Tuesday, July 27, 2010

neurological plasticity (part 1)

In reading "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains", some great connections to scripture, as well as to other current thoughts/words toward God making us New Creations, are being made throughout.  One of the themes that comes up over and over again is that of "neurological plasticity".

Which is a fancy way of saying, that even if our brain doesn't grow in mass much past our early adult years, we still have the ability for our brains to rewire, form new connections, and in effect "change how we think".  For a long time, scientists believed that once our brains were done growing in size, they were also set in their patterns and connections/activity.  But developments in technology have enabled us to actually map out not only what a brain looks like, but to tap into the synaptic impulses that come from specific thoughts and areas of the body. 

One illustration of how our brains form connections contained a group of adults.  The entire group was taught how to play a specific tune on the piano.  Then, over a period of time, half the group was allowed to actually play the song using the keys of the piano.  The other half was only allowed to look at the keys, and imagine playing the song.  At the end of the experiment, all of the adults brains were tested to see what changes occurred, and what synapses may have been impacted.  Obvious changes had occurred due to the piano playing, but there was something more interesting too.  Both those who had played, and those who had imagined developed exactly the same neurological changes.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus warns against hating others in addition to murder.  He warns against lusting after a female right along with actually committing adultery.  What a great Truth for Jesus to have revealed so many years ago, that scientists are only now catching up with!!  That our thought life can lead to the same impact on who we are, as actually performing the actions....as Christians especially, we need to be active in pursuing Godly thoughts in addition to how we act.

May we hear the words of Philippians 4:8, "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

May our thoughts be reflecting the God who has already begun to do a new thing in our midst...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Affirmation

Each morning of IYC we spent time in worship together, inviting the Spirit to be with us throughout our day.  We were led in some thoughts on a specific topic, each day one of the major themes (Scripture, Team, Spiritual Formation, Service).  On the morning of "Spiritual Formation", the One Thing (summary) was:

"Jesus Christ calls His followers to proactively seek growth in our relationship with God.  Through spiritual discipline and the power of the Holy Spirit we claim victory over sin rather than simply try to manage it."

Doug Ranck led us through some important points, like discovering what "walls" we may hit along the way.  Asking the important question/s, like "How is it with your soul?".  The warning signs of an unhealthy spiritual walk, including lack of prayer life, unrealistic expectations/goals, or viewing the disciplines as a mechanical prescription. 

From "The Godbearing Life" by Kendra Creasy-Dean and Ron Foster, we were reminded that:
1. Christian practices require active participation.
2. Christian practices do something to us.
3. The practices involve other people who do faith with us.
4. Christian life practices are the continuation of an ancient tradition.
5. Christian practices call for a standard of excellence.

We then were send off on our "solo" time, assigned the task of creating a "heart monitor style" chart.  To map out the events in our life, from birth until now, containing both highs and lows that have impacted us, especially in our spiritual journey. 

One of the greatest moments for me from all week, was when we gathered as a small group (just our youth group), and shared these time lines.  Not only to hear events from the lives around me, but also to see our teens being willing to share things they hadn't before with each other.  To give access to painful, and joyful times in what has led them to this place. 

But also, the fact that in more than a couple of those time lines, some had written the high of "coming to Moundford Youth".  How it impacted them.  Why they came back.  Why they come.  How God has, and is using the ministry that is happening here.

I confess to my wife, and to some others...I enjoy doing the dishes and the laundry on occasion.  Because I can start them, work on them, and finish them.  When they're put away in the cupboard, or when I push the "Start" button on the dishwasher....I have a sense of accomplishment.  So many times in youth ministry, I love, and I work, and I "do/be"....but I can't step back and say "there, that has been completed."  So affirmation of a ministry's effectiveness can sometimes be elusive.

But in that moment....I definitely felt God's affirmation....He is at work here, lives are being ministered to, developed, and disciples are growing toward Him.  We are part of His Kingdom coming...and that feels good. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Joy-filled Wait...

I knew that I'd be away for over a week with teenagers in San Diego.  I knew my wife would be at home, going about the normal routines of raising 3 very young girls.  Changing diapers, band-aiding boo boos, giving time outs, twisting arms for naptime, etc.  So like any husband, I tried to assuage my guilt, and speak her love language at the same time by ordering a little something special to arrive while I was away.

I ordered it a week or so before leaving for my trip.  It was difficult to contain my excitement.  I knew how much she'd love it, and how much of a surprised it'd be for her.  I didn't know exactly what hour it would come, but I knew the day, and knew it was highly likely she'd be there when it arrived.

Every day that date drew closer, I got more excited.  I wanted to blurt it out in the middle of conversation.  Here's how it could have gone:


Wife: So, how did work go today?

Me: I ordered you a gift a few days ago that will arrive while I'm in San Diego and you're going to love it!!!

Wife:  Aww (gives me a big wet kiss)

But I never told her.  I kept it secret, and as I left for my trip, took my excitement with me.  Even in the midst of crazy times and teenagers spent on the beach in San Diego, I found myself spontaneously struck with the anticipation on her behalf of this gift of love that she'd be surprised by.  It made me smile.

And no, it wasn't ridiculously expensive.  But it was a gift of Love.

I began to feel God using all of this to speak to my own heart.  As if He was revealing something important about the giddy anticipation He experiences in waiting for all things to be made new, and to complete fully the work He began in Jesus Christ.  Like He knows exactly what is coming, and in that knowing His Joy is a smile wider than the ocean shore.

But He couldn't wait quietly.  He's told us about what is to come, so that we can join in the excitement, and the active anticipation.  It brings to mind the image of Homer Simpson, doing his "oh boy oh boy oh boy" dance.  The kind of excitement I felt at knowing what my wife was going to receive, was not even a sliver of the full experience God currently enjoys, knowing the complete picture of what is ahead for us.

We get a peek at some of that, in the words and life of Jesus Christ.   The tears of joy when He and His followers spread the Good News of the Kingdom that is, and is to come.  The tears of pain when he laments there will be some who walk away from what is coming.  The tears of Love for His children, and His creation...that will be made new...

May we join in God's Joy-filled wait even now...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Come Unity...

Tuesday night was one of those hot nights with no breeze indoors, and the eyes were getting just a little bit droopy as we were just getting used to a week with little sleep.  But in the midst of the blanket of snooze that was slowly being laid over us...we heard a great message from Bishop Thomas on community.

He reminded us that Unity is not always positive in and of itself.  Unity has led to some pretty awful things, in fact.  But it can, and offers to be, a great asset, especially in the body of Christ, and the coming Kingdom.  Thomas reminded us of some common myths about "Community":

1. Community is made of all similar people.  (there is beauty in the diversity found in the whole)

2. Community happens when others love ME.  (everyone is loved, how can I contribute?)

3. Community is destroyed when someone messes up. (there is strength in forgiveness, & restoration)

4. Community happens naturally, without effort. (Genuine community is built and worked at, with the Holy Spirit and the resolve of God's People.)

5. Community includes hierarchy. (all members are indispensable and valued highly)

He then pointed us to the verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, that LOVE is what enables True community.  Binds it all together in perfect Unity.  That definitely puts us in check, if we've complained at all recently about the groups we are a part of lacking genuine community.  When is the last time we purposefully involved ourselves in bringing love to where there was none within' our group?

And not just huggy, warm-fuzzy, smiles and hand shakes kinda love.  But correcting, revealing, Christ-centered, unafraid, all-encompassing, enemy as much as friend....Love.  May we see places to be Love's presence in our communities this week...knowing that Unity comes as we Love...and allow ourselves to be Loved...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Story Telling....

In the evening services of IYC, early in the week we hadn't figured out to leave all the doors open to invite God's Southern California breeze through.  So toward the final message, it became a bit stuffy, odoriferous,  and to a teenager running on a few hours of sleep the previous night.....conducive to napping.

So our teens had gone through a few "tricks" to keeping the human body awake and aware.  Pretending to follow a fly with your eyes briefly.  Pinching your leg.  Taking notes.  They had an entire arsenal ready, as Bishop Roller was set to take the stage that night.

It was pretty amazing.  He didn't jump around on stage.  He doesn't have a loud booming voice.  The microphone wasn't turned up crazy high.  There were no flashing lights, pyrotechnics, video illustrations, or puppet shows during his talk.  And yet, every teenager in our group, and leaders included, were fixed on his words.  Edge of our seats, waiting for him to offer out the next sentence of each paragraph.

He was telling a story.  Illustrating how each Bible story is only a pixel of the picture God is painting.

He told a few stories from scripture overall, and gave us the challenge to be telling stories ourselves.  When Jesus was asked a question, often instead of giving the factual answer, or anticipated response, he told a story.  Stories captivate us.  The ask politely for our attention, and draw us in as the plot unfolds.  They paint a picture, often capturing the beauty not just of the information being transferred, but of the God who reveals Truth in creative ways...and calls us to be a part of that creativity ourselves.

Bishop Roller challenged us to find stories from scripture that we love, and develop a love to tell them.  Starting with an achievable number, like one. :)  Then 8, then 52, and on.  The more stories we are able to tell from scripture, the more God's creative and beautiful Truth is revealed.

As we left to discuss the evening as a small group, we also realized that each of us is part of the story God is telling.  That being able to tell our "story" and find God's active presence within it, should be one of our first goals as we try to decide which stories to work on.

May we be story tellers this week...and beyond..to a world that is ready to listen to a story worth telling....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miles and Nebuchadnezzar

So a few of our times together at IYC gave me some things to think about.  One right out of the gate was our evening session from Monday night, with Miles McPherson.  I hadn't really heard of Mr.McPherson before that night, so if you love him...bear with me.  I'm new here.

He began by telling how he used to be a professional sports player of some kind, and now has grown a church from nothing to being an incredibly blessed congregation of 12,000 people.  As an example of their greatness, he dropped the fact that they donated 600 community service hours as a church last year.  I stink at math, but that comes out to less than 3 minutes per person a year.  It's sad to think that might actually be a high number.

He talked about authentic worship briefly, and boldly declared that the only way to truly worship freely was to stand with both arms raised high in the air.  Waist level wasn't cuttin' it.  He even had all the teens stand and perform the action (without even saying "Simon Says"), to prove his point.  It was hard to hear much after this, but thankfully I continued to listen.

Because he brought out some good points from Daniel 3, and the story of the guys with 3 funny names, who ended up in the fiery furnace.  If you haven't read it...go read it now.  But you probably have, and even seen the chocolate bunny version on Veggie Tales.  The main point of his message here was to not worry about the consequences of following Jesus.  He pointed out that not even the SMELL of fire was on them, which is quite a feat.  Beyond how we worship, because that's pretty trivial in the scheme of things....how often to we live toward others out of Love, Forgiveness, Grace, Mercy, Truth, Holiness, Life, Redemption, etc..without concern for how the world may respond?

Another thing he mentioned, simply in the peripheral of his talk, was our prayers.  He said "God is bored with our prayers."  After being a bit offended, in the way my daughters might be if you told her I was bored with her attempts at talking with me....I connected with what he was saying.

What are most of the prayers we offer?  "God, bless this food..."  But is there anything wrong with the food?  Does it require a movement of God upon our food to do something supernatural?  How about "God, keep me safe while I sleep tonight, etc."  Granted, sometimes we face things in the late hours, and it's a good habit.  Along with praying for Grandma, who's feeling a bit under the weather.  These are not bad prayers.  But for them to be the only, or even majority of the prayers we breathe on a daily basis?

These 3 men were about to be cast into a furnace so hot it killed the guards who opened it.  They were trusting in God to provide for them.  Imagine God's excitement, compared to "God bless this pizza I'm about to eat...."

May we live in such a way, that requires us to pray for things that get God excited...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

IYC - Quick Summary

8 Teenagers, 2 adults, and 9 days together.  San Diego, California.  Pursuing Jesus, tearing down walls that compete with genuine community, and opening up to hear from God as individuals.  Pulling up our shirt sleeves and getting a bit dirty caring for God's creation.  Putting on our swim suits and enjoying God's creation.  Recognizing during high energy worship, and quiet solitude that we ARE God's creation.  Connecting with others who are seeking Jesus from all over the country.  And yes, even teenagers figuring out the kinda guy or girl they may be interested in someday. :)

It was quite a trip, no lie.  Each teen could give you a completely different story of which part they enjoyed, or how God met/spoke/transformed their lives.  Our prayer is that this continues in the lives of those who came, and that same Spirit that is already active in our group would be even more effective as more are in tune with His Voice.

Oh, and did I mention I love teenagers?  Here's a brief list of recent reasons:

 -They look for life.  Like a toddler learning to walk for the first time, they seek new experiences, and smile really big when they find one.

 - Their ability to make fun of each other for something, and then go off and do the exact same thing. :)

 - The desire to take serious things lightly, and light things seriously.

 - D.R.A.M.A., and the fact that I can look in as into a fishbowl nowadays. :)

 - When really tapped into....their desire/openness to the Spirit's leading can be completely remarkable

 - . The fact that one can, surrounded by incredibly fresh salsa's just 5 minutes from Tijuana, purchase a jar of Tostidos brand from the grocery section.

 - The surprise to learn that all 4 teenage boys are actually big fans of iCarly.  Seriously?

- That even after a long discussion about wanting to be more open with our faith, and pro-active in our prayers...when closing small group time....it was pulling teeth to get a volunteer to close us in prayer. :)

 - That I can see God leading each of them now and in the future...to an identity of someone who offers an infinite amount towards His Kingdom, and is being a part of it even today!!!

 - The fact that I miss spending all day with each of them already.  So glad they allow me to be a part of their lives, and thankful that God is using what we offer Him in larger ways than we can imagine! :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

..and then there were 3.

It's official.  An accomplishment so ridiculously pride-inducing, but at the same time only a sign post, with an arrow directing us toward even more responsibilities and work ahead.

We now have 3 little girls that can walk.  One that can run well without falling.  Two that can dance around.  Three that can dance in place.  And three, that can put one foot in front of the other, and move forward one step at a time.

And all 3, that can melt your heart - no matter what time of day or night.

There was another milestone we passed a while back that is worth mentioning - we now have 3 girls who are past the "bottle feeding" stage.  Another great illustration, which along with walking, has great sermon-illustration type possibilities.  I won't fill an entire blog with those, because most are very obvious.  Just take a moment, and pretend you've just read one.  There ya' go.

Ages 3, 2, and 1....and each one growing like crazy.  

Friday, July 16, 2010

nyc 1999

I remember attending NYC 1999 with the Nazarene Church.  As I write this, the day before taking a trip with my teens to IYC (Free Methodist version) in San Diego (yup, totally wrote posts ahead of time, knowing I wouldn't have internet in California.  I'm a nerd.) , I think back on our time in Toronto as a teenager..

 - Inviting tons of people to a giant bubble bath that took place in our hotel room.  Only to have myself and one other guy (bathing suits of course) take advantage of such fun.  Of course, many came...but without proper attire...their loss.     :)     I'm pretty sure pictures still exist of this somewhere....

 - Wearing a full on polyester plaid suit and bowtie going with my group to see "Phantom of the Opera" in Toronto.  The original Cat-Woman (from the TV show) was in the audience.  On the way there, I gave a rose I'd been given by a vendor to a girl who struck my fancy at random during a brief encounter.  My wife just so happened to have the same story, from the opposite side of things...(she received a rose from a hyperactive nice guy in an odd suit while walking with her group in Toronto that day) ...crazy, eh? 

 - Playing "Simon Says" with a deaf girl, only to find out after she'd lost the game, and I'd sat with her for about 30 minutes talking...that she hadn't been able to hear me the entire time.  God spoke to me in big ways about "listening to others" that week after that.

 - Opting to listen to someone else later that week, I found myself getting medical attention for them...which whisked me away to a backstage area, where I got to meet Audio Adrenaline in person before they took the stage!  Woot.

 - Solidifying the calling I felt to be moving into a life of youth ministry, and looking forward to beginning my college journey toward that goal.

 - Being featured in a local Toronto paper as one of many teenagers who were there for a large Christian Youth Conference.  They highlighted that I "Only listened to Christian Music, except the Sesame Street Dance Mix", but when the article was published - they put a picture of my friend, Tom.  Yup, I totally had the cd my kids love back when I was in high school.  I win.

 - My first and only major train ride, from Detroit to Toronto, and trying to meet every single person I could from ours and other groups along the way.  I'd taken my youth pastors' wife's advice, and begun showering and using deodorant....it was amazing how much more people would want to talk with you after that!  Thanks JoLynn!!! :)

 - Over-all had an amazing time, and moments of transformation I can still point to in my life today.  I pray that similar experiences are filling the week of our teens even as you read this...and that God is moving in a way only He can.  May it continue well after we return to God's work here in Decatur and our communities beyond.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

change.

This past week, a clear illustration of why it's rather silly to buy a hockey jersey of your favorite player occurred.  Brett Lebda, who a few years back struck me as the kind of defensive player who could become a great, and became a free agent this summer...signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

And so, my "LEBDA" jersey, #22 on the back, road colors so that if I went to a game, we would match...becomes a piece of Detroit history.  A history of a player talented enough to become a great, but held down and snuffed out on a team already full of defensive greatness.  With names like Lidstrom, Kronwall, Rafalski, and Stuart above his own...he could be trained.  He could grow.  He could be challenged to perform on levels most defensive players never reach.  But he couldn't shine.

And so, a salary cap already tight on a team that doesn't really need what he seems to offer, he was encouraged to look somewhere else.  And he did.

Last year, Lebda made about $850,000 playing deep on the defensive line for the Detroit Redwings.  His newly signed contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs offers him $1.45 Million per season, for a guaranteed two, possibly more after that.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who noticed his value being under-utilized/developed.

But as the Wings secure names like Lidstrom (one more year at least!!), Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, and are courting names like Mike Modano - it's obvious that losing Lebda will not impact their ability to compete for the cup next year.  Let's bring it home, now that Chicago has had a party.

So now the question, for a fan such as myself without the means to go around buying new jersey's for every "might be" Redwing long timer.....who to buy next?

Franzen?  Abdelkader?  Rafalski?  Right now I'm leaning Rafalski...especially after an incredible second half of this season, his impact on the 2010 Olympic team, and all around seeming like a solid hockey playin' man.  He signed a 5 year contract in 2007, and perhaps they will re-sign him when that comes up?  That's the risk, I suppose...

Monday, July 12, 2010

evil as moving toward death.

Finally catching up with some notes on a few weeks ago.  We heard from the story in Luke where Jesus confronts "Legion" (the evil within the demon-possessed man) in Chapter 8:26-39.  The immediate question we often hear, is something to the effect of "Why don't supernatural happenings like this occur today?"  Perhaps you have experienced something like this, or something that seemed like this.  Even so, it's rare in modern Midwest living for sure.

The point was made that in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1-15), there were many reasons why the seeds did not grow well.  Only in one case, did that involve the devil.  The seeds that were "trampled on".  If we look around the globe, the places where "supernatural" forces of evil seem to be stirring up trouble, are those places that have been "trampled on" by the rest of the world.  Poor nations, 3rd World Countries, where unfair labor practices, debt interest, and power mongering presses down on the backs of its citizens.  Where we live, how hard does evil need to work....when the culture/environment we live in does so much on it's behalf?

Even so, there are important things we can take from what happens in theses verses.  The forces within the possessed man BEG to be sent into the swine, rather than being sent back to "ABUSSON" (the abyss).  This is the same abyss referred to in Revelation 9:1 (Satan is given the key to it's shaft, but not the actual abyss).  Sometimes translated as "bottomless pit", but in the Old Testament was very closely related to how the world was before God created things (Genesis 1:2).  It's an existence apart/separated/without from what God is doing.

So they get what they asked for, and are sent into the pigs.  What happens immediately?  The swine run off a steep bank and are drowned in the lake.  We aren't told what happens to demons after the pigs they possess are drowned, but my guess is the evil spirits aren't still hangin' out with fish at the bottom of the water.  My guess is they ended up in the "abyss" anyway.

What do we learn here?  Evil is always moving toward death,  Moving away from God.  There is no rational thought, no wise-maneuvering toward winning some sort of cosmic game of chess.  The very nature of evil, is to be moving away from God...towards death.  To the point where even when one situation appears to go their way (being sent into the pigs), they cannot escape their very nature....toward death.

May we not be the swine they beg to be sent into...:)

(for more on Luke's emphasis on revealing the Truth of Jesus dominion over evil, check out "The Demise of the Devil" by Susan R. Garrett)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book it.

Speaking of, remember "Book It" back in elementary school? That was awesome. I love personal pan pizzas from pizza hut.

But anyways, in lieu of a trip to San Diego all next week, I wanted to secure a few good books (beyond the Bible, of course) to chew on. Not sure if I'll have internet while out there, but should still be able to Tweet and Flickr (follow me!). But blog will be quiet, so imagine me posting a few thoughts each day from these books:

1. After You Believe, By NT Wright. I've already posted a couple posts from this book. I love this man, and how God is using him to open up the Word, challenging and life-bringing at the same time. The beginning section is very similar to an audio message I've heard before, so I look forward to his development of each of the themes already discussed in my previous posts.

2. The Shallows - What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. When people debate on whether the internet is a good thing or bad, they usually focus on the content and how it is being used. Carr investigates the question of how it is changing our brains, and changing how we even think in other areas of life.

"Whether I'm online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

3. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. I loved his similar story, "What is the What?"   This story is about a family dealing with America's response to terrorism and Hurricane Katrina at the same time. Based on a true story, and biographical information on the family, but I'm sure will have that something special Eggers is able to add to life. Great author, full of love for humanity, and for understanding the perspective and view of those we often don't.

Looking forward to a great week....

Thursday, July 08, 2010

shining.

I love walking with my daughters around the mall. Usually, the best times for this are before 10am, when only the mall walkers and coffee sipping elderly are hangin' out. But on my days off, sometimes we end up making the rounds a bit later in the mornings.

We have a list of things we enjoy doing together, that can be added to by whatever happens to be in the mall on that particular occasion. Case in point - a photo opportunity with a decorative shopping bag large enough to fit all 3 girls inside. :)

We'll head to Bergner's and ride the elevator up, taking turns pushing the button and watching out the giant glass window as we rise above the jewelry section. Then, just to develop a bit of discipline, we walk around the 2nd floor once, perusing the toddler clothes, and princess toys just long enough to say "I like this." (this mornings' quote - "Daddy, I want everything we don't have."), and end up back by the elevator, and ground level welcomes us back.

We stop in to see if Papa's workin (manager of his store), and then we head to see the puppies (puppy/kitty adoption store). After that, we can stop by the book store, grab a couple hard paged classics, and sit on the floor or kids table to read 'em. If they've been good, we head over to Subway for a fresh cookie, possibly even playing in the toddler play area. Although 3 times out of 5, we can play several hours at the mall, dancing to the music in the lesser populated areas, etc....without using the play area. :) Always an achievement.

My girls have energy. They have creativity. They desire everything. They breathe potential, hope, and what might happen. Possibilities are endless, and there are no boundaries.

I am their father. Called not to snuff the flame, but to enjoy it's dancing flickers, and come alongside God to focus it's heat, light, and energy. There are times of discipline, boundaries, and tears of obedience too...but I love this. Thanks Jesus.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

in need of lambs.

All throughout scripture, we see and hear the words of Jesus to His disciples, "follow me". And follow Him they do. But in other parts of the New Testament, Jesus goes a step further and uses the word "Go".

Luke 10:3 says, "Go on your way. See, I am sending you like lambs into the midst of wolves."

This was Jesus, sending the 72 into every town and place he intended to go. He asks them to do a few very specific things:

1. Enter the town. - Along with the word "GO", God desires to use us outside of where we naturally are. Each of us is created uniquely, and God can use each of us in ways like no other. It's not always a mysterious location somewhere "out there" in the world that we need to stress and sweat about finding. Start where you are...see where that takes you.

2. Eat what is set before you. - Goes with the words of verse 4, about not bringing supplies and worrying about how you'll survive. It's not about you and I, or about us "getting ours", in return for the good news we bring.

3. Bring healing to the sick. This physical world matters. Bring comfort to the uncomfortable (and not just nicer couches). Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, bandage wounds, and care for the well-being of humanity.

4. Announce the Kingdom of God. The heart of what Jesus calls his disciples to here. Even in places where they are not welcomed, he still tells them to announce the Kingdom of God.

And in each of these things, we are sent as "sheep among wolves". How often do we lose sight of that? How often, as a church, do we focus more on words like "boldness, courage, strength, might, conquering, etc."?

Not saying each of these words are inherently bad. But I don't think those are the themes we need to be reminded of these days.

And not only challenging the "church", but challenging also those who challenge the church. Movements like home churches, "emergent" church types, etc. We can have a pretty sharp tongue sometimes. We can gather in groups, waiting for the wrong move or word to be spoken, and move in on our prey.

May we GO into our world this week, as Lambs. Not lambs who expect to be surrounded by lambs either; but as lambs who expect to be surrounded by wolves....and yet move forward anyway. In sacrificial love for the other...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Christian Character

Romans 5:3-5 "And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Most of us would agree this sounds about right.  Although it's difficult to realize, and receive hope from these words while we're actually suffering.  I believe we are called to bring these words TO each other in suffering.  Not as a magic "salve" that will make suffering lessen or cease, but more of a statement of Love and Truth straight from the Word of God that accomplishes more than we might realize.

But beyond receiving these words of Hope in the midst of suffering, comes the topic of "character" that has become a rarity these days.  Even without reading a book on the topic, most of us can see the vacuum here.  Some raise children who "follow all the rules", and others children who "live genuinely", both viewing their path as one that is inherently and ultimately "good" in it's process and goal.

But what of the situations for which we haven't spelled out any rules?  The increasing amount of what we reflexively label "gray areas" are growing these days.  Or what about the times when I "genuinely" desire to do something that would not be healthy or life-affirming?  There must be something beyond rule following and "genuine existence" that offers something here.

That "thing" is character.  Specifically, "Christian" character.  Not that simply following/growing in character itself is a bad thing.  As seen here, and other places like it, a lot of positive things can come from this.  But with what goal?  To someone who seems to be doing just fine in this life especially, and gets along well with others....what purpose would there be to exercising and strengthening these abilities?  Without Christ, the goals of "greatest good for the most people" and "happiness" become very vague debates on who's definition of good we're using, and the value of one life over another.

Our world doesn't need more people who will follow the rules and enforce them.  We aren't in need of more people who are "freed from rules" and can live life more "authentically/romantically" because of that freedom.  We need followers of Christ who will develop the discipline and the nature of Christian Character...and in so bring God's solid Hope for tomorrow into the lives of others, and creation...