Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial


(Thanks to Fred for the inspiration!)

We are a species created to remember. Nearly every country on Earth has memorials erected to honor fallen soldiers, past leaders/heroes and historical events. I love to visit Washington, DC- I city built of memorials. Perhaps the most moving is the Vietnam Memorial, where the name of every fallen soldier is listed. I haven't yet seen the WWII Memorial, which saw so many soldiers lost that it would be near-impossible to list every name. Instead are stars, representing 100 fallen soldiers. There are 4048 such stars.

Today you are likely to enjoy a barbecue, take in a movie, or maybe visit the beach or a baseball game. There might be parades or memorial events at the local cemetery. But the real celebration of Memorial Day is enjoying the freedoms earned and protected by our fallen soldiers and those presently in the fight. In such a way, we are living memorials as our lives honor those who fought and fight for all that we have.

The Bible is likewise filled with memorials. Stones erected, places renamed, and altars built to remember what God had done for His Chosen People. Just a quick sampling: the naming of Bethel, where Jacob dreamt of the Stairway to Heaven; The twelve stones marking where the Nation of Israel crossed the Jordan; the place of Ebenezer, where the Israelites saw victory over the Philistines. After Christ, we have the memorial of the bread and wine, but with the curtain of the Temple torn in two and the tomb found vacant, there was not a physical memorial erected to memorialize what Jesus had done.

But there doesn't need to be. We are that memorial. Paul writes, "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:2-3, emphasis added)

Just as we celebrate Memorial Day today by enjoying the freedoms won for us, we celebrate the memorial of Jesus Christ every day by allowing our lives to be a testimony of the sacrifice offered on our behalf. Is you life a memorial to the sacrifice of Jesus?

Friday, May 28, 2010

R12: Are you ready to see God do the impossible?

The bottom line, to supernaturally respond to evil with good is found in the concluding lines of Romans 12, "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." Does this work? Absolutely! Though it does not prevent evil, remember we live in a fallen world, it does ensure that we are qualified to be Christ's ambassadors to this world. The goal is not to rid the world of evil, but change our hearts and minds such that goodness permeates through every facet of our life such that the label 'Christian' or 'little Christ' truly applies.

Just as goodness should reign in every facet of our lives, in our thoughts and attitudes, it should also be apparent in our relationships as well. Recall that in this book, Romans 12 was divided into the following relationships: God (v 1), the world (v 2), ourselves (v 3-8), the Church (v 9-13), and our enemies (v 14-21). Overcoming evil with good can and should be applied to each of these.

To close out this final relationship, I want to call to mind the following scriptures to remind us and encourage us that we have someone fighting on our side that cannot be defeated. The battle is already won and Christ is the victor!

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Think: What does it mean to be an r12 Christian?
Reflect: How has this r12 journey impacted your life?
Understand: Of the five relationships we have studied together, in which of these have you seen the greatest spiritual growth? In which area do you need the most help in becoming more like Christ?
Surrender: Surrender is a point in time and also a life-long journey. How would you describe your present relationship with God?
  • I'm all in!
  • I'm holding back just a little.
  • I need help, I'm stuck with...
Take Action: This book is just the beginning of becoming an r12 Christian.
Motivation: If you commit to becoming an r12 disciple maker, go to r12 online and explore our free resources to help you disciple others. [follow the r12 button on the right and explore from there]
Encourage Someone: Encourage someone you know in another city who wants to grow. Send them a copy of this book and coach them or do the study with them.

Today concludes our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

R12: Could you be 'playing God'?

"Revenge is a dish best served cold." In other words, don't act in the heat of the moment. The Bible gives us similar instruction in Romans 12:17, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." This is a passage easily taken out of context. At first blush, it looks as though it is instructing us to be people pleasers. But this sentence follows another in verse 17, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." And recall the context of the last three chapters- how do we respond to the evil aimed at us and the hurt caused?

"Be careful" can be literally translated as "think about" or "consider". In other words, we need to be conscious of our motives. We need to think before we act. We must ask ourselves what is driving this desire to repay evil for evil, confront that motive, and give it up to God. We need to be careful.

But this is also a two-way street. The NASB translation of the second sentence in verse 17 reads, "Respect what is right in the sight of all men." The lesson in Plato's Protagoras is that "all things are true for him who believes it." It is logically impossible to believe in something you know is false. The same is true for our behavior. If someone is acting out and causing harm, the sad truth is that is what he or she knows is right in their eyes. In this do-anything-to-get-ahead world, most people think it perfectly ok to lie, cheat, or steal their way to the top. They may have lines they will not cross, but their morals are defined by the world. We need to recognize this, and therefore not be surprised when someone runs us over as they are speeding to the front of the line.

To drive the point home, verse 17 is followed up with, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." This drives a stake through the heart of the "doormat Christian" mentality. If it is possible. It may not be possible and it may not be right. If the evil aimed at us is illegal, or physically abusive, it is not possible. This verse is not encouraging us to be doormats. At the same time it also reads, "as far as it depends on you..." Much of the hurt caused us has nothing to do with us. We don't encourage it, we don't invite it. We are literally victims and that hurt does not depend on us.

If this is hard to swallow, let me paraphrase these two verses: "Don't be the one to start trouble. Work for peace in your relationships." Don't start it.

Don't finish it either. Verses 19-20 instruct us to not seek revenge. Why? Don't we cheer for the hero of the story that does everything possible to make sure the bad guys get what's coming to them? Sure we do. But most of us aren't movie stars or action heroes. And when we seek revenge, when we desire payback, we are telling God that we don't trust his justice. "It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord." Vengeance, meting out justice, is God's job. It is hard to let things go trusting in God's judgement. We may not see justice in this life, so we are robbed of that sense of closure. So it requires faith to let God do what He does. When we seek revenge or pay someone back for what they've done to us, we are putting ourselves ahead of God, in His place. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Finally, we have to remember Romans 12 is about personal relationships. We're not talking about war or crime in these cases. The focus is on what we can do to be like Christ in all our relationships, good and bad.

Think: Why does God prohibit personal retaliation or revenge?
Reflect: What happens when we pay back evil for evil? When have you done that? What were the results?
Understand: How can you afford to let "people off the hook"? What is God's role? His promise?
Surrender: Ask God to help you turn over "justice" to Him. Pray this week, fully releasing any desire for "payback" and turn the person who has wronged you and all outcomes over to God.
Take Action: Stop saying, thinking, or hoping bad things about your enemy. Don't let these words come out of your mouth and refuse to let them linger when they come into your mind.
Motivation: Consider memorizing Romans 12:19-21. Read it or say it aloud every time you're tempted to let vengeful thoughts linger or you catch yourself saying something negative about a person.
Encourage Someone: Think of someone at church, work, or in the neighborhood who has been treated even more unfairly or harshly than you. Ask God to show you a tangible way to provide support to them- a note, a gift, a dinner, or a listening ear.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

R12:Do you know when you look most like Jesus?

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (Romans 12:14) Yesterday we defined "blessing" as desiring God's best for someone. When it comes to those who have hurt us, we cannot have that desire without first making a decision to forgive. That, by itself, does not fully cleanse our hearts of bitterness, but it begins the process. You may still have negative feelings and attitudes, you are allowed to still hurt, but you decide not to let those feelings rule over you.

So you've decided to forgive and you're begrudgingly desiring God's best for this person (by the way, the best way to get to this point is through prayer, prayer, and more prayer), now what? Romans 12 continues, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." (v 15-16) I've always taken these verses as a stand-alone description of our relationships in general, but in context they are commands on how to relate to those who have hurt us.

It's one thing to half-heartedly pray for God's blessings in someone's life. It an entirely different attitude to genuinely be happy when those blessings come to fruition. This continues the "scrubbing" process in our souls. Of course this is hard and is likely impossible without the Holy Spirit intervening on our behalf, but we are still commanded to have this attitude.

You've likely been here before: you are passed over for a promotion by someone you do not like; there is a promotion party that everyone is invited to; you don't go. Romans 12:15 commands us to go, put a smile on our face, and sincerely wish the best for this person. How much easier is it to stay behind in your cubicle and allow your hurt to stew.

Chip Ingram gives other examples in his book that better describe this not from an individual disciple perspective, but from the perspective of the corporate church as a whole. Think of the reputation Christians, or rather our churches, have: judgemental, only wanting our money, corrupt and/or filled with cronyism, full of double-standards, hypocritical, lacking grace, and so on, and so on. Think about the real-life spiritual warfare that is going on outside our churches walls: homosexuality, single parenthood, teenage pregnancy, addiction, and poverty. Are rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who are mourning in these circumstances? More, are you "willing to associate with" these people? If not, your attitude is not "the same as that of Christ Jesus, who" lived his life among the tax collectors and prostitutes and forgave the very ones who beat, insulted, and ultimately killed him. "By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

Bringing this back home, where if you haven't faced this situation yet, you will someday: My family is presently suffering the inevitable loss of the family matriarch. On Sunday family from all over came to her house to pay their last respects, share memories and tears, and try to have closure. But beneath the surface ran a current of resentment, competitiveness, and pride. Behind every "how are you doing?" was an unspoken "you don't deserve your share of the inheritance." Behind every "I'm glad you were here for her" was the question, "why didn't you ever call?" I've been through this before, and I'll likely go through it again. It is sad that we let petty grievances prevent us from "mourning with those who mourn." But this is a real battle in a real situation.

Regardless of any attitude or feeling, when we, as disciples of Christ, enter into those circumstances, we must obey Paul's command. If we do, we show the real Jesus to those who may not know him or don't know him well enough. And "all men will know..." to the Glory of the Father.

Think: What in this [post] spoke to you?
Reflect: What aspect of this teaching from Romans 12 was hardest for you to accept? Why?
Understand: What would it look like in your situation to rejoice (or weep) with the very one who treated you wrongly?
Surrender: Ask God to show you how he wants you to apply this truth in your life in view of your specific circumstances.
Take Action: Choose from the list of actions on events on pages 234 and 235 and bless you enemies this week. [These are life-events such as marriage, the birth of a baby, the recovery from an illness, etc on the rejoicing side, and death, illness, troubles at home, etc on the mourning side of Romans 12:15]
Motivation: Download the audio message How to Overcome the Evil Aimed at You at r12 online [click the r12 button to the right, select the Supernaturally tab and find this message under Free Resources]
Encourage Someone: Think of someone who has been betrayed or wounded and share r12 with them like [was done with Chip in the book].

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

R12: Will you let Christ heal you?

My five year-old son has been asking for the last few days to go to the car wash. An odd request, but you never know what's going to come out of his mouth. I'd tell him no and he'd predictably fuss. At first I was stumped trying to figure out why it was such a big deal to him, and then he told me, "there's bird poop on the window! My sister's window doesn't have any poop!" Ahhh, it all made perfect sense, bird poop. What's funny, is that to him all he wants is a clean window. He doesn't care about the poop, and he holds nothing against the bird who was responsible. Conversely, how many times have I had a perfect-hit, right in my line of sight on my windshield, and I've responded by saying, "stupid bird!"?

Allow me to stretch an analogy to its breaking point. Bitterness, resentment and hatred are like bird poop on our soul. We should only care about cleaning it off, but we are more concerned about who put it there to begin with. "Stupid bird" becomes "I hate..." "I can't believe..." "I'd never..." And our soul continues to be stained. Cursing the bird does not clean the windshield.

So how do we cleanse our hearts of these feelings, so often justified by the hurt caused to us? Romans 12:14 reads, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Is that command, yes I said "command", challenging to you? Do you take it personal? It should, and you should, because it's hard, it's unnatural, in fact I'd go so far as to say it's impossible.

We say "bless you" so casually when someone sneezes. But what does it mean to "bless"? Are we following Paul's command in this verse when, while we are talking about someone we bite are tongue and say, "God bless 'em" instead of saying what's really on our mind? How do we bless those who hurt us?

Blessing is the opposite of cursing, so instead of wishing harm, you desire God's best for that person. Desire God's best for those who hurt me? That's why I say it is impossible. It can only be done through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. But before we can get to actually desiring God's best for this person, we need to want it for them first. And that is a personal decision that begins the process of scrubbing that stain off your soul.

This all begins with forgiveness. We cannot bless until we first forgive. Again, that sounds hard, but we've warped the meaning of the word. We say things like "forgive and forget" or even tell someone we forgive them when we don't mean it in our hearts. We also confuse forgiveness with justice- the victim of a crime may forgive her perpetrator, but the courts may still mete out justice. With God it is the same, we may forgive, but it is God alone who ensures that justice is served. Forgiveness is the decision to "let it go" and not allow your feelings of hurt to leave a stain on your soul. You can still hurt, you can still desire justice, but you've made a decision to no longer allow that hurt to control you. Let me say that again, you've made a decision to no longer allow that hurt to control you. Personally, this sounds exactly like what we need, to stop allowing the hurt to control us. Addiction, relationships, depression are so often motivated by the hurt. We give power to that hurt instead of allowing God control and stripping the hurt of any power it may have over us.

This is so important that immediately after Jesus equates hate with murder he goes on to say, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24) Think about the implications of this for a moment. Your gift to God, whatever you are doing to glorify His Name, must be put aside until you are reconciled with the one(s) who has hurt you and/or the one(s) you have hurt. The stain on our soul, the power we foolishly allow our hurt to have over us, prevents us from giving our all to God.

Let it go. Forgive. Be reconciled. Begin to scrub off that poop.

Think: What does it mean to bless your enemy in [Romans 12:14]?
Reflect: Why is forgiveness the first step in blessing the one who has hurt you?
Understand: What stage of forgiveness are you in? The [decision], the process, the completion?
Surrender: What is the most difficult aspect of forgiving the one who has or is aiming evil at you? Ask God to remove any bitterness and give you the strength to begin the forgiveness journey.
Take Action: Choose today to forgive the person if you have not already done so. Write it down in your Bible with today's date.
Motivation: Jot down Matthew 5:43-48 on a 3x5 card or half sheet of paper. Read over it prayerfully each day for the next week.
Encourage Someone: Pray today for the one who is your enemy. Choose to obey God whether you feel like it or not.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

R12: Who has hurt you the most?

I was driving down I-25 to find housing in Boulder, Colorado, listening to my favorite radio station when the music stopped. I didn't have the patience to wait for a news break, so I switched stations. No music. Seek- still no music. It was then I decided that maybe I should be listening to what was going on. It was April 20, 1999, the day of the Columbine Shooting in Littleton where two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 13 and injured 21 before taking their own lives. Eric and Dylan were social outcasts and popularized the "Trenchcoat Mafia", though they were not members themselves. I didn't know any of the victims personally, though many in my campus ministry were Columbine graduates.

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matthew 5:21-22)

It's hard to read, but I recommend reviewing the account of the murders. There the hatred radiates from the details- the callousness of their attitudes, and their mocking indifference towards the lives of the other students. Maybe it was hard to read it because I just saw the season finale of Grey's Anatomy, which mirrors the events but in a different context. In both cases, fact and fiction, the shooters perceived themselves as victims of circumstance and failed to take responsibility for their actions, taking their lives without having to face any consequence.

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:14-15)

Later that summer, I was spending time with a couple of my best friends from growing up, trying to rationalize the events at Columbine High School. I cannot understand the disregard towards the lives of others. Everything has been blamed from video games to the music they listened to to the movies they watched. The truth is, they had roots of bitterness so deep in their hearts it led to murder. As my friends and I were looking back, I made the flip comment, "if anyone at our school would've done something like that, it would've been me." I was the frequent target of ridicule, was a straight-A student, a band and drama geek, and even participated in just about every sport imaginable. I never really fit into any one crowd and for a while even surrounded myself with the "goth crowd" who wore black dusters, subscribed to martial arts magazines, and knew every line from Monty Python's Flying Circus. I was part of the trenchcoat mafia a half-decade before that term meant anything.

So why didn't I, nor any of my other outcast fans, ever stoop to the same level as Eric and Dylan? Personally, I never let the hate I felt towards others consume me. I never let the bitterness I felt take root. We all will be hurt by others. Parents, friends, even strangers. Things will not go the way we think they should and we have a choice of either letting our disappointment turn into a bitter seed that takes root in our hearts or to let it go. The bitter root can bear many different fruits, though none of them "good"- hatred and murder, walking away from long-held friendships, turning back from family and in some cases, even God. Or we can learn to supernaturally respond to evil and overcome the evil aimed at you.

Romans 12:14-21 gives us the tools to do this, but I want to start by emphasizing the last verse, "do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." Think about how you have been hurt and by whom. Dig out the bitter root so that it can no longer grow. Ask God to help you overcome the evil that exists in every one of us. We all hurt, both the verb and the feeling. God knows this, He understands this. And he's given us the means to overcome.

Think: What person came to mind when asked, "who has hurt you the most?"
Reflect: What emotions followed when this person came to mind?
Understand: In what ways have you sought to resolve this wound in the past? What has been helpful, or not helpful?
Surrender: Ask God to help you be willing to follow His commands in Romans 12:14-21 concerning this person.
Take Action: Identify one trusted friend you can share this old wound with and ask them to walk with you. As you do this, you will learn how to bless your enemies and it will free your soul.
Motivation: Watch the fourteen-minute video message "How to Overcome the Evil Aimed at You" at r12 online [follow the r12 button to the right, go to the tab labeled "Supernaturally"] to get into greater depth on this passage.
Encourage Someone: Offer to listen to someone who has been deeply wounded. Gently introduce Romans 12:14-21 to them.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

R12: Goin' Retro

I'm going to take a hiatus the remainder of the week from the R12 series as we head into the home stretch of the last relationship: supernaturally responding to evil with good. I want to make sure I don't miss a beat falling behind in my reading so we can have a full M-F discussion.

In the meantime, by God's grace and a bit of serendipity, Living on the Edge just began a new message series based on R12, looking at the same principles from an Old Testament perspective. I haven't heard this series yet, so I'm greatly looking forward to it myself. I highly encourage you to listen to it in lieu of, or as a compliment to, this study.

For more from Chip himself, go here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

R12: Where's your focus

(no blog-carnival for me this week, but I encourage you to check out this week's numerous entries on Grace)

Tonight is the penultimate episode of Lost. I’ve been hooked from day one and I cannot wait to see how it all comes together. I’m not hung up on the theories, though I did go through that phase. I am more interested in the human drama that is playing out, relying on eternal themes of community and redemption.

Since the second season or so, I’ve been following Entertainment Weekly’s Doc Jensen as he speculates on theories, provides background on philosophies and literature name-dropped on the show, and recaps the latest episodes. Over the weekend he posted his thoughts on community with respect to the “live together, die alone” mantra of Lost. Doc postulates that the assumed puppeteer of the show, Jacob, has been trying for who knows how many centuries to figure out how to break the cycle of “they come, they destroy, they kill”. Doc figures that previous attempts to raise up a “candidate” failed because Jacob was working out the means by trial and error, and it wasn’t until after the Others when Oceanic 815 crashed, that he concluded redemption could only be found through sacrifice (Doc argues Jacob deliberately allowed himself to be killed) and community.

I could not shake this idea as I read the most recent chapter of R12: The Book. We’ve been talking about “authentic community” defined as “when the real you, meets real needs, for the right reason, the right way.” This fourth relationship of Romans 12, Serving in Love, concludes with defining the right way.

I think what makes Lost so compelling is how it touches on themes that speak to our very souls. It is not explicitly Christian and I think it intentionally weaves Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, animism, and numerous philosophies because each are rooted in our innate desire for spiritual purpose. So you could think of Lost as a six season-long, Matrix-meets-Gulliver’s Travels-meets-Gilligan’s Island. Lost resonates with our soul’s desire to belong and have purpose.

Authentic Christian community satisfies this desire, but it needs to happen the right way. Romans 12:12-13 reads, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Paul’s literary style in Romans 12 changes from a narrative to bullet-points beginning in verse 9, which is where we begin our study on authentic community. Each bullet then carries its own weight. Be joyful in hope. Happiness is dependent on what is happening but joy is rooted in the eternal hope we have in Jesus. Be patient in affliction. Persevere through the tough times because you have this hope. Be faithful in prayer. Joy, hope, patience, perseverance can only come if we are turning our hearts to God in prayer. This is an upward focus, taking focus off of ourselves. Our selfishness wants to be happy in the moment, complain when times are tough, and rely on our own strength to push through. The first five seasons of Lost have shown us the futility in that thinking. Share with God’s people who are in need. Give sacrificially. Love unconditionally. Practice hospitality. Literally translated, this means to pursue strangers. Don’t just love those who love back, “even the pagans do that” (Matthew 5:47) extend your service to all in need. This is an outward focus. Again, the focus has to remain off of us.

Community. Sacrifice. Eternal themes. Spiritual needs. As Christians, we can choose to “live together, or die alone.” I pray that through authentic community, we won’t be Lost.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Move over Carrie Prejean

I apologize for diverging from our regularly scheduled (well, scheduled anyway) study of Living on the Edge to catch up on some news, but I couldn't avoid this subject on the radio during my drive home and I need to vent. Last night, Rima Fakih won the Miss USA pageant, becoming the first Arab-American to win the pageant. During her Q&A, she was asked about the divisive illegal-immigration law recently passed in Arizona. Her response was diplomatic, but not very politically-correct siding against illegal immigration. This is now the second year in a row a celebrity judge has tried to bait a contestant with the hot-button issue of the day after last year's pillaging of Carrie Prejean by Perez Hilton. At least Oscar Nunez didn't call Ms Fakih the c-word.

But I wonder where's the outrage? Protesters are gathered around Staples Center this very minute protesting Arizona's law prior to the Lakers-Suns NBA Playoff game. Besides this event, sports radio was consumed with an effort to boycott an upcoming Dodgers-Diamonbacks game. This issue has reached such a level that the City of Los Angeles is officially boycotting the State of Arizona (not sure how that works) and even the director of the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix was asked whether these boycotts would affect next season's BCS slate.

But I don't hear any outcry against Ms Fakih (or do I call her Ms USA now, like she's some kind of superhero?). Don't get me wrong, I do not believe she deserves it, and in some respects I do believe it is a fair question. We shouldn't expect our eye candy to be vapid. We live in a new enlightened world after all. But I do see a double standard.

To add to my outrage comes reports that Ms Fakih won a faux-stripper contest at a local radio station. Crowns have been stripped for less. And again, this was more fuel on the Carrie Prejean fire.

Now, I am no fan of Ms Prejean. I think the 'persecution' card was overplayed and continues to be overplayed today. But with the deafening silence surrounding this latest 'pageant scandal', I begin to wonder if there's fire behind all the smoke. Maybe we're walking on egg shells because of Ms Fakih's faith and ethnicity? Maybe Ms Prejean made herself a target by making such a big deal out of it last year? Likely, the truth is probably a little of both. But I cannot help but wonder, what if a white Christian woman from a very-Red state was asked the same question and then won the crown, what would be the response?

R12: What's keeping you?

A couple of weekends ago, I took my five year-old to a monster truck show. He loves the toys and always responds with "Wow! Did you see that?" whenever he sees a picture or a video of just about anything with wheels larger than the norm. I never expected his response from the show: growing up to be a monster truck driver is now running neck and neck with growing up to be an astronaut. I tell him that maybe he can do both, driving monster trucks on the moon, but he doesn't believe me.

"I want to grow up to be a monster truck driver!" may be something we expect to hear from a five year-old along with astronaut or fireman. At this age, the child wants to imitate the what, not the who. An astronaut is recognized by the suit he or she wears. But can you honestly name one of the astronauts up in space right now? My son thinks Grave Digger is the coolest monster truck (and who doesn't?), but can you tell me the name of the driver? Yet you go to a monster truck show and there will be kids lined up with their parents to get an autograph from the driver of their favorite truck. The signature shows on a picture of the truck, likely doing something incredibly cool, not on a picture of the driver.

The monster truck driver, the fireman, the astronaut must be content with anonymity and joyful in the role they play. No one else can do what they do. So fame is secondary to getting to do something worthwhile. Only later in life do we grow out of the vague answers of policeman or pilot and begin to aspire to "be like Mike"- now desiring fame when the name is larger than the role.

We're tempted to the same with our Christianity. In ministry, "I want to be like her." If an aspiring author, "I want to be like him." "I want my family to be like theirs." Admit it, you hear this, you may even say it. Why don't we hear "I want to be like Jesus" more often?

When I first really dug into Romans 12, it was like a dagger in my heart. What was clear above all else was that it wasn't about me. Words like "sober judgement", "love must be sincere", "honor... above yourselves", "harmony", "do not be conceited" were contrary to my religiosity and absent from the church around me. I recognized I wasn't following God's son the way he would like and if I really wanted to do great things for Him, I had to change. As the song goes, "I put myself upon the shelf."

Authentic community is defined as when the real you meets real needs for the right reason in the right way. Romans 12:11 gives us the right reason, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." The reason is that it's for Him, being led by the Holy Spirit, with all diligence and zeal. If you choose to live that way, don't expect recognition. You may receive gratitude at times, but your reward will wait for you in heaven.

Chip Ingram gives the example of being called last minute up to lead a weekend retreat where he preached nonstop, served to the point of exhaustion, and battled spiritually alongside several brothers. At the end of the weekend, the feeling of a job well done was sucked away when he received the lowest honorarium he'd ever received. His joy was robbed by his own pride wanting to be recognized for his hard work. Only after a great deal of prayer was he able to reconcile that he wasn't serving for his own recognition, but he was serving in zeal for the Lord as Paul commanded.

If you're tempted to feel this way, and I know I am on a daily basis, here are some scriptures worth reflecting over:

"For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10, NASB)

"How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44, NASB)

"And He said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.'" (Luke 16:15, NASB)

Think: Do you relate to this temptation? Why or why not?
Reflect: How would you characterize your current service to God? Is it, on fire, fading, or in need of passion? Why?
Understand: What practical ways have helped you keep your service to God characterized by excellence and passion? What do you do when you are concerned about having improper motives?
Surrender: Ask God to help you see your motives through His eyes. Leisurely remember it's about loving God, not fulfilling people's expectations. Confess or rejoice as necessary.
Take Action: Take a long, slow walk and evaluate your present ministry involvement: too much, too little, none at all.
Motivation: Get the joy and adventure back in serving. Consider doing three acts of kindness this week. Buy coffee for the next person in line, get a meal for a homeless person, or meet a need secretly at work.
Encourage Someone: If you apply this verse, "Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" you will encourage many!

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Friday, May 14, 2010

R12: Are you building relationships?

Real community is when the real you meets real needs for the right reasons in the right way. This follows the outline of Romans 12:9-13. We've already talked about taking off our masks and exposing the real you. Now, how do we meet those "real needs"?

Romans 12:10 reads, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." Easier said than done. Devoted is a strong word. With respect to relationships within the church, this is more than asking someone, "hey, how ya doin?" It is even more than opening your home to your closest friends. It is more aligned with the love you would have towards your family. In fact, the first sentence is redundant in its original Greek. "Devoted" is translated from the familiar philadelphia, which we often see translated as brotherly love which is instead translated later in the sentence from the root philos. Repetition adds emphasis. So in other words, in case you didn't get it the first time, I'll repeat myself. Kinda like saying, "do good by being good." Philos is the word used for familial love as well as close friendships. Devotion in this case raises our relationships within our church to the same level as family. This verse forces us to ask ourselves to go to the same lengths to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ as we would to serve our brothers and sisters in blood and/or name.

Like I said, easier said than done. How many of your brothers or sisters in Christ have hurt you in some way? We so easily turn our backs on them and those scars never heal. Conversely, we grow up fighting with our siblings, pulling hair, stealing toys, tattling to parents when our sister isn't staying on her side of the car. We hurt and we get hurt. But we don't just stop being brother and sister at that point. Sadly, siblings may drift apart as they grow older, but while they are under the same roof, despite the hurt they are still bonded together. We are under the same roof with our brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet we treat them differently. This verse teaches that this should not be the case.

The second sentence is required to fulfill the first. We need to be humble. We need to consider the needs of others ahead of our own. As an aside, this can be dangerous if taken to extremes. One of my biggest weaknesses is to serve to such an extent that I neglect my needs to the point of starvation. I get irritable, withdrawn, and lose whatever motivation I may have had. "But I'm doing it for the Lord! The Bible commands me to live this way!" No, it doesn't. Others' needs should be above our own, but not to the point of neglecting ourselves. I'm grateful for one brother who always encourages me to go do something fun for myself because he knows I won't unless I'm told. My wife has learned this too and will often poke and prod me to do something for myself when she sees me get this way. A better definition instead would be (thanks again to Chip), "serving is giving someone what they really need, when they deserve it least, at great personal cost." Have you ever served in that way? This isn't burning yourself out as I am tempted to do. It is sacrificing for the benefit of another. Chip uses the example of helping someone with their rent when he knew he wouldn't be able to pay his own. It's easy to give a buck to the person begging for food or change outside of a restaurant after we've already eaten our full. What about buying that person a meal with the money you were going to spend on yourself? That is much harder.

A great example of this devotion and honor is illustrated in the movie The Blind Side. Can you imagine taking someone into your home like that? I love the part when Sandra Bullock's character is getting grilled by her girlfriends. "This isn't a 'white guilt' thing is it?" Then a half-repentant, "that's great, your changing this boy's life!" To which Sandra replies, "No, he's changing mine." While that sounds hokey and expected in a movie to make a cheesy, sappy point, it is still true. True devotion and honor will change your life. Sacrificing your needs to meet the needs of someone else shouldn't burn you out. If it does, you're doing it wrong. Instead it should fill you with a sense of joy in the Holy Spirit knowing you're doing God's will.

The best example is obviously Jesus,
"who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8)


"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:7-8) This death is the foundation of our faith and while it serves to cleanse us of our sins, it also serves an example of how to live. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) This is devotion. This is honor. This leads to authentic community.

Think: What hit home in this chapter?
Reflect: Who comes to mind when you think of someone who has honored you and been devoted to you? How do you feel about them?
Understand: What person or situation are you aware of that would qualify as a real need? Who is hurting who needs help?
Surrender: You may not be the one to meet the need that you listed above; but tell God you are willing to make a real sacrifice to meet that need if that is His will.
Take Action: Get out of your comfort zone and convenient zone this week. Help one person in a way that "really costs you something."
Motivation: Download the full-length audio message How to Experience Authentic Community at R12 online. [R12 button to the right, serving tab, free resources at the bottom]
Encourage someone: Who has met a real need in your life in the past? Whether it was loaning you money, telling you the truth, helping heal your marriage, or driving your kids to practice... let them know how grateful you are to Christ for them.


Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

R12: Why is God so serious?

We all have masks we wear. We have different ones for different times and different people. We have ones we haven't used or needed in a long time, we have others that we've never used but we hold onto just in case. Masks prevent authentic community. Masks keep us from being vulnerable and revealing the real we. And on Sunday mornings we surround ourselves with tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of other people all wearing masks.

The fourth relationship in Romans 12 is Serving in Love which appropriately follows Sober Self-Assessment. I need to be ok with the real me before I can share that with others. I need to see myself as a sinner in need of God's grace in order to see others the same way. Once I'm able to do that, barriers are dropped, masks are taken off, and I can begin to see authentic community.

Removing masks is only one part of authentic community however. Get a couple of beers in me and I'll be plenty vulnerable. I'll probably tell you more than you want to know. And you see this type of community at the local watering hole made famous by Cheers or for the younger amongst us, think Moe's in The Simpsons.

We need to not only take off our masks, but we also need to have conviction behind our vulnerability. I share sin because I'm convicted about it. I rebuke a brother because I'm concerned about him. We need to call sin, sin and not dance around it as we are often so tempted to do. Real community begins when our love is sincere and we hate what is evil. (Romans 12:9)

My small group got together last night. It was encouraging to me to watch everyone interact. This small group has gone through several iterations over the last few years and I'm finally seeing relationships grow deep and people click. One of my best friends called me over the other night to share some of his struggles. I was encouraged to be there for him, but I was more encouraged that our friendship was strong enough that we could be vulnerable with one another. Small groups aren't the miracle cure. And not every relationship at church will be vulnerable. But if we really want the Body of Christ to be all Jesus prayed it would be in John 17, we need to take the first steps by removing our masks and having a conviction about sin.

The importance of this is illustrated by the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. To make a long story short, this couple wasn't sincere and wanted to put on a mask to impress the fledgling church. The results? Death, as soon as they were confronted by it and then lied to cover their tracks. While this might be an isolated incident, it is no less serious to God. The first to be thrown in the lake of burning fire in Revelation 21 are the cowards. The last are the liars. Pretty much any sin you can think of can be bookended by these two root sins. God takes this very seriously.

I encourage you to identify your masks and cast them aside. Study the Word of God and develop a conviction against sin. You need both to prevent you from living a watered-down-Gospel on one side or being an unloving fire-and-brimstone Christian cliche on the other. Jesus wants a relationship with the real you and so does the rest of His Body, the Church.

Think: What is necessary for the "real you" to show in your relationships?
Reflect: Why do you think God judges the hypocrisy of Ananias and his wife so harshly? How or where are you most prone to wear a mask?
Understand: What is the relationship between hypocrisy and purity? Is there any "secret sin" or temptation God might be speaking to you about?
Surrender: Pray Psalm 139:23-24. Commit to respond to whatever the Holy Spirit reveals to you.
Take Action: We all struggle with sin and hypocrisy. Both are like bacteria; once brought into the light, their power to infect and inflict disease is removed. Bring any "secret sin" or temptations into the light of God's presence (1 John 1:9) and tell a trusted friend or pastor. "Confess your sins to one another that you might be healed." (James 5:16)
Motivation: Consider downloading "Overcoming the Dragon of Lust- for Men" if you struggle with the issue. [Follow the R12 button on the right, select the Serving tab and find this lesson under "Free Resources".]
Encourage your Pastor: E-mail, text, or drop a note to your pastor. It's no fun sharing "convicting messages" that protect the flock from hypocrisy and impurity. Thank him for his faithfulness and courage; let him know we all need the truthful messages along with the grace of God.


Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

r12: Authenitc community

I mentioned I was at a men's retreat a weekend ago that many of the topics in the book Living On the Edge: Dare to Experience True Spirituality were discussed independent of our study here. I was carrying the book around everywhere I went (hoping for just a couple of minutes free to read a little, but thankfully never got any) and several brothers asked about it. The most common response was, "a whole book on just a single chapter from the Bible?" Well, if you've been following along with this study for any length of time, it becomes clear why, as we break down nearly every verse into a practical application for our lives.

I'm not going to give a full post today. I'm running a little behind in my reading again. But to follow up on Jay's comment yesterday, I want to break this statement down further. Authentic community is when the real you meets real needs for the right reasons in the right way. Applied to Romans 12, Chip breaks it down as such:

Real you (v 9):
  • Authenticity- "Let love be sincere"
  • Purity- "Hate what is evil, cling to what is good"
Meets real needs (v 10):
  • Devotion- "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love"
  • Humility- "Giving preference to one another in honor"
For the right reason (v 11):
  • Motive- "Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord"
  • Method- Genuine service to God is characterized by diligence and enthusiasm
In the right way (v 12-13):
  • Upward focus- "Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer"
  • Outward focus- "Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing (pursuing) hospitality"

The following chapters and posts will look at each of these individually. Please come back tomorrow as we continue our study.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

R12: What is authentic community anyway?

Famous last words. The cliche of leaving that last impression, something that will survive history, long after you are gone. Often times, they're not famous though. They're honest, open, and heart-melting with an awareness that the end is near. The last thing I said to my grandfather before he died of a heart attack was "see you tomorrow." Neither he nor I had any idea what the next day would bring. I remember the last words of my father vividly. He, on the other hand, knew that his time left on this earth was short. His last words were filled with a sense of foreknowledge, "you win some and you lose some, but you gotta keep playing." Even though we were talking about football, I knew what he meant. And he succumbed to cancer two days later.

Jesus, on the last night he spent with his disciples (prior to the resurrection, but they did not see that coming), gave his disciples a command. These last words, which could be expected to resonate throughout religious history, were not about politics (though many of his disciples, especially Judas, expected him to be a political or military leader), were not about the current state of the synagogue/temple or Pharisees/Sadducees, nor were they about church polity. Instead, they were focused on the disciple's relationship with each other. "A new command I give to you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) His disciples had no idea a new church, a new religion, would be established following Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. If they did, they may have expected some "how to's" for this new movement. Ironically Jesus gave them just that- instructions on how to establish this new church- by loving one another.

This weighed so heavily on Jesus' heart, it was even the focus of his prayer in John 17. Love. Unity. These were important to Jesus. More than politics, religion, or even a list of pious do-nots. Now look around the religious landscape today. Do you see Jesus' prayer answered? Do you see his "new command" followed? This was Jesus' intent for the Church. This is his prayer for our relationships.

This love, this unity, is not only for inside our walls, but should also extend outside our walls. It should exist beyond Sunday mornings. It should be vulnerable and honest. It should show the world that we really are his disciples. As Chip Ingram puts it, "the credibility of Christianity would rise or fall on the basis of Jesus' followers' relationships with one another."

By Chip's definition: Authentic community occurs when the real you shows up and meets real needs for the right reason in the right way. The next few chapters will show us how.

Think: What did Jesus command and pray for His disciples?
Reflect: Why do you think Jesus made such a point of focusing on our relationships with one another?
Understand: What gets in the way of experiencing authentic community in your life? Too busy? Too religious? Disconnected from like-minded believers?
Surrender: Are you in a meaningful, growing, Christ-centered relationship with a handful of people? If not, will you ask God to show you what you need to do in order to move in that direction... or deepen what He has already provided you?
Take Action: Declare war on isolation adn superficial relationships in your life! Write out John 13:34-35 on a 3x5 card and commit to living it out as God leads you this week.
Motivation: Consider watching the fourteen-minute video message "How to Experience Authentic Community" at r12 online [r12 button on the right, Serving tab, under "free resources"].
Encourage Someone: Make the first move this week. Initiate coffee, dinner, or dessert with someone(s) and talk about your common need/desire for authentic community.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Monday, May 10, 2010

R12: Do you know God's purpose for your life?

This morning we continue, and conclude, the section on Sober Self-Assessment by answering the final life question, "what am I supposed to do?" This question weighs heavily on many of us and the answer is different at different times in our lives. For many, graduation is right around the corner and thousands are right now asking themselves this question. Some are praying about it, and some of those have a misguided doctrine of what they're looking for for an answer. The book, Decision Making and the Will of God is outlined around a anecdotal case of an unmarried couple who is seeking God's will in their lives. They become paralyzed by indecision because they don't have a 'religious experience' or some audible answer to their prayers. They wrongly think that because they don't feel a "calling" towards a particular vocation that that means they are not to pursue that path. They also "put out a fleece" for their relationship and are surprised that God does not answer those prayers either. These are common approaches to try and discern God's will in our lives, but Biblically those methods are the exception, not the rule. Romans 12 has already taught us that discovering God's will is as simple as wholly surrendering to Him.

Chip Ingram makes this simpler than voices from heaven, a stirring in your heart, or a wager with God. He points out that we all have been given spiritual gifts and that when our gifts are aligned with our passions, we are doing God's will. That doesn't mean ministry, that doesn't mean jobs or marriage. Those big questions are better left surrendering to God that He knows best and then stepping out on faith. (another good book I recommend on this subject is Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something) But the daily living of a Christ-like life involves making decisions based on the best knowledge you have. If you have a sober self-assessment, are at peace with where God has placed you and a conviction that you belong to Christ's Church as a unique part of His Body, then you need to next identify your spiritual gifts so that you can make the best choices you can.

I mentioned it before, but the Living on the Edge series, Your Divine Design, is a great resource to answer this question. And I don't believe it is coincidence this series is going on right now. Without getting into the weeds on this subject (and avoiding the ongoing debate over what manifestations of the Holy Spirit apply today), let me just say that Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 are the Biblical foundations to define these gifts. Some of these you may be familiar with, some may require an extra measure of faith to discern. But we all have at least one of these, and doing God's will involves putting these gifts to use.

The best answer to the question "what am I supposed to do?", is to identify your primary spiritual gift and aligning that gift with your personal passions. The former is a gift from God and should not change through your life, though it may mature and grow. The latter is a function of your station in life and changes with changing circumstances. A parent to young children have different passions than the graduate from high school, for example. And it's also important to point out that spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. Natural talents you have from birth, but spiritual gifts are received in the waters of baptism. Spiritual gifts however, may leverage your natural talents.

So step back and look at where you are. Identify what you're passionate about. (To get a feel for what I'm talking about, click the "ministry" label to the right, or just follow this link.) Study the passages above and discover your spiritual gifts. Then pray about how the three may align (I say three here because you may be passionate about the needs in Haiti and may have the spiritual gift of healing, but you have two infant children and a tight budget- I would argue that it wouldn't be wise to sell everything you have to go on a mission trip to Haiti- while you need to be faithful, you also need to be wise). Remember also that you are part of Christ's Body, so first seek how to employ your gifts and passions in service to the Church. I've found that usually everything then flows from there. And again, this changes with time and circumstance. I had to step back from leading the pre-teen ministry when my first child was born, but I continue to teach Sunday School and I mentor a teen so I didn't bury my talent.

Finally, I cannot leave this subject without pounding my fist on this last point- the Church needs you to identify and use your spiritual gift. That may sound dramatic, but I have a strong conviction of this based on Ephesians 4:7-16 that the Church cannot and will not grow unless we are putting these gifts to use, until "each part does its work."

Think: What is the value of discovering and deploying your primary spiritual gift?
Reflect: How have you thought about your spiritual gifts in the past? Highly important? Somewhat important? Mostly confused?
Understand: How clear are you on "what you are supposed to do" with your life? Do you feel motivated or confused by the question? What do you think your primary spiritual gift might be?
Surrender: Ask God to make clear what your Ephesians 2:10 "mission" is in this lift. Tell Jesus you are willing to follow if He will show you what you are supposed to do (John 7:17).
Take Action: As a quick shortcut to "test the waters," ask yourself: "What do I love to do? What am I good at?" Then go try it for six weeks.
Motivation: Do whatever it takes to discover your primary spiritual gift. Determine a time to listen to the full-length audio message "How to Discover Your Primary Spiritual Gift" from the series "Your Divine Design" at R12 online. [follow the R12 button on the right and this message is found in the Self Assessment tab under "free resources" or you can also find this lesson right now from the Living on the Edge main page.]
Encourage Someone: Send a gift card this week to someone whose spiritual gift God has used to impact your life. Thank them for using the gift God gave them.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Friday, May 07, 2010

R12: Where do you fit in God's family?

Knowing who you are is only a start. You need to know where you belong. As the book puts it, it's like getting all dressed up with nowhere to go. To follow an old adage, in order to know where you're going, you need to know where you've been. Another paraphrase that I've heard is where you are depends on where you started. So I pray you've been taking the lessons from earlier this week seriously and taking time for some hardcore spiritual introspection.

But now we're here. The past behind us, the future ahead. We need to know where we're going. The second of life's major questions, following "who am I?" is "where do I belong?" This is another question that the world has long deceived us. We join clubs for similar interests, we flock around people like us, we describe ourselves by what we do instead of where we belong. Our fast-paced online world has created virtual communities through Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Sometimes our best friend is the stranger that we only know by their user name on World of Warcraft. But we fool ourselves into believing that there we belong.

The world fails us in this relationship and sadly the church has too. We sit with best friends and seldom venture outside of our comfort zone, too many congregations are racially segregated, and small groups form around like hobbies instead of shared needs. Yet the answer to this question, "where do I belong" is answered by the church. The "where?" isn't so much as a "to what?" Where we belong is the same as to what we belong. The where isn't the address of your church, the what is the Body of Christ. Romans 12:4-5 reads:


"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."
The Apostle Paul describes this in greater detail in 1 Corinthians 12, noting that some of us are like "hands" and others "eyes". We can't say to parts not like us that they do not belong, but recognize that they serve a different function. And we have to see the bigger picture, the Body needs both the eyes and the hands.

Think about this for a moment. The Body needs you! You are uniquely created by God (Psalm 139:13-14) for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10). There is no one else in the world like you. No one else has the same abilities, talents, and spiritual gifts. No one else has the unique wisdom from your personal experience. And the Body is not whole without you. (As an aside, this should stir our heart for evangelism as well. That stranger down the street is unique and Christ's Body is not complete without her.)

Besides being needed to make the Body whole, notice how Romans 12:5 ends, "each member belongs to all the others." This isn't possessive. I can't boss you around and treat you like I own you. Instead we need to look at one another as a mutually symbiotic relationship, where we rely on one another to survive, rather than a parasitic relationship where we suck the life out of those closest to us or vice versa. If you've ever served in a teen ministry or a recovery ministry, you can relate to that last one. At the same time, if you've ever been a teenager (and we all have) or have struggled through serious sin in your life (and we all have ), then you've sucked the spiritual life out of someone who cared, prayed, and fought for you. While we're human, and we suck, the truth is we need one another to survive.

I'm tempted to slam the church. In fact, I probably do that too often on this blog. So let me quote from the book for a moment.


But before we begin to blame the church- the institutional church- and take potshots at all that is wrong, I suggest that equal weight must fall upon our shoulders; individual Christians like you and me who have gladly bought
into the consumer mind-set of the contemporary church.

Sadly, the mantra of the average believer in the contemporary church is, "Ask not what you can do for your church, but ask what your church can do for you." Our consumer attitude shows up as parents shop churches for the best-themed children's program. ("I don't' think we'll go to this church- we're looking for a more Noah's Ark theme). We've run from program to program and to the hottest new-thing in the community to get our needs met and our kids helped with as little involvement as possible.

Becoming a Romans 12 Christian is not about slamming the pastor or taking potshots at sincere ministries' and churches' best efforts; it's seeing where we are today and putting into practice the raw and radical commands of Scripture in our own personal relational networks to become the kind of people Jesus called to be "salt and light".

So how do we flip the question? Ask not what the church can do for you, but what can you do for the church? The first step is to identify our strengths and weaknesses. We should contribute our strengths to the church and share our weaknesses so that our needs can be met. Mutually symbiotic-I give, you give, we both grow. I don't think it's coincidental that Living on the Edge just started their series Your Divine Design. This lesson series focuses on our spiritual gifts and using them to build up the church. I strongly encourage you to follow these lessons. Subscribe to the podcast, bookmark the site, whatever you need to do to identify what you have and why you need to contribute it to the Church.

Finally to close, I'm going to quote from Ephesians 4:7-13 with emphasis added:


But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why
it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and
gave gifts to men." (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended
to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended
higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who
gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some
to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so
that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Amen.

Think: What thought or concept was most important to you in this chapter [post]? Why?
Reflect: Do you know "where you belong"? What's good? What's missing?
Understand: Was it easier to list your strengths or weaknesses? Why do you think that was true for you?
Surrender: Sit queitly before the Lord and thank Him for your strengths and your weaknesses. Open your hands (palms up) to offer to God afresh your strengths to serve His Body and your weaknesses to receive grace from others.
Take Action: Fill out the three-strengths-and-weaknesses card in the book. [basically list your top three strengths and your top (or bottom, I guess) three weaknesses on a 3x5 card. Do this before Undersand and Surrender above]
Motivation: ask two or three friends what they think your top three strengths are and compare with what you wrote down.
Encourage Someone: Jot a handwritten note to someone whose strengths have been God's love expression to some need in your life. Thank them for using their strengths to make Christ known to you.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

This is where the healing begins

I fell behind on my reading (and my Tweeting) so I'm going to diverge a little today. (If you missed yesterday's post, because I never got around to linking it in Twitter, you can check that out here)

Tenth Avenue North has a new song out, This is Where the Healing Begins, that I encourage you to check out their video journal explaining the song here. Meanwhile, look at the lyrics (emphasis added):
So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you're good
And you can't believe it's not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside

So let 'em fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Afraid to let your secrets out
Everything that you hide
Can come crashing through the door now
But too scared to face all your fear
So you hide but you find
That the shame won't disappear

So let it fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now
We're here now, oh

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Sparks will fly as grace collides
With the dark inside of us
So please don't fight
This coming light
Let this blood come cover us
His blood can cover us

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark
(C) Tenth Avenue North

I heard this coming home from work yesterday and the highlighted sections stuck in my head thinking about where we're at going through the R12 book- "Coming to grips with the real you". I just couldn't shake these lyrics. The word "wall" kept resonating in my mind.

I was thinking about walls and I thought of The Wall, by Pink Floyd. I have to admit I was psyched when I heard recently that Roger Waters is going to tour for the anniversary of this album. Maybe that's why The Wall was fresh in my head, I don't know. I was sober the first time I saw the Wall (really!) and like many in my generation, I heard the album before I ever saw the movie. So I had a preconceived notion of an Orwellian/Phillip Dick sci-fi-ish movie and I was surprised by what I saw. No, not by the nearly pornographic animation, but by the darkness of underlying story. I admit that I instantly related. Roger Waters is soliciting videos and names of friends or family who have died in the wars going on overseas to include in his stage show. He freely admits the strong anti-war sentiment that runs through the storyline. However, this part of the plot only deflects from the real story- the Walls "Pink" built around himself. The irony is that Waters embraces the anti-war message, which is one of the bricks in Pink's wall. Relating back to R12, Pink denies part of himself by using the War, and the loss of his father, as an excuse for is antisocial anarchist behavior. (He also blames his mom for his relationships with women, but that's a whole other story) Even though he sings the song, and the animation shows the wall coming down, he is never really free. He never comes to grips with the real him.

I had quite a few Facebook comments on Tuesday's post. An old friend that I grew up with reminded me that there are a lot of things out of our control (our gender, our parents) that shape who we are. I agree, except that our character is defined by how we respond to those things. We can either blame shift (my dad was an alcoholic, my parents divorced when I was young...) or we can do something about it. Yes, those things affect who we are, but God frees us from all of that.

So how do we do it? How do we come to grips with the real us? Yes, Romans 12:3-8 is a good start and a great scriptural foundation to build on. But the truth is, we'll never break down the walls we built around us until we open up about who we are; share our deepest and darkest secrets; and stop blaming what we cannot control for who we are. And that is where the healing begins.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

R12: Have you discovered the real you?

We've spent the last couple of days digging in, preparing ourselves to wrestle with God over our identity. Now it's time to start answering these questions: who are you, where do you belong, what are you supposed to do? We find the answers in Romans 12:3-8.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. [who you are] Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. [where you belong] We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. [what you are supposed to do]
Today, we are going to look at ourselves with sober judgement, in other words clear-minded. You might read this and think, "do not think of yourself more highly than you ought? That's easy! I'm a Christian and I know pride is a sin." Of course, that's easier said than done. In some Christian circles pride is so emphasized that a false-humility abounds; everyone puts on a mask. The other extreme is "meek is weak"- the assumption that humility is a sign of weakness. Both are wrong and miss the point of this passage. This isn't about pride, per se, but about not measuring ourselves against anyone or anything but Christ. The obvious pride expressed as "I'm better than you" is just as sinful as feeling hurt because "this person didn't treat me like I think I should be treated" and is just as sinful as the low esteemed "woe is me" who may not be conscious of it, but is seeking the same level of attention as the first two. Truth is, we need to think of ourselves, not based on anyone else's opinion, but on the grace of God expressed through Jesus.

This expresses itself with humbly acknowledging that we are sinners saved by grace. "[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23, emphasis added) We have to embrace God's love for us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) And we have to live free from the burdens of sin, including the temptations of the world, the deceptions of Satan, and the cravings of our sinful nature. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) Doing so is the first step in stripping down naked and seeing who we really are in God's sight (the only opinion that matters).

Next, we need to think of ourselves "in accordance with the measure of faith God has given us." This is accomplished somewhat above, but goes further and hints towards the next two questions. As I've said before, we need to see who we are before we can see who God wants us to be. We're naked and exposed before God, so who does he want us to be? By the grace of God, we are new creations. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17) And he's given us the tools to live as a new creation. "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23a)

Chip Ingram gives some good self-help tools to help us along this path. If you have the book, I encourage you to follow his direction with the 3x5 cards. If you're only following along here, take some time to meditate on each of these scriptures.
Tomorrow, we'll be answering the second question.

Think: What does sober self-assessment mean to you?
Reflect: On a scale of one to ten, how accurately do you think your view of yourself is? Why?
Understand: What is your understanding of your position in Christ? Do you think it is important to appropriate what you already possess (faith) versus trying hard to live up to God's standards?
Surrender: Ask God for the power to obey the command in Romans 12:3 to "think accurately about yourself."
Take Action: Make a copy of the cards in the chapter and review them daily for six weeks. [or take the scriptures above, write them down and meditate on them for six weeks.]
Motivation: Ladies, if you need some hope, listen first-hand to [Chip's] wife Theresa's story in her series "Precious in His Sight" at the R12 online resources. This teaching grew out of her own journey toward sober self-assessment.
Encourage someone: As you review these identity cards for the next six weeks, make an extra set and give them to a friend.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.