The Final Promotion

The day before the surgery, I texted my dad to tell him that I didn’t have any peace with the plan to open his chest up. By a prophetic nudge, I was prompted to make my concerns known to him. He answered back:

“Son,

I can understand your concerns. I considered taking the stent route. Why would anybody think of having their chest cut open a second time? I just don’t have any faith that is a long-term fix and I don’t want to suffer a heart attack when one collapses.

Your mom and I both have prayed this thru and are at total peace with the choice. God has blessed us with good health and beautiful family and we have wanted for nothing. We believe he watches over us in all circumstances and our lives on earth will be as long or short as He wills.

I love you and take great pride in the man you have become. Take peace that we rest in the grace of God.

Dad”

I’ve re-read this text time and time again. I’ve copied it and saved it. I value it and don’t want to lose it. I love how he calls me “Son” in it. I can hear his voice when I read it.

He had voiced much of what was in the text to my mother. He didn’t want to live in fear of a heart attack and was seeking a fix that would afford him the freedom to live. He still had passion for his purpose on earth, but if the surgery didn’t work out, he was completely comfortable with eternity as his next stop. He was completely assured of his salvation in Jesus and the promise of heaven. It was a compelling assurance vs. the compromise of a life lived on earth in fear and reservations.

The total peace that he had was real. That eternal peace wasn’t assurance of temporal outcomes. He knew he could die. Yet, he would live.

There is no way to live life with healthy zeal until and unless we know that life on earth is just the first chapter. All of eternity is available beyond the experience we have here and now. The next step is one into promotion. My father had been promoted a bunch of times in his career but nothing compared to this one.

It hurts from this perspective but the joy we can have for the ones that are promoted is available in Jesus. Without Jesus and His promise of eternal life, there is no hope beyond the pain of death. With Him, however, the sting of death is softened as death gives way to new life.

I really mean that, and so did my dad. So does Jesus.

Understanding in 3D

When we are students, the degree to which we learn something is often determined by a taking an exam. Our knowledge is tested as we are asked to answer questions which demonstrate the degree to which we have mastered the subject matter.

If you are a follower of Jesus, the quiz comes every day and it’s not for the sake of the knowledge. It’s for the purposes of the One that is offering the information in the first place. Followers of Jesus aren’t invited into an academic exercise; they are invited into life change and life transfer.

Jesus taught by experiences and imparted by proximity. He was living life with people, teaching them in the moment of living to give them a depth of understanding that exceeds the limits of information. It had to be that way because what He was teaching needed to go viral through their capacity to learn and their capacity to learn was their capacity to reproduce. The quiz for them was in their ability to give it away.

For too many of us, our attempts at discipleship are limited by our reliance on information. That information, which is vital to our learning but not conclusive of our mastery, is only the first step. The understanding comes in the implementation. The mastery comes in the multiplication.

Time and time again in the practice of law, I saw the depth of a passage that was in the Bible. The exercise of the knowledge in the lives of real people who didn’t agree with my beliefs opened the doors for me to multiply those beliefs. The grace, love, hope and encouragement that are talked about time and again by Jesus took on 3D perspective as I encountered real needs and needed real help in the application of the real Truth.

With eyes to see and ears to hear, we are invited into relationship with Jesus as He ministers. We minister where He ministers by agreeing with Him in the ways that we know are His way from His Word. Our knowledge of Him is put to work in our relationship with Him and our understanding is developed through our experiences with Him. Those opportunities are every day; in our families, in our workplaces, on a train or at a restaurant. Wherever people are, He is interested and we are invited.

Enjoying Joy and Relating with Eternity at 50

Fifty years ago today, I was born. Seventeen years ago, I was born again. Life was born where there had been living without depth. Along the way, I’m trying to figure it out but it gets more simple, I think, not more complicated.

Here’s what I think I know: my new life, given to me by the grace of Jesus, is intended to be shared with people and theirs with me. The other stuff we tag onto the grace of Jesus “in His name” may not have ever been intended to be a part of the sharing of Him among us.

This is supposed to be easier than we make it, I think. We can choose to pile a bunch of religion and expectations and criticism of each other on top of His grace, but we shouldn’t think that it’s Him. He doesn’t do that. He calls us His friends and friends don’t treat each other like that.

In the next 50 years, or whatever number are left on this earth, I want to increase in my presentation of Him in His grace. I want to be His friend and a friend His other friends as well as those who He would like to be friends with. I want to smile and encourage and laugh and cry with people who don’t want or need to be alone.

God, the Father, presented Himself through Jesus, the Son. Now they, along with Holy Spirit, are willing to present themselves through us and among us. They aren’t critical, upset, disappointed, concerned or corrective. I’m convinced that they aren’t worried about the order of service or the mastery of ideas about them as much as they are desirous of relationships. Relationships with them and relationships with each other. I think the whole Book is about relationship.

Jesus is more than willing to live among His people who laugh and sing. The songs don’t have to be from Hillsong or a hymnal, they can sometimes be from the Eagles or Johnny Cash. Then people who don’t know anything about Hillsong or hymnals can join in and have relationship with us, too. Relationship with us might lead to relationship with Them, but if it doesn’t nothing changes about the graceful display of the intention.

 

 

The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.

Boldly Pursuing Encounter

A few years ago I was the men’s pastor at Northwood Church and had the incredible experience of working with the men there to create a men’s program we called “Bold.” The response was powerful, not because we put together a great program, but because we facilitated an environment where men could come to realize the presence of God. Until and unless there was that realization, nothing changed. Once there was that realization, however, everything changed.

We would take breaks during the summer or over holidays and men would return to our next gathering following the break with a tangible anticipation for what was about to happen. I started to notice that the environment on those nights where we were returning from being away for a while were particularly charged with what seemed to be the manifest presence of God.

In some church circles, there is a phrase to describe those times where He is particularly noticeable. People will say, “God showed up,” to indicate a powerful time of encounter from which people are moved. The problem is that the same churches correctly teach that God is omnipresent; not dependent on time or space to be there. He was already there before the worship service and will be there afterwards, as well.

The difference, I believe, as we saw with the men returning to Bold was the hearts of those that were pursuing Him. When those men showed up expecting to encounter Him, the community of hearts was positioned to recognize Him. He was always there, but the collective posture of expectation and desire opened the window between the natural and supernatural. The supernatural is constant; it’s the natural that struggles to break through.

Church buildings and worship services don’t tend to the presence of God; that is the Mosaic temple where God lived in a box. God doesn’t live in a box; He lives in hearts. When there is a gathering and critical mass of the hearts present seek Him with an earnest desire to break through the restraint of the natural for a glimpse into the supernatural, God “shows up” to a place where He already was. The feeling that God showed up is the agreement of hearts in their pursuit of God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself to them.

When you go to some form of church gathering or faith-based pursuit, consider the invitation. Seek Him in a way that exceeds your understanding and breaks through to connect spirit to Spirit. If enough people in the room agree in that pursuit, the corporate encounter will, in fact, be a transformative experience of dwelling in the presence of God as hearts agree and see.

Just When You Think You Have It Figured Out, It’s Time to Take Another Look

Traditions are a cheap substitute for the possibilities of Truth. When we add our preferences one on top of the other and then pass them along to others, we do so at the expense of divine connection. Thankfully, when we think we have it figured out, the puzzle will get scrambled.

We are in what’s called a “post denominational” expression of the Christian church. It means that people who go to church do so because they are interested in Jesus, not the practices of a particular institution. They seek the Kingdom of God, not the organization of man who is at least one step removed from that Kingdom. It aligns perfectly with the announcement of Jesus in Luke 4:43 when He said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Foretelling of this time of the Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah wrote  “These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (v. 13-14)

When we think we have God figured out, we will try to master our perceived understanding by the creation of a rule, process, ceremony or program. That’s what religion does. We take what is living and active and attempt to harness it for the purpose of mastery, which simplifies the mysterious. We sacrifice the breath of God for a previous whisper which was turned into a doctrine of man.

The wisdom of the wise is only wise by comparison to the unwise. It’s foolishness to the infinity of God. The intelligence of the intelligent is only deemed so compared to others who make the same attempt at what is ultimately folly. Childlike faith overtakes cerebral mastery.

Look again at what Isaiah wrote. When we worship God based on our own creations of rules or traditions, He will astound us with His wonder. A fraction of understanding is overcome by a glimpse of His wonder. The glory of God is revealed in pursuit of the relationship. For the sake of His glory, put aside the things you think you know today and sit down beside Him. He’ll give you a fresh glimpse at the wonder of the One Who Is. Invite Him to astound you.