Friday, October 28, 2005

Deep Generosity

Last week we celebrated Lexi’s birthday with our church family in Gorlovka, Ukraine. The party was attended by children, teens, and plenty of adults. Lora fixed lots of snacks, we played games and everyone had a wonderful time. During the party I saw something that made me stop and praise God. While everyone was giving Lexi presents, one little girl left the party; she ran away from the worship room, but quickly returned. She had a grocery bag with a present in it. The present was obviously not new. It was a stuffed animal and a small ring. We immediately recognized that Lena had gone home and gotten Lexi presents from her treasured items. Leanna said that she knows that the ring was Lena’s favorite ring. I stood there in awe.
Some claim that the human heart is evil to the core, and there is ample evidence for such an assertion. And yet, there are moments of indescribable goodness. Lena wanted to give something good to Lexi and so she gave things that were precious to her. I call this “deep generosity.” It is a holy act. Every time Jesus saw it, he praised the people who did the deeply generous acts. Remember the woman at the temple who gave her last two coins? The disciples recognized her gift as the small thing it was, but Jesus recognized it as deep generosity – a greater gift than those larger gifts that were not deeply generous. Remember the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume? Some grumbled that the act was a waste of important resources, but Jesus praised her loving act as preparation for his burial. Again he respected deep generosity.
Standing in front of the woman at the temple, or in front of Lena at Lexi’s birthday party is a holy moment. It causes us to look closely at our own hearts. What do you see there? Is there a generosity that comes from deep inside in recognition of what God has done for you? Not surprisingly, the only people who do not stand in awe of deep generosity are those who have never practiced it!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Community of Disciples

I recently picked up a couple of titles by one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson. I was reading along in Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places when I was struck by the following paragraph.

The impulse to sectarianism has its roots in "selfism," the conceit that I don't need others as they are but only for what they can do for me. Selfism reduces life to my appetites and needs and preferences. Selfism results in expulsion from the Garden. But once out there "on our own," east of Eden, we find that we can't quite make it without a little help, so we join forces with a few others out of necessity, meanwhile fiercely insisting on our independence and excluding all who don't fit our preferences. We become a sect. Sects are composed of men and women who reinforce their basic selfism by banding together with others who are pursuing similar brands of selfism, liking the same foods, believing in the same idols, playing the same games, despising the same outsiders. Early on selfism developed into sectarianism to build a tower to heaven without having to bother with the God of heaven. The attempt disintegrated into a snake pit of sects, each incomprehensible to the other. Babel is the mother city of sectarianism. With the call of Abraham, the long, slow, complex, and still continuing movement to pull all these selves into a people of God community began. The birthing of the Jesus community on the Day of Pentecost was an implicit but emphatic repudiation and then reversal of Babel sectarianism. (From "Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places" by Eugene Peterson page 241-242)

All Christians agree that Jesus wants us to be united, all Christians agree that it is sinful for Christians to be divided, all Christians agree that the world will always have an easy time mocking our faith and Savior so long as we remain divided. Yet few Christians are willing to lay down their "faith family brand" to move closer to the Savior and to one another. Communities are not formed through agreement on doctrine and philosophy, they are formed by people loving one another. That is why Jesus was so insistent that we love one another...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Testimony to the Priests

According to Mark, one of Jesus’ first healings was of a man with leprosy. Here is the account…
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:40-44)
While there is much to notice in this short story, I want to focus on the command of Jesus for the man to go show himself to the priest. This was in accordance with the Law of Moses, which gave specific instructions concerning diagnosing various skin diseases (see Leviticus 13). In reading that chapter you will notice that the priest is granted authority for diagnosis, but no authority or power to heal. The priests became experts at determining what was wrong, but had little power to improve the situation. Diagnosis, without corresponding healing, leads inevitably to a loss of expectation. Jesus sent the healed man to the priest “as a testimony to them.” Jesus was interested in giving a serious message to the priests of his day – “God is active and working mightily in Israel. Expect to see more of this!”
Being involved in the work of God always creates a sense of expectation, even a longing for more; a holy anticipation! Yet many Christians are perfectly comfortable living as those ancient priests – as diagnostic experts who are impotent to experience the power of God. Too many Christians feel free to criticize the church, the leaders, the ministers, etc. – giving their version of a diagnostic check-up. Yet when asked what they are contributing to the kingdom work of God they have little to offer. Jesus gives a contemporary testimony to such diagnostic priests today – “God is active and working powerfully through his churches today, you need to expect to see more of his activity. And don’t just expect to see it, expect to be involved in it!” Nothing is more disheartening than diagnosis without healing power. Nothing is more encouraging than being on the cutting edge of what God is doing in the world. What you see, of course, is determined by what you are looking for.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Living In Harmony

I hate conflict; don’t you? It makes me feel uncomfortable; it drains all the energy from my body and all the joy from my soul. Yet however much I dislike conflict, it seems there is always plenty of it in my life. I do know the reason, it’s because everyone refuses to do what I know is best. If everyone would just listen to me then all conflict would cease! (Why are you smiling?)
About a year after I married an older, wiser man told me, “You can be right, or you can be married, but you can’t be both.” It took me some time to discover the truth of his statement. There are times when I would rather win the fight than restore the relationship. Those are the times when I most need to imitate Jesus, and also the times when I am least likely to humble myself and do it. Is that also true for you? God help us.
The good news is that God is waiting to help us. When we cast our burdens on Jesus he takes them away and they no longer harm us or others. When we humble ourselves and make the call or offer the apology, Jesus cleans up the mess in amazing and freeing ways. Once the loads are lifted, the grudges are dropped and the air is cleared we can get back to the business of living in harmony as Jesus desires. The bride of Christ stops looking like a haggard, embittered woman and emerges as a beautiful and glorious lady. It’s time for us to repent and truly become the radiant bride of Christ. We have beaten up the bride of Jesus for too long.

Not sure you can find the strength to repent? Read this verse from a song by Rich Mullins…
Jesus, they drove the cold nails in your tired hands,
rolled a stone to seal your grave.
Feels like the devil rolled a stone onto my heart!
Can you roll that stone away?

Of course Jesus can roll it away…if you will just lay it down.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Afraid God Acts, Afraid God Doesn't

Today we were reading through 2 Kings 10 in our Adult Bible Class in Gorlovka. There were eight ladies and me, and the text was very challenging. As you may remember, 2 Kings 10 is the account of Jehu killing all the relatives, friends and political support of King Ahab. Ahab was a wicked king of Israel, whose wife was the infamous Jezebel. God promised through Elijah that justice would be served one day and that Ahab would pay dearly for his many sins. The entire business is best described as gruesome.
What is fascinating to me is how God uses the text to touch these ladies lives in places where they are already questioning. Before class got started one lady asked if the earthquake in South Asia could be interpreted as God's judgment. Another lady asked why God did not interfere with the plans of wicked people and stop their evil plotting before anyone was hurt or killed by their deeds. A third lady was interested in getting some help in "proving" the existence of God to her brother, who was ridiculing her for her new found faith. After dealing with these questions we read the text of 2 Kings 10 and discussed what in the world God was doing through the murderous acts of Jehu.
We all decided that we would not be very good at being God. God has an unbelievably difficult task of keeping the earth spinning despite all the actions of the wicked and the "help" of his friends. We decided that the text does not shrink from the realities of life and that God is faithful even when we are disappointed by the actions of vengeance ascribed to him or when we are disappointed because he seems to be patient when action is the necessary thing. We also noted that no matter what God does he will not make everyone happy. Maybe that is why God is not too concerned with making people happy. Rather he is concerned with getting to the "renewal of all things" as Jesus called it.
We agreed that we want to be part of God's solution not part of the problem he is trying to solve. Have you read 2 Kings 10 lately? It might spark your thinking if you read it...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Getting to 42 So Fast

The other evening Dima and I were saying our prayers and getting him ready for bed when he asked me a serious question. Now, questions are not unusual from Dima, for he is the master of asking questions, usually the obvious ones... Yet this time he knocked me for a loop. His question? "Dad, how did you get to 42 so fast?" I didn't have a good answer. But I have been thinking about it since then and I have come up with some observations.

First, for the past 20 years I have been in love with his mother, Lora. It seems impossible to believe that it has been so long, already more than half Lora's life and approaching half of mine.

For the past 12 years I have been raising his sister, Leanna. She is an amazing gift from God who is growing up way too fast.

For the past 5 years I have been raising Dima. Is it possible that he has been in our family for five years already? This month in 2001 he started living with us. Our life has surely never been the same...

For the past 2 years I have been loving Lexi. How can my baby already be two years old?

When I think of my years in relation to my family I can see how 20 years can get by.

Another way to count the years is to count ministry locations. Three and a half years as a youth minister at the Leonard Street church in Pensacola. A group of kids who still make me proud. Although I am separated from them by half the world and lots of years, they hold a special place in my heart. Another couple of years as the pulpit minister at the Innerarity Point church. Friendships that have proven to be very strong indeed were forged in a short amount of time. Then there was the year in Gorlovka in 1992. Without a doubt the best and the worst year of our life - Lora and I agree on that one. Then more than six years in Luverne, which provided us with relationships that bless us richly today. Now we have been in Ukraine again for more than six years. Our partnership with the Palo Alto church gets richer and deeper with each passing year. Lots of lives touched, lots of memories made, lots of ministry experienced. 20 years can fly by.

Walking with Jesus produces an ironic result in my life. While I am not worried about each day, I notice that the days seem to get by faster than I would like. I am thrilled to be where I am today, in Ukraine at age 42. Yet I see it all moving faster into the future and I would love for it all to slow down some. Maybe that is why "at the renewal of all things" Jesus will remove time as we know it and exchange it for eternity. With an endless supply of days, maybe there will be time to slow it all down...