Monday, September 08, 2008

An Intimate God

Yesterday I participated in baptism. I had the honor to declare my faith before my fellow Christ followers and sojourners by standing up and sharing my brokeness and dependence on Jesus to restore me. I anticipated the old man to wash away and the Spirit give me a new divine touch. I expected his presence.

And I was not disappointed.

Requesting to not be brought up right away, I had a moment under the water to "bury" the selfishness and independence. I truly felt the pride of the Father on me as I arose anew.

To top it off, I helped baptize a young man I work with and mentor! To top that off, I left the water and another client wanted my help in understanding how to do this "God thing!"

It's as if my Daddy wanted to blow my mind away with his favor. He is so close!

Do you know that? What keep you from believing there is a God full of love that is crazy about you? There is a lyric from Jason Upton's song One Step Away that speaks volumes:

My God how I long to see you now.
And something in my heart tells me somehow You're one step away.
A distant sound is hard to hear even a sound as loud as thunder
A distant heart is full of fear a distant soul has lost its wonder
Sometimes it's hard to hear your voice, my God
Is the reason why you're whispering because You're one step away?

Maybe God is one step from you in distance and if he spoke aloud instead of a whisper, it would be like a crack of lightning and thunder, too loud for human ears!

Oh, please get to know the Lord! Listen for Him. Ask Him to show up. He does not disappoint ever, and if you think He does, tell Him and argue with Him and discover how good our God is as He draws you into his love and acceptance!

The God of creation accepts the broken. Do mask your frailty. Take it to the cross and find new life.

Okay. That's good for now. Call me if you want help working your thoughts/fears/doubts out.



Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Creation... Adjusting to the Light

"Give me eyes to see and ears to hear"

It is a fascinating thing to become aware. When was the last time you stopped and watched people? Could you see into their soul or did that not even cross your mind, how those people really were?

I really watched people today. At church, I noticed a handful of attendees with arms crossed, as if the posture would ward off others. A natural response I once would have had is to judge them and become sad or frustrated that they were part of the problem in the church, not willing to receive God and the Body. Today I saw past myself and my needs (for a fully alive people of God) and saw the reality of eternity. God has his hand on all. He was moving even in the guarded. I'm certain of that because they were there, at church. Yeah, they left right away as the service ended, but nonetheless, God was there and moving and teaching the lesson of his grace as we practiced our expression of love and devotion.

I appreciate Donevon's attention to the corporate participation of the Body as a worship offering. We as one agreed to meditate and sing out our praise for the grace God gives. That helped me receive a joy from God I haven't readily accepted in a while, almost like my new self in Christ has more senses than what's normally experienced.

I'm adjusting to the Light, able to see God at work. Able to see into souls. Conversations take on new, deeper meanings. Alert, all things seem okay because God is big enough to be in it all. That's the source of my joy. Notice I didn't say happiness because it isn't happy to look into a sorrowful soul. But joyful it is because pain can exist in joy and still be good. Joy is God present.

I'm seeing that now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Park Bench

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I knew if I went back to my apartment, I would just waste the day, so I went to the park after church. I ate lunch, called my mom to wish her the best and say I love her, people watched (imagining the little boy by the water alone would fall in and need rescuing... what can I say, working with troubled youth you expect the worse) and read a little. It was then that I sat on the park bench reading when Mary sat down. She was there with her daughter and son-in-law. Those who know me best understand that "outgoing" isn't the first word to use when describing the person who is Michael. But here I was yearning for something a little more real, a little more connected than what I've settled for in the past.

I asked Mary what she thought about Christianity.

She was very generous in her response, and we continued to talk for a good half hour or so. You see I've been troubled with this aspect of Christianity that demands attention. People view Christianity as harmful, self-absorbed and unappealing. The church experience became a product that people simply aren't buying. Mary hadn't bought it. I shared with Mary my views on how the Church Jesus desired to set up was more a gathering in fellowship and community, not a spectator's entertainment on a Sunday morning. There's something much more attractive about a group of people willing to sell all they had to meet any need one may have, to truly be there for one another in love. That's not the image the current church holds. The church today is more a building and a consumer's experience than it is the "out-called ones" of faith in a gracious God.

These thoughts of mine originate from greater minds. I finished The Tangible Kingdom by Halter and Smay, and I began UnChristian by Kinnaman, both dealing in their own unique ways how the current model of church isn't shaping a Christian into a very effective witness to the love of Jesus Christ.

A confession: I've been a church attender for about eleven years. And save maybe the first year in my naive zeal for Christ, I have done very little to nothing at all to witness and minister to others outside the church attending crowd. My reason is simply because I'm ashamed of the church and hold little faith in its ability to change lives. My sister, for example, would probably only step foot in a church if someone was getting married or kicked the bucket. There's not much a church service could offer her that would make her feel included and in need of their influence. And yet as a card-carrying member of the church product movement, recently-awakened to reality, I get that it's easier to shrug our shoulders at such people and continue to enjoy our worship sets and make the rounds to all our fellow follower-acquaintances.

Please don't get the impression I despise all church now and that we need to throw it all out as ineffective and irrelevant. In fact, there is a lot of powerful transformation happening in the lives of believers in churches world-wide. I have enjoyed connecting on a deeper level with others through attending house church an extra night a week, and it's led to increased fellowship and spiritual growth. My fear is that it's not enough. Until we bravely reach out and become inclusive of all people, the church cannot be what God designed. Jesus never set up shop in one town and advertised for people to experience himself for an hour and a half, and if it was your first time, make sure to visit out welcome booth in the foyer where you can pick up your welcome packet.

Mary believed in God but not in the people who claimed to know Him. It both hurts me and excited me to think I've been given the charge to help restore the image of God by living it right. It starts with an identity. And it strengthens with a courage to love, and not just those already "in."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Job Can Be Pretty Cool

So I covered an extra shift Sunday morning. I missed church because I was working, but I didn't. For those that don't know, I work with troubled youth at a residential treatment center. I didn't miss church because I bring church to my young men. I have freedom to openly share my faith at work. It is a Christian organization, and I can't get fired for it... So instead of driving to a church, I held a Bible study for those that stayed back from church. We went to Romans 5 because I felt maybe God could speak to the boys through that chapter.

You know, the Word of God is pretty powerful. I shared with them the truth that there is greater power of atonement through Christ and his shed blood than there could ever be in the power of Adam's sin, resulting in the fall of humanity. Christ is more than enough.

I get paid to teach there is justification for sin for those who believe in Christ! How cool is that?!

What's probably the coolest thing is that these guys are actually being transformed. It takes awhile, since there is a lot of baggage to sift through. I think of one guy who actually remembered a story I told him on how God showed up for me when I needed some help believing, and he was paying attention during the study. It seemed like he was really taking it in... There are others who are so hungry for the Creator. I think they are starting to trust us when we tell them the Creator is an amazing Restorer as well.

Don't get me wrong... the job sucks at times. Like when they get a hold of vehicle keys and plot to steal the van to escape into Denver. They are targets. That helps me keep perspective. The Enemy doesn't want them to change, so he intices and tempts the "old man" in them all.

Father, spare them from the attacks of the Enemy. Help them to continue there pursuit of your truth, and romance them, Dad, with your intimate love.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Things Are Not As They Seem

Allow me to paraphrase a comment made at my house church:

If you are punishing yourself for the wrong you committed, you are not trusting Christ's work on the cross, cheapening his grace.

I do that a lot. I brood in my failings for a while til I get pretty raw and unnerved by my depravity. When I can't stand it anymore, or feel the strong pull of the Spirit, then I'll make the Prodigal's walk home.

We threw away our "Bondage Sin" on Sunday. There was a big trash can and everything. I wrote down Fear of Intimacy on a piece of orange construction paper, crumpled it up and threw it in the bin.

It didn't do much for me.

Here's why: I knew my bondage to this particular sin wasn't going to go away until I presented it to the Body of Christ, openly and vulnerable. No one knew of my fear, so it was free to still haunt me. There is power in open confession. The Catholics have that going for them. That why I stayed behind at house church tonight and shared my problem with my pastor. It got a little awkward and uncomfortable, mainly because I was so exposed... the very thing I fear. What if my pastor responded with a "ahhh, wow! I don't know what to say about that. That's pretty pathetic, what's wrong with you?" Now I know he would never have responded that way, but there is an irrational way about sin to skew one's perspective.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." - Ephesians 6:12

What are the schemes of the Enemy? I know someone who's parents are... well, not. He desperately wants a normal family experience, the thing most of us take for granted or even complain about. One morning this week he said he didn't believe in God anymore because how could God hold out on him like He has. The truth of that situation is he was in too much emotional pain to recognize all God has done and is doing in his life. Because it wasn't an exact answer to prayer according to his design, God holds out on him. "Where's God in keeping you in the same shitty condition month after month?" whispers the appointed demon to this guy I know. "You are just too draining, Michael, it's not worth the effort to try with you" snides my Wormwood.

It's hard to continue not knowing God's doing what's needing to be done. I see a need to just be the child of God that I am (or at least trying to figure out who I am), but there is also this need to act, to step in faith, to expose myself to others and trust I'll be received warmly because God's Body does not disappoint.

And so I say things are not as they seem. I present self-sufficient but I'm in need of fellowship. There are forces at work that seldom go noticed for what they really are: lies from the Enemy. My self-inflicted atempts to punish myself accomplish nothing but a temporary illusion of self-redemption.

Thank you Jesus for your reach. No pit spans too deep that you can't pull me out when I reach too.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Fear and Trembling

I had a conversation with a friend about the issue of salvation: who's got it, can you lose it, is there a "once saved, always saved" security we can lean heavily on? Or is praying the prayer once not quite finding the narrow road?

In that same conversation, the topic took a turn to how well this friend knew me. I thought I was pretty well known. That wasn't the case. I've been accused before of being mysterious, even cryptic. That comment refueled this old thought that perhaps I don't open up as much as I think. Or maybe I live too much in my own head and it results in this perception that I'm sharing a lot more than I am. Regardless, the fact remains that I'm not well experienced by others. Sort of sounds like my dad. I am my father's son.

All that to say I want to be known. I want to be approachable, want others to experience the person who is me. I think it is hard for others to do that because I can appear self-sufficient, not needing the inclusion of others. That's just not the case. I feel like I don't have the permission to demand others' attention. I feel I'm a nuisance.

Funny how cruel one's insecurities can be to oneself.

Fear and Trembling... How one should work out one's salvation. I just finished Bell's Velvet Elvis and he had a thought about how the christian life shouldn't be a pusuit to make life easier. Christian living is usually more difficult than not caring about morality. I think I fall victim of the desire to stop and have a break from the struggle. I start seeking things that I feel could assuage my personal struggles (mainly loneliness).

You know it's a funny balance between seeking the Lord and seeking deeper relationships. I convinced myself my infatuation with a young woman friend was healthy, well timed, righteous even. The problem is when it becomes too important, my pursual of the God relationship suffers. I was humbly reminded of that fact when I started to brood over that conversation's outcome. I was not in a good place. Making things work out with this girl had somehow become more important than my relationship with God. I want to believe she knew that on some level and responded the way she did because of that. A double-edged sword if that's the case (that she wouldn't want my walk with God to suffer on account of her) because I'd like her all the more for being that way, a way that prevents us from getting closer but fuels my desire to. Did I mention I analyze quite a bit?

It's in moments of humility like this that I can't help but turn to God and thank Him for grace. I'm pretty screwed up, yet I know in my heart that doesn't discourage my Father in Heaven from loving me madly. When my Heavenly Daddy sees me, it's like he sees Christ. There's no disappointment. I just got a picture of Dori the fish from Finding Nemo. She started afresh a moment after an event, unaffected by the past. Like if I spit in my God's face, a second after repentance I'm embraced as his beloved.

Love without a grudge.

I'd like to think I'm working out my salvation with fear a trembling. I was wrecked when I realized what I was doing with my friend. I was wrecked when I realized the old man was coming out in me to try and secure that deeper relationship. I was that way in my first romantic relationship... there's no pretty way of saying it. I become manipulative. I phrase things a certain way. I have a personal agenda. It's not the love I desire to give to my friend. It isn't kind but self-seeking. Please forgive me.

I think I'll wrap up this confession with the Word of God in I Corinthians 13, which speaks of love and sets my heart ablaze in the joy of God's higher ways...

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.