Tuesday, March 30, 2010

God as expectant toddler...

I could feel it before I even opened my eyes.  There was a presence in the room.  Not shaking me into consciousness, but not exactly hiding either.  I resisted.  Maybe if I just pretended I didn't notice, the presence would go away.  But I couldn't.  She wasn't using any sort of tool to force my eyelids open.  At the same time, there is not much more infinitely compelling than this kind of moment.

As I began to open my eyes slowly, the scene before me took shape.  There at the edge of my bed, was my two year old, Sophie Grace.  Eyes as wide as the sunrise over the Eastern Sea.  Smile beaming brighter than anything filtering through the window.  An almost satisfied gasp as she registered that I'd noticed her standing there next to me.  As I reach out to her, my arms feel heavy as I've not moved them in hours.  But the moment they make contact with hers, energetically clinging to me as if they've awaited this moment for years - it seems she has given my arms new energy.  Her spirit floods me to the innermost parts of who I am, and I want nothing more than to draw her close and never let go.  Just being together makes so much else fade away.  Schedules.  Meetings.  Events.  Debts.  Rainy weather. Whatever.  I am blessed to hold and be held.

It's a moment I reflect back on, and thank God when he has approached me in a similar way.  Times where He's entered my life in new ways, and not "shaken" me or forced my eyes open with any sort of tool.  Nevertheless his presence is such an infinitely compelling reason to allow myself to be raised from all types of slumber.

And the joy on God's face, the Happiness of the Spirit when we recognize His presence and reach out for Him....ahh....it is good.  Looking forward to more.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

As word spread quickly that Jesus was coming to town, excitement grew.  An almost electrically charged anticipation built as people prepared to welcome the Rabbi who they wanted to claim as King.  They created a path in his honor, and gathered garments and palm branches to adorn his entry.  They are claiming Jesus Christ as King.  As authority.  As the One they desire to live their lives for, from, and under.

And in the corner of this picture, we see many of us, setting our palm branches somewhere else. 

I think the most popular place to put our palm branches may be our clocks.  Our time is precious, and belongs to us.  Or maybe our planners.  The dates in our notebooks filled with inked in commitments, events, and television shows.  Perhaps our palm branches rest comfortably under our wallets.  Our financial resources, and the desire for them to grow - sometimes even out of a misguided notion that rightness with God will lead to monetary and material gain.  It could even be that our palm branches are directly underneath our own feet.  Welcoming ourselves as the ultimate authority and measure of the daily choices we make.  Each of us may have something different we are tempted to set our palm branches before.

Today we are reminded that we live in a world FULL of opportunities to commit ourselves to.  Places to go.  People to serve.  Cultural "norms" that aren't thought about much at all. 

Today we are challenged to pay attention where our palm branches have been resting.  What have we been welcoming into our lives in the way we should be welcoming Christ?  What have we been submitting to as an authority?  What are our lives oriented around?

May God be with us, as we ask these questions of ourselves...and also of the families many of us are raising/building.  What better week to allow God to help us move our palm branches into the path of Jesus, than the final week of Lent?  We look forward to the week ahead, to the remembering of the crucifixion, and to the celebrating of something much more than "coming back to life"....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

jesus shaped donuts.

There was some point between high school and where I find myself, where theology and religion became regularly a lot more complicated. Partially to get grades, partially to prove that I'm not simply in youth ministry for pizzas or for a short term, and partially just because I enjoy it - much of my relating to and searching for God comes at deeper levels than before.

To the point where phrases such as "everyone has a Jesus-shaped hole" began to rub me the wrong way. To sum up all that God has done and desires to do in something that so obviously falls short....shiver.

Thankfully, I'm in youth ministry AND a parent. Both things that constantly require to embrace God as a child, and as someone who desperately needs something I can grab hold of in a world that's unstable.

Sure, statements such as "accept Jesus into your heart", and "Jesus-shaped hole" fall short. But then again, so does the latest best seller by NT Wright, Donald Miller, or John Caputo. That's the frustratingly beautiful aspect of the created seeking the creator. It's an eternal endeavor, always out of reach and always compelling us to try anyway.  And yes, it's illustrated wonderfully in the topic I've also been spending time chewing on lately - marriage.

"I love my wife." A simple statement that can mean anything from how I love her smile, to a deeply symbolic statement about how I appreciate the fact that we're growing old and building a legacy together.

I think in both cases, whether in speaking of God OR in conversations about loving my spouse - it's helpful to be aware of the heart. The motivations for the words. Like Sarah used to ask me when we were dating, and still asks from time to time when I tell her I love her - "What is making you say that in this moment?"

Truth is, there are definitely times where it is healing salve to my soul to think of myself as a Jesus-shaped donut. And then there are other times where I need something more. Thankfully, God continues to be God through any season of me...:)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

origins: playoff beard

Throughout history, there have been several misunderstandings about our hair.  When I was in college, I remember Troy Martin giving lectures on the ancient biblical understandings of hair.  It was believed that human hair was somehow a part of the reproductive system.  That longer hair was a sign of greater fertility, as the hair was involved in drawing in/up the elements needed to produce a baby.  Funny as it may sound, it was the logic behind several of the urgings for men and women in Corinthians chapter 11.  It makes sense, if it's considered a sexual organ, hair should be covered by women, especially in worship services.

Of course, today, we'd hear about all this and laugh a bit.  Hair on our head is definitely NOT connected to the human reproductive system.  (Unless it's an obvious connection between a young high school boy and his wannabe ponytail completely ruining his chances at developing relationships with the opposite sex.  Ah well, survived that one okay eventually.)

But to go straight from that understanding to the one that currently exists today, would be not only missing out, but entirely unfortunate.  Hair was not intended for mere fashion.  To be trained, trimmed, and teased at will, molded into whatever form desired, with little respect for God's intended purpose.  And what was God's intended purpose?

Throughout scripture we see people shaving in mourning the loss of a loved one.  What we don't see, or read in scripture, is what happened before the mourning began.  Traditions and historians vary on their view, but it's widely believed that the reason for silence in this area is due to the extreme powers that it has involved in the past.  Think Samson type stuff.

There was a man, Abrabeard.  Abrabeard was once praying fervently for someone else, and in his prayer he asked God to give him something more to occupy his interceding.  God smiled on Abrabeard, and promised him that if he would continue to not shave his face or head, blessings would come to the person he was interceding for.

Fast-forward to today.  Sure, not shaving is sometimes incorporated in Lent and other seasons of prayer.  But the only realms still connecting purposefully to this ancient practice would be what is popularly being referred to as the "Playoff beard".  Often looked over or scoffed at by those who deny its' practice, its' power goes well beyond what simply shouting at the television could achieve.  Fortunately for the fairness of the NHL, it seems playoff beards are being used by most of its 30 teams and their fans.  In some cases however, someone's distance from God produces an inability to grow quality facial hair, as seen most recently in Cindy Crysby. 

And so, as we move closer to the playoffs, there are many who have chosen to begin interceding on their teams' behalf.  As we join the generations before us, we yell "Game On!", knowing the history we connect with...

(portions of this post are entirely fabricated for purposes of being a fan, but a surprising amount is still actually true.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

savin the nard.

John 12:3-7 "Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial."

Besides just being a really fun title to put on this post, I think here is a great illustration/reminder for most of us.  The type of thinking/assessment of our relationships that happens when someone is close to dying, or having a major surgery can bring us to a point that we may benefit from reaching before that point.
My dad is going in for a splenectomy as I write this.  For a man who has been through what he's gone through, it could be a pretty serious operation.  He's been ridiculously strong through so much, and has some pretty awesome family cheering/praying him on, so it's not a large worry.  But concern for sure.  It's brought up thoughts and feelings I probably should have expressed simply in daily living throughout the past few years.  

The kind of love Mary expresses here, real love and not eros in this kind of emotional disguise...(funny how horribly wrong "romance" has become, often causing more damage and emotional dullness than anything life-affirming) is something we could use a bit more of.  But we usually need life circumstances to prompt us.  The kind that lets go of economy, turns the value system of this world upside down, and Loves well.  Takes expensive fragrances worth a years wages, and dumps them as a message of Love that is unmistakable.  

There's a difficult issue this brings up also.  Obviously, this challenges me to be a better shower of Love to my wife, my children, my family, my close friends, the teens I love and work with, etc.  Not so obvious, or easy, is the call to love my enemies, to love the least of these, to love the forgotten and overlooked in the same way Mary models for us here.  Before the earthquakes and fund-raising concerts.  Before they're reformed and placed back in positions that give back to society.  Before they reach out to us, pleading for someone who will Love well.

To stop saving our "nard" for "some day" in the future, but to break our vessels and pour out our message of Love to those we would normally look over or even deem un-lovable without thinking.

May God help us...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

marriage as spiritual discipline...

When I was younger, my world revolved around me.  When I wasn't allowed to do something, my focus was on how it impacted me.  When any "event" occurred, my first thought was generally how the chain of happenings will link to me.  I'll confess, sometimes that still happens.  When I experience bad customer service.  When I'm hungry.  When an important hockey game is on.  But I'm praying, and I'm married....two things that seem to help.

Last week I flew to Atlanta, Georgia to spend some time with other youth workers from our denomination.  On the plane, I attempted to distract myself in conversation with those around me.  Out of the 4 flights (2 there and 2 back), I managed to engage at least 2 worthwhile relational endeavors.  For the other 2 flights, I was left to my own thoughts.

My thoughts ranged from the book I was reading, to the experience of our flight going down after colliding with a flock of geese.  But the interesting thing about the thoughts of our plane crashing?  My mind wasn't thinking about how my body would respond to a crash.  I wasn't worried about the lack of oxygen, or the pain and spilled blood.  My first thoughts were of my family back home, and praying they never have to experience that type of loss.

In his first chapter of "Sacred Marriage", Gary Thomas quotes C.S. Lewis from "The Screwtape Letters":

(a demon speaking about humans)"...They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion."

The premise of Thomas' book is "What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us happy?"  I'd have to say, it's a great reminder.  Especially in talking recently about renewing how I accept my wife as a gift from God. To accept her as someone God has given me to be my "helper" not just in life, but in my walk with Him.

Marriage moves us toward the "other", compelling us and challenging us to go outside ourselves.  Teaches us the greater value of letting go of "self".  To have, and to seek "romance" (and not just "eros", but all of the emotionally charged, image-rich experiences of "lovey-dovey-ness") in a marriage isn't inherently a bad thing, but it becomes more healthy/beautiful as it is pursued for the other, and not for myself.  Which is echoed tremendously in our experiences with God.  To desire a whimsical, emotionally-charged experience of the divine is not an evil hunger...but that desire springs not from a thrill-seeking selfish-ambition.  It springs from a desire to worship and serve the God who has created all, has made covenant to restore and make all things new, and has sent His Spirit to move among us - already beginning that process.

I thank God for my wife, and for all our marriage has done/is doing/will do....for our walk with God, how our children walk with God, and generations to follow...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saint Patrick - Part Three

There are movements beginning all over the world. Movements that are using media, sound bytes, colors, drama, dancing, rock music, rap music, opera, polka, punk, ska, reggae, choir, and even Hymns. They are using food, movies, flashing lights, smoke machines, candles, incense, meditation. There are ministries for smokers, drinkers, hookers, homeless, gamblers, and your average Joes. Sometimes the church will launch a new ministry, and when our attendance increases, we’ll pat ourselves on the back. May we remember, this didn’t start with us…this didn’t even start with St. Patrick, though he did a great job of utilizing it.

Jesus Christ walked the earth until his 30’s. He lived among the people. He got to know them, and understood their language and their culture. He laughed with their joys, and he cried with their pains. So maybe this started with Jesus Christ? That’s where I thought I’d go with this.

But the truth is…this all started with God the creator.

He created something out of dust, and breathed life into it. He loved it, because it came from him. God wanted to show love, and minister to this creation. And so He created a partner for it…woman. They had been given a garden. Full of beauty meant to affect the senses. Sounds of life, living creatures. Visual affects of flowers, amazing animals with colors so gorgeous. Fruits so delicious, sounds so harmonious, sights so beautiful, soft grasses, communion with a living God. Everything about this was designed for mankind to worship God through.

I close with the end of a prayer known as St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Saint Patrick - Part Two

The people of Ireland were what England considered “barbarians”. Up to this date, every missionary effort was not only to Christianize a region, but to civilize as well. To spread not only a Christian mind set, but a culture that was similar to those who were witnessing. But this land…the language was not known. The cultures were not understood. They could not risk sending someone here. But Patrick had lived here among them. He knew their language, he knew their cultures, he knew the people, and he loved them. With these things, he and a small entourage set out to love the people of Ireland.

Through writings that we have from Patrick during his time of ministry in Ireland, we learn things about him. A quote from Thomas Cahill observes that:
“His love for his adopted people shines through his writings, and it is not just a generalized “Christian” benevolence, but a love for individuals as they are….He worries constantly for his people, not just for their spiritual but for their physical welfare…Patrick has become an Irishman.”

It is said that when Patrick spoke to these “pre-Christians”, he spoke with sufficient dynamism to engage the Celtic people who were used to eloquent speakers and splendid storytellers. Patrick’s results suggest that he competed effectively with their indigenous communicators.

The church today has the same call that Patrick felt, when he left “his comfort zone”, and went to a people who needed God’s love. He went among them. Learned their culture, learned their needs, and learned how God loves them.

Reading through this story of Patrick, and even the details of the rest of his life, there are many things for us to learn. But I want to focus on the 3 changes that occurred in Patrick that led to his ministry in Ireland.

First – Patrick got to know God. He didn’t spend hours reading theological journals, he didn’t even have a Bible, and he wasn’t reading Holiness Today. These are all good ways to know about God, and to know God some…but Patrick spent time in the natural revelation of God. He was able to look at the world, the way everything was designed, and see God revealing himself through colors, movement, and life. He spent time listening and watching, and knowing this God.

Second – Patrick came to know the people of Ireland. Through his time in Ireland, Patrick learned their language, their culture. He learned what needs they had as a people, and how they went about fulfilling them. He knew names. He was looked on as an honorable servant, and became trusted among the people he lived with.

Third – Patrick grew to love his captors. These people he lived with. This is something that didn’t begin with his desire to “sell God” to these people, to reap whatever rewards he would receive in Heaven. This came from the desire of Love. As Patrick knew God closer and closer, and as he grew to know the people of Ireland, He developed a God-love for these people. He began to hope and pray for the day they would be saved.

Come back tomorrow for a few final thoughts...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saint Patrick - Part One

In the late 4th Century A.D., Patrick was growing up in what is now NorthEast England. His people were “Britons”, one of the “Celtic” peoples then populating the British Isles, though Patrick’s aristocratic family had gone “Roman” during Roman occupation of England. So Patrick was more culturally Roman than Celtic. His family was Christian, and his grandfather was a priest. Patrick heard some of the teachings through his family, but became only somewhat of a Christian. He ridiculed the clergy, and lived toward the “wild side”.

When Patrick was 16, a band of Celtic pirates from Ireland invaded his region. He and several other young men were captured and forced onto a ship. They sailed to Ireland, and Patrick was sold into slavery to a prosperous tribal chief and druid named Miliuc, who put Patrick to work herding cattle.

During his years as a slave, Patrick experienced 3 major changes.

First, periods when Patrick was isolated in the wilderness herding cattle connected him with what theologians call the “natural revelation” of God. He sensed with the winds, the seasons, the creatures, and the nights under the stars the presence of God; he identified this presence as the Triune God he had learned about from his family. Here’s a quote from Patrick…

“After I had arrived in Ireland, I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day and in the night nearly as often.”

Patrick became a devout Christian, and the change was obvious to his captors.

Second, Patrick changed in another way…he came to understand the Irish Celtic people, and their language and culture, with the kind of intuitive profundity that is usually possible only, as in Patrick’s case, from the “underside”.

Third, Patrick came to love his captors, to identify with them, and to hope for their reconciliation to God. One day, he would feel they were his people.

One night, after 6 years in captivity, a voice spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, “You are going home, Look! Your ship is ready!” The voice directed him to flee for his freedom the next morning. He awakened before daybreak, walked to a seacoast, saw the ship, and negotiated his way on board.

Patrick returned to England, trained as a Priest, and served as a Priest in a parish in England.

One night, at the age for 48 – Patrick experienced another dream that was to change his life again. An angel named Victor approached him with letters from his former captors in Ireland. As he read one of the letters, he imagined that he heard the voice of those people, and they cried out as one voice, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

When Patrick woke up the next morning, he interpreted the dream as a call to take the Gospel to the Celtic peoples of Ireland. He asked the bishops to be sent on this mission. With the encouragement of the Pope, and the leaders, he was ordained as a bishop, and appointed to Ireland, as history’s first missionary bishop.

Why is this all significant? Come back tomorrow for more of the story!!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review of "My Jesus Year" by Benyamin Cohen

"Shelo lishma ba lishma" - a phrase used by Cohen toward the end, which he was reminded of by a Catholic priest who urged him to "come to services anyway, because it eventually will have meaning for you."

The book is written by the son of a Jewish Rabbi, whose faith had become routine and mundane at best. He saw things advertised both in theory and in practice throughout Jesus-loving realms that he desired in his own faith experience. He's also a writer in a world of "writers doing year-long experiences in order to create a book" fads. So he spends a year in new spiritual worlds. He visits protestant, Catholic, and a few...well..."other" situations.

Here is an experience well worth reading.

It doesn't take long before a Christian reader would raise alarm. "He's not really experiencing Christianity" would be easy to say. And it's true. I'll even give away the ending - he doesn't "accept Jesus" in the end. But his openness to God, and description/vantage points offer us some important images some of us may see if we look in the mirror.

There are also insights into the Jewish world that can be beneficial for anyone who wants to follow Jesus (a Jew). Including the phrase above. It basically means "even if you do something desirable for the wrong reason, you'll eventually end up doing it with the right intentions."

And I think the converse can be true as well, as proven by Cohen's desire to spend the year with Jesus. If we do something desirable with right intentions, eventually we may end up doing it for the wrong reasons. May God renew our passion and desire and LIFE toward HIS Kingdom. May we see beyond ourselves, and our consumerist nature. May we belong to something else for a larger purpose than what it offers us...as we all discover the part of the "body" God has created us to be.

Altogether a great book, personalized by illustrations from Cohen's own life and childhood. Stories that poke fun at some of the sillier things that happen in the lives of Jesus-followers (and people who claim they follow Jesus), raise important questions about what it actually means to be a Christian, and participate in the body of Christ.

I'll end with a quote, from Cohen's visit to "Winter Jam", a popular concert tour fronted by Mr. Toby Mac:

(just after a preview clip for the film "Amazing Grace") "Slavery is at an all-time high this year!" The audience, not sure how to respond to this political declaration, does what it's been doing all night when the various bands take the stage - they cheer."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

(mis) quotes, etc..

So I scribbled some notes from Bishop Thomas' words to we the youth leaders of the denomination, on the topic of "Leadership Development"...

"We are inviting others into the journey of becoming someone others can follow."

"Service is an ESSENTIAL part of discipleship."

"Multiplication requires developing (your) leaders."

"Shared ministry is the MOST effective."

(in regard to what book to read) "I'd rather tell you what KIND of book to read/not read. If it's formulaic (points a, b, and c will yield ____ results), it probably won't help you a ton. If it's bashing the church, without regard for healing and solutions, it probably won't help you much. If you gave the book to someone from another culture, and they told you they couldn't understand it, it probably doesn't have the "big picture" truth to be very relevant."

The general message of our time together, and of the words we were given, was an encouragement to be purposeful in our leadership development. Not simply future pastors or youth workers. But to target the people who are, and will be, followed....to develop them into those who are being followed toward Christ.

The body of Christ as a whole, and the Free Methodist Church needs to be raising people who will step into areas of need. Who will begin new conversations. Who will participate as committed members of a specific body that commits back to them in return, to say "let's move toward Christ together, and experience an accountable community as we do this..."

These are all things that will not happen simply by allowing those who are charismatic or popular rise to the surface naturally. We (read that "I") need to be identifying and developing more of those who have the characteristics of Christ, and guiding/calling them into leadership/discipleship. The valuable point was made that most leaders today weren't called by a mystical "calling of God in the quiet moments", but were actually tugged at through another person in relationship with God.

I pray that this continues to develop as I'd readily admit, due to my low administrative nature, my leadership development has lacked a sense of structure and discipline. Lord, help me...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

fire watching....

I've begun reading "Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009" edited by David Eggars, for fun recently . Probably not the best book to be reading on an airplane, as the cover depicts a grandmother reading her granddaughter a gun magazine, and with chapters like "The Ticking is the Bomb", it just feels iffy.

It includes an assortment of different types of published works from various sources throughout 2008. Foreign comics, essays, short stories, and other brief works from all sorts of publications, compile what has been a pretty great read thus far. I look forward to more.

One of the entries, from the Paris Review, "Diary of a Fire Lookout", by Philip Connors, made me compare what often happens in ministry to his summer employment. During the summer months, at the Gila National Forest, in New Mexico, he looks out a giant tower and spots plumes of smoke, reporting them to the Forest patrols, etc.

One thing he points out, is that most often they don't actually DO anything in response to the fires. They announce what is happening. They keep tabs on it. Sometimes they even fly someone in for a better look to assess what is going on, and how large the fire is. But usually it's allowed to simply burn its course, being surrounded by so much open land. This is for good reasons, and he explains them well.

In ministry, we are often the "Fire Lookout". Both in a negative (things going wrong) sense, and in a positive (Holy Spirit moving) sense. It can be easy for us to feel like our job (not just pastors, but followers of Christ) is to point out and announce what is happening. We keep tabs on it. Sometimes we even do something unique to get a better look and assess what is going on. But how often do we interact with it? Get our hands scarred a bit by our proximity to the flame?

May we not only announce the plumes of smoke we see rising in the Kingdom around us....but may we get our hands dirty and singe our eyebrows by being active where God can utilize us in very important ways....

Monday, March 08, 2010

the one for me...

At some point, the myth of God having "one person in store for me", whom I had to find or life would never work out right faded. Which may sound like an odd way to begin a blog, just after spending a week rekindling my relationship with my spouse, but allow me to explain.

Because of letting go of such a "romantic" notion that my wife was the one and only person in the universe God intended for me to spend life with, I think there was an aspect of our relationship I've never quite appreciated. The aspect that once my wife and I chose each other, and took the vows of marriage - we chose to become "the one" to each other. Which connects us to Adam and Eve in some pretty important ways.

The fact that God saw Adam, and thought "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." Genesis 2:18

To be as thankful for my wife, as Adam was for Eve. To view her as a gift from God. To receive her as the divine gift that she is. To relate to her as God's completion to what he began in me. I think these are aspects of our relationship I've not really spent much time dwelling on.

In the midst of counseling/praying with countless young men who are trying to find "the one" God has for them, I've focused on how much of this process is a CHOICE. It's not a Disney fairy tale. The world emphasizes to "Marry the one you Love", but the Bible directs us to "love the one you marry". (quote from Weekend to Remember)

But in the midst of focusing on reason, and choice, and the atmosphere of it being less something we "fall into", and more something we consciously move toward on purpose - I've moved away from Adam receiving Eve. I don't think I'm alone.

In a world that is fast learning that the real world is a far cry from Cinderella's neck of the woods (i.e. "Enchanted"), we have many who view marriage as an economic partnership. This happens even among those of us who believe God has created and blessed this human endeavor with echoes of the Divine.

It's something that will and has taken humility to admit. But I thank God for my wife, and my prayer is that I will continue to receive her the way Adam received Eve, "..this at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh;" - Genesis 2:23

I love it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weekend to Remember

My wife and I were able to spend this weekend at "Weekend to Remember" by FamilyLife. I have to say, it was well worth the time. Thanks to great family offering free babysitting, and getting our tax return in time to pay for the hotel/food, and free registration scholarship for being in ministry - it worked out well.
I was a bit skeptical, at first. I envisioned lots of "men lead the family, hunt, grunt, and still need to cry in front of their wives". Or even "marriages need lots more Jesus, and that's about it".

Thankfully, it was neither.

What it ends up being is some pretty good reminders about being purposefully in love with your spouse. About putting effort into not only maintaining that purpose, but growing in the experience of it as well. And all of it offered up as an act of worship to the God who made such a relationship possible.

Sure, there were cheesy jokes. There were times I'd make fun of myself for being there. There was even a movie clip from "Fireproof" used. But even with these things, the time spent and discussion prompts provided, and atmosphere of sending couples away with "projects" together....was very good for our marriage.

Not so incredible would be the "Poms" competition that seems to be taking place in the room directly next to ours. Seriously, I think the entire team is staying in one room, and as I type they're playing the music and stomping like teenage female elephants. It's great for a quiet, relaxing, final night at the Pere Marquette. :)

But all in all, I'd definitely recommend this to any married, engaged, or remarried couple. The seminars are good, the resources are inexpensive, the discussion prompts are great. But most of all, to spend a weekend communicating with your spouse on purpose, toward a future of receiving each other.And if you're ever doing a "date night" in Peoria, IL - I recommend Water Street Wines Cafe & Coffees. Call ahead for reservations, and give yourselves at least 2 hours for your dining experience. They don't have meat fondue, but it's more than a complete meal to enjoy the cheese fondue with an Aztec chocolate fondue for dessert. We also added the creme brulee (3 flavors!) as a dessert companion.....holy cow. :) All the food & coffee was ridiculously good. Add to that it's small size, brick walls, and pillows on the bench atmosphere....and you got yourself a relaxing date night.

So there you have it. Definitely a "Weekend to Remember", as advertised.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

name callin'.

In listening to the lectures by Dr.Mulholland lately, he's reminded the class over and over again about the importance of the word "name" throughout scriptures and ancient theology. That we can gain much in our reading of God's word, if when we see the word "name", we think of the concept of "nature". Not nature like taking a walk down the Appalachian trail, but nature as in "it's God's nature to be Loving" kinda thing.

Obviously there are verses that this is obviously not meant. Genesis 10:25, "..and his brothers name was Joktan." Crazy name too, by the way, eh? Good luck naming your son Joktan today. (it means "small")

But how about in Genesis 12:2, "..I will make your name great..." Makes a lot more of a connection if this is a promise from God to transform the very nature of His people into His own.

Or in 1 Peter 4:16, "If any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this (nature)." One of the natures of Christ we do not consider very often, is to suffer. This verse is more than offering the name of Jesus Christ as a badge to be proud of. It's declaring that in our suffering, we are connecting with the very nature of Jesus Christ.

And finally, in Revelation 3:12, "If you conquer...I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name." The words actually begin with a term "if you are conquering", which meant/means to be living as New Jerusalem citizens in a fallen Babylon world. If we are living toward Jesus and His Kingdom, God promises to transform our very nature toward His own, and toward a resurrected nature. :)

It's tempting to provide more examples like this, but I believe it's beneficial to whet your appetite, and tell you to go look for more uses of the word "name". Obviously, again...not every time...but many times it can mean SOOOO much more than what someone calls out to get our attention. May God bless you as you read His Word....and take on His name.

Friday, March 05, 2010

rap music.

To quote DC Talk, "I love Rap Music".

I know that actual rap fans, and rappers would probably hear this and giggle inside. Lack of ____________, that makes it a merely wannabe effort.

And yet it stands. Props to the wannabe's who aren't afraid to play. :)

If you're curious, it was all recorded with a mic on my computer (thus the horrible sound quality), and mixed with beats/effects available in Acid 4.0.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Philippians 3:17-4:1 - Final

And what are Paul’s final words in these verses?

Therefore…STAND FIRM in the Lord IN THIS WAY.

What way?

Not simply by “believing”. Not by simply "being devoted to what happens at church", or by giving large amounts of our excess to God and His Kingdom.

But by actually LIVING as CITIZENS of heaven. Now. By renouncing any other people/things/powers that try and claim you as a citizen under their authority.

This can be an incredible gift – For those of us who have messed up. For those of us who have very little in this world. For those of us who are suffering. None of these things can claim our identity….for we are citizens of HEAVEN even now.

This can also feel/seem like a sacrifice – For those of us who have more than plenty. Those of us who are comfortable, and have built up a today and tomorrow that we are tempted to put faith in. For those of us who have accomplished something that the world ascribes to us as our identity. We renounce all of these things, reminded by Paul that our minds are not on things of this world. We are CITIZENS OF HEAVEN.

I’d venture that for most of us, we have moments of both. Moments where we cling to that citizenship for all we’re worth, as it frees us from what threatens to bind us today, and promises hope and life for eternity with Jesus. But also moments where we are challenged to serve Caesar. Tempted to think our identity might be bound by a success or potential success in this world.

Into both moments, come the Truth of Jesus Christ about our citizenship…a citizenship that is offered to ALL nations and people around the globe. A citizenship we did not, could not ever earn or purchase.

Will you live as a citizen of heaven this week?

What will that change from last week?

What Caesars is God calling you to turn away from?

What Caesars is God freeing you from?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Philppians 3:17-4:1 - Continued

Here in Chapter 3, we enter the text just after Paul has talked about resigning his “Jewish-ness” for the sake of Christ. All that was embodied in his rightful claim as a Jewish man, he let go of and renounced for what he gains in Christ.

Then he says in vs. 17 – “Join in imitating me”

Obviously, there are few, if any, Jews in this area. Which is why he goes on to use the language he does. He wants to help them connect what he’s saying about the identity Christ has brought to us, and to this place we live.

“There are enemies of the cross…I’ve told you of them, and now I tell you with tears.” Paul is obviously experiencing an intense emotion here, perhaps knowing that what he’s asking them to do could turn out very badly for them short term.

But Paul’s is not a short term message. :)

He declares to them, and to us….OUR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN!!!

We represent the rule and presence of Jesus Christ in our world. We live not according to the systems and powers of this place we live, but according to the way of Jesus Christ.

Immediately, the hearers of Paul’s message may have begun thinking about what it would mean to claim Jesus as Christ, instead of Caesar. Caesar was often called “savior”, because it was his word, his power, his presence that would rescue and restore order in chaos.

What is our “Caesar”?

As an individual – what rules your life? Money? Time? Ourselves? Preparation for the future? Anxiety? “Success”?

What would it mean for us to claim Jesus, instead of that…as our Christ?

As a church – what or who is ruling us? The desire to be larger or more exciting than other churches? Numbers on paper, whether it’s attendance, membership, offerings, how much we give, how many people we serve? To be financially stable? To make sure we always do things this way or that, or always strive to be “new” or “on the edge”?

What would it mean for us as a local church to claim Jesus anew, as our Christ?

Paul knows that when they, and when we…think of changes, and “little deaths”, or possibly even real deaths for them…that will occur when we choose Jesus…we need to be reminded that these bodies, and these lives, are temporary.

That people who live according to their appetites, are worshiping their “stomachs”. The word used here can be anything from the "carnal, lustful, etc", or even "the inner most part of a man, soul, desires". Not inherently bad, but not intended to be what we live according to. Our minds are not supposed to be set on these things.

We are citizens of heaven, and when our Savior comes he will transform these “humble bodies”. That’s a nice way to put it, for most of us. To look at the imperfections, fallen-ness, etc…and to simply say “humble bodies”.

We will be transformed to being conformed (summorphon – only other place used is Romans 8:29… “those predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”) with the body of His GLORY.

What is the body of His glory?

Not the body we see on the cross, but the body we see after the resurrection. One not OF this world, bound by the laws of nature. But a body that pays no regard to decay or the negative impact of aging. Physical, as we see doubting Thomas touch the hands of Jesus. But also somehow not bound by physical laws, as we see Jesus entering the locked room without any doors or windows being opened for him.

Paul doesn’t try to explain how this will happen, it’s not important. It will happen, just as all things that exist are subject to God. That God, is the one who’s eternal Kingdom we are now living as citizens of.

And what are Paul’s final words in these verses? Come back tomorrow as we close out this section...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Imagine: You’ve been living in a third world country for quite a while now. You know hunger, suffering, and what it means to want. One day, you receive a letter that explains, somehow things had gotten mixed up when you were born. You’re actually the child of a royal family in Europe. They wanted to make sure you were safe until they could come get you, so they purchased the entire country you now live in…and now rule over it as well. They are sending resources that where you live needs now, and sending them through you until they can come there themselves. How would you feel?

As I was growing up, there were always awards assemblies. I never did sports, and was never too academic after 5th grade. But one thing I’d always achieved was “good citizenship”.

I never understood much of what that meant. Today, I have a better understanding. I am a citizen of Decatur, IL. That means I strive to contribute to the well-being, orderly existence of, and future of our community. I pay my bills. I vote. I serve on the parking and traffic commission. I’m a good, active citizen.

Here's some quick history: Philippians is a letter to the church in Philippi.

Almost 50 years before Christ, there was a civil war, “Caesar’s Civil War”. When the war had been won, you had several legions of soldiers out and about, and could not have those thousands and thousands returning to the city of Rome…it would be dangerous.

So the soldiers near Philippi, an already established Greek town on a well-worn path easily traveled to from Rome, were given land and resources to live there as citizens of Rome.

Years down the road, we find Paul in this city, which is full of descendants of those original Roman soldiers and their families. There may also be some there who are descendants of the original Greek residents, and who resent the leadership/rule of the Roman Empire.

For those who ARE Roman citizens, their citizenship came with certain rights, and expectations. Membership and participation in the Imperial Cult (viewing Caesar as divine, and Roman rule as given by God) was a part of their life.

  • But they also enjoyed certain rights, not available to all people.

    • The right to trial, to sue others and defend oneself.

    • They were exempt from local rules and regulations, deferring to the laws of Rome.

    • They were generally immune from some taxes and other legal obligations.

    • Legal protections if accused of a crime, could not be tortured or whipped, nor receive death penalty except for treason…but even then, could not be crucified on the cross.

Roman citizens represented and embodied the power, rule, order, and presence of Caesar in Philippi.

Come back tomorrow for more....