Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Big Garbage

It's big garbage collection this week.  Everyone's favourite time of year, well maybe not everyone but my wife loves it.  Who doesn't want free stuff?  Well I love it now too, partly because we got some great free stuff for Isla, but mostly because the Lord has spoken to me this week through it.  I love when he speaks in really weird ways, that's usually how I know it's him. 

It started like this...

This past weekend, I was helping do a youth encounter weekend with some friends in Glace Bay.  My wife, Gemma, was a little upset that she was left at home for the weekend with no car.  She's been talking about this day coming since last year when she got some sweet treasures from someone else's trash.  I knew she'd be really excited if I found a cool chair or some awesome tricycle for Isla, so any chance I had to drive around Glace Bay I had my eyes peeled for something hiding in a pile of rubble.  No luck, I didn't notice one thing that was even worth stopping to look at. 

What I did notice was how much junk people were throwing away.  I couldn't believe how people could have collected all this stuff, why they had spent their money on such things and how they could just put it out there for the entire world to see.  Some of it was embarrassing.  Who would buy a couch like that? What does the rest of their house look like? Where did they keep all this stuff up until yesterday? It doesn't look like it would even fit in their house...  You know all those judgemental things that cross our mind.  I had lots of them.

Then I came back to my own town.  The weekend ended a little early and I didn't have anything to bring home to my wife yet so I thought, I'll just drive around and see if I can find anything, there must be better junk in Sydney Mines than in Glace Bay.  Guess what, Sydney Mines junk is the same as Sydney junk, is the same as Georges River junk, is the same as Glace Bay junk.  I returned home empty handed. 

Then the Lord spoke to me.  I went to the shed, to get the one box of junk I thought had to put out, very proud of myself that I didn't have nearly as much junk as my neighbours.  Then I started going through my shed. Guess what happened?  Junk everywhere, things I had dragged around for years, broken things I thought I'd fix someday, scraps of wood, curtain rods, empty oil jugs... junk, junk, junk.  So that was all good. I pulled boxes out to the street, organized my shed and looked around and felt great  (now there's room for lots more junk in my shed).

But the Lord wasn't done yet, he always has some spiritual plan when he shows us something in the natural.  It's always to refine us spiritually.  So I finished dragging my junk to the curb and looked up and down the street to compare my pile to my neighbours again.  He said, “You know you've got other junk you need to get rid of too, right?”  I realized I'd just spent a couple days driving around judging just about everyone in CBRM.  I drew all kinds of conclusions about people I'd never met based solely on their junk; how they lived, what they spent their money on, what they value...  The Lord showed me I do that all the time, me, a youth pastor, who writes a blog giving spiritual insights and claims to follow Jesus.  Turns out, I’m not quite perfect yet, I’ve still got some ugly bits in my heart that the Lord hasn’t dragged out onto the curb yet (don’t worry, I didn’t actually think I was perfect, just being a little facetious). 

We do that quite often though, we ‘the churchies’.  That’s why lots of people don’t want to go to our churches or be around people that ‘follow Jesus’.  Everyone has junk and all too often we either make huge over-assumptions about a person because they have junk in their life or we pretend like everyone in the church has already dealt with all their junk.  Clearly we have not, if we think that we have, we’re on the Pharisees team.  Maybe some of us have dealt with more than others, maybe some of us never went down the same paths where we can pick up so much junk, but we’ve all got something left we can get rid of.  Here’s the thing, only the Holy Spirit is flexible enough to get into those places where junk gets stored, like behind the washing machine or under the rug.  I just moved my washing machine, trust me, there are mouldy things under there that you thought you washed long ago.  There’s stuff in the attic you thought would never come back down.  Everyone has somewhere they store their junk.

So how do we start to get rid of it?  It’s hard to do it all at once.  My back was sore yesterday from lugging all that heavy junk to the curb, I’m not sure what I’d feel if I tried to get rid of all my spiritual junk at once, I’ll bet something would be sore.  But I think we can get rid of some of it and start the process of sifting out the trash. 

At the Youth encounter weekend we had 6 different people share and teach different sessions with the youth, some pastors, some not.  People shared some very personal things from their lives, things God had helped them through and was still using to refine their faith.  These were some of the most real and honest talks I’ve ever heard, people sharing huge mistakes they made and real struggles they are having even today.  And the youth responded.  They saw ‘church people’, who maybe they thought would never have dealt with these kinds of things, open their hearts and lives at the risk of ruining their reputations or bringing judgment from others about the junk they had in their lives.  It was the real deal.  Then the Holy Spirit brought some freedom.  He took some of those confessions and struggles, dragged them out to the curb where everyone could see them, could rummage through them, maybe take something out of the pile, something they were looking for, something they needed, then it was hauled away, forgiven and dealt with.  I don’t know where the junk goes when they take it way, but I know it’s gone from my life forever when I ask Jesus to forgive me.  The Bible says when you are forgiven it goes as far as the east is from the west. 

I know I still have more junk to get rid of, things that are hard to let go of, but I want to keep thinning them out.  Some of them are too big to carry on my own.  I need a friend (or even a church) to help me through them.  Then maybe I can help them too, with things they can’t carry. 

Here’s an idea that I’m sure no one will go for but what about this; we pick a day and it could be spiritual large garbage day in the church.  We’ll all get together, spend the day putting our junk out there - maybe even ask for help for the things that are too big do deal with on our own.  People can look at all the junk everyone has, help go through and find the things that will help them and realize they’re not the only one with junk.  Then together, as the body of Christ, we can start helping one another get freedom and forgiveness for the junk in our lives instead of judging or feeling judged.  The Holy Spirit can take that junk where ever he takes it so we don’t have to deal with it anymore. 

Hmmm, that probably wouldn’t work... would it

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Bust a Move"

Do you ever feel like you're an almost Christian? I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that but sometimes I think I'm just not quite all in. It's like I get the salvation part, believe in Jesus ask for forgiveness, zip zap zip, I'm good, I think I'll walk the dog. But am I really all in? I like to think I am. I really want to be. Like if Jesus came along and said, "ok, you've been an ok guy, kept most of the commandments, of course you've messed some of them up a bunch of times, but I'll take care of that... now just go sell everything you own and give it to the poor, and then we'll go get something done." He's been know to do that, what if he says it to me?

Wait, you mean my house? I haven't even finished renovating it yet... Wait, my guitars? How am I going to lead people in worship if I do that, that's what I got them for... my cell phone? You want me to get rid of my cell phone? What would that prove... Well I mean, they are yours, but you're not serious, right?

Yeah that's how I feel sometimes. I haven't actually heard him say that yet (at least I don't think) but what if he does? Is that the measure of a real follower? You tell me. Lots of us are happy to tell people we love Jesus, but what if he calls us to do something crazy, is he worth it? Because if he calls me/you to do it, it's got very little to do with me/you. In fact it's always all about Him; bringing glory to him by showing his grace to someone who's never seen or heard it yet.

If we're called to die to self and follow him doesn't that mean everything? I mean dead is dead right... unless Jesus gives life back. I don't know exactly what Jesus is calling me to right now, but I know if he says to do something, I don't want to be an "almost Christian" and not listen, (he called them lukewarm and plans to vomit us out of his mouth). I don't want to have a long intellectual conversation that eventually talks me out of it, I don't want to rationalize it away, I don't want to choose myself over him. I just want to respond, all in on red. It's not really gambling is it? It's a sure bet. There's a great Andrew Peterson song called "Dancing in the Minefields" (makes me almost cry when I watch the video...maybe I'll let it out someday). The lyrics go like this:

Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
'Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

I do believe his promises are true, that's why it's not a gamble if I do what he says.  I used to love dancing. Confession, I've always loved hip hop and wanted to be a break dancer, I know, who'd have believed it. But I've always been afraid to do it in case I looked stupid. I think I feel that way about doing what Jesus says too. What if it looks stupid? In fact, I'm certain I'll look foolish to the world. When I listen and respond to him, he frequently tells me to do things that make me look a little crazy, but they are always for someone else, about someone else, never about me.  Jesus let me share in the joy when it touched someone or brought some freedom or encouragement to someone, but it was always his joy. I think I want to start dancing with Jesus again. Just so you're not disappointed, this Andrew Peterson song isn't a hip hop song, it's about waltzing with your wife (I want to start doing that more too), but I think I'll be the bride and let Jesus lead from now on when it comes to doing things with him. It sounds a little weird I know, but that's what he compared us to so get over it. Maybe Jesus will decide he wants to break dance instead of waltz, I'm ok with that too.  I'll pull a hamstring, and I'm sure it'll look ridiculous but I think I'm ok with that now...

Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re an almost Christian, (if that even exists), maybe you're like me and just need to limber up again, do some stretches, put on your sweat pants, get some old cardboard boxes out on the ground and start moving. Listen to the beat, maybe try just clapping along at first until you hear his rhythm. But if he calls you to jump in the middle of the circle and start spinning on your head, he’s sure you can do it, in fact, he’ll hold your feet.

Break dancing not your thing? That’s ok, it’s probably not mine either, but what’s your response going to be if he calls you to do something that looks crazy?  Just bust a move.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Off the Couch"

It seems we're always changing, or else we're dead. Physically, our bodies are constantly changing. Some are getting older and breaking down, some are growing new life inside them (that's weird and amazing at the same time), some are getting rounder and some are getting muscular. Our bodies are always changing. In fact, just in case you don't think yours is changing, know that your ears and nose never stop growing throughout your whole life.

So why do we fear change so much as the church. Jesus compared us (the church) to a body so change is inevitable. If we don't change and see new life come to the church it does the same thing our natural body does; breaks down, gets out of shape and eventually will die. Walk into any church more than twenty years old and see if they've embraced or pursued change. It's not hard to figure out.

We don't really have any way to stop this process. Physically, our bodies just get worn out over time. If we spend our life exercising, filling ourselves with good nutrition and never taking any risks, we can extend our life, even slow down the aging process, but eventually are bodies wear out. Some people try to fake their bodies wearing out with plastic surgery and Botox but it's pretty obvious that you can't fake the natural process that's taking over. The church is the same. If we are spiritually active, eating the bread of life and filling up on the fruit of the spirit, we'll retain our vitality as the body of Christ. In fact spiritually, we actually get to see and enjoy the new life that is created from this. We get to see a shadow of the new body that we'll get when the final restoration comes. When we start trying to fill the church with false things, false spirituality, it's painfully obvious that we're just masking the slow march to closing shop.

I know it's scary to take risks, what if we fall and break a hip - that'll be painful - some people never recover from it. What if we're so out of shape, we don't know where to start? Once or twice a year I usually decide I'm going to start working out after being on the couch for 6 months. In fact, I'm thinking about it right now, maybe I'll start tomorrow. On day 3 after I work out though, I'm so sore I don't want to get out of bed. But if I stick to it, by day 10 I can feel a change in my strength. Now, I usually quit by day 30 because I am not very disciplined, but I often think of what it would be like if I made it through a year.

What if we never take any risks spiritually? What if we never step out to go for what the spirit is calling us to? We probably won't hurt anything, but we'll slowly grow stiff and cold and although we may not break a hip, our joints become too sore to use anyway. We get so inflexible that we can't even get up to go after the spirit.

Our muscles are sore after we start a workout because we actually create tiny tears in the muscle fiber but the muscles repair and add new muscle fibers to make you stronger. Spiritually sometimes we need things to be stretched and torn a bit too so we can make room for the spirit to work in those places. He is made strong in our weakness. The problem is we often give up on day 3 when we start on a spiritual workout. We have a hard time getting through the pain that it brings. Let's face it, lots of us have a whole bag full of junk we have to work through spiritually and the church as a whole has warehouse full of baggage, sometimes it's easier just to stay on the couch. You will see a huge change in your life if you work through it.

If you have been on the couch spiritually for any length of time, you don't need to jump up and do a marathon of evangelism and healing - it'll probably give you a spiritual heart attack - but you've got to start somewhere. Try going to a weekend retreat, try listening to a Podcast of some speaker you've never heard or try reading different translation of the bible. It'll be like drinking a protein smoothie.

As the church, we have to start somewhere if we want to see people's lives changed by Jesus. It's obvious that whatever we're doing is not very spiritually active. Churches in general are not growing; new people are not coming to hear the good news. We have to be willing to get up and do what the Spirit is calling us to, even if it seems risky, even if it's a little bit painful, if we want to see new growth. Jesus will be made strong in our weakness if we're willing to take the action he lays before us.
There are probably as many work-out programs as there are church programs and everyone thinks theirs is the best one. Circuit training, muscle group focus, high reps-low weight, low reps-high weight, machines vs. free weights, protein powder, steroids... pick one, they'll all do something, I don't know which is most effective, who cares (don't pick steroids, they are the obvious fake thing I was talking about earlier, people can tell when you're on the juice), maybe you just need to start by going outside for a walk in the fresh air. Churches are the same. Preaching, small groups, outreach, Sunday school, prayer meetings, committees, bake sales, worship nights... pick one, they all do something, maybe you just need to go for a walk through the neighborhood and pray to see where the spirit wants you to start. I think we just have to be willing to push the boundaries of what we know a little bit (maybe a lot). If I work out for the next year and only do arm curls with 20 pound weights, my arms will not get stronger and the rest of my body will not be affected at all, I will not grow. If I go to a prayer meeting for the next year and never try to go further after what the spirit is saying, I will not grow.

We know the results if we don't go after things spiritually, both as a church and individually, we get old and stiff and die. I wonder what it would look like if for a year, we stuck to going after the spirit rather than just sitting back in our traditions and programs, hoping the spirit just does something. How much would we grow? How much stronger and spiritually in shape would we be? If you want to find out, start coming to church ready to respond when the spirit moves, start going to prayer meetings expecting the spirit to answer your prayers on the spot or start teaching Sunday School as if what you're teaching the kids, the spirit is using to change their hearts. Start walking around willing to look foolish before man, if it means Jesus gets glorified. Have you ever seen those huge guys working out at the gym? They wear spandex, make all kinds of grunting noises and push each other to the next level. They look and sound ridiculous to me but it obviously works. They are huge. Have you ever seen people who are actually impacting the world for Jesus, they speak his name at any cost, the gospel is more important than the clothes they wear, sometimes they even make funny noises and say strange things, but God is using them. Is he working in your life, or do you need to get off the couch?

My friend Scott and I have this agreement that we're going to run a marathon "off the couch". No training, no problem. It drives his wife crazy when we talk about it, because she's actually a runner. I'm not sure about him, but I'm sure I will be in the hospital if I attempt it. Spiritually, though, I know I need to get off the couch (as I sit here on my couch writing this) or the purpose God created me for is going to fade away. I'll get old and look back to remember the chance I had to follow the life of the spirit. I'll be bitter and jaded because I see people all around me living life in the spirit but my heart will be too cold to go out with them. I don't want this, I hope you don't either. What do you say we start pushing a little bit, one more curl, and see if we can build a little spiritual muscle.