Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Does the Bible Say About Integrity?

Following a message on humility, Erwin continues his "Uprising" series based on his book of the same name..  "We began a great quest...for honor...a journey that all of us need to take...that will lead us to this virtue of courage...Without courage, you will never unleash your full potential or realize your dreams."  Sometimes it seems like there are courageous people and then there are the rest of us.  The courageous people seem to have this natural DNA where they don't experience or feel fear.  But if we study courage, we began to realize that courage is simply the absence of self.  It is an extension of humility.  Last week we learned humility leads us to courage.

As for integrity, it's not as compelling or as highly viewed as other traits.  It's easy to be successful without integrity, right?  Sometimes, integrity even seems like a liability!  It can slow us down and hold us up.  What we will discover in our study is that, without integrity, we cannot withstand the test of time.  We won't have resilience.  We won't be able to make it through tests and trials without spoiling our soul.

The root word of "integrity" is the Latin word "integer" which means "whole" or "complete".   The mathematical application of the word is a number that is not expressed as a fraction or as a decimal.  It is a whole number.  Integers form the foundation and the baseline for all other mathematical thought.  They connect with all other functions.  Therefore, integrity can be associated with the concept of connectivity; the need to connect or to "integrate".   Think about the importance of integrity on a ship or on a plane.  What if either lacked integrity!?!  "You might as well go ahead and send your last text message" because when these vessels, which hold and connect everyone on board, lose integrity, they lose their ability to protect you.  The integrity of the engines, the hulls, the steering, the controls and the communication are all of vital importance.

So, we can see the need for integrity is virtually all around us.  In fact, we trust that most places have maintained their necessary level of integrity.  When they do not, we hear about them, such as the fertilizer plant in Texas which experienced a chemical compromise and the plant exploded with such intensity, it could be felt 50 miles away.  Thirty five people died when integrity gave way.  Two brothers decided that, because of their lack of integrity and their distrust of the integrity of others, they would place bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Hundreds were injured.  We know about the lost integrity of the ground beneath an entire community in China.  When the ground finally gave way, a landslide decimated the town and killed thousands of people.  We know how important it is to maintain integrity.

One individual who walked the journey and held integrity was David; King David from the Bible.  David was our Maximus.  He was the William Wallace of Braveheart.  "David was Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent all wrapped up in one".  Yet David was an incredibly flawed person.  He stole another man's wife and sent that man to his death in battle.  But integrity is not about being faultless; it is about being "falseless".   It is not about attaining perfection; it's about discovering intention.  Lets go back in the life of David, back when he was a teenager.  David had the job of looking after sheep, which was not the job for future kings.  His brothers were far more noble in their careers as soldiers.

We read in the bible that, one day, the army in which his brothers served was faced with battling the Philistines.  These two armies decided to have their best warriors fight to determine victory.  But the Philistines had a secret weapon named Goliath.  David showed up on the battlefield delivering cheese and he heard the taunting of Goliath.  David was shocked and asked "Is there no one to step up against him?"  Showing great selflessness, David said "I'll take care of it!"  This was condescending, naive and insulting to the soldiers.  His own brothers dismissed him, but David was confident.  He tells the king that he is qualified to fight Goliath.  He talks about how he went after lions and bears who had taken his sheep.  He killed the wild beasts and declares that Goliath will end up the same way.  He says the Lord who delivered him from danger in the lonely field would also hand him victory over Goliath.  This was an amazing sell because David's resume that he presents is one he built when no one was looking!!  In what was probably and unbelievable response, Saul tells David to "Go, and may the Lord be with you".  We all know what happened next.  But see, David let's us know in this passage that, what we do in secret forms our character.

1 Samuel 16, right before the passages about Goliath, we read about the prophet Samuel going to the house of Jesse looking for the the future king.  Jesse's hearty sons parade in front of Samuel, one by one, but none of them are chosen by the Lord.  Samuel himself thought a number of times that he was looking at the future king because of their physique, but each time the Lord whispered "No".  This reminds Erwin of the times when he was young and when he got picked last on the football team.  Sometimes, when we see someone tall and good-looking, there can be this form of judgement.  But the Lord doesn't look at the things people look at.  Rather, the Lord looks at the heart.  Samuel turned down each sons in succession and finally asked a question he shouldn't have had to ask!!  "Are these all the sons you have?"  What kind of father would leave out one of his sons!?!  Most dads would bring ALL their sons, right?  It is almost as if Jesse assumed David could not possibly be the one to be chosen.  When Samuel learns of the other son, he tells no one to sit down until David arrives.  Finally, David comes and he is described as being healthy and vibrant.  This story of David describes integrity as a key virtue of those whom God chooses to do His work.  It is integrity of the heart.

In Psalms 78:70-72, we read,  He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; 71 from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.  72 
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

Proverbs 28:3 says "Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts."

When you pursue the virtue of integrity, you'll find the unexpected virtue of courage and you'll find that nothing can take it either away.  Your integrity becomes your armor.  Everything God creates was meant to be integrated.  The entire universe is integrated.  When you think about things like aerosols destroying the ozone, we realize that we as humans are actually affecting everything around us.  But this only matters if life matters.  If life doesn't matter, lets just destroy everything!  Something inside us knows we are supposed to protect the innocent and unprotected species.  We know we are supposed to protect doves and beetles, oceans and atmospheres.  Have you ever noticed that everything else around seems to have more integrity than humans.  A baboon has more integrity because it is true to itself.  Whatever it does is the true nature of a a baboon!  Gravity is consistently gravity.  It is mathematically a feature of integrity.  There is not a single antelope who wakes up and decides it never wants to an antelope again.  If an antelope decided it wanted to be the hunter one day, then it would be a very short-lived dream.

One day, Erwin went grocery shopping with his wife, Kim.  While she shopped for the household, he wandered to gather his own.  Eight bags of popcorn and two cases of diet root beer later, he found himself in the produce section.  "Did you know there is a section in Pavillion (the grocery store) that is filled with fruits and vegetables!!   I know!  It is amazing!".  While mulling around the fruit section, Erwin gathered some bananas and started thinking...  When you buy a banana, you are technically just buying banana peels, right?  If the universe had no integrity, there might not be a banana in the peels.  We buy peels knowing there is a high probability that a banana is inside, but we don't know 100%.  There is an element of "faith" the banana even exists.  We assume it's not a cantaloupe.  Most of us have never even thought about whether or not there is a banana inside because we have such "faith".  Have you ever gone to the store and bought a watermelon.  You might have only bought a watermelon rine, but you had faith that there was watermelon inside.  We might thump the watermelon to determine the ripeness, but regardless, we assume it's watermelon.   Why?  Because everything God creates has integrity!   BUT there is this squirrely species called humans.  While humans might be consistently inconsistent, often integrity comes into question.  This is because God gave us free will.

We were created to be in relationship with God and others.  God gave us guiding principles consistent with creation, a creation He created with love.  If our hearts are out of alignment with Him, our hearts are out of alignment with others.  When Jesus was asked what the most important commands God gave us were, He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind...(and) Love your neighbor as yourself".

Have you ever felt that you were not the same person everywhere?  You might think you're a different person at church, a different person at home and a different person at work.  Because of this, you then feel  like you are not in harmony, you're disconnected and not integrated.   For instance, have you ever been around people who bring out the worst in you and you didn't like it?  See, when we become unintegrated, it is because of something internal in us.  We might say, "I am really a kind person, but not when there is pressure.  We might "Always tell the truth", but only when the truth works to our advantage.  We might maintain healthy relationships, but only as long as the relationships serve us.  Like bananas, we have layers within us.  We might like our outer layer; our looks, our health, our physique, our status, our success, our home.  But we might not like our second layer; our consistently living by the truths of Christ.  See, when the pressure cookers of life come, which are called relationships, employment, finances etc and we start attributing our behavior to what's going on around us, it is reflective of our integrity; our ability to maintain ourselves in who God meant for us to be.  There are no such things as white lies.  We choose to lie or to not lie.  We might be patient until what we want doesn't happen. Our third layer, the core of who we are, can often be affected by the outer layers.  Our fruit can be refreshing and nourishing to us and others.  On the other hand, it can become bitter, violent and deceptive.  We can deliberately choose the quality of our hearts by choosing to live as God tells us to.

Often, religion can cause us to create an external shell.  We might be afraid to be transparent, because it can sometimes expose imperfections.  But Jesus came to change us and to give us integrity of the heart and change us from the inside out.  God wants to give us a new heart.  He wants to make in us a new creation.  There was a death on the cross which was meant to realign us with our God in order to cement our own personal integrity.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Does God Look for Those with Humility?

Continuing the series from his book, "Uprising", Erwin McManus ( opens with a prologue.  "For the next 3 weeks, we are going to step into a quest for honor and integrity."   However, to set the foundation for honor and integrity, Erwin begins with "humility".  When we enter into faith conversations in life, this is not a typical topic covered.   "If we have a series about success, how to reach our destinies or how to unlock our talents, the room is packed!  However, if we talk about humility, few people feel they aspire to be more humble.  Yet, what we need to begin to connect is the person we long to become and the journey that is required to become that person.  Have you ever felt that you just can't "catch a break" to become that person?  We often lack the discipline or the knowledge to pursue character.  In order to live a life of honor, we have to have the courage to agree to live it!   So often, we feel we have some sort of deficit when it comes to courage.  As for integrity, it carries this elusive meaning; this slippery definition within us.  So many of us have been on this journey towards integrity, but we are not sure how we can attain it.  That, or we just can't seem to "crack the code" to become a people of integrity.

Have you ever tried to join a pick up game of basketball, football, soccer, kickball..etc?  Remember, this is where you have to stand in a line and wait to be picked by captains for a team.  Erwin remembers this all too well because he was always picked last.  He admits that he was a terrible athlete, but "another reason why (I was picked last) was because, often of the time, my brother was a captain... I knew I wasn't going to get matter how hard I tried..."  Since (most captains) knew his brother wouldn't pick him, they then wouldn't want to "waste a pick" because they knew they would end up with Erwin anyway!  Erwin hated this process and one day, when he'd finally had enough, he decided that the only way he could avoid being picked last was to be the captain himself.  He courageously stepped up to be a captain and, of course, his brother was the other captain.  Erwin knew that his team "would get killed" and lose they did, time and time again.  But as time went by, Erwin began picking the worst players first because he liked honoring the kids who never got this chance.  Also Erwin began to realize that, if this team, his "Rival Muffin Band", ever won, it would be a true victory because they had such a small chance of winning!   "I accidentally found a principle from Jesus!"  The great part about this story is that his team did finally win, but he'll save that story for another time.  Nonetheless, there is something inside of all of us that hates being picked last.

So why should we value being last?  Why should we care, in any given situation, about humility?  These questions require a question.  Have you ever wanted to be the person God trusted with a big dream or responsibility to truly make a difference in this world?   If humility has any true value in this world, it is the fact that,

God honors humility.

Philippians 2:1 says, "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,     being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

In Jesus, we see humility is the highest virtue because He took this on Himself at the highest order.  Jesus changed our concept of what leadership looks like entirely.  He combined leadership with the spirit of serving to create a sort of a "servant leadership".  So many times, when we talk about the humility of Jesus, we see this as almost a contrast from who God is; this great all-knowing, all powerful God.  But Jesus humbled Himself by leaving His Trinity to become a servant to mankind.  What all this implies is that God, before Jesus, had never experienced humility or had never felt what it meant to be a servant.  But this is FALSE.

In scripture, we read much about glorifying God, about honoring Him and about sacrificing for Him.  A side effect of this are the questions that surface in the back of our minds, "Is God some sort of Divine Narcissist?"  "Does He need to be adored?" and "Did He create all of us just to have a people who worship Him?"  "Is this our needy God?"   Well, if the driving narrative of all of Creation is simply to glorify God, He did a lousy job because most of us don't glorify Him!   On the contrary, if the driving narrative is love, then everything else makes sense!  Think about it.  Jesus teaches us that leaders are to be servants to the people.  But by this teaching, we learn a provocative truth about God;   Jesus is God's expression of pure love and the humility love requires. We think of God as all powerful and all knowing.  While this is true, Jesus relays to us is that He is also the purest expression of humility.  God is not only more humble than us, but His coming in the form of a servant was not new to Him.  Jesus was a natural servant because it is the only path God has ever taken!  We speak of the God as the God of fire, wind and water.  But He is not like the Greek gods of power and rage.  Our God is the God of humility with a path of servant-hood.

If many who want to be like God, they want His power and His wisdom, but often don't want His character!  Jesus made Himself nothing by assuming the role of a servant.  What other path could God take except a path of humility and love?  Matthew 11:29 says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

God is saying, "You can trust me with your life!  His heart is gentle and humble.  This is who God is and this is why He is worthy of worship!  But it still seems strange to say God is a servant.  It feels right to say He is all powerful and all wise, but saying our God is a servant recoils us.  It is the aspect of God we desire the least.  Servant hood is not a higher status.  It implies that our hope is found "beneath us".  Jesus says to come to Him with a humble heart.  But it is only with a humble heart that everything else makes sense.  Jesus materializes Himself to earth in His truest character.  See, it then makes sense about why God chooses who He does.  It then makes sense why he looks for the humble in spirit.  The scriptures give us a clear picture of this. In fact, we also read in scripture that God actually opposes the proud!  God does not choose the arrogant.  James 4:But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

God chose Moses, right?   Moses was basically Israels's George Washington.  It wasn't because Moses was the most confident or the most powerful man among them!  Moses was "more humble than anyone else on earth!"  That humility is the most reflective image of God.  It is parenthetical.

Remember when Moses and Aaron went before the Pharaoh?  In Exodus 10:3, So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?  Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.  Of all the requests God could have made to Pharaoh, He only asked Pharaoh to humble himself!   Was that all Pharaoh had to do?  What Pharaoh soon came to realize is that God is incredible about taking broken humans and doing wonderful things with them.

God will not oppose you because you are a failure.  He will not reject you if you are broken.  God does not even reject the sinful. He rejects the arrogant.  This is why it brings so much pain to Him when we resist Him when He Himself went net through so much pain to pursue us.  God calls you and me to serve and to lay our lives down.  But He laid His life down for us many, many years before He asked us to this.  He has done this and He has done much more!

Humility is kind of a strange dynamic.  You can think too highly of yourself, but you can also think too little of yourself.  See, we often confuse humility as unhealthy self deprecation or as an incredible lack of self esteem.  Years ago, Erwin went to a study about neural readings of the brain and neural feedback.  One day, while he was waiting to enter the lab, he started a conversation with the CEO.  They were talking about the business and, after the CEO mentioned his family several times, Erwin commented that he must be a great father and husband.  The CEO balked and said, "No, I'm a piece of shit!"  Reflecting on the CEO's response, Erwin's mind wanders to his dog, Thatcher. "I'm his master, but I have to serve my dog..I have to make sure he has food... I have to take Thatcher for walks..And because I am his master, I have to carry plastic bags and grab 'all of that' every time!"  Erwin is a servant-master to his dog.  You are not some meaningless piece of waste.  You are wonderfully and marvelously made!  Don't buy into the falseness that you are worthless.  You are the image of God.

Sometimes we just want to be more than we are.  We all have this desire.  There is a voice in us that makes us want to be great or significant.  "I want to be great.  I'm just going to own that"  Jesus says if you want to be great, He has a process for that.  To be great, you have to be the servant to all.  Erwin observes, "As long as I know how long I have to be a servant, I can do that, right?"  Jesus says if you want to be first, be last.  "I've been that, so I'm willing to be last...but for how long??"    Is this like the line we formed as kids when we were last in line and someone came down and said, "Okay everybody, "Turn around!" (So then the last were first.)

In order to be in a place of the most honor, we have to start in the place of the least honor.  Have you ever been to a game where you saw empty seats in the more expensive areas?  You were with a friend who were a bad influence and you went and sat in those seats only to have the concierge ask for your tickets!  After you couldn't show him a ticket, you were asked to politely (and humbly) return to your seat?  Worse, have you ever been to an event where you had a good seat, but then you saw a better seat, only to find somebody got there first.  But when you tried to return to your previous seat, someone had taken that as well?

The most extraordinary thing Jesus taught us about humility is that God is more humble than we could ever be.  What we might find hard to believe is that we thrive in humility!  God knows this and encourages us to choose the path of servant hood.  It is only to the humble that God trusts His power and His glory.

John 13 reads, It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 

This was Jesus' moment!  He knew that all God's power had been returned to Him.  What would we have done if we knew, at that moment we had this kind of power?  Can you imagine what would happen to this world if everyone could materialize their thoughts into reality?  Everybody would be gone!  Think about how many siblings we would have left!!  How many of you would just get rid of your boss or your boyfriend?  There is a reason why God doesn't give us His power.  What do you do with your power?  What do you do with your relational power, your emotional power or  your position of wealth?  See, Jesus had absolute power on the cross!   Yet, even knowing what He was about to experience, Jesus chooses to wash His disciples' feet.   

"So He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

God searches us and longs to make us clean.  He asks us for our life, but only because He gave first to us.  He even took on all of our shortcomings to save us.  God always exalts the humble.  He exalted Jesus to the highest place with the name above all names.  We should realize what Jesus is trying to do in washing our feet.  He is trying show us the value of humility.  It is here that we find the kind of people God chooses to entrust with His power.

"When I was 29", says Erwin, "I spent those years working for an urban ministry...I rarely talked to anyone... We were working in a tiny duplex downtown and ministering to prostitutes and drug dealers...20,000 people would pack the arena nearby."  Often, Erwin would volunteer at the arena pointing a flashlight to the right or left.  Erwin worked at camps for boys as well.  "Boys are easy.  There's no conversation and then we wrestle."  But then Erwin would also help with 10 to 12 year old girls.  "Girls are HARD...All they want to do is talk!"  They would come in clusters to him because they would move in clusters.  Remembering their names was hard and exhausting. "I was was exhausting and I needed relief."  After surviving an  exhausting camp one day, Erwin had committed to volunteering at the arena where "a monkey could do what I was doing".  This particular night, Erwin wanted to skip out, but his wife Kim said "No, you volunteered and you are going."  "So I went...I had no clean clothes, so I grabbed some jeans at a local store.  When I got there, I was in a bad mood with a bad attitude.  What's worse, the guy in charge of the event wasn't nice either.  This guy came up to me and said, 'Son, when you come to a meeting of ministers, you need to wear a suit.'

Sulking in a humiliated mood, one of the organizers stopped to have a word with Erwin.  He was told by the organizer that one of the featured speakers was not going to make it and he said, "I think the Lord wants you to speak!"  Erwin laughed because he didn't want to look like an idiot.  But the man more intently grabbed Erwin and, through huge glasses declared upon Erwin, "The Lord wants you to speak!!"  Erwin was stunned.  There were 20,000 people in the audience and he only had 45 minutes to prepare.  This was a huge opportunity; the opportunity of a lifetime.  But Erwin went behind closed doors and fell to the floor, weeping.  He was overwhelmed and terrified.  When he finished praying, he went to tell his wife.  In terror, he said, "I can't speak!"  Kim responded with "What do you mean?  God told me you were going to speak tonight and that's why I wanted you to come."  Shocked, Erwin asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"   Calmly, she said, "Because you would have prepared for it and you wouldn't have come to serve."

Humility is what God needs to work in humanity.  In humility, there is no where to fall!   "I love the fact that when God created us, He took the most common material in the universe, dust, and breathed life into us."  God needs none of what we have for His work, He just needs us to humbly open our hearts for Him.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How Can We Be a Free People and Not Be Free?

Fifteen years ago, Erwin McManus began putting together the material to write his book "Uprising".  How amazing it is that there are so many people who live in a free world but who are not free.  Their decisions in life have bound them and they have kept them from living the life that they dreamed of living.  These decisions have also kept them from living life to the fullest as God desires for all of us.

"Uprising" is not about people rising up in a traditional sense.  It's about an internal uprising.  Jesus was born a slave to the Roman empire and He grew up walking among a people who knew nothing except bondage because of their generational history.  We seem to forget that Jesus was not born into a world of freedom.  When Jesus begin to work and speak of freedom, His disciples heard His words in the context of a group who had never known freedom.  Jesus would offer them words like, "He who the Son sets free is free indeed."

Many knew about the coming Messiah and many thought that Jesus would show up, rally the people and and lead an army to free them from slavery.  They yearned for this to happen.  They wanted a practical revolution.  They wanted Him to declare with a clarion call a revolt against an evil empire and to bring an end to Caesar's rule and all of his gods.  They didn't realized that the only blood Jesus intended to shed was His own!!

Psalm 119:32 says, "For I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free."

Some words are just not supposed to live together such as "jumbo shrimp",  "government efficiency" or "Lakers and playoffs" (jokes Erwin).  Two words in the passage above that do not mix are "command and freedom".  We know the meanings of both of these words.  We run away from "commands" right?  Why would we "run in the path of His commands"?  We have long thought of God as the eternal killjoy of our freedom.  We often think He is trying to control and contain us.  But what He wants is to give us a freedom we cannot imagine.  Jesus knows something about freedom that we often don't realize.

True freedom is an internal experience, not an external one.

Have you ever felt you were a prisoner in your own world?  So many people live in a world of unimaginable bondage because of their choices.  Only when it's too late do they realize bad choices steal from us our freedom.  Ironically, the choices we make IN our freedom are exactly the choices which COST us our freedom!  Have you ever wondered why you are where you are?  Someone recently said to Erwin, "I never thought I would be that guy!"  How did this happen to me?  How did I get here?  Erwin can tell all of us without uncertainty that our life is the reflection of our character.  So often we try to achieve greatness through our talents.  But talent is so often elusive.  In a room full of highly talented people, we become just average, right?

That innate talent you have is a gift to you, not a gift from you.  Those high cheek bones, that dimpled chin and those swimming blue eyes are from your parents!  The future that may be elusive to you; the life that your soul longs for is not built on your talent, your intelligence or your looks.  It's built on your character.  You have control over the person you choose to become.  "Over the next three months, we are going to talk about how to build your future based on your character."  Erwin is going to teach how to make the choices to set our hearts free!

Jesus gives us a path and an outline, but it is not an easy one.  What we are talking about is a move from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered life; from a self indulgence life to a life where we choose honor and nobility. But this journey comes at a cost and a sacrifice.  If we choose this journey, we will discover what it means to live.  Jesus models this for us, as is referenced in Philippians 2:3,4;

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.

This is a revolution of the soul where we turn all the values we've come to know upside down.  Treat others of greater value.  Have the same mindset of Christ Jesus.  He made Himself nothing by making Himself obedient to death, even to death on a cross!  This is a revolution that began 2000 years ago and was started by the most amazing person ever to live.  If Jesus chose to serve, who among us is greater than He, sent from heaven, who chose to wash our feet?

In 6th grade, Erwin loved mythology.  One particular story he was drawn to was that of Narcissus, who was  a hunter and the most beautiful creature ever to live.  Because of his inherent sense of loveliness, no one could match his beauty.  Jealous of anyone more attractive than she, the god Nemesis' retaliated against Narcissus by taking him out to a pond and showed him his own reflection.  When Narcissus saw his own reflection, he fell in love.  Never had he seen such beauty and he was drawn so intensely to it that he dove into the water and drowned.  There is another version to the ending that describes how he stared at himself for so long that he turned into a flower out of pity from the gods.

How many mirrors do we have in our homes?  Have you ever been to a gym and seen all the mirrors there?  Ho many times do you see a mirror and feel an obligation to stop and pause?   There is a little bit of narcissism in all of us.  But when we move to a life of service, it moves us away from ourselves and moves us to the model-life of Jesus and it is there where we find freedom.

Twenty years ago today, Erwin became the pastor of his church.  Interestingly, he never intended to become a pastor.  He was volunteering in a church in East L.A. and the church's pastor approached him and suggested he pursue becoming that church's pastor.  Erwin turned it down, but the question kept coming back again and again.  At one point, he asked his wife about it and she said "No!"  Erwin was confused.  Finally, after endless conversations for a year or so, 150 people unanimously voted Erwin to take the position.  The ministry is a unique way of moving from a self-centered life to a service-centered life because it is so tangible.  It is a deliberate move and there is an obligation involved.  But we can all make clear and deliberate choices to be in active service of others.

Soon later Erwin accepted the pastoral position, a group from his church went whitewater rafting on some 3 and 4 rated whitewater.  Many people bonded and went through the experience together.  They all jumped in the raft and, although it started out very peaceful, the roaring of the river soon came upon them.  All of the sudden, the river was moving violently and aggressively.  "Row, row, row!" the guide was shouting.  Although they had been given instructions, they were all just frantically flailing their oars.  The raft ahead of them hit a gigantic boulder and flipped everyone out.  Then the second raft ahead of them hit the same boulder and it flipped too!  Erwin's raft then seemed to accelerate towards this same boulder.  Just before they hit, a gigantic guy in their raft screamed that he couldn't swim.  Erwin grabbed the ropes as tight as he could to brace himself.  The raft hit the rock and the giant guy landed on Erwin, squashing him.  Erwin sunk deep into the river and when he came up for air, found himself lost in the violent rapids.  Desperate, he was able to cling to some rocks and claw his way back to dry ground.  As he looked around, he then realized that only the men had been thrown from the raft!  All the ladies were still floating down inside.  It was only after his harrowing ordeal that Erwin began listening to the guide's instructions about the safety guidelines (which had previously been explained when Erwin wasn't listening).  Fortunately, Erwin did hear enough to know to lift his legs in front of him which allowed him to float safely down river.

We cannot go on the quest for a life like Jesus' until we expressly want to truly live.  If we surrender to the ordinary, mundane, common life, we might as well keep our heads down and wait until we die.  But if there is a thread within us; a tiny desire that suggests we were NEVER CREATED TO ACCEPT AN AVERAGE AND ORDINARY LIFE, THEN THIS QUEST IS THE JOURNEY FOR US!!!  Jesus promised us a life of abundance but we must choose to pursue it with Him.  We were not meant to conform or to be the backdrop of someone else's story . We all want to be heroes, don't we?  "I want to live!"

"I choose freedom!" declares Erwin.  Within our freedom, we can make freedom-taking choices. Galations 5:13 says "you...were called to be free."   Your soul longs to be free.  "Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather serve one another humbly in love."

There is a freedom only Jesus can bring us through service.  There is freedom when we empty ourselves and allow God free reign over us.  Jesus tells us about true power in Him.  He tells the Jewish people that when a roman soldier comes and smacks them, looking for justification to kill them, turn the other cheek.  When the roman soldier comes in the cold of the night and demands their coat while mocking them, give the soldier a coat AND a shirt.  Let them know that their greed can never over power our generosity.  When the soldiers show up at the place of work and turns them into "their donkey or their horse" to carry a horse's pack to carry for a mile (this was the maximum legal distance a soldier could demand someone carry a pack), Jesus told them to "carry it for two".  Don't ever let a human being turn you into a slave.  Hate is never more powerful than love.

Erwin used to be a lumberjack.  "I used to be a lot of things...It's the gift of not being able to do anything well."  He and his friends were going into the mountains in Virginia because the state had set aside some acreage that they needed to be cleared.  The friends went up to earn some money.  They took the three hour drive there and worked from sunrise to sunset cutting and loading trees, thinking they would make a killing.  They felt they were going to be rich.  For some reason, though, none of the other lumberjacks even showed up.  But, as the boys were leaving, they couldn't get the trucks out of the mud.  Their tires sunk in the ground because it had rained recently and the ground had grown soft.  Ohhhhh, "so that's why the other lumberjacks didn't show!"  The other lumberjacks knew not to go after a rain.  Erwin and his friends learned the hard way.  It took them forever to completely unload the timber.  And, it was only then that they could move their trucks.  Essentially, at the end of the day, they had nothing to show for all their work.

Jesus humbled Himself so that, in His emptiness, God would raise Him to be the name above all names.  This is miraculously what He longs to do in us.  We have to unload all of the timber of our lives, so that we can get out of being stuck in the mud.  We have to unpack all that we have packed into our soul.  All of this stuff that's been replacing biblical truth has gotten us stuck in our lives!  You've got to be willing to unload it all and leave it all behind.  Otherwise, we will remain in the same place.  If you have been wondering on a faith journey and you seem to keep coming back to the same place, IT IS TIME TO BREAK THE CHAINS AND BE FREE.  It is serious, intense and deliberate!

Monday, May 6, 2013

How Can I Lead My Family to Pursue Righteousness?

In the first part of his series, "Bless This Home", Craig Groeschel ( opens with the theme, "Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness".  How many of you want your homes to be blessed?  We ALL want our families to be blessed, but in most cases when we look at other families, the word that comes to mind is NOT "blessed".  There are so many financial problems, infidelities, children problems, blended families, health issues etc.  Life at home can be overwhelming!   There are a lot more temptations and the world today is so complicating as well.

We are are going to use the teachings of Jesus, specifically from the book of Matthew, to help families to create environments where a home can be "blessed".   Matthew lays out the Beattitudes, which is the baseline for Craig's series.  "We are going to use a number of these principles to bless our homes.  Next week, we are going to look at 'Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God'...Most of our homes would not be characterized by purity but rather by impurity.   In week 3, we will cover 'Blessed are the peacemakers'...Often we have homes where there are 'peace takers'.   In week 4, we will look at 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for (Christ's) sake'....We need to stand out in this world."

Much of the series, for Craig, is going to require him to be largely transparent.  He will commit to share what happens in his own home.  "But we are sooo far from perfect", he admits.  It sometimes surprises people when the pastor's family isn't perfect!  One day his daughter was in class and all the kids were talking about how their parents were always yelling at them. His daughter said, "my daddy doesn't yell at us" and the teacher thought, "well there you go. Of course the pastor doesn't yell at his kids". But then Craig's daughter continued, "they yell at each other every day, but they don't really yell at us" (!!)

None of us are perfect, but we are being perfected by the power of God.  In Matthew 5:6, we read, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled".  So many homes are not filled with that that matters most.  Rather, homes fill themselves with other things in an attempt to be fulfilled. In your home, what do you hunger for?  What are you pursuing?  What matters most to you?  Some of us might say, "we are here to please God", but then what would our kids say if we asked them?  Some people might say they are trying to relax, to have fun or to be liked.  "Image management" is a priority for some families.  For others, it could be just the wind; more money, a bigger house, the smartest kids, the most athletic kids...

If you're like most people and if you're really honest, you might admit that you are not hungering for righteousness. So, what do we do when we realize that we don't have an appetite for righteousness?  We change our appetite!!  How many people love pizza? It's hugely popular but not very good for us on a regular basis.  At one point, Craig, changed his diet from too much pizza to fish, chicken, vegetables and fruits. After a couple of months eating like this, he decided one night to eat pizza and it made him sick. Why? because his appetite had changed!  Pizza no longer satisfied him.   This is what it's like when we pursue God! After we begin to feed our minds with the purity of God, we have not appetite for what is impure.

However, even if we change our appetite by pursuing God, we should first be aware of what DOES NOT work with our faith; legalism and lukewarm Christianity!

Legalism doesn't work because this is when we change Christianity to a bunch of rules that are way too many for us to keep.  Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.  This is why some pastors have rebellious kids.  The kids know about the life style but early on, lack the relationship and become rebellious.  

Lukewarm Christianity is when we believe in God, but don't have a real passion that brings glory to Him.  How do we know if we're a lukewarm family of faith?  "The way I know the temperature of my family's faith is when I think of the last time we prayed as a family".  If we haven't talked about faith at the dinner table, chances are we are lukewarm.  If I am not leading my family out of circumstances that are not consistent with our faith, like inappropriate music, inappropriate television shows or events, chances are we are lukewarm.  If the family is not reaching out in the community to help others, chances are we are lukewarm.

What DOES work to change our appetite when pursing God?  As a family, we should not just be a christian family.  Instead, we should think of ourselves as more of a Christ-centered home.  Unfortunately, many people can call themselves christian families, but they are often NOT Christ-centered homes.  Right?  We can all say we are ducks, but that doesn't make us ducks.

David explains this Psalms 63:1, "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water...David does not look for God when it is just  convenient for him.  If we were to edit this verse and apply to our families it might sound like this;

You God are our God. Earnestly we seek You. We thirst for You.  Our whole family longs for you.

What else is there to pursue, truly?  Popularity?  "Oh popularity, you are my God!"  Or, "Oh championship of the soccer league...!   Oohh new car..., my rump longs for your car seat warmers and a good ride."  This sounds ridiculous, but this is the way many families live and we wonder why they are so empty.

As a leader, teach your home to see God as loving, approachable and involved.

This past week Craig had to travel and beforehand, his daughter Mandy came in to his bedroom.  She wanted to talk, but he was busy.  Working on this sermon, Craig asked her what she would give as advice to another family to have a Christ -centered home.  Mandy replied, "You should create an environment where you kids want to have discussions about God so it's not something they feel they have to do but something they want to do."   It was no surprise, when later that night, Mandy came back in and asked Craig to pray for her future!  But the Groeschel's had long ago committed to a Christ-centered home.  So, if this isn't the culture in our own homes, how do we do this especially now when our kids are older?

1. Involve God in daily conversations.  This may start out by just seeing a beautiful sunrise.  If we comment on it, glorify God in our comment.  If there is a conflict, remind yourself and everyone that God is the resolver of conflict.  Remind our family daily of their godly blessings.  Craig's 12-year-old son, Sam, was talking to his friend recently and pointed out to his friend how God had blessed him with various things in his life.  Craig realized that pointing this out to his own family was spilling out into the community through his kids.  

2. Make church a non-negotiable.  faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God.  Surround your family with the fellowship of believers.  It then becomes something that they want to pursue and something they want to be a part of.

3. Show how seeking and serving God is FUN.  Craig's family has "popcorn prayer time".  They sit together in a room, eat popcorn and pray for people and things that need prayer.  In the mornings, when Craig gets up, he will see his kids studying the Word and it is a blessing to him.  How did they start doing this?  They saw their parents do it and now they do it!

We don't have to tell our kids how to be good if we are pursuing the one who is good.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.

These things may sound very rough to do and totally counter intuitive because of all the problems in your home.  But if we commit, we can do it!  Can you make seeking God Fun?  Yes!!  Can you make church non-negotiable?  Yes!!  Can you involve God in conversations?  Yess!!

Joshua 24:!5 says, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

You choose this DAY.  You choose THIS day.  You choose THIS DAY.  Then your home will be blessed.

Friday, May 3, 2013

How Is It Our Bodies are "Holy Temples"?

In the fifth and last sermon of his series, "Spirit", Erwin McManus talks about diving into this space where most of us only spend small amounts of time exploring. So many times, when we are moving through life, we become absorbed in the material world, but then something will happen in our lives that turns us to the spiritual realm; the invisible world versus our visible world.  If we don't have a language for these experiences, we put together our own glossary of terms saying it is an "energy" or it is a "force" or some impersonal power.  We think of it as a "life force".

Sometimes, when we are working through a life crisis, we start looking for ways to be empowered; ways that might help us make it.  Other times, we need a competitive type of power to self actualize.  We start looking for an outside source that will elevate us to a "higher level", but the challenge is always the same; making this "life force" personal.

Scriptures tell us that this "force" is far more profound than what we, ourselves, could imagine.  The Creator of the universe works in our lives and He is personal, creative and has a purpose for all of us.  But in order to establish a relationship with this Creator, we have to change the way we think about reality.  If we approach the Holy Spirit with the scientific view, we are approaching Him incorrectly.  Science says everything comes from nothing.  Scripture says that the Spirit is the intention of God and it was from this Spirit that the earth was created.

Long before Erwin came to Christ, he had spiritual experiences.  As a young boy in El Salvador, Erwin regularly would sleep walk.  The houses in his neighborhood were interconnected with high walls, barb wire and locks, so there was virtually no way for people to get in, but when he would sleep walk, he would wonder out of the house!  The police would find him walking in the streets.  He would have no memory and no one could figure out how he was getting out.  During these times, Erwin was always dreaming that he was flying.  He imagined he was going to other places in the world and sometimes he would dream he was going to other parts of the universe.  Years later, in Raleigh NC when he was 16, he found himself still wandering around in the night.  What's more, he often found himself drawn to the guest room in his house.  In this room, he felt comfortable even though he says he actually felt an invisible presence there.  At one point, his aunt from El Salvador came to stay with his family and she was to sleep in the guest room.  But that night, she knocked on Erwin's door and said she couldn't sleep because she felt there was a presence in her room.  Erwin immediately knew what she was talking about and told her that "they won't hurt you".  This was too much for his aunt, who then screamed and refused to sleep in the room!  Yet Erwin continued to be drawn to the room and continued to feel connected to whatever was present.  He knew, by this experience, that he had a connection to the invisible world.

As humans, there is something in us that connects us to the spiritual realm.  We are not the same as buffalo and orangutans.   Despite so many commonalities to every creature, man (and woman) has a soul.  Yet every creation here is a manifestation of the spiritual world.  In 1 Corinthians 6, we read, "19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

What Paul is talking about is the essence being human.  It is our spirit that distinguishes us from animals.  We are a temple of the Living God.with this unique intention of being inhabited by Him.  Because we have all this evidence of the material world, we lose the reality that we are the spiritual essence of His image.  We think of our modern spirituality more as being associated with a building, a temple, a mosque or a church.  As incredible as Erwin thinks their church building is, he doesn't like that it helps contribute to the misread of this sacred space.  Our bodies are the temple, not the building and we have been bought at a price.  God purchased our sacred space so that He could live in us.  The Creator of the universe occupies us!  

However, because we were designed to live in the Spirit, we also have a design flaw which Jesus alludes to in Matthew 12:43-45,  43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

e imagery He is giving us is that, although we were created to live in the image of God, there are also other spirits that exist in this intersection of the visible and invisible world.   These spirits can come and go in "houses" that are "unoccupied".  If these problem spirits come and our bodies are unoccupied by the Holy Spirit via our faith, we are an exposed space subject to them.  We are then in danger of being influenced by them as well.

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you didn't connect with God, but you desperately tried to just be a better person?  You might have even tried religious things to do and hoped it was a enough.  We have all gone through all kinds of religious interventions to deal with the brokenness of our soul.   This is a house "swept clean" .  Notice that when Jesus speaks of the Spirit of God, He refers to Him as "He", but when Jesus talks about the of other spirits, He uses the word "it".  Nonetheless, Jesus is clear that these other spirits will, when given the chance, take over .  This is unbelievably disturbing!!   Erwin speaks from experience, "I see people all the time who try to get there house in order, but do nothing to bring God in to rule over their lives".  It's tragic and, on top of that, the human soul longs to be reconciled with God!

An interesting side note here.  This idea of other spirits coming and going explains the concept of reincarnation.  The scriptures make clear that we all live only one life.  We are born, we live and then we die.  But the spirits live in many lives and when they come to inhabit a human space, they bring with them the memories and experiences of past lives.  So, when people have "visions" of past lives or feel they have spiritual evidence of out of body experiences, it is actually not inconsistent with scripture.  These are real memories....!

Ephesians 2:21-22 says,  21 In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.

The scriptures are telling us right away that God sent Jesus to give His Spirit so we might be reunited to God,  Through Jesus, we have access to God and, consequently, In Him, your "building...becomes a holy temple".

Our ultimate design is that we would have the living space filled by the presence and the purpose of the Living God.  You may not know this, but you are a spiritual creature and what makes you different from other animals is you have a soul.  "Dogs may be smarter than you," jokes Erwin, "but they have no souls...we all know cats have no souls!"  We live in two kingdoms; the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God. Both of these kingdoms were framed and are empowered by two very different types of spirits.

"I can tell you that I have stepped into experiences with other people where I saw spirits of darkness and I never want to see it again... I have seen the worst sides of them ... It explains why humans do the worst kind of things....we describe them as being 'out of (their) mind(s)' or 'not (themselves)'".  We sometimes try to deny that there are other forces outside of ourselves, but rest assured, they do exist.

The kingdom of darkness and kingdom of God have hugely different evidences of their existence.  1 Corinthians 13 directly describes the fruits of the Holy Spirit; the evidence of Him occupying our spiritual houses.  

 13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues,they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul tells us not to be surprised when God shows up in our lives.  When He manifests Himself in unexplained ways, we shouldn't be be overcome by it or lost in what the Spirit is doing.  Erwin has had moments where he has laid hands on the sick and he has watched them be healed.  He has seen rains stop suddenly and snow begin falling due to prayer.  He has stood on a platform speaking many times and he has watched many people coming to Christ.  He has correctly discerned the struggles and hurts of others, knowing it wasn't his own capabilities but those of the Holy Spirit.  But even with his experiences, Erwin doesn't have clear communication to do what the Spirit is doing all the time.  Yet he cannot deny the power and presence of God.

We are weird when it comes to Jesus and this is no different than the way it was with the first century church.   It was filled with neurotic, psychotic, broken and shattered people.  But this was God's people and He made Himself manifested through them.  Sometimes it isn't Jesus that makes us bizarre!  It's us who makes us bizarre.  Jesus is not the cause of neurosis, but He can still reflect himself through the neurosis.  If we but allow Him, He will work through us.

Galatians 5:22-26 Paul again gives evidence of the fruits of the Spirit; 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited,provoking and envying each other. 

So, we see there are fruits of the Holy Spirit, and likewise, there is evidence in the lives of those who have allowed other spirits of darkness to occupy their space.  These traits are bitterness, greed, selfishness, conceit ...etc.  But none of these characteristics can stand when the Holy Spirit enters in and conquers hatred with love, bitterness with forgiveness and arrogance with humility.  Paul encourages us to keep in mind the rewards of following God; 1 Corinthians 14:Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit,especially prophecy.

You will never know what it means to live in the presence of God until you choose the way of love; fully becoming alive with the love of God.  Once you begin to, you will begin to learn what it means to love more and more.  There are amazing things God does in our lives, but there is nothing like Him filling us with His love

Years ago, Erwin would perform with a guitar on the streets at Marti Gras where he experienced some strangely, spiritual and sensual people.  During that time, he met this girl who looked so empty and hollow. Erwin started talking to her about Jesus and God .  Her response to his words has always haunted him.  She said, "I can't give my life to Him".  Erwin paused, "Sure you can!"  The girl then said, "No, I can't because my soul doesn't belong to me".  Shocked, Erwin asked, "What do you mean?"  The girl explained that she had gotten involved in Egyptian mysticism and that her soul belonged to a woman who she pointed out in the crowd.  At that point, Erwin looked up to see a woman rushing towards them.  This other woman jumped in Erwin's face screaming out that her soul did, in fact, belong to her.   "I remembered trying to stand her down and to tell her that Jesus could free her, but it was to no avail... The woman commanded her to come and they left".

You were designed to be inhabited by a spirit.  You are a living soul; the intersection of the visible and the invisible, between the spiritual and material world.  Your soul is trying to let you know who you are. You were designed for love.  You are designed for a relationship with the living God and the Spirit of God will always drive us towards love.