Dec. 19, 2008. The setting: The boys have been "dismissed" from the Christmas play because of their inability to memorize their lines, and focus during rehearsal. The following conversation occurs the night before the play.
Malachi: "Dude, we gotta rehearse our lines for the Christmas play"
Obadiah: "Dude, we don't have lines, remember we got kicked off the play. Now we're just sheep."
Malachi: "Oh yeah... 'Cause we were ba-a-a-a-ad"
Dec. 25, 2008. The setting: Christmas dinner is being cooked as Malachi is trying out his rollerblades.
Malachi: "When I grow up I'm gonna be a professional skater."
Momma: "That's nice, just don't skate through the kitchen right now."
Malachi: "OK, but can I just go through, 'cause I don't know how to turn around."
p.s. The drum kit is the boy's main Christmas gift. They've been making plans to take over the music world as soon as their new CD comes out. They've got a marketing plan, promotional materials, and a fan club... Now all they need to do is learn how to play.
We had a Thanksgiving dinner with our home group just before Thanksgiving. This has become our tradition with our home group. We do a full on Thanksgiving meal, turkey, stuffing, and all and then we take time to tell each other what we're grateful for.
I'm beginning to see another benefit of living in community with a small group of believers. As we live out what it means to be a faith community it models appropriate behavior for those around us. I see this most clearly in my sons.
That night my boys sat nearby as we took time to tell each person why we were grateful for each other.
Later that night after I tucked in, and prayed for my boys, Obadiah stopped me before I got to the door.
"Daddy? he said. "
"What's up buddy?"
"I just wanted to say thank you."
"Thank you for what son?"
"Well... Not for one thing, but kind of, for everything."
As tears came to his eyes he continued, "Daddy, you got us this house, and you pay for our room, and you got is this new bunk bed, and you paid for our stuff, and Daddy we've got some pretty cool stuff... And I just wanted to say thank you."
I could barely hold back tears.
This beautiful moment gave me a glimpse into what it must be like when God, our Father must feel like when we, His children lift our hearts towards Him in humble gratitude.
May we live a life of gratitude.
May we be truly thankful.
In home group a while back we were talking about the power of storytelling and how Jesus chose to teach through storytelling so often. He could have given us detailed lists and clearly defined expectations but more often than not he told stories.
People would ask him questions and instead of a straight answer he would say something like: "the Kingdom of heaven is like a woman who lost a coin." WHAT?!?!? That can't have been the answer that they were expecting.
We came to the conclusion that Jesus told stories because he wanted followers who were inquisitive, followers who were seekers, those who were willing to put in the hard work of deciphering the meanings because of a deep conviction that these stories somehow held truths that were worth knowing.
Then we took some time to talk about our favorite stories. Mine is the story of the "sinful woman" told in Luke 7:36-50 (and pictured so vividly above by David LaChapelle).
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."
40 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
41 "Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, [a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."
48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."There are so many things about this story that I love. I love that this woman had a sense that it was OK to approach Jesus. I love that Jesus wasn't terribly concerned about what damage this might do to his reputation. I love that Jesus uses the worship of a "sinful woman" to show the religious leaders what true worship is like.
I also see a warning for leaders of the church. The religious leaders had neglected to honor Jesus by greeting him with a kiss, they forgot to offer Jesus a way to cleanse his feet after a long walk on dirt paths.
They had neglected the King on their presence.
It's all too easy for those of us who spend our lives in service to "church" to get stuck in the rut of just going through the motions, and we can find ourselves neglecting the King in our presence.
A new Web site is offering a first-of-its-kind service: sending e-mails to nonbelieving friends and family who are "left behind" after you are whisked away by God in the rapture.
The site Youvebeenleftbehind.com offers users the ability to store e-mails and documents that will be sent to up to 63 e-mail addresses six days after the rapture has occurred. Users get up to 250 megabytes of storage space, 150 megabytes of it encrypted for sensitive information such as bank account numbers or eTrade passwords that can be accessed by those who remain on earth. Billed as the last chance to "snatch them from the flames," Youvebeenleftbehind.com is the month-old brainchild of Mark Heard, a 49-year-old supermarket shelf-stocker who lives in Cape Cod, Mass. "You've Been Left Behind gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends For Christ," the site reads. "Imagine being in the presence of the Lord and hearing all of heaven rejoice over the salvation of your loved ones. It is our prayer that this site makes it happen." Heard says it's also a way to pass on financial information to loved ones who remain on earth before God's return. "The idea started for me in 1999 when I was… trading equities online and trying to think, 'How I can send my password to my wife if the Rapture happened at this moment?'" he said.
Jeff Vaccaro, a 34-year-old computer programmer in San Diego who runs the Web site Godsurfer.com, which allows users to post and rank Christian-based Web content, signed up for the service when he saw it covered on another news site last week. Although Vaccaro hasn't uploaded any messages just yet, he says that he plans to construct e-mails that give the non-believers in his life a nudge along with Bible passages."I like the idea behind it," said Vaccaro, "It would be one final, 'Hey guys, maybe you need to check this out further …"
My only question is this. The website says that it is run for Christians by Christians...
So... who's gonna hit send?
Last weekend when I was welcoming our guests from the stage I noticed several new faces. I especially took notice of the young couple in the front row. They were dancing wildly and pumping their fists as they looked up at the screen and tried to sing along. After leading the music for the first few songs I asked everyone to shake hands with a few people and I stepped down to meet this couple. You could smell the alcohol on their breath from about three paces.
They were TRASHED.
They said that they really enjoyed "the show" and told me that they were in church for the first time in years. I realized that they were not used to a worship service and this seemed more like a rock show to them. So they were doing what you do at rock shows. You try to sing along as loud as you can, and you grab someone and dance with them. A few people behind them were distracted but for the most part the congregation didn't seem too put off.
The couple seemed nice enough and sat through the message (with bathroom breaks about every 4-5 minutes). They even sent out an "amen" now and then.
At the end of the message when I got up to lead the closing songs they both looked at me with a smile and you could tell that they had had enough of the talking and were looking forward to "the show" again.
As I went through the first chorus of "How He Loves Us" I opened my eyes for a second and could not believe what I was seeing.
There, in the front row, only three seats away from our senior pastor, the young lady was doing a FULL ON LAP DANCE for her (obviously happy) boyfriend!
About two thirds of our congregation were obliviously worshiping, with hands raised and eyes closed, while the remaining third stood staring, mouths agape, in horror at the spectacle in the front row.
After the end of the service I got the chance to meet up with the couple again. They said, "This is a COOL ASS church!!!", and "There's a really great energy here". I thanked them for their kind words and told them that hopefully the energy they felt was the presence of Jesus. They thanked me again and got a ride home from their designated driver.
I've been thinking about that service all week long. When it comes down to it I guess I'm really glad that they felt welcomed. I'm glad that they felt at ease (a bit too much at ease, but you know what I mean). I'm glad that they felt the "good energy". I'm glad that someone from my church cared enough to reach out to this young couple and bring them to a place where they would be loved and accepted just as they were.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Here are a few excerpts from the "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey":
Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.
More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion -- or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, roughly 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.
The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
The survey finds that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents. Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members. Conversely, those that are declining in number because of religious change simply are not attracting enough new members to offset the number of adherents who are leaving those particular faiths.
To illustrate this point, one need only look at the biggest gainer in this religious competition -- the unaffiliated group. People moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than a three-to-one margin. At the same time, however, a substantial number of people (nearly 4% of the overall adult population) say that as children they were unaffiliated with any particular religion but have since come to identify with a religious group. This means that more than half of people who were unaffiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group. In short, the Landscape Survey shows that the unaffiliated population has grown despite having one of the lowest retention rates of all "religious" groups.
In addition to detailing the current religious makeup of the U.S. and describing the dynamic changes in religious affiliation, the findings from the Landscape Survey also provide important clues about the future direction of religious affiliation in the U.S. By detailing the age distribution of different religious groups, for instance, the survey findings show that more than six-in-ten Americans age 70 and older (62%) are Protestant but that this number is only about four-in-ten (43%) among Americans ages 18-29. Conversely, young adults ages 18-29 are much more likely than those age 70 and older to say that they are not affiliated with any particular religion (25% vs. 8%). If these generational patterns persist, recent declines in the number of Protestants and growth in the size of the unaffiliated population may continue.CLICK HERE to read the full report
So, Americans float around a bit and get restless easily, no surprise there. Did you notice how quickly the numbers are shifting to the "unaffiliated" camp, and the dominant age ranges of those claiming no affiliation?
We have to ask ourselves some serious questions.
What must the church do to reach the younger generations?
As a follower of Jesus, what is my responsibility to the younger generations?
"There is more hunger for love and appreciation in the world today than for bread"
We were created for companionship. We were made for love. Something within us cries out to belong. We have an inborn desire to be loved, accepted, and valued.
At some point you may have been told that you were unlovable. Someone may have said cruel things to you. Maybe you have been trying to live up to someone else's definition of beauty and you feel like you just don't measure up. Maybe you've been in hurtful relationships and you feel like damaged goods. Maybe you feel like you are "on the outside looking in" when it comes to true love.
I was reading in Ephesians the other day and came across a wonderful passage. Paul writes beautiful words of love and acceptance to the believers in Ephesus. These gentile believers were used to feeling like they never quite measured up. They weren't accepted by Jewish believers, and the non-believing gentiles thought that they were strange. They were accustomed to feeling like outsiders.
Paul writes down the following prayer for them:
"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
It seems like back then the common knowledge about the church was that they were narrow, elitist, and reserved their love and acceptance for a select few. Sound familiar?
Then Paul brings these words; depth, height, width, length. These words sound vast, and expansive, not limiting, and reserved. To me it sounds like Paul is describing an ocean. Something you could swim in. Something you could become immersed in, covered in it.
If you've felt unlovable, if you've felt damaged, if you feel like you somehow missed the boat on love, know this; God's love for you is huge. It is deep. It is high. It is wide, and long. Let it cover you. Allow yourself to become immersed in this love. This is what you were made for.
If you sense that you have somehow expressed your love in a narrow fashion, if you've acted unlovingly except to a select few, allow yourself to be used as a conduit of God's expansive love for all. Experience the freedom of expressing this deep, deep love.
My prayer for you today is that you would experience love, and that you would express love. Not sparingly, but extravagantly.
Tell someone you love them.