Category Archives: Relationship

Come Run With Us (Part 1)

God often speaks through prophetic words at the most unexpected times through the least likely people, or at least he does when he speaks to me. I happen to believe God still speaks and He uses people just like us to deliver life-changing or life-affirming words from His heart through their lips to our ears. The ability to hear what God is saying and share it word-for-word is the essence of the New Testament gift of prophecy, which according to the apostle Paul, we are to “…desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you might prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). This is something God gives all of us permission to pursue.

This past Thursday I received such a word while meeting with a prayer group at the “There Is More” Conference. I was not expecting it. If fact, I was overwhelmed by it. My prayer-partner for the morning, an unassuming gentleman, opened his mouth and out tumbled a genuine word of affirmation and direction from God. He didn’t know me from Adam. All he knew was my name, state, and country of residence—only because that information was printed on my conference badge. God’s prophetic declaration, filled with power and authority, began to reverberate deep within my spirit. I saw William’s lips moving but I heard God’s voice. I have chosen to share the totality of this word with you, even though some of it is very personal to me.

 “I see a hard shell like a turtle shell on your back. It is not a bad thing—it is a good thing. This shell protects you. You are a free-thinker—a rebel, but you are not rebellious. You are focused and know where you are going, but you have been wounded by groups in the past. You have a group that is following you now, but there are many others who will come. You know where God is leading—the pathway is clear to you. Write it down, so others can read it and follow.”

Yes, God has given me a clear and distinct vision for Eagle’s Wing Church. From the beginning, we have tenaciously pursued this blueprint, confident God had called us to plant a different kind of church.  Different meaning what most believers would call unconventional, one that refuses to conform to the codes and conventions of what has become modern “church as usual.” I believe with all my heart God has called us to be a “church unusual”—one that operates with kingdom codes and conventions thus creating a kingdom culture where King Jesus dwells in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.   

It has not been easy. In fact, every inch of ground we have gained has been taken at great expense. This territory God is calling us to claim, re-conquer and occupy is not cheap or worthless. No, it’s our heritage as sons and daughters of God. This priceless birthright has been lost, stolen, and/or given away down through church history, but God is now calling out a people to fully take back what the Lamb of God purchased with his blood on the cross. We are part of that people.

If not us—who? If not now—when?

Yes, I am a rebel, if a rebel is one who refuses to settle for less than everything God has promised. Yes, I am a rebel, if a rebel is one who believes the promises of Jesus like the one found in John 14:12—that “…he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.”

Therefore, I choose to obey the word God gave me last Thursday on August 15, 2019. I choose to write this vision down over the next few week and post it publically so anyone who wants, can read it and follow it. I am doing this in full faith believing God will bring those of like spirit and heart to join us. I am doing it because those of you who are currently a part of Eagle’s Wing need to know where we are going, so that you might count the cost and decide if the destination is worth pursuing. And, I am doing it to obey God’s word, because full obedience always brings God’s blessing and the fulfillment of that word.  God says, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal, and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

Come run with us!

Religion or Relationship?

Jesus came to make the heart of God visible, knowable, and experiential to all humanity. If you want to know what God thinks or how he feels, just explore Jesus. He is the heart of God turned inside-out.  Jesus explains or exegetes the Father according to John 1:18. Absent from the Gospel narratives, which clearly portray Jesus, is any attempt to start a new religion. That’s not why Jesus came. His was not a new spiritual movement, but rather a fleshed-out example of what genuine relationship with God looked like.

Religion has a way of sucking the life out of relationship. The Old Testament is rife with relationship gone bad resulting in religion. Relationship is the practical outworking of being connected to heart-to-heart with Jesus. Relationship requires a 100% buy in with spirit, soul, and body. It requires all. On the other hand, religion is a cheap imitation filled with rituals, rules, and rote behaviors. All it requires is going through the motions. It is a “form of godliness, but denies the power of God.”

Religion is relationship without any heart. It is a check-list of do’s and don’ts, a psuedo belief that a human being can somehow be good enough, gain enough merit, or somehow deserve God’s love. The very thing most people are trying to earn, God has freely given to us in Jesus Christ. The cost of religion never satisfies the hunger of the human heart. It promises what it cannot provide and promotes what it does not possess.

Relationship reveals God’s heart little-by-little, moment-by-moment. It is far more than a glorious destination; it is an eternal journey into the heart of God’s infinite love. We tend to fall into religion, almost by default, but relationship is a passionate pusuit that results from a continual choice.

Religion or relationship? It depends on what you really want.

On Being Truly American

I am a Southern boy, born and bred in the land of sweet tea, grits, and high humidity. My drawl may be slow and drawn out, but I too speak the King’s English just like they do in Boston, but without the extra “r” in words that have no “r’s,” or in sunny California, but choosing “y’all” over “you guys” every time. My “i’s” are long, and sometimes, depending on what part of the country I’m visiting, I have to spell the word “ice” instead of asking for it so the waitress knows I’m talking about frozen water instead of a posterior body part. I refer to all soft drinks as Coke’s instead of pop, but I prefer a Diet Dew.

I am proud of where I come from. I have never once in my life been ashamed of my birthplace. As my wife’s grandfather used to say, “It’s the best place in the world.” I know there are folks who think I should be, but I’m not! On the other hand, from time to time, I have found myself ashamed of some of the things my neighbors have said or done down through history. But, let’s be honest, stupid people are spread thick like peanut butter across every nook and cranny of this whole wide world. Every generation, nation, culture, or people group has its own share of stupid people. As Forrest Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does.” But stupid is an individual trait that is sometimes catching, like a bad case of diarrhea. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “stupid,” (or for that matter diarrhea).  My granddaughter tells me it’s a bad word according to her mother, who stares at me every time I say it with an icy glare that could freeze antifreeze, but it does communicate my point.

My ancestors were immigrants just like yours were if you live in this country. They came from somewhere else—looking for an opportunity to make a living, build a family, follow a dream and worship God freely. My people were soldiers, sharecroppers, peddlers, and coal miners who worked long days for little or no money. They were honorable men and women, doing what it took to survive and thrive in a land filled with opportunity. They were not perfect. They did not do everything right. But—they were just people—so where yours.

I am an American. I still get a lump in my throat when I see the flag or hear the swell of the notes as the national anthem is played. I don’t determine my value based on my ethnicity, color, or country of ancestral origin. And neither do I determine the value of anyone else that way. I don’t refer to myself as Scottish-American, African-American, Arab-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, or any other of the million and one places you can leave and make your destination America. The “where” my ancestors came from does not determine who I am or who I will be. Take away my skin and my blood is red just like yours. Cut me and I bleed just like you do. Call me a name or shoot me the finger and I want to punch you just like you would if you were on the receiving end.

Regardless of where you come from, what you call yourself, or what you believe, we are all connected—by origin and by destiny. All of us are the descendants of one single couple. God didn’t create a community on a cul-de-sac with all the colors of the rainbow. He simply created one couple and conveniently left out the explanation of their color, ethnicity, and national origin. In other words, your guess is as good as mine. It is after all, a guess. So why waste any more time postulating and prognosticating about it. We are, after all kin—brothers of different mothers and sisters of different misters.

You may not like our president or the congress, but I’ve lived long enough to realize that is the case with most presidents and most congresses. You may not like my politics and I may not like yours. But we—not you alone or me alone—are Americans. Our destiny—not yours alone or mine alone—is bound up in to our unity of purpose and our mutual respect for one another. I may not agree with you and you may not agree with me, but we desperately need each other—if for no other reason than to maintain the unique diversity of this great country. This nation was founded by a coalition of folks who came from different places and different beliefs with little in common and countless things they disagreed on except they were tired of being told what to do by an absentee king whose only interest was their tax money. In fact, the only thing they had in common was an insatiable desire to be free.

Freedom necessitates diversity. It requires all the cultures of the North, the West, the East, and yes, a whiff of the South thrown in for spice and good measure. It demands a multiplicity of races, beliefs, and politics who disagree, but find a compromise that works for all of the people most of the time rather than a few of the people all of the time. Freedom that works for only a handful is not really freedom at all. It is slavery dressed up in a cheap Halloween costume.

I celebrate my Southern culture and upbringing. I revel in the beauty and the majesty of the state in which I was born. I take joy and pride from where my people originally hail from. I feel comfortable speaking the King’s English in my own regional dialect. And I could live off grits, gravy, fried chicken, collards, and buttermilk biscuits. But I can’t be an American without you. You see, I don’t make America—America. And neither do you! It is only together—in you and me with all our differences on display—that America exists and freedom can reign.

Finding Intimacy with God

photoThe difference between finding intimacy with God and talking about intimacy with God is as different as day and night. Human beings are notorious for talking about things but never experiencing them. All of us were hard-wired by God to experience intimacy with him, but few people ever do. We talk, write, teach, and preach about our relationship with God, but without a genuine intimate experience the best we can hope for is a casual acquaintance. Intimacy is the game-changer. It’s what transforms an acquaintance into an authentic relationship.

Jesus didn’t die to restore a casual acquaintance; he died to restore authentic relationship with God. He hung on the cross and suffered unbearable pain so that we could have true intimacy—a heart-to-heart connection with God, one that could be experienced.

This intimacy I’m talking about is one you must find for yourself and on your own. It’s one you must pursue with the passion God implanted in your heart. Your hunger must drive you. My hunger and passion for God is not enough for you because when things get tough (and they will) you may discover you have little or no hunger or passion of your own and give up. I can paint some pictures, describe some experiences, and point out various pitfalls, but you can’t find intimacy with God based on my own personal encounters. Those you must pursue on you own.

All I can tell you with certainty is that if you pursue God with all your heart you will most certainly find him. That’s a promise straight out of Jeremiah 29:13 and God cannot lie. I can point, but the pathway you’re on and the speed at which you are traveling are likely not the same as mine. Besides that, I can only lead you to the places I’ve visited.

Pursuing intimacy is first a choice you must make and second, a step of faith you must take. Included in the backpack you will need for that journey is a copy of God’s Word that you can understand, a journal and pen for writing down what God shows you (as well as the pitfalls you encounter), a desperate desire to carry on a conversation with God (some call this prayer), an appointed time and location for meeting God, and likely some worship music of your particular persuasion. You may choose to pack more and that’s up to you. Take what you can carry comfortably.

A word of caution and encouragement—find a time and a place where you can quiet your self and not be interrupted. Intimacy is something you have with one person—not a crowd. Don’t become mechanical and check your religious list at the door. Be spontaneous (that may take a while), experiment (keep what works and discard what doesn’t), and be adventurous in your pursuit. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid—whatever happens in the secret place stays in the secret place. God certainly won’t tell and no one will know unless you do.

There are countless ways to find intimacy with God. You can do it quietly, with shouts of praise and proclamation, with hands uplifted or on your face in the floor. You can sit, kneel, stand, jump, spin, or dance. You can sing, shout, or run about. God won’t be offended by how you pursue him as long as you do it with all your heart in a genuine manner. Find out what works for you—but don’t be afraid to take a step past the artificially installed boundaries of your denomination or your teachers, preachers, and mentors. Push the boundaries—veryoften God eagerly awaits only a step passed where your comfort level ends and his grace begins.

So pick up your backpack and begin to pursue. If you pursue God’s presence with all your heart you will find him.

Now it’s your turn to share something from your journey for others who will follow?

1) What is an artificial boundary that your hunger for God has demolished?

2)What kind of location harbors your secret place? A closet—a porch—a quiet place in your yard—a walk in the woods?

3) How has time in God’s presence changed the ways in which you worship?

Crisis: Religion or Relationship

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The Crisis Issue (Part 2)

When it comes to religion or relationship, what is the crisis issue? The crisis is a connection issue—how will you or I connect with Jesus Christ. The options are religion (an artificial connection system) or relationship (a heart-to-heart connection). The difference between these two options would seem obvious, but it is sometimes indistinguishable except in the tiniest of details. Details really do matter!

Let me illustrate. Perhaps you are familiar with the television series American Pickers. It chronicles the exploits and adventures of two antique and collectible buyers (or pickers) named Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz. They travel America searching for treasures by calling on people who collect, hoard, or have inherited overwhelming collections of apparent junk.

Several month ago, I was watching as Mike and Frank where climbing through one of the outbuildings of an elderly couple. Suddenly they stopped dead in their tracks as they uncovered an extremely rare 1935 Auburn Phaeton convertible partially visible from under a stack of junk. The old man had gotten the automobile from his uncle decades earlier and had parked it in his shed to protect it. Over time, it became covered with other collectible trash and treasure. The car still had its original paint and leather interior. It was the mythical barn find—a treasure of great value that had been sitting hidden for almost seventy years.

Mike and Frank were foaming at the mouth and immediately asked the old man to name his price. He obviously knew what he had and replied that the car was worth at least $80,000. In fact, he and his wife were counting on the car’s value to help support them in their old age.

So Mike and Frank called a friend who was an expert in vintage cars to get a second option. The expert asked them to check the size of the engine because the size of the engine would determine the price of the car. It seems that only a few Phaetons (the ones worth $80-$110,000) had a bigger engine. Sadly, the old man’s car had the smaller engine and was worth only $20-$30,000. The value difference was the detail—a detail the old man had apparently missed. All the 1937 Phaetons looked alike on the outside, but the difference was in the detail of engine size.

Like the Phaetons, religion and relationship often appear indistinguishable but the difference is in the details. The treasure of relationship is often buried beneath the trash of religion.

Here are a few details that will help us distinguish between religion and relationship:

  • Religion is the counterfeit connection of hell. Relationship is the heart cry of humanity for connection with God.
  • Religion was created by humanity to measure his/her pursuit of God. God pursued humanity so that he might connect with us through relationship.
  • Religion requires rules, rituals, false measurements, and perfection that results in frustration, rejection, and shame. Relationship requires simple surrender, but results in ultimate satisfaction that leads to self-less service and sacrifice.
  • Religion deadens relationship, but genuine relationship destroys religion.
  • Religion crucified Jesus Christ, but relationship held him on that cross until our sin debt was completely paid.

You see the details really do matter! The time has come for each of us to dig deeper into what we believe and why we believe it. The time has come to throw out the trash of religion and uncover the treasure of relationship. The time has come to pay attention to the details of how we connect with Jesus.

Crisis: Religion or Relationship (Part 1)

 

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Crisis (Part 1)

Fasting is tough. I am eighteen days into a 40 day fast from religion, as are many of the members of Eagle’s Wing Church where I pastor. We are driven by a desperate hunger and a passionate desire to experience a genuine relationship with God. Our desire is to know God rather than the facts or things that point us to God. We want to personally experience God and his love rather than live off the past experiences others.

Perhaps you’re wondering—why a fast from religion? Isn’t religion a good thing? Isn’t religion all about God?

Let me define religion. Religion is a system that must be practiced so that perfection can be reached. On the other hand, relationship is a heart-to-heart connection with a real person. You can’t have a relationship with a system. Relationship requires two people (not a person working a system). Jesus came to pay the price of sin so he might restore our ability to walk in communion with God—to have a personal relationship with him. Relationship is pursued,  while religion is practiced. And in this case practice will never make us perfect.

Our hearts yearn for relationship. We are born with a hunger to be loved and to give love in return. God created us that way. And he created a deep craving within all of us that can only be satisfied by a genuine relationship with him. God is relational. It is a part of his nature. Relationship starts in the heart of God.

Humanity created religion because we like systems where we can achieve things on our own. For some reason, we want to do it our way, rather than God’s way. Religion demands a pseudo perfection that is somehow achieved through rigorous practice and good works. The problem with that is we can’t rise to the measure of perfection God requires. Otherwise the death of Christ on the cross was a tragic waste.

The modern Christian church is in crisis. Most preach salvation by grace but then we turn around and try our hardest to achieve God’s favor, love, and blessings through works and activities. That’s religion, not relationship. Most believers attempt to connect with God through religion—through the system. But the only way we can make this heart-to-heart connection is through relationship.

For the next several weeks I want to share the subtle deception of religion and the satisfying depth of relationship through this blog. I encourage you to join us in a forty day fast from religion. If you will commit—God will bless you and set you free from religion’s crushing coils.

How do you start? Simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your spiritual life that is smacks or smells of religion. That may be a belief, a doctrine, a cherished idea or practice. It could be anything. As the Holy Spirit exposes those hidden things, confess them and move on. Invite the Holy Spirit to examine all your beliefs, doctrines, practices, and way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to invite him in to those things—he should be at home in all of them or that belief is not from God. That’s it!

You may be thinking there’s got to be more to it than this. What are the rules? If you need more rules than I’ve shared, you can start right there with that thought—it’s riddled with religion!

The Burn Pile

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I have a huge pile of brush ready to burn. In the Deep South we call it a brush heap, a brush pile, or a burn pile. Over the last few weeks, I have been working my way around a hay field trimming the bushes and the low hanging limbs that have been slowly encroaching on this property for several years. I’ve been cutting pine and sweet gum limbs, as well as privet bushes and piling them up to burn.

All of us should have a pile or brush heap we are working on—metaphorically speaking. Or at least we all need one because we all have junk in our lives—clutter that cries to be dumped, picked up or burned. Clutter smothers us and chokes out the life God has given us to be enjoyed. But God has given you and I the responsibility for trimming the excess, pulling the weeds, and cutting the bushes that encroach and smother our lives. We all need a burn pile, a place we can deposit all those things that have no place in our life.

Some of the materials in my burn pile are the pruning from my azaleas. These are ornamental bushes that produce beautiful flowers in the summer. But, if I don’t prune them each year they get out of hand and take over. Their beauty, if left untrimmed, can become a nuisance and an obstacle in my driveway. Likewise, there are many good things in our lives that, if given complete freedom with little or no maintenance, can get out of hand. They need a pruning every once in a while to bring them back under our control. Even a good thing, if allowed to run wild, can become a bad thing.

Much of my burn pile is composed of privet bushes. Privet bushes seem to spring up when land is not carefully maintained. The birds eat the berries, then roost in the tree limbs on the edge of the field and their droppings spread the privet bushes. These tiny seeds turn into tiny plants that are easily pulled up if you catch them early. But, if you ignore them, they produce a root system on which tiny bushes soon become large trees intertwined with one another. They grow quickly and once they get started they are hard to get rid of. These privet bushes are like the unhealthy clutter we often allow to take root in our lives. We have to be diligent in uprooting the junk because it can become a major job once it becomes a habit or an addiction.

I have promised myself that once I get this field trimmed that I will not wait another ten years to do it again. Instead, I plan to do yearly maintenance to keep the growth and the junk in check. Every person needs a check list they apply to their life on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Questions need to be asked and answered carefully. And all the junk and clutter needs to be uprooted or trimmed and the trash placed on the burn pile. Once it gets large enough—light it up and watch it burn.

One of the benefits to having a burn pile is you can always celebrate once you light it up. I plan on having a wiener roast and a couple of mouth-watering Smores on the hot coals of those pesky privet bushes once they’re gone.