Birthday Blog

One year ago I started this blog. On my About this Blog page, I describe my intention to explore off the map if need be, in search of God sightings and venues where the Spirit is operating. Today I want to share a little of what I have found.

But let me back up for a minute. The bulk of my church and religious history includes a somewhat dispensational idea that this world is in a spiritual freefall; a spiral that can only end in a well-earned damnation of eternal, never ending lake of fire future for those who didn’t make the choice to serve God.

I won’t argue the merits or deficiencies in God’s strategy for dealing with his unbelievers. Quite frankly, I don’t plan to be in a place like that anyway so I’m not forced to deliberate the Fahrenheit of Hell.

Of course, for the faithful, a quick snatch away from the jaws of certain roasting-without-being-burned brings a sigh of relief. Again, I am not enticed into the debate about pre, mid, post or whenever deliverance will come. Do you know how many churches have blown up, how many believers have gone to the dark side of a life sans faith, how many sincere people have been mortally wounded because of polarization on the last two paragraphs?

My determined position is that I will invest my hungry heart in searching for how I can join with the activity of God and see His Kingdom Come in my lifetime. For me, a way to identify what that looks and feels like is the Hebrew term, Shalom. As I have researched the meaning it seems to include the concept of a peaceful, orderly environment where the will of Yahweh is not questioned but lived by all joyfully.

In short, our long-lasting tenure in that previous church culture concluded implicitly and explicitly that although we should preach the Gospel, not many would be converted. In fact, the “not fifty righteous” evaluation from God to Abraham about Sodom was juxtaposed over our culture and evil times to result in a resigned sigh that “maybe we were the only ones who would make it, and I’m not so sure about you” kind of mentality.

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket loaded on the bullet train. So why try to de-rail that certainty? Just get more holy and be sure you are ready” is the conclusion I came to. So why try? Why entertain the possibility that there may be an amazing move of God in this era of history?

Well, when I read “I will pour my Spirit out on all flesh,” it bothers me. When I read the Great Co-mission housing the command that I, one of his disciples, should be making other disciples, casting out devils and healing the sick, it bothers me. When I look at most church structures and communities today and I don’t see all five of the leadership gifts operating in concert like St. Paul insisted in his letter to the Ephesians, it bothers me. When I see that the problems in our world today and the slippery slope this nation is on, it bothers me. It bothers me because I believe it is because the church as a whole has no power.

We have powerful, moving entertainment. We have powerful moving, charismatic speakers. We have powerful, high quality coffee bars. What we lack is the power of God.

I firmly believe, and this is an adamant statement, that the reason we are so polarized as a nation, so divided on issues of rights, entitlements, and so full of hate is due to a lack of power in the church and out of the church. That bothers me. And when something is bothersome, like a sliver, we tend to do something about it.

So now, returning to my opening statement, how and where have I seen God activity? Some of what I am seeing is awareness in other folks of their own rising hunger. As I engage with others and build new relationships I am more sensitized to God activity in our conversation. At the core, material stuff and frivolous pursuits have lost color because of (as we know) that insatiable vacuum that only a connection with God can satisfy.

The second place I have seen God activity is in me. It has been very hard for God, I’m sure. In the last several months, as I have prayed for direction and clarity I have only heard his words of counsel to have faith. I have searched my memory archives for that one huge Word of promise that He would bring me into my place of destiny and it would look like . . . whatever, but I can’t recall that earth-shattering, bolt of lightning, undeniable, black and white Word that can never be doubted, kind of communication.

However, there is a faithful, steady stream of small words of favor, snippets of reassuring hymns, a sentence in scripture, a quick scene from a dream, a paragraph from a book, a gentle “Atta-boy” from a friend that has been my story and my journey.

Do I see the Spirit moving? Is there a moving in my spirit? Is there a shaking of the leaves on the trees in my social circles? Yes. Am I encouraged? Yes. Do I believe I can be a power tool moved by His Spirit? I must be. It is time to do my part and step into the position of authority that He has planned for me.

So when I read these words this morning, they resonated with my thirsty spirit. I can only post a short segment but this aptly and succinctly described my 40 year desert wandering.

“There are many of you who have received a word from the Father. Perhaps the heavens didn’t open up, but the Lord has spoken to you, called you His beloved, and His Spirit has alighted upon you. Many of you have received a word from God, but your life has never changed. You have felt God release you to set sail, but you remain moored at the dock—stuck in a particular phase of your life.” Faisal Malick: Positioned to Bless

For you and I, this is a pregnant moment. How will you; will I, move into the next thing God is doing? Friends, we are on the leading edge of an incredible shift that will usher us into a Kingdom reality like we have not seen in our lifetime. I am preparing my heart with a determination to not look back. Are you with me?

Storied Past – 18

Ed eased up to the front door of City Reach.

“Oh brother,” he thought. “One of those soup kitchen places for homeless losers. I don’t belong here. Why did that stupid judge send me to work here? Why couldn’t it be working in the City Park or something?”

He opened the door slowly. The smell of breakfast made him hungry for real food. He remembered the last meal he had was topped with white foam.

Ed looked around for someone that seemed to be in charge. Spotting Becky, who was directing someone to retrieve the salt and pepper, he hesitatingly walked over to introduce himself.

“Hello Miss; my name is Ed Hammberg. I was asked by a local official to give you a hand for a few weeks.” Ed had this part down cold. “Do you need any help?”

“Oh hello, Mr. Hammberg. Yes, the judge called me. He told me you needed a place to do some community service. We’re happy to have you help us for a while.”

Ed flushed. He hadn’t counted on his whole life history being laid out so soon.

“We do have a couple of rules, Ed. May I call you Ed?”

“Uh, yes, of course.”

“Good! You must always respect anyone who comes in here and treat them with love. And, we will have no swearing, no smoking, no alcohol and your first half hour each day here is with the staff only. We will talk about the daily menu for a few minutes and then we all pray for a bit. Sound OK?”

“Oh, uh yeah, I guess so. Pray? Yeah, OK, I can be here.”

“Great! So, Wednesday at 7:30 in the morning? Thank you, see you then.”

The duty nurse came in to check on the patients in 314. Mr. Beckett was sitting up and playing with the TV remote again. Paul was awake but a bit groggy. She slid the curtain back so each could see the other.

She then said, “Well, since you are both awake I think I will let you get acquainted. Mr. Beckett, this is Mr. Weiser; Paul, this is Frank. Enjoy your morning!”

“Good morning, Frank,” Paul said as wakeful as he could, still under some influence of the sedative.

“Uh, HUH,” returned Mr. Beckett, unsure of how to make small conversation with a man he was just now meeting who was probably the father of his daughter’s child.

“So . . . looks like you were in an accident. What happened?”

“Truck; I got hit by a truck,” Paul explained.

“Looks like the truck won, Paul. Are you a Christian?”

“A what?”

“Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” Mr. Beckett inquired.

“As my what? Savior? I don’t know what you mean. I was saved from getting killed, if that’s what you mean. And, I don’t know anybody named Jesus. I know Jose’ who was the salesman in the next region, that’s all.” Paul was unsure about what this had to do with the accident. Maybe Frank Beckett had some brain damage, though his head wasn’t wrapped up.

“No, I meant have you been to church and found Jesus.”

“Oh that. Yes, I went to church. That’s why I’m here. I came out kind of stumped, crossed the street and got slammed. The only thing I found in church was a bunch of people doing some ceremony that didn’t seem to include me. I don’t know how they expect to get anybody to come back when they are so unfriendly.” Paul laid back on the pillow, tired after that rant.

“Yeah, they are like that at the Catholic Church. I don’t blame you.”

“It was that big church down on Main,” Paul revealed. “I’m never going there again!”

Ramona had seen Ed Hammberg come in to City Reach. He looked familiar and thought she should know him but couldn’t place him. As she thought about it, she recalled a few years back seeing him at church. He was just a little older than her and looked a lot scruffier than she remembered.

“What did he want?” she asked Becky.

“You’ll never believe it, but he’s the guy who was driving the truck that hit Paul. The judge sent him here to do Community Service.”

“I think I know him, Becky. He went to my church and married the Pastor’s daughter.”

“Well, that’s interesting. How did Pastor Marlowe allow that?”

Ramona told what she remembered about Ed as she helped Becky clean up. “He seemed to be a decent guy, not my type, but a decent guy. I’m not sure why he went sideways but I heard the pastor was in their personal lives too much.”

“Well that can happen with any parent and their children.”

“No, I mean TOO much. He expected them to be at church for everything and didn’t even let them take time off for a vacation. Ed must have felt he couldn’t—wouldn’t live that way and left.”

Becky sighed. “Sometimes people in leadership use their positions to control others, Ramona. Couple that with the idea that the pastor may have felt that his reputation hinged on the behavior of his children and you have a recipe for misery. It happens too often. I never told you but that’s one of the main reasons I quit being a church member and became a Jesus follower instead.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Well, the church I attended was similar to Main Street Church: friendly, like a big family, they said. But when I was there for a short while the youth leader came to me and wanted me to check in weekly with one of the other leaders. I asked why and he said that I needed to be accountable to those over me. I agreed to and for a while it seemed OK, but when the other leader said he needed to approve my social friends I couldn’t see it. I mean, I thought we were supposed to have friends that didn’t know Jesus so we could ‘be Jesus’ to them.”

“So what did you do?”

“I met a few other friends who felt the same way; Jeremy was one, and we started getting together, reading Jesus’ story and asking ourselves what it might look like in today’s culture to share His message with our friends and community. That’s why we started City Reach.”

“Cool!” Ramona said. “At first I thought you were just doing something to feel good about yourself; you know, giving back to the poor people. But I didn’t realize you had a deeper reason. I guess that makes sense. I remember now about Eben, the guy I met my first time here. That is cool, Becky. I like the idea of serving the poor so you can share His love.”

“Yep! After all, He did feed a bunch of them as He told them stories about God and His Kingdom.”

As Mr. Beckett lay there, he thought about the guy in the bed next to him. Anger crept up on his dark side. He was conflicted about how to bring up the topic but believed it was his parental duty to confront Paul.

Paul stirred; Beckett took this as an opening.

“So you know my daughter, Ramona, huh?”

Paul shot a nervous glance his way.

“I’ve met her, yes.”

“She said you’ve more than met. Are you prepared to be a father?”

“WHAT?” Paul reeled from this sudden revelation. “Whaaat?” he stammered again. “Damn, damn, damn!”

“Yeah, you will be,” Beckett returned, “if you don’t own up.”

– To Be Continued –

Work is Calling

Do you have one of those 9-5 jobs, or midnight to 8 am jobs? Or, maybe you are subject to your employer’s whim of whenever they need you. Do you enjoy what you are paid to do? Does it satisfy your need to be creative or productive while serving others? Maybe you wonder if your career has any meaning at all, or is it something to be endured like a dentist appointment.

Our work, our vocation, having a job to do was God’s plan from the start. It is one of the ways, if not the primary way, through which we accomplish our purpose here in the earth. I know, you probably have been taught our prime directive was to evangelize the heathens. Do you remember the first job description in history?

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15 NLT

This charge to care for and cultivate was considered the prime role for the newly minted man. We were (and are) created with purpose, creativity and destiny. Anything that occupies our time and energy apart from pursuing and engaging with this assignment can only result in short term satisfaction at best, and long term frustration in the end. At worst, a woman or man will be conflicted about her/his reason for existence and end it all leaving only a life of self-indulgence and guilt as a legacy.

For some, a career is merely a job that provides a paycheck, healthcare, a two week vacation and a bit of retirement. We go home and forget the hard work, the overbearing boss and the never-ending tasks of each dreary day.

But, we are created with purpose and intent. Through vocation, avocation and work we live out that purpose. We contribute, through the work we do, to the greater good of culture, to our deep satisfaction and the purpose of God’s Kingdom, Shalom, by discovering the work that we are created and gifted to do and do it.

Lest you think I’m suggesting all work and no play are the only options, I truly believe play is a huge piece of a satisfying life. (Read: The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet) Most religions take themselves too seriously and forget that the creation story proves God himself loves a good time. Christianity has a recent history of emphasizing the seriousness of piety at the expense of richly enjoying the life God gave us.

Activity, or keeping busy, isn’t enough. Having a highly honored position or profile or being recognized by the masses isn’t the measure of faithful service, either. Festus, of Gunsmoke fame was heard to have said, “I think our national symbol should be a mule. Now the eagle is a beautiful bird and all, but I just think he should be down here on the ground where the work is bein’ did.” What he says so well is that the bird of popularity and veneration often doesn’t get as much done as an animal that is generally ignored, or worse.

Until the Reformation of the 16th century, Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonic inspired theology. Strong gnostic dualism shaped the way they looked at creation. Anything material was evil. Depriving oneself of things and being spiritually minded alone was good. Consequently, people who wanted to pursue the spiritual life denied themselves all physical possessions and pleasures in favor of poverty and prayer.

This led to monasticism being perceived as the highest form of spirituality and individual piety the highest form of worship. Unfortunately, these well-meaning individuals deserted society in order to seek personal enlightenment in solitude and temptation avoidance.

But finding rewarding work that promotes and advances the kingdom values and then pursuing that task faithfully in community is what accomplishes our calling and purpose. It is about actually making progressive strides by whatever sized increments toward Shalom in this world through divine directive. To quote Martin Luther; “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.”

Further, God gives us great latitude in how we participate in Kingdom bringing efforts. He has given us the capacity to dream, invent, build, mend, organize and harmonize. Our creative minds are inspired by God and energized by faith to not only be, but do!

Our doing is not ordered by rules or authoritarian constraints of our faith but is animated and freed to do whatever our creative minds and hearts dream up that serve to make disciples and a better world.

Rather than instructing godly people to flee this evil world, the gospel urges Christians to remain engaged in the world so that they might reform their various vocations for the glory of God. Heaven is a Place on Earth: Michael Wittmer

It seems that there is a wide range of human creativity in our works of faith. St. Paul gives space to those who have God inspired ideas by invoking His blessings on those works. What kind of works? Those that minds of faith have dreamed up. They are acts of creativity that promote and extend the Kingdom. Ideas that are wholesome and bring joy and service to humanity; those activities that are building relationships, healing brokenness in humanity and the earth are what the Kingdom seeks.

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG)

So carry on with milking, making, marketing, mining, ministering or plowing with your ass. Do it with a renewed passion out of your calling and gifting. Do it with assurance that it is God-inspired and directed. Be creative. Be successful. Be fulfilled.

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!

Ordinary People

So here we are at the final holiday season of 2014; for some, a time of merriment and celebration. For others, looking toward the New Year recalls regrets of the past and a heightened determination to change certain painful aspects of their lives; maybe lose some extra pounds or give more back to the community.

You may be thinking about repairing some broken relationship or that promise to meet with God more this next year. That’s all good stuff. I wish you well and truly hope you succeed.

I think this coming year will be an opportunity to flesh out the stewardship of my own part in the Kingdom of God. As I read and think about that, I have swerved into an interesting conundrum. But I think it helps me as I try to understand and process what an environment of Shalom might look like.

Jesus and St. Paul seem to be on different pages or maybe even a different playbook. But as I have often come to realize, my preconception or misunderstanding was skewed in some way that prevented me from a truth.

Get a load of this. I have often quoted the Great Co-mission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus exits his short human stay on this earth.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

It seems that our job description is pretty clear here. Make disciples, get ‘em dunked and then teach them to do likewise. Of course, there is that bit about obeying all the commands, but generally we seem to see this directive as a mandate for 24/7 evangelism.

However, Paul seems to have a different slant on our mission.

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

As I have been suggesting in this blog since July of this year, I want to tease out what the Kingdom of God looks like and our part in facilitating that. While some may want to sit around on clouds and strum harps forever, that hardly seems appealing to me. I have gifts and skills that I am not really willing to give up in favor of harping. But that is a digression/soap box apart and for a different blog.

Really, what Paul is admonishing is for us to be extraordinarily ordinary. For 20+ years Jesus himself followed the trade of his adopted father working with wood and improving the lives of the neighbors with skillful, artful creations (I knew my own woodcraft hobby was blessed!).

How do we resolve these two seemingly disparate vocational directives? Are they really contradictory? Are they really two pieces of the same whole mission?

I think, along with others, that to be a disciple includes all that God intended from the start of creation. That is, I believe that as God directed us to tend the earth, multiply, create and improve our environment, He also intended for us to influence and care for others who need to see that the life changing power of the Message actually works in real life.

Preaching to the lost is necessary. There are those with that calling who do it well. Going to remote areas of civilization to share Good News is an imperative. There are those called to do that and do it well. Feeding and caring for the poor are a must, as that is one of Jesus’ primary commands, as alluded to above.

Coupled with all of these are the normal needs of everyday living. To be a good neighbor, responsible citizens, caring parents and other duties of humanity really make the teachings of Jesus attractive to those outside of God’s family. Without credible firsthand evidence that salvation really works outside the church Monday through Saturday who would be convinced to follow these platitudes?

Michael E. Wittmer makes this point in his book; Heaven is a Place on Earth:

“Before we can reasonably expect unbelievers to accept our faith we must first show them that it works—in our homes, on the job, and on the weekend—not merely when we are at church.”

Some are called to a level of public visibility and scrutiny most of us will never be required to experience. The rest of us fulfill our call in everyday, ordinary faithfulness by living so that those who are not believers will respect the way we live and be attracted to Jesus.

Reminds me of this song by Mom Winans:

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands

God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Masters hand

Oh, just like that little lad
Who gave Jesus all he had
How the multitude was fed
With a fish and loaves of bread

What you have may not seem much
But when you yield it to the touch
Of the Master’s loving hand
Then you will understand how
Your life could never be the same

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands

God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Masters hand

So, go ahead and enjoy 2015 as it is gracefully parceled out to you. It is made extra-ordinary by the normal, ordinary walking out life every day as we join God in his Kingdom arrival.