Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Running.  I don't run like I used to.  I used to plod along.  More miles and longer run times is better than collapsing after a one mile sprint I thought.  So after years of jogging along I had trained my body well to never run fast.  I could plod.  Unwittingly, I had trained myself into a plodder.  So I changed the way I run.  I started slowly.  I ran, not too fast but as fast as a plodder can run, and then I would stop and walk.  No more plodding.  I either ran fast or not at all.  As time went by, my body began to realize that I was no longer a plodder.  My stretches of actual running grew longer and I did not need to stop and walk as often.  I still use this method to re-train myself each year to try to up my speed a little.
In one's spiritual growth, we must not settle for plodding.  The best way to not plod is to practice moving. Every year one should go through a spiritual upheaval.  Spend more time in prayer, more time serving, more time in Scripture.  More time in the fellowship.  You may have to stop and walk from time to time to catch your breath (Mark 6:31) but your attention to God will grow, your prayers will blossom, you will run and not grow weary.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time with Dad

Early childhood researcher, Urie Bronfenbrenner found that fathers generally think that they spend 20 minutes a day talking with their children.  

Using lapel recorders, researchers found that those same fathers actually spent 37 seconds a day talking with their children. 

Children spend 7 hours in a school setting, 2 hours (US average) in front of the TV, and a couple of hours of the world’s cultural input through music.  How much impact can 37 seconds have? Amazingly, a tremendous amount.  Children so value parental interaction that even ½ minute can win out against 660 minutes if it comes from Dad.

Research also shows that more that 37 seconds from a parent is a better thing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Erasing Hell

Francis Chan's new book, Erasing Hell, is getting a lot of press these days as it should.  It is an important book. Not important in that it refutes Bell's book, Love Wins, and with grace and mercy, but because it it places our position with God in the light and exposes the pick and choose Christianity of most of us.
Most of the people I have talked to about both books get stuck on the surface tension of whether there is hell or not and how off Bell is.  That is not the issue that gets my attention.  What drew me into the book was the authentic and confessional voice of Chan as he explains that he doesn't like the way God works sometimes ....But believes anyway.
Not understanding God derails many people and prevents them from coming to Christ.  But many, many Christians simply ignore much of Scripture that they do not understand or like, Scripture that gets in their way, and so invent a God to their liking.  This is common to us all and even Chan falls into this in his book though he admits that he is "rethinking".  There is a theology lens which disregards the critical nature of our participation in God's work of salvation causing adherents to believe in hell but simultaneously to believe and then disbelieve that we have any responsibility for our end - that our disobedience is critical but not our obedience.  In that theology, Chan's Grandmother's unwillingness or inability to participate in Christ's work disqualified her for heaven but our willingness (Chan's own willingness and submission) which qualifies us is not our own.  This makes a God of great power but not of justice or love.  If God makes Chan believe, then He also made his Grandmother disbelieve.  That could be true - God can do what He wants - but there is no justice in that for God and no value in our love for Him then, we being automatons.  Some would like God's actions alone to save us as Bell would like God's actions alone to save us all.  But if one looks at the verses Chan himself uses to establish that there is a hell, it is quickly evident that hell is the end for people who don't behave (or at least try) according to Jesus' expectations.  While Jesus calls us to believe Him, our response to that call by repentance and good works is essential to Jesus' acceptance of us and thus to our salvation.
Very similar to Bell disliking hell, most evangelicals reject the idea that faith and works are two sides of the currency which purchases our salvation.  Our work is certainly inconvenient in theology and it complicates the sovereignty of God and His grace.  But evangelicals often, like Bell and hell, talk and theologize their way around work hoping it will go just away.  However, it is only our western mind, as Newbiggen says, that polarizes faith and works.  Jesus could not be clearer, nor could Paul and Peter and John that both faith and response are required.  That "not all those who call me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom, but those who...."
So, Erasing Hell is a great book about reading the Bible without the baggage we like to bring along.  Every time you sit down to read Scripture, start new.  Read it as if you just came out of the vineyard on your way home and heard Jesus talking or Paul railing at the Corinthians or the writer of Hebrews accosting a crowd.  What do you think they mean about liars and fornicators?  Don't theologize--- just, What do you think Jesus means at face value about separating sheep and goats?  Is Paul talking to my greed when he says the greedy will not inherit the kingdom?
I don't like it either.  I would love to be able to watch TV and quit making an effort to follow Jesus.  I would prefer a God who drags me by my hair to heaven despite my behavior.  But I believe the Bible and it scares me.  Do not be deceived, Paul says.  Do not think we have a wrathless God who is simply kind and endlessly indulgent.  To be sure, the amount of my effort is value-less.  That I turn... is priceless.  Thank God....!  Oh Thank God that He is merciful.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Flying by Instruments

During World War II, a pilot was attempting to land through dense clouds.  Not able to see the runway, he of course had to depend on the instrument panel to tell him whether he was level and what his altitude was.  Not a big deal for seasoned pilots.....until he developed vertigo, a condition in which a person's equilibrium system shuts down.  He grew increasingly dizzy and unable to sense when he was upright.  His mind and body could no longer tell which was is up.  This pilot began to have a compulsive belief that the plane was no longer horizontal and was listing into a disastrous roll.  Everything about his sensations, everything his body and mind were telling him was that his wings were rolling to vertical which meant they would lose altitude quickly and crash.  However....  The instrument panel was clear that the plane was maintaining altitude with wings horizontal.  The pilot, a tribute to his training, relied completely on the instrument panel, ignoring everything he knew within himself to be true, and flew the plane in and landed.
Several friends of mine - and I myself - have gone and still go through this experience spiritually.  It is very disconcerting to have everything you normally rely on, worthless against a spiritual vertigo.  God is absent.  You honestly can not discern which way is up.  It is a dark night of the soul where nothing comforts, nothing reassures, nothing about God makes sense.  One's mind and heart seems to have turned against you, trying to convince you to change your course, to quit or rethink your understanding of and relationship with God.  The experience, as extraordinarily confusing as it is, is actually a sign of maturity and testing.  It is a test against relying on what you are getting out of this God deal or believing thinking you have figured everything out.  It is, hopefully, in the end a reaffirmation that you believe not in you but have actually surrendered your ego and submitted yourself to God and His control - again.  Submitted to His story instead of yours.  The crushing doubt of spiritual vertigo is a major step in embracing God's story rather than your own.  You are forced to fly by His rules and abilities.  Flying by instruments is a painful, humble, giving up of your belief in yourself and an opening to a deeper, more profound faith which over time excises doubt and despair.  It is an experience which, if not circumvented but explored, allows you to hear God's voice in a new and richer and more radicalized (root finding) way.  Flying by instruments against the chaos of our culture's, our own, and at times even our church's imposed vertigo is a blessing as challenging as our blessing of freedom.  What are our instruments as we fly in this "cloud of unknowing"?  The Bible, holding hands with someone else, ritual/routine, biographies of saints, duty, the Office of the Hours, the Book of Common Prayer, authentic dialogue with God and the fellowship, Psalms (e.g the 40's) - and prayers to a silent God. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Insufficiency of Christ - 6 Final

Suffering is the biggest problem/dilemma with God.  The argument goes: If God is all powerful and good then He doesn't care because if He did care, then He could and would fix the world and end my suffering and the suffering of everyone else.  Since there is suffering, then either there is no God, or He is not good, or He is not all powerful, or He set the world in motion and is letting it run by itself, or He created this but doesn't really care or arbitrarily cares what does or doesn't happen.  In short, if there is a God then He is insufficient to meet our needs or doesn't care.
Of course, all of these arguments turn on the perspective of us as the center.  In all of these scenarios, our story is what God should be about.  If you pick up a history of New Zealand from inception until today, you will not find my name mentioned.  I could contend, then, that New Zealand has no purpose in existing, may not even exist at all, actually.  They have nothing to do with my story.  If, on the other hand, the main story in the world is not about me but about New Zealand, then I am the one irrelevant.... unless I join their story.  AND even if I join their story and become relevant, my individual comfort and ease is not the objective of the story.  In fact, my suffering may be inconsequential or even necessary to the story.  New Zealand's story is bigger than me.
Jesus' story is the relevant one.  Jesus' story is the real story.  Jesus' story is bigger than me.  Jesus' story gives me relevance.  With this shift in perspective - from my pre-occupation with my story to a dedication to Jesus' - life in all its troubles and glories makes sense.  Jesus is sufficient for every need because the only need is to further His work and story.  Even martyrdom makes sense.  Even Paul's shipwreck makes sense.  Even a crucifixion makes sense.
For us all, for Jesus to make sense but also for our lives to make sense, we simply must reorient ourselves and have Christ as the center of our lives, His story as the story we are willing to do anything to forward, His agenda easily replacing our own, our goods and services at His complete discretion, our lives, in all its splendor and heartache, happily turned over to Him.  It is a glorious freedom to live this way.  Everything makes sense.  Christ IS sufficient to all our needs within His plot line.  "Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done."  "Ask anything in my name ["in my name" = within the context of my story] and the Father will give it to you."  Of course.  Hallelujah! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Insufficiency of Christ - 5

What IS the STORY then?  The story you have left Egypt for and must entered Canaan for is a history of God and His remarkable desire to reconcile people to Himself so He can enjoy us and we enjoy Him forever.
So first and foremost, our part in the story is that we are lovers with God.  Song of Solomon is not in the Bible by mistake.  God is passionate about a relationship with us.  Our primary purpose in life is to play before and with God.  This is worship.  This is the why of the Sabbath:  God didn't rest because He was pooped from making hippos.  He was saying, "I love you for who you are not what you do. I love just being in a relationship with you.  I long for you to spend time just being you with Me."
Our second activity is to somehow get others to connect with this passion of God.  Though we all worship poorly and need to engage in worship better, the second part of our purpose causes huge practical problems.  Our whole life, every activity, every work, every thought, every prayer, our job, our hunting outings, our family, our possessions, our money, our time, our meals, our empty-nest bedrooms, our spare change, our cars, our camping gear, the extra coat, the extra bicycle, the bothersome kid down the street....everything about us should be directed towards either 1) us playing with and being real before God or 2) joining in His desperation to get people to love Him.  A fun life is not God's goal for your life.  He does want you to enjoy life so you can play well and free but He also is unashamedly willing to use you to get others to come to Him.  He desires love from people so desperately that He is willing to sacrifice your temporary happiness to get others to to engage with Him.  He is willing even to sacrifice His own son/self.  If you are not in these two stories, God play and ambassadorship of reconciliation, then Christ is of no use to you and He will be only a frustrating, irritating cur in your effort to have a life of your own.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Insufficiency of Christ - 4

Leviticus 18:3 "You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you."
The first reason for the insufficiency of Christ is having a wrong identity - thinking that you are your own, that the story is about you.  The second is very related - engaging in the wrong story.  We have already mentioned this but even if you believe that Christ is Savior and Lord, even if you think your identity is "Christian", if you have bought into the wrong story then, again, Christ will end up being insufficient for you.  You may muddle through.  You may just ignore your disappointment in Christ and His church or repress it but there will be a seed of bitterness and sadness and even anger at God that makes a home in your heart and turns your yearning for Him into questions and wonderings and mistrustings and giving up-ings.
The STORY:  There are two movements in the Exodus story: leaving and entering.  God says that His people can no longer live the story of slaves in Egypt.  Most people, even non-Christians, get this.  Everyone wants to leave the past and embrace the freedom to be themselves.  But usually they are too afraid and if they try they typically make a mess of leaving.  Therapists are therefore making a fortune... on Bandaids.  The great tragedy in this is that some people actually do leave but are not able to complete the process by entering Canaan.  They end up back as slaves in Egypt with the added problem of now thinking that leaving doesn't work.  Back as slaves and mad at God for not coming through, not showing up, not being big enough, not making life work.  They chalk up Christianity as one more philosophy/religion that is really nice, makes sense of some things and provides some comfort while they make more bricks for Pharaoh.
Even if we believe that we belong to Christ, even if we serve Him in some way or another, our joy and peace and power and perseverance will be ever just out of reach if we are not in Canaan living His story.
Some would say that Jesus as Savior is enough but we are not free by being set free from Egypt, as essential as that is.  If we do not accept freedom, respond to freedom and follow God to the Promised Land, we may not be slaves to Pharaoh but we remain slaves to wandererings in the desert.  Of course, neither leaving nor entering is accomplished by our own hands.  God must part the Red Sea and the Jordan as well.  He saves us time and again but without our response to His Lordship in Canaan, His Saviorship at the Red Sea is a despised, unwrapped and useless gift.  The story is within Christ as Savior and Lord.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Insufficiency of Christ - 3

If our identity is a bit part in the world's play, then what we do may look OK for a while but the plot will fray as time goes on.  It's the wrong script for the stage God made.  Things get broken and we wonder why the life we have been dealt isn't fair, isn't what we expected.  Life doesn't work because it is the wrong life for this world.
Contrary-wise, if your identity really is in Christ's story, then... life still won't work but for an entirely different reason.  Your life as a Christian, "all such good works as Thou hast prepared for us to walk in", your part in the story, works for God's story but not in the world.  The whole world is trying to make a different story, their individual stories, take place on the same stage.  You, like John and Stephen and Mary and Lydia and Peter, gum up the works, finding yourself at odds with every non-Christian and their agendas.
The insufficiency of Christ for the world's story surfaces quickly because He is not interested in another play, a different plot line, someone else's story.  This is why the disciples were so frustrated with Jesus.  This is perhaps, as suggested in Jesus Christ Superstar, why Judas betrayed Jesus - trying to get Him to play His hand, trying to force a different story.  We are all Judas's in that regard.  We have been taught to "invite Jesus into our lives".  Very wrong message.  We must, rather, accept Jesus' invitation for us to join HIS life.  Otherwise, He must, in order to remain true to His agenda, remain insufficient for ours.
Our identity has to be found as a player in His story.  In order for Jesus to make any sense at all in our lives we really do have to die to ourselves and accept another, different, not our, view of who we are.  We are chosen before the foundations of  the world.  We have a different name.  We are God's handiwork with work to do for Him.
But everyone thinks they are someone else than God has intended them to be.  Third Day's "In time will I be what You're thinking of?  Rescue me."  We must change who we think we are.  Accept who God thinks we are...knows who we are.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Insufficiency of Christ - 2

Imagine you get a backstage pass to a Broadway theater tour.  During the tour you find yourself being hustled along in the midst of a crowd hurrying somewhere and you end up with a crowd on stage in a play you know nothing about.  Imagine further that the crowd turns into a mob and fighting breaks out all around you.  This is our experience, this is our reality in the world today.  We are dropped into the middle of a play that is in full swing.  Most people persist in trying to ignore the play and try to go peacefully about minding their business but nothing makes sense.  Life just doesn't work.  The suffering doesn't make sense.  The fighting doesn't make sense.  The relationships don't make sense.  The activities range from bizarrely amusing to frustrating and infuriating.  Your plans don't make sense and don't work.  Logic and reason are no longer logical or reasonable.  The rules of engagement and expectation and behavior don't seem to apply.  In fact, even your identity is all wrong.  You are not who you thought you are.  Not only does your life not work, everyone around you is frustrated too because your agenda's and efforts make a mess of their life.  It makes a mess of their life because they are in the same boat you are trying to mind their own business and get along and life isn't working for them either.
This metaphor has two threads:
One, there is Christ's story and being dropped in it, you are a part of it or messing it up.
Two, there is the world's story that is bizarre but one which everyone else wants to be in... and you, Christian or not, are messing it up.
Being dropped into Christ's story - the real story - and not realizing it, means you will never make it.  You will never live in the Kingdom of God having the security and rest and freedom you should.
On the other hand, as a Christian, if you are living in Christ's story - the real story and so living correctly - you are dropped onto the world's stage and its story so you will never fit in.  Your life as the world sees it will be anything from a quaint amusement to a radical departure from reality as they know it.  Your life is disruptive and inconvenient and ridiculous though all the while somehow intimately drawing, attractive because the true story resides and is playing out in every heart.  The greatest atheist or pantheist or animist or Hindu or Buddhist hears God's strange dialogue that has a familiar ring.  God's story is not far from any of us.  Our part in the story is not far from us.  But we may, and most do, choose to embrace a different identity from ours in God and remain confused and frustrated and wondering what in the world is going on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Back in the saddle next week.  VBS prep and production for this week's run has slayed me....whew.
Great affiliation and association time for kids though.  An accommodation time for many adult and teen helpers and some assimilation into Christ's story as well.  Grace upon grace.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Insufficiency of Christ -1

Just lost another friend to apathy about Christ and the church.
For all you theological types, take a breath.  I am not saying that Jesus is insufficient.  What this is about is, "Why do people today, even after finding Christ, look for more than Him, look elsewhere for hope and peace and ...something?"  "What about Jesus is not enough?"  "What does a relationship with Jesus not offer?"  "Why is it so hard, even for me, to persevere in the long martyrdom of the Christian life?"
As with many of the answers the Holy Spirit has been pointing me to over the past few years, I believe this answer, too, is about the story.  Our worldly formation ties us so well into the story of the world that our part in God's story quickly becomes muddled, unfocused, uncomfortable, unrecognizable.  So much so that we easily lose sight of the story itself.  A continuing counterformation to the world's story is crucial if we and our children are to not only find our way to Christ but to stay with Him.  Even after all that the disciples went through with Jesus, even after the resurrection, as related in Matthew 28:18, "some doubted."  What is it that they still needed?
First, it is identity.  We must know who we are, whose we are.  And that comes with the constant telling of the story of the community of followers both in the past and now.  Fill your child's head, and yours, with the lives of the prophets and the disciples and the saints.  The disciples knew a story, of a Messiah who would "restore the kingdom of Israel" and their identity was wrapped up in that story.  See Acts 1:6.  They were formed by that ancient but misinterpreted story.  They had their identity in their present struggle.  Jesus did not fit well in that.  He will not fit well into our story.  When Jesus died, they realized that He was insufficient to their struggle.  Their twisted identity even persisted against the three year teaching and extraordinary events of Jesus.  They had lost, were defeated...again.  Misplaced hope.  -----  Because their story was wrong and their identity, based on their story, was wrong.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Liturgy as Formation - 3

The first formation through liturgical activity is learning - head knowledge and intellectual assent.  The second liturgical formation activity is spending time with Christ and the community.  The last formation "work of the people" is our call in II Corinthians 5:18 to ambassadorship.  Our formation is like a light bulb in a series circuit which also has a motor in the circuit.  If the motor isn't running the electricity can't move through the line and the light can't come on.  In order for transformation to happen in you, you have to be involved in service/ministry.  God's word will never come back ineffectual.  If you sit back and wait to be transformed before you start working in God's story you will wait forever.  To put formation in investment terms, 45% should be invested in time with Jesus and the fellowship, 35% in ministry and 20% in study.  For most Christians today, our Christ-following activities are predominantly: 1) study, 2) a small amount of time spent in prayer and fellowship, and 3) rare ministry/service.  What this does is create people who are philosophy "Christians" who know a lot about God and assent to most of his teachings and ethics and therefore think that they are Christians.  These are those for whom I fear, Jesus will say, "I never knew you."  You really must fall in love with Jesus.  Not the book.  Not the idea.  Not theology.  Not the traditions.  Not the church.  You must fall in love with Him.  Learning is good but the bulk of any relationship is spending time doing stuff together and for others.  Get to work.  We are not saved by works but we will not be saved without them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Liturgy as Formation - 2

So Liturgy of the Word is easy and the one we love to pursue.  We go to Bible Studies and Sunday School classes but this is qualitatively different than sitting with Jesus.  Now, there are Bible Studies that spend significant time in prayer and relationship with each other and with Christ.  Kudos to them.  The Word informing the relationship.  Perfect.  For most, however, the liturgy of "being with" Christ is so much harder, too hard in fact to press into.  Unfamiliar territory for most of us and uncomfortable.
When Jesus walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He taught them the whole way, and "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked..."  BUT, when did they know Him?  When did their relationship with their lost Savior and friend come alive?  In the breaking of the bread.  Our second work of liturgy is the breaking of bread.  It is literally that in our sharing with each other in the Eucharist, and almost impossibly, it is more than that as the Bread of Life becomes part of us and we are part of Him.  We end, no, shift, our intellectual relationship from that of figuring it out to engaging with Him.  As I was graining with Mr. Philip under last night's moonless sky, I did learn some more about Mr. Philip, but what I learned was translated in the process of poling along and paying attention into respect and admiration.  I grew to know him.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist is a model for the liturgy of all our engagement with Christ and others.  It is the work of the people in doing stuff with each other in order to translate our learning about them and Christ into knowing them.  "Depart from me you workers of iniquity.  I never knew you."  Harsh words.  Jesus is not talking to the Pharisees here.  Harsh words to people who were doing a lot and thinking a lot but never laughing a lot and crying a lot and eating a lot with Jesus.  So this second part of the Liturgy of Formation, relationship building, is perhaps the most important leg of the three legged stool.  You MUST do things with Christ and others.  You must do things with the "least of your brethren."  "Associate with the lowly."  "Love your enemies."  It is essential to your formation to run counter to the world and even in some regards to our churches by ensuring that the time spent learning about Jesus is in proportion to your spending time with Him and with others in non-learning activities, breaking bread (Eucharist and meals), going for a walk, fishing together, time alone talking to Jesus without your Bible, making sure that the lesson you learned in class is applied and changes who you are, building a boat together.  "And this is how they will know you are my disciples, how you love each other."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Liturgy as Formation - 1

Liturgy (literally the "work of the people") is formation.  Most Americans believe that formation is simply the next fad word for religious education.  However, Jesus in John 5:39 states, "You study the Scriptures diligently thinking that by having them you have me but you know me not."  Being a Jesus follower is not a matter of the head except in that our knowledge orients our worship.  Knowledge informs us about Who we are worshiping.  Evangelicals often get lost in the pursuit of knowing about God and forget to say "Hello."
There are three parts to our historical liturgy: 1) learning about Whom we love (the liturgy of the Word);  2) spending time with Him (worship/Eucharist) and; 3) proclaiming reconciliation to Him (evangelism).  The easiest is learning "about".  It requires almost no commitment or sacrifice on our part.  It requires little humility, submission or subjugation. It is also the source of the enormous problem today creating "pick and choose" Christians and the rampant "all roads lead to God" philosophy.  We learn about poverty and about child soldiers and about alcoholic Smith in the last pew and we can simply lament and be filled with pity and sentimentalism.  That is "about-ness".  There are many thousands of people, you may know some, you may be one, who know about Christ but for whom, Jesus' Lordship is despised.  The hallmark of salvation, as we all have heard again and again, is relationship and yet our congregations allow scant relationship building and love learning and teaching.  If you would be formed, if you would form your child, into a persevering Jesus follower you must engage in the liturgy of formation.  It is a dance.  There are rules to be sure, but if you simply obey the rules you will never dance but die alone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bringing Adult Children (back) to Faith 4c

People, your child included, rarely come to true faith, become assimilated into Christ's story, due to intellectual discussion or convincing argument.  Most people come to Christ through a profound, ongoing relationship with a authentic Christian.  This is why it is so important that you as a parent have an active faith and demonstrate to your child that you really do love them and you love, not the philosophy of but the person, Jesus Christ.  Clarity in these two relationships overcomes almost all obstacles and shifts people to a position where they can accept that this God-story is true.  "This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35.  Grow yourself transparently towards God and towards them.
The last step in bringing your child to faith is helping them find their place in the story.  Now Hear This....this does not mean telling them what they should be doing in the church or on Sunday.  Helping them find their place means celebrating any activity that they do and orienting it to Christ.  Instead of taking them with you as a part of your story like in section "B", now it is time to let them know that you think they are great and have wonderful things to offer in Christ's story.  "You really are a good artist.  That work would look great in the Parish Hall."  "This is a great omelet!  The Men's Hike guys would love this."  Planting seeds.  It will help your mission to talk to ministry leaders, explain your child's talents and ask them to ask your child for help.
A final word: you are long past telling them they need to change.  Hasn't worked so far and won't work now.  You are now adult acquaintances (not even friends yet) so treat them that way.  You wouldn't tell an acquaintance to get their act together.  You would ask, "How are things going?  You look kind of down."  And then you would simply listen.  And pray.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bringing Adult Children (back) to Faith 4b

We are still moving your adult child from an Accommodation type of faith to their Assimilation into Christ's story - giving up their life and agenda and taking up a life for Christ.
The predominant activity on your part, setting the stage, turning on lights and music, remains your relationship with Christ.  Give up your own life for Christ.  Be engaged as fully as possible.  This doesn't necessarily mean going to multiple Bible Studies and being in the church building whenever the doors are open.  What it means is that your life is actually centered in Christ and it is part of your conversation - not bragging but matter-of-fact testimonies.  You are proud of how careful the vestry is with your tithe.  It is great that God invented golf.  Your testimony on the golf course with _____ went so well.  You hold hands with your spouse so your child can see a model of righteous intimacy.  You retell the story from the guy you served at Crisis Ministry.
The second thing to do to bring them into Christ's story is very hard.  You need to confess your failings to your child.  For you to assist your adult child in making this transition you have to be in the right position with your adult child.  If your interactions with your child remain parent:child interactions, you will make little progress.  
Confess that you are sorry for being a crummy parent (we all are).  Next, confess that you are sorry for talking to your child through all the baggage of the last 25 years instead of having clean conversations.  Confess that you are sorry for not listening well.  Confess that you are sorry for not changing your role from teacher/parent to adult friend yet. 
Now - position changed - you proceed as an equal friend.  You are starting over with Saint-Exupery's thought,
“If you want to build a ship, ...don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Live a life that is full and undoubtedly a part of Jesus' story and invite your child into the story.  Bring them into your adventure with Jesus.  Bring them into your mission trip, into your Habitat work, into your SS teaching, into your hunting excursion fellowship times.
As you do that, continue your praise of your child's efforts at accommodating the teachings of Christ. “I have been paying better attention to your life lately and you have been doing a good job of turning over areas in your life to God.  I am proud of you for the job you are doing following God."  Even adult children need praise and encouragement.  We're not there yet so...more to come.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bringing Adult Children (back) to Faith 4a

Accommodation faith to Assimilation.
Even after Jesus was resurrected and taught the disciples, in Acts 1:6, they ask Him, "Is this the time you are going to beat up the Romans and throw them out so we can have our kingdom back?"  [slightly paraphrased.]
The disciples, after all this time, years, were still looking for Jesus to fix their lives, to make things work, to be a part of their story.  The stage of spiritual growth that they can't seem to get to is called assimilation.  It is the stage when one commits oneself to be assimilated into Jesus' life, into His story.  Assimilation is the phase when you lose your life because you know that Jesus' life work is where you are supposed to be.  This is the place in growth where the rich young ruler collapsed.  "I have done (accommodated) all these things."  "Go and sell all you have...."  Can you hear the crowd?  "Jesus didn't tell me that."  "Is Jesus being metaphorical again?  Surely He isn't telling this guy to sell everything?"  "Watch, Jesus is going to call him back any second.  Just kidding, you only have to sell half."  Compare the disciples in Acts 1 with them a couple of days later in Chapter 2.  New creations.  The Holy Spirit comes upon them and they are new creations.  There is no more talk of them and their lives.  It is all about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  Their lives are forgotten.  Their story over-written.  We depend on the Holy Spirit for this work...but we can help.  We can set the stage.  We can bring up the lights.  We can start the music.  How?  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bringing Adult Children (back) to Faith 3

After you have rebuilt your relationship with your adult child by hanging with them (don't ever leave this activity and don't push too fast), it is time to begin the work of introducing them to Jesus.  This is the stage of accommodation.  This is the stage of spiritual growth when people are learning what Jesus teaches and they begin to recognize Him as a good teacher.  "Who do people say that I am?"  remember Jesus asking that?  "A teacher, the prophet...the Messiah."  People rarely jump to a complete understanding of who Jesus is.  For the disciples, 3 years of following the real, present person of Jesus around, eating and listening to Him, experiencing his crucifixion and seeing Him alive again were not enough for conversion but it is critical plowing.  They accommodated His teachings ...some.  Finally, the Holy Spirit poured out on them at Pentecost converted them.  Your task up to now has been to be simply, fully, present with your child.  Now you may start, not preaching, but talking matter-of-factly, not about how your child needs Jesus, but talking matter-of-factly about how Jesus influences your decisions.  This is called faith talk.  In normal conversation about life, you stop not talking about Jesus and talk about Him casually like He is a part of everything you do- as He is in everything you do.  Remember that evangelism is not about convincing people to come to Jesus - which you can't do, it is about your testimony, giving voice to the reason for the hope you have in Christ.  "I hear you that you are really struggling in your marriage.  You may not know this but I struggle with that, too.  Marriage is hard for me.  Getting to know what Jesus says about love has really helped me make it through the rough times."  After 3 years of this kind of conversation, and your child seeing you crucify your life for them, they will begin to pay attention.  If it was a long process for Jesus, it will probably be a long process for you so take your time and do it well.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to infiltrate their thinking, to surround them, to open opportunities for faith talk.  They will happen.  Then your child will start the process of bringing Jesus as teacher, accommodating Him, into their lives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bringing Adult Children (back) to Faith 2

The first step in bringing adult children home is Affiliation (the previous blog).
The second step is Association.  When you associate with someone, you work side by side with them. 
This is not a long term commitment nor a blood brothers activity.  You're helping a neighbor put a roof on.  You help put up chairs after an event because a friend asked you to help them.
For alienated children (of all ages), one of the most important steps (remember this is a progression) you can take is to simply do something with them that does not have them as the focus.  If your child gets a hint of, "This will be another opportunity to give them the talk," then they are out of there - if they show up at all.
You really need to spend time with your child just doing "stuff".  Quality time is important but only in small doses.  Quantity time is critical at this stage of wooing someone to Christ.  People need to feel safe that you are not going to badger them.  This is especially true (and requires longer effort) if you have been at odds with your child for a while.  They need to know first that you love them and like them and also, paradoxically, that they are not the center of your life.  Partnering primes the conversation pump with trivial matters so that the conversation you long for can happen...later.  Trying to pry that rose bud open only makes a mess so relax.  Take your time. Shut up and just do something with them.  Associate with them.   Oh... and pray like crazy. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bringing Adult Children (back) to Faith

We all want, desperately, for our children to follow Christ.  When those children as adults are far away from Christ, we often despair.  Be sure of this, it is never too late.
It is much harder to bring someone into the faith or back into the faith when they are adults but
our God is a worker of miracles.
Often a flaw in our efforts to evangelize adults that are close to us is to think that we can reason them into faith.  "If I can just find the right argument they will get it."
Other broken methods are trying to guilt them or cajole them or scare them into it.
Many others think that if we just tell them to come to church enough times they will wear down and one day come.  Give that up.
Though Paul had a sudden experience of transformation, this is not typical.  Usually coming to faith is a process.
The first step in that process is Affiliation.
Affiliation is the stage in formation when people are warming up to the church and Christ.  It is just like meeting someone - it is meeting someone, actually.  If you are introducing two people that you want to become friends, you make the first meeting light and pleasant in a nice atmosphere.  You want them to warm up to each other.  This is the first step in bringing adults to faith.  If you have been pursuing your child, it will take a while for them to get over that history so be patient.  They need time to unlearn what you have been giving them.  Drop every other strategy.  Quit talking about Christ.  Quit trying to win them.  Quit telling them that they are not a Christian.  Just start walking beside them in a way that is comfortable for them.  The disciples wanted to follow Jesus and He didn't demand much from His disciples at first.  "Come and see."
One tidbit of psychology:  If you try to push someone somewhere, their initial response will be defense, to push back.  If you have been pushing your child towards Christ then they have been practicing pushing Christ away.  How long have they been practicing that!  Time to end that dynamic.  Just be there for them.  Be someone they want to follow.
That's the first step - feeling the love.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lent - CounterFormation

Next week we begin our long 40 day trek through the desert with Jesus.  Formation happens all the time.  Every billboard and magazine cover we see forms us.  Every rose we smell and thorn that pricks our fingertip forms us.  Every kind word and every slight forms us.  James calls us adulterers for loving the world and loving God.  The Bible is full of references to our relationship with God as a marriage.  Lent is an opportunity for us to step back from our lives and focus on what our adulteries are.  This is our season of counter formation.  We must cut away the world and, as purely as we can, be formed only by our Father. 
Oh, what a lot of work!  Sounds like works righteousness.  It is a lot of work but it is the work of vacuuming and cleaning and setting a nice table and fixing a special meal for your wife - preparation so that love can happen.  Lent is a time of setting aside busy-ness.  A time of creating space, a sabbath so that love between you and your God can happen.  You can't control God and make Him love you.  You can't make you love Him.  BUT.... you can make a place where love can happen.  In fact, you MUST make a place where love can happen.  You should do that every day.  But since we don't, the church in its wisdom has set aside a time for us to focus on only that.  The negatives: set aside TV; set aside reading; set aside a meal; set aside deserts.  Positives to go in their place: kneeling for one minute beside your bed at night; talking with your wife; going for a walk with God every day; eating plainly in solidarity with the poor.  Practice finding your comfort and satisfaction in Christ for 40 days and you will find yourself in a place where love has happened.  Promise.  Be not conformed to the world but be ye counter formed. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Caesar's Children

I don't want to lay a guilt trip on everyone with this one but Voddie Baucham makes one of those clarion call statements that needs to be on everyone's radar.  Voddie states that if we send our children to Caesar's schools why are we surprised when we end up with Caesar's children.  Obviously, he would like all children in Christian schools, as would most parents - another blog on that.  The point though, is that one of the many things that we as parents must do is make sure the balance of power as far as influences go, is not the world but Christ.  Your child probably spends at least 50 hours a week in school activities and another 20 in worldly sponsored media.  At best, your child spends five, that is 5, in church related functions.  Not to despair.  God has designed children so that parental input has much, much more salience to children than church or school.  However, you have to use that influence.  In Christian Smith's book Soul Searching, it is clear that running a close second to parents, hanging out with a Christian peer group is a major predictor of faith perseverance.  Your child really must find a sense of belonging in a Christian social network.  That is your job since they can't drive or choose wisely.  If they understand from you that your choices of influence for them are TV and soccer on Sunday and inappropriate movies or video games then that is where they will begin to believe they belong.  If your child can't go to a Christian school or you want them in public school that is not a big problem.  The big problem lies in what else they do and your conversations about their school experience.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Not to diss Maslow to heavily because I think he is right that it is hard to teach an empty belly but the world's formation leads us to press into our worldly needs first in the belief that only after those are met can we develop fully as a person.  The counter-formation needed here is that self-actualization (by which I will define as becoming a mature Christian) is the first priority.  So turn Maslow's pyramid on its head and I think you have it just about right -"seek ye first...."  By putting ourselves (allowing ourselves to be put) in Christ's story and not our story, we discover that our lower needs get their proper inattention.  Also, in this upside down kingdom of Christ, having the foundation of Christ's story and our being a part of it (level 1) completes our self-esteem needs (level 2) and then provides us with belonging (level 3) and the needs of safety (level 4) and biological needs (level 5) don't consume our attention.  Freedom.

Monday, January 24, 2011


John MacArthur's book Slave has created quite a stir.  Being a slave really is the essence of our relationship with Jesus.  Most of us continue to accommodate Christ.  We move over a little in our lives to make room for Him.  We plead for Him to make our lives work, to heal Aunt Martha, to help me pass this evaluation, to get me a job.  What we want is for God to do something in our lives to make our lives get better.  This is why suffering makes no sense and why God not showing up is so bothersome.  If this story is about us, then God should be doing something to make it sweet...if He really does love us.
If we, on the other hand, are His slaves and the story is about Him and not about us, then suffering is easy because God is using that to move His plot line forward, to create His story, to define and refine us as a part of His story.  Giving up our agenda, though, is very difficult.  We need control of our lives.  We can't just go through life letting things happen to us being completely reactive beings.  That's the struggle - living on that boundary.  Giving up our agenda but not fully knowing God's.  A dear friend of mine said when she gets up in the morning she prays that she will just get out of God's way today, "Let me not be me today but your servant, Lord."  Oh what Jesus could do if we all did what He asked.  "I only do what I see the Father doing." Listening is a great start.  Instead of praying at God tomorrow morning, just listen.  Notice images in your mind or thoughts that come up.  Try following up on those.  They may not all be from God at first because you listen so poorly but you'll get better at it.  His sheep learn His voice.  Takes a little time but His sheep learn His voice.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Struggling Not to Belong

When we go into the sun we get tanned. 
When we sit with God we get God-ed. 
This is what formation is all about.  Metanoia.  However…
We are so corrupted already. 
Adam and Eve sinned – image-of-God freedom, I suppose.
In our freedom we sin and so must struggle against individual sins. 
We must also struggle to be free from sin's bondage.
And, we must struggle into the sun.
Struggle to use our freedom for freedom.
The slave looks into the mirror and sees the brand removed but
walks away and forgets what he saw, who he is, free. So he is enslaved again.
Not to belong to the world is three works - not to go to sin, go to God for repair, go to God for filling.
Formation and counterformation. 
Redemption.  Freedom. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We believe first

     Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, suggests that we believe before we understand.  Unquestionably the disciples followed Jesus for years and didn't get it.  But it was a deep plowing.  Smith's idea fits well within Westerhoff's concept that the first stage in formation is an affection for the whole milieu of the church and Christ.  Only after that affection will truths and understanding convert.  Many today would move people to faith in Christ by establishing an intellectual "worldview" but this is the cart before the horse. 
     Why is the conversion of teens and adults such a challenge with such spotty success and poor durability? 
     The difficultly is that very early on people develop their belief system.  This then is the lens through which they evaluate information/truth.  If people grow up with a belief system that is not completely Jesus based, then all the truth you provide for them is evaluated through the lens of the world.  Scripture and the work of Jesus is evaluated and judged based on what their belief system sees.  Consequently, most Christian truth is rejected or worse, twisted to fit what the person already thinks.  This is the basis of most of today's heresy...a twisted Christ who fits.  We must recapture Fenhagen's understanding that faith is subversive, not workable.
     Forming a child's belief system must happen first and right away.  This happens with bedtime Bible stories to be sure but that is not enough to be the counter-formation required in this world.  To paraphrase Voddie Baucham, "If we expose our children to Caesar all day long on TV and music and school, why are we surprised that we have Caesar thinkers when they are old." 
     "Choose this day..."


We all belong.  We belong to something or someone.
Perhaps you don't even realize it
but your heart has landed
Generally, though, we are not a happy lot.
There is a nagging sense that this - whatever we have - is not "it".
C. S. Lewis' homesickness.
We long for a place that feels like home, that is home, that loves us and accepts our love.
A place we belong.