Monday, December 22, 2008


It's that time of year when we look back on our lives and evaluate where we are and how far we have come.  I think my life has taken a rather interesting journey over the past year, and especially over the past month.  Some of you close to me my know what I'm talking about, and for the rest of you, well I may enlighten you someday.  But let's just say that I have taken a little hike through the valley, so to speak.  That has given me some much needed perspective.

Perhaps one thing that my little journey has taught me, is the power of prayer.  The weekend before Thanksgiving I attended a school of worship.  It was an amazing time of worship and teaching, but the part that resounded with me the most were the moments "between the cracks", the times that were not planned or found on the schedule.  One of these moments happened during worship the last night.  I literally fell uncontrollably to my knees and repented before God in tears.  I remember exactly what I cried out.

"Search my heart O God, make it ever true"

These were the words of an ancient praise song my old church used to sing.  I found that these lyrics are taken and adapted from Psalm 139:23 which I think is a little truer rendition of what my heart was crying out for:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts" - New American Standard

but just for fun, here's a version that really speaks to my experience even more...

"O God, let the secrets of my heart be uncovered, and let my wandering thoughts be tested" - Bible in Basic English

Now, what I didn't realize at the time I prayed this was the process that God uses to accomplish this relatively simple prayer.  In fact, based on the powerful and immediate response I received, I am now, more than ever, a firm believer in the power of prayer from a heart crying out to God.  That's because God systematically revealed all the evil things and gunk I had in my heart.  He uncovered all the secret things that even I had fooled myself into believing were under control.  He also put my thoughts and philosophies to the test and proved to me that I'm not as smart as I think I am.  At the end of this process, I was left completely humbled before my God and others, asking for forgiveness.  The amazing thing is that this all happened in about two short weeks.  So praise be to God who is alive and hears our prayers!

But one thing I'm left with now, is an overwhelming acknowledgement of a little condition I have.  I think I'm aware of this because I asked God to make my heart "true".  Because of that little suffix I added on to that prayer, He revealed to me something about myself that I had ignored, and that causes my life to be out of alignment.  That revelation is that there is an internal conflict in my heart and soul that needs resolution.

I don't think I'm the only one with this condition.  Simply put, I have two natures.  The first nature I call my "logical" or "practical" nature.  In that nature, I know who I am and how I should act.  I know just what to say to impress, or to calm.  I am really agreeable with everyone I meet.  I'm outgoing and do the right things.  In a nutshell, I strive to be the perfect person, husband, employee, youth leader, musician, pretty much anything I have to be.  I think when this part of me is working well, I'm good at it.

The other side of me is part hides in those darker recesses of my heart that are hidden away from view.  There is a subconscious part of me that is based on feelings and emotions.  This part dwells introverted in the background and mulls over things for long periods of time.  It's the part that writes poetry and music.  It's the part that takes deep interest in people and solving problems.  It's the part that talks in my sleep.  It's also the part that speaks to the body and prevents it from doing what the logical knows it should do.  It is the irrational and spontaneous part of myself that I let outside to play every now and then.

My little dilemma is that these two parts are nearly always in disarray and non-alignment.  For instance, I may agree with something to your face with my mouth and with my mind completely understand that it is the right move.  Then, just minutes later when the subconscious comes back from vacation, it will start to feel differently and process the situation with more input.  It will start looking at all the "what if" scenarios, history, personality, and such.  It processes emotion and cries out to higher powers.  In the end, I end up being highly "passive aggressive".  I agree to let people do something a certain way, and then seemingly despise it or downright trash it later.  In the past this has hurt a lot of people and I assume it still does to this day.  But the truth is that I don't intend to hurt people, it's just the way my brain works.

But stranger still is that I trust that deep, subconscious part of me more than the shallow, logical one.  It is the part that guides me and has an uncanny ability to predict the right path to take in most cases, at least when tamed by some logic.

So my whole life has really been a struggle to resolve the conflict between these two parts.  It would be easy to say that the feelings part of me is my "fleshly nature" and I should ignore it.  Romans 7 has a lot to say about this.  But what I find is that both parts are susceptible to sin.  In fact, I think that most of the time they hold each other in check.  The emotional is just as much a part of me as the logical.  My hope is that now that I am aware of this, I can start taking some kind of action.  After all, all things are possible though Christ who strengthens me.

So what I'm looking forward to as we roll into the new year is resolution.  I want my heart to be true.  I want to speak with my mouth what my heart feels.  I want my heart to feel what my mind thinks.  I want my mind to think with the compassion in my heart.  I want my whole spirit to be in check and in alignment so that I might have a "true" heart.  That I might have peace and that I might have resolution.  That is my prayer for myself this holiday season.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Worthy of the Chase

I've been pondering romance lately, due in part to reading a novel a friend is writing. It wasn't a romance novel per se, but it brought up questions, big questions, in my life that were begging to be answered. Much to her chagrin, I proposed that the ending was a cop out, that maybe something else could happen. I felt this way because all of these questions I had were added to and multiplied by, and much to my chagrin, never answered by my author friend. I wanted answers.

The reason I wanted answers was because recently, I've seen many marriages, including mine, stagnate. I've also seen the "enemy" rush into these cracks and begin tearing unity apart, especially in the lives of those in the ministry. I know that love is more than a feeling, but I couldn't help but think there had to be something more out there. In all honesty, there was something that I was lacking, a romance I so desperately needed. I was searching.

The nature of love and romance was revealed to me over the past week, and that revelation is something that just so happens to spread to many aspects of our lives. The following are lessons that I have learned through this discovery, and I share them with you here.

Love is a Choice
When we choose to marry someone, it isn't because we love them, it's because we "choose" to love them. Love is a verb, and requires action. I thought that meant taking out the trash, doing the dishes and remembering to say "I love you", right before that daily step of locking the front door. I had exchanged love for a habit, and my wife for a roommate in the process. Because of this, the deep longing for romance was still there, and the enemy uses that to pull us where we don't want to go.

Don't exchange true love for a feeling, or a whim. It's easy for us to give up on this choice we've made, these vows to another. There is a temptation to chase after another, but if we do that we are doomed to repeat a pattern that is never fulfilling. A living Hell. Remember that love, true love, never fails.

Romance is a Choice
For young lovers and newly weds, romance isn't (or shouldn't be) a problem. There is a freshness to your relationship. There is vigor and energy that, if it were possible to be bottled, would be a powerful aphrodisiac I'm sure. For the rest of us, we must "choose" to romance our spouse. We must choose to break out of the comfortable routine and do things that have us peeking out the window wondering when they'll be home. We must choose to pour some champagne and slice some fruit and go completely out of our way for another. Too often in churches, we ignore this whole topic and dismiss it as taboo, but I believe that this is critically important aspect of church life, because if romance is not present, fear, doubt and needs bubble over, and gives Satan a juicy foothold in our lives.

I once was at a "Men's Conference" at Word of Life in upstate New York. The speaker was an older gentleman who reminded me of a cast member of the Red Green Show. The guy was hilarious, but I couldn't doubt the love this man had for his wife, even after 50+ years. He used the phrase "God smiles at you when you are in the bedroom with your wife". I thought it was awkward and funny then, but now I realize that he was speaking of that romance, that spark, that candle that still glows after many years, that light that we should put on a pedestal and shine for everyone to see. And every time you choose to romance your chosen one, God smiles.

Worthy of the Chase
The secret to romance is the thrill of the hunt, the exhilaration of the pursuit. I once heard said that you can pick out married couples in a restaurant because they are the ones that don't talk to each other. What a tragedy that is! We must constantly be chasing our spouses and not get comfortable about the convenience. We wonder where the romance has gone in our lives, and yet we are not willing to go out of the way to chase her, or him - constantly. So if you are reading this I urge you, tonight, to chase after the one you have chosen to love. Read Song of Solomon and see the beautiful poetry of this chase for some inspiration. The romance in your marriage is not dead, the relationship is not in repose, you only need to make the decision to awaken it. And my wife, Jaime is worthy of my chasing.

Jumping off the Cliff
A few months ago I went "cliff-diving" with my friend Ric. This activity is exhilarating to say the least and involves climbing a 60-foot tall cliff and jumping into very tiny jagged, rock-lined pools of freezing mountain water, usually beneath a waterfall, far from any level 2 trauma unit. One time, both Jaime and I were standing together at the top of one of these cliffs, paralyzed to jump off. We were both scared to death. What if we misstepped? What if we jumped to far and missed the narrow window of survival depths? What if we were too close to the waterfall and got sucked under or did a bellyflop?

The fact of the matter is that there may be things standing in the way of reigniting that passion in your marriage. It may be secrets you keep, or relationships you've had, or grudges you've held. There's only one way to deal with these issues, and that's to jump off the cliff. It's to hold your breath and confess your sin to the other, and then take the exhilarating free-fall into the cleansing pools of grace. There may be tears, but there will be cleansing. If you ever feel that you cannot pray together as husband and wife, I suspect that you may need to do a little cliff-diving together. And remember, the first time is always the hardest, but after that, it's addicting.

Worship is Romancing God
Perhaps the more enlightening thing I found in all of this was a parallel drawn between our human interactions, and those we have with our Maker. After all, the Bible is really a love story filled with letters, songs, poems and testimony of God's enduring faithfulness and love for us. In light of this, you must remember that you are worthy of the chase. I know this because God continues to chase after you and I no matter how far we run. He chooses to romance us, but we need to choose to romance Him in return.

Just like love, we must "choose" to worship God. Sometimes we don't feel like doing it, just as sometimes we don't feel like loving someone. But that's not the nature of love, and it's not the nature of worship. The Bible uses a lot of words to describe this – seek, call on the name of, knock, run... but I like the visual of a pursuit, I love the illustration of the chase, I love the realization that our relationship with God is a romantic one filled with wonder, energy, passion and blessing.

This Sunday, I challenge you to press into God even if you don't feel like it. Romance Him. Speak to Him in poems that flow from your heart. Sing to Him with songs of love. Snuggle up to Him so close that you can smell Him. Whisper sweet nothings in His ear. Stay in that relationship and the true power of God will descend upon you and your ministry. And then, go home and do that with your beloved, your chosen one, in a way that is surprising, a way that finds wonder in her eyes, giggles on her hips, and magic in the mundane.

Friday, December 5, 2008

You Are Here

Many times in Christian circles we talk about salvation.  But I think there is not a lot of focus into what that tangibly means.  To most, I think the word has become christianized... a word that has lost it's meaning.  For me, I used to simply equate it with saying the sinner's prayer and getting my "get out of Hell free card".  But recently in a heated discussion, the topic of salvation came up and many were not sure what the basis of salvation was.  Is it just a prayer, or is it more?

I think that most agree that there isn't anything we can do to save ourselves.  It is God alone that provides salvation.  But this begs the question, what must I do to be saved?  What constitutes salvation?

Some in the church have watered down salvation to a simple sinner's prayer.  It is tempting to think that just saying an incantation that we are saved, or that simply calling on the Lord brings salvation.  Some point to Joel 2:32 as the basis of this salvation.  However, it is important to note that Jesus in said...

Matthew 7:21-23
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS."

The discrepancy we find between this verse and Joel is interesting.

Joel 2:32a
"Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved"

But I believe that it is these Biblical "glitches" where the truth of God dwells!  So I determined it was important to go back to Joel, and assume that I was missing something.  After all, I always heard just a fragment of a verse in this prophetic book.  I read the entirety of Joel (a whole three chapters) and found a striking pattern that I believe we should follow in our evangelism efforts.  Not only that, but I believe we can apply this in our own live as well.

I found that salvation is not a binary decision.  It's not that you say a word or two and find yourself a lifetime member of the Jesus club.  The sinner's prayer may get you heading in the right direction yes, but I believe that salvation is achieved by our continual response to God and his grace granted us through Christ Jesus.  At any point in our journey we must stop and ask ourselves "where am I?", to make a stop on our spiritual and look at the map.

I believe that Joel outlines four phases.  I also feel that salvation can only be truly achieved if we do these phases in order: repent, believe and receive.

1) Destruction
The first half chapter of Joel (1:1-12) and the first half of the second chapter (2:1-11) goes into great detail a story of devastation and invasion. This I believe represents our default position in this world as sinners.  We all know that the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).  At any point in our life's journey we may find ourselves on a path to death, or perhaps we are being pursued by the enemy.

In my youth group I find kids who cut themselves, smoke pot, or engage in sexual immorality.  I can see clearly that they are on this road to death.  Our first step is to help them understand that this road is bad, and that God wants to bless them!  If we never realize this, we cannot move onto the second phase.

2) Repent
The second half of the first chapter of Joel (1:13-20) talks of repentance.  This is the next step we need to take in order to see the salvation of the Lord.  This means surrendering to the Lord and crying out to Him.  This is a change of position of our heart.  It must be a 180ยบ turn.  To quote an ancient Turkish proverb:

"No matter how far down the wrong path you have gone, turn back"

We must first realize that we are on the wrong path, and then we can't suffer under the delusion that things will get better, or that we can fix things on our own.  Instead, we must turn to God and cry out to Him. 

Mark 1:15
Jesus said... "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

3) Believe
The story of Joel starts to get exciting midway through chapter two (2:12-17).  Here we begin to see something miraculous.  The people of God start to BELIEVE.  I especially love verse 14 because it is so human!  You can see the formation of "maybe" and then "perhaps" and then "we believe!"  This is also seen in John 3:16 (who ever believes in me shall not perish, but have everlasting life)

The next part of the chapter (2:18-27) that God responds to our belief!  He begins to help us out and get us out of our situation.  But I think this is often times where we end the story.  We receive the blessing of God and worship him, but that's where we leave things.  If we dare to read on, we will find there's one more step.

4) Receive
We had talked about spiritual gifts.  We want to see miracles.  I believe that this last step is crucial so we can see the salvation of our God.  Jesus tells us to "receive the Holy Spirit" - John 20:22.  This of course parallels what Joel is talking about and that we are to receive the Holy Spirit.  It's only then that we get to the verse "everyone who calls on my name will be saved"  It is also important to read the last chapter because we see that salvation is more than having today's needs taken care of by God, but rather it is having your needs taken care of in abundance! We will never thirst again after receiving true salvation.

The last part of Joel makes it obvious that this is a prophetic book speaking of the end times.  It's actually really a good read, especially given our modern sociopolitical state.  I also think an excellent study is to compare the illustrations of Joel (wine, figs, vines, ripe harvest) with teachings of Jesus.  I think there is something to that!