Showing posts with label gospel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gospel. Show all posts

Thursday

Walking in The Woods: The Meaning of Life


One day I was walking in the woods, talking with God. Well, it was mostly me talking, but we were together, and it was a good day.

I started talking about some of the big questions. Why are we here? What is really the meaning of life? That kind of stuff. I was talking my way through some of these, and I’m afraid I was feeling a little like Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

“So what is the real purpose of my life? There are lots of things I can do with my life but in terms of eternity, not so much. In terms of eternity, there are only a couple of things that I can really accomplish.

“In terms of eternity, I can know God. I can introduce others to know God. And I can raise my children to know God. And that’s about it. Nothing ever really changes.

“Then it starts all over again. They can know God, and they can introduce others to know God, and they can raise their children to know God. And that’s all. It never changes.”

And the earth shifted.

I felt a veil removed from my eyes, and suddenly, I saw Father in his secret place, it was like I was seeing him in his bedroom, in his intimate place, half dressed. I was almost embarrassed by the intimacy.

And with tears in his eyes, he looked at me, and said, “Yes. That's it. That’s exactly it.”

And I realized that this was exactly the way he wanted it to be.



How Jesus & the Apostles used "Repent"


I really love listening to the Bible. I’ve been listening through the gospels recently.

And wouldn’t you know it? It got me thinking again! How *does* that keep happening? (I love Holy Spirit’s lessons!)

I’m aware that the word “repent” has been one of the stumbling blocks for a lot of folks, particularly for people who have been raised in church or in religious households. So I listen closely when that word comes up.

And it came up today. I perked up.


But first, a little background:

We have two different camps in the Western church for how to interpret the word.

The traditional view, particularly popular in Fundamentalist and Pentecostal circles, is the view that understands that repenting involves focusing on action. The focus is generally on repenting *from* something.

If I’m repenting in this view, you can tell by looking. There probably will be confession of sin. There certainly will be commitment to changing certain behaviors. And if I’m doing a really good job of it, there will probably be tears and maybe even snot.

This has become the western, cultural definition of the English word, “repent.”

But the word that the writers of the gospels used for “repent” is the Greek word “metanoeō.” (They didn’t actually speak English.)

The word “metanoeō,” though, doesn’t actually speak of sins or choices or tears.

It’s a combination of two words: “meta” means “in the midst of” and “noeō” which is “to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding.” These words indicate that repenting is something that happens in the midst of understanding.

Our word, “metanoeō” itself, literally means “to change one's mind” or “have a new thought.” Apple caught this idea really with their ad campaign “Think Differently.” Their goal was that people would repent from using Windows computers.

And so the more current understanding of the word “repent” is about “changing how I think,” and if I’m repenting in this view, you may or may not be able to see it happen. On the other hand, if you’re attentive, you can tell that it has happened, because I’ll be doing things differently.

And that’s where my thinking started today. Those are really different thoughts, and the folks who hold to those views hold them pretty passionately. There have been arguments.

I asked myself, How can I know beyond question which way that God thinks about repentance, because I really want my thinking to follow the paths that his thinking leads.

And I realized that when Jesus or the disciples used the word “Repent” in their preaching, that the context of that preaching would indicate what the word meant to them. I wanted to know what it meant to them.

I reflected on this. Rather a lot. All I need to do is “watch” them preach, and observe how they used the word. This might be easier than I thought.

If they held the first view of repentance, turning from sin and confessing, then that value would be part of their preaching. When they spoke of repenting, they’d talk about what to repent from, they’d emphasize changing behavior as the priority in their message, and they’d be pleased when people confessed their sins and wept. We’d be able to observe these things if this was their message.

But if their use of the word was about “changing your mind” or “thinking differently,” then their sermons would involve either words or actions that would help people to see things differently. They might explain what something means, or they might demonstrate new and different values, or they might contrast the way things are now with they way they used to be.

As you read the gospels and Acts, keep these thoughts in mind: besides using the word “repent,” what else is their sermon accomplishing?

The passage that triggered these thoughts is in Mark 6, as Jesus sends the boys out on their first missions trip. Then Mark says, “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

Now all I needed to do was examine their behaviors and decide if they were focusing on the sin that people needed to walk away from, or if they were demonstrating a new way of thinking that these people hadn’t considered before.

They preach “repent” (which literally means “change your thinking”), and then they demonstrate deliverance and healing. They demonstrated the values of the Kingdom the people had never heard about before: this king is about deliverance; this king is about healing; this king is about your well-being.

I’m thinking that when the disciples used the word “repent,” they meant “Change how you’re thinking, or you’ll miss this Kingdom.”

Now the disclaimers for folks who have always understood “repent” as coming to the altar in tears, promising to stop sinning: Those are fine values. But they’re more likely to be the fruit of repentance than repentance itself.

And occasionally Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more.” But that was never the focus of his message. That seemed to me to be tagged on at the end, and it only happened sometimes. Not a priority.

I need to repent. I need to change how I see God.

For example: if I stop seeing God as a grumpy old man with judgment and smiting on his mind, and instead I see a loving Father who will pay any price, ANY price, in order to tell me he loves me, that absolutely will have an effect on my actions.

I’ll fall in love. And when I’m in love, I won’t want to do the stupid things that will endanger that love relationship. So I will no longer drink or smoke or chew or go out with girls who do, not because I’m adhering to a standard, not out of fear of judgment, but because that’s what love does.

I suggest that we look at the words and the actions of God – both New Testament and Old – as a loving God, who will do anything for his children, and give up on the grumpy judge, and see how that changes how you respond to God.

I’ll bet you it’s easier to love a passionate father than a grumpy judge! And it’s easier to obey him. 

Let's preach this message: “You might need to change your thinking. God’s not like you thought. May I tell you what he’s really like? Here, let me show you!”



Contempt for God's Kindness

This just ambushed my thought process.

Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

He’s challenging the Roman believers for showing contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience.

Yikes.

Who are the folks showing contempt for God’s kindness?

Well, this verse indicates part of that: the folks who don’t realize that it’s God’s kindness which leads to repentance. Folks who preach something other than God’s kindness? Yeah. Them.

The context makes it even more clear: those who “pass judgment on someone else” (v1) are the folks he’s addressing.

He’s very specific: “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (v3) That’s pretty strong language there, Paul!

More specifically, Paul is saying that believers who condemn other believers, believers who emphasize something other than God’s kindness are “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath.” (v5) That’s what it’s saying, isn’t it?

That’s kind of a problem.

You know these people: people who get in your face (in person, or on Facebook) and shout about how others are going to hell for their sin, or how a nation needs to repent in order to escape God’s wrath. There are folks who go around denouncing everybody who believes differently than they do as false.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of this garbage comes from pulpits around the country.

When you see them, first of all, don’t buy the manure that they’re selling. It’s not good for them and it’s SURE not good for you. In fact, if you’re able, don’t even let them spew that garbage on you. Walk away.

But more than that: pity them. Pray for mercy for them. Because the path they’re on is storing up wrath against themselves for the day of God’s wrath.

And most of all, do not go with them. That’s a pretty ugly destination they’re headed to. If they insist on going there, you do NOT need to go with them.

Show them kindness.

#PrayForGrace

With Every Increase of Freedom...

This is quite a season we’re in with God. We’re seeing new freedom, new understanding of his ways, new revelation. The kingdom is making pretty significant advances right now.

And like every other time that we experience new freedom in Christ, there’s also a fresh resurgence of legalism trying to take away our freedom. I can’t remember ever seeing so many people pushing an agenda of “Return to the Law.”

You may have run into people online who warn you about “going too far” in experiencing the infinite grace of God. Some are concerned about holiness and believe that holiness is the result of their good works. Others appear to have invested so much of themselves in making themselves acceptable that they resent those who are made acceptable without the same effort.

I’m finding more books than ever, arguing for a return to an obedience-based covenant, some emphasizing dietary laws, others emphasizing whom you may associate with, others focusing on Sabbath law, or using Hebrew names for God, or celebrating Jewish holidays instead of the “pagan” holidays of whichever culture you live among.

It is EXACTLY this environment into which Paul writes Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” This is also the context in which Paul writes, “... some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4)

The apostle Paul was in the midst of the first great outpouring of the Spirit of God, the very first expansion of the Kingdom of God, and then, like now, there was a great surge towards returning to legalism, whether by circumcision, or by obeying Old Covenant rules about food or fellowship. The “Judaizers” who are promoting this legalism often call it a “restoration,” but the Bible calls it a “Yoke of Slavery.”

This is also the context into which Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

This is a normal response of hell (often through people who don’t have freedom) whenever God’s people are moving in freedom: try to drag those who are escaping slavery back into slavery; if they can’t do that, then they’ll persecute the free ones and say all kinds of evil against them. Rejoice when that happens to you.

My encouragement is NOT to focus our attention on the people or the influences trying to drag us back into slavery. That’s an unworthy focus for our attention. Rather, be aware that some want to draw you back into their “yoke of slavery;” avoid them, as you avoid potholes in the road, while we “[fix] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

As you follow Him (who IS worthy of our attention!), He’ll lead you “along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) Trust the freedom that he’s leading you into; it really is for freedom that he has set us free!

Let us “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The OTHER Benefit of the New Covenant

Our history with God is a history of covenants. Covenants between God and mankind. This is how the mighty Creator King and the human species relate: through a covenant.

We do it too. We’re up-front about it with marriage covenants, and more subtle about other covenants. There is a powerful – unwritten – parenting covenant: violate that one and society takes your children away from you.

Now hold still, I’m going to talk directly about covenant for a minute. Necessarily, I will engage in willful oversimplification of some details in order to illustrate my point: the actual situation is much more complicated than this simple explanation.

A covenant is a “promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action.” Covenants are how people agree to relate to each other. Covenant is how God relates to humanity.

Noah had a covenant. Abraham had a covenant. David had a covenant. But the Big One was the Mosaic Covenant, often called The Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant was kind of a failure in before it ever got going, of course. God proposed a covenant to the people of Israel that had a lot of the elements of our New Covenant in it. Before there even were the Ten Commandments, God offered Israel a covenant where every single person is a priest, every single person can come to God for himself or herself:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. ‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6-7)

“Kingdom of priests and a holy nation”? Twice in the book of Revelation, we’re described as “kings and priests unto our God” (1:6 & 5:10). God was offering that relationship to the Israelites four thousand years ago? (Can you imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t had the last four thousand years of legalistic bondage? But I digress.)

But the people who were offered this intimate “everybody is a priest” relationship with God reject that offer in the very next chapter.

“Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19)

In the re-telling of it, it's even more clear:

“Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” (Deuteronomy 5:27)

The people had rejected a “kingdom of priests” covenant, and propose a covenant that requires a priesthood, and is based on obedience. Neither the Levitical priesthood, nor an obey-the-rules covenant, was God’s idea!

And so the “everybody is a priest” covenant was put aside, and was replaced with a covenant based on the people’s obedience. Any covenant that’s based on obeying will necessarily have consequences for disobedience. Thus this is a covenant about blessings for obedience, and punishment (sometimes called “curses”) for disobeying.

Deuteronomy 28 functions as kind of a summary: You’ll be blessed when you obey, and you’ll be cursed (or punished) if you disobey. Verses 1 through 14 outline the blessings. The rest of the chapter talks about the punishment for disobeying, and it’s God that is charged with that punishment.

Frankly, that was a lousy covenant, it’s a poor substitute for God’s first proposal, but it’s a covenant! Even that poor replacement was better than no relationship at all between God and man!

We remember that the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (which we call “The Law”) were intended to constrain the behavior of the humans in this covenant relationship. But we tend to forget that the Old Covenant constrained the behavior of BOTH parties of the Covenant: God had chosen to bind himself to the Old Covenant as well.’

So when we read in Deuteronomy 28 about “If you disobey, you’ll be punished.” Guess who the punisher has to be. Yeah, that’s God. He has bound himself to this busted-up covenant, because it’s better than no covenant – no relationship – whatsoever. Moreover, this was the only covenant that the people would agree to, so this was the covenant that he bound himself to.

And this covenant, proposed by fearful men, required that God punish (or “curse”) the people that he loves so very much, every time they disobey. (Seriously, go read Deuteronomy 29!)

Now let’s remember that there was a third party loose on the Earth, who was not a party to the covenant between God and man. Lucifer had already demonstrated his eagerness to accuse God at every opportunity (see Genesis 3:4-5). And he’s up to his old tricks here as well.

So every time the people disobeyed (and that happened so very often!) and God was required by the people’s busted-up covenant to punish them, Lucifer steps up to the microphone and declares, “Look how mean God is! Look how bloodthirsty he is! Look how angry God is!” completely ignoring the fact that God is merely complying with the conditions of the covenant that mankind offered him.

That’s a hot mess. I’ve oversimplified the story in this short article, but it’s easy to see the mess that the Old Covenant is: seriously, the only one who benefited from that debacle was Lucifer, and that’s not actually what we’re aiming for.

Now skip forward until Jesus is sitting in the Upper Room, where Jesus is offering – for the second time – a covenant of an “everybody is a priest” relationship between man and God: “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 2 Corinthians 11:25.) But this time, the representatives (the twelve) accept the offer.

I still marvel at that cup, that biscuit. With that token meal, God removes us from the Old Covenant and makes us participants instead in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:13 makes it clear: “In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.”). And this is a covenant whose sole commandment (John 13:34) is to love each other.

What an amazing relief that is: in a single moment, these guys are plucked from a covenant of “If you obey, I’ll bless you; if you disobey, I’ll punish you!” and dropped into a Covenant of Love.

The seminal New Covenant verse, John 3:16, says it beautifully: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And if that wasn’t clear enough, verse 17 clarifies that the New Covenant is not about punishment: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” What a relief that is!

All that is amazing, spectacular, and otherwise completely awesome.

But it is also only half of the story. The Old Covenant is made obsolete, and we are released from its bondage, but we were not the only ones held in bondage by it.

With the passing of the Old Covenant, God Himself is no longer constrained by the Law to provide blessings when people obey, like treats for a dog that sits when you tell him. More importantly, God is no longer constrained by the Law to bring punishment, curses, judgment on the people that he so desperately loves.

When the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant, humanity could give a great, corporate sigh of relief. We’re no longer under the law, but now we’re under grace, under love.


But the greater relief may not be ours. In the New Covenant, God is now free to love us with all that is in his heart, as he has longed to do since the day he said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26). God is now free from the Old Covenant, and he’s more excited about it than we are. 

We are free. But more important, God Himself is free! 

Avoid Evil, not the Appearance of Evil

The Bible doesn’t actually tell us to avoid every appearance of evil.

First Thessalonians 5:22 says to avoid evil, not the stuff that looks like it might be evil. We avoid the evil itself. 

Yeah, the translation from 400 years ago (King James) mis-translates yet another passage. The language today is different than it was in 1611; the words mean different things nowadays. (This is why I cannot trust any teaching that relies on the KJV to support it.) This is one place where that change makes a difference. 

Four hundred years ago, “every appearance” was kind of like “every kind” of evil. Our instruction is to avoid evil stuff. Avoid evil when it appears: avoid the appearance of evil: avoid every appearance of the evil.

And that’s how EVERY other major English translation of the Bible presents this: “Reject every kind of evil,” (NIV) or “Abstain from every form of evil” (NKJV and NASB). Even the King James usually translates this word “shape.” “Avoid every shape of evil.”

We’re called to avoid evil. The call is not to avoid anything that looks like it might be considered as evil by somebody. Don’t be fussing about stuff that might look bad. Don’t be fussing about your reputation.

Jesus surely didn’t. He hung out with porn stars and filthy rich tax thieves and the most unacceptable people of his day. He went out of his way to connect with Zacchaeus the tax collector and all his tax-collector friends.

He wasn’t afraid to have a rich hooker spend thousands of dollars worth of perfume that she massaged into his bare feet, wiping them with her prostitute hair and kissing him all over his feet. When she was done, he smelled very much  like a hooker, and he defended her actions!

Jesus avoided evil. He never sinned. But he spent so much of his time with the sinners that offended the “good Christians” of the day, that his reputation was “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus had a reputation as a party-goer.

The reputation that Jesus had was that he was the favorite guy of the people who were stuck in sin.

That’s our call: to bring life to those people. These are the people who need what we’re carrying! 

Our call is NOT to avoid the appearance of evil and hang around with the good people. Church kids surely don’t need the grace that we’re carrying quite so much as the untouchable people who are caught in their sin.


That’s why he said, “Go ye, into all the world!” Because it’s all the world that needs what we’re carrying. 

The Message We Preach

If the message declared to you makes you feel unworthy, alone, then whatever is being preached, whoever is preaching the message, it’s not the Good News. (This is hard for me to acknowledge, because for years, this is the only gospel I heard, the only gospel I knew to preach.)

Never once did Jesus preach, “You’re a sinner, and you’re going to hell if you don’t repent!” Never once did Paul or any other apostle use condemnation or the threat of hell to convince people of the goodness of a loving God.

If the focus is on sin, then (by definition) the focus is not on Jesus, and that’s a problem. It’s a problem, because it’s in defiance of scripture (Hebrews 12:2). It’s a problem because it makes sin the center of our conversation. It’s a problem because what we focus on becomes how we live.

But mostly it’s a problem, because it takes the attention away from the only One who really deserves the attention, the One who’s been dying (literally) to know us, who has been patiently waiting to demonstrate his love to us.

Whatever that is, it’s not the gospel that Jesus preached, that Paul preached.

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Consider this: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” ~Galatians 1:8 



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The Gospel of the Kingdom, or The Gospel of Salvation?


The gospel which we preach nowadays, which I refer to as “the gospel of salvation,” is largely about leading people to a salvation experience, typically in the form of “the sinner’s prayer.”

But such an experience is entirely lacking from the ministry of Jesus. Certainly, there’s nothing even remotely like a “repeat after me” prayer in scripture, but more, Jesus never called on people to perform any sort of act of conversion: no sinner’s prayer, no pledge card, no “with every eye closed, raise your hand.” Nothing. Nada.

But his first and strongest message was “Repent [which means “change the way you think” or “change the way you see things”], for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand [which I interpret as “within reach”].” And then for three and a half years, he both taught on and demonstrated what the Kingdom was like.

So apparently, instead of a sinner’s prayer, the transition from sinner to saint was changing how you thought about God’s kingship, re-working your worldview and your view of Heaven. And that was between you & God; no public declaration, embarrassing or otherwise.

And since He demonstrated it, regardless of what we think of His teachings, we have to admit that “the Kingdom” the way Jesus sees it includes healing the sick and raising the dead. We watch Him in the Gospels, and it *looks* like it involves hanging out with tax collectors and “sinners” more intentionally than going to “church” (in his case, Temple).

And apparently, judging from the way he announced it, it involves thinking differently. And since he was talking to arguably the most religious people in history, apparently it meant “think differently than your religion has taught you.”

Adding His teachings into the description, the “good news” [“gospel”] of the Kingdom appears to also include loving people outside our comfort zone, and replicating ourselves (“bearing fruit”), and being treasured by God (as in the Pearl of Great Price).

It may be of some benefit to just look at every place that the Kingdom is mentioned in the gospels (start here: http://bit.ly/KingdomGospels), and see what the Holy Spirit shows you. But take your time; there are 119 verses in that link, each with some revelation on the Kingdom.

I very much encourage you to discuss what you learn with Holy Spirit, and let Him separate the meat from the bones!

Does that offer any help understanding the difference between Jesus’ term “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23) and our unscriptural term “the gospel of salvation”?

Monday

There's a Reason We're So Secure

I've been reflecting on our secure position: we're hidden in the rock, engraved in the palm of his hand. That's pretty secure!

If you are responsible for someone precious to you, but they're in absolutely no danger whatsoever, you take no special precautions. It's only when you're going to be in dangerous places that you put the leash on the toddler, the bulletproof vest on the officer, the rope around the waist of the mountain climber. You don't wear a seat belt in a church pew, or a life vest on your La-Z-Boy in front of your high-definition wide-screen TV. 

God has secured us more surely than any of those. This suggests that he expects us to "Go ye" into more dangerous places than those folks go. We're held securely so that we can go to uncertain places, so that we can stand up in dangerous times and cry, "Follow me! I know the way out!" 

We have the safety line keeping us from drowning, from falling. We have the great and precious promises. What's the worst that can happen: a welcoming party in Heaven. 
It's interesting that the only time that anybody in the Bible walked on the water was during the storm, the only time a box lunch was multiplied for thousands was when facing thousands of hungry people. The only time the dead were raised was when God's representatives were around dead people. The only place that the incarnate Creator chose to go to redeem mankind and pay for their sin was into the middle of the sinful and rebellious world. 

I’m thinking that if we don’t occasionally go places that make our knees knock, we’re missing the point. We need to have days where we’ve got to wash off the slime and the stink from the world, because we’ve been among them, carrying the love and the grace of the King in our bearing, in our words, in our smile, in our hugs, into the very darkest, smelliest, most un-welcoming places we can find. (Most of the time, thats not in another country; probably not even in another city, but I assure you, it’s not in our comfort zone.)

If we don’t spend time in harm’s way, we’re not living up to our calling. And we’re not bringing the Lamb who was slain the full measure of the reward for his sacrifice. 

I want a crown worth throwing at his feet. 

Saturday

Multi Level Marketing

I have been approached many times in my life about an “opportunity” to join in a multi-level marketing organization. I have always declined. God challenged me to clarify my opinion one day.

Multi-Level Marketing is Expensive:

1. It costs relationships. Multi-level marketing (MLM), by its very design and nature, changes my relationships. People are no longer only my friends or family, but must become—to some degree—prospects for the business. MLM requires by its very nature that you bring others into it. I have not been willing to pay that price.

Furthermore, some of the relationships that are spent are those of my family. MLM works well only if both husband and wife are equally committed to and enthused about “the business.” But even then, the time and attention siphoned away from my family relationships is hard for me to live with. Besides, I’ll miss our golf games on Fridays if that’s part of the cost.

And beyond all that, every successful MLM that I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot!) virtually requires my joining their social subculture in order to be “successful.”

2. It costs time. Any business endeavor will require an investment in time. Ten hours a week (such as is often quoted) strikes me as idealistic, but even if it is true, I have other uses for those hours that are more consistent with my long term (eg. ten thousand years and beyond) goals. Ten hours a week usually means ten hours on a quiet week and more on other weeks. But even ten hours a week comes out to 520 hours in a year, or the equivalent of three months of full-time work every year. I’d rather spend that with my family, or with baby believers, or even raking out my lawn!

3. It costs money. Likewise, any business will require a significant financial investment. Even if I don’t buy product to sell (but then what would I show my customers?), I must buy advertising, brochures, gas to attend meetings, costs for meals & conferences, meals for some meetings, bookkeeping paraphernalia, office space, etc. TANSTAAFL, you know.

4. It costs focus. MLM is, by its nature, an opportunistic business. That means that when I find an opportunity, I must seize it and make the presentation. (Rather like evangelism, though it’s an either/or situation. One can’t evangelize for both MLM and Jesus simultaneously. “No man can serve two masters…” and all that.) The inevitable result is a significant loss of attention to the task at hand, whether that’s groceries, landscaping, job search, or pastoring.

5. It costs reputation. Thanks to Amway, MLM has a really bad name in America: a low-life, get-rich-quick reputation. Of course, people involved in MLM aren’t always “low-life, get-rich-quick” people, but you’d be hard pressed to convince many Americans of that. They hear MLM and they begin to look at you differently.

6. It costs my values. The last thing I need is a values war inside me. Many people have observed a spirit of greed in MLM adherants. In my experience, this is a very (I repeat, very) common problem with MLM. Soon, often before they even sign up, people stop seeing a business and start seeing dollar signs. This is largely related to the way many MLM members promote “the business:” “Look at the potential,” they say. “Think of the things you could do with the money!” I know, this is not a given. It is a serious danger; one that I choose not to expose myself or my family to. I don’t want any of my family flirting with the lust of the eyes or the boastful pride of life.

7. It costs my self-esteem. When I am in MLM, I am associated with values that are opposed to my personal core values. I am part of a group that is considered “low-life, get-rich-quick” by people whose opinions I hope to influence. I get a dozen “No thank you” and a handful of “Hell No’s” for every “I’ll think about it.”

The official figures are that one out of every twelve presentations will be interested in the business and one out of every ten persons who signs up will do anything with it. (These figures come from Amway.) That means one out of every 120 people I take the time to make presentations to will be influenced by “the business.” That’s a lot of work.

The concept of “If you work hard at your business, you can be very successful,” is true for most businesses, most jobs. If I own a drug store and work with as much focus and dedication as is required to make a success of the MLM business, I’ll be a wealthy drug-store owner before long.

Benefits of Multi Level Marketing

Now, lest I be found guilty of one-sidedness, I should present some of the “other side:”

1. If your boss is involved, it may be the “politically correct” thing to do.

2. If you are willing to pay the price(s), MLM can indeed make you rich. My personal opinion is that nobody does it better than Amway, but then Amway has so many people and so much exposure that it’s hard to make it to the big time with them. (A note about startup MLMs: the support services are usually pretty skimpy.)

3. If everything goes exactly as planned (not a regular occurance in our world, but it does happen), you can end up with a sizable residual income, if the MLM company doesn't go bankrupt. (Most do.)

My Sources

Having said all that, it occurs to me that perhaps I should explain where my opinions come from.

I have studied MLM quite closely. I have a friend who is in an Amway offshoot and is probably going to be rich before he’s my age. He and I have spent probably 100 hours or more discussing Amway and other MLMs (he had studied several before joining his organization). He is a single man who is fanatically devoted to his group. He got a job as a taxi driver simply so he can have contact with more people to “present the business” to. He reads dozens of books, listens to hundreds of tapes and CD’s, hangs out with his “upline”, and attends lots of meetings. He makes several presentations a week and has built a substantial organization. He probably spends (or spent, when I knew him), 15 hours a week actively working on the business, but it consumed him.

I have also studied several MLM companies fairly intentionally. I’ve gone to meetings, read magazines and books, evaluated programs, propaganda, and merchandise. I’ve interviewed both winners and losers in a load of programs: NuSkin, Herbal Life, NSA, Quorum, Amway, Shaklee, Fuller Brush (yes, they went through a MLM stage) and a dozen or more others selling everything from diet plans to insurance and annuities to houses to home security systems to home computers. I’ve named Amway in my concerns above, but every single issue (or “cost”) that I raise above has been found in every single MLM organization I’ve looked at. No exceptions that I’ve yet found.

And last but not least. I have been personally involved in two different MLM programs. My experiences from the inside have confirmed everything I had observed from the outside.

Why did I join? I wanted to invest some of my “spare” time and make some money. It seemed like a good thing at the time. I had been approached by a man I respected. What did it cost? Every thing I’ve mentioned above and more. For years, I carried a sizable debt from the last endeavor. I know whereof I speak.

Conclusion:

Multi-level Marketing opportunities are everywhere, and they have a measure of truth in them. If you are willing to give your life to “the business”, you can make a lot of money in some of them. They are naïve (or worse) in their communication of how much work is required. That work is better spent, more cleanly spent, in other places.

The Power of Glory

How well do you understand the concept of glory? Yeah, me neither. I have an idea, a pretty good feel for it, but if you pressed me on it, I couldn’t define or explain glory. I needed to fix that.
The easy part is looking up the word “glory” in my lexicon. The dictionary described glory as “being worthy of high honor;” The Old Testament word chabod (or kabad) includes the concept “weighty.”

That reminded me of a line in Jurassic Park: “Is it heavy? Then it’s expensive, put it back!” Weight is associated with things of value. Like gold. Like the presence of God. And maybe, like Jurassic Park, glory is a little bit scary.
OK, the Glory of God is about Him being worthy of high honor, and there is an aspect of weightiness (like gold, or like high-tech devices) to Him. Since there have been times when I’ve felt His presence like a heavy blanket on me, that made sense, particularly since it was accompanied by a sense of awe.
But there’s a verse that didn’t settle well with me: I’ve usually heard Isaiah 42:8 (where God says, “I will not give my glory to another…”) taught as “God is the only one with Glory.” The logical extension is that I need to be really careful to never think highly of myself or of what I do. I hear important religious people end their prayers, “…and we’ll be careful to give you all the glory…” or I hear folks saying, when complemented, “It’s just Jesus!” in their holiest voices.
I see the correlation, but it somehow triggered a gag reflex in me when I heard it: there’s something completely wrong with that viewpoint that says we’re nothing but lowly clay pots, and if anybody looks good, it had better be Him; if we think there’s good in us, we’d better repent.
I ran into some verses that didn’t set well with that point of view:
Romans 3:23 is one of the most quoted verses in the Book: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” What is it that we’ve fallen short of? Have we fallen short of discipline? Or humility? Have we failed to attain the holiness of God? No, it’s falling short of glory that is the thing that God’s complaining about in this verse.

1 Corinthians 2:7 tells how the wisdom of God was “ordained before the ages for our glory.” Wait: He, in His wisdom, planned for our glory?
And what about 1John 4:17: “…as [Jesus] is, so are we in this world”? Isn’t He in the midst of the glory of Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling the Kingdom of God by intercession? And I am to be like that in this world? I’d always thought that I needed to be like He was: dusty feet, teaching, healing, suffering; but the Word is clear: “…as He is” (Wait, I’m seated with Him? That’s a whole other magnitude of “whoa!”, but that’s another conversation.)
So you and I were made for glory.
I figure there are three kinds of glory:
1) The glory of God. (See Psalm 24:8, Isaiah 6:3, and Revelation 21:23 if you’re taking notes.)
2) The glory that ambitious men and women take for themselves. I think this is often called “the boastful pride of life” and it’s not particularly a good thing. I don’t know anybody that wants to model their lives after these fools.
3) There is a glory that is for me. It’s not the same as taking glory for myself, but just because there is an illegitimate glory, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is not also a legitimate glory.
I looked more closely at that verse in Isaiah where God won’t give His glory to another. It’s all about false gods: He won’t give his glory to false gods, to idols and (as we’re taught in the NT) demons. That doesn’t mean He won’t share it with His kids, nor that He hasn’t planned a glory for us that might be different than His.

Have you ever heard about the substitute judge in the Texas Chili Cookoff? Two judges were familiar enough with hot chili to be able to appreciate the flavor, but the rookie was completely overwhelmed by the heat.
I figure that we need to be like that with glory: we need to become familiar enough with the glory of God that we’re not helpless when it shows up, strong enough to stand up under it and be useful.
My friend Mike has a hot sauce made from chili peppers that’s more of a paint remover than a seasoning: at nearly a million Scoville Units, even a toothpick dipped in the sauce and dried off will still make grown men cry.

By contrast, my friend Pat makes a chili sauce that is still hot, but the flavor has been moderated: her sauce is not about fire in the mouth, it’s about the flavor of the peppers, and I really enjoy it with crackers and cream cheese.
I think this is another way we need to relate to glory. The glory of God is so powerful that whenever even an angelic messenger of His shows up, they often have to begin the conversation with, “Don’t be afraid!” If the people of God freak out until the angels gives us the grace to not be afraid, then how will the world react? It’s like Mike’s sauce: just the memory of that much of God is hard to handle.
I see our job is to be like Pat: we take the glory of God, we live in it, and in Him, we pick up a glory that is appropriate for us, and we present it to the world in a milder version. We’re like Moses coming down from the mountain with the glow-in-the-dark face, or like someone climbing out of the swimming pool fully clothed: we splash the glory of God all over, but it’s not as powerful. We clothe God’s glory in flesh and blood that the world can relate to.
Think with me for a minute: when God’s glorious presence shows up in our community, what will happen? Sinners will repent, saints will fall more in love, society will change, people will be healed, demons will flee. Frankly it will be really cool.

If God is the only one who gets to be clothed in glory, then I can sit back and look forward to that day. But if I am designed to carry glory – whether His glory or my own – then these things should happen when I show up as well. Wherever I go, the glory of God goes. Wherever I go, the results of glory should show up: people should be changed, goodness should replace evil.

So here’s the bottom line commission: go forth and splash the glory of God! Go leak glory! Everywhere you go!

Mercy out of Control

Today we’re talking about a politically incorrect subject: mercy out of control.

It will be easy to miscommunicate on this subject, so let me state my premise, and then we’ll go to work on the subject: It’s my observation that most of the gifts of mercy that operate in our culture – both secular and spiritual – are messed up – out of control – and as a result, our mercy often does more harm than good. There are people who have what the Bible describes as a gift of mercy, and they’re real gifts. But too often, the gift is used inappropriately.

Let’s contrast this a couple of ways: First, there are others, who don’t have that gift, for whom it is less instinctive to respond with mercy; we’re not going to discuss these people today. Second, it’s possible to use this gift out of impure or inadequate motivation as it is for any other gift, and here is where there are some interesting lessons.

Jim Jones had a real gift (though it was clearly not a gift of mercy!). His gift was drawing people together and leading them toward a common goal, and he did that well, but he did not use it for God’s glory: rather it ended up with a bowl of strange Kool-Aid and an entire community dead because of his abused gift. Jim Bakker had a real gift as he started Heritage USA; he drew a lot of people and a lot of investment, and then things went haywire and his wife Tammy Faye divorced him when Heritage USA fell down around his ears. We see pastoral gifts, evangelistic gifts, perhaps even apostolic gifts used without the direction of the Holy Spirit, used for self-serving motivation (the media loves to report those errors!); why then do we assume that the gift of mercy is immune from such error?

The other day I saw a mother and child in a grocery store; you’ve seen them too. The child is acting out in selfishness or in rebellion, and instead of disciplining the child, mom capitulates and the child gets her candy and is appeased for the moment. (We see the opposite often enough as well: a parent in the grocery store who disciplines the child to the point of abuse, but that’s not the point of this article.)

A friend of mine (we’ll call him “Bob”) has several teenage kids. One of his daughters (“Suzy”) had moved out of his home and in with her boyfriend the drug dealer. She became addicted to a variety of drugs, and predictably fell on hard times, and wanted to come home. Both mom and dad are mercy-driven people and invited Suzy to come back home, but she came back with the drug habit and with the boyfriend. Over the next several months, some of the other kids also began experimenting with drugs.

Bob’s mercy was out of control.

The goal here is not to accuse or judge the addicted daughter, though doubtless she made her share of mistakes. The bigger error here may have been mom and dad not tempering their mercy with wisdom. Their choice was not between mercy and judgment (that one’s over: the Book is clear that “mercy triumphs over judgment”), but rather between the mercy of emotions and the mercy that is built on wisdom.

Yes, Bob felt bad for his daughter, and because of his daughter, and he wanted to rescue her. Maybe he saw some street people, and imagined Suzy begging for handouts on the street and sleeping under a bridge. He saw the options of judgment (“You made your choice, now live with it!”) and mercy (“You poor thing! Here, let me fix it for you!”) and chose the latter. That was a mistake that we make all too often in the church: we exercise mercy from our flesh.

I understand Bob feeling bad for his daughter! But his mercy – being untempered by wisdom – endangered his other kids and left Suzy’s sin free to control her. His error was in the analysis: the choice was not between judgment and mercy; it was between foolish mercy and wise mercy.

I tell these stories to illustrate my premise: most of the mercy gifts in the church today are out of control. First, we make the same mistake that Bob did: we mistakenly think that we can only choose between judgment and mercy. Since we begin with a lie, we can’t expect to discover the truth easily.

The second mistake we make is that we let the world tell us how we should express mercy, rather than letting God instruct us, and the world is not well informed in the wisdom of God. So the world says, “Do something, for pity’s sake!” and that may be part of the problem: pity is not the answer.

We see people making poor choices, and we want to make those choices for them. We see people hurting, and we want to ease the pain. But in reality, if we make their choices, then they never learn wisdom; if we ease their pain, then they never learn the lessons that discomfort can bring.

Just like Jim Jones’s gift of leadership desperately needed God’s wisdom, so Bob’s gift of mercy needed God’s wisdom. In fact, I’m not convinced that any of God’s gifts are going to function properly without God’s wisdom, but we tend to overlook the need for wisdom with mercy.

So rather than just jumping in to “rescue” and “fix it” and “save them”, I am proposing that we the church actually look to our Head for wisdom: “How would You like to meet this need, Lord?” Because none of us can claim to be more merciful than God, and certainly none of us can claim more wisdom than He. And because we’re damaging people by rescuing them unwisely.

So when we see people hurting, let’s stop and pray. Let's respond with the wisdom of God, not react out of our flesh.

Sunday

The Failure of Christian Street Festivals

I recently attended a major Christian street festival.
I was embarrassed.
Don’t get me wrong, it was well produced; it wasn’t a two-bit “guy on a soapbox” preacher with a cheesy “sound on a stick” PA. These folks had very good bands on a real stage with a professional sound system and it really sounded good. The administration was tight: the right supplies and the right people were in the right places at the right time. It was a well done event.
Christians often get that one wrong in street festivals: we often look stupid because we can’t handle the simple tools of a basic public event. When we’re in the public eye, when we’re speaking to the community at large, we need to use the vocabulary and the technology that speaks to the community, and we need to use those tools with a basic level of competence that they can respect. It doesn’t do to speak Swahili when talking to Vietnamese neighbors, now does it?
This festival got the technology right, and that was a nice change. But they got the festival completely wrong.
Let me describe it this way: Sometimes when I have a day off, I like to relax, and sometimes “relaxing” means lying on the couch in my boxer shorts and a worn out t-shirt eating nachos and reading a paperback novel with an unshaven face. Or I may wear my grubbies, and my closest friends or my family are welcome to come to the house and hang out with me; we’ll eat chips and slurp Pepsi and talk about the game in our grubby clothes. In the privacy of my own home and with family or close friends, it’s appropriate to hang around in clothes that we wouldn’t generally wear out in society.
But when I’m going out in public (to go to the mall, to work, to a restaurant…), I try to remember to put on decent clothes. I don’t particularly like to dress up, so I may wear Levis and a t-shirt without holes, or if my bride and I am doing something together, I’ll probably wear a button-up shirt with Dockers, and real shoes. I really don’t feel comfortable in public in my skivvies; in fact, if I showed up in the grocery store in my boxers, I’d embarrass both myself and anyone who saw me.
But that’s exactly what most Christian festivals do. We the church are in public, but we’re dressed for the casual environment of our homes. We’re in public in our skivvies.
What do I mean?
The bands that come out of our churches pretty much always play worship music; that’s all they (we) know. The world doesn’t “get” worship music. That’s for ourselves in privacy, not for public display. In fact worship is supposed to be all about intimacy, and intimacy doesn’t really belong in public.
Often enough, we have “intercessors” scattered around the park or plaza where we are. I don’t know how to say this any way but blunt: intercessors are weird. They accomplish miracles, and I’ll be the first in line to ask these weird brethren and sisteren to slap hands on me and pray, but that will be in private, away from the public eye! Come on, have at it, but do it in private! Waving our hands and yelling weird stuff to an invisible God is going to get in the way of anyone outside the cultural clique of the Pentecostal church.
Worst of all, when we speak to the crowds – when we do that thing we call “preaching the gospel” –we’re speaking in a whole other language. We shout about being “washed in the blood” and “repenting” and “worship.” Even people who deplore “Christianese” very often use it when they preach; I suppose it’s nerves. We’re communicating the most valuable information in the universe, and we might as well be speaking Swahili. I can’t help but think that it’s a complete waste of time. No, it’s worse: it confirms the world’s judgment of the Church: we’re out of touch, we’re an irrelevant culture, like Mennonites or Hasidic Jews: meaningful only to ourselves. We assure them that there’s no reason to listen to the Church.
Our public gatherings are increasingly irrelevant to a world that is growing more distant from their Christian roots. It reminds me of fat guys in their tighty-whities in the grocery store: Ewww! I did not want to see that!
On the other hand, I can see two different kinds of public gatherings that could have real legitimacy:
The first is where we the church get together to do church business, and we acknowledge publicly that we’re not even attempting to talk to the people on the outside. Maybe we need to repent for something, or make prophetic declarations or whatever. That’s fine as long as we acknowledge that this is something private: “You’re welcome to watch if you want, but this isn’t about you; this is about us.” That, from my perspective, is occasionally appropriate. It’s like newlyweds kissing in public: if you stop and watch, it might be embarrassing, but we understand that newlyweds do that kind of stuff, and it’s OK.
On the other hand, if we’re going to try to communicate with the world, we need to speak in their language. Worship probably isn’t the right music; we need to learn how to sing about joy or friendship or love and maybe include stuff about how God thinks about us, and we need good musicians. We need to sing to the people, which is exactly opposite of a worship service where we’re trying to lead their singing to a God they may not [yet] know.
By all means, have intercessors at the street festival! But if they can’t act “normal” (defined as “not drawing attention to themselves”), then keep them in a dark room, out of the public eye. Open the door every once in a while and throw in fresh meat to keep them going, but don’t show them to a world we’re trying to communicate to; they won’t understand, and they don’t need to.
And for Heaven’s sake, please can we learn to speak English? The drunks passing the bottle on the other side of the meadow don’t understand “the blood” or “the Lord told me” or “get saved.” We’re speaking Cantonese among people who only understand French.
I am not, by the way, trying to dismiss power evangelism. I understand that people who experience the power of God are far more likely to listen to an explanation – in English – of why they’re suddenly shaking or why their back doesn’t hurt for the first time in years. But do it in a way that works for them, not for you.
Yeah, there are the odd exceptions, when God clearly directs. He told Ezekiel to wander around nude for a year and more: God’s as weird as His intercessors sometimes. But let’s not do the naked thing – literally or metaphorically – unless He clearly instructs us to. Gets a mite drafty in the winter.
This festival that provoked this rant broke almost every rule: the worship was great for the members of the Christian clique; the intercessors moaned and shook and shouted; the prayers prayed from the stage were thick with frightening shrieks and shouts and the brief “gospel message” was indecipherable, except to the “blood bought Saints of the Lamb, hallelujah, bless God!” If this had been behind closed doors, it would have been a fun time. For the blood-bought believers anyway
One old guy watching from the trees summed it up pretty well as he set his joint down long enough to put on headphones to drown out the preacher: “Are you with these wacko’s? I just don’t get why they’re here wrecking our park like this!”
And that’s all we did. We were in public in our underwear, talking to the passers by in our own made-up language. The onlookers saw and were embarrassed for us.
I wept for the loss of another opportunity to speak to the community.

Friday

Covenant And Control

The Bible is full of examples of covenants: 314 times in one translation. In fact, the Book itself is divided into two Covenants, and the two Testaments that describe them: Old and New.

In the church today, we use the term “covenant” sometimes (in some circles more than others) to describe our relationship between individuals, and between individual congregants and the congregation of which they are members.

Covenant is an agreement, at a heart level, to walk together. Biblical covenants are divided into a small handful of standard models: a marriage covenant, various covenants between God & His people, covenants between a king and his people, and specific covenants for a specific task. Biblically, covenant exists primarily between God and man, or between man and man.

In fact, the only place where an individual makes a covenant with a group is for rulership (anointing a king), and that does not have a NT parallel.

So when I join myself with a congregation, I can make a covenant with them according to one of these models; I can submit myself to their pastor to rule me as a king (probably inappropriate in the days of “the New Covenant”), or I can forge a covenant with individuals in the congregation (including the pastor), but there doesn’t seem to be any Biblical model for a covenant between me and a congregation, between an individual and an organization or a group. On the other hand, apart from the “church of the city,” the individual congregation is not a Biblical concept, so it makes sense that there is not a Biblical model for a covenant with a less-than-Biblical concept of a congregation.

In some ways, we treat our churches like we treat our favorite sports teams: we want ours to be “better” than the others, and we are offended to one degree or another when someone leaves our workplace, our favorite team, our church, to join with another “team” across town (or in the case of pro sports, across the country). We whine about free agency in pro sports because it encourages players to leave “my team” to join another team that more aligns with their goals (usually financial goals). When someone leaves my church to join another one, we talk behind their back. I know one church: when one family left his church to join with another, the pastor of the church they were leaving called up the pastor of the church they went to and demanded to know why he allowed that to happen!

We apparently feel we own them. Honestly, while I feel some sense of ownership towards the Seattle Seahawks, I don’t really own them. When they traded Percy Hawkins away a few months ago, some of us took that personally and indignantly. And that attitude is encouraged by sports pages and by the NFL, but the reality is that I’m not even a part owner: the owner continues to be billionaire Paul Allen, and he doesn’t answer to me! The real issue – if I’m a Seahawks fan – is that I miss his receptions, and that will be true whether I’m a Seahawks’ fan or the head coach.

My friend, and covenant partner, Todd recently explained to several of us in our church that he has been feeling God’s call to Mike’s church on the other end of town. I will really miss him: he’s come to mean a lot to me, and I have loved watching God work in Todd’s life. But I don’t have any more right to hold on to Todd than I do to Percy Hawkins: I’m not the owner or master of either, and that’s true whether I’m just another “member” or the “head coach.” God is Todd’s owner, and if He’s really calling Todd to cross pollinate with Mike’s church, then I am responsible to be excited for both of them!

We’ve developed this mentality that “my church” has some level of ownership of me: that if I leave this congregation for that congregation, somehow I’m being disloyal, to which, I say, “Balderdash!”

Sure, it’s possible that someone leaving my church is flaking on God and on me, that he’s just decided to forget his friends and become self-centered and find something that makes him feel happier. People change churches for those reasons and others all the time in this town, but those don’t count: these “shuffling sheep” probably weren’t ever “a part of” in their past church, and they won’t be significant contributors in the new one; don’t worry about them.

One day, God may bring Todd back to “my” church. But ultimately, God is the one who said “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not stand against it.” Todd’s trade may have been orchestrated for Todd’s good, or for Mike’s, or for the good of others in that congregation; He probably does not orchestrate Todd’s life for my convenience.

There are two issues here: covenant and control. If I’m in a covenant relationship with Todd, then it doesn’t matter if he’s attending this church, or the one across town: we have a commitment to each other that transcends issues like “this makes me feel better.” But if I try to control Todd’s choices – whether I’m his pastor or just another member of the congregation – then I’ve moved out of covenant relationship into a controlling relationship, and that would be a serious problem.


Monday

The Trouble with Christian Bumper Stickers

1. All they do is identify car’s owner, and they do that poorly: “I’m an ineffective communicator trying to get a message across without actually relating to anyone!” or “I’m a member of the Christian Country Club!”

2. Bumper stickers are a violation of the great commission: we substitute “I’m a Christian” instead of “The Kingdom of God is among you!” We don’t preach the gospel; all we do is show a sticker on our car, and we generally stop there.

3. It replaces dialog with our culture or government with a vinyl proclamation of “I’m better than you, and here’s why!” No wonder the world doesn't like us!
4. They’re excuses: instead of living a Christ-filled life, we slap a sticker on our car. We substitute appearance for a life of obedience.

5. Many bumper stickers are written in in “Christianese”: Christian culture vocabulary – which the world doesn’t understand. Why would we want to parade our irrelevancy on our car?

6. Many of them are a false witnesses. The State Patrol in my area talk about “Flying Fish”: cars with fish stickers who drive like hell. Rude drivers with Jesus stickers are only giving evidence for the assumed hypocrisy of the church. If you can’t live up to the standard, don’t put the sticker on the car!

7. They’re an exercise in futility: Who ever heard of someone’s life – anyone’s life – being changed for the better by a bumper sticker, regardless of how witty it is?

Tuesday

The Gospel Has Two Wings

I have an interesting family. My immediate family consists of two adults, a flock of energetic kids, a dog, a cat an a handful of birds. One of the birds, whose name this week is Chiquita, has recently taken for herself the position as head of the household; she has learned how to work the lock on her cage, and she gets herself out and flies around the room from time to time. I figure it’s good exercise for her wings, not to mention her heart.

We’ll come back to her shortly.

My extended family gets together often, to celebrate whatever is handiest for celebration, and it’s not infrequently that we have fifteen or twenty people gathered in my parents’ house, and when we gather, the house if filled with laughter and energy.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of talk. Most of it is about family things or community things, or peoples’ lives, and it’s an expression of care for each other. We tend to steer away from the three social unmentionables: politics, religion and sex. I appreciate avoiding the latter conversation, but I am intrigued by the former two. We have a huge spectrum politically in our family, and a fair breadth religiously as well.

One brother-in-law has a position working for a liberal politician in a liberal community, and he seems to have political and religious beliefs to match. The other one gives the impression of being a right-wing republican and religious fundamentalist. My problem is that both are brilliant men, better thinkers than myself, and both are gentle and well-spoken – well, most of the time.

When I listen to my conservative brother, I hear opinions like “Why are we surprised that so much is going wrong with our schools when we’ve banned prayer, banned any discussion of God or of right and wrong and encouraged kids to do whatever they feel is right”, and I understand his point: there is an absolute right and wrong, and his name is Jesus, and when we lose sight of him, we lose direction in our culture.

Then my liberal brother opines about how morally evil our culture is because of the inherent disrespect for the poor and weak among us, and I remember how God values the poor, and I understand his point: a religion or a politics that ignores the poor cannot be morally upright no matter how many bible verses they quote.

An over-simplification would say this:

1) The liberal church says, “You can’t love God if you don’t care for the less advantaged folks.” It’s about mercy. For example, the abortion issue is about people who are victims, people who are in a bad way and need some help getting out of it.

2) The conservative church says, “You can’t love God if you don’t live right in relationship to God.” It’s about right and wrong. From this perspective, the abortion issue is about taking responsibility for your actions, and about killing babies is not a good solution.

Neither quotes James, but they could: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

I don’t really like conflict or relational tension, and I see a fair bit of it when our family has these conversations, but I can’t get rid of this feeling that they’re important dialogs. If I take the traditional conservative position, then I need to either dismiss my liberal family members as irrelevant or uneducated – and they are manifestly neither – or I must admit a flaw in my position and in the logic that I use to defend it. The same is true if I hold to the traditional liberal position: there are some good-looking truths on the other side of the aisle, and I need to either abandon my traditional liberal position to embrace them, or I need to dismiss both those truths and the godly men and women who hold them as religious kooks. That doesn’t work for me.

James seems to have it right: there are two halves to pure and undefiled religion:

1. Helping widows and orphans (having a heart of mercy for disadvantaged folks), and

2. Keeping myself unspotted from the world (making right choices and living in right relationship with God).

I know a bunch of churches that preach the necessity of being right with God. If you were to press them, they’d acknowledge the need for mercy to the poor, but in reality, far more of their church budget (and their sermon content) is invested in “right wing” values: evangelism, moral choices, particular moral evils in our society. And I know several churches who are so invested in the homeless, in the rights of women, or of social outcasts, or of the victim-of-the-week that they seem to overlook the necessity for salvation by faith, or the reality of eternal judgment.

This is where I come back to Chiquita, our little escape artist. It seemed to me that God brought her to my mind as I was thinking about these things. When she makes her escape from the cage, she spends the next several minutes working hard to break the sound barrier flying around our living room, flapping furiously to keep out of our reach if we try to put her back where she belongs.

I felt that God was saying that His church has two wings. We tend to emphasize one wing or the other: So many of the left-winged among us have declared forcefully that if we don’t love the poor, we can’t love God, and they’re right. And the right-winged among us have emphasized that if we don’t live according to God’s standard of right and wrong then our love for the poor is empty works, and they’re right, too.

Just like Chiquita can’t fly furiously around the room with only her left wing or her right wing; she needs both wings to fly. With just one, she’d flap furiously in little circles, and those watching would either laugh or weep.

We, the church, have been stupid. (This is my blog, remember, and my opinion!) Most of us, and most of our churches, have focused on one wing or the other, and we’ve so completely missed a good portion of what’s on God’s heart. Why do you think it is that the groups with the most of God's power (as in healings, signs and wonders) are the groups with both wings in action? If we stay in a “one wing dominant” position, we too will flap around in little circles, while hell laughs and heaven weeps.

So what do we do? My recommendation is this: figure out which wing you identify with (that shouldn’t be very hard, really). Don’t abandon it, but make plans to add the strengths of the other wing into your life and ministry. If we're part of a bible-believing, then we need to get involved personally with feeding the poor or helping the homeless, or something similar. If we're part of a socially-conscious gathering, then we need to add a focus on the gospel in evangelism or missions, or the like.

Come on, folks. We need both wings to fly.

Saturday

It's My Turn

For the years, I've had the privilege of being part of the sending community for scores of short term and a not a few long-term missions trips. I can't tell you how much I've valued that, and how much richer I am for having had that experience!

But now it's my turn. OK, so it's a little turn – only about a week – and I'm not even leaving the country, but it's something of a missions trip! I'm excited! Let me tell you about it.

Early in August, two friends and myself will drive to San Francisco, California, the garden from which the hippie movement sprouted during the "Summer of Love" exactly 40 years ago. It's our belief that the revivial that God started – known in the media as "the Jesus People Movement" – degenerated into the hippie movement: the knowledge of the love of God was corrupted into the casual sex and casual abortions of "free love"; the experience of the Holy Spirit was replaced by a drug culture that shouted, "Turn on, Tune In, Drop out!"; the Spirit of Revival was traded for war protests and campus riots.

In other words, the revival that had been handed to us was dropped, and the move of God was usurped by a move of the flesh: what came about contained some of the same seeds, but at least partly because of the mishandling of my generation, those seeds fell into poor soil. Yet again, Jesus' parable of the Four Soils in Luke 8 makes a whole lot of sense: the Jesus People from Haight-Ashbury fell victim to the weeds and thorns of Jesus' parable, and were turned aside from fruitfulness by many "cares, riches, and pleasures of life."

I'll be traveling with Trevor Macpherson and Todd Adams, and those of you who know these two Godly Yahoos know that their presence means an interesting, if intense, time together. Our goal is to meet with other leaders from the Jesus People revival of the early 70's and strategize how to avoid similar mistakes as we hand the leadership of the current revival to the men and women of the next generation.

We'll conclude with a very large gathering in Golden Gate Park repenting for these and other failures, celebrating the marriage of some of the leaders of the next generation (can you imagine? an outdoor wedding!), and bringing invitation to the denizens of the park for a Wedding Supper. Sounds pretty ostentatious, doesn't it? It does to me too, but that's what we feel like God is calling us to do.

On the way back, we think we can attend church with Graham Cook (Sunday morning) and Bill Johnson (Sunday night), if we plan our trip right. We'll be back home by the middle of August.

You can find similar thinking to ours here: http://www.realsummeroflove.com/

So we're looking for support. We don't particularly need financial support, though if you want to, you can invest in the trip; you can ask us how. What we really need is prayer, and lots of it. First, if you're aware of any ways that you personally have short-cut the legitimate move of God in your own life, please join us in repenting for those sins: that's the main thrust of our trip. Beyond that, we'll treasure prayer for our safety, for divine appointments, for wisdom and humility in the meetings, and anything else you can think of. Please don't hesitate to share what you're hearing in prayer with us, too.

Who knows? This may be just a wild hare of a fifty-something "aging hippie" and his buddies. On the other hand, we think that our Father is up to something, and we want to see if we can help Him, or at least watch Him, in His work. Anybody can do nothing; we'd like to do something. Even if it’s weird.

Thanks so much. You're a real blessing!