Friday, February 29, 2008
It may be helpful to look at definitions of trouble that Warren will use in coming days:
Tests are those problems God uses for our spiritual growth. Pastor Greg Boyd emphasizes that God wants us to succeed in every test! (It is of these tests that Bible says God will not test us beyond our endurance.) As parents we allow our children to face tests with every hope and prayer that they will choose wisely and succeed.
Trials can be the result of our fallen world. We rejoice in our circumstance, not for our circumstance. God does use them all to form our character. We send our children into a fallen world, one with tsunamis and earthquakes and tornadoes. We do not plan that pain or harm will befall them, but we are prepared with an embrace whenever bad things happen to good people.
Temptations are from the evil one. James says “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1.13) Parents work above all others to prepare our children to face evil, to make the right choices in the face of temptation. Few things alter life like bad choices involving substance abuse or sexual misbehavior. And of course “pride” is there to make us believe we are not susceptible to temptation. Evil is hard at work. We must be too, in both teaching and prayer.
Trespasses are those troubles caused by others by their bad choices, intentional or not. It is of these that Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Regardless of the source of our troubles,
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8.28
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Day 24. Transformed by Truth
What we believe about Scripture matters. It bears directly on how, to what degree, or if we are transformed.
What do you believe? Is Scripture
(Add your descriptors)
The list is not comprehensive, not without conflict. Yet how you view the Bible determines the degree to which you will allow it to transform you.
John Wesley believed that the Bible revealed the word of God “so far as it was sufficient for salvation.” Does the need for salvation drive transformation?
Yet Wesley, self-proclaimed “man of one Book,” knew that the Bible itself was not sufficient for understanding all that God has and is revealing to us. "When challenged for his authority on any question, his first appeal was to the Holy Bible... Even so, he was well aware that Scripture alone rarely settled any controverted point of doctrine... [Wesley would] also appeal to the “primitive church,” tradition;... the good offices of critical reason; and vital Christian experience [encounter with the Holy Spirit]... as dynamic and interactive aids to interpretation of the Word of Scripture." (Source: Albert Outler)
This methodology has come to be known in our generation as the Wesley Quadralateral. “The living core of the Christian Faith revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in experience, confirmed by reason.”
Even then, what you believe about the Bible matters. And even then, knowing is not enough. Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them [emphasis added] will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock." (Matthew 7:24-25)
Let me add another descriptor, “foundational.” What are your actions founded on?
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
CS Lewis poses the question, “Is being a Christian hard or easy?” He prefaces it by saying the whole of Christianity to become a real son of God. So is it hard or easy? Lewis says, “both.” That is not a cop out. What we do is hard, even exhausting say some. We need to say “Yes.” That’s hard. God does the impossible in making us into sons and daughters, children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ. That’s easy for God while impossible for us. God does what we cannot possibly do for ourselves and don't even deserve. That’s grace.
Rick Warren says that we need to decide, to commit, to be intentional if we are to grow. CS Lewis says, “Let’s pretend, let’s dress up as little Christs, let's put on the Christ, let’s pretend we’re a child of God.” And when we do a wonderful thing happens. When thoughts enter our mind that should not be there if we were really like Christ, we say “Stop!” Lewis says, you see what is happening, “Christ is right there beside you turning you into a creature like himself. He is turning your pretense into reality.”
All of this would be impossible if it were something we had to do. Our hard task at most is to allow it. A wise person said that the key to change is to be aware that we want to change. Should we set a goal of becoming perfect, we would utterly fail, we would say it’s impossible, why should I try? And we wouldn't. But if I were to take a piece of paper and write on it, “I’m going to allow Christ to change me today, if only a little bit, but knowing that you want to change all of me.” Put the paper in my pocket and read it several times during each day. Pray with each reading, “Change me today.”
Be aware. There will come a day when we can look back and say, “What ever happened to that old creature? Christ really has put a new one in its place.”
Becoming aware is hard. Changing is easy.
May you be blessed as you journey to becoming a new creature in Jesus Christ.
PS. John Wesley might take exception to my prayer for a little bit of change. He said (paraphrasing), “You have not become perfect because you have not asked. Before you die? Will that content you? No, pray, ask that it be done now, today, while it is today. Today is God’s time as well as tomorrow. Make haste, make haste!”
My prayer is that I am aware now, today, that God wants to change all of me. And that it’s His task.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”—Robert Browning
Placing ourselves in God’s hands without knowing His plan for us is a scary thing. Besides, we will lose control. Isn’t that the reason so few choose to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us?
Yet God has a plan for us completely beyond our comprehension, beyond our grasp. We are incapable of reaching it ourselves let alone understanding it. Listen to this incredulous thought: God has in mind that we will take on the character of Christ!
Not only that, God is clever enough to know that it is something that we cannot do for ourselves. It is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that transforms us. God before us, God beside us, God within us that keeps a vision in front of us, models life beside us, and nudges us from within us to choose what is good and noble and perfect. “Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our needs.”
We simply need to give up control. We can control our own destiny by saying "No." We can submit to God's destiny by saying "Yes." Submission, even when the plan is not clear to us, is called obedience.
When philosophers were wrestling with the question, “What is Christianity’s greatest contribution to religious thought?” CS Lewis, entering the room late, said, “That’s easy. It’s grace.”
Grace to you,
Monday, February 25, 2008
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church meets every four years, this time in Dallas in April. It is a denomination whose church in America is split down the middle on the “hot button” issues of the day. Unfortunately, the General Conference has become a time we focus on our differences instead of our unity. Rick Warren’s requirement that each member covenant to protect the church would be helpful. The spirit in which differences are addressed might be quite different.
So too in the local church. All of our gatherings, from small groups to administrative councils need to be steeped in the unity of Christ. Too often our “business meetings” take on a secular flavor instead of making space for the Spirit to move the group toward the mission of the church “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Scott Peck noted that one of reasons that the church fails to build community is that it is no longer the center of people’s lives, the workplace is. As Warren pointed out earlier, fellowship requires frequency. Therefore, when we gather, we need to take advantage of every opportunity by steeping all of our gatherings in grace. Even administrative meetings, eg trustees or council, should strive for one-third prayer, praise, Scripture and devotion. Peck said, “community building succeeds, in part, precisely because it takes God into mind, depends on [him], and deliberately produces space for the Holy Spirit to do her thing.”1 Peck reminds us that this will never happen if parties to the group are bent on controlling the outcome. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way.
I commend to you again, Thomas Hawkins, who instructs in his book, The Christian Small Group Leader, that every meeting needs to be led as a priestly task and every table as the Lord’s table.2 How our gatherings would change if with every agenda item and every conversation began with the reminder, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
May you all find blessings in community.
1 M. Scott Peck, A World Waiting to be Reborn: Civility Rediscovered, (New York: Bantam Books, 1993), page 349.
2 Thomas R. Hawkins, The Christian Small Group Leader, (Nashville: Discipleship Resources), page 6-7.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
A story: In a conversation in my prior business, I made a comment about a coworker that was construed to be critical and by the object of my comments to be untrue. It had been offhand and certainly not intended to be damaging, but it was taken as such. We were both executives in a Fortune 500 company, a highly competitive environment. I received a phone call from Bill that caught me off guard in which he expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms. I was bothered to no end. The fact that I would say anything behind someone’s back was once in a blue moon and I had never in 30 years been called on it.
Three days later I picked up the phone, called Bill and apologized. It was a truly cleansing act. Bill and I worked together for another seven or eight years as friends. It was never mentioned again. We often disagreed, but that act of repentance, apology and acceptance defined our relationship for those years.
A few lessons: If in doubt about the offense or even if there was one, read Matthew 5:23-24. It doesn’t matter. It’s “if your brother or sister have something against you,” right or wrong. Second, had Bill not confronted me, he might have smoldered all those years and our relationship would have been damaged and I wouldn’t have known why. I don’t like confrontation, but it taught me how important clearing the air really is. Third, whether I thought I had been offensive or not, it was important to get to the heart of the matter. And it was no time to equivocate. Repentance, contrition, apology were the only right things to do. Besides, how else could I return to the altar? (“Against you, you only do I sin..” Psalm 51.4)
It is a lesson that has lasted a lifetime and for me has elevated the importance of this simple Scriptural truth. God considers relationships of the utmost importance. If it is important in the corporate world, how much more important must it be in the fellowship of believers?
So be it.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Warren begins, ”Community requires commitment. Only the Holy Spirit can create real fellowship between believers, but He cultivates it with choices and commitments we make. Paul points out a dual responsibility…” We have part of the task. We have work to do. But what?
Warren does an excellent job of advising us of some of the attributes of community but lacks guidance on how we do our part to cultivate honesty, humility, courtesy, authenticity, sympathy, etc. When John Wesley was asked whether or not we should just sit and wait for the Holy Spirit to change us (going on to Christian Perfection), he said, “Not in careless indifference, or indolent inactivity; but with vigorous, universal obedience, in zealous keeping of all the commandments, in watchfulness and painfulness, in denying ourselves, in taking up our cross daily; as well as in earnest prayer and fasting and a close attendance on the ordinances of God. And if any man dream of attaining it any other way…he deceive his own soul.”
In other words, we have work to do; our groups have work to do if we are to become communities.
My community guru, Thomas Hawkins, is again helpful. Of course he takes more than a seven page chapter to provide it. The fact is that building community takes more effort than a day or a week. Industries have been built in the secular community to facilitate team-building in corporate America. The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit on our side.
But if your church is serious about building community in its small groups, I would highly recommend that they all spend 10 hours with Hawkins’ book, Cultivating Christian Community and the short course “Lay Speakers Cultivate Christian Community,” Discipleship Resources, DR392, ISBN 13:978-0-99177-392-7. (It’s not just for Methodists or lay speakers for that matter.)
In them he describes key practices of Christian community and how they are developed. Neither Warren or Wesley would be surprised by what he has to say. Some of the key distributed (among and in the midst of the group) practices are listening, dialogue, discernment, covenant making, praying and reflecting together, hospitality, and servant leadership. Reflect on your groups, whether administrative or meditative. Could they develop better practices in their ministries for Jesus Christ? Go for it.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Thomas Hawkins is an author of many of our lay speaking courses and a favorite of mine, especially with topics dealing with community, small groups and hospitality. I commend to you the excerpt below:
1There Is No Life Apart From Community
Nothing in all creation exists apart from community. At the most basic physical level, all forms of matter seek relationship, connection, and communion. Subatomic particles are attracted to other particles. Microbes combine into larger organisms. Galaxies emerge from primordial swirling gas clouds into coherent shapes.
What is true for atoms and microbes is true for us. People grow and find nourishment through the giving and returning of attention and recognition. This flow of care and concern moves from us to others and from others to us. When this rhythm breaks, our lives are broken by alienation and separation. When others fail to acknowledge and recognize us, we feel cut off and alone. Experiences of communion, on the other hand, bridge the spaces that divide us. The need to be known, to have our experience understood and accepted by another, is meat and drink to the human heart.
Life is the gift of community. There is no life that is not life in community. Our lives are gifts that come to us from relationships in community. Nothing is more personal and intimate than our names. Yet we do not name ourselves. We receive our names in the midst of a community that names and claims us. A pastor holds us, pours water on our foreheads, and says, "Mary, I baptize you."
If we trace our "natural talents" back to their ultimate source, we discover communities of neighbors, family, mentors, friends, or teachers. None of us are self-made creatures. We are constituted through the communities that have embraced us, loved us, and nurtured us.
1Thomas R. Hawkins, Cultivating Christian Community, (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2004), page 6.
PS. I've added a couple of links that you may enjoy. "Song of Deborah" is a daily devotional by a gifted lay speaker, Deb Spaulding. "The Problem with God" is written by the pastors of La Croix UMC, Cape Girardeau, MO, and tackles the most difficult questions about God and faith: faith and doubt, theism and atheism, abortion, war, suffering, Scriptural authority to name a few.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Three years ago we visited Rosemary’s home church in Herrick, SD, a small but vibrant church in a town of 125 souls. It was the church Rosemary had grown up in. It was the church we had been married in. The current pastor was a lay minister and attendance was about 40 including a dozen kids. That small church was alive. After church we had coffee in the only establishment open in town, “Bernie’s,” the local pool hall, where the spiritual conversation continued.
The booth I was in could not stop talking about the Wednesday night women’s group. The most animated person was Claire who worked in a town 15 miles in one direction and lived on a farm 15 miles in another. She’d been invited the previous year to participate with the Wednesday night group by a friend even though she did not have a church home. The group had been studying The Purpose Driven Life. Claire said that after reading today’s chapter, A Place to Belong, “I put the book down and knew that I couldn’t read another page until I joined a church.” The next Sunday she attended Herrick United Methodist Church and declared her intention to join. It was now months later and she added, “I haven’t missed a Sunday since and I don’t intend to miss again.”
I’ve come to believe that the Church is essential to the Christian walk. It is a gift. It is a means of grace. It both draws us in and sends us forth. It equips our hearts and uses our hands. It loves us and employs our love. It is family. Everybody needs a family to belong to and every family needs all of its members to be whole. I’ve always known that church was important, but I’ve never heard such an imperative as Claire’s: “I knew that I could not read another page until I joined a church.”
The Church is important to Claire and Claire is important to the Church. Don’t you suppose that was God’s intent?
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37b-40 NRSV
Last night in our group, it was stated that “Rick Warren’s presentation is so certain about things when I am not.” Good observation. But in today’s reading, it’s Jesus’ turn to be certain. “On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” Definitive.
Although our book is broken into 40 pieces, 40 days, Rick Warren bases his whole study on three things: Christ’s Great Commandment, His Great Commission, and His Great Compassion. All three are part of this chapter, “What Matters Most.” Both Warren and Jesus are certain of it.
Jesus’ commandment is to love, his compassion our example, his use of time our commission.
Jesus also uses the expression, ‘”This is the law and the prophets,” in one other place. It comes near the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount when He gives us what has come to called the Golden Rule: 12 “[Therefore] In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12 NRSV (“Therefore” added)
The “therefore” is important. The King James and NASB include it. The NIV says “So.” One author (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy) says “therefore” collects all that came before it and what follows becomes the summary. “Therefore,” the Golden Rule becomes the summary of the whole Sermon on the Mount.
And unlike any rule of reciprocity before it, Jesus makes it active, “do”! Love is a verb. And He is definitive about it.
“What Matters Most”? A proactive, compassionate, time-conscious love of God and neighbor.
Before we sit down to plan our week, we should be required to read this chapter again. That’s every week.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Do we believe it? Do we really believe it? We were formed for God’s eternal family. We need to let that sink in. If it Rick Warren’s intent to let our purposes define us, this one should.
But it doesn’t always define us, does it? Just as the prodigal son, we can end up in a far country with family the last thing on our minds. God still loves us, but we can be in a far country just the same. I don’t think we can read into Jesus’ story of the Father’s eternal love and forgiveness that all make it back from the far country. Not all make it.
To make it back, we need to choose, we need “to come to our senses,” as the story says. We need to be deeply sorry for the circumstance that we chose. Then we need to act. We need to place ourselves at the mercy of our Father.
What the story does tell us is that we are formed for God’s family; and that God the Father loves us, is patient with us, is faithful to us in ways we cannot even imagine. He loves in a way that only a parent can for a child, and more.
The question becomes, will we be “just kids,” or “like Father like son” (meant in the most inclusive manner)?
We were formed for God’s family. What should that mean to us?
Grace and peace,
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Since the time Rick Warren wrote his book, it has been revealed that Mother Theresa, everyone’s saint and picture of faith, had doubts!
“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote at one point. “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” On another occasion she wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”
In spite of doubts from the very beginning, Mother Theresa ministered on in faith. Can there be any doubt in our minds that God was with her? What other tiny, withered little person from an obscure village in a tiny realm has moved mountains? We are known by our fruits.
We run a danger when we rely on feelings, physically based feelings. I think those feelings are God’s gift to baby Christians but we soon get over them like lust, then romantic love turn to deep friendship and agape-like love. God moves away from a physically-based feeling. It makes sense. Physically-based feelings are an attachment like an addiction. God will not allow us to become attached to Him or we would loose our free will. God wants us to love Him of our own volition, not by some addictive attachment. Mother Theresa loved him by faith, faith alone although sometimes she didn’t understand it.
But we have some Old Testament saints that did. Warren quotes Job: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take;” (Job 23:8-10a, NRSV).
There is another saint, Jeremiah, sitting on the rubble heaps that were once Jerusalem, a time to loose faith if ever there was one, who says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”" (Lamentations 3:22-24a, NRSV)
When we experience the darkness of the soul, when we feel abandoned, we need to recall the unchanging nature of God, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. Great is thy faithfulness.”
Hope in Him!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The Bible gives a clear command to worship in Matthew 4.10 (“Worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”) among other places. But the Bible is short on specifics. My hunch is that God would be bored to death if we were made out of the same mold and worshiped Him as if we were all cookies from the same cutter. Boring.
Warren’s example of Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well has got is right. We are to worship in “spirit and truth.” We use both our heart and our head, without hypocrisy and with integrity. We need to focus our hearts on him. We need to do the hard work of discerning His purpose for us.
One of my favorite authors and I believe, one of the great intellectuals in America is Stephen Carter, lay Episcopalian, and Yale law professor. I commend his book, Integrity, to you. He defines integrity with three specifics: “1) discerning what is right and wrong; 2) acting on what you have discerned; and 3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.” (page 7)
In other words, a life of integrity is doing the hard, hard work of discernment and then living it openly. For Christians, discernment is ascertaining God’s will for us, his purpose for us, what Rick Warren is calling us to do this “40 Days of Purpose.” We are to live an integral life.
Too often we limit our discernment to our emotions, our feelings. God has given us more gifts than that. John Wesley taught the tools of discernment as Scripture, tradition, (spiritual) experience, and reason. Feelings are not enough. As Warren points out, we can be sincere and be sincerely wrong.
As we place ourselves under God’s care and focus our lives on Him, living integrally as best we know, we worship Him. The response of the Holy Spirit to our worship will be to aid in our discernment of purpose moving us forward in grace. Worship, discernment and integrity are life long journeys. Worship Him!
Grace and peace,
Friday, February 15, 2008
Ellsworth Kalas is a treasure of the United Methodist Church and one of my favorite authors. I commend to you his book, Longing to Pray: How the Psalms Teach Us to Talk with God.
The chapter titles tell us much. “The Ultimate Friendship.” “Secrets of Friendship: Candor.” Secrets of Friendship: Time.” “Secrets of Friendship: Beauty.” You get the picture.
In the chapter on beauty, Kalas says, “The palmist was constantly about his business of bringing beauty into the divine friendship. The prayers of the psalms are such passionate, heartfelt, tumultuous writings, yet their dominant characteristic is beauty. This beauty seems appropriate when the prayer is one of adoration or thanksgiving. But there seems to be the same quest for beauty when the writer is bereft in the midst of trouble, or bitterly angry at what he or she feels is God’s neglect or indifference.” (page 35)
Reflect on bringing beauty into friendships even in the midst of tumult or anger. I think prayer, friendship with God, can teach us how to live.
Grace and peace and prayers,
This was a good day, a good reading. I grew up with a formal concept of prayer almost believing that one need to pray using a “preacher’s voice,” “Dear Gawed!” Rosemary has long taught me that that wasn’t the way, and we had a friend, Jeff, in Connecticut whose informal prayers were just wonderful. During a particularly tough time, Jeff blurted, “God, Rosemary’s had enough!” It may have been the best prayer I’ve ever heard.
I have too many things on my mind and find that my devotional time gets filled with other thoughts. While I still spend time with a prayer list in front of me and in reading and study, I had long since moved to “every activity” prayers, conversations; and Warren reinforces, in fact recommends it. As I type this, there is plenty of time between keystrokes to pray for each of you, that you will find something in Warren’s writings or others that will shape your relationship with God, Jesus, Holy Spirit and make them best friends, too. “Amen.”
Meditation: “Everything you do can be ‘spending time with God’ if He is invited to be a part of it and you stay aware of His presence.” (p 89) Think, no meditate, about it; not just now but throughout the day or week.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke’s version includes that additional word, “daily.” I remember the day (not just the day but the instant) I put my life in God’s hands. That surrender has dictated my walk since.
But daily? I am fully aware of things that I have not completely surrendered. Daily?
My prayer is that each day I can surrender my life more fully, to obey, to trust, to more fully worship Him. Daily. Amen.
May we all receive grace, daily,
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I like Warren’s theme. Again, “It’s all for Him,” “It’s not about us.”
Noah lived in a polytheistic world where the small “g” gods were there to serve the people. They served their gods to make them respond, ie “What’s in it for me?” Noah (and we) have a God we serve (make smile) because he is God (and we are not). "It's all for Him." What a privilege it is to make Him smile!
When we recall our privilege to serve, it makes trust and obedience easier—but not always easy because we are not God. But “He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Repentance may make Him smile most of all.
Monday, February 11, 2008
“Worship is a life-style!” I love the paraphrasing of Romans 12:1 by Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.”
Rick Warren points out that even cleaning the garage can be done for the glory of God. As Rosemary and I were walking through our garage yesterday to get in the car and on our way to church, she noted, “God’s still waiting for a little love.” What opportunities and nudges I have!
The great thing about worship as a life-style is that as we worship God, He touches us. Peterson again: “You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:2, The Message.
Grace, “You’ll be changed from the inside out… God brings out the best in you, develops well-formed maturity.”
What might a life-style look like? Not that complicated, not that rigorous. After all it is God who is at work in us. First, an attitude of gratitude. Deborah Norville in her book Thank You Power says she journals each day writing down a word or phrase that sums up three things for which she is thankful. Simple, and it leads us to be looking for things that we can note tomorrow, draws us closer to God, the giver of all good gifts, and our neighbor, often God’s messenger. Living a life of worship is finding ways each day to love God and neighbor and self just a little more. Be thankful.
And taking on the mind of Christ. Reading a chapter or two of the Gospels each day. With two chapters a day, one could read all four Gospels by Easter. With one chapter a day, we could absorb all of Matthew and Mark searching each day for the mind of Christ.
John Wesley called us onward to “Christian Perfection” (what I think Peterson means by "well-formed maturity"), loving God, loving neighbor, loving self, taking on the mind of Christ. Of course, we place ourselves in the arms of grace by reading, by praying, by giving thanks--by worshiping. It is grace that leads us home.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The week began with “It’s not about you.” It ends with “It’s all for him.” That’s our journey isn’t it? From self to submission. It’s difficult. Life is difficult. Things, small "g" gods, materialism, self-preservation, temptation and more get in the way.
Great stories have been written about this journey. George Lucas may have done as well as any with his “Star Wars” series. Hans Solo, hero, yes, sacrificing, yes; but when Leia proclaims her love for him, he says, “I know.” God proclaims his love for us. What do we often say? Luke Skywalker, under the tutelage of great mentors, is the hope of the world, yet impatient, reluctant to place himself in submission to a higher power. Where do we often find ourselves?
Then there is “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” Jesus calling self-absorbed (who will sit at your right and left in the kingdom?) followers, meeting a narcissistic Saul on the road to Damascus, and transforming them into Saint Peters and Saint Pauls who changed the world for Him—all for Him. We are here because the Story is true, the path is certain, the Guide is faithful, the journey is at hand.
Rick Warren is starting us on our journey with each step bringing glory to God (It’s all for Him.). Purpose One, “Planned for God’s pleasure,” calls us to live a life of worship that is transforming. Eugene Peterson describes it as God developing “well-formed maturity in us” (Romans 12:2, The Message). Wesley would call it “On to Christian Perfection,” learning to love God, our neighbors, ourselves and to take on the mind of Christ—life-long journeys. Both would agree that it is God, it is grace, that transforms us.
Purpose Two: “Formed for God’s Family” continues the process to love our neighbors as ourselves and to become part of the body of Christ so that with Purpose Three, “Created to become like Christ,” we become disciples for the purpose of transforming the world through Purpose Four, “Shaped for Serving God,” and Purpose Five, “Made for Mission.” The Purpose Driven Life works together like a five-pointed star rather than five sequentially blinking individual points of light.
The Purpose Driven Life is a journey that with grace moves us from an existance about us to a life about Him—all for Him who is "The Reason for Everything." What a wonderful journey!
Grace for the journey,
Saturday, February 9, 2008
A quote from CS Lewis sums up making the best use of this life while we focus on the next.
“Hope is one of those theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set out on foot to convert the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you get the earth “thrown in”: aim and earth and you will get neither.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952, page 104.
Grace, peace and Hope!
Friday, February 8, 2008
“Life is difficult.” So begins Scott Peck’s classic, The Road Less Traveled. Peck continues, “What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…. Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning.” (page 16)
God had it figured out from the beginning. Remember Adam and Eve? Abraham and Isaac? (We win some, lose some.) Problem solving builds character (Romans 5.4) and even more strengthens our faith preparing us for the greatest of all rewards (In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)).
Life is a series of choices. If we place ourselves in the presence of grace (through Scripture, prayer, meditation, conferencing, etc.) we will more likely choose rightly. But here’s the good news: Even if we chose incorrectly, God will meet us on that path to gather us in. That is indeed grace! Our purpose is to pursue His path.
Grace and peace,
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Day 4. Made to Last Forever.
Eternity begins now! Today is the first day of the rest of your eternal life. I like Warren’s thought on page 37, “When you comprehend that there is more to life than the here and now…you will start living in the light of eternity, and that will color how you handle every relationship, task and circumstance.”
John Wesley called this transformation “sanctification,” that is not of our own doing but grace working in us, moving us toward spiritual maturity that Wesley called Christian Perfection, ie. perfect in love of God, love of neighbor and self, and taking on the mind of Christ. That perfect love can be described as wholeness, serving God with the whole heart, single-mindedly in devotion to Him (Boring and Cradock). We are called to that mature, perfect love. Jesus said we are to become perfect [in love] as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Not that we would be without sin, for all sin unintentionally, even love may lead us to sin, but that we would become free of intentional sin through the freely-offered sanctifying grace of God. We would be made “perfect” in this life if only at the instant that we transitioned to the next. Wesley certainly believed that we are to allow sanctifying grace to prepare us in this life for the life to come.
"Perfection" sounds like tough stuff, but remember it is not of our own doing but of grace.
Wesley taught that we should not wait for transformation but vigorously pursue it by “universal obedience” and practicing the means of grace. What then should we do to immerse ourselves in sanctifying grace this Lenten Season? Wesley taught
- By reading Scripture: The revelation of God, especially the mind of Christ.
- By prayer: Constant communication with the object of our love (To love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.) Do we not talk often to our beloved?
- By fasting: Being mindful of our dependence on Him leads us to more complete surrender to Him. (Wesley called his preachers to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays normally breaking the fast at about 3:00 pm (some say to make sure Wesley didn’t miss afternoon tea!))
- By participating in Holy Communion: Remembering God’s mighty acts of salvation in Jesus Christ and His promise of eternal life and allowing grace to lead us in response.
- By Christian Conferencing: Holy conversations with those like minded who will hold us accountable to love God and neighbor and to walk as Jesus would have walked.
We prepare in this life for the next when we place ourselves within the grace of God, discern his nudgings and accept them, when we say “Yes” to grace. We are then “transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NRSV)
Going on to Christian perfection, toward perfection in love, is living a life of worship, living a life that brings pleasure to God, which is Warren’s first purpose for our lives.
Blessing on your Lenten journey of worship!
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that we all have the ability to choose. Between stimulus, what goads us whether it be suffering or passion, and our response, how we act, there is an instant of awareness that allows us to choose. It is our response-ability to choose wisely.
Covey cites Victor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, who said that the one thing that his persecutors could never take away from him was his ability to choose. They may be able to take away his liberty, but because he could choose, they could never take away his freedom. And those who had a reason to live, who could for example project themselves as standing again in front of a class of students, can choose responsibly. And Frankl says that choosing responsibly is what gives us meaning. Frankl says “resonsibleness is the very essence of human existence.” (pg 114, Man’s Search for Meaning.)
Warren would say that it is our purpose that shapes our response. Whether our stimulus is guilt or fear or anger or lack of security or peer pressure, we can be aware that our purpose rests with God and therefore act responsibly. And that, Warren says, gives us peace.
John, in his little letter of love, says “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a, NRSV) When we find our purpose in God, we can act responsibly to God without fear. And of course, Paul told us “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7 NRSV)
“Living on purpose is the path to peace.”
Day 2. You Are Not an Accident.
What we believe about God matters, yet what we believe is at best limited by our meager capacity. God is unknowable and without boundaries. Even the ancient Hebrews would not give Him a name because naming by its nature would impose boundaries on an unbounded God. What we believe foremost about God is that He is unknowable. Most would say the following:
- God is Holy—he defines holiness. He is Holy Other. He is the epitome of morality and ethics, the basis of goodness in the universe.
- God is Love—Agape, unselfish, giving. God is the source and definition of all that is good and noble and sacrificing about love.
- God is omnipotent—He possesses the power to create the universe and all there is in it. Beyond that is unknowable, except that God’s power is not without limit. It is limited by His very nature, that of love and holiness. God cannot act immorally or unlovingly.
- God is omnipresent—He is a very personal God. As Jesus showed us, God is available to us in an intimate yet informal way (Abba).
- God is omniscient—His knowledge is without boundaries and unknowable to us. He knows more than we can imagine.
What we believe about God matters. Our limited understandings about God’s unlimited foreknowledge have led to raging theological battles like predestination, determinism and limited atonement. John Wesley adamantly believed with sound Scriptural basis the Christ died for all. His atoning sacrifice was unlimited, it was for all. God’s grace is available to all. That is John 3:16 love.
In His love, God has given us free-will. God created us to be loved by Him and he chose to give us the freedom to love him in return. To predestine our love for him would make us marionettes on a string, and make creation’s love for God a mockery. We must be free to love God or to resist His love. That is our choice and often our brokenness.
Therefore we must accept that even though God has exhaustive and complete foreknowledge, that he does not determine the future.
When we endeavor to write a book like Warren’s, we must accept paradox because we are dealing with a God without boundaries. We have a God who knows all of our lives before we are formed (Psalm 139:16) yet we are charged (Ph 2:12) with working out our own salvation with fear and trembling! The paradox we deal with on day 2 of Warren’s book is that God has a detailed plan for our lives yet we are endowed with free-will. I can live with that.
Warren without a doubt allows us choice (see page 21, top), what he argues is that God has an intentional purpose for our lives. The book in its entirety is about us discovering that eternal purpose and acting to accept it. Accepting it is our response to grace. Acting on it is free-will. From the beginning, it was God’s intention to create us to be loved by Him (that is grace), and we are to love him in return (that is our purpose) however feeble our efforts.
Because our free-will choices are often counter to God’s intentional purpose, I chose in my sermon this week to paraphrase Leslie Weatherhead’s Will of God, that God’s intentional will (purpose) for us is without flaw, but then we live in a broken, sinful world of choice. We live in a world of accidents and catastrophies and disease and deformity. Under those imperfect circumstances, God meets us with His circumstantial will (purpose) that leads to His ultimate purpose which will not be thwarted. (Remember, Christ has overcome the world!)
But there is danger here. If we are to accept free-will, we must accept the fact that we are free to resist grace (The unforgivable sin is resisting the Holy Spirit.). We run that risk if we do not know our purpose!
There is paradox when we hold God’s foreknowledge and our free-will in opposite hands. If John Wesley was comfortable with it, so am I.
PS. This is by far the longest posting I will make. Day 2 is a difficult reading. Know, however, that you are not an accident. God has a perfect purpose for you!
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Last weekend I attended a meeting of Conference Directors of Lay Speaking in the Atlanta area hosted by the North Georgia Conference. It was a wonderful weekend saturated in prayer. United Methodists are blessed to be part of a connected church, we call “the connection.” And what blessings we receive as a result. Part of that was a bag of favors from the host lay speakers with pecans, peach butter, and a small cookbook entitled, “Peaches, Pecans, and Prayers.” The pecans are long gone, but the prayers will echo forever.
Just as we individually were created by God for a purpose, so Christ founded his Church for a purpose: to be loved by Him and to be His means of love in the world. As a lay pastor, I continue to gain an appreciation for the Church Universal as a means of grace in a world of need. The Church is a means by which grace can flow, not exclusively mind you, for God’s grace saturates the world; but a vital means of grace, none the less. The purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ is central to our faith.
Bishop Robert Schnase, Missouri Conference, has recently written an important book for congregations of the universal Church, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (see http://www.fivepractices.org/), five practices that must be done in a exemplary fashion if churches are to be fruitful, to be a means by which God’s grace will be poured into them and through them, overflowing beyond the congregation’s walls to a world beyond. If your church is looking for purpose (and aren't we all?), I commend the book to you.
Day 1. It All Starts with God
I have to admit that when I first read PDL in 2004 that I was a bit jaded. What could a Baptist have to contribute to us Methodists? I’ve since concluded that such arrogance as mine may well be to blame for the continued decline of the mainline denominations. I needed to get over it. A book that has sold 30 million hard copies in the United States alone must have something to offer!
In the past few years I’ve traveled to a number of fruitful United Methodist Churches that are growing by leaps and bounds. What I see is Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church formula (see The Purpose Driven Church) written all over them. I’m convinced that God has used Rick Warren as an instrument to advance the church at a time when the culture is encroaching on God’s message for humankind. And with his ministry in Africa, God continues to use him to mobilize the faithful to meet the world’s great needs. I’m over my jaded attitude. Rick Warren has an important message for all of us—God’s message, “You were created for a purpose, to be loved by Me and to love in return.” Finding that purpose is the theme of Warren’s book.
And it is not about me! Clearly, it’s not!
Warren’s clarion point is that meaning exists only if God exists, created us, and loves us. A life of meaning (and our purpose) is our response to that love. God created us and loves us without condition and without our merit. That is grace. It all starts with God but moves quickly to us. By observing those around us, it is pretty obvious that we can accept grace or reject grace. We can choose. We can live with purpose or live without purpose. What say you?