Still Wobbly…

I have a confession to make. It is difficult to admit but true nonetheless. I like quiche. I am addicted to eggs, cheese and that amazing pastry pie crust. Together, they make a mouthwatering combination with a feminine name. About a month ago, my wife Jessie decided to use a quiche recipe she discovered. Considering the booming preschool population at our home, times arise where I must learn to check to the food in the oven for completeness. The litmus test for quiche – is it still wobbly?

Paul, sensing the end of his life, penned a powerful epitaph in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These inspiring words have launched many sermons and emboldened those facing persecution or death. This verse paints a vivid picture of a man completely devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ now laying down after a long journey running full speed. Yet it is not the finish that makes Paul’s marathon meaningful but every step along the way. At another time, we read these words, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

Accomplishment and success can easily lead to complacency. In our walk with Christ, complacency often results in a comfortable feeling of arrival. Or in quiche terms, we become “set”. I have been in the oven of Christendom more that seventeen years and I find it easy to “set” living a comfortable life with my wife and 2.3 (really 3) children in suburban America. However, the words of Scripture draw me to a place of wobbliness. I must recognize that I am far from complete and will only reach that moment when my fight is complete as well. But for now, I have to keep fighting, keep running, keep the faith real and life-changing. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the strength, courage and prodding to live wobbly lives. No matter how many years the oven browns us on the surface, may our hearts remain flesh, moldable and movable by an unpredictable and untamable God.

Are you still wobbly?

Authority, Arrogance, and Control: But its really not a bad idea

The house church movement seems to be gaining some steam throughout America. Many believers, distraught and utterly frustrated with church experience have turned to the house church. The basic definition of a house church is a church meeting in someone’s home. Obviously smaller than most American churches, many house churches seek to recapture the early church experience and community. There is no doubt that good intentions and pure hearts are behind much of this movement but with those come others seeking the antithesis of what the movement stands for.

Speaking in generalities of the American church is akin to calling everything in the ocean a fish. So much discrepancy exists, even within denominations, that it is impossible to paint broad brush strokes in hopes of capturing a true picture of the church landscape. The American church is much more a mosaic than an impressionist painting. That being said, Scripture sets the same standard for each piece of the mosaic. House churches have become one of the newer pieces of the larger artwork. Some will meet real needs and create outstanding community members could not find elsewhere. There is no doubt of its success overseas, especially in persecuted lands. Hopefully, the house church movement will reach those in the darkness and bring them to the light of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that God will use that piece of the mosaic to make disciples and meet needs otherwise unmet. All that being said, common themes are beginning to emerge that send a message seemingly against the very core of the house church origin.

Authority

One pervasive theme throughout is a natural reaction to spiritual abuse from a position of authority. Churches from all denominations have lost the trust of members because of abuse. Pastors and/or Priests have been convicted of sexual misconduct, financial misconduct among various other immoral actions. The wave of abuse has hit American Christendom painfully hard. Yet, the overwhelming majority of Pastors and Priests continue to have a heart for the people they shepherd and lead. For every situation of abuse, there are thousands of men and women giving their lives for those they minister to.

A major motivation of many house churches is a rejection of any authority other than Christ. Christ is the head of the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23) and no person in spiritual authority should ever attempt supplant that role. However, there is no doubt that authority rested on the Apostles who then placed others in authority to shepherd the churches. Complete rejection of authority is not a biblical concept. Rejection of authority that leads away from Christ is biblical. Yet, we all come under submission of spiritual authority in our lives. We submit one to another and to those God has placed over – even ungodly governments when not asked to compromise God’s Truth.

Arrogance

A quick search of house church networks online quickly reveals the arrogance of many embracing this movement. Many will argue that “real” church happens in homes and the biblical model prescribes home gatherings as opposed to the purchase of land, buildings, etc. The root of such a heart and attitude stands in stark contrast with the initial purposes for beginning such a church. The desire to humbly seek God in close community where all are accountable to one another appears to be the most normal reason given to leave an existing large church and form a house church. However, writing off the former church or proclaiming that all who practice in such “institutions” are false or less than real displays enormous arrogance. Nearly 2000 years after the resurrection of Christ and we are finally get our act together. There is no place in Christianity for such a heart towards brothers and sisters in Christ.

As far as biblical context is concerned, the early church did meet in homes. However, the Bible neither commands nor prescribes the model discussed in Acts and the letters to the churches. Instead, the Text gives principles governing the body of Christ and leaves structure out of the discussion. On top of this, the earliest church met in the Synagogue. Though this practice only persisted a short time, early believers were Jewish and did not consider Christianity a new faith. Jesus is Messiah, fulfilled the law and was worshipped in the context of Judaism.

Control

One final point of contention deals with the issue of control. Leaving an existing church because it doesn’t do what I want or doesn’t meet my needs is simply a control issue. We would do well as Christ followers to spend as much time praying for God’s clear direction for our church as we do complaining about all of the issues we see contained in it. It appears that the newest form of church shopping is simply beginning my own. In doing so, I can structure it to function how I desire. Of course it will be biblical, I am biblical. Understanding this point is being generalized, it is not coincidence that house churches emerge in the most me-centric culture on our planet. The success of the house church movement is out of sheer necessity across the globe in persecuted lands. In America, we begin them because we are dissatisfied with our own local church. Maybe our knees would be a better place to start.

The Church mosaic is large and diverse in America. House churches may add another critical element God uses to accomplish His purposes here. Again, my prayer is such. But let’s not pretend that because I have control, it will be right. God’s church, the body of Christ, does not depend on buildings or the lack thereof. It does not depend on structure or the lack thereof. It depends on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit empowering each member to live the light of the Gospel in the darkness. It depends on an undying devotion to His Word, the Bible. Otherwise, it always becomes about me.

Go Away

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
                                                                                                Matthew 28:19-20

Most of us have heard at some time or another the simple yet profound definition of insanity: to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Yet we often find ourselves trapped in the system we’ve constructed that is familiar, comfortable and lacking results. The American Church at large finds itself here far too often. Over the past 40 years in America, we’ve concluded that the best way to influence culture and share the message of Christ is to create grand centers for life and existence in Christian community. There is little doubt of the purity of motivation behind this constructed system. Create large buildings with massive amenities; bring powerful speakers with powerful messages; organize music and environments to be comfortable and moving; and do it all to reach the world for Christ. However, the results have been disappointing.

The Church today continues to lose influence in the culture. Massive buildings with coffee shops and restaurants have resulted in a festering ground for Christian bacteria. Language begins to morph into Christian speak. Our shirts become billboards of cheesy slogans and even our picture frames display Scripture verses. We replicate all of culture’s best at a substandard par and separate ourselves from culture increasingly more. Wrigley’s mints just aren’t good enough, ours need to have a cross and Scripture reference. In essence, we’ve stopped going and those who are without Christ quit coming.

One of the final statements Jesus makes on earth is found at the end of Matthew 28. The first word of verse 19, “Go”, is best translated, “as you are going.” Jesus told His disciples to go about life and as you do, make disciples. There is so much to pick apart here but I really want to focus on the word “Go” or “as you are going”. We, the Church, have spent so much energy trying to get those far from God to draw close to us. Yet Scripture so clearly calls us to go. We spend so much time making our services friendly to those not following Christ yet often my car barely turns off before the garage door clangs shut.

Before the Scripture even reaches the words “make disciples”, it tells us to go. For our context, maybe the words should read, “go away” or “go home”. Speaking in broad general terms, I believe so much time is spent getting the dark to come toward the light. Yet it seems that influence means taking the light into darkness.

Discipleship begins by going away. It is time to leave the church premises and enter the neighborhoods, walk the streets, play in our front yards, and invite those distant people next door into our homes. The culture is looking for a message of hope, purpose and community. What are they seeing as we go?

Do I Cheat?

Because of what I do, I often hear the stories that shake families. Stories of husbands who never meant to, of wives who simply got carried away in the moment resound throughout the hallways and offices. Most began the journey innocently and after a series of subtle compromises discovered they were past the point of no return (or so they thought). It is one of the most difficult things to hear and even more challenging is watching the face of the one receiving the news. A faithful husband discovers his wife has been seeing a neighbor or co-worker. A loving wife’s heart breaks as her husband confesses news that will take years, if not a lifetime, to work through.

I have often heard and even studied the incredible parallels Scripture draws between marriage and Jesus’ relationship with the Church. We are called His Bride. Scripture even details a wedding ceremony and covenant of sorts dating back to the giving of the law to Moses and Israel. Upon becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, I became the bride of Christ and said yes to the covenant of “marriage”. Out of love and passion, God gave His Word, the Bible, to lead and guide every believer in relationship to Him. Living according to HIs ways leads to an amazing abundant life. It is a life build on God’s grace, love and mercy and the covenant necessitates my obedience.

I can’t imagine or comprehend ever sitting down with my wife and hearing her confession of unfaithfulness. Nor can I grasp the idea that she would one day tell me that she is bringing another person into our covenant with no regard for me. What is holy and sacred would become filthy and desecrated. Our covenant and my trust would be destroyed and my intense love for her would fuel a passion expressed in anger and tears.

After thinking so personally about this covenant that I share with my amazing wife, it hit me for the first time. Years of study and understanding of the bride of Christ symbolism hadn’t pierced my heart. Yet such a personal perspective brought a real lump to my throat. How can I treat sin so casually in my relationship with Christ? How can I make excuse for pride, discontentment, or any other “pet” sin I choose to keep and subtly feed? It is no wonder that God’s anger burned with Israel and the Church when they turned from Him! It is not simply wrath, rage, or purposeless anger but instead the heart of a Holy God who gave His Son to redeem mankind. It is the passion of a God who loves me like I love my wife, actually, much much more.

Today, I am thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ because my sin was dealt with there. I am thankful for the resurrection of Jesus Christ because my death was dealt with there. Today, I am also thankful for the righteous anger of God fueled by a love for me I cannot comprehend.

Oh how he loves you and me…

Think about these things…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4:8-9

Forgetting What Lies Behind

Have you ever traveled the proverbial road down memory lane? Or possibly the physical road of past homes and lives? Our memory often plays games with reality and easily brings forward the good thoughts often shadowing challenges and difficulties. One stroll, without emotional checks in place, can lead us on a path of memory bliss and if not careful – will cloud the thoughts of the present. Current struggles become impassable mountains and reminiscent waterfalls and fields of flowers overtake the current hardship. But, it is an illusion.

I love cold weather. Well, I at least love the thought of cold weather. I live in Houston and have lived in the South most of my life. Other than the South, I’ve lived in Southern California. Cold weather brings refreshment and the crisp air sharpens the senses. An occasional snow fall every few years adds so much interest to an average “warm” winter. Recently when discussing the lack of cold weather with one who lived a more northern life, he informed me that any winter without snow was a good one. After years of shoveling endless white powder to clear a miniscule path by which to drive, coupled with months of dreary skies and layering clothes, his perspective accurately reflected life in cold weather. I had only imagined it with ski poles in hand.

In Philippians 3, Paul writes an encouragement to press on toward the goal of Christ Jesus. But before pressing on, he challenges us to forget what lies behind. I’ve typically read this passage and believed the intention is for me to forget the negative failures and struggles that can so easily guilt the mind to inaction. But likewise, I believe this verse also encourages us to forget the successes that might hinder action as well. Our mind has this peculiar way or reminding us of the good of the past without balance. My success then paves the road for pride, arrogance, and my inevitable fascination with me. We are also reminded of the perceived pleasure of greener grasses far off. In the quest to find heaven on earth, we quickly lose the battle of contentment. This passage encourages us to forget what lies behind, both good, bad, both could-be good, and could-be bad. We are challenged to strain toward God’s call.

It isn’t wrong to take an occasional stroll down memory lane or even gaze at the grass. We just have to be reminded that we live here and now and God has great things He wants to do here and now through us. After all, all of this is for His glory and not comfort or contentment. Learn from the past and strive for the goal of the upward call of Christ Jesus. Otherwise we will spend our days seeking illusive pastures and imaginative yesteryears.

What is Best?

The dust bowl of the 1930s will forever be recorded as one of the worst droughts and farming losses in American history. Hundreds of millions of acres of farmland were lost to fierce dust storms and the lack of rain. Photographs from the time illustrate the devastation such a drought could cause. After four years of drought, the entire country felt the effects of rationing, expensive food, and lost employment.

Photography in the 1930s recorded the dust bowl with dramatic images. I can imagine that the images would have been just as dramatic during the seven years of drought that sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt (Genesis 42). Seven years of drought in a region much smaller than the dust bowl region and without support from neighboring lands equated to certain death for Jacob and his family. Jacob’s children journeyed to Egypt to find food.

Fast forwarding a few years, Joseph and his extended family settled in northern Egypt, the land of Goshen. To this day Goshen produces some of the most amazing crops. The land is fertile and a far cry from the arid land the family left. The Jewish people grew and multiplied quickly until the favor of Pharaoh and the Egyptians faded. Years later and now enslaved, God would rescue His people from captivity.

I wonder if Egypt’s favor had never changed, if the Jewish people would have left the fertile land of Goshen. God had promised them their own land yet for generations the people were content in borrowed land. After all, they were successful. The Jewish people grew in number and in wealth. LIfe was good. Some Rabbis suggest that the people ceased taking part in the covenant and quickly began to assimilate into the culture. They were living with the best.

What is best? What is success? Churches often live on the measure of tithes and attenders. Businesses exist for the bottom line. Personally, the size of our homes, the age of our cars, the intelligence of our children (and the rating of their schools), the size of our retirement, savings, and checking accounts, and the health of our family members all indicate success. But what is best?

In the case of the Jewish people, God would eventually call an exiled murderer to be His voice. Moses, after a dramatic series of events, plagues, and heartache, would lead the Jewish people to the promised land. The people revolted because of the difficulty of the task before them. Evidently, the promised land flowed with milk, honey, and large cruel inhabitants. After 40 years of wandering, the people were ready to be obedient. They would spend the next generation fighting for the land God had given them. This land is largely desert, full of rocks and in the middle of the ancient world. Was this the best?

It appears that our definition of best according to our eyes is oft a far cry from best through the eyes of a limitless God. After all, it was in the desert that God’s people learned to lean on Him. It was in captivity where they remembered to call on His name. It is in trial and pain that our relationship with God is most alive.

We have to live in the world and engage the culture. We are called to selflessly love people who aren’t like us. But too often, I begin looking and living like them. I redefine best and reach for the reigns of life. The land of Goshen looks so nice but is void of desperation, sacrifice, and cries to God. God’s provision may truly be the desert only because it is there I learn to lead hard on Him alone.

Right

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2

Making decisions is undoubtedly one of the most stressful life experiences. Thousands of decisions are made each day ranging from the mundane of choosing shoes to wear to the life-altering. The more life-impacting, the more stressful the decision. I am thankful God gave us a brain and thought processes to evaluate each decision. Often times these procedures, however they look for each individual, lead to good choices resulting in positive life strides. Why then should we be concerned with decisions if we have such positive abilities and acumen on our side?

The statement Proverbs 21:2 makes centers on a simple little word, “right.” How does one define right? Is it the best for a person’s life? Does a right decision lead to more success, more wealth, more peace, more stability? Does a right decision lead to an easier, less complicated life? Is right the same for each person? I guess that is the point of Proverbs 21:2. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. I don’t believe this verse is necessarily condemning what is right in a person’s mind but instead challenging the idea that we have it all together and figured out. The verse preceding this one illustrates that even a King is like a stream in God’s hand – God controls the flow and sends it wherever He desires.

I believe God cares about each decision we make. All of them have consequences, some greater and some lesser, but consequences none the less. But how often even in the greater decisions do I perform do-diligence and make the best decision void of the One who sees the forest and the trees. Followers of Christ have this unique indwelling of the very God of the universe. The Holy Spirit equips, convicts, encourages and guides. He is faithful to guide through every decision and circumstance but how often do we ask?

God will often give wisdom through the use of our brains and wise counsel but not always. The Bible is filled with stories of crossing raging rivers and gulfs on dry land…filled with stories where armies of 300 defeat tens of thousands…filled with stories of the success of the unlikely, the unwise, and the outnumbered. The Text even tells the story of the very Son of God being born in a smelly cave with animals and being laid in a feeding trough.

It just doesn’t seems right.

In reality, right is defined by God. He is right. His Word is right. His direction is right. While there are checks and balances in following His leading, learning to ask and then listen is critical. God, who sees the unforeseen outcomes and knows the unknowable nuances in every decision, waits to hear our hearts and then patiently guide. One of the earlier verses God used in my life to give direction is a simple verse found in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

God may not lead us the places we think we should go but we can be sure He leads us down the right path.

Search Me

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me,  and lead me in the way everlasting!”  Psalm 139:23-24

Have you ever pondered the fact that God knows you better than you?  The infinite mind of God, intimate with the ways of a grand universe is equally concerned with you.  His desire for meaningful relationship with you never ceases.  Have you ever considered that God not only knows you better than you know yourself but He has greater dreams and aspirations than you could have on your own?

Recently, my 4 year old and I were having a conversation.  I was telling her something about herself that she hadn’t realized.  Thankfully, I spend a great amount of time with her – all that I can.  I know her very well.  I know when she is tired, I know when acting out is really pointing to a deeper issue, I know when she is lying, and I know when she is absolutely telling the truth.  There are times when I help her understand why she acts or reacts the way she does.  As an adult, I would hope that I’ve outgrown this phenomenon.  I would hope that I can see my faults and understand myself better than anyone else.  But, I often think “grown-ups” are more blind to our “grievous ways” because we have the wonderful ability to rationalize our short-comings.

Psalm 139 is a confession of God’s amazing intricate experience creating each person.  In this simple but amazing Psalm, God reveals His deep love for humanity and His desire for individual relationship.  The author concludes the Psalm with the verses above after being apparently floored because of God’s amazing love.  These compelling verses are a desperate cry for purity and holiness.  They are a response and desire to honor a great God.  If there is anything not right, God bring it clearly to mind that I might repent and then lead me down the right path.

The “way” (verse 24) was a term iterated long after this Psalm was written to describe the followers of Jesus after His resurrection.  In John 14:7, Jesus proclaims, “I am the Way, and the the Truth, and the Life.”  The “way” is a singular direction of obedience to God.  It is the person of Jesus Christ.  And the stark reality is, we need the Way to find and navigate our way through the detours of life.  Our hearts are so prone to leave the God who has laid our path before us that we must consistently depend on Him to reveal ways we are veering.  We just can’t see it ourselves.  It seems that Life in Christ is far more than doing the right things and not stepping off the yellow brick road.  Instead it walking step by step behind the Leader who actually knows the way.

My prayer is that none of us would simply “find our own way.”  What looks right in my eyes will more often than not, be a path to nowhere…or worse.  Instead, may we follow the One who leads well when we remain so close that the dust from his feet remain on our clothes.  Search me and lead me in the way everlasting.

Faithfully Teaching Faith

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17

To many Christians, this passage is very familiar.  Often quoted, it is a powerful verse proclaiming a blazing passion for the Good News to be shared with all that salvation may ensue.  For years this verse challenged me to tighten my laces and boldly march toward the world with passionate speech.  As a player before a big game, it makes me feel like I need to conjure up great passion and emotion to live such a declaration.

I guess I missed verse 17 for so long.  I thought it depended on me.  The righteousness of God is wrapped in this incredible word called Faith.  This apparent lack of shame for the gospel is dependent on this amazing five-letter word.  And in that five-letter word I have struggled this morning.  Great and powerful words fill Christendom and the mouths of saints the world over.  Those words often resound as if spoken in a masterfully designed performance hall.  The echo and acoustic brilliance carry such weight.  The problem is, the strength of the words are lost on the failure of practical design.  What is faith, really?  How do I get it?  How does it grow?  How do I live by it? And after all that, how do I model it to those behind me on life’s path?

Defining faith is the first step.  Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of  things not seen.”  Faith is not a fuzzy  unintelligible feeling or intuition.  It is the choice to believe and trust in the absence of sight.  Faith is the foundational belief that God is true, right and good.  What God says He will accomplish will come to pass.  What God promises will be fulfilled.  In essence, faith is jumping off the diving board into Daddy’s arms without concern for how deep the water is.

“from faith for faith.”  The simple but profound truth that these words explain is the origin of faith.  Faith is a gift.  No one would choose to follow without God’s interference and conviction.  Sin stands in the path of faith forcing doubt and a disillusioned sense of reality.  In the modern world, sin pushes us to believe that only what I see is real and my life’s journey depends on me.  The gift of faith or trust, leads to more faith.  Those who are walking with God live by it.  Using the simple illustration of the wind, I recently talked with my daughter about the existence of God.  She immediately got it without hesitation.  Her faith in that moment felt greater than my own.  I want to reason, dissect and seek definitive proof.  While those principles work with material, God never intended intellect to erase immaterial.  Faith believes for so many reasons.  Faith grows exponentially when I come to the end of myself.

So how I am living?  Am I demonstrating faith?  The power of living by faith is most notable in the generations that watch.  Whether it is our children or the community we influence, many are watching to see how authentic our faith really is.  While explain faith to my children can be difficult, I demonstrate it every day.  It is not only a matter of trusting God, but living by that trust.  Faith is assurance and conviction.  I hope that my faith teaches assurance and conviction but not because I can do it!  Simply because I have faith that He can do it in me.  Once again, it comes back to relying on God, even for Faith.  It is the difference between doing and being and a relationship with the God of the Universe hangs in the balance.