2.20.15–>”Make A Joyful Presence”

presence-of-god

Do you realize the healing power of your joyful presence?

There is probably no better gift that we can give anybody than our presence and availability.

Remember, our presence is even more valuable to people than our time. We can give people our time without giving them our presence, our attention. We can be there but elsewhere.

Think of how encouraging it is to be with someone who is totally tuned in to you, as if nobody else exists, as if they have nothing else to do, as if this is their last appointment on earth. It’s wonderful! It’s healing, especially over time. I know a few people like this (I don’t wanna mention their names and pump their ego). Whenever I’m with them, I feel they are genuinely interested in me. Curious about me and my life, asking me thoughtful questions. Not asking me how i am out of obligation as is so painfully obvious with many. It’s so good to be around these present people who enjoy being with me just because I’m me.To be lovingly engaged is just beautiful. It is to be affirmed and accepted.

Think of how God is always available, always tuned in to us, always paying attention. He is the God of all comfort (2 Cor.1:3-4). We never need worry He is on His phone, or needs to finish something up real quick. He’s there, and when we turn our full gaze toward Him, we see that He has been there all along, ready to engage with us.

And as long as we drink from this eternally flowing spring of living water that is God’s healing presence, we are able to be His presence to others so that they may partake, and taste, of His goodness and ever streaming kindness.

This is what the world cries for–to be seen, heard, validated, known, and loved. What if we really started offering that more than simply a weekend show, another Bible study, reprimanding of behavior, and condemnation of beliefs or dogma. What if we were actually Jesus, who was a healing presence, listening ear, and asker of thoughtful, engaging questions? A carer of souls.

I thank you to those of you are this to me. I love you.

2.19.15–>”Scary Passage–Part 2″

Be Careful

crucify

Hebrews 6:4-6

For once people have been enlightened-when they’ve tasted the heavenly gift and have had a share in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age-it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance if they fall away, since they are crucifying God’s Son all over again, on their own account, and holding Him up to contempt.

Thinking more of this difficult passage. There is ambiguity in it, and the scholarliest of scholars have many different views on its meaning. What does “fall away” mean? Impossible to restore them while they are fallen away or ever again? Once saved always saved? Or can you turn away and give it back after accepting? With questions as deep as these, sometimes it is good to simply look to God and utter our incomprehensibility with “Thou knowest.” And just be sure to stay close to Christ.

In its original context, it was written to a church facing some severe persecution, so this was written as an exhortation and encouragement to them to persevere in the faith. This section has this stern warning that falling away, whatever the author means exactly by that, is very bad. Worse than whatever persecution they are facing.

One thing to be very careful of is to not misuse a passage such as this to judge or manipulate others. The author also shows that it is impossible for us to know someone’s heart. Only God really knows our hearts. May we always keep that reality before us. So we as frail humans go by what we do see outwardly, the fruit of someone’s life. And if it appears a brother or sister has turned away from faith in Christ, hopefully we care enough for them to lovingly pursue them and be the kindness of Christ to them. For God shows kindness to all, even the unthankful, and we are to show mercy just as He shows mercy.

Regeneration, an awesome spiritual word we don’t hear much these days, refers to the action only God can perform of transforming one’s heart. There is no way a third party can actually witness this. “We see the results, witnessing what seems to be a powerful, spiritual surrender or a quiet dawning of Gospel-understanding that leads to a refreshing newness. The change in perspective, the altering of character, and the gradual transformation of lifestyle point to a deeper reality, a regenerate condition of the heart.” Yet we still see through our imperfect lenses. So may we look to God and judge our own hearts, not others.

May this passage inspire us to be aware of encouraging one another in our faith and in our pursuit of drawing closer to God everyday.

Kind of interesting, a study done a while back showed that two of the main reasons for people dropping out of the church are (1) From a process that neglects long-term development in the faith after a person has converted, and, (2) If new members were introduced to Christianity through a manipulative process. Among those surveyed, “87 percent of those now inactive came to their point of decision through a church member who used manipulative monologue.”

P.S. If you’re a nerd like me and wanna read more about this passage from some of those scholarly scholars, I love George Guthrie and Scot McKnight. They have different views on this passage, but both so very good.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.18.15–>”The Scariest Passage in the Bible?”

Upon What Do You Rely?

crucify

Hebrews 6:4-6

For once people have been enlightened-when they’ve tasted the heavenly gift and have had a share in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age-it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance if they fall away, since they are crucifying God’s Son all over again, on their own account, and holding Him up to contempt.

This is quite frankly a little frightening and disturbing.Well, what do we know? It’s good practice to work from the known to the unknown.We know that repentance is required to follow Jesus. And that repentance is only possibly through God’s power. And God’s power was ultimately released on that first Easter weekend. So if you are relying on anything other than that mysterious power that is the resurrection of Jesus for your repentance, life, and salvation, you cannot turn to God or even back to God. Not while you’re in that state at least.

Dependence on anything but Christ is siding with the rejectors of Christ at the cross–those who pierced Him and mocked Him.

This is heavy and I am sobered by it this morning. The only action I can think of to take right now is to begin this moment and all of today (and beyond) to utter the breath prayer “I am totally dependent on You.” This is where I start. That’s what my response to this word looks like right now.

What does it look like for you to listen and respond to this word today?

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.17.15–>”The PAPA Prayer”

PAPA Prayer

So, I would like to share a way of prayer that has been very helpful for me and how I approach God. It’s called “The PAPA Prayer” and I discovered it from a book with that title written by Larry Crabb. I was so taken with it that I read it through practically non-stop the weekend I found it. It’s based on the foundation that the chief purpose of prayer is to get to know God, not to get what we want. Our prayer life is to be at its center relational, not to be first and foremost petitionary.

Here’s the acronym breakdown of this approach to prayer:

P: Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in the relationship. Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify.

A: Attend to how you ‘re thinking of God. Again, no pretending. Ask yourself, “How am I experiencing God right now?” Is He a vending machine, a frowning father, a distant, cold force? Or is He your gloriously strong but intimate Papa?

P: Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. Put into words whatever makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed when you’re real in your relationship with Him. How are you thinking more about yourself and your satisfaction than about anyone else, including God and His pleasure?

A: Approach God as the “first thing” in your life, as your most valuable treasure, the Person you most want to know. Admit that other people and things really do matter more to you right now, but you long to want God so much that every other good thing in your life becomes a “second-thing” desire.

Personally, I have found those two “P’s” to be especially healing in my prayer these days–presenting everything before Jesus, my ugly, embarrassing, awkward, ridiculous, and letting Him have it. Wow, I did not realize my great need for this approach to communing with God or His healing power when we are brutally honest with Him with regard to our pain and weakness. He embraces us in it, and that alone is shalom-giving.

Also, here’s what may be some more helpful thoughts:

“Relational prayer is the center of all true prayer. The power of petitionary prayer depends on the centrality of relational prayer.” Here’s how these seem to play out:

False Prayer–A Me-Centered Prayer Life (goes in this order)

  1. Petition–> “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” – “Bless me, dear God.” – “Give me the good life of fulfillment and joy.”
  2. Intercession–> “Change Things For My Sake” – “Work in others and in my circumstances with my well-being in view.”
  3. Thanksgiving–> “Thank You For My Blessings” – “You’re useful. I like it. Keep it up!”
  4. Worship–> “Here’s My Tip For Good Service” – “I’ll sing and praise You for what You’ve given me.” – “Hey, worship is easy. All I have to do is work up fervent emotions. Sacrifice isn’t required.”
  5. Relating–> “Tell Me What To Do To Keep The Good Times Rolling” – “I’ll do my part for as long as You do Yours.”

True Prayer–A Relationally(God)-Centered Prayer Life (in this order)

  1. Relational Prayer–> Draw Near and Listen – Remain in Christ – Let God’s word remain in you
  2. Worship–> Bend Low As a Living Sacrifice – Surrender every second thing to gain union with God
  3. Thanksgiving–> In Every Circumstance Give Thanks – Thank God for the unique opportunity every blessing or trial presents to delight God’s heart and reveal Him to others
  4. Intercession–> May Your Kingdom Come Through Others – Change people’s hearts so that they long to advance Your will
  5. Petition–> With the Mind of Christ, Ask and Receive – Petitions grow out of a desire for God…expressed by the Spirit’s groaning, discerned by the Father’s searching, furthering the Son’s joy

This of course is no magical incantation, but may be very helpful or even paradigm-shifting for your approach to God in prayer. It has been very good for me. Along these lines, I’ll close with this quote from Crabb:

“Let me speak clearly: I do not recommend the PAPA prayer as a way to make anyone more spiritual. To do so would be to deny both the Spirit’s free sovereignty and our freedom to flow with or resist His movement when it comes. We can make nothing that deeply matters turn out the way we want. So we must keep doing what we can, what we believe we’re directed to do, but not to make anything happen. We are to do what’s right with a growing awareness of our poverty and dependence. The rest is up to Papa. That’s obedience. That’s trust. That’s humility.”

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.15.15–>”In Front of the Front Row!”

Metallica

One of my awesomest memories (and I have many) is going to see Metallica downtown at what is now called Bankers Life Fieldhouse circa 2004.

Now the reason for the extra awesomeness of this particular show is that my good friend Joe Robinson hooked me and three buddies up with something a little special. You see Joe owns the company responsible for all the security at BLF–concerts, Pacer games, you name it. So he had one of his guys meet me and my dudes out front to walk us in. First off, let me just express the incredible feeling of walking past 5,000+ people waiting in line to go thru security check and absorb their “Why do they get to go right in without waiting?!?” looks on their faces. At this point we are already feeling like some privileged politician or rock star ourselves.

Once inside, our personal security guard walks us down the aisles to find our seats. Pretty soon we notice, “We’re in like the first twenty rows!”

And we keep walking.

“Oh guys, we’re in the first ten rows!!”

And we keep walking.

Are you kidding me? We must have front or second row seats, this is amazing!

And

we

keep

walking.

He takes us through a waist-high locked gate all the way down to the stage. We’re given fluorescent wrist bands, which to this day I believe contained magical properties, and were told we could walk anywhere we wanted around the stage for the whole show. What. Just. Happened? We were given “floor passes”, that’s what just happened. What the heck are floor passes? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Until tonite! We are in front of the front row! People in the very front row wish they were us!!!

It was absolutely incredible. I was in danger of being sweated upon by James Hetfield, the legendary vocalist/rhythm guitarist  of Metallica. This was a very spiritual experience indeed. And most amazing, the tickets cost us zero dollars. Why? Because Joe just gave them to us. He wanted to bless me and my friends. And we accepted. Oh how we accepted.

Zero dollars, but was there a cost? Sure, we had to drive downtown and find a place to park. We had to meet up with his guy at a certain time and place to walk us in. How do think we felt about that cost? Big freakin’ deal! That’s how we felt. That’s all we gotta do? To score tickets to this show of the metal gods? DONE. A thousand times done. What a negligible cost.

Now let’s imagine, just before the show begins, a friend of mine calls me exclaiming, “Great news! There’s still some seats available up in row triple ‘Y’ for only $150!” What? Are you serious? First off, why would I sit back there, even if I had binoculars? Secondly, why would I pay money, let alone that much, for poor seats when these floor passes were gifted to me???

Seems like a no-brainer. But isn’t this what we do spiritually speaking? We leave the gifted floor passes to pay for the nosebleeds.

God has given us everything. He’s given us His Son, which means He’s given us full access to Himself and His presence. And we pay nothing for it. We only can accept what He has offered, and then take full advantage of it, resting in Him and who we are in Him. Yes, there is cost–time, old ways and values, maybe even some friends. But when compared to what you gain, the cost is laughable. The greatest thing we can possibly have is God Himself. And He says, “Be with Me. Be one with Me, what you are made and destined for.” Yet so much of the time we choose to pay $150 for the seats where we are likely to get altitude sickness. “That’s OK, a nice offer, but I’ll stick with trying to please you and run myself ragged serving as many people and ministries as I can. It’s too hard to accept something so nice without paying for it. So I’m gonna keep striving. I know I don’t deserve it, so I’ve gotta keep perfecting myself until I’m worthy of this generous gift. Excuse me while I go up and find my seats.”

No thank you. I’m gonna accept those floor passes with ease, thank you very much, Mr. Robinson. I enjoyed my pants off at that show thanks to that blessing, generosity, and…my acceptance of it.

I enjoy my days most when I accept God’s gift of Himself and then actually live into the joy of it by accepting myself as He does.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.15.15–>”Come to Me”

rest

Matthew 11:28

“Are you having a real struggle? Come to Me! Are you carrying a big load on your back? Come to Me–I’ll give you a rest!”

-Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus said, “Come to ME!”
“And I will give you a rest!” 

He did NOT say, “Come to Bible study for a rest.”

He did NOT say, “Come to church for a rest.”

NOT “Come to group.”

Not “Come to these Daily Meditations.”

Not “Serve more.”

Not “Seek social justice.”

Not “Try harder.”

He said, “Come to Me.”

All of these things may very well be a path to communing with Christ, but none of them actually give the soul rest in and of themselves. If you want rest and peace for your soul, don’t go ultimately to any of those things.

The only, ONLY thing that gives your soul the truest rest it longingly needs and desires is Jesus Christ Himself. All those things mentioned are nothing in themselves. Nothing. But they may be a way for you to Jesus and to rest in Him.

May we always remember and keep coming back to what our hearts really desire and require–Jesus, the person who is alive and active and the only authentic giver of soul rest. Nothing and no one else can give this. Make sure it is always Jesus Himself we are going to, pursuing, and pointing to in all of our spiritual activity, for what else is there, really?

What is it that puts you into the arms of Jesus and allows you to totally relax and rest in Him?

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.14.15–>”You Can’t Become Like Christ While Sucking on Your Ba-Ba Forever”

baby milk

Hebrews 5:11-6:3

We have plenty to say about all this; but it may be hard to make it clear, because your capacity to take things in has become sluggish.

Yes: by now you really should have become teachers, but you need someone to teach you the basic elementary beginnings of God’s oracles. You need milk, not solid food!

Everyone who drinks milk, you see, is unskilled in the word of God’s justice; such people are just babies. Mature people need solid food–and by “mature” I mean people whose faculties have been trained, by practice, to distinguish good from evil.

So let’s leave the basic level of teaching about the Messiah, and go on toward maturity!

I remember going with some buddies occasionally to visit a friend of ours who had moved to another state. On some of those visits we would attend his church that was just…kinda weird. The preacher, over the years, would basically preach the exact same salvation sermon every single time.

Now I agree that we do need to be continually reminded of the basics of what we believe, but something just didn’t sit right whenever we would visit this “Numbing Factory” as it felt to me. Looking around at the catatonic droolers, I was like, “Who is he preaching to?” These are the exact same people that we’ve been seeing here for the last three years, and he’s preaching the exact same sermon! Talk about not getting your money’s worth.

This passage has helped me see what was so unsettling and even quite disturbing about that experience. You build no capacity to serve others, or yourself for that matter, while drinking milk only. We can only help others as far as we’ve journeyed. I’ve been given the vision of a guy feeding adults with a little” ba-ba” of milk. (Flashbacks haunt me from a Jerry Springer episode I saw years ago about a fetish some adults have to be dressed, fed, and changed like a baby.)

Following Christ is well described as “simple, yet challenging.” It’s simple from the standpoint that all we really need to do is love God and others via staying closely connected to Jesus so that the Holy Spirit’s life can flow freely into ours. It’s challenging because everything in the world seems to want to distract us away from this simplicity and beautifity.

But with the simplicity comes inevitable growth. We’re created to be creators and humans of maturing. We need to be challenged, and at least at times become, what a friend coined last week “Uncomfortably Unnumb.”

It’s comfortable to sit around sucking on a bottle, left unchallenged.

But is that really satisfying?

Is that what you really want?

Are you still messing with the basics?

Are you being challenged?

Is it time for you to be teaching/passing on to others?

Eat some solid food for crying out loud!!!

Let’s challenge ourselves and each other to some growth and capacity, baby!

(Funny, I didn’t really mean “baby” like an actual baby there at first, but more as a generic term of endearment, but hey, if the diaper fits!)

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.12.15–>”Total Submission”

Gethsemene3

Hebrews 5:7-10

During the time of Jesus’ earthly life, He offered up prayers and supplications, with loud shouts and tears, to the One who was able to save Him from death. He was heard because of His reverent submission (or devotion).

Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.

When He had been made complete and perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, since He has been designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

He was heard because of His reverent submission.

As our source of eternal salvation and also our prime example of how to live this earthly life, Jesus shows us that it is in complete abandonment  of our will to the Father’s will that brings about the full and joyful life and reward.

It doesn’t seem as popular to say these days, but our motivation for our pursuit of God must come, at least in part, simply from divine decree and authority (hey, that rhymes!). Jesus has authority over our lives. Everything that was made was made through Him. I’d say that gives Him a say in how we live our lives. Our only real choice then is to submit. To just surrender to Him. And what is so good about that is that we are surrendering to love. For God is love. God is not wrath or judgement, though those may come from Him. But He is love. Surrendering to Him is surrendering to love. (See Surrender to Love by David G. Benner–excellent!)

And the more submitted we are, the more alive we are, for Father knows best.

Jesus is and must be our ultimate inspiration and source of strength from the standpoint that He met every temptation and rode it out to its fullest extent possible because He never gave in. Therefore, He knows just how far every temptation can go and how difficult it is to not give in and what it feels like. We don’t know because we give in so often and, hence, don’t know what it would have felt like to ride it out even further and experience the anguish of it. Nor do we know the reward. Though it’s not like we’re batting .000. Sometimes we do make it through, and I’m sure you do feel the reward of that victory. But if someone’s gonna run a marathon, they best not come to me for advice and training because I can’t tell them what hitting that wall at mile 22 even feels like. Or at mile 20. Or mile 17, or 12…I’m gonna send them to my buddy Todd (Leavell not Fisher!) because he’s run a few of these things. He’s endured to the end and can therefore be a great help to those wanting to run 26.2 miles because he knows what every one of those miles feels like.

In this passage we have an expansion on the anguish Jesus experienced in Gethsemene. He was most likely not sitting proper at a nice boulder, hands folded, gazing peacefully up at the beautiful light in the sky. He was shouting and crying and fighting. It was a true wrestling with what was being asked of Him and not wanting to go through it. (Sometimes it bothers me how many times I read that Jesus was so disturbed at the separation from His Father that was looming, that He wasn’t even that upset about the physical suffering to come. Bull Manure! I’d be so freaked out about the worst kind of death devised by wicked men imaginable at that point! No submission here, I’m telling you. I think He was fighting the physical stuff in addition to the spiritual. He was human and this was gonna suck big time!)

But Jesus submitted His will to the Father’s perfect will. He was submitted to God’s authority, not His own.

Sometimes what’s asked of us is difficult, painful even. But the reward, transformation, metamorphosis in store is beyond what we can probably see or possibly even comprehend right now. Just check out Brother Lawrence, Jean Pierre de Caussade, and Frank Laubach to see what can happen with total submission.

Today you might practice the habit of asking God what He would have you do in every situation before and during. Small prayers like, “Not my will but Yours, Father” or “What would You have me to do/say?” are great little prayers to voice ceaselessly throughout your (His) day.

God is infinitely good and He knows what He’s doing.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

2.11.15–>”When I Was In Prison You Visited Me”

Pendleton

Matthew 25:31-46 

“Then the King will answer them, ‘I’m telling you the truth: when you did it to the least significant of my brothers and sisters here, you did it to Me.'”

I think I have new appreciation for these verses. Yesterday, I went to see my kid, Reese, at Pendleton Prison. (For those of you who don’t know, he is a kid I was working closely with while I was at Outreach, Inc. He turned himself in for killing someone in September of 2008, and has been locked up ever since.)

My last visit, as well as this one, my first of 2015, have touched me deeply. Seeing Reese light up as soon as he saw me was just…I don’t know, overwhelming. He is starving for companionship. I am now his only visitor–ever–since his dear grandmother is in such poor health. Because of a fight he got into last year, we have to do the phone visit separated by bars and plexiglass until April. That kinda sucks, but his smile is infectious, even through the thick barrier between us.

“Rob, I missed you so much. I think about you all the time. I look at your pictures everyday.” It’s when he says stuff like that that I am speechless. It touches me so much and at the same time I feel that pain of guilt for not seeing him more often. (Especially after meeting the 80 year old guy in the waiting room who told me he drives 3 1/2 hours every two weeks to see his nephew! Well thank you for that uplifting word, Mr. Perfect! I just made my second 45 minute trek since last fall.) Anyway, I think it’s a healthy guilt because I am guilty. Guilty of not visiting Jesus Himself in prison according to this passage. When I visit Reese, I visit Jesus.

Reese craves time with me. And I think Jesus does as well. And I believe He desires it in this form and the others mentioned in this pericope–I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you made me welcome. I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to me. 

I can’t tell you the delight in my soul from visiting Reese yesterday. And it’s not because it’s such a fun, great time. You go into this dark place. You get searched for contraband which is…let’s just say the officer got to second base with me. You talk on a phone which might have been disinfected who knows what year You look at your friend through what seems to be frosted plastic. There’s hardly a thing you can offer him. There’s not much to really talk about. And yet. And yet, you are in front of someone with so much desire to be with you, who soaks up every second of your time. Who appreciates you like nothing else. God is there. Oh my is God right there in the most palatable of ways. It is there I feel connection to Him like few other places.

God is showing me more and more clearly that this is where we are to be. It is of cosmic importance to be with those who are suffering and in great need. As Jesus’ Spirit-filled-led followers, we must tend to those who suffer. It is life to them and it is life to you. Followers of Jesus must, on some level, be with the “least significant.” The seismic shift is impossible to describe. It’s not so much that you feel good, but that shalom is created, the healing of the nations is spread even if microscopically, and the universe is put in more order to some unmeasurable, perhaps minute degree.

As our visit drew to its inevitable close and I said goodbye, he put his hand up on the glass for me to put mine up to his. It was like something out of a movie and I almost burst into tears right then and there. I hung up the phone and walking away I looked back to see him staring at me still. I touched my fist to my heart and then held it out toward him (Zakk Wylde style), and then without really thinking, I touched my right index and middle fingers to my lips and then pointed them at him. It was purely a reflex of some kind and he affectionately returned the gesture. Now bear in mind this was the most testosterone-filled way of blowing a kiss imaginable, but I did think for a second, “What did I just do?!?” And then I was like, “Who cares?” I love this kid like he’s my own and I’m not ashamed of it.

If you know anyone who is suffering, if there’s anyone in your life at all in need, please, for the love of God, reach out to them today. They need to hear from you. They need your touch and connection.

You won’t regret it.

Ever.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria