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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Extreme Measures

Early this week, my three-year old daughter Maddie used a four-letter word I never want to hear again. 'Daddy, Mommy says Alyssa has LICE.' Little did I know in that moment the dramatic effect this small word, and creature, would have on my life.

I have never had lice. My perception was that if you get it, you buy some special shampoo, wash your hair, and move on with life. Not so. Evidently lice is a significant problem that can spread like a plague. It's as catchy as a Justin Bieber lyric. We have spent the last 48 hours in a frenzy of washing, vacuuming, shampooing, cleaning, rinsing, and repeating. Over and over and over. Alyssa has spent countless hours sitting at the counter while Michelle diligently combs through ever square millimeter of her head. These days have been grueling.

It's amazing what happens to you when you see pictures of this little critter and read about how easily it can spread. Something inside your head clicks into high gear, because your once safe dwelling place now feels invaded, corrupted, and defiled. Even though we cannot typically see the foe we are fighting, we are taking extreme measures in our home to make sure it is out of our lives for good. Or at least before Maddie contracts it.

This whole experience has me thinking about what the Jewish people used to do in preparation for the Passover. Part of their tradition was to scour their homes, looking for even the smallest trace or crumb of leavened bread. Days of preparation would be spent in painstaking detail, so that when the Passover came, the family could celebrate appropriately. You see, the idea was to be pure and holy for the Passover, and leaven was a picture of sin or unholiness. So as a way of purifying themselves, the Jews also purified their houses. They went to extreme measures to make themselves fit to worship God.

In light of all this, I am reflecting today on our personal attitude towards impurity in our lives. Put more succinctly, I wonder if we take extreme measures with sin anymore. I have been petrified by the thought of even one minuscule lice bug remaining in my home, so I have rearranged my life in order to "be clean." The ironic twist, to me, is that this little bug has little ultimate impact on my physical well-being. I am healthy. I am fit. I am not sick, or weak, or in pain because of lice. But it disgusts me and I want it gone. I wish I had this same disgust for sin. More importantly, I wish you did. Because isn't that the truth- that we would all like others to be really passionate about getting sin out of their lives? We'd like others to take extreme measures to let go of their pride, selfishness, envy, gossip, deceit or anger? The real question, though, is for ourselves. Will we develop an attitude that says, "I will do whatever it takes to make my life clean and pure. I will not put up with any life-stealing bug (sin) for even a moment."

Because you are a house. You are the dwelling place of the living God. And I think His Presence merits our taking the time, taking extreme measures, to keep His house clean. Go get the shampoo of confession. The laundry detergent of God's Word. The vacuum of diligence, perseverance, and discipline. Do whatever it takes- just get the bugs out of your life. His house, your life, is worth extreme measures.

Journeying with you-

Nick

Monday, February 14, 2011

What To Do With Conviction

Recently, our Crazy Love book study processed a chapter on "lukewarm" faith. This challenging chapter provoked an array of responses, and so I sent this message to our table leaders as a way to encourage and give perspective.

Perhaps if you are in the study, or reading some challenging material on your own, you will find helpful insight in these words:

Hello folks-

I hope your day is going well. I imagine that last night’s discussion around our tables was a real mix of thoughts and emotions. Chapter 4 on lukewarm Christianity was a challenging one, and brought about the full range of emotions from, “Let’s sell it all and give everything to Jesus” to “This doesn’t really apply to us.” I am guessing that for even many of us, we struggled with conviction and frustration as we read. We wondered if we could apply this material, let alone know how to lead a group through it. I have not been reading ahead, so as to go through the experience with all of you. My reaction to chapter 4 was feeling like I need to read this over and over until God has had time to apply it all to my life.

My guess is that Crazy Love will get harder before it gets easier. That it will get more challenging before it gets simpler. With that in mind, I wanted to write and give you some advice and direction for working with your groups. This may get lengthy, but I believe that thinking through these topics will help you in your group. So please take some time to read and consider these ideas.

1. Everyone processes at a different speed. Some will read challenging material and be ready to make immediate change. (We call these early adopters) Others need more time. Or more proof. Or more convincing. (We call these late adopters) Our temptation can be to assume that early adopters are more spiritual, and those that are moving slowly are less spiritual. But this may not be the case. Even when someone expresses a more negative or conservative reaction, we need to see that it may be their way of processing this challenging material. Give them a little space to push back, but continue to encourage and point to Christ.

2. Disagree with Chan, Okay. Disagree with God, not so okay. There will undoubtedly be times in every book where we disagree with the author, their perspective, or their method of application. That’s fine. Francis Chan is human, and as leaders we don’t have to stick up for him. BUT, much of what Chan says is Biblically rooted, with Scripture right there for us to read. Be alert to whether or not someone is disagreeing with Chan or with Scripture (God). When you find they are actually disagreeing with God, then it is appropriate to find gentle ways to direct people to Biblical truth. When they disagree with Chan, let it go. But keep the focus on what God, the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth, is calling us to do.

3. Decision-making is best when we own it. In other words, we can’t force people to live more godly lives- it has to come from them. After reading material like chapter 4, especially as leaders, we can want everyone to make similar decisions about entertainment, standards of living, church involvement, etc. It seems so obvious to us! But if we make the choice for them, it won’t last or stick. Our goal as we lead is to keep elevating godly truth and pray that the light will penetrate the darkness- even when the darkness sits in our own souls.

4. Push yourself and the group towards application. This is the kind of material that is easy to talk about, in a sense. We have lots of ideas and lots to share. But the rubber meets the road when we ask questions like, “what are you going to do?” And sometimes we don’t know! But the key is that we stay open and humble to God, realizing that the whole point of this study is to make us more like Jesus. Talking rarely makes me more like Jesus- I have to do something. Make sure you take enough time in your group to let people process what they think they should actually DO. Will it be easy or clear? Rarely- but it is this kind of wrestling that brings transformation.

5. Celebrate any and all success, no matter how small. After chapter 4, we might feel like if we do anything less than sell our homes to go live with the poor, we have come up short. With this attitude, we devalue other significant choices we, and others at our table, might be making. If someone comes back next week and tells a story about giving away $20 they normal wouldn’t (or even $5), GET EXCITED! Realize that God can be just as involved in the small choices as in the big ones, and we want to highlight every step people take towards whole-hearted living. We don’t have to be content to stay there, but we must encourage progress.

These are just a couple of ideas to help you facilitate good conversation. And as the challenging material keeps coming, stay open to what God wants to do. He may not always do it in the way we expect, but I believe He is doing huge things.

May you be willing to sit with tough questions on your journey today-

Nick

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Dead German Guys Say It Well

Ran across this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer this week. He lived in WWII Germany and was executed by the Nazi's for participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. And he was a theologian and a pastor! Here's what he had to say...

"There remains, then, only the decision whether we will trust the Bible or not, whether we will allow ourselves to be supported by it as by no other word, in life and death. And I believe that we can only be happy and at peace when we have made that decision."

In my life, this is one place I have to come back to frequently: is it God's word or isn't it? Because if it IS God's word to us, then I had better rearrange my life to do what it says. It all starts with making the decision. Once that first decision is made, to trust the Bible, the other decisions we are faced with in life become much simpler. Not easier! But much more simple.

Thoughts?

May you find happiness and peace today through the Living Word-

Nick