Sunday, March 25, 2007

Not Our Mission

My friend Steve is probably one of the kindest men I know. He follows Jesus everywhere.

Recently, he was reading the newspaper (warning: don't read the paper with Jesus - it can be very dangerous). He read about a woman whose roof had a huge hole in it. She had children living inside and no way to repair it.

He called her and found out the depth of the need. No one else had called.

The next day in Steve's class at church he invited anyone willing to add to the money he was going to contribute. He had $500 in his pocket after class. By the time he left church, he had $700. With Steve's action there ended up being more than a dozen local businesses and several different Christian denominations pitched in. There were dozens of people who worked and payed and donated their lives to fixing that roof in one day. A journalist from the newspaper showed up, everyone was thanked by name in the woman's thank you note. Another world was shown to be possible through willing hearts. Indeed, another world is possible.

One would think that the church would celebrate people's involvement in helping the poor. Steve was one of many Christians serving. Instead, his preacher took a different angle. He said that it was a "nice thing to do" but that this kind of effort "was not the mission of the church." Really? Are there still people (ministers) with small brains and hearts out there? The minister went on to associate this type of compassion with the "social gospel" movement or Marxism. It makes my head spin to try to grasp the logic of compassion in the name of Jesus being Communism.

Take a look at who Jesus spent his time with. Jesus spent his time with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus allowed adulterous women to touch him intimately in public places (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus was considered a drunkard and a glutton by the holy people because of who he chose to spend his time with (Matthew 11:19). Like Jesus we cannot be afraid to get dirty in the world.

Take a look at who Jesus blessed. Jesus called the poor blessed (Luke 6:20).

In the New Testament we are told what "pure religion" looks like. Interesting it is not preaching sermons or keeping doctrine pure or being on the right side of an issue). James said that pure religion is taking care of widows and orphans (James 1:27). Action not words.

The action of this preacher is only a sad footnote to an amazing story. The good news was expressed in action by my friend Steve. The difference was made by people willing to act and not talk about their faith.

I pray for forgiveness for the times I have discouraged people serving in the name of Jesus. To my friend, Steve, consider it pure joy when you are persecuted for serving in the name of Jesus. He never said it would be easy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Box of Trophies

This weekend we raised the garage and let people haul off our possessions. Rather than feeling stolen from, we felt like we were making out like bandits. It is a wonder of America that people will pay you money, to take your old unwanted items, and haul them away for you. Garage sales just feel good (if you get past the days of preparation, sign posting, ad listing, and day spent on your feet).

We have been setting aside stuff for a sale more than one year. One of the boxes I needed to look through was marked "Brady's Trophies" and sealed up more than a decade ago. Hum. . . what did I consider a trophy that I had not looked at or displayed or even thought about in years?

Inside the box was a soccer trophy "Cosmos," a science fair trophy "Altus Science Fair," a trophy from a birthday party marked "Ryan's Olympics," a Quartz Mountain Christian Camp "Boy Christian Leader" plaque, and much more. What can be done with an old box of trophies? The trophy shop did not want them. They suggested giving them to a school or church. Do I save them for my kids? (to throw away someday . . . or just save them the trouble).

Every single thing I own right now will one day be of little to no interest to me. Things I love. Things I worked hard to earn. Things I protect and dust and wax and care for today . . . someday I won't know where they are or even miss them. Think about your first computer, first PDA, VCR, television, shoes, appliance, tool or whatever. It could be that right now you really want something desperately.

"All of these things I consider trash," says my friend Paul, "compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus." Paul was not referring to things he could sell in a garage sale. He was referring, strangely enough, to a list of religious achievements. Things like being born into a religious household, having the best education, mastery of the law, and perfect practice of following God. These were the things Paul left at the curb for disposal. These are normally things people put on display, but Paul displayed them in a trash bag.

Know Jesus Christ. This is an eternal quest that makes every other pursuit different.

One day almost every single trophy and treasure you have right now will be of little importance to you. The things you are sweating to buy. Those people you long to impress. The wallpaper you desire. The software that will make your work easier. Value changes as time goes by. When viewed from the end, most things are of little value.

What if we made our eternal quest the knowledge of Jesus? Then, we would have a treasure that would never end.

Know Jesus as Lord.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

At Home With God

The Sabbatical is over, but the experience of God remains. We were so blessed to spend time away from administration, routine, email, phone, and the obligations of details to deepen our walk with God in solitude, silence, and prayer.

Thankfully there was no time spent detoxing in rehab, resuscitating a marriage, reflecting on a counselor's couch, or under the anesthesia of surgery. However, this was time when a far worse disease threatened me. It is the cancer that's as common as oxygen in our society - busyness. What makes it a far more severe cancer is that my "busyness" took place in the midst of "church busyness." One may be busy as a contractor and feel the need to reconnect to God. So you seek God, pray more, go to church, talk with a minister. One may be "busy" as a pastor and believe they are already connected to God and that relationship with God is fine. At that point, one has become unaware of how the cancer eats away at the soul.

When I realized that I had allowed "to do" lists to replace life with God, I began to make changes. Prayer with God became the focal point of my living and the beginning of my day. I reordered my priorities. I changed my schedule. I even began experimenting with prayer that never ends. God looked kindly upon my changes. I began to feel more at peace and more confident of God's control than I had in some time.

Within a few weeks and months, I was back to my old self. But I knew that I still needed extended time alone with God. The leaders of Singing Oaks gave me precisely what I asked - four weeks away to pray, read, and write. The first week of this time was spent in Comfort, Texas with the Pastor Retreat Network. Donna and I were alone without our kids for six days. We enjoyed the presence of God together and alone. We read a book out loud to each other. We talked. We prayed. We read scripture. We sat and listened to the stillness of nature that is the still small voice of God. It was an amazing experience.

In the second week, we drove to our children who were staying with their grandparents in the Texas hill country near Gonzales. We spent the week outside in the country. I would get up in the mornings while the sky was black and bright only with stars. I would watch as these far away lights slowly were dissolved into the overpowering light of the sun. I would spend hours each morning praying, reading scripture (Psalms & Epistles) and reading good books (Cost of Discipleship, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, Game with Minutes, the Way of the Pilgrim and more). Eventually, I would return back to the house. The third week I spent away from my family. I was alone on a retreat at a retreat center where a spiritual director helped give me guidance for prayer. Then, I went to Oklahoma and spent five days there writing and researching. My dad met me at a cabin in Oklahoma and we were able to talk and read and be together. In the final week, we played nurse to Nathan, who had his tonsils and adenoids removed and ear tubes put in. The whole experience was tremendous, uplifting and most of all put my focus upon God.

Ok, not everyone can get away for so long of a time. Not everyone needs that much prayer and solitude, you say. Well, I did what I thought I needed to do to rediscover God in some very important ways. I have been reminded that God is far too good and far too mysterious to be messing around with us. But Praise to God, God is interested in us. I hope you will take your times away from work. Enter your busyness of your life as His smiling servant. And let each moment be a time of worship of him.