Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Does It Mean to Be a Godly Friend?

Todd McVicker opens his message, "Doormat" by mentioning an event that was held at Victory World Church called, "Your Final Destination". It is a full fledged production about the way people in the world struggle with problems, both as Christians and nonchristians. In the play, some of the characters die and you see interpretations of their after-life based on the life they lived here.

This play got Todd thinking about how we all live.  Generally, we feel pretty good about our lives and we think that we can pretty much handle things, but God wants so much more for us.  He offers an abundance in heaven and our current world. He invites us to live and walk with Him in joy.  But often times, after we've become Christians and some time passes, the "Honeymoon" with Christ is over.  We then start to think that we are living a flat-line faith walk.

In the "Song of Solomon", which is a collection of about eight chapters, it talks about a love story with King Solomon and a poor servant girl. In this story, a relationship develops between the two and you begin to see the intricacies and struggles of this simple relationship. Yet this story is a metaphor of God and our relationship with Him.  Studying the story in these passages, we get a glimpse of God's heart.

In the first chapter, the girl says, "I know that I am dark, but I am lovely", meaning that she knows that, compared to a king, she is not much to look at. Yet she knows that she is beautiful in Solomon's eyes. Then she asks where he plans to lead his flock (his people). Knowing the potential that he sees in her, she asks him why she cannot be in his flock. The king responds by telling her that she can.  She just needs to "follow the path of (his) people." This may well be symbolic of the church today in that, if we want to pursue a relationship with God, He tells us to follow His people (sometimes that's the church).

Each night, when Todd and his wife are putting their daughter to bed, they read a bible story to her.  Recently, they were reading about how Jesus was going into a town and ten lepers came up to Him. They asked to be healed and Jesus tells them to go and be seen by a priest, which they do. The lepers are then healed. A while later, one of the lepers comes back to thank Jesus. Christ responds to the him by saying he will be blessed because he was the only leper to thank Him for changing their lives!  Showing gratefulness and humility is only one part of any relationship, but they are particularly applicable in how we see our role the local church.

In another instance, Todd's family was talking about for what they were thankful to God. Various things were brought up about life, such as trials, relatives and children.  But the conclusion Todd drew while mulling over this question was that the thing he was most thankful for was the church. Todd was saved in church. He met his wife in church.  He was married in church.  He was given a platform to minister in the church and his heart has been molded to pursue God in the church.

The servant girl in the story of Solomon was invited into the king's palace.  It was a place of promise and a place of security.  In the chapter that follows, love abounds. There is talk about flowers, fields, apple trees, doves and gazelles. It's the familiar communication we experience when we fall in love.

But, like in most relationships, a chapter three of this story comes.  It starts with the servant girl, who has wondered back out of the palace and has lost a sense of where she is.  She then begins yearning for her "missing" lover, roaming the streets in vain. So, what happened here?  This woman suddenly realizes she's not connected to her lover. Sometimes we wake up and realize we aren't really connected anymore to our Lord. We start heading right back to where we came from, usually out of fear or frustration. But, it's not long before we realize we're not going to find Him in our old way of living. The watchmen stop the woman in the street and she asks if they have seen her lover. The watchmen, symbolic of the church, are the protectors in the streets and they guide her back to the palace.  A little while later, in chapter four, the woman finds the king and won't let him go.

A few years ago, Todd had a friend that came from drugs, DUIs, fights and partying. He was a "real firecracker". Somewhere along the line, he bumped into a pastor and accepted Christ. Immediately, he was immersed in the church. He was constantly at the services and opportunities to serve. But there came a time when he decided to go back to his life. Somehow, he couldn't free himself from his past. His Christian friends rallied around him and tried to encourage him to stay connected. But one day, he left his christian roommates and went to live in his mom's house, which really wasn't a good situation. So, Todd and his friends decided to go after their friend. Finally, they found him (drunk). They surrounded him and told him that he was their friend and they reminded him that he wasn't going to find what he was looking for in the old life. After a while, he sobered, straightened up and he returned with them.

Back to Song of Solomon, the king responds to the girl returning and starts talking about her beauty. He loves her and gladly accepts her back. Reaffirming her, he tells her that she has ravished his heart and he refers to her as his "treasure" and his "bride". Echoed later in the bible, we read, "Neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation can separate you from the love of God." So, this is the happy ending, right?

Wrong. In chapter 5, the girl awakens to the knocking at the door by her king, who asks her to open up the door and her heart to him.  He has come and is now pursuing her. She lives in the palace, but she is not mentally available to him and he senses this. God has come so far and gone through so much, in the way of Jesus, to be with us. In hearing the knocking at the door, her heart leaps and she makes her way. But when she finally unlocks the door and opens it, he's not there. So again, she goes out and, as before, is searching to find him. This time, though, instead of guiding her back to the palace, the frustrated watchmen strike her and wound her!  She doesn't have the same protective experience with them as before.

Sometimes the church can be this way; a wounding influence. A few years ago, there was a service at Victory Church and the paster gave an invitation for people to come down front and accept Christ. Todd went down to the front to help with counseling. He ran into a guy who was shaken up by his experience because he was once a Christian who had a great relationship with Christ in a church. But he fell into a sexual relationship with a girl and got her pregnant. Wanting to be back with God, he went back to the church to let them know that he felt terrible, but wanted just to be back where he had been before. "I felt like they beat me." It devastated him and drove him away from the church and God. Todd grabbed him and hugged him saying how sorry he was that this had happened. Hearing the pain that the church caused was painful to hear.

Instead of being the voice of love and the voice of Jesus, sometimes we run into people who say, "Why can't you just stop living like that?", "Why can't you just clean up your mouth?" or "Why can't you just read your Bible?" For someone who doesn't realize our faith in Christ is about the heart, these are valid questions. But for someone who is on the receiving end, these questions can be like daggers.

Todd has lived on both sides of the aisle spiritually. He remembers how many times he let his friends down and how many times he lied to people, even working in the church. He himself had an inappropriate relationship with a woman there. It broke him and the truth about him eventually came into the light. While he was sitting in a Walmart parking lot, his roommate calls him and tells him to "just come home". Todd walks in, his roommate greets him and they turn in for the night. Its during a 4 hour conversation the next day that, right in the middle of his mess, his roommate says, "a lot of people keep asking me why I keep putting up with this and with your lies and with the hopelessness that you will never change." But then he tells Todd he is willing to give Todd his all. He wasn't going to give up on his friend, not matter how long it took. This has forever impacted Todd and it drives him now to put himself in the same path of others who are as tough on him as he was on his roommate.

"I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by me." Jesus says that He is going to prepare a place for us. If Jesus is the way, in essence the door to heaven, then maybe we are called to be the doormats. Maybe its not such a bad thing to be a bridge to the new life. Maybe it's not so bad to "be walked on" for the greater good. The whole reason we are called to be a church is to help provide for others a way. We are called to connect others with Christ. Are we willing to be doormats?

When we walk away from God, He isn't angry. He just wants us back. In chapter 6, the woman finally reconnects with her lover and everything goes back to flowers, doves and apple trees. "I am his beloved and He is mine."  I belong to God and He loves me. For those who are searching again, are you ready to come home?  God says that when we draw close to Him, He draws close to us.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

The "Hope" message by Louie Giglio can be found at http://www.newspring.cc/series/hope. It is a message that has been talked about and spread through all age groups of the Christian community. This is definitely worth listening to!

We are all going to come to the place where we run in to the huge pot holes of life that can swallow us up. Christianity can't always be reduced to a bumper sticker or a slogan. We don't know how to respond to everything that comes our way. We don't get a diagram that gives us the key to life. Some of us found out the hard way when we tried to live the Christian "newness of life" and we get knocked down. When life events continued as they did before we came to know Christ, it shook us and our faith.

In John 16, Christ was about to be crucified and about to bear the sins of the world when He said these words. "Now I've told you these things... (He had said some amazing things like: "I am the vine and you are the branches. Unless you abide in me, you can do nothing" or "I chose you; you didn't choose me" or "As much as the Father loves me; that is the same way I love you". He said he was going away, but the good news was he was gong to send another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who was going to live inside of them. He also told the disciples that they wouldn't see him anymore, but in a short while, they would see him again.) ....so that in Me you may have peace." "Have peace" means to take possession of peace; to have ownership of peace. Jesus didn't say we would have peace by being in church, have peace by having a bible at home or have peace by having certain beliefs. He said would would have peace by having a relationship with Him.

"In this world, you will have trouble." In our world, it will come in the future and in our present reality. Jesus was saying "Trouble is coming!!" Haven't we all had the darkness of trouble? Jesus says that we will have the big kind of trouble like trouble that rocks our faith and nearly snuffs us out. But He gives us the way to peace. He says there is a world that is crumbling, but there is also a powerful God. "Take heart because I have overcome the world." But how do you overcome the world? As He was standing saying this, He had not yet fulfilled his purpose by dying on cross, so how could He say that? It was because He had already arrived. He had fulfilled much because He was God on earth. Some people buy into the theology that troubles don't happen to true Christians. This is certainly not true Trouble will come and the question, at time of trouble, will be "Where will you turn?"

Recently, at a youth conference in Myrtle Beach, Louie told the audience that he didn't know where each of them were at the time, but he promised that the bottom would fall out at some point which would bring them back to the Hope of the gospel. "I was walking off the stage, and I literally hadn't even stepped off the stairs yet" when a security guard stopped him. He grabbed Louie and told him to go back onto the stage and to pray for a kid in the audience who had just received a phone call in the lobby (while Louie was talking) and learned that his mother had been shot in a drug deal. Before he knew it, Louie was praying with the kid in the lobby. Trouble will come.

Month's ago, Louie received an email from a kid named Jacob who had lost his sister in a car accident, which turned his life upside down. Out of the blue, Louie got this gritty thing about real trouble. Jacob was angry with God and couldn't see through his grief. He said his sister should be celebrating a birthday, not lying in a grave. He prayed that God would take away the internal bleeding of his sister when she was dying, but he felt ignored by God. What's the use in praying when God isn't interested in healing or restoring an individual for us? He had prayed over others and watched people heal, but when his sister needed healing, God was silent. So many people were praying that night, but God ignored their prayers.

It was a flat out reality. What could Louie say about that? "Take heart?" How could Louie himself say anything in an unexplainable event that causes unexplainable pain? This kind of pain in our lives The cross is the core of the Christian journey. It's not just a transaction Hebrews 6:19-20, it says "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf." We have this hope as an anchor during the shipwrecks of life. 1) It is at the cross that God shows us He loves us. We have to get this when we are thinking, "God must not love me if He let this happen to me." We have to get eyeball to eyeball with Jesus and understand that He was the love of God.

Our Heavenly Father loves us. 2) God allows freedom, but He maintains control. At the cross, "angry men" crucified Jesus. An authority gave the crowd the option of freeing Jesus or Barabus, a notorious criminal. But who did they choose? The Son of God. The guards came in punched the clock and crucified Christ. Was God in charge? Yes. Did the men make those choices? Yes. Yet, somehow, God gave freedom, but maintained control. He is never not in control of your life, but we are in a broken world where we make choices. 3) The third thing the cross tells us is that God can use the worst for His eternal purposes. This isn't something the disciples could see at the time when their Messiah was being beaten, ridiculed and crucified. It was a horrible experience, but when Christ reappeared and had been resurrected, it was all the more beautiful.

"I've told you enough bad news. Let me share you some good news." On January 22nd, Louie was on tour with Chris Tomlin in Phoenix outside of the Dodge Theater and he received an email from a young girl, Ashley, via wi fi which can now be found in its entirety at the link, http://268generation.com/blog/2008/04/the-day-unending-life-began/. Louie was so excited after reading the email. "She didn't even come to the conference and she was saved!" Louie called her up and asked if he could post her email on his site and blog. To him, it was a fantastic letter which drew many responses later on from his readers. A while later, Ashley wrote an email to "momma and everyone else", copying Louie and saying she had graduated even though it had been a "helluva year". She told how she had had some wonderful experiences, but that she was especially thankful for her roommate sharing the truth of Jesus and how it had changed her life. On May 4th, however, Louie received a message from her mother telling him that she had been in a car accident and died in the arms of her father. But her mother, even in her grief, said that she had watched her daughter's life change when she met the Savior. She missed her daughter, but knew Ashley had been listening to Louie's messages to learn more about her walk. The mother thanked Louie for all that he did because, at the funeral, many of her Christian friends showed up praising and rejoicing at a time that would normally be very sad.

Louie wept and, after composing himself, wrote the mother back a couple of days later. They communicated online about how wonderful it was that Ashley came to know Christ before her death and then they talked about Ashley and her new life. It wasn't long before the mother asked if she could give Louie's email address to Ashley's father, an atheist. She apologized ahead of time for anything her ex-husband might say to him. 4) The fourth thing the cross shows us is that God paints of a canvas. To us, it is a mosaic, because we can't see the significance of any one piece until we know the larger picture.

Not long afterwards, Louie received an email from Mike, Ashley's father. He had heard about Louie's conversations with him and how Ashley had been saved in January. Althought he was an atheist, he said that he could honestly say that he saw a huge difference in Ashley; "It was amazing." On the night he got the call, he was in Arizona and rushed to Florida via plane. But he was six hours too late and his daughter had died in the arms of her other father. It was like a knife in his soul. "I didn't know a person could feel that much pain all at once." Ashley's friends called and asked if they could plan the funeral. Two hundred kids showed up at the wake and music was playing and people were rejoicing that Ashley had come to know Christ. At one point, Ashley had asked her dad if he would go to a Christian concert with her, but he said no, Reflecting back on it, he said he now would give anything to have a chance to say yes. Her death had dramatically affected him. Louie wrote back and said he was glad Mike had gotten to know the power of the gospel through someone he loved. Not long afterwards, Mike wrote back with one sentence; "Would it be okay if I ask you some questions about your life and your faith?"

We might be left in these situations wondering why this is happening to us. But what we can realize about the cross is that Jesus knows our pain and that He went through it just like we are going through it. The cross doesn't get rid of the circumstance, but it does gives us the hope that everything that happens is part of a perfect plan for the good of those who love him. God will never let go of us no matter what comes our way. Big time trouble is coming and when it does, the hope comes from the cross.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why is Prayer So Boring?

In the second part of Fusion's series, "The Furnace", Todd McVicker opens by saying that if someone told him he'd be giving a message about prayer a few years ago, he would have said, "You have lost your mind." Todd is most active in the music ministry and in praise/worship through music, but he said the truth is he doesn't consider himself a "prayer guy". But God and Todd have been on a journey over the last few years learning about prayer.

"About 10 years ago, I got saved...but didn't know anything about prayer...about a year into my relationship with God, Victory (Church) was doing a 40 day fast and prayer....this was really and opportunity for me to grow...and maybe even be a prayer guy." He went to Home Depot and bought some durable letters to label his "Prayer Closet". That was going to be his place during the fast where he would pray for an hour a day. There was a big HooHa about starting the 40 days at the church and Todd was psyched. He fasted on day 1, came home and sat in the silence of a small closet to pray for an hour. "I prayed for everything." He was crying out and praying for friends, work, specific requests and anything that came to his mind. He worshipped a little and wore himself out filling the space of prayer. But when he came out of the closet, he looked at the clock and it said he'd only been praying for 15 minutes. "15 minutes!! Are you stinking kidding me?", remembers Todd, "That's all I had! I didn't have anything else..." So he went back into the closet determined to honor his commitment to pray for an hour a day. He went back into the closet, went back over many of the prayers he had offered up "and I think I even prayed about China". But when he came back out of the closet, it had only been anther 15 minutes. "That was my cycle, 15 minutes". So he went back in and forced himself to endure the last 30 minutes. This was very discouraging for Todd because when you hear people talk about prayer, "they don't say it's boring" or that it's not that fun.

Todd was determined to continue praying for days afterwards. Predictably though, as the days went by, he found himself praying less and less and then making excuses not to prayer at all. But during the 40 day fast, he said the "eating thing was going good". As a matter of fact, towards the end of his fast, he would literally lick Doritos and throw them into the trash can. "Hey, it counts....it turns into Dorito juice or something." So, from that experience, Todd decided he was just going to leave the prayer element up to the prayer people. There were other times when he would recommit, but he would have the same results which only left him feeling guilty.

"Why is it that this is so boring? Why is it such a bore and why do I have to psyche myself out, like a football player to pray? Then why doesn't it last so long? If this is our communication line with God...why is it set up this way?" Thinking about this, he mused that maybe WE have lost it somewhere. There is literally a devil in our world and maybe he has twisted the truth to convince us that God may not be all for us. Maybe somehow, Satan has perverted our prayer time.

"Let me say it this way, all the single ladies (singing to the song)...Let's say you have a friend who you trust...she tells you she has this guy you need to meet...he has money...he's nice to people...he's not shalllow...he treats people with respect...he's the man. Once she talks about him everyone else nods their heads and say 'yes'. So, you say 'When can I meet him?'...But your friend says, 'Oh, no, no, no....here's the catch; You don't actually get to meet him first. You have to sign up for the relationship and then you get to meet him at some point...But you trust your girlfriend...so you enter into the relationship...Like any new thing...it's fun...it's new.. you get the goosebumps...you get to read about him a little bit...you get a letter from him every now and then... then you get his number and call to leave a message... 'Good to talk to you...I've heard a lot about you...my rent's a little short this month. Could you hook me up?' But you never get to talk to him, see him, share with him or meet his parents!" Todd steps back from his story and asks the single ladies how long this would last. Obviously, it wouldn't last long at all!

But isn't this what we do with God? The "tinglies" are cool. The reading about Him is nice. We send messages up to Him. Other people have met Him, but we never have and we say, "I don't know Him!" Todd reflects on this by reading from Psalms. "Psalms is like this raw, uncensored expression." Psalms 16:11 says, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand." That, to Todd, is what prayer is. In His presence, we feel joy. Right next to Him are eternal pleasures. That is not forcing ourselves to pray.

In the movie "City of Angels", the plot is summed up by saying there is this angel and this girl. In Los Angeles, it describes how angels relate to people. There is one scene where a store is being robbed and these invisible angels come in and put their hands of comfort on everyone involved. "It's a cool scene." The main character (an angel) sort of doesn't get it. He's sent to this operating room where he is supposed to take the patient. But the surgeon, a woman, looks seemingly directly at the angel while pleading for the man's life. Although he does takes the patient to Heaven, he is moved by the woman who looked at him and asks his superior about it, but he is assured she can't see him "unless he wants her to". So, the angel later goes back to observe the doctor and watches as she is weeping on the stairs over the loss. Trying to comfort her, he shows himself to her and a relationship develops. Anther great scene is when this woman is describing how a pear tastes to t0 the angel, who himself cannot taste. At that moment though, the angel realizes that he will never truly understand this woman he is falling in love with unless he experiences what she is experiencing. So, although he is closer to heaven and hears the music of high places, he decides to give up his life as an angel to become human. Part of this process is he must fall from a high place, which turns out to be the top of a skyscraper. Standing at the top of the building, he stops and ponders, reflecting on his life as an angel. He thinks about watching the sunset and hearing the music in his head every morning. Slowly, he leans and falls. It takes a long time for him to land as all these memories of life as an angel race through his mind. Finally he hits and is knocked out. When he comes to, one of the first things he experiences is blood on his lips which causes him to be extremely excited. Todd enthusiastically says, "Guys, that was Jesus!!"

Jesus had access and the eperiences of heaven and of being in the Highest place, but He chose to put on skin to come here to earth to experience with us and to die for us. So, if he knows what we feel and knows our hurts, why is it still so hard to talk with someone who was with us and knows us?

Todd draws from the wisdom of the Bible by studying how these people prayed. First, there was Adam and Eve who "walked in the garden with God". Then, there was Enoch, who walked so much God took finally took him. Noah communicated with God by building a boat. Jacob wrestled with God. Joseph talked to God in his dreams. Moses saw God through a burning bush and then saw God in the miracles of Egypt. Moses also experienced God through "mountain climbing". Deborah experienced God through judging. Sampson experienced God through "kicking butt with jawbones". Samuel felt God through listening. David played music and wrote poetry. Regarding poetry, Todd asks, "how many times do you have to make yourself sit down to poetry if you are a poet? It comes naturally doesn't it?" Solomon studied and Job as well as Hosea suffered. Jonah was "fish food". The disciples actually got to hang around Jesus. These are our examples of relationships with God. So, if these characters of the Bible could experience these things with God, why can't we? Why can't we worship Him by interacting with His creation? Does it make any sense that he would give us sight, sound and touch only to have us worship Him in our own way by our mouths in a dark closet?

In ancient times, the Temple WAS the only place the people could go to experience God. Deep inside the Temple was the Ark of the Covenant and it was known that God was present here in what was called the "Holy of Holies". Separating the "Holy of Holies" from the other areas of the temple was a curtain that we know was 18 inches thick. Once a year, only one man was permitted to go into this part of the temple to make an offering before God. Can you imagine being that one guy? All the other people could only watch from a distance and wish that they too could have the experience.

Now, the good news is that Jesus came. In Matthew 27:50, in the agonizing moments before He was to become the Resurrected King, the curtain to the temple was torn in two. That curtain represented a distance from God, but Jesus came so that we could go into the presence before God. So, what if this new and priveleged experience could become exciting? What if there was something that could draw us in? What if there was a cross we could go to and feel? What if we could touch the wood and feel the nails? Then, what if there was piece of paper and a pen that would allow us write and then nail it to the cross? What if there was an easel that we could paint on the picture in our minds when we think of Him? Could that be a form of prayer? What if there was a table with incense that you could go to (like it tells us there is in Revelation) and it is a fragrance to God? What if we could light that incense and offer it to God before Him while smelling what he considers fragrant? What if there was music that we could really focus on and pray to Him. What if God could speak to us through the chords and the melodies? What if there was a wall with markers and we could write out on the wall right from our hearts our prayers and thoughts for him? What if there was a map where we could see the people we are praying for and what they are experiencing? Could that be prayer? What if there was a wailing wall where we could take the pictures of others who need Christ and post it for them? What if we could touch, feel, see, hear, give or write in prayer?

A couple of years ago, Todd's group started a place called the "Furnace" at Victory World Church. They did it so that they could just make our access to heaven just a little thinner. A few years ago, Todd and his wife went to Orlando to visit the church a friend of theirs started. One of the big things this church wanted was a place like the Furnace; a place just to go and dedicate time to God. Todd says his wife signed them up for 2 hours! His thoughts, at the time, were, "What the heck are going to do for 2 hours?!??" Mentally, Todd went right back to his dark, boring closet. He headed there with anticipated dread. But within minutes, Todd was weeping uncontrollably. "It felt like home." He felt amazing. In what seemed like 15 minutes, 2 hours had passed!! He spent the time painting, lighting incense, writing, listening to music and it changed Todd's life. The moment he and his wife got home, he began setting up a place in his home where he and his wife could go and truly experience God. Thank you, Todd, this was a very moving message....

Saturday, March 28, 2009

How Can I Forgive Myself?

Clay Scroggins, in the second part of his Northpoint series "dtr: Define the Relationship", talks about how, when we are confronted with moving forward in a relationship with anyone, there is a point we come to where we have to define or re-define our relationships. The Bible tells us that we can have a relationship with God through His son, Jesus. But we, as humans seem to have a need to always define the perameters of all our relationships. Jesus, in fact, asked Peter who he thought Jesus was. It was a likely a defining moment to help Peter realize what his true relationship was or should be with Jesus. Peter responded saying Jesus was the Messiah. (photo labeled for reuse from Google search).

Christ says, that if we come after Him, we have to "take up" cross daily. He allows us to wade into the water under our own terms, but yet He calls us to be fully His. But what happens when we fall; when we have a moment or a season of falling away from him? Many people have left the church because they felt like God was disappointed in them. Whenever something like this happens, "the (black) door cracks open and allows shame to fill up our lives". Some people then decide to hide or try to sweep their guilt under the rug.

Having a friend that became pregnant at the age of 16, he watched this girl stay home, wear baggy clothes, become a recluse and tell no one. But with things that aren't as obvious as a pregnancy, people "find new outfits to wear" to mask their duplicitous lives. They become highly secretive. Other times, people decide to just change what they believe so that they don't have to "try to be good". We, for example, live in a culture where sex before marriage is in vogue and widely accepted. For those who give in to such relationships, they simply reprioritize their value systems and convictions. But this is where shame whispers hopelessness in to our minds. "You'll never amount to anything. Look at you. You're not good enough for God."

This isn't just a thought process of children, but rather a common thought process for adults too. But as adults, when we go through these times, how we respond then, in large part, greatly defines our relationship with God. Face it, we live in a wild roller-coaster world and it can be very tough to stand firm in our faith. But one guy we can all relate to is Peter, because if there was any one person in the Bible who blew it time after time, it was Peter. But he held to his faith dispite his failures. So, let's take a look at John 13:36, where Peter, after acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah, thought Jesus was going to be a great ruler and king and he was looking forward to being alongside him. But in this verse, Peter gets a double shock; not only is Jesus "going away", but he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times.

"When I think about this", says Clay, "I think about this bit on Saturday night live they do called 'Really'". "Really" takes news headlines and basically makes fun of them. One of the first headlines they made fun of was the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, trying to sneak marijuana through the Atlanta airport after he was already in hot water because of the dog fights! Not only that, he tried to sneak it in a 12 oz. bottle of water, which is also illegal. The commentators on the skit are dumbfounded and sarcastically ask, "Really?" "We know you are a running quarterback, but throw it away!"

So, Jesus was saying to Peter, "Really? or Will you really lay down your life for me?" Peter said he would die for Jesus. This man, who had walked on water with Jesus, had witness enough to give his loyalty, but Jesus already knew that Peter would fail. Maybe when Peter cut off the guard's ear, he was doing so to show his loyalty. But when Jesus was on trial before Caiaphus, John and Peter were in the crowd watching the people mock and make fun of Him. They watched the guards slapping their Messiah. But right in the middle of this horrific scene, a woman turns to Peter and says, "You were with Jesus!" to which Peter flatly denies. It probably took him completely off guard, like Clay's wife when she asks, "You're not going to wear that, are you?" Clay sheepishly responds with, "No, this is the piece of clothing I put on in order to go get dressed." Comic relief.

One of the guards in the crowd, (believed to be the cousin of the guard smitten by Peter) recognizes Peter and claims that Peter was with Jesus that night. Not only does Peter deny, this but he vehemently denies it. He basically responds with "May God strike me down if I was with Jesus." He curses himself, with anger, and says "I don't know that man!" Then, the rooster crows and Peter flees. Once by himself, he cries and cries. Even though his response was in the heat of the moment, he still denied his friend and Lord. "I remember when the rooster crowed for me," says Clay, "this guy named Steve Martin, who I went to college with......he and I were watching a game.....I said some things and this friend said, 'Man, you didn't used to talk like that.'" For the rest of the day, Clay couldn't focus on anything except his friend's convicting words. The question is, then, are we going to have enough sensitivity to hear our alarms; our rooster crowing? If we have enough humility, we can get back into relationships.

Haven't you ever done something wrong in a relationship and you wanted to hide from that person whenever you saw them? But here, the disciples watched as the crowd convicted, stripped, beat and crucified their Lord and betrayed friend. When the women found the empty tomb the next day, it was Peter who sprinted to the tomb, determined to know if this was true. Later, after his resurrection, Jesus and the disciples are at a fire. In John 21, Jesus asks if Peter truly loves him more than anything. When Peter says "You know I do", Jesus says, "Feed my lambs". But then Jesus asks Peter the same question again and then again. But the third time, Peter told Jesus that Jesus knew all things and knew this was true. Jesus was asking three times, because He was symbolically forgiving three times. Jesus showed grace and said that He was going to give Peter 1) another chance and 2) everything he ever wanted. Peter, was empowered by being forgiven. This, no doubt, helped give Peter momentum in his ministry later on.

When we were kids, we'd walk and then fall. Would our parents scold us when we fell? Of course not! They said get up and try again. Right? Why is it that when we fall in some churches, they abandon us and say we don't deserve to get back up? Why is it that the body of Christ sometimes doesn't help us up when we fail? Why don't some Christians forgive us or understand? Some people, unfortunately, do not live their lives as Christ, the amazing forgiver, does.

Yet on the flip side, other people who have fallen feel they can fall as many times as they choose. But if we were hot on a summer day and we went inside to cool off. And if, while inside, we grabbed a bottle of Windex, would it quench our thirst? Maybe for a moment, but then we would suffer the consequences. But that's not the way we are built. The same is true about sin. We weren't built to continue sinning. God will forgive us again and again. But if we understand grace, we understand that sin isn't good for us. God's grace is big enough for us to take advantage of, but if we understand it, we won't.

Philip Yancy wrote a book called "What's So Amazing About Grace?" In that book, he says that, from nursury school onward, we are taught how to succeed in a world with no grace. We grow up hearing, "The early bird gets the worm...No pain no gain....there's no such thing as a free lunch....you get what you pay for....I like to win...and I insist on my rights. Yet if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel. I deserve wrath and I got love. We deserve to stay down when we fall, but Jesus says if we give Him our life, we can get up and walk again! He calls us to stand by His grace, with unending chances. He will not only assist us up, but he will help us to run. Don't stay down. Stand up.

God doesn't see the sin in us as Christians, He sees the forgiveness given by his Son. Standing up might mean we want to serve or get involved in a community group . Peter stood. He went into the homes of people and invited them into a relationship with Jesus. In 1 Peter 5:10, Peter opens with "And the God of all grace.." Clay says, "I can't imagine he could write these words without crying". Peter goes on, ".....will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast..." The message of the gospel is all about grace. We all fall. We all fail. But we don't all have to stay down.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What Does "Blessed Are the Meek" Mean?

For the recent weeks, Erwin McManus has been talking about the "Beattitudes" of Jesus. Jesus talks about the life He calls us to which can be tricky because He was consistently counter intuitive. Remember that the disciples didn't have all the information that we have in knowing that Jesus would be crucified and that he would rise from the dead. This was their first opportunity to wrap their arms around who He really was, where His Kingdom would be, how He would rule His Kingdom and what it would be like to be His followers. They also wanted to know who would be qualified to be His followers.

Jesus, right off the bat, starts with an extraordinary broad stroke that wipes out everyone who thought they were a sure "in" and gives hope to everyone who thought they were eliminated from the picture; "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." But if that weren't strange enough, He moves quickly to "Blessed are those who mourn." So, right away, He paints two pictures of things that we seek to avoid in life. We don't want to be poor or miserable and often we go to God to get rid of these things. But Jesus frames these attributes up as being the realities of life.

Reading Matthew 5:1-10, Erwin reminds us of all the beattitudes. We focus today, though, on the 3rd attribute, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth". Do any of us really believe this one? There is no practical evidence that Jesus is right on this. Rarely do we even use the word "meek" and we associate it with the word "weak".

Years ago, Erwin rode "open jumpers", doing fox hunting with no foxes. He jumped over obstacles and rode through a course. "Popcorn" (he was a good jumper) was the horse he often rode. "One of the things I learned was that the word 'meek' was part of the horse vernacular." Imagine these stallions bucking and snorting and defiantly daring handlers to try and ride them. When the horse was finally "broken", it wasn't that the horse was weak, it just meant that the horse now had "controlled strength". So, whatever it means to be blessed to be meek, it DOESN'T mean blessed are the weak. It addresses us in our harnessed strength.

When Jesus says, "blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth", we don't believe that for a second. Who do we think gets the "earth"? The powerful, the wealthy and those with authority, right? So, we often discount these words as being what happens when it is all over as in when life is extinct. The meek might inherit the earth, but up until then we have to be powerful. Isn't that what we really believe? We doubt Jesus' words because they are "out of touch with reality". In life, we try to leverage power, because, after all, power gets us the earth (in our minds). If we wrote the Bible, we might say "blessed are the powerful". Few of us live lives of meekness. But meekness is Jesus' strategic process of inheriting the earth.

On Friday night, Erwin was coming back from a Lakers game and his family was going towards an interstate, which was jam packed. As they were going through a green light, a truck raced past his red light right in front of Erwin's car, nearly hitting any one of the cars. He did it only because he could! But most of us always stop at a red light right. Have you ever stopped at a light and you were convinced that the light was broken? Then, have you been at a long light and another car went right through the light, leaving you there wanting to run the light? Well, when you didn't, you were demonstrating "meekness". What would happen if everyone ran red lights? It would be chaos and people would die! Ironically, our entire traffic control system is based on the concept of meekness! It's waiting for our turn. We are able to go throught the light, but we yield our rights for the good of others.

For the last 50 years, there is no way that the Christian church has demonstrated meekness to society. It doesn't seem to be the posture of the church sometimes. To be meek, you have to have strength! In order to have controlled strength, you have to have strength, right?

There are a couple of controversial passages on this subject. In 2 Kings 2, Elisha is a disciple of Elijah. Elijah was pretty cool. He prayed fire from heaven one time and another time, he outran a chariot. Elisha followed him around and asked God for a double portion of Elijah's power. In this passage, Elisha went up to Bethel and some youths came out jeering at him and making fun of his bald head. Elisha looked at them and called a curse from God on them. Suddenly, two bears came out and malled 42 of these kids! Elisha then went on his way to Mt. Carmel as if nothing happened. What is that all about? What kind of lesson is learned here? "Don't trust power to a bald man" kids Erwin. Elisha had been trusted with all this power, but didn't have the character to manage this power. This was a brutal act of violence by the prophet! "Don't tell me Elisha was a good guy!"

Another place in the Bible are the tales of Sampson. He wasn't the brightest in the world and, at the end of his story, he is imprisoned, his eyes are gauged out and he dies a horrible death. But there is a place in his story where he has good reason to be angry. In 1 Judges 15:3, Sampson is mad because the Philistines have given away his wife to a friend. So, he goes out and gets 300 foxes, ties them together two-by-two, attaches torches to each pair and releases them to run out and set fires to all the crops of the people. He used his power to overpower rather than to empower. He lived a life of uncontrolled strength; a true tragedy. (Artwork courtesy of http://www.davidlangonegallery.com/.)

Calling up two volunteers, Elisa and Chris, Erwin asks them to go through an exercise (that is supposed to work, but it doesn't- pretty funny) that demonstrates how, at different angles, we can be stronger or weaker base on our position. Jesus teaches us to take a posture of strength, not of weakness. The word meek is derived from means "liquid, fluid, adaptable". What is the most fragile thing we think of? Maybe an egg? We can crush the shell of an egg, but we actually cannot crush the egg itself, right? The egg is fluid and adaptable. Another point is, what do we have to have in order to inherit something? We have to have the right to inherit the earth. Jesus is saying, "these are the ones who will inherit". Have you ever inherited anything? There are different things we have the right to inherit.

Not to long ago, Erwin was part of a DNA project, "23 and Me". It was a good experience for him being a guinea pig, "a little bit of spit and a lot of information". It told him where his ancestors were from all around the globe. Other information he was going to learn was that Erwin was in the highest category prone to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or ADD, but in the lowest category for heroine addiction. There are a lot of things we do inherit from our parents. Jesus tells us that God is looking for those He can entrust with His earth. If the meek controlled Wall Street and the banking industry, wouldn't we be in better shape today? Wouldn't there be fewer broken families and stronger parent/child relationships if fathers were meek? Is it possible for each one of us to choose meekness and not weakness to impact this world?

Matthew 26:47 demonstrates one of the greatest acts of meekness in the Bible. Judas approaches Jesus and kisses Him, essentially betraying Him. Peter grabs a sword and swings at a guard, cutting off his ear. Jesus stops Peter and asks him if he doesn't realize that Jesus could pray to His Father and have legions of angels wipe the guards out if He chose. Not only does He exercise controlled strength, but He even replaces the guard's ear. Erwin says, "wouldn't it have been cooler if Peter had cut off his head so Jesus could replace it? :) " In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul says we should take on the meekness of Jesus. So, grow in strength and become a powerful person, BUT use it to EMPOWER.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How Do I Pray?

"The heartbeat of Fusion is Acts 2:42." Johnson Bowie focuses on the fourth element of this passage; prayer. Many times, people check out when we get to the subject of prayer because we think its boring. When we pray sometimes, it's like sending an email into space. So when we don't get answers, its like the server went down. We relate prayer, basically, to our own understanding. We think prayer is a ritual for monks or snake handlers. In our own prayer time, we act as though God always has the volume turned up on his side to speak. Nobody teaches us how to pray, right? Do we make a list and then do it? Do we imitate those we've heard? What does it mean to live a life FUELED by prayer? This is what God wants for us!

"I don't think God gives us stickers and balloons for good behavior....I want to be able to go into prayer and encounter the God of the Universe!" Our motivation to go into prayer has to be to know Christ. Really, when we get to know Christ, we swap our addictions of life for an addiction to Christ. THEN our life becomes fueled by prayer. This is then what keeps us coming back to prayer! It comes from our desire from within to know Christ. But at the end of the day, we don't know how to pray because we've disconnected ourselves from prayer.

Matthew 4:4 says that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." This suggests that we inately starve inside when we are separated from Him. We become surrounded by the FAKE of life. But when you come into contact with something REAL, it does something inside you. We have to have HIS Words. Most of us don't live in the place of Living from the Word of God. Our definition of prayer can be really narrow; we are down here and God is way up there. So, we just send our prayers up. But we need to know that God is right here and he wants to know us like a husband loves a wife. What would it be like if we talked to our spouses like we sometimes talked to God? It would be TERRIBLE, right? It would be FAKE.

God calls us to (Leviticus 6:13) to keep the fire on our altar ever burning. Sometimes we throw a single log on and walk away from it for a week! But if we don't clear off the ashes (Leviticus 6:10) of last week's church service or last months prayer conference, the fire goes out! You have to keep on feeding it and going back to that place of prayer. The moment we cut a flower, it begins to die. God is ALWAYS moving, not just in the single encounters that we remember from way back.  (picture courtesy of Lighthouse Church)

In Matthew, when the disciples ask how we should pray, Jesus basically responded by saying to communicate with God, pray for others and pray for ourselves. Praying for ourselves, we sometimes leave out because we feel funny focusing just on us. But in order to feel comfortable here, we have to have an ongoing relationship with our Creator. How can we ask Him for things when we don't know Him? Secondly, Jesus tells us to pray for others. But this includes our enemies! Bless those who curse us and pray for those who spitefully use us. Sometimes we pray for ourselves to tolerate those around us.  We say things like "God, give me patience to handle them."  While this is okay, pray for them to know Him! As we pray for others who persecute us, WE begin to change and it becomes easier for US to forgive them. Also, the more we pray for them, the more we get to know God's heart.

Johnson assures everyone here that prayer can be very hard to do on a regular basis. He confesses that he is not that good at it. But he wants us to know we're not alone when we are not "transported to another place" in the moment of prayer. Prayer can just be hard especially when we are tired.

In closing, he talks about his three year old who asks for help in drawing an airplane and how Johnson will hold his hand, which goes limp, and through the power of the father and submission of his son's hand, they will create an airplane together. That's how God is. We can rely on the strength of God. We can seek His forgiveness and even give ourselves a break from our past. We can run to Him, get His comfort, His words, His answers and then we can charge into life with Him and His blessings!

Video courtesy of Youtube's mysticmom4