make.it.count

I love a good, slightly over-ripened tomato that’s been warmed by the sun. My grandmother used to put unripened tomatoes on a shelf in front of a window to let them sun-ripen. When they were perfectly ripe, we’d devour them. Mmmmm… A few times she forgot about them and they’d over-ripen and begin to rot. What a waste! Those tomatoes were robbed of their joy of becoming a savory treat!

And we pray this in order that you
may live a life worthy of the Lord
and may please him in every way:
bearing fruit in every good work,
growing in the knowledge of God
(emphasis added, Verse 10 of Colossians 1:3-14)

This is verse 10, of a larger passage which I encourage you to read for context. But let me summarize.

Paul has heard about the zeal and fervor of the people in this church. It excites him, and he encourages them by telling them that he’s been praying for them – specifically how their personal & corporate spiritual growth will cause a spiritual revolution in the people they encounter. In other words, he wants their enthusiasm about their relationship with God to spill out, causing more people to know Christ.

I think we all have a built-in desire to matter. We want what we are doing to have significance. I do. But, I want to get past that struggle. I want to move past the question, “do I matter?” which is a question about me, to “does my life count,” which is a question of others.

The answer to the first question ought to have been answered by the cross. Jesus gave his life for me – he did not die for nothing. In light of God’s grace, I matter.

The answer to the second question is yet to be answered. Will I let what Jesus did for me “count?” Will I let Him bear fruit through me – or am I content only to continue to sit in the sun and ripen on a shelf.

What about you? You already matter – will you make it count?

— in His grip…

mission.impossible

The image is "photoshopped" but the story is true!

Angel’s mother, Jan, is a sweet giving woman. She amazes me at her generosity. A few weeks ago, she gave us her 2-yr-old lawn tractor – gave. The only catch was that I had to get it to the house. We don’t have a trailer, and my old ’65 Ford truck isn’t operable yet (broken steering box). But, we do have a minivan. So, I went outside, walked around the minivan a little (chin in hand), and decided that it would fit. Now, my son, who was with me, disagreed. My wife thought I was just nuts saying, “how can a lawn tractor fit in our minivan?”

Richard  and I drove over to Mom’s. When we pulled up, and as Mom walked out, she had a grin on her face – you know the “bless your heart” grin. In the south, “bless your heart” is akin to saying “you’re dumber than a box of rocks,” only nicer.

“It will fit – trust me!” Reluctantly Richard helped me make the attempt. It wasn’t easy. But, it fit!

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

The verse above is part of the story about the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus hoping to be justified for the way he lived his life. He did what was “required” and nothing more. When pressed to live a life of sacrifice he folded. Those who were nearby, watching this exchange were dumbfounded. They knew they could not live up to that radical kind of sacrifice either, and they exclaimed, “who can be saved???”

The verse above was Jesus’ reply.

God says, “Trust me – what I am asking of you may not make any sense to people – but I’m involved here, so it certainly is possible.”

heart.treasures

If there is any place in my life that I can certainly point towards as edging towards vice is my love of gadgets. Of all the “things” that can be “loved,” I love gadgets the most. This has been a life-long affair, and I would be too embarrassed to tell the level of priority that gadgets maintain in my financial picture.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

The passage above is in a longer section dealing with “living” well, according to God’s heart.

There are two things that impact me today as I read that.

First, I recall the impact that the Moravian missionaries had on John Wesley as he observed their holy lifestyles while aboard a ship. As he recounts the experiences, you almost get a sense that they purposefully made themselves the servants of their fellow travelers. They got them drink, brought their food, saw to their comfort, attended to any sicknesses. The thing is, the were not servants, nor were they ship staff. They simply (and profoundly) lived to serve. They looked for ways in which they could give of themselves to others. He was so struck by them, that he, a minister, found himself in a personal spiritual revolution.

Second, I am getting very skittish about a book study that I am going to do, hopefully with some brave friends. It’s intended to be a small group study, but I am doing it by myself if I have to. I am compelled in my spirit to engage the challenge that I know awaits within those pages. It’s called the “Economy of Love” and is published by The House Studio. Here is a quote from the info page about it:

What is the value of enough, and how do we become more like the God who is close to the poor, the hungry, the meek, and the merciful? Economy of Love will challenge individuals to join in community, journeying together as they begin to consider a new standard of living—a personal economic threshold oriented not around the size of a monthly paycheck, but around the value of enough.

I have a feeling that my love of gadgets is only a minuscule part of my life that will be challenged, and it honestly frightens me. But, I want to  live a life that draws people to Jesus in a way that they are challenged to be transformed by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the deepest places. I want to live a life that draws people to spiritual revolution as they find themselves “as if dead” before mighty bronze feet aflame (Revelation 1:13-16).

kingdom.experiment.6

Week 6 – The Pure in Heart

Wow. I totally forgot I was writing this series! Must be the fact that 40 is closing in, hahaha.

My bride, Angel loves a clean house. Well, I do too, but we tend to think of a clean house quite differently. For me, if company comes over and it looks clean, well then it’s clean. But that is not good enough for Angel. Not only does what we “see” have to be clean, but she labors pretty intensely on making sure what’s “not seen” is also clean. You know, stuff like lifting the couch into the air so she can vacuum underneath it. Making sure the clothes are actually folded within the dresser drawers. Making sure the spot on the back of the toilet, up against the wall, where no one but my dogs can actually see, gets pine-sol’d.

Sometimes I drive her crazy because I equate “picking up” with “cleaning up” – I’ll throw stuff in a drawer or behind a closet door. Not her. It goes where it is supposed to live, being a specific storage nook, on a hanger, or in the trashcan. Part of the reason I am like this is because I don’t clean in advance. I don’t have time to clean (ladies, no shoe-throwing) – so I scurry to clean when a friend calls and says, “Hey, mind if I come over in an hour?” On the other hand, Angel cleans in advance – she actually thinks about how to schedule cleaning into her daily routine. I just don’t get it. I try, but I’m a dumb male, and it just does not make sense to me.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
(Matthew 5:8)

Perhaps that’s why I do the same thing with my heart – my spirit. I am too busy to purposefully consider how to set aside time for spiritual cleansing – or so I tell myself. Sometimes, the situation is much worse. OK, so I’ll admit, that sometimes, I do the spiritual equivalent of “scurry cleaning.” I do what it takes to make myself look spiritually pure. Ouch.

I tried several of the experiments for this week of the study, but the one that really became “my” experiment was being intentional about maintaining places of solitude. I can’t scurry clean” my heart. I’ve got do keep steady maintenance on my heart-purity, making time for serious and deep prayer and introspection. I had become negligent again since this study, but blogging has become my new intentional pursuit of a pure heart.

Still in His grip.

lazy.sunday

Please, indulge me – directly below this text should be a media player (or a link to an MP3 file). Please play it as you read. More on this song in the body of the post below.

I have always been a person of many projects, sometimes so many that several never get done (my 65′ ford truck restore, the skirting on the shed, the half-written songs in my notebook). I never thought of myself as a “busy” person, but I learned from a conversation with a Christian counselor friend that I was wrong (grin). I thought recreation was my remedy to the busyness, but it can be just busyness in another form. I realized that I am somewhat of a control freak. I use my OCD as a an excuse to let this appetite for control flourish. Being busy is my way of controlling my life.

Being a pastor is challenging, but most of it works with the way I am wired. The hardest part of being a pastor is dealing with all the pain and suffering that people go through. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE to pray for my friends at Thrive Church (and elsewhere). I WANT to be a part of their suffering – to walk it with them in a healthy way.

The difficulty comes in from the back door – control. See, sometimes I get really infuriated with God’s timing. I hate that some people are enduring so much for so long. I want to get in there and help them. I want to do what I can do to fix their situation. I want to rescue them. “Get on the ball, God – geez!”

10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
(Psalm 46:10)

This verse is part of a song of encouragement to people who are in dark times. If you read Psalm 46:1-11 close enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of the darkness, but it is so well-hidden by the encouraging message – a peaceful message. What is this jewel of peaceful encouragement?

“I’m God. Be still. Let me handle it. I got this.”

Sigh. OK, Lord. I’m taking my hands off.

The song you are listening to (hopefully) was written, arranged, and recorded by me (using Apple’s Garage Band) yesterday, on a lazy Sunday, as I purposefully set out to be still. When my soul quieted, a prayer without words burst forth in my heart. Massaging this piece was so therapeutic. I know it’s not a perfect recording, but I hope it speaks the unspeakable peace of God to your spirit.

friday.folio

Here’s this week’s “friday.folio,” a hat-tip to some of the things I’ve read the past week that surprised / encouraged / challenged me.

1. “Shut Up and Listen” is a post by Brad Lomenick. It is a message urging “perspective” for young leaders. Am I still one? ha ha ha ha! I don’t know if I still qualify, but I sure took the message to heart.

2. “Touring Whine Country” is a guest post by Jason Stasyszen’s wife, Andrea. Notice the word in the title is “whine” not “wine.” Andrea’s mother’s heart comes through with a message we all need to hear from time to time – maybe now? You decide.

3. “To Those Who Quit the Church” is a post by Jason Stasyszen. When I first saw the title, I said to myself, “Oh no – not another Anne Rice blog post!” But, trust me, this is not what you are expecting.

4. “Which Version of the Bible is the Best?” is a post by Ryan Tate. Again – not what I expected from the title. Please go deeper than the book’s cover – click the link – read to the BOTTOM. I really think this might be my favorite reading of the past week.

5. “That Church” is a post by Duane Scott. have you ever heard people talking down another church in public? Was it your church they were talking about? Have you ever been the one doing the talking?

I want to start using “friday.folio” as a way to meet new bloggers.

So, if you’ve run across a good post today, please share it below – even if YOU wrote it :-)

hold.me.back

I’m fourteen years old. My life is in turmoil – divorced parents, foster care, physical abuse. I am an angry boy. I have a short fuse, but that is just an excuse.  I walk the school halls hoping someone will look at me wrong so that I have an excuse to let my rage loose. Sometimes, my friends literally hold me back.

Fast forward 20-some years. I’m in  a fast food restaurant, and place an order. The clerk, who is quite a bit younger than I, and a lot smaller, recites the order – but there is an error.

So, I say, “Sir, that last item wasn’t right, I would like a chicken sandwich.

That’s not what you said.

Oh, OK. Would you mind changing it to a chicken sa…

You’re saying I’m lying?!” he screamed.

Oh no, I figured I must have mis-spoken, in which case, I’m sorry. Could you please change tha…

Now you’re saying I am not listening?!?!?” Screaming even louder.

I couldn’t figure out what I had done to incite him. I replied, ever so calmly, “Oh no, sir. I would not do that. Could you cha…

He began to threaten me. I really think he wanted to fight!

I kept assuring him that I meant no offense. I eventually got my order and said, “Thank you, and again I apologize for the confusion.” and walked out.

My son was with me.

When we got in the car he says, “Dad – the stories I’ve heard about you – I thought you were going to kill him!

First of all, I am ashamed that he knows these stories.

Secondly, there was a time when that young man would have had a near death experience by my hands. But God changed me – that’s the last thing I want to ever do – and it was a long hard road to get here.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:21)

On my journey, I realized that “do not be overcome with evil” starts way before it ever gets physical. How do I react to people in my mind? How does that translate to my eyes, my face, my tongue? This verse deals with how we react to someone who does “evil” to us. Read the rest (Romans 12:17-21). You’ll realize that the right response to someone doing you wrong is to love them. Wow.

it.would.be.nice

Michael Perkins‘ posts about his son cause me to reminisce about my own children when they were at that age. In fact, I am almost jealous that I don’t have that time back so I can enjoy the unfettered affection of my children. But, God blessed me with a father-son story of my own, today.

My son, now 18, is leaving today to visit some friends in another city. We banter back and forth all the time with sarcasm and “picking” on one another – it’s our “schtick.”

This morning I had the door closed as I was getting dressed for work. He tells me through the door that he is leaving. I responded in haste (while putting on my pants) with, “OK.”

I heard silence, then, “um… ok… um…”

In our typical bantering style, I quipped back, “What’s the matter? You need a good-bye hug from your old man or something?” – expecting the typical sarcastic reply from him.

What I got was a timid, “Umm, yeah, it would be nice.”

So, I hugged him, kissed the side of his head, told him to be careful, that I would miss him, and that I loved him.

For just a moment, he was that 4 yr old boy who said he would never leave mom and dad, and would always be our little boy. He needed the loving embrace of his father. I needed it too!

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
(John 1:12-13)

I know, I know, I know, that my Heavenly Father loves me. But, sometimes I find I need His loving embrace – just because.

change.of.posture

At our church, we have faithfully maintained a prayer chapel as our mid-week “service” for adults. Please read about this “service” at this link, because today’s post depends on a familiarity with what we’re doing during “prayer chapel”.

I’ll have to admit that it has not been easy to continue doing this. The attendance is really low. It is “odd” compared to our Sunday worship. And, I think people just don’t get it. Many times I’ve been tempted to turn it into a bible study or something. But, God reminds me of His call for Thrive to be known as a house of prayer.

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed
(Luke 22:39-40)

Did you know that during Jesus’ time, the typical “posture” for prayer was standing, eyes open, usually with one arm raised towards heaven? I found that little piece of trivia during my research for a message series about prayer. The thing I found most intriguing was the “activity” among scholars about Jesus’ posture as he prayed. Some suggest that Jesus was so overwhelmed by what was going to take place, that his emotional exhaustion effected him physically. Other suggest that he was signaling reverent intimacy with God, in the same vein as David’s prayer kneeling.

To me, both positions are simultaneously possible. All of the scholars are in agreement that the “jewel” here is that Jesus chose a different posture than “typical.”

Sometimes, you just have to change your posture. You have to take yourself to a different place, mentally or physically, so that you can tune-out the world and focus in on God. That’s why I love our prayer chapel. I can count on an “oasis of peace” – a dedicated hour within the week to be still and know that He is God. I need this oasis, and have to come to rely on it – it is part of my “sabbath practice.”

How do you find your “oasis of peace?” How do you change “posture?”

the.same.power

The “thoughts” I share with you today originally came to mind during a mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona / New Mexico. While there, I sensed a spirit of overwhelming powerlessness in the people. In exchange for peace, the US government promised the Navajo that all of their needs will forever be met. Some say the we’ve been too successful in our promise, breaking the spirit of the Navajo, eroding their sense of self-empowerment, relegating their sense of creativity to artworks that they can sell to tourists. They live, by and large, in relative poverty, learning to rely on the government for food, shelter and education, and make little effort at self-advancement. It is a culture of survival – “existence” rather than “truly living.”

25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

(Matthew 14:25-31)

When we study this passage, we typically speak about faith – keeping your eyes on Jesus.  We say, “If only Peter would have kept his eyes on Jesus, he would not have sunk!” And, it’s true. But, I think we miss a pretty huge point:

Peter walked on water. Peter, a mere mortal man, walked on water.

The same power that Jesus wields can be ours. This is hard to fathom, hard to grasp – yet, Peter walked on water.

My spirit welled-up within me as I tried to get that message across to my Navajo friends during my short devotional.

My spirit now wells-up within me as I try to get this message across to you – the power of the Almighty lives in you.

Nothing you face today has the power to destroy you.

You are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Death has lost it’s sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-56). Do you believe it?

Video inspiration – the chorus from Hillsong United “You Are Here:”