Again I beg the forgiveness of those of you who look forward to these “deep thoughts” from a very shallow mind. It seems as though my to-do list in life continually gets longer, while the number of things that I am checking off of that list seems to become fewer and fewer. But enough about my schedule as I know that your schedule is at least as hectic as mine. One of the things that I most enjoy is reading. But I don’t simply like to read for reading’s sake. I like to have a purpose in reading. Right now our church staff is reading through Transformational Church together. As I was reading through the first chapter of the this book, I wrote literally two pages of notes. I want to take a moment to concentrate on an idea from this text.
The idea is simple and is found on page 20, “When God rebuilds His house, people will know undeniably that it is a work of God.” You do not have to look far to see the doomsdayers effectively proclaiming an end to the Church. While it is only foolish to deny the waning influence of the Church in the United States, it would be just as foolish to assume that the Church functions just like a business or other organization. If Scripture is true – and if you know me then you know that is given – then the Church is not an organization it is an organism. The Church is a living, breathing, conglomeration of individual believers who are held together by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Why in the world am I chasing a theological rabbit trail? The answer is simple. God has not abandoned the Church. Though one could ask if the reverse of that statement is true. Has the Church become so enthralled with her past successes that she has forgotten that the 1950’s ended over 50 years ago? Has the Church become so enamored by new techniques, technologies, and ideologies that she has forgotten that her roots lie in the work of God and not the work of management and marketing gurus? Has the Church focused so much on entertaining and attracting that she has forgotten that her commission was going and transforming? If we want to be honest with ourselves, we know that the answer to each of these questions is a definitive “YES!” But rather than simply beating the church like Bam-Bam Rubble (see the Flintstone Cartoons) at a Whack-a-Mole game, is it not more profitable to set all of our agendas, ideologies, practicalities, and junk aside and turn back to Scripture and the God that it reveals? To be certain, we have walked a long way from the ideal Church that the Book of Acts records. Yet, despite our wanderings, God has not changed. He will forgive. He will revive. He will refocus. He will renew His Church – if His Church will allow Him to do so. Will the transformation be incredible? Absolutely. Will there be those who grip and complain about refocusing back on Scripture? Absolutely. Will the result be worth the cost? Absolutely!!! You see, we got ourselves into this mess. Now only God can get us out of it. So when He forgives, revives, refocuses, and rebuilds His Church – there will be only one explanation God has done something unexplainable.
I sit at my computer typing this blog only a few minutes after finalizing the details of a friend’s funeral. He was a fairly young man with no significant health problems. Yet, this past Friday he passed away suddenly. There were no warnings. There was no expectation. There were no final days to say and do the things that we so often put off until tomorrow. He had reached the end of his days, and he passed away. Of course, the silver lining to this story is simple. Anyone who spent any time around this man knew of his deep love for Jesus Christ. His smile and laugh were infectious. His life displayed a joy and peace that transcends all understanding.
Less than 48 hours before his death, this man sat in my office talking with me about our outreach ministries. He was willing to do anything possible or necessary to help tell our community about the love of Jesus Christ. We had a meeting tentatively planned for this next week to begin fleshing out a plan to improve our outreach efforts. Obviously, that meeting will not take place. I say that obvious statement because through my friend’s death I have become concerned about all the things that I have put off until tomorrow. I have no guarantee that I have the tomorrow into which I have shoved so many things left undone. Scripture teaches us that God has numbered our days from beginning to end. There is really nothing you or I can do to increase or decrease that number. But the manner in which we live our lives dictate how we live that number of days. We have the choice to live our lives in such a way that we are blessings to those around us. We have the choice to invest time with our family and friends. We have the choice to say the things to those we love that so often go unsaid. Today, we have the choice. But as I, and our entire church family, have been so vividly reminded there will come a day when our time for choices is done. Don’t live your life with the assumption of tomorrow. Life is far to precious and fragile to be taken for granted. Each day is a gift, and neither you nor I know which day will be our last. Call who you need to call. Hug who you need to hug. Forgive those who need forgiveness. Tell everyone about the love of Jesus Christ because their tomorrow is as uncertain as ours.
It seems as though it has been forever since I have written in this “weekly” blog. After looking at the date of my last entry, it really has been a long time. I guess that I have gotten caught up in the so-called “tyranny of the now.” I just returned from being out of the office for a week and my to-do list has already exceeded one page and is well on the way to finishing page two – and that does not include anyone else’s list that they have for me! It seems as though we do and do and do, yet the impact seems to be less and less. I must confess that thought was on my mind as I was driving to Colorado for our family vacation. I have the same questions and concerns that we all face. I wonder if I am doing this well or that well. I wonder if I am really making a difference. I wonder if all the things that I am doing that seem so important to me are really all that important to God.
While I was away, an amazing thing happened. I slowed down and allowed God to truly speak to me. I don’t know about you but I often find myself asking God to speak to me about a specific issue, then running off to do something else if I haven’t heard definitively from Him in a whopping 10 seconds or so. Now before you gasp at the impatience of a pastor, ask yourself if you do the same thing. We vacation in a small cabin with no television and virtually no cell signal. In essence, we are completely isolated from the outside world. And I absolutely love it! I took more naps during that week than I have in the past six months combined. I had a chance to sit in a quiet and beautiful place and listen to a rushing river, birds, and that still, small voice with which God so often speaks to us. During those moments, God reminded me of several things. The most of those things was the importance of simply being. So often, I believe we try to do so many things thinking that God will be impressed by the sheer quantity of our work. Yet, it is not the quantity of our work with which God is most concerned. Honestly, He is more concerned that we are being Christ-like than He is with the quantity of things we do. We must first focus on being who God desires for us to be, then the doing will largely take care of itself. I know your schedule is crazy because mine is too. But let me encourage you with something that God has shown me over the past week. No matter how busy your schedule, the most important thing in your schedule is stopping everything to quietly and intently listen to the still, small voice of God. Can God shut down your world and scream so that you cannot fail to hear Him? Absolutely! But true love and obedience comes when we set aside our stuff just to be with Him. Be wiser than me and make the time to stop and listen intently. God is speaking, but are you listening?
What exactly is Goofy? I am not talking about the adjective that I use to describe the behavior of my children. I am talking about Mickey Mouse’s friend. What exactly is he? I know it says a lot about why this blog is called Deep Thoughts from a Shallow Mind that I would wonder about such things, but nonetheless… I have had many people tell me that he is supposed to be a dog, but that really doesn’t make sense to me. If Goofy were a dog, then Pluto really got the short end of the stick. Don’t misunderstand me, Pluto has a pretty good life. But how much would it stink to be a dog with a good dog’s life only to look over and see another dog with a house, a car, and the ability to talk?! No, I am convinced that Goofy must be something other than a dog.
In case you are wondering why I think that you care about my obsession with cartoons, there really is a point to this. This past Saturday, I had the privilege of leading the halftime devotions during Upward Basketball at one of our partner churches. As I prayed through what God would have me say, God continually led me back to simplicity. So I kept it simple. I simply shared with them that God loves each and every one of us and that He has an amazing plan for each of our lives. Yet, God’s love is not like the lip-service that many of us have experienced. Instead, God loved us so much that He demonstrated His love by sending His Son Jesus to die in our place. I wish that I had the ability to read minds. You see, many of the people that hung out and talked with me during the second half of the games or after the game was over somehow looked different after hearing that God loves them then they did before. Some of the people who talked with me are Christ-followers that had simply gotten distracted by the insanity of modern life and the reminder of God’s love brought a peace and perspective back even if only for a few moments. Others who spoke to me are not believers; they had heard a lot about church but as much about God’s relentless love for them.
There are people all around you this week who desperately need to hear that God loves them. They know about all the junk in their lives. They know that they are far from perfect. They don’t need you to point out all their flaws. What they need to know is that God’s love for them is so great that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” They need to know that God’s love is so great that He loves them in spite of their sin. They live their entire life wondering who they are, why they are here, and if there is any purpose in the life they are living. They need us to help them encounter Jesus so that they can experience the incredible love that God has for them. Then, after they have experienced God’s love, they need us to do whatever it takes to help make God’s amazing plan for their lives become a reality in their lives. Take a moment and love the people God has placed around you by taking the time to remind them that God loves them. Keep it simple and keep it real. You don’t have to be creative. You simply have to be genuine.
Without question my favorite musical artist is Rich Mullins. It seems impossible to believe that he has been gone for over 12 years now. I discovered his music not long after I committed my life to Jesus. There was a girl I had a crush on who loved Rich Mullins, and… Well, she and I never became more than friends, but through her friendship I fell in love with the music of Rich Mullins. I confess that I cannot always agree with him in everything theological, but I have never encountered anyone who could express the depth of feeling in music as he did. This past week my wife was kind enough to find my Rich Mullins cd’s. I have ripped them into iTunes and they have been playing almost constantly since then. As I was listening to a demo track from what turned out to be Mullins’ last recording session on a glorified tape recorder in an obscure church, I found myself completely in tears. The song is titled, “Hard To Get.” If you want the real impact of this song, listen to Rich sing it on that rough recording and not the performed track. The song is about someone who is struggling to see God’s hand. This person sees all these things going on and cry out to God believing that He is entirely capable of meeting all his needs but not understanding why He does not see to do so. The last few lines of the song are the ones that always bring me to tears. “I can’t see how your leading me, unless you’ve led me here. To where I’m lost enough to let myself be led. And so you’ve been here all along I guess. It’s just your ways and you are just plain hard to get.”
I can think back to countless times in my life when I could not understand what was going on. Everything in my world seemed to be falling apart, and God seemed to be conspicuously quiet and aloof. I knew that He had not forsaken me. I knew that my situation did not take Him by surprise. I knew that He allowed it to happen to bring Him glory for some reason. But I could not understand it at the time. I needed to hear His voice. I needed to know that He was near me and that it was going to be OK. I felt like I was on an out of control rollercoaster just waiting to go off the tracks. Perhaps you are in that situation now. Perhaps your world is upside down and you wonder how in the world God can still be in control in the midst of your situation. Rest assured there is great wisdom in the lyrics above. Every time in my life I have gone through those quiet nights when it seems that God is a million miles away, every time it seems as though I am bumping about in the dark because I can no longer feel Him leading me, every time He has been leading me to a point at which I am willing to surrender to Him and let myself be led by Him. I must confess that I still don’t always understand what God was doing in me and through me during those times. His ways are higher than our ways, and we will never be able to truly understand them completely. But no matter what you are going through right now, you can know with certainty that if you have a relationship with Jesus, He is right there with you in the midst of whatever you are experiencing – even when it doesn’t seem like it.
I know that it may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, but I can be an extremely competitive person. Fortunately, over the years God has mellowed me. Yet, this past Saturday morning I felt the beast rise again. My oldest daughter, Micaela, is in kindergarten and is playing her first year of Upward Basketball. Now for you to really grasp the gravity of this situation you must know that I am an incredible basketball fanatic. I can even watch those crazy European leagues with the trapezoid shaped lanes. So here I am watching my daughter experience her first tastes of pseudo-competitive basketball, and I discover my blood pressure rising. Understand I am not mad or frustrated with her, but I want to go out and show her how things should be done, where she should be, what she should be doing, etc. While my mind is running on the question of how can I teach her to become better, the minds of the kids (my daughter included) is simply on having fun. Mentally, I was coaching up a team. The reality was that I should have been laughing my head off since all the kids were running around like a herd of squirrels in a nut farm.
John Piper writes in his classic book, Desiring God, that our purpose is to enjoy God forever. The older I get the more I am convinced that Piper may not be far off. You see, I believe that we all do much the same thing as I was trying to do with my daughter. She was simply enjoying the fun of being able to run around and chase a ball with friends. She had not desire to understand the finer points of the game. She had no desire to be best basketball player in the gym. She simply wanted to have fun. I wonder how our lives might be different if we lived our lives with the simple focus of enjoying our relationship with Jesus instead of focusing on all the fine points of theology, all the lists of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and all the things we think others expect of us. To be sure, we need to know theology. We need to live out our faith. But what would happen if we did so not out of a fear of what others might think but simply because we were enjoying our relationship with Jesus. What if we spent time in prayer, not because we know we should, but because we simply enjoy being in God’s presence. What if we told others about Jesus, not because the pastor told us to, but because we simply cannot help but talk about the One who loves us so much. What if we do what we do out of a love for Jesus rather than out of obligation. How would our lives change? How would our churches change? How would our worship change? Imagine that, a simple purpose to enjoy God forever. Sounds a lot better than any substitute. Sounds a lot like what we will do in heaven for all eternity. Sounds a lot like what we should be about.
If you have not been keeping up with the weather in Oklahoma, it has been cold, icy, snowy, and generally yucky. Don’t misunderstand me. I love winter. I am a “well insulated” individual so the cold weather is great for me. Winter also means basketball – my absolute favorite sport. This winter also means the Winter Olympics. That being said, know that I am hoping tomorrow that crazy ground hog in Pennsylvania reveals that winter is about over. We have seen more winter weather in Oklahoma this season than I can ever remember while I was growing up here. I am sure that we had storms like this while I lived here, but maybe I repressed those memories. Anyhow, during this insane season I have made an important discovery – ice melt. Yes, I know that it has been around for years but I have never really had a reason to use it before now. I had used salt, fertilizer, and even kitty litter to make walkways less slick in ice. Until this year, I had never encountered the power of ice melt. I am a relatively intelligent person (stop laughing) and I have no idea exactly how this stuff works. I don’t know the chemical equation. I don’t know why it works, but what I do know is that when I spread this stuff on the sheets of ice surrounding the church it immediately begins to melt the ice upon which it falls.
I was thinking yesterday about how life would be different if we spread ice melt the way we spread the gospel. Hang with me here. What if city road crews refused to spread ice melt on our streets until they understood how the ice melt was formed and until they understood the details of the chemical reaction that occurred when the ice melt came into contact with the ice? What if we discouraged everyday people like you and me from using ice melt until they had been through a class to teach them how to use it properly? What if we lived if fear of using ice melt because after all some people do like ice? What if we lived in a society in which the use of ice melt was socially taboo unless of course you were a trained professional ice melt spreader? What if we refused to spread ice melt simply because we believed that the ice would eventually melt over time?
The reality is that these questions are all ludicrous. My two year old son can spread ice melt. None of us really care about the details about how it works, we simply know that if you have ice and want to get rid of it that these little pellets will help it melt faster. Yet, despite the ludicrous nature of these questions, we treat the gospel in much the same way as these questions treat ice melt. We refuse to share the gospel with our co-workers because we are afraid that they will ask questions for which we will not have answers. We refuse to share the gospel with our children because, after all, that is what we pay our church staff to do. We refuse to share the gospel with our neighbors because we believe that somehow our incredibly godly personal life will miraculously draw them to Jesus without our ever having to say a word. But I wonder, what would happen if we spread the gospel with the same abandon that we spread ice melt? What would happen if we were just as convinced about the gospel’s ability to change lives as we are about the ability of ice melt to melt ice? What if we truly believed that the gospel can draw people to faith in Jesus Christ? What if you truly believed that God could do it through you? Would it change your actions? Would it change your heart? You see, if you are a Christ-follower then God has placed inside of you the testimony about how you began your relationship with Him and story about what He is doing in your life now. That very testimony is what the world is dying to hear. That very testimony will melt a hard, cold heart faster than any ice melt will melt ice. That is the reason that God has placed you where you are. The question is, will you spread your story or hide it away in a closet?