Four Questions to Gauge Your Relationship With God

“The desperate need today is not for a great number of intelligent people or gifted people, but for deep people.” – Richard Foster

The desperate need in the American Church today is for people who are fed up with the superficial, who are hungry to see the Kingdom of God come in all its glory and fullness. Are you among them?

1. Are you among the deep people?

Sherwood Eliot Wirt, author of The Inner Life of the Believer, writes, “Deep within every soul stands a meeting place, a castle, where the believer and God can commune. For some believers, the castle is filled with warmth, joy and laughter. For others, it is empty, lonely and virtually non-existent. The choice is yours: Cultivate a rich, fruitful inner life with the Lord or let it remain stagnant and barren.”

Wirt’s challenge is to go where God is, to get in line with a God who has all the power in the universe at his command. God deserves that attention precisely because he is God — bigger than everything we can see and everything we know is out there that we can’t see and everything that is there that we aren’t even sure about. He wants us — men and women — to be this close, this trusting, this much under the care and love and grace of that Presence. This is what it means to go deep.

2. Do you thirst for time alone with God?

There is a place in the book of Luke where Jesus says building a relationship with God is like building a foundation for a house. He says a good builder will dig deep and set the foundation into rock, so it can withstand storms and floods. And then he follows that little object lesson with a question, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)

It is almost a spiritual sucker punch. Jesus makes a rational point, then brings it down to our reality. Why don’t we build our relationship with him on something more solid than thin air, promises, good intentions or flat ignorance? We talk about God without talking to him (“If only God would show me what to do.” Or, “I don’t see what God is doing in my life right now and I’m so confused.” Or, “I feel like my prayers are not going any higher than the ceiling.” Or, “God just feels so distant and I feel like I don’t know who he is or who I am or how to do this Christian thing.”); meanwhile, God is right here.

(Side note: Third-person language about God is just one step removed from no-person language, which is actually called worry. First-person language is called prayer.)

Wally Armstrong, author of Practicing the Presence of Jesus, says, “The amazing truth is that Jesus is standing right beside each one of us, offering us the life-changing gift of his friendship and the promise of transformation from the inside out.” Hunger for time alone with God acknowledges his presence in a deeper, more real way, and trusts him to show up.

3. Do you use knowledge to keep you at a distance from the heart of God?

Dallas Willard defines discipleship as being with Jesus learning to be like him. It is both things. It is being with him and learning from him. Not just about him but from him. Having great theology and knowing the Bible and knowing the character of God are admirable goals (most of my work is around these very things)Å but at the end of the day, what most affects us and what is most valuable is knowing God himself. Not just knowing about him, but knowing him. Isn’t this what destroyed the Pharisees spiritually? They were unable — for their obsession with proving Jesus guilty of rule-breaking — to absorb the miracles and awaken to the supernatural presence in their midst. Can you imagine the hardness of heart that can have Jesus right there … and still miss him?

We too easily forget the intimacy to which the Father calls us, and the daily guidance he promises to give through deserts and enemy territory. Our Father longs to be present with us, longs to be Lord over us, longs to be what we need him to be.

4. Are you avoiding God’s influence in some areas of your life?

This piece of art hangs in our foyer at Mosaic. It tells our story and proclaims our theology. The circles are about community. Notice there are vines running through the circles with thorns on the vines. The thorns represent wounds, and remind us that the place for wounds is inside the church. By the time those vines reach beyond the circles, they are sprouting leaves. This is a beautiful vision of what repentance, renewal and recovery can be.

The place for wounds is inside the community. If we as a Church are going to build a new society, I believe it begins where Jesus says it begins. Repent and believe. Or in other words, bring your wounds into the community of faith.

The truth is: there is no shame in Christ. When we find the courage and conviction to speak aloud the names of our demons, we change the spiritual climate. The enemy no longer holds power over us. Avoidance is a lack of trust in the power of the cross; repentance is claiming it.

Are you swimming in the shallow end of faith, or heading into the deep? How would it change your life today if you committed to practicing the intimate, constant presence of the Father?

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Two Words for Healthy Community: Trust and Freedom

Reputable organizational developers agree on this: trust breeds organizational health; without it, an organization has nothing on which to build. Trust is the foundation on which sustainable strategies are built and the link to meaningful connection.

Trust begins with transparency. A colleague at 12Stone Church in Atlanta once said, “Trust requires shortcomings without secrets. You can’t be on the team and hide things.” This is why spiritual formation in community is so important. We learn to normalize conversations about the state of our souls. Put these conversations in the “wise as serpents” category. By spending time on relational connection and by challenging one another to accountability, we not only to grow spiritually but keep dysfunction from stunting Kingdom-minded initiatives and burning out good people.

Building dynamic, strategic teams and communities begins with trust and transparency. Time spent making sure this happens is never wasted time.

Sometime back, I was with someone who told me he was just “not feeling it” lately where his connection to his faith community is  concerned. He has felt disengaged spiritually from his faith community. I listened for a while, then asked a couple of strategic discipleship questions. I asked about his sin, and also about his spiritual disciplines. Turns out, he is dealing with chronic unresolved sin, and is not disciplined in his personal prayer and scripture time. He wanted to externalize his sense of disconnection, making it a church issue. It isn’t. His issue is on him. And because he is a ministry leader, his choices affect the health of his community. His sin isn’t really just his; it affects everything he is connected to.

Sin is always systemic. And sin always means to erode our trust in God and each other. And because trust requires healthy boundaries and mutual accountability, it is necessarily connected to freedom. This is counterintuitive but true: If trust requires accountability, then accountability breeds freedom.

In his book, Culture of Honor, Danny Silk writes, “At the heart of [a] culture [of honor] is a value for freedom. We don’t allow people to use this freedom to create chaos. We have boundaries, but we use these boundaries to make room for a level of personal expression that brings what is really inside of people to the surface. When people are given choices, it reveals the level of freedom they are prepared to handle.”

It is just so easy to forget we have a choice. This is an important principle to internalize. When both leaders and community members acknowledge that we are not victims, nor manipulators, we begin to make better decisions and hold more mature conversations.

Healthy, God-honoring cultures provide the kind of accountability that refuses room for a victim mentality.

We are not victims — in our work, in our relationships, in our choices. Isn’t that a glorious truth? We have the freedom and power to refuse shame, be honest, and make changes. As we learn the art of making holy choices, we become trustworthy people. As we build trust, we build community.

Ministry leaders, how are you building a culture of trust, honor, accountability and mature choice among your teams? It begins with you. How are you progressing spiritually? Which of your issues — that you are complaining about and blaming others for — are actually on you? As a leader in the church, you are expected to acknowledge that and make progress by dealing with sin and leaning into discipline.

If your frustrations are primarily rooted in your ministry, how are you actively addressing that? Is your face set enthusiastically and faithfully toward the work for which you’re paid? Where are you passively disappointed or frustrated? Remember: our work is not to “get things done.” Our work is to put people in position to get their lives transformed. Is your posture toward your people both trusting and trustworthy?

Sowing seeds of trust and freedom into our communities will produce a great harvest of Kingdom-minded churches and mature followers of Jesus. And because this is the desperate need of the world today, it worth our earnest pursuit.

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Naked and unashamed

If you’re from the South and over 40, you may remember Lewis Grizzard, the newspaper columnist to wrote for years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gizzard once said that God talks like we do, meaning southern. “Southerners can take a word and change it just a little bit and make it mean altogether somethin’ different,” Grizzard once wrote. “Take the word ‘naked.’ (for instance). Instead of saying, ‘naked,’ we say, ‘nekkid.’ … There’s a difference. ‘Naked’ means you ain’t got no clothes on. ‘Nekkid’ means you ain’t got no clothes on and you up to somethin’ . . .”

When the story says in Genesis 2 that the first humans were “naked and unashamed,”  the point was not that they were “up to something” but that there was no need for hiding. Before the Fall, there was complete vulnerability and trust. It was about deep interdependence with another person. It was about surrender and submission, in the highest and best sense of those terms. And it was also about fruitfulness. It was everything you’d want in a relationship.

“Naked and unashamed” was the Garden standard. This relationship is sacramentally (and necessarily) expressed inside of marriage because it depends on covenant to blossom fully. In every other relationship, we are called into self-discipline but because we are wired for full intimacy, most of us will end up on the trajectory toward marriage, covenant and a commitment to one relationship that allows us to be “naked and unashamed.”

This is the biblical definition of intimacy. The creation story teaches us that marriage is the place on earth where we might experience at least the shadow of an intimacy that is fully expressed in our relationship with the Father.

Man and woman together make an important statement about the love that exists inside the Trinity and between Christ and the Church. Marriage is a sacramental expression of Trinitarian love. Male and female together offer us an insider’s look into the character of God.

To be naked and unashamed is the opposite of autonomous solitude (the state of complete independence, not trusting in God or any human).  Instead, it is to be vulnerable and trusting at the deepest levels both with God and people. It is how Jesus functioned, allowing himself to be open and vulnerable over and over again in the midst of people who would constantly disappoint him.

“Naked and unashamed” is also the essence of repentance, which challenges us to lay ourselves bare before God with the confidence that he is faithful and just and will not condemn us but offer a kind of forgiveness that heals.

Repentance is to be truly “naked and unashamed.” Surely this is exactly why Jesus came into his ministry on that word: “Repent and believe.” He was calling humanity back to the Garden standard — that state of complete openness with God that allows us to trust him deeply even as he transforms us fully.

Repentance is the opposite of shame. It is freedom — freedom from shame, guilt, fear, condemnation. James teaches us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so you may be healed” (James 5:16). Confession helps us hear our own voices admitting our own weaknesses. There is no condemnation! “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16).

“Naked and unashamed” is the posture of freedom. The old is gone. Our thorns are no longer a shame, but a crown — part of our story of God’s power to transform.

Is it possible that the yearning you are expressing for a relationship that answers the loneliness you feel is very much a yearning for your created design — a design that calls you to be “naked and unashamed” (vulnerable at every level), first with God and then with that one with whom he calls you into covenant?

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Hungering for the Garden

From Surrender to Love by David Benner:

“Deep down … something within us seems to remember the Garden within which we once existed. Part of us longs to return; we know that this is where we belong. But another part of us seems bent on living out our illusions of freedom and autonomy. We tell ourselves that we can create other gardens in which to find soul rest and encounter love. But what we create are weed-infested gardens of compulsion and idolatry. Instead of rest we get addiction and self-preoccupation. And our restlessness grows, our hearts yearning for something both familiar and unattainable.

“Faint residues of a memory of Perfect Love seem to flit at the edges of human consciousness. Such memories are so weak that they are easily ignored. They remain, however, the core of our deepest desires — all human longings pointing to the Source….

“Realizing we had forgotten our story, God sent Jesus as the personification of love. The Son came to reveal the character of the Father. The Son came to bring us back to the Father — back to love. Jesus came to remind us what true love really is. Christians and non-Christians alike widely affirm the nobility of Jesus’ character. He was so obviously a good man. His love was obvious, his teachings were noble. But his life, death and resurrection all point us beyond this. They point us toward the character of God. This was what Jesus himself taught. With truly remarkable boldness he asserted that his life revealed God. The love he demonstrated was the love what was his source. It was the love he knew from eternity as the Son of the prodigious Father.

“Who else, then, to better remind us of our own story? Who else to better bring the faint residual memories of the garden of love in from the periphery of consciousness to the core of our being? The story of Jesus is the story of love personified. We miss the point when we simply try to do what he tells us to do. And we miss the point when we merely try to follow the pattern of his life. His life points us back to his own Source. His life is intelligible only when it is understood as the personification of divine love.”

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