“Triangle. Square. Arrow.” Three shapes metaphorically shaping our lives. A poem I wrote this last weekend.

Triangle. Square. Arrow.

Father and Son and Spirit in unity and love together.
Love can’t be held in a box.
Love is compelled to give love.

Time. Space. Earth.
Garden. Man. Woman. God.
Love sends beloved to enjoys what’s been made.

Man. Woman. Choice.
Serpent. Tree of life. Tree of more. Woman decides.
Love mercifully sends away selfishness to die.

Covenant. Geography. People.
Multiply. Bless. Tree of more again. Divide.
Love graciously sends then restores.

Legalism. Licentiousness. Emmanuel.
Rome. Jews. Authority. Disturbance.
Love selflessly buries selfishness then rises.

Live for self. Live for God. Live WITH GOD.
Believing. Confessing. Depending. Restored.
Love, as Sent One, now sends beloved.

Listen. Learn. Love.
One Christ. One mission. One church. One another.
Love given together to neighbors and nations.

Groom. Bride. Wedding.
No more evil. No more tears. No more death. Hope no more.
Love welcomes beloved as intended, fully restored.

The Gospel is not some concept to believe. It is the proper lens through which to see yourself and others as God does.

As the WestpointChurch.org 2013 SENT life emphasis continues, the equipping focus for this month is NEIGHBORING. The Sunday teaching series is entitled “God became neighbor.” This past Sunday morning, we spent time in John 4. Each week, I close the teaching with “the bottom line.” Here it is from March 10th:

THE BOTTOM LINE:
The Gospel is not some concept to believe. It is the proper lens through which to see yourself and others as God does. It is the moving news of God changing locations, coming near, compelling us to take initiative to go near. God’s commands are not overbearing rules that when kept earn God’s love. They are rather eye-opening pathways down which we walk with Jesus in order to experience God’s love. And worship is not some emotional event defined by geography and circumstance. Rather, it is a breath-by-breath, relational response to the God who stepped into the geography He made to resurrect life from our consequentially deadly circumstances, transformationally declaring once and for all the Truth of His love.

When we believe this Good News, and over time as His Spirit grows us in understanding how this Gospel is embodied in our daily relationships (which is wisdom, by the way), then we realize how neighborly God has been with us and are gratefully and graciously compelled to go be neighborly with each other as well as to others.

So grateful to be reminded of the mysterious, beautiful, compelling news that God came near taking up residence among us. We are loved. His presence is our good.

-jason

Two quotes and two exercises that might help you lose the “wait” toward oneness in your marriage…

Hard to believe March 1st is tomorrow. That means the Sunday morning equipping focus for the Westpoint Church family moves on from the letter “E” to the letter “N” of the SENT emphasis – “NEIGHBORING.” This next teaching series is entitled “God became neighbor.” We will walk through four Scriptures in the Gospel of John as we consider the implications of God coming near to us. Looking forward to a special Easter season!!!

And here is the final Spouse Beach Diet weigh in! Even still, I hope you and your spouse will continue to give energy and effort to the diet and exercise of marriage together. To wrap up the month, consider the following two quotes and two questions together. Take some time on an upcoming date night or late night coffee at home to thoroughly discuss them. It may be just the workout you need to continue to lose the “wait” toward oneness and to go with God together on the intimate, beautiful intended mission of your marriage.

First quote…

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

QUESTION _ if the Gospel is not just something you trusted one day for conversion but everyday for abundant life in Christ, AND if the Gospel is something that is embodied more than just intellectually received, then how might you and your spouse need to center the Gospel more in your marriage? How is it absent from your relationship (in ways that you treat each other)? How would it be displayed to one another if Gospel was more central to your relationship?

Next quote…

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”
― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

QUESTION _ How are love and truth playing a part in your relationship? How might one or the other be missing? HUSBANDS – is your wife certain that, like Christ, the one thing she will always be able to count on is your love and your presence? WIVES – is your husband encouraged and affirmed in the ways that you communicate your needs, or is he discouraged and torn down? How can love and truth draw you closer toward each other? And how, if applied, might it transform the way you communicate with each other?

Hope this is a meaningful and fruitful exercise, even if it is hard, even if it hurts. Please remember that difficult does NOT equal bad. Often, in fact, it equals becoming. In the context of marriage, often it equals becoming one.

Much love.

-jason

A few thoughts and a prayer as my heart aches for the families of Newtown, CT…

Yesterday I had the blessing of being with my family on one of our little one’s – Ella’s – fourth birthday. With the events of today in CT, I was once again reminded not to have any regrets for missing work to be with family.

My heart has been aching since I heard the news of 20 children and 8 adults whose lives were lost in a small New England town this morning. Tragic is an understatement. Everyone has been taken off guard. It was at an elementary school. An elementary school!!!

I’ve struggled through anger and tears this afternoon. I cannot imagine, as my sister-in-law articulated on Facebook, how those family members will feel tonight as they sit around their living room looking at presents under a Christmas tree (or hidden in a closet) marked for their child who did not come home today from school.

This is yet another reminder of the death present in our world and the importance of our mission as followers of Jesus to live sent with His presence. Leaders, including today, cry out again that these things happen because “they keep God out of our school.” What bologna! God won’t be out of our schools until someone removes the Holy Spirit from those who follow Him as they go there!

We are not asked by God to legislate righteousness. We are not persuading and proselytizing for an alternative religion here. We have been loved by the God who came near compelling us to go near with His love to those who have yet to believe beyond the death and selfishness of the here and now. Our mission is not so trite as only to be about moralism in school or making a better culture. It has all to do with displaying the message of resurrection life so that hope can be found and dead can be made new again.

As Peterson so eloquently and appropriately wrote:

The church is a colony of resurrection in the country of death.

Jesus. You wept over the effect of death. Thank You, as the One who made us, for having a heart of grace for us when we, as the ones who were made, chose to eat of the tree that opened our minds and hearts to all we could know about what we are so beautifully as well as horrifically capable of. Thank You for resurrection. Thank You for hope. Amen.

So, how do I practice “scripturing?” Here are four suggestions…

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Yesterday, I introduced the idea of “scripturing.” A few stories and an encouragement for you to consider it as you live sent daily. Today, I want to ask a very practical question:

How do I practice “scripturing?”

Here are four suggestions.

1 _ personally immerse yourself in the Scriptures.
This is not just a Bible reading program. It is not just some checklist for a daily quiet time. It is imagining yourself back in the story. It is praying for wisdom to discern the author’s intent. It is becoming a learner of the Word of God, but not so that you can be learned. Rather, it is so that you can be a learner, an apprentice who then practices what you are learning.

Rather, it is sit-down time with Jesus, opening the story of Him, and asking Him to help you read it with your mind and heart and mouth and hands and feet.

I read an article one time of a guy who used so much body lotion that had nickel in it, that his skin permanently turned blue. Well, immerse in the Scriptures with Jesus so often and thoroughly and longingly that it starts exuding from you.

2 _ invite a few others along with you in the immersion.
Learn personally. Learn together. Discuss its application. Look for the transformation. Remember that His ways alive in us are not seen with a mirror but rather within community.

3 _ ask “why” and “being” questions more than “how” and “doing” questions.
Don’t forget that one side of the coin of the “good news” is that you and I are desperate for God active initiation in our lives. We tend to want how-to formulas and action steps rather than surrender and submission to the Spirit.

“Why” questions help us wrestle with the heart and mind of God. Discovery therefore results in being closer to Him, walking more intimately and reflectively with Him, our daily rhythms being shaped by His rhythm of grace. “How” questions focus us more on our own heart and mind. Discovery therefore results in attempts to do good for God that don’t always draw us nearer to Him but rather make us less and less dependent upon Him and more and more striving to improve our behavior. The former rests in the Gospel. The latter skips around it.

Growing in wisdom includes the Spirit renewing our minds and transforming our defaults toward having the mind of Christ. The “why” questions help us imagine the Scriptures alive in daily rhythms, transferring them from a small group Bible study into everyday relationships.

4 _ finally, listen with your heart and mind for the way the Spirit leads you in your conversations.
He is with you. Are you with Him? Aware of Him? Listening for Him? Submitting to His lead?

There are so many conversations within our relationships that happen everyday in which the Spirit wants to whisper His truth, wants to weave the heavenly into the very fabric of the daily. It is how “on earth as it is in heaven” occurs. It is the embodiment of the eternal. It is love shining bright amidst the selfish.

It is what God intended.

May we practice Scripturing.

Tomorrow, last post this week on the letter S, let’s think further about how Jesus involved Scripture in His life and how that might need to transform the very ways we study the Bible…

Oh yeah – speaking of the letter S, I told you this blog series was brought you by Sesame Street. Here is one of our families favorite Sesame Street short clips:

Contrast 5 of 5 _ parenting from grace vs. parenting for moralism _ hurry, haphazardness, & hands-off OR patience, priorities, and pursuit.

Parenting takes time. A fast correction at times is enough, but often a focused conversation is necessary. In a moment of frustration, a parent can react with an angry rebuke, but walking down a path toward restoration with a child takes much longer. Parenting doesn’t give much space for hurry.

Parenting is strategic. Inconsistency is guaranteed to produce exasperation both for the parent and the child, but intentional, creative, redundant emphases over time blossom into wise choices and relational joy, both for the parent and the child. Haphazardness is not characteristic of effective parenting.

Parenting requires presence. Quality time doesn’t happen without quantity time. Occaisional gifts don’t make up for frequent absence. Respect grows as connection is valued. A hands-off approach is no way to parent.

And thus the final contrast. A prayer of sorts.

Lord, help us to be parents who hurry less, avoid haphazardness, and settle for hands-off declarations and pithy lectures. Please make us to become parents who patiently walk alongside our children, who cultivate into our kids’ lives with priorities surrendered to You, and who pursue wandering children the way You have pursued us.

PATIENCE
Yesterday morning, Jen took the older four to see the play version of the classic “Frog and Toad” stories. They adored it. My favorite tale from that collection is the one in which Toad desires a garden just like Frog’s. He plants and them is impatient. Frog tried to encourage Toad that screaming at the plants to grow isn’t probably gonna be effective. Patience and watering and more patience and even some circumstances beyond the gardener’s control and some more patience are required.

One wise dad once told me that “steady plodding brings the truest wealth,” patient cultivation brings the greatest harvest. It is true in our parenting for sure.

What helps me most to be patient with others is simply my own remembering of how much patience I require others to have with me.

PRIORITIES
When I coached high school basketball, Coach Rick Majerus, whom I am quite sure is disappointed with the closing of Hostess, declared to the coaches at his coaching clinic this very wise leadership principle:

“It is not what you teach but what you emphasize.”

Dick Bennett, who coached the Wisconsin Badgers to the 2000 Final Four, told our coaching staff to settle on four or five things that we creatively, redundantly practiced every practice, and he guaranteed not an undefeated season but rather that we would find ourselves AT LEAST in position to possibly win every game. We applied this with much success.

With the same thinking in mind, Jen and I settled on six actions that we would try to live ourselves (with the Spirit’s help) and cultivate into and encourage from our kids. We are in no way suggesting that we are great parents who have arrived at some gold nuggets of wisdom guaranteeing wonderful kids. Rather, we prayed and paid attention to the teachings of Jesus and sought counsel from some other parents and arrived at these six:

:: be believing
…that God loves us and is good and showed us His love most clearly when He sent His Son to be with us to live and die and live again that we might live with Him. The question to ask may not be, “What do you think of God,” but rather, “What does God think of you?”

:: be confessing
…when we realize or have been confronted with our selfishness or our wrongful attitude and actions toward God and others.

:: be grateful
…for the God who came near and all that He allows to come into our hands and into our lives, trusting Him to hold us both through our own mistakes as well as our collisions with the mistakes of others.

:: listen
…every step to God and every situation to others.

:: learn
…from Jesus as we walk with Him and with others as we learn and live Christ’s ways together.

:: love
…the God who loved us first as well as neighbors and nations the way Jesus loved us.

PURSUIT
In Psalm 139, David sang this prayer:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.
(Psalm 139:23, 24 HCSB)

David’s profound gratefulness and contrite heart and surrendered life comes through in these words like no other. It is a sober and beautiful expression of worship toward the God who forgave and restored this great King.

A lot of people’s view of God is not one of a Divine Being who pursues them. For many of them, this is because their own father and mothers never pursued relationship with them in this way.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey applied these two verses to our parenting in a significant way. It is a powerful challenge to all of us as parents to pursue our kids.

When you pursue this kind of heart-to-heart relationship with your children, you’re actually following God’s example. Wouldn’t it be wonderful (someday) if your kids could say of you, “My parents have ‘searched me and known me.’ They know not just ‘when I sit down and when I rise up,’ but they also ‘understand my thought’ and are ‘intimately acquainted’ with who I am and what I’m like”?

I pray all of our kids will say that about all of us as parents, reflecting on the ebb and flow and ups and downs of a beautiful adventure with their moms and dads.

May we parent with patience and priorities and pursuit. Intentionally. Over the long haul. With grace. For the sake of God’s goodness rather than their own.

Contrast 4 of 5 regarding parenting from grace vs. parenting for moralism _ intentionality or interruption???

I like going to the movies. My mom and I used to go see every Bond film together when it would come out in theaters. Special memories. I wish she could go with me to Skyfall. My brother and I can hopefully enjoy it together soon.

I don’t like it when others act like they are the star of this movie called Life. I don’t even like it when I act that way. And our kids certainly don’t like it when I treat them like they are interrupting the scene of the movie called “My Life.”

Not trying to step on any toes here as much as I am being confessional, but may I encourage us all as parents to choose parenting kids with intentionality rather than treating kids like interruptions.

Kids need parents. They are becoming what they were intended to be, and we as their moms and dads play an important role in that becoming. God has given them to us. We are stewards of their lives. We do not need to treat them like they are annoyances. We do not need to make them feel like interruptions.

In a grace based parenting home, parents aren’t gonna bat 1.000 on this. We need grace, too. Kids as beloved as they are can be bothersome at times, can get under our skin. But in a grace based culture, the frustrations can be fruitful if kept in check and responded to with intentionality.

That’s the real issue with our parenting, isn’t it? We tend to give knee-jerk reaction instead of thoughtful proaction. We tend to correct them in the grocery store with perfection at 3 years old in mind rather than 33. We tend to think only of how they might embarrass us at a 9 year old’s birthday party rather than how they might embarrass themselves at a 19 year old’s birthday party.

Are we cultivating into their hearts and lives for the long haul or for the short term? Are we parenting as though steady plodding for harvest or impatiently waiting in line for fast food?

God would surely be considered the model parent. In His dealings with the children of Israel, He always saw obedient response, right? Wrong. They were a stubborn, wandering people. God had to deal with their selfishness. He intentionally parented them. Faithfully, He loved them no matter what. Purposefully, He disciplined them, restoring them with a long term view in mind.

With His help, by His Spirit and God-given wisdom, we too can patiently, faithfully, purposefully parent our kids with focused intentionality.

But what should be the focus of our intentionality?

Rather than pretending that there is a magic formula or a silver bullet for this, may I suggest an exercise for us parents? Read Matthew and Mark and Luke and John, specifically Jesus’ teaching emphases, and try to derive four to six major themes from His teachings. Consider these as the focus of your intentionality as a parent. Bounce them off of a few others moms and dads for suggestions. Then begin over these 18 plus years you, Lord willing, will have with each child, steadily, patiently, intentionally sowing the seeds of those teachings, those Kingdom seeds of the living Word of God, into the hearts and minds and lives of those beloved kids.

But be cautious. I worry that we often get caught up in intentionally, or possibly unintentionally, parenting our kids in such a way that they avoid hardship trying to manipulate or ensure their arrival at a happy, prosperous life.

Be willing to surrender this way of thinking if you do not see it as the emphasis of Jesus’ teachings. Did He teach that in our following Him we would avoid hardship? Did He teach that personal happiness was the goal for each of our lives? I would suggest He did not.

He did, however, teach to love meant to lay down my life. He did teach that hardship was certain but His presence with me is a guarantee. He did teach that difficulty didn’t always equal bad, but might even be a means by which a blessing would come. He did teach that abundant life is given to me NOT as I pursue personal abundance, but rather as I live open handed with all that I have. He did teach that I find the fullness of who I really am when I love God and love my neighbor. He did teach that I was most likely to see Him not when I looked in the mirror at my own polished goodness, but rather when I looked into the eyes of the sick, the thirsty, the poor, the lame, the imprisoned, the ignored.

What will you intentionally cultivate into the lives of your kids? Is it in line with the teachings of our Savior, or is it more similar to the status quo of our society?

Tomorrow, in our last post of the week preparing us for the Grace Based Parenting Family Conversation, I’ll give “the bottom line,” including six things that Jen and I have decided to make priorities for cultivation into the lives of our own kids as we try to intentionally parent in a steady-plodding way.

Grateful to be learning together.

“The Art of Neighboring” – a post by Tim @Challies, re-posted with permission

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The Art of Neighboring
by Tim Challies
(re-posted with permission)

Take a look at the graphic above. Imagine that the middle box in the chart is your house and the boxes that surround it are the eight houses closest to your own. I doubt your neighborhood is arranged like a tic-tac-toe board, so you may need to use your imagination just a little bit.

Here’s what I want you to do.

First, write the names of the people who live in the house represented by each of the boxes. If you can give both first and last names, that’s great. If you’ve only got first names, that’s okay too.
Second, write down some information or facts about each of the people in that house. I don’t mean facts that you could observe by standing on the road and looking at their house (“Drives a red car”) but facts that you’ve gathered from speaking to them (“Works for a bank,” “Grew up across town.”).
Third, write down any in-depth information you know about each of the people. This could include details like their career plans or religious beliefs—the kind of information that comes from real conversation.
How did you do? Or how do you think you would do if you actually went through with this exercise? The degree to which you simply do not know your neighbors is the degree to which you will benefit from reading The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. They premise their book upon this simple question: When Jesus told us love our neighbors, what if he meant our actual neighbors, the people who live closest to us? They explain that Christians have long been making “neighbor” into a safe metaphor that allows us to believe we are carrying out the Lord’s command when we visit soup kitchens and do acts of kindness to complete strangers.

The problem, as they explain it, is that “when we aim for everything, we hit nothing. So when we insist we’re neighbors with everybody, often we end up being neighbors with nobody.” Ouch. Much like the Pharisees, we ask “Who is my neighbor?” in the hope of finding a loophole, not in the hope of loving those who live nearby. “Jesus assumed that his audience would be able to love those nearest to them, their literal neighbors, the people most like them, who shared the same heritage and geography. In telling the parable, Jesus was stretching their concept of neighbor to include even people from a group they didn’t like.” As we read the parable today we tend to go straight to the stranger on the side of the road and no longer include the person in the house next door.

This book is full of biblical counsel and simple wisdom about how to be a good neighbor. Perhaps the most freeing concept is that there is inherent value in being a good neighbor, even if your neighbor never becomes a Christian. The authors helpfully distinguish between ultimate motives and ulterior motives. The ultimate motive in engaging your neighbors is to share the gospel with them and to see them turn to the Lord, but we must never do this through ulterior motives. Too many Christians use engaging their neighbors as a thinly-veiled guise to try to “win them,” and give up when the neighbors do not respond positively. Pathak and Runyon say, “The ‘agenda’ we need to drop is the well-meaning tendency to be friends with people for the sole purpose of converting them to our faith. Many so desperately want to move people forward spiritually that they push them according to their timetable, not according to how God is working in them. It’s tempting to offer friendship with strings attached.”

They clarify: “Sharing the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives is the right motive, but it canot be an ulterior motive in developing relationships. We don’t love our neighbors to convert them; we love our neighbors because we are converted.” Christians have long been taught that we should do good things solely to have a spiritual conversation that can move people toward conversion; but Jesus never called us to use a bait-and-switch approach where we are friends only so we can share the gospel. “We are called to love our neighbors unconditionally, without expecting anything in return.”

The Art of Neighboring clearly comes from a little bit outside the theological “tribe” that I identify with, and that brings both benefits and drawbacks. The book is not without its weaknesses. I would have liked to see the authors wrestle a bit more with issues related to sharing the gospel and creative ways of doing that. I would have liked to see them focus more on the role of the local church in the life of the Christian. But those weaknesses are more than compensated for with their call to be good neighbors and the challenge they offer.

This is a book I learned from, a book that was of immediate benefit to me, and, I think, exactly the book I needed to read. We live in a closely-packed neighborhood where we know and are known (at last count at least four of our neighbors have a key to our house!) but I needed to be freed to simply love my neighbors, to be a good neighbor to them, without feeling guilt for not always offering gospel sneak-attacks where I work it into every conversation. There is value in being a good neighbor and as we neighbor well, we trust that very natural gospel opportunities will arise.

Thanks to Tim @Challies for sharing this simple yet profound short film on the Gospel by @GlenScrivener.

Big thanks to Tim Challies for sharing this video this morning. Big thanks to Glen Scrivener for writing and narrating it and Jeremy Poyner for illustrating.

Breathe it in deep. Share it.

Believe you are loved.

And may we go near with His love.

Parents. Have u had the “sex talk?” But when’s time for the “porn talk?” Here’s some help from @XXXChurch…

Parents. Maybe you have had the difficult “sex talk” with your kids. But when is the time for the “porn talk?” It is tough to discern.

Did you know the average age a child first looks at pornography is 11. Yep. Eleven. Wow.

As you and I pray for wisdom, here are some helpful tips from XXXChurch. And check out their PARENTS page for more tools, more info, more help.

Principle 1: You and Your Spouse Need to Talk First
Principle 2: It Is Going to Be Difficult
Principle 3:Write Things Down in Advance
Principle 4: The Earlier, the Better
Principle 5: Initiate
Principle 6: Ask Questions
Principle 7: Listen
Principle 8: Use Everyday Opportunities To Talk
Principle 9: Use Real-Life Situations to Talk About Sex
Principle 10: Talk to Your Kids Specifically and Individually
Principle 11: Have a Sense of Humor Principle
Principle 12: Talk About It Again and Again
Principle 13: Know What Your Kids Are Talking About
Principle 14: Asking Questions Doesn’t Mean They’re Doing It
Principle 15: Don’t Assume Your Kid Is Perfect
Principle 16: Patience
Principle 17: Share Your Values
Principle 18: Talk About Fighting Peer Pressure
Principle 19: Talk With Them About Reasons To Wait
Principle 20: Don’t Avoid the ‘Safe Sex’ Talk
Principle 21: Be Honest
Principle 22: Accurate Information
Principle 23: If You Don’t Know the Answer, Admit It
Principle 24: Don’t Hide Your Past
Principle 25: Grace
Principle 26: Reassure Them that Not Everyone Is Doing It
Principle 27: Remind Them that It’s Their Choice and Nobody Else’s
Principle 28: Sex Is Natural, Sex Is Fun; Sex Is Best When It’s One on One

Thanks so much to Craig and the team for all the ways you are both loving people in the Porn industry as well as helping those addicted to porn.

Christian – what is the essential message we have to share? Are we really sharing it? Please consider this…

Last night I had the privilege of hanging out with a group of Central Florida Spanish pastors. Our language barrier was less impeding than I expected it to be. Our kindredness was tangible, these broken hearts of leaders longing to see “Christians” go near with Jesus, burdened to see lost and lonely know they are fully loved. And the issue came up again.

It is an issue that has come up multiple times in conversation with leaders over these last years. The issue that we know Jesus intended His church to live sent, but why?

What is the essential message that we as His followers have to share? The message that we believed. The message that we hope others believe. And why?

Is that essential message the declaratoin that people are lost and hell is imminent and you need to choose Christianity? Is it the assertion that truth must be defended and a culture must be protected and so those pagans need to change? I am afraid that much of American church culture has mistaken that essential message to be one of or at least a derivative of these.

Hell is real. The Scriptures speak of it. I believe it. But I would suggest that Jesus lived and died and lived again to declare more than the message of hell’s imminence and the call to people to get their act together and grab a ticket out of it. He intended to give more than an alternative religion. He died to give life.

Truth is real. It is not an “it,” though. Truth is a person. Jesus needs not my strong defense for the sake of cultural preservation. Rather He asks for our selfless love for the sake of cultural restoration. This will not happen through our country’s capital. It will only happen through our respective community’s hearts. Jesus lived and died and lived again to go near with His love through His church’s going near with His love.

And maybe that is the essential message we have believed that we are now compelled to share. Could it be that simple?

The message I have believed and keep believing is that I am loved by the God who came near. The God Who did not wait for me to say I was sorry. Who did not leave me in my loneliness and hopelessness and hurt and shame and lostness. Who did not love me because I was lovable, but rather while I was still wayward and selfish and sinful and condemned did not condemn me. Who ached to give life again and was willing to lose life to be raised to life again. Who became “God with us” and asked me to go with Him, to love like I had been loved, now and forever.

Maybe the essential message we are to believe is that God loves us. Maybe the essential message He has intended that we share is simply that – we are loved by the God who made us, whom we spurned, but Who came near anyway.

Jesus, in fact, taught this to Nicodemus in John 3. God so loved the world, and those who “unbelieve” this are condemned by their own unbelief (John 3:16-18).

The two questions I have been asking friends, and for that matter that I keep asking myself as a reminder, are:

“What do you think God thinks of you?”

“Do you believe that God loves you?”

Lord, forgive us, please. Have mercy on us, please! Those of us here in America who call ourselves Your church have far too often called people to moralism rather than to You, the Messiah.

He does not want us just to live FOR Him. He desires that we live WITH Him. And He came near to restore us and invite us into that relationship.

Abundant life does not come when we live perfect and give our best. Abundant life comes and keeps coming when we live loved and give love as it has been given to us.

Sin was not worth dying for because it was the symptom of rules broken. It was worth dying for because it was the symptom of relationship broken. It is the evidence of death. It is the result of life not present, of love not trusted.

We believe we are loved and are fully secure in Him and that love compels us to love as we have been loved. That is good news worth sharing!!!

You are loved!!! You are loved fully!!! You are loved securely!!! You are loved graciously, even in your feelings of not being worth loving.

Jesus thinks you are worth dying for!!!

And why do we share this message?

Because not trusting that we are fully loved by the God who made us, believing that He is hiding something worth knowing from us, choosing to pursue what we can know rather than pursue knowing Him, that is the root of our problems. The cause of all evil. The source of our loneliness and isolation. The brokenness of humanity.

May we share His message. Surrendered. Grateful. Selflessly.

People we encounter every day do not believe they are loved and are lost, even trapped, in that brokenness. May that break our hearts like it broke God’s heart. May we remember our own brokenness that we did not fix ourselves. May we go near like He came near to us.

May the world believe in the One who was sent.

Jesus replied, “This is the work of God-that you believe in the One He has sent.”
(John 6:29 HCSB)

Here’s a challenging yet encouraging quote for all those married out there…

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Yesterday, Jen and I celebrated 14 years married. We had a special afternoon and evening together. Earlier in the week, we wondered if we would be celebrating in the hospital grateful for the birth of our newest little one. She has not arrived yet :-)

I am so grateful for the loving, beautiful wife and friend and lover and teammate she is with me.

A couple of weeks ago I ran across this quote from “The Skin of Our Teeth” by Thornton Wilder. Challenging and encouraging, reminding us that love is a choice, a vow is a promise, difficult does not equal bad, and the risk of steadfast relationship is worth it.

“I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them – it was that promise.”
~Thornton Wilder, from “The Skin of Our Teeth”

Thoughts???

How do you know if a “church” is “spiritually mature?” Here are a few thoughts & suggestions on the matter…

Last month on New Hope Digital, I suggested 3 questions to challenge us to rethink our understanding of spiritual maturity. You can read the post by clicking here. I promised that this month I would offer a few suggestions about how a spiritually maturing local church might gather, live, and love together.

Let me start with a disclaimer.

The church matters. It clearly mattered to Jesus. Nothing in this article suggests otherwise. What I am suggesting, however, is that we may need to rethink how we understand spiritual maturity in the context of the local church.

First, I would suggest that Jesus did not intend for His church to speak of people’s maturity in terms of being “in church” but rather in terms of being “in Christ.”

I have heard too often people declare maturity over someone with such descriptions as “look how much she is in church” and “he is back in church.” But did Jesus intend that people be connected with His bride or with the Groom?

The real issue stems from our typical understanding of church. Church is not a place or event. Church is not a list of religious practices. Church is the restored-by-love, now-compelled-to-love people of Jesus. Those people together are His bride. He is our Groom. We live by His love, in His love, and for the sake of giving His love.

In John 13:35, Jesus said the world would know we are His disciples by our love for one another. Loving one another and loving our neighbors puts on display the near love of Emmanuel. God uses those daily, interactive, learning relationships to help the lost and lonely see how loved they are by Jesus. In relating with the church (the bride), they often then are moved to relate with Jesus (the Groom).

That is the burning question, then. Am I only relating with the church through its activities, or am I—in Christ—relating with the church and loving as the church in all my daily activities?

People are not spiritually mature because they are back in church. They are exhibiting evidence of spiritual maturity when they are daily living as the church.

Next, I would suggest that Jesus does not intend His church to cater to spiritually mature consumers but rather cultivate spiritually mature caregivers.

People argue with me on this one and accuse me of thinking in extremes. But read me through here. The common argument I get is that it is more than OK for the church to have programs and events that encourage and serve their own families. I agree.

The problem is that we reap what we sow. If we sow for people to be given into through events and programs, then we reap people with an appetite for that. If we sow for people to be givers first, then we reap people who give into each other as we together give ourselves away. That’s the issue. It is OK to have programs and events for church families. But is it OK if the emphasis and purpose of those events and programs are not to equip and encourage the church to live sent? Otherwise, people will constantly expect to be given into by the pastors and the programs.

The “given into” mentality results in a self-absorbed strategy that strives to keep people coming back. This certainly must be questioned when Jesus said on more than one occasion that He has sent His church as He was sent. Furthermore, that self-absorbed strategy results in attempts to make church events and programs more and more attractive to those in the church.

However, we cannot make the bride prettier than the Cross already did; and our catering to consumers is not what Jesus intended. The sick mattered too much to Jesus to focus all of our attention on the healthy (Matthew 9:9–12). Instead, may we equip compassionate caregivers who daily are living to make disciples.

Finally, I would suggest that Jesus never intended that we measure our spiritual maturity with a mirror, but rather by how we relate in community.

John recorded that Jesus commanded His followers to love one another as He loved them (John 12:34–35). John then, in his three letters, expounded on that command.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
(1 John 2:7–11 HCSB)

This is how God’s children—and the Devil’s children—are made evident. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother.
(1 John 3:10 HCSB)

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.
(1 John 4:7–11 HCSB)

The person who “has been born of God and knows God” loves. Our maturing in Christ is evidenced by our love. Our love cannot be on display when in front of a mirror, sizing up whether we were good enough that day or whether our efforts were “holy” enough. Our love is only put on display when walking with and in a community of people.

For far too long, the American church has measured spiritual maturity by personal goodness on display rather than God’s goodness on display. Jesus avoided a compliment about His own personal goodness (Luke 18:18–19). So should we. God’s goodness, however, is displayed when an otherwise selfish group of people unify to daily grow together becoming, by His Spirit, a transformed, selfless people.

We must be very cautious to consider the church-attender and Bible-toter and fish-on-the-car-displayer with all good appearances as spiritually mature. May we remember how loved we are, live secure in His love, and let His goodness be on display as we love generously daily.

Don’t forget. We will never be spiritually mature this side of heaven, but we can certainly be spiritually maturing. And that journey of becoming will be characterized by grace, belief, confession, trust, learning, and love. A group of people becoming in those ways and giving themselves away together—now that would be a spiritually maturing church.

A simple reminder for living sent from @TimChesterCoUK & @VergeNetwork – “10 Simple Ways to Be Missional”

The Verge Network shares some awesome resources that encourage and equip us to live sent daily. One of the authors / teachers they feature is Tim Chester of the Porterbrooke Institute.

Here is one of his posts entitled “10 Simple Ways to Be Missional” I thought was worth sharing.
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10 Simple Ways To Be Missional (without adding anything to your schedule)
by Tim Chester

1. Eat with other people
2. Work in public places
3. Be a regular
4. Join in with what’s going on
5. Leave the house in the evenings
6. Serve your neighbors

Read the rest by CLICKING HERE.

Thanks to Tim Chester and Stew and the Verge Network folks for sharing. Grateful.

Here are 3 questions we may not be asking as we follow Jesus. But should we be asking them?

Quick post today.

Just wanted to suggest three questions we should at least consider asking as we follow Jesus.

1. Jesus, will you decrease me to love like You?
The evidence of our abiding in Jesus is not displayed in our personal goodness, but rather in His perfect love. Do you measure your spirituality with a mirror or within community? Read 1st John and ask which matters more – an increase in righteousness or an increase in love?

2. Jesus, will you increase wisdom to think and live like You?
This is a prayer Scripture declares will always be answered affirmatively. But may we not mistake our quest for knowing more with understanding better. May we not mistake our desire to have great understanding with our need to translate “not yet” into “right now.” And may we not mistake our yearning to explain heaven with His intention to announce “the Kingdom has come” through us. Wisdom has more to do with daily rhythms than devout righteousness.

3. Jesus, to whom are you sending me?
This is a prayer that if we are serious in praying will likely require REORIENTATION. We may have to exchange our going to church for going and being the church. We may have to surrender our scheduled church activities in order to follow Jesus in all of our activities. We may have to reboot our friendships to start up friendships with the lost rather than church-folks only. But He is sending His church.

Are you living sent?

Thoughts???

3 questions to encourage us to rethink “spiritual maturity” as “American Christians”

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New Hope Digital asked if I would write a series of four articles on “rethinking” certain facets of our spirituality as lived out among American Church culture. The second of that series is entitled “3 Questions to Rethink Spiritual Maturity.” The premise of the article is itself a question – do we need to rethink our understanding of spiritual maturity as it is typically thought of inside American church culture?

Here are the 3 questions I pose:

1. Are we thinking of a “spiritual” person in defining terms as “a spectator of what is supernatural” or “a participator with the One who is supernatural?”

2. Are we thinking of “maturity” as a finished goal or as the journey of becoming mature?

3. Are we thinking of “spiritual maturity” as evidenced by knowledge and accomplishment or by wisdom and love?

Read the full article and leave your thoughts / comments / rebukes on the New Hope site which you can get to by CLICKING HERE.

Much love :-)
-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: will you love the nations with me on @TOMS “One Day without Shoes?”

I have done it now for two years. One day in April, I go without shoes. It is in hopes of someone asking me why and thus the opportunity to encourage them to do something about people in other parts of our world who do not have shoes.

Grant it, this is one of the best marketing ideas a company could have. It is a viral, grass-roots-driven, don’t-wear-shoes-so-people-will-buy-our-shoes-and-we-will-also-give-a-pair-away genius of an idea. And I understand that it does encourage people to buy a product, but it is a product from a company that is not perfect but is at least serious about providing a pair of shoes (and now eyeglasses, too) for people around the world who don’t have one.

Will you join me this year? 

April 10th. Don’t wear shoes.

Prepare your boss / teacher / place of business that you won’t be wearing shoes that day and tell them why. Encourage some other folks to do it with you. And don’t do it to get a pat on the back. Do it simply to encourage people to love the poor in a tangible way. It’s an easy thing to do that also raises our own awareness about how much we take for granted that we do have shoes.

Jesus mentioned something in Luke 3:11 I know is not easily lived and unfortunately is not often lived.

11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.”

May we think about how that might apply to what all is in our closet and pantry. In the meantime, may we go barefoot on for just on day.

And if you don’t own a pair of TOMS, I recommend them. I am wearing my fifth pair. But I won’t be on April 10th.

Will you join me?

CLICK HERE to read more about “One Day without Shoes.” And check out the trailer below for April 10th, 2012.

Looking forward to having to push the gas pedal in my car barefooted.
-jason

 

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: i’d like to hear from you – one organization loving the nations you have worked with and want to recommend to others???

Good Thursday to you! I wanted to take the post today for cultivating daily unto the nations to ask for some feedback from you.

What is one organization that is loving the nations in some specific way that you have worked with or supported that you would heartily recommend to others? What did you do with them? Is it an ongoing relationship or a one-time opportunity?

If anyone anywhere happens to read this and wants to chime in, please do so! I for one would like to see what you say. Please leave the name of the organization and your comments in the comment section of this post.

My friends Jamie and Zack just returned from Zambia, and I can tell you they were thoroughly impressed with Lifesong for Orphans and their work there. If you know anything about them, let me know, too, if you don’t mind.

Grateful that Jesus loves us like He does and invites us to experience His love as we love the nations together!!!

-jason

Cultivating Daily in the Marketplace: I asked @FLVSjyoung, CEO of @FLVS to share 4 ways she loves people in the marketplace…

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Julie Young is one of the most forward-thinking, discerning, innovative, encouraging, thoughtful, team-building, and wise leaders I know. She leads the Florida Virtual School, an accredited, public, online, e-learning school serving students K-12 all over the world. Almost 15 years ago, FLVS was founded. It was the country’s first state-wide, internet-based, public high school and has grown now to over 122,000 students and 1400 staff members. FLVS is part of the Florida public education system and serves students in all 67 Florida districts, 49 states, and 57 countries.

I had the privilege of coaching her two sons, and I am blessed with a friendship with her husband. I have utmost respect for them, and that’s why I asked her to share with me four suggestions regarding how she is cultivating daily in the marketplace – loving the people she encounters and leads there in hopes that they will know that they are loved unconditionally and graciously by the God who came near in Christ.

So grateful for Julie. Hope these will encourage you, too! Here are her four suggestions:

1. Share God’s love for them.
Even if you do not put the “God” label on it, you can share God’s love with others in the workplace by letting them know how special and precious they are. Even a simple note of thanks or praise can brighten someone’s day and turn off the negative thoughts and feelings that the Devil has planted in their minds. People need to know that they have a purpose. Others can usually point out someone’s strengths a lot easier than they can, and this can be linked to God’s love for them when it encourages them with the simple message, “You are the only one that can do what you do!”

I constantly try and recognize others publically for the good work they do, both with staff and students. I relish sharing the notes that come from parents who are obviously believers. It often allows me to share God’s Word as many parents will quote the Bible or thank God for their experiences and FLVS. One of my goals is for all staff to feel that I love them regardless of our distance or lack of a face to face relationship. I try to make the environment fun and relaxed and playful.

2. Give the grace you have been given.
We all get frustrated and flustered with co-workers from time to time. But no one is perfect. God gives me grace when I don’t get it right, or when I am just plain wrong. May we not neglect to give others the same. Just like the slave whose debt was forgiven and then refused to forgive other’s debts to him, you can end up in a bad situation.

I try to continually emphasize the value of mistakes and only ask that people try and not make the same mistake twice. I also look closely at whether or not a “mistake” is negligence and intentional or an honest mistake. I take those mishaps and turn them into learning lessons for all. In addition, I believe in second chances for those who have a committed heart to the organization. A person who may be unsuccessful in their role but is clearly dedicated to the organization and its leadership will have an opportunity to take a mulligan and move to another position in the organization if available and start over.

3. Create an environment with your words.
The Bible tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. You are the only one who can control what comes out of your mouth. So choose to create a positive and uplifting environment by speaking positively even if you have to give someone a correction or discipline. You will be amazed at how people’s attitudes will change when the positive words you speak start to take life as they are planted in the hearts of those around you.

Using the words, “blessed, loved, give back, be an example” etc. in notes and verbal comments often let people know where your heart is. It also gives them permission to express themselves. Using quotes from John Maxwell (some of my favorite leadership books), Andy Andrews, and others who are Christ-followers often times sends folks to those books for a good read. They get a two-for. :)

4. Set an example with integrity.
Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Jesus was the greatest example that we will ever have of that. Even when tempted after fasting 40 days and nights, where no one could see him, He did not waiver in doing what he knew was right. Remember, even if no one else is looking, God is, and our Father lifts those up who listen to Him and put Him first. He gives them favor, not only with those around them but also with authority as well.

One of the greatest ways to cultivate the Gospel is to refuse to come down to the world’s standards by maintaining your integrity everyday. My goal has always been to operate with transparency. If I make a mistake or have a gap, I share it and take public responsibility for it. I work diligently to set the example for others rather than be the exception due to my title. It’s funny, my team is always trying to give me a reserved parking spot or an exemption from a rule that others are expected to follow. I make it known in a humble fashion that I am no different; I just have a different job. I hold myself to the highest standards when it comes to budget and people management.
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Great stuff, Julie!!! Thank you so very much for sharing these suggestions with us and for your leadership example.

Give Bruce a hug from me. And tell him I said I hope UK can win the 2012 Duke Invitational Tournament, I mean the 2012 NCAA Tournament. It is after all the 20th anniversary of “THE SHOT.” :)

Much love.
-Jason

Cultivating Daily: educating myself for St. Patrick’s Day. Do you know the basic history of Patrick? Read it here…

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So, other than the really well-done cartoon Veggie Tales did regarding St. Patrick, I don’t really know much about him. After reading some history on Patrick, sounds like Phil Vischer and the gang did a great job accurately sharing his story.

One major highlight is that he highlighted the unity of the Trinity in his preaching. Catholic.org, in their section on saints, had this to share regarding Patrick. Hopefully it will equip you to do more than wear green tomorrow :-)

Here’s hoping you don’t get pinched.
-jason

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St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the world’s most popular saints.

Apostle of Ireland, born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387; died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, 17 March, 461.

Along with St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, the secular world shares our love of these saints. This is also a day when everyone’s Irish.

There are many legends and stories of St. Patrick, but this is his story.

Patrick was born around 385 in Scotland, probably Kilpatrick. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britian in charge of the colonies.

As a boy of fourteen or so, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. He learned the language and practices of the people who held him.

During his captivity, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.” “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”

Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britian, where he reunited with his family.

He had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

He began his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years.

Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane. One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick.

Patrick began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, converting many. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick’s message.

Patrick by now had many disciples, among them Beningnus, Auxilius, Iserninus, and Fiaac, (all later canonized as well).

Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461.

He died at Saul, where he had built the first church.

Why a shamrock?
Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, and has been associated with him and the Irish since that time.

In His Footsteps
Patrick was a humble, pious, gentle man, whose love and total devotion to and trust in God should be a shining example to each of us. He feared nothing, not even death, so complete was his trust in God, and of the importance of his mission.