Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Main Thing - Sting?

A few weeks ago I was able to attend a concert from one of my favorite musicians - Sting.  I love his music (since he broke away from the Police) and have been an avid listener for most of my adult life.  He made a funny comment at the concert that stuck with me and as I thought about it, I realized a spiritual truth in the quote.

Sting writes a lot of "love songs" but he tries to avoid the cliche type of song.  His writing tends to be a bit more interesting.  About his approach to love songs, he said this;

"I love you, you love me?  That's boring.  I love you, you love somebody else?  Now that's interesting...and tragic."

He then proceeded to sing a song he wrote on that very theme...someone who loves somebody but that person loves somebody else.  Interesting, and tragic.  All of which led me to this thought - this is how God defines Himself in Exodus 34:6-7

"And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' "

God is love - in fact, His desire is that nobody would perish.

"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

In other words, God loves you...but do you love Him, or as Sting said, is this a tragic case of God loves you, but you love somebody [or some thing] else?

There are two points to make here;
1) For all of us, we must constantly check ourselves to make sure we are loving God first in everything.  Let it never be said of us that "God loved you, but you loved someone else...tragic."

2) Second, may all of us keep the main thing the main thing and do our part to spread the good news so that the world may also learn and know of this love that God has.

The best love song from God's perspective is the boring one - I love you, and you love me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Major Mistake...

I'm reading through Joshua right now and was struck by these words found in 9:14;

"The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord."

You may recall the setting; Israel has just defeated Ai and as such, great fear of them has spread throughout the land.  This prompts two reactions; 1) a bunch of kings band together to make war on Israel, and 2) the Gibeonites "resort to a ruse" to trick Israel into making a peace treaty with them.  Remember, God has strictly commanded Joshua to destroy EVERYTHING in the land, knowing that anything that remains will become a snare for Israel and will lead them astray.

Remember too - Joshua is one of the "good ones."  He's a man of God, a man of character, he's one of the 2 spies who gave the good report, and up until now he's not done anything to change our view of him.  Unlike so many of the kings and judges who were to follow, Joshua never really had a deep falling away from God.  Why is this important?  Well, if you're like me, you often read about the fall of great men of the Bible and stupidly think, "I wouldn't have done that."  Not so with Joshua.

Which brings us to the big mistake - not inquiring of the Lord.  The ruse works, the Israelites, thinking that the Gibeonites are from a far away land, make a treaty and covenant with them...and God's words prove true in that Gibeon ultimately becomes a huge snare to Israel.

Now before you get too judgmental, stop and ask yourself this question; "how many times in my life have I made important decisions without inquiring of the Lord?"  The application of this passage to our lives doesn't need a whole lot of explaining.  Quite simply, when we inquire of the Lord, He promises to make our ways straight.  Not necessarily easy, but straight.  However when we fail to inquire of Him, things can get crooked very easily.  May the Gibeonite ruse serve as a warning to us...

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart 
       and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge [know, inquire of] him,
       and he will make your paths straight."
- Proverbs 3:5-6

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Higher Kingdom

Hubble Telescope captures this image of God's creation
This afternoon, I was reminded in a powerful way that the kingdom of God is above all other kingdoms.  He does not align with a specific government, country, people group or religion...rather, He aligns Himself with those who follow Him.  Put simply, God is looking for those who are whole-heartedly following Him.  Check this out, in Joshua chapter 5;

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
 14 "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord [a]have for his servant?"
 15 The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.

Now let me put this in context.  At this point, God has already anointed Joshua the next leader of His people.  He's already promised him to lead him to victory, to raise up Joshua in the eyes of all Israel, to "never leave you or forsake you," - in fact, God commanded Joshua to "be strong and courageous...for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  In other words, Joshua is definitely God's man, called out to be the leader of His people.

And yet, here is this called man of God, Joshua, meeting the commander of God's armies.  You'd think this commander would align himself with Joshua...I mean, that's what he's there for, right?  To lead the fight for Israel?  And yet when questioned who's "side" he was on, the commander's reply is simple - "neither."  He is on God's side.  If anyone should have asked the question, it should have been him questioning Joshua.

And therein lies the kicker for us...really, two-fold.

1) This passage is a stark reminder that God is not necessarily on anyone's "side" so much as His kingdom is entirely NOT of this world.  It is above every institution, government, country - every establishment set up by man.  God's kingdom is higher.  Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord is part of His kingdom (Romans 10:13, and Galatians 3:26-28).

2) This is where it gets personal.  The question Joshua asked could have been asked by the commander, and in turn, could be asked of us today - "who's side are you on?"  God's side?  Does my life prove it?

"Lord may you find in me a man who is whole-heartedly following my life, my actions, my thoughts, my words, in everything.  May those who see me, see You. - Amen."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Greatest Thing?

I love jazz music.  There's a number of reasons why, but one of which is (in my opinion), the richness of the lyrics found in many jazz standards.  I like songs that transport you, or get you thinking.  One of those songs is called "Nature Boy," written in 1947 and first made popular by Nat Cole, (since recorded by dozens of artists...I have arrangements by Chet Baker, Harry Connick Jr, and Peter Cincotti).  What strikes me in this song is the spiritual truth embedded in it...unbeknownst to the author I'm guessing.  Take a quick read through the lyrics...

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
One magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"

Now think for a moment the central teaching of Jesus...boiled down really simply, it's
1) Love God (Great commandment)
2) Love People (2nd Greatest commandment)
3) God Loves (both God is love, and God loves you)

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him."
(1 John 4:7-9)

What's the point?  Isn't this blog kind of obvious?  Why did I write this?  Maybe because I think we tend to over-complicate life and God, sometimes.  The ironic thing about the gospel of Christ - it's simple enough for a child to understand it, and complex enough that the smartest scholars that have ever lived don't agree on all the nuances of our Christian doctrine.

Why did I write this?  Maybe because I think nature boy was right.  The greatest thing is to love, and be loved in return.  A love of God, a love of people, motivated by God's unconditional love for us.  At the end of the day, we will be judged by how well we loved, for it is "love" that marks us as a child of God.

Today, pray that God would put someone in your path that needs your love and in turn, a touch of His grace.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wide Angle, Narrow Focus

I love fact, it's a passion of mine.  I love to take pictures, especially pictures in nature.  One of the lenses I like to use is an ultra-wide angle.  I've been borrowing my brother-in-law's 10-22mm and it's a blast.  Most amateur photographers, however, don't properly use a wide angle lens.  They think the purpose of the wide angle is to simply fit "more stuff" into a picture.  What you end up with, often, (not always), is a picture with no real focal point that lacks a certain passion.  The trick with the wide angle lens is instead, to get super close to a subject, thus getting the viewer right smack in the middle of something.  (If you're a photographer, click here for a great article on this concept).  For the stop sign picture above, I'm standing about 3 inches away from the bottom of the pole.

Now at this point you may be wondering, "uh, Mike, did I click on the wrong blog here?"  Allow me to continue.  I believe Jesus lived His life in a similar way to the "proper use of a wide angle lens."  He, Jesus, always had the big picture in mind...the wide angle.  Everything He said and did always pointed back to the coming of the kingdom of God.  He was constantly kingdom focused - big picture.  Jesus never lost perspective.

And yet, at the same time, He became intricately involved in the lives of people.  He always had time for a 1 on 1 discussion.  He would "draw close" to his subject constantly.  Whether the woman at the well, a rich ruler, or one of the myriad of healings He performed, He constantly poured His life into others.  All the while, never losing sight of the big picture.

Making sense yet?  In a good wide angle picture, you draw close to the subject, knowing that the wideness of the shot is what makes the subject "pop."  Jesus drew close to individuals, never losing sight of the big picture of the kingdom of God.

Applications?  I think there's a couple...
1) Perspective.  God always takes a macro or "wide-angle" view of our lives.  He never let's the crisis of the moment get in the way of the long term goal.  He's always more interested in building our character and perseverance than in simply rescuing us from the moment.
2) It's a model for us to follow.  Most of us fall into 1 of 2 categories; we're either so micro focused that we never draw back to see the bigger picture, or we're so "big picture" that we often come off as "not living in reality."  I think God calls us to be "big picture kingdom-oriented" people, who engage with individuals on a micro level.

Me?  I tend to be group-focused, big picture, and it's often hard for me to get "close" to my subjects.  And yet, that's where my greatest impact lies.  How about you?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One Song that Says it All

My job has a large "musical" component to it, and I'm always listening to new music and looking for the next great worship song to help our congregation connect to God.  It's not often that a song "sticks" in my head, simply because I listen to so many.  However, there is one song that seems to constantly come back to me.  It's by a group called MercyMe, perhaps best known for their song, "I Can Only Imagine."  However it's a nother song the wrote that constantly challenges that I have a fun time listening to, but a hard time living out.  It's called "So Long Self."  Here are some of the lyrics;

So long, self , well, it's been fun, but I have found somebody else
So long, self , there's just no room for two
So you are gonna have to move
So long, self, don't take this wrong but you are wrong for me,
Farewell, oh well, goodbye, don't cry

So long, self

Those lyrics get at what I believe is the very heart of the life Jesus calls us to; surrender.  It is a central part of His message; be it the rich young ruler being asked to give it all away, or the original calling of His disciples to leave their lives behind and "follow Him."  To quote Jesus,

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matt. 16:25)

Surrender.  Heaven is a free gift, and the kingdom of God is a free gift, but it does come at a costs us everything.   A relinquishing of our rights, our dreams and hopes and fear, our sins, our thoughts and ways, our wisdom, our "entitlements" - it is a call to completely and totally give up ourselves to follow Him.  The ironic thing is, when we do give it all up, we find a loving Father who gives us true life, joy, peace, and something worth far more than all that other stuff.  We find Him.

You know the biggest obstacle to this life?  I used to think that Satan was the biggest obstacle...and to be sure, he is a formidable foe not to be taken lightly.  Still, though, I believe that "Self" is the biggest obstacle.  Me.  I'm the biggest obstacle to living out the life of surrender that God calls me to.  Which brings me back to the beginning...that song that just won't get out of my head...

"So long self..."

(Click here to see a youtube video of the song live)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Don't Waste Your Desert...

John Piper, a great Christian Pastor, Teacher, Theologian and Author, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January of 2006.  During that time, he wrote a powerful and convicting article called "Don't Waste Your Cancer" (which you can read here).  Re-reading his 10 points again, I was reminded of how closely it parallels what our church body is going through right now.

We are a church in transition, without a senior pastor.  We are searching for our next senior pastor and to be sure, we are trusting God to lead us to the right man in the right time.  However, I've noticed in myself and in many others a constant looking towards the future and thinking that the solution arrives when "he," our next senior pastor arrives.  Of course it's human nature to look ahead.  However, I fear that we have become so "goal oriented" and focused on the next senior pastor bringing much needed leadership and guidance, that we are potentially "wasting" our desert experience.

It all starts with believing in a Sovereign God.  If we hold that God is "the three omni's"; omnipresent (everywhere at once), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful), then we must, therefore, hold to the Sovereignty of God.  I remember grappling with this concept and a wise elder from my previous church put it this way; "everything passes through the hands of a Sovereign God."  Some things God causes, some things He allows, but all things pass through his hands.

Now to the point - God is Sovereign.  Therefore, there are no accidents.  Therefore, everything can be used by God to accomplish His purposes.  For example, cancer, as in John Piper's case, or a "no-senior pastor desert time" in our case.  And all of us will or have faced desert times in our own lives.  However, I fear that many in our church think God's plan is to provide us our next senior pastor as quickly as possible, and that is His greatest goal for us.  I don't believe that.  I believe God has allowed or even caused us to go through this transition time; maybe to test our commitment to Him, and not to anyone else...maybe to see if we really believe in prayer.  I don't pretend to know the mind of God, but I do know that He doesn't "waste" things.

And so, to paraphrase Piper, I would make the following points...

1) You will waste your desert time if you do not believe God planned it...
2) You will waste your desert time if you believe it's a curse, and not a gift...
3) You will waste your desert time if your greatest desire is a quick and speedy solution...God is always more interested in building our character, which only comes through "fire"
4) You will waste your desert time if you believe it's just a "transition" from one thing to's quite possible that the desert time IS the main thing
5) You will waste your desert time if you let it drive you to isolation and a "wait and see" attitude...there is still work to be done and lives to be invested in.
6) You will waste your desert time if you dwell in pessimism and hopelessness...this flies in the face of an Almighty God who greatly desires to give good gifts (check this)
7) You will waste your desert time if you don't use it as an opportunity to bear is "easy" to show a faith in God when times are good.  How much more then to bear witness and steadfastness when times are hard.

Desert times are not easy.  You will often feel distant from God, or perhaps even abandoned.  That is exactly the moment you must come back to Him whole-heartedly, trust Him to lead you to the "promised land."  Just as the Israelites 40 years of wandering in the desert was not wasted, so your desert time will not be wasted either.

19And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  (Phil 4:19)