The heart of the matter…

When I was younger, I equated much of Christianity & my relationship with God to “the Rules:” things I was supposed to do, & things I was NOT supposed to do. If I followed “the Rules,” I was doing good with God, & if I didn’t, well, I was doing bad.  Over time, I got pretty good at keeping “the Rules” & if I would admit it, I was pretty proud of myself. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Because I was good at keeping the Rules I measured myself against other peoples’ abilities at Rule keeping… & , to me, it seemed like most people weren’t as good at me at keeping the Rules. Which made me a ‘better’ Christian. Just about every aspect of my life reflected the fact that I was religious. Went to church & youth group (rarely missed.) I was known for my good behavior.

Except I was mean to people. Judgmental. Arrogant. Unfriendly. I could go on…

My life didn’t reflect Christlikeness – the “God-family traits” that show up in His kids were glaringly absent from most of my interpersonal interactions. I was well on my way to becoming a Pharisee: great at keeping ‘the Rules” while at the same time completely missing the heart of the matter.

The point of following Christ is to become LIKE Christ in how we think, how we act, & how we interact with each other & the rest of the world. It means digging deep into Scripture to allow it to be planted deep in our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can work to apply it & transform our hearts & minds from being selfish, self-focused, self-righteous people to being people who reflect Christ’s love, mercy, compassion, & justice.

You are the light of the world…

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus declared Himself to be the light of the world… He usually made this declaration as He was interacting with the Pharisees/other religious leaders, or to the curious crowds that followed Him around, wondering what He was going to do next.

But to His disciples, those pledged to follow Him, learn, & become like Him, He said the following:  YOU are the light of the world – a city set on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works & give glory to your Father who is in heaven…

With those words, Christ declared one of the core identifiers that would mark His followers – we are LIGHT in a dark world. Meaning, we’re here on earth, created in His image, to do good in His Name. As a result, people notice, & give glory to God our Father.

When we first came to Reno, these verses were at the forefront of what we believed our mission (& the mission of our church) was supposed to be. These verses are the inspiration of the name of our church, Hillside.

Our church community is dedicated to being LIGHT, & to living as a city on a hill overlooking Reno/Sparks, doing what Jesus would be doing if He were walking in our shoes every day.

Let’s let our lights shine today.

Deutschland #11, #12, #13+

I’m writing my last couple of Germany posts from home, very jet-lagged, sleep-deprived & very fuzzy. So if/when you read this & it doesn’t make sense, that’s my excuse.

DAY 11 – SUNDAY

Like at home, I woke up early… it’s Sunday & I’m speaking… my brain was running a mile a minute, so it was pointless to attempt to catch an additional 20 minutes of sleep. Ate some oatmeal with Jan, then headed off to church. He delivered me to the espresso bar in the fellowship area, where I was able to caffeinate to my hearts content while he took care of business.

The EnChristo Church in Mainz feels a lot like home – informal, personal, & relational with a definite focus on Jesus. I really enjoyed worship & also connecting with Flo (big guy, about 6’6″) my translator for the service. I find that it always helps me to talk with the person translating me in advance of the actual message. Spoke on John 20:19-22 – simple message on Jesus sending us as His representatives into the world where we live, work, & play. Had several comments afterward on the simplicity of the message – & its applicability. That’s what I was aiming for. Had an interesting moment in the beginning of the message when a lady in the front row started yelling… she eventually stopped, got up & left. No one knew who she was. Good times.


After service, Jan & I grabbed a quick bite at one of his favorite Chinese restaurants – then headed to the train station.

Waves of fatigue hit me when I got on the train. Hard. I have been pushing myself for the last 3 weeks of travel (Mexico & then here) & have been running on fumes, knowing that at some point I would have to pay the price for it. And that was today. I fought off slumber because I knew if I crashed, I would miss my train stop & end up drooling & confused on the other side of Frankfurt. Somehow, I managed to stay awake until my stop – at which time the heaven’s opened & a thundershower of epic proportions kicked into full gear. It was only about a mile from the station to my host’s flat, & I was thoroughly soaked by the time I arrived. They weren’t home from their own weekend jaunt yet, so I dried myself off & threw myself on the bed. Don’t know how long I was out, but Alex woke me up just in time to head out to watch the World Cup Finale – Deutschland v. Argentina.


I can honestly say that the atmosphere in the pub was the most electric of any I’ve ever experienced – & the tension was tangible. And when Mario Goetze buried his shot in the upper right corner of the net during extra time, the celebration was beyond words… only to be surpassed when the final whistle blew. Unbelievable. Truly a life-highlight for me, as was the celebration afterwards. We drove around Frankfurt along with thousands of others, honking horns, waving flags, singing at the top of our lungs. It was AWESOME. The theme for the night was Pharrell’s “Happy.” Every time I hear it from now on, I will be transported back to that moment.


DAY 12 & 13

My last full day in Germany was packed – &, as hard as I tried, I was unable to connect with several people that I really wanted to see. Such is life. Had a great final evening of talks & dinner with Alex & Linda.

Then, on Tuesday, Levent & Ines picked me up & took me to the airport (thank you!) & I spent the whole trip home reading & trying to stay awake to make my acclimation to Pacific Standard Time easier.

Slept most of my Wednesday, & now I’m trying to stay awake so I don’t mess with my sleep cycle any more than I already have.

I’m grateful for the last 2 weeks – for the opportunity to see friends & for God to work in & through me in reaching a people/place that I love so much. And I’m so happy to be home with my theBean & my kids. And I can’t wait to reconnect with my church family – so thankful for them.

Now, back to real life. After a nap.

Thank you for your prayers while I traveled – it made a difference. Blessings to you.

 

Deutschland #4 & #4.5

Woke up early on Sunday & got ready for church – on a whim, I decided to try to FaceTime theBean (it was midnight at home, so I thought my chances of catching her awake were slim to none.) Imagine my surprise when she answered on the first ring. There’s nothing in the world like the sound & sight of myOne. Our brief connection made the rest of the day seem doable.


After a quick breakfast, we headed out to church. Actually, it was to a regional church service – every 8 weeks or so, the 5 Foursquare churches in the area get together for a joint service. On a rotational basis, each church takes part of the responsibility for elements of the service (kids ministries, hospitality, worship, announcements, preaching/teaching, etc.) The reason behind the get-together is two-fold:

  1. Fellowship & relationship building – there aren’t many Christians in Germany, so opportunities for getting together with other Christians are rare. The kind of encouragement & ‘life boost’ that comes from these get-togethers is huge.
  2. Many of the “free” (non-Catholic/Lutheran) churches in Germany are small – 40 people & under. Partnering with other churches allows them to share resources & do more than they could do if they were organizing a gathering on their own. It’s a cool picture of parts of the body of Christ functioning well for the benefit & growth of the whole body. It really makes the self-focused, “doing church my way for my church’s benefit” that is emerging in the Western Church seem pretty silly, petty, & shallow.

Tim spoke on the 3 marks of a disciple from Mark 3 – emphasizing that disciples have 1) been with Jesus; 2) been sent by Jesus; 3) have lives marked by the power of God as evidenced by declaration of the gospel & overthrow of the kingdom of darkness. He did a great job bringing things into a context that made sense regardless of our nation of origin/language. Made me proud, & I’m loving watching he & his wife Deborah fall in love with the people, church, & nation of Deutschland.

IMG_1557I was whisked away right after church to the house of Julia’s sister, Linda, & her husband Heiko. I haven’t seen them since right before they were married a couple years back, so I really looked forward to catching up with them. They spent the morning prepping a BBQ for us – & goodness, it was tasty. We ate steaks, white sausage, tater salad – German style, cucumber salad, & a kind of meat that came from France that no one really translated. It was French, but even so, it was palatable. Here’s a picture of Heiko & Julia, representing Nevada & the Wolf Pack, surrounded by German flags. I had to tell them to put their index fingers up to make “#1” – because in Germany/most of the rest of the world, they start counting numbers with the thumb being #1. They were happy to look like ‘real Americans.”


IMG_1558We’d barely finished lunch when Linda decided to take us on a brief walk through the forest near their home, overlooking a green, tree-filled valley. Didn’t walk too fast – didn’t want to hurl. It was a beautiful, refreshing walk through the trees – except for the 50 meter section where the midges showed up in force. Mr. Frodo, I feel your pain. I ended up with several bites on my right leg – evidently that one is much tastier than the left.


Unfortunately, I had to leave early from the family dinner to head out. Julia drove me to meet Jochen (the regional leader) & Tim & their families for a dinner in a local biergarten in the village of Ulm. Think Great Basin-Sparks outside sitting area x3 & covered with a well-trimmed & lush grass patio blanket, surrounded by 30 foot tall trees. It was nice. Over the pub-brewed beer, we discussed Foursquare, both the US & Deutsch churches, & went back & forth asking/answering questions… there were a few times as we talked that I could see that some of the political/bureaucratic activities that unfortuntely happen as denominations get larger really struck a nerve, & gave me new & fresh eyes to reconsider what has been our (US) normal for church life.

For the most part, we schemed different ways for an interchange to take place between the US & German churches… & have a couple potential dates on the calendar for next year. We’re meeting to firm them up over dinner tonight.


Got back to the house of Kern in time for a snack – salami, cheeze, pretzel bread, & some vino from a local vintner. One of my highlights from this trip has been time around the tables, both in the kitchen & on the patio, with the Kern family: Klaus, Pia, & dear Julia. They’ve taken great measures to ‘stop life” & make the days I’m here very, very special. Words are inadequate to describe the special, special gift that this has been to me, & I am very, very thankful for this ‘chosen family’ who have become some of ‘my people” on the other side of the world.


The storm hit about 10 p.m. Rain. Thunder & lightning. Wind. Reports of a tornado touchdown in nearby Rammstein. It was hot, humid & loud. Made it very, very hard to sleep. I guess I eventually drifted off around 2:30 a.m., as my last iMessage to theBean was at about 2.


Woke up on Day 5 (4.5 for blog purposes) with a start at 8. FaceTimed theBean again as she was off to bed. Weirdness to be starting & ending our days at exactly opposite times. Winding down while the other is winding up. But the 9 hour time difference is cool too, as it provides a great communication window. This morning, I wished I was home getting ready for sleep in my own bed. And I would have turned on the air. TheBean told me she turned the air off upstairs because she likes to be warm. Evidently, 90 degrees in our room is just about right. No exaggeration, no kidding. That girl.


IMG_1563My man bag has died. I bought it 7 years ago in Frankfurt, & it has survived travels all over the world, carrying my lappy, journal, notebook & all my other ‘go-tos’. It has holes in the sides & bottom, & it no longer zips. Therefore, I decided to replace it – Julia took me shopping a couple of places until I picked out the newby. Here it is.

Found out that the store we were shopping in had a familiar name, so I decided to get a pic of the sign with Julia in it. IMG_1565

A successful shopping trip deserves a reward, so Julia & I drove a whole 7 minutes to get out of town & go to McDonalds. It was an experiment really – I wanted to see if the beef in the McDonalds burgers tastes the same as it does at home. Got a McDouble w/extra ketchup. Turns out, they taste totally different. It might be that they use Australian beef here like they do in Eastern Europe. Not sure, but the burger tasted… beefier? More real? Its not like I eat at McDonalds at home very often; more like 2 or 3 times a year. Maybe it was because I was a hungry elf & anything would taste good. It was time well-spent.


Picked up a couple of gifts & then headed to the house to study a bit for next Sunday (I’m preaching in Mainz, Germany at the church of Jan von Wille, a pastor & the national leader of Foursquare Deutschland. I’m doing a variation on the last message I preached at home: We Are On A Mission From God, text John 20:19-22. For the last hour or so, Julia & I have been sitting at the table, not talking, working on our laptops. She’s my kind of people, & I’m so thankful for this wonderful adopted German daughter. Love being her Ami-Papi (the name she gave me, means “American Dad.”) I’ll finish my Monday blog sometime tonight or tomorrow morning, after I live it. :)

I close this blog before I head to take a nap with a picture of the old Man-Bag next to the new one. Distinctly heard the old one say to the new one, “Carry on.”

IMG_1566

 

The Next Generation matters…

In Mark 10:13-16, we see Jesus hanging out with His disciples… Many parents took the opportunity to bring their children to Him so He would bless them & hold them. His well meaning disciples saw what was happening & decided that they needed to stop the parents from approaching Jesus with their kids because Jesus was OBVIOUSLY busy & OBVIOUSLY had more important things to do than spend His time interacting with children.

Except that isn’t how Jesus saw it – He got indignant & rebuked His disciples – Jesus told them to knock it off, saying, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And then Jesus took the children in His arms, & blessed them, laying His hands upon them. To the disciples, the kids were a nuisance, a hindrance to important things & people that Jesus could be doing & seeing. To Christ, kids were invaluable, & modeled how God would have us receive & come to Him.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are instructed to intentionally take time to pass on to the next generation the goodness of God, the fulfillment of His promises, the understanding of His ways, & the love for Him & His words. (See Deuteronomy 4:1-10, Psalm 71:17-21 & Proverbs 22:6 for a few examples.) On top of this, current research shows that about 75% of people who come to know Christ do so before their 18th birthdays.

At Hillside, one of our core values is prioritizing our “next generation” – the babies, kids, youth, & young adults – &, accordingly, we want to intentionally, creatively, & strategically give of our time, resources, & energy to help our next generation become fully devoted followers of Christ.

Surprised & other musings on a Monday…

After Church yesterday, I was in the typical rush to prep for the next thing we had to do… 45 minutes of “free time.” Which means running around crazy to make sure life is dialed in for the next round of stuff. And then a smile. KIRSTIN. A dear friend who moved away a couple years back. But now she is HERE. Standing there with her Kirstin Smile. Surprise. Had to come to town for a ‘thing’. Thought she’d swing by to say “hey.” I wept.


We connected with Nick & Kirstin at College Group. Sunday night Study. Eating dinner together. Sitting in our living room with other friends. Reading the Scriptures. Questions. Debates. Ponders. (I declare Ponders is a word.) Prayer. Connecting. Sharing life’s joys. Pains. Challenges. Celebrations. It knit us together in a way that time & life will never separate. And it makes me think.


Last night, we had Study. Dinner. A great group of very diverse people gathered around the counter. Eating. Laughing. Enjoying each other. To the living room, everyone claiming “their” spots. Sharing their highlight of the week, giving us insight into what makes them tick. Reading the Scriptures. Talking about them. Chasing rabbit trails. Praying. Talking about the happenings of the day. I brought up my highlight – seeing Kirstin this afternoon. Daniel asked, “Who’s Kirstin?”

The flood of memories & life experiences shared flooded my brain as I thought how to answer him. And I said, “Kirstin is YOU Daniel, in a different lifetime.” We had a good laugh. And it made me think.

For the majority of the last 25 years, theBean & I have hosted people in our home on Sunday nights. It’s looked different – I’m cracking up thinking about how we used to go to the park next to our house & play BALL, a hybrid between rugby, football, soccer, basketball & handball. And MMA. There were several trips to the ER before that round of Study. I think of Cap’ns coffee stains on my floor. That boy couldn’t control a cup of coffee to save his life. I think of Josh-bum semi-napping on the couch, only to respond in context when asked a question. I remember pulling a newly dating couple aside & asking them to stop groping each other. I think of the Squirrel Gurls – 2 opposites that became like sisters.

I think about the privilege of seeing peoples’ lives developing & growing as they moved through high school/college into the life standing in front of them. In my minds eye, I see lives opening up like flowers as God healed them from life’s hurts, & blossoming into the people God made them to be. Pete & Debi becoming best friends. And then getting married. There are literally hundreds of memories of people flooding my mind. And I’m privileged to have been in this spot.

And many of these people have become ‘chosen family.’ People who have left indelible marks on our lives – & they have moved on, moved away, pursuing their lives, careers, & passions. And these people follow Jesus & inevitably help others learn to do the same through their life examples. And my heart sometimes aches as I miss them & the impact they’ve had on my/our life/lives.

And yet… God is good. He always sends more people. And it seems that the only thing we have in common is Jesus & a desire to pursue Him, His words, & wanting to figure out HOW to apply this to our lives, to bring it from theory to action & practice.

It gives me joy. And I feel rich. Because there is life. Meaning. Worth. In relationship. Community. Fellowship.

I love this.

What’s your story?

When it comes to sharing with others about the message of the Gospel (Good News,) many of us can feel intimidated & inadequate. It’s almost as though the task of talking to others about Jesus effectively requires something MORE than we are or we have.

More education. More knowledge. More experience. More answers. MORE. I mean, what happens if we start talking to someone & they ask us a question about our faith, the Bible, etc. that we don’t know how to answer? :)

A couple weeks ago, my supervisor reminded me that sharing the Gospel doesn’t require communicating a theological masterpiece, massive amounts of memorized Scripture, or a certified-spiritual-gifts-test-result-qualifying-you-as-an-evangelist.

He simply asked, “What’s your story? What has Christ done in your life? Why did you choose to put your faith & trust in Him? That’s what your friends & family need to hear. Share your STORY.”

Revelation 12:11 tells us that we, believers in Christ, will overcome the devil through the blood of the Lamb (Christ’s sacrifice on the cross which paid the penalty for our sins,) & through the word of our testimony (our story, what Christ has done, is doing in our lives.) We each have a  GREAT story, & the more we rehearse it, remember it, & tell it, we give glory to God, point to Jesus as the Savior, & we share the Good News.

I like to take the cue from a blind man who Jesus healed – the religious leaders were hounding him with a barrage of questions about WHO healed him, HOW He had done it, & WHETHER this Jesus was a good guy or not. The man said, “Well, I don’t really know much, except that I was blind, & now I can see.”  (See more on this in John 9.)

Beautiful answer.

Read the ingredients labels & a thought from 1st John

My daughter, theWeez, likes to eat healthy. Which means she reads the ingredients labels on everything. I mean, EVERYTHING. The other morning, I was making an egg burrito, & she declared, “Those tortillas are gross. Dad, do you know how many ingredients are in them?”

“Um. 3?”

“Nope. Like 20. You really have to be careful what you’re putting in your body.”

“Duly noted.”

Next day, we had the TortillaLand tortillas, which are made with a total of 4 ingredients. Better. And tastier.


Reminds me of John’s great challenge to his readers in 1John 3 & 4. He tells them that  BELIEVING in the Name of Jesus Christ, & loving one another – are indicators that we are abiding (remaining, living in) God & His family. John also puts forward a couple of warnings – 1st: don’t be like Cain, who hated (& eventually murdered) his brother, Abel. 2nd, he challenges them to be very discerning about the spiritual input they accept from others. Specifically, he tells them to TEST every spirit (the motivating force/entity) behind any instruction or prophetic utterance given by a teacher, prophet, &/or spiritual leader.  So, since we can’t “read the ingredients label,” what does that mean, & how do we do that?

John reminds them that not everyone who claims to be speaking for God &/or on Christ’s behalf is actually doing so – & he gives a couple of TESTS for his readers to use in determining the source of the spiritual input:

  1. Does the individual confirm that Jesus Christ came physically in the flesh, as a man? There were many teaching at the time that anything in the material world (including our bodies) was inherently evil; only things of the higher, spirit world were good. So, the conclusion reached was that Jesus Christ only seemed  to have a real body; He was in fact a spirit. John says that the denial of this core truth is a dead giveaway that the spirit motivating the teaching is off.
  2. Does the individual/teaching confess Jesus Christ? This confession centers on embracing Christ fully as God, as revealed in the eyewitness accounts of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John. Anytime Jesus is reimagined, reinvented, &/or redefined by a prophet/teacher/etc. in any manner different than God chose to reveal Him is an indication that the source of the input is the spirit of antichrist. Anytime Christ is diminished or reduced from being FULLY God & FULLY man – from being the sole source of our relationship with God the Father – the spirit of antichrist is exposed.

For us, 2000 years later, these TESTS are a great encouragement – & help remind us to be wary about what we’re ingesting, spiritually, & to regularly, with Holy Spirit insight, discernment, & wisdom, examine the spiritual input we are seeking out/getting from others. If it’s of God, it will stand up to the test.

Crossing over… from death to life.

Over the last few weeks in our “Letters from John” series, we’ve discovered that John is just a little redundant when it comes to a couple of the things he wants to make sure to communicate to his readers. The most significant, to me, is his repetition of Christ’s commandment: “Love one another.” Here in chapter 3, he gets into some detail about just what “loving one another” looks like, lived out.

In verse 12, he challenges us to not be like Cain, who murdered his brother. Ok, check. That sounds like an easy one, right? Don’t murder. However, I think it goes deeper than that, & touches on the motivation for Cain murdering Abel: jealousy. Genesis 4 tells how Cain was a farmer, while Abel was a shepherd. The time came for a sacrifice offering to be made to the LORD. Cain gave some of the leftovers of his harvest; Abel made a sacrifice of the best lamb in his flock. As a result, God rejected Cain’s offering, but accepted Abel’s. God’s favor made Cain so angry (& jealous) he schemed to get Abel alone in a field, & killed him.

Both Cain & Abel knew what God wanted in a sacrifice – their parents, Adam & Eve had firsthand experience with what God wanted: their very best. Abel chose to approach God & God’s terms, & Cain didn’t. Abel was received – Cain wasn’t. Cain’s jealous response, (birthed out of evil, John tells us) revealed the death & darkness that lived in him, while Abel’s showed the life & light dwelling in him.  Death. & life.

Loving our brothers demonstrates that we’ve crossed over from death to  life… that we’ve allowed God’s love, light, & life to be made manifest in us.

John continues in verse 16 – using Jesus’ example of love shown in how He laid down His own life for His followers… & John urges his readers to do the same. Since in Jesus’ case, this meant Christ’s death on the cross, does that mean that we are called to do the same? I say yes. Here’s how it can work on a daily basis.

Laying down our lives for others can be much more than dying in someone’s stead… it can also be love that is shown as we serve others & look to put their needs & interests before our own (ala Christ’s example from Philippians 2:1-10). This demonstrates that we have crossed over from death (the pattern of this world) to life (the pattern modeled by Christ.) Finally, this repeated command to love one another isn’t an abstract one – it is imminently practical, & demands that we look for ways to do what we believe Jesus would be doing if He were walking in our shoes. Because, when you think about it, He is.

What did Jesus come to do?

John reveals some very important things in his letters to the church about WHY Jesus Christ came to earth. In 1John 3 he tells us:

You know that He (Christ) appeared in order to take away sins, & in Him there is no sin…the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1John 3:5 & 8b

Think about it: Jesus came to take away sin (& the result of sin, death,) & to destroy the works of the devil. So, what are the works of the devil?

From Genesis 3, we see that the devil works to twist God’s words, lie & deceive humanity, & offer a self-indulgent, ego-centric, & ultimately totally destructive alternative to God’s purposes for humanity. 1Chronicles 21 reveals the devil as a agent whose intent is to stir up human pride in order that we would defy God. Zechariah 3 shows the devil as our accuser, the one who would stand to condemn us. Matthew 4 & Luke 4 show the devil tempting Christ to live & act autonomously, in direct opposition to the humble, submitted reliance upon God the Father. John 8 reveals satan to be a lying murderer, & John 10 condenses the thief’s mission as being dedicated to stealing, killing, & destroying. 1Peter 5 describes the devil as a roaring lion, looking to devour the unwary. Finally, Revelation 12 sums up the work of the devil, labeling him as the deceiver of the whole world.

We often talk about Christ’s work of atonement, how He paid for humanities sins through His death on the cross. And about His victory over death, when He rose from the dead 3 days after His crucifixion. And about the new life & relationship with God that He offers to all who believe in & trust Him. What jumps out to me from 1John 3 is that Christ came to destroy the enemies work. The areas in which the devil has been wreaking havoc, perverting, twisting, lying, & killing.

This gives me great hope & encouragement – to know that the areas where the enemy has been active, our God specifically came to destroy those works, & in doing so, to bring RESTORATION, making things the way He intended them to be.

Grace, peace, & God’s blessings to you today –