The Spiritual

Making a Difference

We are already half way through the first month of 2017. This year is going to fly by even faster than last.  Maybe it’s time to focus on what I really want to do in 2017. Sure I want to lose weight, get more fit, learn a new language, write a book, and, oh yes, change the world. I suspect I’m not going to really do all that.

What I should really want to do is what Jesus told me to do. “Make disciples.” It may not mean losing weight, getting fit, learning a new language or writing a book, but it may actually change the world. Jesus didn’t tell us to “make disciples” for no reason. He came and died to change things, to make a difference,  and this is how it will happen. 

In the first couple of weeks of 2017, I have stumbled across something that may help me do that “make disciples” thing. For some time I have got emails from the Verge Network. They described themselves as champions and advocates for movements of Missional Communities. Some of my favorite Christian teachers are involved: Francis Chan and David Platt. They talk a lot about being “missional” which, I have learned, means focusing on making disciples. 

It seems that the church even when it performs “outreach” limits itself to evangelism. We want to bring people to a decision to follow Jesus. We call that evangelism. I believe God calls us to that, but He calls us to more. He calls us to “make disciples” which means bringing them to Jesus AND teaching them to follow. That’s what being missional is all about.

I am going to focus on that in the next few days as I try to become more missional and more effective in “making disciples.” I hope you will follow along. You might start off by checking out Verge.

More coming up. It will involve watching three videos and responding.

Mooned

I got mooned last night. That’s call a “hook.” Are you hooked? I attended the monthly men’s meeting at The Bayou last night.  Moon Griffon was the guest speaker. I have listened to Moon since the days his show originated from Yankee country, Monroe. I had never met Moon or heard him speak in person.

His presentation was impressive. I won’t share the personal aspects, because…they’re personal. I will share his main points.

Live today. God’s been hitting me with this message a lot lately. It’s very biblical. “Give us this day.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” It’s just so easy to regret yesterday and fear for tomorrow. Today is the only thing we’ve got that we can do something with. Moon did a great job of reminding me of that. 

Be thankful for everything. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17. Good things come from God, the problem is that they are often packaged, as well, problems. Just because we can’t see why illness or financial problems or strife as good for us, doesn’t mean that they aren’t. “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:18 Moon did a great job on this one too.

Everything belongs to God. It’s foolish to be stingy with God. He owns it all. 

Pride goes before a fall.  Okay this one is pretty obvious, then why do we always forget it?

These were great points. I had heard them all before. They were just wonderfully, personally and humbly presented. 

We need to know and be known.  The greatest lesson from last night wasn’t something Moon said. After 45 minutes I knew more personal stuff about this man than I know about most of the people I go to church with or that I consider as friends, maybe more than I know about some family members. 

We really are islands. It’s crucial that we put ourselves in “safe” situations where we can know  others and be known by them. This morning I went to a small men’s group. It was because of this unspoken reminder from last night.

Get yourself in a small group. Learn to trust and to be worthy of trust. Learn to be vulnerable and to respect vulnerability in others. Moon did say it’s okay for men to be weak. God works through the weak. What he didn’t say but demonstrated is that it’s crucial to acknowledge our weaknesses and to properly respond to those strong enough to admit their weaknesses.

Thanks Moon for all you said and even more for what you didn’t have to say.

Making Christianity Relevant Again

 
Sometimes I come across something so true and so well written it deserves repeating at least in part.  This is part an email adapted from Richard Rohr, an unpublished talk, Canossian Spirituality Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 3, 2016 emphasis supplied. 

 

Our religion is not working well. Another year has ended—a new year begins—in which suffering, fear, violence, injustice, greed, and meaninglessness still abound. This is not even close to the reign of God that Jesus taught. And we must be frank: in their behavior and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people.

The majority of Christians are not highly transformed people, but tend to reflect their own culture more than they operate as any kind of leaven within it. I speak especially of American Christians, because I am one. 

Let’s be honest: religion has probably never had such a bad name. Christianity is now seen as “irrelevant” by many and often as part of the problem more than any kind of solution. Some of us are almost embarrassed to say we are Christian because of the negative images that word conjures in others’ minds. Young people especially are turned off by how judgmental, exclusionary, impractical, and ineffective Christian culture seems to be. 

Rohr has a potential solution: 

Most Christians have not been taught how to plug into the “mind of Christ;”

In Philippians 2, Paul counsels us to be of one mind and that mind should be the mind of Christ, a mind that puts others first and is humble above all things. How do we do that? How do we plug into the mind of Christ? I think we have to consider how we plug into anyone’s mind, how we really get to know how someone thinks. There is no substitute for spending time with them. We all have someone or someones whom we so greatly admire and so much want to be like that we do whatever we can to spend time in their presence. 

I saw a convicting “tweet” today that asked how much time do we spend in wasteful endeavors as compared to the time we spend in the word and more importantly, with \the Word. 

I have found one way that helps me. Recently I had reached a wall in my swimming. I couldn’t get past a half hour of doing laps. I got bored before I got tired. I discovered some swim proof headphones. I listen to music that engages me and puts me into a spiritual frame that allows me to spend time with Him. Now my swim time only ends when I notice that I have something else that I need to do. Everything else is temporarily blocked out. It’s just me and Him. When my schedule finally calls me out of the water, not only is my body refreshed but so is my mind and spirit.

Try to find a way, personal to you, that you can spend more time with Him. If we can’t plug into his mind, we are stuck with the self-centered mind of the world.  If we are to be real Christians, we need to be really like Him. We need to have His humility that put others above himself. It’s what attracts us to Him and what will attract others. Nothing else will be helpful or attractive to a world in great need.

 

 

New Star Wars – Not Great or Just Not New

I dozed off a couple of times during the new Star Wars movie. That alone should not be condemnation. I fall asleep during most movies. However, producers beware, my 15-year-old grandson slept through a substantial part of the film. Not good news.

This new one has all the previously winning Star War elements. Nifty space ships. Strange looking aliens. Space battles and laser shoot ups.  Nice looking young people.  It has the same theme: a seemingly hopeless struggle against the ominous and very evil empire.

Star Wars came out on May 25, 1977. I was twenty-eight years old, still in the Navy. I had hair and young children. I am now sixty-seven, little hair and little great grand children. Carrie Fisher was a girl. Today she’s dead. To this generation, the Star War elements are historic and not revolutionary. A lot has changed since 1977. 

Perhaps the saddest thing is that maybe the theme is now out of date, the  seemingly hopeless struggle against the ominous and very evil empire. Donald Trump won.  To half the country the rebels are in charge and the evil empire is being vanquished. To the other half, the evil empire is about to be in charge. Half the country is elated; the other half is considering fleeing in panic. Maybe the split in opinion is what’s changed the most. In 1977, everyone watching Star Wars recognized the Empire was evil and the rebels were courageous and the struggle was righteous. I had the feeling last night some of the audience was pulling for Darth Vader. 

We really don’t need nifty space ships. Strange looking aliens. Space battles and laser shoot ups.  Having nice looking young people is still nice, even if they have disappeared from our mirrors. We certainly need to feel like we are part of a rebellion against evil. We need to know that what seems hopeless really isn’t. Unlike the “futuristic” elements of Star Wars, the theme is built into our DNA. We need more than politicians to satisfy that need. 

We need something like “The Force” that guides the race to true freedom. The Star Wars theme was seemingly universal but imperfect. The force had a light and dark side. It was used by those seeking good and by those simply seeking power. (The politics analogy comes to mind.) We need a force that is one-sided, that is pure light, completely right and completely good. 

We have Jesus. We have his force, the Holy Spirit. Have we made these into fixers of our inconveniences, sources of our perceived need for prosperity, at best healers of our ills? Can we no longer perceive the differences between dark and light? Do we think we no longer need rebellion?  Are these so out-of-date that we can’t see them for the true leaders of the rebellion we all desperately need and as the winners of the battle that’s already won? 

It’s a New Year. Maybe it’s time to consider more than healthy exercise, fewer calories, and sounder financial planning. Maybe we are sleeping through more than just the movies.

 

Not Super or The Best

In yesterday’s mail I got a copy of Super Lawyers, Louisiana Edition. Since I have been practicing law in Louisiana for 35 years I am familiar with many of the lawyers featured in the magazine. Some are pretty good lawyers. Some not so much. None are “super.”  

SuperLawyers.com puts out the advertising packed magazine. As the Journal of the American Bar Association has reported, ads in Super Lawyers can cost super bucks.  Super Lawyers puts out a promotion kit for their “Super” lawyers advising how to make the most out of their “Super Lawyer” status. The kit warns the “Super” lawyers to be careful with words: 

HOW TO TALK ABOUT SUPER LAWYERS: OKAY TO SAY: She was included in this year’s Florida Super Lawyers list. NOT OKAY TO SAY: She’s a Super Lawyer. OKAY TO SAY: Super Lawyers selected three people from this firm. NOT OKAY TO SAY: This firm has a lot of Super Lawyers. OKAY TO SAY: Sally was selected to the 2017 Wisconsin Super Lawyers list. No more than five percent of the lawyers in the state were selected. NOT OKAY TO SAY: Sally was recognized by Super Lawyers, which means she is in the top five percent of lawyers in the state.

In other words, only five percent of lawyers in a state are “selected to be “Super.” They are just not necessarily the best or top five percent. It’s like the “Best” lawyers in Acadiana. They are the ones who have managed to get the most votes in a “news” paper in which they heavily advertise. Bar associations are starting to take a look at claims of superiority. 

The real problem is that we just have too many lawyers. Competition for law “dollars” is fierce. Look at the billboards and the television ads, not that you can avoid looking. Sadly, for many, the legal profession is no longer about using the law to solve problems, but about using the law to make money. 

It’s not just lawyers, doctors, and dentists and a lot of other professionals are now advertising. There just too many of those people as well. There will never be enough good lawyers, doctors and dentists. There just may be too many “super” ones. 

Perhaps the saddest thing is that there are now too many preachers and pastors. There is a fight for customers in that “business” as well. Jesus told us to “make disciples” and not “build congregations.” There is a difference. These days there are shrinking numbers who are interested in being part of a church. There is a fight for those people. It’s why we have bigger and prettier church buildings offering more amenities with  preaching and teaching that “encourages” rather than convicts.

Not unlike the lawyer ads and bill boards, churches are now promising easy fixes for the problems of life. There is less emphasis on the challenging words of Jesus who called his followers to lives of strife, sacrifice and persecution not peace, plenty and world domination. 

Like lawyers who beg you to “Call me,” churches are pleading “come here.” There is more salvation within our walls. Lawyers need to start admitting that litigation is not the first and easiest solution but the last and toughest choice. Churches need to get back to calling people to Jesus and not to their facilities. 

People don’t need Super lawyers or the Best lawyers or Super or the Best churches. They need Jesus. They always have and they always will. Wish I could afford to put that on a billboard.

 

Precious Christmas Gifts

I know that gifts are an overemphasized aspect of Christmas. They often are a response to a sense of obligation, but they can also reflect pure love. I was certainly blessed this year. My wife once again did her best to upgrade my wardrobe. Those rare times I look okay, it’s because of her. She’s a love. 

We pull names in our family. My daughter moaned when she pulled mine. Turns out I am the one nobody wants to get.  I buy things before anyone can buy them for me. I managed to do that this year, buying a fitness tracker when the one my daughter ordered for a gift was en route from Amazon. Hers was mucb nicer than the one I bought for myself, but she returned it and responded beautifully with a great alternative. I hope she has the bad luck of pulling my name again next year. 

My grand daughter Sammie painted the above for Rosemary and me. She told us the darkness represents a dark world. The heart figures are Rose and I as protectors of the family from the darkness. The light inside with the cross reflects Jesus who is our light, our center and our true protection.  Thanks Sammie, a poet and an artist. Jesus is the reason for the season and a perfect center for a gift. 

I pray that your Christmas was as touching and blessed as mine. I just don’t see how. 

Minimalism – A documentary about important things

There’s a documentary on Netflix, “Minimalism – A documentary about important things.” It’s about a movement of those who have “discovered” that material things don’t bring happiness, but are, in fact, chains to the unimportant. It’s nice to know this generation has made this startling discovery.

I’m making this discovery myself. I have gone through “my stuff,” cleaning out storage, reorganizing drawers, throwing stuff away. I don’t want to die and suffer the embarrassment of my heirs discovering what a materialist I was. I have two of everything. I live in a house twice the size of anything my parents had and I still need a storage unit. This Christmas I found out that I’m the least favorite name to pull. Apparently I am impossible to buy for because if I need (or want) something I just buy it. Now that’s materialism. 

Some of my generation ditched materialism, for a while, over fifty years ago. We called them “hippies.” They realized that their parents had fought the great war to live mundane lives in cookie cutter VA financed homes. They turned away from making the same mistakes in Vietnam and took on drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Most of them are now retired from lives eventually lived working for “the man.” They still like drugs, sex and rock and roll, but in relative moderation. 

This generation is turning from the “material world” in exchange for mini-houses, yoga, and gluten free diets. I predict they too will also end up retiring from corporations. They will probably end up with smaller houses than my generation, and with more “peace” and fewer pounds.  They will probably also end up liking drugs, sex and rock and roll, in moderation.

You see, the problem with giving up on the material world is that you have to replace it with something. We are, in fact, designed to learn that the material world is insufficient to satisfy. After the fall, we are born with a hole. A hole that can’t be filled with anything material, but oh how we try. The trick is to find filling that truly satisfies.

Jesus was the original “minimalist.” He didn’t have a place to lay his head. There is no evidence he owned anything. It’s not clear what happened to the magi gifts. They probably financed the escape to Egypt in his childhood. Upon his death, the soldiers cast lots for his robe. It’s apparently all he had. His followers were (and are) called to leave everything and follow Him. You see following Jesus is the substitute for materialism. Hippies and minimalists leave everything… then just wander about. 

In Revelation, John envisioned the last triumph. “11 And they overcame him (Satan, ie. the material world)  by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” The meaning we seek is found by appropriating the blood of the lamb, experiencing a life change that becomes something worth sharing, (our testimony), and loving not life now (the material) but life eternal. 

The hippies of my youth and the minimalists of today are on the right path, turning from the world. They just need to take the final step: substitute stuff with Jesus. It’s minimalism to the max. A lesson this materialist is still learning. 

How Much Jesus

How Much Jesus?

This article appears in the December edition of Covenant Spotlight. It’s a great issue so check it out. 

It seems the world is having more trouble than ever accepting the babe born in a manager. We are feeling the effects. His followers are stereotyped, marginalized, intimidated, prosecuted and even persecuted. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The tiny one whose parents could not even get a room in an inn or give a clean place for his birth scares the hell (yes I said “hell” pun intended) out of most. Maybe it’s because like the Magi, deep down,  they recognize this child for all that He is.

They gave Him gold in recognition of his kingship, not just earthly but divine royalty. This little one possesses great power. He is ruler of the universe, a role hidden in a dingy manger and not fully realized until His final return, but ultimate ruler nonetheless.

They gave Him frankincense because they knew Him as priest, not just any priest but the Great High Priest who would advocate for lowly man with the Most High God. He would replace all the rituals and ceremony of religion with the reality of relationship. 

They gave Him myrrh because they foresaw Him as murdered sacrifice for sin. They recognized this child in His most mysterious yet most marvelous role of all, the greatest gift ever given by a God whose capacity for love is beyond our meager understanding.

If we are doing a good job of following, we are painful reminders of Him to a world that doesn’t know how much it needs him.

So let us not be too self-righteous when we hear “Happy Holidays” or Christmas described as an over-commercialization of an ancient pagan feast.  Unless we are prepared to receive Him as Emmanuel, and king and priest and bloody sacrifice for sin, we are no better than those who reject Him as babe in swaddling clothes. If we accept Him completely, we are glorious, if painful reminders, of who He is and that’s our mission.

Just how much Jesus are you prepared to accept?

Take Him all and be blessed and a blessing.

1 of 25
12345