March 2009


gardenIt’s curious that God chooses to use ordinary us in the greatest mission, where the stakes are life or death: the expansion of God’s Kingdom, of Truth.  It’s not so curious that we take the credit for ourselves.

God has placed within the hearts of many at The Gathering a dream of building a community garden as a way to practically love others more and as a conrete project for us to intentionally sacrifice our time and energy.  Such a project has many hurdles to cross, not the least of which is to convey to our “mother church” our dream and to get permission to use some of their land.  A lot of their land.

How would they react?  What compromises might need to be struck?  Or is even thinking of the possibility of compromises at all too optimistic?

But God was way ahead of us.  He was already shaping the most important element in all of these conversations: the hearts involved.

After a meeting yesterday, God officially blew wide open the door for the garden.  God has given our mother church extremely generous and kindred hearts toward this dream, granting us not only the space, but even the location we had been most excited about.  Even the permission to convert an Eagle Scout built sand volleyball court into part of the garden.  A couple small hurdles remain, but if God is in this, they are nothing at all.

And guess what?  While driving away from that meeting, I began to do the unthinkable, the preposterous.

Even though this process had begun long before, even though this is only the most recent of many conversations others have had with our mother church, even though they have had a history of being generous toward us and of working with us, even though God is thoroughly involved and this is one work of His greater Kingdom, I began to take the credit for myself.

“I’m pretty good at this.  That was great leadership…wow, I’m talented and  important.  Good thing they’ve got me.”

It is really embarassing even to put words to those initial feelings.

It was just Sunday that we studied a similar (although different in degree) story of the disciples coming back to Jesus after having been on a mission to rally the troops in foreign cities and to heal sicknesses (Lk. 10:17-24).

Jesus, listening to their (and my!!)  lively recounting says, “Yes, the Enemy is losing.  You have tremendous power and authority.” 

“I gave it to You.”

But He’s not done.  “Just be glad that you are a Kingdom citizen…and that you have a much better idea of what that means than all who walked the earth before Me.  And you have the extraordinary priviledge of experiencing the Kingdom’s advance first-hand.” 

“And it is all because of Me.”

Just think…we have a better understanding of the Kingdom of God than Elijah ever did.  Jesus has taught us how, when compared to our own inclinations, “upside-down” it is. 

We get to see and hear what David longed for, but never really understood or experienced.  The Messiah has come, has initiated the in-breaking of the Kingdom, and is continuing that work today.

And it has nothing to do with how wonderful we are or what we’ve done.  It’s all because Jesus lived on earth and chose us to be His own.

Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.

My swelling pride stung.  Just one day after I (even I!) taught that passage, my intial reaction became an example of what is false.  The truth is that the crucial player wasn’t me.  It was never me. 

Yet somehow for some wonderful glorious reason (Jesus attributes it to “God’s good pleasure”), I get the priviledge of being a part of the expansion of God’s Kingdom.  Of experiencing and participating in it. 

Of working on the development of a garden. 

Ordinary me, chosen and used by God, for extraordinary work.

Where have you seen or heard of the Kingdom’s expansion??  Just reply to this posting…how else is God moving?

power-and-weaknessI gravitated toward the first promise,  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).  Yeah, I’ve got some weights I’d love to exchange for rest.  Some great responsibilities I don’t want to mess up and at the same time am unsure if I can best fulfill them. 

Then it is my turn to read another promise of God outloud, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  I may have gravitated toward the first promise, but here my heart most greatly resonates. 

Hmm.  Weakness seems to be a precondition of power.  Human weakness and divine power.

If anything, I feel weak to best fulfill a couple of very important responsibilities.  To best fulfill them requires me to take some actions that make me a bit squeemish, or at least, a bit uncomfortable.  I feel weak, or perhaps, “insufficient” or “inadequate.”  

One of my God-given responsibilities requires me to more forcefully pursue a meeting with an influential person not just to clear up some communication, and also in hopes of igniting in this person the same certain fire within me.

Does this make sense?  I am being required to move away from my normal small circle of comfortable strengths to an area of risk, even if it does seem minimal.

And then I think of the divine statement that in my weakness somehow divine power is perfected.  If I’m weak, I can’t give any credit of success to my abilities.  In a sense, for this to work (which I believe in this case is according to His will), God is required to show up.  To be strong for me.  And, really, I want nothing more than to watch Him at work.

So I’m being asked to live in such a way that is impossible for me to live.  At least on my own power.  Which really isn’t power at all.

I’m being asked to grow.  To watch God work.  To take God-honoring risks.  To put my money where my mouth is…or to actually live what I say I believe.  And besides, isn’t this exactly how we are to be living anyway?

So here goes…

glassesLast week NPR ran a story about journalists who cover war.  These people position themselves in the midst of the fighting, documenting the struggles of life and death through words and pictures.  And then they come back to the States. 

It is here that they struggle.  It is here that they find most conversations almost impossible to bear.  They are surrounded by talk concerned with the struggle to decide whether to eat a hamburger or spaghetti for supper.  Or the frustration of rush-hour traffic.  Or the life-ending decision to dr0p a cable subscription.

It is all about perspective.  For the journalists, real battles are life or death struggles. 

For Christians, our battles are life or death struggles as well…a truth I often forget and instead live according to my own conveniences.

In the first section of Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 messengers on a life or death mission.  The stakes don’t get any higher.  To be a part of the Kingdom’s community meant to live.  Really live, eternally and also now on this earth.  To reject the community, message, and Message-Giver was to choose death.  Plain and simple.

Life or death.

Believers are assured of their eternal life.  Yet everyday we face life or death decisions too.  Life in the sense of deeper, genuine, God giving life.  Death in the sense of mere existence.

Every time I choose to sacrifice more of myself, to take a step further down the road of discipleship and nearer to God, to pursue all of those things we’ve talked about over and over again on this blog and in this community, I move a bit deeper into real life.  It is certainly hard.  But that’s our battle…and we have an incredible enabling ally in the Holy Spirit.

Every time I choose myself or substitute anything in place of God, I move further into mere existence.  Of triviality.  Hamburger or spaghetti.

Here’s our perspective: our community (the world-wide Church) and our work (to further love God and others) matter.  They matter supremely.  They are issues of life or death.

Life or death.

We are about supremely important matters.  Things that are worthy.  Valuable.  Lasting.  More than anything else.

Often I need to remind myself of this perspective.  Of the truth.  Of the gravity of the choices I make daily.

Let this help to motivate you as you make further decisions to intentional dive deeper into fully pursuing God.  As the battles rage, as the hurt of self-sacrifice increases, as your ego struggles for control.

Remember why we are doing this.  Even when it is hard.  Especially when it is hard.

It is life or death.

Thoughts????

fetterIf we imagine living a life of complete, unhindered pursuit of God, many different images come to mind. We think of taking greater risks, positing less weight on other’s opinions, participating in daily uninterrupted communion with God and His Word, and giving more freely of ourselves.

Yet we don’t live that way. Why not? What are those things that keep us from following hard after God, with abandon?

We saw how Jesus targeted a few such fetters (Luke 9:57-62)…self-inflicted restraints that tie us down to something less than full discipleship. Something less than full LIFE. Something less than, in Jesus’ words, suitable for the Kingdom of God.

We pursue this foreign, twisted, partial discipleship as soon as we say, almost always unconsciously, “I’ll follow you Jesus, but…”
“I’ll follow You, but I won’t move.”
“I’ll follow You, but don’t infringe on my time. Or possessions. Or…”

What are our “buts?”

Jesus confronted directly the fetters of comfort, concern of social status, the past, our own timings, and cultural expectations. We also saw how good things, without proper spiritual discernment and discretion, have the ability to actually draw us away from God…things even like family responsibilities/obligations and other good works and ministries.

The Bible calls these fetters, these “buts,” idols. Ouch.

This is hard stuff, especially practically. To consciously rid ourselves of those things that hold us back hurts. Sacrifices hurt. Yet this is part of our call. And true deep life is not found elsewhere. Do we REALLY want to live? Do we REALLY desire God?

Jesus tells us it’s all or nothing. Now, not later. Leave it and follow.

Thankfully, God has given us the power for these sacrifices through the Holy Spirit. And we have each other.

What are you learning as you take steps to more fully pursue God? How are you succeeding and where are you struggling?

talking-with-godHonesty is key.  At least that’s what I’ve found with my relationship with God.

Something happens when I tell God what He already knows: the broken pieces of me, the short-comings, the struggles, the disconnects between what I deeply desire and how I actually live.

My relations with Him swtich from a fake intimacy to real intimacy.  I don’t experience condemnation, but a love that touches the deepest parts of me and encourages me to continue to pursue Him, even with my faults.  No longer do I ignore the so-called elephant in the room, but acknowledge it openly with God and then go from there.

Perhaps the transformation could be called freedom.  Freedom from fakery, facades, avoidance, guilt, and that nagging feeling that I’m not truly being real.

But God is real and He wants our real selves.  Honestly.

Have you experienced this?  What have you learned about God when you withhold or share your hurts and faults with Him?