Monthly Archives: November 2004

Disconnect

The other day, I met a woman on the street in Atlanta. She and her colleague were carrying boxes of hot Krispie Kreme dougnuts. [Side tangent, I love Krispie Kreme doughnuts.] The woman was dressed like she was going to work. I started up a conversation with her by asking, “Are you taking those to co-workers?” She responded that she was taking them to a potential client. She hoped the dougnuts would help develop goodwill with her contacts.

I told her that I would give her my business because I love doughnuts. She asked what I do. When I told her publishing, the woman said, “That’s a disconnect.” She explained that she offered legal services to large companies. And there is no real business opportunity for her with me. She was polite. But her interest in me was not as great as her interest in getting the new business. She was in business mode.

It is interesting how we could connect over something as simple as doughnuts. But when her higher priority (business) did not mesh with me, she was quick to move on to her target. We tend to have connect and disconnect points with others all the time. Identifying connection points is a critical thing for Christians who want to engage the culture around them.

While people are connected, there is a sense of oneness. Walls come down and people can openly share. But once a disconnect occurs, people tend to lose interest and walls go back up.

In order to be perceived as relevant, Christians must discover connect points and use them to engage the culture. Are you connected?

Crash

[I wrote the following at the last general session of the National Youth Workers Conference in Atlanta. The David Crowder Band was on the stage. The crowd was lost in worship, and I was struggling with so many conflicting ideas that I had been exposed to at the conference. I just had to sit down and write. So in the midst of a concert, I opened up my laptop and started to write what was going on inside of me.]

Help…information overload. As I think back about this conference, I am hit by so many different messages. Many are conflicting. Some seem to create complex paradoxes.

I understand how it feels to be the target of marketing. We do things for so many different reasons. From guilt to unspoken peer pressure, where is purity in motive? All I know to do is to stop and just ask the Spirit to lead me in all truth. Will the Spirit really help me know what is the best and what is garbage? While I know that the question is not what is truth but who is truth, why does this seem so hard to accept in a consumer-driven culture?

It’s a catch twenty two situation. First we say that we do not want to feel like we are being marketed to and we certainly are not going to sell God like some kind of product to be consumed. But how else will we reach people with the message when almost everyone is used to filtering most decisions through the consumer mindset?

Is it bad to borrow “best practices” from marketing, culture or psychology? Can we get in the way of what God wants to do by using too much human wisdom? Where does the Spirit begin and psychological manipulation stop? If all things are mine, how do I keep the good and leave the bad? In a world full of information overload, I need the Spirit to keep me from getting suffocating by the overwhelming onslaught of messages and questions.

Oh Lord, I need more of Your Spirit to guide me. Pump up the volume for the voices that I should be listening to, help me to know what to reject. May Your ways seem clear to me for I know that Your sheep know Your voice. Help me to be consumed by Your truth in life not the lies of the enemy. With all the noise blaring, let me be still in the inner most parts. I know that what I cannot do You can do. I submit to Your way. Incline my ears to Your words. May I walk on Your path despite the constant struggle going on inside of me. Amen!

Do I Even Want to Be a Christian Anymore?

Tonight, I watched the movie Saved, which is a humorous parody from a teen perspective of modern Christianity. At times, the movie made me mad at the producers. I thought, “How dare they paint Jesus and Christianity with such a jaded brush.” At times, I saw things that I could identify in real life, which made me shake my head in disgust.

Even scarier, I saw myself and cringed. Like any good parody, the movie contained some truth amidst a bunch of hyper exaggerations. Unfortunately, the movie is pretty realistic in that it actively describes how many non-Christians view die-hard, evangelical Christians.

Like it or not, stereotypes exist for a reason – they are based on the typical action by someone in a particular group. And while everybody talks about how bad it is to judge someone based on a stereotype, I have yet to find someone who doesn’t use them at least some of the time. Granted, stereotypes are often accurate and sometimes necessary to make quick decisions.

In the movie, there is one hyper pro-Jesus girl who is the spiritual cheerleader for a bunch of other girls in a Christian high school. She has a gross misunderstanding of her own importance and does not understand her true position in Christ. She seems to think that she has done a pretty good job of being righteous on her own. Of course, she had a little help from the man upstairs. But all in all, she is a pretty righteous girl. This girl would have fit in well with the Pharisees of Jesus day.

What really disturbed me is that I could see myself in the actions of this girl. There were times were I rushed to judge and not to love. There are lots of times where I think my work for God is more important than God’s work in me. There are lots of times that I have looked at being a Christian as being in kind of club. You are either in or out.

Sometimes I would rather not be known as a Christian. It has nothing to do with being ashamed of Jesus. Instead, I am afraid of being labeled with all the ridiculous mess associated with Christianity. Many people, including myself, have done some pretty ridiculous, stupid and sometimes barbaric things in the name of Jesus.

When I stop to think of all the times that I have sullied the name of Jesus, all I can do is repent and say, “God forgive me a sinner.”

I have come to the realization that I am not an island. My actions have an impact beyond just me. People are expecting me to be a reflection of Christ. If I act like a nut or self-righteous Pharisee, it reflects poorly on anyone else who calls himself a Christian. The good, the bad, the ugly can either help or hinder the cause of Christ.

While in the mountains last summer, I encountered three young adults. One of them invited me to come to their camp site for a beer and fellowship. The Spirit prompted me to go join them.

The one guy knew that I was a Christian because when he saw that I was alone, he asked, “What are you reading?” I answered, “A book about finding community as the people of God.” He asked, “Are you alone?” I said, “Yeah, I’m just up here to get away from stuff and to enjoy hanging out just me and God.” He seemed a bit stunned, not sure what to say. He then extended an invitation to come join them.

When I took him up on his invitation about 30 minutes later, these three guys warmly welcomed me. The first guy I met must have told them about me. One of the guys looked at me and asked, “Are you a Christian?”

I decided to be honest. I said, “Part of me wants to say no because of all the bad baggage associated with the word. But I certainly can’t deny who I am. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ on a personal journey of spiritual discovery.”

I went on to say, “There have been a lot of misguided things that have nothing to do with God but have been done in His name by modern so-called Christians. And I would rather not be labeled with all of that.” We dialogued for a bit about what they believe and my beliefs. One of the men claimed to be a Christian. But he freely admitted that he was not living like one right now. I openly talked about how Jesus came to give the best kind of life.

God is more about love than knowing the right Sunday school answers. We are saved because God is love and has offered us love and forgiveness through His Son. I have not been able to forget my interaction with those three men on the mountain.

For some reason, I felt like I had to apologize for all of the sins done by others who were or had claimed to be “Christians.” Why do I feel this way? Is part of me ashamed to be judged wrongly? Didn’t the same thing happen to Jesus? The Pharisees said that Jesus was possessed by demons. Then again, maybe it is OK to speak as I did because some people automatically turnoff anyone who claims to be a Christian.

A missionary friend of mine recently told me about his experience with labels in Uzbekistan. He never wanted to be called a Christian there because the average Uzbek person thought of a rich, aristocrat, Greek Orthodox person when talking about a “Christian.” These are the type of people who would lift their hand and ask a common person to kiss their ring out of respect for their position. This picture is far from what the missionary wanted to be connected with. It would not help him establish rapport with the common people nor does it accurately reflect Christ and His message. My missionary friend instead described himself as a follower of Jesus. He was not hiding his faith. Instead, he was refusing to be labeled as something he was not.

I don’t like to think of myself as a Christian any more. This term is way to limiting. Instead, I view myself as a disciple of Jesus, a part of His Church and a person on the Way to the best life possible.

But then right when I thought I had this particular issue figured out, I came across the following verse:

1 Peter 4:16

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God on this behalf.

Based on the above Scripture, maybe I should glory in being called a Christian? Each answer seems to lead to a deeper question. When will it ever end?

Pill Popping

Just turn on the TV or look through a magazine and you will see that our society is full of messages trying to get people to pop a pill in order to solve a problem. From diseases, to dietary supplements to physical or sexual performance enhancers, there is a pill for just about everything. It is kind of nice to think that all we have to do is take a pill and all of our problems will go away. We want to escape the burden of having to work at something. That is one of the main reasons why I believe the modern American society is so pill crazy. But life is usually not that simple.

While there are legitimate uses and medial needs for certain drugs, many times we run to drugs when there better ways to address a problem. There is a terrible price for our pill popping habit. Sometimes we rob God of the opportunity to manifest a miracle. Sometimes we become dependent on a drug with unforeseen side effects.

I started thinking about this while listening to a speaker on illegal drugs at a recent meeting for parents with teenagers in my church. The speaker said that the culture has embraced prescription drugs and medication as a panacea offering solutions for many common problems. This has translated to a casual attitude toward drugs, including illegal narcotics, for many youth. They think, “Well if drugs help me focus in school and be more social, maybe they will help me be a better athlete or deal with my social problems.” And of course this lie is quickly followed by, “If one pill or hit works, then two or three works even better.”

The problem with illegal drugs, like many sins, is that you never know how many times it will take for you to become addicted. You never know when the substances could lead to an accident, brain damage or even death. Ultimately, these drugs offer what they can’t deliver. Like any lie, it has just enough truth in it to seem believable.

If we became less inclined to turn to drugs to fix everything would we see more miracles take place today? While I do believe that medicine itself is a gift from God, mankind has a tendency to corrupt what God intended for good. The answers to life and our problems cannot be found in pill. They are found in a person. And His name is Jesus.

Oneness

It’s always interesting to notice what people focus on when they know they are about to die. Jesus’ final prayers and last evening before his trial and crucifixion show us what was on His heart. When He could have prayed for anything, one of Jesus’ top concerns was unity (John 17:20-23). Jesus prayed that all His followers be one as He and the Father are one. Then Jesus explains further that we are to be one in God. And it is in oneness with God that we reach perfection.

Jump back to the origins of mankind, when it was just God and Adam living in perfect harmony, God noticed that man was alone. He said that it is not good for man to be alone and responded by creating Eve. This has always struck me as kind of odd. How could Adam be alone if he was in perfect union with God? Remember this is before sin entered the world. Was hanging out with God in the garden in the cool of the day not enough? What was Adam missing?

Athol Dickson wrote in The Gospel according to Moses, “I do not say God was not enough to keep Adam from loneliness. I say instead, He was too much…The company of another human soul, seeing what I see, feeling what I feel, adds a sense of connection to God’s glory that is too overwhelming for me otherwise.”

Adam felt alone because God is just too big for our bucket. When we get overwhelmed, the natural human reaction is to look for someone on our level. We want someone to whom we can relate. Coming into contact with someone far greater than ourselves can cause us to hide. We become self conscious and feel out of place. It’s kind of like when you show up at a formal party dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Most people would feel really awkward.

Community can foster our ability to grasp the divine. There is something really intimate about worshipping God alone in the woods. And yet there is something equally stirring about praising God as one voice in a large choir of singers. Both experiences are necessary to get a clearer picture of who God is and who He wants us to be.

My local church fellowship is focusing on developing community right now. And while you can’t really go out and make people be social, there is something about a coordinated campaign to push people to do things that they normally would not do.

During the church service this morning, I was struck by how shallow my sense of relationship is. I tend to pride myself on being a person who focuses on relationships, especially one-on-one interaction. My passion in ministry is discipleship and small groups. But the Spirit revealed to me this morning that I am only getting a glimpse of what it means to be one.

Small groups and chit-chat about our problems in life are only the surface of oneness. Those who are one can trust each other and are not secretly considered about what others think. Slander, envying and gossip are not the norm for those connected as one.

One builds up and does not tear down. One works toward common goals not personal agendas. One loves well. One forgives and restores. One rejoices and cries together as life impacts each member. One shares the burdens of the kingdom and distributes the workload so that no member gets overwhelmed. One is not united for unity’s sakes. One is only one when it exists as part of God’s body, working according to divine purposes. One body united through the power of the Holy Spirit is a formidable force against the schemes of Satan.

Oneness brings complete freedom yet total abandonment of self. This thought tends to freak out many people. They don’t want to lose their individuality. They misunderstand the point that Jesus was making. We don’t stop being ourselves. Actually, we become more who we were intended to be. We become more the real us, the person God had in mind before sin corrupted everything.

From drive by conversations to wearing masks, most relationships and communities lack oneness. Many people are afraid to be in relationship because we do not want to be honest. We try to protect ourselves and keep from getting hurt. In the process, our individuality gets in the way of oneness. We are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Instead, we are to look after each other and to stress the common good over our own personal appetites.

Father, help me to live as One with you and my fellow man. I long to get to the place where I get beyond me…my fears, hang-ups, prejudices, desires and limitations. Help me live as You intended. Lead me to the understanding that the best life starts in community as part of Your body.

Trinity Plus One

A fellow brother in Christ and talented artist, Patrick Stewart, painted a piece entitled “Trinity Plus One.” This painting really helps capture the idea of oneness that I wrote about in the previous blog message.

To see the painting and Biblical truth behind it, visit http://www.artwithamessage.com/ps030.htm

I Have Nothing to Say

Tonight, I had the opportunity to speak to our youth group. Unlike most speaking engagements, I was at a loss for words. Usually, God gives me something profound to say. Tonight, I walked up there with a few ideas and one main message from God. The Almighty wanted me to get out of the way so He could speak directly to the youth.

For more than six weeks I have been agonizing over what I was going to say. Each time I found something which struck me, I asked God, “Is this it?” I kept on hearing nothing but static. As my time to speak approached, I started to get desperate. I was like, “Ok, God. What are You doing wrong?” I thought that I was heading for a speaking disaster. I didn’t want to just say anything. Sure, I could make something up. But I wanted to speak as the very oracle of God. I did not want to go without His blessing and guidance.

Suddenly, I realized a few nights before I was scheduled to speak that God’s silence contained a message. I just sat in my house and listened. I heard God say, “I don’t want you to speak a lot. I want you to say a few things and let Me to the rest.” God said that what these youth need is not information but intimacy. They need to own their faith not get it off the coattails of others.

Wow, why hadn’t I seen that in the first place? God gave me a few scriptures and few main points. Then the youth group leadership dismissed the youth to go seek God through the Word during the worship time. Some sang. Some read the Word. Some didn’t know what to do because the typical paradigm had been broken. Some found it difficult to focus on the Word and hear from God when surrounded by their friends and other youth. They could receive from God when in the quiet surrounding of their bedroom. You take them out into the world and it becomes easy to lose reception.

While this is normal, it illustrates just how hard it can be to walk in constant communion with God. This takes practice and discipline. Holding all thoughts captive can only be done as we submit to the power of the Holy Spirit.

The evening worked well as many youth received from God. My hope is that they can understand the joy awaiting those who will seek God’s truth and allow it to transform them. May the Bible come alive to each one of them. I believe the youth group as started a journey as a community. I can’t wait to see where God takes us from here if we will only let Him. Amen!

Wasting Away My Inheritance

A recurring fear that I deal with is the thought that one day our family business will go bankrupt. While everything is going well now, there are no guarantees that present performance will hold true in the future. I have no rational basis for my fear except the thought that things are going too well. One day my “luck” will have to run out…right?

God has blessed my family and our publishing business. God’s provision is the key to our success. Others might call it luck. I believe it is divine providence. And if God has taken us this far, why would He abandon us in the future? Even if the entire economy takes a turn for the worse, God will provide the necessities for His people. God fed the Israelites with quail ping out of the sky. Can’t He do something equally as spectacular today? Why should I worry?

The other day I sat in a business meeting where my parents discussed with a lawyer and financial planner the rough game plan for transitioning the ownership of the business to my brother and I. Listening to others talk about my earthly inheritance caused me to see how I had taken God’s promises for granted.

The lawyer and my father discussed the value of the company, investments and property which we would inherit. My brother and I will likely walk away with more than two million dollars apiece in assets. Suddenly, I thought, “I may one day be a millionaire.” While I don’t want my parents to be promoted to heaven any time soon, I am thankful that they have amassed value to pass along to me. And I have a responsibility to build it and pass it along to the next generation.

As I thought about the money, I began to feel like I had just won the lottery. I wondered how my life would change. Sure, most of the value is in assets. I will need to work. I can’t sit around and play golf all day long. But I will have advantages that they did not have. My inheritance is valuable to me. I treasure it as part of my family’s legacy – something that will last and be important for the future.

My thoughts began to shift to a more meaningful inheritance. God promises, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:6-7).

Compared to what God offers those who overcome the temptations in this life, a couple of million dollars seems like pocket change. God offers us all things including the right to rule and reign with Him, position as princes and princesses in His kingdom, everlasting life, complete health, access to limitless riches, peace beyond comprehension and beauty beyond description. But there is a catch. The riches of God’s reward are reserved for overcomers.

Based on how many Christians live, including myself, we either have dim view of God’s riches or we don’t really take God at His word. How often have I thought about God’s reward for His faithful children as less desirable than the fare offered by the world in the moment?

All things is much better than my earthly inheritance from my father. But I tend to be more concerned about dollars in this life than boundless treasure in the life to come. Why do I struggle so much to understand the weight of God’s glory, kingdom and riches?

The Holy Spirit is showing me that I need to get a revelation of God’s promises. As I begin to really meditate on what God has promised, I will have a hard time ever being blasé about it ever again. Or then again, maybe not. It can be so easy to lose sight of eternity in the burden of the moment. More than a mortgage loan or any other financial obligation that I have, I owe God the most. Yet He offers me more and more if I will only listen, believe and obey.

Father, forgive me for wasting your gifts, calling, power and purposes. Help me to live in the moment by the light of eternity. May I value what You value. May I have a fresh revelation of Your promises and the riches that await those who live for Your glory. I believe in Your promises. Help my unbelief. I submit to Your power create a hunger and thirst for righteousness in my life that I may be filled. Amen!

When Playing It Safe Can Be a Dangerous Thing

“Every novelist and playwright knows that the heart of drama is tension.” – Athol Dickson, The Gospel According to Moses

Trying to understand the balance between protecting ourselves or others from being hurt and being so overprotective as to stifle the opportunity for personal growth can be hard to detect sometimes. When it is best to let someone learn a lesson the hard way? Then when is taking this attitude considered cruel and unusual punishment?

As I have been evalutating ministry lately, I am asking tough questions about people wanting to make things so safe and sanitized that they remove every opportunity for transformation. Problems, pain and trials provide effective learning experiences. Are we too concerned about not offending someone? When is offending someone, the right thing to do? Modern Christianity puts a value on things that work well and produces results. When is the last time you heard a testimony that did not finish with a happy ending?

People love to quote Romans 8:28 that all things work together for good for those who love God. While this statement is in the Bible, many do not understand the verse in context. Look at the whole verse and pay attention to the verse coming right after it.

Romans 8:28-29 (KJV)

28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

All things do indeed work together for the good. Notice that this applies to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. The fine print causes me to stop and ask a few questions. What is God’s purpose? Look to the next verse for the answer.

God’s purpose is to conform you to the image of his Son. We are to be like and look like Jesus. And God accomplished His purposes in Jesus through sacrifice, persecution and death. Isaiah prophesied that it was God’s pleasure to crush His Son. How is that good? Is God’s idea of good different from what most people think of? Sure, God sees any one event in the light of eternity. We tend to look at life from however we feel at the moment.

When God says that all things work together for God, He is basically saying that He can use anything to refine our desires and character. This seems a far cry from playing it safe. Actually, serving God may just be the most one edge dangerous existence possible. Are you game?

Present Reality

Michael Card, my favorite musician, wrote a song called, “Know You in the Now.” It describes the struggle to know God in a world focused on what we can discover with our senses. The song unmasks the idolatry that has crept into modern Christianity. I listened to the song again today for the first time in a long time. I was struck by its raw simplicty and power.

Why does it seem to hard to know God in our present reality? God is not a character in a story book. God is active in the world today. He holds all things together and gives us each new day. Why has knowing God been relegated to religion, ceremony and obligation?

Where is the joy in knowing God? Here are the words to the song. May they impact you ask much as they have me.

Know You in the Know by Michael Card

Echo of history, a light so many strain to see

The One we talk so much about, but rarely ever live it out

Could You tell me why, was it for this You came and died?

A once a week observance, when we coldly mouth Your words

Chorus

Lord I long to see, Your presence in reality

But I don’t know how, let me know You in the now

We should confess, we lose You in our busyness

We’ve made You in our image, so our faith’s idolatry

Lord, deliver me, break my heart so I can see

All the ways You dwell in us, that You’re alive in me