Thursday, June 26, 2008

Discernment-- Insights

I will start with a thought that did not originate with me but seems so profound. I think the first time I heard it was from a Rob Bell teaching at a Youth Specialties conference in Nov. 2004. He spoke about an old rabbi saying that said, "in the beginning of Genesis God created light and dark, and then the rest of the Bible is teaching people how to discern between the two." Pretty profound, don't you think? I suggest you go to the Youth Specialties archives and see if you could get rob Bell's whole teaching from YWC Atlanta 2004. If you are a youth leader or parent it is one of those lessons that makes you go, "hhhmmmm?" Then you can discern for yourselves whether you agree with his teaching or not. Of course you can read Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis" for a really thorough teaching. This is not a commercial for Rob Bell, but sometimes good men should get props for writing profound thoughts. Of course, if you heard Rob Bell's teaching in Atlanta then he wouldn't of even minded if I plagiarized his teaching as my own.

Discernment... there seems to be such a fine line between discernment and being judgemental in so many Christian circles. Using Brent's experience with his son Ethan watching "Dora the Explorer." What a cool bonding time between father and son, and pure fun in their situation and I don't find anything wrong in what they did, but I think discernment go far deeper than making a judgement for the sake of laughs. Judging the differences between good and evil and then walking away unchanged is foolish. Of course I am talking about meatier decisions than the redundant antics of Dora.

What's the next Question?:
Let's use Brent and Ethan's Dora example, but we will add more mature reasoning skills than a 6 or 7 year old can handle. We have an experience where we have a teachable moment where we see discernment being used we must then as the next question. "Ethan, now that you see how brainless this show is, what do you think you should do about watching it?" Remember, we are not really talking about Dora." But replace Ethan with a 17 year old and replace Dora with "One Tree Hill", or The Pussy Cat Dolls, or some H, blow, weed, Superbad...... Once we can get someone to admit that something is light or dark we then must ask the next question of what they want or need to do with that information.

I probably don't need to say it, but I will say it anyway: My response is not about Brent and Ethan, but using a familiar story to help make a point. Truthfully I cannot wait until the day I am sitting on the couch with a son joking around about a cartoon; but in the same breath, when a vital teachable moment comes up 10 years later with the same son I hope I ask the right questions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Careful, Shmareful!

"Be Careful for what you pray for" has got to be my least favorite Christian cliche. Not only is the theology behind it bad, but it causes us to pray smaller.

Matthew 7: 7-11

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and
you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who
asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be
opened. "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a
stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though
you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more
will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Everything that God gives us is something that is going to be beneficial for our lives. Because of Grace, even when we are imperfect with the things that we ask for God will give us exactly what we need. If you are anything like me, most of your prayer requests will be either unanswered or comeback with an answer "NO!" We constantly ask God for things that we think are good ideas, but by his omniscient wisdom he does not honor those requests because he is looking out for our best interests.

I think a part of grace is God letting us fumble around with our prayers, and even when we get the prayers a little wrong, or ask for the wrong thing He will still make sure that we get the right thing. I do believe though that most times this may be conditional with how attached we are to the Vine. When we are walking out of His will and we ask for things that are not healthy for us, we may just end up with what we wanted. I do not think it was the fact that God gave us what we wanted as much as the consequences of living a life outside the will of God.

We shouldn't be careful what we pray for, but we should bring everything to God in prayer. Our pray lives should be filled with craziness and boldness. We can't think bigger than God, and "He will do more than we can ask or imagine".

Isn't that what living an abundant life is all about? Being in God's will, then asking for the power and resources to do crazy stuff for Him. If it will help our growth and Him using us to advance His Kingdom, then I think we will get what we want. If we ask for something that in the end we would not be able to handle and it would be detrimental to our life and/or our Walk then I can assure you that we won't get a positive answer for that request. So I guess in the end it is better to pray with craziness than with caution because we will only receive the very best from God.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Priorities' -- Insights

Faith like a child. We all have said the same thing that Ethan (Brent's son) had said many times in our Walk, but I think the difference is the fact that Ethan actually believes what he says. I am not saying that our words aren't as truthful, but we have greater chances in our lives to prove that we love other things more than God.

Two children in my family have just undergone major medical surgeries. The first one is my nephew Logan (age 5) who has Cerebral Palsy. His procedure was a 5-7 hour journey into Logan's spinal cord,, where the doctor poked and prodded around, and then severed 58% of the spastic sensory nerves going down to his legs. Logan expected to walk when he woke up from the ordeal. Instead, 5 days later he still had not taken a step and was bound to a wheel chair. The difference between him and me was the fact that he was singing praise songs (which he makes up himself). He does this because he still loves God even though he couldn't walk yet. A grown up like myself would be singing the same song, not because we feel it, but because we know we should and maybe this will convince God that we are a good candidate for a blessing. Yes, a sign of mature Christianity is praising God even in the storms, so don't stop even if your faith is not like a child's.

Gavin is my cousins 2 year old son. Diagnosed two weeks ago with a brain tumor. Had the tumor taken out and now has a long prescription of cancer treatment (IE. radiation and chemo). My Cousin and his wife are devastated, and for good reason. One night last weekend Gavin's mom walked into his hospital room (3am ) and saw Gavin upright holding his arms out. Heather, his mom, asked him what he was doing and he replied, "I am hugging the angel." I think it takes faith like a child to make what is invisible, visible. Priorities, even in the midst of his storm he is embracing God's messenger.

Logan is walking and Gavin needs your prayers. The update tonight for Gavin isn't as good as his family would want. He needs all of our prayers. Most of the time I do not understand God's providence, and I really don't think any of us care to figure it out. In this case I think we need to be like a child and expect God to do what only God can do. Isn't that what we expect dads to do?

I guess faith like a child is: to tell everyone that God is more important than everyone else (Luke 14:26); to praise God when we are in pain and can't function (Psalm 42:5); and to embrace divinity when we don't know or comprehend what the outcome will or should be for our lives.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Amplify"-- Intentional Amplification Insight

"Intentional Amplification"

These are the first two words that came to my mind after reading Brent's "Amplify" Lesson Learned article. It seems like in today's world, and especially in today's church, people usually have the "amps" facing in or they are facing out, but too often we don't see the skilled Christian being able to do both very well.

"Amps Always Facing In Person/Church" is very good at ministering to the faithful saints. They have a lifestyle or a ministry program that is geared towards building up a believer, but are very weak in going out beyond the church walls. Their mission field is the person in the mirror or the proverbial choir. A good mental image of this are those hard bodies that seem to live at the gym every free moment, and their only purpose of being there is to get stronger. Their body image is everything to them, and their is no deeper purpose in the strength they gain. Wasted exercise! They spend so much time on themselves that they never have time to use their incredible strength.

"The other extreme is a "Amps Always Facing Out Person." They have all of the motivation to do incredible things in the name of God, but they don't know how to do it. Two verses pop out in my mind. "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way" (Proverbs 19:2); and "It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you" (Galatians 4:18). Can you imagine yourself trying to play professional football without spending years in the gym first? In my best fantasies I would love to play football for a living. Even if they let me play. I would get crushed or killed the first time I was tackled.

Over and over again we see this in the Bible and even in the modern church. Does "Seven Sons of Sceva" ring a bell. Here was a priest and a bunch of guys who tried to mimic what Paul was doing by driving out demons, and they all were beaten up by the demon possessed man. What the evil spirit said was most profound. "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding" (Acts 19:15-16). Then in 1 Corinthians 13, if we do not have the purpose of love, then everything we do sounds like nonsense to the outside world. " If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

These zealous people always have the amps facing out that they never know how they sound to the rest of the world. Having the amps facing in is the time we spend learning who Christ is, how we can become like Him in Character, and then learning how to act like Him. After this, then we can turn our amps around and actual do what Christ did. You CANNOT do one or the other. There are times in life when you have to intentional keep the amps facing in (discipleship), and then there are times when we have to take what we know and face it out (ministry and missions). "Faith without works is dead"!

Where are your amps facing?
Which way should they be facing right now?

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Be Real"- Insights

Sports wouldn't be sports without the risk of losing; gambling wouldn't be exciting and addicting if there wasn't a risk-reward factor involved; extreme sports wouldn't be extreme without danger; and Memorial Days wouldn't be significant if no one died in wars. So why should it be anything different with REAL Christianity? Like the prison chaplain, Jesus' words never held back any punch; never sugar-coated the raw truth of the Gospel; and what he said, even if it hurt or made the listener uncomfortable, he said it all out of compassion.

If we look at Luke 9, Jesus spells out what Christianity should be like. He asks the disciples who He is. The answer is a confession of Jesus being the Christ, and immediately Jesus follows that up with the fact that He is going to die, and "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (v23-25). Basically He is saying, if you are going to call yourself a Christian, then be prepared to live a dangerous life. Brent you are right in saying that Jesus and the rafting guides have the same message and approach.

I do not think we are hearing this Biblical message in the American church. From what I can see from Christian reports from all over the world, I would easily conclude that if we preached to our teens and young adults in America that Christianity is dangerous and extreme, I think we would have an incredible revival here in the States. Time and time again, we here that the postmodern generation is looking for authentic Christianity, church leadership that is Real, looking for someone or something to believe in. Meanwhile in persecuted countries across the globe the church is flourishing where Christianity is dangerous and/or life threatening. As I sit here and write these last thoughts I am asking myself what is different in my ideals than that of the rhetoric we here from fundamental terrorists? Compassion, love for God and every human being. Crusades and terror threats are an attack on flesh and blood, but as we know from Ephesians 6 are fight is against "spiritual forces of evil...".

As a side note, not only is the prep speech by the rafting guide there to provide essential safety rules to ensure survival, but I think it is also used to heighten the extreme sporters awareness of risk to make the ride more exciting and abundant. Two people can be on the same raft with two totally different perspectives. I think the one that is aware of the risk will enjoy the experience more because he is aware of the danger.

Isn't it time we preach a more dangerous gospel?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Worst Ever?"- Insights

Last week I wrote a Lesson Learned article called "Worst Ever?" - Here are Bill Masek's Insights into what I wrote...

Masek's Insights (for a lack of a better name)

What can I learn from your lesson since I know you are not telling us to practice being inadequate? I have found there is only one time that is beneficial to seem inadequate... and that is when you are dealing with the opposite sex.

For instance, I remember being in the college laundry room looking very inadequate trying to clean my clothes. The next thing I know there is some strange female doing my laundry and folding my clothes. The only thing that I learned was to always look pathetic when doing laundry, or vacuuming, or washing dishes... the same thing goes for girls who want guys to fix their car or carry something heavy.

Unfortunately or really fortunately God is not that naive for us to take advantage of Him. So as I said, trying to be inadequate to let God shine brighter probably wouldn't work in the long run.
Besides God working in spite of our flaws, what is the common thread in all of Brent's examples? Being ready to do whatever God asks 24/7! For all of us, there are going to be times when our tries are less than stellar and we feel like fools. We know that we will never be perfect, but at least there was an attempt. God can work through attempts and show His power and glory through these jars of clay He calls humanity.

It is when we don't try, or have excuses of why we didn't do something that God cannot work through us. We are not defeated until we decide we will not do what He calls us to do. To this day I think Nike's motto "Just Do It!" is the best advice.

The younger generation will always model what the generation before them is doing. It is up to us whether they will be a generation who will try to do amazing and impossible things, or a generation of emotionally paralyzed people who do not know how to succeed, actually do not even know how to try to succeed.

It's time that we all start being fools for Christ. It's not about trying to look like a fool, we do just fine without trying, but being a fool because the world cannot believe we have enough faith in God to believe it is worth trying the outrageous and unbelievable.I've said it may times to Brent, "You are a fool, don't stop being this fool. You are a fool for preaching while drugged up. You are a fool to not only be at an all night-er but trying to preach to a bunch of teens at 4am. You are also a fool for being a youth pastor, and even more of a fool to give that all up and be a missionary that trains other fools." Again Brent, don't stop being this Fool.The only question is, how can we become more foolish?

Time we all start being a little more foolish.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Excuses, Excuses"-- Insights

If only you could go back and let "Junior High Brent" know that most likely most guys his age, in the same circumstances would end up doing the same thing. Even at the age of 37 I think if I ran across an episode of Scooby Do I would sit there with great expectation hoping that Scrappy would appear. We can admit that now, but back in those teen years we do not have the realization that almost every guy is in the same shoes that we are. If we haven't grown out of cartoons by the time we are forty we certainly hadn't grown out of them during our Jr. High days. A truth like that would have saved all of us a lot of shameful feelings about ourselves.

What does God do with Excuses? He brings truth to them! Whether we are talking about Moses or our own lives, He sees through our excuses and calls us on them. Moses' excuses were based on feeling inadequate and insecure with who he was. God didn't give Moses a chance to believe his own excuse of why he was the wrong person for the job Right away God made it about who He was and not Moses.

As I walk away from your (Excuses, Excuses) article I am realizing that we have to look at excuses from two perspectives. First is on a personal level, where we all need to reflect on how we label our own excuses. What are we trying to hide with our excuses? Maybe we make excuses to put the blame on others, or maybe our excuses are made to hide our ugliness from the rest of the world. Either way, and no matter what the reason is that we make so many excuses, God wants us to call things as they are, and with this action we can have freedom.

The second perspective is seeing how we can use others excuses as ministry opportunities. Whether there is truth in the excuse or not, there are opportunities to open the door for deeper conversations. In the example of your "bizarre excuse", I am sure the young musician wasn't late to practice because of the incident the night before. He got away with not having to give a truthful account of why he was late because everyone was preoccupied with his injured face. For this teen he used his "victimization" to hide the truth. Imagine what could have been revealed if at some point you took him aside and said, "I'm sorry your nose got caught up in the bass, but can I ask why you were actually late tonight?"

I think people gain respect when they challenge someone's excuse, especially if it is a real poor one. Even more important, I think people gain respect when they reveal truth in someone's life. As a youth leader, once you prove that you care and cannot have the wool pulled over your eyes then teens tend to listen and be more truthful. This kind of happened with Jesus and the woman at the well. As soon as the woman realized Jesus knew everything about her she knew that there was something divine about Jesus. With that realization about Him, she opened up and gave her whole life to Him. Likewise we shouldn't let these ministry opportunities go by. With an excuse there is a shame, hurt, embarrassment and/or ego that needs to be healed and freed.