Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Taught By Example

Today I was challenged by two pastors who are living disciplined lives.  They shared some words today that I am thankful for.

Pastor Per Nilsen, the lead pastor of the "Network" I'm a part of with North Heights and many other churches and pastors in the twin cities area, seems to be able to get by well on just a few hours of sleep each night.  Maybe he is "wired" that way... I've never felt a call to sleep as little as he does, but I am challenged by him nonetheless.  What he says just makes me consider that I can do the best I can with the body and mind God has give me.  Early this morning Pastor Per said, via twitter:
Did not want to get up @ 430am to workout after getting to sleep @ 1230. So glad I did. Discipline makes a difference!! 
Then, at our pastor's prayer meeting today, Pastor Lyndon Korhonen presented a piece on financial stewardship he entitled "Confidence to Live Different."  Pastor Lyndon lives an extremely frugal life, a life that will never be shaken by financial insecurity because, for example, he always pays off his credit card every month and scrutinizes every purchase he makes, no matter how small.  He does his own repairs and his own building when necessary.  Pastor Lyndon based his teaching on the following verse:
In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)
I will never be like either of those two, but I can allow their example to challenge me.  I can learn to be more disciplined, even at 56 years old!  I can study God's Word and let it form me instead of allowing myself to be driven along by temptation. 

None of us have the same abilities and we are not all made the same by the Lord.  We were trained up differently when we were children.  EVEN SO, we can learn and grow and change!  I will not be the most disciplined among my brothers and sisters, but I can choose not to settle for being a mediocre me.  I can use what I have been given in the best possible way.

So today I am thankful for friends like Lyndon and Per that spur me on to live more faithfully as a disciple of Jesus.

Why?  Not to earn any credit before God, but to be a more effective disciple of Jesus, to be a better example for others to follow in their every day lives, and to be more faithful in carrying out the mission God has given me in this life.  To God be the glory every day!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Time - Counter-Clock-Wise

(These were the notes I used as I preached the first message of the "TIME" series yesterday at Crossroads. Click here for Sunday Worship audio. The message begins about 40 minutes in.)
Psalm 31:14-15 As for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand.
We’re beginning a new preaching series today, just in TIME for the ramp up to Christmas.

How many of you find this to be a relaxing time of year?

We sing songs that sound relaxing at Christmas… Silent Night… O Little Town of Bethlehem… but often times Christmas seems more like this… watch carefully… it’s a very quick video…

Video Clip from Alice in Wonderland... "I'm Late"

How does that feel to you?
Does it feel like God?  Does it feel godly?
So why do we get like that?  So worried about TIME.  And worried about time in a really wrong way.

At the end of the message today I’d like to take time to pray for some of you personally about this.
Because some of you don’t really know what it is like to rest in the presence of God regularly… to do what it says in Matthew 6:33 and to experience the peace and provision that is promised.

Matthew 6:33 – Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and everything else will be added, provided, given… everything you need.

That’s the promise.  Everything you need will be provided when you seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first. 

First—First every day.  The word “seek” here isn’t a one time seeking.  It’s a regular, every day sort of thing.  You can see that clearly in the original Greek of the Bible.

Regularly, continually, seeking the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness… Regularly, continually… reading God’s Word, taking time to let God speak to you personally.  Spending time with God in prayer. (This is not a seeking God for salvation. God is the "seeker" in that case.  He seeks after us!... see

Going off the clock with God.  Being counter-clock-wise.

When you do that… when time with God is your first priority, then everything else will be provided.  Everything you need.

But don’t think that means you’ll always make everyone else happy.
Sometimes putting the kingdom of God first every day means you’ll be late!  Or it might mean you’ll need to leave early.  Or it might mean that you won’t be able to meet everyone’s highest social expectations… or even your own…

God is calling us to be transformed, to be changed, to reflect HIS glory more and more… not to be conformed to the clocks or the expectations of this world.
The devil wants to distract us, and during this time of year the devil uses social expectations in an especially expert way… he lies to us and makes us believe that to be a Christian means to make everyone comfortable… and that is just not true.

Let’s look at three examples from Jesus’ life.

Example number one—from John chapter 11 beginning with verse 1
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and Martha… (we’ll get to Mary and Martha again later)… This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.  So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Verse 4 – When heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son (that’s Jesus himself) might be glorified through it.
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  Yet, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Jesus got a call from Mary and Martha.  Lazarus was sick.  Deathly.  But Jesus did not drop everything; in fact, it was important that he get there late so the disciples, and Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus… so they could all know the extent of the wonder working poser of God!
Jesus did not get to Lazarus until he had been dead FOUR DAYS…. And then the miracle happened.  Lazarus was raised from the dead!... 
Part of the plan was for Jesus to be late.
I’m sure that made Mary and Martha really uncomfortable… and perhaps even a bit angry.
But, obviously, making them happy was not Jesus’ first priority.

Second, let’s look at Mark 1… Mark chapter 1, verse 32…
Here we have Jesus doing some great healing ministry in a city down by the Sea of Galilee called Capernaum.  He has just healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law...:
Mark 1:32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed.  The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
But see what he does the next morning… Verse 35 - Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. Simon (that’s Simon Peter) and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Verse 38 – Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Here Jesus doesn’t arrive late, he leaves early! 
Jesus has got to do this FIRST thing… He’s got to spend time with God… seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness… even Jesus does that!

How many of you want to be disciples, followers of Jesus?  (pause)  How many of you have learned Jesus is the best?  Don’t you want to model your life after his?

Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  What he does, we do.
Let’s say that:
Jesus is our Lord and Savior. 
What he does, we do.

So, if that’s true, we will recognize that sometimes God will tell us to take time away from others even when they want us to be there. Sometimes, following Jesus, we will leave early and move on when others don’t want us to. 

Once again, making everyone happy and comfortable was not Jesus’ first concern.  Spending time with His Father… spending time in prayer… that was first.

So, followers of Jesus – disciples – you who want to be close to God’s heart…
Is this seeking of the kingdom of God and his righteousness the first thing in your life, the top priority, the ONE thing that you will not give up…?
  • Is your time with God an every day sort of thing, something you really miss if you skip a day?
  • How much time do you spend with the Lord?
  • Are you reading God's Word and meditating on it, allowing it to permeate your soul regularly? 
  • Are you taking time for prayer like Jesus did, enough time that sometimes other people wonder where you are?
  • Are you seeking to hear God's voice, to know God's will about what's going on in your life?
  • Or have you allowed the devil to distract you from your first love?
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and everything else will be added unto you… everything you need.
Will you let me pray with you after church or at another time about this?  I won’t shame you… this struggle is common to all of us… no one is immune…
One more place from Jesus life to look at… this time it is a teaching… a teaching that Jesus gives to women in particular… 
Luke 10:38–42
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, Jesus came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What a radical word!  So countercultural. 
There is a specially designed temptation… the devil has designed this one especially for women… a temptation that seems so socially acceptable if not politically correct… a temptation to a hurry-hurry lifestyle that scurrys around trying to make everything just so…

And it’s a distraction… not the only distraction… time spent with sports or hunting or too much time at the office or in the shop can be just as bad if not worse, but this lifestyle of hurrying to make everyone happy and comfortable is not what God wants—and especially this needs to be heard by women who are disciples of the Lord.

It’s okay, no, it’s commanded by God to make sure just ONE thing is done… and that ONE thing is to make sure you take time with your Lord.
Mary, and Martha… (look at and name women if possible... ) spend time with God... hear His voice…
Jesus has honored you and he sets you free to do that.
When you spend time with the Lord, he will set you free from other voices… from the voices of friends or family, the voices of your mother or mother-in-law… Perhaps sometimes from your husband or children… Or disembodied voices in your head telling you that you need to make everything just so…
In Jesus name, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are FREE… in Jesus name!
Women, you are not second class disciples.  It is just as important for you to be spending time with God as it is for the men.  Recognize the devil’s temptation here...

All of us, men and women, we all need to recognize this… the devil does not want you to take time with God, to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness… that’s why Jesus says it needs to be FIRST… this time with the Lord and His Word… the time when the Holy Spirit transforms your mind sets you free… this time of listening to your Good Shepherd.
Everything else you need will be provided… Sometimes supernaturally, sometimes through other people… you can trust God’s promises… and if you’re worried, pray… and ask others to pray… will you pray for me? I’ll pray for you!

Everything does not have to be just so… it is okay sometimes to be late… it’s okay to leave early… it’s okay to just tend to what is needed… the basics… not everyone’s top of the line expectations.

In Jesus name you are free of that to spend that time with the Lord.  We are not on anyone’s clock except God’s.

Psalm 31:14-15 As for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

When the Road Is Long

     "...Obedience matters to God. [God the Father] takes note of it. He sees our struggle to live faithfully... He helps us with grace through his Son and Spirit. He values our perseverance.
     "In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Things trilogy, there is a scene in which Sam, Frodo's companion on the quest to destroy the evil ring made by the dark lord Sauron, reflects on the '[storybook] quality' of his and Frodo's experience.
"'We shouldn't be here at all [Sam says to Frodo], if we'd known more about it when we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say.

"'But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folks seem to have been just landed in them, usually--their paths were laid that way,as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on--and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it calla good end; you know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same--like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into.'
     "Sam goes on to wonder if he and Frodo will someday be talked about, be remembered, by those who recount their story. In Peter Jackson's wonderful film version of The Two Towers, Sam says:
"'By rights we shouldn't even be here [on this quest]. But we are. . . . I wonder if people will ever say, "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring." And they'll say, "Yes, that's one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn't he, Dad." "Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that's saying a lot."'
     "Many times in my experience [...] I have wished my life was different, that I had some other burden to bear--anything but this one. But I have also felt that if Someone was watching--taking note; caring about each footfall, each bend in the trail; marking my progress--then the burden may be bearable.
     "When the road is long and the loneliness and sheer longing threaten to extinguish hope, it helps to remember that, like Frodo and Sam, I, too, am in a grand tale, with an all-seeing, all-caring Read or Listener who also happens to be in some mysterious way the author.
     "Sam of the Lord of the Rings trilogy believed there would be listeners and readers who would want to know the story of this struggle. I believe that in my case too, there is Someone who cares about my story. Unlike Sam and Frodo's, my story and the depths of my struggle may never be observed or known by any human watcher. But I can still endure--I can keep on fighting to live faithfully as a believer bearing my broken [insert here whatever part of your life seems to be broken and, for now, beyond repair]--so long as I have the assurance that my life matters to God, that, wonder of wonders, my faith pleases him, that somehow it makes him smile."
-    -    -    -    -    -    -

The words above are from the book Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. Wesley's particular burden is homosexuality; he writes as a celibate gay Christian. Like Wesley, and like Sam in the Lord of the Rings, I bear burdens too, different from those of Wesley, Sam and Frodo, but similar too because the road is very long.

I'm sure many of you, the readers of this blog, are dealing with painfully difficult aspects of your life, even of the way it seems that you have been since you were born. Or perhaps you've passed through fiery trials and bear physical or emotional/spiritual scars. Perhaps you've been sometimes "coping" in ways that are not good. Perhaps sometimes you succeed in doing things in a good way.  Perhaps at other times you fail miserably.

Wesley Hill's story, and the stories of others who have borne with suffering, encourage me in faithfulness to God even when few, or none but God, know my whole story today. I hope this encourages you too. At the same time, I do hope you will look for someone (or some group) you trust to share your story. Burdens shared make the load lighter. Believe me. I know.

Those of us who do not suffer same-sex attractions cannot understand or appreciate the depths of what those brothers and sisters go through. Even so, every Christian can, to some extent, understand what it means to wrestle with faithfulness to God and the Word of God, while at the same time suffering unfulfilled desires or dreams and frustrations. Sometimes this wrestling is accompanied by loneliness--an inability to explain fully to others what it is you are going through. So, as Wesley Hill's book makes us a bit more compassionate toward those with homosexual desires, others benefit too...   (See the end of this blog post for a quote from his book's introduction.)

Christians end up doing two things in this life in regard to the pain and frustrations we face. First, we do not give up praying and seeking for healing and complete release from whatever we (or others) are suffering.  Second, and at the same time, we expect God to be at work in and through us (and others) while we (and they) are still suffering -- while we all, to some extent, are "washed and waiting."

-    -    -    -    -    -    -
In the section of his book immediately after he shares the analogy of Sam and Frodo, Wesley Hill tells a part of the story of Martin Hallert, another celibate homosexual Christian. Martin goes another step, saying, in faith, that his homosexual orientation is a gift, even while saying that it is God's will for him to abstain from homo erotic behavior.

"So many people," Wesley is here paraphrasing Martin Hallert, "can only see their experiences of homosexuality 'as problems to be "defeated," and "handicaps" to be "healed."'

Wesley Hill goes on:
     "But for Martin, his homosexuality is a 'positive thing' -- not because it is good in and of itself but rather because, under God's sovereignty, it can lead to blessings. 'Scripture continually shows us that even bad things can have value,' Martin says frequently.
     "Early on in his life living as a Christian in England, Martin found that his homosexuality gave him a ministry in the church. Under the guidance of a wise vicar, Canon Roy Barker, Martin shared his story through an organized event for anyone in the church interested in the topic of homosexuality. '[Canon Barker] saw a lot of potential in me,' Martin would later write, '--not despite my homosexuality but because of it.' Martin says that, though he couldn't see it at the time, these early ministry experiences caused him to see his homosexual orientation as valuable, as positive, as something that could be used to help others in the body of Christ.
     "'My life story ..., "written" by God, who is sovereign, include[s] my sexuality, which is a gift to the church,' writes Martin. 'I am very grateful that I see this experienced nearly every day of my life. I am able to see my struggles and failures, as well as my victories, as being of value to others.' Our sexuality, 'can be a gift to others,' he continues. 'We may use it to encourage someone else. We may use it simply to love and trust another person with a sexual confession.'
     Martin compares this process of entrusting another person with the story of our homosexuality to 'unwrapping a gift.' 'The gift is one of self-disclosure. You are trusting the other with personal information that can often cost a lot, but it is a wonderful act of love.' I think of my own experiences of opening up the narrative of my journey as a homosexual Christian with friends at my church in Minneapolis. Invariably (though I didn't believe them at a the time) they told me it felt like love; my trusting them enough to share my story was an honor, they said, a sacred trust. 'We need to recognize the ministry that we and others have, not despite our unique stories and situation, but because of them.' (Emphasis mine [ST])
So, I share this here, on this blog, in the hopes that it will encourage someone to persevere in faithfulness to God, knowing that there is an author and an "audience of One" (God) who applauds that faithfulness and who is cheering you on. But beyond that, I encourage you to believe and know that, whatever your struggle is, it can be a blessing to others--no matter how deep and dark and long the road may feel. That will become true when you come out of hiding and begin to carefully share your journey with others as well as with the Lord. 

Wesley Hill concludes his book, first by again referring to the journey of his older "brother," Martin Hallert:
     "For Martin, homosexuality 'speaks' of brokenness, of past hurts and wounds. It calls us to consider our own lives and to trust in the mystery of God's providence and his gift of redemption through Christ. With patience and openness to the good that may come even from evil, we can learn to "hear" the voice of our sexuality, to listen to its call. We can learn to "appreciate the value of our story and the stories of others, because God is the 'potter' or 'storyteller'."
Wesley then speaks these words in his own voice--
     "Slowly, ever so slowly, I am learning to do this. I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' the Lord Christ will say. 'Enter into the joy of your master.'"
I'd like to encourage you to buy and read the book Washed and Waiting.  Also consider, please, that whatever you are suffering in this life that, at the moment, seems as though will continue forever (in this life)--please understand that your struggles are not unknown to God, and that you do have many brothers and sisters all around you who are dealing with many things that may never know, and that, in the end of the end, there is full healing and full freedom waiting for you in the Kingdom of God.

The road may be long, but you are not alone, and the road is NOT forever.  Continue to pray for release and healing, continue to share your struggles and pray with those you come to trust, and know that even the worst of your worst times can be a blessing to the world God loves so much when you submit them to our Father God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the introduction to Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill writes:
"I hope there are others who will overhear what I write who struggle long and hard with persistent, unwanted desires or other afflictions that are similar in some ways to those of gay and lesbian Christians--chemical dependencies, eating disorders, mental and emotional disturbances of various kinds. If Christians in these and other related positions are able to adapt and appropriate some of what I say to fit their own situations, I will be happy.  The Christian's struggle with homosexuality is unique in may ways but not completely so.  The dynamics of human sinfulness and divine mercy and grace are the smae for all of us, regardless of the particular temptations or weaknesses we face."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Prayer for Crossroads

O Father, send your Holy Spirit in power. Do not let us retreat into religion. Transform, challenge, renew, restore so we become all you want us to be. Make us dissatisfied with mediocrity. Make us all hungry and thirsty for a real, deep, dangerously close relationship with you, a relationship that will not settle for anything fake or contrived and that will burn with love love love love love. 

Teach us to be more and more like Jesus, our Savior, our Lord, our Friend, our Example--Your very own Heart.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Prayer for Today

Oh my God, we ask that You destroy all chains that bind us to the things of this world. Release us to be led by Your Spirit of Life whom Christ imparted to us! Pour out Your powerful boldness, that we may be vessels for Your use in bringing forth Your Kingdom. Help us, Lord, to wash one another's feet, cleansing the dust of walking in this world, encouraging, exhorting and edifying one another as You taught us to do. We commit to heeding Your leading and to surrendering completely (and as often as we must) so that we are submitted to Your Merciful Power and Grace. And God, in Christ and by Your Holy Spirit, we say, together, a great AMEN.

(from Whitney McKendree Moore from "The Disciple Ship Shipmates" - a prayer group on facebook I've belonged to for the last two years or so. The group's founder, Eric Swensson says: We think doing effective evangelism is about discipleship. We think this is simple, but hard. Therefore, we need constant contact with our Triune God and with other disciples. We need prayer. The group Shipmates is prayer support for people everywhere who are involved in discipleship evangelism... Talking about prayer is good, but actually praying is much better. When people ask you to pray don't say "I'll pass that along to my prayer list" say, "Would you like to pray with me now? What would you like us to pray for?")

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Challenging Words with Friends

Does God care about our feelings?

Can you find evidence for that in the Bible?

God cares about us, deeply, perfectly, wonderfully, but He steps on our emotional toes all the time.

It's for a good purpose, of course, but where do we all get the idea that we ought to be so careful of feelings? Shouldn't we just grow up?

That's one of the meanings behind the scripture lesson we'll be using at Crossroads this coming Sunday (Nov. 11) in the story of the "Rich Young Man" in Mark 10:17-22.  At the end of the story the young man is shocked at what Jesus has said to him (that he should sell his property and give to the poor) and "goes away" because he is so sad.

The thing is this, Jesus loved this young man, it says in verse 21 that the reason Jesus gave him this hard word was because He, Jesus, loved that man. He hurt his feelings because he loved him. Wow.

The Word of God often intends to hurt our feelings so we will change. As Jesus' followers, we will get our feelings hurt, and, as his disciples, we will speak his Word and hurt others' feelings too. It seems to me that is unavoidable?

Challenge me if you think I'm wrong.