Heaven, help us.

Yesterday while sitting at my desk, I get an email from my boss (well, one of them).  It simply reads: “Can you come see me?”

“Oh crap.”  My mind starts racing trying to figure out what I did wrong.  In the <1 minute it took to get from my office to his, my brain came up with exactly nothing as to why I might be summoned to the big guy’s chambers.  I walk in confidently (I learned its always a good idea to walk in anywhere like you own the place) and say, “Hey, Wynne.  Did you need me?” all the while thinking “Of course you don’t need me. Few people do.”

Turns out he was just asking me if I’d be willing to lead prayer meeting the next morning in his absence.  I like prayer, so I said, “Sure thing, I can do that.” with a slight twinge of “I knew I wasn’t in trouble” attitude in my swagger as I walked out his office door.

And as I prepared to gather with my fellow pray-ers–okay I was in the shower–I had a thought.  I began to think about the expression “Heaven help us.”  In my experience, its been a light-hearted expression of someone saying something in somewhat of a humorous manner like, “Aunt Brenda is cooking the turkey this Thanksgiving?!? Heaven help us!”  But the more I thought about it, the longer my shower took. And since I like long showers, I thought about it some more.

When we pray, we become the very conduit of heaven’s connection to earth.  When we pray we become channels of heaven’s blessing right down here on good ‘ol “terra firma”.

When we pray we are closing the gap between “up there” and “down here”.  When we pray, we speak to the One who made the earth we stand on and yet we are in His throneroom, on His terms, because of His mercy that makes the conversation possible in the first place.  When we pray, we are literally calling on God in heaven to help us.  If not for Jesus–how dare we?  But because of Jesus–oh, we dare!

The image of God as a celestial scrooge is one that I suppose some might hold; that He’s like a galactic grump waiting to pounce on you for no good reason.  But the God I love and serve and talk with is a loving Father, who instructs me to “come boldly before the throne of grace, so that I can find HELP in time of trouble.” (Hebrews 4:16)

So, this morning I led those who weren’t with Wynne at staff planning (those I lovingly referred to as “The Remnant”) in prayer for people all over our community.  We prayed, we sang, we shared, and we called on heaven…to help us.

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Keep warm and well fed.

Last night at our adult small group while several in the group were sharing some things they’d like us to join in prayer for, we came to Heather who shared about her and her husband’s struggle to get their new house completed, so they can receive their “Certificate of Occupancy” given by the county.  As she shared the stress from the many (yet smallish) unfinished projects that were holding them back, not to mention the new adventures of their new baby boy who is just months old, something became blatantly obvious to me and I believe everyone in the room.

While Heather has only been to our small group for the past three weeks, I can say that she already feels like a “regular”.  So, as she was sharing about the grout that needed to be put down, the few feet of hardwood floor still that needed to be laid, the few inches of dirt that needed to be spread around the yard, and the grass seed that needed to be thrown around, I thought privately to myself, “So, are we going to be a group of people who get together weekly to study the Bible and eat or are we going to be the Bible for each other and show God’s love in “Let’s do this” kinds of ways?  Clearly, it must be the latter.

So, with a sincere belief that everyone else in the room was thinking the same thing, I spoke up as soon as Heather finished and in no time at all, we had a plan in place not only for the very next Friday night, but for several individuals to go over to the house throughout this week and be an extra set of hands and feet to get this punchlist done in short order.

James 2:15-16 speaks directly to that situation we faced in our small group last night.  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

This is that well-known section of the book of James with the sobering statement “faith without works is dead.”  Imagine if Heather had finished sharing last night about the heavy weight of these projects, put on top of the challenges of caring for an infant, put on top of the strains of work schedules; imagine if after she shared all this and we as a group responded with, “Wow Heather, that really sounds like a lot to bear.  We’ll certainly pray for you about all that.  Let us know how things are going when we meet together again next week.”  In my opinion, we should all have turned in our Christian ID cards then and there.

So, this week will find parts of our small group going each day to help Heather knock these projects out and next Friday night will be “1-2 punch” of the men in our group to handle the projects that remain.  I’m excited to be a part of a small group of believers that not only gather to study and discuss God’s Word and eat cheesecake, but also get into each other’s lives and enjoying true spiritual community.

Everybody Starts

Oh, if you could see the list of unfinished blog posts hidden behind the curtain of this site.  I’m great at starting.  Everyone is.

But you’ll likely never read those, simply because they’ll probably never been completed.  Starting well is fine.  Finishing well is really the point though. 

When my wife and I were newlyweds, we excitedly joined a gym so that could get up together early each morning before work and exercise.  The gym was only about 5 minutes across our small town, so it was very convenient.  The problem was there was a McDonald’s directly in our path.  More often than I might care to admit, we’d ditch our exercise plans in exchange for a breakfast burrito!  And after finishing the burrito, did we THEN go to the gym to work it off?  Nah.  We usually went back home and got back in bed.  Everybody starts well.

The letters in the Bible written by Paul are full of encouragements, exhortations, and challenges to finish well.  But what does finishing well in my faith look like exactly?  Well, from what Paul explains, here are a few things included:

1. Face forward.  If we’re going to follow Christ, we’ve got to be focused on Christ.  Have you ever been driving along in your car and something to the side catches your eye?  Like a fender bender?  Or a yard sale?  Or a jogger?  You turn your head to look and before you know it, your car is veering in the direction you’re looking!  Like it or not, the trajectory of your life follows the direction of your focus.

2. Unremember.  God is not a forgetful God when it comes to our sins; He simply “chooses not to remember” our sins.  He doesn’t misplace my sins like I misplace my keys.  On the contrary.  He knows EXACTLY where my sins are!  They are nailed to a Roman cross on a hill called Golgotha.  I am free from their grip, their penalty, and their condemnation because of Jesus sacrificial death on that cross.  But I’m awfully good at stewing in my own sin, crippled by shame and guilt rather than, like God, remembering no more my forgiven sins.

3. Look around.  Now, I’m not trying to contradict #1, but I do believe there is great value in looking into the stands of those who have finished before us.  Hebrews 12 speaks clearly and beautifully about the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us, cheer us, and await us.  I used to be a pitcher in little league.  I recall vividly the times when my coach had a forlorn look on his face in the dugout because of my too-slow fastball, or my way-too-straight curveball, or my “meatball” as it was called–the slow lofty one that hit the center of the strike zone; perfectly placed for the batter to knock the snot out of it.  But I also remember my parents in the stands.  I remember their look of love and interest and even pride.  I remember that no matter how well or poorly I was pitching or playing that game, they were going to take me home anyway.  We need to be reminded of those who are cheering us on, so that we don’t feel alone.

4.  Press on.  The concept of “pressing on” that Paul talks about is a “leaning forward”.  Have you ever seen a foot race in the olympics where two or more runners are crossing the line at almost the exact same time?  At the very last stride, they LEAN or even lunge forward in order to be the first one across that finish line.  Paul is using this word picture to illustrate how we are to live lives that lean forward!  Lunging to victory!  Do I have that fire as I go about my every day?  Do I have such desperation for a victorious life?  How well do I “press on”?

The truth is, as we run this race, we don’t have any clue when the finish line will appear right in front of us.  No one is promised tomorrow.  My finish line might be only minutes away from right now, and so might yours.  I want to be the kind of person who not only leaves the starting blocks with a bang, but crosses the line with a lean!

Apparently, its what’s on the outside that counts

I was driving along the other day and heard a piece of information that I found interesting. Statistically speaking, the name of a professional sports stadium has a lot to do with the amount of winning and losing the team does. For example, stadiums named for the car companys that sponsor them see more home team wins while stadiums named for technology companies don’t do well at all. Which stadium is at the bottom of the statistics barrel? Monster Park, home of the San Francisco 49ers. What’s worse, Monster Park used to be Candlestick Park, a stadium rich with history and tradition.  While corporate sponsorship is simply the name of the game in today’s professional sports business, the findings of this peculiar research reminds me of something completely different, and yet slightly related.
You may have heard the old adage: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But I’d like to poke at and possibly even challenge that notion when it comes to our identity as followers of Christ. Take a look at the way God worked through the Old Testament and you’ll notice something I noticed. God seemed to start His work in someone’s life from the outside in, not the inside out as you might suppose. Consider Abram and Sarai, Jacob, and Jonah to name just a few. The name on the outside gave way to victory on the inside, so to speak. It was an “external” change of name marking an “internal” change in character, purpose, and destiny.
And not only those, but think about those in the New Testament who’s identity was changed from the outside in; Matthew, Simon, & who could forget the greatest Christian-hater turned greatest Christ-follower Saul of Tarsus?  God most certainly does some renovations outside as well as in.
People know me by name. But my desire is that they’d hear that name and thoughts of graciousness, generosity, passion, and fiery zeal for Christ would come to their minds. I pray that they equate my name with humility, with servanthood, and above all with Christlikeness.
Read the book of Revelation and you’ll see one final name change recorded in Scripture.  We’re told that Jesus will come from heaven with a name written on Him that only He knows.  (Does your theology have room for the possibility that you’ll one day know God by a different name that you don’t know now?)  Whatever it is, we can rest assured in what God’s Word says: “He has been given the name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and ever tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”
What is God going to do with YOUR name today?

Churchianity

I grew up in the church. And I mean that almost literally. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I ever lived in a house not owned by the church it was located directly next to. So, when I talk about growing up in the shadow of the church, you can know for certain that I know of which I speak.

I’m a Christian.  But I didn’t choose Christianity.  Well, not at first.  Quite decidely, Christianity chose me.  I was born to two parents who love the Lord.  They are Christians.  So quite naturally, they brought me up to know, understand, and embrace the tenets of Christianity.  I grew up learning the stories, reciting the Bible verses, attending  church services everytime the church doors were open, memorizing Scripture, knowing the answers when asked a question in Sunday school class, eating regularly at “potluck” dinners, singing the hymns of our theology and faith, and all the other varied activities of “church people.”  I had a wonderful upbringing and I credit my parents with passing on the Truth about God, sin, heaven, hell, Jesus, forgiveness, and purpose.  Some might say, “Poor kid. You were brainwashed.” But I don’t look at it that way at all.  I never have.  Because I wasn’t.

Like I said, I didn’t choose Christianity.  I instead chose to love the God who created me, who knows me, who loves me, and who died in my place so that I can have the ability to choose Him.  And I do.  I choose God.  But not just any God.  THE God.  The God of the Bible; not the Torah, not the Qu’ran, not the Book of Mormon, not the Vedas, or any other religious book.  I don’t choose a religion.  I choose a reunion.  I choose a reconnection made possible by the gracious gift of Jesus, the only One born who’s birth was significant enough to turn BC into AD.  Ask anyone what year it is…then ask why.

So, I become saddened when I start to think that I’m lumped together with religious kooks like the pastor in Florida who thinks he should burn copies of the Qu’ran.  The only thing I can find as distasteful is building a mosque at ground zero in NYC.  I don’t consider myself a religious person, as ironic as that might sound coming from a pastor.  Reverent? Yes.  Religious? I don’t think so.

I’m not trying to create a distance between myself and “organized Christianity” (which to me is a contradiction in terms, given its beginning); I’m only trying to clarify what I feel has become increasingly muddy waters when it comes to who a Christian is and who a Christian isn’t.  I recently was flipping through all 5 of my television channels and found a short clip of the stand-up comedian George Carlin.  He was in the middle of doing a comedy bit on the Ten Commandments whereby he was using his logic to narrow the ten (one-by-one) down to just 2, and then finally to one.  Was it funny?  No, not really.  It was poignant, telling, and jagged with cynicism.  While I absolutely defend and respect Mr. Carlin’s right (and yours) to take pot-shots at religion, I most certainly had to laugh at the ignorance shown in his closing statement when he said “Keep thy religion to thyself!” and walked off the stage to an uproarious applause handed over by what must have been an equally ignorant audience.

What Carlin fails to recognize is that “religion” (Christianity as he was referring to) cannot be separated from its engrained mandate to spread, to share, to pass on, to give, and even–dare I say it–evangelize.  What Mr. Carlin is requesting is that the people just as free as he is should separate their beliefs from their behavior.  In essence, us “religious people” should keep our mouths shut, even though doing so would go against the very instructions of the God we love, follow, and live for.  What then?  Would we gain his or anyone else’s respect?  How could we since we would then lack integrity; believing we should share good news and yet not share it, and saying we believe the Bible and yet not doing what it says.  Why would we give hearty approval to Madonna for being true to herself and her beliefs, or Tom Cruise and his lucritive dealings with the Church of Scientology, or Richard Gere for his quiet peace-loving Buddhism, or the Dalai Lama, or Deepak Chopra for cryin’ out loud–and yet spit in the face of any Jesus follower who dares speak of humanity’s need for forgiveness and redemption–including their own?  It seems that we need to rethink what we call “tolerance” which seems so en vogue in our time.

The reason for the imbalance is clear.  And not suprisingly, Jesus gives it to us in Luke 6:22 (among many other places): “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”

While the world and even popular culture at large may equate Christianity with “Churchianity” and therefore full of religious nut-jobs who need to be dismissed as lunatics, I stand firmly on my decision to follow Jesus…no matter what.