Dissipating the Fog

fog sun

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” – John 15:11

“In the fog” I would rather shut down than seek any kind of relational connection or constructive activity. It doesn’t mean that I always do. Most of the time I choose to be quite productive, relationally connected even intimate, and creative. I choose to do these things out of loyalty, duty, character, and even fear and those are the wrong motivators. When given a chance I choose to shut down. Not really resting or preparing for what’s next, but just “disconnect”.

I know some people would tell me, “you just need to slow down,” “get some exercise,” or “make your quiet time a priority.” All of which is good advice, but I think I’m seeking more than a few helpful hints or techniques to get by. I want out of the fog all together. I want complete joy. The kind of complete joy Jesus told us we can have (John 15:11). I remember an old Vacation Bible School song –
I’ve got the Joy Joy Joy Joy
down in my heart (where)
down in my heart (where)
I’ve go the Joy Joy Joy Joy
down in my heart
down in my heart to stay!
That’s what I’m looking for and it is hard to find in the fog.

John 15:1-11 has 3 precursors to complete joy; three things Jesus told us that we lead to complete joy.

Abide in Him
Abide in His Word
Abide in His love

What does it mean to “abide”? It means to stay, remain, tarry, lodge, and/or wait. It is a verb, an active verb, which means it requires action, activity, and energy. As a verb it is an oxymoron of sorts in that it is the activity of staying, remaining, tarrying, lodging, and/or waiting. It is in the imperative tense, which means it is a command. The command abide is followed by “in me” or in Jesus. We know Jesus is not a place. He is a person. He is God. So abiding means to find our being, our purpose, our contentment, our vitality, our validity, our worth . . . in Jesus. If abiding in Jesus is going to complete my joy then simply tweaking my life with more exercise, quiet time, or healthy diet isn’t going to cut it. Reorienting my finances, time management techniques, and getting eight hours of sleep isn’t going to fulfill my life.

The other thing I noticed is that joy, despite my ranting earlier, is not the goal. Jesus is the goal. Complete joy is the byproduct of abiding in Jesus. Complete joy is a benefit rather than the end result. Abiding in Jesus is deep relational intimacy and the result is complete Jesus joy.

Complete joy is a natural condition when we abide in Jesus. it happens organically. Joy is our emotional and relational orientation abiding in Jesus. Defogging practice #1 – abide in Jesus. If I stop there, I have already derailed myself. Most books I read start off good. I resonate with where the author is going. The problem is about 4 chapters in or even after I completed the book there is no real world practice. No I’m not in search of 12 step process to relational bliss or abiding, but I do want handles and footholds.

There are 2 such handles and footholds I want to talk about. The first is – abiding is something that is fiercely fought for in life. The numbing things of life are the enemies of abiding. Anything we use to numb ourselves whether it is TV, alcohol, shopping, hobbies, or food get in the way of abiding. The first step is the discipline of warring against our numbing agents. The best way to do that is to fast them, give them up for a time – cold turkey – and replace that time with Jesus. It is much easier to run to the things that numb us, but there is no joy or rest in them when you are in the fog. Like I said earlier if tweaking was all I needed then I wouldn’t be in the fog. The fog takes drastic measures to dissipate. Fight against the numbing agents you are addicted to that you may abide in Jesus.

The second step is that abiding is not the same as prayer, but prayer is defiantly a part of abiding. Prayer, journaling, and meditation on Scripture are a large part of abiding. But abiding is not simply spending more time in prayer or adding journaling to your prayer life. If you are giving Jesus an hour of prayer giving Him an additional hour is not abiding in him because there are 22 hours left in the day. Abiding is an all day experience, not a few hours to fuel the rest of the day. Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God, says this, “That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence”
In other words abiding is going to take discipline at first. Colossians 3:17+23 tell us to put Jesus at the center of everything by doing everything as unto the Lord. No don’t rush off to the Bible bookstore to get yourself a WWJD bracelet. Do constantly remind yourself that God is present and at work in the every moment of life even the mundane and mediocre. Do have an all day conversation with Jesus looking for what He is doing and asking how you can participate. Give thanks in all circumstances.

The first steps of abiding require discipline, fierce and resolute discipline. If you are like me, you are going to fail. When you do and you realize you have habitually chosen the numbing agent go to your journal and write what happen. Ask God to forgive you and forgive yourself. Remember there is no joy in those things when you are in the fog and you are in fight. It takes the Son to dissipate the fog. Let me leave you with some hope and give you the full Brother Lawrence quote:
“That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”

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The Fog

fog

The Fog

It’s not depression, but may be a pathway to situational depression. It’s not like lack of sleep that makes one tired all day, but tired is certainly a good adjective . It’s not a feeling of hopelessness, but at times it seems like there is no hope. It’s not true burnout that causes incapacitating anxiety or break downs, but it may well be just a little further up river. It’s not a feeling of being overwhelmed by busyness beyond ones control, but out of control is a real feeling. One does feel like all these things are a possibility or at least like one is on the road to one or all of those destinations in the fog. Like real fog, the fog is a condition caused by the right atmospheric conditions. It obstructs views. It makes life go slower. The fog restricts but doesn’t incapacitate.

First, there are medical reasons that cause depression and anxiety and there is no shame or guilt in having to seek professional medical help. Second, I am not trying to suggest in anyway that depression or anxiety are a result of the fog or could have been avoided with what I will later describe as defogging practices. Depression and anxiety are medical conditions. The fog on the other hand is situational, self-induced, and possibly seasonal.
I’m in the fog and I am able to do my daily tasks that include work and home routines and responsibilities without difficulty. I’m in the fog and I can pull it together to do whatever I need or want to do. I’m in the fog and I experience happiness and a since of accomplishment. I’m in the fog and I’m experiencing a lack of joy.

Perhaps it is due to my age a form of midlife crisis. I am content with who I am and what I’m doing. Perhaps it is due to my station in life as pastor who is the first generation that has had cell phones, email, and social media and I don’t know how to unplug. I know my calling and I am “all in” on being one who is set aside by God for a special purpose, full-time ministry. What I’m lacking is joy.

Life is routine, reactive, boring, and when I get a chance I shut down. The kind of shutting down that nothing constructive is going on; I’m not resting, I’m not recharging, and I’m not readying myself for what’s next. Before you start in on what will dissipate the fog, let me say – I exercise, eat pretty good, get enough sleep, have close friends, and have a happy marriage. I pray and read the Bible on a regular basis. I’m not guilt ridden because of something in my past or even my present. I’m in the fog and there is a lack of joy.

Can you resonate? Are you in the fog? Then hang with me over the next few weeks and let’s work through this together. First read John 15:1-17 and do some research on what it means to abide in Jesus. I’m by seeking joy, deep and wide joy, Jesus joy. I’ll try to write about my experience and findings on Wednesday.

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Jesus Love Me, Even Me

With all that is going on in the world, our country, our state, and our community, I have been “marinating” on what it all means. Is this what Sodom looked like right before the firestorm?   Is this just one of those seasons we must all go through or is it a precursor and sign to Jesus’ return? I was reading an article on trends and saw the prediction that by 2050 there will be more Christians in Africa than anywhere else.   Are we going to make it to 2050?   At the same time God has been pouring His own marinade into my current season of prayer and study – God’s holiness.

I’ve been looking over the call of Moses in Exodus 3 and Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6.   In both callings there is the element of fear when face to face with the Holiness of God.   Moses is required to take off his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. Isaiah is in the holy temple surrounded by the glory of the Lord and cries out, “Woe is me I am undone!” or “Holy glory batman! I’m in serious trouble.” Thomas when he sees the resurrected Lord Jesus cries out in the same spirit, “my Lord and my God!”   Paul has a similar experience on the road to Damascus as he was struck with blindness he cried, “Who are you? Lord?”   When faced with holiness the Bible exposes an immediate response of fear and death. Was does all this have to do with the here and now? How is this relevant?   What does this have to do with prices of tea in China (I’ve never understood that saying)?

First of all God has not changed though our world changes constantly. God is still “I AM.”   God is holy, righteous, and glorious beyond our imaginations.   God is grace filled and God is love.   God is judge and jury.    The seraphim are still singing Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty!

Second our world is not any more or less evil than is has been in the past or will be in the future. Our world may have more people who can do more evil, but since the Fall (Adam and Eve) the world has been in rebellion to God.   Think about it, the first major story after the Fall is Cain murdering his brother Able out of envy – MURDER.   Within a few chapters God sends a flood to destroy the world and saved Noah and his family. The first story after the flood is Noah getting drunk and naked.   The world has not gotten worse, it’s always been evil.

Third when we who are evil, and all of us are, stand in the presence of God who is holy, we will soil our britches in fear.   In the presence of true holiness I dare you to play the good works card or I’m better than that guy or my sins aren’t that bad.   As I think about this scene in my head, I’m thinking I would love to be a fly on the wall when Madelyn Murry O’Hare, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Steven Hawking stand before God, but then I remember in the presence of God I am no better off.   My acknowledgement of God puts me in no better position than a person who denies God. Just because I acknowledge God does not mean I’m a better person.   Holiness has a way of equalizing everyone and everything.

So what’s the relevancy? We all need Jesus!   We need every drop of His blood that was shed and every ounce of pain He suffered.   We need every lash of the whip He took. We need every swing of the hammer onto the nails.   We need every insult thrown at the cross.   We need Him who knew no sin to become sin for us.   We need all His righteousness imputed to us.   We need Jesus the crucified and risen Savior and Lord.   We all need Jesus!   The Holiness of God is not going to bow to anyone.   The holiness of God is not going to accept, tolerate, turn a blind eye, overlook, justify, or stomach even one of our little white sins.

There is no one who is holy like God.   Which brings me to my conclusion – God loves us, not only that God loves the world and all who are in it.   I know it’s simple, but in the view of holiness it is extraordinary.   It’s almost cliché to say God loves us, but in light of holiness it is awesomely wonderful (take that MS Word grammar check!).   To say “God loves us” in light of God’s holiness is proclaim the grandest of all mysteries, the most scandalous of scandals, the most glorious of all truth, and the most beautiful thing in the world.   God who is holy loves us who are not. God who is holy loves us who are evil, rebellious, proud, self-righteous, hypocritical, selfish . . . God loves us.   There is a song that I have found so pure in the midst of this season, “Even Me” by I Am They. The words are Yes Jesus loves me, even me, even me. That is a true understanding of holiness that God no only loves, but He loves even someone like me.

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The Sky Isn’t Falling: It Already Fell

(I used the rainbow, because it belongs to God and reminds us of how faithful God is.)

rainbow crossOver 20+ years ago the chief editor from Christianity Today, Thomas Oden, spoke to my seminary prophetically about post-modernity.   We joked around with that word wondering what it meant. 5 years later I heard it again in relationship to the post Christian nation of the United States of America.   This time I knew what the word meant and the context of this prophetic voice.   I think we all knew the Supreme Court was going to re-define marriage, the more important fact is Christendom (Christian-Judeo worldview, morals, and faith) is fallen and no longer mainstream in the United States and maybe even the world.   Christians and Christian influence are now on the fridge even to the point of outcast.   The 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling should have woken us up that we are no longer living in a culture that is going to hold to Christian values and morals. June 25th, 2015 the Supreme Court re-defined marriage to simply two persons. If you are not awake yet on the fact that we live in a post Christian world then I’m not sure what will wake you up from your slumber.

For those of you awake and willing to read on forget about the terminology and listen to the substance.   The nation we live in has turned away from our values as Christians even to the point of being hostile toward us; calling us intolerant and bigots.   The Bible no longer is authoritative as it once was in our nation. Historically this moment in time is a watershed event.   Already the anti-church proponents are lining up in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling to take away the charity tax status of churches (503c tax deductible).   This would make our property and contributions as a church taxable and personal contributions non-tax deductible.   Think about that for a moment in terms of church budgets.   I’m not trying to be an alarmist or even prophetic. I would like to make 4 points.

  1. The Supreme Court ruling is not the end of the world for us who follow Jesus. The early church flourished and prospered in the hostile Greco-Roman world and under the persecution of the Jews.   Being on the fringe as outcasts is where historically the Gospel has boomed.   The church in China is a contemporary example as it prospers underground with suffering and persecution as a reality.   Our reality is full of promise and hope as well as suffering and persecution for following the One who conquered sin and death. The sky is not falling; it has already fallen and we have been living as if our nation was still Christian. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5 that he was not concerned about the morals and activities outside of the church, it was expected that the culture and government would be in rebellion against God. The Gospel has never been a political movement and it surely has never been snuffed out by any governmental actions.
  2. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We will all face the Lord God Almighty, the One whom angels encircle and constantly sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”   Without a shadow of a doubt we will all know there is no hope for us in His presence except for the love and grace found in Jesus who died for our sins and conquers death.   This is not a time for us shine in pharisaical hypocrisy, but rather an opportunity in humility to extend our hands in love and hospitality.   Let your words and actions be grace-filled rather than stern. Speak Truth in love with authentic concern for those who are lost and a part from Jesus. Guard what you post on social media, say in the public square, and how you influence your children.   The Gospel is about love, grace, and the truth.
  3. Forget about comfort if you are living your faith.   Comfort and prosperity have never been the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   The church has been comfortable too long and now we are soft.   Know your Bible a whole lot better than we know it today.   Risk more (ALL) for the One who gave us His all on the cross.   Our mission is not to change politics, but rather to introduce people to Jesus who can change heart, spirit, and soul eternally. Our calling is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ not to the Constitution of the USA. Having said that the Gospel will make an impact on our communities, our nation and God’s world!   It’s time to be brave for Scripture tells us we are more than conquers through Him who loves us!
  4. The Gospel is life giving and changes our eternal outcome.   The Gospel is not primarily about morals and life choices.   Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection changed far more than our political party, our morality, and our choices in music and movies. The Gospel is about God who loves beyond our rebellion and sinfulness. The Gospel is about God who redeems, reconciles, and reclaims us as His children through the grace of Jesus His Son.   The Gospel changes our loyalties from the world to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.   The gospel positions us to love and forgive amidst a hostile world.   Therefore love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

I am truly grieved by the ruling of the Supreme Court on marriage. It knots up my stomach and raises my blood pressure. As an American I want to cry out FOUL!, because marriage is not even a federal matter, but as a Christian I cry out, “have mercy on us Lord Jesus and come quickly!”   Brothers and sisters in Christ the sky is not falling.   The sky fell long ago, but God who is rich in love and mercy sent His Son to redeem, reconcile, and reclaim us by grace!

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Craving for Real Community

I’m thinking of John chapter 8, the women caught in adultery and thrown at the feet of Jesus for a decision of execution.   I’m also thinking of a friend I haven’t seen in a while. His name is Gerald and he has cerebral palsy.   I’ve known him now for 20 years although I’ve only seen him once or twice in the past 5 years.   I met him at a camp for children with disabilities when he was 10 years old.   For the past 20 years I have taken youth to this camp on a mission trip.

Gerald is a cute and loveable guy.   He is smart. He is a ladies man in his own naïve way. He laughs and teases in joyous ways.   He is contagious in his love.   Gerald once taught me more about Jesus in a few words as we gazed upon a cross in the room than a whole seminary class.   Gerald also drools. If you are around him for any time, you will discover that his drool gets on everything including you.

One of my rules for my youth kids going on this mission trip is that the response of “oooooooo Yuck Gross Nasty!” in any dialect, form, expression, or language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Drool and sometimes worse is expected on this mission trip and needs to be dealt with with soap and water or hand sanitizer not words or any kind of emotional response.

So I’m thinking about John 8, my friend Gerald and his drool, and now James 5:16 (which says, “confession your sins one to another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”). I have seen people cringe and say, “gross, yuck, nasty” when hearing about the sins of another. In John 8 Jesus didn’t shutter at the women’s capital offense of adultery as she lay there naked in front of him.   We will never find true Christian community in the confession of sin as James 5:16 commands with the judging, “gross, yuck, and nasty” of those we are trusting with our deepest secrets.   We will never have a friendship with those who are different that us.

I crave for a community where my sins are not met with judgment, but compassion, a community that will not tolerate or justify my sins, but walk with me to overcome them, and a community that loves me enough that I can trust them with my heart no matter how dark the furthest corners are.   I want to be in a community that takes serious the holiness of God, the atoning and reconciling blood of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Spirit.   I want to be fully loved, drool and all.   Don’t you want that kind of community?

Hey church! we are created to be that community!

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The transformation of the missional heart

Transformation Into a Missional Heart

In Luke 14:16-24 Jesus is telling a parable about the Messianic Feast. He begins with an invitation by a hospitable host who wants to throw a great banquet. The RSVP’s are sent out and returned, “yes we will be there.” At the right time the servant is sent out to tell the guests that the band is fired up, the food is ready, the celebration is about to commence. One by one the guest give insulting and lame excuses why they cannot come. Hearing the servant’s report and the insulting excuses the host turns his anger into grace and invites the outcasts, the marginalized, and in-firmed.

The servant sees his master’s grace and experiences the joy of those who accept the gracious invitation. The servant sees his master’s heart and the servant’s heart is transformed. He returns to the master transformed and fully engaged in the master’s vision, “Master what you have commanded is done and there’s still room!” The servant is then sent out into the country side and to the crossroads and back roads to make sure the banquet is full. When the servant says, “and there’s still more room,” he exposes his transformed heart. He gets it and wants to be a part of the master’s gracious invitation.

How much more of an experience of grace than the death and resurrection of Jesus do we need to have our hearts transformed. God has changed his anger into grace. The invitation to God’s banquet is for all people. We the church are the servant sent into all the world to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Christ Jesus has commanded. The missional heart is born out experiencing God’s grace in Jesus and a yearning to be a part of God’s mission in the world.

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3 Crucial Things We Must Protect as Leaders

3 Crucial Things We Must Protect as Leaders | Catalyst.

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Worship = Desert

I hope to expound upon these questions at a later time. If you worship as an obligation, is it worship? If a sacrifice is given with a non-sacrificial attitude, is it a sacrifice?

I believe we do certain things based on faith and obedience; Tithing for instance. I also believe worship is a faith and obedience choice with an attitude of thanksgiving and praise. However obedience is not an obligation, but rather a faith response to the love of God and a craving to live in and experience God’s love. Therefore offering ourselves as living sacrifices (our spiritual act of worship) is out of love not obligation, duty, responsibility, or requirement. It’s like desert, everybody wants desert, but nobody ever has to eat desert.

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Good Question!

Why does our gospel get us ready to die while the gospel of Jesus gets us ready to live?
Perhaps we should listen closely to the words of Jesus, and move from being consumed with where we will go when we die to being consumed with how we live here and now. How would that change, not only us, but also our world?
Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/4-things-jesus-never-said#suL7P3q7aEsKJAdx.99

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Why Does God Love Us

“Why does God love us?”  This simple question was a part of reading discussion from Kyle Idleman’s book, Gods at War.  In all our rebellion, sinfulness, and apathy why does God love us?   We killed his prophets, crucified His Son, and deny his existence.   We choose promiscuity over holiness, selfishness over serving, and idol worship over worship in Spirit and Truth.   We are disobedient.  Basically we will choose anything and anyone but God, so why does He love us? 

 

Despite all our rebellion and rejection, God pursues us relentlessly and at all costs.  The question, why does God love us?, for some reason focuses us on our character as if there is something in ourselves worthy of God’s love.   The real focus of that question is answered in the character of God – I John 4:16b God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  Love is the character of God.  Love is who God is at the core so much so that God is love.   God’s pursuit of us is not based on how loveable we are – Thank goodness.   God’s pursuit of us is based on how loving God is. 

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