Tag Archives: transformation

Who Goes First?

stop signAt 7:50pm 4 cars came to the intersection at roughly the same time.  I was second. The first driver was to my left and made a left hand turn.  As he cleared the intersection, I began to cross the intersection. I was second.  My daughter and I had just left the gym after working out, we were tired, thirsty and in desperate need of showers.  We were heading home when the lady from my right pulled out in front of me to cross the intersection.

At that moment you would have been hard pressed to find any love at the corner of Ravine and Nichols in the Kalamazoo area!  My windows were up and the air conditioning on so I don’t know what it was she was yelling out her window.  But as I uttered inside the confines of our 2001 Subaru Forester (180,000+), “Not your turn,” I could tell by the look on her face that she was maybe more angry than I was.

But, it was MY TURN! 

Have you ever noticed how often we think about it being “my turn?”

It’s my turn for a promotion at work. It’s my turn to go first. It’s my turn to be successful. It’s my turn to get the biggest piece. It’s my turn to use the car. It’s my turn to get… You get the picture right?

Ironically, just yesterday morning I had a conversation with some amazing people looking at how to live a more mission/other minded life and what it looks like to create more loving spaces in the mundane places of our lives.  It’s hard to live a life of love when we are focused on MY TURN.  In the book of Philippians, Paul reminds those of us who have been deeply impacted by Christ’s love to be more concerned with OTHERS than ourselves.  Here are the words he uses in chapter 2:3-4:

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In spite of all the rhetoric about love wins, our culture is making it increasingly more difficult to live a life that is other focused and rooted in love. In fact, today Tim Cook and Apple will tell me that the new iPhone 6 I got two months ago is now obsolete, that my iPad is too small and that AppleTV is a real necessity!  Technology isn’t bad. That’s not what I am saying.  Our culture, however, continues to disciple us into thinking and behaving more and more individually and in self-centered ways.

But I am responsible for how I live and love – not culture.  I can make choices about who I want to be and the way I want people to experience me.  And last night there was a stranger who didn’t experience love while crossing an intersection.  Last night, without thinking, I also discipled my daughter teaching her to be as self-centered and unloving as I was.

I don’t have to be selfish.  I don’t have to be self-centered.  Because of Christ’s work in me I can choose to be different.  I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I have this amazing partner, the Holy Spirit, who helps me learn to lead myself.

Who will you be today? Will you choose with me to love someone you otherwise might not want to?


Racism, Let’s Stop Playing The Victim

Charleston Church

I got this photo from a friend of mine who lives in Charleston, S.C. It was taken the morning of June 18 – the morning after the shooting

Yesterday morning I woke up and went through my usual routine.  When I got to perusing the news, my heart sank.  There was a ball in my stomach and I felt sick. Wednesday night there was a mass murder of 9 individuals attending a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.  And while we don’t have all of the details yet, it seems this was a hate crime born out of racism.

Throughout the course of the day yesterday I was part of, and an observer of, several conversations about the shooting in Charleston.  Most of the conversations were with white church going believers.  Many of them hold significant leadership positions of various kinds.  These are good people whom I love and admire!  But there was a theme – no, a story, being told throughout the conversations that was very troubling to me.  The story being told can be summed up in one sentence:

It isn’t really a racism problem, it is a sin problem. Can we call that what it is?  Please?

Yes, racism and hate is a sin.  Scripture records for us the first hate crime in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel.  Romans 3:23 reinforces for us that when sin entered into the world that ALL OF US have sin, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Racism is sin.  Hatred is sin.

But!

Passing off a racially motivated murder of 9 individuals, or even 1 individual, as a sin problem is a story we tell ourselves so we can assume the role of helpless victims.  Not victims to racism.  Not victims to hatred.  But we play the roles of victims to sin.

This is where we helplessly throw our hands up in the air saying “it’s a sin issue” as if there is nothing we can do about it.  When we gloss over egregious evil in our world by labeling it a sin issue, we allow ourselves to become helpless and habitually disobedient to the teachings of Jesus.  

Let me say that all differently.  We do life as if we are obligated to live with racism in our world because there is sin in the world.  If we obligate ourselves to living with racism, with sin, then we enslave ourselves to racism, its existence, and let it control us as we play the helpless victim.

But!

Paul tells us we do have an obligation in Romans 8, but not to sin.  In Romans 8:12 we read this, “we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.”  Paul tells us that our minds, when controlled by the Spirit of God, are life and peace.  This is not helpless victimization to sin; it is quite the opposite. In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We partner with the work of the Spirit in this renewal process.  It is hard work.  it is the working out of our salvation.

Racism is sin.  Sin is a problem.  But racism is not just a sin problem we can’t do something about.  We can learn to boldly love.  We can proactively develop relationships with others who are different than ourselves.  We can stop teaching our children to hate or to be passive.  We can stand up to injustice, even in its smallest forms, when it creeps into our communities, neighborhoods, and even our churches.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we heirs of God, co-heirs with Jesus himself.  We do not need to play the victim to sin. We do not need to put up with racism.


when integrity is GRITY

integrity or ethics concept

So, I had one of those that moment when moments…  Yep.  It was AWESOME!

Here at Haven we have been engaged in a teaching series about loving one another well.  It has been a really fun and, at times, very powerful teaching series for us.  This past Sunday it was again my turn to teach.  I was geeked.  I love teaching.  I love this community of faith I am part of!  I love Jesus and I love what Jesus says about how we love one another.  Sunday I taught on how we love one another by having integrity with one another.

We talk about integrity often in our context – it’s one of our core values.  One way we define it is like this, “doing what I said I would do, when I said I would do it and in the manner in which it is meant to be done.”  We have integrity when we give our word and we keep our word.  We also believe we are to give our word to BIG things – like restoration, redemption and stuff like that.  We also talk about HONORING our word when we can’t or don’t keep our word.  We talk about honoring our word in the same way we talk about cleaning up a mess.  In fact, when we honor our word, that’s what we are doing. We are cleaning up a mess…

Of course, it was a ground shaking, moving teaching time that deeply impacted people who weren’t even there 🙂  That was Sunday.  On Monday evening, at 7:15, I have a coaching call every week with two amazing men who are pursuing deep levels of transformation in their lives through a process called Faithwalking (part of our discipleship process). We aren’t far into the process, but our calls have been rich and provocative as we pursue a deeper walk with Christ together.  Coaching is one of my favorite privileges!

I missed the call.  One day after teaching the congregation to love one another by keeping their word with one another, I freakin’ missed the call!  I know.  It isn’t life shattering – it was just one of many calls.  No biggie, right?  So, because I am the expert on integrity ( I’m the pastor so I must be right? ) I immediately cleaned up the mess.

Nope.  I didn’t.  When I realized I missed the call the shame voice in my head kicked in.  We all have a shame voice.  It’s the committee that meets in our heads to remind us of all our deficiencies and how bad we are.  My shame voice reminded me that if I can’t make a simple phone call not only am I not qualified to be a coach but I am certainly not qualified to be a pastor!  So in the space of nano-seconds I shifted gears to divert the blame.  I spent the next 15 to 20 minutes rehearsing in my head all the excuses I could make in order to look good and still be qualified.  I don’t get to have those 15 – 20 minutes back…

After telling the shame committee that I deeply appreciate all their hard work and insight, I also told them they could sit down in the corner and be quiet for a bit.  In the moment of silence that followed, I quickly sent a text to both of the guys I had blown off.  I owned the mess – yep, the milk all over the table and floor is mine! I also asked for a time within the next day when I could talk to them individually to clean it up.

In cleaning up the mess I asked what impact my not showing up had on them. After listening actively to each, I asked forgiveness and have recommitted myself to be fully present as their coach.

We all have areas in our lives where integrity is lacking.  Places and relationships that aren’t working to the degree they could.  We also have these shame voices that work really hard to keep us from cleaning up our messes in a way that is healthy and restorative.  It takes a lot of courage to honor our word rather than to offer up excuses.

One of the biggest gateways to my own transformation has been a willingness to quiet the shame voices enough to clean up my messes.  I haven’t gotten it right 100%.  I still blow it.  But I keep pressing forward toward the goal to which Christ calls me.

Will you clean up a mess this week?

btw, both Don and Larrie are rockstars and our conversations were filled with grace!


Heaven Is For Real, that’s why i won’t see the movie

Abrasive Alert!  Let me say this right away up front, some of you will read this and won’t like it.  I’m ok with that; but I don’t know you are. Most of us want others to think the same way we do about things and then get a little perturbed when they don’t…  But don’t let that stop you – read on!

When the book Heaven is for Real came out several years ago, I had a discerning movement in the pit of my stomach.  I believe that is God’s gift to me when His Spirit is telling my spirit that something isn’t quite right.  It happens often enough that I have learned to pay attention to two things: what is happening in the world around me and what does Scripture have to say?

Around me in the world, especially in the world of evangelicalism, this book is receiving a lot of attention.  A young boy and his family are receiving a lot of attention! That thing that happens in my stomach was happening.  So I looked to Scripture.  

Interestingly, in the Bible, nobody goes to heaven, comes back, and tells about it.  What about Jesus, you ask?  Well, technically, Jesus came from the Father’s side in heaven and has now returned back to the Father’s side.  We are still waiting for his return, when the Kingdom will be fully manifested. Even Lazarus, after several days in the tomb, doesn’t have anything to say.  I have always wondered about that…

Jesus does tell a parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus in Luke 16.  The rich man dies and goes to hell and the beggar, Lazarus, goes to heaven near Abraham.  In the parable the rich man, in his hellish misery, begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his family.  The funny thing is this – in the parable Abraham is abundantly clear that even if Lazarus was to come back from the dead his family wouldn’t believe.

Who has gone up to heaven and come down? The is the question of the author of Proverbs 30:4. This question doesn’t get answered until John 3:13: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.  In Scripture there are only 4 accounts of visions of heaven.  Over the course of thousands of years – only four accounts recorded in the Bible.  Isaiah, Ezekial, Paul in 2 Corinthians, and John’s vision in Revelation.

In all four accounts recorded in Scripture, there is also only one common denominator – a complete preoccupation with the magnificent glory of God.  

The book, Heaven is for Real, was sitting around our house.  So I picked it up.  This was years after it had come out.  It is well written.  But, the book, it is focused on the boy’s experience.  He even describes not liking the wings he was given (didn’t know we were getting wings in resurrection – that would’ve freaked out the disciples when Jesus walked through the wall!).  The book is not biblical.  But we like it, and others, anyway.  Why?

In our North American evangelical sub-culture, we have an unhealthy pre-occupation with end-times, heaven and hell.  It’s become popular.  Actually, our whole North American culture has become very distracted by apocalyptic themes.  This is why zombies are now showing up everywhere in media. I believe we, as a culture, are profoundly dissatisfied with our lives.  So we cling to those things that talk about something, somewhere else, being better or worse than our own experiences.  This way we have something euphoric to look forward to, or we can say at least lives aren’t as bad as that!  We have forgotten that Jesus came from heaven to give us a life, a full life – a life of abundant purpose.  Jesus wants us to live exciting lives.  Here.  Now. You can read about that in John 10.

But, what isn’t popular, is actually reading the Bible, believing God (different than believing in God, btw), and working hard in partnership with the Spirit for the transformation of ourselves and our world.

Getting pumped as the Newsboys sing God’s Not Dead at the end of the movie with the same title or after seeing Heaven is for Real, doesn’t make for lasting change. In many ways we have become like those who kept asking Jesus, after his many miracles, for a sign.  Jesus had some interesting things to say about that in Matthew 12:38ff.  

I love going to movies, you could even call it a habit – err… I mean a hobby! But movies don’t transform. Deep change comes in our lives when we partner deeply with God’s Spirit in working out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)  We have to do the hard work of discipleship.  As we slowly begin to grow up and mature in Christ, we slowly begin to live lives that reflect the image of Christ in us.  We begin to slowly make a significant impact where we live, work and play.


When Caring for Orphans Gets Hard: his name is Abdel

Abdel.  That’s his name.  He lives in Chad, a small country in Africa.  As a family we have been supporting him for the last several years.  We have seen him grow physically and have enjoyed the periodic updates we get about his progress and the work taking place in his village.  Often we can’t read his writing or make sense of the way he uses English.  But he doesn’t live here, in Kalamazoo, and so his use of English isn’t the point right?

We support Abdel through World Vision.  Recently World Vision made a controversial decision about same-sex marriage and you can read about it here.  I know I will offend some of you here.  But I am not a supporter of same-sex marriage.  I don’t believe that is what God’s intention for marriage and the family is.  But I am a supporter of loving people – regardless.  Maybe that’s because I have experience Christ’s unconditional love?

So, here’s the dilemma.  Do we as a family stop our sponsorship of Abdel, which impacts not only his life the but also the ministry in his village, because the organization our funds go through allows for same-sex marriage?  Let me put it a bit more bluntly:  Do I stop sending money to World Vision because I might be paying a gay person?

Jesus describes what it means to belong to him as one who feeds the hungry, clothes the poor and visits the prisoner in Matthew 25.  James writes this in his first chapter, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

So, now what do we do? I think the right thing to do is to continue to care for the orphan.  For a couple of reasons.

First.  When we decide to stop supporting orphans because the person helping with that work is gay or lesbian, we have now made that laborer’s sin more important than the need of the orphan.  I wonder what kind of message that sends to the world, living in darkness, about the light we are asked to shine?  I wonder how the world, in desperate need of Jesus, experience his love in that decision? Have we then communicated that we will love this person over that person, or love our sin but not yours?

This following Jesus in mission is hard, isn’t it?

Second. We set ourselves up as judge over who God can and cannot use.  In Scripture we have seen God use donkeys, prostitutes, adulterers, drinking parties (ok, weddings with lots of wine), shepherds and pagans.  If we stop helping orphans, if we stop bringing relief to those in desperate need, because of World Vision’s decision, have we put ourselves in the position of God?  I’m not saying that’s true for you, but wonder if you would be willing ask the question?

It’s hard not to armchair quarterback God sometimes!

Third.  Think how exhausting this way of living will become!  While I don’t believe same-sex marriage is God’s design, I also don’t believe adultery is, or stealing, or abusiveness, or drunkenness, or greed, or many other things.  But think about it.  I am pretty sure that when I filled up my truck with gas this morning that some of that money will find its way into the pockets of someone who is greedy.  I am pretty sure that when I bought bread this week that it helped the paycheck of someone who is getting drunk on the weekends.  I am pretty sure that my mobile phone bill is paying someone who is beating his wife or children. I am pretty sure that my taxes are supporting someone who is committing adultery.  In fact, I am completely convinced that most of my money eventually ends up in the hands of sinners and helps pay their bills. I know, sounds depressing!

Our world is broken and we are seeing the end of Christendom.

But that isn’t a bad thing.  I think it gives us a new opportunity to really live deeply Christian lives transformed by the power of Jesus at work in us. Following Jesus requires a deep work of thinking, praying and submission to his Word.  We can no longer afford to be haphazard in our thinking or way of being in the world.  Living missionally today give us so much opportunity to be the light of the world.  But it also requires deep transformation so we know who we are, whose we are and what we are to be about.

What I do know is this, it is really really hard to condemn someone into Heaven or invite them to experience the Kingdom through shame.


The Problem of Christmas Isn’t Lowes

Image

For the last several years I have had the same recurring conversations with similar people during this post-halloween-pre-christmas season.  The conversation usually revolves around how secular and consumeristic and politically correct our Christmas has become because of any one of the following reasons: how early the stores start beating the sales drum, the shift from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” or the rampant spending that takes place.

The conversation always is about how Christmas is no longer about the birth of Jesus (who wouldn’t have been born during December, btw) and how it is THEIR fault.  THEY (stores, government, political correctness) have STOLEN the Christ out of Christmas, right?

Wrong. They, whoever they are, are not responsible for Christmas.  Can I say that again?  The stores, the government, the post office, the media – they are not responsible for Christmas.

I am.  We are.  You and me.

A friend of mine, Jim Herrington (he blogs here ), reminds me regularly that we are witnessing the death of cultural christendom.  As such, I believe we, the church, are also living in the midst of our greatest opportunity!  However, because we are indeed watching the slow decline and eventual death of “church” as the nation new it in the 1940’s & 1950’s, it should not be a surprise that in our culture the systems and structures are doing exactly what they are.

Stores, big box stores like Lowes, and little mom & pop shops, exist to sell goods to people who will buy them and in the selling of the goods, make money for the owners as well as the manufacturers & suppliers of those goods.  What does that mean?  It means this – Best Buy does not exist for the purpose of protecting Christmas or any other Christian tradition.  That isn’t their job.  Their job is to sell me what I need (actually, Best Buy sells a lot of what I want and very little of what I need); their job is to make money for their owners; their job is to provide jobs for workers.  See where this is going?

Years ago the USPS told their mail carriers they couldn’t say, “Merry Christmas.”  The right side of evangelicalism went ballistic.  The Post Office isn’t the church.  It exists for the purpose of delivering the mail.  But we, the church, got angry.

Why?

Because we want someone else to be responsible for our faith, our discipleship, our connection with God.  We feel better about spending exorbitant amounts of money at Toys-r-Us when the cashier says, “Merry Christmas.”

But here’s the truth, it is my responsibility to remember Jesus’ birth (which, btw, Jesus doesn’t even ask us to do…).  It is my privilege to remember not only Christ’s birth but EVERYTHING about it – from Genesis to Revelation – and be transformed by it.  My capacity to celebrate Jesus does not depend upon the box store’s decision to begin Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving Thursday (which, btw, might actually be an answer to prayer for some of the employees who worked that day and needed money for rent!).

I am glad the stores, the government, the schools and the media are not responsible for “keeping Christ in Christmas.”  During this time when the church is experience such dramatic decline and the North American version of Christmas has become about consumerism & economics, we have opportunity like never before!

Today, when people no longer have to hide the fact that they aren’t Christian, gives those of us who earnestly are being transformed by the Gospel an amazing opportunity to really be different.  Different from cultural; and, different from culture’s understanding of church.

Jesus calls us a light on a hill which in darkness cannot be hidden.  That’s cool.  I like that.  I want to live that kind of life.  Will you live it with me?