Friday, May 29, 2009

Old Tattoo

I thought I’d share just a very simple and shallow thought since my general writings are commonly in depth. This is truly surface as can be, but made me laugh for like 15 minutes. I was in the café at my work this morning and was getting my daily fix of caffeine. In this room I realized something I had not truly come to grips with before. In my reaction to something my mind was exposed to the reality of my future. There was an older lady getting coffee in front of me and she squatted down to pick up something to reveal a big lower back tattoo, aka tramp stamp. As I saw this ink on her old leathery skin I thought to myself, “Eww, that looks horrible, she is old.” I walked away thinking how weird it is to see old people with tattoos like that and then it hit me…

I will get old…I will be that guy getting coffee when I’m in my 50’s that a younger person will look at and say, “Eww, that looks horrible, he is old.” I will not be a young, in shape man for the rest of my life, the reality is that I will get older and my lifestyle will change and I will be an old man in the next generation’s eyes.

I find this funny and am ashamed that I had this thought of someone else with a tattoo. I guess an older lady squatting down in front of you getting coffee at 9am on a Friday reveals more than just an old leathery tattoo, but the reality of my future state. Maybe long sleeves will be good for me when I’m older though.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Love Gospel

Last night I saw a movie and was struck by something, like an accumulation of thoughts were realized in a moment of cinematic climax. I saw The Soloist with Jamie Foxx. It’s a story of a homeless man, once musical prodigy, Nathaniel Ayers Jr., meeting a columnist for the LA time, Mr. Steve Lopez, in a time of great need. Need…This is the word I would like to explore and begin this journey of thought from. At what I would describe as the climax and pinnacle of meaning of the movie Ayers snaps on Lopez when he learns he is attempting to put him in a mental ward. He pushes him against the wall and begins a very touching response to Mr. Lopez’s intentions. He basically tells Mr. Lopez that he doesn’t know what he needs, that he knows who he is and that he is a man, not just some guy that he can change. Later in the movie the program director for Lamp homeless shelter in LA tells Lopez that what Ayers needs is not medication or to go to a mental ward, but a friend. The movie ends with a monologue by Lopez reflecting on how some physiologists say that just by being a friend to someone changes the chemical interactions in the brain of someone and does help. Your definition of help is where many people get caught up in details.

“Are you trying to convert me?” This is a question many non-Christians will ask. I read a book, Lord Save Us From Your Followers, that spoke to how many people had been hurt by people claiming to follow Christ. In the movie Nathaniel gets upset with Lopez because he finally saw Lopez was only trying to change him. I do not doubt that everyone who does follow Christ faithfully has good intentions and their actions are based on their faith, however, do think we can loose sight of things a bit. People can tell when they are a project or loved. The question repeated over and over, like a chorus of a song, in the book is, “Why is the Gospel of love tearing apart America?” Let’s start with the basics then, what is the Gospel? Why do we preach/teach it? Where did all this church stuff come from?

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)." This is what the New Testament Church bases its identity and purpose from. This is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. During Jesus’ earthly ministry He was asked what the greatest commandment was, to which He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).” What kind of love? Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).” When this came together in my head this morning in my sleepy state I was so excited, but saddened at the same time.

Jesus told His first disciples that they had a mission, their lives would change, they had power to change the world. He even told them they would do greater things than they saw Him do. Jesus knew what His gospel could do and entrusted it to a group of ragamuffins that have since passed it on to a far more distant more degenerate bunch. Jesus said to go make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey all He has commanded. What’s a disciple? The original word used is Greek, matheteuo. This word means to follow the leader’s precepts and instructions, to teach, to instruct. Go make people who will follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions, who will in turn teach them to others. Baptizism is another highly debated topic for some reason, but it is a basic sign, a illustration, of someone publicly dying to themselves and raising in Christ. Finally, we are to teach them, these new disciples, to obey everything Christ taught. The original word used in Greek here is didasko, which means to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses. A didactic discourse is communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse intended for instruction. I seem to get the impression that what Jesus was asking us to do was simple, go out and have conversations with people, conversations that teach and instruct, and baptize people. Some how we have come a long way from that and now instead of tearing apart that short statement made by Jesus Himself we have well meaning authors putting together conferences and books to instruct people at how to do the gospel. So what exactly did Jesus teach? Read Matthew 22:36-40 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 again. The love Jesus was talking about is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, and preserves, it never fails. I don’t care about your method. I think your method should fit the context that Jesus puts you in, but if your method somehow is not focused on love and is more concerned with change then I would say you are speaking of nothing that Jesus taught. Jesus’ teaching was based on 2 commandments and those two made up all the rest.

Urban, suburban, prison, or any other type of ministry must be done differently. Some of the ways teaching what Jesus’ message was about, Love, may offend a tradition, a religion, or even heritage, but it is not those we seek to please is it (Galatians 1)? I’d challenge you to do what I’ve been doing over the past couple of years, reevaluating your heart and thought process about what truly working for the message of Christ looks like. If this is the greatest message of Love, a profound changing message from a perfect God, why would it divide rather than united? So is the Gospel and preaching it limited to a Sunday morning, tract, coffee conversation, basketball game, or service project? Maybe the best way to make God laugh would be to think we have this all figured out. The Gospel is so big that we can never truly grasp it all and should seek to follow Jesus’ command only, a command to teach love to those in need.

The movie ends by Lopez showing Ayers respect and saying he is honored to be his friend. Need...isn't it love? Isn't the need people have to experience true perfect love? Can we just love people and trust God to change hearts or does that take away our illusion of control and make us uncomfortable? I pray you embrace discomfort and not being in control, embrace Love, and let everything you preach, teach, live, breathe, and exude be love. People are not to be converted; they are to be told about love and the God who gives it freely. Do we live and are we willing to die for this Gospel of Love, even if it means forsaking all the religious matter we’ve been sold? May your prayer what mine has been last night and all day today, “Lord, help me love, help me see and be love, help me teach and preach love, help me show love, help me love like you.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

Unplanned Plans

Yesterday was one of those days where have you step back and know that you are not in control of anything.

I am probably one of the most unorganized, random, right-brained people you will meet. I have placed in charge of putting together a group for the summer at the shelter. As you can imagine my right-brained functions don’t quite allow me the pleasure of planning this thing by myself successfully. I recruited some help. The two people that are helping me plan this whole thing are just has random as I am. It has been interesting thus far to have planning meetings with these two and we have all kind of funny stories about our randomness already. We have an entire 14 week program planned out for kids at the shelter from 2nd grade to high school with the goal of positive mentoring to serve like Christ. Most recently I have been freaking out about volunteers and finding the right ones. I made a huge list and reduced it down to about 4 people I could depend on including myself and the other 2 people helping me plan it. Through friends of friends most recently though I’ve seen the list jump to 10 solid people who are actually excited and passionate about this group.

Yesterday I set up a meeting with 2 people I’ve never met before in my life. Through exchanging of emails and phone calls I realized that God brought them right to me. I am meeting one guy tonight at a local coffee shop and a girl Monday night at the same location. Through the emails and phone conversations I am sure that they will fit right in. I’m meeting with them to really hear their stories and make sure they will be a part of this group because they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else this summer. I see God doing big things through this group organized by the most unorganized. Next week we are meeting with all the volunteers to do a brief orientation and hand out the summer schedules and go over basic ins and outs of how we want to be as a group this summer.

Now that I look at a detailed goals and methods sheet, a full 14 week calendar, and list of 10 solid volunteers with similar hearts for these kids and this shelter, I just step back and say thank you, thank you to a God who is and has been putting all this together in order to do a work this summer He planned long before He allowed me, a messy, right-brained, unorganized guy even get involved.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Gospel

I once had this great marketing scheme for a church I was helping out with, using the term marketing scheme and church in the same sentence makes my stomach turn now, but at that time I was all about marketing the church so therefore I had this idea. This idea was to make a t-shirt that simply said “Jesus Hates Religion” As you can guess this raised the hair on the backs of many Christians’ neck and naturally put me on the defensive.

When I first started following Jesus I was very much at odds with the church and didn’t like it very much. I had an expectation and fear though that eventually I would conform to the very thing I was at odds with. Funny thing is that the more and more I learned about Jesus and the more I read the Bible and the beautiful stories of His ministry the further I found myself from the conventional American Christian church. Out of complete boredom my fingers have led my mind through a barrage of late night televangelists that leave my thirst for the Gospel and power of Christ parched. I’ve stood at the back of a building on a Sunday morning at an event people call church and wondered if I were missing something or if this was it. Countless amount of things that call themselves Christian and gospel-centric have left me bewildered and full of disappointment. I’ve felt ostracized and isolated for actually following the Jesus of the Bible by others who say they are doing the same thing.

I read the book of Galatians a couple nights ago and my jaw dropped. As I shut my bible and slid it away from me on the table in front of me, I stared into the empty airspace before my eyes speechless, like my mind was just turned onto something. I call these little moments, aha moments. These moments fall into a list of reasons for my being happy to have my own place. When these things happen I just want to run in circles, do some jumping jacks, squeal like a little girl, and just smile really big. If you have time to read this I’m sure it wouldn’t totally ruin your busy schedule to go read Galatians, it’s only 5 chapters. Here’s the deal though, read it like a letter, don’t study to hard as you read through it, just read it as a letter from a beloved friend.

Paul was calling the Galatians out on accepting a Gospel that is not the gospel they were originally taught and changed by. Instead of accepting grace they were now being taught and actually believing that they had to obey the law. Basically Paul was blown away that they so quickly accepted and acted on this gospel almost contrary to the message that changed them, the true gospel of Jesus. He over and over again states how it is not about man and his ways or message, but about Jesus’ message of grace. This is what caused my bible to slide across the table and my jaw drop, a total parallel to what goes on and is going on in the church in America today. Here are a couple examples to help wet your appetite more. I watched a documentary on xxxchurch.com the other night. The overall answer they got from Christian organizations about wanting to come and speak to people about being freed from porn addiction was a big fat no. No one wanted part in this message that could offend people, they didn’t want to talk about the taboo, or mess up any system they already had going. Two good friends of mine go into a meeting a pitch an idea for raising support for a cause I think Christ would be more about than most things. Their idea was laughed at. It didn’t fit the mold of the message or model they had already set up so they laughed at my friends. Many young people, especially my age, feel like they are standing alone in the back of a religion they really don’t buy into, but are too afraid to stand up in. I think Paul would write a letter to these churches and their leaders sometimes and say, “I’m surprised you have gone away from the original message you were taught and changed by and how you have your own now.” Even if it is a good message, a message based on Jesus message is not Jesus’ message. Jesus’ message is the gospel…period! Don’t feel lonely, don’t feel isolated and like something is wrong with you, hold tight to the only gospel and reject all others. If you do not fit into a certain message or plan or model based on any gospel other than Jesus’ find comfort in what Paul says in the first chapter,

Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

Please Christ and stick to the gospel, His gospel, no on else’s.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Do...

Precious words. These are two simple words I heard Saturday as I was in a wedding and watched my friend Geoff tell Megan, one of many girls who have become like little sisters to me in Indianapolis. I haven’t written in quite a while, haven’t really felt inspired by anything in quite some time, and definitely haven’t felt like the man I think and would like to be in maybe close to a month. Saturday I read Psalm 1 and it has taken until right now, at this moment, to finally get me to say I do. I am not saying I do in some poetic beautiful marriage ceremony, rather something I believe to be vital to the concept of beauty itself. I said I do and I will to being honest with myself and God. I’m not going to go on an emotional rant that leaves you (the reader) feeling tingly and euphoric nor will I say I have something figured out as a universal principle for all, I will tell you how God finally came crashing down and reality set in though, for me, personally, and how I said I do.

I think from the time I started really following Jesus at the age of 21 I was automatically over inundated with concepts and precepts that I didn’t necessarily learn on my own and accepted almost blindly. I have and continue to work through things that I question and try to get to the root of my understanding or belief in that certain principle or moral. I go through these times that I call “funks.” Many people have picked up on this term and began to incorporate it into their daily dialect. I have always had this illustration that has helped me understand or see from a distant perspective what is going on during these funks and how I go through this journey of faith in the Christ, Jesus. Roller Coaster. My blog is accordingly named, A Roller Coaster Called Life. There are highs and lows. Terms that are not uncommon in physics are frequency, crest, trough, wavelength, and amplitude. Follow this link to look into each term to better understand where I am going. Life is one big wave, in it we have crests and troughs. Where all this comes together for me and my idea of a roller coaster is the idea of highs and lows and their frequencies. Early in the Christian walk I believe that you will have very short wave lengths, with extreme positive and negative amplitudes, making for a very dramatic wave. As you continue your walk I believe the goal is to not flat line, for medically on a cardiogram would be death, but make less frequent, smoother, longer wavelengths, with smaller amplitudes. This makes for a much less thespian wave.

The first piece of advice I get from everyone when I am in the low of my funk is to read my bible, pray more, and seek community. While these are all very important and necessary practices to a healthy lifestyle while following Christ I do not think they are health done out of obligation alone. I said I do recently to not try to fake out God. I always laugh out loud when I read Genesis and see where Adam is hiding behind a tree from God. Really? How ridiculous an idea it is to hide from an all seeing God. The same rings true during these funks when I and others say things like, “I know I should read my Bible I just don’t want to, I know God is always with me, but I just don’t feel it, I should make myself pray, it will help me.” Stop here and read Psalm 1.

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

We have this idea that we should be doing something so we think of ways we can make this something happen. I think every Christian and authentic follower of Jesus wants to bear fruit. I think when they don’t, when I don’t, we try to formulate strategies to obtain this goal of producing fruit. Men have made great noble efforts in producing literature and programs to help reach fruit production and with good motives, I just question the understanding of fruit and bearing it they must have when writing this seemingly helpful material. Can man alone make fruit grow, can we make it produce a crop? The answer in short is no. Jesus says that we cannot bear fruit apart from Him. So we have no power or agenda that can make the fruit produce which we so yearn to see (John 15). This psalm says that he who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and nights will is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Read that again. There is no implication or assumption that fruit is always out. The word season is used. Reading the Bible is important and praying is important, but know that it is not doing those during your season of funk that will save you. God will bring you out of this season and you will bear fruit if you are a righteous person. Lucky for us we have no law like Israel and our righteousness comes by faith in Christ Jesus though. So basically if you believe upon Christ, you are righteous, if you are righteous, you will mediate on his law (which is now written on the walls of our hearts) day and night (the Bible) you will bear fruit, but don’t forget, in season, the season God declares appropriate. In your lowest troughs know that God has a plan and knows the season. Nothing you can do will produce the fruit but being honest and open with God about how you feel. Go is not foolish nor does he take kindly to coy facades. He knows our hearts and if we dare try to be mischievous with an all knowing God we are just as foolish as a little naked man hiding behind a tree. The psalms are so beautiful because they bleed authenticity. David was a man after God’s own heart because he was an honest man, with God. Pour out your worries, angers, frustrations, and concerns to God, He listens, you just have to wait for His season and you will bear fruit and get out of that funk.

I hope this helps someone, writing this alone has been therapeutic for me. May you trust and know God, be honest and open with Him, and always know He is in control not us, not our plans, nor our strategies, even if they do line up with His a little, He ultimately has control. Don’t be discouraged in your funk, try to learn and be honest to God.