Friday, February 29, 2008

Apparently, it's an animal kind of week.

The other day, I wrote about a guy that got killed when he jumped into blood to swim with some sharks. Today, I thought I'd write about a family that allowed their dog to get eaten by a python. We'll call it animal week. Maybe a hedgehog will do something weird tomorrow and we can finish the week out with a consistent theme.

Here's a very quick summary of the story from CNN:
A 16 foot python swallowed a family dog whole in front of two kids.

That's a tragic story. I mean, the idea of a snake eating a Chihuahua is not a pleasant image. I agree, gross, but there is something I that I think is interesting about this whole thing. In the middle of the story, the owner of the Australian Venom Zoo (which by the way is my new favorite zoo down under said three things:

1. "It (the snake) actively stalked the dog for a number of days," Douglas said.

Isn't this true of temptation? Temptation is small and slow and patient, but like a snake sneaking up on us, it often catches us unaware.

2. "The family that owned the dog had actually seen it in the dog's bed, which was a sign it was out to get it," he added.

I'm weird, but if I found a snake that was 16 feet long in my dog's bed, I'd be nervous. I would notice it and probably call someone to get rid of it. But how often do we have the same reaction to temptation? We see a glimmer of it, we brush against it lightly and realize it's huge and big and potentially dangerous but we decide not to do anything.

3. "They should have called me then, but (the snake) got away and three or four days later, I was called and went around and removed it" after the dog had been killed, Douglas said.

As my grandfather used to say, "It's too late to do anything when your dog is already half way inside a snake." And that's true of temptation too. When you've already accepted money you don't deserve from a shady business deal or kissed someone that is not your husband, it's too late to avoid temptation. You're in the middle of a mess.

I promise that next week if a kangaroo punches someone in the face I won't write a post about it, but this week, remember the dangers of sharks and snakes, temptation and sin. They're not that different.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

swimming in blood.

I read a story today about a diver that was killed by a shark near the Bahamas. The diver was part of a "cageless" dive. Here is a description from the story:

In shark-dive excursions, dead fish and fish entrails are used to attract the sharks and bring them close to the divers. Cageless dives put divers and sharks in close proximity, without a metal underwater cage protecting the diver.

So basically, the tour operator bloodies the water, throws in some chum (fish parts) and then tells the tourists to jump in.

That's ridiculous but in some ways we do the same thing every day. The water might not be as red, the sharks not as obvious or as visually ominous, but I promise, it's so easy to dive without a cage in this world of ours.

Take for instance my friends that struggle with porn. When they go on a business trip, alone, to Vegas, there are certain things to do to make sure they have a cage in the water so to speak. They can get the front desk to put parental lock on the television in their room. They can schedule regular phone calls with accountability partners. They can set limits on how late they'll stay out, where they'll eat dinner etc.

They can make sure that if there are sharks, they're safe within the cage of God's protection.

My challenge to you tonight is to think about the shark story. What kind of diver are you? Are you jumping in unprotected? Are you swimming in blood? Or are you wrapped safely in the security of a cage?

Monday, February 25, 2008

The youth minister murderer.

I recently read a story about a youth minister that confessed to a murder. Thirteen years ago, when he was 16, he had stabbed to death a convenience store clerk. He got away with it. Other than his friend that was there that day, no one would have ever known. But he felt convicted walking in a new life of faith and so he confessed.

I used to think that's how life worked. As long as you stayed away from God, you could avoid the consequences. You could fail and sweep it under the rug as long as you didn't tell God about it, but the moment you did, you would be swept away by the consequences. So, one of my favorite reasons to avoid God became that I didn't want to deal with the consequences of my actions.

The truth is a little different. The truth is that man dealt with the consequences for the last 13 years. I can't imagine the guilt and sorrow that haunted him over what he had done. I can't imagine he could drive passed a gas station and not feel pain. I can't imagine that confessing was the first time he dealt with the consequences of that murder.

Because the truth is, like Romans 6:23 says, "the wages of sin is death." Sin comes pre-baked with its own consequences. The minute that guy murdered someone, the second you lied to your boss, the instant you took something that didn't belong to you, consequences were born.

I've lived a lot of my life believing that verse read, "The wages of sin and being honest with God is consequences." But it doesn't say that at all. In fact, the second half of the verse is this: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Yes, consequences always come. In some form or another they storm the shores of our life. But the beauty of all of this is that God doesn't introduce or create or make the consequences. Instead, he shelters us from them, he walks us through them, he holds us in his hand and lovingly guides us through them.

When we confess to him, we involve the creator of the universe in righting our consequences.

And that, is an amazing thing indeed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Laughing at life preservers.

Yesterday, someone posted a great comment on a post I had written about the need for accountability partners. They suggested I check out a post another writer had written. I did and responded with a really long winded reaction.

The post I was pointed to basically said that there is a right way and a wrong way to do accountability. Here, is the summary or conclusion this author proposed:

So if your Accountability Group is about this Gospel, God bless you. Such groups can make good use of honest confession, to proclaim and demonstrate mercy toward one another. But if your AG preaches another Gospel, if it uses the fear of man or pride as motivation to try stop the indulgences of the flesh, watch out, because you’ve warped God’s beautiful message of salvation and sanctification by the grace of Jesus Christ.

I liked the post. It was well written, well thought out and generally a really encouraging piece of writing. And I agree that pride or fear of man is not a long term solution to sobriety or holiness. The challenge I had with it though is that I feel like it attempted to qualify accountability groups. It established a qualification for what a good or healthy accountability group is and what a bad accountability group is. In part of my long winded response, I addressed my chief problem with qualifications:

In my favorite bible example, what motivated the prodigal son to come home? Was it, as your friend said, "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It’s freedom from the penalty and power of sin." No, he came home because there was a famine and he hit rock bottom. You could even argue that he knew he was better than pigs, a moment of pride, and knew that even his father's servants got better food. When he did get there, did the father ask him to qualify his motivations? Did the father say, "where you motivated by the fear of man or pride when you came home because if you were, it doesn't count." No, a thousand times no. The father spurns qualifications. The father sees two things, lost and found, dead and alive. I think he is the same about sobriety. He doesn't qualify the means, he focuses on the state, sober or drunk, clean or using.

I realized last night that when seen from another angle, the idea of qualifying accountability or methods of staying sober or pursuing holiness is pretty silly. Think about it this way. You're stranded in the ocean. You're drowning and suddenly you find a life preserver. Now, would you refuse that life preserver if you knew it would only hold you for a few days and not serve as a good long term rescue plan? No, you'd cling to it as hard as you can, understanding that at least for the moment, you had found safety.

Such is my thought about the fear of man and pride. If I am afraid of talking to my accountability partner about acting out with porn and that helps prevent me from doing that on a Saturday night, is that a bad thing? Would God ever say to me, "I am proud of you for not failing, but I don't like you're motivation." I don't think so, because I think all I have done in the moment is grab on to what was available. Instead of saying, "this is not a good long term fix, I will just wait in the ocean until my motivation is better," I would have grabbed onto the life preserver and lived to see another day.

What I do share with that author is a belief that anything outside of the life transforming love of Christ is going to sink you. But I strongly disagree that God doesn't want us to cling to the life preservers he throws our way as he slowly teaches us to engage in long term holiness.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The backwards belief.

Sometimes, despite my best intentions I get things backwards when it comes to God. For instance, I'm speaking to a men's group in a few weeks and like every other time I speak, I'll be tempted to be "extra holy" the week before.

Inside I'll quietly believe, "If I want God to bless this speech, then I need to really up my spiritual side." Now, before I poke holes in that belief, I will say that I think the enemy loves to damage us the most in moments before God really unleashes his love. That is, I think the enemy loves to tempt you strongly in the week leading up to your church retreat for example. But this is different, my thought represents a backwards belief.

Here, stripped of excuses is what I often believe:
"When I am good, God loves me more."

I know that for many the definition of grace is, "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less." But, my secret thoughts don't always line up with that. A verse in Romans 2 this morning kind of convicted me. Here is what verse 4 says:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

I want to focus on the last six words in that sentence because I think they're really powerful. Do you see the order there? Doesn't it feel opposite to what I believe sometimes and maybe you too?

"God's kindness leads you toward repentance." In my heart that doesn't make much sense. The rest of the world doesn't work that way. When I work harder, I get a bigger bonus at the end of the year at my job. When I treat my friends with compassion they enjoy spending time with me more. When I give the lawn guy a drink, he does a little better job spraying the weedkiller.

We live in a "give/get" kind of world. But God doesn't. His kindness leads us toward repentance. It doesn't say, "Your repentance leads you toward God's kindness." Not at all. We got it backwards.

Today, be honest with yourself, and admit what kind of backwards beliefs you might be carrying around. And if you want, share them with other people by posting a response to this blog.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

You need accountability partners. Here's why.

I like when ideas are simple. When they don't come cloaked in mystery or deep theology or secret words that only some people know. And this idea is definitely a simple one.

"If the smartest man on the planet messed up, chances are you might too."

That's it, the summation of what this post is about. If Solomon, who arguably owned the best brain every gifted to a human not named Jesus, could get something wrong chances are you could too.

Here's what we find in 1 Kings 11:4-6

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.

Now before you think, "hey the guy struggled with ladies, that ain't so bad" you need to realize what this dude Molech was all about. Molech and his followers were big into child sacrifice. Killing your kid for favor from Molech was like dropping your tithe envelope into the bucket on Sunday.

Solomon didn't just sin, he blew it in massive, tremendous ways. He was given everything under the stars but still found himself marrying hundreds of women and encouraging child sacrifice.

What's that have to do with you? Only this: Solomon was smarter than you and still blew it.

And he was smarter than me and I don't want to blow it. I hope the next time I feel bigger than God or drunk on my own intelligence, I'll remember old Solomon who aged worse than Elvis. Sure, the king of Graceland got fat and did bad shows in Vegas, but he wasn't a babykiller.

So where does that leave us? Alone, even if we're hyper intelligent, we are going to fall. We will stumble, we will make mistakes early or late in life. But we are not designed to be alone. We must surround ourselves with accountability partners that love us enough to tell us the truth when we're too smart to see it with our own eyes.

We can all be Solomon if we're not careful.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Honest prayers.

Last night, my four-year-old daughter L.E. said a prayer before she fell asleep. Here, verbatim is what she said:

"Repeat after me." (The instructions for her mom and me.)

"Dear God" (Pause, while we repeat.)

"Thank you for the world" (Pause, while we repeat.)

"And the people we see" (Pause, while we repeat.)

"that love me." (Pause, while we laugh.)

She was basically thanking God for all the people in the world that love her. And I thought that qualification was hilariously honest.

I wish I could say that I love my enemies, but the truth is, more often than not I am the older brother in the prodigal son story. I am mad at people that don't deserve good things, getting good things. I am frustrated and angry at my enemies. I do not pray for them or thank God for them.

So where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? I have a prayer that kind of sums up my approach.

There are four characters in the prodigal son story: the prodigal son, the older brother, the father and the servants. Now, I don't want to be the prodigal or the older brother and I'm not God. So that leaves the servants. What do they do in the story? They help throw a party and maybe that's what loving my enemies means. I need to love them enough to throw a celebration in their honor. That takes a lot of love. Not just a little "make it through the day without being cruel to my enemies" love. Big, gracious, overwhelming love.

So that's my prayer, God teach me how to throw parties for my enemies.

Monday, February 11, 2008

You might make tents.

Before I read Acts, I kind of thought that Paul's ministry was like a big slingshot. God pulled it back and Paul was simply shot forward into this wild, earth shaking adventure. But then I read Acts 18. Here is what it says:

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

I had to reread that a few times before I understood it. Paul made tents in the middle of his adventure. While he was traveling around, spreading the word of God, he paused and made some tents. That feels really unglamorous and unimportant and well, not God motivated. But that's what he did for a while. It even sounds like he was working most of the week and only doing "God's work" on the Sabbath.

Maybe you're making tents right now. Maybe unlike what I suggested a few days ago, things haven't been big yet. But I think it's important to stop and make tents. I think God uses that time to slow us down and speak to us before he sends us back out.

What happened to Paul in the rest of that chapter?

Here is verse 5:

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ

He went full time after he made a few tents. Maybe you will too.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Life is difficult. Here's why.

This one is going to be short. You’re out doing something fun on a Saturday night and in the odd chance that you actually see this post and it’s not buried under Sunday’s or Monday’s, you won’t want to read much.

So here it is:

Life is difficult because we are called to run toward a finish line we cannot see.

The truth of that sentence is laid out in Deuteronomy 12:5.

But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go

We, you and me, are to seek the place. We are to actively look. To search and, as the verse continues, to go to that place. And where is that place exactly? It’s where “your God will choose.” He’s going to choose it, we don’t get to. He’s got the destination planned out but we don’t get to wait until it is revealed.

We have to keep moving forward, to keep running and moving and going as hard and as far as we can. Only we don’t know where we’re going. We know a little. I mean we have an idea, but at the end of the day, can you really say with any degree of accuracy where you’ll be in 40 or 50 years?

You can’t and that’s why life is difficult, because not knowing doesn’t mean we can’t get going and that’s a little frustrating.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Big, but how big?

You are going to do something big with your life.

I’m not sure if it will be this year. It might. It might not. You could start a huge ministry that travels the world and makes it all the way to Brunei to see all my friends there. You could start a business or a family or a million other things that are, well big. I don’t have any insight into the “what” of what you are going to do. But I do know one thing.

You don’t know how big it is going to be.

Maybe you dream like me. I dream about writing books and speaking to lots of people. I might do that someday or I might just write a blog until I’m old and grey and able to wear fedoras without looking foolish. But the reason I don’t think you know how big your thing is going to be is because of something I read in Acts.

Here’s the setup:

Peter has brought the truth of Christ to some Gentiles, his Jewish friends aren’t happy. In Acts 11 he explains himself saying that “the Holy Spirit came on them as it did us.” Verse 18 continues the story:

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."

There’s something about that scene that makes me laugh. I just get the sense of the disciples sitting around realizing something that now feels very obvious. There’s a scene in the movie “Dumb and Dumber” in which Jim Carrey’s character asks Lauren Holly if he has a chance to be her man. She tells him that it’s “one out of a million.”

His response after pausing in deep reflection over this devastating news is perfect, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

That’s how it feels with the disciples. They’d spent long stretches of time with Christ. They’d heard him speak, watched him die for the world and seen miracle upon miracle upon miracle. And they still didn’t get it. Upon learning that the Gentiles were going to be included in God’s plans they respond, “So you’re saying it’s the Gentiles too.”

Can you imagine how mind blowing that was? How their dream multiplied exponentially in that moment? How big the whole idea of God suddenly got?

I think that’s how dreams go with God in control. I think they’re always bigger than we think. I think they’re always more amazing than we planned.

I think you don’t know how big it’s going to be.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The unexpected strikes back.

About a week ago I wrote a post about how ultimately we’re all called to do the unexpected. That in life, that is one of our greatest purposes. And in Acts 16 this morning I was reminded of that.

Here is the setup:

After a possessed lady follows Paul and Silas around for a while screaming “hey, this is God! This is God right here!” Paul tells the demon, “Are you kidding me? Get out!” That’s not the Greek translation exactly but you get the point.

Because a family in town was making money off this lady’s predictions Paul and Silas get thrown in jail for removing the demon. That night, there’s a huge earthquake and all the prisoners can go free. Let’s pick up the story in verse 27:

The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!"

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

I love that because the reason the jailor wanted to be saved wasn’t the earthquake. Sometimes I think that if I’m going to share my faith with someone it has to be an earthquake kind of moment. Like I have to say something really smart or really big or really powerful and that will move their heart. Or there will be some sort of miraculous event that we’ll both be unable to deny and then the person I am talking with will want to believe in part based on the magnitude of my witness.

But that’s not what happens here.

The jailer wasn’t blown away by the earthquake, he was moved by the fact that Paul and Silas didn’t leave when they had the chance. They did the unexpected. They stayed in their jail cell even though the doors were open.

Everything in life says that convicts will run as soon as the doors are thrown open. That is what the jailor knew to be true, but then Paul flipped true upside down. When confronted with the unexpected, the very first sentence the jailor says is “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

That’s the big question today, what are you doing that’s unexpected? It doesn’t have to be a jailbreak. If a coworker is a jerk to you then being kind in return is the unexpected. When you’re mom expects the same kind of phone call she’s had with you for decades and instead you lover her over the line, that’s unexpected. And that’s all I really want to say.

It doesn’t take an earthquake. It just takes the unexpected.

p.s. the other post about the unexpected is right here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Let's be ordinary.

Some days, I don’t think I should be doing this. I feel uneducated, afraid that there’s some box of knowledge I am supposed to be pulling Biblical wisdom out of for you, but it is locked. And I am too simple, too culturally bent, too ordinary.

But then I read Acts 4:13.

In the verse, Peter and John stand accused in front of the Sanhedrin. The religious rulers of the day are angry and looking for a way to stop the growing ministry they see blossoming before their eyes. Something is wrong though, when they see Peter and John, something is amiss. Here is what verse 13 says:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

I wanted to hug that verse on Monday night when I read it. Do you see it too? It’s so simple and beautiful.

The thing I am afraid of, the fear I have of being too ordinary or unschooled is the very thing that amplified the truth of their faith. The combination of their courage with their history revealed that these two men, Peter and John, had been with Jesus.

I may be ordinary. I may not have all the answers or the longest, most intelligent sounding words with which to weave a blanket of warm knowledge. But when I am courageous and embrace my seemingly ordinary stature, the light of Christ does not grow dim.

No, oh no. It glows brighter. It shines boldly. It beams from my very face.

And that is my call to you today.

Come, let’s shine.

Let’s be ordinary.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A single word about your legs.

Throughout the Bible, we are given access to wonderful stories of miraculous events. The blind gain sight, the dead are brought back to life, the lame are healed. But last night, I think I found my favorite example.

It’s in Acts 3:8 and I’m only going to highlight one word within one sentence. Here is what happens after Peter heals a crippled man:

Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God

The word I want to focus on is “jumping.” I think that is beautiful. It’s such a childlike, pure reaction to receiving a gift. He doesn’t calmly stretch out his new legs and walk about with apprehension. He jumps. He leaps about, probably in a silly, ecstatic fashion that drew the stares of those around him.

In that verse, I find great conviction for my own life though, because I cannot read it without hearing the Lord over my shoulder quietly whispering, “Why aren’t you jumping? Why aren’t you jumping?”

And he’s right. I have been healed. I have gained more than my legs, I have gained my soul. The very core of who I am has been healed by the father. And to be honest, save for this blog, on most days it does not jump. I am a cripple that has been healed and is now using his legs to walk slowly about the sidewalk. I may run a little on Sunday, but most of the week my legs are still and dormant. I don’t think that is what Christ wants.

I think he wants me in the street. I think he wants me jumping around and leaping about, on legs that are new, with a heart that is healed. I think he wants us to shout and sing and praise and laugh and cry and be real with the gift he has given us. I think he wants everyone that comes in contact with me to know that something is different, that something is true that used to be false. I think he wants everyone I know to ask questions about why I jump so often, so loudly.

So that, that is my question for you today. In South Africa, in Brunei, in Norcross, GA – are you jumping?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why I started emailing God.

I have 3,219 emails in my inbox at work. I get dozens every day and spend at least a few hours managing my emails every week. On top of that, I also send people instant messages. I call them on the phone. I stop by their cubicles. The majority of my day is spent communicating with people. So why then, when it comes to interacting with God, do I have such a hard time?

I think the main reason is that I limit the ways I can communicate with him. I put him in a really tiny box called "prayer" and then keep him there for the rest of the day. Unless I've got my eyes closed and my holy vibe on, I don't really talk with him. But what if I'm wrong?

What if, God wanted us to communicate with him like we did other people? What if he wanted to be in constant communication, like some sort of bluetooth phone device attached to your ear?
What if God likes emails too?

I think he does, which is why I created the account, "" Now, whenever I feel like interacting with God, I don't pretend I need incense and some sort of chanting or a prayer closet or a quiet moment. I can fire him off three lines, on the middle of a Monday, in the middle of work, in the middle of a stressful situation.

That's what I've started doing and I kind of like it. The emails aren't long. Usually I will just send him a few sentences like, "God, that meeting was really stressful. Ugh, that was gross. Help me have a good attitude for the next one." Not that complicated, not that fancy, not that big of a deal.

But I've noticed that when I do that, two things happen: 1. I'm able to let go of the issue. By doing something as simple as that, I often feel that I am able to pass the baton to God. To let go of something and let him handle it. 2. If I write something out in an email, it usually quiets the worry and fear in my head. Fear loves being just inside your mind. It, like mushrooms, grows best in the dark. When you write it down in the light though, things you thought were big tend to shrink to their real size. Worries you thought were impossible suddenly look more possible.

Perhaps emailing God is a silly thing to do. I understand that, but for me, it's one more way to connect with the person I believe is my most important person. And I think God likes seeing "1 new message" in his yahoo inbox as much as anyone else.