Sunday, September 28, 2008

Are you qualified to serve God?

"The difference between Uncle Sam and Jesus Christ is that Uncle Sam won't enlist you unless you are healthy and Jesus won't enlist you unless you are sick. 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' (Mark 2:17)"

--John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

Saturday, September 27, 2008

WWJL: What Would Jesus Like?

I want to pass along a great blog post by Bob Cleveland over at Eagles' Rest. He made me think of something really profound that I had never considered. Namely, that we don't know a thing about the things Jesus liked. What was His favorite food? His favorite color? His favorite psalm? We have no clue.

The conclusion Bob draws is that we don't know these things because in Jesus' life, those things weren't important. His life was dedicated to serving others, not making sure that He got the things He liked.

There are a bunch of applications here. As Bob points out, Christians break fellowship over all kinds of things. If we were all dedicated to living like Jesus, most of those splits would never happen. Would Jesus break fellowship over what kind of music gets played in church, or when the rapture was going to happen? I doubt it.

Of course, if it's too hard to live like Jesus, you all could just try to do everything the way I like it. Then I would just tell you what you need to know, like what kind of music to play in church, and when the rapture will occur...

(In case you're wondering, the last paragraph was sarcasm. Except the music. It's awesome...)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The perfect porch decoration...

My son loves to go with me when I head out on an errand. So a couple of days ago, when I took him with me to the post office, he was pretty happy. So happy, in fact, that when I opened the door to leave, he had printed this in chalk on the front porch:

If you're having trouble reading it, it says, "Dad I love you/you are the best dad frum Samuel"

I like his decorating style...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NFTW #016--God is finished with you!; Do Chistians and politics mix?

Can Christians depend on government to change what's wrong with the world?

Also, I've got news: God is finished with you!

Click on the post title to download this digital gem, or listen here:

Here's the Christian Post link...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interesting quote from Steven James...

"The crack of dawn at Easter was really the sound of chains falling away."

--Steven James, Story

So, any chains falling away in your life?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How did I get here from there?

(Note: I recently wrote this for another venue. But since I pick up new readers occasionally who don't know much about me, I thought I'd cross-post here.)

Hi everybody! I've been a reader here off and on for a while. But I decided to jump into the forums and actually be a part of things. Here's a not-so-short version of my story. I grew up in a church that was very much performance-oriented (even though they wouldn't have ever agreed with that assessment). As a teenager, I felt a call to ministry, and that ramped up the expectations for me. Both the expectations I put on myself, and the expectations I felt God had for me.

I went through college and seminary, all the while working in various church positions. Toward the end of seminary, my wife and I decided that God was calling us to start a church. Our church started out meeting in rented halls and conference rooms.

I should say through all this work I was putting in to glorify God, I rarely felt like He was pleased with me. I had a theological understanding that He and I were at peace. I knew that I was supposed to have fellowship with Him. But He often seemed completely distant. And that just fueled my feeling that He was unhappy with me. I knew that something was wrong, but the only answer I could see was working harder. Of course, that didn't work either, and I would often just spiral into doubt and regret about my life and my faith.

After meeting in rented rooms for a while, I started becoming convinced that what was really wrong with church and my work was that we were meeting the way early Christians used to meet: in homes. So our little church started meeting in homes every week. Our meetings started being more casual and interactive. "House church" really was a good fit for us. But something still wasn't right. I couldn't work hard enough, or regret my mistakes enough, to make God approve of me.

Finally, I just had enough. I had to walk away from ministry. Since what I was doing wasn't creating a better relationship between me and God, what was the point? I sent our people off to good churches where they would be fed and happy, and my family and I kind of drifted. We met up with some house church people, and I really like the style of their meetings. (I still do.)

It's been about 2 years since I left the pro ministry. God is doing something deeper in me. At some point, I realized that God isn't that concerned about where the body gets together on Sunday. And He's not even that excited about what I do in my service for Him. What He wants is me. Not my work. Not my gigantic ministry plans. Just me.

The realization that God loves me just because He loves me is still re-shaping the core of who I am. Do I still get depressed sometimes? Yes. Do I feel like I should be "doing more for the Kingdom?" Sometimes. But what I don't feel as much anymore is the weight, the burden of God's disapproval. Because now I know, and sometimes I even feel, that I am God's beloved child. No matter what I do, say, or think, He won't ever love me more, or less, than He does right now.

I know this is overly long, so thanks for reading...And since you read to the end, here's some musical enlightenment...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Who decides which lives are valuable?

It seems like there's a lot of news this week regarding pro-life issues. Most of the news isn't good, because it seems clear that there is a growing number of people who believe that some humans have less value than others. This story comes from London, where a woman who is called "Britain's leading moral philosopher" has suggested that people suffering from dementia should kill themselves because they are "wasting people's lives."

Warnock's main argument is that people with dementia take up too much of the health care system's resources. If they kill themselves, it will free up resources for other, more "worthy" people to be cared for. At this point, she is only suggesting that people with dementia be allowed kill themselves for the common good. But it seems like a short step from suggesting to demanding. After that, maybe the English government will just decide to end the lives of people who refuse to do it themselves.

I mean, if a government bureaucrat isn't qualified to decide who lives and who dies, who is?

There are really 2 huge problems here. First, this woman sees some people not as people, but as burdens on the state. Therefore they need to go away, so the state can operate more effectively. The idea is that people are valuable if they add something to society, but should be discarded if they impede progress (as defined by the state).

Second, these issues will always be a problem when the state controls and pays for health care. This is the aspect of nationalized health care that people don't want to acknowledge. In a nationalized system, people will always be seen as burdens on the system. And some burdens just can't be carried indefinitely. They will need to be purged.

And who does the purging, and why, should be important questions in the US at a time when one major political party advocates a government-run health care system...

NFTW #015--Relationships; Adopted by God!

Another hot, steaming bowl of digital goodness!

Which type of ministry honors God more: evangelistic campaigns, or building relationships that lead to evangelism?

Also, the reality is that we are God's adopted children. What does that mean?

2 Stories from Relationships key to college ministries
Jesus calls us to sow as we go

To download the podcast, click on the post title.

Or, you can listen here:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Should Down syndrome babies be aborted?

Since John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running-mate, there has been an ugly conversation going on among some people in this country. The conversation is about Trig, the Palin's baby who has Down syndrome. There is a segment of people who think the Palins should have aborted this baby because of his condition. I think Christians need to be aware that this thinking is out there, even if it's just a small section of the population.

This writer, who also writes columns for the Washington Times and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, makes the argument that aborting Down syndrome kids is the right thing to do because they are a drain and burden on society. He goes so far as to say, " is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)..." (emphasis mine).

The danger in believing that aborting Down syndrome kids, or any kids with birth defects, should be obvious. It makes an assumption, mainly that some people have value, and some don't. Clearly, to the writer of this post, people with disabilities are a burden. And it's OK to eliminate people who are burdens.

There is an underlying assumption also, that people don't have worth just because they are people. Their worth has to be granted by someone else. But who grants worth? The government? We've tried that, in Germany and other places. It didn't work out so well.

In fact, there is only one objective for giving equal value or worth to every human being: each of us is God's special creation. That gives us worth that can't be taken away by any government, or any self-important writer.

As Christians, we should be on the forefront of the fight to see that each person is treated as valuable and worthwhile. This applies to people with special needs, of course. But it applies equally to anybody who is considered "less than" or worthless.

We can't look to political leaders to protect the rights of these people. We do have one presidential candidate who pays lip service to helping the "least of these." But I'm afraid that doesn't apply to everyone, especially the unborn. It's up to those of us who really see human life as valuable to do all we can to see to it that no one is left out when we say that "all men are created equal..."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The fine line between abortion and infanticide...

So far, I've stayed out of politics for the last few months. Mostly that's because I'm not thrilled with either major-party candidate. But there are a few issues I care deeply about. One of them is abortion. It seems like one area where there is a clear distinction between McCain and Obama.

I'm not sure how McCain would affect the abortion debate . But I'm convinced that Obama is pretty radical on this issue, even though he gives lip service to reducing the number of abortions.

Personally, I'd rather look at what someone does, rather than what they say. When Obama had a chance to vote on a bill that would ensure that babies who survive abortions got medical care, he voted against it. 4 times.

To me, that's not pro-abortion. That's pro-infanticide. Finally a group is bringing his votes to public attention. The group is called, and the ad is pretty effective.

Here it is:

The reason the ad is effective is that it puts a human face on this issue. These aren't nameless, faceless blobs. They are real, actual human babies who are being killed. I hope that this group can run the ad all over the country...

Our trip to the Los Angeles County Fair...

I love going to the fair. We used to go when I was a kid, and I think the Mighty Mrs. J and I have gone every year we've been together. Now it's even more fun because we get to share all kinds of new experiences with the kids. And the kids love it!

Mostly, the kids are happy to wander through the livestock area. (Remember, our kids are completely city-fied, so they only see cows, sheep,
and pigs at the fair.) (Oh, they see them at the market too, but in different form.) Believe me, there are much better places to be in the 100 degree heat! But they love it.

Here are Little MacGyver and DisneyGirl in the petting zoo. DisneyGirl loves animals, and she's really good with them. I can see it now: DisneyGirl on TV as the Goat Whisperer...

Toddler Houdini doesn't care much for live animals. She likes to look at them, but not to touch. But she does enjoy sticking her head through a plywood pig's head and making pig noises...

Here's all the kids in a cutout. We had a hard time getting them to look at the camera. They kept looking down to see what the picture looked like...

They also set one building up as a winter wonderland. It has ice skating, snow, and sledding. The snow is more to Toddler Houdini's liking...

One of the new experiences we have is rock climbing. Sam couldn't wait to get there. He is a really good climber! He scrambled all the way to the top...

This year, DisneyGirl joined in the rock-climbing fun. She tried very hard, and almost made it to the top. We were so proud of her!

There are a hundred reasons why I love the fair. But these days, the biggest reason is that I get to share it with the most important people in my world. They make everything I do more fun and exciting...

BTW, the man next to the Mighty Mrs. J is her dad. He went with us, and had a blast! (So did we!)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Behavior modification vs. life transformation...

A couple of days ago, I started talking about the fact that young people are leaving our churches in droves after they get out of high school. It's something that has bothered me for a while. It seems like a clear indication that we are not passing the faith on to the next generation. Some of those who leave do come back, but many do not.

So, what's going wrong?

Well, I think there's a clue found in the reasons that kids give for leaving church. (Again, I'm equating "faith" with "church" because that is so common in Christian circles. It's wrong, but common.) Some of the reasons, like they moved too far away from their church or left home to go to college, don't make sense, because they could easily find another church to attend. But 17% of the kids surveyed were honest: they said they were only going to church to please others. I believe that would be considerably higher, if more of the kids surveyed had been more reflective and honest.

And it's understandable. So much of Christianity is performance-based, and approval is given based on external behaviors. Thus, if a kid shows up every Sunday, signs an abstinence pledge, doesn't drink or party, and has a regular quiet time, he or she is considered a "Good Christian kid." The reality is that you can do all those things and more, and have a heart that's cold toward God.

And the parents are probably on the same performance hamster wheel. They are taught that good Christians do certain things (serve in church ministries, attend weekly meetings, tithe, read their Bible, etc.). To gain approval from others in the church, church leaders, and ultimately from God, they do all the things they think they should.

When kids graduate from high school, they move, they get full-time jobs, they go off to college. They still have a mindset that they need to perform to get approval. But now they are away from parents and church leaders, so they look for approval from new groups of people: co-workers, roommates, other students. So now they get that approval from those people, instead of from church activities.

The real problem, as I see it, is that we've become largely performance-based as believers. What God wants is not the proper behavior, but actual life-change. Life transformation will result in behavior change, but transformation is a lot more difficult, messier, and harder to quantify.

So how do we go from a church culture that is bent on producing right behavior, to one that is committed to seeing people changed from the inside out? I've got some thoughts on that, but it's getting late, so that will have to wait until another time.

And for all of you who made it through the whole post, here's some fine music as a reward...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NFTW #014--Emotion vs. Doctrine; What does it mean to have the kingdom inside us?

There's a fight between emotion and doctrine. Which side are you on?

And, Jesus said the kingdom of God is inside us. What does that mean?

Listen here:

Or, download the episode by right-clicking on the post title...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why kids leave church...

For years, something has disturbed me about the church in the US. (Actually, a lot of things disturb me, but let's take them one at a time.) It's this fact: according to one study, 70% of kids who grow up in church leave it after they get out of high school. Of that group, 65% don't come back.

What happens, or doesn't happen, that allows kids to walk away from something that has been such a big part of their lives? This question bothers me, because I know that if these kids were experiencing God's presence in their lives, they wouldn't be going elsewhere. (And, yes, I am equating leaving church with leaving their faith, because for many Christians, the two are linked.)

If you look at the numbers in this study, kids don't leave for theological reasons. They leave because they go to college, or they move too far away from their home church. They leave because they work Sunday mornings. Some just want a break from church, or want to hang out with their friends.

Some of the people surveyed said they left because of differences with the pastor's teachings, or because the church was hypocritical. But apparently, these kids didn't try to find a different church that was more to their liking.

Underneath all those reasons these kids gave, there's one truth that seems clear to me. These kids had the appearance of being committed, but their relationship with God is either non-existent or severely underdeveloped. That may sound harsh, but my experience is that when people who are committed to Christ leave the institutional church, they still have a desire to hang out with God's people. That desire seems to be lacking for a lot of the kids surveyed.

So how do you get whole groups of kids who can "act Christian" but are lacking a true relationship with God? That's the question. More personally, as a father, how can I keep my kids from following down that path. I want them to really know Jesus, not just act like they know Him.

I think there is an answer here, and part of it found in some of the responses to the survey I linked to. But this post is way too long already, so I'll pick this up again soon...

p.s.-If you've read this all the way to the end, here is my gift to you: possibly the greatest song ever recorded.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Knowing is not enough...

I think I've mentioned before on this blog that I've struggled to really believe God loves me. I think a lot of it stems from not having a father growing up. I never had any father-son interaction, so I never got to see first-hand what a father was supposed to be. When you combine that with growing up in a church that stressed works over relationship, you get me: a guy who has trouble in any close relationships, especially with God.

I was listening today to a podcast, and one of the speakers read a Bible verse that brings out the reason I struggle. It's 1 John 4:16:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

My trouble? The part about relying on God's love.

I know all about God's love. I've taught it. I've preached on it. I've counseled people about it. I really do believe that God loves His children. But do I rely on it? That's a very different question.

I grew up in a church where knowledge was prized, and experience was looked down on. We were one of those Pentecostal churches, where they were acting crazy, speaking in tongues and hanging from the chandeliers. We were the "people of the book," and we valued knowing Scripture above all else.

There is nothing wrong with knowing Scripture. Every Christian needs to know and love the Bible. We should all have some understanding of basic Bible teachings. But knowledge can never take the place of relationship. At some point, we all have to go from a place of knowing about God's love to relying on His love.

How does that happen? I'm not sure I know. I don't think it's a process that lends itself to 5 steps, or 7 keys. It's probably different for everybody. I'm sure God uses the tools He usually does: prayer, Scripture, friends, circumstances. But we don't look to those tools to do anything for us.

More than anything, maybe learning to rely on God's love is a change of outlook. God wants to shower His love on us. In fact, He does shower His love on us. But we miss it, because we're looking somewhere else.

I know I've come a long way toward experiencing His love as a reality of life. But I've still got a long way to go...

Oh, the podcast I was listening to? It was Joel and Mike at Growing in Grace. If you don't already listen, try it. It is 15 minutes a week of grace-filled awesomeness!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NFTW #013--Pushing back against the atheists; Who/What are you trusting in?

Oh, the joy! Another podcast appears to bring hope to a hurting world.

In this one, I talk about 2 groups that we've got to deal with: atheists and politicians...

Listen here:

Or, click on the post title to download...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Who do you say God is?

This is probably my last thought about the Bentley/Lakeland revival thing. Unless something new comes out, I don't see the point in beating the issue any more. But I wanted to follow up on an earlier post. I talked about the fact that so many of us are searching for a special "anointing," some unique outpouring of God's presence in our lives.

Searching for this anointing, we will seek out people who claim to have a special relationship with God. We'll buy books, go to seminars, attend revival meetings, and spend long nights in agonized prayer, all in search of that "something extra" that God has given some of His favored children.

I wonder if part of the reason why so many believers, myself included, go through this is because of our wrong view of God. Do we see God as our loving, perfect Father who stands waiting to give us all kinds of good things? Or is God distant and grumpy, Someone you have to convince to like you by your good works and devotion? How we see God will determine how we see our relationship to Him.

The truth about God is this: He already loves His kids an infinite amount, regardless of who or what they are. He will never love His children any more or less than He does now. He never condemns us. He's never disappointed in our actions or attitudes. (That thought alone is changing my life. I can never disappoint God!) He is pleased to give us the kingdom. He's given each one of His kids the Holy Spirit as a promise that we belong to Him. He is constantly at work in and around us to make us into the people He means for us to be.

We are each anointed by God, called into His special service. Every one of us has equal access to God, no matter how important or unimportant you may feel. What does equal access mean? Any of us, at any time, can crawl into our Father's arms and talk to Him, cry on Him, ask Him questions, even complain at Him. And He's never too busy to love on His kids. He gives us every good and perfect gift. Best of all He gives Himself, and He desires and grows a real relationship with each of His kids.

If you see God as Someone who is only pleased with you when you perform acceptably, you will spend your life trying to perform acts that please Him. If you see God as Someone who is holding out the "really good blessings" until you do, say, or believe the right things, you'll spend your time looking for the secrets that will unlock the blessings of God.

But if you see God as Jesus showed Him to be, you'll see that none of that work is needed. He doesn't want my right actions, or my meticulously crafted orthodoxy, or my 12 secrets to a victorious Christian life. He just wants me. And, He's happy with that...