Friday, January 04, 2013

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Expulsive Power of New Affection

How do you change? 

It's a difficult question. Anyone who's attempted to drive past a Krispy Kreme (which shall be forever praised) while on a diet when the "Hot Light Now" sign broadcasts the sacred advent of its satiny rings of hoary temptation knows in a moment the fundamental powers that resist change. This is, if you will, the issue writ fried. And as an important caveat, it is something approaching a creedal belief of mine that said sign's amber glow is surely a reflection of the lights of heaven.
The question: Can this sort of temptation--at whatever level--be overcome? Not just how do you change, but can you change? 

The obvious answer seems to be that we have to dump out the junk. The dirt. The hurt. The desires. The addiction. The hate. The bitterness. The donuts. We somehow think we are like a cup that's easily turned over and the contents easily dumped out. If we just get a handle on the cup, problem solved, right?

However, try just once to actually do that and all manner of strange forces materialize. Something immediately moves back in. Nature abhors a vacuum, and even if we do succeed in dumping the junk of our hearts out, something immediately takes it's place. Our hearts aren't cups that can be turned over and dumped out, said Jonathan Edwards. What's currently in our hearts is only replaced by something else displacing it. There is a transfer that always takes place. 

Augustine of Hippo said it this way: We are what we love. If you want to really know me, don't find out what I know or where I've been or what I've done, find out what I love. Our problem then is not that we love and desire, it's what we love and desire. 

Augustine's remedy for lasting change is straightforward: change what you love. For example, it's entirely possible to love the feeling that comes from bitterness. In a Hollywood-worthy Anger Fantasy involving that kid from 7th grade, you finally triumph. You say just the right thing. Or punch him in the nose. Sweet victory…and a sweet feeling sweeps over you. How would you change this? Augustine wouldn't say stop loving the anger, he'd say to love something else more until it overwhelms your torrid affair with anger, resentment and rage. 

This is simply good psychology. You won't replace a bad habit by focusing on it and conquering it by willpower. If you do, you'll only make the habit stronger. Rather, you replace it by focusing on and doing a good habit. You displace the bad habit with a new one.  

So when Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God with my entire being (Mark 12, Matthew 22, Luke 10), he is saying something (if we'll accept it) incredibly wise. Love God. Make that the focus of your life. Turn toward it and in the interchange of your love with God's, everything else is displaced. Jesus even takes that a step further. Rather than commanding us to love him, he loves us first. Empties himself out for us, in fact. Sacrificially lays his life down--like the bravest fireman running into the towering inferno of your life. Ergo, the cross.

We love because we've been loved. The love of God displaces our fears and the our love for God displaces our idols. Change starts with love, not effort. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On doing something new but forgetting to actually change

I've been around the church my entire life. 

Several times at different points on my journey I've thought of leaving, for any number of reasons:
>I couldn't stand the hypocrisy (in others or myself).
>I didn't like how things were done.
>I thought we were missing the mark in what "the Church" was supposed to be.
>I didn't think I had what it took to be a Christian.
>I intellectually couldn't get in gear with how the Gospel was presented.
>The Gospel was lost in the trappings of religion.
>Too much focus on the outside, not enough on the inside.
>Soul-crushing legalism and the small minded people it created.
>Church politics
You get the point. Lots of stuff rumbled through my heart.

Ironically, the majority of my generation (aka, "The Busters", "Generation X" etc.) with whom I grew up in Church are no longer part of the Church. From my vaguely rough estimation, it seems the primary reason(s) were because
>the Church majored on minors. Being holy meant giving inordinate attention to hand-picked social mores.
>Church "felt" condemning/guilting (and often was). I routinely hear "I just felt guilty all the time, like I could never measure up."
>The Church didn't/couldn't/didn't know how to answer real heart questions.

Simply put, there was no actual discipleship (in spite of that word being thrown around a lot).  Despite saying we were being taught how to follow Jesus, no clear definable steps or paths were opened that made it possible for Jesus' life to be replicated in my life. Any actual spiritual 'fruit' was pure gift from the Holy Spirit. I know that might seem like over-generalization and possibly an unfair representation of the multiple people who invested in me, but it's a story I've heard repeated many times.

I've now lived long enough (just makes me feel old typing that) to see multiple shifts happen, and I'm starting to see a pattern in church leadership.
Generation #1 does something they feel captures (accurately and relevantly) the heart of the Gospel.
Generation #2 grows up under Generation #1's tutelage, chafes, and either leaves or sets out to "do it right" with much eye rolling, contempt, cynicism and arrogance.
Generation #3 grows up in the shadow of Generation #1 and in the tutelage of Generation #2 and ironically repeats the pattern (clueless of their ignorance).

For the sake of making a point, let me focus on change that happens all the time: we change the language. 

Here's what we Generation #2ers think. "The words used (by Generation #1 types) to describe my experience were/are inaccurate, irrelevant and full of cobwebs. They don't do justice to the grand narratives of my heart or the grand narratives of God's story. It's too (insert choice) churchy/cheesy/insider coded/outsider unfriendly/theologically inaccurate/missiologically misguided/unlike something I came up with/unlike the guy I read that I agree with came up with."

Now, there is a point. Language isn't a coin you can spend in any generation with the same value. It changes with time and so the Gospel has to be re-articulated in the vernacular of each generation. Language certainly matters.

Let's take the phrase, "get saved" as an example. In a culture where you knew the Bible was the moral authority, knew the sinners from the saints, and knew where you stood on the moral continuum, that phrase likely had potency. You were "lost" and needed to "get saved."

But when you are in a culture where moral authority is rooted in personal interpretation, sinners and saints are archaic designations of a bourgeois and oppressive moralism, and you define your own moral continuum, "get saved" sounds like strong arm tactics or language from Mars. It no longer 'works'. So, Generation #2 changes the language.
Necessary. Good. More people follow Jesus (which is the point).

But here's where we miss the point. We change the language thinking that unchurched/dechurched/nonchurched/hatechurch people have the same problem we do with language.
As in, the reason they didn't show up to our service/program/thing is because we were saying it wrong.  

We tell ourselves, "now, in our wisdom, we have corrected your problem unchurched/dechurched/nonchurched/hatechurch person. You may now flood us with your presence." We did something new, but nothing actually changed. We said it differently, but to appease ourselves, not actually connect with them.
An aside: 
Hey fellow Generation #2ers: could we consider that postmodernism has so flooded our collective souls as a society that people once again feel "lost" and hear "getting saved" as good news? And since they don't have our church baggage, it doesn't mean for them what it means for us? Not my main point, but worth stopping and considering. 
Case in point: one church led by a well-known missional practitioner (a fellow Gen-Xer) doing some killer things to connect with people describes themselves thusly:
(Blank Church is) a congregational network of incarnational communities that are apprenticing kingdom people.

Now I know their heart is to reach people disenfranchised by religion, and I actually love what they are attempting to say, but I don't get it. If I have no background in Church, I have no idea what those words mean. They are as much church-ese as anything Generation #1 ever printed on one of those bad stock-bulletins featuring random Country Church framed against mountains you'll spend the entire church service wishing you could visit.

However, they ARE words that immediately connect with a theologically informed, disgruntled, churched person (e.g., me) who thinks Generation #1 got it all wrong. Without meaning to throw stones, I'm simply asking this as a diagnostic question about the current direction of evangelicalism as led by Generation #2ers and now #3ers: they did something new, but did anything actually change? 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The better life Jesus brings

When the gospel gets into you, things come out of you. Good things. Great things even. But there's an order to it. It's grace in, results out. If we confuse this order of things, we end up attempting to "be better" and "live like Jesus" in order to prove the validity of our lives by how we perform. That's deadly. 

In contrast, the Gospel brings us to fully rely on Jesus for lasting hope, humbles us so that we can admit our weaknesses and be open to growth, and changes our perspective and attitude so that we can do things differently. But, and this is crucial, it is God's work in us to do that. What comes out is the fruit of what God is putting in by his grace and kindness.

Here's a list from Romans 12 I jotted down some time ago of things that I'm realizing come out of a grace-filled life:
  • We refuse to be a conformist. (verse 2)
  • We stop thinking we are better than other people. (verse 3)
  • We hate whatever is evil. (v9)
  • We work to outdo each other out of love, not competition. (v10)
  • We let mutual affection grow so that we love deeply. (v10)
  • We are open to people being in our life that we didn't expect or with whom we wouldn't normally hang out. (v13)
  • We respond to the inevitable curses and blows we get in relationships with blessings (because we've decided--with Jesus as our example--in advance that's what we'll do). (v14)
  • We are happy for someone when good things happen to them. (v15)
  • We cry with someone when they are crying. (v16)
  • We live in harmony with other people (note: harmony means we sing a different part, not the same part!) (v16)
  • We aren't proud or arrogant. (v16)
  • When someone does us wrong, we do something noble back. Again, we've decided in advance to live like this. (v17)
  • We do our best to live at peace with people who are hard to live with. (v18)
  • We don't spend our time trying to avenge ourselves when thing go wrong. (v19)
  • We feed our enemies instead of feeding our hatred of them. (v20)
  • We don't let give in to being overwhelmed by pain, perceived slights, real slights, slander or gossip--instead, we overcome that with good. (v21)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex (some more)

Here’s a principle that holds true 98% of the time: What you think your future will be like determines how you act in the present.

Looking at it positively

You think nice guys wins, so you are kind to the people around you.

You think that God will make everything right in the end, so you are able to let go of making people pay for their mistakes.

Looking at it negatively

You think everyone always takes advantage of everyone else (and always will), so you beat them at their own game and take advantage of them first.

People won’t change unless you remind them of their failures, so you never let up on the people in your life about the mistakes they’ve made.

The principle applies to marriage and relationships too. If your marriage is primarily about you and your happiness, your odds of abandoning it when you are no longer happy go way up (and that day will come). Consider that the rise of no-fault divorce in our country is a natural outgrowth of the idea that marriage is for personal happiness. But if you think your marriage is about something larger than you, you stay in it and work on it precisely because its not about you.

Here’s a quick recap of last week’s message on marriage and sex: The Kisses of Your Mouth. You can listen here.

We talked about how marriage is for the purpose of sanctification

God is more interested in you being holy than happy (and surprisingly, happiness comes as a byproduct). Marriage is an incredible tool for sanctification. Sanctification, by the way, is a word that literally means "to make holy."

We did a bit of Marriage counseling

Song of Solomon chapter 2 talks in metaphorical language about the little foxes will destroy the vineyard of your marriage:

  • Like not agreeing on what you are building together
  • Like not agreeing on how you’ll organize your home (your way isn’t the RIGHT way. You need the way you’ll do it together)
  • Like not sharing your schedules or having an agreed on budget
  • Like having destructive attitudes (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling)
  • Like not working through past pain so that it really is in your past

We talked about some practical advice (from Song of Solomon chapter 1) for making love come alive in your marriage

  • Like brushing your teeth & showering (the fundamentals never go out of style)
  • Like making your spouse your standard of beauty (ignore the magazines in the check-out line. Industry secret: every model is air-brushed to look flawless)
  • Like being a good steward of your body and making an effort to be attractive to your spouse (hint:let them dress you--and give-away the things they hate)
  • Kiss each other. It's fun and burns 2 calories (and can lead to more if you do it right). Three cheers for calorie burning exercise!
  • Husbands: tell her she’s beautiful. She’s verbal.
  • Wives: let him see the beauty he appreciates--all of it. He’s visual.

This weekend

We’ll be going into the heart of the brokenness of our culture with regard to sexuality: pornography and addiction. We aren’t going to shame, badger or beat anyone up. Grace is the way we do everything.

We're talking about it because porn addiction is epidemic in our culture. And contrary to the way it's talked about in public, it’s not the casual, funny, normal thing it's made to seem. Experts agree: it's destructive. One stat: a recent survey of lawyers found that 58% of divorces were due to one spouse spending excessive amounts of time with porn. We want anyone stuck in it to be free. So we’ll be offering hope and a way out. Grace always helps.

A caution: we’ll be talking honestly about it, so please think through having young children present. We won’t be vulgar, but we won’t mince words either. We’ve given the message a strong rating of MA-14. Consider this, the largest user of online porn is boys ages 12-17, so having boys there that age is actually very fitting.

If you think porn isn't that big of deal and we shouldn't be making an issue of it, read this article. Be forewarned, it’s on a Christian website, but it pulls no punches.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex

There is a reason sex sells.

· It’s exciting because it raises our temperature (literally) and feels good to just think about (“feel-good” chemicals are released into our bloodstream when we think about it).

· It’s intriguing, to say the least, to think about another person’s body.

· It’s enjoyable (again, the whole feel good theme—this time physically)

· It’s bonding. It touches our deepest human need to be needed and wanted. To think that someone actually wants us is the stuff of wonderment.

Put those four things together in any way and people will always respond. Always.

In the Bible, sexual expression in marriage is a gift meant to contain the excitement, intrigue, pleasure and bonding sex is meant to bring. Marriage is meant (though sometimes falls short) to stoke the fires, not put them out. Sex in marriage is meant to be a roaring fire that lights up and heats the whole room.

In the redemptive framework of the Bible, outside that covenant, the fire always ends up burning rather than giving warmth and light. And it only takes a little observation to see that our culture is littered with burned people.

Burned by men.

Burned by women.

Burned by abuse (sometimes from a spouse).

Burned by cheating.

Burned by jealousy.

Burned by affairs.

Burned by rejection.

Burned by pornography and addiction.

Burned by differing levels of desire.

Burned by baggage of past relationships.

Burned by mistrust.

The scars are everywhere.

For that reason, we are talking about God, Love and Sex as we look at the Song of Solomon in the month of May. We want to show how good sex is and how to think about it and act on it like a follower of Jesus does.

I’ll be recapping what we talk about each week and giving you a heads up about the week to come, so feel free to check back here each week (we’ll also post the link through Facebook and Twitter and you can listen to the podcast as well.

Recap (you can listen here)

We’re doing this series because the Bible teaches about sex and our culture is confused about sex. So we want to bring the truth the Bible teaches to the confusion the culture feels.

We covered 3 points.

#1 Sex is a god in our culture. Whatever gets the majority of your money and becomes the way you get your identity is your real God, even if you say you follow Jesus.

#2 In over-reaction, often Christians treat sex like it’s gross. Our mode of operation has been to not talk about it, avoid it, and then hope that people figure it out when they get married. Honestly, that’s a little like hoping your flat tire will fix itself if you’ll just keep driving on it long enough.

#3 The Bible’s picture of sex is that it is a gift. It’s context is marriage, and in marriage it is pure gift to be received and enjoyed (as often as possible). As with any great gift, you take care of it and use it according to its own parameters (you wouldn’t drop-kick a great gift someone gave you).

Plus, we gave a challenge.

>>If you are single and having sex, stop for the entire month of May to listen to what the Bible teaches about sexual expression.

>>If you are married, agree on an average you have sex weekly and for one week, double it. So if you aren’t currently having sex, you’d have sex 1x, etc.

Coming up this week

We’ve rated the messages loosely using the TV rating system (a system that frankly needs to be reassessed).

The video we showed this past week probably put this last week at the TV-MA rating and-- so you can compare if you have kids and are gauging what you feel is appropriate for them--is as “mature” as we’ll be getting during the series. In other words, there won’t be anything more pointed than that video. I know that was a challenge for some of you, so FYI. We probably missed the rating this last week with the video.

Sunday, we’ll looking at what makes for a great marriage—looking at what Song of Solomon calls “little foxes that destroy the vineyard of marriage.” As a bonus, every person gets a little something special on the way in.

Single? This is great to help you think through how you can support your married friends and to help you plan for your own marriage.

Plus, a video from our very own Joe Strayhorn to kick-off the message.

For those of you struggling with this series

Here’s what I know from personal experience: For a long time, this wasn’t something you talked about in polite company, much less something you talked about in church! Some of that is completely founded. We want to keep children innocent, don’t want to cause people undue embarrassment, etc. Let’s not be party to exposing kids to things they don’t need to know about yet. As the Dad of 3 small kids, I’m right there.

And if you grew up in the church, you grew up, in some senses, under a protective covering (and that’s not a bad thing). As a result, the darkness about sexuality is confusing and hurtful, maybe embarrassing to even think about. I get that.

So here’s what I’m asking you to think about. Sexuality is quite literally killing people in our culture—destroying relationships and hearts. The stats simply don’t lie. They are staggering and overwhelming. The way people talk about it, think about it, and practice it is, in a word, confused. We want to talk to people who didn’t grow up under that protective covering, which means that in order for them to hear the comfort of the gospel, those of us who grew up hearing the gospel will have to be uncomfortable. That’s why we are doing this series—to offer God’s hope to people. Thanks for thinking about that.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Some Church on American Idol

Brilliant performance on American Idol of Smokie Norful's "I Need You Now." I think Stefano does it better...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Thoughts (CS Lewis commentary edition)

  • I'm really enjoying the challenge of teaching through a book. Currently in Acts. It's easier for me to teach a topic, but I'm really enjoying this challenge.
  • Acts. You can't understand it without the Holy Spirit. It just doesn't make any sense without the real-time, active presence of a living, loving, full of mystery and beauty and glory God. It's a breathless book, and if it happened (which I believe it did), it changes human history and what's possible for you and me.
  • I can honestly say I have more respect and love for Scripture than at any point in my life. Questions of canonicity are behind me (as an intellectual barrier--I've come to terms with the questions) and I'm hearing Scripture as God's Word to me and to his people in a new and fresh way. The point of the Bible is to point us to Jesus, not to make us worship it. I am seeing Jesus in deeper ways every day.
  • Many of us get a daily email from these folks. Following their Daily Text has revolutionized my reading of the Bible. John Wesley was profoundly influenced by them, so I'm good with the character reference.
CS Lewis “There is no formula in these matters. I have no recipe, no tablets. Writers are trained in so many individual ways that it is not for us to prescribe. Scripture itself is not systematic; the New Testament shows the greatest variety. God has shown us that he can use any instrument. Balaam’s ass, you remember, preached a very effective sermon in the midst of his ‘hee-haws.’
  • Lots of new people. Love that! That God would trust us with the people he loves so much, wow, humbled.
  • Band and vocalists have been killing it lately. So proud of the efforts they are putting in.
  • We're working on how to be more intentional in talking about what it means to follow Jesus. Salvation ("being saved") is the doorway to living with Jesus as Lord. That is, when you follow Jesus, he messes up your life (no, really, that's what happens), reorders it, makes it part of his new creation.
  • We're working on creating a path for people to clearly follow so they can take the next step. Jesus said we need to open eyes to see the harvest field that is ripe, so we want to tune our hearts to see what God sees, tread boldly right into the harvest field, and be ready when those people are ready to respond to Jesus' call on their hearts to follow him.
CS Lewis again: It is not enough to want to get rid of one’s sins,” he said. “We also need to believe in the One who saves us from our sins. Not only do we need to recognize that we are sinners; we need to believe in a Savior who takes away sin. Matthew Arnold once wrote, ‘Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.’ Because we know we are sinners, it does not follow that we are saved.”
“You can’t lay down any pattern for God. There are many different ways of bringing people into his Kingdom, even some ways that I specially dislike! I have therefore learned to be cautious in my judgment
  • The article containing the CS Lewis quotes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Repent

Repentance is a life skill.
In the original language of the New Testament, the word literally means, "with new mind."

If you can't change your mind, you die as a human being and become someone hard, rigid and stuck. Who wants to be around someone (for long) who can't change their mind?

Martin Luther, the protagonist of the Reformation wrote in the opening paragraphs of his 95 theses famously nailed to the door at Wittenberg, "Our Lord and Master...willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

And here's how George Whitfield, one of the leaders of the 18th century Spiritual Awakening in both England and America practice repentance (he usually did this each night). He once wrote, “God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst!”

Deep Humilty (vs. Pride)

Have I looked down on anyone? Have I been too stung by criticism? Have I felt snubbed and ignored?

Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until I sense (a) decreasing disdain, since I am a sinner too, and (b) decreasing pain over criticism, since I should not value human approval over God’s love. In light of his grace, I can let go of the need to keep up a good image—it is too great a burden and is now unnecessary. I reflect on free grace until I experience grateful, restful joy.

Wise courage (vs. anxiety)

Have I avoided people or tasks that I know I should face? Have I been anxious and worried? Have I failed to be circumspect, or have I been rash and impulsive?

Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until there is (a) no cowardly avoidance of hard things, since Jesus faced evil for me, and (b) no anxious or rash behavior, since Jesus’ death proves that God cares and will watch over me. It takes pride to be anxious, and I recognize I am not wise enough to know how my life should go. I reflect on free grace until I experience calm thoughtfulness and strategic boldness.

Burning love (vs indifference)

Have I spoken or thought unkindly of anyone? Am I justifying myself by caricaturing someone else in my mind? Have I been impatient and irritable? Have I been self-absorbed, indifferent, and inattentive to people?

Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until there is (a) no coldness or unkindness, as I think of the sacrificial love of Christ for me, (b) no impatience, as I think of his patience with me, and (c) no indifference, as I think of how God is infinitely attentive to me. I reflect on free grace until I show warmth and affection.

Godly motivations (a single eye)

Am I doing what I do for God’s glory and the good of others, or am I being driven by fears, need for approval, love of comfort and ease, need for control, hunger for acclaim and power, or the fear of other people (Luke 12:4–5)? Am I looking at anyone with envy? Am I giving in to even the first motions of lust

or gluttony? Am I spending my time on urgent things rather than important things because of these inordinate desires?

Repent like this: Consider how the free grace of Jesus provides me with what I am looking for in these other things. Pray, “Oh Lord Jesus, make me happy enough in you to avoid sin, and wise enough in you to avoid danger, that I may always do what is right in your sight. In your name I pray, Amen.”


Monday, November 29, 2010

The New Frontier

People don't think there are frontiers anymore. There are. Being a church that serves our community is ours. We could happen in North County because of us? We'll need Pioneers to lead the way and Settlers to develop the territory. Which one will you be?