LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: Christ

Healing Through Service

IMG_0524I recently had the honor to take a team from my church to serve at Door of Faith Orphanage (dofo.org) in the town of La Mision, B.C. Mexico.  It is located between Rosarito and Ensenada.  It is a most surprisingly charming place.  If a child has to be in an orphanage, this is the place to be!  As the Director, DJ, gave us his welcome and shared the values of the orphanage that he has led for over 20 years, one of the three values were Healing through Service.  He began to share that the children and staff of DOFO are encouraged to serve, and not just chores.  But real ministry outreach service.  The kids raise funds, go on trips and make real differences in the places they go.  This leads to a healing in their own lives as most are social orphans, having been removed from broken or abusive homes.  Teaching them to serve others brings a lasting and deep healing in their lives.

Javier is a man we met when we went to make and serve breakfast with the Baja Family Outreach located the Tijuana dump area.  A church has been built in the heart of the community of thousands who live on reclaimed dump land.  Most are uneducated and find their income by recycling garbage.  Their homes are built with items found in the dump.  We saw more than one roof made from the vinyl banners of highway billboards.  As we made the breakfast a family of 8 came in, Javier being the dad.  His children and wife sat down to eat the food we had prepared, but Javier stood at the entrance to greet people and watch over his family.  I asked him why he wasn’t eating and he shared he normally volunteers.  By our team being there, we had taken his job.  Of course he was blessed by our presence and asked we pray for his family and to please return.  But I saw something powerful in him.  He had no money to care for his family as I am sure he would like, but by volunteering he felt he was part of providing.  Serving was healing for him.  Serving was empowerment for him.  Serving made him feel like he was being a provider for his family.

IMG_0543No better example of healing through service came in the story of Martita, a lady we met serving at another organization, Life in the Canyon (lifeinthecanyon.vpweb.com).  This group is led by Dave Hessler and he found basically the poorest community of Tijuana and began serving a number of years back and was an outgrowth of his time with the Baja Family Outreach.  He landed in the former TJ dump that has created massive hills of garbage covered in soil and is now being reclaimed by squatters and the poor who have built pallet shacks and small homes.  A little over two years ago Dave came across Martita as he walked through a cemetery.  She was high on crystal meth and was digging through burn piles for scraps of metal to sell to support her habit.  He offered, through his ministry to serve the community, some help.  At first, if I understood her story, she didn’t accept, but time after time he continued to reach out to her and eventually she came to the community center.  There she saw loving people serving their community and something drew her.

She asked if she could serve and they found a place for her.  The desire to quit drugs grew and at a point she quietly decided to stop.  After a week went by being clean, she came to Dave and shared her good news.  He told her to go one day at a time and every day to come and give him a number; the number ‘1’ for one more day of sober.  He wrote that number on a white board and eventually it grew from 7, to 25, to 50.  As of our meeting her it has been over 2 years!  Her love for God, her purpose found in serving her community, and the love shown her by Dave and others gave her hope and strength to go on.  Today she is trusted with keys to everything, is one of Dave’s trusted assistants, and has a restored relationship with her daughter and grandchildren.  She is no longer homeless but has a tiny micro-home built with money from a 16 year old boy who did a fund raiser in his church!  She can’t read or write but has learned to post on Facebook in order to be connected.  She gave us a tour of her community, the dump, and you could see the love she had for it’s residents.  She found healing through serving!

One of the things that I found most exciting with DOFO is that they don’t have teams come just to stay focused on them as an orphanage.  DJ said many times to me, almost to the point of sounding a humorously insulting, “We don’t want you to stay here.  Our kids have seen every drama and are pretty saturated with Americans!”  But as he clarified you knew exactly what he was saying.  Come and use DOFO as a hub to serve the broader area of Baja.  Go to the dumps, build a house for a resident, serve at the rehab homes, do an outreach to drunk Americans at the beaches and bars, give out groceries and pray with residents of the dump.  I believe DOFO is as blessed and beautiful as it is because it too has become whole by serving others and not manipulating donors and guests to selfishly stay committed to them.  They have a mature faith, a generous faith.

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

For the past six weeks our church has gone through a campaign using Rick Warren’s, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly, The Purpose Driven Life) book and materials.  It has been a wonderful experience as all our LifeGroups went through a study together and our weekend services addressed the same topic each week.  It also coincided with each person reading the daily readings from the book.  And of course we threw in extra special events and activities along the way creating a really fun and unifying season in the church.

Each week I sent out special update emails with various  bits of information about what groups were doing, the reading schedule and more.  It also included a “blog post” of that week’s purpose, adding some of my insight into the topic.  Each week got a bit longer as I grew into doing this (I had not originally intended to include this).  Even though some of post is specifically “to” our church, I wanted to capture them in and repost them here.  Just in case you are not aware, Rick Warren’s premise is that God has designed his followers to live lives that demonstrate 5 purposes: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.  Here are the repostings of my insights for each of those.

Worship; “Assigning WORTH or VALUE”

As you in your reading and in your LifeGroups look at the purpose of worship, remember that worship is not characterized as an act or ritual like bowing down.  Instead it is an attitude of the heart and will – recognizing the value of someone or something and giving it the proper attention in our lives.  So when we hear something like, “He worships money or sports more than God” it makes more sense.  Of course nobody is bowing to money or sports or hobbies, etc.  But we certainly can give them greater value and importance in our lives than they deserve.

Fellowship; Worth the Risk!

Each of us has a built-in desire to be known, accepted and loved!  But for many of us the risk or fear of rejection is huge.  Or the risk of feeling obligated to deal with someone else’s “mess” is too uncomfortable to consider.  But an insulated life is not a rich and full life that God wants for us.  And while inviting others into our “space” can be messy sometimes, ultimately the reward of rich connections and relationships makes all the difference.  Additionally, the call to live like Jesus can only be achieved in “the one anothers.”

That is why Mariners believes so strongly in the role of LifeGroups.  Of course thats not the only way to express and live in fellowship in our lives, but it sure is a great one!  If your group is a temporary one started for this series, please begin to consider what it might look like to stay formed and work together to see Christ formed in each other.  If you are not in a group yet, please seek one out.

Take the “risk”, it’s worth it!

Here’s what some are saying about their groups for this series:

“Our group is loving every minute and we’re having some very profound times together.”

“Our group is also really enjoying meeting together and sharing life. Some great insights have been coming out, as well as questions answered more comfortably in a small group setting than buttonholing the pastors. We’ve been laughing, learning, sharing, and having a great time of participation. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time on prayer requests, which is even better than I hoped.”  

“I have seen some members of our group begin to sense a value and significance in Christ.”

May you all experience the power of fellowship,

Pastor Len

Discipleship; Christ Formed In You

Maturing in Christ, having Him formed in us, is our calling.  To live like and become like Jesus!  Somewhere along the way, the idea of disciple became synonymous with bible study and prayer times and daily devotions.  And yes, disciples do those things!  We do develop habits or “disciplines” of faith in order to understand and grow in faith.  But the habits are not the mark of a disciple.  Christ-like character is!  Do we live humbly, exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit”, consider others…Love one another?

Over the past few months a number of our messages have included themes of sufferings and difficulties in life, and one might get the impression that to follow Christ is all down-and-out hardships.  We don’t share those things to be depressing or because we have a cup-half-empty worldview.  We do that to help each of us have a clear perspective that, despite the modern western view that we should have a life of ease and happiness, we live in a broken world and following God doesn’t exempt us from experiencing it’s hardships.

What makes our message different, however, is that the sufferings of life are not wasted in God’s plan.  A verse in the message this past weekend was, “Trouble produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope.”  Romans 5:3-4   The process “in God’s plan” leads to hope.  Outside of God, there is no hope.

So do we as followers of Christ have times of happiness and joy and ease?  Yes, of course.  Can we experience God and grow to be like Him in those times?  Yes, of course!  But let’s not be naive or caught off guard or run from the difficult times in life for as we face them with the view that God is working in us, then we are led to a hope, a Christ formed in us hope!

May we all “know the power of His resurrection and participation in His suffering”,

Pastor Len

Ministry; Going For It!

Ministry is an interesting concept  There are so many aspects and layers to it.

As I brought out in my message this weekend it is “anything” you do to bless others and honor God.  And yet, I also brought out that we are called to find a role in our church family to fulfill our corporate calling to reach our community.  So there is this tension between “where” and “how” I serve that seems to be casting a shadow on all of this.  That is until we remember, ministry is less of what we DO and more of who we ARE.

We are ministers!  The creation of the career pastor has kind of messed us all up a bit in our idea of ministry.  God has shaped and called all of us to be ministers.  And as we understand our new identity as Christ-followers we can begin to tune our “ears” to hearing the Spirit of God lead us to bless others at any given time.

There is another tension that casts a shadow, and that is the “need” versus “gift/skill” area.  I’m going to speak to this in context of finding a role in our church.  At the Connection Sunday this past weekend you saw serving teams with sign-up sheets expressing they need people to be on their teams.  And as you walk from table to table you may think, “well, I don’t know where I fit in!  I love to cook, or I love organize things, or I love to help people …(fill in the blank).”  And you just don’t know how your gift or skill fits in with so many of the teams.

We had a discussion about this as a staff this week and so I want to pass this on to you – we understand the potential disconnect for many of us!  And we are committed to figure out ways to make opportunities to serve be more relatable to your gift mix rather than our team/department name.  Our next Connection Sunday will be based more on gifts and skills required instead of ministry teams!  And to start off the opportunity to serve… if you are a person who likes to organize things and help communicate systems, I would love to have you help me create an even more relatable Connection Sunday Ministry Fair!

Until then, here is what you can do to find a place to serve now.  If you know what your gifts and interests are, I and many others on our leadership would LOVE to talk to you about custom areas for you to jump in.  There is a place for EVERY gift here and there are more opportunities than you can imagine to be part of the great calling YOUR church has to make difference in Half Moon Bay.  If you really hunger to take those next steps to serve, then please reach out and we will help you find a role that can be very fulfilling for you and a powerful blessing for those you serve.

It starts with a couple of “reframing” actions.  First, begin to embrace your calling as a full-time minister rather than an occasional volunteer.  Second, become self-aware of what you bring to the table.  You ARE gifted in some way by God and likely more than you give yourself, or frankly God, credit for!  Third, recognize that those gifts can be used for more than your career or hobby and instead or in addition can lead people to experience God!

We looked at Romans 12 for our discussion on “Fellowship” a few weeks back, but I love this verse:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:10-13 (NLT)

So much can be drawn from that passage and the verses surrounding it.  But what struck me that week and again today is the “serve the Lord enthusiastically” phrase.  I want for us all to love serving and give our all to this high calling, and to just go for it!  As you move forward in your adventure, the adventure to see others blessed by God working through you, I pray you experience the incredible joy that God has in store for you!

Pastor Len

Evangelism; The Highest Form of Worship!

This is our final update email and therefore my last blog post on our purposes.  I have been privileged to be part of this event with our church and I hope you have been moved to take steps closer to Christ in trust and faith.

Evangelism is really an interesting call or purpose for our lives.  Certainly, if any of these are controversial, it’s this one.  Just the word…evangelism…has developed an awkwardness these days.  For many it conjures up images of TV preachers or street corner harassment or door-to-door campaigns.  Our fears of rejection or turning people off or being labeled judgmental or just not knowing what to say gets the best of us.

And yet it’s the sharing of the “good news” that is the last thing Jesus told us to do when he left this earth.

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited about my latest tech gadget or running shoe, and want to tell people.  And practically every survey I have ever taken about a product or customer support asks how likely I am to tell somebody.  So if it’s expected that I share about the insignificant, then how much more should I about the eternal?  I don’t ask that to guilt any of us!  I understand our fears.

But let me present this in just a bit of a different way for a moment.  As we have learned of the 5 purposes, they have been presented as individual attributes or callings that we should aspire to develop in our lives.  Sort of a measuring stick to see how healthy we are in our faith development.  I want us to do just that, and yet instead of seeing them as separate, we should also see them as integrated and intertwined and all of them as “worship”.

An old statement from church history says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  John Piper takes it a step further and changes the last half to “by enjoying Him forever”.  So if worship is our goal, then how does evangelism fit in as the highest form of worship as my title suggests?

Our God is worthy enough for all of mankind, and more personally, our friends and family, to give their lives.  Our God is worthy enough for us to “shout from the mountain tops” of what He has done in our lives.  By sharing the good news, we in fact worship!  And if one more person gives their life to Him, one more person is a worshipper.

I don’t know if that helps any of us overcome our internal obstacles to sharing more.  But perhaps by seeing it’s importance, we might make the opportunity to work through our obstacles more intentionally.

We have the good news!  Let’s pass it on.

Pastor Len

a day to remember

November 2, 2012.  Not a holiday in most people’s experience, but for me it is the day of my “fake heart attack”.  So it’s not a holiday for me either, but certainly a watershed day in my life.  Although I had already been spending a year doing heart work – emotional and spiritual, it is this day that began the physical transformation that all that heart work was leading me to.  I remember being in the hospital trying not to be afraid, but with the wires connected to me, doses of nitro being administered to no effect, and being prepped for an angiogram, I was admittedly scared.  Later we realized the nitro had no effect because it was not my heart that was damaged.  I had/have acid reflux.  Not a fun condition to be sure, but a manageable one.  One whose management meant a radical shift in my diet, thus the physical transformation.  When one can’t eat spice, fat, citrus, tomatoes, chocolate or even coffee, one is going to lose weight.  And weight I lost.  After a short while, I began to notice this and with all the heart work that had happened, it was like a light came on and weight loss just sped up.  My new heart wanted a new body to go with it.  I no longer needed to use weight to hide or suppress my fears and hurts.  I no longer needed to use food keep from trusting God’s plan for those hurts and to manage them on my own.   The first year I “moved more, ate less” and I lost about 10 lbs a month.  The next November I joined a gym and the weight loss slowed, despite beginning running.  But it still comes off.  My general eating has returned many of the foods that acid reflux doesn’t care for, but with the weight loss the doctors said I might not need to worry so much about it.  In retrospect, my fake heart attack was a gift, a wake up call from God and another step in my healing that he was taking me on!

IMG_6238Look at this picture!  The left side is me in late October 2012.  And that wasn’t even my highest weight.  A few years earlier I was 40 lbs heavier.  The one on the right is me yesterday on my longest run to date.  I stopped for a moment to ask a random person to take a picture of me.

I still have weight to go, but that is not a concern for me so much.  I am loving fitness and the new me. I still have those moments of snacking late at night, but because I run and work out so much I am able to handle it.  But that explains the slower weight loss these days.

In earlier posts I have referenced a couple of songs with lyrics that mean so much to me.  One is “Brand New Day” by Joshua Radin.  As I was running yesterday it came up in the playlist and one of verses struck out to me.

Most kind of stories
Save the best part for last
And most stories have a hero who finds
You make your past your past
Yeah you make your past your past

It’s a brand new day
The sun is shining
It’s a brand new day
For the first time in such a long long time
I know, I’ll be ok

It reminds of what Paul says in Philippians.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

It’s not that I forget the past, but I make it my past!  I press on to the future and as he says in the next verses, I hold on to what I have attained!  This new me IS me.  The old, is a memory, one which shows the God of grace at work…MY God.

Who am I that you would find me here?
Who am I that love would draw me near?
Who am I that you would die, to save a broken soul like mine?
Who am I?
Who am I?

The maker of the heavens knows my name.
The author of the oceans gave me grace
My should my soul will ever sing your praise
Almighty God!
(Almighty God, Todd Fields.  North Point Live: Here + Now)

“Squirrel!”

That’s how I feels these days.  Like the dog in Disney/Pixar’s UP.  I am not generally an ADHD type person, but I do tend to get distracted and caught up in my latest obsessions.  So I went through a season of posting multiple times a week to not showing up for a while.  I was off chasing other interests.  This is the way I am wired.  I get bored and obsessed easily.  This has wonderful results as I learn and experience a breadth of things.  But it also has negative fallout in living for the long-haul.

I remember in college hearing a message from our college president, Dick Foth, that the Christian life was not about sprinting or even a marathon, but plodding.  I don’t recall all the details of his message, but the word plodding stuck with me all these years.  I hate plodding.  I walk fast, make decisions fast, get distracted fast.  There is nothing remotely attractive to plodding to me.  But there is wisdom and truth to this behavior, at least where serving God is concerned.  Pressing on, leaning in, holding fast – these are marks of commitment and growth.

But as to my being regular in my blog posts, well, plodding will likely never be a good description.  I do have stuff to say and share and process externally, and so I will continue to do so.  But as God made me to be one who gets caught up in things, I will from time to time be off on my latest adventure.

My first 5K!

My first 5K!

Currently that adventure is tied into my long journey of getting healthy.  I have NEVER been one to love sport and fitness.  But I have been bit by the running bug.  Well less about running, and more about Disney’s events around running.  I did my first-ever 5K last week at DisneyWorld. It was an amazing experience.  I was personally proud of the achievement.  Again, I am 50 years old and this fitness thing is all new to me.  And because it is Disney, they go all out to create experiences; the fireworks marking your run start, the swelling soundtrack throughout the park as you run, the giant finish line with crowds cheering you on, and the draping of a medal around your neck.  It is VERY cool.  And as I am one who gets distracted, this type of event is a great tool for me to keep focused on the exercise journey.  So I am already signed up for the next run event.  On August 30 and 31 I am going to do the “Dumbo Double Dare” at the Disneyland Half Marathon.  On Saturday I will run a 10K and then on Sunday a half marathon.  So while the training regimen is boring, dare I say, like plodding, the goal is worth it.

Hey, that sounds like our faith journey, huh?  (Did you see what I did there?  😉 Flipped it right back.)  Yes, we are in our journey to live for Christ and the day to day may seem uneventful and boring, but the goal for which Christ has called us is worth it!  At least in the area of your faith journey, don’t get distracted by the squirrels, and stay the course.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.  Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

Added Note:  My goal of participating in the run in August also includes raising money for the children of St Jude hospital.  If you would like to encourage my personal journey of getting fit AND help children get treatment for cancer, then check out my info and donation page at http://heroes.stjude.org/lenbanks

Lessons I Learned In 2013

2013 has been a profound year for me. Losing significant weight and discovering the why’s behind it, selling our home and seeing God arrange things powerfully through it, and moving our church into a newly purchased building. These events and more taught me many lessons. I hope I can remember them all to post here.

1. I have much more in me than I give myself credit for.
2. I think too highly of myself.
3. There are far more incredible people giving of themselves far more freely than I ever have realized.
4. My wife is more wonderful and amazing to me than ever.
5. God actually is trustworthy.

That’s the summary list but there is so much more to it. I have been challenged and stretched and so changed this year.

In regards to my weight I keep getting asked what have I been doing. What diet or program? And there just isn’t anything special about it – “move more/eat less” is the basic thing. But the deep work was done in the heart and head. God has shown me areas where I really didn’t let Him heal me of hurts from childhood. Areas where I put my plan in place to cope with the hurt instead of trusting His plan. When I began to peel those layers away is when the weight really began to drop. I still have and always will struggle with weight. I like to snack on high-fat foods and have a metabolism that doesn’t burn it fast. But I am well on my way to keeping it off this time around.

Along the way I dreamed and learned about risk taking and came to realize that I have a lot to offer. I desire to make a difference for the Kingdom and want to see God do huge things. I saw areas in which I sabotaged myself instead of stepping up in confidence using the gifts God has given me. I also believe I have untapped gifts and dreams that I want to see developed.

But those dreams also set the sinful part of me going off to overreaching places thinking more highly of myself than I ought. I continue to realize that it isn’t God who needs me, but me who needs God. His kingdom will go on without me and my efforts. I am humbled by the reality that He desires to use me and that I get to go on this ride with Him, but I need to make sure I keep that in perspective.

God’s GRACE and TRUSTWORTHINESS have been huge themes the past few years. This year mostly trustworthiness as grace was really hit on last year for me. But I have seen the grace of God strongly in people this year. Acts of undeserved kindness shown to me personally and major sacrifices made on behalf of our church in getting into our new building. It has been beautiful to watch. I am so undeserving of people’s service to me, and yet that has been one way in which I saw God’s plans for me being far better than to rely on myself – to control and avoid real trust.

This has been a fun year with my wife. 27 years of marriage to this wonderful woman and I love her more than ever. As I stripped away the layers of brokenness and did the heart work that God intended, there was more room in my heart for her. I gave over to her areas that I had been protecting. To be honest we bicker a bit more, but I think it’s because we care more to be understood and real with each other. Walking through the home sale and my weight loss and the health scare and the church move I have seen at the same time both a strong and fragile woman emerge to really co-direct our steps. Her openess to reframe our lives has been exciting and her belief in me is inspiring. I am sure she believes in me more than I do (which I know frustrates her too). All of this has led to a much deeper love for her.

I meant to say it just as I did. God is actually trustworthy. I know biblically He is. I even know personally He is. But somehow this year He has taken me to greater levels of experience of this. It’s one thing to say He is trustworthy, but to experience is quite another. I have had to really confront my control and hanging on to my “baggage”. I have never doubted His trustworthiness, I just came to realize that I also never gave whole areas over to Him to actually trust Him with. And here I thought I had. A mind-blowing year. This of course has left me wondering what other areas I am still holding on to. But I still have the rest of my life to figure that out and grow in Him.

To 2014!

No Room for Guilt and Shame When Growing Deeper

This weekend I found myself having a conversation with a wonderful lady who was “filled up” with the love of God.  She had shared though how during the week she struggled with yielding over trust to God in a situation and that it surprised her because she thought she had settled that issue.

I then found myself sharing something that I had actually never articulated before and I pass it on to you.  I too have been filled with shame and guilt and discouragement thinking that I too have settled issues only to be returning to them again and again.  I have come to see this differently.  Of course there are times when we actually return to the same issue as we don’t always really give it up and grow through it.  But more often we sell ourselves and the growth that God is actually accomplishing in us short.  Becoming like Jesus is a life long process and just like we can’t see a tree grow moment by moment, we do see it year over year.  We need to get a higher view of our journey and not judge ourselves in the moment.

First off guilt and shame are NEVER God’s desire for us.  So whether we are dealing with the same issue over and over or not, we need to find ways to react that lead us toward God.  He came to offer grace and freedom from guilt and shame.  Godly sorrow and the Holy Spirit’s conviction are more appropriate.  They lead us forward to change and growth.

But in addition to that, I suggest that what we sometimes interpret as discouragement from facing the same issues over and over may in fact not be the same thing at all, but a deeper level.  Here I am not talking about sin specifically, but the areas of yielding trust and faith to God’s control in our lives.  Every step of the way on our journeys is going to be met with opportunities to trust Him.  And they are not like going back to the fist step on our path.  I too wish that I was perfect in trust.  But I am not, and neither are any of us.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not maturing and growing.  And in that process we are digging into deeper layers of issues in our lives that need to be handed over to God.

Instead of interpreting your latest opportunity to trust God as a failure of having yielded yourself fully to God last time, see it as growing deeper.  At the last opportunity you, to the best of your ability and passion and awareness may have fully offered yourself over to Him.  But as He is working in you for His good will, He may be taking you to a deeper or different aspect of something familiar.

Keep leaning in to God’s heart and growth for you.  Don’t let your own guilt or shame derail what God is doing in you.  Instead, and again, let the godly sorrow and Holy Spirit’s conviction propel you to a deeper walk with Him as you become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

(Listen to Jeremy Riddle’s Sweetly Broken.  “At the cross you beckon me. Draw me gently to my knees.”)

Living Worthy

Just to be straight from the start I am making many references in this post to the writings of Matt Chandler; The Explicit Gospel and To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain.  They have recently been informing my thoughts, particularly since my growth group is going through the second book as we focus on the Letter to the Philippians.  I wholly encourage you to read these books!

In Philippians 1:27 Paul writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  From my “moralistic, therapeutic deistic” view of life I was raised in, this was always a verse that shamed me, kept me in check, and was anything but liberating.  As so many of us have been raised in the church have come to believe, perhaps not in our teaching, but in our behavior, we are constantly attempting to “manage” our sin to be worthy or acceptable to God.  We know about God’s grace and and even teach it, but then somehow behave in a manner that is all about managing sin to appear moral.  So many of our sermons and Sunday School lessons could be boiled down to “stop sinning, pray, read the Bible”.  And certainly those are expected behaviors.

But that flies directly in the face of what God says to us.  Through Christ we are ALREADY acceptable.  His work on the cross was complete and we are free.  The disciplines are not the goal or even the path to growth!  They are the results of growth, of an intimate relationship with Jesus.  I know that sounds odd and likely it’s not quite as black and white as that.  But the focus of our lives should be Jesus!  And it is too easy for us “not see the forest through the trees” and live the kind of life that elevates the disciplines over the relationship, even to the point of pushing out intimacy altogether.

So what does it mean to live worthy of the gospel?  It means to ascribe worth to God.  Let our lives not be self-focused, but God-focused.  To Live is Christ!  Every moment of our existence should be to bring glory to God.  He is not shaming us or guilting us or asking us to manage our sin that we might be counted worthy.  I could never be worthy!  Salvation, the gospel, is not about me and my need, but God’s great majestic love and mercy.  Because He is loving He chose to rescue me from my sin.  He alone is worthy and there is no other God like Him.

So living worthy means to direct our eyes to Him and allow Him to be big in our lives.  To give over residence to Him so that our self-efforts have no space left.  Then as Paul continues to write you will, “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”

So then shedding the entanglements of sin and living out the Christian disciplines are responses and natural outcome of a life where we have fallen in love with Jesus.  They are no longer attempts in hope that we will be picked to be on the team, but the results of one already on it.  It’s a difficult dance to be sure.  For us to see where the motivation in our hearts begins.  Is our relationship with Christ the foundation or the goal of our behavior?  I think this is where Revelation’s letters to the churches come in – “you have forgotten your first love”.  We may start well but somewhere along the way it becomes about the routine, the discipline, and we begin to deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve got it handled.  But we don’t!  John’s plea to not “claim we are without sin” is not for the first moments of our conversion, but for our whole life.

But even here I am not trying to focus our eyes on our sin!  Stop striving to manage sin, to be worthy in your efforts and instead rest in God’s greatness, the power of the transforming gospel, and direct your life’s passion to ascribing worth to Him.  Let your “striving” be for living together as one for faith of the gospel.

Prayer:  God help me, help us as your body, to recognize the transforming power of the gospel and to be free from trying somehow to make ourselves worthy.  Help us not to get caught up in shame and effort, but instead to rest in the full measure of your grace and see just how big you are and can be in our lives.  May our life’s goal be to know you in the power of your death and resurrection.  A power that causes our sin to die once for all and to be made new again in life.  And may we be filled with such a response of praise that our whole life ascribes worth to you through a unity of faith in the gospel!

Writing Your Story

I have been listening to a number of different speakers lately that have all woven the idea of one’s story into their messages. The idea being that the narrative we live is in many respects up to us and we have the ability to write our own stories. Of course this is not a new topic or idea, but the language used; plot, narrative, meta narrative, etc gave it new life to me.

If we feel our story is meaningless or boring it is because we have written such a story. Theologically this has implications because many of us have come to conclusions that we are just waiting on God to direct us. We are then often passive characters in our own stories. And while God is sovereign and may at times have very specific parts for us to play, more often His plan is general. He desires all of us to experience love, redemption, forgiveness, to participate in His mission and be maturing followers. But as one speaker said, unless you hear a donkey talk or are a pregnant virgin, you likely are not on a specific plan.

So feeling stalled? Has your story line lulled? Begin re-imagining the next plot line. Ask yourself “What if…” questions. What if that fear was overcome? What if you forgave that person? What if you moved to a new state or country? What if you adopted a child or took in a foster kid? What if you changed careers to follow your dream? See which ones stick with after a few days and then follow that storyline out to its conclusion.

I too believe that we often feel God’s will is more specific than it is. One of my guiding verses is Psalm 37:4. When we delight ourselves in Him, He gives us the desires of our heart. The discovery of God’s will is far less mysterious than most of us make it to be.

What we need to remember, however, is that every good story has conflict that is overcome. Our narratives will not be free from failures, missteps, or tragedy. They may not even have the short-term happy endings we desire. While we are writing our own stories, we are only co-authors, and sadly God is not our only contributor. Many others are adding their stories into ours and ours into theirs.

The point to this though is that we take more of an active role in our own narratives. In creating the ending we desire. Think of your story in movie form. How is it ending as the credits roll? Along the way did you root for yourself or were you falling asleep while watching? Is it a story of heroism that inspires others or a cautionary tale?

As followers of Christ we are assured of the ultimate “happy ending” but that doesn’t prevent us from squandering the life we have until then. I reflect on Christ’s words that He came to give us life to the fullest. He also reminds us in the parable of the talents to not operate in fear of Him being a hard taskmaster and wasting the opportunities afforded us. Instead he rewards the risk taker, the one who invests and lives.

Until we are dead we have a responsibility to live. Live the fullest life you can imagine. One that glorifies Him and serves others. One that reflects justice and mercy and grace and beauty.

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