Life in Community: Learning to Love Extravagantly


While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,  a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.  When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”  Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  – Matthew 26:6-13 (NIV)

In October of 2001, I was privileged to work with others at Ground Zero during the recovery efforts.  I was careful during my time away to call my 1 ½-year-old daughter every day to stay in touch.  However, this plan did not end up working out so well. About day four, she had grown quite tired of talking to me on the phone and wanted to know when I was coming home.  By day five she was no longer speaking to me and Mommy was dealing with many tears at night about Daddy being gone. I returned home after my two-week tour and was met at the airport by my wife and little girl.  As soon as she saw me, any thoughts of anger vanished in tears and excited cries of “Daddy! Daddy!”

She ran through that airport completely unaware and certainly unashamed of her extravagant display of emotion.  We held each other and cried and laughed and hugged and kissed and didn’t care a whit about what anyone thought.  For a moment the rest of the world didn’t exist.  This is the beauty of life among believers.  This is the power of fellowship.  We learn to love God with such abandon and extravagance in the presence of our spiritual family that we grow more capable of expressing it where less understanding eyes will see.

It is years later and I have not yet reached that point in my relationship with that once little girl where she is embarrassed to be seen with me.  I hope that I never will, but it causes me to ask the question, “Am I ever ashamed to express my love for God?”  I read the passage above and wonder if I would have loved Jesus enough to overcome my fears and doubts.  I wonder if I am more driven by self-preservation than I am by compassion and devotion.  Fortunately my current spiritual family is more than willing to seek an extravagant love for God together.

I want to worship God with abandon.  I want to weep with tears of deliverance.  I want to laugh with heartfelt joy.  I want to kneel at the feet of my Father and worship Him as He sees fit.  While the thought of this sometimes causes me to fear, I am assured that “perfect love casts out fear.”  There are not words to express the comfort and courage that are gained by knowing I am surrounded by others who desire the same experience.  We want to love God more than we love our reputations, more than we love our possessions, more than we love anything that this world has to offer.

So what is your alabaster jar?  What is it that you need to give up in order to love God as He deserves to be loved?  Who is it that looks with mocking eyes on your faith?  What price are you willing to pay in order to worship without shame? To be honest, I’m still working on answering those questions myself, but I am sure that I want to know the answers.

Life in Community: It’s Unity, Not Uniformity


Introduction: The service at church today was focused in on the larger part of this passage in Ephesians and really hit home with me.  I need to get busy being the body of Christ with others.  It was a great word and a great service.  If you are interested, you can hear the sermon after Wednesday this week at www.Risenking.org.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)

Every day I realize two things: my daughters and I are very similar and very different.  It is an amazing thing to see pieces of your character and personality in the actions, words and expressions of your children, but it is even more amazing to see those unique creations reveal their individuality.  I am finding that it is more my job to help my daughters discover who it is God has designed them to be than telling them who to be.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that discipline is never employed on either of them, but much of that is regarding what she is doing or why she is doing it, not who she is.  I am humbled that God has entrusted this responsibility to me and my wife.  Our only hope in being successful is to do all of this together, in unity.  In fact, it is only through a strong unity that we will be able to guide our daughters into becoming strong and whole individuals.

So it is with our church family.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in perfect unity and we have been adopted into that unity through Christ’s sacrifice.  However, it is only our participation in this unity that will bring us to maturity as individuals.  I will even go so far as to say that it is nearly impossible to be a mature Christian without practicing the “unity” in community.

In the passage above, it is clear that Paul recognizes the uniqueness of each believer, while confirming the unity necessary to attain maturity.  We need to remember that He gave us to one another.  In this passage and others, Paul employs the illustration of the body to describe the greater community of Christians.  It is important to note that no single part of the body exists for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole body.

If it is my desire to see my daughters become mature in Christ then I must live this model of community out in front of them and with them.  This requires a change of perspective from my younger days of personal goals and dream jobs and my wants being met.  My life is theirs (and my wife’s).  I am working toward Paul’s confession, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV)  A community of strong, unique, and mature believers is rooted in selflessness, so help us, Lord, to be more about the body and less about ourselves.

Life in Community: The Place of Holiness


Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV)

There is an assumption that to be holy, one must be alone or at least surrounded by other people who like to be alone.  When we think of titles like “Holy man” or “Holy one,” images of quiet men in robes living on a mountain top come to mind.  While I would never dismiss the discipline and dedication that is shown by that lifestyle, I am not sure that it is the pinnacle of holiness.

Jesus, The Holy One, was engaged and connected to those around Him.  His moments of solitude and prayer are notable, but they were not where He stayed.  His ministry is marked by movements from isolation to intervention; from stillness to action; from quietness to proclamation.  It is obvious that Jesus did not need His time intervening, acting and proclaiming to spend time alone, but used His time of isolation, stillness and quietness to prepare for moments of engagement.

Our movements should follow the same pattern.  Our solitude, silence and prayers with God inform and transform us to then move into the world.  Holiness may be forged in the disciplines that set us apart to God, but it is expressed in the activities of community and fellowship.  My daughter has been learning to pray regularly, read her devotions, seek God in quiet moments and learn what it is to be His child, but I want her to know that these are just doors to living a holy life with and among others.  She needs to understand that to “Be still and know that I am God” needs to lead her to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV)

Holiness matters to God, but life in community helps make holiness matter to others.  We can be holy in isolation, but it is hard to be salt and light in isolation.  God’s holiness does not stay in heaven, but invades this present life through His kingdom and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  When we are holy as He is holy, our holiness does not stay somewhere inaccessible to those around us.  It is engaged in the lives of others through a mind prepared for action.  It is empowered by the fullness of hope we have through grace.  It is the cure for the sin in our lives.  Holiness together for each other and the glory of God.

Gardening Tips: Count Your Blessings Together


Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways.

You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.

Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. – Psalms 128:1-4 (NIV)

I just finished making a batch of zucchini bread and a batch of squash bread and I have to tell you, eating the fruit of you labors is good….really good.  Tomatoes with more flavor than a juicy steak, strawberries with just the right balance of sweet and tart, and the blessing of watching my family enjoy these products from the field.  Good times.

It challenges me to find that same blessing in our life together with God.  Sometimes we all can get on our own track, concerned with the burdens of our life and responsibilities and forget about what God provides.    We don’t count our blessings nearly enough as we should.  We get overcome by our own burdens and focused on how we can take care of ourselves.  We become less like family and more like roommates.

The amazing thing about working toward the harvest is that you get to eat the fruit and share the experience.  Not only do we appreciate the bounty of the work, but we can bear one another up in the process.  I am grateful for all our garden has provided this year, but I will take laughter and conversation at the table where its fruit is eaten any day of the week.  The problem is that I don’t always do that.  I get focused on my own life and problems and forget to enjoy the blessings that are sitting at the table with me.

Lord, help me have eyes to see the blessings around me every day, especially the beautiful family you have given me.  Grow in me a desire to bless them and encourage them in their journey with You.  Make us a family marked by love and respect for one another. Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Minding Our Manners


“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:17-19

Many of you may have heard the name Harold Camping of late, and the repeated predictions of the rapture.  You might have also taken note that the rapture did not occur this past weekend and will not occur on his newly predicted date.  Harold Camping fits squarely into the false prophet category; one that tramples the pasture and muddies the waters.  His hopscotch approach to interpreting scripture has damaged scores of believers, and brings ridicule from those who disdain Christianity.

It is easy to look at someone like this and blame him for the negativity that people we know have toward Christianity.   We may even find ourselves saying something like, “He’s the kind of guy that makes Christians look bad.”  The problem is that your non-Christian friends probably felt ambivalence toward Christianity before they had ever heard of Harold Camping.  The real problem is the sheep in the mirror.

I know that there have been plenty of times, through action or word, that I have trampled the pasture and muddied the waters.  My life did not reflect the shepherd or the life of the pasture He had provided.  I could blame Harold Camping for people not having a favorable view of Christianity, but I’m pretty sure I have done my fair share of making God’s pasture look less appealing.

Do I think that having a bad day in representing Christ is remotely comparable to false prophecy?  No.  But it never helps when we focus on our frustrations with the behavior of others.  God will take care of Mr. Camping, but my life in Christ is my responsibility.  Every day is an opportunity to live life in the pasture better than the day before.  Every day holds the promise of God’s mercy and grace for me to overcome the failures of yesterday.

Lord I pray that I would have eyes to watch my step, ears to hear you directing them and a will submitted to yours that I might walk them for your glory and honor.  Help me live a life in your pasture that draws others to your flock and doesn’t drive them away. Amen.

The Discipline of Presence


I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Knudsen, taking roll each morning to tally our attendance.  We would raise our hand and say clearly, “Present!” when our name was called from the list, signifying that our day at school had now begun.  However, there were mornings when my hand rose, and my mouth spoke, but my heart and mind were elsewhere.  I was anything but present.

While circumstances have changed, I still find myself proclaiming my presence while not really experiencing it in the moment.  It happens at work, in conversations, at home and even during prayer.  I am elsewhere.  Thankfully, we are assured that God does not suffer from this malady; He is ever present, at all times and in all places.

It causes me to wonder if this is something I am supposed to reflect in my own life.  If this is one of the characteristics of my heavenly Father, shouldn’t I try to be like Him?  When I show up, do I truly bring all of myself to the moment, or do I do whatever will get me by?

In today’s world, it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are more connected and present with others because of the vast amount of technology we buy for that purpose.  We email and text and chat and call at home and work and play, thinking this brings us closer together.  I believe that just the opposite is occurring.  It is all breadth and no depth.  With each email, phone call or text message we convince ourselves that we are strengthening our connections when in reality we are becoming less and less capable of being present in the moment.

It is not that technology is evil or a tool of the devil; it is that we do not develop the discipline of presence in our society.  And it is a discipline.  Or maybe it is better to say that it is the result of other disciplines.  We have to make ourselves be someplace, to focus our will on what is at hand.  How many marriages suffer from “You never pay attention to me” syndrome?  How many drivers have near misses or cause accidents because they were on the phone, putting make-up on or wandering around in their head to a song on the radio?  When was the last time you found yourself going through a list of things to do during prayer at church?

I want to learn how to be present, to be fully engaged in my life as it is happening in the place that it is happening, immersed in what God is doing.  This series will explore ways for us to become better at being present in the moments of our lives.  I hope that you find the upcoming posts useful and edifying.