Thursday, November 15, 2007

an acorn and a mustard seed

"Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32).

i grew up in church so i heard this parable of jesus a lot. i always wondered exactly what a mustard seed grew into. it was never really explained to me until recently. i always assumed that the mustard seed was something like an acorn that grew into a huge oak tree. (c'mon. i'm from the midwest. forests are where birds hang out, right?) jesus' kingdom is like a huge oak tree - sturdy, strong, wind and storm proof, the tallest of trees.

couple, jesus is talking about a garden, not a forest. two, the mustard plant grows 10 feet max, and usually it's 3 or 4 feet. it's no oak tree tree. and mustard is invasive which means that once you get it in your garden, it's next to impossible to get out.

i have an invasive plant in our flower beds. it's me against that crazy plant every summer. it grows 3 feet tall and has a cute little purple flower on the top. but i don't WANT it there. i've tried everything to get rid of it....cutting them
down (plural....they pop out everywhere), pulling them out, pouring poison on them, and calling them names. nothing seems to work. i took one of the stalks (is that what you call it?) to the local landscape and garden center. they couldn't help, shook their head and said, "good luck" with a "yeah, right" smile.

that's more like a mustard plant.

i wonder if this slight shift in perspective is more important that we might first think. viewing God's kingdom as an invasive garden plant that can't be stopped is MUCH different than oak tree theology.

i subscribe to a "conservative" christian political email update as well as sojourners, a more "liberal" christian political update. i'm not sure i want to throw in my towel with either side. but one thing that drives me up a wall about the conservative one is the "kingdom as an oak tree" perspective. i'm all for using our voice and influence to change culture. that's part of the cultural mandate in genesis 1 and 2. but the spirit and tone behind some of the updates sound more like a diseased oak tree that's being cut down than a mustard plant that knows if you cut down one stalk, another will pop up.

the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and it can't be stopped, even if someone tries. but might western christianity actually be stopped if it continues to view itself as a mighty oak instead of a mustard plant? i don't hope for that, but i do wonder.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

spiraling back to basics

i'm a follower of jesus. essentially, that means that i try to live out (external world, what i do) and "think out" (in my internal world, faith, belief, etc.) the message and teachings of jesus of nazareth who claimed to be the king and deliverer of the world.

i'm coming to believe that a key indicator of how i'm doing as a follower of jesus exists mainly in my house- my place of living, sleeping, eating- and not in my church-related activities. i am who i am really when no one is looking and when i'm with those i live with. so when i find that i'm crankly, irritable, impatient, unkind, stand-offish, uninvolved with my wife and kids, i know something's wrong. maybe you don't have a wife and kids, but have a roommate. who you are with your roommate is a mirror for you.

last night was the end of a long day in the dalach house...i started the day living out most of the negative list above and it quickly spread to everyone else. at the end, of the day we were crying out to God for help. one of the things that came from praying was that we needed to listen to music first thing in the morning that puts us in the mindset of loving God and others.

"music? that's it? been there, done that! how many times do i need to do those really simple things!?" but it was really helpful. and it points to a principle that keeps popping it's head up over and over again.....

a key to continuing strongly as a jesus-follower is to keep coming back to the basics.

God-centered music in the morning is something that i've known about for years. that praying to God in the midst of darkness usually turns my perspective around is a, "yeah, duh!" and i so quickly forget that telling someone else about my screw-ups and straight-up rebellion is incredibly freeing and healing.

what are your basics? what keeps you on track? what are the things in the past that you don't do/think now that keep you centered on jesus?

i envision the jesus-centered life as a spiral. on one side of the spiral are elementary things....basic beliefs, practices, habits that are common to many who follow jesus. as we live life, we spiral away from some of the basics, sometimes to learn deeper things, sometimes because of busyness and unhelpful things. then hunger for God brings us back to basics, but this time the basics are in a new light.

so seek the basics. embrace the simple things of God that draw you in. spiral back to them often and God will meet you and make you more like jesus.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

too funny!

two quick links from my favorite christian satire website....

funny story....
Virtual Pastors please picky church-goers

funny shirt....
you'll have to read it yourself :)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

learning to argue with God

i was in one of my prayer/silent retreat times a couple weeks ago and i was thinking about my lack of passion in prayer. i was also wondering how in the world jesus could pray "all through the night"? (matt. 4:11). wouldn't he just be violating his own teaching on prayer to not babble and repeat things over and over?

one of the scriptures i read in my trusty, duct-taped NLT (which i love for meditative times) was 1 tim. 2:1 : "I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God's mercy upon them, and give thanks."

"plead," i thought, "what's that mean?" and thankfully i had a small dictionary on my pdaphone:

plead v
1) to get earnestly
2) offer something as an excuse
3) declare guilt or innocence
4) to offer an argument in support

another translation uses the word "intercede" which carries some of the same connotations.

i immediately thought, "i'm supposed to offer an argument before God?" and as i thought about it, i wonder if that's exactly it.

there are plenty of examples of God-pleaders and God-arguers. i thought about moses, pleading with God to not wipe people out, or abraham, doing the same for his nephew lot. or david in many of his psalms, cries out to Yahweh and makes a case for his innocence. jesus pleads with the father to give him another path to take. annanias doesn't just get up and follow God's command to visit paul, but reminds God of paul's not-so-friendly history. hababbuk records a back and forth near argument with Yahweh about injustice.

and i've often overlooked most of the these stories because surely humans are not supposed to argue with God! but maybe i do need to learn to "argue" more and present cases to God for the things i'm praying for. this seems to be the practice of those closest to God's heart.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"never, ever reveal your true identity"

these were words that i recently read on the back of a t-shirt a student was wearing on campus. while this is dynamite advice if you are clark kent, i wonder about the implications if one is an ordinary person.

consider the opposite....

in their book, ascent of a leader, thrall, mcnicol and mcelrath suggest that a main reason leaders fail is that they become isolated. “'When I meet with leaders, I simply assume society has infected them and they have not lived in authentic community and that this reality will eventually hurt them’ We would add to his statement, 'and hurt those who follow them.'”

the way out of isolation is vulnerability. "How do we overcome the isolation that threatens to rob us of our influence? The answer is found in the second rung on the character ladder - choose vulnerability."

let me be honest, as a "professional christian", (that is, i am paid on the assumption that i continue in my christian beliefs,) i am constantly tempted to choose to live out the title of this post. i heard a pastor recently say that he wonders if it is possible to be a pastor and a real christian at the same time. radical words, but i know what he means.

recently i was given the opportunity to share with a group how God has worked in big ways in my life in an area of struggle. i chickened out. why? because i'm a professional christian and professional christians don't have struggles. and if they do, they can only share them with other professional christians :) i know that many others are tempted in the same way.

i don't think this temptation is limited only to paid ministers, but is deeply ingrained in the whole culture of american christianity.

i dream of a christian culture and community that seriously and practically rejects the superhero syndrome. one that regularly chooses vulnerability, rewards those that do and together lives life under the kingship of jesus.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

two books to mess you up

i've really been messed up permanently by two books i've read this summer....renovation of the heart by dallas willard and organic church by neil cole.

renovation of the heart explores what it takes to transform the whole person into christlikeness and is a clarion call to see that every possible segment of life is changed. each area of life is changed through seeing what could be (vision), committing to that change (intent), and having the practical tools necessary to make it happen (means).

what has messed me up is thinking about the lack of #3, the means, almost anywhere in the American church. if you go to a good church with a good speaker, you probably hear lots of "what should be's" and maybe have the occasional creative interaction to make decisions. but the means? almost nowhere to be found. and that goes for most of my campus ministry too.

organic church is a radical book. it redefines what church's not a building and a program, but is whenever two or three followers of jesus get together for jesus' mission. that's it. nothing more. it's that simple.

this is the type of church, though, that is spreading across the world like wild-fire. the church in places like china, cuba and india is growing rapidly, but it's not church like we often visualize it.

cole calls into question most of the structures that the american church calls "church." i've heard all my life from speakers, "the church is not a building, it's the people." but i wonder if they meant that?

so i'm a bit messed up. not sure what to do about it.

pizza on the grill

i think pizza is certainly the food of heaven. i like to cook pizza at home, but am always hestitant to turn on the oven in the hot and humid chicago summers.

solution: the grill!

i don't remember how i thought of it...i think that i was churning my dilemna in my head..."hot weather, i love making pizza. hot weather, i love making pizza. can i grill pizza?"

so as i do with all of life's big questions, i googled it and found this page...

it really was simple. i burnt the crust on my first run, but i won't do that again. the dough cooks fast! i think it would be fun to make smaller sized pizzas and let everyone put their own toppings on. seems like a fun party idea.

now i can have the food of heaven when the weather is more like the other place :)

Friday, August 03, 2007

out of the box ideas

if all goes well we're moving out the california to finish my graduate studies next summer. either way, we're going to sell our house and move. here are some of the things that we're wondering about in thinking about where to live in two years...

if location proximity is important, then it seems important to live in a place with lots of opportunities to meet people and share life. would a condo or apartment be better off? i'm not sure. i see people in condos in chicago and don't see much more shared life than in the suburbs?

would living near a park provide opportunities to meet people...especially those with children? maybe living in a community with a common swimming pool? i've been hearing about communities being built that have a common park, pool, etc. i wonder is this type of living setting would be more conducive for a shared life.

what's funny is that just as we're starting to think about moving into a place with higher probablity for connection, we've had more connections with our neighbors this summer than we even have before. mainly, it's because i was working on expanding my driveway and everyone came out to talk or help. that was really cool. i wonder is there's something to be learned.

another concern i'm having.... does trying to "find a place" that is more conducive for connections exclude sharing life with those that are different...different ethnicities and/or cultures. because in the end, those that are most like me are easiest to relate to. i don't want to just be surrounded by people just like me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

out of the box

i'd love to throw some ideas around about what it would take to create even a semblance of sustainable authentic community. i've been thinking about two very basic things....proximity and a shared life.

proximity - i just wonder if people need to be closer locationally. i feel this to be especially true with small children. driving for 30 minutes in a car is one thing as an adult, but gets FAR more complicated with children. being close to others seems to be a key element in #2 as well.....

a shared life - i can get by without ever connecting to anyone in a week if i don't need anything from people. and that's exactly what i've created in my house....a self-sustainable environment with everything i need. or at least i thought....until the pain of loneliness says that there's something wrong with my system.

i wonder if a way out is to setup life so that i'm forced to share. (i have parents' voices running in my head...."share your toys, luke." "no, i don't want to!" :)

would it work to intentionally get rid of stuff....some tools, baby equipment and clothes, speciality items, etc.? if we knew others in our "community" had them, could we downsize and....share? i'm just brainstorming here. i can imagine all sorts of practical trouble. but if i'm forced to drive 10 minutes to borrow a tool from a friend, at least i've been "forced" to be indebted to another person and maybe i'll even talk to them. :)

what if a community created online lists somehow with things that could be shared with the group? like stuff, skills, gifts, talents, etc. no pressure, no guilt. just invitation to relationship and to living out jesus' teachings together.

what else would need to be in place for real community to foster in our disconnected american culture?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

i'm responsible

i just heard this quote by someone...

your systems are perfectly designed for the results you are attaining

i love it! it helps me get out of my self-delusion that i'm somehow floating along by the will of some external forces. of course God moves in time and history. but that doesn't excuse me from responsibility to sharpen myself, to align my life with Christ, to grow in love for God and others.....

personal character "systems," ministry "systems," family "systems".....the results that i see is how i have (or someone else has for me) designed it.

time to change some systems!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

my box

i don't know why i remember this song from eighth grade. it's weird i know. my eighth grade english teacher, mrs. allard, was a little eccentric (isn't that a prereq for being an english teacher :). but we got to read some really good books. she must have taught us this song by Malvina Reynolds sometime:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tack
And they all look just the same.

since then, i find myself singing this song in my head, sometimes out loud. my kids and wife know it by heart. the song's about houses in suburbia, and more about the values that suburbia represents.

recently, i read a book called technopoly by neil postman. one of postman's main themes is that any new technology brings about a culture change...and western culture is far too naive about how it accepts new technologies without thinking through it's implications.

for example, the monks of medieval times invented a clock (can you imagine a world without a clock?!), to tell them when to stop and pray. the clock, though, later turned out to be the foundation of production (we can now measure the amount of work done / hour) and industrialism.

crazy, eh?

this is what i'm wondering lately: has anyone questioned the implications of the "technology" of a house?
...of each house containing all that is needed in itself for a "good life?"
...of each house being a little haven for a nuclear family, and only a nuclear family?
...of each room being a little haven for each member of that family?
...of the luxury of having enough rooms for kids to sleep in different rooms, when one family used to all sleep together?

i know that there's a move from the suburbs back into the city. the suburbs are looked down on by those city folks. but really, is it any different? so you have a flat or a house that's right next to another house for a box. i have a whole house on a little land for a box. a box is a box, right?

i'm starting to feel that our version of boxes in america is stopping the fulfillment of our deep longing for authentic relationships. i know that others are feeling the same way. is anyone doing anything that is out-of-the-box? :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

just jesus

long-expected one
good ruler
life bringer
alpha and omega
creation restorer

he's of a different era, dispensation!
don't model his ministry!
he came for Israel!
he's before the church!
reinterpret his teachings!
be careful with him!

no. jesus. just jesus!
the king of the kingdom
the sender of the Spirit
the teacher of his followers
the savior of all the nations
the master of the universe!

my king! just jesus.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

myers briggs (mbti) and ministry

i've always really liked the personality theory of myers-briggs. well, actually, not always. at first i hated it because i thought it boxed me, categorized me as something without first consulting me to see if i wanted to be categorized.

but now i really like it. REALLY like it. my ENFP friends still really hate it...and thus verify their ENFP description :) . it helps me in at least four ways....

helps me understand myself
helps me understand others and my relationship to them (especially my marriage)
helps me help people in teams understand each other (communication, conflict, etc.)
helps me understand whole groups of people and organizations

this last one is really interesting to me. it seems like you can really understand whole groupings of people by MBTI. this especially helps me understand christian denominations and churches. for example...
~churches that value emotional worship and future-oriented/inspirational teaching (charismatic/pentecostal) seem more NF.
~churches that value doctrine, tradition, and right teaching (baptist, bible churches, conservative presbyterian) above all seem more ST.
~churches who really value service and social justice (more mainline churches) above all seem more SF.
~churches who like ritual and other hands-on worship styles (anyone with icons, statues, candles, etc.) seem S.

(i'm just not sure where NT fits? i am an NT and i don't feel like NT fits anywhere...or better, it might fit uncomfortably almost anywhere :)

i know there's more to church groupings than that. (like socio-economics!) but this perspective really helps me understand groups more. i think ideally, the church shouldn't be grouped by personality types and gifting. but that's just how it is most of the time.

most conflict in church beliefs and between church leaders i think can be partially viewed through mbti. for example, in the emerging church, mark driscoll....high T....brian mcclaren....F. for that matter, it seems most people in emergent village, F, modern christianity, T.

here's a really weird thing to me: i believe that personality is mostly wired in us by God. so if we are drawn to certain beliefs, values and denominations because of personality, it seems like personality might predispose us in our beliefs. i'm still getting my head around that. in any case, this perspective helps me have more grace than judgement on those different than me and if it helps me love like jesus, i'm excited about it. i think if i ever wrote a book, it'd be on something like this.....

you can take a uncredentialed, free version of the test here....

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

baptism on facebook?

this weekend, my 4 month old son will be baptized at the saturday evening church. baptism is such a funny thing. i grew up in a church that adamantly opposed any type of baptism accept "believer's baptism" a.k.a., dunk 'em-when-you're-older-style. (although "older" can be like 4 or 5!) any church that practiced infant baptism was obviously heretical and not bible believing. when i got a little older, i started to wonder what dunking someone in a bath tub in front of a bunch of already Christians had to do with 1st century baptizing of john or jesus or the religious people of that day.

a little later, i started listening to the arguments about infant baptism from my reformed friends. there are some things that make sense. for example, a biblical understanding of salvation was more communal and family orientated. joshua says "as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh." seems like a decision could be made by the parents for the whole household. job is seen sacrificing for his grown children. seems like children weren't responsible for their own sins until they were older.

those are weird to me and i can't quite place those instances in my head. whenever there's something in the scriptures that i can't fit into my pre-conceived theology, i have to question my perspective.

but i'm still not sure that baptizing a young child in front of a whole group of already Christians is getting at it still.

maybe something like this would be closer: you become a christian. you send "re-birth announcements" (corny, eh?) to all your friends saying that you're now a jesus-follower. you put spotlights in your front yard with a big sign that says "i'm a follower of jesus now."

is that any closer?

a couple weeks ago, an international student i know became a christ-follower. he was a hindu. he said that he changed his facebook "religious preference" from hindu to christian. that change would be seen on all his friends' home pages on facebook the next time they signed in.

now that seems close indeed!

i'm still having my children baptized. my pastor does a great job saying that infant baptism doesn't save a's a parents' dedication of the child and an acknowledgement that God's love through jesus will be there waiting for children when they get older and profess their faith themselves.

we have to often live within the ideals, perspectives and values of christian church as it is now.