Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Wait

I’m impatient.  Don’t like long lines.  Poor customer service irritates me.  I like quick fixes.  Impatience isn’t a good life skill to have.  My guess is that most Cubs fan are impatient people that a good God has decided need a healthy dose of ‘waiting skills’.  I’m one of those Cub fans.

Liturgical churches have a ‘waiting’ season.  We call it Advent.  It’s a forced bit of calendaring that slows down a mad rush to Christmas.  The deal is that we are to spend some time anticipating the birth of the Savior.  It’s a little strange because we spend time hoping for something that has already occurred.  Liturgical masterminds hope we can use a bit of imagination and put ourselves into the story of Christmas.  Can we begin to see, here, smell, and touch the very familiar story so that it takes on meaning afresh?

As impatient as I can be I’m looking forward to slowing down the season a bit this year.  I’m sensing I need a fresh infusion of anticipation. 

I’m one of those people who doesn’t jump up and down gleefully during this season. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a scrooge (entirely).  It’s just that the hustle and bustle combined with holiday expectation takes its toll on me.  Couple all that with the disjointedness that a divorce causes on a family and it’s a recipe for some unsettledness.

And so I have to work on this Christmas thing.  And thus I’m a bit thankful for a church that believes in entering into an Advent kind of experience.  My soul needs a fresh movement of the rediscovery of the season.

Today I read Psalm 40: 1-3 from The Message.

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. 
   He lifted me out of the ditch, 
      pulled me from deep mud. 
   He stood me up on a solid rock 
      to make sure I wouldn't slip. 
   He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, 
      a praise-song to our God. 
   More and more people are seeing this: 
      they enter the mystery, 
      abandoning themselves to God.

I’ve felt like that.  I’ve waited and waited. Felt like I was in a ditch and needing solid rock.  And God met me in unexpected ways.  I need God to meet me again.  Maybe you do too.  But the waiting is hard especially when the way out is entering into ‘mystery’ instead of certainty and when abandoning yourself to God is the very last thing on your mind.

On my journey recently I’m encountering some pretty hurt people.  The holiday season seems to bring unsettling emotion to the forefront.  A whole lot of folks I know are waiting for a God that they aren’t even sure they want to see show up.  Because when he does He’ll get an earful. They want to ‘abandon themselves to God’ but are sick and tired of the uncertainty of the mystery.

Maybe this describes you. 

Maybe Advent is just what you need.  It’s where the ‘hopes and fears of all the years’ are laid out on the table.  And maybe that’s where we all start.  We lay are cards on the table, admitting our doubts and certainties, our pain and our joy and dare God to help us make sense of it all.  Such is the way of faith.  It’s not for the faint hearted.  It’s a necessary journey into the truth of our own lives and a hope filled yearning for a God who will indeed show up and makes things ‘alright’ again.

It’s in the ‘in between time’ that we live during Advent.  Will God really show up?  And if He doesn’t what will happen? Will we embrace the ‘waiting’ for another season?  And if He does will I recognize His presence?  And if I do recognize God will I willingly abandon myself to Him?  

So we wait and wonder.  Advent.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Broken Road Thankfulness

The broken road.  Most of us have traveled it.  When a dream is shattered, when a relationship flounders, when our world falls apart the superhighways of life seem to disappear and we find ourselves on what appears to be a lonely and barren path.

It is a good road but not a welcome one.  It’s not a chosen path.  Some die on this path.  They emotionally cave in.  Spiritually they falter.  When viewed as a broken road to nowhere that expectation comes true.

Others embrace the broken road. It heals them.  And on the journey into their brokenness they discover that they are not alone.  There are other wounded people on the same journey and God uses them to help heal our wounds.

I’m thankful for the broken road and for broken road healers.

Yesterday I did a wedding of two friends.  I said this to them:

 You have traveled a broken road. And on the broken road a good and beautiful God has helped you discover a partner for your remaining journey. On your road, you embraced your personal brokenness, dealt with your sadness, found traveling companions, reacquired confidence in yourself and God.  You’ve discovered that you can love again and in the process have allowed yourself to be loved.  And you’ve learned to trust once more.  And that’s huge because not to long ago you didn’t think you’d ever trust anyone again.

And so  I believe God is smiling today.  Two of his favorite broken road people are saying ‘yes’ to each other and He knows that you want Him in this marriage with you. 

I’m privileged to know both of you.  I’ve been blessed to be part of your journey.  Just as both of you have blessed mine. I’m convinced that you know what love will require of you. You have the right vision of what your marriage can be.  Your intention to live into the full potential of your relationship is a beautiful and good thing.  You understand that the means of living into your dream will be fueled by healthy doses of both selflessness and intentionality…

God has blessed your broken road hasn’t he?  You both have allowed God to use it to shape you more and more into the image of Christ.  And God will use your broken road experiences to help and encourage  others.  I’m convinced of it.”

During the candle ceremony Racal Flatt’s ‘God Bless the Broken Road’ was sung. Very appropriate.

So, today, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for so much.  But I’m especially thankful for ‘broken road’ people who enrich my life so wonderfully.  They are the wounded healers who ‘get’ what life was meant to be and are making kingdom impact wherever they continue to travel.

And I want to give a special Thanksgiving shout out to Mike and Joyce, the ‘two who became one’ yesterday.  Enjoy what God has done and will continue to do in your life.  Woo hoo!!!

Especially to God I am thankful.  Bill and Gloria Gaither said it well.  "Something beautiful. Something good.  All my confusion He understood. All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife.  But He made something beautiful of my life."  Yay God.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's New?

Change is a constant in all of our lives.  Do we want that change to occur with God or without Him?

The sad truth is that we are a part of a culture that likes to pick and choose everything. We even like to choose what version of God we want.  It’s as if we go into a God Shop and start shopping for a deity.  Not finding what we want exactly we begin to borrow from this philosophy and that TV show and this economic perspective and that political idedology (there are shelves and shelves of such stuff in the God Shop) and before you know it we have enough ingredients to mix ourselves up a little god.  And when that god is fully formed it's comfortable and cuddly. It looks amazingly like us if truth be known. But it’s really just a trinket god with no power to transform our lives.  It does however look nice on the mantel.

But  then there’s a real God.  People walk right by Him in the god shop.  He’s on the lower shelf, fairly non descript. Mother Theresa described Him as wearing the' most distressing of disguises'. As Lucy discovers in Narnia this God, who is the King, is never safe but always good.  And this God on the lower shelf doesn’t always say the most politically correct things.  This God won’t settle for sitting on the mantel.  He’s an active God who will challenge both our lifestyle and our thinking.  He is quite determined and inflexible in his notions of holiness.  And he’s crazy in love with us. 

And a whole lot of people don’t want this real God. He is not convenient or tame. Some find him embarrassing and far too demanding.  He is the God, however, who is.  He’s different from the god we conjure up.  The real God is a bit more inclined to mess with our lives and isn’t particularly impressed with those things we’re obsessive about.

As followers of Jesus it’s our job to make sure our life is being shaped and changed by the God who really is, not the god of our imagination, shaped by our own personality and our lack of discovery.  Our job is to be in search for the God of the bible.

I believe that God will change your life.  And as part of that process He wants to give us a new identity and a new name.

I remember once a teacher in grade school told me that I didn’t have what it takes. She said, “You’ll never go to college. Just not bright enough.”  Kind of shocking someone would say that to a little kid.  I knew instinctively that she was wrong and that I was more than 'not bright enough' but her words hit me hard and knocked me back. She had given me a name and it wasn't good.  It was one of those times when I realized that the old playground taunt is wrong …”Just as sticks and stones can break our bones words can hurt us”.

The Bible tells us in the Book of Revelations that God is going to do something for all of us who live victoriously. “And I will give to each one a white stone (a sign of victory in ancient times), and on that stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.”  (that secret name is a sign of great intimacy …given by a God who knows us to our innermost being).

What do you think is going to be written on your stone?  It’s not going to be Stinky or Thuderthighs, or Fat Bob, or Wiener. It’s not going to be Weird Al, or You're an idiot.  It's not going to say 'you’re the one who disappoints me’.  It’s not going to say divorced, dropout, sinner or unable to pay your bills. It’s going to be a name that builds you up, not tear you down. Mine isn’t going to say ‘not bright enough’.  That’s not my name.  Another teacher gave me a foretaste of what God is going to write on my stone.  She called me a talented student.  And I was able to finally trade in ‘not bright enough’ for a new name that helped me forge a more noble new identity. 

The God of the Bible is all about giving us a new identity.  Check out 2 Corninthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

I don’t know what you believe about yourself but I know that the identity God wants us to live into is has power and purpose attached to it. Here’s the identity of the new person in Christ.  

I am a child of God. One in whom Christ dwells.  I am an inhabitant of a joy filled eternity.  I have been bought by the blood of Christ. I am infused with God’s power and presence. I do not have to live a sad, fearful or defeated life.  I am a new creation. I was designed to have the fullness of God inhabit me.  I am an ambassador of the Creator of the World.  I am somebody.  I belong to God. I am free from condemnation.  I cannot be separated from God’s love.  I am being transformed into the image of Christ. 

Our identity comes from being clear about what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our life.  And that identity can change the trajectory of our life.  When I decided not to buy into an identity of being stupid and instead saw myself as having potential my life changed.   Just as our life can change when we begin to live within the framework of a new God given identity.

So, is faith just about thinking about positively about ourselves.? No, but it doesn’t hurt.  Scripture does tell us that we will “be transformed by the renewing of our mind”.  I have no problem thinking positively about a God place identity.  Neither should you.

The tag line on this blog says this.  “Live like God is real and He will transform your life.”

Somebody might be saying: “Living like God is real can be hard. And I might not like the path the transformation takes me on.” And if you’re saying that …well, you’re right. But life  is difficult and hard no matter what. Would I rather walk through life with a good God who gives me new identity and renewed purpose or trust only in what the counterfeit god I’ve invented can do for me? 

I choose to go through it with  the God of the Bible.  Our job is to live into our new identity by holding onto the God that gives it to us. And we do it in a world that still carries far too much of the remnants of sin in it …a world that can defeat us at times unless we’re clinging hard and fast to a good God. 

When I used to coach I’d ask my players to trust me.  To trust that I knew what I was doing, how I was preparing them, and to trust me especially when crunch time came.  But they’d have to believe that my way was the good way even if, at times, my methods and my tactics seemed unorthodox.  Most players bought into it. A few didn’t.  The teams that bought into it did a whole lot better than those that didn’t. It wasn’t always easy.  But at crunch time, in the final seconds of  an overtime, when we had time for only one more play I loved looking into the eyes of my players.  They came to me as individual players.  Now they were a team and a band of brothers. They had succeeded in creating a new identity.  And as a team they were ready for the moment at hand.

And at times like that I could easily give them new names. I could look Darnell in the eyes and say ‘your new name is Sky Walker for no one jumps like you do, and I could say to Andrew …youre name is Stud Defender and I could look at Ricky and say ‘your name is Captain and Leader. To Michael I could say You’re our warrior.  To Jermaine I could say you’re The Glue that holds this team together.  To each …a new name added to a new identity. 

So it is with the Christian faith.  God says trust me. I know you’re not going to always understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.  For  “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.  .”   He says, “Buy into what I’m saying. I am a good God. I’m a loving God. I paid a deep price for you.  You are a new creation.  I love you like crazy.  I have a new name for you. Trust me. Forever we’ll be together.  I am the God who is. I am the God who changes lives.  And I want to transform yours.  May it be so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

When you're not sure what to blog about.

I’m realizing that I haven’t posted on my blog for a couple of weeks.  I’ve been very busy.  I have some ideas.  Not sure what strikes my fancy but here’s snippets of some of the stuff going on in my head.  

Doing a sermon this week called God is Life Changing but wondering if anyone really feels their life is changing because of God.  Seems like there are a fair amount of people doing things that they hope will be life changing but not feeling any of the power of God while they're doing it.

I was channel surfing last night and caught a glimpse of Sara Palin’s Alaska.  No matter what you think of her politics she sure is a pretty good marketer of her message.

Why do I like to watch House Hunters International?

Also, tuned in briefly to Mike Huckabee’s show.  Never saw it before.  I’ve always liked the guy.  He has a way of talking politics that makes sense, invites dialogue, and isn’t mean spirited.  May his tribe increase.

There sure are a lot of empty seats at NFL stadiums these days.  Wonder what means?

Chicago is bracing for it’s mayoral election.  Might make a long winter a bit more entertaining.  It’s an interesting cast of characters.  Big shoes to fill.  Daley certainly made the city work.  How he made it work was a bit questionable at times but he certainly kept things moving.

Just heard that a Democratic congresswomen is urging her party to delay their decision about legislative leadership until they’ve had time to talk about and understand fully what the ‘shellacking’ a few weeks ago actually means.  Got to applaud her for doing this.  I doubt if they’ll heed her advice but moving quickly in the midst of adversity isn’t always the best thing to do.

My wife is on a book tour.  Heading to NY City next.  Lots of people don’t realize that writing a book is one thing.  Promoting it is an entirely different matter. Even with a good publisher like Zondervan there’s a whole lot an author has to do on their own to build an audience.  Anita’s lucky that she has a platform and contacts to launch a promotion so her ‘message’ can get out.  Others who have some good things to say don’t have that kind of platform.  It’s what makes publishing difficult these days.  Anita wrote a blog post about it.

Been thinking about something I’m learning about myself.  I’m afraid to live fully into the power of my own influence.  Wonder what that’s all about?

Holidays are coming fast.  I’m one of those folks who doesn’t revel in it all.  Not quite sure why.  Some childhood stuff going on I’m sure.  Divorce plays a big factor (the gift that keeps on giving J).  I think fear of not being able to live into the ‘high expectations’ of the season is another.  I’m sure there are plenty of folks like me out there.

My stepson John is in the midst of a college search and choosing process.  Whew!!!  Good choices he has.  Much money it will cost.  College, I think, is wasted on the young.  Wish I could go back.  I’d actually sign up for early morning classes now that I’m up early in the morning.  Does that have anything to do with age?

We’re planning an Advent series at the church for our 2HC Worship.  How to make Christmas come alive for folks who have heard the story a gazillion times?  Just praying that God will use what we come up with for His purposes.

I’ve been struggling mightily with the notion of ‘community’.  Is the community I’m looking for just a figment of my imagination?  Is it right before my eyes and I don’t recognize it?  What does Christian community look like or is Facebook community enough?

Still can’t understand why God is calling thousands of good faith-filled people to Florida and Arizona during the snow season?  It seems that many are going without any sense of a divine assignment but only out of a sense of personal entitlement.  Does that seem odd to you? Of course, if you've lived all your life without looking for a divine assignment doing your own thing is the only thing you know how to do.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Before the Votes are Counted

I don’t know who won or lost in today’s election.  The votes aren’t counted as I’m writing this.  My best guess is that the electoral tilt will be to the right.  There will be another week or two of detailed ‘spin’ from all sides and then who knows what will happen.  For sure, the Democrats will need to reorganize in order to reenergize.  The Republicans will have to heal the conservative vs. moderate rift in their own ranks in order to make sure this is not a one and done kind of deal.

America will be able to slow down, catch our collective breath and then start leaning into a world that is filled with both challenge and opportunity.  Are you ready?

If the latest electoral season is any indication we are in deep need of a deeper goodness in our country. Actually, I think that deeper goodness is here.  It’s just obscured a bit.  And we need an infusion of hope. At least I’m sensing we do.  I don’t think Rush, Glen, Jon, the ladies from the View, or Oprah can do it.  Not even Barak or Sarah.  God can certainly use them but we are in need of something more substantive than what our entertainers, pundits, gadflies, and politicians can offer us. 

For some of us that more substantive thing is a reawakening in our spirit.  In our churches it may mean revival.  In many arenas it’s a rediscovery of passion and an unleashing of talent. For sure, I think being more attentive to the promptings of God is at the heart of the renewal that needs to take place.

My prayer is that the church continues to show leadership in all things leading to awakening and re- imagining our preferred future. It means facing down and filling the holes in our gospel (thank you Richard Stearns) and living into the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ (thank you Eugene Peterson).

The church is at its best when we do what we can do best.  That means showing up where the need is great.  How many hospitals, schools, orphanages, hospices, homeless shelters, feeding centers ….bear the imprint of the faithfulness of God’s people?  It’s everywhere you look  We certainly still see evidence of God’s people going to difficult places, to do difficult things often at the cost of their life.  It makes me want to both applaud and cry.  Even the most jaundiced observer of church life has to give a thumbs up to the millions upon millions upon millions of dollars given freely to help those who have so little.  Add to these heroic efforts the gazillions of little kindness and courtesies done day after day in every workplace and neighborhood that make our world a better place.

Yet, I think we’re just scratching the surface of our potential especially when we gauge the great need all around us.  How many of us are still caught up in things that are so self serving that we just can’t see a very cool, greater call on our life?

The hope we desperately need in our country and around the world is going to come as a result of paying attention to the very things God pays attention to.  In all honesty segments of the church seem to be playing around with things that don’t really matter and missing out on great opportunities to join God where He is truly at work.  I’m more concerned about what we can do proactively going forward rather than staying angry about what has already occurred. 

So, election day is almost over.  Some who read this will be very discouraged over the results.  Some not so much.  In fact, there will be great jubilation in some circles.  If history is any indicator our joys and sorrows in the political arena are short-lived.  It’s rascals in and rascals out (according to a finicky public) in pretty predictable cycles.  But God is doing something beyond our politics and culture battles.  He’s on the prowl.  He knows what needs to be done. As always, God will use the church.  It’s the vehicle He uses. Always has. Always will. I want in on this.  I want in on the next chapter God is writing. How about you? 

So, I will pray for our new leaders and for my friends that want to make a huge impact in the political arena.  May God use them greatly, beyond expectation.  Wouldn’t that be something?  In the meantime there’s another place to play, a different kind of kingdom to serve.  Here’s to the future.