As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Monday, September 22, 2014

Out of the Depths

I long to live a life from the depths.  No longer will I be content with the shallow places along the edge.  No longer will I be satisfied with noble effort and moral fortitude.  No longer will I pat myself on the back for duties performed and commands obeyed.  I will not be content in the shallow places, those places where my will is enough, where my ambitions have the appearance of godly, where my strength is sufficient.  I will not rest in a faith where success is measured by what I am capable of or what I can accomplish.  Perhaps we all come to the faith, from the edge and into the shallow places, but I hear a whisper beckoning me to, "Come deeper."

I long to swim to that place where I can no longer touch.  I yearn to leave behind the safety of being able to grab hold of the edge if I get tired.  I long to be in the middle of the depths, to live from the depths of God's love and grace, His mercy and forgiveness.  I long to be swallowed up by His faithfulness and to feel the crashing waves of his purifying power washing over me.  In the deep end I will be hidden in Christ for I can no longer stand on my own.  From the depths, I am reminded that all those things I once prided myself in are nothing compared to the surpassing glory of God's vast abyss of steadfast love.  It aches in me, this desire for the depths. 

But to swim, I must let go...of fear, of anxiety, of control.  I understand the cost, or at least I think I do...perhaps that's why I have lingered in the shallow for so long.  It will cost me...Me!  I must be willing to give myself up to be found fully in Christ.  I must be willing to measure the significance of my life not by affirmation or reward, but by total immersion and self-abandonment.  I realize that no one arrives at the depths by way of an easy path.  As we swim we are met by any number of hindrances.  Swimming to the depths is a path that ultimately pushes us beyond ourselves where we come face to face with our demons along the way.  But the deeper I swim, the more I am lost in the rich depths of grace, and then perhaps those demons are subdued.  Demons are drowned out in the depths. 

Oh Lord, I hear your voice beckoning me, "Come deeper."  Grant me, Oh Lord, the courage to swim, to leave behind the safety of the shallow faith, to relinquish control.  May the practice of my baptism become the reality of my life, that having submerged my old self, drowned out what once was, that I would emerge in Christ and in Him alone.  It's with great trepidation that I pray this prayer, "Lord lead me to Your depths, whatever that journey may mean."  God even as I write those words, I grasp for the edge.  But I resist.  Catch me up in the divine undertow of grace, pull me from shore, draw me out to the sea.  Help me to live the faithful life that emerges from the depths. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kingdom Leadership: The Grand Disappearing Act

John the Baptist pulled off something just short of a miracle, he was willing to disappear.  Threatened by the growing ministry of Jesus from Nazareth, the followers of John wanted him to reclaim his territory, reassert his stake, and reaffirm his name.  But John says something unbelievable for a leader, "He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less." (John 3:30 NLT)

Yeah, that's convicting.  As leaders we often feed off of affirmation, esteem, importance, and recognition.  We even justify this addiction to popularity as helping accomplish God's plan.  We are quick to defend our agendas and stake claim on ministry territory.  We rush to criticism of those who do ministry differently than we do, especially when it has the appearance of being more effective than ours.  We are easily threatened.  Why?  Perhaps in our eagerness to be recognized for our accomplishments, we fear the possibility that we will be overlooked.

Yet John was willing to disappear.  Miraculous!  But what if this is the essential trait of a Kingdom leader who invests herself/himself in the priorities of Jesus' Kingdom?  What if clamoring for recognition actually hinders the possibilities of impact that Jesus desires to make in the lives of others.  

Paul picks up this theme of disappearance several times throughout his ministry.  I'm always amazed when I read in his letter to the church in Philippi that though he has been tucked away in prison, he rejoices that Jesus is still being preached.  In fact, Paul rejoices even when Jesus is being preached as insult to Paul, as long is Christ is preached.  He wasn't threatened by being overlooked.  He recognized that in overlooking Paul, they could see past him to Jesus.  In his letter to the church in Galatia, he writes, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  Paul's preference was disappearance not recognition.  I know it's convicting!

What must we keep in mind for this to be possible in our own lives?
D - Determine that no matter how talented you feel you are, only in lifting up Jesus can lives change.
I - Identify and confess looming insecurities and the need to be recognized.
S - Serve, sacrifice, and surrender rather than seeking affirmation.
A - Accept that the least is the greatest, Kingdom Leaders carry towels and basins.
P - Prayer not personality is the power behind ministry.
P - Point again and again the faithfulness of God as the reason for ministry significance.
E - Eagerly celebrate all Kingdom victories, especially when they are not your own!
A - Align priorities with Kingdom purposes.
R - Repeatedly pray for God's Holy Spirit to fill the vessel and point to the source.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Naked Church

The church wears too much clothing...and the clothing it wears is all wrong.  In Genesis 2, as Israel makes sense of our creation, there is a peculiar often neglected detail.  When we were first created, we were naked.  Naked?  For some of us that can be pretty unnerving.  Wait...for all of us that's unnerving.  Naked?  What do you do with that?  What if I were to tell you that "naked" is a powerful metaphor and highly charged challenge to our propriety?  We don't talk in terms of nudity in the church, that's inappropriate.  Perhaps, our failure in fluency in speaking of the naked church is one of the reasons we remain locked behind our barriers and walls, isolated in our shame, layered in self-protection, unwilling and unable to let it all hang out. 

Right there...that's what is at stake!  The imagery of nakedness in Genesis 2 is a statement of vulnerability.  When we were created, we were created absolutely vulnerable to one another.  Nothing was in the way.  Vulnerability is a priority in relationships of intimacy, truth, and trust. 

Have you ever noticed what the first action we took was in Genesis 3 after we chose to have our own way?  You have to read it again.  Ok, spoiler alert - We run off and cover up.  We hide and put layers on ourselves.  We surrender our vulnerability, opting instead for protective layers that cover our shame and insecurity.  We put on clothes. 

We repeat that moment each and every day of our lives.  We layer up with clothing that is either too bulky or doesn't fit.  We cover up our pain and struggle, our fear and brokenness.  We shroud our shame and self-disgust.  We allow our emotional clothing to become barriers, keeping us isolated, alienated, and self-protected. 

What if I were to tell you that the church is the place where we undress?  It's the people among whom we take off the emotional, spiritual, and mental layers that keep us locked in relationally shallow lives.  It's within the church that it should be encouraged to let it all hang out, believing and trusting that intimacy, truth, and trust are the pathways to healing.  The church should be the kind of community where we look upon one another's vulnerability not as weakness or in judgment, but as freedom, in acceptance and with devotion. 

Now realize, naked church is risky.  Face it, we are used to being covered up.  There is always the chance that someone may wound us in our vulnerability.  However, to live by way of the cover-up forfeits the freedom of our created design.  Oh yeah, to live in a community of vulnerability, you might have to be the one with the courage to first undress when everyone else clings to their clothing. 

Note:  If you are going to wear clothing, make sure it is the right kind: Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Communities Dismantling Shame: a Look, a Word, Persistence, and Embrace

There are a couple of paradigmatic stories from the life of Jesus that I think address shame and the power of relationships.  Both stories involve women.  Both stories involve Jesus making time for those that others would have refused.  Both stories are found in John’s telling of the story, which I’m not sure what that says of John’s theology…except that it’s great theology. 

In both stories, Jesus encounters women that because of their stories and decisions they’d made (we presume-though it’s possible some of what we encountered in their lives was out of their control) they had lived under the weight of shame and the judgment of their communities.  In John 4, Jesus encounters a woman at the well.  In John 8, Jesus is brought a woman caught in adultery.  It is my conviction that in both stories, relationships (ie. Community) could have either deepened that sense of shame, or through the power of look, word, persistence, and embrace broken the shame cycle.  Jesus opts for the latter.  Community is a necessary component in shattering the grip of shame in the lives of others.  

Last week we started our discussion shame, first looking at the crippling effects of shame in the life of a person and secondly looking at Jesus Christ as One who deals with the shame of humanity on the cross.  Today, I want to continue that discussion by breaking down the movements of community in the life of one bound by shame.

11.)     A Look:  Those who suffer shame are especially sensitive to the looks of others.  In fact, shame generally means we avoid the public eye.  That’s why the woman was at the well in midday all alone.  She couldn’t go out with others.  When we are given opportunity to look upon their lives, the tone of expression is essential.  A life of love and prayer has implications for our sensitivity in how we look on others.   Breaking shame means we look upon lives with openness.  We look with hope.  We look with patience, realizing that many who suffer shame will often try to provoke an alternative glance.  We don’t however look with pity.  The look of pity is a look of condescension which further deepens the shame.  However Jesus looked at these women, they felt invited into dialogue, into openness, and ultimately into redemption.

22.)    A Word:  Words have served as powerful tools in the lives of those weighed down by shame.  Words have wounded.  Words have re-affirmed the feeling of self-deprecation.  Words ring in the minds of those shamed, telling them over and over that they are of no value, no worth, and unlovable.  Words to the shamed must be chosen wisely.  Often it is best to only speak after one has first listened.  Words are not without intentional truth.  In both of John’s stories, Jesus speaks profound truth, hard truth, but truth that was an invitation to newness and not condemnation to being continually stuck in their shame cycle.  Words are powerful tools that spoken from a prayerful soul can create alternate realities for person, shaping an alternative self-perception. 

33.)    Persistence:  Those whose lives have been dominated by shame doubt the possibility that anyone can be trusted for long periods of time.  They will often, living out of their shame, work to push people away, work to over assert themselves, reject help, refuse love, seek to push buttons.  These are an attempt to prove that what they feared was true…you won’t last.  Communities that shatter cycles of shame are persistent in the face of such adversity.  They make up their minds that each person is worth waiting for.  They understand that shame is not arrived at overnight nor will it be undone overnight.   Sometimes, simply a persistent presence…a willingness to be there, even when a person returns is enough to undo shame.

4.)    Finally embrace.  Careful however not to arrive at this too quickly.  All relationships that are healthy and redemptive ought to arrive at a point of embrace.  However, those who live in shame will fear such embrace.  Embrace is a union that crosses the chasm of isolation and alienation.  This is a chasm that may have existed for a long time.  To leap that chasm with too much gusto may be more than a person can handle.  On their own time, a person who lives bound by shame will test the waters of love and embrace.  When they feel comfortable, they will recognize that communities of openness and relationships of tenderness will be there with arms wide open.  

Community plays a pivotal role in the deconstruction of cycles of shame.  However, communities can also deepen that shame through judgment.  Those that live in the words of Jesus, “you who is without sin cast the first stone,” are those that are best prepared to break shame.  Holy humility is key to openness, love, a soft glance, a good word, a steadfast love, and a warm embrace. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Power of Shame

Shame is a corruption in our understanding of personal identity.  This week, as I lean in toward preaching about “throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” my mind is consistently drawn back to shame.  Shame is an obstruction in many lives that prevents us from moving forward in a relationship with God, because acceptance of the love of God is nearly impossible when you feel “unloveable.”  Shame is the belief that at the core of our being, we are without value, without worth, an embarrassment, a hindrance to others, and unlovely.  Shame is a chasm that places a person on one side and all other relationships, including a relationship with God, on the other side.  Though people shout loudly their love for that person, it echoes in the gulf that separates them but never seems to pierce the heart of the person entrenched in shame. 

Shame can be the result of abuse.  Often those abused, physically, mentally, spiritually, and especially sexually have internalized that abuse as result of a perceived corruption in their being.  Shame says, “I deserved this.”  “I caused this.”  Shame will lead a person into similar circumstances over and over again, reaping similar consequences, because “I don’t deserve any better than this.”  A healthy identity has a humble confidence and been the regular recipient of positive affirmation and loving discipline.  Shame is a crevice in the soul where those affirmations slip through the crack and pour out on the floor without ever taking up residence.

Shame can also be the result of untended guilt.  Guilt is not a bad thing.  Guilt can be the healthy recognition of a deed done wrong.  Guilt can be God’s way of helping us to come to terms with the nature our sin.  Guilt can be a set up for confession, forgiveness, and growth.  The outcome of guilt can be freedom.  However, if guilt is left to lay in a person’s soul, it compounds, as it compounds it gets mired in a person’s identity.  Early, a person might have said, “I’ve done bad and need to make correction.”  Later becomes, “I am bad and beyond correction.”  Shame is the outgrowth of guilt gone awry.  Guilt can be the gift the Spirit which sets us up for the cleansing of God’s Spirit.  However, the longer it is left to dwell, it becomes the devil’s tool to paralyze us. 

However a person arrives at shame, the consequence is the same, life alone, bitter, and frustrated on one side of a chasm.  Fortunately for us, our story tells of a God that crosses the chasm.  What we discover about Jesus is that on the cross, he travels the gulf.  On the cross, not only is our guilt dealt with in terms of forgiveness, on the cross, Jesus also takes upon himself our shame and bears it to death.  He is crucified, a torturous tool of humiliation and shame, naked and hung by those that despised him.  He was left alone on that cross to breathe his last in shame.  Likewise, he suffered outside the city.  He suffered on a hill away from those he’d come to love.  The power of shame was present on the cross.   

But…the power of God’s love triumphed in that moment.  It is always the power of love that conquers the power of shame.  In love, Jesus took upon himself the shame of humanity, the rejection, the sense of forsakenness, the isolation, the corruption of hope.  In taking that shame, Jesus carried it to death, so that it might never exercise its power again.  In love he embraced our shame so that we would not have to live bound by that shame any longer.  On the cross, Jesus says, “My love for you refuses a chasm, refuses shame, rejects a corrupted identity, and sees in you the worth of God’s child.”  My love refuses to echo in a gulf.  My love leaps the gulf and pierces the soul.  When the love of God comes…it pushes out the perversion and replaces it with a humble awe.  It cries out, “Who am I that God would love me?”  “I am His child, that’s who.”  A faithful confident walk in Christ happens as we cast off the shame that taints our identity and embrace the love of God in Christ Jesus, who leaped the chasm that we’d be set free.  #bwccpressingon

Tomorrow, we will deal the vital role that the community of Jesus followers plays in dealing with shame in a person’s life.