Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Blog Has Moved!

You can now find The End of All Our Exploring at

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prayer Does Matter?!

Today I received this email from a friend whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. With his permission, I share his inspiring message with you.
Ok, I have to tell you something. Several years ago at an old job, a guy who I did not know very well was diagnosed with a terminal condition. Someone got a bunch of people together and they prayed for him to be cured. It all sounded nice to me, yet I didn't, maybe couldn't, put much credibility in it all. Well...not only did he survive, yet at the exact hour when this prayer session was taking place, he began to rebound. The doctors were amazed as was everyone else who had prayed. He soon returned to work and to the best of my knowledge, he's still there.
Well, I know that so many of you have been praying for my wife and for that I'm eternally grateful.
Yesterday we received word from the doctor that her pathology report was cancer in her lymph nodes. I think I damaged some vocal cords with the scream I let out. There's gotta be a word that's even bigger than happy to describe that feeling.
So, apparently this praying thing works. Maybe it's how God hears us. What makes me absolutely certain of it is that he not only hears...he responds.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Super-Personal God

When I was about eleven years old we made our first trip as a family out to Delaware. It would be my first time going to the ocean and has now become a family tradition of ours which we continue to do even today. When it came to vacations, we had a tradition in our family, in which my mom would let my sister and I get a few magazines or books at the Kroger grocery store to keep us busy on long trips. I remember vividly what I chose that year. I got a bunch of books on sharks and shark attacks. The trip was twelve hours long and I read each book, cover to cover. 

When we did arrive, I fell in love with the ocean; each day of the vacation you would find me body boarding or swimming. On one of our last days, I became more courageous and swam out further into the ocean than I ever had. I was just wading in the water, floating around, and enjoying one of my last days of vacation. I was way out; in fact, I was probably a good thirty yards away from the nearest swimmer. But then I noticed something odd. As I looked down the entire beach front, everyone was coming out of the water. I wondered what was going on? That had never happened before?! Just then, I saw and heard the lifeguard shout through his speaker phone, “Everyone out of the water! Everyone out of the water! Sharks! Sharks!” I had never heard more frightening words. I turned around and sure enough, swimming out near a tanker were about a dozen fins sticking up out of the water. 

Immediately, I swam toward the shore as fast as I could. There was only one problem though, all I could think about was all of those shark attack stories I had read. In particular, I remembered that sharks most often attack in shallow waters when their prey believe that they're safe. I swam like never before; I kept pumping my arms, kicking my legs, and finally, without a scratch on me, I crawled up onto shore. Just then, standing above me was the life guard and into his speakerphone he yelled, “False alarm. Just dolphins.” After that, I don’t think I swam in the ocean anymore before we left to go home!

Sometimes, things aren't what they seem. This is the case when it comes to how we think about God. We can have the knack for making Him in our image. In the early church they had to wrestle with this as well, and it came out when early church leaders had to wrestle with the theological implications of the Trinity. You think you know God in one way and he turns around and changes things a bit. This was especially the case with first century Jews who had become Christians. They grew up on the words, “The Lord is One.” And that was and is true; but it’s not the whole truth. In the first century, the doctrine of the Trinity threw everybody for a loop, and to this day, it can do the same.   

So why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important? Why do we even wrestle with this ultimately mysterious issue? Why not just leave it to the theologians to argue over? The Trinity is so very important because it is the starting point with our view of God.  When one doesn't come to have at least a rudimentary grasp of the Trinity, one's view of God is, at best, shallow or worse, profane. But it is also a truth that the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult to get your mind around. It's nearly impossible to put in words. 

In the early church, the church had to come to grips with what they believed and so, they wrote out different creeds to tell themselves and others what they believed, and what they did not believe. Believe it or not, there is one such creed that specifically discusses the importance of the Trinity; it is called the Athanasian Creed. One part of it states: 
As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
As you can see, words can fail us. Clarity is difficult to find when discussing a mystery. We must remember that this doctrine is something our little minds can never fully understand. We must come to the point that we know that God is limitless and we are finite. Yet we have a problem with this; as creatures of the 21st century we want to know everything and often feel that we have the right to such knowledge. In our data-driven world, there is some much knowledge and we have a sense of entitlement that we should know all that there is to know. I like what Dorothy Sayers had to say on the topic of the Trinity. Listen carefully to what she said: 
Why do you complain that the proposition God is three in one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicist's fundamental formula, ‘two P minus PQ equals IH over two Pi where I equals the square root of minus one’ when you know quite well that the square root of minus one is paradoxical in Pi is incalculable?
Did that make your head spin? There are many things within the Christian faith that fall under the realm of mystery; two, would be, the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ and God’s providence. The doctrine of the Trinity is no different. And this is the great problem that many believers face; if we don't understand it, we have a difficult time believing it.

So how can we explain this difficult belief of ours? How do we explain to someone that we believe in one God but three “persons?” We have all heard different analogies of explaining the Trinity. When my boys were young we bought them a children’s book that attempted to explain the Trinity as an apple. The book said it something like this:
The Father is the skin of the apple. He is our protector. 
The Son is the flesh of the apple. He is the one who makes us strong. 
The Holy Spirit is the seed or core. He helps us to grow. 
We must, however, remember that all analogies fail when it comes to the Trinity. In fact, all analogies lean toward some form of heresy. Why? Because God can not be analogous. If you could compare God to an apple, what would that say about him? It is impossible to compare God to anything. Actually, the only thing we can kind of compare him to is us. We are the only thing he made in his image. And yet even we are a faint comparison to Him. Even that analogy breaks down at some point. Analogies can be helpful, but we must always keep in the back of our mind that they are flawed.

Perhaps just plain words are better descriptors. I like how C.S. Lewis pictured the Trinity. He saw that God, who is triune in nature, as someone who is “super-personal.” We can't even imagine such a person. I like that phrase Lewis uses, super-personal; God is personal to an extreme. Actually, he is more than a person. Meditate on that for awhile. I believe there can be a comfort and an excitement that one can find in such an understanding. One day we will all stand face-to-face to this ultimately personal Person. Better yet, we can know this super-personal Person even today.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Importance of Identity: Ministering to Generation Z

I have recently been re-reading some books by Dr. Mary Pipher; she is an important author who has brought a unique perspective to adolescent development and issues. Her work combines her training in both the fields of psychology and anthropology and her focus is how American culture affects the mental health of individuals and families. Her most famous work is Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, a book describing the contemporary challenges facing teenage girls. If you have a daughter, it is a must read.

One aspect that Pipher discusses at length is that more and more adolescents (girls in particular) are falling prey to depression, eating disorders, parental conflict, addictions, and suicidal tendencies. Pipher contends that there are some basic causes for this development. First, because we live in a culture that puts such a tremendous emphasis on appearance, adolescents are faced with the danger of what Pipher coined as "lookism.”  Lookism is evaluating others solely on the basis of one dimension--appearance. When society bases value on the way people look, dress, behave and present themselves, the implications will be that young people overtime will never be able to live up to those imposed standards of image and beauty. Essentially, Pipher says they will learn to grow up without a personal identity. Pipher asserts that before blaming adolescents or parents, we must first look to see where the culture misleads and puts pressure on adolescents and children to be thin, attractive, unintelligent, sexual, and popular. As she states, “Teenage girls live in a junk culture filled with inducements to consume, to be sexual, to be 'lookiest' and self-absorbed. They are pelted with media much worse than anything my generation experienced as girls.” As the book suggests, our teens today are being corralled in this herd mentality and losing the unique essence in how God made them to be.

Secondly, Pipher maintains that a danger for many adolescents at this point in their lives is that they move from the stability of their families into the broader cultural climate. They essentially let their friends and the media raise them in which they, and not their parents, model for them what they perceive to be right and good. By distancing themselves from their parents, sometimes these young adults sabotage the one place where they can find the aspects they yearn for—a sense of acceptance and constancy.  To remedy these harms, Pipher believes that those who work with adolescents must have a role in strengthening families by helping them relate to the culture at large. Because of the advent of dual-income families as well as other causes, families are broken and fragmented, and therefore someone who works with adolescents needs to focus on building into these relationships. 

Another solution is to focus on the adolescents themselves. Helping both young men and women focus on interests and hobbies, on volunteer work and their learning, rather than how they look or where they are in the chain of command at school, is a start in establishing a unique identity for themselves. By assuring adolescents that it's okay to not be popular and that in fact, it's actually better to not strive for this, can promote a sense of self that is healthy and distinct. She maintains, “One way to help is to praise girls for their talents, accomplishments and character, not their appearance. Another way to help is to be non-lookist oneself. Another way is to limit exposure to media and to process carefully all media the family consumes.”

Being the father of two teens myself, the world my sons are growing up in is vastly different than the one I did. With this, Pipher contends that this generation is being sold a false bill of goods; that they are being told it is okay to be sexualized, that being popular is what is most important and that image is everything. But this is what can be so difficult--when we are ministering to others, we are often doing it out of our own paradigm or experiences. We need to know our children and the culture they live in if we are ever to counter what is happening in that culture. How do we do that? Mainly, getting out of our own comfort zones and really engaging with the culture of our teens. One of the simpliest ways is just grabbing your son or daughter's iPod and listening to the music on it. By looking at what these musicians stand for and by listening to the lyrics that they are expounding, you can glean the message that is being spoken and propagated. By doing so, a parent can engage with their son or daughter and discuss with them the more subtle issues their teen is being presented, whether that is at school, at the movie theater or in your living room in front of the television set. By keeping these communication lines open, relationships such as these perhaps can then prompt this generation to reestablish their own unique perspective and regain control of who they should become--the unique individuals that God has made and called them to be.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Looking at a Painting Can Do

Many years ago, shortly after becoming a Christian, I came across a remarkable painting by Michelangelo Caravaggio entitled The Supper at Emmaus. I was at my school's library in downtown Chicago—Grant Park was right outside the window from where I sat. I was flipping through a bunch of books that I had grabbed off the shelves. I was just wasting time, waiting for a class to begin. That day when I caught sight of this painting, it began for me a new way of seeing Jesus. Immediately, the painting caught my eye, because it wasn’t your typical “religious” work. In fact, it was almost too non-descript, and at first, I didn’t realize that it was a painting depicting anything sacred or religious— it just looked like a painting of a few guys eating together. I’ve only seen this painting in art books, and one day, I hope to venture to the National Gallery in London and see it up close. I am sure it will then be even more significant then when I see it up-close.

Something was special about this painting, made up of nothing more than some oils placed with some thought on the canvas. As I stood staring at it, I realized why it held my attention and I recognized its uniqueness. It was how the characters looked. You know what caught my eye? Jesus looks real. Gone is the blond hair and blue eyes. He looks like a real Hebrew guy, olive skin and all. You see, the painter Caravaggio did something earth shattering in his time as an artist—he painted Jesus like a real person; amazingly, he looked human and real-to-life. In fact, very uncommon for his time, most of Caravaggio’s models were peasants from local villages. Instead of painting the noble and the wealthy as his models for John the Baptist or Jesus or any other biblical character, he was painting the cobblers, fishermen and maidens of his day, and therefore his paintings took on a look that was authentic. 

With this, in this painting of Caravaggio’s, Jesus looks like a person; someone you could know, the guy next door. He seems approachable. This is the operative word—Jesus in this painting comes off as a person. Before this, in the art world—for the artist, Jesus was never a person—He was just “God.” Most of the artists in this period were painting the “majestic Christ”—the unapproachable Jesus, the one on the throne, the one you needed to schedule by appointment. But this is only half the story because Jesus really is a person, a friend, a confidant. In contrast, with Caravaggio’s painting, you see this “friend” aspect come out onto the canvas. Jesus is just hanging out, eating a meal and shootin’ the breeze. When I saw this painting, this was in my early years in being a Christian and this was the Jesus I wanted to get to know. You could get close to him. This is what I wanted. Unlike other religious art I had seen up to that point, it captured Jesus as someone you would want to get to know. As a contrast, go look at some of the art work from this period and you will notice that the characters are oblong and uncomfortable. Let me illustrate some examples; you might have seen some art depicting Jesus like this:

•    Painting No. 1: Baby Jesus is white and his face looks like he’s 59 years old—wrinkled and balding. He wears a smirk, a baptismal gown and a bratty look.
•    Painting No. 2: Jesus has his kingly pose, no smile, wearied look and it looks as if he might want to think about getting a prescription for some Prozac.

Again, these portrayals of Jesus’ just don’t seem real. They don’t really tell the story. These painting are depicting Jesus as he is not. Caravaggio was getting into it, painting as if he was there, sitting at the very table, and showing you something sacred and important. 

For us, this is important, because how we see Jesus can be an important step in actually knowing him. If you imagine Jesus to be unapproachable or dour or aloof, this will obviously impact how you relate to him. The Bible calls this idolatry; when we attribute to God something that he is not. This is precisely why reading the Bible can be so important, because in essence, the Bible is over and over attempting to show us who God really is. Because of our culture, our upbringing, and what others tell us (be that our friends or the media), these aspects offer an "image" of God and this often does not line up to what the Scriptures say about him. The more and more we can imagine (i.e., to simply form a mental picture) the real Jesus, the better we can know him and how he relates to us in our daily lives. When that occurs, things can open up for us in knowing who God really is.

Here are a couple of verses from the Bible that you can read that perhaps can help you "re-imagine" who God really is:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;  he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Psalm 18:16-19

I'll make a list of God's gracious dealings, all the things God has done that need praising, All the generous bounties of God, his great goodness to the family of Israel— Compassion lavished, love extravagant.
He said, "Without question these are my people, children who would never betray me."So he became their Savior. In all their troubles, he was troubled, too. He didn't send someone else to help them. He did it himself, in person. Out of his own love and pity he redeemed them. He rescued them and carried them along for a long, long time.

Isaiah 63: 7-9 (The Message)

Friday, November 5, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Pablo Picasso was in a park when a woman approached him and asked him to draw a portrait of her.

Picasso agreed and he quickly created a sketch of her on some paper.

After handing the sketch to her, she was pleased with the likeness and asked how much she owed to him.

Picasso replied: "$5,000."

The woman exclaimed,
"But it took you only five minutes!"
Picasso replied, "No, madam, it took me all my life."

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Family to Our Family, Blending Families When Getting Remarried

This fall at Ada Bible Church, we have started a new class called Marriage Prep - Remarriage. It is led by Brian and Marcie Johnson and they are doing a terrific job leading a handful of couples who are considering a second marriage. Recently, Brian wrote a piece on the challenge of blending families when a couple remarries. Brian gave me permission to share this with you -- it is very insightful and offers a lot of wisdom on this topic.

Failed family dynamics are the primary reasons second marriages do not make it past the second year. In fact, marriages with children are 50% more likely to end in divorce then second marriages with no children. The issue can be summed up with the vast differences in expectations and the seemingly never ending battle to find common ground. Rather then balancing you and your fiancée’s expectations, you now have to consider the expectations of each child as well as your former spouse. The only factor that remains constant is that all of you will be on different pages much of the time. Some expectations you will be able to work with, but several others you will not. Navigating this ever changing dynamic is one of your greatest challenges as a newly wed. Your family can be the source of your greatest pain as well as your greatest joy. The key is nothing short of being patient, graceful and merciful over and over again.

Unfortunately, the true family dynamics don’t really start to unveil until after the wedding ceremony. While things are likely to be going strong up until the wedding day, life seems radically different after saying “I do”. Before marriage, children are ‘excited’ about the potential changes and appear to be on board. You’ll hear awesome things like, “He’s such a fun guy to hang out with, I can’t wait until he’s here all the time!” But, after the vows, the realities of the experience set in and conflict can occur.

Many children lack the emotional maturity to be able to proactively verbalize their expectations in a healthy non-confrontational manner. They are much more apt to respond to circumstances as they occur in what appears to be anger or resentment toward any one of the family members. If you confronted them on “why” they are acting out, I’m pretty sure you would hear something like, “I don’t know..I’m just mad!” In the absence of being able to openly discuss issues, parents are often left with connecting actions and reactions to get a clue as to what the root cause is. If you are not the primary custodial parent, finding the root cause of the emotional upheaval is even more difficult. Depending on the child, some causes may be school, friends, your home environment or the other parent’s home environment. It takes a lot of grace and patience to sift through the negative responses to establish a root cause, but it is fundamentally necessary.

Believe it or not, your former spouse will also have a profound influence on your family whether you like it or not. He or she may be threatened by your new marriage and persuade the children to think and act in ways that preserve their role as the biological parent. The level of his/her influence over your children’s attitudes may depend on the amount of time he/she spends with them and how deep that relationship is. If your former spouse is the primary custodial parent, how he/she responds to your new marriage can be a powerful influential factor that may leave you feeling helpless to alter things. If the spouse is not involved at all, at some point in your child’s life, they will want to experience the love of the missing parent. Both of these factors are beyond your control and are likely to cause friction in the new family. A child that feels secure in having a loving relationship with both biological parents will be more likely to adapt to the upcoming changes then if one parent is missing or not involved.

Failed expectations equates to failed hope. When the family doesn’t function in the way you envisioned prior to marriage, disappointment sets in for many of the family members. A step parent may have unrealistic expectations coming into a marriage (whether they were verbalized or not) and when the actual dynamic unfolds into something different, they can’t help but feel disappointed. Your child's expectations are not much different in this regard, their idealistic view of the new marriage is far from reality and usually remains unspoken. Long term disappointment leads to despair, which leads to resentment for several of the family members. I believe the hardest hit are the children and the step parent. As tension rises, the obvious (and unfortunate) solution is to force the biological parent to decide between the kids and their spouse. In a sense, it’s a divorce of sorts, but this time, it’s between the kids and the parent. Unresolved conflict between any of the family members is something that absolutely needs to be addressed. The hard part is dealing with the external factors that are beyond your control.

If you find yourself reading this a few times to try and digest it… good! The point is to illustrate the vast array of expectations that need to be blended on common ground in order to find peace in the home. Using pre-marriage indicators are not really a good barometer for success, because things change radically after the vows. So, all this leads to the question, “How on earth do we do it?” The common ground resides in Christ. If the Lord is pulling you into this marriage, then His plan is better then anything you can imagine or hope to have. Let Him have control and you should stay in prayer, fervently! Due to the complexities involved, if you wish to be married at Ada Bible Church, a requirement is for any couple who is considering a second marriage, it requires them to attend family counseling to develop a game plan prior to marriage as well as modify the plan after the wedding day. You will develop a strategy on how to integrate your family under specific circumstances as well as develop a keen sense of warning signs that things are starting to go off track. This then can establish a solid foundation in which not only your marriage can be built, but your new family can as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Interesting article about work-related stress (click below):

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making It Worse

It was not dogma that moved the world, but life. W. M. Ramsay

A.W. Tozer, one of the most gifted Christian writers, entitled his most famous work Following Hard After God. It’s a great title. It says it all. It is one of my favorite books and I can remember reading it some years ago. The book said it like it is, but in a gentle and beneficial way. It broke me down and yet it lifted me up. The best writing is remarkable; it not only speaks eloquently, but in an obvious way cuts to the heart with its nouns, verbs and prepositional phrases. However, in thinking about that title today, strangely enough, one can also follow too hard after God. A person can miss the point in why they follow Him at all.

We really can learn a lot by looking at the life of Peter. He is the disciple of disciples. Go look at the life of Peter in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the gospels, he’s passionate, conceited, arrogant, single-minded, legalistic, cruel, selfish, focused, foolish, long-winded, big-on-himself, and yet dedicated to Jesus big time. Can you see the hypocrisy and duplicity? Can you see the problem? On the one hand, he had it right (put Jesus Number One in your life) and on the other he had it all wrong (hot-headed and two-faced). Peter was two people—the passionate follower and the loose cannon. The central problem was that his passions were misguided. 

Here’s the key, they were based on rules and not relationship. Let’s say it one more time, Peter based his life on rules and not relationship and that’s where all that junk came from and why he nearly missed the point entirely. It just wasn’t in his heart--literally. All of this stuff came from what he knew—to know God meant to obey the rules, follow the instructions to a "T," to know the manual inside and out. This was the mode of operation found exclusively in the Old Testament and the kind of stuff that the Israelites got hung up on. Peter was just continuing the cycle.

It all began really well with Jesus when Peter met him fishing; but then Peter made it worse. He became a terror—mean-spirited, angry and entirely missed the point. He was becoming all that he wasn’t supposed to be. Let’s just give a few descriptors to who Peter was becoming: stern, hollow, had to follow all the rules at all costs, a mile wide but an inch deep, perfectly obedient, working only on his own strength, had all the answers, and hypocritical. That’s just a few. Jesus, however, was going to teach him something new. Jesus was going to move Peter to a place where he was supposed to be—into friendship. When he gets to that place, compare that same guy in the rest of the New Testament, beyond the gospels. He is a totally different guy in those other books, in particular through his own two letters (I and II Peter) we see this clearly. He’s slow with his words; he’s generous; he’s kind and patient; he puts others before himself; he’s got love by the horns. Peter finally became Jesus’ friend and it took a miracle unlike any other that Jesus performed, and it happened on a beach (read John 21).

Brennan Manning in his book A Glimpse of Jesus relates this story. He remarks that a well-intentioned friend offered a eulogy to someone recently deceased: “John was a wonderful Christian. He never missed church, was married only once, and never told a dirty joke.” Manning's point in this part of the book is this: is that what a Christian's main goal in life is to be—gets to church on time and never says a cuss word? This is what can so easily happen when one ventures on with Jesus. Let’s admit it; it’s so much easier to follow a bunch of rules rather than be in a relationship with the One who is bigger than big. Boxing ourselves in with a bunch of set of laws, conventions and systems seems like the most sensible way. It’s easier that way. But it’s not the best way.

Think of the Pharisees. In some ways, Peter was acting just like them. First, they followed a bunch of rules and regulations for themselves, and then, in the end, put all that junk on others. This was exactly where Peter was going in his own life, and Jesus had to stop him and quick. You might remember that Jesus had made Peter the go-to-guy, referring to him as the Rock (Matthew 16:18) and if he was going to lead his church in this manner—he could have really messed things up! If Peter had had his way, being a Christian would have become some warped version of what Jesus intended—it would have boiled down to just following a bunch of rules. Do this; don’t’ do that. In this, Jesus had to drive home his point in a very striking and painful way to Peter. You might even remember how Jesus made that point with Peter; he used a rooster and a teenage girl to teach Peter a lesson or two. After that incident, that following week for Peter was a very long one. Life was put on hold and he had no idea where he stood. It was a terribly humbling experience. But in the end, he learned something that just could never connect with him in the previous three years of learning from Jesus. Throughout those three years that Peter knew Jesus, he kept getting it wrong. Now all of that was about to change. Sooner or later, he would realize that being a friend to Jesus was even better than being his disciple.

A couple of questions to ponder:
  • What do you think is the difference between "being religious" and "being in relationship with God?"
  • What might be some of the clues that a person is just being religious?
  • How can one "be in relationship with God?" (read John 14, pay special attention to verse six)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Pointing of the Finger

This is a ficticious short story written about a moment in the life of Peter from the perspective of one of the twelve disciples, Thaddaeus. It exemplifies the reality of what Peter was like before he learned about the grace of knowing Jesus. 
To be honest, we were all getting sick and tired of him. I think even Jesus was fed up, because every now and then Jesus would just let into him like I never had seen before. Jesus was very serious in these times and he made sure that you understood that he wasn't joking. He did this all too often with Peter. 

Again, I want to be honest about this, Peter was very difficult to get along with. He had to do it his way and no other. That was the thing that puzzled us all so much, because on the one hand, Jesus could be so hard on Peter, but then at the other, Peter was always at his side and seemed to be his favorite. Often, this perplexed us. I remember one time in particular when Jesus had left us for a few hours and ventured off to be by himself--Peter just went crazy, telling us all what to do; he chided almost every single one of us, but specifically both Thomas and Bartholomew really got it that day. He went on and on about how he was disgusted with their subtle criticisms of where we were going and how we were spending our time. He lost it, ranted, raved, and cursed them as his face got redder and redder. We all just stood there, white-faced and our mouth's open, amazed at what we were seeing and hearing. We couldn't believe the words that were coming from his tongue. This was when I began keeping my distance from him. Peter could be passionate, but he can also be dangerous. He seemed only to hurt those around him with his words. As my grandfather would say, it is never good to befriend the dangerous.

The incident that really pushed everyone over the edge was just yesterday. After this, out of all eleven of us, I don't think Peter has one friend; maybe his brother Andrew, but that is just because they are brothers. Granted, it was late and we were hungry and most of us were a bit edgy, because we knew that something was about to happen, but I still cannot understand how he could say such words, especially because of all that we had gone through in the last years as brothers. Jesus was trying to get it into our heads that by going to Jerusalem something was going to change, something dramatic was going to occur. Admittedly, we were all a bit afraid, but that was no way to talk to someone. To be honest, I was a bit angry that Jesus didn't confront him more on his attitude toward us.  

It wasn’t what Peter said so much as how he said it. He spoke with venom. As Jesus was telling us in his own way that there would be challenges ahead for us as we went to the city; Peter in his loud and boisterous way, spit into the air his words, “Jesus, these, these, may forget about you, but I will never.” Angrily, he was pointing his finger, sweeping it across us all. Again, he shouted, "These, Rabbi, may forsake you, but not me!" After that, I never trusted Peter. Maybe he had more zeal than all of us, but for some reason his motivation was not right. I can't put my finger on it, but I wouldn't be surprised if things end badly with him. His eagerness is strong, but his gentleness is none. Nothing good can happen to a man like that. There is only one hope for him; Jesus is going to have to do something dramatic to change this man.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Our Good Friend, Barnabas

-->This is a short story written about the person of Barnabas found in the book of Acts. 

Written from the hand of John Mark (see Acts 15).  c. 61

Yesterday, my good friend, our good friend, was taken from us. I write this letter with great sadness as our friend, Barnabas was taken outside the city gates of Salamis,  and cruel men took him and stoned him. Barnabas had been preaching in that city about the gospel of Jesus Christ and a group of men from the synagogue in that town accused him of blasphemy. Without even a trial, they stormed into the home where he was staying, and before daybreak, pulled him out of bed, not even giving him a chance to put his proper garments on and set him before the council in Salamis. Reminiscent of our Savior's trial, they would barely let him get a word out and when he tried, they would strike him with a strong fist to the face. Not much else is known after this incident of the trial.  They imprisoned him for two days, and then they must have secretly took him outside the city gates and murdered him there. I have heard from others that many inhumane tortures were done to him prior to the stoning. Three days hence, a traveler found his body and brought it back to the city. This man had found him with his face nearly unrecognizable. The only reason they were able to identify his body was because lying next to his body were some of the writings of Matthew that Barnabas had re-written with his own hand. There in Salamis, that small fellowship gave him a proper burial. My heart is broken because my friend is gone.

As I sit here and write, I remember so many good things that he did for so many. Barnabas was unlike most men. He was generous and had a tremendous amount of wealth, but he shared equally with all. I do not know much about where he came from—I know that he was born into a wealthy family and would often sell a piece of property or offer a generous gift to someone who was in need. If you asked of Barnabas, you always received. He was a person whose word was always true; when he said he would do something for you, he would do it whether that meant sharing the Scriptures with you or even one time, I remember, one of the women in our fellowship had been sick for many days, and he went and tended to her children and her work for those days.
Barnabas greatly loved children. He was a giant of a man and gentle, and you would often find children hung around his big back as he gave them rides as if he was a horse! He loved to be around children, sometimes even more then with others. When we had a gathering, and after the Lord's supper had been shared, we would often not be able to find him. After looking for a while, he would be outside and we would find him playing some game with a handful of children.
Of course, I will never forget him, because in many ways he saved my own life. I had joined Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip-- really I was too young, but I thought I knew everything and that I was invincible. We entered the town of Perga and even after one day, we began to be ridiculed because of our message about Jesus. I grew very timid. To be frank, I was terrified. What would they do to us? Both of them had told me stories of others who shared the gospel and of them being beaten or being thrown into jail, but I guess I just didn't really believe that that really happened. Now, when a large group of people had surrounded us and were threatening our lives, my knees grew weak, and I am embarrassed to say,  I vomited all over myself. That seemed to calm the crowd down as they laughed at my misfortune, but for me, it opened my eyes and I grew cowardly. I wanted to go back home—I didn't want to continue and so I abandoned both Barnabas and Paul.
It was over six months later that I saw both of them back in Jerusalem. By this time I had felt awful for what I had done. I had learned of their hard work and the dangers that they had faced. I carried a tremendous sense of guilt because really I had not deserted them as much as I had forsaken my Savior. I resolved I would never do such a thing as that again. It was a couple months later and Barnabas and Paul had decided to venture again to Cyprus. I wanted so much to show both of them that I could be trusted and so I went to Antioch and asked if I could join them. Paul immediately barked at me that he would never let me go with him again. He reiterated over and over that I had failed them both in my cowardice. He yelled that I not only jeopardized my own life, but theirs as well. Paul was furious with me for even bringing it up. Barnabas was trying to calm him down with his big but quiet voice, but Paul's strong words continued and he maintained that he would never let me join them again.
I remember that day well. Barnabas stared at me. He focused on my face and we locked eyes. Admittedly, it was as if I was in Perga all over again and I was terrified. Why was he staring at me so fiercly? As he looked at me, his eyes glistened with tears and he turned to Paul and spoke words that I will never forget and ones that haunt me still. 

“Paul, perhaps you have given up on John Mark, but I have not. You take Silas and go to Tarsus. John Mark and I will journey back to Cyprus.” 

That was it; that was all he said. But his words were solid and strong. I had never heard him speak with such forcefulness and with such conviction. Paul did not say a word, he just nodded twice and as he left the room he placed his right hand on Barnabas’ shoulder. His eyes too began to moisten, because he knew that he would never see his friend again.
As we left, we did not speak for a good hour. I knew I needed to give Barnabas some room to think. Now that I much older, I have learned that even though it is good to make sacrifices, it does not take away the sharpness of the pain. I had cost Barnabas his friend and in that silence I seemed to hear him say that it was okay--not maybe good--but okay.
Barnabas was a good man, easy to be with even when you were difficult. Through him, for the first time I genuinely was learning forgiveness. Not until now do I understand what that was. I did not deserve a second chance. But forgiveness was at hand, and I accepted it. Because of that, I found the courage to sail to Cyprus and met Barnabas at the docks the following day. Because of that man, I found the courage to follow my Savior.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Dragons We Are

C.S. Lewis illustrates a person "losing themselves" in an inventive manner in one of his early books. Some of you know it because it comes from his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia. In the third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is the story of a boy named Eustace. Early on we meet Eustace, but there is something different about him compared to the other children—he’s very selfish, often complaining and overall bothersome to the others. There’s something missing for him and you see that piece of him clearly in comparison to the other children.  Simply put, Eustace is a broken soul.
Through a selfish adventure in which he goes off by himself, he learns a difficult lesson. One evening he wanders off and he comes upon a dragon's lair. In the cave, he finds a treasure guarded by a dragon. As he sits there staring at this treasure, he begins to devise ways in which he can steal these riches for his own. He accomplishes his task, and as he slips on a stolen bracelet, he slips off to sleep. As he awakes, he discovers a surprise:

He was surprised at the size of his tears. They also seemed strangely hot; steam it went up from them. But just as he reached the edge of the pool two things happened. First of all, it came over him like a thunderclap that he had been running on all fours—and why on earth had he been doing that? And secondly, as he bent towards the water, he thought for a second that yet another dragon was staring up at him out of the pool. But in an instant he realized the truth. The dragon face in the pool was his own reflection.

Amazingly, because of his wayward actions, he had become a dragon and as he lived in this new skin, he began to detest this strange life. Overtime, he began to realize some things about himself. He began to discover how harsh and cruel he was and had become. He was not a friend to his friends and as he walked around in these dragon scales, he wanted a change. Slowly but surely, he began to realize that he acted like a beastly dragon when he once was human. The curse he was, he had now become.

He wanted to be friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things. He realized that he was a monster cut off from the whole human race. An appalling loneliness came over him. He began to see the others had not really been friends that all. He began to wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed.

But this is not the end of the story. Eustace has a remarkable transformation in which parallels what needs to happen to each of us. In his frustration, he longs to be himself again, a newer self, more friendly and caring of others. The central character in the Chronicles of Narnia is Aslan the Lion. He is the figure of Jesus in the the Narnia books. In his great tale The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes the first time the children hear about this Aslan, the Great Lion, who is the Christ figure in the book. The children are at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who have had dealings with Aslan.They tell the children about this Aslan, the Lion:

"Is---is he a man? Asked Lucy.
"Aslan, a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor beyond the sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-the lion—the great Lion."

Ooh!" said Susan. "I'd rather thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

In this story of Eustace, this great lion Alsan intervenes and goes to the young boy who has been transformed into a dragon. Almost as if playing a trick on him, Aslan tells Eustace to scratch off his skin, perhaps then he can become a boy again. Eustace begins to tear away at his scales and even though it feels good like itching a scratch, as the skin comes off, it quickly reappears. He does this three different times and Eustace soon realizes that his skin is impossible for him to remove. In frustration this boy-dragon demands of Aslan in how many times he must attempt to tear this skin away and become the boy he once was.
However, Eustace soon realizes that it is only Aslan who has the ability to change him. The only way in which he can ever be himself is to let Aslan remove the scales. It is a perfect picture of what we must all undergo to overcome our own selfish and sinful bent. Only Jesus can do that work for us.

The very first tear he made it was so deep that I thought it had gone right in to my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh, but it is such fun to see it coming away. He peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been… and then I saw why, I’d turned into a boy again.

This deep tear in the heart is what we all need to happen and only Jesus can wrench out from our hearts that selfish impulse which lies there. To genuinely be unselfish is innately unnatural for all of us, and it is only Jesus, who just as with Eustace, can turn us from dragon to child. As St. Augustine pointed out: Man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible. This is the life of the dragon. We must all go through such a transformation and if we don’t we will continue living as dragons—truly alone and with only thoughts for ourselves and living in genuine unhappiness. No different than what Jesus demands, we must all become like children again:

For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. (Matthew 18:2-5, The Message)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Dream to Know Jesus

One of the more interesting ways in which a friend of mine began his life as a Christian was through an exceptional dream. 

Back when I was in college, I met Shunyuan; he was Taiwanese and in his residency to become a physician at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Shunyuan began attending our little Bible study that we held into the wee hours of a Friday night—just a couple of 20-some-year-old guys who were hanging out and talking about the Bible as it pertained to our motley lives. Shunyuan had grown up Buddhist and I wasn’t ever quite sure why he would show up every time we met. His beliefs were different than ours and he let us know that, and yet each Friday he would show up and be ready to share his own thoughts, often questioning why we followed this person of Jesus. Even though he had grown up religious, at the heart of it, he was an atheist. He really did not believe anything. That was okay for us; we needed someone to add some flavor to our group and to challenge our own thoughts and ideas, and he would often have some tough questions for us.

However, this unbelief part all changed one day. One morning he woke up out of a beautiful and terrible sleep, and his life was entirely altered. Shunyuan had a dream one fall night that dramatically changed him. The dream was fairly straight-forward:

He recounted a couple of days later to us, that in the dream he was swimming in the ocean with his daughter who was about six. His daughter meant everything to Shunyuan. A few different times, when we would openly share about our lives, he would tell us that he would not know what to do if something ever happened to her. His daughter meant everything to him. 

In this dream he had, his daughter and him are swimming in the ocean, and out of nowhere, a shark attacks his daughter, tearing off her right arm. Shunyuan pulls her ashore and as he sees the blood pouring out, as a doctor he knows that if he does not tend to her quickly, she will bleed to death. He sees how dire the situation is and he grows pale because there is no way to stop the bleeding. The love of his life is going to die and he begins to cry profusely into the sand. As he looks up, he sees a man walking toward them. A strange thing happens: immediately, he recognizes that this person is Jesus and as he fixes his eyes on him, Shunyuan realizes that Jesus knows his true heart—that Shunyuan does not want to have anything to do with him, even to the point of rejecting him. Again, because of this, he grows hopeless because he believes that Jesus will not heal his daughter, which now he believes and knows that he can do. He believes that Jesus will just continue to walk down the beach and do nothing. However, Jesus does the opposite of everything that Shunyuan thinks and walks up to his daughter, touches her arm and everything is restored. Without looking back at Shunyuan, Jesus wanders off down the beach without a word.

At that moment, Shunyuan woke up and began to trust that Jesus truly was the Christ. Shunyuan began to “believe” that Jesus was the Savior, his Savior and that he could do remarkable things.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Messy Journey to Simply Believe

Our critical day is the not the very day of our death; but the whole course of our life. I thank him that prays for me when my bell tolls, but I thank him much more who instructs me how to live. John Donne

In any journey, you have to start somewhere. Believing in Jesus also has a beginning. Whatever you want to call it -- giving your life to God, becoming born-again, following Jesus, being saved—the Christian journey starts off by believing. A believer is someone, well…who believes. What’s a dictionary say about that word, “belief?” It defines believing as simply the mental act, condition or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or thing. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? I like to think of it as a change of mind. I once thought this; now I see it this way. This is what believing is—it’s little more than changing your mind.  

As an example, a case in point of this occurred in our home some years ago. By far the food that Julie and I enjoy the most is Thai. Up to that point, the most risqué thing our boys ate was something called the Ultradog; it’s a unique and messy hot dog from a place here in Grand Rapids called Yesterdog; it’s coated with onions, chili, cucumber shavings, ketchup and mustard (yeah, I know it sounds disgusting, but you’ve got to try one). So one Saturday evening we decided to introduce this southeast Asian cuisine to our sons. Micah, at the time was probably five, and immediately and emphatically expressed his disapproval. “Yuck, no way! Gross!” After finally getting him to the restaurant (yanking and pulling and bribing) and then finally making him take a bite, he bellowed, “Hmmm…This Thai food doesn’t taste half bad!” His mind and taste buds had been transformed. He changed his mind about how tasty Thai food actually was. Put simply, he began to believe in the goodness of Thai food.

Believing in God on one level is similar and is a pretty simple process if you think about it. Whether you are a ten year old at a Bible Camp or the member of some long-lost tribe in Kenya who’s never even seen a book, let alone a Bible, the process is no different:
  • You hear and understand that God exists.
  • Your life is confronted about who you are through the story of the cross.
  • You acknowledge who you are as a sinner and who God is as a Redeemer.
  • You begin to believe in God and begin to believe that He can take away your sins.
God made it easy and straight forward in starting a relationship with him. For some of us, it happened when mom came in our room when we were six and prayed for us at our bedtime and then asked us if we wanted “Jesus to come into our heart.” For some others, it happened in high school or college, an arduous intellectual process in which we needed all the facts lined up, and all the apologetics made straight in our mind, and we then made a mental transformation in our belief system. And then for some of us, we were deep in our own broken world, had made a total mess of our lives, maybe we were going from bed to bed or from drink to drink, and saw only one way out and that was the way of Jesus. Believers come in all different shapes and sizes; perhaps they have been Christians for 40 days or as long as 40 years.

There are many ways in which God reaches out to each of us. Often, he is quite imaginative in his approach. Jesus is so in love with us that he will do whatever it takes to be near us, close to us, in relationship with us. There are many ways in which he captivates us and I have heard countless stories and the many different ways in which people come to faith. 1) A guy hands you a tract on the subway. 2) It's late at night, you can’t sleep because of that stupid nasal congestion, and you’re flipping through the channels and you come upon some television preacher. 3) You are all alone in another town on a business trip for three days and on the second day you open up the bedstand table and begin flipping through the book that lies in there. 4) A friend opens up their life to you about Someone who has made a dramatic difference in their life. Many years ago when I was living in Chicago, I heard Joseph Stowell comment during a sermon, “God is like the Canadian Mounty Police…He always get his man.” And in doing so, he comes up with some of the most normal and most odd ways in bridging that gap.

Next time, I will tell you a fairly remarkable story on how one person began to "believe" in Jesus, and overtime God began to bridge this gap from not believing to at least believing just a little bit.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Boundaries with Kids, Henry Cloud and John Townsend

A couple of good quotes on parenting from Henry Cloud and John Townsend's Boundaries with Kids:

Training moments occur when both parents and children do their jobs. The parent's job is to make the rule. The child's job is to break the rule. The parent then corrects and disciplines. The child breaks the rule again, and the parent manages the consequences and empathy that then turn the rule into reality and internal structure for the child.
Don't go overboard in praising required behavior: 'We have only done our duty' (Luke 17:10). But do go overboard when your child confesses the truth, repents honestly, takes chances, and loves openly. Praise the developing character in your child as it emerges in active, loving, responsible behavior.

We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

I have been reading a really good book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled Outliers. This book can address so many different issues a person is facing: their spiritual lives, their work, their role as a parent. You could apply this stuff in so many different areas of your life. A fairly simple read, but chock full of wisdom -- here are some highlights:

Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.

For almost a generation, psychologists around the world have been engaged in a spirited debate over a question that most of us would consider to have been settled years ago. The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talent? The obvious answer is yes. Not every hockey player born in January ends up playing at the professional level. Only some do – the innately talented ones. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger role preparation seems to play.

In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing that makes you good.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Update on the Congregational Care Department

In the last 3-6 months in respect to caring for our congregation, we are now creating momentum and I am personally excited by what the Lord is going to do through our entire congregation to care for our congregation and beyond to our community.
I am nearing my second year on staff at Ada Bible Church and since that time, we have done a thorough job of restructuring how care occurs here at the church and multitudes of individuals and married couples have stood up to serve with us in making this a reality. Here are some highlights of this “momentum” God is creating with us:
The Care Department
The restructuring of the care system is complete and for the most part, there is no place where a person who could slip through and not find some kind of care while here at Ada Bible Church. Perhaps the one thing I am personally most proud of is that in some many different circumstances our staff, board and leaders are working as a team in providing help to others.  Moving forward, we want to continue to pursue this ideal: to create a team environment in which all ministries—ranging from the Board, Administrations & Operations, the Teaching Team, Family Ministries, Adult Ministries, Worship Arts, Facilities, Missions; all areas of our church are in some way caring for those who call Ada Bible Church home. We are definitely moving in the right direction.
The Care Team
The Care Team (Deacons-Benevolence, Mentors, Budget Counselor, and Care Elders) is an amazing group of individuals who simply get what it means to care for our congregation. So many different folks have jumped on board and are serving with a passion. Countless stories are occurring on a weekly basis about what God is doing in respect to restoring a person’s finances, a marriage, a broken individual, a wayward soul. As one story: I won’t mention him by name here, but one of our mentors recently came up to me earlier this summer and said that he has been serving in the church for over 40 years. In this last year and a half he has been serving as a mentor, leading many different men in a variety of difficult situations. With this, he said being a mentor has easily been the most rewarding service he has ever done in church. As he said, not only has he been able to pour himself into these other men, but in doing so, God has been pouring himself back into him in a greater way than what has happened in a long time. It is a privilege for me to serve with this team.
Pastoral Staff and Volunteers
Prior to coming to Ada Bible Church, I had a lot of experience in working with all of the larger churches in the area as well as many smaller ones. I had the privilege of working closely with staff of many of these churches and in some cases, got to know these organizations intimately. I have to say this:  we have the most professional, dedicated and spiritually mature staff I have ever worked with in all these years. I love working here with our staff and on a daily basis have interactions with most everyone on staff here. There isn’t a single department that is not looking to care for and serve their leaders and volunteers in a way. When a care situation arises in one of these circumstances, in each instance, they jump in and fill that void and if more resources are needed, look in the right direction for that extra help.
In conclusion, as a comparison to last year: “by the numbers,” we have cared for considerably more individuals and families at Ada Bible Church. There are countless stories I could share with you in which I have witnessed our staff or our leaders moving into a difficult situation and then God slowly restoring an individual, a teenager, a marriage or a family. As one comparison to this growth, six months into my position, we had four mentors; today that number is over forty and we will most likely double that number in this next year. It is purely mathematical—when you have more people willing to serve, you can do more. When you have those who are willing to step up and try to make even the smallest of impact in the mess of a person’s life (Matthew 10:42), God does the unthinkable.  By continuing to grow our leaders and Care ministries, I expect the Lord to do even more amazing things for us in this next year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Necessity to Grow

I know of someone who recently has walked away from their faith. This was a person who some years back was serving and living a life that was exemplary when it came to being a Christian. However, over the last couple of years, I began to see that this life began to wane and he did not take his relationship with God very seriously over these last years. Slowly over time, it began to show, and not only with the obvious outward signs. Sadly, with this and since that time, he has made many poor decisions which has not only impacted him negatively, but his family as well. It's been a little bit like watching a train wreck.

With that, I have been thinking about how dangerous it can be not to grow as a Christian, which essentially means to not have Jesus at the center of your life on a daily basis. And yet, this happens all the time. Sadly, in general, the church today places such emphasis on evangelism, "getting people saved and into heaven," but too often focus too little on discipleship—learning how to live a life with Jesus. The Barna Group has some staggering statistics, confirming the fact that the church is good at “making converts, but not disciples:”
  • When Christian adults were asked to identify their most important goal for their life, not a single person said it was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ, or to make disciples of Christ. 
  • Less than one out of every five born again adults had any specific and measurable goals related to their personal spiritual development. 
  • Less than 1% of all believers perceived a connection between their efforts to worship God and their development as a disciple of Jesus.
  • The most widely-known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves"—which is not actually in the Bible, and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.
But as each of us knows--living for Jesus every day--this is really where life begins, not when you say the sinner’s prayer. Life is always continuing and we need to move with it. Often in Christian circles, over time, being reflective and deliberate about our relationship with God is put to the side. For whatever reason, people tend to stagnate rather than thrive after making a commitment of faith. The questions don’t get asked. Masks begin to be worn. We play the part, but don’t really know the role we should be playing as it relates to being a Christian.

Living like a Christian is easy, being in relationship with God is a whole different matter. This is what Jesus was talking about when you build something on sand. I learned quickly in my own life, that if you have any amount of biblical knowledge, watch out. You eventually will become the expert, the guru. People will perceive that you have it all together, everything is in place, and you and God must be best buds. But all of this can be perilous, because it allows or forces ourselves to not be who really are. In the end, we paint ourselves into a corner to which there is no escape. Because we have played the role of the well-behaved churchgoer, we don't know how to play any other. Sadly, I know this from first-hand experience from years past.

But knowledge is never the standard for relationship and too often in the church, this is what we emphasize. It’s easy to know a lot about someone; it’s a whole new thing to know someone. This makes sense—it’s much more easy and comfortable to just know about someone, simply knowing the facts (e.g., "she works at a hospital, likes to eat salads at lunch, has three kids, and drives a Black Toyota Sienna."). There’s distance and safety and very little mess. Knowing just the facts about someone does not mean you know them. Lots of us know a lot about a whole bunch of people, but it goes about as far as that. It's the idea of the a mile wide, but an inch deep. For some, it can be a rarity that we have genuinely deep and strong friendships. We keep people at bay, at a safe distance and we don’t go too deep.

But we need to move beyond just knowledge—we need to know. John Wesley once wrote, “Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame, if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago.” In that statement, Wesley was saying that it was disgraceful if he hadn’t grown beyond where he once stood in terms of knowing God. We need to keep moving on as well, being restless and asking for more. This should be the end goal. I think C.S. Lewis said it in the most direct way possible:

Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature -- either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

Those are strong and difficult words, but they are so true. Yogi Berra said it in a similar way, but in a way only he could: If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else. As Christians, we need to continually change and grow and move beyond just knowing about God and genuinely encounter him. At the end of the day, we need to know where we are headed.