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Daring and Emboldened

This morning I was working with Acts during my daily time here at the office, and I was once again stopped in my tracks by God. I read something that I have read many times, especially in the last couple of years. I read about the conversion of Saul, who becomes one our most famous evangelist in Paul.

But I read the story about Saul’s blinding on the road, and how for three days he ate nothing. Then Ananias being told to go and explain the gospel to Saul, but there were two things that really struck me this morning. Ananias was so comfortable in talking with God that he registered his objections and actually had his mind changed by God. When was the last time that truly happened for us? Probably less often that it really should be.

Also the other thing that really struck was me was just how quick, bold, and daring the early actions of Paul are. Here is a guy who just a couple of weeks before who was trying to kill “followers of The Way” now preaching. That must have seemed so schizophrenic to the people in the synagogues, and let’s not even start with the reactions of the chief priests. It also says that Paul was so bold that some in the synagogue were trying very often to kill him.

But Paul has a reputation of saying things that get him into trouble, but often that is because he has no filter between heart (or brain) and mouth. I know many people like this, but I do not know many people who channel their lack of filter to speaking boldly for God. I think the amazing thing about Paul is that he dives in headlong. He does not worry about the consequences of the things he’ll do.

When I think about my own faith life, and how I am about sharing my faith with others I wish I was a bit more like Paul. I think many of us know the way it goes when we attempt to not step on toes with our convictions. Paul did not care, and he probably turned some people off from “The Way,” but he also brought in thousands.

I don’t want my faith to become like that of Westboro Baptist Church, or other groups who spread hate and call it religion. What I want is the strength and integrity to speak love to teenagers and others whose life could be impacted by the love of Christ. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Rolling Away Our Heart of Stone

The video at the beginning of this post is from one of my favorite bands I’ve discovered in the last few months. Mumford and Sons are from England and play a country/bluegrass type of fusion music. But this song “Roll Away Your Stone” has been on a constant loop in my office lately.

This morning while working on my life journal I read Ezekiel 36:26, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.” NRSV. I thought it was poignant juxtaposition with the opening lines of this song, “Roll away your stone I’ll roll away mine/ Together we can see what we will find/ Don’t leave me along at this time/ For I am afraid what I will discover inside.”

While the song speaks to another person, there is an important idea of community between the two people.  But these lyrics also resonated with the idea of God helping us by removing our hardened hearts and placing the new one within us. Also the idea of what we find when we finally have a soft, warm, beating heart; the idea of being fully alive and feeling the pain of the world around us.

I have written and spoken a great deal about the ugliness, pain, and hurt we see in the world around us. I personally get to the point, quite often, that when I see all of the things around me that fill me with pain I return to my heart of stone. It is so much easier to not empathize or truly see those around us. There is so much pain around us, and many times it is easier to just shut down than to truly deal with the world around us.

But God is calling us to something more, something vastly different. We are not to be desensitized to the world around us, much like I think TV news and the media cause us to be; because, they sensationalize and play upon the bad news of the world around us. If we were to truly hurt for all of the pain we see around we would be paralyzed and unable to truly work for any good.

But that is not why God promises to give us His spirit and the heart of flesh. God promises this because without truly seeing the world around us as His world that we are trying to bring the Kingdom of God to, then we are not working for the Kingdom. We have to switch our point of view, we have to take the pain we see and work for transformation. We have to work for transformation of not only our own hearts, but also the transformation of the pain we see in the world around us.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Timely Messages

This morning I sat down in my office, just a little stressed about the upcoming schedules and things going on around me. So I dove into my life journal for the morning, and this is the timely word that was sent to me. “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may no turn from me.” Jeremiah 32:40

I told the students that have begun on the journey of Life Journals with me that it would amaze them how timely the words they would be reading would be. Even if the reading plan we’re following is static and designed to get the readers to read a good portion of the bible in a year. Sometimes the words that God will give are exactly what you need to hear.

I wrote recently about living into the pregnant pause, and maybe God is not silent, but saying “wait.” But one thing we cannot do is quit listening, or quit talking to God about the things that are bothering us. And I found renewed conversation with God through pouring myself into devotion, discipline, and reading of God’s word. It is so hard sometimes to regain the feeling of closeness or even the feelings of moving towards something greater.

There have been times in my life where I have felt extreme closeness with God, like nothing could break the stride of my walk. But there are other times in life where I feel that I am so off track, headed in a direction I was not meant for, and those times are incredibly discouraging to the spirit.

Then you get these words from Jeremiah. The things in Israel are bad, not just unpleasant, but downright bad. The Chaldeans and Babylonians are bearing down on the city of Jerusalem, destruction is imminent. But God tells Jeremiah that eventually the people will receive their land, and in even greater measure again soon. So this is when we get the word about the everlasting covenant for good.

The comes a mere three chapters after some of my favorite words in the Bible. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11. I often return to those words for inspiration, even when I do not feel like I am on the right track, I know God knows where I am going, and He knows what He is doing.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

God Speaking

This morning I was really looking back on the last year of my life and how much has truly changed. How much my boys have grown, since my youngest was a newborn when we came to Macon. Also I think about the periods of my life where I have been waiting on direction from God, where to go and how to do things, it is no different with my planning here at Mulberry praying for God’s direction.

But there is something that formed itself in my mind while (this will make my Seminary professors proud) I was attempting to be a reflective practitioner. It’s that maybe we often misinterpret the perceived silence of God in our lives. I don’t know where I came across it the first time, so for whatever uncredited source thank you, maybe God is not silent but saying, “wait.”

I can freely admit that I do not like to wait, it is really not in my gifts that God has given me. I grew up in the American culture of immediate satisfaction, we want what we want NOW! But sometimes God wants us to remember that we have to tune our antennas so that we hear him.  We have to turn the dial of our hearts away from the world around us to truly focus on what God is saying.

But the question that always pops up for me when I try this is, why is it so hard? Why does my heart not naturally want to center on the signal that God is sending out.  How do we truly know that are tuned to the right station and not just being pulled in what seems like the right direction?

In “The Screwtape Letters” the demons talk about the fact that their greatest weapon is not interrupting our times with God, but distracting us with things that will keep us so busy that we will forget about focusing on God. It’s strange but sometimes in my life I see this influence, and it’s not things that are blatantly against God, but things I can convince myself are for good.

Then when I come to this conclusion I see the hands that are slowly pushing me away because God is telling me to wait. God is giving us the word Wait, but all we hear is silence. We don’t feel the pregnant pause that is often present in our lives. I use the phrase pregnant for a purpose, because we often in the process of something new, something that is being recreated. God is not only the Creator, but the Master Recreator as God does on a daily basis.

So maybe the silence we hear is not truly silence, but the pregnant pause that is coming to be. The Bible speaks of the labor pains that are bringing what is coming to be. Maybe we need to hear, “Wait” when our hearts feel silence. Even if we are truly experiencing silence, maybe we need to keep telling ourselves to wait on the Master of Recreation.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Reaping What We Frequently Sow

Yesterday I had a Bible Study with several of my youth looking at the parable of the sower in the gospel of Matthew. If you are unfamiliar it’s the story where some seed fell on shallow ground, some on the path, some was choked by thorns, and the rest was sown (planted) in good soil. That seed planted in the good soil yielded either one-hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

We’ve also been studying “Almost Christian” by Kenda Creasy Dean, and it has had me doing a great bit of thinking about the church, and in particular my teaching in the church I am in.  One of the conclusions that the National Study of Youth and Religion makes (and this is what Dean is writing about) is that many churches are not practicing consequential faith, but instead a watered down Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. We can discuss MTD at a later time, but needless to say it does not line up with truly following Jesus Christ.

What I see when I look at the ministry of Jesus is a preponderance of agricultural references, and therefore a reason to look at our fruitfulness in the terms of reaping and sowing. While Dean works a great deal with the conclusions of the NYSR, and there is major cause for distress about the direction of our mainstream churches, I see hope in the parable of the sower.

When we look at the parable the seed that fell on good soil produced many times more than what was sown, and I think we have much good soil in our churches. The thing we have a problem with is not actually drawing people in, but in forming them into people that lead lives of consequential faith. Now there is no magic bullet to change our church cultures, but there is a glimmer of hope.

If the church has indeed formed people into the mold that the church has created. If we truly hold onto the idea that people can be transformed by the love of Christ, then we must hope for a tide change. And God proved long ago that he can change the tides, so the idea of we’ve always done it that way is one that those in leadership have to fight tooth and nail against.

I find myself hopeful that the youth I teach and are hoping to form will eventually help change the tide of the church. How do I make sure to be the lead portion of the wave and not hanging in the back making sure that I don’t get trampled. I hope that when our tide changes that we will all be moving towards that greater thing that God is longing to do with and through us.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Modeling Grace

I have recently been working a lot on an upcoming series for the youth here at Mulberry, and I am focusing the series called “My Generation!” on Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean. The book is an incredibly interesting one, and has created many questions I must ask myself and my ministry.

One of the things that this book is grappling with is how the faith of adults in the church models for our students.  Are the conclusions in the books pointing to a lack of growth in the faith of young people or are our churches modeling faith that is not truly world changing.  One of the questions that popped up for me about not only my setting, but the settings I have been involved in over the years is the idea of modeling grace.

We are given a biblical model for grace in the life of Jesus, and we are told to model that grace in our lives and interactions with our neighbors. I know that growing up I was surrounded by an environment and community of grace.  I do still sometimes get met with the memories of my self in my formative teenage years, and that at times causes me pain because I am no longer the person I was.

How many of us do not model grace in our interactions with other people around us? Do we hold a grudge, do we remember the sins that we forgave however many years its been? That is something that stuck out to my mind while reading this book, is how do we create a community of grace with teenagers?

Teenagers are passionate, impulsive, and often feel the cut of slights more deeply than older people. How do we teach and model the living out of grace between our students. How can we improve not only our churches, but also our daily lives to show that grace is extended between not just those close, but those further away from ourselves.

Modeling grace is incredibly tough, but I think what might happen, and Dean would say is happening, is that we do not place enough focus on the costly nature of our religion. What the National Study of Youth and Religion informs us that our faith is not nearly costly enough for our students to see how it truly changes us. If we are serious and intentional about modeling grace I think our children and students will see how much our faith means to us.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Jesus Rides the Subway

Recently I took some of the youth here to the Third Day, Tenth Avenue North, and Trevor Morgan concert here in Macon, and an interesting trend for me presented itself.  Now let me preface this by saying that I love Tenth Avenue North and Third Day, but I was blown away by Trevor Morgan. His songwriting and voice just cut right through, and his album “The Blessed and the Broken” is a great album.

Trevor’s song “Jesus Rides the Subway” is a very well written song, and the chorus gets me every time I listen to it. “You can lay your burden down, you can lay your burden down, Maybe you’ve been kicked around, but you can lay your burden down.” Wow. I mean it’s simple and repetitive, but when you hear Trevor’s voice come through it really cuts through.

My favorite part of the song is the end where Trevor sings “Jesus went to church on Sunday, Sat in the back and sang the hymns. Jesus went to church on Sunday, but they did not recognize Him.” How true this is. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for one of the least we do for Him. It says in scripture that the righteous ask Jesus when did we do this for You?

The people that are truly following Jesus are forgetting or ignoring the social constraints that many of us are living within. The point I take away from the passage is that Jesus may not look or smell like we want him to, but it is Him none the less. And Trevor’s song makes the point that we will miss Jesus if we trust Him to look just like us, to wear the same clothes, or even go to the same school.

The other thing that I take away from this song is that we have to go find Jesus sometimes, now it is true that the people who need Jesus are right around us. But even those people who are physically right next to us we will have to go out of our way, out of our comfort zones to truly touch. Like the story of Mother Teresa, she touched those whom the Indian society thought were untouchable. She went into a place with what was thought to be a highly contagious disease and she loved people.

Everyone of us has a Calcutta that we need to truly see in the world around us, whether it’s the rough neighborhood or if it is just the neighbor we really do not care for. Calcutta’s are all around us. Yes, Jesus would have ridden the subway, because he aimed for the people that people forget. How can we no longer forget or just easily push to the side the people whom society has already marginalized?

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Uncategorized