It’s More than Mario!

This summer I have watched some amazing people put down their pride in order to love on children. Some of them have transformed themselves into imaginary people. Some have given a weekend to kids from another part of town. And some have traveled to another country – just to share their love and increase the joy of children.

Do you remember what it was like to be a child? The imagination you had? The capacity for play? Take for instance, your first experience with a gaming system. Do you remember the fascination you had with the images on the screen? And the new addiction that was created as you became determined to conquer the game or at least better your latest score?

My first exposure to this world that effortlessly combines imagination and competition was at a friend’s house. As soon as I walked in, he told me he had just gotten an Atari and asked if I wanted to play. I said, “Sure!” – not really knowing what I was getting into. And then, for the next few hours, I was introduced to the now classic games of “Pong,” “Pitfall,” and “Centipede.” I have to admit, I wasn’t that good but it didn’t matter. It was an amazing experience and I couldn’t wait until I got to play again.

A couple of years later, I got my own system, but it wasn’t an Atari. It was the next generation…the new and improved system…you know, the one that was going to put Atari to shame with its updated graphics and more expansive game options. You know…Colecovision! I was so impressed with my parents for getting me such an advanced system. My brother and I dove in. We were totally consumed with all the newness and wonder of games like “Donkey Kong Jr.,” “Lady Bug,” and a game we affectionately came to call “Bomb & Burn” – simply because the only way we could get through the maze of obstacles was to go guns blazing as fast as we could.

But then, it happened. My family was invited over for dinner to a young couple’s house. They had become good friends with my parents and my brother and I thought they were pretty cool too. They were in their late twenties, didn’t have any kids and always made time for us.

We had dinner, talked for a bit and then Bobby, the cool family friend, invited us over to see his new toy. He turned on the TV, plugged in a few wires and up comes a screen unlike anything I had seen before. The images were amazing! “This is the latest thing,” Bobby said. “This is a Nintendo!”

That was the first time I ever saw Mario. The first time I ever imagined jumping over a mushroom or intentionally hitting my head against a brick to gain more points. And to this day, if I hear the Mario Brothers theme song – there’s a little bit of joy that comes over my heart.

Childhood is such a magical time. It’s experiences shape us deeply. Both its joy and it’s struggles have a way of hanging on and working their way into the fabric of our hearts as adults. The love we experience. The lessons we learn. The time spent with family. The loving adults who gave selflessly to us – it all impacts us in ways we can’t explain but are forever grateful for.

Question: Who introduced you as a child to little but unbelievable moments of joy? Who is that person who loved you enough to invite you into their world? Who in your past deserves a really big, “THANK YOU FOR LOVING ME LIKE THAT!”

And possibly more important than that…Who are you offering yourself to as an adult? Is there a child in your life that you are pouring yourself into? That you are intentionally working to increase his/her joy?

Believe me, even if it’s just sharing a video game, it could impact a heart forever!

Preserved vs. Repressed Sexuality

Sex plays such a dominate role in our culture. It drives our advertising and our entertainment. Whether it’s overt or subtle, it seems to be everywhere.

Question: How do we deal with this as followers of Jesus? How do we participate in this sex saturated culture and yet live differently? What boundaries do we place in our lives?

And possibly even more important…how do we guide our children and our single adults through this extremely difficult maze? This is a question we really need to spend some time on. What we teach here really matters. It will influence not only their actions but their hearts. It could directly impact whether they receive the gift of sex truly as a gift or as something else entirely.

Last week, I ran across a tremendous post about this. It directly addresses how so much of our Christian community has dealt with sexuality and the potential struggles we create within the hearts of our children and single adults. Take a look, it’ll be well worth your time!

Preserved vs. Repressed Sexuality.

Jacob’s Dream…Our Reality!

A few years ago, Abilene Christian University commissioned this sculpture to be constructed just outside of their School of Theology building, called “Jacob’s Dream.” It depicts the dream Jacob (Abraham’s grandson) had in Genesis 28, where he saw a stairway reaching from earth to heaven and angels climbing up and down on it. It was in this moment that God reconfirmed the promises he made to Abraham…to give his descendants the land he was on…to multiply his descendants like the dust on the earth…that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him…and that God will not leave him.

What an incredible story! What would it do to someone to see a glimpse of the eternal so clearly? And to hear the voice of God, loving you and promising to use you to bless the entire world! How would it change the way you would think of God? See the world? See people? Could you ever go back to the way things were?

The two girls standing underneath the ladder are my daughter, Reagan, and her friend, Sidney. They were just finishing their week of camp at ACU and had to have one more look at the sculpture. They had an amazing time and shared their experiences with — well — enthusiasm. They told us about their friends and all the fun they had. Then they talked to us about God, his promise to come back and that he will recreate a place for us to live with him forever. As they talked, I couldn’t help thinking that we were, in that moment, experiencing some of God’s promises spoken during Jacob’s dream. That these two beautiful little girls have received a taste of the kingdom of God!

In the camp’s closing ceremony, they showed a camp video for the parents to enjoy. Then, in their final act of camp, they asked all the students to stand and repeat a pledge that grew out of their week. It was a tremendous site, seeing a couple hundred elementary students declaring who they intend to be as they participate in the Father’s kingdom.

Here is that pledge. As you read it, consider how different our experience in this life would be if we commit to living this way with every breath we take. If we declare that we have encountered the God of Jacob, been invited into his kingdom and there is no turning back!

Kingdom of God Pledge

Because I have been invited into the throne room of God

Because I have been adopted into the family of God

Because I want to be a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven forever

I hereby renounce any allegiance to the kingdom of earth

and any other god other than the One True God who created me and loves me.

I hereby declare that it is my heart’s desire to do God’s will on earth

just as it is done in heaven

So I will work to heal those who need healing

I will seek to know God’s will and obey it

And I will seek to fight injustice wherever I encounter it

Until God calls me home or Jesus returns to take us all home to heaven.

To the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Do You Have Time To Be Interrupted?

A phone call from a friend, when you feel like you are all alone. A meal delivered the moment you realize there is nothing in the house to eat and you are out of money. A text from someone you haven’t heard from in years, asking how she can pray for you on a day that you don’t have the strength to talk to God. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever had someone step into your life at exactly the right time? Have you ever been cared for in extraordinary ways when you hadn’t mentioned your need to anyone?

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened in my life. Every time, I am taken back. Humbled. Honored. And reminded that I am deeply loved!

This is what happens when Jesus followers say, “Yes!” to God. Indescribable love is expressed and the Father’s heart is extended. In a very real way, we become the hands and feet of Jesus.

What is amazing is that most times, the people who offer this love have no idea how important their little expression is. They just were thinking about someone and followed through. It happens in all kinds of ways. Sometimes they’ll have a dream about someone or wake up thinking about them. Sometimes a person’s face will come to mind while they’re driving down the road. Sometimes, a difficult situation will come up in conversation and there is a pressing feeling that a phone call needs to be made.

I am embarrassed to think about how many times I have missed these opportunities. When God prodded me and I excused it and continued on my day. When I have been too consumed with my agenda to stop and represent the Father. Wow! The incredible life transforming moments I have arrogantly walked right by.

But…those days when I have listened – those are days I will never forget. Days when people open their hearts. Days when freedom erupts, as much for me as it does the people I am caring for. Days that I can’t get enough of.

In the past couple of months, I have been loved by God through his people like this over and over. It has been amazing. And I want more of it. Yes, for myself but mostly, I want to offer it. To live a life, completely interruptible by God. Completely available to the movement of his Spirit. I truly can’t imagine a better way of life!

How different could today have been for us with this was our goal when we got up this morning?

More than a phone call?

How many minutes do you spend a day talking, texting or posting on your phone? In our world of social media today, we interact at an amazing rate. We are highly available to each other and seem to keep this unending stream of communication constantly going.

Because of this, we are more in touch with friends from the past. We are more aware of our kids’ movements. We are more aware of the details of each other’s lives. And for all of this, I am grateful!

But it makes me wonder…is it possible to live this way with our God? Is it really possible to live in a constant conversation with him – minute by minute – like we do with our friends on our phones? Is there a way of connecting to him that tethers our hearts to his so deeply that we are never out of touch with him? Can our prayer life with him be more than a phone call? Can we really live in his presence, deeply dependent on him?

The answer to all of this is a resounding, “YES!” And it’s not just available to the “super-religious” – whatever that is. It is what our Father longs to have with us. A transforming intimacy that reaches into every moment of our lives.

A few months ago, we talked about living this kind of life with our God at Journey Christian Community. Click on the link below, take a look and re-imagine what could be!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDixQFiIOUc

Communicating with God

Tech stuff has always been fascinating for me. I enjoy checking out my friends’ new computers, video games and phones. Speaking of phones, I am continually amazed at the seemingly endless production of new apps that keep hitting the market. There is truly one for everything! But for the most part, I have seen all of these advances as luxuries…even clutter.

I enjoy a simple, slow-paced, relational way of life. I would much rather sit down with a friend face to face than to send them an e-mail, Facebook post or text. One of my favorite things in all the world is experiencing what happens when authentic connections are made. Like the relationships that are built when people share their lives over a meal. Acceptance. Friendship. Intimacy. It’s a great way to live!

Question: In a world full of blogs (like this one), tweets, texts, voice mails, news bulletins and on and on…Is it possible to really have deep, uninterrupted connections with people? Are we so socially available through media that we are no longer available personally?

I’ve wrestled with this for quite some time. I have resisted getting a twitter account and have purposefully limited my time on Facebook. I have operated with an engagement philosophy of, “If I am with someone, I am not available to anyone else” – of course with one exception…my wife!

If you are reading this blog, then you have noticed I have recently opened myself up to using these social media tools more actively. But as I do, I am attempting to function out of one driving principle: “Communicate with people, not with media!” People’s hearts are still first. True relationship is still the goal. Authentically loving them is still the key.

As we live in and experience this busy, cluttered world that bombards us with new possibilities every second, we cannot lose sight of God’s heart. That people are his greatest love. As Jesus followers, we must keep this perspective. If we do, every time people communicate with us – whether in person or on-line – they will find themselves encountering the truest heart of all. And through us, they just might find themselves communicating with God!

The Big Catch

Last month my family took a trip to Creede, CO for a relaxing week in one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. It was a terrific week. Lot’s of sleeping in, playing games, long walks and of course…fishing. For me, fishing is much like golf. I am constantly amazed at people who seem to master the sport. At the same time, I constantly try not to get frustrated with my consistent lack of ability. This scenario is only magnified when I am out with my dad. He regularly out performs all other fishermen in our cabin combined. On this trip, I believe the count was something like: Dad: 20 and Landon: 0!

Although he does like to tell his stories of victory, Dad is a good sport about it. He doesn’t rub it in  or make me feel like a bigger loser than I am. However, there are those rare moments that have to be shared. Moments of sheer excitement and joy.

I had the pleasure of experiencing one of those moments with my Dad on my last day of the trip. We had driven out to a remote lake where it was obvious that few fishermen had been lately. We unloaded and I ventured off with my kids to see if I might be able to help the two younger ones actually catch something. As usual, my dad took his time picking out the right lure and watching the lake for signs of life. He picked a spot and moved in.

About 5 minutes later it happened! The usual calm, collected fishermen became extremely animated. He yelled, “Fish on!” At first, I was a little surprised. He is rarely verbal when catching a fish – I’m guessing because he doesn’t want to scare the next one off. But this one was different. This one was special and he didn’t care about the future impact of his excitement. As he landed the fish, he continued yelling, telling us to come take a look.

I hurriedly rushed my kids over to him and saw him holding a 16″ trout. At first glance, it appeared to be a nice fish. Nobody is going to scoff at a 16″ trout but it’s not that uncommon. In fact, about 15 years ago, I saw him catch a rainbow trout that was almost twice this size. But that’s what made this fish so special…it wasn’t a rainbow, it was a brookie!

Brook trout are usually about 7-8 inches long and this one was 16″! Although it’s not going to set any world records, it is truly a special moment for a trout fisherman. And so we celebrated. We oohed and aahed. We took pictures. And all the kids took turns holding the treasure. The big catch!

As I retell this story and consider my dad’s joy, I can’t help but think about my God (click here to be taken to http://www.recklesspursuitbook.com). That he gave us these experiences. These emotions. These gifts.

But there is more here than my gratitude to the Father for these things. There is a glimpse into his heart. A heart that longs for celebration and joy. A heart that will not rest until it is fully experienced.

The drive that the most avid fisherman has to land that big catch is nothing compared to our Father’s pursuit of us. He is constantly chasing us. Watching for signs of life. Luring us with his love. Inviting us to take the bait, to allow ourselves to be caught by him and to be completely transformed. There is truly nothing else that matters to him. Nothing!

We are his prize, his conquest and his joy! We are the love of his life and he can’t get enough. He wants to empty the lake with us. A few great catches are not enough. He wants us all!

For those of us who would join him in this amazing pursuit, a word of warning: he is not after trophies to be displayed. It’s not about showing off or winning some imaginary contest. People are not projects to finish for our God. He simply loves us desperately and he will not rest until he has us. And oh, the party that erupts with every catch!

Do You Want to Make a Differnce or a Point? – by Pete Wilson

Hey Guys! I was reading Pete Wilson’s blog (author of Plan B and Empty Promises) a couple days ago and really enjoyed this post. I love his thoughts about making a difference instead of making a point! It reminds me of a life-changing and ministry-chaning struggle I went through a dozen years ago as I wrestled with the difference between success and significance. It doesn’t always come with applause but I want to position myself to choose significance and faithfulness. Take a look at what Pete wrote…

Do You Want To Make A Difference Or A Point?

July 2, 2012 in Leadership with 33 Comments

There’s an article in the July issue of Church Executive that just came out last week entitled “Who Speaks Up?” I was skimming the article nodding along with most of what the author was saying until I saw my name. Then all of the sudden it became personal and I stopped to reflect.

Ron Keener wrote,

“I have to wonder: Who speaks for the church now? Billy Graham is 94 in November and we miss his presence in the pulpit. Franklin Graham has a strong message but his attention is rightfully overseas and focused on the parachurch.

When CNN’s Larry King wanted a point of view from the evangelical church he went to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, as if either of them really spoke for the church-at-large. Occasionally John McArthur, now 72, showed up at the “Kings Table,” and one or two other well-known preachers.

Many of the best speakers for the faith, and for the church in the world, keep busy with their own congregations and avoid the national media scene. Chuck Smith Sr. is 84 and ailing. Charles Stanley is 80. Chuck Swindoll and Jack Hayford were born in 1934.

He continues,

“Where are the “young bucks” within the church who bring it fresh thinking? And I don’t mean universalist Rob Bell. Such as David Platt, Pete Wilson, Mark Batterson, Randy Frazee or Rick Rusaw? They are so silent.

The church is under attack like no other time, and if responsible church men and women don’t speak up on its behalf int these turbulent social and cultural times, other, not so well meaning, will.

I appreciate Ron Keener and his concern even if he did somewhat call me out. :) I understand what’s he’s saying and he asks some valid questions.

Here’s my thoughts on this.

I’ve never felt called or led to be a talking head for the evangelical church. My understanding is that talking heads make points. I don’t want my life and ministry to be about making points.

To borrow a line from Andy Stanley, “I rather make a difference than a point“.

Sure, I can go on television and make some “points”, maybe  gain a few fans, get the applause of some church people. But in the process I alienate the very people that are far from God who I want to reach through my ministry.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen very few lives changes with preachers engaging the media and making very well crafted points. I’m not sure anyone cares about our points. I’m afraid that in making our points we forget about the very people we’re trying to reach with our points.  There’s nothing wrong with making points, I just think we might have a greater calling.

I’ll make some points in a message.

I’ll make some points in my books.

Along the way I hope some of my points may make you think, question, or even take action.

But more than anything. I want my life and ministry to be focused on making a difference.

So if the evangelical church is looking for a talking head that will cruise the media circuits trying to make points… I think I’ll pass.

If the evangelical church is looking for some pastors that want to go out and make a point by first making a difference… then you can count me in.

*If you’d like to visit Pete’s blog and see the original post, just click the link below:

http://withoutwax.tv/2012/07/02/do-you-want-to-make-a-difference-or-a-point 

American Christian

I can’t wait for the Olympics to start in 3 1/2 weeks. To sit on the couch next to my kids and cheer on the good ol’ US of A! It is a special treat that so many of us take in every 4 years.

I am extremely grateful for the country we live in. For the unequaled freedoms we get to enjoy. And for the amazing opportunities to dream the impossible dreams and know that they can actually come true.

However, these blessings are not free. Yes, there is a tremendous price for our freedom that our military men and women defend  every day. And for that, I am humbled and honored. But there is another cost that we pay, without even noticing most times.

Because of the riches we enjoy, the independence we exercise and the freedoms we take for granted – we are so very often left with an Americanized viewpoint to our relationship with God. We assume that being blessed by God means that we will be financially affluent and never have to worry about our retirement. We function as if God’s greatest goal for us is our individual pursuit of happiness. So much so that if these things are threatened, we wonder if we have somehow stepped outside of God’s will or if he even exists at all! The end result of this is that for us – American Christians – following Jesus places God in the role of serving us, rather than us serving him and the picture of authentic Christianity is greatly distorted.

In addition to this, we have often tied our patriotism to our Christianity. This is done so much that the two are inseparable for most people. We tend to function as if standing for Christ is standing for America. This is so large that for some, America is often viewed as God’s chosen nation, even the “new Israel.”

We need to be really challenged here. We need to step back and ask some hard questions, questions that could make us uncomfortable. Consider for a moment: What does it really mean for this to not be our home? For us to be citizens of a kingdom of God more than citizens of America? What do we do when they are in conflict? When our political issues and stances are not God-honoring? When our international policies go directly against the heart of God?

Should we be surprised when this happens? Is our country really a Christian nation? Or are we a secular, worldly country that has the Kingdom of God growing inside it?

What would our advice be to our Christian brothers and sisters in China – where Christianity is illegal? Would we encourage them to declare their allegiance to their country or our God? How about our brothers and sisters who come to Christ in Muslim countries? Where they literally have to choose between country/family and Christ. We hear these stories about the persecuted church, pause for a moment and then continue on our day. But what about us? What are we choosing between? Do we consciously put ourselves in a position to choose Christ or do we simply accept the standards and values of our country – assuming that everything is fine?

What would happen inside us if we realized that every nation on this earth is deeply damaged and broken without Christ? Including America! What if we expected the heart of God that is growing inside us to be challenged by our culture? What if we turned on the TV, ready for battle? What if we measured everything on the scale of God’s heart instead of whether or not it is a normal American experience?

I’m not surprised or even threatened when prayer is removed from the schools or the 10 commandments are taken out of the courthouse. I have actually come to expect it. My goal is not to get our country’s policies to reflect Christ but to lead our people in this country to become his followers. If this happens, then even if our country declares Christianity illegal, his Kingdom will reign, his church will thrive and his people will be transformed.

The Perfect Life

How often have you seen it happen? The no-hitter. The 158.3 quarterback rating. The 300 bowling game. The elusive 10 in the Olympics. So many shoot for it but nearly everyone fails. Even the elite of the elite miss the mark over and over – most going their entire careers without ever achieving that one moment of perfection.

But still it’s chased. We hold the standard up and dare anyone to try to reach it. And when it does occur, the world stops for a moment. The athlete is raised up as the conquering hero. Adults and children alike begin to dream again imagining that the unimaginable is really possible. The sun shines brighter and everything is right in the world, at least for a day.

Moments of greatness. Deep down, we know they are fleeting. We know they won’t last but that’s part of the glory in them. Every once in a while we are witness to someone rising so far above mediocrity that they seem untouchable. We realize they don’t perform like this every day…that they are human, like us, and it gives us hope for the future for ourselves. It sets a goal for us, yes even us “normal” people, to shoot for.

Have you ever known an athlete who went the other direction with this? Who, instead of becoming a dreamer shooting for perfection, becomes defeated when watching someone else hit the mark? Their language becomes full of negativity and failure, speaking things like, “I can’t” or “I’ll never” or “I quit!” There is nothing more frustrating for a coach or a parent than watching this spirit take hold of an athlete. When it does, we push and challenge and encourage. We do anything possible to motivate and recast the dream.

But how about us? Do we still dream? Do we still chase perfection or have we been surrounded by failure so long that it is no longer even a thought for us?

Consider for a moment the perfect life. Not a life without financial struggles or the fairy tale existence but a life that is defined by peace in our hearts. A life that is so right that joy remains, even in the midst of heartache. A life overflowing with love.

Is it possible to really live this way? To live perfectly on this earth? To never step outside of God’s desire for us?

Before you answer, sit on this for a moment. Jesus told those of us who would follow his to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” And the Jesus followers in Ephesus were told to “be imitators of God.” So there’s the target but our goal is not the perfect game but the perfect life!

Before you start objecting, consider for a moment that as a follower of Jesus, you are already accepted. God adores you and your pursuit of this goal has nothing to do with you earning his approval! It is completely about you claiming the blessings of the King. He wants so much for you. He has saved you to bless you and for you to be a blessing. He doesn’t want you to just play the game – he wants you to conquer it!

The crazy thing about this is there is only one thing you need to do to accomplish this incredible feet. Love! That’s it, just love.

What would life look like if every thought and every action was done in complete and total love? What if you always chose to put someone else first? What would happen to our pride, anger and greed? How about our lust, envy and selfish goals?

Imagine a life so full of love that there is no longer anything in us to make us stumble!