Friday, July 27, 2007

God is faithful!

I friend of mine told me that if we meet resistance, or we have internal doubt about our downward spiral, that it should energize us. If you live in complacency, Satan lets you be. If you are pursing God with passion and reckless abandon, Satan gets angry, and ultimately becomes threatened. Satan will constantly feed us doubt.

However, Proverbs 15:22 says:

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.

I guess the trick is determining which "advisers" are truly seeking the face of God, and which are giving counsel rooted in their own shortcomings, jealousy, and pride.

Last week was a week of doubt. Was this following the will of God? What is His will? What does it even mean? If we are broken and contrite in front of our Lord, is our will His will? Maybe this is crazy. Maybe God doesn't want us to step out right now.

And then we had worship. It is amazing what God can do when you stop looking horizontally and look vertically. As the old hymn goes:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

As I mentioned in the last post, I have tended to lean towards the teaching that goes on from the pulpit rather than opening my eyes to what God has for me when I sing to Him and worship Him while basking in His power and grace. This is what happened last Sunday morning. As I walked into the church not knowing what God was doing, or even more accurately, IF God was doing anything in my life, the words to the worship song spoke directly to me in a life-changing way:

NOT TO US by Chris Tomlin

the cross before me the world behind
no turning back
raise the banner high
it's not for me
it's all for YOU

let the heavens shake and split the sky
let the people clap their hands and cry
it's not for us
it's all for YOU

not to us
but to YOUR name be the glory
not to us
but to YOUR name be the glory

our hearts unfold before YOUR throne
the only place for those who know
it's not for us
it's all for YOU

send YOUR holy fire on this offering
let our worship burn for the world to see
it's not for us
it's all for YOU
for YOU

the earth is shaking
the mountains shouting
it's all for YOU
the waves are crashing
the sun is raging
it's all for YOU

the universe is spinning and singing
it's all for YOU
YOUR children dancing
it's all for YOU
it's all for YOU
my all for YOU
my all for YOU

When we stop focusing on our circumstances and our surroundings and begin to look to the Lord Almighty, everything else just fades away. There was no doubt in my mind that God was telling me: "Right on, keep pressing towards me, you are my child and I love you." This erased ALL doubt, how could it not!

Later that day I was listening to another worship song called "My Will" by DC Talk:

My Will by DC Talk

I'm setting the stage for the things I love
And I'm now the man I once couldn't be
Nothing on earth could now ever move me
I now have the will and the strength a man needs

Its my will, and Im not moving
Cause if its your will, then nothing can shake me
Its my will, to bow and praise you
I now have the will to praise my god

Complexity haunts me for I am two men
Entrenched in a battle that Ill never win
My discipline fails me, my knowledge it fools me
But you are my shelter, all the strength that I need

(repeat chorus)

I'm learning to give up the rights to myself
The bits and the pieces Ive gathered as wealth
Could never compare to the joy that you bring me
The peace that you show me is the strength that I need

God was whispering to His child: "bow and praise me, and everything will be OK." When you hear God in this way, you can't go on worrying about the details. GOD IS FOR US, NOT AGAINST US! He will show us the way!

The Chuch Was Dead - Literally

When Serenity and I first moved to Wilsonville we started looking for a church to attend. We didn't have any kids then, and we had only been married for a year or so. My maturity as a Christian was infantile, and I was not allowing Christ to work in my life. I had many issues, the usual for any man, pride, sexual addiction, more pride, some father wound, you know, the usual. My theory when looking for a church was to find one that "fed" us. A body that spoke to us through strong teaching from the pulpit. The music and the worship that ensued meant little to me, and it played a very minor role in my equation to find a good church. Seren was nearly the complete opposite. It is the left brain / right brain argument. We probably went to 6 or 7 churches before finally settling on Grace Chapel, which has played probably the most significant role in challenging us to be more open to God, and allowing him to work in our lives. The relationships we have forged there are ones we will have for our lifetime. It is an awesome, God centered and loving church, and God definitely directed us to it.

During our search, we came across a little church we decided to give a shot one Sunday. That morning we had been arguing about, you guessed it, what church we should go to. We pulled up in the parking lot, still fuming and approached the greeter at the front door, who happened to be150 and on an oxygen machine. "Just a very eager elderly gentleman, press on, see what is inside," I told myself. As we made our way across the foyer, late all be it, the congregation stopped in the tracks to see these new (and young) attendees. We smiled and nodded as we walked into the sanctuary and quickly found a couple of seats in the pew two from the back. We were hands down, no question the youngest people by far on the church grounds. We joked later that the playground equipment was actually there just to trick younger individuals into thinking people of child bearing age actually attended the service. The congregation was singing "Kum ba ya." I am serious, no joke. It gets better though, the pastor, who was also leading the congregation in the hymn, continued singing and walked all the way back to where we were standing and pointed to the page number in his hymnal and then smiled and returned to the front of the sanctuary. After we completed the hymn, the congregation was instructed to be seated and then another hymn began. I leaned to Serenity and said "let's go." She said in a very pained expression, "we can't." I retorted, "are we going to become members here?" Not waiting for her response, I continued, "why sit through an hour and a half of agony when we could have 30 seconds of agony now as we leave quietly through the back doors." And at that, we walked out without making eye contact with anyone. I know, cowardly, but it was for the best, trust me. This story is one of the reasons why I believe God has a sense of humor.

Within two weeks we had found Grace Chapel and have attended ever since.

I'm not sure if that experience would be too much different today, but what I do know is that the Holy Spirit has worked in my life where I was at. If you draw closer to Him, He will draw closer to you. Time and time again, He has presented the opportunity for me to die to self and be renewed in Him. Time and time again, He has presented the opportunity to stretch my faith and trust in Him. Through all of this, He has given me freedom over sexual addiction, over the pain of a father wound, and begun to squash my pride under the weight and power of His grace, mercy and love.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inconvenient Truth

I wish sometimes that I didn't know the things I now know. Life would be simpler, easier. I have always known that there were starving kids across the world and that oppression and hatred burn across this world like wildfire, but it was all cerebral, it was all from the head. One of my favorite authors, Shane Claiborne said in his book "Irresistible Revolution" (don't read it unless you want to change by the way), you can know CPR, but unless you use it on someone who is dying from a heart attack, the knowledge is useless.

The Holy Spirit has shifted that perspective and that knowledge from my brain, something I know, to my heart, something I know and now must act upon. It is not only the knowledge that people are poor and oppressed, it is new knowledge that has been thrust upon me. The knowledge that God called us to act. Not just missionaries, not just pastors, not just unmarried, not just catholics, not just people without kids, but all of us. Ultimately, that was Jesus' message to us - love me, and love each other. Those who love the poor and brokenhearted have loved Christ.

I have been really pondering a passage from 1 John 3:16-18: "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." Is this not a call to ACTION? Christ calls us to DO something. I can no longer do nothing, I must move from cerebral understanding to heart felt action.

It is inconvenient. It would be much more comfortable to sit in my house, watch my TV, work 9-5 for the next 25 years, and then retire and play golf and fish. (Well, at least fish, knowing that people in the U.S. spend more on golf in one day than would feed the entire developing world has completely ruined golf for me). It would be much more convenient, but I now know TRUTH - God calls us to step out of our American Dream and towards his call for each and every Christian - to love Him and each other. That is going to look different for each and every person, but it can not equate to living the life of comfortable consumption I have been unconsciously living. It is inconvenient, and I must change.

I also know that God will honor our faith and our actions, and will bless us with so much more. Not in the American view of "blessings" which is probably monetary blessings, but with understanding, discernment and ultimately the fruits of the spirit, which are so much more than money. I pray that God will continue to remind us of this truth as we begin our downward spiral.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

7 Steps to (Our) Downward Spiral

Matthew 6:19 tells us "Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."

I have been serving two masters. I don't live a lifestyle trusting in God for all provisions. Ultimately then, I am serving two masters.

Lord break me. Give me the strength to follow you with recklessness. When I don't have the strength, take my life and force me to.

God is crazy (in a good way - like crazy amazing). If you look at what He has done in my life to get me to this point, you have to say he is crazy. Obviously He is a God of miracles, a God of humility, and one with a pretty good sense of humor too. If you would have asked me 10 years ago, even 2 years ago, if I would be willing to drop everything and follow Him, I would have laughed and said that He wasn't calling me to do that, that I am a teacher, and a coach, and He has me right where He wants me to be (which at that point, He did! That's whats so amazing).

I am a hypocrite. We live in a culture of hypocrites. It is what I believe (and so do theologians if you care what they think) is killing the Church in America - hypocrisies. Ask our poor neighbors if Christians are hypocrites, ask any oppressed person if Christians are hypocrites, I think they would all tell you yes. We live a life of blissful consumerism. Yes, we give our monthly tithe, we sponsor a kid in Africa, but we also live in expensive houses and drive expensive vehicles while half of the world lives on $2 or less a day. Ask that guy if Christians are hypocrites.

Unfortunately, by myself I can't change that. Most of the world is going to keep on believing that Christians are hypocrites, but maybe I can be the one who changes that for a handful of people, and God is able to write me into His story once again by allowing me to speak into the lives of the poor and oppressed (and probably even more accurately to allow them to speak into mine).

My plan? Give it all away. I'm scared, but at the same time excited. I think that is what Christ called a huge percentage of his followers to do - give it all away and follow him (he asked the disciples to drop their nets, and he also asked the Rich Young Man - some followed, some didn't, that is why he is known as the Rich Young Man and not "Bruce" or some other cool name Jesus would have given him).

Recently I shared our journey with some new friends of ours. One of them said "Well, you'd have to be 'called' to do something like that." Really, does God have to call us specifically? Didn't he already do that, hasn't he already beckoned us? As rich Christians living in the U.S., we want to find an "out," a way to keep living the American Dream, when what he called ALL of us to was something very opposite from that dream. God is calling us to give up our treasures on this earth and store up treasures in heaven. How many times have we budgeted some luxury (or even a necessity), or saved (read: stored up) to be able to do something or buy something. We have effectively taken God out of the business of coming through for us. He doesn't need to, and in our affluent culture, why would we need him to.

So, here is our proposed plan of downward spiral, hopefully it will remove any hypocrisies.

STEP #1: quit my job
STEP #2: sell our house
STEP #3: buy and convert a diesel motor home to run on veggie oil
STEP #4: pay off school loans
STEP #5: begin traveling around the country giving designated amounts of money away to the poor through clothing, food and other random acts of kindness (putting someone up in a hotel, buying them a meal or some coffee, etc.)
STEP #6: end up with nothing
STEP #7: begin truly relying on God (Really, how big is he?)

Wouldn't this force us to rely on God? isn't' that what God ultimately wants from us? To put us in a position where if God didn't come through for us we would be in big trouble? Does that mean that when we get back, God will give me a great job that I find fulfillment and joy from each and every day, a great new house in the suburbs with a brand new Suburban to go with it. Obviously not, he may not come through with any mammon - hopefully I will stop worshiping it, and come to the place God wants me to be - content with his provisions, not storing up treasures here on this earth.

Lord that is where I want to be, pull my heart and mind there. Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


People keep telling me I should write a journal, so here I go. I've been on quite a journey the past year. I've begun to grow sympathy for the poor, something I've never had much of. I've begun to see the essential and yet complex nature of the Gospel and the key component - loving the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the brokenhearted. This has shed new and challenging light on the true meaning of the Gospel. Did Jesus ask us to live this way? Am I living the way Jesus would want me to? I think I would have to say NO! I have not ignored the Gospel intentionally. I think Satan has created a culture of apathy - it is exactly where he wants us - blindly living a life of complacency, knowing deep inside that there is something more, something bigger, maybe even connecting with that truth and even understanding and comprehending it, but not doing anything to change our comfortable lifestyle in order to come closer to what Jesus has for us.

I've always thought - there are a lot of Christians in this world - Christ said the path to him was narrow, how am I living a "narrow" life different from all of the others. The truth is, I'm not - I live a selfish life of American indulgence, not thinking what my actions, my consumption is doing to others not only around me, but 5,000 miles around the world. I've become what I didn't want to become - someone who goes to church every Sunday, lives a good life, but never comes close to receiving everything Christ has for me. How many "Christians," especially in the U.S. are doing that! I want so much more, but how, what, where?

I don't think I have ever grasped the "works" component of the Gospel. I accept JC as my Lord and Savior, I can't work my way to heaven, that is for the Mormons. I've come to realize, and I think this is ultimately the true transformation and journey God has me on, I desire to be His hands and feet, I want to live a life of "works." I want to spend my time doing. This is what God called us to! To love the unlovable, to seek solidarity with the poor, TO BECOME POOR? Really? How? But that is just what he was telling the Rich Young Christian in Matthew 19:21, not me, not my family, it would put them in danger, at risk. You're right Andy, the disciples were never in danger :) Christ called us to follow Him. Pick up your cross and follow Him. Ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer if following Christ was dangerous. Christ asked us to feed the poor, clothe the poor, house the homeless, comfort the widows. Can't I just give my left over junk to the Goodwill?

Where will this take us? Do we have to worry about being in His will? Or, if we are living this way are we truly already in His will. Is he "writing us into the story" by recklessly following him by living out the secret message of the Gospel, no matter what we are doing in the story?

Here I sit on the front porch of my $280,000 home wondering if I should put my family at risk, thrust us into the world and begin an adventure, a journey, a downward spiral. Nearly everyone will think we are crazy, heck, sometimes I do too, but wasn't JC a little crazy - at least from our point of view? didn't he do everything almost opposite of what people believed he should have? Aren't we supposed to "be like Christ?" So wouldn't this all make sense?