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Monday, June 29, 2009

Stepping Down

In a world that prioritizes accomplishment, popularity and esteem, stories of those who willingly step down from such societal values can get lost in the shuffle. Here's my attempt to keep one in the light.

Many of you know the journey of my uncle John. For 6 and 1/2 years, John was the Senior Pastor of a large (several thousand in attendance) church in Oregon. In mid-October, John's body was attacked by a mysterious disease that left him first hospitalized and then under home-rest continuing to this day. The doctors are still puzzling over the what and why. We may never know.

Throughout this time, John's role as Senior Pastor was never doubted or questioned. He was in a sense "on Sabbatical" but no one debated whether or not he should keep this job. This past weekend, John announced at the weekend services that he was resigning from this post and taking a lesser title; part-time associate. I was not there, but the comments of those who were and have posted to his blog (http://www.salemalliance.org/serendipity/) lead me to believe it was a powerful moment.

I don't mention this to bring glory to John. I know he wouldn't want it. I don't mention this to suggest others should be renouncing position or influence. If God has put you there, then use it. But I am writing to illustrate what Jesus does in the heart of his people. It makes no sense to step down from a "lucrative" job with status, esteem and influence, even if you're on the sidelines. Culture tells us to hold on and enjoy the privilege life has brought you.

What John did, he did for the good of others. He saw a church that loved him and would never ask this of him, but that was perhaps being held back while waiting for their fearless leader to return in full strength. And so he released them to pursue God and wait on him alone.

What motivates us to do for others instead of only doing for ourselves? I believe that this is the transforming power of the Cross. Knowing Jesus isn't about a religion, but about a relationship that transforms us on the inside to be the kind of loving and giving people on the outside that God created us to be. Unfortunately, I believe, the world at large doesn't see this from Christians enough. Do they see it in me? Will they see it in you?

May you be the kind of person that esteems what God calls good, even if it runs against all that our culture holds true. Our culture will fade, but the kingdom of God will last forever.

Journey in His glory,

Nick

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is God Mad At You?

I had an illuminating moment this weekend. As part of the Father's day weekend at our church, all of the kids came up on stage and helped sing one of the songs. Talk about a great photo opportunity.

My four year old, Alyssa, is just getting to the age where she can participate in these kinds of "big kid" events. As she strode up to the stage, she beamed with joy. The kids all put on sunglasses, only Alyssa's were on a little crooked. She was about half a beat behind in all of her motions, but she was late with gusto. And I sat in my chair and just laughed my head off. It was a huge joy, on this special day, to take absolute delight in one of my children. What a memory!

After the kids went downstairs, we read a Psalm together about David crying out to God for help. And this is God's action about halfway through the poem, "He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me."

As I reflected on this idea, I couldn't help but think about the joy I had in watching my daughter and how this Psalm was saying that God felt the same way about me. Wow.

How do you think God feels about you? I think if you ask most of us (Christian, non-Christian, whatever), we would say that God is angry, upset, disappointed, or let down by the shallow, self-centered lives that we live. Strangely, this view of God is largely absent from Scripture.

Did you know the most repeated verse in the entire Old Testament? (The part of the Bible most people refer to when describing God as judgmental, angry, disappointed with us, etc.) It's this:

But you, O Lord, are a merciful and gracious God, slow to get angry, full of unfailing love and truth. Ps. 86:15

This phrase is repeated no less than 9 times! Do you think maybe it's time to change the way we view God? I mean, can you imagine a God who sits in heaven and takes incredible delight in your life, in who you are, because he made you and he loves you? I think this would change the way that I live. I know it would certainly change the way that I pray.

I hope today that you will know a God who delights in you. Get to know that God.

Live, laugh, and journey on,

Nick

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Practice makes...better.

Did you grow up hearing that line, "practice makes perfect"? I know I did. Now, I'm not saying I disagree with the statement, but I think it's given me a false idea about what practice produces in my life.

We started a series at church this last week on Spiritual Practices- normal, everyday stuff that we can all do in order to train ourselves to be like Jesus. The love and grace of God given to us through Jesus is truly the hope of the world, and we are all vessels of this hope. That's a pretty high demand on people like us (like me) that stumble through many of our days. Even on my best day, it frightens me just a little that I am the hands, feet, and mouthpiece of Jesus to a world in need.

What does this have to do with practice? Well, I know that I got to a point in my life where I assumed that practice would make perfect. Whether it was practicing the piano, my free throws in basketball, or reciting a poem in English class, I began to expect perfection. This is a great goal, but what about all the times when I would finish a time of practice and still not be perfect? To be honest, I felt like my efforts were wasted. I hadn't really accomplished anything because I was still flawed. In many ways, this made the idea of more practice discouraging- why put in all the effort only to still be prone to mistake and error?

I think we feel the same way about spirituality. Why put in all this "work" (at least we think of it as work) when we instinctively believe that at the end of the day we will still be far from perfect? This is where I find it important to quit trying to be like Jesus- I truly can't try hard enough. But I can train, and practice, even if it means I'm still flawed. Because what I'm learning is that practice makes BETTER. Practice moves me in the right direction. I had a coach who always said that everyday you either get better or worse. He was speaking about football, but I think this idea is true in life as well. I am either moving towards my wife and family in love, or I am gradually moving away. I am stepping closer to God's love and grace in my life, or I walk away, even if it is a slow retreat.

But with this idea in mind- practice makes better- I am free to practice and still fail. I can practice and train, and have grace for myself when I'm not perfect. To fail doesn't mean my practice was wasted- only that my practice is still in the process of transforming my life and my character.

I want to be a transformed person. I hope you do to. The process may feel long and plodding, but I get a sense that God's in less of a hurry than we are. And maybe that's okay.

Now that I am free from "practice makes perfect", where are those piano books?

Journey in freedom-

Nick

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Are You Here?

What is it with our constant need to be connected? I've noticed some things happening around me lately. I have a track kid that actually texts the whole time she's running. (Not at meets, although if they'd let her, I think she would...) I run meetings now and regularly see people looking down and typing into their phone. People at restaurants will leave one perfectly good conversation to go outside and pick up another one. I will be with my family, but then feel the need to check an up-to-the-minute baseball score on my phone. I hear that Ashton Kutcher has over a million people follow him on his Twitter feed. He just barely beat out Oprah and CNN for this honor as the first one. (For those readers who are unfamiliar with Twitter, just smile and nod. It's coming. You'll know all about soon!)

As someone who sits on the borderline age-wise between the internet age and the stone age (I mean, the paper age- is that better?), I am not speaking out against any of these things. I get involved in cell phones, Facebook, and texting quite a bit myself. But I want to pause and make an observation today. Are we developing an inability to be fully present? In every conversation, we silently think of others we could have through our phone. In every moment, we wonder what's going on in the world around us. As we live a real, right-now life, we wonder about the status of others. Tweets. Feeds. Status updates. You have a text. Which life are you living?

I am writing this, not as a polemic against others, but as a reminder to myself. The people right in front of me in this moment are the most important. Do I take away from them because my mind is somewhere else? I want a life where I know how to slow down, think deeply, and appreciate the simple things in life. Does my connection to the world actually hinder this? I also want a life where I am free to consider God and look at what He's doing in my life. Can this happen if I am not fully present with Him? Through-out history, God has chosen to "break through" people's layers of activity to get their attention, but it seems to me like He's more likely to speak to those who are listening. In listening to so many around me, am I losing the ability to listen to the One who is with me?

Thoughts to ponder. I do not reject or embrace any technology outright, but I want to be willing to ask, "What kind of a person is this creating me to be?" I hope you might do the same...

Journey on, friend,
Nick