Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Tale of Two Churches

They started arriving about two o’clock in the afternoon.  Hugs and slaps on the back were exchanged.  Greetings and kisses on the cheek were enjoyed.  They brought cookies and other goodies and shared them freely.  As they settled into chairs and gathered around kitchen counters conversations grew and stories were shared.  Children chased one another as a grandfather broke into their merriment to get a bit of exercise and to show that he still had some energy and fun left in him.  The bar-b-cue was started and the various asadas were grilled to perfection.  Beans were made and salsas completed and tortillas were warmed.  All the cooking and preparation culminated in a fantastic meal set on the island in the kitchen.  Hands were held, a circle formed and prayers arose in thanks to Jesus for supplying this food and our family being together during the Thanksgiving holiday.

As the meal was consumed more stories, both sad and strong were shared.  Gathered around the table were both strong and struggling followers of Christ and one or more who weren’t sure.  As dinner wound down, some took care of the dishes while others lingered telling tales of how Christ was showing up in their lives and how grateful they were for His love.  One share how they were producing a product to sell so that funds could be donated to meet others needs.  The Scriptures were opened and truth was shared and encouragement was received.  There were even a few “aha” moments around the table.  Faith was being renewed in one who was struggling while another had their faith increased. 

After several hours had passed, it was time to part.  With joy and sadness, goodbyes were shared and hugs passed around with grand anticipation towards the next time we were to come together. 

Fast forward a few days…

A handful of pastors gathered together to pray for the Lord to move powerfully in our city.  It is always a sweet time.  One of the pastors was beginning a new church that is full of young people new in their faith.  One of our retired cohorts decided to visit this new work on the previous Sunday and he was sharing his experience.  He was greeted by a few people playing ‘cornhole’ near the entrance.  Hands were shook as he entered the worship area.  The singing was strong and moving.  The preaching was reported to be wonderful and when everything was done, many people lingered to chat.  The retired pastor and his wife left encouraged to see a vibrant work. 

As I pondered these two stories I wondered which one was more like the experiences we read about in the Scriptures?  Both are good.  One is has a more cultural expectation of church.  One has more of a family feel of church.  One had deep relationships, the other had as good of relationships as possible for a Sunday gathering.  One was simple.  One was complex. 

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

Which experience of church is more inviting to you?  Why?
Which experience of church is more likely to penetrate deeper into our culture?  Why?
I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is the Abundant Life?

Jesus is all about giving people abundant life (John 10:10b).  For many, an abundant life is full of health, power, clarity of direction and ease.  This is a concept that flows well with our Western ideologies of life and within the church culture of success; larger houses, larger bank accounts, larger ministries.  The challenge of this concept of an abundant life is that you are hard pressed to find any Biblical character where this version is experienced (think Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus Himself).  A life of health, power, clarity and ease will be realized, but not until we are with Jesus forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Jesus teaches us that the path to an abundant life only comes by dying to ourselves while the enemy promises that life will come if you pursue your own comforts and ways.  Jesus tells us that in order to gain your life you have to lose it while the enemy disciples us in the way of self which only leads to a depleted life (Prov. 21:17).  Jesus would have us be powerful, but the power of Christ only comes through surrendering our life in exchange for His, something not many want to do.

In 1 Thessalonians, we find Paul recognizing the abundant life in the souls of these new believers.  Paul states that these new followers of Christ as having been powerful in their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3).  Paul says this type of abundant life was given to them by Paul through the word proclaimed but also "in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5).  Paul goes on to say that these believers "became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess. 1:6).  If we think about these strong traits in light of our current culture or ease with its definition of success, we might believe that it came simply by exercising their faith to the fullest and seeing God do amazing works in their midst.  This excites our minds and hearts as we begin in envision the grand works that God wants to do through our lives and ministries.  But if we continue to read how a strong life like this is accessed, we find a different template for the abundant life.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 we read that this life is accessed through receiving "..the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit".  Gaining an abundant life through much tribulation is not what most people want to hear but it is the way of godly personalities all throughout the Scripture.  We can kick the enemies butt, but it comes with a cost of fighting battles against the world, the flesh and the Devil, not through stepping into the promises of God towards a life of ease and prosperity.  It is more about the surrendering of self in order to love others deeply which certainly involves pain, persecution and being sorely misunderstood.  This life of being others focused is deeply powerful because it demonstrates a reality of being that is realized through strength, endurance and giving of self.  That is an attractive life.  The believers of Thessalonica lived this abundant powerful life so they "...became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" (1 Thess. 1:7).  That certainly is a life of impact!

So what kind of life did Paul give to them to imitate?  In chapter two of 1 Thessalonians. Paul said he came to them after "...we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." (1 Thess. 2:1).  Paul experienced a life of ease as a Pharisee but now he was willing to suffer and embrace the pain of life to be strong as Jesus was to the world.  Paul teaches them that the result of Jesus living out a godly, sinless life full of love and mercy got Him killed just as the prophets (1 Thess. 2:15).  

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jewswho both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. (1 Thess. 2:14-15).

Our enemy understands that life through surrender and opposition is not popular.  Therefore, he is about giving large doses of misdirection and deception which looks a lot like life but actually offers destruction and death (John 10:10a).  We also know that our common enemy can appear to be an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and will draw people away from the deeper life Jesus calls the abundant life.  The contrasts between Jesus' version of an abundant life and the Devil's version is stark and seductive but comes over us subtly as we buy the lie that abundant life is possible through our own devices to bring us comfort.

Our hearts are hungry for more.  We want to be revolutionaries that impact our world with the life of Christ.  We want our lives to stand for more than our own self desires.  We are created for much more in life than fulfilling the passions of the flesh.  We were made to impact people with others centered living.  We were made to point people in the direction of health which is living like Jesus did and following His ways.  We were made to bash the gates of hell which means there will be casualties.  The abundant life Jesus promises is full of power, pain and perseverance.

The power of the abundant life can only be realized through enlarging our faith.  Enlarging our faith is often taught as being gained by exercising our rights as citizens of Heaven.  The Thessalonians had their faith and love for one another enlarged through their "...perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure." (2 Thess. 1:4).  This is the way of our Master and an enlarged faith in God and love for others cannot be accessed any other way.

An abundant life is found through surrendered and sacrificial obedience of doing what love requires, "treating others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).  An abundant life will be powerful and impact many but is also costly.  Enter the abundant life and see the power of God flow through you to the world.

I would to hear your thoughts about the abundant life Jesus promises.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Authenticity - Engaging Authentic People - Guest Blogger

Allow me to introduce Monica Hess as a guest blogger.  As Monica read my posts on Authenticity, she began to ponder the other side of the coin; how do we relate to people who choose to be authentic.  As Monica and I talked, I asked her to write an article on this subject and found her insights to be helpful, I hope you find the same help and encouragement.  In a culture where authenticity is waning, both being authentic and receiving those who are authentic can be difficult. I hope the following article will be of some benefit to you as we engage one another in developing deeper connections through being authentic as we pursue Christ.

Galatians 6:2 implores us to “carry” or “bear” one another’s burdens to fulfill the Law of Christ—to love another as He loved us.

Being around people who are in a bad way is difficult, messy and risky.

I walked up to someone in a group recently fully intending to start an easy conversation.  Within three seconds I knew this was not going to be an easy conversation.  She was in a bad way.  Her heart just poured out and I stood there a little freaked out.  I had to make a conscientious decision to either engage or flee.  The Lord knew I wanted to flee.  I really didn’t know this person too well and had already had a difficult day of my own.  But God tickled a certain scripture in my heart, something about being humble, patient and kind and bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

I planted myself at her side and just listened.  As I listened, I knew God wanted me there, to help bear her burden.  And I knew this because what she was speaking was very familiar to me and I knew God could use me.  I’m so glad I chose to listen and receive her authenticity.  God allowed me to come alongside her and be His instrument.  What an honor.  And I’ve received much in return. 

If you are one of those who find it incredibly difficult to be on the receiving end of someone’s anguish I want to encourage you.  I know it’s risky and uncomfortable.  But God is in control.  He will guide you should you choose the mission.  Sometimes, all that is required is a listening ear.  You may have absolutely nothing in common and what’s being expressed is like a foreign language.  But a gentle touch, an encouragement to continue speaking or just standing alongside this vulnerable child of God may be all that is required.

I think maybe something key to all of this is where scripture admonishes us that now that we have been made new in Christ, we are to regard no one from a worldly point of view—that we are now His ambassadors and He is making his appeal THROUGH us.  (2nd Corinthians 5:16-21)  If God is using us, and that person who is so strung out, stressed, saddened, or just plain done with it all calls out for help, sometimes in ways that are seriously messed up, then we can trust and know that God will give us the exact response.  We cannot look at that person through our own eyes, but through the filter of Christ who lives in us. Walking away from someone in that condition, in my opinion, constitutes a neglect of what we’re commanded to do.  And scripture makes it very clear that we were not given a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love in order to walk through the fire with a complete stranger, if necessary. (2nd Timothy 2:7)

Several years ago an acquaintance of mine from work who was the young mother of five children under the age of seven lost one of those children in a horrible, tragic accident.   Her grief was intense and admittedly somewhat overwhelming for those of us who worked with her.   For financial reasons, she could not take the necessary time off from work to heal and recover (if that’s even possible).  Her sadness was palpable and deep and unfathomable.  Being around her was extremely difficult.  I worried about my own kids whenever I looked at her.  My vision was completely inward and selfish.  I didn’t want to catch it—what she had. 

But God had other plans.  I was a new believer and I knew in my heart that God wanted me to come alongside her in a way that I did not have the strength or will to do.  So, calling on His strength I engaged in her pain and became God’s tool to be used freely.  Let me tell you, the next year with her was one of the most difficult, dramatic, heartbreaking years of my life.  She taught me so much.  Her faith in God grew my faith.  I thought I was there to help her.  Well, when all was said and done, I had grown exponentially in my faith walk.  Today, she and I are closer than sisters and she continues to be an important part of my life.  I am so grateful that the Lord used me to answer the call to receive her pain, anguish, tears and devastation…her authentic pain.  Had I not, I would have forfeited such treasure.

And yes, we will get burned, charred beyond recognition at times.  It isn’t always going to be rewarding.  We’ve all had the experience of allowing ourselves to love the unlovable only to be scorned, ridiculed and deeply hurt.  But remember, we’re prompted to consider it pure joy when we face trials because trials test our faith and develop our perseverance so that we may be mature and complete, lacking nothing—but gaining everything! (James 1:2-4) 

Next time you’re given the honor and opportunity to engage in another’s pain, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and see and taste that the Lord is good—all the time, in all circumstances.  Experience the power of His desire to refine and sculpt you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Authentic (part 4 of 4)

Stepping into the Light of Authenticity

"...if we walk in the Light as he Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another..."  1 John 1:7

Walking in the Light can be both inviting and scary.  Seeing things clearly brings a calming clarity that gives confidence.  Walking in the Light also includes exposure and many have lived too long pretending to be something they are not.  Therefore exposure can be frightening.  The above verse from 1 John teaches us that when we do walk in the Light of Jesus, our relationships with one another will deepen, in part because we are being authentic with Jesus and others.  This also implies that when we are not authentic, our relationship with one another is more surface, shallow and selfish.

My last three posts dealt with the necessity of living authentically, some examples of what living authentically might look like and then I dealt with three rewards and risks of living authentically.  In this post, I want to discuss three suggestions that are needed in order to break free of living disingenuously so you can choose to walk in the Light (1 John 1:7) and be free to both be loved and to love more radically than you may have imagined. 

Suggestion #1 - Be Honest

If we are going to break free from the bondage of living deceptively (disingenuously); that life where you act one way around certain friends but you act differently with others, we must begin with being honest with ourselves and with God.   

"But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being." (Psalm 51:6 NLT). 

God knows what is going on inside your heart.  He knows the truth about you and He knows the lies you may be living.  He knows how desperate you are to be accepted for you and He wants you to receive that joy?. God desires you to become honest with yourself and with Him so that you can be set free and receive His healing in this area of your life.  Why not stop reading this post right now and get on your knees and begin the journey towards authenticity by pouring out your heart to God telling Him your fears, desires and dreams?

Being honest with God may sound fearful, but I assure you it is perfectly safe and life giving.  The God who created you is not threatened by your authenticity, in fact it is His desire to shape you into a 'holy' person (1 Peter 1:14-16) which requires you to notice that some things need to be adjusted in your life.

Suggestion #2 - Be in Community
Once you choose honesty with yourself and God, I suggest you find at least one other person (other than your spouse) whom you already trust or sense you can develop a trusting relationship.  As a deepening friendship is being forged, choose to share your experience of being honest with God, about who you are, what you feel and where you are pretending to be together.  This will launch an amazing conversation and friendship that has the potential to be helpful in your maturing in Jesus.

As trust is developed, begin revealing your heart and the truth about you; your desires, fears, lies, dreams, habits (good and bad), convictions, prejudices etc.  I would also suggest you begin living honestly and authentically in larger groups of people (5-12 or so) but not with the same intimacy.  In this setting, strive to live authentically by not pretending that your life is all together because, if we are being honest, nobody really “has it all together”.  The key here is to build up your ability to trust at the pace God leads you.  Watch as you choose to obey Jesus in authentic living.  Others will certainly follow your example.

Suggestion #3 - Be Humble
Humility is nothing more than obeying the leadership of Jesus in your life.  Humility is taking honest inventory of who you are in presence of God.  Once we acknowledge our daily need for God and His Lordship in our life, we will desire to "...humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time." (1 Peter 5:6).  God wants to raise us up but not until we surrender to His leadership.  Being humble actually causes you to be very powerful in the eyes of others.  There is a deep power that flows out of a humble life.  Humility enhances your authenticity or maybe better stated, authenticity emerges out of your humility.

These three suggestions are pretty simple but not easy.  Being exposed seems very scary and that is understandable.  When we live in a pretend mode or an “I need to be someone else to be accepted” mode, we tend to hide who we really are.  We then become afraid of our weaknesses and may tend to bury them.  These buried weaknesses may not be seen by anyone, but they do have power and that power most often will cripple us from being all God desires us to be and enjoy.  When we choose to unearth our weaknesses and expose them to the Light, we will find forgiveness, acceptance and freedom.  I find in my life when I expose my sins and/or weaknesses to the Light of Jesus in the community of a friend or two, that the power of those sins dissipate and dissolve.  Freedom pours into my life to be who I truly am.  When I live authentically, I find freedom and acceptance and I notice that others are empowered to live in the same manner.  When this happens a sweetness of life emerges.

If you would like a tool that can help guide you to living a more authentic life, check out Life Transformation Groups.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Authentic (part 3 or 4)

Values and Liabilities of Being Authentic

I remember sitting in a Bible College class and hearing the professor talk about the church he was leading.  He spoke of the struggles, joys and privileges of being a 'pastor'.  He then began to talk about the loneliness of the pastorate and leadership in general.  He told stories of his experiences and then made a statement that has never left me.  He said in effect, that as a leader, he could not be close friends with people in the church he lead.  He said not having close friends at church was a necessary price to pay for the honor of leading.  He stated that he could really only share how he felt, and the pain he experienced in church with other 'pastors' who would understand and would not use the information against him.  

This philosophy of leadership is more wide spread than you may expect.  In my 30 years of experience as a leader in the church, I would say that the fear of people using information and struggles shared with others is the driving factor in pastors/leaders being closed off in their most vulnerable areas.  This causes many churches to be weak.

When this philosophy is embraced, it can set a bad tone in the church community.  The tone set says being honest or authentic is dangerous and should be avoided.  For many leaders and church attenders, the risk of exposure or betrayal is too high.  These people choose to be disingenuous at deeper levels, distant and disconnected.  The church suffers much and should not be this way.

Being authentic in vulnerable areas takes brave leaders who are more concerned with the people and their health rather than their own reputation or the pain that they may have to endure.  I have experienced the pain caused by being authentic.  I have been betrayed, bruised and battered by being open with my life.  People have taken advantage of my exposure for their gain and it is difficult.  But more than this, I have experienced the joy and freedom that comes to people who learn the beauty of being authentic and weak.  Being authentic and weak takes humility, yet at the same time, gives strength to those you are pointing to Jesus.

With that backdrop, allow me to briefly share some of the values and liabilities of living a more authentic life.  Being close friends with those in your church community and celebrating your life being transformed by Jesus is powerful and actually much safer than being protective of who you really are.

Values of being authentic

Being authentic lowers the bar of living for Jesus to be reachable for everyone.  Instead of people striving for disingenuous perfection, they can learn to live honestly as they become absorbed in the things of Christ (1 Tim. 4:15).  People learn that when they fall, as we all do, that they can get back up and move forward (Eccl. 4:9-10).  The freshness of authenticity lifts the burden of having to pretend that we don't struggle.  Living with the burden of pretending that one is almost perfect teaches us to live a lie and this is not how Jesus would have us be (Eph. 4:14-16).  Sharing weaknesses actually takes away the power that hiding our sins holds over our hearts.  Sins that are covered up only serve to cause us to live in darkness.  When our sins are exposed to the light, the power of these sins actually dissipates (2 Tim. 2:21-22).

In summary, here are the three points of the above paragraph.  Some of the values of being authentic allows:
  • For everyone to join in because the bar of living for Jesus is lowered (this is not saying that we accept sinful ways of living [cf. Romans 6]).
  • Believers permission to be themselves as they strive to be like Jesus.  This causes health in people instead of unhealth.
  • The burden that living a lie of perfection to be lifted (1 John 1:8-10).

Liabilities of being authentic

When we live with fresh authenticity, we risk being misunderstood.  As we share our struggles, weaknesses and sins (in appropriate circumstances - some sins only need to be exposed to a few, but exposed they need to be), living authentically with our questions and failures carries the risk of betrayal.  Some who pledge their love and keeping your confidence will foolishly or even innocently let slip stories from your life that you would prefer not to escape their lips.  The risk of being hurt is obvious. This risk is also very potent and speaks to your courage and obedience to the principles of living honestly as a fellow struggler in the pursuit of Christ.

In summary, some of the liabilities of being authentic has the following risks:
  • Being misunderstood
  • Being betrayed
  • Being hurt
How then should we live?  Does Jesus call us to live the lie of perfection to protect ourselves or to live the life of risk by being authentic?  Aren't we called to die to ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23-24)? Shouldn't we live in ways that honestly struggle towards the upward call of being like Jesus?  Shouldn't we be giving people encouragement to live strong for Jesus as we move forward in our faith as a community? 

I would love hearing your thoughts on this topic.  Living authentically is a new path that the church is severely lacking at this point in history.  The world is dying to know this kind of freshness.  I pray you will choose to give the world the truth of His grace in the midst of your weaknesses.  Let's struggle together towards becoming like Jesus.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Authentic (part 2 of 4)

Last weekend my family and I went to the largest Waken reunion in recent history.  We had about 85 people reuniting.  The stories, memories and family history flowed freely.  Of the 85 people attending, I had meaningful relationships with only fourteen.  I met a few of the other folks when I was nine years old at a previous reunion, but the majority were strangers to me in every way except we were somehow related.  Leading up to this weekend reunion, I had been asking God to set up spiritual conversations with those who He knew were ready to move forward in their relationship with Jesus.  There was one family member that I sensed was ready for a spiritual conversation and so we engaged the adventure of getting to know each other.

I began by asking my relative to tell me his story because I had never heard it.  His answer told me more than I would have guessed.  His answer began with, "I don't tell anyone my story.  My story isn't important."  This was followed up by him saying, "Why would anyone want to hear my story?  It is boring and dull and not much to tell."  After we opened that door and walked down the path of his life for a while, I then asked my relative how his faith was doing.  After stumbling over his words for a moment, he became honest and said, "I really don't like church.  I worship in my own way.  My family wants me to go to church with them but I find it something other than authentic."  That began another long conversation over two days.

My relative told me that many people he experienced in the church were surface, distant and phony.  From the person handing out the bulletins, to the smile on the preacher's face; all seemed to be put on much of the time.  This man told me he felt like he had to conform in dress, mannerisms and activities when he was at church or with people from the church.  He felt like he couldn't be himself and be accepted so he choose  chose to stay away.

It is true that being authentic, being true to who we are, is difficult almost anywhere in our world.  We must be "PC" (politically correct) at work, at school or just about anywhere we go.  There is even a "PC" way to act at church.  The "PC" rules may shift from church tradition to church tradition, but there are "PC" ways to behave and believe so that one is able to belong.  Being genuine in a world that is disingenuous is challenging.

The irony of our "PC" world and church is that many are craving for authenticity.  People simply want to be accepted for who they are, not for who they are expected to be.  In my last post, I mentioned I had recently returned from another country where I did not speak the language but was presenting organic church information to them through an interpreter.  I asked the Lord to connect me to a couple of people who He knew wanted to be authentic and I found many.  In the public teaching times, I began sharing my personal stories of failures and wounds and losses instead of sharing stories of victory and success.  This served to quickly and supernaturally connect my heart to a large portion of the attenders.  Being authentic exposed me in ways I wasn't prepared to engage.  Being authentic was also a magnet for people.  They are desperate to be honest about their struggles.  When we open the door of authenticity in our lives and are willing to walk together with them, the walls of disingenuousness begin to fall.

Paul gave us an example of being authentic in many places in the New Testament.  We can see Paul being a learner all throughout the book Acts.  Paul, as a learner, begins to paint a picture of his humanity.  Paul changed his strategy often as he learned and adjusted his approach based upon his previous weak points of strategy.  This is how a normal person learns, by trial and error and adjustment, just like Paul did.  Paul also was authentic in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.  In these verses Paul tells the people in the city of Corinth that he wasn't strong and full of confidence but instead he was really fearful from all he had recently experienced.  Paul came to Corinth focusing his comments on Jesus Christ alone because he knew that is what they needed, he didn't rely on his education and intellectual astuteness.  Paul was authentic in order for the people of Corinth to learn that their faith should be centered on the power of God, not of any man or his abilities.  This is a very refreshing portion of Scripture.

As our weekend reunion came to a close, my relative who has shied away from the church began to paint a picture of what he was thirsting after.  He thirsts for real friends who will accept him with his struggles and who also struggle and are honest about it.  He thirsts for friends who have time for each other and who help each other to get up only to fall down at the feet of Jesus and worship.  Why is that so hard to find?

Jesus said He did not come for the righteous but for the sinners (Matt. 9:13), He didn't come for those who are well but for those who know they are sick (Luke 5:31-32).  Jesus came to give authentic life in abundance (John 10:10).

Why do you think many feel that churches are less than authentic?  What can/will you do to help reverse this trend?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Next time we will discuss the benefits and liabilities of being authentic and then we will end with what it takes to live an authentic life and how to break out of a deceptive life.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Authentic (part 1 of 4)

I was recently presenting concepts of organic church to a group of believers in another country.  Whenever I address people through an interpreter, I know it will be difficult to develop meaningful relationships.  Unless a free flow conversation can take place from the heart, meaningful interactions are difficult to achieve.

Connecting deeply to people is hard when language is a barrier, but it is also difficult when our hearts are not engaged authentically. Somewhere along the path of our lives, we have all learned that being authentic is dangerous; it is a risk that is not often worth taking.  All of us have been betrayed or taken advantage of and we are very committed to that happening as least as possible.  When we begin to follow Jesus, we understand that our goal is to be like Him.  We look around and realize rather quickly that many others are getting real close to being like Him, or so they would have us believe.  They pretend to be doing well in their pursuit of Christ when really they are challenged to figure it all out.  They prefer to fit with to the Christian crowd rather than to share the struggles in their soul.

Because Jesus was tempted in every we are tempted yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), many somehow think this is the standard that they should achieve.  When people who have followed Jesus longer than we have rarely share their imperfections, we learn that sharing our own may not be the best choice.  As we listen, sins are most often shared in the past tense and they are usually the 'greater' sins that have been overcome.  All of this serves to mold us into not sharing our spiritual imperfections and also to pretend that our lives are pretty well together, even though they aren't.   This is faith covered with a veneer of fabricated perfection instead of a faith oozing with honest questions about how to live like Jesus.  It becomes a very sophisticated system that values disingenuousness, pretension and deception.  These are certainly not Biblical characteristics.

Disingenuousness, pretension and deception may sound harsh, but when we are not honest about who we are, these words become accurate descriptors.  Which married couple hasn't been fighting all weekend only to come to church and 'pretend' like everything is wonderful?  Who hasn't had some level of anger towards co-workers or even at a friend from church only to keep it a secret or even lie and say you are getting along just fine with everyone?  The examples could continue, but I think you understand.  Somewhere along the way of following Jesus, we have learned to be deceptive in what is really going on in our hearts.  Why do you think that is?

It is true that often, people really don't want to know you that well.  They don't really want to know about your fears, let alone your sins and struggles.  When many of our leaders come off as having almost supernatural self-control and rarely, if ever, confess to any imperfections of any significance, we learn quickly that we should just sweep any 'issues' we have under the rug.  This pretentious way of living soon leads to legalism: the attempt to please God by keeping various rules often invented by others.  When a friend from church comes over, the bottle of wine gets moved from the pantry to the master bedroom closet.  The jokes we tell or even the small bit of colorful language we use at work never gets mixed into the equation with friends from church.

Instead, of trying to live up to someone else's standards, I suggest we should live authentically as fellow strugglers who often get it wrong.  As a fellow struggler, you stand ready to help me get back up and on the right path (Eccl. 4:9-10) instead of judging me for being on the wrong path.  When we are fellow strugglers, we are able to be truthful, authentic and genuine.  Together we can struggle to live the way Jesus lived.

I would love to hear your comments on these thoughts!

Next time, we will discuss a bit further the value of an authentic life and how to break out of a deceptive one.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Opening Your Hand

As I ready myself to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, 2013, I found myself doing some thinking on Philippians 3:7-11.  I hope you find these insights of benefit to you in some small way.

For much of my life, I have lived with a hand that is closed - picture a hand with palm up but closed or clenched in a fist...go ahead and make that jester to get a feel for what I mean.  For those who know me personally, you may think that this does not represent my life well, but then you are not in my skin.  I am often self-absorbed in my own thinking, my own agenda and my own desires.  When I live like this, I see it illustrated with my palm up but my hand closed.  When this is true, I believe it is impossible for God to find me of much use, for I am then self-absorbed.  

As I pondered Philippians 3:7-11, I found Jesus encouraging me to life louder and fuller by choosing to open my hand in surrender to Him so He can use me more fully.  When my hand is open to the Lord, He is able to rearrange my life to fit His agenda, to take away things that are detracting from His agenda and also to put more into my hand to serve Him more powerfully.  Here are a few thoughts from my musing on this passage.

In Philippians 3:1-6 Paul states his pedigree (3:4-6) which is rich, full and outstanding among the Jews.  Here is the passage of Philippians 3:7-11 in the NASB.

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

3:7  Paul had much to boast about as a Jew.  He begins by stating that whatever was important to him in his past life as a Jewish leader, he counts those things as loss for the sake of Christ.

Loss - he counts who he was and what he gained as a liability and disgusting as it relates to knowing Jesus.  He sees no merit in clinging (keeping a closed fist) to who he was before being a follower of Jesus Christ. 

When all things are loss (death to self but alive to Christ), life really begins.  Instead of living a life represented by a tightly held fist of protection of self and possessions, we open the ‘hand’ of our life and become both giving to others and receiving from Christ.

3:8 Paul goes deeper by stating, “More than that..”, he counts all things to be loss.  Paul sees that in order to know Christ Jesus, he needs to be “All In” which means who he is apart from Christ needs to be “All Out” (an open hand, palm up).  Paul does this because knowing Christ is of “Surpassing value” to who he was.  To have Christ is so much more than anything he ever had or could have.

He goes even further to state that he “suffered the loss of all things and counts them but rubbish”.  Rubbish is a vulgar term that may be equated to human excrement.  The things he used to cherish and live for are now ‘rubbish’,  literally ‘crap’ (or another four letter word).  This he says is a suffering - it is costly to follow Christ.  He lost His current or old life in order to gain real life in Jesus.  This loss could even be described as debilitating.  He lost the importance of what he had in order to “Gain Christ”. 

To gain Christ is become like He is and what He has for us.

3:9 Paul wants to be found in Christ.  Paul would have it that when anyone would encounter Him that he would become like Christ to them - full of love, encouragement and a challenging example to live in the same way (to benefit others).   Paul wanted Jesus’ identity and not his own.

When we are found in Christ, we then gain His righteousness - His perfect righteousness which is not a result of how we live or by the things we do for God but is gained simply be being in Christ.  I strongly encourage you to stop and meditate on Philippians 3:9.

3:10 Paul then brings all of this to a crescendo and states He wants to KNOW Him and POWER of His resurrection and to have a close knit intimacy - FELLOWSHIP - catch this...of His suffering.  When we stop living a self-absorbed life, it is in many ways a suffering and it is worth it!  This knowing Christ and His power and fellowship of His suffering comes from living with an OPEN HAND, a fully surrendered (lost) life.

3:11 This relationship with Christ ends with an expectation of attaining to our own resurrection from death to life, forever with Jesus.

Is Jesus worth your surrender, sacrifice (loss) and trust?  To live like this is risky and dangerous.  You are putting your security in His hands, not longer holding on to your own life.

What does that look like?
Decision - a change of mind from and focus from yourself (me) to Him!  From living for what you want to be living for to what He requires of you every day.  For Paul, he chose to go from being on top of His world (a Jewish leader) to an outcast from from Jews...and He gained Christ.

Following Jesus costs You and blesses everyone else.  When you choose Christ and live sold out for Him, your life becomes a magnet to those you rub shoulders with, you bless them.  Your agenda becomes His agenda which is ever focused outward looking for ways to bring love, life and encouragement to all and to seek and save those who are not yet connected to Jesus.

Action - Everyday as my feet hit the floor I determine to surrender afresh and ask Jesus to give me His eyes and agenda.  I determine to go about my day with an ‘OPEN HAND’.  I’m not always successful, but that is what I desire everyday.  

Allow me to encourage to decide and act by opening your hand to the Lord, to loss your life and gain His better life!

If you have some thoughts in response my thoughts, I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Should We Train People to Share Jesus?

A few days ago, I responded to the following tweet by @seventy8prod...

“If your church was putting together a digital evangelism training (sharing God online), what would need to be part of the "rules" to do it?”

Here is my response...

“Rule 1 Listen to Jesus & repeat what He says (Eph. 6:19-20).The more we train in evang. the less people evang.” @edwaken

My tweet was retweeted and a conversation began between myself and two guys I’ve never met in person.  I love social media.  Much can be lost in translation when you only have 140 characters to communicate profound ideas.  I’m certain I totally missed what @seventy8prod was asking.  In our 140 character conversations, I committed myself to writing a blog post to explain my understanding of the role of training in evangelism.

Defining Evangelism
Evangelism: simply stated, evangelism is sharing good news.  Most Christians would say that they do not have the gift of evangelism or that they are not evangelists.  When I hear this I strongly disagree with them.  Everyone does evangelism for many things in their life.  When we get excited about a good restaurant, we begin to tell people we know about the food, the service, the menu and the staff of this new restaurant.  We might even write a short a review or rate this restaurant on various restaurant review sites.  In essence, we become an evangelist (sharing the good news) about our new restaurant find.  Evangelism is nothing more than telling people about the good news of life in Jesus.  Every believer is to be an evangelizer for the good news of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20, John 20:21, Acts 1:8, Col. 4:5-6 etc).

Everyone has methods when it comes to evangelism.  The question is should we be teaching methods and/or training people in evangelistic methodologies?  I would say that it is fine to teach or train people in evangelistic methods...BUT...only if they first understand Jesus’ methods.  Once this is understood, you may find you don’t need or want to teach other methods.  Let me as briefly as possible unpack what I mean.

Paul had a method of going into synagogues to preach but that doesn’t mean that this method should be imitated or transferred.  In today’s world, imitating Paul’s method would be equivalent to going into Kingdom Halls or Mormon Stakes upon entering a city to begin a dialogue.  It may work for some, but it should not be prescribed as the ‘must use’ method or the method endorsed by the apostle Paul.

The world's systems needs methods to produce products or to perfect techniques.  Spiritual tasks take on a different set of needs that have more to do with dependence, trust and weakness rather than control, consistency and production.  When the disciples or a church try to apply enterprising techniques, we lose the flavor and excitement of the adventure and mystery that is meant to be experienced by following the Holy Spirit.

Jesus went about proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:18) but he seemed to do it differently all the time.  His approach with his disciples was different than he used with Nicodemus (John 3) or with the rich young ruler (Matt. 19), the woman at the well (John 4) or even the man born blind (John 9). 

Here is what I believe Jesus’ secret was.  He adjusted the message (the approach) to every person based upon what He heard from the Father (John 5:19-20).  We then learn from the pen of Paul, that this is exactly what we are to be doing as well (1 Cor. 2:10-16, Eph. 6:18-19).  In fact, Jesus taught his disciples that when we find ourselves in situations where the good news of Jesus can be shared, that God will actually give us the exact right words at the exact right time to have God’s exact right response for that interaction (Matt 10:18-20, Mark 13:9-11, Luke 21:12-15, Eph. 6:18-19).

No one has to train people how to share positive news about their good restaurant experience.  It flows from their mouth naturally when the opportunity presents itself.  Imagine actually engineering a course on how to tell people about good restaurant experiences.  We really don’t need such a course.

As people begin to understand the Biblical promises about sharing faith in Jesus (see verses cited above), I believe there is less need to train people.  As people believe that Jesus will actually give them the right words at the right time to meet the need of the hearer, it will bring freedom to their souls and cause their ear to be more in tune with what Jesus will be saying to them.  When this basic principle is embraced, training people with the right order of truths to get a person to make a decision (training how to share your faith) begins to pale.

Training Often Equals Less Sharing
While I am not against training people with methods to share truth about Jesus, when we begin with this sort of training we often handcuff them (unintentionally) to the method(s) we present.  These methods will always be artificial for most people.  While most methods offer solid truth of the Gospel and are well intended to get people motivated and equipped to share Jesus with others, they are simply too complicated.  Experience teaches us that most will abandon the method at some point.  Even evangelistic systems that claim to be simple are often too complicated for many.  When we train people in the or a ‘way’ to share their faith it can communicate that if you don’t do it right it won’t work or may lead people astray.  When you lay the foundation of freedom to listen and follow Jesus’ whispers in your heart, then methods can be added and viewed as a tools to be used when lead by the Spirit.

This is getting long for a blog post so I’ll end it here.  We have not even touched on what success in evangelism looks like or what our role and God’s role are in evangelism or even how to know we are hearing from God.  Let’s tackle those topics another day.

You can listen to a bit more about my thoughts on evangelism by clicking HERE.

I would love to hear what you think.  Leave a comment below and let's have a dialogue.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Has it Been That Long?

Wow, I can't believe the last time I posted was in July...amazing.  Well I will have a post up later today or tomorrow at the latest.  I'm working on it now and pray it will be of some benefit to you.  Until my next 'real' post :-)...