Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can You Say, "Means of Grace"?

A Go with God moment.

So, you know I’m a bit obsessed with keeping people close to Christ. Sorry, it’s one of my many flaws. And my other shortcoming is that if someone finds following Christ to be not-worth-the-effort, I sincerely want them to at least ponder staying with Him for just a while longer. And both groups can accomplish this by utilizing the same practice. But you might say, “Since these two groups of people (let’s call you either a faith-seeker or a faith-decliner) are traveling in such different directions, how can the same practice accomplish similar results?

How about an answer in narrative form? While I was in seminary I heard the most wonderful personal story from one of my professors. He was tenured (which means you have a job-for-life) but gave it up to go back into the local church to serve a struggling congregation just outside of Washington D.C. He preached faithfully and loved his people, but the church never seemed to grow. As a matter of fact, the move from a small city in Kentucky to the huge metropolitan area of D.C. actually created a series of almost insurmountable family catastrophes. Slowly but surely my friend/professor began to perceive Jesus differently. He was still real, but rather than powerful and active, He seemed distant and uncaring. My friend did not come to this realization overnight, but it was a slow and almost imperceptible change. Until one day, he decided there was no value in investing time in prayer; because nothing he prayed for came into being. God was there, He just did not seem to care about his family or the church he was serving.

This newly formed vision of the divine frightened my friend. He knew if he did not take some kind of action, his chilling relationship with the Lord may someday turn Ice Cold. He needed to put himself into a river that would give hope that a life of faith would return. He knew that the way to God was to practice what Wesleyan’s call the “Means of Grace.” The means of grace are simply those practices where God shows up in a tangible way with the participants. For him, prayer was the key means he would employ. Yet, he knew he did not have the personal faith to utter sacred vocabulary to reach the heavens. So, he simply rubbed his fingers across the text of the Psalms each day; reading aloud the same words that functioned as the prayer book of Israel and the hymnal of Jesus. He rubbed and recited the prayers of David until the ink began to fade from the page. He knew that walking away from the Lord was more frightening than striving with a silent Savior. So he waited, he rubbed, he prayed.

Friends, practicing the Means of Grace is simply working within the ocean currents of faith-seeking. It’s not demanding a sign or forcing a divine ultimatum. Rather, it’s being honest with oneself that I do not have all the answers or maybe I’m not even asking the right questions. So, I’ll wait like so many faith-seekers before me.

I’ll pray - even is its someone else’s prayers.

I’ll read scripture - even if today, it they seem like mere human words.

I’ll attend church - even if the singing is poor and the sermon is dry.

I’ll take Communion - even if the bread is flavorless and the wine tastes sour.

I’ll wait, for maybe in the midst of this means God’s grace will once again speak into my world.

Waiting on God is not passive, but an active endeavor. So, why not rub your fingers across the screen…Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life;

the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

And what about my friend? He is indeed fully restored. He teaches once again, with a fully-orbed grace that is contagious. He is much deeper in character, more tender-in-heart, much quicker to laugh and tears up even in the midst of class. He is strikingly Christ-like. He is sold on the Means of Grace.

What about you? Any takers for the Means of Grace?

Please Lord,

We long to be like you…but are fearful of the process.

We are afraid of tarrying in silence…but know that the still small voice is hard to hear.

We know that the “fellowship of suffering” is Your call upon us…but we are taught to avoid pain. Teach us anew.

Grace us with the Means to become just like You.


Now, Go with God.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Are You a Stumbling Block?

God with God moment.

So, if you read this regularly, you know that for the last few weeks I have been gravely concerned about the voices who speak into your life; the voices who may cause you to stumble in your faith. But today, I am not speaking to your ears which listen but to people whose lips are speaking. Scripture is replete with it position on this matter.  

·         Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- (1Co 10:32 NIV)

·         Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (Rom 14:20 NIV)

·         But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mat 18:6 NAS).

Now, if you are mocking the faith of others, I recognize that attempting to employ the words of Paul or Jesus to silence your voice seems like a fool’s errant. Yet I know that most of you have something in common; you used to have faith. Deep and robust faith. You have “tasted the Lord and know He is good.” Then, something happened in your life. Maybe it came upon you suddenly and tragically. Your heart has been hurt. Was it unanswered prayer? Was it some sort of pain and suffering? Maybe inner shame from the same re-occurring sin from which you could not gain ultimate victory. In the end, your soul has been damaged and you have simply given up the fight. It’s easier this way, isn’t it. At least, maybe easier for you.

Maybe with you it came upon you much slower, as your intellect has outdistanced your faith development. You woke up one day, and it just did not seem you would be a person of “intellectual integrity” to believe any longer. Was it realizing you were looking at the world “thru rose colored glasses” that did it? You saw the pain and suffering of someone else, maybe in the Far East, in Africa, maybe even your neighbor or your family member? And a good God who what all powerful would not allow this to go on. So, the perfect “philosophical storm” has held you captive and robbed you of your faith.

Well, I understand perfectly. So, live without your faith. But would it be alright to make two requests in the meantime?

1.       Would you mind if I asked you to not be destructive to the faith of others. You choice is just that, your choice. Could I beg you not to allow it to affect (infect?) those whom you influence? If you have been hurt, others will certainly feel your pain. And it’s just possible that your pain or disappointment is so deep that you cannot get over it without repeating it over and over; each time making Christ or His church out to be the bad guy. Do you really want to someone else’s faith-implosion on your conscience?

2.       Would you mind if I asked you to continually test the waters of faith, just in case you have a change of heart? I’ve been reading James K. A. Smith’s  (philosopher par excellence) book, Desiring the Kingdom. In part, he explains education in a new paradigm. We do not make decisions based upon how we are informed but rather how we are formed thru liturgical practices; both for and against faith. Now, by liturgical practices, Smith means any repeated activity which shapes us. Let me try to make this extremely practical. If you stay away from scripture, never pray, cease to recite the Apostle’s Creed, avoid church at all times; you are not making an intellectual decision to reject faith. Rather, you are being (con)formed to the patterns of your practices. So why not try faith, one more time? What can it hurt?

·         Let me encourage you to pick up the Gospel of John, just once a week and read a few chapters. What can it hurt?

·         Let me ask you to try praying, again. You can recite the Psalms (Israel’s Prayer Book) or if you are angry enough go straight to some of the imprecatory passages in the Prophets (Jer 20:7ff, entire book of Habakkuk, or try Job). But avoiding an issue (even if it’s with God) is never the act of a wise man.

·         OK, radical I know, but what about fellowship with the Body of Christ? Yes, I know we at times can be disappointing and even hypocritical. But who else on earth is really seeking Christ? Most folks love Jesus, they just don’t like the Church. But it’s in Church that forgiveness is offered and exchanged. Isn’t that a great concept to explore once again?

·         At least try these because I am certain that there are others in your life that you influence; a spouse, maybe a child. Your practices (even unspoken) may so severely affect the faith of a loved one…that…      

Please Lord,

Would You keep the mouths of some closed.

Would You protect the ears and hearts of their listeners.

Would You  allow the eyes and ears of the faith-less to be newly opened.

Would You open their minds that have been (con)formed to this world.

Would You (trans)form the situations,

All for the sake of Your Glory.  



Now, Go with God.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Are All Voices Created Equal?

A Go with God moment.

  • So in the end, whose voice has the most profound influence in your lives?
  • Who is whispering in your ears?
  • Who do you trust?
  • In what direction are they pointing you?
  • Are you following their advice?

That series of questions was what I left hanging with you last week. If you recall, I was asking a simple yet reflective question, “Who are the people who influence your thoughts and in the end, your life choices?”

Each of you knows how important people are to you. Building and maintaining relationships is the highest value of just about every student on the IWU campus. Please re-read that last line, “Building and maintaining relationship is the highest value here.” As if all relationships are created equal. And as if they are of equal value to your life.

Listen to John 1:6-7, There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” The man named here is who we know from the Synoptic Gospels as John the Baptist…but in the Fourth Gospel he is simply referred to as the “testifier”; as the one who points his friends toward Jesus. If you keep reading the Gospel of John, this “testifier” is heard from again and again;

  • This is He who I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me.” (1:15)
  • I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the paths of the Lord.” (1:23)
  • “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (1:29)
  • I saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him (1:32)
  • I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God. (1:34)
  • Look, the Lamb of God (1:36)

Now, after listening to John over and over, watch the response of John’s friends; “When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

So, I ask the question again, “Are all friends created equal?” Do you treat all your relationships on the same level? Let me be practical. Ladies, does your significant-other speak to you like John? Is he whispering in your ear words that point you to Jesus? Or are your conversations less than edifying? Men, what about your friends? Do they raise your level of faith? Do they help you with the practical application of your morality? Or do you walk away from far too many discussions spiritually depleted?

Why am I so concerned? Well, in recent months I have had multiple conversations with current and former students who are all of a sudden questioning the veracity of Jesus. They seemed to be following the Lord so closely and then all of a sudden, they changed the course of their life-decisions. There was one common ingredient; the level of credibility they placed in the voices of people that no longer believed. Their influencers had suddenly shifted, and it should not surprise anyone that eventually, so did their faith. You actually follow the people you open your heart and mind to.

Please do not hear me as saying anything as foolish as, “Break all ties with anyone who is not a fully devoted follower of Christ.” We do not need to isolate ourselves. Nor do we need to be afraid of being tripped up at every turn. But I think we need to ask (and answer) the question I voiced above, “Who is speaking into your life?” And are they pointing you to Jesus or causing your eyes and heart to wander?

Please allow me to probe this deeper over the next few weeks, but in the meantime; hear the prayers of your professors. These are men and women in whom you can trust.

Please Lord,

Our cry is that You open the ear of every student so they can over-hear the prayers of their professors that quietly yet faithfully serve to fashion both their hearts and their heads.

We cry out to You on behalf of each student.

May we treat them as Your sons and Your daughters.

May they sense a spiritual adoption in their relationship with us.

May each class open them up to the vastness of Your Kingdom possibilities.

May each hallway greeting be seen as a divine encounter.

May each Baldwin meal exhibit a sacramental flavor.

May each chapel service conclude with both seen and unseen consecration moments.

May each dorm prayer meeting assist in the forming of the Imago Dei in their inner most being.

In the end Lord, May the students You fashion during their four year quest on these hallowed grounds become co-labors with us; all for Your Glory.


Now, Go with God.