November 29, 2010

Worth Fighting For

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I’ve missed it. I’ve been busy with this …and this … and that. And in the process I’ve gotten out of the habit and have moved my attention to others things. It also doesn’t help that I’m one of the world’s slowest writers and it takes a good deal of time to write each post, story and article.

But the practical excuses are only part of the reason. Perhaps the truest reason is that the fruitful connection I've felt with the Holy Spirit—my muse—has gone dark. It's like someone's turned the radio station between channels and I hear mostly static with occasional snippets of communication. Without the "urging" to write I haven't. Without the writing I've gotten out of the practice of listening. Without the listening I've lost the connection. It's become a chicken and egg kind of thing.

While this isn't a new struggle, for a time I thought I felt the peace of victory and reconnection with God (like “the old days”). But an inner battle continues and I feel the pull of apathy overtaking the pull of passion.

It seems that writing—continuing with it or walking away—is the tipping point for me.

And I don’t want to walk away. I don’t want to look back on writing with fondness as something I used to do. No. I want to press on. To keep writing as a way to talk with God, to experience Him and to share His Good News. And I want to rediscover the passionate love for God that energizes my spirit in a way nothing else does.

So, this morning I looked for inspiration outside “the voices in my head” and found them in God’s word. In Acts 17. (It's amazing how much that book speaks to me!)

Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica preaching the good news of Jesus. Crowds gathered to listen. Some Jews, God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women came to faith in Jesus. But the other Jews weren't at all happy with the happenings in their town. In fact, they were jealous. So jealous that they "rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.” (v. 5)

These Jews felt threatened by Paul and Silas. By their popularity. By the excitement that surrounded them. By their success. And by the way their message of Jesus contradicted with their understanding of God. They wanted to protect their position, status and they started a riot. 

I love that the Bible isn’t an allegorical tale, but a real story of real people. People from whom we can learn a lot about humanity. In this story, the Jews shine a mirror on our own lives and show us a facet of ourselves we’d rather not see—or admit to. Jealousy.

Who, me…jealous? I’ve never rounded up bad characters and started a riot. I’ve never dragged someone out of his house and thrown him into prison. I’m nothing at all like those Jewish people.

Or am I?

According to, jealousy means:
  1. resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another's success or advantage itself.
  2. mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry, unfaithfulness, etc.,
  3. vigilance in maintaining or guarding something.
  4. a jealous feeling, disposition, state, or mood.

Well, if you put it that way…

I might never have gathered a mob, but I’ve certainly created a riot in my own mind. I’ve been suspicious or uneasy of ideas that differ from mine. I’ve drug someone’s reputation through the mud because I felt threatened. I’ve felt the burn of resentment when someone received attention/recognition/position I aspired to. Sadly, the list goes on.

As the story continues in Acts 17, Paul and Silas secretly left Thessalonica and went to Berea where the “Bereans were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day...” (v. 11)

Meanwhile, the Thessalonian Jews’ jealousy devoured them like a cancer.

As much as I’d like the opposite to be true, I relate more to the Thessalonians (at least initially) than the Bereans. My flaws are plentiful and my natural character isn’t so “noble.” Far from it.

But this is what makes the Good News such great news—for you and for me. It doesn’t matter how numerous our imperfections or how impure our actions or how broken we are, the grace of Jesus meets us exactly where we are. And accepts us exactly as we are.

Naturally I might be more like a Thessalonian, but supernaturally I want to be like a Berean. And while I am so much of a work in progress, I have faith that the same Spirit who turned Paul from a murderer to an evangelist. Who fueled the Thessalonian church to stand firm in their faith despite intense persecution. And who has been transforming lives for two thousand years can transform mine as well.

Is this a truth to cling to and a hope to keep fighting for? I sure think it is.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26)

November 16, 2010

I Think I Need a Chiropractor

I'm writing over at Internet Cafe Devotions today. I hope you'll join me over there.

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51-52)

I’ve always had an independent streak.

Some might call me stubborn, difficult or rebellious. Others might say I’m self-sufficient, creative and non-traditional.

One thing I know is that I don’t like to be boxed in and told what to do. When this happens I stiffen and resist the perceived oppression.

Ancient farmers knew a thing or two about this. They plowed their fields using oxen harnessed to a yoke. Sometimes an independent-minded ox fought being restrained. It stiffened its neck to resist getting attached to the yoke. Hence the term stiff-necked.

This chronic condition appeared in God’s people, and throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were frequently labeled stiff-necked. From generation to generation they stubbornly chose their own way and refused to yield to the “yoke” of the Lord.

Chronic stiff-neckitis continued to afflict the Jewish people in the New Testament. In the beginning of Acts, as the church spread with an unstoppable fire, some received a Holy Spirit-induced adjustment and accepted Jesus. But many religious folks, especially the elite, felt challenged and threatened by this new way of looking at God. They reared up and resisted.

Caught in the cross-hairs of their anger was the apostle Stephen who was accused of blasphemy and brought before the powerful Sanhedrin to stand trial. <<Read more...>>

November 11, 2010

The Church Has Left the Building - Part Two

Today's entry is a continuation of yesterday's post. Go here to read that one first.

On Sunday, Woodside Church (the church I belong to) cancelled morning worship services. Not so our pastor could sleep in, or because we have attendance or finance issues. They cancelled church so that we—all of its members—could BE the church.

When I first heard this idea I liked the concept, but I wasn’t keen on stepping outside my routine or being told to “do” church differently. But eventually I signed up for one of the dozens or outreach/service projects that had been arranged by our members.

When outreach Sunday (aka The Church Has Left the Building) rolled around, my daughter headed off with the senior high kids to make lunches and hand them out to homeless people in Philadelphia. Dan, our son and I went to help lead a worship service and serve lunch to a group of recovering addicts.

Any reservations I had about the outreach concept vanished as soon as I entered the church that was letting us use their facilities for our outreach. It felt right and comfortable to be there. Our Woodside group of about 15 gathered to organize the food and discuss last minute details of the service. Guests started to arrive—men and women battling addictions, some living in a local area recovery house; recovery ministry leaders; members of our host church; and passersby. Soon the small chapel was filled to standing room only.

Now, when I say our group ran the worship service, I mean just that. Our pastor was present and led the music, but the rest of the service was left to us—the “unqualified.” None of us were ordained pastors or worship leaders. But having participated in plenty of worship services in the prison, I’ve seen first hand how none of those “qualifications” matter one bit to God.

Sunday proved that truth once again. In our raggedy, sincere and intimate worship service, songs were sung, testimonies were shared, prayers were prayed, a message was given,and four people came forward to give their lives to Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit was awesomely evident.

Afterward we served lunch to our guests and chatted with them over homemade lasagna, salads and desserts. I met Leroy and Pat and Lydia and Mike and Billy. Each at different places in their recovery journey. Some on the other side of it, others just beginning. All clinging tightly to the hope that only Jesus offers.

The only hope any of us has.

Dan talked to more folks than I did and neither of us wanted the day to end. Even our son seemed engaged and listened intently to the stories, especially as one man shared his battles with crack cocaine and recent rescue by the Holy Spirit.

We left filled with joy and such an overwhelming sense of purpose and God’s goodness. That afternoon the body of Christ set aside its differences—denominational, ministry, demographic, experiential—and joined together in the name of Jesus.

Sunday “church” has never been so remarkable.

Even the leader of the recovery ministry with whom our group partnered was blown away by the outreach and said, “It’s so unusual for churches to act this way. It just doesn’t happen.”

That night all of Woodside gathered together to worship and share outreach experiences. The turnout was fantastic. Enthusiasm bubbled as stories were told. It seemed just about everyone—men, women and children—had done something that day. We:
  • Did yard cleanup for single moms, a nature center, a food pantry and a hospice
  • Painted, organized and did house repairs for elderly neighbors
  • Visited patients in hospice care and pediatric wards
  • Held worship services for nursing home residents and recovering addicts
  • Fed and cared for the homeless on the street and in camps
  • Picked up litter on the highways and sports fields
  • Made corsages and delivered them to nursing home residents
  • Collected canned food for the food pantry

Woodside is only a medium-size church, but in just one day we directly touched thousands of lives. I looked across our worship service and was deeply moved by the immensity of our outreach. By stepping out of Sunday routines and comfort zones we put the gospel in action. We fed Jesus’ sheep. And we loved our neighbors. I heard Jesus whisper, “This is what my Church should look like.”

We don’t need to travel to a third-world country. Or quit our jobs and enter the mission field. We just need to open the door and leave the building.

What if Woodside did this again? What if we made it a habit?

What if you and your churches joined in?

God's children are waiting for our answer.

November 10, 2010

The Church Has Left the Building - Part One

They were Jesus’ last words. The ones uttered before He left his disciples forever. His final instructions.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Then Jesus was taken up into the sky and disappeared in the clouds. Even after He was out of sight, the disciples stood looking at the sky. Can you imagine the emotions that crashed like waves in their spirits? Disbelief and shock. Awe and wonder. Sadness. Excitement. Anticipation. And a whole lot of “What in the world just happened and what was Jesus talking about?!”

The answer started to come a few days later. At Pentecost God poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples and surrounding crowds. In an awe-inspiring display of natural and supernatural power, eyes were opened, spirits were filled and the Church was born.

It grew exponentially—3,000, 5,000, 10,000 and upward. As the disciples navigated through inevitable conflicts and growing pains, it seems they imprinted Jesus’ final words upon their hearts: 
“Be my witnesses...go and make disciples of all nations ...baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ...teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This became their mission statement. The place they returned to to regain perspective when things got fuzzy or overwhelming or stirred up.

As a result, in the early days of the Church,All the believers were one in heart and mind. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32, 33)

The early church—the bride of Christ—was Spirit-led and -filled, passionate, active, generous, bold and unified. One body with many members, personalities, talents and cultures. Joined by one common goal.

One church.

What’s happened since then? How did we go from one to over 33,000 different denominations?! We’ve fought, fractured and fled over every conceivable reason. And in the last few centuries churches and church-goers have become increasingly insular: My denomination. My church. My pastor. My ministry. My Bible study. My way of interpreting.

But what would it look like if we set aside our preferences and focused less on form and invested more in function? If we stepped outside our barriers to spend less time inside our churches and more time outside them? If we stopped doing church and started being the church? What if every church put Jesus' instructions first and foremost in their hearts? Be filled with the Holy Spirit…Go…Be my witnesses…Make disciples…Baptize…Teach…Feed my sheep…Love your neighbor.

What would our churches look like?

This weekend I got to see the answer for myself.

...To be continued tomorrow