Removing the Queen

I heard that phrase at a conference recently and it was both refreshing and challenging.  Refreshing because it was a reminder of some of the things that God had place in my heart when I first dreamed of One Church and challenging because it was made me aware of how I had drifted from that idea.

The idea is taken from chess.  The queen is the most powerful piece on the board but if you spend all of your time and energy protecting the queen, you may make your king vulnerable and lose the game.  There are alot of chess pieces each with their unique abilities.  By investing in protecting the queen, you may be neglecting the rest of your resources.

In church world, the queen is our weekly worship gathering.  We tend to spend all of our time and resources trying to make everything happen in that one hour. When we do that, we can forget about all of the other resources and time that could used better if they weren’t devoted to “protecting the queen.”

So at One Church this week we are not meeting on Sunday night for our regular worship gathering. Instead, we are meeting in homes in Woodstock, Roswell , and Atlanta in order to pray about and discuss ways that we can serve the communities that God has placed us in.

I’ve realized that for quite a while most of my time, thinking, emotions, and energy have been spent on making Sunday nights happen.  The measuring stick for how well One Church is doing became how many people came and how well I think I did in communicating the message.  As soon as Sunday night ended, I found myself immediately thinking about the next Sunday.

There’s nothing wrong with our working hard to make Sunday nights the best experience we can but not to the neglect of the talents and time of our complete community.  Of course, all of this is possible because God has gathered a great community of people at One Church who are following Jesus and really desire to do church differently so that we can do life differently.

We’ll gather again for worship on Easter evening and continue to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to Jesus as we do.  I’m just excited that we’re starting to put ourselves in environments that allow us to live out our vision to “serve the world by leading people to freedom in Christ and freedom in life.”


Storms and Waves

“Sometimes we pray for God to rescue us from the storms and waves but sometimes God uses the storms and waves to save us.”

I heard Rob Bell say that last week and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how true that is.

As I think back over the times in my life when I was the most desperate for God to change my circumstances, He used those very circumstances to change me and to save me from the man that I had become. In fact, the most signficant things about me have been developed in the midst of “storms” that I begged God to rescue me from.

Even with that knowledge, I find most of my prayers lately are save-me-from-the-storm prayers. “If only you would change this circumstance…”  Maybe God is more concerned about me than he is the circumstance I find myself in.

Storms reveal what I’m placing my trust in and who I believe is really in control.  When things are easy, its easy for me to live under the illusion that I’m in control.  When a storm comes, it shatters that illusion and forces me to trust God who has been in control along.  That is so much easier to type than it is to live.

When I start to feel like I’ve lost control, I get anxious and scared.  I start to scramble and grasp onto anything to re-gain that feeling.  My prayers are less about trusting God than they are ways I try to manipulate him to do what I want.  My devotion and commitment become sacrifices that I show God to prove to him how much I deserve to be saved from the circumstance.

Maybe the reason God doesn’t always save me from the storm is because the storm is saving me.  Its saving me from being the kind of man that believes he’s always in control and deserves a God who does whatever I want.  Its making me into a man who believes that God is good, is in control, and can be trusted.

Leave it alone

 I was pulling out of my driveway and before I put the car in drive to leave I took one last look at my house.  Just then a big wind blew and I watched as some leaves from my neighbor’s yard blew into mine.  I could have told you exactly how many leaves because I had raked up all of the leaves up in my yard yesterday.

My first response was irritation because their leaves “defiled” my yard and frustration that my yard is not going to look any better than my neighbor’s.  No one will even know that I rake my leaves and they may think that I don’t care what my yard looks like.

To be honest, its embarassing to type those words because they reveal how silly and selfish I can be at times.  They reveal how I often approach life.

When I was raking my leaves, I actually considered raking my neighbor’s leaves too.  The inner monologue that stopped me went like this: “What if they don’t want me to rake their leaves? They may be offended that I thought their yard needed to be raked.  If I rake their yard, they may think that I was upset that their yard still had leaves.  What if they think that I now expect them to rake their yard?  I wonder how my hair looks…” Well, we can stop the monologue there.

Isn’t it interesting how worrying what others think can stop us from doing something we want to do?  We can created a myriad of “what ifs” that keep us from the freedom of serving the needs of others. “What if people think I’m naive?  What if they take advantage of me?  What if they don’t appreciate it?  What if it doesn’t make a difference?  What if it makes others feel bad?”

I live with this unhealthy need to be understood and if there is a chance that something I say or do may be misunderstood, I often don’t do it.  At least, not when I’m living in my resources and not abiding in the love and acceptance of Jesus.

Abiding in his love sets me free to love, give, and serve the needs of others without fear of how I may be misunderstood.  Loving others is risky and messy.  It means stepping in when I see a need and doing something about it.  Love is never expressed in an inner monlogue with myself.  It’s expressed by serving the needs of others with the humble awareness that all of us have yards that get messy and need attention.

Game, Set, Match

This past weekend was beautiful in Atlanta and I decided to take our girls to our neighborhood tennis courts.  I was suffering from a Nyquil hangover and was getting over a cold so I was even grumpier than usual.  However, I thought that I was covering it up by spending some time with Samantha and Emily.

As we started hitting the balls to one another, I began to give some instructions as to how the girls could improve.   My suggestions were just rolling off of Emily’s back but it was apparent that Samantha was growing more and more frustrated.

I thought Samantha lacked confidence and so I needed to continue to give instruction so that she could succeed and build her confidence.  I thought that I was encouraging her but she wasn’t responding well to anything I had to say.  This just caused me to grow frustrated with her but I continued to try to hide it with my calm Ward Cleaver voice (google it if you don’t know who that is).  The more frustrated I got, the more emotional she became.  It finally came to a head with me yelling and her crying.  I sat down with her and told her how iritated I was because she wouldn’t respond to what I was telling her to do.  What she said next crushed me.

She said that she knew I was irritated.  In fact, she knew that I was irritated before we even got to the courts and she knew that I didn’t really want to be out there.  She was right.

Knowing that’s the way she felt, the whole day made sense.  I Corinthians 13 says that love “is not irritable.”  Sammy wasn’t experiencing my love because I wasn’t expressing it.

So while I thought I was encouraging and instructing, she was hearing discouragement and criticism.  I thought I was building her confidence and pulling her inner tennis player out of her but she was hearing that she was not enough.

Sometimes that’s how I hear God’s voice in my life.  When I’m not resting in his complete love and acceptance of me, I hear his commands and his instructions as criticisms and reminders that I don’t have what it takes.  I’m not enough.

However, when I’m trusting that God is love and I am united with him I hear his voice completely differently.  His commands breathe life into me because they are calling me to who I truly am.  They are not reminders of what I’m not but of who I am.  Instead of defeat and discouragement, they inspire and set me free to live life the way I was designed to live.

Him Thinks About Me

It was one of those rainy days several years ago when Melissa and the girls got home.  Emily must have been about 4 or 5 and I could tell that her heart was broken.  She had lost her umbrella while Melissa and Samantha both still had theirs.  As her daddy, I could tell this was about more than an umbrella.  She felt left out and less significant because of it.

So I made it my mission the next couple of weeks to find her an umbrella.  I went to two Walmarts and two Targets but could not find any children’s umbrellas (lady bugs, frogs, flowers, etc.) Any time I had some free time, I went somewhere to look for a stinking umbrella.

After a couple of weeks of futility, we were all together and I told Emily that I had not forgotten and was still looking for her umbrella.  I was a little surprised to see her reaction. Her shoulders shrugged up to her ears as her face flushed and she broke into a great big smile.  She looked at Melissa and said something I will remember the rest of my life.

“Him thinks about me.”

As my heart melted, I remember thinking “of course, I think about you.”  Was there ever a question?  I think about you all of the time.  My life is filled with thougths of you.  They make me smile and they make me shake my head.  They make me dream of the young lady you will become.  They are about what makes you tick, what makes you feel strong and alive and what I can do to help you be the person God wants you to be.  They make me laugh and cry.  They make me feel protective and caring.  They bring delight to my heart and they are sometimes an oasis when life is hard and dry.  To me, there is no more obvious and certain truth than “him thinks about me.”

God is a better father than I am.  Jesus said so.

If I, in my selfishness and limited capacity to love, am driven almost obsessively to show my girls how much I love them, how much I am for them, how much I care about them.  What does that say about how God, the Father, thinks and feels toward us?  Toward you?  Could it be that Him thinks about you?

That would change eveything, wouldn’t it?  You could face the day with confidence that your Father who knows you the best, loves you the most.  His thougths are about you.  His dreams are about you.  His plans are about you.

Him thinks about you.

May we all abide in his love today.  May we live in the freedom of knowing that his thoughts are on us.  May we be so changed by his love that we become obsessed with sharing the message with everyone we know and in any way we can that “him thinks about you.”

If Lost Can Do It…

…then why can’t I?  By “it,” I mean take some time off and then come back better than ever.  Seriously, I apologize for the inactivity on this blog.  I wish I had some really good reasons but I don’t.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts here more consistently as we explore what it means to serve the world by living loved by God.

On Sunday nights, One Church has been on a journey together through I Corinthians 13:1-7.  Since God is love, we’ve used Paul’s description of love in this passage to lead us not only to learn about love but about the essence of God.  It’s been a surprisingly challenging and amazing journey for me as I’ve wrestled with what I really believe about who God is.

Before the journey, I would have agreed that God is love but I don’t know if I really believed that he is the things that are in the passage.  Do I really believe that he is patient and kind?  Do I really believe that he’s not jealous of things in my life but jealous for my heart on my behalf?  I know that I don’t always live like that is what is true about God.  I often live as if he is the exact opposite of what this passage.

Why do I have such a hard time believing that God is love? A few things come to mind.  First, things happen.  Things that seem unkind or unloving and so I begin to believe the lie that God is unkind and unloving.  Second, I think we’ve been lied to about who God is.  Pastors and preachers have used passages of Scripture to teach me that God is not who he is.  He’s somehow less than love.  That’s not new.  The religious leaders and expert Bible teachers in Jesus’ day totally missed who God is and they used the Bible to support their views.  A God whose essence is love totally bust their doctrinal categories.

What about you?  Are you living your life as if you believe that God is love?  Do you believe that he is for you and that he is on your side?  Have circumstances, other people, and religious lies robbed you of the life and freedom that comes from living loved by God?

Thanks for joining One Church on this blog but we’d also love to have you join us on Sunday nights as we leave lies behind us and journey to the heart of who God is.

Bumbles Bounce

It seems to me that almost every Christmas movie or story has one of two common themes.  The first theme has one of the characters forgetting the true meaning of Christmas or losing the Christmas spirit.  Usually, something has happened to him causing him to become jaded, bitter, cynical, selfish, and defensive.  The plot of the story is for the character to rediscover what Christmas is all about.

The second theme is one in which Christmas is in danger of not happening at all.  Either the plot of an evil character, the apathy of the world, or a big snow storm has put Christmas in jeopardy and the world needs someone to save Christmas.  Enter the hero whether it’s a red-nosed reindeer, Cindy Lou Who, or an angel earning his wings.

I was talking with a pastor yesterday and he confessed that he hates Christmas.  For him, Christmas has been 41 years of seeing his family pretend to be something that they’re not and he sees the same hypocrisy in the culture at large.  The materialism, selfishness, and shallowness he sees around him makes Christmas almost unbearable for him.  If it were a movie, he’d be the guy who’s lost the Christmas spirit.  We can probably all relate to my friend to some degree and need to have the true spirit of Christmas joy restored to us.

For some of us, it may seem Christmas is in jeopardy of not happening at all for us this year.  At least not Christmas as we’ve known it or dreamed it to be.  It seems someone has hatched a plot against us and stolen Christmas. He broke in to our our lives and robbed us through divorce, death, strained relationships or financial crisis.  Instead of fullness and joy, Christmas will be an awareness of disappointment, failure, loss, and hopelessness.  We need a hero to show up in our story and save Christmas for us.

The great thing about the true story of Christmas is it’s all about our real hero who has stepped into history to rescue us from our hopelessness, redeem us from our failure, and restore to us the true meaning of life. In this story, he sneeks in to the world through the womb of a unwed Jewish teenage.  He spent his life healing and restoring those broken and wounded by the world and his death and resurrection rescue us from our greatest foes of death and sin.

This Christmas, may we turn to our hero Jesus to rescue us from any disappointment and cynicism and restore to us the joy of Christmas.  May his love and presence so fill our hearts that no matter what our circumstance, this will be the best Christmas ever.

War on the War

It’s Black Friday and the war has started.   Its been raging for as long as I can remember and I don’t know if it’s ever going to end because we don’t know what winning means and no one is ever going to surrender. I’ll hear of the war and rumors of war in the news, on the internet, through emails and maybe from the pulpit.  My fears will be inflamed.  I’ll get angry, defensive, and then I’ll go on the offensive.  I’ve got to fight to protect what once was.

It’s the War on Christmas.

The battle lines are clearly drawn.  It’s the cultural conservatives and Christians against the secular humanists, liberals and greedy corporate America.  On one side, “we’re” fighting for a time when Christmas was about Jesus, it snowed every Christmas morning, and when you purchased gifts (while never overspending nor making it about material things) the person who took your money said “Merry Christmas” and not “Happy Holidays” or some other trite slogan of pluralism.  Christmas decorations went up after Thanksgiving and you got out of school to celebrate Jesus’ birth and not Winter Solstice.

On the other side, “they” hate anything traditional, especially if it is something that Christians like.  They seem to go overboard in accommodating and validating any and every belief.  They fear committing the postmodern unpardonable sin of offending anyone (except the Christians, of course).  They worship the dollar and bow at the feet of multiculturalism.

This blog isn’t about the reality of the war in our culture.  It’s about the reality of the war that goes on inside of me.  What does the war do to me?  How do and how should I respond in the midst of the war?

I find that most of the times that I choose to fight a battle that it’s rarely about what I say it’s about. I say it’s about values, others, and Jesus.  It’s usually about my rights, my validation, and my fears.  I find that I rarely fight for “what’s right” and usually fight for “who’s right.”

I’m looking for someone to validate me.  I feel they are taking something from me and I’ve got to fight to keep it.  They’re robbing me of respect or value or power and I’ve got to argue for and defend what is mine.

When I compare that to the way Jesus acted at Christmas time, I find that it’s actually a contrast.  Instead of fighting for his rights, Jesus gave them up.  He didn’t demonstrate his power and strength but made himself vulnerable and weak.  He didn’t declare war on culture but proclaimed peace on earth.  He didn’t expect his culture to validate him but rather expected that he would be misunderstood, rejected, and crucified.

So this Christmas, I’m surrendering.  I’m letting go of any expectations that culture is going to validate my beliefs.  I refuse to get angry at “too much” commercialization and “not enough” Jesus at the mall.  Instead, I’ll rest in the knowledge that Jesus is enough for me.  The unconditional love and acceptance he gives me is enough.  The value he’s placed on me is enough. 

If I could live in that reality, I would have a very different Christmas. Instead of a soldier fighting for my rights, I’ll be a servant free from the need to be right and free to show others what Christmas is all about: a God who surrendered to save his enemies and who lost so that I could win.

Tardy for the Party

Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding celebration. The party had run out of wine so Jesus (following the “suggestion” of his mother) turned some water into wine to keep the party going.  It’s a pretty familiar story but here are some things I’m thinking about today.

I imagine that it would have been incredibly embarrassing for families to run out of wine.  It would have said that they hadn’t planned well enough, didn’t have enough money, or weren’t good enough.  If you’re married, you remember the stress of making sure your wedding was planned down to the last detail and the embarrassment you feared if you didn’t have enough of anything. Maybe that’s why Mary was so insistent that her son rescue his friends from the shame of their insufficiency.

There’s no indication in the story that the bride and bridegroom even knew what had happened.  What if they never even knew that they had run out of wine?  What if they never knew that Jesus had provided so graciously and abundantly for them?  What if the first time they learned about it was when they first heard John’s story of his life with Jesus?

Today, I find myself very aware of some things that I’d like for God to do for me.  Most of them would be dramatic,  impressive, and more “spiritual” than turning water into wine.  The kinds of things I would do if I were God.  What I am sensing is that I need to rest in the abundant ways that he has already provided, ways in which I may not even be aware.

I rest in him because he has rescued me from the shame of my insufficiency and inability to provide for myself.  Before I even knew I had a need, he had provided himself for my self.  Though I am not enough, he has completed me and hidden me in himself.  He has given me his “enoughness.”

And right now, he is sustaining me and my life in more ways than my mind can ever grasp, ways that may not even seem that spiritual.  While I slept last night, he watched over me and cared for me when I was not even conscious of what I needed. Every breath and every beat of my heart is an expression of his provision.  Joy warmed my heart last night when I watched my daughter come alive to  how God has designed her.  Laughter filled our house at bedtime as my other daughter delighted in teasing her daddy.  My father loves me.  He cares for me.  He cares about me.

Will you join me today in resting in what Jesus has already done and what he is doing instead of stressing over the things we think he is supposed to do?  Will you trust that he is good, maybe better than you could ever imagine?  He loves you.  He cares about you.  He cares for you.

The L-Shaped Room

That is the title of an old movie I was watching recently.  The story is a poor pregnant French girl falls in love with an even poorer English writer.  In one scene, the girl gave the man a Christmas gift. The man declined it and got angry at the woman because he didn’t have a gift to give her.  She explained to him that it didn’t matter to her.  However, it did matter to him.

The interesting thing to me was that I found myself instinctively identifying with this man.  Without even thinking about it, I understood what the man felt and agreed with his response. He should have declined the gift and he should have been able to offer a gift to her.  After all, he’s a man and a man should be able to provide a Christmas gift for the woman he loves.

What does this instinctive response say about me?  It says that somewhere inside of me I don’t like to receive anything unless I have something to give in return. The generosity of the giver reveals my inadequacy to reciprocate.  It shows that I’m lacking.  I don’t have enough.  I am not enough.

I actually don’t have a difficult time admitting that I have nothing to give as long as I don’t have to receive.  I’m more than willing to say I have nothing to give you therefore you shouldn’t give anything to me.  So there is an agreement, an exchange of “not giving.” The thing that bothers me is when someone is not willing to accept this exchange and insists on giving me something when I have nothing to give in return.  Then I feel like I am in debt and I must pay someone back.

This has greater implications for me in areas much more significant than merely receiving things.  It illustrates the way I often respond to the Gospel.  God generously gives me his love, his acceptance, his favor through Jesus and I am sometimes unwilling to receive it because I have nothing to give him back.  His generosity reveals that I am inadequate.  I am lacking.  I don’t have enough and even more significantly, I am not enough.

It is actually not that difficult for me to admit that. When I do, I know that I’m probably getting something in return for my admission.  I’m getting your respect for being so transparent.  I’m receiving your approval for being genuine and noble by confessing my poverty of spirit. You share in my poverty so I’m actually demonstrating that I’m just like everyone else.

The next step however is where I stop short (apologies to Frank Costanza for stealing his move).  The hardest step is not to admit that I have nothing to give but then to actually receive and completely enjoy God’s gift of being reconciled to him.  I feel like I have to give him something in return.  I feel that I have to pay him back while simultaneously knowing that its impossible.

And much like the Englishman in the movie, there are times when I’d rather spurn an intimate relationship Jesus than to receive his love when I’ve got nothing to give in return.

You see, the French woman wasn’t giving the gift to manipulate the man.  It was not to put him in her debt so that he would feel obligated to do whatever he could to make it up.  She didn’t want anything in return except for a relationship with him.  She only wanted him.

Could it be true that God doesn’t give us his love and acceptance to manipulate us?  What if he isn’t interested in the things we can do for him in return for what he has done for us?  Is it possible that what he wants more than anything is us?  Not us in the sense that we are his tools to do with whatever he wants. But what if he just wants us in a love relationship with him?

Has your inability to give anything back to God kept you from enjoying the gift of his relationship today?  Has your failure to give complete devotion, complete surrender, and complete sincerity kept you from receiving the gifts of his acceptance?  Are you stopping short of intimacy with God by admitting your poverty but not receiving the riches of his incomparable love for you today?

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