Thursday, December 10, 2009

Allergies

I have allergies, and with allergies comes congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and a number of other symptoms. What I find curious is that the medicine I take for my allergies only treats the symptoms, not the actual cause of the symptoms - the allergies themselves.

The reality is that we all have "allergies" that affect our lives. Call it sin, call it brokenness, call it whatever you want. The fact is you and I are not fully the people we were created to be.

For many of us, the depth of our sin/brokenness/whatever is layers deep and yet we're often only able to see the "symptoms" that express themselves everyday. [Sidenote: I wonder how many of our conflicts with others are the result of us not knowing what allergies we have. Fifty, seventy, ninety percent?]

I'm beginning to think that we spend too much of our time and resources trying to cure the symptoms of our allergies when in reality what we need is a cure for our allergies themselves.

In Luke's rendition of the story of Jesus, we read about an encounter Jesus has with a crippled woman (Luke 13:10). Jesus, completely unprovoked, speaks to the woman and tells her that she is set free from her infirmity. He then places his hands on her and what happens? The crippled woman straightens her back and praises God. From the woman's perspective, her symptom is cured - she's no longer crippled!

Jesus' perspective is a bit different, however. There is a much deeper work going on. Jesus wants to cure her allergy. In fact, when approached about his healing of the woman (vs 14-16), Jesus doesn't even mention her symptom (her crippled condition). Rather, he describes his healing of the woman as one that released her from her captivity to Satan. Whoa! Now that's a serious cure!

Was the woman aware of her captivity? Who knows? What we do know is that Jesus is interested in healing allergies, not just the symptoms of allergies. And beyond that, Jesus' words and touch are able to heal.

What would it look like for you and I to expose ourselves to the healing words and touch of Jesus? What would it look like for the church, the body of Jesus here and now, to embrace people using words and physical touch for the sake of healing their allergies?

My prayer is that you will become increasingly aware of your allergies and that Jesus will heal them. I also pray that you will go and join Jesus in healing the allergies of others, whatever they might be.

Peace

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Second Story

This is the intro to my upcoming podcast titled "Second Story." Listen now!

Monday, November 16, 2009

I love not knowing!

I like to study the Bible. I admit it, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to theology and biblical studies. So last week a good friend of mine asked what part of the Scriptures I was reading and what I was learning (Thanks Tom!). I responded "Joshua and Judges because those stories challenge my understanding of God more than any other stories." When I read about how God directs Israel's leaders to annihilate whole communities of people it's hard to look at God and see him as merciful, loving, and welcoming of all. I must confess I feel a bit awkward telling my friends and neighbors that this God, the one in whose name Israel wiped whole cities from the face of the earth, is the God I serve. I just wish God's love and grace were more evident to me in these passages, but they're not. As you can imagine, this creates quite a bit of tension for me. But perhaps that's a good thing.

Consider the alternative: I, in my finiteness, know and understand the whole nature of God and am able to objectify God by pointing to a golden-framed portrait of Him and declaring to all that "this is who God is and this is what he's like." Period, done, case closed! Knowing things about God is certainly beneficial, but if I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about God, well, that would put me in a position reserved for only 1 person, God himself. That's definitely not where I want to be.

Reading Joshua and Judges provides a good check for my head and my heart. They remind me that the journey of faith is more about trust than it is about truth.

I'm grateful that these difficult-to-understand passages are included in the Scriptures and that I don't completely understand what God is doing in these stories. I actually find comfort in not knowing what God is up to in these stories, because if I did, it would not be good.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Keeping First Things First

What follows is not to be read as a statement as much as a question. So here it is. What if our focus as a Church in the Western context is off just slightly? And with that, what damage might we be causing?

It’s interesting that in the Gospels Jesus never commands his disciples to go and plant churches, but if we didn’t know the Scriptures and all we had to go on were the activities of the Church for the past 40 years, we would think that Jesus commanded us to plant churches.

But what did he command us to do? Make disciples. Now I realize that some churches are started with the purpose of making disciples, and I’ll address that in a moment. But I think some churches are started just so the people can say they started a church. Have we forgotten that one of our primary functions as people living in the Kingdom realm is to make disciples of the King, wherever we go and in whatever we do?

Starting a church before we make disciples has an effect on how we function as a church as well as our motivations behind our functions. With a building to finance and salaries to support, it becomes quite necessary to fill seats during the weekly offering. Money, or having enough of it, quickly becomes our primary focus and we end up spending (or overspending) our time and energy on that focus.

But we are followers of the King, and the King has commanded his followers to make more followers. Making followers is what we are to be about, and as we do that with Jesus the Church emerges in our wake. After all, Jesus told his original followers that the church was his to build.

So what’s the issue? For whatever reason, be it the inherited spirit of the Industrial Revolution in our culture or, in relation to it, our uncontrollable desire for efficiency, we have taken short cuts in the biblical process for church planting. Church planting begins with making disciples, not starting an organization. If the New Testament shows us anything, it is that the church is to be a by-product of disciple-making. It appears that in many ways we have fallen in love with the by-product and forgotten about the critically important process that comes before it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Owning our Space


My wife and I recently moved from Los Angeles to our home state of Iowa where we purchased a home for the first time in our lives. What’s nice about it is that we have the same access to various things – like art, ethnic food, and entertainment – as we did in LA, but we also have more space than we’ve ever had in our lives. The question we’ve been asking ourselves lately is “what is this space going to be used for?”

I find it interesting that Americans in general have a certain propensity to not leave open spaces open. Why is it that we always feel the need to put one more piece of d├ęcor in the room or to add another set of tools to the garage? What is it about owning a certain amount of stuff that makes us feel more “settled?”

In Matthew’s story of Jesus, he shares about an encounter Jesus has with a rich young man. The man has obviously heard Jesus speak before, and he asks him, in essence, what he must do to have the best life possible. Jesus’ response is quite brilliant: “Obey the commandments”, referring to the ten commandments given to Moses, to which the young replies, “Which ones?” as if there were some commandments that didn’t apply to him. I find the young man’s response quite peculiar, yet it’s an all too tempting of a response two thousand years later for people, including me, who consider themselves followers of Jesus.

If we understand the Ten Commandments within the context of wedding language, then God’s giving of the commandments to Moses (and the Israelites) was a way of saying, “I want to forever be joined to you. You be mine and I’ll be yours. Together, we’ll offer ourselves to the world as a demonstration of how to truly live the best kind of life.” The commandments as a whole then become an invitation into this “eternal” life, as the young man in Matthew’s story refers to it.

So if the commandments in their fullness are God’s invitation to live the best kind of life, why does this young man think only some apply to him?

In his brilliance, Jesus picks up on this faulty assumption, and replies to the young man’s question of “which ones?” by listing only some of the commandments: “do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Now notice which commandments Jesus leaves out from the list in Exodus 20: “have no other gods before the One true God; don’t worship any idols; don’t misuse God’s name; remember the Sabbath; do not covet your neighbor’s stuff” (my paraphrase). What’s different about these commands? Whose relationship do they address, our relationship with others or our relationship with God?

After hearing the partial list of commandments, the young man confidently replies, “All these I have kept. What am I missing?” And the door finally opens for Jesus to show this young man the larger picture, saying “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…” And after hearing these words, the young man went away sad.

What was Jesus going after in his response of “go, sell…?” Apparently, Jesus has no issue with the way this man is treating those around him. His issue is with the man’s heart, his affection, his first love, whom this young man has seemingly forgotten. Jesus’ command of “go,sell…” is first and foremost NOT a condemnation about owning a lot of stuff. It’s about a lot of stuff owning us!

Therein lies the challenge in following Jesus. How can we continue to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we’re so busy cluttering our lives with our stuff and its maintenance? How can we change our relationship with our possessions so that it doesn’t take precedence over our relationship with our Creator?

I’d love to hear your stories about the ways you keep ownership over your stuff. And for now, I’m thinking I’ll leave the spare bedroom empty.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hope at the post office

7 years. For 7 years she lived in a concentration camp during World War II...and she survived. Father: dead. Uncles: dead. Neighbors: dead. Mother: alive. Her mother, having escaped twice - the second time for good - was a fighter. She had to be in order to survive, and survive she did. When she escaped the second time, she took with her her son and daughter and started a new life.

Her daughter, Vide (vee-day), now lives in southern California and as I listened to her I could tell that she was a fighter just like her mom. Vide has had many things to grieve in her life, yet through the death, the destruction, the persecution, through all of it, she's held on to one thing: hope. She was never willing to give up hope. Hope that the way things are now aren't the way things will be forever. Hope that healing can come to those who are sick and that reconciliation can occur between two enemies. Hope that goodness and love prevail over evil and hatred. Hope that there's life on the other side of death. Hope.

At the end of our conversation, Vide leaned in close and whispered, "If it wasn't for God, I would not be standing here talking with you." That was her final statement about hope. Her hope was in the goodness of God, having experienced grace, rescue, and redemption in deeply profound ways. It was a fitting ending given that it was Maundy Thursday and that we both were looking forward to the hope of Resurrection Sunday. Who says waiting in line at the post office isn't exciting?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

From and For

It's Sunday morning. You're attending a worship service at a local church and toward the end of the preacher's sermon the preacher stands front and center and extends an invitation to anyone who feels that special nudge to come forward and kneel down in front of the cross as an act of surrender, essentially "giving one's life to Jesus." For many, this experience is understood as the moment they were saved: saved from their sins; saved from their addictions; saved from their past life; saved from whatever they want to give up. Having grown up in the Reformed tradition, I was routinely reminded of what I needed to be saved from, yet when I read the Scriptures, I find that salvation is so much more than me being saved from something.

Being saved "from" something appears to be only one aspect of the gospel. Another aspect is discovering what we're saved "for."

- In Exodus 3, we discover Moses as a murderer turned shepherd, whom, through burning bush, God calls to return to Egypt "for" the salvation of the Israelites.

- In Luke 8:26-39, we encounter a demoniac who is healed by Jesus "from" demon-possession "for" the salvation of his city (verse 39).

- In Acts 8, we read about Saul's conversion, and how he was saved "from" persecuting Jesus "for" the salvation of the Gentiles.

It appears that our salvation is every bit as much about participating in God's redemptive activity in the world as it is about believing the gospel for our individual selves. We are saved both "from" something and "for" something. In my interactions with followers of Jesus all over the world, I have observed that many know what they are saved "from" but much fewer know what they are saved "for."

Ephesians 2:10 gives us a bit of insight into the "for", which I won't go into here. Rather, I simply want to ask, "What good works are you created in Christ Jesus
for?"

Leave me a comment. I'd love to read about your callings.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Sacrament of Service

Discpipleship (i.e. following Jesus) in America is changing. Growing up in my hometown, to follow Jesus meant in part going to church twice on Sunday, memorizing and reciting passages of Scripture, and not cursing (which are not inherently bad things). Most Christian traditions still lean on two sacraments essential to being a follower of Jesus: baptism and communion/Lord's Supper/Eucharist. But in an era where 1/3 of the world lives on $2 or less a day and where in America the unnerving waves of the economic downturn get closer to our own two feet everyday, followers of Jesus are being forced to answer the question "Does your faith in Jesus translate into hope for the world?"

In ReJesus, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch posit that what we need today perhaps more than anything else is a recovery of a living obedience to the Jesus of the Gospels. One important aspect of this obedience is practicing the sacrament of service. By doing the very things Jesus did for the same kind of people he encountered (the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, those on the margins of society) we partner with God in the redemption of the world. And in partnering with God in the transformation of the world, we find ourselves in his presence and are thus transformed ourselves.

James challenges us directly in his letter to the Jewish Christian, saying "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22). So when you read the Gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, what do you sense God inviting you to do for "the least of these?" Go do it! And in doing it, may you enjoy being in the presence of the active, living God.