“Sometimes Love Does Not ‘Feel’ Good”

Jesus has been teaching me a lot lately about abiding in the Truth of His promises no matter what the circumstances. A lot of what He was revealing to me seemed very elementary and cliche’, but powerful nonetheless. These revelations also came in handy in some relationships I have. I hope it blesses you…

“…He wants us to cling so tightly to His promises, and believe in them so much that nothing can phase us – nothing can touch us – and no situation can steal our affections toward Him…”

Last week was very dry for me. I was getting a bit “down” and frustrated wondering “why” I couldn’t “feel” Him, etc. I kept asking “why would He not want me to feel His love all the time!?” It was in those frustrations that He just reminded me how small my understanding of His love is. He wants to know me and me to know Him in such a deep and intimate way – a way that I simply do not understand at this point, but that He wants to teach me. He spoke to me that He was developing FAITHFULNESS and maturity in me during this “dry” season. He wanted to know that I wasn’t just around for the “good ol’ mushy feelings”, but ALSO the “tough/dry” times (which, by the way, are ALSO His love! haha! He totally blew the lid of the box I had put His love in) You see, He spoke to me that a love that is merely a feeling is a shallow and immature love. Sometimes, love doesn’t “feel” good at all. I liken it to this…

When Morgan and I got engaged we were all bubbly, gushy, and FULL of PURE BUTTERFLY “FEELINGS” toward one another. It was great. It was definitely love. However, it was a very limited/surface picture of the love that Jesus wanted to develop in us over time. We didn’t really KNOW each other in such a way that would even allow us to truly LOVE each other. Jesus wants to KNOW us in the ways that allow us to LOVE Him more deeply – yep, that means that there will be times we don’t feel Him at all. Now, Morgan and I still have butterflies for each other =) hehehe. However, our love has matured into something much deeper and more beautiful than it was when we got engaged. It doesn’t “feel”, on the surface” as “good” at times, but we both know it is a special and DEEP kind of love that allows us to know and pursue one another in ways that we NEVER could/would have when we “felt” all gushy during engagement. Make sense? I know you all know this. I just thought I’d share something fresh on my heart Jesus has been teaching me. He blew me up last week with His desire to produce maturity and faithfulness in me that goes so much further and deeper than emotional feelings. He wants us to cling so tightly to His promises, and believe in them so much that nothing can phase us – nothing can touch us – and no situation can steal our affections toward Him.

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A Lifestyle Of Repentance…Part 1

“The scary thing about this reality is that grace is only present when we are wrong. If we refuse to admit when we are wrong, and repent we cut-off the supply of grace that seeks to cleanse us.”

How tragic it is when such powerful words become diluted, or “cliché”. Does the power in a word fade away when it is used too much, or when the word is only spoken with the mouth and not practiced with the heart? Perhaps the word repent rubs many the wrong way, or holds no power because we do not know how to…do it. After all, it is much easier to merely say certain things, and leave it at that. Words begin to lose their power when the user stops at speaking the word, yet does nothing to pursue its depth through action.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25

Many of us fail to experience the true freedom that is present within the beauty of the Gospel because we miss out on one of its most basic, core verbs. Repent. Or, for those of us who thought it was a “one-time” to-do when we “accepted Christ”, repentance may be the more necessary word. This is not something we do once, but something we are to stay in constant pursuit of. It is quite interesting that the main message brought by John the Baptist, Jesus, & His disciples was to “repent”. They then go on to say “be Baptized”. Repent. Perhaps we should press into this powerful command a bit more as we pursue Jesus.

Repentance means so much more than “turning from our sin”. The picture painted in ones mind is that of sin being a thing that is turned from once when we give our lives to Jesus, and no longer necessary throughout our journey. This leaves one to wonder, though, what it means to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”? This is no one-time decision, but a lifestyle in which the believer must become a master. How might one become a “master-repenter”?

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:4-5

First, we must learn to practice “The Art of Being Wrong”. (See previous article) We cannot repent of things in which we do not believe we are wrong. We cannot conclude we are wrong if our pride is always certain of how right we are. The scary thing about this reality is that grace is only present when we are wrong. (Romans 5:20) So, if our pride screams that we are never wrong then we are hindering ourselves from receiving the grace that desires to cleanse us. In our refusal to admit we are wrong, repent, and receive grace we blaspheme God, and Jesus’ work on the cross. We cease to grow in a deeper understanding of His work of grace in our lives. This is central to the message of the Gospel so many of us claim to live by. It is time we reprogrammed our default from defending ourselves/decisions as a pursuit of being right to a humble reflection of how we could have been more like Jesus in a particular situation. At this point we can begin to walk in a lifestyle of repentance…

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

Once we begin to experience the freedom, and redemption that follows a lifestyle of repentance we not only welcome being “called out” by others for potential sin in our lives, we begin to crave it. The Holy Spirit begins to replace in us the insecurity of having to be right all the time with a deep desire to be more like Jesus that only comes through this lifestyle of repentance.

When we fall into sin the enemy gains a small victory. He steals something away from us. When we get seduced by the things of this world we add to it’s sickness, as well as our own brokenness. The beauty of the Gospel is that we are forgiven and cleansed from that sin – IF we recognize it, and repent. We must walk in a constant spirit of repentance in order for the sanctifying truths of the Gospel to be at work in our lives. This is when things get exciting. You see, the things the enemy stole are taken back – they are redeemed as a result of our repentance. When we repent we invite the Spirit of God to enter into the situation and fix it, to make it right. Yes, there are consequences in this world for the sin we commit. However, a Gospel truth is that Jesus, in His goodness and through our repentance, will piece back together that which is broken…He redeems it for our good, and His glory. (Romans 8:28)

Stay Tuned for an incredible, real-life story of two people who have learned to walk in the “lifestyle of repentance”…

The Shack – Don’t Hate.

I love this book, and have read it several times. It has had a bad rap in evangelical circles because a few well-known, and influential pastors have spoken out against it for various reasons. That bugs me a bit, because at least one of those pastors has admitted to not reading the book himself in a blog post about why the book is heretical. Interesting…seems to me that reviewing a book without having read it is a bit more dangerous than a novel about the a man who loses his daughter, and then has a supernatural encounter with the Triune God. I have had several friends “call me out” (Jokingly, of course) for reading the book as well. When I asked them if they’ve read it they replied, “no, but (fill in the blank of well-known pastor’s name here) said in a sermon I listened to online that it was heretical.” Wow. What a lovely culture we have created. People now think it’s ok critique (JUDGE) something based upon what someone else has said who has also judged that same thing based upon what they heard from someone ELSE. Scary.

That being said, I would encourage everyone to read this book for yourself. Yes, even if your pastor said you shouldn’t. It’s a wonderful book for many reasons. Whether you are just looking for a leisurely story, or to glean from the author’s deep insight of the Kingdom and God’s purpose for His Church you will gain much from this story.

Last night while reading I came across a section from one of my favorite chapters (ch. 12) of the book that I wanted to share with you…you will quickly see why I enjoy this book so much, and maybe these little snippets will coax you to read the entire story…

The main character, Mack, is having a conversation with Jesus about life, the Church, the Kingdom, etc.

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Mack, just asked Jesus about heaven…

“Mack, our final destiny is not the picture of Heaven that you have stuck in your head-you know, the image of pearly gates and streets of gold. Instead it’s a new cleansing of this universe , so it will indeed look a lot like here.”

“Then what’s with the pearly gates and gold stuff?”

“That stuff, my brother, is a picture of me and the woman I’m in love with.”

Mack looked down at Him to see if He was joking, but He obviously wasn’t.

“It is a picture of my bride, the Church; individuals who together form a spiritual city with a living river flowing through the middle, and on both shores trees of growing with fruit that will heal the hurt and sorrows of the nations. And this city is always open, and each gate into it is made of a single pearl…” He opened one eye and looked at Mack.

“That would be me!” He saw Mack’s question, and explained, “Pearls, Mack. The only precious stone made by pain, suffering and-finally-death.”

“I get it. You are the way in, but-” Mack paused, searching for the right words. “You’re talking about the church as this woman you’re in love with; I’m pretty sure I haven’t met her.” He turned away slightly. “She’s not the place I go on Sundays,” Mack said more to himself, unsure if that was safe to say out loud.

“Mack, that’s because you’re only seeing the institution, a man-made system. That’s not what I came to build. What I see are people and their lives, a living breathing community of all those who love me, not buildings and programs.”

Mack was a bit taken back to hear Jesus talking about “church” this way, but then again, it didn’t really surprise him. It was a relief. “So how do I become part of that church?” he asked. “This woman you seem to be so gaga over.”

“It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now-just doing this-and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. You can’t build it. It’s my job and I’m actually pretty good at it”, Jesus said with a chuckle.

For Mack these words were like a breath of fresh air! Simple. Not a bunch of exhausting work and long lists of demands, and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know. Just sharing life. “Bit, wait-“Mack had a jumble of questions starting to surface. Maybe he had misunderstood. This seemed TOO simple. Again he caught himself. Perhaps it was because humans are so utterly lost and independent that we take what is simple and make it complex? So he thought twice about messing with what he was beginning to understand. To begin asking his jumbled mess of questions at this moment felt like throwing a dirt clod into a little pool of clear water.

“Never mind,” was all he said.

“Mack, you don’t need to have it all figured out. Just be with me….”

“…I really do want to understand. I mean, I find the way you are so different from all the well-intentioned religious stuff I’m familiar with.”

“As well-intentioned as it might be, you know that religious machinery can chew up people!” Jesus said with a bite of His own. “An awful lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me and is often, even if unintentional , very contrary to my purposes.”

“You’re not too fond of religion and institutions?” Mack said, not sure if he was asking a question or making an observation.

“I don’t create institutions-never have, never will.”

“What about the institution of marriage?”

“Marriage is not an institution. It’s a relationship.” Jesus paused, his voice steady and patient. “Like I said, I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion,” Jesus said a little sarcastically, “and not very fond of politics or economics either.” Jesus’ visage darkened noticeably. “And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three? Put simply, these terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control. People are afraid of uncertainty, afraid of the future. These institutions, these structures and ideologies, are all a vain effort to create some sense of certainty and security where there isn’t any. It’s all false! Systems cannot provide you security, only I can.”

“Woah!” was all Mack could think. The landscape of how he, and just about everyone he knew, had sought to manage and navigate their lives was being reduced to little more than rubble…

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It’s just keeps getting better and better. Not sure if you noticed it or not, but there was a section in there that I can see why it would “threaten” the power and control some have over others through the institutions they have started and are in charge of. What the book is suggesting threatens to “reduce that to rubble”. I can see why the book is “warned against” inside the walls of institutions….

I hope you will get the book and enjoy the heck out of it. It truly is a touching story, one that will bring tears to your eyes, and new life to your heart. If you have any comments regarding the book, or this post please refrain from sharing them if you have not read the book (in FULL). If you have, and feel the need to share then please do. I am sure the book is not “theologically perfect”, but what is. We have the Holy Spirit in us to discern truth and untruth. There is a lot of TRUTH in this book. There is also some things that may need to be read with a “grain of salt”, as in any book you read that is not the Bible. Enjoy!

When “church” Becomes Idol…

***Disclaimer: for this particular post the word “church” will be used in reference to church as a place, program, service, institution, gathering, etc. Obviously, these things should not define “church”, but we are going to look at what happens when the things above somehow sneak in and become more important than Jesus, and people knowing Him as Lord.***

Idolatry is very much still around today. Every single one of us could find an idolatrous area of our lives if we took a long enough look at ourselves. This happens when, for whatever reason, we are deceived into thinking that something else is more worthy of worship than our King, Jesus. Often times these idols sneak their way in because they are not inherently bad things…at all. In fact, they are sometimes very good things that have either pushed Jesus off His throne in our lives, or accidentally become the priority over Jesus. This happens when we believe lies, or UNtruths that are injected into our lives by the enemy. “How though, could ‘church’ become an idol!?”, some of you may be asking…

I was recently at an event with about 50 other Christians. During the event everyone took time to go around, and share “success” stories of things that had been happening in their lives as they pursued being a “Christian” in their context. The purpose of these stories was for edification for those who were there. As people shared others were ecstatic and huge smiles began to form on their faces. After a few minutes of these stories something hit me…and my heart grew very heavy…

First, here is a few examples of these “success” stories:

“…when my neighbor found out I go to church he came to ask me if he could come with me!”

“…it was so neat…after we met and started building a relationship she agreed to come to church with me.” (She had been invited several times before)

“It’s so great, several people have joined us at church.”

…and so on and so forth…

The entire evening, other than perhaps during a prayer to “bless the food”, the name of Jesus was not mentioned once. No stories about Jesus being introduced to anyone, or anyone being “invited” to experience Jesus as a powerful and living God right here and right now. No stories of anyone being impacted in any way by Jesus Himself. Again, the NAME of Jesus was not mentioned once. Was it on purpose? Of course not. Am I certain that everyone in that room loves Jesus? Yes. Was this neglect of Jesus intentional? Of course not.

You see, somewhere along the way the works of scripture got transferred out of the hands/responsibility of the ordinary believer, and placed into the hands of the paid clergy. The way “success” and “effective ministry” is measured shifted from individual life transformation (Which is very difficult to measure, fabricate, & force.) to a generic “how many people are here”? When the responsibility of the individual believer to make disciples was shifted to the paid clergy the ability to do so seemed to go with it. This is not the individual believers fault. Over time what it means to be a follower of Christ has changed, along with the methods and language we use to communicate such things…

When anything takes the place of Jesus in our lives the focus goes to that thing…and off of Jesus. That thing takes the throne. We are guilty of idol worship. When our primary goal is to get people to go to church (Of course, with the desire and hope that they will eventually “meet Jesus”, or make a decision to follow Him at some point) we have replaced Jesus with church. We communicate with our actions and words that “church” is savior, and forgiver of sins. We bow down in worship to church. “Church” did not die on the cross for our sins – Jesus died on the cross for us, His Church, His Bride, so that He could become all that we worship. As the TRUE lover of our souls our number one desire MUST be to introduce others to Him. As a part of the process we become a part of the body of Christ! We naturally gather with other believers as a result, but hopefully not spend too much of their time with those believers. Hopefully, we will then begin introducing others to…yes…Jesus…not our new church.

I am around different types of people all throughout the week, as I am sure many of you are. Something I have noticed in the people I am around who do not claim “membership” to a particular “church” as a building with a name, or institution is the things they place value in. Every single time I am with these people they are full of joy as they share stories of individuals who they have been discipling, and walking with. They share about how Jesus is becoming Lord to these people. Then, they invite me to this new believer’s Baptism after they have led them to Christ! A natural result is always that these new believers are connected with the body of Christ in some form or fashion-usually very healthy. They may not be filling the pews of a church on Sunday morning, or “serving” in a church program. But, they are actively out proclaiming to others this new love they have found in Jesus as He has become their Lord. There is much freedom in the above…it feels weightless, and light…it feels like a journey of obedience & dedication to Jesus.

This is far different from the conversations I have with others who have dedicated and given their lives to the “church”. Discussion is more about endless struggles with sin and trying to manage that sin. It’s about the uncomfortable invitation to church on Sunday they have extended to their neighbor for months-wondering why their neighbor won’t come. It’s about how good and funny their preacher’s message was the previous Sunday, and how much they loved “that one song the guy played”. Again, none of those things are necessarily bad, but when they take the place of Jesus as Lord in our lives we become idolaters.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of any particular model of “doing church”. I think that conversation is silly – we don’t “do” church. We BE Church. If you are BEING Church, and obedient to Jesus at your church then these words are not for you. I am not at all submitting that this is the case across the board. I am simply sharing observations I’ve made in cities all over the country (three of which I have lived in for long periods of time) among people in both scenarios. If Jesus is your Lord in both words & actions then let’s praise Him for that! If something else has sneaked in and taken the place of Lord (perhaps “church”) then may we all run hard after Jesus together to place Him back on the throne in our lives.

“Jesus, we trust you. You are so gracious. Thank you that you pour out your grace over us when we can’t seem to “get it right” over and over again. Empower us by Your Spirit to see the You in us be reproduced into the You in those You have placed in our lives!”

Beloved…

Not trying to be lame, and post other people’s stuff; Derek Webb is just so legit. I’ve listened to him for years, but the words to his songs are coming alive more and more as I listen lately. This song is called “Beloved”, and is another one of Derek’s “letters to the church”… (He is NOT writing this to a form, model, or institution. He is directing this at the people of God who make up His Church-keep that in mind as you read or listen)

“Beloved” – By Derek Webb

beloved these are dangerous times
because you are weightless like a leaf from the vine
and the wind has blown you all over town
because there is nothing holding you to the ground

so now you would rather be
a slave again than free from the law

(chorus)
beloved listen to me
don’t believe all that you see
and don’t you ever let anyone tell you
that there’s anything that you need
but ME

beloved these are perilous days
when your culture is so set in it’s ways
that you will listen to salesmen and thieves
preaching other than the truth you’ve received

because they are telling lies
for they cannot circumcise your hearts

(chorus)

beloved listen to me
don’t believe all that you see
and don’t you ever let anyone tell you
that there’s anything that you need
but ME

beloved there is nothing more
no more blessings and no more rewards
than the treasure of my body and blood
given freely to all daughters and sons

Again, Derek is speaking of unecessary things added, and ways we have been decieved. What do you think? What truths do you see here?