Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Lately, I've been on a sort of adventure in life. Since the summer, I've been slowly walking more and more in faith towards a calling. I can't share all the details of the calling in particular here, but everyday I have more and more revealed to me. But throughout this process, I think a lot of people near have started to think that there may be something wrong. They see that I have changed. My passions are different. My motivations more human now, and less personal.

Through this change I started by asking for God to give me His "heart". I found that within a few months, my heart had changed. I found myself caring deeply for others, more deeply than I had in my whole life. As I lived in this new reality, my joy increased, and the more I lived in my "old" life, the less enjoyment I found. I think that this new perspective has changed me.

Then as I began to walk in this new understanding, I took a leap of faith in a trip to South Africa. Before the trip, I prayed that God would give me His "eyes" that I may see what He sees on my trip. As I was there, we traveled to Mozambique and Swaziland. One night in Swaziland at a church meeting in a tent, I saw. I saw a young girl dancing her heart out on the stage. But there was something "different" about that girl, and I knew it wasn't worldly, but I couldn't put my finger on it either. The heart that God had given me reached out to her in spirit.

It wasn't until Pastor Dave, the one man on the trip, got up to speak. He is considered sort of a mini-prophet in that he gives words to people and reveals truths in their lives. He encourages them like a father. So there he was, mid-sermon on a stage in Swaziland when suddenly he knelt down, pointed at this girl, and gave her a word right there in front of everyone. I finally realized that what I've been "seeing" in people, is what God sees. I only lacked the interpretation. So I prayed that God would instruct me on what to do next.

I walked up to the girl afterwards and told her that I noticed her and encouraged her in the word given to her. She broke down in tears and asked "why me? why is this all happening to me?". I told her simply "God sees you". Do we need another reason? It turned out that she had come from the poorest of the poor, and God had been lifting her up to levels of glory in His kingdom. The latest Word of the Lord was that her voice would be heard throughout the world. Wow. Why? Because God saw her through me, and through Dave.

But it wasn't as if I had some super spiritual revelation hit me over the head. It was a slow and steady walk. It was, is, a walk of faith. That is not a magical transformation, it's a natural one. It is a rebirthing. It takes time.

So lately I realized that the heart and eyes of God are great, but without a way to understand what that means, or what to do with those sightings or feelings, it is useless. So lately I have prayed that God would grant me His wisdom.

Wisdom is an interesting thing to pray for. You must realize that if you pray for something, God will bring about the things in your life to challenge you. Once I prayed for compassion, and that same day, God presented me friends from church whose Uncle died and I was called to comfort them. So evidently when you pray for wisdom, God brings situations in front of you that you are a called to respond to. I say respond, because in most we are asked to "judge", but I found quickly that "judging" is not what we are called to do. In the past few weeks, I had many of these situations - situations that I could not possibly decipher on my own with my mortal logic.

So I am excited about this journey, but also scared. I'm scared because I keep praying and keep hearing and seeing the response. But I keep praying that I keep following, that I will not let Jesus out of my sight or try to do this on my own. I know how quickly that can happen and how powerless it really is. I don't know what is around the next bend, or what I will need next from God in prayer, but I just know that experiencing the provision of God, is an amazing experience, and pray that others can experience this as they too walk in faith, and not by sight.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rules and Regulations

I've found myself bucking the system lately.  This system is one comprised of rules and laws and endless stream of tradition.  This system is the "church" as we know it.  This system isn't working.

Within the past few months, I've wanted a deeper walk with God. I've prayed that he give me His heart, and he gave it to me.  I can't walk into a situation and not feel it as God would. I often find myself trying to figure out these feelings, and searching my motives and testing my actions because of the power of this feeling of love.  He has granted my heart to increase in love for those hurting around me. How do I put that in a box?

Then, before I went to South Africa, I prayed that He would grant me His eyes, that I may see people as God see them, and he granted them to me.  I can pick out the lost and hungry and hurting in a room. I can look into their eyes and see their soul and watch their heart cry out. For those of you thinking, this is "BS", I can tell you that this is a terrible burden to bear.  It's like you walk around and see half the people with a sign over their head with what is keeping them from abundant life.  But the sign is very fuzzy and I can't read it without getting really close.

I've discovered that these two gifts of God can easily get me into trouble. So I have prayed for God's wisdom as well. It doesn't help to feel and see, if you don't know what to do!  This was a recent addition, but I believe I am in the transition period of receiving this gift through the journey He has been taking me on.

This past weekend has kicked of that journey in the full.  I won't go into any details, but I've been confronted by one in the ministry about my love and connection with those around me.  In particular, we had a disagreement over how close I should get to those who hurt.  As a backstory, I've been counseling people one-on-one over chat for a while now, and predominately women.  I have also been called to be a father to the fatherless of some of my youth, both girls and boys, but particular girls (most likely due to raw statistics in that area)

The issue that this fellow ministry friend brought up was that I should NEVER be alone with a woman. NEVER drive in the same car alone with them and NEVER talk to them without another person present. I respectfully disagreed with these rules.  The kids I counsel would NEVER trust anyone else with what I have been entrusted with, would NEVER see me as anything but a friend, father and counselor because I and God would not allow it and I would NEVER leave a youth alone if I felt they were endanger.  Quite frankly, I don't think this person has dealt with non-church kids on a level that is required in this day and age.

Now I've been struggling with this whole topic for a while, and honestly, this person's wisdom is good, don't get me wrong. I've actually am trying to get myself out of a place where others could see something happening that isn't that would compromise my ministry.  But here's the thing that I can ABSOLUTELY promise this person... I cannot stand back and watch people hurt.  I can't do it.  I now have the heart and eyes of God and the burden in that is that I see your hurt and their hurt and cannot help but to reach a hand out to heal.  In fact, I really don't care if it looks "good" or not, I don't consider the consequences... I value loving others above making myself look good.

1 Corinthians 10:24
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

So my focus is to build you up, and to build them up, and more importantly to figure out how to heal you so that the cry of your heart can be comforted.  So yes, I will go out of my way for you, and bring you food and water when you need it.  I will hold the door and ask you how your day was and even offer you a back rub in a public place because "that's what Jesus would do".  Plain and simple.  But yet, my motives are constantly questioned, my relationship with that person constantly reminded. Can this world not see a glimmer of perfect love and think it's something it's not? I tire of that world. I hate that life.

Luke 14:26-17
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Instead, I get a litany of rules and regulation and standards and best practices written by men to control men. I get these recited, page after page, the levitical nature of a church trying to control and to put the power of God in a box. This has bothered me ever since I heard it, not because I disagree with the inherent wisdom (again I'm taking that into consideration) but by the fact that you, the church, are trying to protect others from this love that God has for them. How am I to touch the world when you make me to wear oven mitts just in case I might get burnt? Isn't our God more powerful and mighty than that? I think so.

And so I've been praying that God would answer this and reveal to me some kind of confirmation that I'm not crazy.  This person has recently told me that I need to seek help because evidently this thing welling up within me is not of God.  I am taking this person's advice and working on increasing the number of men of God with whom I communicate, but I still wanted more, I needed to know that my desire to reach out and touch the world one-on-one was not a deception. And of course, God answered.  He does that for me. (Thanks God!)

I was chatting with the husband of one of my friends from camp. He's a pastor out in Pittsburgh and he reassured me on a number of fronts, and provided some ideas on other fronts. But he mentioned a verse about how we shouldn't even produce the "appearance of sin". I wanted to look up that verse so I could read more (it's good advice) and I was doing a keyword search. I think God had a different verse in mind for me this morning:

Colossians 2:20-26
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Bingo. This is what I believe. I take the bible at it's word, and take God at His word.  I can give you other verses that say this in other ways, namely Romans Chapter 8.  We no longer operate under the law, we operate above the law (cue Knight Rider theme song)

The church has lived in fear.  Fear that something bad could happen if we dare to love the world as Jesus intended. We make rules and regulations and boundaries to "protect" ourselves from ourselves and then we worship those rules and judge others on how well the abide by them. I have news for you, church... that's not Christianity, that's something not of God.

In fact, if you really are ready to do the work of the Kingdom,
you better come to terms with an important axiom: 
Love is inherently dangerous

I'm not saying that wisdom is not good, but if it inhibits people from getting the love of God and the good news, then I will use my own wisdom that is granted to me by God.  Why? Because all their rules in the world are not going to stop someone with a sexual immorality problem from not having those thoughts, but the love of Jesus and the power of the Spirit can heal that man or woman COMPLETELY. Of this I am sure because that was the ONLY way that I was cured. And to say otherwise denies the power of God. If that is your religion, than I don't want it. It is powerless and useless and should be thrown away.  But what I seek is relationship with the Living God, the God who has filled me up with Living Water that wants to flow all over the place. So I apologize if you get a little wet from the Super Soaker. Blame God, I'll give you His number.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Learning To Love Perfectly

Lately I've been chatting with lots of people. Well, less chatting and more or less counseling, consoling, and generally giving advice. I tend to pray for these people a lot and carry them in my heart. Typically these are youth who I've come in contact from various venues, but now always youth. But as I communicate with them, I undoubtedly get a word to speak over their situation. Sometimes that word becomes somewhat of a theme that breaks through in lives. So I would like to share this little "epiphany" I had.

We all desire love.
I think this is a generally common principal for all people. I am involved in a lot of social media groups such as Twitter, Twinkle, Facebook, MySpace, and have found that there is a lot of "crying out" for love that occurs. Sometimes it's a single mom just trying to make ends meet and deal with her kids. Maybe its a college student wanting someone to be proud of her. Other times, it's the high school boy wanting to talk to "sexy girls". It's a shame nobody ever taught him how to be a decent guy, I feel kinda bad for those boys. Or it's a high school girl "wanting to chat". These are all calls for love, for affirmation, or for someone just to take an interest in their lives. Everyone one of them is desiring love, and nearly everyone one of them is looking for it in the wrong place.

We are all capable of love.
This is another generally accepted principal as well. Most people invest huge amounts of time into finding love in other people. I observe my youth group. They constantly worry about how they look or smell or act or say to attract the opposite sex. They worry constantly about finding their parent's acceptance or affirmation. It is such a confusing time for most of them. Once again, they try to find their source of love in other people, and those other people constantly let them down. It seems that to our hearts, their is love to be had in people, and yet it seems to be a bait and switch routine. So what is the problem with seeking love in others then?

There is an order to perfect love.
This is the discovery I think I found. We all know that God is love. We also know from Song of Solomon that God chases after us. In fact, the whole body is a love story of a God who is madly in love with His people (aka, the Bride). He transcends into the realm of the physical to be with us and to reconcile us to himself. Whoa. Mindtrip I know. But the most interesting thing while Christ is doing all this impossible stuff is what he says. He is very specific when he gives us the command above every other command.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:30-31

We've all heard this command I'm sure. But what I find particularly interesting is that there is an inherent order of operations at play here. I don't think that it is an accident that certain things are given order as represented by the placement of words. I believe that there is truth inthe general concept yes, but also in the way we are to carry out this command. I believe this because the more I see love at play in the real world, the more I see a specific pattern emerging, and that pattern is written down as the spoken words of love Himself, Jesus. Let's take a look.

We have to love God first.
This is the most crucial step, and one that we often times completely forget. We try to fast forward to loving others, and just happen to forget to love God first! This is this first commandment. So before you read verse 31, let's get verse 30 right. What does it mean to love God? I think the vast majority of people think they love God, but I think it's all in their heads. In otherwords, it's an intellectual activity. It's like trying to will yourself to love someone. This doesn't make any sense. It's like being obligated to love someone and just looking for the logic as to why you continue. It's like constantly searching for the reason to love someone. But we find this is backwards.

The verse above is mentioned in three of the four gospels (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27). Each time, the way we are to love God is spelled out in detail. Most importantly we find that we must love God with all of ourselves. We must love God with our heart, soul and mind. We must love God with an order of operations.

With all our heart.
Think about love. Do you remember those days when you were madly in love with someone and it made absolutely no sense? Maybe you know a young person who is in love. The ability to overlook faults, distance and compatibility? The kind of love where you just want to seek after that person? You know what I mean, that person envelops your consciousness to the point that he or she is all you can think about. That person is "in your heart". They consume your heart. The pull on every emotion you have and you live for them. Well guess what... that's our first step in loving God. We need to just fall completely in love with the God who chases after us no matter how many times we screwup. We need to give Him all our heart.

I think it's important to note that we shouldn't try to first rationalize God before we love him. Think about this in the real world. If you are a man and a woman is thinking of loving you, what would you think if she asked how much you made before she married you? Or what if you are a woman and the man asked if you could cook or if the women in your family tend to get fat or ugly. That's not love! Yes, the person has every right to think of these things, but that is trying to invent love with the mind. It is not unconditional. It is love that is being withheld and reserved.

So our first step is something for us to do. It is something for us to risk. How many times have you seen someone in love just act like a fool? Loving God with all our heart is an outward pressing of our emotions towards the object of our desire.

With all our soul.
This is the next step in our process for loving God. What is a soul exactly? It is the part inside of us that communes with another being. We frequently hear about people finding their "soulmates", and that is typically that person with whom you have so much in common, you can nearly read each other's thoughts and finish their sentences. There is such a closeness in a relationship where souls are involved. Do you love God with your whole soul? Do you share His thoughts and desires?

I think for most of us, we never get to that pace of perfect soul bonding with our God. We keep him at a safe and convenient distance, or we take him with us inside of that convenient little box we place him into. Interestingly enough, God will stay far away, or be available in that box because He desires to be as close as we allow Him to be, even though He desires to touch the soul of our being. Our second step is to let God in to a place where we commune with Him on a soul level; where we share His thoughts, see what He sees, and generally can finish His sentences. That is what God desires.

Loving God with all our souls is an internal commune with God. It is a connection that is formed between us and the creator of the universe where we become one. It is something that we cannot explain with our human intellect.

With all our mind.
Most of us live a life where our mind gets in the way. I know I do. I have a saying that I keep for such an occasion. "The greatest chains that bind are within our own mind". But that is because we let the grey matter jiggling in our skulls control our lives by leading with reason and doubt.

When it comes to loving with the mind, it can be a tricky thing. In order to truly love, we need to engage with our mind. We need that intellectual connection with the object of our desire. We need to know for real and for certain that the love is there. But purposefully reserves this form of love until after we have learned to love God with our heart and soul. Why? Because true love is not rational, but once the mind is engaged into a transformed life, it can be a powerful thing.

God doesn't want us to blindly love Him either. My whole life I have been taught to love God. I know a lot of bible verses, and have studied the scripture. I have been to countless sermons and read books on theology. But no matter how much I cram the knowledge of who God is, or try to rationalize God, I was still left short of something. But then somehow I accidently began to experience God and love him with my heart and soul first. I fell madly in love with God for no good reason. But now, my mind is engaged in loving Him. Now, doing His will becomes the only thing in life that truly makes sense. It is an altering experience.

So we must remind ourselves that loving God with our mind is important, but it is third on the order of operations list. If we try to love God with our human intellect, we will never truly experience God. When we love Him first with our heart and soul, and then engage our minds, that's when the really cool stuff happens.

With all our strength.
Strength is mentioned in two of the three gospels, and I figured that it was an important element. Whenever I discuss this topic with some of my youth, I combine mind and strength into a general "body" concept. It seems to me that the body functions on it's own three part system comprised of the mind, mouth and actions. So it's not surprise that strength is mentioned in conjunction with the mind.

One of the verses places strength last, and the other one places it before the mind. I think the order of operations at this point is adaptable for different people. For me, I know it is difficult for me to engage my body in something if it does not first make sense. Others have no problem laboring towards something based on love. But strength is one of those things that finishes our concept of perfect live that is attainable only if we first love God.

To love God with all our strength means to make this love tangible. In other words, loving God is not a simple mental exercise, no! It means getting off our duffs and actually sweating and putting physical labor into that which Christ has called us to. If you are reading this blog post at this point, I have a secret for you. Christ already called you, but its a matter of you responding to His call.

Not only should we make our love for God tangible with sacrificing of our time, talent and bodies to God, but we should do it with perseverance. To use up "all our strength" means doing something until we are exhausted and hungry. Imagine the difference in this world if we could tangible love God.

Wait a second. How can we tangibly love something that is unseen? Good question! Luckily Jesus provides the answer to us, but also the second half od this verse leads neatly towards the "how" part of our love for God.

Love yourself.
Where a lot of Christians get mixed up with this verse is that they "fast forward" to the "love others" part and skip over the important details. We've already covered the fact that we should love God first and foremost. I believe that's because with out loving God, and consequently, receiving that love from Him, we will always be loving others on our own power. This kind of love will not last. We need an eternal and true love that only comes from God.

But the other part that we miss out on in that verse is the "me" aspect. We are to love others "as ourself". This means that the magnitude with which you are capable of loving others is directly correlated with how much we love ourselves! Too often, we Christians, believe that loving ourselves is selfish or prideful, but the bible makes clear that we need to first love ourselves before we can help others. We are only able to love ourselves because God has first loved us. We can only love ourselves once we have irrationally and rationally fallen head over heels for God. At that point, he gives us the ability to love ourselves.

Many of us live lives of unforgiveness, but that unforgiveness is to ourselves! How can we forgive others if we cannot forgive ourselves? How can we convince others of the power of God when we have not allowed that power to change us? This is a huge and important step in loving others. If we are not able to truly love ourselves, then we cannot show perfect love to others because we will constantly be looking to acquire that missing love from others.

So if you are not able to love yourself, you need to look at your love relationship with God. If you have fallen in love with God with your heart, soul, mind and strength - then maybe you need to fall on your knees and repent of everything in your life that keeps you from God. Then, you need to "receive" His love back.

Love others.
Love is an interesting because it increases as you release it. The bible calls on us to love others, in fact, this is the most important thing we can do as Christians. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, expresses that without love, we are nothing. But to get to the place where we can truly love others and obtain that perfect love, we most follow the steps. If we fast forward directly to loving others, we will constantly fail. Why? Simple. We will be looking for love in others and be incapable of loving them in a selfless, unconditional way.

Remember how we are suppose to love God with all our strength and how weird that seems? Well, loving God in a tangible form comes when we are able to love others on this earth with this true and perfect love from heaven.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus teaches us that loving the "least of these" is the way that we show love back to God. Fortunately for us in an unfortunate way, there is always a "least of these" category of people on earth.  Once you have fallen madly and deeply in love with God, and then yourself, find these people and pour into them that love until you don't have strength to do it any longer. At that point, God will fill you with His strength. In our weakness, He is made strong.

The love that Christ calls us to is agape. It is selfless. It is unconditional. It is the kind of love that God has for us and it is intense and powerful. There is power in this kind of love. Power to transform lives and to heal wounds.  The other lesser forms of love can come after it, but if we can love each other in this perfect way, we will have an abundance of love - we will have an abundance of life.