Tuesday, October 23, 2007

a lot of people define a relationship with Jesus as simply having an emotional conscience moment and asking for Jesus to help, and then engaging in a vague obedience of his general precepts.

That is a far cry from what is offered.

He says "my sheep hear my voice; I will be with you always; I will send my Spirit to teach you all things."

It's not "Jesus-take-the wheel" it's "Jesus I wanna be possessed!"

So here are a few catalysts and questions to help broaden our experience of Jesus relationally. We kicked these around in our small group tonight and it was provocative. The questions aren't just meant to be answered, but to be mulled over and reflected on.

  1. How does Jesus communicate with you? You can't have a relationship without personal communication. Is it through scripture; prayer; nature; art...? When was the last time you heard something specific for your life?
  2. If you could spend a whole day with Jesus one on one what would you do? What would he do and say? Would you feel comfortable being his friend for a whole day or would it feel like a day with a stranger? Why?
  3. What is your favorite Jesus-scene in the Bible? What is your most disturbing moment? Do you think there may be other sides to Jesus you haven't explored yet or are afraid or annoyed by? Is Jesus still dangerous and unpredictable or have you domesticated him?
  4. What roles are you comfortable and uncomfortable with that we see in the Bible as people define their relationship with Jesus: slave, servant, child, adopted heir, ambassador for, friend, companion, bridegroom, lover of your soul...? Why do you cleave to some roles and avoid others? Does this limit the growth of the relationship?
  5. What is fresh and new in the relationship? What significant experiences have you had with Jesus in the last month...week...day...hour? Is Jesus a monthly, weekly, daily, or hourly friendship?
  6. Which disciple of Jesus do you most / least identify with? What does this say about you? What are perhaps some new ways of having friendship with Jesus that you should explore?
  7. What does Jesus effect the most / least in your life: how you spend time; how you spend money; your sexuality; your parenting; being a spouse; your emotions; your mind; your actions; your attitude; your mouth...
  8. What would Jesus most encourage you about? What would he most likely confront you about?
  9. Do you believe Jesus is lonely for you? Do you believe he longs to be a part of your world? When do you let him in? When do you kick him out?
  10. How could / would you prove that you are bringing more quality and quantityto your relationship with Jesus?

These questions help us to look at the depth of our faith. There are lots of shallow places to root ourselves in [experiences, momentum, morality, good works, legalism, etc.] But Jesus calls out to us to be in a much more intimate and dynamic relationship than mere religion. He wants to have a relationship with us that is exponentially more dynamic than any other relationship we ever had or will have. As a pastor I am trying to open people up to a holistic faith that penetrates and saturates our whole being. There is no arrival, but the journey can be FANTASTIC is we will simply engage it with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.

is that your best...I think you can go farther.

don't starve your soul, he is everything you want and everything you need

Friday, October 19, 2007

lonely but not alone

I remember like yesterday what it was like to be alone. The feeling of being in the midst of a hurricane called life, with the winds of chaos and meaningless swirling all around me. I took a lot of autumn walks in those days before I met Jesus, and the slow fading death of autumn would fill me with a sense of mystery at the dissipating nature of life. In Octobers and Novembers I would walk in dark winds, down lonely grey streets, with the frozen rain sleeting against my face. Somehow it made me feel alive. And I would come home and sleep in front of an open window spending most of my nights questioning the stars...which never seemed to hear me.

I had been down south for nearly 20 years. A seasonless sauna of humidity and heat, without the relief of seasons. I am glad to be gone, glad to be back in the place where the seasons allow me to recalibrate my spirit with the turnings of time. Autumn winds again, and leaves that dance and die in them. Their death is done with so much celebration, a bright flame of yellow or red bursting within their veins, and then that last slow dance into the wind.

The season makes me melancholy in a wonderful way. The writer of Ecclesiastes said there is a season for all things. For me it is a season of thanksgiving and reflection. I find my true-center in the autumn, it raises up the painter-poet-prophet part of me...it helps me to see things, past and present, in new ways...with a new lens and perspective, and thus the chance to redeem even the tragedies that have happened and seem them as perhaps not so tragic after all. Perhaps they were epic moments where things happened around me, through me, and in me that were deeper than the initial scars which is all I could feel for a time.

And autumn makes me lonely for heaven like no other time of the year. A great longing to be the leaf who finally falls and goes home to He who made and remade me. But this loneliness and longing is so different than the feeling of being alone that I had when I didn't know my maker. Because now he saturates me with his presence. Now every atom and electron spins under his watchful eye; now liberty and free will and even evil itself He has mastered and can pull back with a brushstroke back into the great canvas of existence that he is painting; now His Spirit is my ever near companion whispering comfort and convictions. I cannot always find his hand, but there is always his light, and I know his eyes are upon me.

And when I think of those who don't know him, there is a great sadness and burden that rises in me. For I know His wisdom is shouting at them on the streets; his subtle spirit surrounds them day after day calling them home; and the gaping hole in their lives is being filled by so many things that will never satisfy. This is what pastors struggle with, in tears, those long hours of the night. This is why at times you will see me driving wide circles around the edges of ashland...praying for her. I feel such a sense of urgency, and yet God is also teaching me patience in allowing for God to orchestrate his fullness of time.

The fullness of time is a bible phrase. I means that some pieces of time are pregnant with more meaning and impact than others. Time when God crashes through the barricades and invades us with his hope and love. I have felt the fullness of time so many different times, and each moment is a precious memory I hide deep inside to remind me of his goodness and love. They are the kindling woods of hope on those days which are so very cold, and confusing; when I can't find him and feel lost again in the hurricane.

I embrace this lonely day...the cool winds and darkening skies. This fullness of time is lonely, but I am not alone. His rod and staff comfort me. And we sit here in silence and feel the great weight of those who don't know him. And deep patience is there as well, for even as the people of Israel cried out in misery and into the silence of God...as I did...there will be a day for each of them to see a burning bush [or red and gold leaf on a tree] and they will have to choose as I did to go and look deeper or turn their back and walk away. I pray for them every day. I pray for their aloneness to end and for the longing of desire in loneliness to begin.

For what I have has far surpassed the vagueness of faith...I am my beloveds and he is mine.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

the sea lion

From the dust of religion to the oceans of experiencing God

Once upon a time here lived a sea lion who had lost the sea. He lived in a country known as the barren lands. High on a plateau, far from any coast, it was a place so dry and dusty that it could only be called a desert. A kind of course grass grew in patches here and there, and a few trees were scattered across the horizon. But mostly, it was dust. And sometimes the wind, which together made one very thirsty. Of course, it must seem strange to you that such a beautiful creature should wind up in a desert at all. He was, mind you, a sea lion. But things like this do happen.

How the sea lion came to the barren lands, no one could remember. It all seemed so very long ago, in fact, it appeared as though he had always been there. Not that he belonged in such an arid place. How could that be? He was, after all, a sea lion. But as you know, once you have lived so long in a certain spot, no matter how odd, you come to think of it as home.

There was a time, many years back, when the sea lion knew he was lost. In those days, he would stop every traveler he met to see if he might help him find his way back to the sea. But no one seemed to know the way.

On he searched, but never finding. After years without success, the sea lion took refuge beneath a solitary tree beside a very small water hole. The tree providded refuge from the burning rays of the sun., which was very fierce in that place. And the water hole, though small and muddy, was wet, in its own way. Here he setled down and got on as best he could. Had you journeyed in those days through the barren lands, you might have seen the sea lion for your self. Quite often in the evening, he would go and sit upon his favourite rock, a very large boulder, which lifted him off the burning sand and allowed him a view of the entire country.

There he would remain for hours into the night, silhoutted against the sky. And on the best of nights, when the wind shifted to the east, a faint smell of salt air would come to him on the breeze. Then he would close his eyes and imagine himslef once more at the sea. When he lay himself down to sleep, he would dream of a vast, deep ocean. Twisting and turning, diving and twirling, he would swim and swim. When he woke, he thought he heard the sound of breakers.....

The sea was calling to him.

The sea lion loved his rock, and he even loved waiting night after night for the sea breezes that might come. Especially he loved the dreams those memories would stir. But as you well know, even the best of dreams cannot go on, and in the morning when the sea lion woke, he was still in the barrn lands. Sometimes he would close his eyes and try to fall back asleep. It never seemed to work, for the sun was always very bright.

Evetually, it became too much for him to bear. he began to visit his rock only on ocassion. "I have too much too do," he told himself. "I cannot waste my time just idling about." He really did not have so much to do. The truth of it was, waking so far from home was such a disapointment, he did not want to have those wonderful dreams anymore. The day finally came when he stopped going to his rock altogether, and he no longer lifted his nose to the wind whe the sea breezes blew.

The sea lion was not entirely alone in those parts. for it was there he met the tortise. Now this tortise was an ancient creature, so weathered by his life in the barren lands that at first, the sea lion mistook him for a rock. He told the tortoise of his phight, hoping that this wise one might be able to help him. "Perhaps," the tortoise mused, "this is the sea." His eyes appearesd to be shut against the bright sun, but he was watching the sea lion very closely. The sea lion swept his flippers once against his side, gliding to end of the water hole and back. "I don't know," he said. "it isn't very deep." "Isn't it?" "Somehow, I thought the sea would be broader , deeper. At least, I hoped so."

"You must learn to be happy here," the tortoise told him one day. "For it is unlikely you shall ever find this sea of yours." Deep in his old shriveled heart, the tortoise envied the sea lion and his sea. But I belong the sea. We are made for each other."

"Perhaps. But you have been gone so long now, the sea has probally forgotten you." This thought had never occured to the sea lion. But it was true, he had been gone for a long, long time. "If this is not my home, how can I ever feel at home here?" the sea lion asked. "You will, in time." The tortoise appeared to be squinting, his eyes a thin slit. "I have seen the sea, and it is no better than what you have found here." "You have seen the sea!" "yes. Come closer," whispered the tortoise, "and I will tel you a secret. I am not a tortoise. I am a sea turtle. But I left the sea of my own accord, many years ago, in search of better things. If you stay with me, I will tell you stories of my adventures."

The stories of the ancient tortoise were enchanting and soon cast their spell upon the sea lion. As weeks passed into months, his memory of the sea faded. "The desert," whispered the tortoise, "is all that is, or was, or will ever be." When the sun grew fierce and burned his skin, the sea lion would hide in the shade of the tree, listening to the tales woven by the tortoise. When the dry winds cracked his flippers and filled his eyes with dust, the sea lion would retreat to the water hole. And so the sea lion remained, living his days between water hole and tree.

The sea no longer filled his dreams.

I was that May that the winds began to blow. The sea lion had grown used to the wind, and at first he did mot pay much heed at all. Years of desert life had taught him to turn his back in the direction from which the wind came and cover his eyes with his flippers, so that the dust would not get in. Eventually the winds would always pass. But not this time. Day and night it came, howling across the barren lands. There was nothing to stop its fury, nothing to even slow it down. For fourty days and fourty nights the wind blew. And then, just as suddenly as it begun, it stopped. The sea lion lifted himself to have a look around. He sould hardly believe his eyes.

Every single leaf had been stripped from his tree. The branches that had remained, with only a twig or two upon them, looked like an old scarecrow. And I do not need to tell you that there was no longer any shade in which to hide. But worse than this, much worse indeed, was what the sea lion saw next. The water hole was completely dry.

Three weeks after the wind ceased to blow, the sea lion had a dream. Now, as I told you before, there were nights in which he had dreamed of the sea. But those were long ago and nearly forgotten. Even still, the ocean that filled his dreams this night was so beautiful and clear, so vast and deep, it was as if he was seeing it for the very first time. The sunlight glittered on its surface, and as he dived, the waters all around him shone like an emerald. I he swam quite deep, it turned to jade, cool dark and mysterious. But he was never frightened, not at all. For I must tell you that in all his dreams of the sea, he had never before found himself in the company of other sea lions. This night there were many, round about him, diving and turning, spinning and twirling. They were playing.

Oh, how he hated to wake from that wonderful dream. The tears running down his face were the first wet thing he had felt in three weeks. But he did not pause even to wipe them away, he did not pause, in fact, for anything at all. He set his face to the east, and began to walk the best a sea lion can.

"Where are you going?" asked the tortoise.

I am going to find the sea!".

John Eldredge from:"The Journey of Desire"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

the life saving station

this is one of my favorite stories on what church is...and...isn't

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a little life-saving station. The building was primitive, and there was just one boat, but the members of the life-saving station were committed and kept a constant watch over the sea. When a ship went down, they unselfishly went out day or night to save the lost. Because so many lives were saved by that station, it became famous. Consequently, many people wanted to be associated with the station to give their time, talent, and money to support its important work. New boats were bought, new crews were recruited, a formal training session was offered. As the membership in the life-saving station grew, some of the members became unhappy that the building was so primitive and that the equipment was so outdated. They wanted a better place to welcome the survivors pulled from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged and newly decorated building.
Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members. They met regularly and when they did, it was apparent how they loved one another. They greeted each other, hugged each other, and shared with one another the events that had been going on in their lives. But fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions; so they hired lifeboat crews to do this for them. About this time, a large ship was wrecked off of the coast, and the hired crews brought into the life-saving station boatloads of cold, wet, dirty, sick, and half-drowned people. Some of them had black skin, and some had yellow skin. Some could speak English well, and some could hardly speak it at all. Some were first-class cabin passengers of the ship, and some were the deck hands. The beautiful meeting place became a place of chaos. The plush carpets got dirty. Some of the exquisite furniture got scratched. So the property committee immediately had a shower built outside the house where the victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting there was rift in the membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities, for they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal fellowship of the members. Other members insisted that life-saving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all those various kinds of people who would be shipwrecked, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. And do you know what? That is what they did.
As the years passed, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a place to meet regularly for fellowship, for committee meetings, and for special training sessions about their mission, but few went out to the drowning people. The drowning people were no longer welcomed in that new life-saving station. So another life-saving station was founded further down the coast. History continued to repeat itself. And if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of adequate meeting places with ample parking and plush carpeting. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

missional worship

Some people have wondered what "missional" means. I use the term a lot and so it is important that we all understand it. It is also very important to understand what worship is, in order to understand how these 2 ideas will COMPLETELY saturate 5 stones.

Missional simply means to obey the COMMAND of Christ to go everywhere and tell everyone the story of God's rescue of humanity [the gospel]. It is the story which starts in the garden of Eden and man rebelling against God; and it ends with people coming home to God by grace [unconditional love] through faith [receiving and trusting this gift in the person of Jesus]in Jesus.

Missional has 2 components in the new testament:

1. "Come and see" Jesus teaches to large crowds and people invite their friends. This is the "attractional component" and you see it in our Sunday morning services. This is where we invite our friends to come see and listen to our Jesus.

2. "Go and tell" Jesus sends out his disciples to search the highways and byways to tell people about Him. This is the "incarnational component" where we go into bars, brothels, and anyplace else where Gods Kingdom is not functioning and we tell people about, and serve people with the light of the world while visiting dark places.

Worship: It means literally to ascribe worth [or worthiness] to something. ALL of our lives, everything we do is an act of worship. We worship God; ourselves; material things; other people depending on our choices. God tells us that really, he is the only thing worthy of worship and that our hearts, minds, and lives will not have good consequences while we worship anything but him. Blaise Paschal said "we have a God-shaped vacuum inside us" and we will never be at rest till we stop stuffing other things inside of our emptiness and instead allow God-and God alone- to fulfill us. Augustine said "Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in You."

Worship has a serendipity [a side effect]

When we worship we lift up our whole heart, mind, and body to tell God how great he is. The aim is to let God feel our love for him. This is natural and healthy, as natural and healthy as cuddling our spouse or infant. But in this relationship we are the giving child who crawls up on the daddy's lap and says "I love you...you're doing a good job." The serendipity is that God meets us in that moment and tells us that he loves us to. This is what we "feel" at a worship service, or see on the faces of other true worshippers...it is even the magical thing that happens to a "seeker" at a worship service who "senses" God for the 1st time but doesn't know exactly what is going on...but knows something is going on.

But worship can easily get off track. If we worship only to get from God, we miss the whole point. Now we are just using God for our own pleasure and we are worshipping ourselves. As a pastor I sense this when we have a service that is more celebrative in nature and people say "THAT was worship." What they mean [sometimes] by this, is that it was good for them; and thus they have worshipped self [what I value] and missed God. [It is sort of liking kissing someone, while looking at yourself in a mirror and saying to yourself..."I look good, and I'm a good kisser" I hate to say it...but I really don't ever want to be kissed by someone like that...it's gross]

God on the other hand is simply looking for authentic worship. A body yearning for God, dancing for God, hands in the air. A heart clouded by doubt that is trying to press through pain to again value God above their own temporal struggles. A mind who is letting music and lyrics guide them to repentance...celebration...hope...even guilt [read the Psalms] as the means through which we again come to God and say he is great and better than everything [including our sin] Worship is not just triumphant or celebrative feelings rushing through us...it is whatever is in us rushing into the presence of God. It is our true and naked selves dancing, bowing down, confessing, enjoying...giving every ounce of our being to him.


We are on mission for God as an act of worship. Worthy are his commands, and we should be doing them.


We are worshipping God for his sake and we are focused solely on him [we spend enough of our time focused on ourselves]. It is a special time that is focused on him as the audience of our ardor and extravagant love. And in the midst of loving him fully...he meets us and loves us back.

We are in the baby stages of being missional in many ways. And we are still learning to worship. But let us all help one another into being true, loving Children of the King of Glory



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