Monday, September 28, 2009

Seeker Insensitive

The most recent pit stop, in "my journey" through this Christian life, involves a wound that I've carried for a long time. In fact, It was a wound that I didn't know was there until God removed it. This wound, like most, began as a verbal offense. Most offenses are the result of theft. Theft is defined as "the taking of something without consent" If I "take" an offense, and none was given, then the offense is stolen. Most people don't intend to offend us, but that doesn't stop us from taking it.

Have you ever observed someone irresponsibly lay down their wallet, keys, etc.? Have you ever taken it to teach them a lesson about taking care of their stuff? After a few minutes of anxiety, you finally give it to them, proud that you showed them a lesson. Being offended is similar. We easily justify our theft by convincing ourselves that they should have been more careful with their words. How dare they trample our feelings with their free-speech. They need to learn to pay more attention to their tone and choice of words. We take an offense and we teach them a lesson by becoming offended. We take what was not given to us, and we make it into something it else.

If that wasn't bad enough, sometimes we take it, but don't tell them. That's called teaching them a "valuable" lesson. We take it forever. We hide it, and nurse it. We never tell them that we're offended. The only way they will ever know, is if they figure it out through the many clues we leave behind at family gatherings. Sometimes we leave a big clue and tell someone else. Then we deny it later to really make them sweat it out. It's normal for us to hide what we steal. Hidden offenses thrive in cold dark conditions. If they stay too long, they grow and cause infections. That infection creates a wound that brings pain for as long as the offense is hidden. Have you ever taken an offense that ate you up inside? Did the person you take it from KNOW that you took it?

A few years ago, I stole an offense from one of the leaders of a church I was attending. It turned out to be disastrous and completely changed the course of relationships. For years I harbored resentment towards the way they did ministry and their approach to people. I became disillusioned with the seeker sensitive, purpose driven model that so many churches have adopted. Church became dull and boring. I began to wonder why so many similar churches were making members instead of disciples. The sermons, the music, the activities; all were geared toward bringing the crowd into the church doors. I was all for bringing in the crowd, but what about the core? What about the struggling, hurting, and wounded brothers and sisters, who were no longer apart of the crowd, but now spending every waking minute volunteering and working to bring them in? Who is ministering to them? Who is helping to carry their burdens?

For years, I loathed the term "seeker". I've always felt the seeking was to be done OUTSIDE the doors of the church. I thought seeking was done at schools, workplaces, and laundry mats. When did the church service become an infomercial for people who might happen to walk through the doors that Sunday? If I wanted to go to a higher level, a deeper understanding, or a closer walk with God: who would I follow? Who would be my guide?

It's interesting that the seeker movement came around the same time "formal" living rooms started showing up in house plans. Families needed a room to entertain guests who didn't live there. They needed a place to showcase their cleanliness and how perfect their house was. (Take my word for it. All the rooms look like this. ) Seeker Churches decided they needed the same thing. Over time, Sunday services became like the "formal" living room. It needed to be clean, traditional, and less homely. So if the Sunday service was the formal living room, where did the "real" living take place? Where did the family get to be themselves? Where would they get a chance to take their shoes off, and take off the masks? Well, we created cell groups for that.

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own. – Bill Hybels

Don't be so hard on yourself Bill. You did exactly what God wanted you to do. The quickest path to peace is acceptance, and God has brought me into acceptance with seeker churches. After Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, they came to rest in the desert. God never intended that they stay in the desert. He wanted them to go through the desert and move into the promised land. But most of the Jews didn't want to go. They didn't think it was worth the fight. God brought them out of Egypt. They didn't earn it or work for it. But the promised land was something that had to be fought over. Hybels believes he should have taught the people to become 'self feeders'. That's great, but what if they don't want to be self feeders? Well God has a backup plan.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Look, I'm going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. Exodus 16:4

I have come to accept the reality that there will always be people who receive God's free gift of salvation, and refuse to go any further. Sadly, more people will choose to pitch their tent in the desert, than go fight the enemy. But God in His infinite love and mercy will feed them regardless of their decision to stay where they are. The Apostle Paul understood the tendency to accept Jesus and just wait for Heaven.

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don't need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. Hebrews 6:1

God and He alone, brought them out of Egypt. That made hungry wilderness Jews His responsibility. I believe God not only allows, but blesses, seeker churches because they are STILL feeding people. No longer will I look at them in contempt or in judgment. I regret past comments I've made about other churches, and I realize that ALL churches are needed. God took care of His people even though they didn't want to go any farther, and I believe He still does. There are a lot of people who need Christ. We need all the churches we can build. Because I am a self-feeder, I'll be at peace if God ever wants me to attend a seeker church again. I'll work instead of whine. I'll participate instead of put off. I'll be anything God wants me to be. Souls are at stake, friends. It's time to get the job done, and quit stealing.

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,s I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9 19-23

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Days of Our Lives

One of the interesting aspects of creation is that God took six days to create everything. The Bible doesn't say that creation took six days. It says, God took six days. There is a huge difference. Creation taking six days, implies that God underestimated the scope of work, and finally finished on the sixth day. God could have done everything in an hour, but He chose to take six days.

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Genesis 2:2

The word 'rested' in Hebrew is "shabath". It literally means "to quit" or "to cease". God didn't quit because He ran out of nails. He didn't get tired, or realize that He had dinner plans. He chose to quit, and He knew exactly when it was going to happen. Most of us never choose when we quit. It is always the result of us running out of money, energy, or time. Most of us never to choose to rest. We work until we have to take a break. Have you ever heard someone say, "I need a vacation?" The problem is that we wait until it's needed.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. - Thomas Jefferson

Why not Mr. Jefferson? What's the hurry? God created birds and fish on Day 5, but "put off" beasts for Day 6. God could have created everything in the first day, but He strategically created the universe in a specific order. God started and stopped for a purpose. He rested for a purpose. Even in creation, God was speaking to us.

Creation tells us that rest is more important than completion. On Day 2, God created our atmosphere. He created our sky and what we call, the ozone. But He didn't create birds until Day 5. You would think that if God had all day to create something, He would have more to show for it than just more empty space. Unlike Us, God doesn't feel the pressure to stay late after work. God didn't feel like His sky was missing something. He didn't think the sky needed birds before He could punch out and call it a day. How often do we keep going because our work just isn't done yet? We do THIS, but it needs THAT. We have a picture in our mind of what it's "supposed" to look like. We spend days, months, and years "tweaking" our life, so that one day we can enjoy it. God didn't call His sky a "work in progress", He called it GOOD.

We will never enjoy our skies today, if we can't wait for our birds tomorrow. So many times, we miss opportunities of rest, because we aren't completely satisfied with our NOW. We can't enjoy our house NOW, because the carpets need to be replaced. We can't enjoy our job NOW, because I'm not in management yet. We can't relax NOW, because we still need to unload the dishwasher. God knew birds were going to be flying in His sky, but He was completely OK with waiting a few days.

The reason that I am in debt NOW, is because I can't wait until tomorrow. The credit card allows me to get my sky AND my birds all in the same day. It allows me to "never pay cash tomorrow what I can charge today". Debt and lusting for everything now, is a major reason most will never enter into financial rest. I know people who won't get a job NOW, because the job they could get today only pays minimum wage. In their mind, it is OK to earn nothing while they "hold out" for something else. If there house was flooded, they would rather let MasterCard, the government, or their parents sustain them on their rooftop until a yacht, and nothing less, is able to rescue them.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. Zechariah 4:10

Creation also tells us that our rest is more important than our needs. On Day 3, God created the plants, but He didn't create the Sun until Day 4. How insensitive is God that He would allow His precious plants to be without sunlight for for a whole day. Obviously He doesn't understand how photosynthesis works. Have you ever left for vacation, and forgot to make arrangements for someone to feed your pets? Have you ever felt like God left for vacation, and forgot about YOU and your circumstances? It is easy to get excited, worried, and stressed out when you feel like you are all alone, and now one knows what your going through. We believe God takes care of us, but it sure seems like He's not in as much of a hurry as we are. I learned very quickly, God is NEVER in a hurry. If I think God is taking to long, then its because I don't really trust Him like I say I do.

No matter how good it is, you will never enjoy a meal, that you call your last. Have you ever had trouble going to sleep because you knew what would be sitting in the rocking chair when you woke up? Our rest is often stolen by the cares of tomorrow. God has the benefit of knowing the end AND the beginning. We don't. We may want look at our life NOW and say darkness, coldness, or hopelessness. But from God's perspective, it's still GOOD. The Sun WILL rise in your life. Even if he hasn't created it yet.

Give your burdens to the Lord , and he will take care of you. Psalms 55:22

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

God is in control. He wants us to rest. He wants us to trust Him. Our lives look unfinished for a reason. We're unfinished people. But that isn't a reason to get sweaty and nervous. He's on a schedule, and He's is enjoying every minute of your life. Your sky may be unfinished, but it's only Day 2 and there's a good reason. If he gave you the birds NOW, where would they build their nests? He doesn't create dry ground until Day 3.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

Monday, September 14, 2009

Belle of the Ball

One of the arguments against becoming a Christian, is that Christians are no different than the rest of the world. I disagree. They are worse. But this is just my opinion, and I call myself a Christian. That may sound harsh, but let me explain. People expect Christians to be certain way. And when they're not, it is very disappointing. Most of the time, you can find us living in the outskirts of Normalville.

You can easily spot the Cinderella Christians. They dress, act, and talk holy, but are really no different than the rest of us. They don't go to church, they go to the ball. They put on their best smile and manners, and act like they belong there. But Cinderella can't go the distance. Her disguise only lasts until noon, or 30 minutes before kickoff (whichever is sooner). For Cinderella, Christianity is not a philosphy. It is a religion, an escape, a fill-up, or a check box on an ever increasing list of things to do. Cinderella Christians are hourly and need to mind the clock. If they stay out too long, their cover will be blown to pumpkin seeds.

Cinderella wears her Christianity, but Lady Tremaine enforces the dress code. I have been turned off by many wicked Stepmothers of Jesus than I care to name. They believe themselves to be gatekeepers of all that is holy and good. They are experts in Christian living and serve us mortals as heavenly hall monitors. If you prove yourself worthy, they might even invite you over for a Christian video and show you their collection of glass slippers. The stepmothers of Christianity wear their religion on their sleeve, and are easily offended by the Cinderellas for their lack of commitment and loyalty. Nothing ticks them off more than watching Cinderella attend church AND get to go home and be casual. Cinderellas only fool other Christians, but the religious stepmothers have to fool everyone, all the time. That's not fair!
When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. Galatians 2:12-13
Peter was a "Cinderella" because he ate with non-Jews ONLY when the Jews weren't looking. When Peter was in the company of Jews, he would turn his back on the Gentiles and morph into the custodian of clean cuisine. Living a balanced life is something I have to choose moment to moment. I often jump between being Cinderella and Jesus' stepmother. It depends on who I am hanging around with. So what causes us to be like Peter? What causes us to flip flop on our beliefs to the confusion of others? What makes us want to put on our costumes one minute, or sleep in our uniforms the next? What makes Christianity so irrelevant to the outside world?

I believe the answer revolves around our understanding of what makes one a Christian. For most folk, Christianity is a religion that needs to be followed. For others, it is an experience that needs to be felt. The truth is, its a position that needs to be accepted. Salvation is not conditional, it is positional.
For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6
It is hard to believe that we are seated in heaven when we are sitting in traffic, at the laundry mat, or laid up in a hospital bed. The reason why most Christians become Cinderella or the Stepmothers in Christ is because they believe salvation is conditional. Cinderellas need to act, talk, and be a certain way so as to prove they are saved. Stepmothers think they need to maintain it every 3000 miles or else they void the warranty. THAT is when Christianity becomes a religion. Christianity was never supposed to be a religion. Religion is man's way of reconciling himself to God. Christianity is a philosophy that understands that God already reconciled man to Himself. We had nothing to do with it.
And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Romans 5:11
The Bible doesn't say we earn reconciliation. It says we receive it. But who wants something for nothing? Christians are no different than the rest of the world. One of the reasons we act weird is because we have truly received a gift, and we are having a hard time accepting that we didn't deserve it. This isn't an excuse, it's the truth. We go around propping ourselves up, exaggerating our deeds, and sometimes confusing the hell out of everyone else. We can get so crazy that no one wants to follow us into a Wal-Mart much less follow us to heaven. We can't give someone else the love of Christ if we are too busy trying to pay Him back. It is human nature to first say "What's the catch?" and then think of ways to do them favors.

Some try to earn salvation (religion), but others think they deserved it. Just like with anything free, there will always be people who believe they were entitled to it. This is a dangerous place to be as you can easily believe that some DON'T deserve it. Have you ever been around a Christian who looked down at you? Have you ever looked down at someone else, and deduced in your mind why they were "down there" in the first place? Salvation is simple. Christianity is simple. Christians and religion are not.
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:3
Don't let the simplicity of salvation move you away from Christ. And if you're not a Christian, don't let the religion of others deter you from the love Christ has for you. If you found a counterfeit bill inside of a bag of money, would you throw out the entire bag? No, you would throw out the counterfeit. Don't let a bad experience, marriage, church, etc. keep you from accepting something genuine and beautiful. You can come to God NOW, and just as you are.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins Ephesians 2:1
Salvation is positional, not conditional. Most of us need to shake off our religion and return to true Christianity. Christianity is not a social club of elite Jesus groupies. No one ever found Jesus. He wasn't lost. He found us, and we were as good as dead. He took our dead spirit and reconciled us back to God. What gives us the right to pull people over and give them a sobriety test before we share the love of Jesus with them?

For us Cinderellas, stop dressing up. It hurts to much to walk around in costume looking constipated. Eventually, who you really are will come out. And the fact that you tried to hide it, will end up hurting more people. Evil Stepmothers, chill out! When Christ found you, you didn't even have a pulse. No one wants to feel intimidated, made less than, or unworthy.

You are the light of the world. Matthew 5:14

The problem with being the light of the world is that we enjoy shinning it in each others eye. Oh God, heal those whom I have blinded and give me another chance to shine. I promise to tone it down a bit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

War of the Words

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Faultier words have never been spoken. Most of us are not walking around on crutches due to someone breaking our bones. However, we have been crippled at some point, because of the words of other people. The problem with words is that a lot of us don't understand its purpose. Most of us believe words are only used to communicate. We understand verbal and written words are used to share feelings and emotions as well as transfer knowledge and facts. But communication is the secondary purpose of words. Creation is its primary purpose.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Genesis 1:3

God spoke the very first words of our known universe. Notice, he wasn't talking to anyone. He spoke in order to create, not communicate. Words are the seeds of creation. God didn't create light by thinking about it. He didn't meditate on it. He didn't write it down and put it under his pillow or stick it on the bathroom mirror. He spoke it. God used the spoken word as the tool of choice to create and shape this world into existence.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Hebrews 11:3

Words not only have meaning, they have power. Words always create FIRST, and communicate second. When I give someone encouragement, I unknowingly create a feeling and emotion that translates into that person desiring to continue and exceed expectations. Even though my comment was meant to communicate praise or recognition, I ended up creating a positive and fertile environment for more fruit. The opposite happens when I give discouragement. My intention may be to communicate disapproval, but I am in danger of creating a negative environment that demotivates and causes that person to feel personal rejection.

It's not that hard a concept when you think about it. When someone receives a standing ovation or trophy, we don't expect them to stand there like their from Vulcan and acknowledge that they were just doing their job. Everyone takes it personal when they receive praise and recognition. We can't help it. So we shouldn't act surprised when people take it personally when we hit them with criticism or disapproval. We often defend ourselves by saying, "its just business." We say, "don't take it personal, here comes some constructive criticism". Constructive criticism is one of the most brainless terms in the English language. It basically means, I'm going to build up, BY TEARING DOWN! It's disingenuous, and it doesn't translate into the real world. There is no such thing as "constructive criticism" when your wife is trying on a new outfit.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

It's interesting that God said "death" before he said "life". Perhaps it is because He already knows what we are predisposed to. I've never had to excuse myself from a family meal because someone was being too kind. I've never had to turn off the television because the news was just too good. I've never kept what God was telling me, a secret, because I knew my friends would be too supportive. When we make our pros and cons list, we don't need help on the cons side. When we want to go back to school, we have plenty of reasons why we shouldn't, and only a couple of why we should. When couples are separated, they can talk for hours about the reasons they should get a divorce, but rarely do they mention reasons why they shouldn't. We have no problems justifying why we can't do things, and we will gladly help other come to the same conclusion.

You are snared by the words of your mouth; You are taken by the words of your mouth. Proverbs 6:2

Thank God it doesn't say, you are snared by the thoughts of your mind. The Bible doesn't say that you are what you think. Most of my thoughts are not pure, honest, and good. But that doesn't mean that I am those things. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God judges our thoughts. It says that God judges our hearts. You can't control what comes into your brain, but you can control what you think and meditate on. And you can certainly control what comes out of your mouth. Your success, prosperity, and fulfillment in life hinges on what you believe about yourself. Do you believe what God says about you, or do you believe what other people say about you?

Words, like guns, are amoral. They can be used for good as well as evil. Words can build up, but they can also tear down. Words don't know motive or intent. Have you ever had to defend yourself because you said something, that you didn't mean? Most of us have had to go back and explain ourselves, because we used the wrong words.
If only words knew our heart and intentions before they decided to fly off our tongues. We've all heard the expression, "think before you speak." We don't get any mulligans when we speak before thinking. The best we can do is get out the ketchup, because it makes the crow easier to swallow. You know, Microsoft Office had some annoyances, but their heart was in the right place.

Positive confession is not the same as positive thinking. Thinking positive causes you to face the right direction, but in reality, it gets you nowhere. Positive thinking is like believing in God. Most people believe in God, but wooptido, so what? Believing in God doesn't change your life, it just means you're not an idiot. Many people have said "I believe in God", but that's not the same as saying, "I agree with God". Our eternity isn't based on believing with our brain that the life we're living isn't an accident. Our eternity is based on confession. It is based on agreeing with God. Our salvation in Jesus is made manifest by us speaking God's light into our existence. It's not a head knowledge. It's a heart knowledge. We are not what we believe in our brains. We are, however, what we believe in our hearts. God existing in our brains doesn't change us, God existing in our heart does.

For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he will be. Proverbs 23:7

There exist among us, a 'war of the words'. Some words come straight from our brains and out of our mouth. Some originate from our hearts. When disciplining my son, I often have him repeat words back to me. I know that when he says them, they are not coming from his heart. My goal is to have him repeat them often enough so that they will eventually BE in his heart. Some of us have heard negative things repeated to us so often, that they are now part of who we believe ourselves to be. Some of us have been called losers so much that we believe in our hearts that we are, and we act accordingly.

The words of our hearts and the words of our mind are in constant battle. This is the same battle that causes a 80 pound woman to look into a mirror and believe she is fat. It doesn't matter that the eyes connected to her brain see bones poking through her skin. Her wounded heart is speaking louder than her brain. We are who we believe in our hearts. Whether or not our heart is telling us the truth, is irrelevant.

So how do we fight this battle? How do we know who to believe? Do we believe what our parents, friends, and teachers say about us? Do we believe "science" and our brains. Do we believe our feelings and our hearts? The answer is simple. We believe God. Everything else changes. Feelings, people, and science are always changing. We need to believe and confess something that never changes. We need to believe what He says about us. We need to confess with our mouth, what He already said.

Most of us are carrying around a lifetime of pain and guilt, created by the words of other people. The only remedy is to create a new life using the words of God. Positive thinking won't make it better, but positive confession will. If the words of other people and your own mind got you where you are today, just think about what the words of the living God will do for your life. Don't just stay positive. Don't just think positive. Speak positive! Words are not magical, they are powerful. So powerful, that heaven requires you to SPEAK them.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

Most people won't come over for dinner, unless you invite them first. Jesus is one of those people. He couldn't have made it any easier.