Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Run In The Tall Grass

Yesterday my family rode an hour north of town to look at 56 acres that are for sale. The property was great. The rolling pastures, hardwoods and 3 ponds seemed to be the perfect mixture of a Norman Rockwell painting and the backdrop of Little House on the Prairie. I don't know that we will purchase the land but I know the most valuable part of the trip was how much fun the boys had running, exploring and getting lost in nature.

One part of the land was covered with a tall wheat-like grass that was thick and came up to my waste. I could see my oldest son's head bouncing across the field and whipping between the tall blades. My younger two boys were too short to see them so I had to occasionally call out to them and ask them to hold up their hands or at least answer me. As is usually the case, the younger two were trying to follow and keep up with their big brother. And, as usual the biggest boy was trying his best to be on his own and find his own path.

At one point while my wife and I were walking through this tall grass together I saw the youngest trying to keep up with his brothers. Had he tried to see me he wouldn't have been able to because of the high grass. He was running as fast as he could and since his brothers weren't running too fast he started gaining ground on them. As he finally got close enough to them to see them, he stopped and looked around. It was as though he had lost something or found something he wasn't expecting. Within a few moments he started to cry and yell "Daddy?"...as though he was asking, "Daddy, where have you gone". I started to run toward him to let him know that though he couldn't see me, I could certainly see him. As he began turning around he got tangled in some briars and my trot became a quick jog...I couldn't get there soon enough and he continued to cry. Finally he saw me getting near him and you could see the stress begin to dissipate.

Before I even got to him I reassured him and then once I was close enough I picked him up from the briars and wiped his tears. I made sure he didn't have any cuts from the briars and I told him that even though he could see me, I was very aware of where he was so that means he was never lost. He said, "Dad, I couldn't find you. I thought I was following you but it wasn't you". I told him that he doesn't have to find me as long as I find him and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

What amazing symbolism! What an amazing image of God.

How often do we run after a thing we think is right or believe that catching will fulfill us, only to find out that we have chased the wrong thing and in so doing have ended up in a place we never intended to go. When that happens we look for God, our "Daddy" and though we can't see him, he is certainly moving in our direction. He gets to us and removes us from the briars and holds us as we get back on the path. We learn from our Daddy that we were only lost from our perspective and that he knew where we were the whole time.

That is amazingly comforting and amazingly simple. God is a really incredible Daddy that always finds me in the midst of the wilderness.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Is Like Lincoln. Seriously?

I love history. I like studying the hidden stories and untold stories of history. The more I study particular times and people in history the more I realize that the popular opinions and even accepted ideas about certain historical events and people is often twisted and changed to benefit people or substantiate actions.

Case in point: With Obama's election and now his inauguration, I continue to hear how much like Lincoln Obama is. I can see some similarities. Both ran as Illinois as their home state. Both believe that bigger government is the best choice for Americans. Both are tall and lanky men.

But how closely related are Obama and Lincoln? Would the men line up on even a majority of their philosophies? I say, "absolutely not". In fact, I say that Lincoln would say that Obama should never be president...not because of his inexperience, his liberal stances or his lack of a production of a birth certificate. Lincoln would say that Obama is not worthy of the office because of the COLOR OF HIS SKIN!!! That's right. Lincoln was indeed "The Great Emancipator" but also would very much be consider a racist today. Would you like proof from Lincoln's own words? Sure. I'm glad you asked...

The words of Lincoln in September, 1858:

"I will say then that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races -- that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the Negro should be denied everything."

Those words sound more like George Wallace than Barack Obama. If Lincoln thinks "Negroes" are not worthy of even voting or serving as a juror, I think it is safe to say that Lincoln never dreamed it possible for a "Negro" to hold the highest office in the land. Lincoln also seems to support the idea of "separate, yet UN-equal". In fact, since Lincoln seems very much opposed to white people and black people marrying, much less having children...it seems to me that Lincoln would never even support the relationship that lead to the birth of Obama.

With all of that said, Obama wants to tie his boat to Lincoln's legacy...something that Lincoln likely wouldn't favor. So maybe Obama needs to study history a bit before claiming he is so much like Lincoln. Or perhaps Obama has studied history and he wishes to ignore the parts of Lincoln's legacy that serve him. I'm not saying we all don't do that to some degree. I'm just saying that we shouldn't be fooled by rhetoric and false assumptions.

I will also say that while I didn't support Obama and while I think Obama will be remembered in history as one of the least qualified and poorest performing presidents this country has ever seen...I also think it is time that people move forward as much as possible. Maybe these words from Lincoln will help give direction:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Risks, Benefits and the Death of a Business

First of all I must pay homage to Clay for sending this to me...though I could have changed a few numbers here and there and it would have applied to me as well.

This letter has been making its way across the Internet. I don't know if anyone actually wrote this letter to their employees or not. I hope they did ... but it doesn't really matter. My guess is that there is no small amount of businessmen and women out there who are harboring exactly these thoughts right now. Enjoy:
To All My Valued Employees,
There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn't pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is the changing political landscape in this country.However, let me tell you some little tidbits of fact which might help you decide what is in your best interests.
First, while it is easy to spew rhetoric that casts employers against employees, you have to understand that for every business owner there is a back story. This back story is often neglected and overshadowed by what you see and hear. Sure, you see me park my Mercedes outside. You've seen my big home at last years Christmas party. I'm sure; all these flashy icons of luxury conjure up some idealized thoughts about my life.However, what you don't see is the back story.I started this company 28 years ago. At that time, I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living apartment was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you. My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I spent went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn't have time to date. Often times, I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business -- hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.
Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a modest $50K a year and spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. Instead of hitting the Nordstrom's for the latest hot fashion item, I was trolling through the Goodwill store extracting any clothing item that didn't look like it was birthed in the 70's. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, will be able to afford these luxuries my friends supposedly had.
So, while you physically arrive at the office at 9am, mentally check in at about noon, and then leave at 5pm, I don't. There is no "off" button for me. When you leave the office, you are done and you have a weekend all to yourself. I unfortunately do not have the freedom. I eat, and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. Every day this business is attached to my hip like a 1 year old special-needs child. You, of course, only see the fruits of that garden -- the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations... You never realize the back story and the sacrifices I've made.
Now, the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail-out all the people who didn't. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for.Yes, business ownership has is benefits but the price I've paid is steep and not without wounds.
Unfortunately, the cost of running this business, and employing you, is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit and let me tell you why:I am being taxed to death and the government thinks I don't pay enough. I have state taxes. Federal taxes. Property taxes. Sales and use taxes. Payroll taxes. Workers compensation taxes. Unemployment taxes. Taxes on taxes. I have to hire a tax man to manage all these taxes and then guess what? I have to pay taxes for employing him. Government mandates and regulations and all the accounting that goes with it, now occupy most of my time. On Oct 15th, I wrote a check to the US Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my "stimulus" check was? Zero. Nada. Zilch.
The question I have is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 2,200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or, the single mother sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare check? Obviously, government feels the latter is the economic stimulus of this country.
The fact is, if I deducted (Read: Stole) 50% of your paycheck you'd quit and you wouldn't work here. I mean, why should you? That's nuts. Who wants to get rewarded only 50% of their hard work? Well, I agree which is why your job is in jeopardy.
Here is what many of you don't understand ... to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Had suddenly government mandated to me that I didn't need to pay taxes, guess what? Instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black-hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated substantial economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But you can forget it now.When you have a comatose man on the verge of death, you don't defibrillate and shock his thumb thinking that will bring him back to life, do you? Or, do you defibrillate his heart? Business is at the heart of America and always has been. To restart it, you must stimulate it, not kill it.
Suddenly, the power brokers in Washington believe the poor of America are the essential drivers of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the type of change you can keep.So where am I going with all this?It's quite simple.If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, my reaction will be swift and simple. I fire you. I fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child's future. Frankly, it isn't my problem any more.Then, I will close this company down, move to another country, and retire.
You see, I'm done. I'm done with a country that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, will be my citizenship.If you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the economy; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country, steamrolled the constitution, and will have changed its landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about....Signed,Your boss

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

20 Questions?

I read my wife's blog today and it said, "Tag you're it.... .....yes, anyone who reads this and has a blog!" It then had 20 questions that apparently I am to answer for everyone to see. Should this seem like a good idea to you...have fun with it. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

20 Questions:

1. Do you own a box of crayons? My kids have several boxes that technically I purchased. In my economy that makes them mine.
2. Do you always wear a seatbelt? I don't "always" do anything.
3. When do you shower most often? Mornings and anytime I stink.
4. What is the last thing you purchased? I purchased lunch today...wings and celery, yum!
5. How often do you remember your dreams? about 80% of the time.
6. How do you vent your anger? working out, making others around me as miserable as I am in about any way I can.
7. Where were you on September 11, 2001? On my way to work.
8. What is your ringtone? It simply vibrates.
9. What is one thing you're looking forward to? Time off this weekend.
10. Do you get eight hours of sleep each night? Only in my dreams.
11. How is your mood today? Rather pissy, but surprisingly upbeat.
12. Have you ever changed your clothes in a vehicle? I have lived in a vehicle before...changing clothes is a given.
13. What is one thing you've learned about life? That I have a lot left to learn.
14. What is something you want to do within the next week? Spend some extended time with my boys.
15. Do you care what people think of you? It depends on who we are talking about.
16. What scent are you wearing right now? Eau De End of the Day.
17. What do you carry with you at all times? My wedding ring.
18. What was the last gift you gave someone? I gave my wife and kids gifts at Christmas and I gave them a trip to the beach for my birthday a little over a week ago.
19. What's one car you will never buy? A station wagon
20. How much money would it take for you to give up the internet for a year? Surprisingly not as much as one might think.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Faith At The End Of The Day

Faith is a funny thing. Faith is also dead serious. Faith is relieving though it is also a burden. Faith brings great comfort but sometimes the comfort is delivered in the form of dissonance. So faith is a paradox…I guess anything that instigates belief without proof is paradoxical. One thing that faith can never been is inconsequential…the presence or absence of faith effects behavior.
Either life has to be lived by faith or not. Stumbling happens. Shortfalls will always be. Mistakes are made. However, we know that the God of our faith not only accepts those things that seem to diminish or prove the absence of faith to us, He actually is found living, thriving and redeeming those very things. Our Creator is our foundation when we stumble over the walls of sand we have constructed in our lives. The Author of our faith makes up the difference when our life isn’t enough. The Holy One is the master of taking our mistakes and using them for His glory.

Faith is a funny thing. Faith asks things of us that are often more paradoxical than faith itself. We are called to be slow. We are to be slow to speak and slow to become angry. We are also called to be quick. We are to be quick to listen, quick to serve one another, quick to forgive one another, quick to bear one another’s burdens and quick to lift one another up.

In the moments when our faith seems to lapse and our zeal for God seems to be overcome by the life we might otherwise have without the love of our Father, we may be quick to become angry, quick to speak and utterly slow in recognizing the love we have been shown is only ours to keep in so far as it is shared with those closest to us. Forgiveness and encouragement is like love in that we can only borrow the heart of the Father to the degree that we extend His grace, mercy and understanding to others. Showing grace and doing mercy in any of their numerous forms aren’t the primary goals, as wonderful as they are. Love is the main point and to the One who establishes everything, it is the only point. Love never fails and it is the driving force behind the very inventor of life and light.

Speaking of light, when we walk in faith, we walk in the light. When we walk in the light we have continuous fellowship with God and those near us. The aspect of light is as important as the aspect of continuous. When my efforts fail and when my mind wanders I am clean. Not because sin isn’t dirty or guilt isn’t bitter, but because God is sufficient. His love is purer than my dirt is dirty. His goodness outweighs and overshadows the burdens I place on His alter.

At the end of the day God is or He isn’t. That doesn’t mean that His image is always reflected perfectly through the live we project. It doesn’t mean that we eventually come to “the end of the day”. When the dust of confusion settles, the waves of emotions calm and the clutter of chaos is swept away, we all have an “end of the day”. In that moment, who will we be? When nothing is left of our surrounding circumstances what will be left of us? The only thing that remains is love. However, in the shadows of love we find lurking the necessary inferences of the love we receive and share in turn. We find the desire to accurately express our love. We find the need to hear the heartbeat of others. We find the strength to move past the obstacles that imperfect love has placed so cumbersomely in our paths. In our desires, needs and strength we don’t find love, but we do find the clarity with which to experience the love from others and for others.

May we never lose sight of the end of the day and may we be found at the end of the day failing better than we ever have before.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Your Christ Is Too Small by Frank Viola

Frank Viola has become one of my favorite authors as of late...I may have mentioned that before but it certainly bears repeating if so. The following article is absolutly wonderful and I think for many of us it is very applicable and timely. May it bless you as much as it has blessed me.

The promise of the New Covenant is this: ‚‘I will put My laws into their minds, I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach every one his fellow-citizen, and everyone his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.’‛1 ‚All shall know Me‛ . . . this is the beating heart of God. I’ll be blunt: Either you and I can know God intimately, or the gospel is a sham. One of the rewards of our Lord’s suffering is that we all shall know Him . . . ‚from the least to the greatest.‛
1 Hebrews 8:10-11. 2 1 Corinthians 12:1ff. 3 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.
Living in organic Body life for many years has taught me the reality of a major teaching in the New Testament. Namely, the Lord dwells in all of us, and He is a speaking God. But the primary vehicle He uses as His mouthpiece is His Body.2 Therefore, you and I will never know Christ deeply or intimately unless we are in a community of believers where each member is free to open their mouths and speak. We learn Christ by being membered with other believers. I’m not talking about the Sunday morning church service that most of us grew up with where one or two members of the Body have the freedom to speak to everyone else. I’m speaking of a community of believers where each member is free to share Christ with one another.
The truth is that we can’t fully know Christ as an individual. We know Him fully through the new creation. That is, we know Him through His Body.3 This understanding changed everything for me. Throughout my years of living in church life, I began to understand that my brothers and sisters in Christ were parts of Christ, and I learned to listen to my Lord through them. I also discovered that the Lord is constantly speaking. And He speaks through His own people even at times when they are unaware of it. If this is true . . . and I assure you it is . . . then how well we know the Lord depends on how connected we are to the other parts of His Body.
(This principle would also include what Christ has revealed to members of His Body in the past. Therefore, whenever I hear Christians make the claim that ‚99.9% of all I read is the Bible,‛ I cringe. Every person I’ve met who made that claim was grossly
imbalanced. And for good reason. Rightly understanding the Bible requires an interpretive community.) My journey into Body life taught me that the Christian life, in its core essence, is living by another life. It’s living by Christ. But it’s not simply living only by the Lord who indwells me. It’s also living by the Lord who indwells my Christian brothers and sisters. I live by the Lord who is in me, and I live by the Lord who is in my fellow brethren (in whom Christ also dwells). God has designed it that way. Consequently, if we will know our Lord deeply, we must be connected to other members of the Body of Christ in a concrete way. And it doesn’t hurt at all to include in that mix exposure to the great teachers of the past whom God has gifted to reveal Christ to His church. Throughout my Christian life, I’ve met believers who had their own private walk with the Lord. They never knew Christian community, yet they had an extremely strong devotional life. Every person who fit that bill, in my experience at least, was lopsided in some arena of their lives. The reason? They didn’t avail themselves of the balancing of the Body. No Christian is wired to live an individualistic Christian life. Without Christian community, we cannot grow normally in the spiritual life. We were designed to live with other Christians and receive their spiritual portion. If you doubt this, please read 1 Corinthians 12 with this possibility in mind. Even so, there’s another lesson I learned which seems to be a little known fact about how the Lord operates. I personally believe it’s God’s way of dealing with the spirit of elitism which He dislikes so much. When we first meet the Lord, He makes Himself quite irresistible to us. He wins us over with His charm. He conquers our heart with His unconditional love. He draws us near by His passion. And we fall in love. If we come into a higher vision of His purpose, we get connected with other believers. We then begin to know Him together; we pursue Him corporately. (Regrettably, many Christians never know this experience.) But there is a danger in receiving a greater revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, one that moves from shallow waters into the depths. It’s the peril of allowing our first seeing of Christ to shape the way we recognize Him for the rest of our lives! (Please read that sentence again.) I’m going to make this shockingly pointed: The Lord Jesus Christ always ends up coming to us in ways that make it easy for us to reject Him. If we are pressing on to know the Lord, He will eventually come to us in a way that makes it easy for us to ignore Him, dismiss Him, and even reject Him. I’ve watched this happen repeatedly among Christian groups that felt they had a corner on knowing the Lord.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Do you recall the
way He came into the earth? Consider the situation. For centuries, Israel had waited for a political Messiah. They expected Him to break the yoke of Roman bondage and liberate God’s people from Roman oppression. But how did the Messiah make His entrance into the world? He came in a way that made it easy for His own people to reject Him. He entered this planet as a frail baby, born in a feeding house for animals. The King of the universe was born as a weak human being in the ill-starred town of Bethlehem, in the midst of the stain and stench of animal manure. And His parents? A needy Jewish couple. There He was. The promised Messiah who was expected to overthrow the mighty Roman empire and set Israel free from Gentile oppression. Interestingly, none of the Bible scholars who had the Old Testament memorized and knew the prophecies about the Messiah’s coming were present at Christ’s birth. The only people who were present were those who were led to the stable by revelation. All of them happened to be shepherds and pagan astrologers, not Bible scholars.
When He grew up, He ate and drank in their presence, and He taught in their streets.4 He was unassumingly modest . . . of humble origin. A mere carpenter. The son of a carpenter.
4 Luke 13:26. 5 Luke 7:34. 6 This is what the Greek text says. See Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 741-743.
He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth, fraternizing with the despised and oppressed. But more startling, He befriended sinners.5 As such, the people of God didn’t recognize Him. Why? Because He came in a way that made it easy for them to reject Him. And what about the disciples? Read the story again. Jesus continued to break out of their expectations. He couldn’t be pinned down, figured out, or boxed in. The Twelve were constantly confounded by Him. His teachings were offensive. His actions scandalous. His reactions baffling. The greatest offense of all was the cross. It offended everyone—both Jew and Gentile. The only crown the promised Messiah-King would accept was a crown of thorns. Look at Him again. A suffering Messiah . . . a defeated King . . . boy, it’s easy to reject Him. This finds us all of out, doesn’t it? One of the Lord’s most faithful disciples teaches us this principle well. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the resurrected Christ. Do you remember what she did as soon as she recognized Him? She grabbed Him, and she wouldn’t stop clinging to Him.
Jesus responded saying, ‚Stop clinging to me.‛6 Why did Jesus tell Mary to stop
clinging to Him? Because He had somewhere to go. He was on the move. Jesus was poised to go to Galilee to see the other disciples and then to ascend to His Father. Note the principle: He was moving forward, but she was clinging to Him. Jesus was in effect saying to her: ‚Mary, stop holding on to me. There’s a new way to know me that’s different from what you’ve experienced thus far. Let me go for I must move on.‛ Do you remember the disciples who walked on the road to Emmaus? Their hopes were shattered by the Lord’s horrible death. Suddenly, the Resurrected Christ began walking beside them, yet their eyes were blinded from recognizing Him. When He engaged in the very simple gesture of breaking bread (something He had done frequently before them), their eyes were opened. Then He quickly disappeared from their sight. These stories hold a critical insight. You cannot cling to the Christ that you know today. He will vanish from your midst. Jesus Christ is an elusive Lover. Seeking Him is a progressive engagement that never ends. He doesn’t dance to our music. He doesn’t sing to our tune. Perhaps He will in the beginning when He woos us to Himself; but that season will eventually end. And just when you think you’ve laid hold of Him, He will slip out of your grasp. He will appear to us as a stranger. But upon second glance, we’ll soon discover that He’s no stranger at all. Emmaus will be repeated in our lives. We all wish to cling to the Lord that we know now. We all wish to hold on to the Christ that has been revealed to us today. But mark my words: He will come to us in a way that we do not expect . . . through people who we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off. Perhaps they don’t talk our religious language. Perhaps they don’t use our vocabulary. Perhaps they don’t share our jargon nor parrot our religious idioms. And so we cling fast to the Lord that we recognize . . . only receiving those who talk our language, use our jargon, and employ our catch phrases . . . and all along we end up turning the Lord Jesus Christ away. I have watched this happen repeatedly. Both among Christians who gather in traditional churches as well as those who gather outside of them. What, then, does our Lord do when we fail to receive Him when He comes to us in an unexpected way? He moves on. And the revelation that we have of Him ceases to grow. I’ve seen churches and movements stop dead-in-the-water, living off of a revelation of Christ that was delivered to them twenty or thirty years ago. And they never got beyond it.
This, in fact, is the very root of denominationalism and Christian movements. It works like this. A group of Christians see an important aspect of Christ. That insight usually comes from a servant of the Lord whom God has raised up to restore a certain
spiritual truth to His church. The group is captured by it. Even changed by it. And they stand on the earth to promote and express it. But then, subtlety, they build a circle around it. And then a castle . . . and then a wall . . . and then they enshrine it. And when someone else comes in contact with them with another aspect of Christ to share, they blow it off with monumental disinterest. Why? Because it’s different from the original sighting of the Lord that they have received. In effect, the group refuses to have fellowship with other Christians who are not like them. Please don’t misunderstand. Fellowship is not having a meal with somebody. Fellowship is mutual participation and exchange. It’s a two-way street. If you and I have fellowship, that means that I receive what the Lord has given you and you receive what the Lord has given me. And we are both enriched. That’s fellowship. Allow me to confess: If I only fellowshipped with those whose beliefs were the same as mine and their understanding of the Lord was the same as mine, then I couldn’t have fellowship with myself ten years ago! Fifteen years ago I would have had to excommunicate myself from the Kingdom of God! Jesus Christ is richer, larger, and more glorious than any of us could ever imagine. And He comes to us in ways that make it tempting to reject Him.
When Peter, James, and John saw the transfigured Lord on the holy mountain, Peter wanted to build a tabernacle for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah and remain on the mountain to enjoy the encounter. But God would not allow it.7 There is something in our fallen nature that, like Peter, wishes to build a monument around a spiritual encounter with God and remain there. But the Lord will not have it. He will always break free from our frail attempts to pin Him down, box Him up, and hold Him in place. And He does so by coming to us in new and unexpected ways. ***** Many Christians fear diversity. We all love unity, but we tend toward uniformity. This tendency is most clearly seen in denominationalism. But it exists vibrantly outside of denominational lines as well. Diversity, however, is part of the nature of the Body of Christ. It’s also woven into the universe. Look at creation. Look at your physical body. Look at the unseen Trinity who brought both into existence. What do you find? Particularity with unity. Diversity with harmony. Point: Diversity is a sign of fullness. Therefore, diversity should be embraced and not feared or rejected.
7 Matthew 17:1-4. 6
Yet few things so test the human heart as does diversity. In the early years of my experience in organic church life, some of the brothers in the church held to a teaching that made ‚exercising faith‛ the central emphasis of the gospel. Their zeal for ‚living by faith‛ was not hidden by any means. It was proclaimed quite loudly. These brothers sought to persuade everyone else in the church to embrace their emphasis. And they were unhappy with any other insight or emphasis that didn’t directly relate to theirs. These men had made their particular insight into ‚faith‛ the whole ball of wax. And they wanted everyone else to conform to it. It was during those days that I learned that zealously emphasizing any particular truth, no matter how valid, and trying to persuade everyone else to embrace it was a money-back guarantee for a church split. If I feel that the Lord has given me a particular insight into an important truth, I should not try to coerce everyone else to embrace it with the same zeal that I do. An organic church should be free in this matter. Every believer is at liberty to embrace and share his or her understanding of Christ. However, an organic church will only grow when its members learn how to incorporate one another’s insights into their overall understanding of the Lord.
Until our Lord returns, we will all continue to ‚see in a mirror darkly.‛8 Consequently, a church ought to learn the fine art of weaving together the varied experiences and insights that each member brings to it. Those experiences and insights will be diverse. But they are what make up the Body of Christ. And as long as they don’t take away from the gospel, they ought to be embraced.
8 1 Corinthians 13:12. 9 James 4:7a; Romans 8:28. 10 James 4:7b; 1 Peter 5:8-9.
Sometimes these experiences and insights will constitute a paradox. That is, they will appear to stand in contradiction to one another. For instance, some in the church may emphasize the sovereignty of God in all things. They will remind the church that all difficulties which come into our lives have first passed through the hands of God before they got to us. Therefore, they are for our good, and we ought to ‚submit to God‛ through them.9
Others may emphasize that we are in a spiritual warfare, and that we have an enemy who will attack us through the circumstances of life. In such cases, the Lord wishes for us to ‚resist the devil‛ so that he will flee from us.10 So on the one hand, we should submit. But on the other, we should resist. Both are true. And both must be held in tension.
Throughout the years, I have come to see that the great bulk of Divine truth is paradoxical. For that reason, I have learned to live in the presence of spiritual
contradiction. So much so that I can take a nap in the face of it. But there is something more. With every new seeing of the Lord, there is the temptation to become proud of that new seeing. There seems to be a subtle arrogance that seeks to seep into the human heart when one experiences a deeper experience or understanding of Christ.
Let me be clear. There is nothing more opposite of the Spirit of Jesus Christ than the spirit of pride and arrogance. A famous saying goes like this: It’s possible to be ‚pure as angels and as proud as devils.‛ I disagree. If you’re proud, you’re not pure. For God resists the proud.11 We find Christ in only one issue—poverty. ‚Blessed are the poor in spirit,‛ were our Lord’s words. A spirit of poverty says, ‚I need to know Him more. I don’t have the corner on Him. I am a child in this business. I’m still in school. I’m still learning. I haven’t arrived.‛
11 1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6. 12 Stephen Kaung was a co-worker to the late Watchman Nee. Stephen has been a tremendous influence on my life and ministry.
One of the greatest lessons that Stephen Kaung 12 taught me by his life was the critical importance of remaining humble in the face of the greatest unveiling of Christ. He once brought a message in 1995 that deeply impacted me. He told the story of God’s work in China under Watchman Nee. The stories he told about the work were no less than remarkable. Organic churches were planted all over China in this work. Droves of young people came to the Lord. They touched the glory of God and experienced the Body of Christ in a marvelous way. Most of the traditional churches in China didn’t like these new churches. In fact, they felt threatened by them. Watchman Nee was tagged a ‚sheep-stealer‛ because people who were dying on the vine in the traditional church were joining his work in mass numbers. As Stephen told the story, he stopped and began to weep. He said, ‚But something happened. Pride came over us. Because we had received a deep revelation of the Lord, we felt that we were special. We felt that we were better than other Christians. No longer did we talk about being part of the church, we started saying that we were the church in the city.‛ Stephen went on to say that God let this go on for a while, but eventually, He took His hand off the work. And in Stephen’s opinion, He allowed it to be scattered.
I remember having a conversation with him sometime afterwards. He very simply quoted the Scriptures to me: ‚God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble‛ . .
. ‚Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up.‛13 Those words possessed thunder and lighting for me. I asked him, ‚Brother Stephen, how does a group of Christians find the Lord in the depths and avoid thinking to themselves that they are special?‛ His reply was simple: ‚Only God can do that . . . our part is to humble ourselves under His mighty hand and He will lift us up.‛ Here’s a prayer to pray. Whenever you see the Lord in a way that steals your breath, that’s the time to turn to Him and say, ‚Lord, let me not lose touch. Keep my feet on the ground and cause me to always remember that I am no better than any other Christian.‛
13 1 Peter 5:5-6. 14 2 Corinthians 12:7. 15 Acts 20:27. 16 For details, see Frank Viola, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church (Shippensburg: Destiny Image, 2004). 17 Revelation 2:1-4.
For it is in times of great revelation that we need the humility of Christ the most. Recall Paul’s thorn in the flesh. God put the thorn into his life to keep his feet on the ground in the face of extraordinary spiritual revelation.14
I have often reflected on the church in Ephesus. Paul lived in Ephesus for three years raising up a church. By his own testimony, he proclaimed ‚the whole counsel of God‛ to the saints.15 Paul unveiled to the Ephesian believers the vision of God’s eternal purpose for three years. He uncorked the mystery of God to them.
Paul held meetings every day for five hours a day in a facility called the school of Tyrannus where he declared Christ and trained young workers.16 Timothy, Titus, and six other men were present as his apprentices. I’m sure those young apprentices ministered to the Ephesian church as well. After Paul was put in prison, Timothy moved to Ephesus and ministered to the church there for a number of years. Some years later, the beloved disciple John ended up in Ephesus. Apollos, who was ‚mighty in the Scriptures,‛ also spent time in Ephesus. So perhaps the church benefited from his ministry also.
Point: The church in Ephesus received the deepest and highest revelation of Christ through choice servants of God—Paul, John, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, etc. And yet, as the New Testament closes, we discover that the church in Ephesus was corrected by the Lord for leaving its first love.17 What happened? If experience has taught me anything, I would speculate that they simply stopped pursuing Him. They got stuck. They clung to the Christ that they had been given by the greatest servants of God, and they stopped there. To put it another way, their Christ was too small.
How well can you know the Lord? You can know Him in proportion to the poverty
that is within your heart. ‚Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said.‛18 The opposite of that statement is what the Laodicean church said of herself: ‚I am rich and have need of nothing!‛19 A sure mark of spiritual poverty is a wide heart. If you have a narrow heart, you will only recognize Christ through some of His people. And you will be blinded to find Him through others. Jesus Christ is a lot larger than what most of us have thought, and He works through a lot more people than we would expect. So to put it in a question, is your Christ too small?

The Way We See Ourselves

An old man worked at a place I managed during college. I really need to qualify that by saying though I was technically his manager, I was as qualified to manage that place as I was to be an astronaut. Anyway, this old man was full of wisdom and some of the best wisdom he ever gave me was this:

There are 4 ways in which everyone is seen. 1. The way others see you. 2. The way you see yourself. 3. The way God sees you and 4. The way you really are.

At first the statement seemed a bit weird. I thought, "what do you mean God doesn't see me as I really am?" however, the more I thought about it, I found many nuggets of truth in his statement. First, God sees me as Christ makes me, not as I really am so the statement isn't as sacrilegious as I initially thought. Second, none of us see ourselves or others as we/they really are.

Despite great attempts at vulnerability, openness and acceptance, we will never be completely known nor will we completely know anyone in this life. This may be a bit frustrating and disheartening as those of us who long for intimacy and community realize that we are attempting to do something that is never complete so we are never quantifiable "successful".

A bit more contemplation though will maybe lead to a bit of excitement as well. I am not as bad, evil, cruel or pushy as I see myself...and as some others may think me to be. For the people that see good in me...I am not nearly as holy, good, honest, well-trained, educated, etc as they think me to be. I am what we all are. I am a bit of good, mixed with a bit of bad. I am perpetually under construction. That makes me very usual. However, if I will allow this wisdom to permeate my vision of myself and others I will be blessed with clarity that not everyone has.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"It Shall Not Be So"

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

In the past I have read the text above and assumed that when Jesus speaks about the Gentile leaders that he was implying the governmental leaders. The more I read it, the more I realize that Jesus never says that he is speaking about the government. In fact, I think the implication has to do with religious leadership.

If that is indeed the case, what might the re3action of Jesus be to the typical leadership structures and how those function within the average "church". Within the usual hierarchical, top down leadership style prevalent in the "church" today, do we see more of an attempt to control the attitudes and behaviors of others or do we see authentic, self-sacrificial servants kneeling before others? I have an opinion but what say you?