not be called leaders

Spent part of today scribing notes from a study I've been leading. Notes are meant for the lead shepherd of this flock for the upcoming summer. Got me to thinking about my role, and the responsibility I have to support the lead in shepherding the brethren. Which got me to asking the question "Who shepherds the lead shepherd?"

Organizational structures all have a hierarchy that ends with someone at the helm, whether it's a structure with questionable aims, or one with, well, questionable aims. But how the top dribbles down to the bottom is still important to discern.

Is my role as an elder support? Advice? Co-shepherding? Something altogether different?


to be quiet, but they

Plenty of reasons this morning to be distracted. Hard to focus on own walk when worried about others' walks. Easier to run around serving, easier to accomplish tasks, easier to do than to merely be. But once the throne is approached, once the silence can surround you, once the shutting out and looking up occurs, wonderful to know that own walk still there, still close because of the watching of the others'.


His disciples were together

Woke up this morning to news of a tragedy. Been a tough month for the flock, this being the third or fourth homegoing, and second unexpected and tragic one. Can either say this is one of the darkest months for the flock, or one of the brightest.

Wondered a few weeks ago what the purpose of the church was. In instances of tragedy, watching the flock mobilize to support one another, watching the flock bind together to love the sheep in the way commanded to in John21, and those questions are pretty much answered, aren't they? Lord can send dark months like this only to watch the body shine.

Discipleship or fellowship? How about love?


will take of mine and will

Imagine the original church acting just like modern American churches. Peter heads back to Jerusalem in Acts11, and gossip and backbiting precede his return. The church has heard of his preaching to gentiles, and the Jews are offended. Only a modern church would have expelled Paul; the original church hears him out. After a lengthy explanation of his vision and the "coincidental" arrival of Cornelius's men, Acts11:18 states that "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'"

The reaction in v18 can be read as spoken in a spirit of resignation. And the v's that follow back that up. The defiant Jews preach only to Jews in v19, while the ones resigned to (or excited by) the fact that Gentiles were being offered salvation as well preach to the non-Jews in v20. So no doubt that some racism played into the feelings of some people over this new development.

But what if it wasn't only racism? What if some of the issue was in the very human instinct to hoard what we deem precious? We save money; we fill garages to the brim; we have refrigerators with more tupperware saving leftovers than necessary (or healthy); we have contact lists on our cellphones and email address books of everybody we've ever remotely met. There is a human need to save.

And imagine this most special gift of all? Imagine communicating with God Himself. Imagine being His chosen ones. Imagine feeling completely different, completely unique from those around you. Imagine feeling like you've joined some super secret squad. And imagine that exclusivity open to the whole world. Racist? Likely. Jealous? Absolutely? A little sad? Yeah, probably.


the words that I say to you

Thinking about a post from a few days ago, while at the same time listening to a song from a CD recommended to me by a brother. One of the songs ("To the Only God") has particularly fine lyrics based completely on the end of the book of Jude.

People struggle to express themselves to God, and struggle with figuring out this whole thing with prayer. Prayer is simply and completely and utterly conversation with God, end of story. All of the constructs that churches have built up around it are completely useless. But even if you lacked the ability to converse, the Word itself can converse for you. Some of the most beautiful words ever written are contained within those chapters, and even if all you could do was read you'd be able to pray.

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." {Jude, v24-25}


and for what reason did he

I'm sorry, but only unconditional love can be considered Christian love. You can make the case for tough love, but that's only rationalization. Love doesn't come with strings, ever. You can even paint the picture of love seen in the bigger picture of the larger whole, still not love for that one-on-one. I've got plenty of examples in my own life showing I'm no expert on love, conditional or otherwise, but I'm not the one making the claims of love. To stand there and say that being taken advantage of is not the intended Christian way is a means of perhaps easing your conscience. But please don't defend this in the light of love. Christ knows no condition.


for me to feel this way

Acts9 recounts the conversion of Saul, one of the seminal events in all of history. Prior to the turning, Saul was persecuting believers to such an extent that later on in Acts9, Ananias was afraid to obey Christ and heal Saul's eyes, fearing for his own life.

I'm sure it has been pointed out before, but when Christ appears to Saul on the road to Damascus, He doesn't ask Saul why he's persecuting His children or His followers. He asks Saul why he is persecuting Christ Himself.

Sometimes I look at one of my sweet things, and even a hint of sadness or pain in the curl of her lips can drive me insane with sorrow. And it is this type of love that causes Christ to utter what He utters to Saul. He loves His disciples so much that their persecution, their pain, their suffering is driving Him insane with sorrow. Their pain is literally His pain. The love of God can be spoken of in many different ways, but one of the best ways is picking up on the little clues -- the words, the reactions, the actions -- that reflect a heart with a soft spot for us the size of all eternity.


go in and out and find

Caught a few minutes of an interview with a fine actor. He was asked a question about what acting instruction he had received and how he applied all of the different methods out there into his performances. He basically stated that he utilized little bits of everything, but it was the analogy he used that was striking. He said, "like in religion, you pick and choose the things that work for you."

Fine actor, but lousy theologian.

But he did utter a popular sentiment, no? Modern religion, especially American Christianity, is less about objective truth (especially in matters of doctrine), and more about which worship style fits you, or which ministries serve you, or whether or not the pastor wears a tie, or whether or not you bond quickly with fellow believers.

Voltaire once stated that if God didn't exist, it would be necessary for man to invent one. He does exist, and still man finds invention necessary.


both prayers and supplications with

"How to Receive an Answer from God" {Luke11:5-10}
* Intro:
- 90% Americans report they pray
- v1-4 sets context: followers wanted to know what to pray about
- Custom: hospitality a given in Middle East
- Sleeping neighbor NOT God; God contrasted to him
* Pray in faith
- Neighbor knew he'd get an answer to knocking no matter the hour; faith brought him to act
- Heb4:16: approach throne in confidence
- James5:15: in faith will heal sick
* Pray with persistence/boldness
- w/o shame
- Persistence key attribute in all spiritual disciplines
- Why persistence? Prayer primary means of communication in relationship w/ God; He wants to spend time w/ you
- Also, God uses prayer to shape our hearts
* Application
- Decide your relationship w/ God is worth the investment
- Establish prayer as a top priority
- Develop a plan for making prayer a lifestyle


speak to you in figurative language

Reading through Psalms this year, and really trying to focus on their uniqueness (from each other) and their status as actual prayers to God rather than narratives. Ps59 is a good example of what the psalms really are in essence. The psalm was literally written as David is hiding from Saul, and Saul has sent men to lay siege to his (David's) house in order to kill him. David's response is to cry out to God for deliverance.

I've paid attention to the prayers I lift to God, and I don't know that any are worthy of enshrinement into a book of any kind, much less a holy one. I'd say that most people's prayers are bland and uninspiring. Many point to the Lord's Prayer as the definitive word on how to pray. I submit to you that there are 150 models of prayer in the middle of that Bible of yours, and each one of them can teach you a thing or two about the real manner in which to hold conversations with God.


as not without aim

Thinking further about a post from a few days ago, as well as musing on what the vision and goals should be for my flock. Was critical a few days ago about how churches focus on ministries rather than the Spirit, and how ultimately that strategy wouldn't pay off.

But what if that strategy is in fact what a church should do? Perhaps the Spirit-focus is not something a church does, but rather what an individual and/or a family does?

I have stated before that parents, especially fathers, too often let the church handle the spiritual parenting, as if the main responsibility for raising a child up in the instruction of the Lord is dropping the tykes off at Awana rather than praying with them, reading Scripture with them, and talking about Jesus with them. What if this spiritual laziness existed in the realm of the Spirit as well? What if the job of ensuring a closer walk was an individual journey and not a corporate one? Perhaps the body is meant only for instruction, service, fellowship, and support and not for discipleship.

That is the key question, isn't it? Whether or not the body is for discipleship or for fellowship. My inclination is the former rather than the latter, but I suppose every house of worship needs to answer that question for itself.


have you not read in the

Wondrous one attended an emotionally tough event and shared with me what took place. She described a particular rite performed by the US Army, something called the "Last Roll Call". A commanding officer reads through the names in a unit, including the names of the fallen ones. And where living members respond to their names, the silence that greets the names of the fallen ones serves to highlight their absence.

At the Judgment Throne of God, there will be another reading of names. Those names will be read from the Book of Life. The difference will be that that Book won't include all names, but rather only those living ones bound for eternity. The fallen ones, the ones not included in that Book, will be greeted by the deafening silence of an eternity apart from God.

My friend, you can ensure that your name will not go missing. You can ensure that your name will not be omitted from that Book. You can ensure that silence will not highlight your absence. You can do all of that by placing your faith in Christ. And if you do that, my friend, your name will not be blotted out, but called aloud by the powerful voice of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

Will you make that commitment today?


you are already clean

Had a dream about grace and forgiveness last night. We speak of these terms as separate concepts, but they are intimately involved with each other. Forgiveness requires some amount of grace before it can be extended; grace is forgiveness given without merit. Reminded of something a brother expressed a few months ago -- the attributes of God are inter-related, and He is greater than the sum of His virtues.

The dream ended in tears with the message "Because I love you, and I know you're sorry." I like that the LORD takes joy from reminding His children of His heart for them, and it is a wonder I'm not on a street corner with tracts that express this same message to the world.


and the house was filled with

Acts5 has an amazing lesson on what a church can accomplish should it be filled with the Spirit. There is this mistaken impression that churches have to actively seek outreach. Churches believe that the world actively ignores believers, and so churches have to take that extra effort to draw them in. Churches speak of community transformation as a goal and as a mission.

While intuitively this makes sense -- truth is the world does actively ignore believers, and community transformation should be a goal -- it is not representative of true Christianity. True Christianity is Spirit-based. And when the Spirit is at work, the world doesn't need to be reached out to; the world will actively sense the Spirit and reach in. Acts5:12-16 shows the extent to which people will see the Lord at work and throw themselves to experience the same thing.

Eccl3:11 expresses the fact that the heart of man seeks eternity. The revivals of the 18th century were begun by a handful of people meeting to pray, and then the Spirit took over and spread like wildfire. Churches like Mars Hill don't explode in growth because of their extremely effective outreach; they grow because of the Lord's Spirit drawing people in. Churches with no Spirit have no chance at growth no matter the ministries.

You want purpose-driven? Your purpose should be to love the Lord with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul. And from that, if the Spirit is in you, all the rest will fall into place. You won't need canned materials; you won't need anything else at all.


what to say and what to speak

Spoke with a brother yesterday to follow up on an article I had sent him. He agreed wholeheartedly with much of what was stated, and then expressed a view on prayer that I hadn't heard before: perhaps certain types of prayer are spiritual gifts, and while all are called to pray, not all are called to pray in the same manner.

On one hand, this makes a lot of sense. We are called to teach Scripture to our young ones, and yet the ability to teach publicly is a gift. We are called to preach the Word, and yet preaching publicly is a gift. So while all may be called to pray, perhaps the ability to lift public prayers and concerts of prayer and spontaneous prayer for others is, too, a gift.

On the other hand, prayer is not an ability. Prayer at its core is simply conversation with God. And while there is some supernatural element of it that can move the Spirit of God and can work wondrous things, it is still simply talking to your Father. And yes, some can do that better than others, but it doesn't mean it is some gift. Treating prayer as some skill separates it from its fundamental nature. Babies fresh from the womb can communicate with their mothers right off the bat. And we're saying we don't have that innate skill with our Father?

I lean far more toward the latter position than the former. I can see where if you are completely underdeveloped in one area, you believe it is because that isn't how the Lord made you. But the alternative to that position is realizing that He has in fact made you to excel in that area should you only choose to grow.


will guide you into all the truth

"A Mother's Influence" (Example of Eunice & Lois)
* Intro: Motherhood looked down upon by society as a vocation; Lord honors it as a sacred calling
* Mothers & grandmothers can be disciple-makers
* Instill respect for Scripture {2Tim3:15}
- Deut6:4-7: teach [children] diligently
- Never too early or late to instill love of Word
* Instill authentic faith {2Tim1:5}
- Lord has no grandchildren -- faith not hereditary
- Sincere = sans hypocrisy
- Even sans father figure, mothers have clear role in shaping faith of young ones
- Authentic faith can't be had w/o fervent prayer (see mother of John Mark or Mary, mother of God)
* Instill desire to serve God {Acts16:1-3}
- Result of home-life influence? Timmy disciple w/ good rep and servant heart {Phil2:19-23}
- Respect for Scripture and authentic faith can lead to desire to serve
* Application
- Moms should be encouraged, even in moments of failure -- Lord's power can be seen in your weakness
- Spend time w/ God -- cannot neglect own walk in looking after others' walks


when once you have turned

Continuing yesterday's pondering of EO's list of "Ten Deadly Trappings of Evangelism". About the only one I have serious disagreements with is number five on that list, Carter's contempt of personal testimonies.

For my money, I can't get enough of them. Been listening to a number over the last year, and every time I find it marvelous to behold the power of God succeeding through faulty vessels. Have heard it stated that it is easy to argue against theological points, or philosophical stances, but that no one can argue with a testimony that shows how once you were lost but now you are found, once you were blind but now you see.

Personal testimonies are the reason much of the Bible was written in the first place. Why detail all of the travails David went through if David's only importance was his genealogy? Why detail any of the great heroes of the faith if their stories are second-rate when compared to the Lord's story?

The struggles of those in the Word are detailed so that we can see the Lord's strength and perfection working through their weakness and imperfection. And personal testimonies today continue the tradition of revealing Him through us. It is so gauche to quote oneself, but I don't care. As I once penned, "The sharing of each of these paints the giant canvas that is the saving grace of God."


because it had no depth

This article is brilliant in its boldness. And its brilliance is due to the sincere heart for authenticity in faith from which the list was generated rather than out of some inner need for rebellion -- although its shots at fad Christianity certainly touches the right notes in me. My disdain for the purpose-driven drivel of the modern American church can be found by random clicks through prior months. I'd do the research for you, but no need to rehash old rants. Wanted to remark on one that caught my eye today, and as the rest continue to linger in my head, I'll remark on the others that took away my breath.

Point one is important for all in leadership positions in churches to read and commit to heart. So many pat themselves on the back for the number of signed attendance cards at the end of services declaring a changed life. Just this week, heard of a local church that set three-year goals for new converts. As EO's Carter points out, Lord never calls us to count those Sinners Prayered as somehow fulfilling our mission. Lord calls for changed lives, lives turned completely over to His use. He wants disciples and not followers.

Have spent the past two and a half years growing in a role where I can better see the difference between the two. Fact is, for twenty plus years I have called myself a follower; Lord knows only six or seven of those have earned the title of disciple. Before the throne, I'll answer for the six hundred plus now in the flock. It should terrify me to know that part of that accounting will be comparing the disciple/follower ratio before and after my calling to leadership, and that the only successful ratio is 100% the former.


down like an empty vessel

Heard a sister's testimony on Sunday and musing on what she shared; and still musing on another sister's walk. Both deal with the void in that space in your heart that is too small for others to see, and yet large enough that it drains the momentary happiness with which you attempt to seal it with activities and relationships and noise. Been meaning to explore the peace of God, and will do so at some point. But ultimately, I think my understanding of the peace of God is that faith will lead you to a place of stillness where that hole is not some whirlpool but rather a drain, and that this stillness is a place where for a change that feeling of nothingness, that nothing no longer hurts.


I bow my knees before

Not usually a rebel, but have been forwarding this blog article to a number of folks in the flock. Not trying to foment a revolution; just found the thoughts expressed in the article interesting to discuss. Now, there is much to dislike in the article, including a defensiveness and rationalization for not spending much time on the knees (although the author attempts to stress the importance of prayer as a concept).

However, the railing against the modern concepts of prayer, including the terminology and the scheduled events, strikes my heart as something full of truth. Prayer is in fact the most important of the spiritual disciplines, and is in fact the most powerful weapon we have against liar and the forces of darkness. It should come as no surprise that there exists much confusion as to what prayer is or is not.

I'll give you a big hint as to how you can tell the difference between is and is not: from you? Is not. From the Lord? Is.


great sorrow and unceasing grief

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones." {Ps116:15}


washed before the meal

"Remembering Jesus"
* Luke22:15
* In remembrance of Me
- His example: meditating on a King disrobed, how can one continue in selfishness?
- His sacrifice: meditating on Lord willingly undergoing pain, how can one contemplate not changing?
- "Something is supposed to happen at this table in our hearts"
* Proclaim His death
- John12:20-32
- Rev5:6-10
* Looking forward to fulfillment
- Table reminds us to be forward-thinking
- Eternity contains marriage supper of the bride and her Beloved One


to choose men from among

Interesting article on Sen. Brownback. Love his quote:
"I believe the child in the womb should be protected, and that we should also protect the person that's in poverty, and the child that's in Darfur, and working with prisoners so they don't have so much recidivism and always back in the system."
Quite sick of how the bride ties its selfish motives and views to politics. Believers can't agree on translations of the Bible or denominational bents, you think they'll appropriately be able to mix politics and religion? Spend time googling "Why Christians should be Republicans" or "Why Christians should be Democrats" and you'll be apt to renounce citizenship and church membership.

Ultimately, trying to define your political views in the context of your religious views will always leave you open for criticism on some doctrine, or some personally-held view. Debates will never win a soul, and congressional seats will never bring about a baptism. Not saying we shouldn't work to protect righteousness. Just a reminder that winning a soul is far more important than winning the white house.


when He had come back to

Luke22:31-32 is a wonderful follow-up to yesterday's post. Lord Jesus is speaking to a future thrice-betrayer and mentions that liar is planning a wheat-sifting. Jesus informs Peter that He has prayed for Him, but then predicts Peter's failure. But rather than fixate on the sin, rather than fixate on the resignation to disobedience of the will, Jesus encourages him to strengthen the others on his return.

Lord is not overlooking sin, or condoning it here. Sin never pleases God. But Lord always takes back repentant hearts. And even in those moments of resignation to weakness, there is a guilt there, a shame, a real wish to be stronger. And it is that heart of repentance and desire to turn and return that ultimately pleases God.


so that when it fails

At some point your will isn't strong enough. And you know it. And you pretend like it isn't true. But deep down you know it is true.

At some point you realize that sin is common because it is attractive and makes you feel full in ways that are really empty. And afterwards you know it. And you pretend like you didn't know it ahead of time, that it would end in emptiness. But deep down you know you knew.

At some point you decide to go ahead and give in though pretending you are not headed down those darkened paths. And you know it. And you pretend like actions are like any other actions until they are no longer like those other actions and your will drops and your pretenses drop and you give in and you sin and you enjoy that sin within and then and then it's done and then and then that emptiness sets in. But deep down you know you couldn't win.

There is this thing called resignation to the disobedience of your will. Proof that you could never be good enough, because really, you tried, you forestalled, you delayed as far as you were able. And then.


and you hindered those who were entering

Woke up this morning with a song in my head. Haven't sung this in I don't know how long, so will chalk up its filling my head as a message from the Lord. Sounds and feels to me like a youth-oriented song, but if so, the lyrics are completely wasted on them. The line "objects of mercy who should have known wrath" uttered to double-time clapping by eighteen-year-olds loses the fullness of its meaning, methinks.

Why is it that I like this song, but cringe a bit imagining it on a Sunday morning with the flock? The lyrics are certainly no different than other worship songs, and so I guess in this case, the beat and melody do matter. And if it matters in this case, I suppose it matters in all cases.

Organized religion has created such constructs that it is no wonder flocks are divided over issues like drums or no drums, or more hymns or fewer hymns. And I understand why you need to manage time on a Sunday am to include announcements and tithing and sermon length, and so that you can organize multiple services to accommodate the attendees and the childcare workers. But when such constructs interfere with praise and worship, it makes you understand better why church attendance and growth are such difficult tasks, and makes you question how churches (as we know them) survive at all.


so then we pursue the things which

One of the things every American needs to experience in his/her life is a ride through Manhattan in a NYC cab. It's more frantic than a roller coaster, riskier than bungee jumping, and yet as controlled as a pilot navigating a plane through severe turbulence.

Part of the experience I'd recommend would also be riding into the city via the Lincoln tunnel. Eight or ten toll lanes merge into two, a sight to behold. And this isn't polite turn-taking merging. No, this is aggressive, fight-for-each-inch maneuvering. And yet, while each cab is fighting other cabs and cars services and random drivers as forcefully as possible, there is this interplay and set of understood rules about what happens when one bumper is a millimeter ahead of another and who has won each minor skirmish over an inch of space.

Thinking about this interplay of cars all directed toward the tunnel this evening, and thought of that as a good analogy for our walks. The cab you are in represents your will. The other cabs and cars represent the other impulses and desires in your life that run up against your faith. The tunnel represents your eventual outcome conformed to God's will. Some folks have issues with an omniscient Shepherd controlling our futures, but those arguments are false ones meant to appease wills bent on disobedience.

Now at any time, you can simply tell the cabbie to stop and pull over, not enter the tunnel. So again, free will not the issue here. The issue is your will. It runs up against other forces constantly. And how skillfully you navigate those issues determines how quickly you will reach that end destination. And quite often those other forces will win those minor skirmishes no matter how hard you try to win. The important thing is that you are trying to get there, trying hard to get there, aggressively fighting for those inches in an effort to get there. It matters how badly you want to get there. Because, end of the day, the only one who desires your arrival more than you do is the Lord.