This is the Big One

I suspect every one of us has done it, but only because it seems minor compared to the “big” stuff. The harm is so hidden that it’s easy and it just makes you feel better. Yet, it’s tucked in right there among stuff that could get you thrown in prison:

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.” (Romans 1:29)

While nobody is going to endorse murder or excuse depravity, gossip is commonplace. Among the church, it’s not only accepted, it’s embraced and even deployed for what might seem like the purposes and outcomes that God would prefer. He doesn’t.

Gossip is extremely hurtful as it isolates and degrades the person who may find out that they are the one being talked about. It tears apart relationships and creates division. There are real victims when we choose to target someone as worthy of our descriptions.

No doubt that when someone is torn down or division is created, there is harm. The other harm, however, is within us as we choose to entertain the stories. The deeper division is within us as the chasm is stretched every time we foster the desire we have to relieve ourselves by reducing others.

Reducing others makes us feel better in the wake of some discomfort as it helps us to elevate ourselves to a seemingly superior position on the imagined battlefields of our minds. This elevation is pride.

When we choose to tear down others, we don’t even have to mention ourselves to actually be promoting ourselves. Our insight, intellect and understanding that inevitably comes out in the shadows of our stories makes us feel better about us temporarily.

That’s a problem. God says so. He says that He will oppose the proud; literally going toe to toe with them to ensure that their schemes don’t advance. Pride sets us at war with God as our strategies will not be promoted above His ways.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” (Psalm 101:5)

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it, and I repent. My battles will not be decided in my wit or words, but by His grace and sovereignty. I pray for the satisfaction He provides from within that will satisfy the temptation that I may feel to exact justice in my stories.

Recent Attempts at an Ancient Way for Church

The burdens that we accept are made more clear when we finally get free from them. Looking back, the extra stuff which was piled on is exposed for its worthlessness. All that should be left as we walk out faith which is increasingly easy and light should be the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

We do church in a coffee shop and in no way do I think that we have it figured out and others have it wrong. In its simplicity, there have been some revelations of an ancient and easy way that may have been lost by way of best efforts, however. Without programs, promotions or professionals to administer them we are left considering the body and how people interact with each other as well as with the Head of the Church, Jesus.

We recently added to staff, which means we’ve added a part-time pastor. We only have part-time “pastors” and no particular guy who is “in charge.” There are elders who equally seek to agree on direction and facilitation of vision as the church fulfills its unique place and calling in the context of the Church overall in the Kingdom of God.

The implications of this model are numerous, starting with the idea that a “pastor” may or may not be pastoral. The “five-fold” ministry of eldership relies on the diversity of gifts to equip others to do ministry with Jesus left in His place as the Head of the church. That means that pastoral care and counseling might come to others via a dentist or other form of vocational professional who is gifted as a pastor. It also means that those that are compensated for their contributions to the church (again, on a part-time “bi-vocational” basis) are free to operate in their particular gifting and not try to be everything to everybody.

Recently, our new pastor (who actually is pastoral as well as evangelical) said to me, “I like coming here; it’s not like I’m coming to work and I look forward to the gathering.”

That’s it; it was never meant to be career management, but gifts and talents released in agreement with an eternal plan. Professional programming and metrics management isn’t part of the equation. The invitation of fitting uniquely in a group where your gifts are valued and released in unison with others frees up the “professional” to freely give without carrying a weight that isn’t designed for them to carry. It’s easy and light and should be enjoyable and maybe even some fun.

Connection Defeats the Need for Compliments

Someone encouraged me recently and I didn’t need it. I liked it and I appreciated it and I was thankful for the words they spoke into me, but they weren’t filling a void. I could receive the encouragement for what it was and not grab hold of it for what I needed it to be.

A few weeks earlier if the same person had said the same thing to me, it would have been different. I was empty and frustrated and feeling isolated and invisible. I didn’t feel appreciated or recognized for service, sacrifice, ability or accomplishment. “What’s the point?” was my question then and the compliment would have helped to get me back to neutral.

The difference between then and now, was my connection to the Source. I pursued the Lord and knew that I knew (again). The affirmation of God’s Spirit in my spirit satisfied the questions of my soul. The agreement by way of man’s kind words was good and encouraging, but the need of identity was not connected to the affirmation of man. That question was settled in my soul by the One that created me uniquely.

More than anything, our “why” needs to be connected to eternal purpose. Our eternal purpose is born out of eternal identity. How we are made and who we are reveals what we are about in the context of God’s eternal Kingdom. He satisfies the questions of value and worth we all struggle with and when we depend on Him for satisfaction of those questions, we are free.

Freedom releases us from the need for approval of man. Approval of man is no longer a need so encouragement can be received in context. The best part of that is that in the absence of people’s encouragement, we are not nearly as prone to discouragement. Good days and bad days don’t hinge on someone recognizing us, affirming us or endorsing us. Our mood swings are mitigated by our security, which is born out of His affirmation.

Connection is relational so the opportunity is to continue to lean into God’s place as Dad. Remembering and remaining in position as His son defeats the insecurities that threaten to rob my joy with whispers of needs that are actually wants. Security is a prime posture for purpose and purpose is a reflection of identity. The momentum from the dynamic that unfolds from His lap is one of destiny.

Writing in the Dirt

When practicing law, I routinely defended people who had broken the law.  In those days, people – mostly Christian people – often asked how I could morally support my decision to be an advocate for the immoral.  The answer was easy.  Jesus is our advocate, even though we did “it” in some form or fashion.  The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.  The chance to be an advocate for guilty people was the chance to stand beside them, just as Jesus stands beside us.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ method of defense was peculiar.  As her accusers loudly proclaimed the woman’s guilt, Jesus silently stooped down and wrote in the dirt with His finger.  The Pharisees would not relent; they continued to batter Jesus with the question of what they should do to the woman in light of the Law.  After a short time, Jesus stood and invited anyone without sin to begin the prescribed punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock.  Then, He stooped down and continued writing in the dirt.

No one could throw the first stone.  One by one, the crowd dispersed until only Jesus and the woman remained.  Interestingly, verse 9 of John 8 says it was the older men who left first.  The older men left first because they had sinned the most, if for no other reason than they had lived the longest so they had the most practice.

Writing in the dirt was the primary tactic Jesus used in defense of the woman.  As odd as it seems, Jesus’ act of using His finger to write on the earth was a foreshadowing of the exchange He was here to make.  God had written in the earth with His finger previously, and here He was doing it again.

The first time God’s finger wrote on the earth was when He wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, some of the very writings the Pharisees hoped to use to condemn the woman.  God wrote the Law twice, as Moses broke the first set of tablets.  Now, here He is, in the form of Jesus, again writing in the earth, again twice.  What He wrote was “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), just as He had written the Law, and then wrote it again.  Perfect satisfaction; it is finished.

The first time God wrote in the earth, He wrote the Law; the second time, He wrote grace.  Jesus came to satisfy the Law for us, since we can’t just as the old men of John 8:9 couldn’t.  Our perspectives of God and people (starting with ourselves) are evident in what we “write” with our words and attitudes.  We are either writing law or grace, and we can only write what we first receive.  Realizing that we are not unlike the woman Jesus refused to condemn allows us to receive grace just as it allowed me to defend those who did “it,” too.

From “Abundant and Free,” available at Amazon by clicking here.

 

 

Even the Nuance of Freedom is Valuable

I just returned from a week in Israel, which I visited for the fist time. The experience was rich and informative, even if that information was sometimes found in the nuance of the culture. There is a diversity of feelings that accompany the tension of religions, cultures and epochs colliding. It is the epicenter of history and prophecy with contrasting beliefs sprouting up from the same historical realities. There were times that I was moved to tears even while observing practices or traditions that I don’t even agree with.

At the Western wall, I was moved to tears as orthodox jews prayed to the same God I believe in while vehemently rejecting His Son, Jesus, who was a Jew. The story that they embrace is continued in the Testament that I receive yet there is a disconnect after Malachi and before Matthew. Despite the common heritage, there is a chasm in the legacy of 2000 years. Despite our significant differences, I perceived the presence of our common God.

On the other side of that wall is a golden dome on top of a mosque where an entirely different people group reject the beliefs and the people of the original covenant as well as the Newer Testament. The Western Wall is small compared to the enormous separation.

While there is a relatively peaceful coexistence in this country compared to what we perceive by way of the news, there is tension that leads to violence routinely, as well. Jewish waiters with Gentile girlfriends work at Arab restaurants but Israeli armies fight Palestinian forces so routinely that it is expected as “when,” not “if.” One Jewish man I met said, “There is going to be a war here” when referring to Jerusalem and Biblically that is accurate.

We live in an entirely different world, with practically no appreciation for or realization of the centuries old intricacies of that region. Our lens is one of freedom where we don’t think twice about the lack of limitations that are placed on our religious beliefs, practices or preferences. The societal conflicts we have in this country which are rooted in religion pale in comparison to the environment of contention which is managed in the land from which our primary practices of faith were born.

Tonight and tomorrow, we celebrate freedom. The cost of freedom was lives and compromises that not only keep us from oppression but even from the tension of the nuance. Christians and others are free to worship in a way that is not automatic, even though our freedom threatens our appreciation for the scarcity of its existence globally. Celebrate the fact that freedom is not only afforded, but that the realities that are just under the surface don’t threaten our enjoyment and feelings surrounding the freedom itself.

The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.