Monday, December 18, 2006
I had some people ask me where they could buy the new Nintendo Wii Wii we premiered this weekend. It’s a totally new way to experience our restroom cleaning outreaches. It’s pretty amazing…you can virtually clean toilets without leaving your couch.
I’m sorry, but the Wii Wii is back-ordered. And even worse, ours broke down at VCC after someone left the seat up.
This weekend I mentioned our big event on December 24th: the 6th Annual Christmas Eve Donut Outreach. Instead of holding a traditional Christmas Eve service, we’ll meet at 5pm, sing a few Christmas carols, light our candles…and then everyone grabs a couple dozen of the 24,000 Krispy Kreme donuts to give away to people who have to work on Christmas Eve.
Two years ago the weather was horrible: about 10 degrees above zero following a foot of snow and ice that dropped the day before. But for the thousand or so people who came, it was a blast. Later we got what I thought was going to be a negative email from someone who went out with donuts. Everywhere this person went—like police stations and video stores and hotels—someone had beaten them there and had already given out donuts. She wrote:
“…We were feeling irritated about our ‘wasted time’. All of a sudden we see an office building with a parking lot full of cars. The door was locked, but we decided to see if we could get a box to a security guard. A guard let us in. When we gave her the donuts and told her what we were doing she started to cry. She couldn’t believe we showed up when we did. Moments before she was sitting alone feeling sad, lonely, and completely forgotten. It turns out she had just moved to town, knew no one and hadn’t had any luck finding a church where she ‘could fit in’. It’s amazing how much power can be held in a box of donuts. A girl far from home at Christmas realized that she had not been forgotten by God…all because someone handed her a box of Krispy Kremes and reminded her that God loves her. She was getting ready to leave the lobby and go on her rounds when we showed up. Had we gotten there any earlier or later we would have missed her. She was still crying when we left, but stopped long enough to ask, ‘Do you think I could go to that church?’ She seemed very excited when we said ‘Yeah, they take all kinds out there”.
Isn’t that a cool email? Who would have thought some donuts would open the door for a “God-conversation”? I could do this every Christmas Eve.
As a matter of fact, I think we will.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Annie Leibovitz has nothing on the Hubble Space Telescope. NGC 3370 is a galaxy 98 million light years away. I think that’s about 588,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away. Or 588 quintillion, give or take a few trillion. In the distance fading away are thousands of other galaxies.
Think about your house, your bedroom, your pillow. Now imagine you’re an ant…on your pillow. If the universe was the size of the entire earth, you aren’t even to edge of the pillowcase with NGC 3370. And God’s just getting started…the universe is expanding at speeds we can’t imagine. Face it: the vastness is mind-boggling.
For those who believe God launched it all, it completely underscores the Mighty God title Isaiah prophetically gives the messiah (Isaiah 9:6). One look at the sky on a cold winter night convinces them even more: God is omnipotent, spectacular, and beyond description. And even more amazing is that He knows us and loves us. Now that's a Mighty God.
But for others who are wrestling with the God-question, the expanse of the cosmos can have the opposite effect: the universe is so incomprehensibly huge—and we are so small—that we must be insignificant in the whole scheme of things. Somehow size is equated to significance against the backdrop of the overwhelming enormity of space.
When did size have anything to do with attention in matters of love? Did we love a teenager more than a newborn? If one of my children is smaller than the other, do I love them less? Moses spent a lot of time reminding Israel about their covenant with God. At one point he told them:
“The Lord did not choose you and lavish his love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! It was simply because the Lord loves you…” Deuteronomy 7:7-8a (New Living Translation)
And as we slip into Christmas, don’t forget this classic verse of size and significance:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2 (New King James Version)
Also, feel free to link this funny video in your emails: www.vineyardcincinnati.com/play
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” “Prince of Peace.” His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace… (Isaiah 9:6-7 Today’s English Version)
Our new series called The Gift is based on these ubiquitous Christmas card verses. Isaiah’s prophecies are just downright chilling, eerie and profound with predictive force. As a matter-of-fact, some Bible experts and higher criticism scholars believed the book had been tampered with by Christian scribes to make the messianic passages more explicitly Jesus-directed. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls blew that away, with nineteen copies of the book of Isaiah radiocarbon-dated between 335 BC and 122 BC. That’s a lot of years before Jesus appeared on the scene. The manuscripts were nearly 1000 years older than any Isaiah manuscripts existing before.
I mentioned in the message that the new Ruler of this coming kingdom was reclaiming the planet:
“When God created man in His image—male and female—He said they were to rule over all that He had created, and were commanded to subdue all creation. Earth was given to them. After Adam and Eve decided Satan had a wonderful plan for their lives, then disobeyed God and fell, they abdicated their role in governance and in essence turned the deed of the planet over to the deceiver. That’s why millennia later when Jesus was being tempted by Satan just prior to beginning His ministry, Satan shows him in a heartbeat all the kingdoms of the world in all their power and glory and says to Jesus, ‘…I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Luke 4:6-7 (New International Version). Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn’t argue that point. He simply says, ‘It is written, worship God and serve Him only.’ The birth of Jesus was an invasion, a hostile take-over, of the earth. That’s why the apostle Paul calls Jesus ‘the last Adam’. As a man—and God—Jesus was taking the deed back. So when Isaiah prophesies that this man-child will be our ‘Ruler’, he’s revealing a Big Story.”
There are actually several different theories as to why Jesus was born, crucified and resurrected…this idea of reclamation and spiritual warfare is just one of them. All have merit; I actually believe there is an element of truth in all of them and they aren’t mutually exclusive. The one I threw out may be a little more controversial, but a verse in John’s gospel lends a bit more credence here:
Now is the time for this world to be judged; now the ruler of this world will be overthrown. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” In saying this he indicated the kind of death he was going to suffer. John 12:31-33 (Today’s English Version)
Three times in John’s gospel Jesus refers to Satan as the ruler of this planet. We might consider this more of an illegal Mafioso power-grab, but regardless of the legalities or whether we consider Satan’s remarks as bluff and smoke-and-mirrors (that would fit the character of the “father of lies” in John 8:44), Jesus still referred to him as the ruler. Even Paul refers to him as a ruler—or prince—and John, in his old age, says that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one”. It sounds a little Star Wars-ish, but this is the original cosmic story, way before George Lucas was a gleam in his daddy’s eye.
Two worlds in conflict.
And don’t you sometimes feel the gravity of both?
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I first met Kent way back in the ‘70’s when I was a new believer. Kent helped run a coffeehouse called The Jesus House on the northwest side of Cincinnati. It was the crib for ex-druggies, hippies, musicians and Jesus freaks. Kent spent several years at Willow Creek Community Church in operations with the job of turning literally thousands of volunteers into disciples. The last six years have been spent in Las Vegas at Canyon Ridge Christian Church overseeing spiritual formation. He’s rock-steady and serious about seeing people come into a full and deeply committed relationship with Jesus. He’s one of the good guys…and I’m thrilled he’s on our staff now.
But if I might interject something in this closing segment of the series, it’s just how cool Joe’s comment to his brothers was when they feared his revenge for their cruelty some twenty years earlier. Their dad had just died and because of them Joe had missed a relationship with the father he loved. There was no way to ever restore that lost time. This could be his opportunity to scold them, to punish them, to simply get even for the unrecoverable loss they caused him.
But Joseph told them, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, to judge and punish you? As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. He brought me to the high position I have today so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. Indeed, I myself will take care of you and your families.” And he spoke very kindly to them, reassuring them. Genesis 50:19-21 (New Living Translation)
I want to live like that.
Many years ago I got stiffed in the Christian music business for a couple thousand dollars. For Anita and me, that was like a bazillion dollars (or Brazilian if you know the joke…) because we lived on practically nothing. I went through the “forgiveness routine” and thought I was done. But sometimes around others when the subject turned to the music industry, I would laugh and make a sarcastic comment how I had gotten the shaft. After years of doing that, God got through to me one day. I had given my spiel when He spoke to my heart and said, “That’s not forgiveness. I don’t care how funny your story is and how anonymous you keep it, you still haven’t forgiven them.” And, or course, He was right. What’s worse, the people involved in my story hadn’t even meant anything evil against me; they were just consumed in other things and I got missed.
Real forgiveness involved me never mentioning the story again…because trust in God assumed that He was ultimately in charge and my provider. No one else.
Will I respond that way to people who meant real harm to me? Like any virtue, mercy begins with small wins. You don’t run a marathon overnight. It starts with a jog around the block.
Joe is my hero. Joe’s finish line is: "Been there, done it…got the technicolor t-shirt to prove it."
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thes. 5:16-18 Message Bible).
No big post. Only thanks.
Thanks to Jesus for everything. Really. Thanks to my wife for putting up with me for over 28 years...she's a saint. Thanks to my kids for being pk's and still loving Jesus. Thanks to the big hearts and big vision of the people of the Vineyard for creating the most amazing place for the sure and not-so-sure to feel loved. Thanks to VCC staff: the hardest-working and most merciful church staff ever. Thanks to my mom who is as feisty as ever at 79 and survived the teenage years of my brother and me. Thanks to all the musicians I got the privilege of playing with for so many years. Thanks to my friends from the Mt. Airy Men's Shelter and Washington Park for reminding me how simple love is. Thanks to the churches of Cincinnati who impacted me in so many ways at so many different times and levels. Thanks for the writings of C. S. Lewis...I think they saved my live. Thanks to my small group for being real. Thanks to Steve & Janie for coming here in 1983. Thanks to Clyde Miller who took me on a road trip through Romans. Thanks to my dad who was the first to surrender to God after all of us left home. He blazed the trail. Thanks to Bonnie and Robbie. Thanks.
French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal was 31 years old when he had an accident that changed the arc of his life. He was nearly killed when horses pulling his carriage bolted on a bridge and he was left dangling over the river Seine. He said he had a vision of God while unconscious and later wrote it down on paper that he kept in the lining of his coat the rest of his life. Part of it said, “The year of grace 1654. Monday November 23rd…certainty, certainty, feeling, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ…Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…May I never be separated from him…Reconciliation sweet and complete.” He was forever changed and died only eight years later.
Plus, you’ve got to love a guy who wrote, “It is not certain that everything is uncertain.” Hey, tomorrow is his 352nd re-birthday.
And so I say: Thanks, thanks, thanks, tears of thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving. Hope it's filled with grace.
ps. It was on this day in 1963 that the patron saint of evangelicalism died: C. S. Lewis. It was overshadowed by the tragic assassination of President John Kennedy.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Surrender to God! (James 4:7a Contemporary English Version)
This weekend’s talk ("Holy Cows") focused on surrender…that the only way to uncover the God-dream inside of us is through the door of humility. Humility connects our heart with the purposes of God. Problem is: it’s a really, really small door. You can only get through it on your knees.
A friend of mine says that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. I think humility and surrender are inextricably connected, like a Celtic knot ring, because we’re hardwired to be self-focused after the Fall.
Saturday night I had an interesting talk with a friend who is leading a “Call” group with people who are seekers. One of them raised a question about the word surrender, how it feels like a negative transaction, that someone loses in the exchange. It felt demeaning to them. That’s a thought worth exploring. And I have to frankly admit that as a guy it feels more than a little emasculating.
David Morrow, author of Why Men Hate Church, writes that churches “use man-repellent terminology. For example, you have two kinds of people: the saved and the lost. Men hate to be lost – that’s why they don’t ask for directions. If you tell a man he’s lost, he will instinctively resist you! And the only thing worse than being lost is being saved! The term drips with passivity . . .
“Although Jesus used the term saved a number of times in the gospels, if you carefully examine the text, He never called anyone to be saved. Instead, he called men to follow him. Hear the difference? Follow gives a man something to do. It suggests activity instead of passivity. But being saved is something that happens to damsels in distress. So why not use the descriptor Jesus himself preferred? By calling men to follow Jesus, we put Christ’s offer in active terms that appeal to everyone.”
I think Murrow has a point. But we have to be honest with language. Although the word surrender isn’t used much in the New Testament—usually the word submission is used, and often in the context of relationships with each other or governments—the concept is clearly there. It’s typically regarding subordinating our wills to God’s will, as modeled by Jesus at Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Since we’re ordered to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, seems to me this subordination, this surrendering, is inevitable. It’s surrendering our wills to the will of God, and as it relates to wholeness, it’s surrendering completely to the lordship of Jesus Christ. I’m not sure there’s any other word, though. Submission? Subordination? Surrender? It may be semantics at this point; they're all counter-human nature.
Yes, someone does lose in the transaction. But as Jesus said, “Whoever clings to this life will lose it, and whoever loses this life will save it.” (Luke 17:33 NLT)
What a loser.
And I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
“Is God testing your character right now? Your destiny—your calling—will be dependent on how you allow Him to shape you. The philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Character is destiny.” What prison are you in that’s shaping your character right now? Is it a prison of your own making…or is God working something into you now that will determine your destiny…because it’s forming your character?”
There are a couple of caveats here.
First, it would have been good to spend more time discussing “prison of your own making”. This leans into some of our core philosophy in recovery ministries at Vineyard Community Church—our Growth & Healing Community—as it relates to renewing our mind (Romans 12:2). For instance, because of abuse issues in our pasts or poor authoritarian models, we can easily have irrational thoughts and believe certain scripts—or lies—about ourselves and God. Knowing the truth about who we are in Christ is crucial as it relates to emotional wholeness and healthy self-esteem. When we create our own prisons—and those can also be from unforgiveness, boundary-less lifestyles, outright rebellion, or a host of aberrant behaviors—it is disingenuous to blame God for our circumstances. In the prodigal son parable, the son “comes to his senses” one day and sees the ridiculous consequences of his life-choices. The exit is different in a prison we have self-created.
Second, when circumstances go south, we can’t forget we are in the middle of a metaphysical combat zone. There is a real malevolent being who operates like a spiritual Mafioso. We need to understand when it’s time to fight and a time to stand our ground when "the day of evil comes", as Paul writes. In other words, beware of simply falling into Christian fatalism; Paul will have none of that in his description of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. You don’t have to take all of life’s slime lying down. Of course, discernment is key here. But there is a time to fight…and to fight the right thing.
Circumstances aren’t always what they seem.
And alas, there are only so many minutes in a weekend celebration.
Monday, November 06, 2006
“No one in my master’s house is more important than I am.” –Joe (Genesis 39:9a Contemporary English Version)
In a brief section about temptation in the story of Joseph, I mentioned megachurch pastor and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard. Last Friday Haggard was accused by a male prostitute of paying for sex over a three-year span as well as buying crystal meth. As you can imagine, it rocked the church world and became an international news story. In telling the story of Joe I said:
“How about this in dealing with temptation in a healthy way?—Remember who you are. In rebuffing Potiphar’s wife, Joe said frankly: “No one in my master’s house is more important than I am.” Now think about this with your own life: you are so important to what God wants to do through you. This is no longer just about you. Your life ripples out to so many people. My heart breaks for Ted Haggard, the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado who has been all over the news lately. However this all shakes out in the end, perhaps he somehow forgot who he was. Most of us will not have that much spiritual influence in our lives, but I can guarantee there’s someone who’s watching you to see if your Christianity is real or not.”
By “real” I meant: is it integrous? Am I a whole person or living a double or fractured life? And the real question seems to be: what will keep me honest with myself?
In church-world, we say everything from accountability partners to small groups to professional therapists to whatever. But in the end, we will only be as real as we want to be. Accountability only works for those who want to be accountable. Let’s not kid ourselves.
It’s funny…I was thinking about the new song “Fear of the Lord” our worship leader Charlie Hines introduced and wondering if it works in a user-friendly “come-as-you-are” church. Part of the lyric is: “I want to love the things You love, I want to hate the things you hate…Teach me the fear of the Lord…”. I wondered if for the average irreligious person, that’s a little jarring—"I didn’t think God hated; I thought God was love.” And for some folks who have escaped from legalistic, “God-is-pissed-off-at-me” cultures, this feels like a reinforcement of everything they disliked about religion. At the same time, worship is more than just singing love songs, there is a pastoring element that is happening simultaneously, songs are "teaching moments" as well. And there are serious things that God does hate, for instance: hypocrisy.
Maybe if we realized how important we are, it would not have the effect of entitlement as in “I’m really important so I should be treated importantly”, but rather the fear of God, as in “I’m really important to God…He gave His life for me, so I want to honor Him with my thoughts and actions.” That means getting honest with myself when I’m struggling with something that jeopardizes my integrity…and getting any and all the help I need as quickly as possible, whether that’s professional, a trusted friend or whomever. But honestly, no one can make me do that but me. The best we can do is to make sure that we are creating communities where transparency is modeled and healing is encouraged as a process. Communities of wounded healers.
But it still makes me wonder: what if we all thought “I’m so important I can’t afford to mess around with a double life.”
Monday, October 30, 2006
“How would you know if you were in His will? The reason to ask is obvious: do you have an assumed picture of what God’s plan for you would look like? Do you think Joseph did?—maybe all of his brothers would be bowing down to him?
How would you know you were in God’s perfect will? Would it mean that life’s circumstances would all be good? Some single people might say they’d be married; some married people might say they’d be single. Would we have more money? Would we have a different job? Would we be happier? Would we feel differently? These are heartfelt questions…I’m not trivializing this. It’s just that when we start thinking about God’s plan for our lives, we can carry a lot of assumptions into it.”
This has really gotten me thinking. What would the internal trigger be—emotionally, intellectually or spiritually—to let you know you were now in “the perfect will of God”? At one level you might say like Paul in his Roman letter: “Who can fight His will?” Sounds pretty fatalistic. If no one can resist God’s will, then no one is ever out of His will. Then again, why are we told to pray “Let Your will be done on earth, like it is in heaven”?
This is obviously a bigger question for bigger theological grey matter than mine…let the Calvin/Arminius games begin. But one thing is for sure: we have to learn to see a bigger picture.
Laurie Beth Jones writes in her little book Jesus CEO:
“One day a man bought a stallion, and all of his friends said, ‘That’s good.’ The next day the stallion ran away, and all of his friends said, ‘That’s bad.’ Two weeks later the stallion returned with a herd of mares. His friends said, ‘That’s good.’ The next day his son broke his shoulder when the stallion threw him off. The friends said, ‘That’s bad.’ The next month war broke out. Because the boy was injured, he could not go to war. The friends said, ‘That’s good.’ The story could go on and on with people judging events as being bad or good when actually all the events are connected and have an impact on each other.”
It’s always been interesting to me that the sheep who were separated from the goats in Matthew 25 never had a clue they were serving Jesus when they took care of the poor, the incarcerated and the stranger. Did they not know how centered they were in the will of God?
In the end, it seems to me like it’s all about two things that are more important than clarity: surrender and love.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
It was a blast finishing up The Call series. The baptisms were amazing…over 60 people wanting to shout their response to The Call. Along with making the mosaics (holy artwork...), it was a great chaotic weekend.
I wish I would have had more time to unpack the evolutionary process of God’s call. I wanted to spend more time talking about how surrendered obedience is usually done in very small steps. I remember when the little book Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff came out; I wondered if it was actually just the opposite: go ahead and sweat the Small Stuff…because the Big Stuff is usually way out of your control anyway.
I think we all want the long touchdown pass or the grand slam at the bottom of the ninth. But moving the ball ten yards at a time or advancing the base runner will do the job just fine.
As Jesus put it: “Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. (Luke 16:10a New Living Translation). The small things are incredibly important.
Think of these Bible stories: the widow’s two small copper coins…a little boy’s two small fish…faith as small as a mustard seed…the small gate and the narrow road. Or as God spoke to the prophet Zechariah: “The people should not think that small beginnings are unimportant.” (Zechariah 4:10a New Century Version)
It's small things done with great love.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
A couple of weeks ago on the weekend, I talked about three levels of surrender: surrender for survival, surrender for service and then lastly--and this is the Big One--the surrender of self, or self-denial. I'm believing (er...hoping) that's a process.
This last deepest step is the third surrender step: self-denial. We die to ourselves. This, as Jesus said, is when we pick up our cross and follow Him. And remember, a guy on the cross isn’t planning his future. There are no five-year-plans, no options, no keep-the-motor-running…I-may-back-out. It's "Come and die with me."
Paul, the bull-headed, strong-willed, my-way-or-the-highway zealot who found himself knocked down by the power of God, would years later write about that process in himself when he said: I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 Living Bible).
Later in that same letter, he again reminds them what his game plan is: As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in all the attractive things of the world was killed long ago, and the world’s interest in me is also long dead. (Galatians 6:14 Living Bible). That’s hefty. Paul is saying, "Not only do I not have any interest in this world, the world could care less about me. I’m a nobody…and I’m totally okay with that…because I’m dead. I’m only alive to Christ. I made the deepest surrender years ago."
If I would have had more time, I would have liked to unpack that a bit more personally. I don't feel like I'm anywhere near that...which is odd to say because if someone asked me if I was sold out to Jesus, I'd be quick to say "yes". But I'm not so sure. I still happen to care what people think of me. I still want to be noticed (in selective contexts!). I still want to be comfortable. In other words, I still have a long way to go.
But I'm afraid I even use that for an excuse.