Jonathan

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The Transformational Community

Categories: Ministry Tips, Small Groups, Tags: , , , , ,

When it comes to small groups, what you put into it and how you do that matter significantly and affects the quality of what comes out an how that impacts the world.

community24When it comes to cake making, what you eat and enjoy is largely dependent on what went into it and how it was put together. I didn’t just revolutionize the annals of culinary excellence with that esoteric revelation because the principle behind that statement may be considered a basic fact of life applicable to so many other facets of life. I don’t believe that simply what you put in is what you get out but more,  “what you put in and how you put it in determines the quality of what comes out.” We now understand that ‘practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect’, but ‘perfect practice’ or high quality practice results in better results.  This is true in business, sports, family, the arts, and…no surprise here…the church, more specifically, the small group community. To be clear, by small group, I am referring to a group of like-minded followers of Christ, at varying stages of spiritual pilgrimage, who commit to doing life together: they embrace His life individually, they share His life corporately, and give away that life to the world sacrificially, with the shared priority of becoming more like Christ.

At my current church, Forest Hill, the basic DNA of community is the holistic integration of 3 main components that facilitate personal and group transformation: CARE-the way we connect to, celebrate and care for one another; GROWTH-our learning and applying biblical truth to our lives; IMPACT-sharing the love of Christ in our community through compassionate service. Quite frankly with the books I’ve read and churches I have visited (clearly not exhaustive) I have yet to see the blend of these three components interwoven into the fabric of biblical community. Clearly, we are not a church who is doing it perfectly, and there are places we need to improve upon and strive to do so, but I do believe we (like many churches) are moving closer to being the kind of 21st Century New Testament church that will honor Christ.

Personally, the bulk of my church experience is more traditional in form: where the church building was the facility center of church life and community impact. Though the Great Commission bids us “Go into all the world and make disciples…” the traditional church, sometimes referred to as the “institutional church”, bids disciples to go into all the world and bring their friends back to the building! That’s a far cry from what I believe Jesus intended for His Church BC (before campuses)….but that’s a whole different topic!

In the more traditional church, transformational community is unfortunately an assumed achievement simply through the ministry of charismatic communicators, successful capital campaigns, impressive campus expansions, and creative, abundant, niche-marketed programming. Simply put: “we built it…they came…and they became.” But even churches, like the mega-church Willow Creek Community, in Illinois, have discovered that simply because ‘we built it and they came’ didn’t mean that they were transformed. Transformation within a church cannot be legitimate at the macro level if it is not being lived out at the micro level — within individuals and the intentional communities they belong to, the small groups.

Being in a church with a somewhat different paradigm, though many similar aspects, I have been able to identify essential ingredients I believe that when added in proportionate amounts, blended and mixed in with spiritual care and intentionality, that they can be catalytic and contributive to a transformational community where Christ is truly honored as Lord and Life. I will share that in a subsequent post, but let me close this one highlighting again that when it comes to small groups, what you put into it and how you do that matter significantly and affects the quality of what comes out an how that impacts the world.

<Click here to go directly to the next post in this series>

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Prayer That Strengthens the Weak

Categories: Devotional Insights, Spiritual Disciplines, Tags: , , , ,

prayer1Not too long ago, after one of weekend worship services, it seemed like there were a lot of intense prayer needs…people dealing with significant, personal, heavy issues. I listened to one dealing with a custody hearing, sat with one going through a legal suit case against them, prayed with one dealing with depression, and physical health concerns, and these were introduced to me within 10 minutes! I confess that hearing these, I was overwhelmed and my faith fluttered when I wondered what I could do. So then I prayed, and even then, it was hard to feel that it wasn’t more than just words.

Later, I heard from those facing the court cases, that the worse didn’t happen. God came through. In one situation, as they were approaching the judge, something happened that turned what could have been devastating into something that has preserved life and hope…and honestly, I am hoping and praying for more than that!

The title of this post is not about the prayer that strengthened those I prayed for but strengthened the one who prayed for them: ME! Ashamedly, sometimes I find myself saying to others, “Hey, the least I can do is pray for you!” What a crock!

If the US Air Force accepted my invitation to execute a military “shock-and-awe” maneuver in my backyard to destroy a nasty nest of Army ants (you gotta love the imagery) they would bring firepower that was more magnificent and vastly superior to any insectarian defense or assault the vicious beasts could mount and to any insecticide ammunition I have under my kitchen sink!

Asking the USAF for help would not be the least I could, that would the most extravagant, maybe even audacious thing I could do! Consider that when we pray, we are inviting the divine and infinite source of power in and beyond this universe to move and accomplish His perfect will in our life or the lives of others. That is so far above “the least we can do”! Praying for people is less about what we want to do to help, but the privilege we have of inviting God to bring His strength and power to the table.

Now I know that there are times where God doesn’t come through the way we wish He would… all the time! We might be ashamed to admit, that our faith in God is sometimes dictated by His performing the way we want Him to, when we want Him to. Thus when He doesn’t comply with our requests, we tend to lose faith in Him and pray less. Tragically, that is where weakness sets in.

In hearing the praise reports of these friends who needed God to move and then experienced His movement, it revived my faith in Him, gave me hope in spite of those times that other prayers weren’t answered my way, and somehow, reignited the conviction that though I am not sure what He is up to, He has no doubt about what He’s doing and why. God is good (all the time) and is working all things out (always) for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

The “least I can do” is fake it but still mouth the request. The best I can do is ‘faith it’ and sincerely trust in Him to do what only He can! Sincere prayer is where faith in God is strengthened, not solely by His fulfilling my request as we asked, but more, by the wonderful reality and promise of His Presence, His Purpose, and His Power that will ultimately brings His version of good into our lives. Given the choice, I definitely want His version of good!

Lord, forgive us for weak prayer that is really more about weak trust in You. Help us to lift up our requests to you with a clearer focus on Your Imposing Nature and Divine resources than on our imposing circumstances and desperate conditions. We agree with Jesus: our spirit may be willing but our flesh is so weak! So, may we submit ourselves to You for renewal.

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In Christ, Rich in Identity.

Categories: Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , ,

I rich single lifecompleted teaching the first session of the “Excursion” for single adults at my church.  We’re using a book by Andrew Farmer, “The Rich Single Life”. Pretty well written with a great perspective on singles living to the fullest during this season of their life, investing it, rather than just sitting around waiting for the season to end. The underlying message is that as followers of Christ, we are all called to live with an undivided devotion to the Lord and His purpose no matter our marital status. Many times our marital status prevents that pure devotion for Christ to be our priority in and through our lives so that He may be cherished and viewed as our life’s greatest treasure.

Tonight’s session was on our being “Rich in Identity”, a place where I believe many of us face our greatest challenge: not allowing the world around us or the forces within us to dictate who we are. Dr. Myles Munroe has said, “If you ever want to know the purpose or function) of a thing, never ask the thing!”  The question and pursuit of who and why we are is as old as creation. We seem to pursue the “expertise” from other ‘fellow-things’ to give us clarity of who and why we are.  The world around us tries so hard to pigeon hole us into a mold that has little to do with our true value as defined by the Creator and not by the creation or its creatures.

Essentially we are made of material both from this world and from beyond this world. Regardless of what humanistic science attempts to posit and declare as law, though man is indeed made up of stuff you can find on the Periodic Table, the core essence of man, is “extra-terrestrial” and not chemical (mind, soul, spirit). (Be careful there…I ain’t going the panspermia lunacy, where humanity came about as the result of a race of aliens from other planets who seeded this planet with their DNA) Nope I am actually referring to a much higher, significantly more dignified stock of personhood.

“Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” Genesis 2:7

Yep…we were Mud Men until God gave us being by His breath, which contained something far more transcendent than O2. His breath not only gave life to man, but gave Him being, sentience, and even greater, divine dignity, and the ability to be in relationship with the Almighty God! When God gave us His breath, He stamped us with an extension of Himself.

Another way to look at it: think of the wealth and heritage of a child who is born into the family name Disney, Gates, Graham, Obama. Now consider the supreme inestimable worth of those born with the descriptive nomination, “son/daughter of the Living God!

God made us in His image, a reflection of His divine self, but through our selfishness and willful rebellion, we sinned, marred, and distorted that image, but did not destroy it. (Finite beings cannot destroy spirit/soul essence, divine or demonic). Jesus, the perfect God-Man, offered His sinless life as the just and sufficient payment and resolution of our penalty of sin against a Holy God. Now those who, by faith, trust in Christ and receive His grace, are truly resuscitated and resurrected with divine life from spiritual death and are given a new name,  identity, heredity, a new priority, security, and destiny. As a born again creature of and by love, our identity is no longer dictated by what we did and who we were. Christ has forever changed that when His blood paid the adoption fee for us to become the righteous children of God.

Now, we must live in light of the new ‘who we are’ based on the great ‘Whose we are’, and what He did to make us His. This essence of true identity with new heredity and heritage can become…must become… the basis for the way we see, think and live. Like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:

“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

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The “Flawed Scribe”

Categories: Devotional Insights, Tags: , ,

“Flawed Scribe” is my upfront admission of my being an imperfect but in-process pilgrim whose musings and insights, though sincere, are reflective of the journey I am still a student in.

I find that people (me included) give the disclaimer that we aren’t perfect and that we’re all in process but it does seem that we actually do assume a significant level of expertise with our views. I mean, look at the heat and vigor with which we communicate and unconsciously expect to be heard and heeded. That is “flawed” because no matter the issue, we are incapable of seeing it from all the angles AND with perfect flaw-free clarity. Only One can make that claim for He is also the One who shapes reality and perspective. When it comes to the issues of life, including those of my own, I am definitely 20/20 challenged.

I am reading through the book of Job, in the Bible. I think this assumption of “flaw-free clarity” was Job’s problem in his understandable reaction to the incalculable suffering he was afflicted with along with the insufferable “comforters” he had for friends. (They really did try to help but they were clueless malpracticioners of soul-care). Job dared to assert that in his own righteousness, he had the right and intention to confront God and expect an answer. Larry Crabb in his book, Inside Out (great book) refers to the “Sin of Demandingness” and that this cute little companion already has real estate in our hearts, lurking in close proximity to our own sense of justice and fair play. It usually rears its attractive head with calm ferocity whe we face adversity or deprivation. It is when we are going without, being left out, being opposed or oppressed that we demand, even to God, our list of grievances be heard and resolved. The amazing thing is that we are not even aware of the presence of this self-righteous roommate, closer to us than our own skin.

Personally, I am going through some challenges in my own life and I have come to understand painfully, humbly, that although I have been given some wisdom, that due to my “flawed” nature, I must be careful not even to count on that apart from an absolute reliance and dependence of the One who is fully, truly all-knowing and all-wise. I am a flawed scribe because even in the face of the reality of Jesus Christ, The Way, TRUTH and life, I still find myself opposing His wisdom in favor of my own.

Indeed, I am a scribe in that I think, read, muse, ponder and then communicate through writing, musical compositions (makes me more of a bard here) and also counseling, guiding, encouraging, and teaching/preaching to others. I am flawed in that, inherently, I am broken and in the process of being fixed. My musings are always tainted with the fact that I do not see as God does, and quite frankly, never will, not even, I believe, in eternity, since I will never BE God. But that’s OK…God is already doing a great job being God and I trust Him….I mean, I am learning to trust Him. (Oooops, I did it again!)

So as far as your sampling my philosophical emanations, enter and partake at your own risk, but with eyes wide open, recognizing who you’re dealing with: a piece of clay on the wheel being molded to become something of far greater worth in the future than he is right now.

My hope is in this passage of Scripture, which is also a promise:

“…being confident of this, that He who began a good in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

May it be true of me and you as well.

Bon Voyage!

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John 21 – “Coming to the End of Self”

Categories: Glimpses of Christ, Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes Jesus lets us get to the end of ourselves – to the point where we have to admit we have caught nothing, produced and amounted to nothing.

3-crosses-at-left-2READ JOHN 21:1-14

In one of His post resurrection appearances, Jesus came to the disciples after they had done their best and came up empty. They were good fishermen, it’s just that the fish weren’t biting… until Jesus came. He redirects their efforts and their nets could barely hold the catch!

Sometimes Jesus lets us get to the end of ourselves – to the point where we have to admit we have caught nothing, produced and amounted to nothing. He isn’t so interested in adding to our efforts – we could then take credit. He prefers to work through empty and yielded vessels that bring trust to the table and full glory to him. He performs great miracles through these vessels with nothing but childlike trust and sincere faith – attractive qualities to him.

“Lord, we’ve already done that, but because you say to do it, we will…” (Luke 5:5)

This is the posture of humility demonstrated by abandoning one’s perceptions, experiences, tactics, even fatigue, to embrace Jesus’ leadership and execute his sometimes counter-intuitive commands. This is the essence of following him:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Don’t be wise in your own eyes fear the Lord and turn from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7)

Litmus test: when we’re not willing to trust him and do what he says… then we may not yet be to the end of ourselves! This means that the old man is alive and well, large and in charge, tipping the hat to Christ but not trusting the heart to him.

Unfortunately for such a person the lessons to bring them to the inevitable reality of their personal inadequacy and His divine sufficiency can be quite painful and debilitating. The sad result can be a life lived in opposition to his purpose while still being aware of his presence  – assenting to his identity but resisting (maybe resenting)  his authority.

In Reflection: I have a ways to go to come to the end of myself. I’m still at the wheel, living under the delusion that I am in control of anything beyond my will. I can almost hear Christ calling to me from the shore (um…shouldn’t He be in the boat?)

Jesus:     “Jonathan, have you caught anything?”

Jon:     Just some minnow, maybe some plankton, I can’t tell. But no, Lord, not a blessed thing except a boatload of frustration and failure!”

Jesus:     “Throw your net on the other side of the boat and you’ll find some.”

Jon:     “Lord, I fished all sides of this boat. Are you saying that I’m not competent?”

Jesus:    “I’m sorry. You’re a fisherman right? And again, exactly how much have you caught?!”

Now, what I do with his last command will affect how I respond to the next one. And if I don’t trust him with what’s happening, odds are good I won’t trust him with what’s coming.

For Peter and me, it’s not about where I’m fishing but how I’m fishing and whose direction I am following. Jesus knows where and when the fish are biting. Following his direction guarantees a maximum catch.

The greater yield for Christ happens when I yield to Christ.

The issue is not the bait on the hook but the hand on the rod. And the results – proportionate to trust – reveal the truth.

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John 20 – “Believing is Seeing”

Categories: Glimpses of Christ, Tags: , , , , ,

Imagine what it must have been like for Thomas to have lived among the others who had seen Jesus. For seven days, as close as he had been with Jesus and the 12, this insider became an outsider.

3-crosses-at-left-2READ JOHN 20:19-31

In His post resurrection appearances, Jesus deals with the disciples’ doubts, fears, and failures by applying His presence, peace, forgiveness and reinstatement to His call. This part of the story highlights the apostle Thomas who did not have the advantage of having the rendezvous with Jesus the other 10 disciples did.

A good friend of mine in my small group raised a great point: imagine what it must have been like for Thomas to have lived among the others who had seen Jesus. For seven days, as close as he had been with Jesus and the 12, this insider became an outsider. He didn’t have the personal encounter that the others had. Considering what that would have done to me, I am not sure that we should ever have attached to this faithful disciple the moniker “doubting”. Though Jesus does confronts this in Thomas,  I believe there is more here than meets our myopic glare.

After Jesus shows up and speaks specifically to Thomas’ demands, Thomas finally proclaims what in his heart He knew to be true but maybe too afraid to admit, that Jesus was indeed, resurrected Lord and God!
Suppose the reason John was inspired to write this was not to spotlight Thomas’ doubts (vs. 20:25), or to resolve the tension with Thomas’ triumphant affirmation of Jesus as God (vs. 20:28), but to feature Jesus’ pronouncement of the significant blessing to all who would believe in him without the benefits or privilege of actually seeing him as did the 11 disciples. Suppose Jesus, looking into the future as only He can, sensitive to those who might feel they were on the outside, or never measure up because they didn’t encounter Christ as the apostles did, established, once and for all, the foundation of his blessing and acceptance for those who would entrust their lives to Him without sight.

There would never be any reason for anyone trumping others because of their visually laying eyes on Jesus, a move that would seem to propel one to superstar status, and imply an inferiority for those who “can only believe” but would never have had actually seen. Seems like we place greater emphasis and prestige to those who have the ‘visions’, and sightings of divine phenomenon. Jesus makes it clear here that those who trust fully and simply embracing and accepting his promise based on his character and teaching are indeed blessed and thoroughly accepted by Christ with ‘superstar’ status!

I recall the story of Jesus healing of the centurion’s servant in Luke 7:1-10. It is one of the few passages where Jesus is described at be astonished by someone’ faith. This centurion didn’t have to have Jesus physically go to where the servant was. Empowered by the Spirit with eyes of faith, this gentile centurion recognized and respected Jesus’ authority in ways that no other Jew Israel did. He accepted Jesus for who He was and what He said He could do. That indeed, is marvel-ous! That kind of faith is also impressive and attractive to Christ. That kind of faith is evidence of an actual encounter that transcends the 5 senses and renders proof unnecessary.

That is where Thomas’ problem lay, and, quite frankly, mine. From time to time we demand God prove Himself and His Word on our terms rather than entrusting ourselves to His words on His terms. We want Him to adjust Himself to us rather than us adjust ourselves to Him. Again, the issue is not Thomas. It is Jesus making sure that it is clear that the kind of faith He prefers from us is the kind of trust that simply accepts Christ as He is without waiting for the kind of proof to accommodate our fears and doubts. For these kind of faith-full followers, Jesus isn’t coming to them. He already arrived.

John 20:30-31 does not celebrate or affirm faith with no facts but faith with no visual sight.

“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

The facts are recorded to facilitate faith. I believe that our brother, Thomas, was an illustration, not the main point. May we brandish the kind of faith that proves Jesus has already arrived and that before we see anything more, our hearts will have already delivered us into the greater depths of knowing Him through greater depths of trusting Him.

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Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Hope

Categories: Devotional Insights, Tags: , , , ,

In the aftermath of the brutal genocide in Rwanda, the message of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of grace and forgiveness, has taken on transcendence as hearts, one by one, are engaged and then embracing the call to rebuild.

rwanda-mainRecently I viewed the documentary “As We Forgive” with my church. It chronicled the reconciliation efforts currently underway in Rwanda where in 1994, in the space of a few months, 1 million of the Tutsis people were slaughtered out of fear and prejudice by the Hutus (pronounced “hoo-toos”). (click here for more info. [http://www.asweforgivemovie.com/trailer.htm])

Featured in the film were testimonies of actual Tutsi victims who testified of the brutality they personally suffered in violence against them and the senseless destruction of loved ones – father, mother, children – and friends. There were also testimonies of their assailants who testified of their reasons behind and their remorse for their despicable crimes against innocents. What made this genocide even more heinous is the admission of the killers that they were deceived and incited to raise their hands and weapons against people who days prior were considered friends and fellow countrymen and women! They had eaten, recreated, cultivated and shared lives together. They revealed that they had been led by government propaganda to believe that these fellow Africans were a threat to the peace and stability of their society. Motivated by fear of the harm they were told would come to them by the Tutsis or the very government seeking to involve them in this genocide, these Hutus natives carried out merciless desecration of sacred lives. In some cases even religious leaders gave refuge to escaping Tutsis only to bulldoze the havens over them, burying them alive or these leaders alerted the Hutus raiders who then came and slaughtered these captives.

The film showed the scars, the anguish, the desolation left in the wake of this human carnage. It also displayed the shame and guilt on the faces of the Tutsis culprits, remorseful for their loss of sanity and their complicity in the genocide. The guilty criminals were incarcerated, by the thousands, for their crimes and then after serving some time, were released back into society. The rationale of the government authorizing such actions is that the genocide had so deeply affected the fabric of society in innumerable ways through the countless lives no longer walking the earth or walking the earth in abject horror and shame at their actions, that a process of forgiveness and reconciliation needed to begin. The core of the movie was the guilty seeking forgiveness from those they had victimized. Led by Christian organizations primarily through prison ministries, the unrelenting process had been undertaken to sow seeds of peace back into the torn fabric of humanity to thus resurrect the dignity of life in each person. Through building programs, crop support, and other efforts the guilty, took responsibility for their actions but also demonstrated it through the practice of restitution with those they had “taken from”. In the aftermath of brutal genocide in Rwanda, the message of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of grace and forgiveness, has taken on transcendence as hearts, one by one, are engaged and then embracing the call to rebuild.

I was so moved, first by the depth of human depravity and the ease at which man can be so diabolically set against another, whether friend, woman, or innocent child. I can still picture the grisly footage of bodies charred and burned, or hacked by machetes, or bludgeoned to death. I was also moved by the testimonies of those sharing the degree to which life, hope and peace had been ripped violently from their world, some skulls-rwanda1even suffering the scars of physical violence done to them, to some who had been abandoned, presumed dead. But then I was moved by the human drama of watching how the criminals too ashamed to face their victims eventually were encouraged by Christian leaders to face their victims and taking responsibility for their actions, humbly seek their forgiveness. I watched how the victims, reluctantly and with great angst gave audience to their violators, gave air to their own hurt and also eventually embark on the path of reconciliation.

The subtitle for the movie promo was “can mercy rebuild what genocide destroyed?” The answer came in watching lives that were torn apart, come togetherin a process where hope was gradually restored;  where both criminal and victim came to live together rebuilding a community of love; where actual, active, intentional forgiveness, raw and real, but reflective of the Christ, became the final form of love. One of the lines that stuck out to me,

“Forgiveness and reconciliation releases the criminal from guilt and shame and the victim from grief and anger.”

I guess there were alot of things running through my mind. I reflected on how shallow we do forgiveness sometimes, aware that sometimes our version of forgiveness is white washed with gospel rhetoric, the offender requests forgiveness from the offended and the latter declares their willingness to offer forgiveness but refuses to associate with the offender in any significant way. Nothing is rebuilt. Cold war has been declared.

I recall a couple of people in my life that I have let down or hurt them (I guess we all d0!) but also where there is no bridge to rebuild anything that in any significant way reflects the way that Christ loves us. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the divine degree of forgiveness is possible when we face the reality of the brokenness we’ve caused and the barrier that remains, even after the words of forgiveness are spoken but never fully applied to the point of healing and rebuilding. In these cases, the words “I forgive…” are followed by “…but I cannot…” delineating a line that must not be crossed and a relationship that can never be rebuilt. We retreat into a complacency comforting ourselves with the belief that we have done all we can to seek forgiveness or to offer forgiveness, and yet if we truly pondered the implications, we would not want God to “forgive” us the way we forgive others. In a quote by someone, connected with the Rwandan genocide but not with the movie, they said,

“I visited the [Genocide] Memorial with a Christian group and felt some tension between the banners declaring that we should “Never Forget” and my understanding of Forgiveness. Of course we should be cognizant of the human capacity for evil for the purpose of preventing similar events in the future, but is it possible to mourn one group’s tragedy without asking another group to bear a mark of shame? Is this fair? And for how long?”

Now I am the first to admit that in no way am I guilting or condemning those who have suffered deeply at the hands of others appealing to them to simply forget and quantum leap to trust without some degree of assurance that they will not subject themself to further brutality or betrayal. But I do wonder if for many of us our efforts at forgiveness and reconciliation go as far as they should, toward the actual rebuilding, not of what was lost – nothing can rebuild that. But to rebuild something new out of the pain and grief that forges a new way of looking, loving and living. Indeed, forgiveness and reconciliation that posits the possibility of the reclamation of hope and dignity of both victim and criminal…that ain’t human: it is thoroughly divine!

And that is precisely the point.We are told in 2 Corinthians 5,

“18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

This verse reminds that as followers and ambassadors of Christ we have been commissioned with a Gospel that is not only about saving humanity from the hell God  created for the devil and his angels, but also from the hell we create for ourselves by living independent of God’s and releasing that destructive chaos into the lives of others. It reminds us that as those compelled by Christ’s love (2 Cor. 5:14) Christians are the incarnations of divine invitations of God to a sinful, shameful, imprisoned humanity. Christ is our model and also the medium through which this new hope for a new community can and must come. That doesn’t mean the road there will be easy.

The victims in the documentary confessed how hard it was to look into the face of the murderers and not see the face of their dead. The perpetrators confessed the difficulty of looking into the face of those they had abused or taken from, and not see the shame of what they had done and what they had become. But they also confessed having a shred of hope for deliverance from what they had become, some hope that they could be restored to what they were meant to be and desired to be. I am reminded that the road to forgiveness and reconciliation contains a bridge that both offended and offender must begin and walk together if they are to ever emerge on the other side as a community of hope rebuilt by love. To refuse in any way to do so may very well sustains and support the chaos of any form of genocide spawned from hate.

Thank God that He fashioned us in Christ for better things. May we seek, as offend-ers or as offend-eds, to make our lives available to the Prince of Peace to execute His sovereign rule in us, over us and through us for the salvation and liberation of the world He died to reconcile to God.

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Family First in Reaching the World

Categories: Devotional Insights, Tags: , , , ,

When our reliance is completely on Christ and our hearts are captured by His love and our fellowship with one another is a natural (or supernatural) byproduct of the indwelling Spirit, the only true source of true fellowship, the world may also come to us, even as we still go to them.

I am cautious with so much of the rhetoric and activity in the progressive, active, evangelical Christian community with vision-plans, outreach strategies and the like to extend the Gospel all over the world.. Christ’s dominant teaching during the last evening with His closest friends was the high degree of service offered to the family. Throughout the New Testament we are continually admonished in the way that we are to regard, serve, treat each other.

Now I know we are salt and light in the world and I know that we are to offer ourselves as servants to the world, ambassadors, messengers and ministers of reconciliation to the spiritually lost and condemned, but the overwhelming biblical evidence points to our love for and service to one another being the litmus of our belonging to Christ. I wonder that we engage in incredible efforts to reach the world for Christ, offer enormous resources of relief and fight feverishly against injustice and oppression while ignoring or overlooking the health and welfare of true fellowship and mercy and healing within the ranks of the household of faith. How can the Body properly serve the world if the Body is malnourished of the love and affection, truth and service that must be operative and functional among its parts? We measure our impact around us and abroad. When will we measure the impact within? Many will tell us to not fuss about this and that we should be about the business of reaching the world, but if Christ Himself lays down the example of servanthood among the servants as the fertile soil from which harvest will come for the glory of God, then are we in danger of insubordination by not tending properly to the health and well being of the community of faith?

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” John 21:16 (NIV)

Another aspect of this is to consider what kind of witness it is to the world when we serve them extravagantly while we serve the family of God with meager spiritual resources, in mediocre, tepid fellowship, with minimal care for their significant health and well being. Do we really want to replicate the same atmosphere to those we are trying to reach? That’s like a very dysfunctional family seeking to create healthy families without changing their health! In this mode, we will be reliant on programs, and gimmicks, and technology, and ‘stuff’, because what we offer is not an authentic expression of our hearts but an automated, autonomous extension of our efforts and agendas. Healthy families do not have to broadcast or prove their health. They do what they are.

Let’s be clear. This is not an “either/or” debate but a both/and obligation. It is the effective execution of the Great Commission as we experience the divine reality of the Great Commandment. When our reliance is completely on Christ and our hearts are captured by His love and our fellowship with one another is a natural (or supernatural) byproduct of the indwelling Spirit, the only true source of true fellowship, the world may also come to us, even as we still go to them. In this way, coming and going, the final destination is Christ on roads paved with love and servanthood that are most effective when they begin at home.

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Scripture Meditation: “Overcoming Obstacles”

Categories: Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , ,

When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the challenges you face that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment...more drudgery than delight?

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TRANSFORM THOUGHT:

When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the obstacles you encounter? What are the challenges that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment…more drudgery than delight? Why, at times, when we do it, does it seem to be less than worth the effort so that it becomes more something we “gotta do” than something we “get to do”?

When I talk to fellow followers of Christ, and the subject invariably comes around to the quality of our devotional life, I hear (and sometimes personally repeat) the same phrase: “I know…I don’t read the Bible as much as I should!” When I consider the context of my own walk, I would daresay that statement is probably an understatement…things are worse than mentioned. I realize now that it does little good to deluge people with tips and tools to succeed in this area when those very resources fail to deal with the underlying problems that are beyond the scope of these aids designed to…uh…aid!

This is really Part 2 of a previous post I published (“Stop and Consider”) where I referenced a quote cited in a version of Zondervan’s Quest Study Bible that highlighted the difficulty of meditation for Western culture in contrast to the East. Here is a portion of that quote:

“The author of this psalm [Psalm 119] was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.”

Look at the very last sentence. In that previous post I addressed what we must value if our devotional times in Scripture meditation are to be beneficial and transforming. In this post we will deal with what we must vanquish.

Let’s also clarify what I mean by “scripture meditation”. Again, from that post,

Scripture meditation is focused thinking on and about the Word of God where the intention is for us to understand and apply revealed truths to our lives in humble response to God. The rewards include a greater understanding of Scripture, increased sense of personal well being, a more satisfying communion with God, and a transformed life as it is being conformed to the character and purpose of Jesus Christ.

In this post I will not deal with the personal barriers we need to overcome, but those obstacles that stem from our Western cultural mindset that inhibit our personal pursuit of depth and intimacy with God. Three of the cultural obstacles to meditation I believe need to be overcome are our concepts of time, self and Scripture.

Our Concept of Time: We Westerners are very results oriented. We want results and we want them now and if not now, then soon, but preferably yesterday! We are ingrained with the priority of time stewardship. Our motto: “Don’t just sit there — do something!”  We sometimes unconsciously believe that we waste time if we are not “doing” something, making the most of our time with performing industry rather than pursuing intimacy. The problem: intimacy – knowing deeply and being known deeply – can’t be done well in the fast lane. Scripture meditation, knowing God more deeply, requires time in ways that are mutually intentional and beneficial but maybe not in rhythm with a “get it done now” mindset.  Scripture meditation may be considered among one of the best investments of time we engage in…if truly knowing God is a life priority.

Our Concept of Self: We have been trained to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re taught things like “God is our co-pilot” (which would actually make us the pilot…scary!); or “God helps those who help themselves (a very unbiblical concept bordering on spiritual heresy); or the 10 2-letter words that could change a life: “If-it-is-to-be-it-it-up-to-me” (and where exactly is God as Master in that?). Our culture prizes performance, productivity, and power or better…control. Meditating on Scripture is more about being under control than being in control. It is to abandon ourselves to the mastery and mystery of God as we explore His Word allowing It to explore us. In Scripture meditation what God has said is more vital than what we want to see. What we get out of it is not as important as what He put into it. We therefore meditate to discover what he has expressed from His heart with His kingdom being in the center of our pursuit.

Our Concept of Scripture: I say “Scripture” because that word is divinely designated. “Bible” is our term for the collection of these divinely inspired revelations. Our problem: we see the Scripture more like a book and less like the “breath” of God presented in textual form. The Bible is the most significant book ever written, but it is hard for us to see it as transcendently more than any other published manuscript. For many, the Bible is like the auto manual in the glove compartment of our car, the rules and regulations of a game or sport, the bylaws of a corporation. We know they’re important we’ll consult it when we need to fix or resolve an issue. With the way we check newspapers, emails, e-books, twitters and tickers, I am convinced that if we really believed that the truths of Scripture were divinely ‘extra-terrestrial’ in its source, infinitely powerful in its force, and thoroughly pervasive in its application to all of human life beyond the boundaries of time and space, we would no longer go to the Scripture merely for what we could get out of it but for Who is ready to meet us there and What He has already put into it for our ultimate well-being!

I struggled with including notes on “Our Concept of God” but realized…that’s a whole blog-post unto itself!

TRANSFORM TIPS:

So what do we do with this awareness and what are ways to move practically over these obstacles? A few ideas come to mind:

  1. In the same way you might set an appointment with an individual, actually set an appointment with God on your daytimer, Palm Pilot, calendar, etc. Invest intentionally in a period of time to meditate on Scripture. When scheduling it, give yourself a good buffer. I find that few things erode the success of Scripture meditation as effectively as a tight schedule with a pressing appointment on the other end. Focused thinking on divine truth is rendered null when “what I gotta do next” dominates “what I need to do now”. When you make the time, take the time to make it worthwhile. Begin with at least 15-20 minutes and adjust as needed.
  2. Adopt a different picture of Scripture. Try to move away from seeing it like a rule book. It’s helped me to see the Scripture as field of buried treasure. I have also imagined it as a divine invitation – God beckoning me to explore the depths of His heart and mine. Some have suggested seeing it as a “Love Letter”. I choose to see it more as an  “Autobiography of a Dearly Beloved One”.
  3. Take time prior to meditation to personal confession of any sin. Make your heart sensitive and open to what God may reveal as any spiritual barrier in your relationship with God that may hinder your intimacy.
  4. Thoughtfully pray Psalm 119:18 and ask God for help to see and understand as you read and meditate.
  5. Rather than trying to cram an entire chapter in one devotional sitting, consider focusing on a few verses at a time. Consider methods like “Lectio Divina” an ancient contemplative way of prayerfully meditating on Scriptures. (click here to download a brochure on Lectio Divina)
  6. When selecting Scripture, avoid picking your favorite passages. Meditate through Scripture systematically. Begin at the beginning of any of the books of the Bible and work through it, a few verses at a time. I am currently working slowly through the book of Colossians. I usually begin by reading the entire chapter in one sitting to get an overall picture and context. Then I meditate on as many as 4 verses at a time…with no rush or pressure to do more each day unless directed to do so.
  7. With your practice, take time to journal your thoughts and reactions in a journal or note pad. Consider taking a 4X6 notecard, writing the focal passage for meditation. Take the card with you and at certain times during the day, write down ideas, insights, and thoughts that come to mind about the passage.
  8. Without robbing your place of employment from your time at work, schedule 15 minutes during the day to conduct “focused thinking” about a passage of Scripture, no more than 3-4 verses.

These aren’t necessarily guaranteed to give you the results desired but they may get the ball rolling in your pursuit of the kind of truth that transforms. Ultimately, overcoming meditation obstacles remains a project best undertaken with God than for God…and that is precisely the essence of the kind of approach to meditation instrumental in facilitating transformed lives through the catalyst of a transformed mind: it is best done with God.

I love the illustration of our relationship with God seen in the letters of the word “guidance” where the “g” stands for God, the “u” stands for You and the “i” I. The word then reads “God, U [and] I dance”. In this rhythm of intimacy through meditating on Scripture, accept the invitation of God to the dance and then…let Him lead!

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John 14b – “The Home of God in Us”

Categories: Glimpses of Christ, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Because of Christ and through the indwelling Spirit, the very presence of God, we get divine counsel/comfort, truth, recall of Jesus' teaching, the promise that we will never be abandoned.

3-crosses-at-left-2READ JOHN 14:15-31

The initial precept in Jesus’ teaching here in this passage is the close relationship between love and obedience. This must be recognized as an inescapable priority for us and an appropriate expectation from Christ. If we’re not careful, we can seem to think that Christ is calling for proof, advocating a legalistic, performance based structure to our relationship. It could easily smell like death if we only look at the words. This is why it is so important for us to make sure that the God-Man, Jesus, is the filter through which we interpret His Words. From studying His ministry, His relationships, and His message, it is difficult to understand how anyone could come to the conclusion that Jesus was demanding, “Prove your love to me – obey me!” in a near petulant, tyrannical tone. One needs to look no further than His love and affection for His disciples displayed on this ominous night. Knowing that they would betray, deny, abandon Him, He refuses to speak to them in derisive, judgmental tones. Christ would soon offer His life freely to sinners without first striking a deal with theme. He is the One who instructs us about the quality of our love being expressed out of the character of our obedience.  If He is our Lord, if we have been touched by His love and sacrifice, if we have Him residing in us, then our love will be shown through a lifestyle where obedience is the characteristic mode of our life as an expression of trust and love.

Before one complains at what we have to do, inventory this passage for what we get. Because of Christ and through the indwelling Spirit, the very presence of God, we get divine counsel/comfort, truth, recall of Jesus’ teaching, the promise that we will never be abandoned. This passage implies Trinitarian Residence: because of Christ, the whole divine family, Father, Son, and Spirit move in to take up residence in us. Here is where the amazing grace shows up.

I think of the plight of the Dalits of India who are considered sub-human by caste and therefore not worth the investment of any of the dignities customary to human beings. In their culture, the gods won’t waste time and energy on them, they are disqualified from public worship in customary temples because they are so far beneath that their worship is ignored. Indeed, they are capable of worshiping the gods. But the Christian God in Christ comes to them and through Christ they are told that not only does God love them but that He, the perfect righteous God of the universe, the God of all gods, desires to reside within them. Thus, in this new relationship, they no longer have to go to temples to worship God, they have become temples of God. Wow! The fact that the Triune God dwells within me says something about this God  I worship and it says something about my value to Him. I am temple of God. The Spirit of God dwells in me. That establishes a new order in me and calls me to a new lifestyle all because of who has made His home in me.

But there is a necessity to clarify the environment. The essence of residence, as Jesus points out, is peace: peace with God and the peace of God, the sense of well-being grounded in our being unconditionally forgiven and loved by God as His beloved children. This peace, with divine grace as its source and energy, is maintained through our submission to His presence. More simply, it is the natural byproduct of life lived in loving obedience to a God of grace and love. The question for the believer, for me, is not did God take up residence in me, but is He at home in me and I in Him? Is there His peace in my/His house? If there isn’t, that may be evidence that something else is interfering with His reign…something has diluted my love for Him and diverted my obedience to Him.

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