Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday's Meditation: A Big Question that Matters Every Day

Sometimes the big questions intersect with our everyday life. My opinions about regarding large “theological” questions trickle all the way down to my ability to follow Jesus day-by-day. For example, my view of the scripture will determine how much authority it has in my life. My understanding of God’s purpose for marriage will find it’s way into my sexual thoughts and behavior. Or, for example, my view of the church will influence my everyday life as a follower of Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: not everyone thinks the answers to big questions matter in their ability to follow Jesus. We think they are simply matters of opinion, or even preference. Which answers to big questions matter to us on a personal level? What if big questions help--or hinder--our lives as students of Jesus?

One current question in North America has to do with the importance of the church. Church life in America has become a symbol of irrelevance, hypocrisy, or even considered harmful in the life of a disciple. Why not simply head out to Starbucks or a pub with my believing friends and call that “church?” Who needs the hassle of small-minded people or the drama of church as a someone’s private kingdom? I see the point of these questions. The church in the U.S. is desperately ill. So why not turn off the life support system?

My only problem is God. He seems to think the church is important. Here’s a Monday meditation: just try reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians without considering the place of the church in God’s order of things. The church is mentioned nine times in three separate contexts during this short letter. And the Spirit-inspired text says some outrageous things about the church:
  • The church is the “fulness of God” (1: 22-23). Really?
  • God wants to speak to the cosmos, using the church as the example of his “manifold wisdom” (3: 10-11). No way!
  • God actually thinks marriage is an everyday picture of Jesus and the Church (5: 22-33)
So before we all spend our tithe on lattes and pints with our best friends and call it “church” perhaps we could consider the big question of what God has in mind for the church and for us as followers of Jesus. (And check back Thursday as we continue this discussion.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion . . . About Discovering Your "Personal Canon"

A couple of years ago a spiritual director at a retreat center asked those in attendance to think about the passages of scripture we found most inspiring. I know--it’s all inspired, but that doesn’t mean that all of the scripture inspires me. Some of it confuses me, some of it comforts me, and yes, some of it inspires me.

There are passages to which I return again and again. They never fail to speak to me. There are books of the Bible that seem to have been written to me personally. Genesis, Isaiah, and Hosea call to me from the Old Testament. I turn to them again and again. Luke, Acts, Colossians and both the Peters are my default pages when I turn to the New.

When we take time to consider which books of the Bible speak most clearly in our lives we begin to discover something about ourselves. Why do certain books, certain passages, certain stories have the power to move us again and again? What does it say about me? What does it say about my strengths and my weaknesses, my calling and my God-given temperament? What did God Himself have in mind for me when he crafted the combination of my mental, physical, and emotional traits?

It’s an exercise I recommend. Why not set aside a weekend and review your history with God, especially with respect to the inspired text he has preserved for each of us. The Spiritual Director at my retreat called is “the Canon within the Canon” and in my opinion you should set aside time to discover yours.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Forget it. I'm Going to the Pub.

It’s difficult to be in favor of the church when the church has let so many people down. The trail of disappointment leads right to our door, because each of us has experienced the failings of the church. Nearly everyone has stories of small-minded, mean-spirited people who use the church as an opportunity to act as if they are God’s gift to Christendom. So forget it. I give up. Jesus and I can hang out together at my house. I can meet him at Starbucks. Or the pub.

And yet . . .

Jesus looked into the centuries and saw a bride. The inspired scripture makes outrageous statements about the church, outrageous enough to bring me to edge of unbelief. Like parenting, I marvel that Jesus would leave something so important in the hands of people so messed up. It’s a helluva way to run a railroad, but it’s his operation, not mine. This is the paragraph when some will jump off the train, because today’s post is about the importance of the church for every Student of Jesus. But wait--it gets worse, because the text on my mind is one that’s been used to beat people over the head regarding church attendance:
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10: 25)
That clicking sound you hear is people jumping off of the blog train to some topic way more fun and way less old-fashioned.

But wait . . .

Can this blunt instrument of condemnation be redeemed? Is there more to this passage than a club for the small-minded to thump the rest of us? I believe so, because verse 25 does not stand alone, it lives among  a string of “Let Us” statements reaching back to Hebrews 10: 22:
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10: 22-25, there: that’s better!)
I invite you to consider the larger message of Hebrews 10 with these five observations:

  • Let us draw near to God (v 22): Jesus has done his part. Now it’s up to us to respond. “Draw near” is the first of the “let us” statements, and “meeting together” comes second to last. Do we see the connection? One sure way to draw near to God is to come together with his family. But a word of caution: we should draw near with with a clean heart and a free conscience. We are commanded to draw near; we are not commanded to give in to guilt, manipulation or hype of the those who would use church life for their own purposes.
  • Let us hold unswervingly to hope (23): Students of Jesus carry hope. We are called to speak words of hope. Imagine coming together with others filled with hope, each on eager to “profess” their hopes out loud. The world knows the difference between hope and hype: one attracts, the other repels.
  • Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds (v24): What a crazy image comes with the word, “spur.” Imagine a horseback rider giving her heels to the horse. Another translation suggests “provoke one another.” Here’s a crazy-evil Christian meditation: before I head for church I should ask, "have I plotted some way to provoke others to love and good deeds?" Conversely, who will be there to spur me on toward my calling to represent the grace of God? Remember, though--I’ve got a clean conscience and I’m not buying guilt, so the only way to provoke me is to demonstrate the real thing.
  • Let us not give up meeting together (v25): Apparently there were reasons back then to give up on the church, which means in our day we haven’t stumbled into some new revelation about jumping off the train. The additional challenge is the word, “meeting.” Church meetings back then may not resemble the form we have, but whatever it looked like it was regular and organized. When people say, “I don’t like organized religion,” what’s the alternative, disorganized religion? Do we think the Holy Spirit is incapable of organizing more than two or three people?
  • Let us encourage one another (25): This final suggestion cuts to the heart of the matter--is your church a place of encouragement, or guilt? Does your church move in the vision of God’s awesome future or do they trade in hype that can’t last until Thursday? And of course, there’s the little matter of the word, “us.” Who carries the encouragement? Who has the vision? Do we go to church like we go to WalMart--to pick up inexpensive cheer--or do we go to church as the very vessels of hope and encouragement, ready to spill ourselves all over the place?

I’d like to suggest that these five points are a call for Students of Jesus move beyond obedience to vision, to move beyond following the rules of the Bible to capturing the heart of Jesus. He sees something in the church we do not. Which one of us needs the eye exam?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Beautiful People?

This weekend I read a touching and transparent blog post by Jon Reid called “Repentance.”  Jon details attending a leadership retreat for his church, The Journey, located in San Jose, California. I’ve never been to The Journey, but I can assure you it’s a church capable of making big-time mistakes: mistakes in representing the Lord Jesus, the gospel, or mistakes that would certainly provide good reason for those who are wounded to hold enmity against the people in leadership. I know this because The Journey is staffed by people, and people can be a real pain in the . . . well, you know.

Jon mentions his own history of frustration and pain, disagreement and ambivalence (even now) toward The Journey, yet found himself in close and apparently revealing quarters with the church’s leadership team. Jon found them to be “beautiful people,” even though clearly he has been at odds with some of them. And this impressed me.

I wondered if I had ever referred to those who had hurt me as “beautiful people.” I’ve certainly been willing to give others the benefit of a doubt, but also reserved the right to consider them misguided, selfish, clueless, or even wicked. I’m not sure “Beautiful” has ever made it into my list of adjectives. Perhaps they could become beautiful if they would just see things correctly (and I’d be glad to enlighten them on that account).

So this Monday’s meditation is an invitation to us all. Without excusing selfish and sinful behavior for even a moment, I believe we have to acknowledge Jesus himself chose to “staff” churches with . . . people. And people can be a real pain in the--well, you know. In my frustration I’ve frequently turned to Colossians 3: 12-14. Perhaps it will hold some meaning for you, too:
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Either Jesus miscalculated, or part of our own personal spiritual formation depends upon practicing these words. Admiring these words is not enough: the life of God is found in the act of living them out. But where? Then I think to myself, “where else can I put these words into practice--other than my family and my church?” I never seem to come up with a better answer than either of those two places. Blessings abundant to you, Jon, and to all of us on our journey.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion About . . . Groundhog Day

Annie Dillard opens her book, Holy the Firm “Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time.”

It may be hard to connect Bill Murray with the phrase, “holiness holds forth in time,” but Harold Ramis’ 1993 instant-classic Groundhog Day is sublime, and for those with ears to hear, the God of eternity is speaking through this comedic gem.
Bill Murray plays Phil Connor, a narcissistic weatherman who dreams of moving up to the big-time of national network weathermen, and accordingly despises the assignment of driving from home-base Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney, PA, where each February 2nd “the world holds it’s breath for the spectacle of a small rodent predicting the weather.”

When an unpredicted blizzard prevents Phil from returning to Pittsburgh that night he goes to sleep in a bed’n’breakfast only to wake up--again--on the morning of February 2nd, where yesterday’s events march in lock-step repetition. Only Phil seems aware that they are living the day over again. It becomes clear that only Phil is, in fact, living the day over, and he is destined to live the same day again and again--perhaps 10,000 times or more until . . . what? The curse of a life with no destination takes its toll on Phil until he at last learns the lessons hidden in a single day.

The scenes in a bowling alley and a diner are deep theology hidden in comedy like jelly inside a doughnut, and for those with ears to hear, the Holy Spirit is speaking, again and again. That’s why in my opinion you should watch the film and listen to the voice of God.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Matters Too Wonderful for Me

In just a year and a half of blogging I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: we would much rather talk about the church than about ourselves. When I post something about the church at large, the number of visitors to this site soars and comments pour in. Everyone rushes to the table where the state of the church is sliced, diced, and analyzed in detail. With the mere mention of a Christian celebrity I can purchase hundreds more visitors to my site.
If, however, I post something about our individual need to wait for God in silence, or our personal destiny to become conformed to his image, I get the internet equivalence of chirping crickets. Nothing. Like busking in the Metro, everyone hurries by. And why not? Christianity is way more fun when we’re talking about other people. Following Jesus isn’t such a joyride if he wants to talk to me.
I’m sure today’s snarky tone doesn’t help--no one likes a scold. And it’s true, I am one of us as well. I would much rather pontificate on the issues facing Christendom across the continent than listen to the still small voice addressing the secrets of my heart. I would rather do significant things. I want to be a part of important conversations.
Image my surprise when I found the private notes of a world leader who longed to hear the whisper spoken to him alone. A man who held a position of national significance, no, wait--historical importance. Yet he was a man who positioned himself in the quiet place and waited for his best friend to come and sit with him.
My heart is not proud, O LORD, 
       my eyes are not haughty; 
       I do not concern myself with great matters 
       or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
       like a weaned child with its mother,
       like a weaned child is my soul within me.
 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
       both now and forevermore. (~ Psalm 131, a psalm of David)
God took the boy out of the shepherd’s field and put him in the palace, but not before embedding the hillside, the breeze, the night sky and the quiet times into his heart. The Biblical histories of Samuel and Chronicles will tell you the palace was a place filled with intrigue, politics, war and power--and it was. The Psalms and Proverbs will tell you that David took time to climb the stairs, shut the door, and pick up the harp.
Our greatest need--my greatest need--is the daily presence of the Holy Spirit. When David knew he had stepped over the line, claiming power and privilege as some sort of birth right, he repented before the Lord and begged that the presence would remain:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
       or take your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51: 10-11)
At the end of each day, literally, as I lay me down to sleep, my Father won’t be impressed with my intellect or insight. He’ll be concerned with the beat of my heart. In the quiet (if there is quiet) he will want to know if I lived a whole-hearted life that day. Did my actions spring from the well of the Spirit or the treadmill of importance? He will be concerned with these questions because he knows that spiritual formation happens each day. The only question is: what have we formed?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Three Important Questions

The other day I came across a statement from Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. I posted it on Facebook because I thought it was a treasure and wanted to share this treasure with all seven of my friends. Then the trouble started: not everyone considered it such a treasure. Here's the treasure/trouble:
"It's hard to have the same fruit as the early church when we value a book they didn't have more than we do the Holy Spirit they did have."
It seems some people considered Bill’s comment a challenge to the importance of scripture. “What do you do with the scripture that says ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God?’” asked one friend. Another posted: “How would we know which fruit is of the Holy Spirit and which fruit is from elsewhere without objective guidance?” It became a three-way discussion. The comments piled up, one after another, until no one else in their right mind would want read them all. But today, I would like to invite each of you into the conversation.

Without presuming to speak for Bill Johnson, here are three questions his statement provokes:
  1. I think any reasonable comparison between the 1st century church in the Middle East and the 21st century church in North America points out that we are nowhere near as fruitful. Since we have the Bible in abundance (in fact, the greatest availability of the Bible in the history of the world) what must be lacking in our day?
  2. Why are so many 21st century North American believers concerned about “subjectivity” when it comes to the dynamic of the Holy Spirit (who is God), but not at all concerned about the inherent “subjectivity” involved in interpreting scripture (which is not God). The wide-spread availability of the scripture does not eliminate the need for listening to the Spirit's leading. In fact, it should give us more confidence to risk obedience to his living, daily voice.
  3. Why is the gospel flourishing in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and most of Asia--where the dynamic of the Holy Spirit is celebrated, while Evangelicalism is increasingly considered irrelevant in the West--where the Holy Spirit is perhaps honored in name but rarely in practice?
Today’s Monday Memo is not the usual suggestion for mediation. It’s an invitation--no, it’s a plea--to explain why we North Americans have lost the vitality of the early church. Honest, I’m begging: tell me what you think.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion . . . About Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard is the leading voice for discipleship in America today. I could tell you about him but it’s better to let him speak for himself. Here’s Tuesday’s devotional from his killer iPhone app (and 2004 book), “Hearing God:”

Between the Years
Our Lord and our God. We joy in Thee. Without Thy Help we could not face unafraid the year before us.

I stand between the years. The Light of My Presence is flung across the year to come - the radiance of the Sun of Righteousness. Backward, over the past year, is My Shadow thrown, hiding trouble and sorry and disappointment.

Dwell not on the past - only on the present. Only use the past as the trees use My Sunlight to absorb it, to make from it in after days the warming fire-rays. So store only the blessings from Me, the Light of the World. Encourage yourselves by the thought of these.

Bury every fear of the future, of poverty for those dear to you, of suffering, of loss. Bury all thought of unkindness and bitterness, all your dislikes, your resentments, your sense of failure, your disappointment in others and in yourselves, your gloom, your despondency, and let us leave them all, buried, and go forward to a new and risen life.

Remember that you must not see as the world sees.  I hold the year in My Hands - in trust for you. But I shall guide you one day at a time.

Leave the rest with Me. You must not anticipate the gift by fears or thoughts of the days ahead.
And for each day I shall supply the wisdom and the strength.

I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk
 in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  John 8:12

In my opinion you should get this App or read his stuff
Taken from Hearing God Through the Year by Dallas Willard. Copyright(c) 2004 by Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Discipline of the Present Moment

Sometimes you just have to wonder if Jesus was serious. He said some pretty outrageous things, and I suspect when we see him face-to-face he’ll say, “Oh, that! I was just yanking your chain.” Or not. Maybe he meant what he said.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33)
These words are a crazy combination of challenge and promise. The promise is perhaps a negative: Jesus assures us each day comes with just enough trouble. It’s not the sort of promise you’ll find in a book of Bible promises or some promise-a-day software. The challenge comes when Jesus suggests that tomorrow isn’t worth the worry. Really? How, then, can I prepare?

I believe these words from Jesus are an invitation to exercise the discipline of the present moment.

Have you ever meditated upon the fact that all of us live one day at a time? Rich or poor, young or old, we all experience time in a sequence of days. We cannot jump ahead by a day or a year. We cannot recreate the past, as in the movie “Groundhog Day” where Bill Murray, a self-centered fool, is given the opportunity to live the same day over (and over and over) until he gets it right. No. The days march by in line, one after another.

Who came up with such an arrangement? Well, God did. Although he lives outside of time, he set the cosmos in motion, and in so doing, set us into a world of time. So what? (we are tempted to think--until we consider that God looked upon all of his creation and said, "It’s good. It’s very good.”) In other words, the daily march of our lives, the day-upon-day progression of life, was set up by a loving Father for our good. He created the daily, but we have added the grind.

The Father’s good intentions aside, many of us feel trapped in the present moment. Our past has hemmed us in, our foolish choices have brought us this far, and the present moment feels like a prison. Others look forward from this present day and conclude the path of our lives is set. Forces are in play, and the future has been determined by someone else--which means our own lives are beyond control.

We’re not alone in these thoughts. Some of the greatest men of faith had remarkably bad days. Days in which they felt captured by the past or faced an uncertain future. Moses must have been having a really bad day when he began to pray the prayer in Psalm 90. God lives forever, said Moses, and we are lucky to hit eighty. Everything dies. Who knows? Maybe we can learn something: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) Moses must’ve been a real buzz kill at parties. That is, until the Spirit of God hinted at what Jesus would teach years later: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14) Moses began to get the message. The final verses of the Psalm/prayer begin to look up. God’s mercies are not yesterday’s mercies, and they are not some pipe-dream for tomorrow. They're here now. In the present moment.

I like to imagine Jesus reciting Psalm 90 while he walked in the Galilean countryside. I can see him watching plants putting forth flowers, birds finding food, feeling the breeze on his cheek. Jesus smiled, and perhaps wondered what Moses was getting so worked up about. Jesus launched a message about today. Today, he said, the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking in. Maybe it didn’t yesterday, who knows what’s up tomorrow, but the Spirit is bringing the righteousness, joy and peace of the Kingdom right now to those who turn, hear, and rejoice.

I hear in Jesus’ words a call to practice the discipline of the present moment. He’s not against the past: I think he encourages us to remember the past, but only so we can have confidence that God is with us today: What he did in days gone by, for others, he will do for us. He’s not against the future. Dave Ramsey can relax: I’m sure Jesus had a 401K retirement account. But he wasn’t invested in the future, his investment was all in the now. It’s common sense to learn from the past; it’s dangerous to live there. It’s prudent to plan for the future; it will drive you crazy to try to control it.

So we’re left with the wisest, most radical, sanest advice ever given:
“Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
So for today, Peace!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Jesus, Peter, and . . . You?

My friend Pete won’t leave me alone. I went to visit him in Acts 10 and 11, and now he won’t let me leave. Last week I posted twice about my friend Pete: the first time because he was a trouble-maker of the best kind; the second time because he’s so insightful about the nature of the gospel.
Now I’m stuck on what the kind of stuff Pete did in towns like Lydda, Sharon, and Joppa. He healed the sick and raised the dead. Peter. Not Jesus.
So Monday’s question: how did Peter do these things? Interestingly, he supplies the answer himself in Acts 10: 38, while he’s talking about Jesus:
"You know . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
What’s the connection between Peter’s eye-popping miraculous ministry and his description of Jesus? Peter had a specific insight into Jesus’ ministry. It energized Peter’s ministry. Here is is, plain and simple: Peter understood that Jesus worked miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the fact that Jesus was God’s son. Please take a moment and read Acts 10:38 again--the two characteristics of Jesus that marked his actions were the Spirit’s power and the presence of God. That’s a pattern he invites us to imitate.
Here’s the connection to Peter’s ministry: Peter understood that if Jesus accomplished his works by relying upon the Spirit, then Peter could do the same thing. How did Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead? By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. How did Peter heal the sick and raise the dead? By the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
One final step: what about us? If Jesus and Peter both leaned on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, what are the possibilities if we lean on the same Spirit and power? That’s more than a Monday meditation, it’s a call to experience Jesus in a whole new way.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion . . . About Hitting the Hay

Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get a good night’s sleep. No, really. Sleep is part of God’s plan for us--he invented it.

There are plenty of reasons to lose sleep. Not many of them are very good. Single moms would love to get more sleep. Others work two jobs or strange hours that conspire to break up their sleep. But most of us rob ourselves of God’s good intention for us--to sleep before Him, to rest in his presence.

We think we have mastered the clock, the sun, and our bodies. In the not too distant past, all the world moved to the rhythm of earth--the earth set in motion by God, who designed the days and nights to march in step, the tides to rise and fall, and his creation to find rest as a natural part of their being. Urban life has stolen sleep. Electricity has become a thief. And media, those Frankensteinian works of man, have turned us into the living dead.

Have you ever noticed the role of dreams in the Biblical narrative? The Holy Spirit inhabits our rest as much as our praise. We should do our part and trust him to do his: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2) In my opinion we should embrace the spiritual discipline of sleep.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Tree Grows from the Seed

Could you summarize Jesus’ ministry in one sentence? Be careful--your answer will say more about you than it will about him. The Apostle Peter (my friend Pete) gave a one-sentence summary in Acts 10:38:
"You know . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
It’s a fascinating account. Peter has a remarkable encounter with God, filled with revelation and mystery, and before he has time to sort it out he is called upon to share the gospel of the Kingdom to a roomful of people who are completely foreign to him. This passage is pivotal to the growth of the church; it’s the moment when Peter’s experience overwhelmed his theological understanding of the gospel; it’s when the Holy Spirit sovereignly decided to demolish the walls and renovate the church.

Peter's response is instructive because it not only gives the essentials of Jesus’ ministry, it provides the essence for us as followers of Jesus. Peter was after more than a mere presentation of gospel message, he was out to make disciples. First impressions, as the saying goes, are lasting ones, and I suspect Peter wanted his hearers' first idea of Christianity to include the notion that they were called to be just like Jesus. The tree will grow from the seed, and Peter sowed the seeds of the divine nature becoming flesh--not only in Jesus, but also in us.

What kind of tree will grow from the seed we plant? Perhaps we should measure our summary against Peter's inspired example. He are five points of comparison:

  • Peter’s gospel message includes Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together.  (“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit”) The tree will grow from the seed. Do we present the full picture of God at work in the earth, or limit the image of God to only One Person? Peter’s example is instructive. A “full gospel” requires the presentation of the full Godhead.
  • Peter’s gospel message doesn’t point to heaven as a future event. He paints a picture of heaven and earth linked together through the work of the Holy Spirit, who spans the divide and pours the stuff heaven into the words and works of Jesus. In one simple sentence, we get to see how “Let-your-Kingdom come-let-your-will-be-done-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” works.
  • Peter’s gospel message does not limit Jesus’ mission to redemption only. We see Jesus going from place to place, “doing good and healing.” We see God in action, expressing his goodness and power. How many gospel presentations affirm his essential goodness as well as his power to express that goodness. True, redemption is part of the story, but Jesus embodied a much bigger “good news” than we dare to imagine.
  • Peter’s gospel message reminds us that we are called to conflict. Those who are in need of healing are “under the power of the devil.” Even the most “Missional Churches” of the western world fail to highlight the nature of spiritual conflict. His intent was not to win an argument, his intent was to win freedom for the captives.
  • Peter’s gospel message presents the presence of God as a necessity for ministry. This final point is worth of a separate post (or a book). Jesus--Immanuel--operated in the presence of God. That presence was essential, not optional. If Jesus needed it, how much more do we?

Verses 39-43 indicate that Peter had more to say, but the Holy Spirit had heard enough. He was ready to harvest. He was ready to start a wildfire. Even those who were strangers to the Jewish covenant flooded into the Kingdom of God. The church would grow from pagan soil. The barbarians in Europe were about to see the light. If we were only dealing with church history this verse would be interesting enough. Strangely, God’s not into church history, and certainly he didn’t inspire the book of Acts merely to interest us.

How we summarize the gospel is the seed of our expectation. The tree grows from the seed. Peter called the seed “imperishable” because he wanted us to become partakers of the divine nature. Do we partake? Isn't it time to revisit the gospel Peter preached?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Pete's in a Boat-load of Trouble.

My friend Pete had a dream the other night, or maybe it was a vision. Or a trance. I dunno. It was strange. It was filled with repetitive images of food and bed-linens. Apparently he fell asleep without having enough to eat and the result was a Freudian mix of images that didn’t make much sense. He woke up confused and began to wonder about the meaning of what he had seen. Then he had the strangest feeling--really strong and clear--that he was going to have to leave on a mission trip immediately.

My friend Pete has had a history of impulsive and emotional behaviors but this one topped them all. Three strangers came to the door and asked for him. The strangers said that another guy (who Pete had never heard of) was told by an angel that Pete was the man to come and speak at a meeting.

Personally, I thought the whole affair was crazy. The guys at the door had never been to church a day in their life. Apparently “Mr. I-Saw-an-Angel” had read a bunch of religious books, but he’d never been to church, either.

So Pete takes a few friends with him and leaves with these guys the next day. A few days later everyone comes back and says God did amazing things on this “mission” trip, but the only thing I could hear in their description was that they broke nearly every rule in the book and then tried to slap a God-label on the whole affair.

Finally I took matters into my own hands and brought Pete’s actions up before the church leadership because even though Pete is one of the leaders himself he doesn’t have the right to just fly off the handle like this. Breaking the rules and blaming it on some emotional God-experience just won’t do.

We had a big meeting about it, but that will take a long time to explain, and I’m out of time, so if you want you can read about it here. Jeez. I’m thinking of going back to my old church.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion . . . About Silence

I like my conveniences: electricity and all the things that come with it.  Hot water, microwave, television, radio, iTunes, YouTube, Hulu, Bluetooth, you name it.  Those of us who enjoy these privileges are the late-comers to history. For thousands of years the rhythm of life rose and fell with sunlight and stars. Candles were hand-made and expensive. Not even kings or queens would think of putting a hundred candles around a bath tub for a relaxing soak.
It’s not just the undulation of light: we’ve manufactured noise to a breathtaking level. One reason pipe organs and symphony orchestras were the rage in Bach and Mozart’s day was no one had ever heard such sound before--so full that patrons' hearts would burst at the fullness. Now, they all live inside my ear-buds.
Laptops, iPhones, iPads, and Satellite TV are just fine. But their use comes with a price. The price is silence, and in the silence God is speaking: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zepheniah 3: 17)  Can you imagine? Peace, quietness, confidence, and the chance to hear God Himself singing over you. Have you ever heard His song?
I’m not anti-anything. I'm pro the-presence-of-God. In my opinion you should take out the ear buds today, and listen.