Saturday, April 28, 2007


Quantity over quality.

A serious mistake in the church today.

Matthew 7:13

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Luke 13:23

And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'

Where is the fear of the Lord?

Help Lord.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

a story

2Corinthians 6:14

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."

I grew up spiritually in an environment that placed a strong value on holiness. We believed that God's people were to live their lives in a way that was "set apart" for Him and His kingdom. It was a unique spiritual family, and one I am thankful for. It was "full time" in the sense that we didn't have outside jobs, and lived together in community. We worked together in a variety of ways to pay the bills, sharing a life of worship, prayer, and service. Then, my wife and I felt that the Lord was leading us to leave that community, and go back into the "real world." I say that with a little sarcasm in my heart today. We were often criticized for living in an artificial environment, isolated from the realities of everyday life that most people have to deal with. Looking back, I think that the kingdom of darkness really hated what we had. Our life looked very much like the church in the book of Acts. We didn't have the everyday miracles, but we lived a life together that strengthened even the weakest among us to walk in pretty consistent spiritual victory. It wasn't perfect. Not even close. We had our problems. We were quite vulnerable to legalism. And eventually sin crept into the leadership in some pretty significant ways, ultimately leading to the downfall of the ministry. But we had something special. The grace of God was present in our midst. Twenty years later, when I see someone from that time, there is an immediate and deep connection. We gave ourselves sacrificially to the kingdom of God together, and it forged a bond of love in our hearts. I will treasure that season of my life forever.

And then we moved on. My wife and I felt it was time to leave. We thought we were going to the east coast to work with another ministry we had become friendly with, but Jesus had other plans. We came to Kansas City to be near my family for a while, and plan our next steps. And here we are, over twenty years later. I expected to be here a few years at the very most. And God just smiles. He had been preparing us to come and be part of something He was doing in the city where I was born. That's a bunny trail. My point is, we left the "artificial" environment of the community we lived in to follow Jesus in the "real world."

And that's been hard. Its been good, too. We have made deep friendships with wonderful folks that we share our lives with. But its been hard. Hard to maintain the life of devotion and love to God that I believe we are called to. I have experienced the parable of the sower firsthand. The cares of the world will choke out the word of God in our lives, if we let them. And then, to make things worse, much of "the church" will tell you that its supposed to be that way. Grace means we can do what we want, when we want and God doesn't care anymore. It's all "under the blood." And this life is about enjoying the world and all it has to offer as much as we can until we have to leave and go to heaven. Its a seductive and dangerous deception, but I am not buying it anymore.

More to come.

Titus 2:11

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

servant leaders

2 Corinthians 4:5

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

As I read this verse tonight, I thought of the movie Braveheart. I remember the first time I saw it. I sat in the theatre when it was over, with tears in my eyes. I saw two types of leadership in that movie. The established leadership was self-serving, and only interested in what would benefit them personally. These were "the nobles." They would put on a show of concern for the people, but usually while cutting deals for themselves in a backroom. And then William Wallace comes on the scene. He wasn't a saint. He had personal motives. He was energized by the desire for revenge. But... he was committed to lay down his own life if necessary to accomplish his goal. His land, his people, they were oppressed and under bondage. He had a vision for freedom, and would pay any price to achieve it. He would give his very life if he had to. And he did. He gave his life.

This is what I hear from Paul. "Jesus is Lord, and I am your servant." Paul went on to describe what that kind of life looks like.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;

perplexed, but not driven to despair;

persecuted, but not forsaken;

struck down, but not destroyed;

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The church is desperately in need of this sort of leadership today. When you look around, most pastors look like spiritual entrepreneurs. They are building their church, and measure their success by how many people attend, and how big the offerings are. If the church is "growing" we get to build big new monuments to our success, with bigger stages and brighter spotlights. This is not a blanket indictment, but its an all too common malady. Church leadership isn't about humility and servanthood. Its about glory and honor. We hear talk about apostolic leadership, and we think of "signs and wonders." I think we need the sort of apostolic leadership we see here in Paul. We need leaders who will lay down their lives for Jesus and for those who follow Him with them.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

He calls us to follow in His footsteps.

Help, Lord.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Come boldly

Hebrews 4

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God invites us to come before His throne. "With confidence." Some versions tell us to "come boldly." I can't find the words to express how incredible that is.

(Side note, the whole point of blogging is finding words to express things. I am beginning to think that one's spiritual journey is beyond blogging. Most of the stuff that really grabs my heart is beyond words. I guess the best I can do is kind of wave my hands at people like,

"Hey!!! God is awesome!!! Seek after Him in His word and prayer and he will show you incredible things!"

And then you hope they will, because you know He will.)

Jesus became a man to provide a way for us to be freed from the kingdom of darkness. We were prisoners. Sin, satan, fallen flesh... we were slaves. He made a way to freedom. And now He offers unlimited help along the way. If we will come to His throne in prayer, He will strengthen us in whatever way we need to rise above it all. Its a throne of grace. The fullness of grace. Not just forgiveness when we sin. Grace empowers us to turn away from that sin. He will strengthen us to "put to death the deeds of the flesh", and to walk in the freedom He promised.

How does He do it? How does He strengthen us? I think its pretty simple actually. Jesus said the truth would set us free. I think when we come into His presence, our vision of ourselves and the world we live in is brought into a true focus. He helps us to see things the way He sees them. He shows us the truth of His love and goodness, and the deceitfulness of sin. The lies that cloud our vision are exposed, and we are able to see clearly that we might walk in the light.

God invites you and I to come into His presence. He invites us to come boldly before His throne. And there's no time limit. We can stay as long as we want.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

more on hell and judgment

My friend wrote again,

A late night thought, you wrote, "I am always leery of interpretations of any scripture that require us to deny the most clear and straightforward reading."

I have two thoughts on this idea of what is "straightforward and clear" is true.

First, when standing on the earth is clear and quite straightforward that the earth is flat. But as we know that given a different perspective, more experience, and more information what seems straightforward and clear actually is not.

Secondly, when we talk about "clear" and "straightforward" I am reminded of Proverbs 25:2: "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter." Does this verse give us license to interpret scripture in wholly untraditional ways? I hope not--that would be quite outrageous (the idea of someone just carelessly interpreting scripture brings a smile to my face).

However, to some people, the revelations I bring to the table are quite careless. So, I guess, we have to accept the idea that what is careless to one man some how makes sense to another.

Let me know what you think.

And I wrote back,

Lemme see here.... First, I don't see carelessness. In fact, its just the opposite. You care too much to just follow tradition without questioning the reality of it. You hunger for truth and understanding. Proverbs teaches and applauds that approach to life. Many people carelessly say they believe things that they have never really thought and prayed about. Careless? You? Nah.

Now on the flat earth thing. I am not sure we can compare our physical view of the earth with interpretation of language. We can use it for an example, I suppose, but it seems to be sort of an apples and oranges comparison. When you speak of the verse from Proverbs, I think its clear that God hides things at times. And sometimes, as in the parables, Jesus even tells us that he was using that type of communication so that not everyone would "get it". I believe His reason is that knowledge equals responsibility. If God gave everyone full revelation of His purposes, it would only add to the condemnation of those whose hearts are set in rebellion. (Think first degree murder versus manslaughter) He gives understanding in small bites. He wants to see how we respond. Its His mercy and kindness. He will feed the hungry heart. He will reward the sincere seeker. There are times when Jesus is obviously speaking in the language of hiddeness. There are other times when he speaks clearly, such as when he privately interpreted parables to his inner circle. There are plenty of examples of both. And sometimes his speech was both. Sometimes there was a clear and plain meaning to His words, but they also had deeper meaning. Clear and straightforward is obviously a matter of interpretation, but I was using it in a very general sense. The passage we were discussing is a good example. You gave an interpretation that had a principle regarding our journey of spiritual growth. I see it and I think its valid. But if you were to take that interpretation and say that it is "the" correct interpretation of that passage, you would have to disregard the places where Jesus described a finality of judgment. Those are what I would consider clear and straightforward.

the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (yikes)

And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

That seems pretty clear to me. At least the finality of it does. Clear and straightforward doesn't mean that a passage is not open to some interpretation. It means that its there, and has to be acknowledged in the interpretation process. Now... what is that eternal punishment? That's debatable. Each illustration that Jesus gave in both chapters ended with some sort of punishment for the disobedient. That's pretty tough to miss. But yea... clear and straightforward isn't as "clear and straightforward" as we would like sometimes. However, it seems like we have to acknowledge the fact that Jesus describes a bad ending for those who want to do their own thing. To me, that's the "clear and straightforward" part.

Jesus often used symbolic language to teach His ways, but I cant think of any instances where the interpretation ended up being "red is actually blue", or 2+2=7. In other words, when the hidden meaning comes forward, its like, "Oh yea. I totally get that now." I cant think of any time where my reaction was, "What the heck????" If one were to say, "There is no hell or judgment" it requires that we have to say that a lot of scriptures (including the ones we have been discussing) don't mean what what they seem to say. If He had used language that just sounded like there would simply be "increased difficulty in life" when we don't walk in His ways, then you could go with a "lessons on spiritual growth" interpretation to those passages. But, he uses very "final" and sometimes graphic language to describe the consequences.

At the end of the book we read,

Revelation 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

The language of Revelation is obviously symbolic much of the time. Not always, but much of the time. So, this lake of fire stuff may not be literal, but the picture it presents is of a final judgment and separation from God. That is the context of those last two chapters of the book. Everything is finished, and we move on into the eternal purposes of God. You know, Boyd entertains the idea that hell is eternal, but not everlasting. In other words, those who end up there are ultimately destroyed. They don't suffer forever. Its like a piece of wood thrown on the fire. Eventually its burned up. He thinks the original language may indicate that. (Satan and the Problem of Evil) I am actually open to that idea. There are some passages that make that a little hard to swallow, but in my rational mind, I don't see a reason for everlasting suffering when they could simply be destroyed. Again, for me, it comes down to the wise acknowledgment that God is a tad bit smarter than me. And He is good, absolutely good. He will do what it right. And just because I don't understand everything He does, doesn't make Him wrong. Its a big big universe, and I have a little tiny brain.

Again, I think your take on these passages is legitimate. People are not either sheep or goats, wise or foolish. On our journey through life, we are both at different times. But that's the point of the parable, really. We are on a journey, or running a race as Paul put it. It's a marathon, not a sprint and its important how we run. Our lives, our works, will be judged in the end. Wood, hay, and stubble; or gold, silver, and precious jewels. Its our choice. We can walk in humble, loving, trusting obedience to His ways, or we can do our own thing, pursuing this worlds values and pleasures. "Choose this day who you will serve..." Am I going to live like a sheep or a goat? Am I going to live like a wise virgin, or a foolish one? He describes both options, because we can be the one we want. And He warns us that choosing the foolish path will not work out well in the end. Not one bit.

I think, though, the real question here may have more to do with another statement from your original email.

"Jesus tells two parables that confuse my ideas of God's unconditional love."

I am thinking the real question here may be about the meaning of unconditional love. If you define that idea in such a way that doesn't allow for God's judgment, then you have to find a compatible interpretation for the scriptures that describe God as Judge, hell, etc..

For me, the resolution lies in the difference between unconditional love, and unconditional acceptance. God loves every person ever created equally and unconditionally. Hitler, Stalin, Reagan...(ha), all of them were loved by God, unconditionally. He wants nothing but the best for any of us. But His acceptance of us is an entirely different story. Sin had separated us from God, and there was nothing in this world we could do about it. Jesus work of redemption provided a means to satisfy justice and righteousness, making restoration of relationship available. We have to do two things to enter into that redemption, and be restored to our relationship with Him. Repent and believe. We turn from our selfishness, and trust in His forgiveness and grace made available through the cross. When we respond to Him on His terms, He accepts us back into relationship. That is a conditional acceptance. He loves us unconditionally. His heart toward us is the same, "yesterday, today, and forever". We enter back into the enjoyment and experience of that unconditional love when we repent and put our trust in Him (believe). We have to submit ourselves to His authority and meet His conditions before He can accept us into His kingdom.

Gotta go. I look forward to talking more about all this.

Come away...

Song of Solomon 2:10

My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,

The Lord's longing for intimacy with us is absolutely amazing. I could sit here all day and search for words to describe it. And that's all it would be, a description. Talking about His love for us is like talking about a great meal. I can look at a table that has been set with the finest food prepared by a world-class chef. I can tell you how good it looks, describe it in detail, and list all the awards the chef has won. That's not the point. Sitting down at the table and partaking of his culinary creations is the point. When that food enters your mouth, and you enjoy the rich flavors that he has brought together... that's what its all about. Its like that with God's love for us. We can talk about it, we can define it theologically, and even break it down into its many attributes. And that can be helpful. Those ideas can be used by the Holy Spirit to create hunger in our hearts. When I stand at look at that table full of food, my mouth will start to water. When I hear of the beauty and greatness of His love, my heart will start to yearn for more. I start to long for the experience of that love.

And that's the point.

"Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,"

He wants to bring us into the experience of His love. If we will put aside the things of this world, find a quiet place, and wait for Him, He will bring us into that love in tender and wonderful ways. And as we spend that time with Him, we will be transformed into His image. His love will be poured into our hearts, and we will become one with Him, as He is one with His Father.

I want that.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

about hell and judgment

A good friend wrote to me,

Alright the following is pretty radical, so give me your feedback. Jesus tells two parables that confuse my ideas of God's unconditional love.The seven wise and seven foolish virgins and the judgment seat with the sheep and the goats. What if people are not split into categories of sheep and goats or foolish and wise, but we are all both sheep and goats, foolish and wise. The parables are not to show us what might happen if we do not take Jesus seriously, but they tell us that though we are goats he treats us as sheep; though we are foolish, He treats us as if we are wise? This makes such sense in the light of Luke 6 where Jesus says that the Father is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.Furthermore, when we think about how could we both sheep and goats? it makes so much sense. What person do we know that has not done things in Jesus' name and still been an empty tomb and a white washed grave? I know I have. Alright, let me know what you think.

I wrote back,

I think its probably both. I think the principles you are seeing are valid, but not necessarily THE correct interpretation for these passages. Most passages of scripture have one primary message, but often the Holy Spirit will teach us other valid principles out of that same passage. On our journey through this life, we are at times foolish, and at times wise. Sometimes we act like sheep, sometimes we act like goats. However, the primary message of both of these lessons has to do with a final judgment. Matthew 24 and 25 should be taken together, and it was Jesus' major discourse on eschatology. He talks about literal signs of the times that we are to be looking for, and then he begins a series of stories and parables that instruct us about how to live in preparation for His return, and the ultimate consequences of walking in obedience or disobedience to His instruction. To take your interpretation as the correct interpretation would require us to say that it doesn't mean what it clearly says. I am always leery of interpretations of any scripture that require us to deny the most clear and straightforward reading.

Mat 25:10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
Mat 25:11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'
Mat 25:12 But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'
Mat 25:13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The foolish virgins were not ready when the bridegroom came, and the door was shut. He didn't appear willing to reopen it. The Lord is telling us that there will come a time when there will be no more second chances. He will finish His redemptive purposes, and those who have refused Him will be cut off from Him forever. The wild thing about this parable is that it seems to be referring to christians. All the characters in the story are virgins; they are all aware that the Bridegroom will be coming. Some are ready, others are not. Its a pretty sobering exhortation actually. But then again, the end of time is a pretty sobering idea.

As to the sheep and goats, He is even clearer. The last verse of the passage says,

Mat 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Its pretty clear. There is a final judgment coming. And its serious. The interesting thing about that lesson is that He is much clearer about the terms of the judgment. The virgin story is much more open to interpretation. What is oil? What is your lamp? How do you get the oil? Mike Bickle teaches some really good stuff on this, and I mostly agree with it, but its still an interpretation of symbolic language. When He gets to the sheep and goats, He is much clearer. How did you live your life? Did you demonstrate His kingdom in the way you lived? Did you care for the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner? Did your faith translate into works of righteousness? Not works done to earn righteousness, but works that naturally flow from a grateful heart that has been set free from the kingdom of darkness and is walking in the light. Paul says we were created for good works that God prepared for us. Think of James teaching on faith and works. Again, I understand and agree with the principle that you are seeing in terms of our journey. Some days I look like Jesus, and some days I look like Judas. I wish it wasn't that way, but maturity is a process. And we are in a war. Its a battle every day.

Annnnnnnyway, I think the idea of judgment is difficult to swallow in modern western culture. We want to believe there is a better way than something that sounds so harsh. How could a God of love send anyone to hell? It sounds like a contradiction, but I don't think it is. He has perfect wisdom and insight into the hearts of men, and what is best for all of His creation. Sin is innately and absolutely destructive. In His love, He has to take whatever steps are necessary to stand against it. God allowing sin would be like parents allowing their toddlers to play on the freeway in rush hour. When God gives us His law, He is not simply laying down arbitrary rules that He requires us to follow. He is stating what is true and essential about the nature of our relationships. The love He calls us to is the only way that we can experience the life He created us for. Selfishness, which is the essence of sin, will always result in destruction and pain and suffering. He simply cannot allow sin.

What is the result of the final judgment? What is hell? The bottom line is that it is complete separation from God. Is the fire literal? I don't know. Does the devil have a pitchfork? Probably not. Will hell be a miserable place? Ohhhhhhhhhhh yea. Picture a place totally devoid of goodness. Unrestrained selfishness and evil. We live in a fallen world, but evil is restrained. God is present and at work to redeem all who will respond to His overtures. The Holy Spirit is constantly working to persuade us to turn our hearts to the Lord. The whole world lies in the power of the Evil One, but he is still restrained by God. No such restraint in hell. All God has to do to make it the most miserable place in the universe is to lock the door and withdraw His Presence completely. A loveless place of total and complete moral darkness. Your choices for president are Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Its not a torture chamber. Its simple separation from God and all that is good. Its eternal. Its a place for people who don't want to live in a loving relationship with their Creator. Its horrible, but its not necessary for anyone. In Ezekiel, the Lord says, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked." His heart is for redemption and salvation for every single person. And He looks at our hearts. If He sees that a heart can be won, He will. Even if it doesn't look "winnable", He will still try. Its perfect love.

HE is perfect love.

You and I find it nearly impossible to imagine refusing God. How could anyone do that? Its a nonsensical idea. But some do. They simply want to run their own lives. They refuse to trust Him, to submit themselves to His wisdom and goodness. Hell is simply a corner of the universe set aside for those who have made that decision in their hearts. And in His final judgment of things, God won't make a single mistake. He will save everyone who can possibly be saved.

Long answer. All over the map. I am sure you are not surprised. Ha.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

the ravished heart

Song of Solomon 4:9

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,

These are Jesus' words to His bride. That's us. The heart of God is captivated with love for us. The love of God is not just some theological truth about Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins so we wouldn't have to go to hell. At the physical center of the book, the Bible, there is this incredible love song about a bride and a Bridegroom. And at the center of that song, that Bridegroom tells that bride that she has captivated His heart.

Some versions say, "You have ravished my heart..."

His heart is ravished for you and me. Its captivated in love.

This is God we are talking about.

Now I know why Paul was always praying for the church that they would have a deeper revelation of God's love.

I see it dimly. I know its true. I want my heart to be captivated too.

Help Lord. Open my eyes.