the deepest desires of our hearts, if only we would believe and let Him have his way with us.

Have you looked for love in all the wrong places? Have you been listening to “them” instead of “him”. Welcome to the club, you are not alone, we all have to a degree. Turn to Him, He will show you love, He will bring you purpose, He will bring you to a deeper, more intimate understanding of how we are to love and be loved. The father’s love is extravagant and He wants you to let him into your heart, so you may find true love. by Bob Stenhouse

Friday, November 17, 2006

Church: a community of people called out by God, under His guidance, who are following Christ into his divine life and love here on earth. We can learn how to become by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature. This is all about the complete emptying of our self (surrender) in order that we may participate fully in God’s kingdom. We become a redemptive force through three broad movements that recreate all aspects of life and creation:

Go all ‘in’: the journey of inner transformation. Use of spiritual disciplines. Not becoming Christians, but ‘little Christ’s’, Christ-followers. "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you..." (Galatians 4:19). It’s by going all ‘in’ that we find the spiritual power of Jesus to go all ‘out’: A humble spirit.

Go all ‘out’: this journey is loving people as Jesus would. Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) We are learning to engage our world with mercy, love, and justice. This is often called ‘missional’.

Go all ‘together’: supporting one another through loving community and spurring one another on towards greater love and kindness. The weekly gathering of us as a family, and the smaller groupings where we share life together.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Pitiless Storm

Four men, sold out for God, keep on rockin' the free world.

Any truth the band will be doing this?

Let your light shine brothers...

Matthew 5:15-17
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Write a letter to God...

Dear God,

"You sure don't act as if God is alive" - that's the accusation one of Pattie's friends made to her, and it has haunted me ever since, as a question: Do I act as if you are alive?

Sometimes I treat you as a substance, a narcotic like alcohol or Valium, when I need a fix, to smooth over the harshness of reality, or to take it away. I can sometimes ease off from this world into an awareness of an invisible world; and most of the time I truly believe it exists, as real as this world of oxygen and grass and water. But how do I do the reverse, to let the reality of your world - of you - enter in and transform the numbing sameness of my daily life, and my daily self?

I see progress, I admit. I see you now as someone I respect, even reverence, rather than fear. Now your mercy and grace impress me more than your holiness and awe. Jesus has done that for me, I suppose. He has tamed you, at least enough so that we can live together in the same cage without me cowering in the corner all the time. He has made you appealing, love-able. And I tell myself he has made me appealing and love-able to you as well. That's not something I could ever come up with on my own; I have to take your word for it. Much of the time, I hardly believe it.

So how do I act as if you're alive? How do the cells of my body, the same ones that sweat and urinate and get depressed and toss and turn in bed at night - how do these cells carry around the splender of the God of the universe in a way that leaks out for others to notice? How do I love even one person with the love you came to bring?

Occasionally I get caught up in your world, and love you, and I've learned to cope OK in this world, but how do I bring the two together? That's my prayer, I guess: to believe in the possibility of change. Living inside myself, change is hard to observe. So often it seems like learned behavior, like adaptations to an environment, as the scientists say. How do I let you change me in my essence, in my nature, to make me more like you? Or is that even possible?

Funny, I find it easier to believe in the impossible - to believe in the parting of the Red Sea, to believe in Easter - than to believe in what should seem more possible: the slow steady dawning of your life in people like me and Janet and Dave and Mary and Bruce and Kerry and Janice and Paul. Help me to believe in the possible, God. by Phil Yancey

Could this be your letter? What would you write?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Soul Friends

John 21 After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

"Yes, Master, you know I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

He then asked a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

"Yes, Master, you know I love you."

Jesus said, "Shepherd my sheep."

Then he said it a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, "Do you love me?" so he answered, "Master, you know everything there is to know. You've got to know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go." He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, "Follow me."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kingdom Friends

The company we keep; transformational friendships. We can never truly live until we recognize we are inseparable from others. This is a comforting statement and a scary one, too, because we all have accumulated a great deal of hurt from our ‘friends’.

"Humankind has not woven the web of life...we are but a part of it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves. All things are bound together...all things connect. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls also the children of the earth." Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe

I was nearly 21. I met a young woman at work who often spoke of her friends. I soon discovered it was through her church that she had all these great supportive friendships. I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I meet friends like that?’ Have you ever said that to yourself or someone else?

What do severe problems do to your ability to connect? There was crisis in my work place at the time.

Meeting Janet was all about realizing from God, “I don’t have to live like I’ve always lived.”

You don’t have to live like you’ve always lived. That was a new mental model that I wanted to believe. Old mental models must be surfaced so that new Kingdom Thoughts can replace them and help us create space for kingdom friends. A key kingdom thought: It's not about me.

It was the prospect of Kingdom Friends that brought me face to face with God.

Take a minute to think through your best, most rewarding friendships. What made them that way for you?

How long ago were those friendships active?

How are feeling about your friendship connections right now?

What about your worst friendships? It’s very likely that they were filled with deception, infidelity, substance abuse, dependencies, financial irresponsibility, or abuse – physical/emotional. That was the cycle of my older brothers girlfriends, male friendships, and then marriages. Yikes!

I know for myself, my initial experience with kingdom friends was truly transformational. But along the path I started to lose it. I had good friends, but…Doubts crept in. my orphan heart would rear its ugly head. Do they hang out with me only because I call? Why don’t my friends call me?

I began to consider going to another church. Where the heck did I get that idea? I’d never been to another church! God kept me close by, and I struggled and muddled through. Another mental model was surfacing...

“Nothing I do matters, or ever will”.

I was coming to grips with my learned helplessness in friendships. It was a scouring time for me on the inside. This was an old mental model that God needed to help me change.

What are some of your mental models about friends? Take a minute to jot one or two down on the notes section of the program.


Some of you might surface thouhgts like, 'I don't have any friends'; or ' I'll never have any;' 'I don't deserve friends;' maybe some of you would write, 'God has blessed me with friends'.

There are different types of friendship entitlements: 1. Healthy: being special “to” someone; it is relational, as with a Kingdom Friend; 2. Unhealthy: treat me special, because I am; it is non-relational.

Some people just think they deserve things: because they exist; because they think they are special; or because someone has taught them to be that way. Often we get this way in our victimhood.

In Kingdom Marriages there is healthy entitlement- you are of absolute importance to me, next to God.

Five out of six women feel they don’t have intimacy (oneness) in their marriage. The same five out of six of women feel their husbands don’t even know the basic needs of a woman for intimacy (oneness) or how to provide intimacy for them.

It’s easy to throw a stone at _________________ for the desperation that we feel in our relationships, our friendships and marriages, but it takes two to tango and we must consider what part we play in our own dance of discontentment.

Whatever else is said of a man or woman, this much is clear: They are not what they are capable of being. G.K. Chesterton

Kingdom friends are there to help us become what we are capable of being. They begin in the telling of our story. When I first met that group of Christ followers, they listened to my journey. These people didn’t tell me about Jesus, they were Jesus to me.

Stories move in circles. They don’t go in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles.There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost. And when you’re lost, you start to look around and to listen. From A Traveling Jewish Theatre

That’s where I found myself when I encountered those Christ followers who became my kingdom friends: I was lost; I was ready; I was in a state of broken humility and it was a gift of God.

Kingdom Thought: brokenness is a gift of God.

As we move to the idea of Kingdom Friends, we want to ask God to help us cultivate places of story sharing, circles of trust, places of the heart where we reflect God’s love to each other. We all need a place to shed our old self, and friends who will allow us to see into their growth into son ship and daughterhood, friends who will gently love us towards seeing God as Father, and not in a caricature of our painful past. They will help us identify and jettison old mental models to make way for new Kingdom Thoughts.

The journey towards truth is too taxing to be made solo. The path is too deeply hidden to be traveled without company. The destination is too daunting to be achieved alone.

Headstrong ways of charging at truth scare the shy soul. Parker Palmer

"Sex and envy are the greatest drives in life." Lyndon B. Johnson

"People react to fear, not love. They don't teach that in Sunday School, but it's true." Richard Nixon

How would you like to be married to either of these former presidents or be one of their friends? Or enemies?

Kingdom friends help us unlearn mental models like that. They help us discover our real needs, and point the way to Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs that I would've never had if I hadn't met Jesus. Will Willimon

Ecclesiastes 4:9,12
It's better to have a partner than go it alone.
By yourself you're unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped.

True growth starts with learning to tell our stories to one another.

Who are the people in my life who consistently strengthen my spiritual intimacy and influence?

Hurt people hurt people, but "Changed lives change lives" and "together is better". We can be WOW!ed by God so that we are left "With Out Words".

There are two broad assumptions that define adulthood in our culture:
1. I know and am fairly comfortable with who I am.
2. I am willing to take responsibility for myself.

At a personal level, number one isn’t experienced deeply by many people. If that is the case, it makes taking responsibility difficult for us. We'll hide, puff up, or seek entitlements.

Selfishness is the antithesis of love.

"When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends." Japanese proverb

Henri Nouwen defines "community" as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives! Some of us call this family.

When some people aren't acting like themselves, it’s an improvement. Zig Ziglar

Needed to connect: two, or more, connectable people!

"The inner journey is to know that creation comes out of chaos, and that even what has been created needs to be returned to chaos every now and then to get recreated in a more vital form." Parker Palmer

This series is meant like a field manual for friendships, sort of creating a band of brothers or women of worth, couples committed to Christ, families on fire and I could keep on as a rhyme cat.

It will be a challenge. It will be a challenge because we’ll need trust. Trust to overcome our fears. Trust to overcome our past hurts. Trust to overcome our pride that puffs up and keeps people away.

Come to the table and say goodbye to past betrayals.

John 13:20-35
Make sure you get this right: Receiving someone I send is the same as receiving me, just as receiving me is the same as receiving the One who sent me." (When Jesus sends someone to you, receive them because in doing so you welcome Him and the Father.)

After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. "One of you is going to betray me." (Betrayal hurts)

The friends looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the friends, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, "Master, who?"

Jesus said, "The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I've dipped it." Then he dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.

"What you must do," said Jesus, "do. Do it and get it over with."

No one around the supper table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas was their treasurer, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Feast, or that he should give something to the poor.

Judas, with the piece of bread, left. It was night. (They didn't get it because they wouldn't have suspected Judas, or any of their other friends. They were exactly that, friends!)

When he had left, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, God's glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified—glory all around!

"Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I'm telling you: 'Where I go, you are not able to come.'

"Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my friends—when they see the love you have for each other."

Simon Peter asked, "Master, just where are you going?"

Jesus answered, "You can't now follow me where I'm going. You will follow later."

"Master," said Peter, "why can't I follow now? I'll lay down my life for you!"

"Really? You'll lay down your life for me? The truth is that before the rooster crows, you'll deny me three times." (Peter never intended to betray his best friend, Jesus, yet there are times that when we are faced with the approval of people, we choose to turn our backs on those closest to us. We all have been betrayed and have been betrayers ourselves. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Another Kingdom Thought!)

Betrayal and disappointment were present in the relationships Jesus had. They will be a part of our experience, too. Let God comfort you in those painful relational memories, in the loneliness, and open your heart to a new reality of Kingdom Friends waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

We Are In Him

Terry & Bev Leblanc and a number of like-minded kingdom builders have given a significant amount of their life to holistic ministry to Native North Americans through My People.

Terry has written a powerful article in the latest edition of Faith Today concerning Native Suicide: A Challenge to the Church.

Terry comments, "The “manufacturing” approaches taken to ministry in the past, approaches that seemed to be more concerned with responses and outcomes (“making Christians” not creating disciples, civilizing not evangelizing)... “To a relationally driven, communal people this was devastating. Perhaps, in a world driven by the business mottos of bigger, better, more and faster – and related church perceptions of ‘success’- need to be revisited once again! What are our objectives as we engage with God in God’s mission?”

That same call challenges us all. What are we going to do about it?

Colossians 2:8-10
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that's not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lest We Forget

Regardless of our views on war, we all need to recognize the sacrifice of others in building our nation and the free world.

A turtle on a fence post needed some help getting there, and we should all realize that's our own position. I watched the Terry Kelly video below last night with my sons and cried, thinking of the heroes who had died to make our being alive possible.

It was sobering to realize that my two sons, or daughter for that matter, could be going to Afghanistan or Iraq, living the adventure as they are called. We are all in the Father's hands...

A Pittance In Time video

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Crazy Cycle in Marriage

There are some psychologists who say that virtually all marital conflicts are related to self-worth and self-esteem issues.

Emmerson Eggerichs says that when a wife feels unloved by her husband, she will begin to look at him more critically, which he takes as disrespect. Likewise, when a husband feels disrespected by his wife he will withdraw from her, which she takes as an unloving gesture. Both husband and wife never mean to do this. Their reactions cause a vicious cycle. Sometime this cycle gets so bad that the wounds are very deep.

Can you recognize when this cycle is occurring?

What have you done in the past to stop the cycle?

What do you think is the most God-honoring way to stop this cycle?

You can reassure your husband or wife that you will not be going anywhere and you will still be there in the morning.

Are you committed to work out any conflict and find a path toward reconciliation?

Ephesians 5:33
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hold the Father's Hand...

"Is Jesus educating you into a personal intimacy with Himself? Let Him press home His question to you, 'Do you believe this?'"

If you are running away from the Father, it is troubling. If you are running toward Him, it is comforting.

"Beloved, today be encouraged...let Go and let God..."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Come Out Of Hiding...

I've been reading Ted Haggard's books for nearly a decade. They have taught me a great deal over the years. I also had the opportunity, I would even say it was a privilege, of spending two days with him and other pastors in Red Deer four years ago. It was an amazing time of grace and growth.

I have been saddened by the events that have come to light in the last few days about Haggard's sexuality. I still treasure the learnings that God brought me through Ted Haggard, and I love him as a person.

Ted came out of hiding with the following letter that was read on Sunday at New Life Church, and I offer it to you as an instrument of God's grace in your own life.

My Dear New Life Church Family,

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you.

I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.

I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart's condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I've said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.

The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family. I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations. But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set.

It is important that you know how much I love and appreciate my wife, Gayle. What I did should never reflect in a negative way on her relationship with me. She has been and continues to be incredible. The problem was not with her, my children, or any of you. It was created 100% by me.

I have been permanently removed from the office of Senior Pastor of New Life Church. Until a new senior pastor is chosen, our Associate Senior Pastor, Ross Parsley, will assume all of the responsibilities of the office. On the day he accepted this new role, he and his wife, Aimee, had a new baby boy. A new life in the midst of this circumstance—I consider that confluence of events to be prophetic. Please commit to join with Pastor Ross and the others in church leadership to make their service to you easy and without burden. They are fine leaders. You are blessed.

I appreciate your loving and forgiving nature, and I humbly ask you to do a few things:

1. Please stay faithful to God through service and giving.

2. Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

3. Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn’t violate you; I did.

4. Please stay faithful to each other. Perform your functions well. Encourage each other and rejoice in God’s faithfulness. Our church body is a beautiful body, and like every family, our strength is tested and proven in the midst of adversity. Because of the negative publicity I’ve created with my foolishness, we can now demonstrate to the world how our sick and wounded can be healed, and how even disappointed and betrayed church bodies can prosper and rejoice.

Gayle and I need to be gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body. We love you as our family. I know this situation will put you to the test. I’m sorry I’ve created the test, but please rise to this challenge and demonstrate the incredible grace that is available to all of us. Ted Haggard

Ted's wife Gayle shared this letter:

Dear Women of New Life Church,

I am so sorry for the circumstances that have led me to write this letter to you today. I know your hearts are broken; mine is as well. Yet my hope rests steadfastly in the Lord who is forever faithful.

What I want you to know is that I love my husband, Ted Haggard, with all my heart. I am committed to him until death “do us part.” We started this journey together and with the grace of God, we will finish together.

If I were standing before you today, I would not change one iota of what I have been teaching the women of our church. For those of you who have been concerned that my marriage was so perfect I could not possibly relate to the women who are facing great difficulties, know that this will never again be the case. My test has begun; watch me. I will try to prove myself faithful.

I love you all so much, especially you young women—you were my delight. To all the church family of new Life Church—Ted and I are so proud of you. You are all we hoped you would be. In our minds, there is no greater church.

As you try to make sense of these past few days, know that Ted believes with all his heart and soul everything he has ever taught you, those things you are putting into practice. He is now the visible and public evidence that every man (woman and child) needs a Savior. We are grateful for your prayers for our family.

I hold you forever in my heart, Gayle Haggard

Is the Father whispering anything to you through these letters?

Self-knowledge is a gift from God, not the result of any clever introspection that we do. Come out of hiding today.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Find Intimacy with the Father

Ezra 7:10
Ezra had committed himself to studying the Revelation of God, to living it, and to teaching Israel to live its truths and ways.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ropes of Life and Death

Week nine of "Life Is Too Short To Be Wasted Being Mad, Angry & Emotionally Wrecked"

That [describing his journey] was all before. I now live after, after the death of our son, Eric. My life has been divided into before and after.

To love is to run the risk of suffering. Or rather, in our world, to love is to suffer; there is no escaping it. Augustine knew it well; so Augustine recommended playing it safe, loving only what could neither die nor change on one—God and the soul. My whole tradition taught me to love the world, to love the world as a gift, to love God through and in the world—wife, children, art, plants, and learning. It had set me up for suffering. But it didn’t tell me this: it didn’t tell me that the invitation to love is the invitation to suffering. It let me find that out for myself, when it happened. Possibly it’s best that way.

I haven’t anything to say beyond what I’ve already said in Lament for a Son. There is a lot of silence in that book; mo word too much, I hope. In the face of death we must not chatter. And when I spoke, I found myself moving on the edges of language, trying to find images for what only images could say. The book is extremely particular; I do not speak about death, only about Eric’s death. That’s all I could do. But I have discovered, from what readers have told me, that in its particularity lies universality.

I see now. Looking back, that in writing it I was struggling to own my own grief. The modern Western practice is to disown one’s grief: to get over it, to put it behind one, to get on with life, to put it out of mind, to insure that it not become part of one’s identity. My struggle was to own it, to make it part of my identity: if you want to know who I am you must know that I am one whose son died. But then, to own it redemptively. It takes a long time to own one’s suffering redemptively; one never finishes learning.

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. But not all our gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That's OK too. Your words don't have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can't think of anything at all to say, just say, "I can't think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief."

Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Exress your love ...

But please: Don't say it's not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it's not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
Nicholas Wolterstoff

What has God said to you during this series? What has God done in you?

There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own back yards.

The lost ones come from every walk of life: pastors and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren... Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment, and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some are using the blizzard as cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

…But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more than I like to admit, tells me that however we deny it or forget it, however lost we feel in the whiteout, still we dwell in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our own bearings. We can still tie a rope from the back door out to the barn, and survive the blizzards of this life without losing our hope or our way.

The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.

We know that we need time and space to slow down and to create margin in our life. We read about resting and recharging, but we can’t stop. And if we aren’t busy, we feel guilty that we waste time and are not productive.

Losses mark the spot place where self-knowledge and powerful transformation occur- if we have the courage to face our reality.

All of our losses ultimately point to our human limits. We cannot do or be anything that we want. God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted individuals. Anybody seen the movie Cars? It is ultimately about the limits on a rambunctious, all-knowing young racecar. The young car learns from an older, wiser racecar, but in doing so helps convey a message to the older car. This is reverse mentoring.

Inherent in the discovering of our limits is learning how to actually see them, to acknowledge them, and to learn how to drop our hiding mechanisms. Remember the old Star Trek series and movies? They always brought up their shields to stop any attacks or unwelcome intrusions. “Shields up!” is still the cry of our heart.

We don’t want to be known for fear of rejection, so we keep our shields up or engage in a ‘cloaking device’, actually hiding our whereabouts despite being in physical proximity to each other.

All of these shields are ropes of death that we use as nooses, choking the fullness of life out that Jesus spoke of.

What kinds of things do we use as shield? How about ‘denial’? Or ‘minimizing’ our hurt. Or do we always blame others? Ever just repeatedly blamed yourself? That’s a shield, too.

We sometimes use the shield of rationalization-‘ that’s just how I am’ as a shield. Or we intellectualize and say things like, “My situation isn’t as bad as other people in the world who are suffering so what do I have to cry about?”

Sometimes our shield is distraction, changing the topic often in humor to avoid threatening subjects that will require us to get honest about what we’re feeling. Sometimes our shield is to become hostile and threatening, puffing ourselves up so that our friends know the areas of our life to avoid.

So what are some our limits? How about your body? I admire Chris Chelios, who is close to 45 and still playing NHL hockey. Part of my journey at this point in life is to wrestle with physical limits.

What if I were to love my body fully?

How about the limits you accrued from the family you were born into?

How about your marital status? Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God. Why do a great may married people desire singleness and many single people desire to be married?

How about the limit of your knowledge? Is our intellectual capacity a domain that we have to protect against encroachment? Do you always have to be the smartest, most knowledgeable individual where you are? Then don’t get married!

How about your talents and gifts? We must discover and live out of ours, and not those of others.

How about your material status? Why do those of us who don’t have a great deal desire more while many wealthy people do as well?

How about the make-up of you? That is, personality, temperament, your unique self. Our gifts also constitute limits, because we can’t radically improve on what’s not there to begin with!

What about your time? You can’t do it all. Your time is running out. So is mine.

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. CEV

How about your work and relational realities? We will not finish the work fully, nor have perfection in our relationships, such as marriage, children or parents. We must learn to accept and grieve this limit or we will demand from others something they cannot give.

How about our own spiritual understanding? It’s easy to acquire knowledge about God, the Bible and the like, but how hard is it to have that knowledge be relational? We all have a public school file, but if someone read it, would they ‘know’ us?

How did John the Baptist deal with his limits?

John 3:26-30
So John's disciples came to him and said, "Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us." John replied, "No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, `I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.' It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

Do you see yourself in John’s words? Is that the cry of your heart?

Too may of us do the reverse: thinking that God should become smaller and smaller and we become larger and larger. We often act like babies. A baby screams for his or her mom the feed it. The baby is the center of the universe, with others existing to care for his or her needs. Growing up helps us learn that we are not the center of the universe. The world does not exist to meet my every need.

We can easily fall into a Sesame Street "Cookie Monster theory" of human nature: see cookie, want cookie, eat cookie.

This is more painful than we all realize in my opinion. Our egos are very inflated. We have larger fantasies and wishes for God and ourselves than reality can support. Then we daydream about, “What if Madonna became a Christian? Can you imagine what could happen in her fan base?”

We will work frantically trying to do the more that God seems to intend for us. We burn out thinking we can do more than we can. We get stressed and blame others. We run around like chickens with our heard cutoff, convinced that the world- our churches, friends, businesses, families, children, whatever- will stop if we stop. Others of us get depressed because our desires are so high and unachievable that it hardly seems worth the effort to try.

What do we do?

Get off the throne!

A huge part of who we are hates limits. We won’t accept them. We need to learn to grieve biblically in order to grow emotionally and spiritually. It humbles us like nothing else can.

John the Baptist disappears from John’s Gospel after the earlier passage- he really did decrease, you might say. But it doesn’t come without a struggle. Listen to John’s internal doubt and grief as he faces severe limitation:

Matthew 11:2
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

Grief is the price we pay for love.

In church, we know how to create spaces that invite the intellect to show up, to argue its case, to make its point. We have been working on how to create spaces that invite the emotions to show up, to express anger or joy.

We know how to create spaces that invite the will to show up, to consolidate effort and energy around a common task. And we surely know how to create spaces that invite the ego to show up, preening itself and claiming its turf! But we seem to know very little about creating spaces that invite the soul to show up, this core of ourselves, our selfhood. Parker J. Palmer

Entering our grief and the grief of others helps create such a space. The guide is a rope of life called humility.

The rope of life: humility. Our first section of the rope is that we’re in love with God and mindful of Him: we often forget His presence as if He disappears after our ‘quiet time’.

The second section of rope is that we find ourselves busy doing God’s will, not our own or other peoples. When we listen with our heart we recognize our need to surrender our self will to God’s will and that becomes the touchstone top transformation.

The third section of rope is the openness and willingness to subject ourselves to direction from others. We can forsake our arrogance and all-powerfulness and become open to accepting God’s will through others. Plus, we do it without grumbling or an attitude.

The fourth section of rope is the patience to accept the difficulties of others. Life in community is full of aggravations. We give space to others to figure out their own weaknesses in their own way in their own time.

The fifth section of rope is the radical honesty about our weaknesses and faults. Let’s all quit pretending we’re something we’re not. We admit out weaknesses and limitations to a friend, spouse, parent or someone else who cares about our growth.

The sixth section of the rope is pour awareness that we are the chief of all sinners, as Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

This is not self-hate or an invitation to abuse, but meant to make us kind and gentle.

The seventh section is to speak less and with more restraint, taking the focus off of us and allowing others to have it. “The wise are known for their few words.”

The last section of rope is where we are transformed into the living, moving love of God. There is no sarcasm, no put downs, no sense of self-importance. We are able to embrace our limits and the limits of others. We are aware of our fragility and that of others. No more self-illusions, we live fully on the mercy of God. Everything is a gift.

Job 12:13
To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.
True wisdom and real power belong to God; from him we learn how to live, and also what to live for.

Write down your shortcomings, your struggles, your hidden fears, and your limits and lay them at the feet of the Father.

Job 12
"If he tears something down, it's down for good; if he locks people up, they're locked up for good. If he holds back the rain, there's a drought; if he lets it loose, there's a flood. Strength and success belong to God; both deceived and deceiver must answer to him. He strips experts of their vaunted credentials, exposes judges as witless fools.

He divests kings of their royal garments, then ties a rag around their waists. He strips priests of their robes, and fires high officials from their jobs. He forces trusted sages to keep silence, deprives elders of their good sense and wisdom. He dumps contempt on famous people, disarms the strong and mighty.

He shines a spotlight into caves of darkness, hauls deepest darkness into the noonday sun. He makes nations rise and then fall, builds up some and abandons others. He robs world leaders of their reason, and sends them off into no-man's-land. They grope in the dark without a clue, lurching and staggering like drunks."

The Father's love is extravagant. Let God increase and allow yourself to fully experience your limits in His presence.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What Really Counts

Which numbers really matter to you?
-those in your bank account?
-how many designer labels are in your closet?
-how many children you have?
-how many rings are on your fingers?
-how many rungs on the ladder you've climbed for career success?


-how many times you smiled today?
-how many hugs you shared today?
-how many compliments you gave out?
-the number of people you encouraged with a word or touch?
-how much genuine laughter you heard today?
-the number of kingdom friends that you can truly count on?

Through life's valley be a vale of tears, a brighter scene beyond that veil appears. Willaim Cowper

Here is a test to see if your mission on earth is finished. If you are alive, it isn't. Francis Bacon

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Who, or What Are You Following?

John 6:63-67
"The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don't make anything happen. Every word I've spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this." He went on to say, "This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father."

After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Follow Christ...

John 21:18
I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I think I used to work with the guy in the suit...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

God @ The Movies 2007

A Good Year

''Max is an animal in banking. To take him out of that world, where he's insulated and protected, and have him be seduced by what he considers the antithesis of who he is — that's a very interesting journey. It's sort of like reincarnation.'' Russell Crowe

Maybe it's more like waking up to the idea that Life Is Too Short To Live Mad, Angry and Emotionally Wrecked.

The byline is everything matures...eventually. I think I'm going to see this one as soon as it opens up. It even has a favorable PG-13 rating!

It certainly has to be on the schedule for next summer's God @ The Movies.

A Good Year trailer