Tag Archives: Possibilities

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.

Unity, Diversity, and the Mixing Bowl

God’s heart soars with satisfaction when unity arises out of diversity. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that God loves diversity because it reflects his infinite complexities and his amazing attributes. He did not create a uniform planet filled with identical flora, fauna, or folks. No, he loosed unimaginable diversity in myriads of ways at every level in every aspect of creation. God’s creativity is beyond imagination, off the charts, and anything but cookie cutter.

How do I know? Simply look around. Take yourself as an example. You are unlike anyone else on this planet—past, present, or future. You are unique because God is unique and he made you in his image and his likeness. He is not looking for you to think like someone else, act like someone else, or look like someone else. He made you so you would be you! God loves the differences that each of us bring to the table—the richness of our differing makeups, backgrounds, and talents.

Yet nothing excites him more than when unity rules our diversity. This is not a political thing, a religious thing, a racial thing, or even a “love” thing. This is a Holy Spirit thing! You see, only the Holy Spirit can create unity through diversity and he does it by taking our differences and blending them smoothly into one body (a.k.a. the church—that’s the community made up of people not the building in which they meet).

The Spirit’s method is similar to making a cake with a mixer. As a child, I helped my mom make cakes by operating the mixer for her. I confess my motive was a little less than noble and thoroughly selfish—I secretly coveted the opportunity to lick the cake batter off the blades once the batter was complete.

The mixer is designed to blend different ingredients into one mix. The individual and diverse flavors of the flour, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, milk, and the other ingredients are not lost when blended together. Instead, together they produce an enhanced flavor.

But for this to happen, you need one missing element—a bowl. Without the bowl, the ingredients are spun out and away from one another in every direction. The centrifugal forces of the mixer blades throw out, but the bowl captures the blended components and maintains the unity of the diversity of whatever batter you choose to make. The mixing bowl is the key to the success of the blending process.

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Likewise, God uses the mixer blades of life’s circumstances to force our differences through the mixer. He is intent on building a better batter—one that is diverse, yet unified. A body made up of differing parts that functions as a whole, instead of independently and individually. And he uses the Holy Spirit as the bowl to capture our individualism, our differences, our gifts, and our talents together until we become unified through the blending. In reality—the Holy Spirit is the unifier.

The devil wants the blender to magnify our differences and then separate us based on those differences, but the Holy Spirit desires to blend our differences—to unite our diversity into one compelling force.

Unity is not uniformity. And uniformity never celebrates our diversity.

Yet God does. He celebrates diversity’s sweet batter in unity’s mixing bowl.

Compassion: The Missing Link in the Church

Jesus-Cristo-e-os-judeus-1As an American society, we have allowed our fears to take control of how we think, act, and who we will elect to leadership in this country. We are so afraid we will lose our jobs and our socio-economic standard of living if we don’t  stop illegal immigration that we no longer see the desperate plight of men, women, and children willing to die for a chance to improve their living conditions in this country. We so are terrified by the terrorist that we are willing to turn our backs on those who are helpless and hopeless in their flight from war, persecution, and famine. We are attempting to insulate ourselves from these real situations by ignoring the faces of those people, demonizing them, and then despising them because they don’t act, think, or worship like we supposedly do. Add to this, the outrageous promises of the politicians and it only reveals what the majority seem to believe anyway.

So—what about the church? Does she think the same way? The church is the thermostat. As the church goes—so goes our nation. What about individual Christians? As individual Christians go—so goes the church. By the way, unless you are 100% Native American, you are an immigrant—no matter how long your family has been in this country. Somewhere in your family tree is an ancestor who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande.

Something is missing that once made this country different and once made the church a champion of the downtrodden. That missing link is compassion. We seem to have become a compassionless people who are willing to govern themselves with compassionless governments that make and enforce compassionless laws. Our hearts seem all of a sudden to have grown cold and callous.

What is compassion anyway? Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune and accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate suffering. Compassion is different from pity. Pity feels but does not act—compassion does both.

It seems that the church has reverted back to the old fears, prejudices, and intolerances of the lost world and now lives guided only by fear and self-survival. Or—has the world simply picked up its attitude and its actions from the church and started living them out. There seems to be little difference when it comes to the subject of compassion. Both groups seem indistinguishable from the other.

Jesus never acted out of fear. Survival never found a place on his daily “to-do” list. No, Jesus acted out of compassion. His entrance into the world was the act of a compassionate God. He came to seek and to save those who were helpless and hopeless. He was driven by compassion and his actions resulted in him dying for our sins. But his resurrection insured that we could live with the same compassionate intensity he displayed every day as he ministered. His compassion set the demonized free, gave new legs to the cripples, new eyes to the blind, healed the lepers and the diseased, and raised the dead. Read your Bible, it was compassion that focused his love and grace to meet human needs and suffering. His compassion produced an atmosphere pregnant with the possibilities for miracles. Genuine miracles by God are always fueled by compassion.

Where’s yours? Are you willing to see past the politics, the angry rhetoric, the spewing froth of fear, and the overwhelming needs—to see the people? Jesus saw the person! He looked in their eyes and did not turn his head.

Will you?

Or will you look away, close your eyes, or change the channel when the pictures of lifeless Syrian refugees wash up on the shores of Greece or the dead bodies of illegal Hispanic immigrants who lie scattered in the mesquite thickets of Texas and Arizona, clutching empty plastic water bottles in one hand and a plastic sack containing all their worldly possessions in the other. Jesus looked and he acted.

Will you?

Pity is not enough. Compassion demands the church respond. If she does not—this nation will not. But if she does—God will empower her with what she needs to do what he would do. But first we must once again regain what we have lost—our compassion, the missing link that makes us like Christ.

Storm Kits for Life

The word “storm” is an adequate metaphor for those moments of chaos we all encounter from time to time as we walk out life. Rough and tough times, unforeseen pitfalls, and uncontrollable situations are common to us all. Trouble is an equal opportunity employer that never discriminates regardless of race, creed, social standing, or sex. At this moment in your life, you have just exited a storm, are experiencing a storm, or should be expecting a storm. It is not if but when.

Natural storms follow weather patterns so we learn to expect them. And so does trouble and tribulation, but our belief system is oddly different. We somehow believe “it will never happen to me.” Therefore it always seems to catch us unaware and unprepared. And boom—the storm hits and life gets turned upside down and inside out. Huddled in piles of anxiety and fear, we put our head in our hands and cry, “Why me!”

Job put it this way: “Man who is born of woman, is short of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).Trouble is on its way. The only question is—will it stop at my house today? Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with the inevitability of that trouble tornado or thunderstorm of trials than cringing in dread and despair. Perhaps we should all put together a simple storm readiness survival kit.

First, we need to be weather aware. Good times don’t last forever. The stock market that goes up will come down. You will not be 100% healthy all of the time. And people will disappoint you, disagree with you, disappear on you, and even die on you. There is some kind of storm on your horizon. So—be alert!

When the trouble hits and the winds seem like they will rip you apart, dig your feet in and stand firm. Storms are temporary even if they come in multiple waves. They do not last forever. Hunker down—God loves you and he is bigger than any storm that rages around you. You don’t have to hang on to him, because he has you by your hand and he will not let go. Even though you feel like the wind is tearing you apart—relax. God will not forsake you.Tuscaloosa, Alabama Tornado 2011

Next, find the eye of the hurricane—by that I mean find a quiet place in the midst of the storm and have a genuine conversation with God. For heaven’s sake talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Be totally honest and voice the fear, the despair, the discouragement, or the feelings of destruction or doom you are experiencing. Ignoring those feelings will not lessen their destructive impact. Release them before they have an opportunity to raze your faith. Then use what little faith you have left to thank God for his protection and his provision. Being thankful in the midst of the storm is a sure sign you will be standing when the gale ceases and the sun breaks out once again.

0512-0705-3017-2448Finally, once the wind subsides and the sun pops out, assess the damage, clean up the debris, and get on with your life. Don’t allow trouble to deter you from your purpose or freeze frame you in a place of less than or self-pity. Move forward—don’t live looking back. Find others who have survived similar storms and share your stories together. Learn from their experience, as well as yours. Experience is actually a good teacher if we learn from it. If we don’t learn from past experience, rest assured—history will repeat itself at some point in the futuTrouble is a part of life, regardless of the depth of your faith, the demeanor of your influence, the development of your pocketbook, or the discernment of your wisdom. You can’t avoid it, no matter how well your storm shelter is constructed. But—you can survive it and even thrive from it, if you strive in your preparation for the next one. Just check the radar—at some point another storm will blow in. Prepare now, you will be ready!

Wanted: Dreamers

Of the human experience, one of the saddest realities is the adult who never achieves his or her dreams. Statistics reveal this description fits eight out of ten of us. Perhaps even sadder is the fact that most of this eighty percent won’t even remember as adults the dreams they imagined as children. That’s a disheartening stat for a dreamer.

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Our childhood dreams are clues to the destiny God has for each of us. Yes, I believe those dreams are given to us by God in seed form. He plants them in the cracks and crevices of our soul and spirit, and over time, they sprout in our heart and mind. If we partner with God, those dreams begin to produce fruit and move from the realm of imagination into the realm of reality.

As children, we are all fitted with an aptitude for imagination—the ability to perceive something before it has become a reality. Imagination can be the stuff of far-fetched fantasy or the genesis of a reality yet to be discovered or created. Both find their residence in the heart and the mind of a child. And this imagination fertilizes and irrigates the dream God has planted in us.

But sadly, most of those dreams are stolen. We accept the limitations of others, their crushing words, our insatiable appetite for acceptance, or we bow to the altars of reason, intellect, and cynicism. Those dreams entrusted to us by God are eventually lost under the debris of unbelief somewhere deep within in the dusty, cobwebbed corridors of a no longer needed childhood imagination.

Our world desperately cries out for a handful of dreamers who will once again entertain those God-sized dreams. We long for a few visionaries, who glimpse through their imagination what God’s reality for this world looks like. We crave some romantics who will lead us out of this malaise of skepticism and back into the authenticity of a society marked by genuine love. Without the ability to transact in the currency of the imagination, the hearts of those who profess to be Christ-followers will calcify and eventually petrify, leaving the world to its own hopeless, apocalyptic implosion.

We must reclaim our God-given capacity to dream. Dreaming is not a waste of time, it is a necessity to rescue and redeem our limited time. I challenge you to ask God to awaken the dreams he’s sown into your soul and spirit so long ago. Stop gorging yourself on what culture, society, intellectualism, or business says is equitable, acceptable, and financially feasible. Stop listening to the naysayers and the doomsdayers. Blow off the dust, take it in your hands, hold it close to your heart, and nurture that dream until it becomes all that God says it will be.

Let the dreamers arise and ascend until these divine aspirations move from the fertile fields of imagination into the fruitful place of realization.

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?