Heart-Burn

You’ve heard that story of Moses . . . you know, the guy whose mom put him in a small basket-boat and floated him down the river when she couldn’t protect him anymore. Long story that ensued but many years later he winds up watching a herd of sheep on the back side of a desert (not sure if the front side was any more attractive).

Anyway, he is strolling along wondering when he will ever get a job promotion when he sees a bush up ahead on fire. He walks over to take a look. Probably the most excitement he’s had in weeks. As he approaches he hears a voice calling out his name. Now this is really unusual, to understate the event, and Moses realizes he is being confronted by the voice of God.

Lots of things to observe here and the story gets pretty bizarre. But I want to stop and ask a wierd question. Have you ever been around God? Ever hear him talk to you? How about a strong Presence that you thought and felt must be what God would feel like.

Most of us who have been around churches and spiritual people have at one time or another had an encounter with God or at least an experience of inner awakening. Do you remember?

Did His Spirit move you; change your pre-conceived notion of the existence or of your relationship with the King of the Universe?

What did He sound like? What did He feel like? How did YOU feel? Did the experience make you DO anything or act any particular way? Does an encounter like that cause or invoke an anticipation within to let it happen again? Was it a scary event?

There have been a few times in my life when I clearly felt His presence that caused a life course change. That is, I knew that I wanted to feel that way again, I wanted to live so I would not be a stranger to that presence.

Yes, I know “God is always with us.” What I want to call attention to is that moment when all other stuff of importance loses color in the warm brilliance of Shalom love. Your demeanor softens, a peaceful boldness comes over and around you. Your heart swells with anticipation as you welcome the largeness of a Presence your spirit longs for–but maybe didn’t know it was missing.

Some friends of Jesus felt this shortly after losing his physical presence in death to despicable murder. They were grieving the loss as they walked together and tried to recall how things used to be.

A fellow traveler joined with them and listened to their sad story. As he shared clips of OT scripture with them, they felt better, even encouraged. They liked what this stranger told them; how they felt with him around. He was so affirming and their spirits were lifted. “Say, won’t you stay for dinner,” one of them suggested.

The stranger agreed and as they laid back on their pillows to eat he broke the bread into pieces and shared it with them. Then the lightning struck! Their hearts swelled, like yours has done. His Presence was expressed in a warm and gentle aura that lingered as He disappeared.

They looked at each other and instantly knew they had been set up for a God moment, a visit from the King. I think this had to be the “ahh-ha” moment of the century.

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (‭Luke‬ ‭24‬:‭32‬ NLT)

Immediately they jumped up and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the rest of their posse.

Now, do you remember a moment or two like that? Do you still long for more moments like that or have you forgotten how they can jumpstart your faith? I know we don’t live in those moments very often or very long but we can live FOR those times.

Yes, God is always with us. We do live by faith when we can’t see or feel His Presence. But deep within us is a fire that needs to breathe the oxygen of His Spirit.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah had decided he was through trying to speak for God. No one listened anymore, no one cared about God’s laws, the poor or moral values. Greed consumed the culture. They were religious but not godly. He was just done! Sound like a familiar environment?

“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20‬:‭9‬ NLT)

They don’t know it but our communities are ripe for a visit from God. The Kingdom wants to move into your and my neighborhood. And I would guess you are ready for another visit, too. You can participate in a ground swell of His Kingdom coming by hosting His Presence. Amazing Grace will result as culture changes to welcome Him.

Here is a clip from AND: Gathered and Scattered.

“People long for these experiences where their hearts will burn again. Start by inviting them into some experiences they haven’t had before (or for a very long time). The experiences don’t have to be hard or push them too far; rather, just enough to have them say or think to themselves, ‘That was pretty cool; I think I saw God show up.'”

Maybe you won’t see a bush burn like Moses but his entire nation was moved because of his encounter with God.

If God showed up and gave one of us, or several of us heartburn maybe our nation . . .

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Call for the Question

Dream with me a little. When you stand back and contemplate your life do you ever wonder if you have, or will make, a difference. An elementary and obvious query for folks who ponder about more than just the mundane “sleep . . . wake up . . . go to work . . . eat . . . back home . . . watch football . . . go to bed . . . (repeat)” kind of existence.

Most of our daily activity is arranged around patterns of repetition. We do and are what we have always done and been and don’t usually think about enlarging our life borders beyond these predictable boundaries and patterns. Only when some event or new relationship calls us awake and apart are we faced with a shaking of our self-centered homeostasis.

We long for significance. Significance is about identity and impact. So we hope that somehow when we pass on from this life we won’t be forgotten; that we will have made a difference; that we will have contributed to something much larger than we are. That we have made a difference in our social circles, a difference in our families, our faith communities, our legacies.

Why do we long to recast our lives in this way? Why are we aroused, or at least pause to muse, whether this life we relish (or tolerate) will have any import? Is there some inner insatiability that yearns for fulfillment? Why can’t the average human simply follow the mind-numbing script of day to day rhythms of “normal” life?

Lots of questions there. Personally, I am not satisfied with settling for the repetition of a pointless existence that generates no influence or impact on my fellow travelers. Are you? Did you ever wonder why you are here or if there is a purpose and significance to these few years you’ve been allotted on planet Earth.

I am increasingly convinced that not only is there an important reason for my presence here at this time but I am sure I have been called and outfitted for this time. No intent here to exhibit any ego issues, I just believe there is not only purpose, but call, gifts and power to accomplish my purpose.

How do I know? As I reminisce about the journey my family and I have been on, I see the hand of God in every event, every decision, every move, every relationship and every trial. Details are not necessary here but clearly we have been “set up” by God for the next season in our purpose-full life.

Each of us who have chosen to be a Jesus follower (and I might add all who have not yet intentionally chosen) have dormant within us the gifts, call and power to live out that purpose. To release these “enablements,” our part is to resolve to open our minds, hearts and spirits to allow that empty space of unfulfilled destiny to be inhabited by the dream God intends us to live out.

Ok, Dr. Gary; what does that look like and how can that happen, you rightfully question. Well, it does look different for each of us but maybe there are some common indicators and divine events that call us to this most excellent life.

Let me pose some questions. (I know; too many questions and not enough answers! I believe the best way of self-discovery is self dis-cover-y. Other words, you know the events in your own life and can dis- or un- cover how God has been at work.) So, let’s begin.

Is there a history of God-consciousness and/or God-faithfulness in your past and present? Has your spirit been quickened by God-activity in such a way as to cause a craving for more God-connection to be present and witness what God is doing, to join Him there? Is there an awareness of destiny for that which you feel is beyond anything you could have orchestrated or have lived out?

Do you believe you have gifts you yearn to share with others in Kingdom efforts that have not yet been fully employed? Have you wanted to be a tool of influence in culture but you have not found a place of expression? Is there a fire within you, a pent up energy that bubbles and bulges and heart-burns to be released?

Are there strange, crazy events and opportunities that present themselves that defy logic and “rational” behavior? When you step through open doors do you look in the rear view and wonder how those steps could possibly fit within the paradigm of known God activity?

Conversely, is there a lack of confidence in the prompting and timing of unction (Holy Spirit empowering) that seems to bring timidity and a consequent quenching of that fire? Or, is there some guilt or sin that screams out its presence when you might be encouraged to step out and be bold, bringing shameful silence instead of confident Kingdom life or warfare? Do you wonder if you even know how to hear God? Did you miss His voice of direction?

If I am sure of anything, it is this. Contrary to much of the theology I was taught in my impressionable years, God has not given up on this human experiment. In fact, He holds all the cards of power and will not allow it to fail. I said; He will not fail! There will not be only 12 or 13 people in the Kingdom to come. If so, why would He promise to pour out His spirit on all flesh just to annihilate almost everybody in some lake of fire? (Sorry, another question.)

In keeping with that thought, we should ask a further question. How might something like that Spirit pouring/drenching be accomplished? Well, God is going to have to get a bunch of people turned around and start living into their destiny. How will that happen? By awakening those who are called by His name and empowering them with confident, spirit infused lives of excellence coupled with opportunities for influencing culture and government toward repentance.

Ok, that was a mouthful, but I believe an astonishing change is in the cards that God holds and has started to reveal all over this land. When those who are called by His name pull their collective heads out of the sands of traditional theological assumptions and walk in purity, truth and confidence, an amazing, life-giving, life-validating move of God will break out in the land.

Cultural and religious strongholds of idolatry will be smashed. Wickedness in governing structures that are covenantally connected with spiritual powers of darkness will be broken. Bondages of mind and spirit, wealth and heritage will be released as families become free to serve God and others.

A pipe dream? Don’t think so. This kind of spiritual earthquake could unleash the Third Great Awakening, setting the table to usher in His Kingdom.

The last question I have for us is this. Do we want to live into our God-created significance? Are you; am I ready to take the next step into our intended destinies? That step is our choice. Let us join Him.

Your Kingdom Come!

Feathers and Birdseed

I was sitting on an airplane looking over the shoulder of a guy across the aisle. He was perusing one of those SkyMall magazines that offer items for sale you didn’t even know you needed. A fully programmable, food dispensing pet feeder. A toaster that imprints the image of your favorite dog breed right on your morning slice. Or, get this, a skin colored shirt top with faux tattoos printed on it!

Having been a businessman, I certainly appreciate ingenuity and the ability to make a buck. But really, my morning toast needs to affirm my love for my favorite dachshund?

Consumerism, the drive to buy stuff and in so doing provide a certain level of happiness, is killing us. Advertising dollars are solicited and spent at a rate greater than ever. Competition from purveyors of every kind of good or service threatens our own success so we must up the ante to increase market share. Marketing itself has become a finely tuned science and focused to any niche consumer you demand.

The church has succumbed to the same consumeristic mentality reducing many, not all thankfully, to complex business operations to the exclusion, unfortunately, of the original call to make disciples.

Listen to this snippet from the book, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, by authors Halter and Smay:

“A consumer is not a disciple and a disciple is not a consumer! Consumerism reflects what Jesus came to call people out of. . . if we look at the amount of time, money, and focus that is spent on providing services for people and the results don’t reflect a fading consumerism in the lives of our people, it’s time to take a walk in the woods and talk to the Head of the church.”

Let’s look at any number of followers of Jesus who we venerate as saints: Paul, any of the apostles, St Francis, Mother Teresa, dozens of un-named, unknown followers of Jesus who gave all and basically had no worldly goods, yet they had their needs provided for. These didn’t seek to accumulate stuff nor did they have stuff but they gave away stuff. They “lost their life;” and “died to self” so they might gain their lives in the Missional directive that Jesus gave when he left us.

Now look at us. Many of us, and the “successful” leaders we have today, have all kinds of resources both organizationally and personally. Many enjoy luxurious homes, recreational times and toys that rival the most affluent in society. Is that wrong? Maybe not. Is that our mission? Likely not. Does that portray our call to die to self in order to live out The Main Thing?

Ninety-nine percent of us are consumers. We want the stuff. We want to be successful in building churches, building our own kingdoms, finding the latest color co-ordinated feathers for our nests and accumulating a bigger flock of birds and more birdseed than the next flock.

Trouble is, Jesus reminded us that every bird has her nest but he didn’t even have a place to lay his head; no home to go to. If we claim to desire to live like Jesus how far are we willing to go? Do we want the power he had, the Spirit he had, the gifts he had but not the life he had? I don’t mean we should all be broke. God has called, blessed and gifted some to provide the means for others to go places and do things in the mission of making disciples, of course, but is that what our resources are primarily dedicated for? Are we mostly givers or consumers? No doubt, when Jesus went away to pray it was at an all-inclusive resort complete with 24 hour restaurant and massage services.

No, none of that is wrong. That is not the point. The question I am addressing is what is right, or what serves my call to the mission of “making disciples?” If I must die to self, as scripture insists, what does that truly look like? Must I never enjoy any comforts? Our affluent society has so enculturated us into consumerism that it is impossible for us to envision any other lifestyle. Are we then to be total, indigent itinerants? No possessions of any kind?

Truly we have been blessed in this country. Several key figures in scripture were wealthy, yes. There were those in the NT who were patrons for the apostles and Jesus who used their resources to fund the apostles and missionary travels. No, wealth is not wrong. The key is how we steward the posession and use of that wealth.

If we can understand that it is a gift from God that still belongs entirely to Him we are starting to grasp the purpose of that wealth. It is to enable us to make disciples, not be or make consumers. The two are incompatible.

Now maybe we can understand the statement quoted earlier in this post: “A consumer is not a disciple and a disciple is not a consumer.”

Goodness, Me?

OK, so how many times a day does someone ask you, “How are you”? And you reply, “Good! You?” I have developed a habit of responding, to some people’s annoyance I’m sure, “I’m well.” Just a quirk of mine and I’ll tell you why. To me, “good” is a value assessment, as in good or evil or somewhere in between. Honestly, I don’t want to go there, so I say that I am well, as in “I’m OK.”

I am not at all being critical of how others respond or trying to change the way they communicate. This is truly my own issue. So maybe you can grasp a little bit how I was jolted awake when I read this conversation in the story Luke recorded.

One day one of the local officials asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to deserve eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good-only God. (Luke 18:18, 19 MSG)

What?

Wait a minute! Wasn’t Jesus good? Yes, he was God and therefore good but why is this seemingly offhand remark thrown in here?

As always, Jesus never said anything without meaning. He already knew what he was about to point out to this man; that his life had been structured around the doctrine of needing to be good to attain eternal life. He had managed to compartmentalize and distinguish between being good, keeping the rules, and where his love was invested. But it was not placed where it mattered. He had a love of rule keeping, not relationship.

Jesus then asked him about the rules, which the man proudly boasted that he had kept all of his life. Oddly enough, he also seemed to intuit that there was something missing.

Jesus then told him to downsize–to zero.

“This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go.” (Luke 18:23 MSG)

The rich man was in love with the stuff and the importance it gave him, the power he could wield because of it and the comfort it afforded him.

Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God’s kingdom? (Luke 18:24 MSG)

The point of all this seems to be again, love. What is my love invested in, things or people? “Good” -ness has nothing to do with getting into the kingdom. Having nothing puts us in a very vulnerable place; that is dependence upon God for everything because there really is little choice. Having a bunch of stuff and power and control gives us options apart from God that are highly tempting and potentially extremely destructive.

I have friends and so do you who are, shall we say, well-funded. God has blessed them with resources so that they may bless those who are need. Several of them are faithful in that responsibility to God and others.

What if all of life wasn’t about being good by keeping the rules? At the end of a life based on this philosophy is a self-centered, self-congratulatory, self-satisfied justification for an existence founded on . . . (wait for it) . . . self.

You see, I may think that the rules are my highest priority and obeying them explicitly my duty and calling. However, since loving God first with heart, soul and mind and then our neighbor like we love ourselves puts our rule-minding a little lower on our totem pole (an appropriate metaphor since a totem is a family or tribal history story pole).

Back to the statement that there is none good but God. Did Jesus mean to infer that he was not “good”? Well, could it be that in the context the young ruler called Jesus good because he truly was basing his value judgment on the fact that Jesus was doing good works; healing, casting out demons, saving people, etc., when in fact it was not because the works were flowing from Jesus’ intrinsic “good-ness” but from God’s goodness.

To the young ruler it may have seemed like these works were performed because of Jesus’ acquired goodness from his ability to keep rules. In fact, since goodness comes only from God, not the ruler’s own abilities, that left him holding the bag. There is no goodness in us.

By giving all his “goods” to others he would be forced away from self-sufficiency into utter dependence on God and His good-ness.

So I guess this is the subtle identity need that presents when I say “I am well.” I indeed may be well. Good . . . well, hopefully someday.