Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Living a "Radical" Life

"LUKEWARM PEOPLE are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for "extreme" Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call "radical" what Jesus expected of all His followers." p. 71

I think we've all been there at some point in our lives. Maybe we've listened to a missionary share his experiences on the mission field, or heard about a woman that walked away from the riches of corporate America in order to follow Christ. The examples are endless. There are a lot of people in this world that have done "radical" things because of their faith in Jesus. But, it begs to question what we consider to be radical. When I looked the word up in Webster's Dictionary, I found two definitions of interest. One of the definitions is representative of what many of us have come to understand, or interpret, as being radical: extreme. However, what I found incredibly fascinating was that the very first definition was this: of or from the root or roots; going to the foundation or source of something; basic. Well now, isn't... that... interesting! I don't think I need to connect the dots here.

Many people look at my life right now and think that I'm a little radical. And if I'm honest, I'd have to admit that a few years ago, I would've looked at the decisions my husband and I are making now and probably think the same thing. But here's the difference: the reason I would have thought it was radical then is because I was no where near as close to God as I am now. Scripture says that as we draw near to Him, He draws near to us. As this happens we are transformed. My life is proof of this. I used to think that I had to do "radical" things in order for God to move in me... like I had to prove something. And without exception, every time, it felt unnatural, forced, insincere. And I'm sure that it came across the same way. But, over the past year, I have worked really hard to completely submit myself to God's will... which isn't easy at times. But He has not forsaken me. He has held me in His precious hands and molded me in a way that has forever changed how I think, how I speak, how I respond...who I am.

Last night I did something I didn't think I would ever do in a million years. A friend of mine and I are leading a Bible study this summer. The concept of the study is that we look at what Scripture says about our identity in Christ; who we really are as followers as Christ. Then we literally take it to the streets. We met with one of the elders of our church and he sort of showed us the ropes. He walked around with us, meeting people in one of the most undesirable locations in Portland... a lot of drugs, a lot of crime, a lot of lost souls. We met a man from Darfur and prayed with him...right on the street. We met another couple that didn't want us to pray with them right there...but told us it was okay to pray for them as they walked away... and we did. Then we came across this guy in his 30's, standing on his doorstep. We started talking to him and about 30 minutes later, we were still talking to him, and by that time his roommate was involved in the conversation... a conversation about God. These guys weren't Christians, but they were still willing to talk and that's what we did. It wasn't about standing on a street corner with my Bible, talking about the rapture...which I'm ashamed to admit was what I always associated with "street ministry." This was about connecting with people. It was about truly believing, for the first time in my life, that what God has done for me, is worth being shared with other people...not out of duty or obligation, but out of a genuine desire to love others.


This morning, I was listening to a podcast while running at the gym. I wanted to share a segment of that with you today. It starts at 19:18...and I'd like for you to go all the way to 25:42. Pay special attention to what he says at 21:20. (And by all means, watch the whole sermon in its entirety, if you want!)

His Faithful Servant~


Monday, June 28, 2010

Saved From Sin

"LUKEWARM PEOPLE don't really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don't genuinely hate sin and aren't truly sorry for it; they're merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don't really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better that the old sinful one." p.70

Well, that's a mouthful, isn't it? There's a lot to dissect here and I think the best way to do this is by example. So, at the risk of calling myself out...making my sin known (one of many!), I'm going to use an example from my own life... apply it to Chan's description and then see where that leaves me. For me, one of the obvious sins that I, for whatever reason, seem unwilling to let go, is my propensity for "entertainment news"... or what my husband refers to as "that garbage." I'm honestly not sure where I picked up the habit. But, I do remember growing up with my mom watching those salacious entertainment "news" shows. I didn't watch them at the time, but I remember them being on in the house. Then, as I got older, it was all the "harmless" teen-movie star magazines..."Who's Dating Who" or "Who Got Arrested." But, I have to say, compared to now, there wasn't nearly as much of the latter when I was a teenager. Now, as I'm older, it's about the tabloid magazines at the supermarket or the countless "entertainment" websites that give you "Up to the Minute" information about what the rich and famous are doing...Twitter anyone?

So, what does Scripture say about gossip? Or maybe we should start with understanding the definition of gossip: Gossip is sharing private information with those that are not part of the problem or part of the solution. Scripture says a lot about gossip, but for the purposes of today's blog, I want to focus on one in particular: Even to participate in the act of gossip as a listener is sin (Proverbs 20:19). By willfully listening (or reading) to the one who gossips, you sanction the destruction of the other person's reputation. So, picking up one of the countless tabloid magazines at the hair salon... not a good idea. Flipping through one of them while you're waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store... also not the best idea. And as I sit here, I can honestly say, that despite my affinity for "entertainment news," I don't do either of those things... because I would never want anyone to see me reading that garbage. HOWEVER... what I do at my house, behind closed doors is another thing completely.

Now, I readily admit, on the "Scale of Sin," it's pretty minor. The fact that I love to watch Entertainment Tonight or read about which celebrities were at what movie premiere the night before (or read about the train wreck that some of these younger celebrities have made of their lives) seems a little ridiculous. It's not like I'm doing something "bad," right?

Wrong. We've already seen in Scripture that this type of thing isn't okay. But, it's more than that. For me, there's a fool-proof way of knowing that I'm doing something I shouldn't... If I wouldn't do it in front of my children, then it's most likely something that I shouldn't be doing. I would NEVER let my children watch, or read this stuff. The fact that I'm older, wiser, more "experienced" with life, makes it no less tragic when it come to the power it has to corrupt my mind. But, DESPITE recognizing this fact and admitting its truth, I still do it. Why? I think Chan's right. I don't want to be saved from my sin. I just want to be saved from its penalty. Think about a teenager that gets caught breaking curfew. Imagine his joy when he finds out that his "Dad" decided to forgive him for his bad choice, and more importantly, didn't ground him. That's a pretty sweet deal that I would have gladly taken when I was a teenager... a personal "GET OUT OF JAIL FREE" card. But, does it really deter you from not breaking curfew again, or does it have the reverse effect? Does it make you more likely to do it again, because you know that you will be forgiven? THINK ABOUT THAT!

Now, the whole key to this is what Chan says at the very end: Lukewarm people don't really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one. If anything that I've written today rings true for you... just substituting your sin for mine... then this should feel like a slap in the face. To say that we don't believe Jesus is to say that we think He's a liar! Over the past few months, my husband and I have had some really great conversations about this, which can ALWAYS be boiled down to one important question: If we honestly believe that Jesus is who He says He is, then why aren't we doing everything in our power to follow Him? That's the real question... and it's incredibly powerful.

So, what do you do? Well, I can only speak from my own experience. In our house, we eliminate our weaknesses to the best of our abilities. We haven't had cable for seven years... and no, we don't have a dish either. And, PLEASE, know that I'm not advocating that you have to eliminate these things from your life in order to follow Jesus!!!! A few years ago, a woman in my small group called me a "legalist" because we didn't watch TV. I very rudely told her that I wasn't and that she should mind her own business... but what I SHOULD have said is that the television was a weakness that was interfering with my relationship with God and my relationship with my family. And because we didn't have the fortitude to just turn it off, we eliminated it
from the picture. Out of sight, out of mind. And wouldn't you know it, we haven't missed it in the past seven years.

Yesterday, our youth pastor gave a really great sermon. He and his wife are at the exact same place that my husband and I find ourselves. We're ready to make some big changes in our lives... wanting to follow Jesus, to trust Him completely. In his sermon, he said that we have to make hard decisions... and this is one of the hardest. We all do things we know we shouldn't. We are called to repent and turn our back on sin... not repent and keep sinning... ignorantly believing that God's forgiveness saves us from "penalty."


Spend some time today, examining how you currently live your life. Do you knowingly, repeatedly, engage in activities that do not bring glory to God. The list is exhaustive with examples: gossip, hold hatred and resentment in your heart, watch or read things you shouldn't, treat your spouse or children with disrespect, covet things you do not have, allow jealousy and envy to make you bitter. These are only a few examples. Really think about your life, your heart. Then spend some time in prayer, asking God to work in you... in such a way that you want to let go of these things because you TRULY realize that the life He offers is SO MUCH GREATER than the life we currently live!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Popular vs. Right

"LUKEWARM PEOPLE tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives." p. 69

I've read this description over and over, and for me, I feel like it's addressing two separate issues: the conflict of "fitting in" at church and outside of church, as well as the issue of our motives... Are our actions the result of pleasing man or pleasing God? I guess the two can go hand-in-hand, but it just seems that each issue can become totally consuming, in-and-of itself. As far as the first, the answer, on paper, is easy... just stop trying to fit in...PERIOD! As I've been preparing for the study I'm about to lead at church, it's never been more apparent to me that, as Christians, WE ARE SET APART! There's an inevitable conflict that exists if we try to straddle the fence of popular perception. Last weekend, I went to a going away party for a couple that was in our small group a year ago. There was a mixture of people there... some from church, but most weren't. I tried, several times, to strike up conversations with some of the women that I didn't know, but it became painfully apparent that I didn't fit in there. In fact, I spent most of my time playing frisbee with a 5-year-old. For the first time, in my life, I was socially knocked off kilter. I can get along with ANYONE! But, last Saturday, I was suffocating, paralyzed... I had to escape. The whole incident put me in a funk for the rest of the night, but as I had time to reflect on the situation, I realized this: My desire to "fit in" with the outside world has dissipated... which I think is a good thing. HOWEVER, I strongly feel that with this realization comes an increasingly high probability that we could start traveling down a road that repels others from our faith. Scripture says over and over that, as Christians, we are righteous... but there is a difference from being righteous in Christ and being self-righteous... to think that we are better, that we have all the answers. And I think this is ONE of the reasons we try so hard to fit into both worlds. We don't want to isolate ourselves. We don't want to become known as "Jesus freaks." We don't want to lose our friends and family because we found Jesus... and, most importantly, we don't want to turn our backs on the people that need Jesus the most.

As for the second... that's between you and God... SERIOUSLY. I'm not going to throw stones here, because I live in a glass house, so to speak! But, I will say this, I think this is an easy trap to fall into. I can only speak from my own experiences, but validation of our faith... from anyone other than God... can be as dangerous, as it is encouraging, probably more dangerous. Last summer, it became painfully apparent to me that I was more focused on the praise of man than the praise of God. I rationalized it as "Stay-At-Home-Mom Syndrome." Being a stay-at-home mom can be a pretty thankless job, with little to no signs of appreciation. Last summer, I realized that my heavy involvement in church activities wasn't the result of my fervor for Christ... it was because people were showing an appreciation for my willingness to serve...pathetic, I know! But, completely true! I was spending more and more time doing "church things" and less and less time with God. So, I put on the brakes. For about four months, I did absolutely nothing but go to church with my family on Sunday mornings and read my Bible... probably the best four months of my life.

Of all the descriptions for being LUKEWARM, I honestly think this is one of the more difficult ones to overcome... because it goes against our very humanistic nature. And for some of us, we won't be able to overcome it on our own... but not to worry. We have God... and He can overcome anything.


I'm attaching one of the articles I wrote for The Lookout last year. Take a moment to read it. A lot of today's entry, inadvertenly, has to do with priorities. What are your priorities? Are you more concerned with fitting in or following Christ? Remember, it doesn't matter what you say... or do... because God knows your heart!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Cheerful Giver

I'm warning you now that today's entry is a little long... but the story is true and speaks to how AMAZING God is... especially when we walk in faith!

"LUKEWARM PEOPLE give money to charity and to the church... as long as it doesn't impinge on their standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so. After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right?" p. 69

For me, this is a hard one to write about, not because I have a problem with this "characteristic"... It's more about the awkwardness of talking about money and how much we "should" give. So, what I've decided to do here is share with you my experiences in this realm and how INCREDIBLY good and faithful God has been to me and my husband.

When we started going to our current church, a little more than six years ago, we had a modest income. My husband was working and I was home with our oldest child... our second on the way. We were consistent in our giving... but we weren't giving a lot. In fact, we were only giving $5 a week. About six months later, the youth pastor, at the time, gave what I considered a very offensive offertory message. He specifically called me out... not by name... but by my giving. He said that if we were only giving $5-$10 a week, then we weren't giving enough and then he challenged us to give more. I was utterly offended... and a little convicted, I won't lie. But the offense outweighed the conviction at the time. The next day, I called the youth pastor and shared my thoughts on the matter. And while he readily admitted that he shouldn't have questioned our specific amounts of giving, especially given the fact the he didn't know our financial situation, he stood by his challenge and then referenced Malaci 3:10, which reads: "... Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

So, we took up the challenge and decided to give more. First we doubled it, then tripled it. During that time, which was about six weeks, my husband got a merit increase at work and then he was offered a new job. (Of course, we KNEW this was just a coincidence.) Truth is... there have been a lot of "coincidences" when it comes to this... but then there are those times that you just can't explain, except to say that it can only be God. And we had one of those experiences a few months ago.

We have a local radio station here called Positive 89.3... it plays Christian music. Twice a year, they have a Share-a-Thon to raise money to keep the radio station on the air. My husband and I usually give money, and last year, our kids wanted to get in on the action. So, we made a deal with them: Whatever money they contributed to their "Tithe" jar over the next five months, they could give... and we would multiply that amount by 10. Now, to their credit, they raised a lot of money. So much money that as the Share-A-Thon was approaching, my husband and I were wondering how in the world we were going to multiply that amount by 10. So... this is where my shame and embarrassment kick in (and it rightfully should!). It just so happened that the Share-A-Thon began on the same day that I was leaving for Nicaragua. Since it was logistically impossible to drive the kids to the radio station (which is over an hour away) and get to the airport in time, I told the kids we would just hold the money over until the NEXT Share-A-Thon. They were utterly disappointed and I... felt... HORRIBLE. They asked if we could take the money once I got back, but I told them that the Share-A-Thon would be over by then. Well, guess what? It wasn't!

I got back late the following Tuesday. My husband picked me up in Boston and we had an hour and a half drive back to Maine. Once we crossed over into New Hampshire, we could pick up the signal to Positive 89.3... and it didn't take long to realize that they were still raising money. Panic started to weasel its way into every inch of my body. For you see, we didn't have the money to give to the radio station BEFORE I left... and while I was gone, we received an unexpected bill for over$1,000. So, we definitely didn't have it now that I was back! The next morning, as I was taking my son to preschool, I was listening to the radio station and felt convicted to call them up, pledging $1000. I just told myself that the amount was OBVIOUSLY not what God wanted... I just had that amount in my head because of the other bill (that we still didn't know how we were going to pay.) But, I couldn't shake it. After I dropped my son off, I started arguing with God in the car... I didn't do it earlier because I didn't want my son to think I was crazy... or that it was okay to argue with God.

Every rational argument came across my lip. I convinced myself that giving that kind of money was not good stewardship... it was crazy. So, I settled it. I wasn't giving the money. Then I turned on the radio and God had the last word (as He often does!) The DJ was saying that it doesn't matter what we give, whether it's $5, $50 or $500, the important thing was to honor God... and if He put an amount on our hearts to give, then we should give (even if it means stepping out in faith because we don't have the money at that precise moment.) Now, usually, I would get a little disgruntled by this, saying something like, "Yeah, they're just saying that because they want my money!" But this time, I truly felt that God was saying, "Trust Me." ... and I did!

I rushed home and called the radio station. I charged the $1000 to my credit card. Now, the deed was done... the next step was telling my husband. (Now, at this point, some of you might be saying that I should have told my husband first... but I promise, this was part of God's plan... even though I didn't see it at the time.) I called him at work and just told him. He didn't say anything except, "You did what?" Of course, he gave me every rational argument against giving the radio station money... the same arguments that I made to God. But, I pleaded with him to trust my judgment, more importantly, to trust God. He laughed... and it wasn't a very funny laugh, if you catch my drift. Then he was silent... for the rest of the day. Later that night, the two of us went over to another couple's house to share my pictures of Nicaragua. I had been looking forward to this because I knew I could count on them to have my back... instead, they STABBED ME IN THE BACK! (Traitors... I only say that because I know they're reading and they know I love them!) Even though they new my intentions were good, they also knew that I shouldn't have done this without my husband's consent. And for the first time, I left their house questioning whether or not I had done the right thing.

After we got home, I spent some time in prayer. When I went to bed, I sincerely apologized to my husband for what I did. But, I also told him that God had given me peace about this, and I that I truly trusted that this was the right thing to do. Even though, by societies standards, I shouldn't have been a joyful giver... I truly was. My husband told me that he trusted my judgment and that it was okay. Then he smirked as he rolled over in bed and said, "Let's see what God does with our thousand dollars."

Almost 48 hours later, I get a phone call from my husband, insisting that I open my email. Half asleep, I asked if it could wait and he said no. When I finally got it open, I saw that he had forwarded to me an email from his boss. You see, my husband was about to leave his job. He had a two year contract, which was quickly coming to an end... and no job lined up for after his departure (another reason why giving the $1000 was CRAZY!). In the email, his boss told him that because of his dedication and hard work, she was giving him a bonus. (He had just been given a raise, but would never really see the money because he was about to leave.) This was something that was NEVER done... especially for someone about to leave the office. Needless to say, the bonus covered my pledge, the unexpected bill for $1000 and some money to tie us over... JUST ENOUGH... until my husband found and started his current job. No more, no less... just the prefect amount. Sometimes, trusting God seems crazy, some may call you foolish. But, I have no doubt that he is faithful. You see, I honestly don't think God did this for me. I know He did it for my husband. We're at this pivotal moment in our lives, where trusting God is imperative as we seek direction. Seeing God ALL OVER a situation like this does miraculous things for one's faith!


Everyone give $1000 to charity! JUST KIDDING! First, I want to make it very clear that God is not our personal financial jackpot. Sometimes, our reward for being faithful isn't monetary. So, please remove that expectation, if it exists.

For your homework assignment the next few days, I want you to alter your standard of living for the glory of God. If you frequent the coffee shop, maybe you could get a less expensive drink and then purchase a drink for someone else. Or maybe forgo the coffee all together and use that money to buy food for a local food pantry. Instead of eating out for lunch or dinner, take the money you save and donate it to a local charity.

This is a fun one if you have kids: Take $25-30 out of your weekly food budget and use that money to purchase food for the food pantry. We've done this several times. We even make it a "friendly" competition to see who can buy the most food with the least amount of money. It might mean that you have to eat mac n' cheese or peanut butter and jelly a few nights this week, but I promise you it will be worth it...and your kids will NEVER forget it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Descriptions of a Lukewarm Christian

When I try to explain this chapter to people, I always reference those awful "redneck" jokes that were so popular about 10 years ago. They always start out the same: You know you're a redneck if... Chan presents us with 18 scenarios that can help us to better understand what it means to be lukewarm. Here's the directive he places before us in this chapter:

"Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus Christ? Or do the words halfhearted, lukewarm, and partially committed fit better? The Bible says to test ourselves, so in the next few pages, I am going to offer you a description of what halfhearted, distracted, partially committed, lukewarm people can look like. As you read these examples, I encourage you to take a searching, honest look at your life. Not who you want to be one of these days, but who you are now and how you are living today." p.68

So, with that, here's the first description:

"LUKEWARM PEOPLE attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe "good Christians" do, so they go." p. 68

Chan goes on to reference Isaiah 29:13, which reads: The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men."

For me, I can't help but think about my childhood. You see, I grew up in the church. My mother took me every Sunday morning, as well as every Sunday and Wednesday night. She taught Sunday school. She played the piano. She dressed the part very well. But, my father never went to church. I knew my dad believed in God. He had this HUGE Bible by the side of his bed that he read constantly. He talked about God. He just didn't "do" church. It wasn't until I was 9-years-old that I learned the reason why. I was in tears one morning because my mother was making me wear a dress. I was a Tomboy... I still am. The last thing I wanted to do was wear a dress, mostly because it meant that I couldn't play kickball with the boys after church. Balling my eyes out, I ran to my father begging to stay home with him. To this day, I remember the exact words he said to my mother: God doesn't care what she wears... so why should you? What followed was a diatribe from my mother about appearances, and setting a good example. I remember my father giving this dismissive laugh, telling my mother that being a Christian had nothing to do with what you wear or how many times a week you go to a building. If he wanted to spend time with God, all he had to do was open up his Bible and read. He walked away smirking, throwing one last insult to my mother: You can pretend to be rich, too... but that doesn't make you rich.

Right now, I'm working on a curriculum for a class that I'll be facilitating at my church over the summer. Part of it's about claiming our identity as Christians... what it really means to be a follower of Christ. I'm reading through the Epistles. I borrowed several commentaries from my pastor. And as I pour myself over all of it, I'm finding a plethora of information... directives, examples... about who we are a Christians and what is expected of us... and absolutely none of it has anything to do with going to church "fairly regularly." Going to church once a week doesn't make us a Christian. And going twice a week doesn't make us a better Christian. Our faith, the abundance and depth, is not measured in attendance or appearance. It is measured by our heart...and that's a matter between you and God... not the church nor the people in it.

So, today's assignment is this: Figure out how much time you spend "attending church." We'll just stick to the time you spend (presumably) on Sunday morning. Whether it's one hour or three, I want you to spend AT LEAST that much time during the next few days with God... just you and Him. (If you don't go to church regularly, try to spend about an hour with Him.) You can read the Bible. You can spend time in prayer. You can do a combination of both. If you can't carve out that much time in one sitting, then divide it up into two or three sittings... BUT NOT MORE THAN THAT! What's expected of us isn't necessarily that we spend time in's that we spend time with God.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Are You Good Soil?

As we prepare ourselves to look at the characteristics of a lukewarm Christian, I want us to take a moment to review the parable of the sower. As a quick overview for those that might not be familiar: As the sower is planting the seed (which represents the Word of God), we see several different scenarios. First, a seed is flung onto a path and stolen away (which represents us hearing the Word, but, for whatever reason, it doesn't take root). Then a seed is tossed into a rocky place with a little amount of soil, but, again, the roots never take hold. (Chan writes, "[t]here is the appearance of depth and growth because of the good soil, but it is only surface level"... firm roots can never take hold because the soil is so shallow). When the seed is spread among the thorns, it is suffocated. (This suffocation represents the worries of life.) However, when the seed is sown in good soil "it grows, takes root and produces fruit."

This all makes since, but read and listen carefully to the warning that Chan places before all of us:

"My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil. I think most American church goers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns. Thorns are anything that distracts us from God. When we want God and a bunch of other stuff, then that means we have thorns in our soil. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins activities, favorite sports teams, addictions, or commitments are piled on top of it... A lot of things are good by themselves, but all of it together keeps us from living healthy, fruitful lives for God. I will say it again: Do not assume you are good soil." p. 67

I will be the first to admit that I've wrongly considered myself "good soil" for a long time. Maybe it was more about convincing myself that I was "good enough" soil. I'll compare myself to the soil in the vegetable garden at my house. It's good enough to grow crab grass and weeds, but any attempt to actually harvest a vegetable crop has yielded mutant carrots (that only grow one inch deep because of the clay soil), or malnurished greens... the type you find at the discount counter at the grocery store. Pretty pathetic. Sure, I could eat the stuff, but would I really want to? Of course not! To bring it full circle... I want the fruits of my faith planted in the best soil possible (Miracle Grow, cow manure, organic compost...whatever!) But the first step we must all take is the one we dread the most... WEEDING! We have to remove all the things from our soil that are inhibiting us from bearing the fruits of our faith... weeds, thorns, whatever the poison. This is the first step we must take... and now is a good time to take it.


The next 6 weeks are all about weeding. I'm not going to lie... this could be hard, even painful, for some of us. The roots of our weeds can be very long, tangled and deeply embedded. Spend some time this weekend in prayer, preparing your hearts for the weeks ahead.

Also finish watching the rest of Chan's sermon. Start back up at 23:01. At the very end of the video, he asks us to pray three specific prayers. Spend some time thinking about those prayers. They can be extremely powerful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Do You Seek and Treasure God?

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in the field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44" p. 66

Chan uses this Scripture as an illustration, a benchmark, for what our response should be when discovering the gift of Jesus. When explaining the Scripture, he says the following:

"In this account, the man joyfully sold all that he had so that he could obtain the only thing that mattered. He knew that what he had stumbled upon- the kingdom of heaven- was more valuable than anything he had, so he went for it with everything in him.
"This kind of enthusiastic response to God's love is entirely appropriate. Yet, what a contrast to our typical response at discovering the same treasure." p. 66

Chan uses this Scripture as a segway to question our authenticity... our desire to really know Christ, to love Him and to serve Him. His argument here is that the church, in general, is more interested in boasting numbers than creating TRUE disciples. To further substantiate this claim, Chan references Luke Chapter 8:

"Jesus began speaking in parables- 'so that' those that weren't genuinely listening wouldn't get it. When crowds gather today, speakers are extraconscious of communicating in a way that is accessible to everyone. Speakers don't use Jesus' tactic to eliminate people who are not sincere seekers. The fact is, He just wasn't interested in those who fake it." p. 66

As Christians, we are to become disciples of Christ. And if we fool ourselves into believing that this can simply be done by going to church, mentioning Jesus to our kids every so often and living as sin-free a life as possible... then we are COMPLETELY missing God's great plan and purpose for discipleship. And, I think the responsibility (and by default, the blame) is on both the church and the believer. The church, as a whole, needs to do a better job of teaching and preparing us for what it means to be a disciple of Christ. As imperative as conversion is, what's the point if we're not genuinely teaching people how to bear the fruits of our faith. And hearing a sermon on Sunday morning just isn't gonna cut it... I don't care how eloquent of an orator you are! However, it's also important that we become willing to live as we have been commissioned to live. That doesn't necessarily mean we're called to sell everything we own (but for some of us, it just might!). However, it more than likely does mean that we need to get a little uncomfortable. We need to grow. It's time for us to have both feet in... so to speak! If not, we might as well have both feet out.


Continue watching the video from Monday. Today, start where we left off... 9:15. Watch all the way up to 23:01. This is a little lengthy, but it's extremely powerful. Set aside some time to watch when you won't be easily distracted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chapter 4: Profile of the Lukewarm

For those of you that have read the book, you already know that Chapter 4 is about being "lukewarm." As Chan so eloquently stated in the intro video... If we are lukewarm, Jesus will SPIT US OUT! The book gives us 18 examples of being "lukewarm." But, by no means is this an exhaustive list. These examples are just a starting point, a chance for us to look at ourselves, our actions, OUR HEARTS, and begin a dialog as to what we can do to remove ourselves from the stagnant, lukewarm waters of our current lives. But, before we get started, I want to touch on a few things that Chan discusses at the beginning of the book. First, of all, he starts the chapter off with the following quote:

"It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity." p. 65

When I first read this quote, I readily agreed with the sentiment and wondered to whom the quotation was attributed. Honestly, I assumed it was some modern-day theologian. So, imagine my surprise when I learned the quote was from 1809. These words, first coined by Frederic Huntington, still ring true today. Many of you that know me can testify to my passion for apologetics (using reason to defend the Christian faith against objections). What I've found so incredibly fascinating over the years is that no matter who I'm debating... specifically what argument or stance they take (which is usually scientific)... in the end it ALWAYS boils down to the same thing: They cannot tolerate the hypocrisy that has embedded itself deep within the fold of our faith. Somewhere along the line, their "rational" argument comes to a screeching halt and they begin some hate-filled diatribe about disgraced priests, or fallen evangelical ministers, or their church-going, drug dealing brother-in-law that sings in the choir and steals from his employer. Whatever the example, whether we see it on national television or hear about it in our own neighborhoods, the examples are plentiful.

So, how do we change it? Well, unfortunately, there isn't a quick fix. But, I think the first step is taking responsibility for our own actions and being accountable for how we live out our faith... in the world and behind closed doors.

For the next few homework assignments, you will be watching parts of a sermon Francis Chan gave in 2006. Some of you might be tempted to watch the the clip in its entirety (which is fine), but I've broken it down so it corresponds with the blog. For this assignment, watch until the marker reads 9:15.

Friday, June 11, 2010

God is the Greatest Good.

Well, we've made it to the end of Chapter 3. As Chan wraps things up, he asks a very interesting question: "If someone asked you what the greatest good on this earth is, what would you say? An epic surf session? Financial security? Health? Meaningful, trusting friendships? Intimacy with your spouse? Knowing that you belong?" If you read the title of today's entry then you know the answer... but let's say you didn't. Let's pretend that you're not reading this book. I'm willing to bet that many of you... myself included... might say that God is the greatest good... but only because we know that it's what we're suppose to say. (Okay, maybe I'm the only one... but I'm going to pretend that we're all in the same boat here!) The thing is... it's not that I don't think God is good. I know He is. But when you pose a question like this to someone, I think the automatic response is to think about the things in your life that are good... that bring you the greatest happiness and joy... OR the things that you THINK will bring you the greatest happiness and joy. In my heart, I know the answer should be God... but I'm not there yet. My answer... my honest answer... would be the innocent, unassuming, unconditional love of a child.

So, this brings me to the last part of the chapter... and if your HONEST answer to Chan's question wasn't that God is the greatest good, then this could sting a little bit. (And, even if it was, this could still be a little painful!) But, please, remember that this is what the blog is about: Digging deep... clearing out all the muck so we can authentically love God. Here's what Chan has to say:

"Do you believe that God is the greatest thing you can experience in the whole world? Do you believe that the Good News is not merely the forgiveness of your sins, the guarantee that you won't go to hell, or the promise of life in heaven? The best things in life are the gifts from the One who steadfastly loves us. But an important question to ask ourselves is this: Are we in love with God or just His stuff?" p. 62

Nothin' like a sucker punch to take the air right out of ya! But, this isn't really a sucker punch, is it? It's more like a direct hit, right to the heart of the matter. There's no mincing words here. He asks a hard question in such a direct manner that we can't hide. I think there are a lot ways we can dissect this and I'm not even gonna try to do it here. But, I will share what I learned from this: If you pose Chan's question to me and ask for an immediate response, then the answer I gave earlier would still hold true. But, if you give me time to think about the question, I would readily admit that what I find to be the greatest good in the world (the innocent, unassuming, unconditional love of a child) is from God. It is one of His precious gifts. My belief in God isn't "fire insurance." I'm not trying to hedge my bets against hell or increase my odds of entering heaven. I'm over that hurdle, if you will. I readily admit, and I'm exceedingly thankful for, the blessings that God has bestowed upon me, but for now, my greatest joy is still tied to the blessing and not to God. I know the gap between the two is closing, but it still exists... for now.


I'm going to segway into Chapter 4. When you get a chance, take a look at the intro video. The next seven weeks are about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Chapter 4 is the reason I started this blog.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Do We Have a Choice?

At the end of Chapter 3, Chan shares with the readers a question that was posed to him while speaking to a group of college students. The question was this: Why would a loving God force me to love Him? When asked to clarify the question, the student said the following: God "threatens me with hell and punishment if I don't begin a relationship with Him." In response to this, Chan readily admits that he wasn't sure how to answer that question at the time. But, once he had time to think about it, he came up with the following response:

"[I]f God is truly the greatest good on this earth, would He be loving us if He didn't draw us toward what is best for us (even if that happens to be Himself)? Doesn't His courting, luring, pushing, calling, and even 'threatening' demonstrate His love? If He didn't do all of that, wouldn't we accuse Him of being unloving in the end, when all things are revealed?" p. 62

By now, you guys know that I'm a big fan of Chan's. But, in my opinion, Chan temporarily lost his sanity here. Since when does God need to coerce us into loving Him, let alone threaten us? I get nauseated just thinking about those two words being put together in the same sentence: threatening and love. You don't demonstrate love by threatening someone. The implication... even through this ill-conceived justification... is dangerous and can lead us to an extremely slippery slope. Not to mention the fact that it totally misses this mark. In the question posed to Chan, the student's premise was all wrong. God doesn't threaten us with hell and punishment if we don't start a relationship with Him... because He doesn't have to. I mean, sure, it's a reality that we all must face... a decision we must make. But what good is threatening us into making this decision. I can very easily say that I believe something with my lips, but know with all certainty, in my heart, that it isn't true. Anyone that has ever been threatened into making a decision understands what I'm saying.

Now... I'll cut Chan a little slack, because I think his intention here was to compare God's "threatening" with that of a parent threatening a child with the consequences of breaking a rule... But, even then, he misses the bigger picture. When I threaten my children, it's because nothing else in my arsenal of tricks is working. In truth, it's out of desperation. God doesn't have to threaten. He's God. There's no bag of tricks, no alternative plans, no desperation. There's just the reality of our free will and the consequences of our decisions.


I just came across this video about 2 minutes ago. I think it falls in line with what I touched on today: God's love for us and the "practicality" of coersion. Plus, it has a really good communion message.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Being Wanted By God

This is another really hard one for me. I don't understand what it means to be "wanted" by God. I've never given any thought to it. In fact, I've probably thought more about it in the last 2 hours than I have for my entire life. The idea of be wanted, in general, is something I stopped tormenting myself over a long time ago. The truth is that I spent so much time as a child longing to be wanted... excepted... for the person I was (instead of the person I could be), that after a while I just stopped caring. Over the years, when I've discussed this with people, they've all been way too eager to dissect my psyche, saying that "deep down inside, I really do care...I'm just not willing to admit it." And maybe 10 years ago that was true. But, it's honestly not the case anymore. Those that know me the best... my husband, my best-friends... will testify to this. Over time, my heart has been hardened. I've conditioned myself to genuinely not care about the opinions of other people... acceptance is trivial. So, now the conundrum I find myself in is figuring out if I really want to open Pandora's Box, if you will.

I have experienced my share of pain and heartbreak. I have been disappointed beyond words when it comes to this subject... a tattered relationship with my parents and the failure of my first marriage definitely top the list. At first, those experiences made me bitter... correction, I allowed them to make me bitter. But, the irony here is that through those experiences, I have developed traits that I really love. I'm independent (because I've told myself that people aren't dependable), I speak my mind (because I refuse to let anyone tell me what I should think), I don't mince words (because I wasted too many years of my life with someone that refused to be honest.) On paper, the idea of God wanting me is great. But, in reality, the thought completely knocks me off kilter. Because, to except that... to want it for myself, places me in a vulnerable position. It could cause me to reopen wounds that have long been closed. In the book, Chan says:

"The wildest part is that Jesus doesn't have to love us. His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity. He doesn't need me or you. Yet, He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance. (Eph. 1:18). The greatest knowledge we can ever have is knowing God treasures us. That really is amazing beyond description. The holy Creator sees you as His "glorious inheritance." p. 61.

So... if this is true, it means that "He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance" despite ourselves... despite our faults, despite our imperfections. He loves us as we are... for who we are. It's a perfect love that we will never know here on Earth. No matter how many times we've been disappointed by man (be it a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend), we will never be disappointed by God. But, for those of us that have been hurt in this arena, here's the reality that we must face: God does want us... and that will never change. In my opinion, we each have a choice... and I'm beginning to think that it's a pivotal one in our walk with Christ. We can simply accept that He wants us and leave it at that... OR we can open our hearts, as wounded and vulnerable as they may be, to the greatest possibility of being unconditionally loved and wanted... forever transformed by this realization and acceptance. God wants that for us... we just need to want it for ourselves.


Spend some time thinking about this today. Have other relationships in your past, adversely affected your relationship with God? Do you accept the fact that God loves you and wants you as you are... no matter where you are in your walk? If not, spend some time in prayer, asking God to help you in the areas of acceptance and understanding.

His Faithful Servant~


Friday, June 4, 2010

Fearing God

One of the questions I hear a lot is: How am I suppose to love God and fear Him at the same time? Those two elements do seem somewhat contradictory. But, I think that's due to the fact that many of us grew up under a rather impious, or irreverent, understanding of fear. Going back to the whole "dad v. DAD" thing, I feared my father, but not out of respect, or reverence. I feared him because I understood what would happen if he got angry. Chan touches on this as well:

"If I could pick one word to describe my feelings about God in those first years of being a Christian, it would be fear. Basically, any versus that describe His overwhelming greatness or His wrath were easy for me to relate to because I feared my own father." p.57

So how do we create a disconnect between two completely different examples of fear? For me, I have to start with what fearing God isn't... or by default, what fearing my father meant. The times when I truly feared my father were when he was out of control: when he drank too much, when he was outraged by someone else's actions (or his own), when he wasn't in control. My fear was anticipation of the fallout. And this is where the difference in fearing God is so profound. God doesn't lose control. He's the one thing that is always constant, always in control.

So, then what is fearing God? As an adult, I find that the things I fear share a common thread. Whether because of ignorance or naivtey, I fear things I can't understand, let alone explain. God definitely falls into that category. With God, fear is not synonymous with terror. It's about marveling at how incredible and powerful He is... excepting the fact that we will never understand Him. We cannot put Him in a box. We cannot change Him to fit into our lives. We are the ones that must change... and through Him we are compelled to change. I think back to all the times in my life when I changed something about myself, with hopes of being accepted by someone else...especially my father. But, at no time, did those changes make me a better person... not until those changes came as a result of my faith in Christ.

So, yes, I fear God. I've read the Bible...several times. I've seen what God has done, knowing that it's only a glimpse of what He is capable of. But it's so much more than that. Chan sums it up well when he says the following:

"Fear is no longer the word I use to describe how I feel about God. Now I use words like reverent intimacy. I still fear God, and I pray that I always will. The Bible emphasizes the importance of fearing God. As we talked about in Chapter 1, our culture severely lacks the fear of God, and many of us are plagued with amnesia. But for a long time, I narrowly focused on His fearsomeness to the exclusion of His great and abounding love." p. 57.
I came across this song the other day. It's not considered a Christian song, but I can't help to think of God when I hear it. This past Sunday, a dear friend of mine gave the communion address to our church. She spoke about a flower that bloomed at her house, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you learn that the flower sprouted between her house and a concrete slab. Under the most impossible of conditions, it flourished. The simple, delicate beauty of a flower amidst the harsh, cold, concrete reality of the world. A long time ago, I put my own spin on a pretty popular phrase. Now it's my motto in life:
With Christ, NOTHING is impossible... just mathematically improbable.
Hope you enjoy the song!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Scheduling God

In the next segment, Chan approaches the subject of how we can begin to reconcile the thoughts of fearing God and loving God. This is obviously important and I won't skip over it, but I'm going to hold off on that until Friday. Instead, for today, I want to focus on something he says at the bottom of page 56.

"Most Christians have been taught in church or by their parents to set aside a daily time for prayer and scripture reading. It's what we are supposed to do, and so for a long time it's what I valiantly attempted. When I didn't, I felt guilty." p.56

I definitely fall into this category. I know that I've mentioned this before, but I'm a "List" person. I make a list for everything. They're a great tool for keeping you focused and on task, but they can also be a HUGE trap. For the longest time, I had "READ THE BIBLE" on my "To Do" List everyday...along with things like: Go to the Gym, Pay the Bills, and Do the Laundry. It was essentially boiled down to a chore... something I did and then checked off my list. Honestly, most times, I probably rushed through it JUST SO I COULD MARK IT OFF THE LIST. Chan goes onto say:

"Over time I realized that when we love God, we naturally run to Him- frequently and zealously. Jesus didn't command that we have a regular time with Him each day. Rather, He tells us to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' He called this the 'first and greatest commandment' (Matt. 22-37-38). The results are intimate prayer and study of His Word. Our motivation changes from guilt to love." p.57

You know, it seems like I'm hearing this a lot lately. In fact, our pastor has made reference to this Scripture quite frequently the past few weeks. I think, collectively, we just let the words wash over us, not allowing them to seep into our souls. "Of course, we're suppose to love God...Duh." But what does that look like... compare it to what you know. I love my husband. I want to spend time with him. I look forward to when the kids are playing so I can sit down and actually have a conversation with him. I want to know what he's thinking and I value his opinion. Can I say this about God? In theory...Yes. In actuality, as reflected in my actions... maybe not, or at least not as much as my husband...which is a problem.

So how do we fix it? Well, I'm not quite sure how to fix it, but I do have a pretty good place to start: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. STOP!!!!!! Right now, I know that some of you are saying, "Yeah, yeah...Love is patient...I know, I've had that memorized for years." Do I need to replay the Chan video about his daughter cleaning her room? Look up the Scripture. Do you notice anything different about how "love" is portrayed? Love IS patient. Love IS kind. You see, we have been conditioned in our society to believe that love is a feeling: butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms. But, that's not what Scripture says. Here, we see that love is a noun that's involved in action. It's doing something. Instead of waiting for God to stir something in emotion or feeling... why aren't we out there stirring it up ourselves. If the greatest commandment is to love God, then we need to be ACTIVELY loving Him. For some of us, including myself, this might be a little difficult at first...but that's why we have homework!


For the next 48 hours, try to ACTIVELY love God. Read 1 Corinthians 13 if you need some inspiration. For me, I'm going to start actively "loving" other people and see what God reveals to me. I'm hoping that He will help me understand how to love Him more... and I'm sure He's saying "About time!"

His Faithful Servant~