love and firewood

Attention couples!!!

We’re quite educated in the ways of showing affection, aren’t we? Two flawless bodies on a billboard with arms and legs intertwined in new, creative ways… just shocking enough to make you want to buy the clothes they are half-wearing… two people on a park bench rubbing each other up and down as if they were freezing to death… Should we be listening to these suggestions though? Why or why not? Affection is harmless enough, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste any time trying to discourage any certain forms of affection. I do, however, want to think for a moment about the contrast between physicality and commitment.

The physical stuff is visible, concrete and undeniable. The ideas behind them are invisible, abstract and often cloudy. Also, the two can sometimes be totally separate. Consider people in modeling or acting. The physicality is there, but I doubt there is any commitment or relationship. Conversely, in some marriages gone cold, there may be a certain level of commitment, but no passion or intimacy.

So how in the world can we build strongly committed relationships with healthy physicality? How can such a balance be started and maintained? Is it possible?

I think the answer lies in a helpful analogy I’ve learned from Tommy Nelson in his study on The Song of Solomon.

He relates physical passion to gasoline, and rightly points out that a relationship built on that alone may have large flames for a little while, but has nothing left afterwards. He talks about the need for the ‘firewood’ of commitment and character.

I think it’s interesting to note as well that the more firewood you have, the longer the fire lasts! Are we sometimes guilty of impatiently gathering a few small twigs, drowning them with gasoline and feeling frustrated that the fire doesn’t last? Possibly?

God is more than aware of the pain and hurting that comes with failed relationships. He doesn’t want us to go through the pain! He wants to give us His best!

I’m not a fan of all the charts, graphs or rules that people try to create for successful relationships, but I will say this: For the sake of your heart, keep the gasoline in the can until you’ve gathered the firewood of commitment and character. Then you can enjoy the warmth and security of a committed relationship.

still hangin’ on

“I’m hangin’ on… you’re all that’s left to hold on to.” – Bono in Red Hill Mining Town

Yesterday I had two conversations about relationships. You know, the romantic kind. Aren’t they exciting? I mean, isn’t the thrill of discovering that someone else is thinking about you just priceless? It’s a little more than obvious that the human race is consumed with obtaining this feeling. I just saw an ad for yet another online dating company, mate1: intimate dating. What a joke! Intimate? Online?

Both of my conversations yesterday touched on the undeniable pain and misery of ‘breaking up.’ We talked about how all of your hopes and dreams come crashing down in mere seconds when this happens.

The common thread in my two discussions yesterday was this: both people I talked to shared with me the belief that we should never put our ‘hopes and dreams’ in anyone other than Jesus. All three of us were speaking from much experience as well. The thing about humans is that it’s not a question of if they will let you down, it’s a matter of when!

In a song called “Wedding Dress,” Christian songwriter Derek Webb refers to ‘lovers less wild’ that draw us away from Jesus, the One who loved us (as another of his songs points out) ‘to death.’ He is the One who died for sinners. He is the One who won’t take back His love. He is the One who will never cheat on you. He is the One who will patiently put up with your junk.

May you be able to say to Jesus, “I’m hangin’ on… You’re all that’s left to hold on to.”

-Dale

now that’s relaxing

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Jesus in Matthew 11 (emphasis mine, and maybe Jesus, too)

For some people, this passage is refreshing, freeing and memorable. Others simply give it an affirming nod and move on. Others (if they’re honest) might admit they’re not sure what Jesus is getting at with all this talk about rest. Rest from WHAT? What does it mean to labor and be heavy laden?

Practically, we know that Jesus was referring to what Judaism had become. The Pharisees had placed too much emphasis on rituals and outward things. Jesus had a radically different way of life in mind. Still some of us may find it hard to see how this relates to us today. After all, only about 1% of the world’s population is even Jewish.

There is a Pharisee inside all of us.

The Pharisee mindset has to do with proving your worth to God by doing good things. And not just doing them, but doing them better than others! Unfortunately, the Pharisee mindset often drives many really positive acts of ministry and Christian organisations. This ‘philosophy of works’ can slip into the minds of the most genuine Christians.

We must never mistake ‘works‘ for ‘fruit.’ Fruit is a natural by-product of a relationship with Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. God Himself inspires, directs and empowers our actions. And these ‘fruit-actions’ never have anything to do with us getting the credit. ‘Work-actions,’ however, can be and are done without a relationship with Christ and have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit at all. As much as we may try to claim God’s ‘sponsorship’ of our efforts, we really want the credit to go to us. We want to be known as ‘spiritual’ or ‘a good, serving Christian.’

Fruit and Works, Relationship and Religion, Devotion and Duty. They often look the same to us, but to God, one is worthless and the other priceless.

-Dale

the gospel blimp: a review

I’ve just finished a book called, “The Gospel Blimp, by Joseph Bayly.” It was published in 1960, but it’s amazingly relevant to Christians today.

The story begins with a group of typical, white, middle-class, protestant Americans having a get-together in one of their back yards. The discussion turns to evangelism, and after some time, an idea is floated that would change their lives for the next few years: a Gospel Blimp. The proposed Blimp would be visible to the whole city and would carry a simple Christian message. They look across the fence and notice the neighbors smoking and drinking beer as usual. This all-too-familiar sight provides the necessary motivation and soon all agree to commit to making the Blimp everything it needs to be to evangelise their city. They especially pray that the next door neighbors would be the first to be saved through the blimp.

Over the next few years, the group sees International Gospel Blimps, Incorporated (I.G.B.I) grow and develop far further than they ever expected it to grow, finding support from many Christians. Prayer meetings, publicity personnel, PA systems, lighted signs, the works. The I.G.B.I. committee experiences ups and downs, family trouble, interior conflict and resolution, sacrifice, success, tragedy and a host of other twists and turns. Possibly the worst of these is that the couple with the next door neighbors eventually leave the committee altogether. That doesn’t hinder the commitment of the rest of the committee. They press on.

Eventually, the story closes when the couple that had left invites the committee over to their house again for a BBQ. Also invited to the BBQ were the next-door neighbors. Only they had become Christians. The various committee members are eager to hear the long-awaited story of how God used the Blimp to touch their hearts and draw them to faith. The committee is shocked when the neighbors said that God hadn’t used the Blimp to save them. They instead had been deeply moved by their neighbors recently increased involvement in their lives. Their love and care for them through some tough times had been a huge witness to the love of Christ. Toward the end of the BBQ, one of the committee members thinks he will take this golden opportunity to invite the new Christian husband to the Blimp hangar the next morning to help others with their work on the Blimp. The neighbor has to decline because he has plans with a couple of his neighbors to go bowling.

I recommend reading this book in it’s entirety, because I think it vividly portrays how many sincere, genuine Christians can be a bit misguided in their efforts. An essential ingredient for Christian witness has always been and will always be love. Selfless love. Even if you have to miss a few Gospel Blimp prayer meetings, or not be involved altogether.

-Dale

let’s see some I.D. please

One of the most bizarre notions in the entire universe is also one of the most important doctrines of Christianity. It’s the idea of a new identity.

The over-abundance of self-help books, ‘inspirational’ seminars and ‘inner-peace’ tapes/CD’s only begin to show our human obsession with life change. We want it. We crave it. We need it. We know something is wrong inside of us, and we will try anything to make it better.

Unlike the comforting, feel-good, wholeness, positive message of these mediums, the message of the Cross is offensive. The Cross doesn’t hide our weakness, but painfully exposes it. The Cross doesn’t try to fix our broken lives, but ends them! In the book, Grace Walk, Steve McVey rightly points out that we don’t get our lives changed, but get them ex-changed!

At times we forget that the Empty Tomb and the wonderful promises of newness of life come only after the Cross and it’s shame. Humanity would love to have the power of the Empty Tomb, but is too proud to humble itself to bow to the Cross. Take a fresh look at the following verses:

Jesus in Luke 14:27, “The man who will not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps cannot be my disciple.” – (Phillips)

Jesus in Mark 8:35, “Whoever wants to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” – (New American Standard)

The Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me; and the life which I now live in the body I live through faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up to death on my behalf” – (Weymouth)

Paul in 2 Timothy 2:11, “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.” – (New King James)

This dying is not a once in a lifetime occurance, either! For God’s life and power to flow through us, we must take Jesus’ advice in this last verse:

Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” – (King James Version)

yokes, disciples and dust

Note: I’ve shamelessly ‘borrowed’ some (all?) of these concepts. You can find them yourself if you research Judaism. Also, Rob Bell covers them quite well in his book, “Velvet Elvis” and his Nooma DVD entitled “Dust.”

Studying the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament, or the books of Moses) is an integral part of Jewish life. In Jesus’ day, Jewish boys would begin Torah study around the age of six (bet sefer), and would memorize it entirely! Around age ten, while the majority of the boys would begin learning their fathers’ trade, the best of these Torah students went on to study other Jewish writings and memorize the rest of the Old Testament (bet talmud)! That’s right, even Psalms and Proverbs! Finally, in their early teens, the best of the best of these would apply to a rabbi’s disciple (bet midrash). They didn’t just want to know what the rabbi knew, they wanted to DO what the rabbi DID. If a rabbi thought the student could ‘do what he did’ (known as a ‘yoke’), he would ‘call’ the student to be his disciple by saying, “Come and follow me.” The student would then leave family, friends and his whole life to follow the Rabbi and take his ‘yoke.’ Each Rabbi’s ‘yoke’ was shaped and influenced by the interpretations of the Scriptures that the Rabbi had, so some ‘yokes’ were more strict or ‘heavy’ than others. Following the Rabbi wherever he went inspired the Jewish blessing, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.”

Jesus was a radical rabbi…

When other rabbi’s looked for the cream of the crop, Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors! That’s right, He called those who didn’t even make it past learning the Torah! He also said that His yoke was easy, and His burden was light!

These radical actions and words of Jesus highlight His turning away from burdensome, strict, ordered processes of learning and teaching. Jesus’ emphasis was on relationships. He must have believed that if His disciples loved Him, then they would be like Him!

Perhaps this sheds new light on the Great Commandment to love the Lord your God, and the Great Commission of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. He wants us to share a way of life with each other and the world that He said was easy and light. He wants that way of life to flow from a relationship with Him.

Are you involved in a discipleship relationship?

May you see the importance of your relationship with Christ above all others.
May you realize the calling of Christ to disciple-making.
May you understand that this means disciple-being as well.
May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.

god’s toolbox

“Behold, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves . . . When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given, at that moment, what you are to say. For it will not be you, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:16,19)

God has a big toolbox. Contrary to popular Christian tradition, his tools are people. The verse above says that He is sending ‘you.’ We commonly refer to organisations, programmes or church meetings as tools. Sure, God can and does use these, but He still chooses to create these through people. The people are His tools. We are His hands and feet.

Even though most every Christian realises this, we still often tend to rely on human inventions rather than on God and His Spirit working through us. Allow the following illustration:

Concerning evangelism, we have a mindset that says we are to lure our non-Christian acquaintances to various church services or ‘gospel meetings’ so that they can encounter the gospel, be confronted with the message of Jesus and hopefully place their faith and trust in Him.

This IS a valid method of evangelism, but it is ONLY ONE method! Thankfully, God has a LOT more ways to reach people than just gospel ‘meetings.’ And to be completely honest, there is somewhat of a large contrast between this method of evangelism and Jesus’ method, which is not gospel meetings, but gospel lifestyles.

Jesus tells US to GO. He wants US to share the Gospel with the world and teach them about Christ. We cannot and MUST not rely on ‘the preacher’ to tell our non-Christians about Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15 says,

“But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord, and always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within you whenever someone asks, with gentleness and respect.”

Like it or not, if you are not prepared to share the Gospel with your friends, you are in disobedience to Christ.

And by the way, we MUST share the Gospel with much more than only WORDS. As a popular author has said, we must share the testimony of our LIFE and LOVE, and earn the right to share the testimony of our LIPS.

Will we make ourselves ready to be used by God, or will we continue to stay buried in the bottom of the toolbox?

Dale

asking the wrong questions

“Love someone.  Anyone.  Any way you choose to.  But you need to do it at the right time, with the right flowers and at the right restaurant.”

Stop and think. What is wrong with this command? Read it again carefully if you need to.

It tells me when to love, with what to love and even where to love, but what other details might you need? How about who and how? Do the what, where and when really matter if you have the who and how figured out? I don’t think they matter one bit.

Isn’t it refreshing that God’s New Covenant commandments to us don’t even bother with the what, where and when? Let’s look at the Two Commandments of Jesus Christ.

1. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Do you see anything in these that have to do with what it looks like to do this, or where or when to do this? Of course not. It appears that God isn’t as concerned with what, where or when we love Him, but instead is concerned that we indeed are loving Him and how we love Him.

Another example about this from Jesus is His discussion with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria about the differences between Jews and Samaritans. She reminded Jesus that Jews believed that the Temple in Jerusalem was the TRUE place for worship, but that the Samaritans were actually the right ones, because the real TRUE place for worship was the mountain in Samaria. The reply of Jesus is paramount. He told her that the time was coming and had already come when she would not worship God on the Samaritan mountain or in Jerusalem. (What!?!) He then tells her that True worship is not where, but in Spirit and in Truth (how).

Who do we love? The LORD first, and then our neighbor.
How do we love them? With everything that we have. Every affection, moment, possession, thought, feeling and effort.
Where and when do we do this? What do we do with with? It just does NOT matter.

Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for not attending the latest, hippest Christian conference.
Don’t let anyone pressure you attend an event.
Don’t listen to those that tell you you MUST read this book or do this bible study.
Don’t believe the idea that certain rituals of prayer, bible-study or worship are any better than others.
Don’t let anyone control you but God.

but it looks like love

What does it look like to love God and my neighbor?

I know, I know. You might be getting a bit numb to the topic of love. Maybe you have love figured out. If so, stop reading right now. This article won’t apply to you. If you’re like the rest of us, you can probably admit you have a thing or two to learn about True love.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were clear, precise, practical examples of what True love is? Then we could stop guessing and just do it, right? Some of us long to be told just what to DO in order to demonstrate True love. Would that help? I’m not convinced that it would.

You see, what looks like love isn’t always the real deal. Truth is, we ALL know what love LOOKS like, even if we don’t know what love IS. Just think of all the donations to charities all over the world that would never be made unless someone was looking. There just has to be something in it for us. It’s not flattering, but it’s the truth. The world runs on selfishness. And what’s really scary is when selfishness is disguised as humility or generosity.

So I won’t waste any time telling you to talk to your neighbor even if they aren’t like you; I won’t try to tell you where the line is between affection and disrespect for your boy/girlfriend’s body; and as much as you might like me to, I won’t try to tell you how to learn to love people you don’t like or that don’t like you. That is behavior modification, and it doesn’t work. Sure, it might make things look a little bit better, but at the end of the day, no change results.

What I WILL do, is point you once again to the best example of love that we have. The one act of Grace that echoes through all eternity, silencing all other acts of love. The sacrifice that out-does all of our petty performances of trying to love others. The death of Christ.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:10-11

May God’s love be perfected in us… period.

-Dale

crashing

Last night, I saw the movie “Crash” with a group.

It basically told several inter-weaving stories of people dealing poorly with people. The themes included rage, impatience, vengeance, racism, power-trips and more. We weren’t left with a very hopeful solution for humanity, but I could appreciate the realism with which the topics were addressed. Kinda nice to know that we are nothing like the people in this movie, huh?

Not really. Truth is, those same emotions are in all of us. Yeah, you. We’re all guilty of some serious over-reaction to various annoying things.

The sub-heading for the movie was something like this: “When you’re moving at the speed of life, you’re bound to collide.”
That is actually quite profound. Why does this happen?

Perhaps we really ARE shockingly disconnected from one another.
Perhaps we really ARE disgustingly comfortable.
Perhaps we really ARE lethargic to do anything to change this.
Perhaps we really ARE terribly self-centered.

As long as we insist that the problem is with someone ELSE, we are going to continue to be frustrated.
As long as we insist on placing high expectations on others, they will continue NOT to meet them.
As long as we insist on finding fault with others, we will continue to NOT see (or rationalise or lessen) our own faults.

Slow down, think, be honest with yourself. Why are you so frustrated with him/her? Why are you allowing their opinion of you to control you? Etc., etc.

“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret – it only causes harm.” – Psalm 37:8

-Dale