The Mission of a Methodist: Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World

“The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

This is the mission of United Methodists — to make disciples, as Dr. Robert Mulholland would say, “for the sake of others.” To make disciples is more than getting people saved, though that is obviously a critical beginning. The heart of Methodism is not social justice or creation care, though those things matter. It is much more than hosting attractive worship experiences. Our mission is to care for the spiritual formation of people at the deepest levels, so that their personal transformation results in the transformation of the world.

Spiritual formation is intentional transformation. It is God’s intent that we grow. Spiritual formation is growth that happens on purpose. Do Methodists today understand that our theological bent calls us to go someplace spiritually, to be formed into the likeness of Jesus Christ? Do we understand that we are making disciples of Jesus? Are we fostering spiritual hunger for Christ alone?

Spiritual formation is a matter of the heart. The place where the shaping or forming happens is the heart. In the Bible, we hear these almost bizarre (for our contemporary ears) statements about God wanting to circumcise our hearts. The point is that God wants to change the shape of us. He wants to conform us into the image of Jesus — to make us more loving, more gentle, more joyful, more peaceful, more gracious, more faithful, more trusting … more disciplined. At its core, Methodism is about using spiritual discipline to be shaped into the character of Christ. Do we preach as if that’s so? Are we people of one Book, a book designed to shape us into Kingdom-minded people?

Spiritual formation happens for the sake of others. Methodism is designed to be both evangelistic and global. We do not apologize for our belief in the radical notion that our brand of faith has power to change the world. Further, God’s intent is not just to form each of us spiritually, but to make us partners in the work of transforming the world. Nothing less, nothing else. Do our people have a global vision, or are we stuck on our own cultural values, unable to see how God is moving in other parts of the world? Do we truly believe ourselves to be globally connected to each other by the power of the Holy Spirit?

Spiritual formation is fueled by spiritual discipline. As I’ve said already, Methodists major on the disciplines. It is our contribution to the Body of Christ — this idea that through very practical habits, we can form an intimate relationship with Christ even as he forms us into his likeness. The means of grace are not the basis of our salvation (don’t mistake them for works righteousness), but they are a gift of God that allows us to participate in the process of our ongoing spiritual growth. In our chaotic and distracted world, spiritual disciplines like fasting and prayer may seem arcane; we want to discount them because we are already too busy doing things for Jesus. But are we busy enough doing things that place us in the presence of Jesus? Are we learning to hear his voice? Are we practicing that art daily, so that hearing from God becomes more and more part of our cultural distinctive?

As it turns out, disciplines are not for people who have too much time on their hands, but for people exactly like us. Busy, distracted people. Do Methodists understand that it is in our DNA to be deeply, intimately, passionately connected to Christ, and that our spiritual practices are designed to help us hear the voice of God?

I suspect that the political discussions within the UMC have distracted the corporate body and kept us from being on mission. I suspect they have distracted us personally (note: hand-wringing is not a spiritual discipline). For the proliferation of politics within our tribe, we have lost sight of what is most central to our existence: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I want to call Methodists to return to the fundamentals. I want to see Methodists passionate again about centering on Jesus and on the disciplines that keep us grounded, particularly steeping ourselves in prayer and the scriptures. I want to see a move of the Holy Spirit in our day that transcends cultural conversations and revives our corporate/global spirit. I envision a move of personal prayer, fasting, scripture study and corporate accountability that restores our hunger for our mission. Yes, I want to see us loving our neighbors well, but I want to see those acts of love and kindness rooted in our passion for what breaks God’s heart, not as an escape from it.

I pray for a great move of the Holy Spirit to sweep among us as we get serious again about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. I pray that by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, the mission of Methodists would be advanced toward its completion on the power of its people’s faith, so that one day we can all stand together in his unhindered presence with nothing left to do but worship.

If we are going to fulfill our mission as Methodists — to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world — our greatest work is that of taking our spiritual formation seriously, not just for the sake of our own souls but for the sake of others … that the world might know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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What Wesleyans believe about “once saved always saved”

“We who have believed enter that rest.” — Hebrews 4:3

You never know when you might need to defend your position on the theology around the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” It happened to me a week or so ago while I was purchasing a couple of things from a small-town boutique. The woman behind the counter shared that her mother was a preacher, that for years she preached in a holiness church until becoming a Baptist. She changed theological streams because she couldn’t make herself believe in the Wesleyan doctrine of free will to the extent that it allows us to actually lose touch with our salvation.

Since I live in the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention, this isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation. I’ve come to suspect there is a gross misunderstanding of how Wesleyans approach free will and salvation. Often, it is made to sound as if it is God’s choice to drop us whenever he feels like it. “Mess up on Facebook? You’re fired!” “Yell at your dog? You’re not saved any more.”

That take on the gift of free will misses the mark by a wide margin. Free will is not God’s prerogative to exercise; it is ours. We are the ones who place ourselves in jeopardy of moving beyond His presence, though even that isn’t as easy to do as we make it sound.

Think of it like a parent holding a child’s hand as they walk across a busy street. The parent’s whole desire in that moment is to get her child safely across that street. That parent isn’t making decisions while they walk about whether or not she really likes that child, or whether this parenting thing is worth it. No! All that parent is thinking is, “Let me keep my child safe.”

Now, suppose this parent has a particularly strong-willed and active kid who is easily distracted. Is she going to hold on more loosely or more tightly to that little one? More tightly, of course! But suppose that active and strong-willed child sees a quarter laying in the street just up the way, something shiny enough to get his attention and valuable enough to make him want it. The child begs his mother to let him go after that shiny thing, but she says no. She realizes the danger of loitering too long in traffic. She knows the destination is the other side — not shiny, distracting things. Her sole intent is to get them both safely across; she is not about to let him go.

The child, however, is relentless. The more he watches the shiny thing, the more sure he is that it is worth the escape so when he sees a split-second of opportunity, he wrenches his hand out of his mother’s and darts into traffic. Now he is out from under the cover of his parent’s care, not by her choice but his.

Did the mama let him go? Did she want him to do that? Did she cause him to do that? Absolutely not. The intention of the parent at every point was to get her child through the traffic safely. The intention of the child when they stepped off the curb together and headed into traffic was to go where his mother led him. But that desire only took him so far. Having held onto a predisposition toward shiny things for too long into the journey has kept him from being completely surrendered to his parent’s plan.

And that is how Wesleyans view salvation. God gives it, but we have to accept it. By the same token, God walks us through the journey of salvation, inviting us to work it out daily with fear and trembling, but at every point on the way we must make the choice to keep our hand in His. This is the responsibility we bear for the gift of free will.

So what about that “blessed assurance” we always sing about? Is it so blessed after all? Is there really any assurance? Absolutely! Assurance is not the promise that once you say yes to God, you’ve got it easy. That promise is given to no one, believer or not. Assurance is the promise that with your submission and surrender, God will get you safely through the traffic to the other side. Our decision to simply rest our hand in His — to submit to His will. That is all that’s required, and that is only a struggle if we choose it to be.

And that, brothers and sisters, ought to create a deep well of rest within your soul and mine. Because if I believe God is good, God is for me, and God will see me through to the other side, then the rest is details.

Listen: The biblical meaning of rest is not a cure for exhaustion but a pathway to assurance.* When we are in sync with God, assured of his character and presence, willing to let him carry us safely across the chasm, we rest.

Blessed assurance, indeed.

 

*I recently heard it put this way: The cure for exhaustion is not rest, but wholeheartedness (Brother Rast). I think we’re saying the same thing. When your whole heart is for God, when you are undivided in your devotion, you will be able to rest completely in his care and cover.

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Real Prayers for Real People

I didn’t immediately fall in love with the psalms. I found them to be hard to understand and a little dusty. Then some hard things happened in my life and I landed on a few psalms that became prayers when I didn’t know what to pray. When my mother died, Psalm 42 became my lifeline. Psalm 116 was my testimony in a season when things got bad then got better. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to find the profound assurances embedded in Psalm 23.

The psalms challenge us to pray as if God is real. These ancient prayers give us a fresh vocabulary for prayer. In the library we call the Bible, The Book of Psalms is the prayer book and as examples of how faithful people have prayed through the ages, they can help us all find a better prayer life. Here, we find the all-too-human wrestlings of David (who wrote many, but not all, the psalms), a man after God’s heart. We hear honest cries for help and deep, worshipful devotion. We get the full spectrum of emotions, not the least of which is anger. I’ve never had the guts to ask God to kill someone else’s child, but it is in there — an assurance that God can handle it even when we are broken, raging or irrational.

What we don’t hear in David’s conversations with God is anything remotely rote. No recitations. No empty wish lists. No shallow musings. No generalized litanies of what we vaguely hope for the world. David Thomas, in his teaching on travailing prayer, writes, “The Bible seems utterly unfamiliar with casual prayer, prayer of the mouth and not of the heart.” In this, the psalms resonate.

The psalms are real prayers for real people. They challenge us to think deeply and honestly and give us permission to cry out, to feel, to get close, to give our whole heart, to be rough around the edges, and even to be wrong-headed and stubborn.

But real. Always real.

In Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, the author offers several practical tips for those who want to learn how pray the Psalms.

  • Choose a psalm to focus on. If you don’t know where to start, try googling your feelings — i,e, “psalm for anger” or “psalm for discouragement.” The psalms are so well researched and commented on that you’ll likely find several articles or references that send you to a starting point. Don’t get sidetracked with the article; go to the psalm.
  • Read it through aloud — slowly and thoughtfully — to get its sense. Make it interactive. Reading scripture aloud can make a huge difference in how you hear it.
  • Pray it aloud slowly, reflectively, in the first person (as your own prayer for yourself). Don’t hurry. Wallow in it. Savor it. Mean it. Feel free to stop here and journal what is revealed, or make notes in the margins.
  • Pray it aloud slowly, reflectively, in the second person, as an intercessory prayer on behalf of some other person.
  • Stay there until God shows up. I realize this isn’t great theology. Of course, it isn’t God who doesn’t show up, but us. But from an experiential place, we can admit that when we don’t have patience for the waiting it can feel as if God is nowhere to be found. It isn’t that he doesn’t show up, but that we refuse him entry by rushing too quickly past the moment.
  • Don’t end your prayer when the psalm ends. Let this psalm springboard you into the rest of your day’s prayers for current issues and persons that the psalm has brought to your heart. Let the psalm shape the day’s prayer list.

Even if it isn’t theologically accurate to say it this way, I stand by this good advice: Stay there until God shows up. If he doesn’t show up immediately, he will show up eventually. How do I know? He promised!

Stay in the place of prayer. Jesus himself said the fruit of an abundant life is in the abiding. May you find your stride, your purpose, your anchoring and your fruitfulness in that place of abiding, travailing, real prayer.

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Six ways to breed sanity into your life

That strain we feel — like we’re walking against the tide — has an explanation. We are all trying to get back to the other side of Genesis 3. We are all straining toward our created design.

On the other side of the fall line, relationships are transparent, we serve one another well, and dysfunction is not even in the vocabulary. So we will recognize that glorious world when we get to it, what if we were to practice a little Genesis 2 living now?

Here are a few ideas:

Stop being polite.

If you want to release some sanity into your life (and into the lives of those around you), stop being polite and start speaking from a deeper place of love and prophetic imagination. As southern as I am, I’m pretty convinced that southern politeness is not a feature of holy living. I’m not talking about common courtesy, or even the kind of patience that endures rude people in a store. I’m talking about the difference between the kind of politeness that works against deep love. Deep love will always lead us toward truth; southern politeness will often lead us away from it.

When we learn to be both gracious and honest with one another, we stifle the enemy’s options for control. When we learn to speak prophetically into each other’s lives (honestly, hopefully, spiritually), we release the Holy Spirit to move and create both transformation and trust. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven …”

Don’t tolerate crazy.

Think about how it would impact your relationships if you refused to keep tolerating other people’s crazy. You’d stop letting people cancel on you at the last minute. You’d have no tolerance at all for passive aggression (which I believe is straight from the enemy of our soul). You’d expect people to honor your time as you honor theirs. You wouldn’t let folks chronically complain about situations without challenging them to move forward. And when others are letting “crazy” make their decisions, you wouldn’t let southern politeness rob them of your deep concern for them. Doesn’t that sound like a much more sane way to live?

Hear me on this: Care what happens to other people. Care deeply. Let your heart be broken for other people. But don’t tolerate crazy. Genuine, mature compassion will always cause us to care enough about a person’s sin that we’re motivated not to let them stay there. Love without accountability is a socially accepted form of abuse that malforms people spiritually.

Stop making excuses.

Paul the Apostle announced more than once that he was focused on the future. He’d say, “Forgetting what is behind (I strain) toward what is ahead …” That is a great mental posture to take toward life. “Forgetting what lies behind” is refusing regret a voice in our life. “Straining toward what is ahead” is putting processes in place that allow room for new habits. Straining toward what is ahead is deciding that what we thought was inconceivable is actually doable so we set goals, then we get accountability so we can stay with those goals.

Accountability is committing to transformation. After all, Jesus didn’t come into his ministry saying, “Talk about your junk and believe, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” He said, “Repent and believe.” In other words, own your junk and move on.

Decide not to be lazy. 

I don’t know who said it first, but I like this: “Discipline is choosing between what I want now and what I want most.” The answer to that inner wrestling between what we want now and what we want most is best answered with discipline. As Kevin Watson says, “Some things need to be predictable.” If what I want most requires a change in my life and a commitment to daily discipline, then I have some choices to make and the first choice may be to stop being lazy.

Stop having good ideas.

Disciplines are for people who have too many distractions, so here’s my wisdom for myself and anyone else who fits this category: stop chasing good ideas and start pursuing disciplines. Disciplines keep us from distractions that aren’t meant for us, while chasing every good idea will only keep us in mental chaos and rob us of rest.

Get yourself an external hard drive.

If you want to breed more sanity into your life, find someone who will speak prophetically (which means, “honestly, hopefully, and spiritually”) into your life. To grow spiritually, you need someone external to yourself who will not be polite, who will not tolerate your crazy, who will not ignore your lazy, who will challenge your bottomless capacity for good ideas, and who will tell you what is sane and moral and biblical.

So here’s the real point to this whole post: To breed sanity is to be disciplined, and to be disciplined is to be in community. My friends, this is how we get back to the other side of Genesis 3. We learn to lean into each other in community and we get serious about serving one other from a loving, honest, holy place.

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40 things followers of Jesus do

One night I sat down with my Bible and a notebook to search through Luke, chapter 9, this action-packed, day-in-the-life snapshot of a disciple of Jesus. This is the chapter where Jesus sends out his disciples, feeds five thousand people, foretells his death (twice), sees Moses and Elijah, heals people and explains the high cost of discipleship. Jesus, of course, is riveting … but so are the disciples. It is stunning to think just how far out on the edge they lived, how unsafe their lives were as followers of Jesus. There were no perfectionists among those followers, and no wimps. So much of what they did was accomplished in the crucible of doubt, fear, uncertainty — a kind of hopeful, messy, edgy adventurism.

Reading Luke 9, I started a list and ended up with forty things followers do — or at least forty things those hopeful, messy, edgy followers did in a season when they were remarkably fruitful. If you’re swimming in the question, “When I follow Jesus, what do I do?” maybe this list of habits from imperfect-but-faithful followers will both encourage and inspire you:

1. Followers come when Jesus calls.
2. They accept power and authority given by Jesus.
3. They go where he sends.
4. They talk about the Kingdom of God.
5. They heal people.
6. They depend exclusively on his resources (and don’t get side-tracked by their own needs).
7. They follow Jesus’ instructions.
8. They talk to Jesus about what it’s like to follow his lead.
9. They go off with him to rest after serving.
10. They come to him with ideas and questions.
11. They have conversations with him.
12. They tell him what they have and don’t have.
13. They do what he says, even when they don’t understand.
14. They pray with him in private.
15. They talk to him about how they see the world.
16. They talk to him about how they see him.
17. They express their belief in him.
18. They keep quiet about things he shares with them when he asks them to.
19. They listen when he talks about the future.

Around verse 28, Jesus takes three of the apostles up onto a mountain. So I learned that not all of Jesus’ followers, but …
20. Some of them will get away with him to pray.
21. Some of them will see him in his glorified body.
22. Some of them are enveloped by God’s glory.
23. Some of them are afraid of what they experience when they are with him.
24. Some of them hear the voice of God.
25. Some of them have dramatic spiritual experiences they don’t talk about.
26. Some of them will experience dramatic spiritual things, but will be asked move on from it.
27. Some of them will attempt to drive out demons and fail.

28. Followers see Jesus get frustrated by perversion and unbelief.
29. They step aside and watch Jesus heal people.
30. They hear Jesus but don’t understand.
31. They are afraid to ask Jesus questions.
32. They argue among themselves.
33. They compete with each other for greatness.
34. They try to stop people outside their group from doing things in the name of Jesus.
35. They are admonished by Jesus when they try to stop people from doing things in His name.
36. Some are sent ahead of Jesus to prepare the way for him.
37. They ask Jesus for permission to be vengeful. (note: permission denied.)
38. They walk with him.
39. They promise to follow Jesus wherever he goes, without fully understanding the cost of that commitment.
40. They hear his call to follow, but tend to put conditions on obedience.

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The bad news about exile (or, why vision matters)

Imagine you are born wearing a pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses (this analogy on how we encounter new cultures comes from Michael Mercil). In addition to having arms and legs, eyes and hair, you are also born with these glasses that have a yellow tint to them and because of that everything you do, everything you process, everything you experience comes with a yellow tint.

Somewhere far off there are other people born with blue-tinted sunglasses. Everything they do, process, experience comes with a blue tint. For instance, let’s imagine that the glasses I wear are yellow-tinted and the glasses people living in Thailand wear are blue-tinted. Suppose I travel to Thailand to learn about their culture, wearing my yellow-tinted glasses. That will affect how I see their world. Of course, I could decide to put on a pair of blue-tinted glasses for visiting Thailand (so as to have a more authentic experience) but if I put those glasses on over my yellow ones, am I really getting an authentic view of that culture? Or just my view tinted by their view?

This same principle for experiencing cultures applies to how we experience things in general, and particularly how we experience the spiritual life. Because we are fallen people, we are born wearing a pair of internal glasses that tint how we see the world. That tint only intensifies as we age. Childhood wounds, rejection, loss … all those things further distort our perception of God’s design. We have taken on the sight of people wearing the “glasses” of spiritual exile.

This is the bad news about exile: it messes with your vision. When you’re in exile, you see everything through the lens of separation or rejection or loss, or whatever it is that exile has cheated you out of. Exile filters reality and to the extent that any of us lives outside the boundaries of the Kingdom of God, we are cursed with that distorted vision.

The redemption experience offered by Jesus Christ gives us a chance at a difference set of lenses. With these, we can actually begin to see the world as God’s sees it. Redemption glasses offer an entirely different worldview. But if we put those glasses on over our fallen ones, have we really changed anything?

Too often, this is the option we choose when we take on Christ and his worldview. Rather than completely changing our vision, we decide to superimpose his glasses over our exile glasses. We do that by refusing his healing, by not going after real transformation, by not taking on the mind of Christ. Which means that in the most important ways, we still don’t get the culture of the Kingdom.

When our wounds are the result of generational brokenness — passed down to us from parent to child over generations — we may not even realize that the lenses through which we filter the world are “exile” lenses. We may not consciously realize that our choices, relationships, failures and successes are all sifted through lenses that distort God’s design for us. And even if we have chosen to follow Jesus, we may still be wearing our old glasses beneath our new ones. We may even long for a more familiar life, even an enslaved one.

How do we shed our exile glasses in favor of a more thoroughly transformed Kingdom vision? Three thoughts:

Acknowledge your exile. The first step in any recovery process is to acknowledge what is. You can’t remove glasses you don’t believe are there. Acknowledge your exile, your distance from God and his design. Start with what is.

Get the map. To get out of exile, you need a plan and a path. Who will hold you accountable? Who will walk you toward healing? How will you engage the community of Christ so you aren’t overcome by the temptation to turn back toward slavery? Get a plan. Get a group around you. Get healing. It is your freedom you’re after; take responsibility for it.

Immerse yourself in a Kingdom community. I’m confident that community is essential for sustaining progress. Healing happens in relationship, not in a vacuum. Lean into your community and trust the voices of fellow travelers. Isolation will only return you to exile.

It won’t do to pretend we can wear a cultural tint over our redemption. If we’re going to get a vision for the in-breaking Kingdom, we must take off the glasses of exile and commit ourselves to a view of the promised land.

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Eat this scroll (or, how to become earthly good).

You’ve heard it said that a person can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Sounds catchy enough to be true, doesn’t it? It ends up being terrible theology, not to mention indefensible. I would argue that if you want to be any earthly good at all, you are better served by a mind that fixes on higher things. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that the world is better served by those who spend their lives looking for signs of the in-breaking Kingdom than by those who don’t have eyes to see beyond this world.

Being heavenly minded is precisely what makes us earthly good.

Some of the greatest influences on humanity have been heavenly minded. In his classic Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis famously wrote:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in;” aim at earth and you will get neither.

Being heavenly minded is the point. It is what Paul meant when he instructed new believers to set their minds on things above. It is what Ezekiel was called to when he was told to eat the scroll, on which were written the lamentations of God. Those words were the very heart of God for his people. When God instructed Ezekiel to eat the scroll, he was saying, in effect, “Unless you have internalized my heart for my people, you won’t be any good for them. If you have any hope of following through on any of the weird stuff that is in your future, you’re going to need to operate not out of an external word but out of something rooted inside.”

In leadership, the quickest way to kill a great idea is to ask someone to do it before they own it. Hannah Whitall Smith (Quaker theologian) wrote that it is our nature to rebel against laws that are outside of us, but we embrace that which springs up from within. She was right. How often have you resisted someone else’s idea until you decided it was your own? God’s way of working in us is to get possession of us, so he can make his ideas our ideas.

This is how we become heavenly minded. Eat this scroll, God said. Gain the heart of God for people. Internalize it. Own it. Let it do its work in you. This could well be the most powerful word in the Bible about the Bible. Only as we steep in the Word are we able to internalize and own the very heart of God, allowing it to change the way we think.

If being heavenly minded is the only way we can do any earthly good (and I am convinced it is), then the path to that posture runs through the Word of God. Not counter to it.

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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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The Tyranny of Tweaking

Funny, the things we can learn from friends who do drugs.

In the world of meth users, tweaking is a thing. That’s the term users use for the frantic and compulsive behaviors that tend to surface when you’re strung out on meth. Tweaking is obsession with an activity — any activity — like cleaning or searching through drawers or picking the skin off your face or cleaning tools in a toolbox. A user will become obsessed with making some thing perfect, which is kind of crazy since even if he gets it perfect he is still a meth addict.

I want to throw stones at addicts who do pointless things like this until I’m forced to admit I do it, too. I can spend a whole afternoon making the chairs into perfect rows at church while I ignore the message I am called to preach to the people who will sit in those chairs. Or I’ll spend hours working on a graphic or an agenda for a meeting (or writing a blog …), while things like hospital visits or time with a teen get set aside. Whatever it is that really needs to be done is often ignored in favor of whatever it is I’m obsessed about.

It makes me think of the Samaritan woman who tried to press Jesus into a discussion about where real worship happens. On this mountain or that one? Which is it, Jesus? And he replied, “I’m not sure it matters for you. Until you deal with the fact that you’ve been married five times and are living with a guy now, what’s it matter where worship happens?”

Or what about those religious leaders who came to Jesus upset because his friends didn’t properly wash their hands according to custom before eating? To them, Jesus responded, “Good point, actually. And here’s an even better one: why don’t you take care of your own parents, rather than obsessively letting the rules steal all your compassion and sense of responsibility?”

I can hear Jesus asking me that question when I get all tangled up in some detail or another, in some rule or another, in some judgment or another. “Until you deal with the fact that you use details to avoid the big dreams being dreamed over your life, what’s the rest of it matter?”

Much to my discomfort, my recovering meth addict friends are teaching me that small mindedness can have big consequences. I may not be addicted to a substance; to the contrary, I may very well be addicted to the absence of it.

What if God has a big honkin’ plan for your life? Something much bigger than you’re thinking, and something you won’t discover as long as you’re tweaking?

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The Danger of Distraction

In my Monday post, I talked about the distractions that seem to be keeping the United Methodist Church from fulfilling its mission. I want to talk more about distractions and their effect on souls and systems.

I wonder if there has ever been a climate so ripe for distraction. So much information coming at us from every possible lit-up screen. We are distracted by social media, by our phones, by unwelcome relationships, by our phones, by intruding thoughts and lusts and wants and needs, by our phones … we are distracted.

Listening to a message by Steven Furtick (Elevation Church), I learned something about that word — distraction. In medieval times, there was a barbaric torture tactic called “drawing and quartering.” Each of a person’s four limbs were tied to four ropes, and each of those ropes was tied to four horses, who were then commanded to run in four different directions. It was a horrible practice.

Do you know what the French called it? Distraction.

When I saw that image and heard that term, I thought … yes! That’s it! By making us rush to catch up, by keeping us in mental chaos, by luring us away from life-giving habits (like spiritual disciplines), by making us say yes to things we ought never say yes to, distractions rob us of rest and keep us from being formed into the likeness of Christ. No wonder one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-discipline. It is discipline that pulls the distracted parts of us back together.

We want to believe that spiritual disciplines are for people who have too much time on their hands. Disciplines are not just for people who have all the time in the world to sip another cup of coffee while doing an entire Beth Moore study in one sitting. Who needs discipline when you’ve got nothing but time? Disciplines are not for people who have too much time; they for people who have too many distractions.

Let me say that again: Disciplines are for people who have too many distractions.

Disciplines bring the pulled-apart, conflicting parts of us back together again. They help us to live inside our limits so we don’t end up without enough energy to take a shower much less spend time resting in the Lord. They help us become mindful of our day-to-day decisions and how they feed into our spiritual goals. They encourage us to create life-giving habits (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, worship, community life) that shape our thoughts and set the tone of our day. They give us courage to say “no” more often so we can say a holy yes to things that feed into our formation.

God calls us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son and there are some ways we can examine ourselves to see if we’re on that track. We know our lives are being shaped into the likeness of Christ when our conversation begins to be transformed by love, and our reactions are filtered through the Holy Spirit. We know it is happening when our calendars aren’t so far beyond our limits that we can’t rest in the comfort that God’s got it. We know it is happening when we have some ability to say no to some things so we can say a holy yes to things that will take us someplace spiritually.

Disciplines make busy people slow down enough to let their souls sink into Jesus. And that’s where the real spiritual work is done. It is done in the secret place, when deep calls to deep. It isn’t easy. But the joy at the other end of it is a kind of rest that pulls all the distracted, chaotic, directionless pieces of our lives together.

  • What are you sure of, and what doubts are creating spiritual anxiety?
  • What is pulling at you, and what distractions are keeping you from spiritual formation?
  • What does your calendar say about your life … and about how much you trust God?
  • How willing are you to make changes to your life not just for the sake of your own spiritual formation, but for the sake of others?

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