Sunday, November 26, 2006

life in technicolor

My friend Kent Odor spoke this weekend…so I guess this should be Things Kent Meant To Say…

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

when life sucks

One of the things I wish I could have expanded on this weekend is the danger of simply accepting all of life's circumstances as "God’s will". This is a little tricky…and requires that we walk it out circumspectly. At the close I mentioned:

“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

the fear of God

“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.”