Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Life is Humbling; God is Good

A few years ago one of my favorite authors, one that I have read so much I consider him a distant mentor, published a new book that I was very eager to purchase and read. I paid around $27 for the book and began devouring it. I wasn’t disappointed. I not only learned from his writing I was also more firmly grounded in my faith and personal identity.

You can imagine my shock about six months later when I saw 5 new copies of this book in a second hand book store for $6 each! I remember thinking, “How much work and how much of his life was poured into that book and now it is on a bargain table?” I was reminded that every achievement, trophy, prize, award, or accomplishment is short lived.

That memory flew back to me today. I’m in the midst of moving my office a few blocks away to a new location. It’s been years since I’ve done a serious purge of my stuff. As I looked into one container there lay over 25 years of cassette tapes of sermons I’ve preached. People often ask, “How long does it take to prepare a message?” For years I spent 8-12 hours per week for each message. In recent years it’s been closer to 20 hours per week. It’s much more challenging to speak today than 20 years ago but that’s a different post.

So…..yes, I threw away every one of those cassettes. A lot of my life was in those messages but they are mostly long forgotten by those who heard. Honestly, most of my messages are forgotten within 48 hours but that’s a different post.

It’s humbling; but God is good. I’m so privileged to get to spend a significant portion of my life praying and studying and writing and then speaking. For those readers that have heard me speak often, thank you for sharing in a mystical and powerful exchange as we gather around God’s Word weekly in worship.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Just Marveling

Recently I’ve been laying the ground work to launch a recovery ministry. As I’ve been reading materials, visiting with potential team members and interviewing others that lead recovery ministries, I’ve been sent down the road of reflection on how God has used the recovery process in me.

Raised in an extremely dysfunctional setting and adopting perfectionism and performance as tools for coping with fears, abandonment, and rejection, I was in danger of blowing up my marriage, family and church in my mid-30’s. It was at that point that a friend confided in me that he was a recovering alcoholic. I was not only curious about the 12 step program that he was working to maintain his sobriety but I began to see a way to break free from my own “stuff”. For over two years we met weekly and worked/discussed the steps with each other. God began to work deliverance in me that I long to see happen for others.

Meanwhile, every week I marvel at the broken people that God sends my way and how God somehow uses the health and life that He is working into me to bring life and hope to them. In recent days someone contacted me with obsessive fear and panic attacks. Someone else asked if I would address the “life questions” that are keeping him from God. Someone else engaged me about disillusionment with religious systems. None of these people are in my relational circles or in my church.

With 6 billion walking the planet God is so great and God is so good that He is working in and around us in many ways to redeem, restore and renew.

I’m just marveling at God today.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Dream for the Church

I see a day…

When men and women become Spirit birthed as sons and daughters of God who are saved from condemnation and saved for eternal, abundant life with God.

When men and women become Spirit delivered and released from wounds, abuse, failures, disappointments and disillusionment and receive forgiveness for sin; comfort for grief; healing from hurts and hope for the future.

When men and women become Spirit guided people who know and understand their God-given life purpose and who establish and follow life priorities in God’s will.

When men and women become Spirit empowered to love God and others well; worshiping God whole-heartedly; living in authentic community; serving the needs of the poor and hurting; embracing and affirming the worth of all people; and reaching others with the redemptive grace of Christ.

When men and women become Spirit equipped with gifts and talents, who develop and use those abilities to serve God and others so that God’s kingdom is advanced, the culture is influenced and the world is changed.

When men and women experientially live and are therefore characterized by the “fruit of God’s Spirit” that is seen in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

When God’s Spirit births a movement that exponentially plants new congregations and calls new pastors and missionaries for the work of God’s kingdom around the world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

About What Do You Dream?

Some people dream about an ideal mate or job or what they would do if they became rich. Some more nobly dream of a better society. I dream about the Church. I believe that the hope of the world is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I believe that the Church is the steward of Christ’s mission and message to redeem and transform humanity. Therefore, the Church is God’s strategy and primary means in order to be present among us, to woo and call us to Himself.

However, the Church, through the centuries and presently, has often found herself in a state of distraction, deception or disappointment.

This week I’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s Church, especially in the US since that is what I see and experience most. The church is declining in the US. For some time 80-85% of churches are in the plateau or declining phase. Of those churches founded before 1960, 66-75% are declining. According to David Olson research, 17.8% of America attends a church worship gathering on any given Sunday. Demographically, the younger a person is the less likely he will be involved in church.

There are many reasons that the US Church has succumbed to such a state. I am giving my one and only life to the service of Christ and His Church to see her full incarnational and missional potential reached, to the glory of Christ and for the sake of people.

Tomorrow I’ll share with you my dream.

Monday, April 21, 2008

So you don't believe in ID. Why are you so insulting?

Saturday I checked out “Expelled”. In the words of P.Z. Myers, University of Minnesota professor of biology, I am “religious” and “ignorant”. Commenting on Ben Stein’s documentary Myers predicted that the movie is “going to appeal strongly to the religious, the paranoid, the conspiracy theorists and the ignorant---which means that they are going to draw in about 90% of the American market.”

“Expelled” did appeal to me. I thought it was interesting, entertaining and provocative. Anytime I see a movie and I’m stirred to have conversations with others about the content of the movie and to read numerous articles about the subject I would say that the movie is appealing.

After seeing the film and Googling several of the people interviewed on both sides of the issue the case can be made that there is an effort to stifle debate on the subject of Intelligent Design. Not only did Stein interview professors, scholars and journalists who claimed to have lost their jobs because of their merely putting the issue “on the table” but he gave opportunity to evolutionists to speak to their perspective without reducing their comments to sound bites.

Richard Dawkins is not only an atheist and best selling author of “The God Delusion” but holds in contempt those who believe in God or ID. When Stein points out to Dawkins that he’s pretty harsh in his commentary about God, Dawkins seemed to take some delight in pointing out that Stein had been too mild in his assessment. Dawkins picks up a copy of his own book and quotes himself--

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

When pressed that if there were no God then from where does Dawkins believe life originated, with a totally straight face Dawkins suggested a theory that aliens seeded our planet.

Another “expert” voice for evolution theorizes that life originated on the backs of crystals. Still another suggested that electric sparks from a lightning storm created organic matter. These were not obscure scientists that Stein found in an attempt to discredit the evolutionists’ argument but rather these are the leading spokespersons!

Interestingly, I noticed that the film critic site, Rotten Tomatoes, had 25 reviews of “Expelled” posted and 22 found it “rotten”. Much of the criticism was not on film making but on the foolishness of the idea of ID. “The film is crap.” “One of the sleaziest documentaries.” “Narrow-minded and intellectually dishonest.”

So you don’t believe in ID. Why are you so insulting about it?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is There a Conspiratorial Effort to Stifle Debate on Intelligent Design?

Ben Stein is a fascinating guy. A graduate of Columbia University in economics and Yale Law School, Stein has practiced law, taught in universities, written speeches for presidents (Nixon and Ford), been a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, written or co-written 30 books, was a game show host and has been an actor in movies, television and commercials.

No kidding, I only knew of Stein from his role as the boring high school teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. “Anyone, anyone?”

Now Stein has produced and starred in a documentary about the debate between Darwinism/Evolution and Intelligent Design called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. You can see the movie trailer here. It will be in theaters April 18.

The following appears on the movie’s blog--

“Expelled” calls attention to the plight of highly credentialed scholars who
have been forced out of prestigious academic positions because they proposed
Intelligent Design as a possible alternative to Charles Darwin’s 150-year-old
theories about the origins of life. Instead of entertaining a debate on the
merits of competing theories, the scientific establishment has moved to suppress
the ID movement in a “systematic and ruthless” way at odds with America’s
founding principles, the film asserts.

Interested? I am. I plan to see it. If you do tell me what you think?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Living a Risky Life

Sunday my godson competed in a regional gymnastics meet in the Portland area. Ben is 11 years old and in the 5th grade and has been competing well the past two years. Recently he has been attempting a new move that is not only difficult but risky.

Sunday, in this highly competitive meet, Ben decided to go for it on the new move. He faltered a bit and it cost him some points. Though he finished well he may not have finished as high as he could have had he not attempted the move.

Afterward his attitude was, “I’d rather have gone for it and not made it than not gone for it at all.” I love that!

I hung up from talking with Ben’s mom this morning and I was inspired. There are scenarios in life that God has been inviting me to enter. They are high risk. If it doesn’t work out I can look foolish. I can look like a failure. I can look incompetent. But like Ben, I’d rather go for it and fail than not go for it at all.

What about you? I’m not making a case for living risky in the sense of being reckless and ill prepared. But I am making the case for not playing life too safe.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The "Jesus Controversy" on American Idol

This past Wednesday American Idol featured their telethon for charity called “Idol Gives Back”. Something over $60 million was donated to address poverty in the States and abroad. Pretty impressive.

To close the evening the final 8 Idol contestants surprisingly began singing “Shout to the Lord”, an evangelical worship chorus that is a favorite of many. The next day non-Christians and Christians were complaining about the song being sung.

The non-Christians were upset that such an overtly religious “Jesus” song was forced upon all the viewers who were of other faiths or no faith.

The Christians were upset that a song that is meant to worship Jesus was being commercialized and being sung by presumably non-Christian and non-worshiping contestants.

Another twist to the controversy is that the song begins, “My Jesus, my Savior…” The Idol rendition began “My Shepherd, my Savior…”, totally leaving Jesus out of the song that is all about Him.

Then the surprises just kept coming as Thursday night Idol began the evening’s elimination show with an encore of “Shout to the Lord”, only this time they had the singers begin the song correctly, “My Jesus, my Savior.”

Many are scratching their heads and wondering what is going on with the producers of Idol, particularly after following another week that featured the guest mentoring appearance of Dolly Parton. The contestants all sang “Dolly songs” and several of them mention Jesus. Many are asking, “Has Idol gone evangelical?”

There are many things upon which to reflect. I’ll just identify one. Should a worship song to Jesus not be sung by someone who is not worshiping Jesus?

Hundreds of secular artists have recorded “Amazing Grace” and thousands of artists have recorded dozens of Christmas songs that praise and worship Jesus. Additionally, in the past 20 years the “Christian” music industry has sold millions of worship recordings which featured “Christian” artists who were at the time drug addicted, adulterous and otherwise screwed up.

There’s not a lot that I can do about that. What I can address is whether the life behind my voice is in concert with the lyrics sung in the presence of and to the person of Jesus. Every Sunday churches are filled with “worshipers” who are barely present, half-hearted, sin compromised and “idolatrous” in lifestyle singing Jesus songs.

I’m not really sure if God likes or dislikes secular people singing worship songs. What I am sure about is that God EXPECTS those in the church to be authentic and whole-heartedly engaged in worshiping Him.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Presidential Candidates

No matter your political persuasion or preference, this is funny :)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I'm Hooked on Transformation

This past Sunday I spoke about the transforming work that Jesus Christ does in the lives of those who follow Him. I confessed that I’m hooked on transformation. I’m always deeply touched, moved and inspired by stories of life transformation. I’m eternally grateful for the transforming work Christ does in me.

Today I heard a man share some of his story that I continue to replay in my mind.

He is addicted to alcohol, drugs and sex. His addiction has cost him three marriages and left him with four estranged children. About four years ago he began to follow Christ and get involved in a recovery ministry.

Today he is sober, has won back a relationship with his children and has seen his fourth and nearly lost marriage saved and renewed.

My point from Sunday was that God’s part is that He gives you a new “suit” (life). Our part is that we “put on” the suit (work out our salvation). The metaphor comes from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:17-32.

My new acquaintance was given a new life from God and he did the life work of putting it on and living it. I praise God and celebrate the man’s life work.

I never get tired of seeing and hearing transformation stories.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Life is Unfair, Just Ask Rodrick Stewart

For college basketball fans tonight is the Division 1 Championship Game between my hometown Memphis Tigers and the storied basketball program of the Kansas Jayhawks. The last time and only time that Memphis was in the national championship game was 1973 against the Bill Walton led UCLA Bruins. I actually got to attend that game. Even though Memphis lost it is a great memory.

Kids that love the game dream of playing in the Championship Game. Tonight one kid’s dream has literally been shattered. Reserve guard, Rodrick Stewart (pictured) will not be available to play because he fractured his kneecap Friday at the end of practice. Apparently he slipped on a wet spot on the floor just as he was jumping up to dunk the basketball. You can see a video clip here.

Rodrick and his twin brother Lodrick, were high school stars at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. They both signed with the University of Southern California and embarked on their college careers together. The SC program went through some turmoil and Rodrick decided to transfer to Kansas. Now a senior this was his last shot at fulfilling the childhood dream. Now he will sit on the sideline and watch his teammates.

Of course it is just a game and Stewart will adjust and get over it some day. But I’m reminded how many people just in my small world have experienced how unfair life can be. Abuse, abandonment, betrayal, crime, and deceit are just the beginning of the alphabet. We could go all the way to “z” and name unfair experiences.

Unfairness often raises questions like, “Why me?” or “Why did this happen?” Many, even most of those questions will never be answered in this life. Perhaps the better question is “What now?”

One of my heroes is the ancient apostle of Christ, Paul. A rising star in theology and ecclesiology, Paul instead became a follower of Jesus and not only started churches all over the known world in his day but literally wrote over half of what became the New Testament.

But with all of the powerful and even eternal things that Paul accomplished, he endured much of life’s unfairness. On five separate occasions he received a flogging with 39 lashes of a whip. On three occasions he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned until those hurling the rocks thought he was dead and quit. Three times he was shipwrecked on the open seas and nearly drowned. On multiple occasions he was threatened by robbers, by religious fanatics, and from anti-religion fanatics. Many times he went hungry and homeless. (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-29)

Paul was convinced that God used all of the unfairness he experienced in order to accomplish good. I have come to believe the same thing.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Would You Miss Pizza Hut?

John Moore’s blog, “Brand Autopsy” is in a series of asking whether we would miss certain brands of stores or products.

Moore asks, “If Pizza Hut went out of business tomorrow would any of us care?”

“Does Pizza Hut provide such a unique product and customer experience that we would be saddened if it didn’t exist?”

Moore also raises the same questions about Walgreens, Sears, Wells Fargo and many others. My first reaction was, “No, I wouldn’t miss it a bit.” I would just go get a pizza somewhere else and besides, I prefer the pizzas of some other stores over Pizza Hut.

But almost immediately that “Would you miss?” question rang in my head about my church. And almost as quickly the question caused me to reflect about my own life.

What kind of contributions to the lives of others, to the culture and ultimately to the world does my church make? Do I make?

If your life was “out of business” tomorrow, what difference would it make?

This is the kind of question that takes me to important depths of reflection about who I am and who I am becoming.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Live to be 150 Years Old, But Why?

Tonight Barbara Walters will air a special program on ABC Television that details the latest scientific research on the human body and why it is that we should see many more people in the near future living past 100 years, even to 150 years.

It may be an interesting report but it raises the question, “Why would anyone want to live so long?”

As I’ve shared before, when I was about 21 years old I was engaged in a time of prayer and reflecting on life in God’s presence when I sensed Him prompt me to pray a prayer. I sensed that God wanted me to pray and ask Him to give me 120 years of life. I’ve been praying that prayer for 31 years.

When I was in my twenties and someone in their senior years learned that I was praying that prayer they would always, 100% of the time, make this comment: “Son, why would you want to live that long?”

Now that I’m older I get it that in many ways it becomes more difficult to do life because:
a. Life’s aches and pains are annoying. The body does begin to break down.
b. Life’s culture increasingly favors and celebrates youth and casts the elderly aside.

But the major factor that I’ve observed through the years that has diminished the desire to live 90-120 years is a lack of vision. If life is about earning a living until one is 65 and then retiring to leisure and hobbies then I’d pray, “God, let me die and go to heaven.” Leisure is not compelling enough for me to press through elderly aches and pains and culture’s devaluing of my life.

However, if I have a vision, if I have a reason, if I have a call from God concerning how He wants to use my life in the advance years, then I want to serve and make a difference until I have no more breath.

My planning to live until I’m 120 impacts my decisions about health, relationships, education/learning, use of time and life pacing. I don’t think that I’m guaranteed 120 years and if I died tomorrow I’d be happy to leave this world and go to the next. But the vision I have for 120 years has become a guiding/driving/compelling force in me that I didn’t realize would be so important when I was 21.

What if God gives you 90, 100 or more years? What would you do with it? Why would it matter?