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Archive for April, 2010

The first thing that happens when you go to school as a kid is you notice that there are other people there.

Everywhere.

All the time.

And sometimes they aren’t nice and sometimes they take things that belong to you.

Once junior high and high school hit, you realize that some of them are nicer to look at than others…but I’m getting off track…

From the point when we are born, then off to school, to work, and so on we are surrounded by other people. It complicates things, sometimes it makes things more enjoyable, but one thing we know is that there are always other people even if we’re trying to hide from them.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m all about solitude and spending time alone or with one very close friend or spouse occasionally but part of “growing up, moving out” is to understand that in being transformed by God through the Spirit that teaches us how to follow Jesus we learn how to relate to ourselves and to others (both God and other people).

As a matter of fact, Robert Mulholland says that the goal of any kind of spiritual growth is to become “the image of Christ for the sake of others.”

For example: Jesus teaches us to “forgive as we have been forgiven.” Ask yourself the question “For me to forgive as I’ve been forgiven, what has to happen?”

  1. God forgives us for sin and going against His desire for creation.
  2. Someone else here has to hurt us.
  3. We have to interact with them and show them forgiveness.

This does not work if other people aren’t part of our life. The same goes for most of the teaching of Jesus – what we learn from Jesus and what we do with it ultimately affects other people, and more than that it changes the world. If you’re interested in more on this, I’ll be teaching a one-day class called “How To Forgive” at Parkview’s Orland Park Campus on May 15th. Go here for more details. The solution to this would be just to avoid other people, just hang out with Jesus, and become a hermit right? No, because then we’re ignoring something much greater – that we are called to be the “light to the nations” (Isaiah) and to the world (Matthew 5-7).

Here’s where missional spiritual formation becomes so important. Prayer, reading the Bible, worship, hanging out with other apprentices of Jesus, listening to God’s Spirit, and applying the teachings of Jesus become much more powerful when we’re going somewhere (i.e. “heading out”) where those practices and teachings will be put to the test.

Places where we may get hurt and need to forgive.

Places where we have to have a great relationship with God in order to trust Him when it’s tough.

Places where people want to see if we are actually different or if we’re just a “self-righteous” version of everyone else.

Places where people may question us on the Scriptures or simply ask us what we believe.

Places where we need to love someone that even those so-called Christian people in our life refuse to love because of the way they vote or who they are physically attracted to.

Places where we say “Man, this Jesus thing would be great if it weren’t for my dad/mom/wife/brother/co-worker/etc….”

The relationship we have with God grows stale when we hide it and keep it to ourselves – we grow, we pray, we forgive, we let go of anger and lust and gossip only when it’s for the sake of giving life and health and help to other people. Also, we figure out exactly what matters most when we are pressed to say “Here is Jesus, truly and wholly, and I’ll use my life to show you what He’s all about.” God has done the same for us: “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

So if you can say “Yes, I’m growing in my relationship with God” can you also say “Yes, I’m growing in that relationship because I’m putting myself in situations where it is being tested and used”?

Think this week about all the “spiritual” things you do – are they keyed to helping you move towards other people so that you can pass on what you receive and learn through those “spiritual” things?

If not, then what’s the point of doing them?

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Wanted to take a minute and hit something else before going back to the missional spiritual formation discussion…

On Thursday, May 6th we’ll be gathering at Parkview’s Orland Park Campus for the National Day of Prayer 2010. The event will be held in the Underground at 7pm and I hope everyone will notch this on their calendars to be there. It will be an incredible time of seeking God together to help our neck of the world get their act together in light of God’s will.

However, the big challenge of this event is one that we sometimes miss and I want to state it pretty plainly. I’ve been a pastor now for about 14 years, and I want you to know that I say this out of love:

Our relationship with God can’t be based on how much our government supports that relationship. As a matter of fact, the more the government supports that relationship the less powerful it seems to be as a change-agent in our world.

Case in point: Christianity in China. Being a Christian means going to prison or even death, and yet the church (the church as a verb, see my last post) is mobilized and moving in every direction possible with the Gospel.

I’ve been following the hubbub about the National Day of Prayer being called unconstitutional and Christians creating a huge furor over it, but I have a pretty simple response.

Who cares. I really don’t care. And here’s why.

If we’re waiting for the Constitution and our government to support Christianity I hope we brought a few magazines. It’s never going to happen.

So, when we gather on May 6th here’s what we’re going to do.

We’re going to pray – with the words of the Scriptures and with the words that come erupting out of our hearts for the world around us – and we’re going to seek God regardless of what political positioning has been taken. We’re going to cry out as people who have seen enough murder, abuse, addiction, poverty, dishonesty,  and hatred to last a lifetime and we’re going to bring those things to God so that we can not only trust them to Him, but to find out how He’s going to use us to be change agents on His Kingdom’s behalf and as His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:17-20)

We’re going to pray for everyone – including our enemies whoever they may be – and we’re going to celebrate the fact that our loyalty and hope is in Christ, the world’s true King and that the only stable system of politics and civic action is the Kingdom of God.

Can’t wait for next Thursday – I think God is about to cut something loose here and I hope if you can make it to Parkview Orland Park you will join us. If not, pray where you are and your heart and voice will join with those around this country who will be praying “Your Kingdom come, your will be done.”

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Some of Parkview’s staff went to a conference last week called “Exponential” (BTW – a few pics of the PCC crew are on my Facebook account) and during that conference we heard a word that is becoming very popular in church leadership, thought, and practice:

Missional.

Missional basically means that we’re called, as followers of Jesus, to go into places where the Gospel needs to go. It means that everything we do – gathering on the weekend and in our daily life – is geared toward making us better “go-ers” but traditionally Christians have seen themselves as “stay-ers” – finding a church and living life from Sunday to Sunday thinking that it’s the only place where they can encounter God.

Maybe it’s better to say it this way: church is a verb. So long we’ve thought of church as the place where you go on the weekend, where the Bible teaches on several occasions that church is actually what you are when you put your whole life into becoming like Jesus.

So, missional people understand that separate or together we are all called to be the church wherever we are.

In your job.

In your home.

In your flag football league.

On the golf course.

In the kitchen.

At Wrigley Field (or the Cell, God doesn’t discriminate though I think he’s a Cardinals fan anyway).

So in the next few blog posts I’m going to jump all over this question.

If we are built to go, what kind of spiritual disciplines or habits make us better “go-ers” and not just “stay-ers”?

In other words:

How do I pray as a “go-er”?

How do I read the Bible as a “go-er”?

How do I handle money/anger/lust/noise/distraction/my neighbor as a “go-er?”

Ultimately I think it boils down to the fact that the church was built not to hunker down in it’s own building(s) and try to get people to always come there (though I think that’s a great start for a lot of people), but to get sweaty running with the Gospel into places where people are broken and beaten and be the church there. The real question is how do the spiritual practices make us ready to do this?

On to worship this morning at Parkview, the series “All’s Not Fair In Love and War” on marriage. If you can’t be here you can always watch online here.

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Adding or Multiplying?

Down in Kissimmee for a conference called Exponential with some of the folks from Parkview staff. The conference was started by our friends Dave and Jon Ferguson from Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL.

The concept is simple – things change and movements grow faster when you are changing exponentially rather than just adding one more thing. So, let’s look at spiritual growth. Sometimes the thought is that we need to add another spiritual practice (prayer, silence, fasting, etc.) rather than saying what one thing can I do that will have the most impact in the most areas of my life.

For example, silence is an activity that changes everything in our lives. It brings us clarity, helps us listen, helps us to realize we don’t have to constantly talk in order to live or prove we have some value in this world. And then here’s the cool thing – what happens to the way we pray, worship, and talk with other people when we’ve had an experience of being able to live in silence?

Let’s start thinking less about “what kind of spiritual habit do I need to add?” and more about “what spiritual habit(s) will have the most influence over the whole of your life? Think about it today.

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A Contract with Jesus?

I recently heard Carl George, a friend of Parkview’s and a noted thinker and consultant on church life, talk about a “learning contract.” He was talking about it in terms of apprenticeship and mentoring but I found that you could say the same things about our growth as disciples or “apprentices” of Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard

…I’d like to grow, but where do I start?

…I don’t know why I’m stuck here and not moving forward.

…I don’t know why I can’t seem to get out of this spiritual rut.

…I’ve really lost track of God in my life.

Let’s create a “learning contract” with Jesus. Get a sheet of paper and answer the following:

  1. What do you do well? This would be a place to talk about the areas of your life with God (spiritual, physical, mental, relational) where you are seeing growth, change, and maturity. Where are things working or clicking right now?
  2. What would you like to do better? Here, talk about the places where improvement is needed – where you feel like things are out of hand or out of sorts. How is your physical health? How much sleep are you getting? These are outside elements that can affect everything else in your life – including the way you relate to God.
  3. How would you like to address this? Here is where the rubber meets the road – don’t just acknowledge struggles, take them on. Usually the best way to address a spiritual weakness is to find a discipline that is the opposite of that weakness. For example, if you’d like to work on speaking less destructively try practicing the discipline of silence on a regular basis. If you find you’re struggling with sexual temptation, go on a media fast for a week where you cut out TV, radio, internet (except for this blog, of course), etc. where a lot of that temptation comes from. Prayer is key here – let God open your eyes to new stuff or old stuff, whatever needs to be dealt with.

The contract will take time to work through and will take dedication in order to keep it together – but more than that we all need someone to hold us to it. Find another person and share your “learning contract” with them so that someone is asking you “How are you doing with ________?” on a regular basis and help you pray for strength when it gets tough.

You can apply this in several areas (leadership, ministry, spiritual growth, marriage) but the cool thing about it is that it makes you conceive of a vision for who you could be (What would you like to do better?) instead of focusing on how bad things are at the present.

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Reading this great little book by Marva Dawn called “In the Beginning, God.” Her thought is that the account of creation in Genesis wasn’t to create scientific debates about the where or when, but to point to God Himself – the WHO – and cause us to understand that He deserves worship when we look at Creation around us.

What really caught me were her thoughts about Christian community, or the gathered group of people who follow Jesus, and what we’re supposed to be doing in the world. Here is one that floored me:

“We invite everyone to delight in noncomformity, to rejoice in the Spirit’s transforming work in our lives. We begin to train our children with worship and hearing the Scriptures when they are very little, for we long for them from the earliest time possible to discover the goodness of God’s design, the truth of God’s instructions, and the Joy of following them – not as duty, but as glad response to God’s profoundly loving revelation and invitation, the Trinity’s mercy and grace.” (p. 28-29; emphasis mine)

Wow. I know that’s a heavy quote, but the idea that we should “delight in nonconformity” is something that churches debate heavily. Should we look like the world around us or not? What can we borrow and use and what should we fight against? What about being “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:14 & 16)? The biggest knock against the church is that we’re more known for what we’re “against” than what we’re “for”, which I think is a tremendous tragedy.

What does it mean to delight in nonconformity?

I think it’s more than just not watching certain television programs, voting for certain candidates or political positions, or saying certain “unacceptable” words.

We should delight in forgiving when the whole world says “go for the throat.”

We should delight in giving things away when the whole world says “get more and newer.”

We should delight in blessing people who have hurt us significantly.

We should delight in hanging out with people who don’t improve our own social standing or reputation. (like Jesus did?)

I agree with Marva Dawn here, if we live the things I’ve listed above as acts of worship to the God who created all people, then we’ll have much less time and energy to argue the literal seven day creation argument, etc.

Isn’t it true that nonconformity to the world looks less like believing in scientific proofs for God and more like believing in the Creator God himself?

There’s more in this quote, but I just got struck by the “nonconformity.”

Currently Listening To: The Shins, “New Slang” (via iPod)

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…then there’s another side to this whole “brokenness” thing.

I’ve seen brokenness be used as an excuse.

“I can’t change – I’m just broken. I wish things were different, but I’m frail and imperfect.”

I agree with this to an extent, but then again there seems to be a lot of talk in the Scriptures about “growing up.” What I think is happening is that the fear of getting into some type of “works-righteousness” (in other words, using our actions to earn the love of God which is impossible and fruitless) has kept us from one of the truly beautiful things of life –

Growing up.

Maturing.

Becoming something we were intended to be.

I love the passage in Romans 7:14-25 where Paul struggles because the things he wants to do he can’t or won’t do, but the things he’s trying to avoid come pretty easily. This is a case study in brokenness –

I want to forgive, but instead I hug my grudge. Besides, I’m not strong enough or spiritual enough.

I want to bless, but cursing just feels right. Besides, who do I think I am to bless someone else?

I want to give my life to something bigger, but honestly I’m exhausted. Besides, I’d probably mess it up anyway. God can’t use me.

The passage is great because we see Paul as a pretty flawed guy and we can be encouraged that even saints (a word that needs better definition, but that’s another post) can drop the ball. But we rarely ever carry out Paul’s next two thoughts:

  1. There is no condemnation or slavery in store for broken people (8:1-4)
  2. The law that used to condemn is gone, and in its place is walking according to the Spirit. (8:4-8)

The important thing is that “walking according to the Spirit” thing – we’re not intended to just stay broken but to begin walking a new path. A path filled with stumbles and misdirections, true, but ultimately it’s a path that matures us and changes us and makes us who God intended us to be in the first place. Because, as I posted yesterday, broken people are the ambassadors of healing to a broken world – we are the agents of change, God’s beloved, and therefore we are not useless but valuable to Him. Growing up makes us…

Whole.

At peace.

Loving.

Forgiving.

Bringing light into dark places.

If we’re content to let brokenness be the thing that we hide behind, we’ll at some point become lost in brokenness and we’ll lose sight of that big and beautiful life God has in store through the Spirit of Christ.

Trust me, I biff it up daily. But I know that I’m no longer defined as “the biffer-upper” – I am a child growing and maturing in His Father’s way.

I pray this is where I can keep my thoughts on a daily basis.

I hope that is your prayer as well.

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