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Thursday Words

Since November I’ve been attempting an odd sort of fast.  Every Thursday I’ve attempted to be extremely careful with my words.  The rules are simple, don’t speak unless necessary, be sure to answer questions concisely as possible, and be careful to only say things that matter in eternity.  I would begin my fast on Wednesday 8:30 pm night after youth group and conclude it on Thursday before small group 6 pm.  Each morning on Thursday I would spend a little time in prayer and then try to be as intentional as possible with my words.  I was prepared to adapt my vocabulary, I was prepared to focus my mind on eternity, I was prepared for hours of silence, and I was prepared for this to be awesome!  I was not prepared for what God had to teach me.

The first weeks seemed easy.  Most of the days were spent in my office reading and studying.  Occasionally there was a lunch or meetings to sit through awkwardly, but for the most part these days were quiet already and not talking was only a minor challenge.  Then it happened.  The Lord began to move in the way He does.  God began to speak in the small moments.  God always starts with small moments.

I heard the laughter in the office adjacent to mine and was drawn to the fellowship of humor.  I stood in the doorway and watched as my brothers in Christ bantered with one another.  I longed to engage, I wanted to be seen, I wanted to know that I mattered.  And yet, I stood back and faded into the void.  Thus began my journey to understanding this very peculiar rift in my soul.

Slowly, my Lord began to expose my wound.  Over the next few months I would experience opportunities to rest in silence and be inconsequential.  In the silence God revealed a deep fear in my soul.  I am absolutely terrified that I will not be heard.  I fear people will not hear my voice and I will not matter.  I fear that my life and my voice will be inconsequential.  The remarkable truth about fear is it’s propensity to inspire irrational responses.  The fear that I would not matter drove me to say and do things that didn’t matter.  I would make jokes that bore no weight on the soul.  I would engage in trivialities.  My fear drove me to inconsequential existence.  When I intentionally forced myself to only say what matters it was revealed how little my words have mattered.  Giving into the fear of meaninglessness drove me to meaningless speech for the sake of attention.  Whereas striving to make my words significant forced me to be silent and often fade into the background, but what I did say matters.

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Googling God

ImageIn John 8 Jesus reaches the mid-point climax of His confrontation with the Pharisees.  Up to this chapter, the religious leaders have maintained their composure and have stood in front of Jesus with some semblance of dignity.  But things are about to go bad for them.  In John 8 Jesus forgives an adulterous woman who was brought before Him as a trap and the religious leaders become infuriated with His claims to be “The Light of the World.” (v.12) Attempting to turn their eyes heavenward and to remind them of the eternal nature of their God, Jesus begins to speak of Heaven, truth and His own eternal nature.  This befuddles the religious elite and they begin to grasp at anything they can to discredit Jesus.

So, before we go any further, let’s get the issue straight.

1. Jesus has shown them that He can forgive sins and that forgiveness is not based on making the right choices in life or being good enough, but on His grace and mercy.

2. Jesus has told them that they cannot understand the light because they are not of God and are in need of Him to change their hearts.

3. Jesus has explained to them that He is the truth that can set them free from sin and that freedom is found in Him and not in self-made righteousness.

4. Finally, Jesus has explained that the religious leaders have believed the lies of the devil because they do not know the Heavenly Father.  In essence, Jesus is telling them that they are not God and they do not know God.

Now, we come to the place where someone has been confronted with a truth about God that they were not prepared to accept.  In verse 48, the religious leaders begin to come unraveled.  They attempt to grasp at anything that will discredit this God-man who stands before them.  Confronted with who Jesus is, they spit out, “Are we not right is saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon!?”  Now let’s just pause here… who would EVER answer that affirmatively?  The question is, in itself, a testament to the reality that these people don’t know God.  When we don’t know Jesus, we leap to whatever theological standpoint that would prove us right.  I like to call this, “google God.”  It happens more often today than we like to admit.  When we are confronted with a character trait of Jesus that we don’t particularly like, we often dive head first into the world-wide-web and google our theology.  What we come away with is a sad indictment on who we are and to what it is we really think makes us righteous.

The religious leaders cling to their accusations of Jesus, but the accusations are unfounded and are not based on a relationship with God and His word.  If the religious leaders had really been concerned that Jesus was teaching something heretical, they would have gone to what they knew authoritatively about God from the Scripture.  But, they don’t.  They google God.  What I mean is this: instead of seeking the authority of the Most High God to determine their answers, they take the first opposing argument they can grab hold of and throw it out in a last ditch effort to win the debate.  This is what so many people who profess Christ do in our time, we google God in an effort to find a short-cut to win a debate.  But, this is not how God works in our hearts.  God works in the tireless efforts of struggling to know His nature and find our delight in Him.  God is more evident in the disciplined heart that has labored to understand Scripture than the one who is incredibly proficient at using the internet to find satisfactory answers for a debate.  When we google God, we don’t look impressive to those who know Jesus or even those who want to know Jesus.  We look annoying and we ask questions that don’t make since, just like the Pharisees did.

So, don’t be that guy.  When you are confronted with something difficult about the character and nature of God, go to Scripture.  Google-ing God may give you a short-cut to the answers to win a debate, but it also short-cuts your journey to know Jesus more and thereby limits your ability to know Him truly.  Knowing Jesus is much more valuable than winning the debate.

Wake up early to pray and study, stay up late to study and pray, do the discipline to know Jesus.  A relationship with Jesus can’t be googled.

Leadership 101 By John C. Maxwell

Leadership 101 by John C Maxwell.

A Good Book on Leadership

Maxwell is a leadership guru.  His work has been on the New York Times best sellers list, in the wall street journal, and is getting to be required reading for pretty much every leadership course offered in business or ministry.  Maxwell is an easy read.  His books are filled with stories that inspire the heart of men through the examples of great leadership throughout history.  Stories about athletes conquering devastating injuries to return to greatness intertwine with stories of titans of business who rose from nothing to the most successful business men of their day.  On cannot read Maxwell without feeling inspired to be great.  Whether it is the stories he tells or the applications he draws, you will feel like you are suddenly able to conquer any leadership challenges with the practical and strategic method he lays out for the reader.

This short, easy read is intended to be read in one sitting.  I did this, it was fun and easy to digest.  I think that it’s a good exercise.  If you ever want to grasp the flow of a book, sit down and read it all at once.  Try it!  It’s easier than you think.

Maxwell divides his work into three sections. The Development of a Leader, The Traits of a Leader, and The Impact of a Leader.  I would rephrase them this way: Why should I lead and how, What I should look like as a leader, and What will be the results if I actually do this?  If you’ve ever read a Maxwell Book, you know every page is filled with useful tips on bettering yourself as a leader.  This work is no exception.  In fact, most of this work is a compressed version of several other works he has written on the subject.

What was helpful:  Maxwell’s work is compelling and sometimes challenging.  The illustrations make you feel as though you could just tweak a few things in your life and you’ll be able to conquer the world!  Further, Maxwell has a naturally encouraging tone.  When reading you feel as though your grandfather is cheering you on as you play tee ball and occasionally giving pointers that can change the shape of your career.

What was troubling: 1) Maxwell knows leadership, but he is a self confessed poor practitioner.  Maxwell has studied leadership for years, and yet at the beginning of almost every book he writes on the subject he tells you he is not good at it.  But, consider Maxwell.  He runs a tremendous organization and has tons of experience leading.  I think he is probably trying to set the reader at ease and explain that he was not naturally a good leader.  But he is certainly a good one.  2) There is next to no scripture used.  Maxwell draws his life lessons from illustrations from American Capitalism and Athletes.  While these are tremendously encouraging and engaging, there are seldom stories taken from Scripture.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still a worthy book to add to your collection, I would simply add a few more that talk about scriptural leadership as well.

In truth, there are no formulas to make you a better leader… I see my friends grab on to principles of leadership constantly.  The oldest truths described in the newest ways.  As leaders we latch on to these kinds of books for a time and we drum up a great deal of excitement in our lives for a time.  Quickly though, it becomes evident: only discipline, fervent faith in Christ Jesus, and hard work will accomplish the life change needed to lead well.  Maxwell agrees.  So read the book, love Jesus more than the advice in the book, and work hard.

Touching Godliness through Submission! a fantastic book!

One of the most enjoyable books I’ve been challenged by this year.

Touching Godliness through submission.

I read this book once all the way through and was so moved that I am going back through it slowly so that I can absorb everything in it.  K.P. Yohannon is one of the most Godly men I have met in my life and also one of the most human.  One of my dreams was fulfilled this past spring when I was privileged to sit across from him at lunch. His brilliance and Godly character are only exceeded by his humility, simplicity, and love. He would probably chide me for complementing him so and say something like, “I’m just a hamburger and french fries guy!”  But, sitting with him for a few moments, was a wonderful experience I will not forget.  He is the founder of Gospel for Asia, a missions organization my wife and I support and you should too.

In his book he delves through scripture to teach the reader truths about Godliness that can only be learned when learning submission.  It is a difficult read and it is not always fun.  Since reading this book I have called and apologized to several leaders who I served poorly and with an unsubmissive spirit in my life.  This book will change the way you look at the leaders around you!  You should read every word!

This work flies in the face of the American independent spirit.  We don’t submit! We acquiesce, we allow, we permit, we agree, but NEVER submission!  As Americans we see submission as something someone who is weak does toward someone who is strong.  But we are STRONG!!!  No…  KP wisely shows us, God is strong… we are pitiful.  Through this book I have been on a journey to learn that submission is not a weakness, but is Godly.  Think about it: everything submits to authority except sinful man.  Even Jesus submitted to the pole tax, the Pharisees, and the Roman governor! Seriously, it’s some crazy deep submission Jesus gets into…  read Philippians 2! Through understanding submission and what that looks like when we are living it out, we can begin to grasp who God is and we will be blessed to know Him more fully.

KP begins by defining Submission and explaining what is at the core of submission.  Through Scripture he defends God’s design for submitting to authority and expounds on what it means to submit.  I was so convicted by this that I have even attempted to change the way I dress when I am in the presence of an authority.  Establishing where authority comes from, KP establishes where rebellion comes from.  That is, rebellion comes from sin and our sinful rejection of God.  A warning is fired across the reader explaining that rebellious people are not children of God, but children of the devil.  Through a series of Biblical examination and a smattering of personal anecdotes from his experience as a missionary, KP challenges the way we conceive of authority and Submission to that Authority.  I promise you…  if you read this carefully, you will know Jesus better. This book is fantastic!  Go buy it now or download it for free here: http://www.gfa.org/resource/books/

Worship: a Collision of Expression

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Occasionally in youth group we paint as an expression of worship.  Last night was one of those nights.  Now… please push the images of hippy-ness out of your mind.  Also, please fight the urge to think that each student has crayons and a piece of paper.  I am not a hippy nor do I play with crayons.  This is actually art produced for the purpose of worship.  It is an opportunity for the students to learn some truths about worship.  You see, when we paint together we express ourselves in a visible way on a canvas.  As each person adds to the canvas, the canvas becomes more united in its expression. What you add to the canvas is an expression born out of your own heart.  The various individual voices in the work begin to collide and gel in a unique and impressive way.   One person may paint a flower, another may add a bright blue streak across the flower, yet another may add some sort of complementary color around that, and finally someone else adds some sort of interpretation of a heart.  As each person lays down an individual representation of their expression and in the process of worship, the individual expressions collide to create an entirely unique expression of the body of Christ in worship.  Like the painting, our lives are lived out in acts of worship.  All of us have a voice to praise the Lord, hands to serve Him, and a mind to think on Him.  What we do with those God-given faculties is worship and what we express is some indication of who we are worshiping.  Either we can worship the Almighty or we are worshiping something else.  Romans 12:1 states that we are to give our lives to Him in worship.  Worship is not just singing, but is a lifestyle lived out in the imitation of Christ.  We use our lives in the body of Christ to magnify the Lord of all Glory.  Add your voice, worship the Lord today.  Here is some of the result of last nights worship.

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A definite theme of last night seemed to be the healing Love of God.  Jesus work on the cross moved in our hearts so that we would see Him and be healed of the sin and given life.  Notice the reference to I Cor. 5:21. (V:XXI).   and the Healer answering prayers to redeem the sick on the earth.

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As we paint we listen to music.  The music helps us to set our minds aright on the grace and truth of Our Lord and who He is.  Here we can see; He is the Author of All, He has great Love, He is Lord, and He rules over heaven.

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Confronted with the cross, students responded baffled by the Love of Christ.  The grace of God displayed for us to see moves them to ask why, to layout the cross not as a emblem of suffering, but a sign of God’s heart, to establish the work of God as the one who brings light into this dark world.

DSC00134The powerful imagery grew from one member of the congregation painting an abstract symbol.  Another added the cross, another the glory, another the flowers, another the colors, another the foot print (difficult to find), and another the peace of God.

John 5 part 3

As I have been walking through John, I have been examining the story of the lame man healed at the sheep gate.  Today I would like to spend some time thinking about Jesus’ interactions with the healed man after the Jewish leaders have already confronted the man.   A little warning: this will be a little less story driven and a little more text driven.  I use this blog to deal with stories and thoughts as I read through the story of the Bible.  This is not intended to be an exposition, just my own meandering journey.  So…  let’s go.

The story picks up in verse 14, “Afterward, Jesus found him…”  Stop right there!  Jesus FOUND him.  The man who was healed was found by Jesus.  Jesus sought him out.  We can take heart that Jesus seeks us… we are lost, He is the Shepherd and He seeks us out for redemption.  Further, Jesus finds him in the temple.  The man who was healed just outside the temple at the pool of Bethesda is walking around the temple.  So he rises and walks, and the first place that we find him is in the Temple.  So, Jesus heals the lame and they go into the Temple for worship.  This is a convicting thought to me.  This man who had been lame for 38 years first desires to obey the law.  You see, the Law of God says to present yourself to the priests when you are cleaned.  However, what would I have done?  If I was unable to walk for 38 years, I think I would have gone for a run.  But this man turns to worship.  As a pastor, I have seen this happen many times.  Someone goes through extremely traumatic illness and then they come out of it with a deep desire to worship the Lord.  Tragedy and suffering draws people to the Lord.  Imagine the man, still grumbling about administrative ineffectiveness, walking into the doctor’s house!  But he doesn’t yet understand that it is the Doctor’s home… he is still under the impression that this is just the hospital.

Upon seeing the man in His house, Jesus says, “See you are well!  So do not go on continually sinning, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” (my personal translation from the Greek)  What an odd thing to say!  I imagine the healed guy smiling that awkward confused smile that one encounters when we meet a very polite foreigner who has no idea what we just said.  What Jesus said doesn’t really compute.  It is certainly a foreboding statement.  “Be careful how you live or something worse could happen!”  That sounds odd.  You’d expect, “walking is pretty cool eh!?” or “did you try jumping yet?”  We are not granted those statements.  We are instead confronted with a theological statement that is equally pragmatic.

There are many theologians who want to use this verse to say that all sickness is caused by our own individual sin.  However, reading a little further in the book of John, Jesus completely rejects this interpretation of sins relationship to sickness in 9:3.  Illness might be the consequence of our individual sin, but I don’t think that is what Jesus is getting at here.  I think Jesus is warning the man that his life must change.  You cannot be healed by Christ and then persist in living in sin.  One must have their heart conformed to the image of Christ and begin to live a life that is indicative of a general pattern of righteousness.

The verb that is used for sin is in the present active tense.  This means that the verb for sin could be translated “continually sinning.”  This is Jesus way of saying, “you cannot remain continually living in sin.”  If this is what Jesus is saying, and I believe it is.  Then Jesus’ warning is apt.  Because one who lives a life of sin and not a life in Christ will have something worse happen to them.  That is to say, hell is real and people who do not trust and follow Jesus go there.  It’s worse than being sick for 38 years.  Remember, we must maintain an eternal perspective!  Jesus does not limit his view as we do.  We think of what is going to happen in the next 20 or 30 years, whereas Jesus thinks of eternity.  So, when we deal with our lives, we must keep our eye on eternity and not merely the consequences we have here.

Immediately that man who was healed by the Messiah went and told the Jewish leaders that Jesus healed him and they got mad at Jesus.  They get mad at Jesus and his response is “I’m the Doctor, this is my house, and you’re not doing the job I gave you!”  More to come…

John 5 Part 2

John 5:9-13

I remember a fictional story I once heard about a young man who was sitting in the hospital with his ailing mother.  It went something like this:  The monitor started to beep and the loving son began to panic.  He ran into the hallway of the hospital in a mild panic and frantically approached the closest person in a white coat he could find.  “Sir, I need your help in my mother’s room!”  The man in crisp white medical garb responded quickly and followed the frantic man into the room.  The man in the white lab coat closely examined the situation looked at the monitors and said, “Well, this is a beautiful room!?  How can I help?  Perhaps this room could use some new curtains and don’t you think that monitor would complement the paint better on the other side of the bed?”  The Son looked incredulously at the older man and barked, “You’re the doctor, what’s wrong with the monitor?!”  Surprised at the assumption the man responded, “I’m not a doctor, I’m an interior designer.  I’m not the right person for this job.”  Slightly confused, the young man asked, “but you are wearing a white coat.”  “Oh, yes…  do you like it?  I found it in the hallway.” The older man responded.  “Let me go find you a doctor.”  The moral of the story: just because they wear a white coat, doesn’t mean they’re a doctor.

Whenever Jesus heals someone it almost always ticks off those people who do not work in the hospital of God, but wear the lab-coats.  In this particular instance, the man Jesus healed in verses 1-9 is confronted by the lab-coat wearing fake doctors who roam the halls of the hospital and yet no nothing of medicine and treatment.  He stands up and carries his bed and the interior decorators, which have all kinds of rules for how the room should look and where people should stand in cases of a picture, see him and bark at him for breaking formula.  You see, their concern is for the appearance of the hospital itself and not the healing of the patients in the hospital.  They are upset that someone would deny the rules they have set up and that this person would dare to be healed out of order!

Now I realize I’m not given the Jewish leaders the credit they deserve.  The truth is that most of the Jewish leaders believed that God had commanded that Sabbath was a day in which you were not allowed to do ANY WORK!!!  So, in defense of God’s rule, these leaders come running to stop the law breaker.  So, I imagine the conversation going like this:

Jewish leaders in white lab coats (JLWL)- “Sir, I know you’re walking and haven’t been able to for a long time… but we have rules here.  You see, it is important that you follow our administrative vision or this hospital will start to look like it is not an effective hospital.  You’re going to have to put that bed down.”

Healed guy: “What? The doctor just told me to pick it up and walk!?”

JLWL- “What!?  You saw a doctor and he told you to do something contrary to the administration’s policies!?”

Healed guy: “Yeah, he healed me and said, ‘pick up your bed and walk.’  So I’m not putting this thing down… the doctor told me to pick it up.”  He continues to mutter angrily about flawed administrative policies and obvious oversight of the needs of patients.

JLWL- Interrupting the muttering, “Which doctor was it?”

Healed guy- “I don’t know but when I see him, I’ll come tell you.”  Healed guy walks off vowing to write a letter to the chief operating officer about the lack of administrative effectiveness.

The Jewish leaders get upset over this guy walking because he is calling into question their system.  If he could be healed without submitting to the rules they believed were required for healing, then their hospital is useless.  More than that, if their system is not working, then they are not doctors!

The leaders had become more concerned with the appearance of the hospital over the healing of the patients.  You see, they were wearing a white coat, but they are not the doctor.  That’s why, when Jesus started to challenge the system and proclaiming that you get healed through Him, the leaders were angry.  That’s probably an over simplification, but there will be more to come….