Friday, August 28, 2009

1000 barbecues

Hey VCC'ers--don't forget the 1000 Barbecues this's never too late! Just invite your neighbors for a backyard grillout and get to know them a little better. No agenda other than love. That's it.

Here's a sample of the flyer we used in our neighborhood. We printed it out at home with some borderline cheesy party stationery from Office Depot...and crammed them into mailbox flags.

Anyway, happy grilling!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

personal space invaders

In this three-week My Network series, we’ve been looking at how to invite, include and bring people to Jesus. As Andrew said to his friend Nathaniel regarding this apparently new legit messiah he met, “Come and see.”

I mentioned this weekend that there’s a continuum implied in this series. There’s no sense in giving people techniques, methods or tools if they haven’t experienced “square one”: a true, experiential connection with God through Jesus.

Then this weekend was all about hospitality. I quoted Dr. Christine Pohl, author of Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, from an interview years ago in Cutting Edge magazine: “Hospitality in Greek is ‘love of strangers.’ Welcoming strangers had great significance for the early church. Hospitality meant welcoming outsiders into personal space, mostly a home, and offering them food, shelter, and protection. …It had a strong component of recognition and respect—which was most characteristically expressed through shared meals. They understood that who you eat with says a lot about who you…value.”

Hospitality, particularly around the table, is simply a reflection of what God has done for us. We were once “strangers”, but God invited us to His table. It’s interesting that with the first covenant, in the Holy Place in the tabernacle, there was a table for bread to be placed upon it. Only the priests could enter that room. The table was located near the veil that separated that area from the Holy of Holies, where God’s very presence dwelled, where only the High Priest could enter...and only once a year.

But it began with a table.

And isn’t it interesting that Jesus initiated the new covenant with all of humanity over a table, with a meal served…what Christians call The Last Supper, the Passover meal? That we, who were strangers to God, were invited to the table, to share in the body and blood of Jesus. Think about it: this New Covenant was initiated at a dinner with God in the flesh. When you see Jesus as truly God, the power of that moment is overwhelming. That’s part of the reason why communion is such a powerful reminder of being invited to the table by God Himself—and an invitation to enter His presence.

But next week is about what my friend Evan Griffin calls friendship with a vision. That’s when you dream for the people you know to become all that God wants them to be, to envision them enveloped in God’s love, His mercy and grace, forgiven and clothed in power. That’s when you see what they could be in the Kingdom. That’s when you call them out of darkness and into His marvelous light. That’s when you know what they could be in Jesus, when you see them the way Jesus sees them.

Someone was satisfied. Someone invited you to the table. And someone had high hopes for your transformation…and helped you cross the line of faith.

Pass it on, friends.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the satisfaction quotient

“Open your mouth wide and I will fill it…” Psalm 81:10

Baby birds from my backyard...

We launched a new series called My Network in which we’re looking at our natural relational networks and how we become “bringers and includers” to the life of Jesus lived out in us. In the setup I mentioned that before we look at any tools, techniques, methodologies or ideas, we have to begin at square one: what’s the satisfaction quotient in your relationship with Jesus? The reason the disciples were so effective was because they couldn’t help but talk about what they had discovered and experienced. Thus, the old maxim: the best salesperson is a satisfied customer.

This is a dangerous area to walk through and could easily go south. I was waiting for: “I thought this wasn’t about me, but all about others? I mean, isn’t that what you talk about all the time, Mr. Smartypants Preacher Guy? So what’s this ‘I-need-to-be-a-satisfied-customer’ stuff?”

Okay, it’s a little tricky. Are we wandering into “bless-me-Christianity” world? Aren’t American Christians already obesely consumeristic?

Truth is, scripture is very clear that in the mind-blowing covenant God has made with justified, reconciled and transformed followers of Jesus, there should be an experiential transaction, a revelatory sense of God’s overwhelming goodness, fullness and presence. In other words, Pascal’s “God shaped vacuum” has to be experienced in a felt, known way or else we can’t really know God, only things about Him. I want to know my wife—if you know what I mean—and not just know things about her. And so scriptures like “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, or “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” or “No one will have to teach his neighbor or brother, ‘know the Lord’, for they will all know me…” have a definite experiential tone.

In other words, there is some internal sensing that something has been deeply fulfilled in us, a “knowing” that nothing else could have satisfied what was missing. When God told Israel to “open your mouth wide and I will fill it”, He was telling a people in covenant with Him that they were missing something vital in their relationship with Him: his ability to fulfill the deepest longings of our souls. He was frustrated with a nation that ran off to other lovers, other gods, trying to satisfy some craving that could only be met in Him.

I’ve always thought it odd when people would say to me, “I think God is whatever you want to make Him.” I personally don't have a problem with that. I think everyone has the right (whatever that means) to believe whatever they want. The only one who might find that odd is God. When my kids were little, if I came home from work and found them hugging the TV and saying "Daddy, daddy", I would be more than a little concerned. And probably my heart would be broken. Don't you think God's heart breaks when He sees His children wanting intimacy and fulfillment with everything but Him...and He's the only one that can truly give them what they really need?

My children act like my children and treat me like their dad because I am their dad. It is the most natural thing for them. The creation responds (or should respond) to the Creator in gratitude; it is the natural order of the universe. God, with a touch of sarcastic humor, told Isaiah “Even a cow knows its owner, even a donkey knows where its barn is. But Israel, my son, avoids me…” (Is. 1:3). When I humble myself before God in worship, I am affirming once more that He made me and I belong to Him. In my Father’s house I am safe and warm.

And a satisfied person.

That should make me incredibly open about what I’ve discovered and experienced in Jesus. To do anything less would be antithetical to God’s personality, the personality I’ve experienced.

Friday, August 14, 2009

health care reform and angry emails...

I’ve been putting this off, but I feel a need to respond to the emails some Christians are forwarding regarding H.R.3200: the Health Care Reform Bill bandied about in Washington. It’s not so much the merit or weakness of the bill itself that concerns me (that’s a blog for another time) as much as the tone of the emails and the paranoia expressed. What put it over the top was a mass emailing from Morningstar Ministries in South Carolina by Rick Joyner. Rick is a well-known teacher/speaker particularly among charismatics and the prophetic stream. I don’t know Rick personally, but I’m aware of his ministry and years ago read his bestseller, The Final Quest.

Several people forwarded his email to me. He was sounding the alarm about the bill. Alarm is putting it mildly: he used terms like “diabolical”, “SINISTER” (in caps), “euthanasia”, “totalitarian control…to a degree that Hitler and Stalin could not have even imagined”, “make America into a national concentration camp”, “terrible impending holocaust”, and “unimaginable evil…will be unleashed into our nation if this passes…”.

Following his comments was a cut-and-paste addendum from the Liberty Counsel, an organization connected with Liberty University/Falwell Ministries. I personally was never a fan of Falwell’s Moral Majority movement back in the eighties, mostly due to the methodologies, a weak Kingdom theology, the “Christian-nation” America-centric stance, and, in my little opinion, a self-righteous tone of their rhetoric. Regardless of whatever political advantages were made, it set in motion and ratified a clear “us-against-them” perception of the Church that’s had long-term damage. I don’t believe that’s what Jesus intended.

The Joyner email not only saddened me, but I consider it irresponsible for an influential Christian leader, especially one given a prophetic title, to send an editorialized cut-and-paste commentary without doing the homework, particularly after firing up people to “read it for yourself”.

It was soon followed by a second email: a very mild apology for actually not reading the bill themselves. It struck me as odd that the main point of the follow-up statement was a questioning of why the bill was being “rushed”. I would have asked the same question of why a mass email of untruths and disrespectful dangerous exaggerations was rushed out as well.

Frankly, the whole tone seems to me to be as embarrassing as Hillary Clinton’s famous “vast right-wing conspiracy” interview years ago. Please, brothers and sisters, I beg you: tone down the rhetoric. I have been told numerous times of “conservatives” being shut out of the dialogue, ejected from town meetings. Frankly, every YouTube video I’ve seen is mostly angry, disrespectful people yelling in the town meetings and disrupting any sense of dialogue.

I have some simple advice: Christians should be very, very careful of their moral certitude. I have been a Jesus-follower for over thirty-five years, and too many times I’ve seen the prophetic God-card pulled out, “watchmen-on-the-wall” language used, and a “moral-policemen-of-the-world” approach to Christianity that in the end hurts more than helps the cause of Christ. We often seem to confuse expressing the values of Jesus with methods that are fleshly. We water down the power and sovereignty of the King and His Kingdom with world-worn strategies.

Christians should think twice about implying a democratically elected administration is comparable to Nazi Germany. Really? That’s embarrassing to the believers who didn’t vote like them…and an affront to Jews who survived the death camps. And please don’t forward chain emails without researching the material, making at least some attempt to understand the other side of the argument, and listen to a little bit more than our own subcultures.

Preaching to the choir can have inflammatory consequences.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9–14

Monday, August 10, 2009

circumstances, fairness and bark mitzvahs

We finished up the Summer of Love series on the Ten Commandments with, of course, Number Ten: Don’t Covet. The slant on this was to love contentment. Okay, I know it’s a stretch to love a “state of mind and heart”, but you get the concept.

What I wanted to do was spend a little more time on how we view our circumstances. After traveling to several third world countries, it’s a little hard to talk about difficult circumstances, particularly ones that deal with finances, when we all drove to church and are sitting in cushioned seats with cupholders and free coffee.

But here’s the deal: we typically assess our circumstances by what we perceive as fairness.

Some time back I read an article on what American pet owners spend on their dogs. Sun Rooms Plus—a remodeling company in Albuquerque—had a brisk business building additions on homes for dogs, averaging $20,000 per unit. A store in Newport Beach sold sofas for dogs for $2000. Or at the Doggie-Do Salon in Manhattan, owners could throw dog birthday parties and “bark mitzvahs” with printed invitations and gift registries. A hotel in Beverly Hills offered doggie room service with a menu that included poached salmon belly with frothed milk or caviar with hard-poached eggs for only $98.

These dogs don’t have owners—they have a staff.

Two questions: Does it seem fair these dogs have it better than 99.99% of us? And is it any surprise why so much of the rest of the world often doesn’t like us? Hmmm.

On the other hand, it seems Jesus had a very different view of fairness. Consider the terse response He gave the man in Luke 12 who asked Him to get his brother to divide the inheritance. With this apparent issue of fairness, Jesus turned it into a pointed public moment of introspection for this poor slob. That was probably the end of Q&A time for everyone.

Or how about the parable on Matthew 20 of the factory owner who paid everyone the same amount at the end of the work day, no matter how many hours it was? Though Jesus turned it into a lesson of radical generosity and mercy, the issue of fairness is what drives it.

One thing for sure: How I view my current circumstances is a way to assess my level of servanthood to Jesus and His mission.

I love this line of thought from Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis in his little book of essays called God in the Dock:

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it as a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

Think about how Paul saw his own presumably unfair imprisonment:

And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ. (Philippians 1:12–14 NLT)

Perception is huge. It helps if we see life as a total learning experience…the place where we practice becoming what we will become.