12 December 2010

Trying Too Hard?

Try? Try not! Do, or do not! There is no “try”. - Yoda

Let me begin by stating that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one gets to the Father except through Him. Jesus is the The Way.

But what is the way to Jesus? How do we “live Christ-like lives” in any kind of meaningful, real way? I read the Word, I pray, I fast, I meditate (in that I think deeply on some things), I do good works – some even spontaneously, I try to teach, I discuss and... I blog.

Americans are achievers by nature. I am an achiever. Goal oriented. Mission focused. I am a great planner. I DO a lot. I try very hard at some things. Go! Go! Go! Accomplish! Produce!

I bring a lot of that to my walk with God. Which is to say I bring a lot of baggage. Ever hear the pop Christian phrase, “Let go and let God”? Heck, I’ve even used that in sermons. Easy to say. Not too difficult to do when one focuses on doing it – on letting go. It’s very hard for me to do consistently in life. That verse is not in the Word but the thought is there – TRUST God. I “trust” God. I know He IS. But I don’t completely surrender. I have things to DO, don’t you see?

And besides, God does not want me to just sit around and “let Him” does He? He does want me to DO stuff. Work for my bread, provide for my family, love Him, love my neighbor, works follow faith, teach, preach, baptize...and on and on.

I had a brief moment of clarity a couple weeks ago and I really should have started writing at that time – but I had so much other stuff to do... and I lost a part of it.

It has to do with my martial arts background and my study of Eastern religions (in that I have a better-than-most understanding of them). Jeet Kune Do’s The Way of No Way. “You don’t strike with the fist, the fist ...strikes!” Zen.

In martial arts when one learns a new technique it feels awkward at first. Something as simple as throwing a straight punch requires a myriad of movements and tensions and relaxations, torques here, pushes there, fingers this way, knuckles that way...

It requires a lot of concentration at first and all of that concentration, all of that TRYING really gets in the way of throwing a good punch. Students throw endless repetitions of the punch. They punch air, they punch pads, they punch bags, and sometimes, in some styles, they punch each other. Over and over and over and over and over. Some are critiqued – “more power in your hips!” some are ignored. Constantly in the new student’s mind is chatter – “do this, don’t do that” and, “that was good, that was sloppy”.

And then one day it happens. Suddenly, instead “throwing a punch” the punch just happens. No thought. Mushin no shin – mind of no mind. Empty the mind and let it flow.

Be very careful. This can be a dangerous thing spiritually...we do NOT want to empty our mind and just let whatever garbage or demons and what not flow in. This is not what I’m trying (there is that word) to get across. But I am trying to get at giving up the trying. Stop trying to throw a punch and just punch. Stop trying so hard with God and just let God.

Stop trying and just do.
Stop trying and just be.
BE with Him
Stop the internal chatter, quiet the noise and listen.

Do you know there is active listening and passive listening - and I’m not talking about conversations. I hunt a good deal. I can exhaust myself just looking intensely through the branches and listening very hard for a few hours. Then I can relax and just see, just hear. Muddle the focus a bit and take it all in. It’s easier and I think I actually get more out of it. Mushin no shin.

Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God...

27 October 2010

Feeling the Love

I first started attending church as an adult “so that my children would grow up with morals.” It was not until several years later that I got down on my knees – alone in my room, and prayed for forgiveness of my sins and for Jesus to be my lord and master. In both cases I was really interested in “me and mine”. First, I wanted my kids to “grow up right” and second, when I came to realize that God Is I wanted to be “right with the Lord” and I wanted my family to be also. I realized our God is an Awesome God and quite frankly, I was afraid. Afraid for my and my family’s eternal souls.

It took some time for me to realize that God loved me and He loved a lot of people other than me and mine. It took longer for me to start feeling the love but eventually I did – in a sort of grudging way: “Yeah, yeah, I love them because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. But…”

Eventually I came to feel the love for real. I realized at the time, “wow, I get it now!”
No, I didn’t…

As I continue down this path, trying to follow Jesus, my love continues to grow.
At first it grew for my family and then it grew for my brothers and sisters in Christ.
And then something weird happened – I started to feel love for people in general.
This was very new.

This made me uncomfortable and it still does in a way – I used to be a very hard man. I drew circles around myself.
My family
My friends
My church
My country
Things and people were either inside or outside of circles and depending on where they were, my feelings for them differed – dramatically.

Several things flow from (or perhaps along with) these changes in my heart that only God can be creating:

o I am starting to draw fewer distinctions between people in different circles. I am becoming less of a raving nationalist. I have more empathy for strangers.

o I am less comfortable with slamming home my arguments with folks and more interested in listening and determining why people think and believe what they do. I am more willing to let people state their case without necessarily feeling the need to argue back.

o I feel more pain. I used to use a phrase quite a bit (and still do on occasion): “If you don’t care – it don’t matter”. The more I find myself loving and caring about others – the more they matter and the more what is going on in their life affects me. Again, the circle of who I care about continues to expand.

o I am feeling more vulnerable. When we let ourselves love we open ourselves up - to love certainly but also to rejection, sorrow, and pain. I guess this is related to the point above.

o The more I love others the more I love God the more I love others the more I love God the more I love others the more I love God the more I love others…. It goes on in a circle.

I am starting to understand the concept of “God is Love”

It is humbling.
I weep when I let myself open to His love. It consumes me; it flows over and through me; I feel it becoming me or me becoming it – difficult for me to describe.

God is love.
He loves YOU and so do I.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1 John 4:16 - 21

Praying Prairie Pastor

We had a meeting of Christians in Community last night. We all gathered to help a Sister put up a bunch of field fence so she can start keeping some sheep. When we finished we shared a meal of soup and bread (and cookies and lemonade). Before we started I opened the time in prayer and a Brother took this snap - I kind of like the colors and imagery.

24 September 2010

Asking Questions - Finding Answers

Why was I created?
Why were you created?
The answer is simple: To please God.
Not for His “amusement” but because it pleased Him to do so and He wants to be pleased by us.

So, how do we please God?
Again, I think the answer is simple: By doing His will.
While the answer is simple, actually doing His will seems very difficult at times.

See, before we can do His will, we have to know what it is.
What is God’s will?
Well now…

Someone asked Jesus once what the greatest commandment was.
The unstated but full question was, “What is the most important thing God wants us to do?”
Or, “What is God’s will?”
Jesus answered by saying, in a nutshell – Love God and Love your Fellow Human.

If we truly believe something (and love is a “belief”) then our actions will follow.
If we truly love God – we will express it; we will show it; we will live it.
If we truly love our fellow human our actions should demonstrate this.
No, this is not a “works based theology”. The thoughts, the feeling, the heart must come first – then we will honestly desire to act on those things.

So that is God’s general will for us – Love Him, Love each other.
But what about God’s will for MY life as opposed to…say, oh….YOUR life?
Do you believe God created you for a specific and distinct purpose (or perhaps a few possible purposes) or just as a general plug-n-play human?
I think He created us as individuals and we all have opportunities to please Him in different ways.

I may please Him by going to the Amazon and preaching the gospel to natives while you may please Him by running a multi-million dollar company and influencing those with whom you come in contact.

I have heard good arguments for not waiting around to determine what God’s will is in one’s life. Just get moving and let Him direct you. I agree with that to an extent. But it just puts off the inevitable – “letting Him direct you”. How do we do that? How do we know if he wants us to take the left fork or the right fork? Should I stay here or move to Seattle? Does it matter?

God can obviously use us anywhere – if we are in His will. So the question remains – how do we know if we are in His will?

Well, we can study the Word to understand His character and His ways.
God would not want me to cheat on my wife or to kill an innocent – that’s easy to understand those are in the “10 Commandments”. But what about tougher questions: Should I personally sell all I own and go forth preaching His Word? Or should I make sure my kids get through college?
Should I use these skills and gifts God has provided me or those skills? What direction, Lord – what direction?

I think the answers to those questions require more than study.
I think they require more than contemplation.
I think they require listening.

Listening for God
Hearing what He has to say to us as individuals
Then listening TO God – obeying.

The first one can be very difficult to do – listening for God.
We are surrounded by noise: coworkers, schedules, deadlines, other folks talking, radios.
We surround ourselves with noise also: Movies, Internet, magazines, hobbies, chores.
Americans are culturally a busy people – go, go, go, do, do, do – accomplish, create, PRODUCE.

I think we could all benefit by taking some time out.
Taking some time out for God.
Go ahead and fence off some time for God (how terrible that sounds – doesn’t it?)
Go someplace quiet.
Physically quiet, emotionally quiet, mentally quiet.
Pray if you must.
Read the Bible if you must.

But then stop.
Stop talking. Stop reading. Just stop.

Be still and just listen.
Be still
Listen for that still, small voice.

I’ll warn you though – you may not like what you hear.
Because once you do hear it’s time to obey.
Once you listen for your Father and hear Him – it’s time to listen to your Father and obey Him.

But what if He tells me to…?
Scary, huh?

God loves you.
He has a perfect plan for you.
Do you know what it is?

A work in progress…

30 August 2010

C'mon people now

Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
- The Youngbloods
Last night I accompanied our church’s worship team as they went to a church about 10 miles away to join with several other worship teams for a couple hours of worship and fellowship. There were Baptists, and Nazerenes and Non-Denoms and it was good.

There was very little posturing. There was open and frank discussion between people of different congregations (because let’s face it – there is only ONE church) but it was conducted with mutual respect and love.

Nobody was trying to sell anything, no one was recruiting for “their church” , worship teams and individuals were not “competing”. Some people came dressed up, some came very casual – and it was okay.

I have no huge problem with denominations per-se. Christians have certain ways they are comfortable doing things and so they naturally gather together in those groups. Some will say the big deal between denominations is doctrine – how it is interpreted by various bodies. Predestination or no? Spiritual gifts or no? Male clergy, female clergy. What does baptism entail? Where does the Virgin Mary fit in? There is that. But I think it is more cultural. We just feel comfortable when church goes a certain way.

Some like much structure and order. Others like free flowing and organic. Some are very uncomfortable with “them”. Others embrace them. What kind of music? What kind of seating? What does the pastor look like? How does he speak?

As long as they hold the basic tenants of Christianity – come on, you know them: Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, born of a virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose again, is sitting at the right hand of God the Father and is coming again someday to judge everyone…. As long as other congregations hold to those beliefs – aren’t the rest just minor details?

At least minor enough that we shouldn’t talk badly about each other; we shouldn’t avoid each other; we should not resist working and playing and worshipping together for His greater glory?

Can we not come together in the spirit of brotherly love? Can we not come together in the Spirit?
Can we not leave the competition and blustering out there – and unite as one in Christ?

Last night, I had a taste of that and it tasted good.

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? - 1 Corinthians 3:3 - 4

25 August 2010

Christians in Community

Lately, I have been hearing the call, feeling the pull… Oh, it is very faint and gentle – but I sense it nonetheless. It is the pull to gather with others; To simplify. I have a longing to share – share myself, who I really am, to experience real relationships without all the trappings of class and status and other man-made constructs that get in the way of living and loving each other as God intended. There is also and element of wanting to withdraw a bit from the madness and filth that surrounds us and that I see only getting worse in the days ahead.

Referring to Babylon we can read:

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
– Revelation 18:4

But really, it is more a pull to than a pull from. A pull to gather. Together. In community. Christian Community.

And I am not the only one who is hearing and feeling it. Others are as well. Could there be something to this? Could this be God speaking in a whisper? “…Come out of her, my people”

Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD's anger come upon you. Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD's anger. – Zephaniah 2:1 – 3

Recently, my wife and I met with five other Christian families to discuss what we are calling CiC – Christians in Community. We are basically trying to get a handle on what a Christian Intentional Community would look like. How would it work? How could we (none of whom are made of money) possibly make something like this happen? What would be the pitfalls?

I know this – I really enjoyed just sitting in that living room having adult conversation that was Christ-centered in that we are all seeking His will and guidance, and yet open and free enough to let each person discuss his or her thoughts and feelings even if they were different from those of others.

Question on psychological tests: I am happiest when _________________.

I’ll tell you this, I feel very happy when I am gathered together with my Brothers and Sisters in Christ and, instead of following our agenda – we are allowing Him to guide and lead us. I am very happy when I am focused on Christ and God’s love for me and you instead of the world.

I believe I could be very happy living in a Christ-centered community that was mostly “self-sufficient” (God sufficient), where Brothers and Sisters worked side by side, played together, shared, and yet still had private spaces and time – as and when they saw fit.

I would like to be living in a Christian Community.

24 August 2010

There IS No Box

It seems to me we try so hard to put God in a box.
“What do you mean, ‘we’, Joe?”
I mean all of us to one extent or another. If a particular example does not apply to you or if none of this applies to you – very good! But I bet you still try to put God in a box in some other way…

First, we literally build boxes in which we want God to exist. We call them churches. Some are simple, some are worn down, some are big and bright and shiny. Some have awesome sound systems and very comfortable seats. Some even have coffee bars and restaurants! Surely God would be happy in such a box!

Many of us expect to see God in those specified boxes but we really don’t want to see Him elsewhere – like when we are at work, or hanging out with our buddies, or driving in rush hour traffic. No, no, it just would not DO to see God outside of His box.

We also build boxes of expectations. God will do this if only we…pray hard enough, act good enough, worship reverently enough. Or, God expects our best – and look what he decided to wear to church today – has he no tie? Or for those who don’t wear ties to church – Doesn’t he have a nicer shirt than that to come to God’s house in? We expect God to bless some people and withhold His blessing from others. We expect God to answer our prayers the way WE want them answered or in OUR time.

We build boxes of rules we are just sure God would approve of. Indeed, we know that if our rules (we intimate they are actually His rules) are not followed by some then they are not truly walking with the Lord. “We don’t play musical instruments.” “TRUE worship requires musical instruments”; “we raise our hands in praise” “We are reverent in His house” “Christ drank wine”; “No, He didn’t” “One is only truly saved when one…”
…..Us, Them. They don’t do it right so they are “outside”. We understand completely so we are “inside”.


Our God is an Awesome God.
MY God is an Awesome God.

I think He laughs at the boxes we build to try and contain Him.
I think He may also weep…

God Loves You – and so do I,

Who certainly does not have it all figured out