Come as you are

Comeasyouare

Reading through the scriptures today and preparing for the Christmas Eve service has me spinning on an idea that is a familiar stream woven throughout scripture, the idea of coming as you are.  The gravity of the Jesus’ ministry, the incarnation of God coming to people is nothing short of breath taking.  It’s one of those themes that we can quickly gloss over, as we run to the more exhilarating passages of scripture.  It’s one of those themes that should shape our ministries and our communities as we live life.

The commands of Scripture, as we should read it, are almost always plural.  Set to be done by God’s people.  Jesus’ ministry in a sense should always be considered in a communal state.  Jesus, the lamb of God, came down to the earth so that he would reconcile His people to Himself.  The miracles that he performed brought great glory to His Father, opening the eyes and the ears of some of the people around Him.  The interesting part of this is that the people did not do anything to warrant forgiveness nor did they do anything to clean themselves up.  Jesus called them “as they were.”  If we take this theme and apply it to our communities, I think that what we will find is that we require people to act a certain way for us to welcome them in.  We might mask our expectations with calls to the alter or charitable giving, but ultimately within the Church we expect that people will act a certain way.  This way is vastly different among churches, some churches require that you keep your hands down while worshiping and yet others look down on outward worship.  Regardless of the expectation, we as a church frown on and ultimately miss opportunities to engage one another because of our presupposed expectations.   The most evil and dangerous part of these expectations is that they evolve within a community.  As communities grow and become bonded, they develop their own expectations.  When the expectations of the community are not met within the community, there is hostility and often shunning, until the expectations are met.   This is not a hard and fast rule, just a simple observation.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently and I made a statement similar to the one that I just wrote, and it made him angry.  Angry at me and he was rightfully so.  I joined in on the communal expectation, ultimately ostracizing my own because they failed to meet the standard that I had set for them.  Of course, realizing my error, I apologized and repented for failing to see the error in my ways.  The conversation didn’t end there.  We talked and I pondered about what the implementations of my blindness has for the communities that I’m involved in.  How had my worship slipped back into self righteousness?   The question is answered in the beginning of this writing, it’s an indicative/imperative assessment.

I failed, and we fail because we do not allow people to come to us as they are.  We suppose that they will act a certain way, react a certain way or at least pretend to act a certain way.  This creates communities that are not built on trust, but rather behavior.  It’s simply going back to behavior modification on a communal level.  It’s an issue that stems from original sin, we want to be God, and in doing so we throw burdens on people that aren’t theirs to carry.  We want the clean, and yet we are called into the dirty.

My prayer is that our hearts will be broken for the broken.  As broken people we will realize our faults and repent of our sinful ways.  That we will yearn to be in the front lines of ministry, open about our brokenness and always on guard for the sin that is crouching at the door.  That we will be people that look more like Jesus and less like the religious leaders.  That God will move people into our paths, to challenge the norm and to force us to see the log that is in our own eye.  Let us not be a people that misses the point, that gathers around expectation and in doing so, fails to point people to the one that never failed.  His name is Jesus.

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Reconciliation From the Heart

Radical

There comes a time and a place where one must sit down and consider the past.  For many, this comes during the end of a season or the end of a year.  As I sit and think about the past year, I am baffled by all that has happened in my life.  I think that sometimes we live our lives moment to moment, constantly driving towards the next accomplishment and goal.  This rhythm produces a profound effect on our lives and the lives of the people around us.  We become producers of content, from our 140 character tweets to our daily conversations and we become content in our lives of producing.

The good Lord has provided many opportunities to develop relationships, and in doing so, many opportunities to fail at developing relationships.  It’s in that space, when we can quietly reflect on things that we could have done better, times where our worship went astray that we can learn from our mistakes.  Time that we can repent, confess and return to worshiping the Creator.  It amazes me that throughout my life, God continues to bring leaders that are patient enough to walk through the maturation process and loving enough to love, even when my heart is not in the right place.  It amazes me that God was gracious enough to provide a wife for me that loves me regardless of how she feels about me in that moment.  It amazes me that I have the family that I have, knowing that I don’t deserve that gift.  There comes a time when you have to reflect on the gifts given.

The idea of radical reconciliation is so foreign to the world that we live in.  The world that produces content at 140 character tweets and insta-everything.  We take in and we push out more information than ever in the history of the world and in that process we lose part of the commitment that our words have had in the past.  It seems to me that friendships and family are disposable terms in our current culture.  That the words, “I love you” are little short of, “we are friends now, because you are doing what I want.”  This systemic interaction produces the same level of commitment that our 140 words do.  Approximately 7 minutes of life in the twittersphere.  So the question begs, how do we radically reconcile our relationships and bring them to a point where they mean more than the tweet?  It’s a complex problem, as all human interactions are.  There are endless possibilities, more numerous than the sand of the sea.  I don’t think that the solution is as complex.  I think that the solution is rather simple, actually.  The solution is found in our understanding of ourselves and the willingness to accept our condition.

In short, God has given us everything that we have.  Our relationships, our material goods and the life that live.  We manage to only bring destruction to the table.  Our sin nature to put it simply.  If this is true, the order of reconciliation should look something like, I have committed so much destruction and sin in my life that there is no room for me to judge you on any level.  Therefore, because of my condition, I have no right to do anything except forgive and reconcile.  In doing so, I will go out of my way to ensure that our relationship edifies the people around us.

The problem with radical reconciliation is that forces us to move from the field of competition, to the field of reconciliation.  It forces us to put down our pride, our self righteous indignant flesh.  We don’t live in a reconciled world, because we still want to live in the world of “me.”  Unfortunately, the world of me creates destruction.  The world of me wrecks lives and causes discontentment within our communities.  The world of me rips through the relationships in our lives, producing communities that can’t trust and don’t want to live together.  The world of me, disrupts and ruins the world that I live in.

There comes a time and a place that we have to reflect on the past, and my prayer is that as we look at the past, as we gaze into the future.  A future where all things will be made new.  A future that the brokenness of this world will be no more.  In doing so, we gaze at the One who can change our hearts radically, so we might be able to reconcile our relationships.

Morning Thoughts

The Way of Love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV)

There is something about living the Christian life that should be appealing to anyone and everyone that encounters the Gospel.  Something that is so genuine, so open and so free that it is just pouring out of every member of the body.  The something is love.  As I sat last night and pondered over the words in this passage, begging for wisdom and guidance I recognized something within the words.  Paul is talking to the church in Corinth, a church that was so eager to use their spiritual gifts that they started to misuse them.  Paul’s words, His guidance was not to throw the gifts out, but to pursue them.  His exhortation down that line starts in 14, but the premise starts here.  The Way of Love.
As I read the words, I have to recognize two things.  First, Paul is again reiterating that regardless of the gifts and the talents that we have, without love they are nothing.  This is nothing new, as Christians we should know and operate out of love.  There is something much deeper going on in the words though, something that pulls at the strings of our character.  If we read the well quoted passage about the qualities of love, and we put into context of our character we find that the passage digs into our souls.  The deepest parts of who we are, and why we do what we do.
Our character should be patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it’s not arrogant or rude.
In a series of passages that talks about our spiritual gifts, we find that the apostle Paul is writing for an inward reflection, of an outward response.  If our character is love, that is who we are on the deepest level, it’s qualities will be reflected outwardly towards everyone.
So, my prayer for this morning reads something like this:
Father,
I know that my heart needs to be focused and refocused on the finished work of the Cross.  Your Son took my place, took my punishment and my guilt on that day.  He defeated sin and death, an accomplishment that only He could do.  I know that my heart doesn’t always reflect the nature of love, the perfect nature of Jesus.  I beg Father, that you continue work in my heart, that you continue to press me deeper into the Gospel and that you teach me how to love Your bride.  Let my character reflect Your nature, let my actions and my gifts flow from a heart that is deeply in love with You.  Wrap me in your arms, hold me, so that I might know the love that can only come from you.  Amen.

The Gospel to the Streets

Walking through some teaching last night with a few of people made me realize that there is a disconnect, a misguided nature to the way that we teach Biblical truths to the people that God has placed in our paths. This disconnect isn’t inherently wrong, nor does it present itself as a heart issue per se, but it opens up conversation and teaching at a much deeper level. The issue is not with the curriculum that we are teaching but how we apply the teaching and the response to the truths that we are hearing.

Let’s flesh this out a bit. Last night we are working through the advanced year for Porterbrook. If you aren’t engaged in Porterbrook, find a learning site and go. We are talking about the Cross and the theological beauty of the scandal. The depth of the teaching is unreal. The implications are mind boggling and irrational, counter intuitive to the progressive society that we live in. As a group we can clearly define what grace is, and the happenings of the cross and this is where we find the disconnect. With all the teachings that we went over, we as a group struggled to be able to reteach or reframe all the teaching in language that mattered in our culture. We essentially have been taking great theological teaching and letting it die on our own domes (that’s brains in an urban culture).

Questions like; “How can you translate this for the people in your culture?” and “Can you explain this to me if I’m struggling with the nature of the cross?” turned out to be very pressing. Our group, had a difficult time breaking down the knowledge of the Gospel and turning it inside out. If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission we are going to have to turn the teaching inside out.

I love the phrase “turning the teaching inside out,” because it conveys the nature of the Gospel in a way that people can understand. As we peer into the Word, the Gospel infects our hearts, it changes us. We learn the deep truths, as we engage not only the Word but teachings from the word. It goes inside us. To develop disciples that internal engagement has to reflect and turn outward. It’s the nature of the Gospel. So our teaching has engage that reflection, it has to engage the mind and the heart. Our focus cannot be simply on learning, but on the teaching aspect as well. It’s in the nature of a disciple to teach, and reproduce.

Here are a few things to ponder before your teaching, regardless of the medium.

  1. As a teacher, are you using theoretical language? Is your language conducive for reteaching? Are you pressing out how to teach the information? Are you using real world examples or are you relying on Christian language to reinforce your points?
  2. Do your people really understand the material or are they just there? How can you format the teaching time to best engage your people? Is it time to step back and make sure that everyone is on the same page?
  3. How is the Gospel speaking into the hearts of your people? You can turn the knowledge inside out, if it’s not really getting to the inside. Where are your people at in their daily devotions?
  4. What’s going on in the lives of the people you’re shepherding? How can you leverage daily living as teaching moments? How is the Gospel speaking into their current situations?
  5. Are you teaching our of your personal experience with the Gospel and whatever curriculum that you are working out of? Do you have stories and life events where the teaching as greatly effected you?

These are just a few of the questions that we should be asking ourselves as we are preparing to teach. The glory of the Gospel is that we can’t add anything to it, to make it work. We can however teach it in ways that press our people deeper in to mission, deeper into community and just plain deeper in.

How are you getting the Gospel to your streets?

Wild and Wrecked

I have to admit that last week was rough and this week seemly is rougher, but something is different. Something is different, because I’m different. Last week I was bent on taking on the world. I was going to do something about everything. It was me against the world, and I was going to walk out all the world problems in a fit of rage.

This week someone said something to me, a comment that changed my prospective across the board. It’s not like it’s the first time that this particular person has said something like this to me, in fact I’m pretty sure that it’s the rock that smacked my soul around during sermon prep.

God is God and He loves His people, regardless of what side they are on currently. 

In the midst of war zones in Iraq, St. Louis and Israel, (just to name the headlines)  God loves His people and my job is simply to pray and witness the Good News of the Gospel.  The change that is so invigorating in my life, so undeniably real, that I cannot help but tell someone about it.   And that leaves me humbled in complete submission to the Creator.  

Who am I and where did I go?  That seems to be the question lingering in the air, the question that ultimately falls back into what is my identity in.  Does Christ define me or have I attempted to hijack my identity again?  It all boils down to who I rest under, is it Adam or is it Christ.  If it is Christ, I walk out my prayer in humble submission to the one that paid it all.  I begin to see people differently, and my thoughts and actions are transformed through my interactions with the living God.  If I rest in Adam, my thoughts and my actions reflect the broken nature of my flesh.

Let us not forget our identities as we walk out our faith, minute by minute, day by day.