Scary Love

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My hobby and entertainment outlet of choice is the Dallas Cowboys. I know, that in itself is pretty polarizing but they’re my team and it’s the one addiction I will allow myself. On my days off, I’ll research their stats, read up on their opponents and do my best to project their future.

Last night, before the Cowboys visited the Bears – and utterly fell apart – I received a series of texts from one of my friends. Although he lives in Waco, Texas (and attends Journey), he for some reason feels an unnatural allegiance to his “home team” the Chicago Bears. He and I spent the next half hour sparing back and forth, explaining why “my” team was better and would ultimately come out on top. It was a lot of fun!

However, even as I made my case, I wasn’t convinced. I knew my arguments were hollow and I doubted that the joy of victory would be ours. The final outcome of the game, a 45-28 embarrassment, was all too predictable.

In response to yet another crippling defeat, I posted on Facebook my thoughts about why this keeps happening to the Cowboys. I explained some X’s & O’s and then made the case that the problem is deeper than any one player or even a ridiculously bad defense. The problem is deeper than that and can be summed up in one word…

INFLUENCE.

It’s the single most important word in football and is, I believe, in the top 5 most important words in life. Influence. Consider for a moment the power behind this word. This is the force that guides you, shapes your thoughts and your character. It impacts everything in our lives. Our relationships. Our professions. Our self-esteem. Our faith. What we invite to influence us directly determines who we will be, what we will do and how we will impact the world around us.

The problem with the Cowboys is a problem of poor influence. Poor influence in the draft room, possibly (although probably getting better – consider the last couple of drafts, emphasizing the offensive line – but I digress). Poor influence on the management of critical game situations…absolutely! I am convinced that if this one piece of influence was changed for the Cowboys, it would impact their win column by 3 to 4 wins a year!

In considering this, I can’t help but think about how this plays out in my life. I both celebrate and struggle with influence – especially as a dad. I realize the power I have to shape and mold my kids because of the influence I have over them and I don’t want to sleep walk through it. I want to use it intentionally and proactively. I know who I want my kids to become and I want to do everything I can to direct that. Sometimes I do a great job, sometimes I feel like I’m sleepwalking but I realize I am influencing regardless. And mostly, I am grateful for that.

The struggle comes not because of what my influence means but because of what it doesn’t mean. Think about it…with all that influence can do there is one thing it can never and will never do.

CONTROL.

I influence my kids every day but I will never be able to control them. I can not “make” them “do” anything. I can guide. Teach. Direct. Shape. Mentor. Challenge. Correct. Discipline. And on and on. But I will never be able to control them nor anyone in my sphere of influence.

And this is both freeing and troubling at the same time. It allows me to be critically important but ultimately puts the responsibility fully on their choice. As I consider the depth of such a dynamic, I am highly aware that this where our God chose to live with us.

That’s scary love!

A Word About Life

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For those of us who follow Jesus…

– who long for a more authentic expression of life

– who reach for something more than religion

– who want our faith to be more than a belief system

– who submit to a God we have never seen

– who have experienced a change that is undeniable

– who recklessly follow the way of love…

For you, I want to remind you, encourage you and challenge you with a life altering word.

READY?

Here goes…

“It’s not about you!”

I know, this may startle you. It may sound harsh or cold or insensitive. It may bring up all kinds of arguments or theological rebuttals and if it does, that’s OK. But it’s true none-the-less.

Question: Have you ever paused long enough to move beyond dealing with what you were saved from in order to ask, “What was I saved for?”

Really, what’s the point of our freedom from brokenness, struggle, guilt, conflict and death? To move into healing, freedom, confidence, peace and life – right? But life for what?

Deep down, we know that this authentic expression of life is much deeper than what we find our dreams, our failures, our desires and our successes. When we have moments of clarity, we know that true life can be found in the midst of all of this. It obviously involves us but somehow, it’s not limited to our external experiences.

So what’s it really about? What’s this new life for? As we question, listen to the following simple truth from Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

You see, the further we follow Jesus, the clearer the view becomes. We begin to see life as it was intended, not as it has been twisted. As we encounter this truer life more and more, we see the one for whom life was made and for whom life was given. We see Jesus – the very heart of the Creator.

When our eyes are fixed clearly on him, we realize that he is the center of the story. It is about him. His love. His gifts. His dreams. His forgiveness. His hope for a new and better life – a life remade by him and a life defined by relationship with him.

We are brought from death to life so that he might wholly and completely know us and love us. This is his heart, his nature, his overwhelming passion – that he might be express himself fully to us, the object of his desire. That he might once again be free to shower his love on us.

It is in the midst of this love that everything changes for us. Our hearts are healed, our dreams are rebuilt, our pursuits are altered, our relationships are mended and our successes are redefined. And somewhere, throughout this transformation, it hits us. The truth of Jesus comes flooding our hearts demanding us to die so his life may fully take hold and the Spirit reminds us with the words of Christ himself, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about what we want or what we would choose. It’s about him and us being brought closer to him. Period. This is all that really matters.

Once we get this, the story changes. Our selfish pursuits become selfless offerings and instantly we are moved into partnership with our God. Moved into the front of his battle against what threatens to destroy his children. Moved to become extensions of the love of God. It is here that our gift of life finds full meaning.

What are we saved for? We are “Redeemed to Redeem!”

Take a look at the words of a new song we are singing at Journey, that was produced by Austin Stone Music:

Redeemed to Redeem 

We have come too far, beloved

Than to sway this path we tread

We have nothing else to boast

Than the cross where Jesus bled

CHORUS:

We’ve been redeemed to redeem the world around us

We have been loved to love one another

We’ve been pursued to pursue Your kingdom

Oh, oh, redeemed to redeem, oh oh redeemed to redeem

VERSE 2:

Yes we know what is to come

A home where men no longer thirst


For our souls were made to love
 oh nothing of this passing earth,

Oh nothing of this passing earth

BRIDGE:

To You our lives, we surrender now

Our hearts are Yours, we surrender now

All for Your name, we surrender now

Oh, oh redeemed to redeem

Oh, oh redeemed to redeem

Oh, oh, redeemed to redeem, oh oh redeemed to redeem

Journey of Faith Series

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Have you ever been loved more than you deserve?

Have you ever been given more than you gave? Forgiven when you wouldn’t have forgiven if the tables were turned? Pursued when you would have run away?

If so, I’d love to hear your story. I’d love to share a cup of coffee with you and marvel at the wonder of this gift. I’d love to hear where you found yourself and who it was who offered the unimaginable. And I’d love to meet that person. To look deep in her eyes as I celebrate the heart of God I see in them.

You know that’s where this reckless love comes from, right?

It’s what we were created for. To love and be loved. To be naked and vulnerable and completely known, yet accepted and cherished and honored. It’s the way things should be – and will be again one day. In the time between now and then, life is rediscovered in the pursuit of this love.

If you’re like me, you’ve chased this kind of experience in countless ways. I’ve looked for it in romance, friendship, professional partnerships, sensuality, athletic acclaim, public approval, and on and on the list could go. All of these offer glimpses of the approval and connection we long for but in the end, they are all empty and lacking.

No one and no thing can fill that void in our lives. It doesn’t matter what we chase, it all ends up twisted, bent and out-of-place. Nothing that has been created can give this to us. It’s all idolatry – false gods!

Realizing this can set us up for a transformed life. It’s not the created but the Creator who can satisfy our hunger for love and significance. And what of the pursuit?

So often, we focus on our pursuit. But have you ever considered the idea that you and I aren’t the centerpiece of the story? We aren’t the main character. But we aren’t insignificant to it! No, we are essential to the story. We are the supporting cast – so much so that the story can’t be told without us. You see, we are the love interest of the main character.

Our’s is a story of God’s love affair and we are his lover! He is the primary pursuer, chasing us with a relentless passion that is completely beyond our understanding. It’s so much less about our pursuit of him and so much more about his pursuit of us. He is coming after us and he will never stop. The question is, will you give in to his love? Will you submit to his advances? Will you allow your heart to be caught and overcome?

If you do, it will change everything! It will fill your heart with what you were intended to have from the beginning and you will find yourself naturally extending this kind of reckless love freely. His heart will begin to just come out of you.

How about you?

A Great Read

Do you have a Bible? If so, how many? Do you have a favorite? Is it a thin-line Bible? A daily devotional Bible? A chronological Bible? A study Bible? A pocket Bible? Or possibly an on-line Bible?

What version do you prefer? Do you like the NIV? The New Living Translation? The Message? Or do you lean more toward the New King James? The New American Standard? The New Revised Standard?

It’s amazing how endless the possibilities are for us to access scripture. We have it on our phones. We have readings sent to our e-mail accounts. We have them in our cars, in our bedrooms, in our living rooms and even in our hotel rooms when we travel. We have literally come to the place where we could have constant access to the word of God.

And so I ask, “What’s your relationship with the Word?”

Early on, I knew the Bible to be God’s book. That he inspired over 40 different men to write his words down for us. That it is divided into two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. That it has 66 books, 39 in the Old and 27 in the New. That the Old Testament has stories about God and his people – Israel. And the New Testament has stories about Jesus and the church. I was a student of the word. I took notes in church and worked to connect all the dots. I was definitely in pursuit of more information. I wanted to know more about God, more about the church and more about what this meant for me.

Then, there was a time when I stopped reading the Bible altogether. I struggled with what appeared to be inconsistencies in scripture. And with inconsistencies in my personal experience. I stopped my pursuit of God and did my best to numb my heart.

But still he spoke to me. In the midst of my struggle, he reminded me of his love and his desire for me to be free. I heard is voice through the gentle challenges of other believers. And finally, he broke through with a word spoken deep into my heart, saying, “You have no life without me!”

When I came back home to him, I entered with a new desire. I wanted to know this God who would not give up on me. I longed to discover his heart. I wanted a real relationship with him, not predetermined religious answers. And so I searched, I questioned, I discovered and I let go.

In my pursuit of God through his word, I found Jesus. I was introduced to the Word who was God and has been with God from the beginning. Who participated in creating us for relationship with himself. Who ached as we continually choose to love ourselves more than him. Who has relentlessly chased humanity from the beginning of time. Who established the nation of Israel to represent God to the world. Who refused to give up on people. Who punished and rebuked but always followed it up with hope and provision. Who willingly gave up his place to become like us. Who came to once and for all rescue us from the enemy, from this world and from ourselves. Who stood in our place, taking our penalty…dying so we could live! Who promised that his presence will always be with us, leading us and reminding us of his way. Who will one day take us home!

When you look at your Bible, do you see him? Do you encounter his heart? Do you invite him to break through and have his way with you?

What’s your relationship with the Word?

 

Jesus is Crazy!

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Sometimes, I think Jesus is summed up best in one word…crazy! If you really watch him, listen to what he teaches and apply it to your life, you might agree with me. This man is nuts! Consider for a second one of his more famous teachings:

“Don’t resist an evil person!

If you are slapped on the right check, turn the other, too.

If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.

If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.

Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”

What was he thinking? Does he really understand what he’s asking us to do? What are the end results of a life like this? Do I really have to allow myself to be beat up to follow Jesus? Do I really have to freely give my stuff away, without resistance — even more — does he really expect me to give more than what they are trying to take from me or to serve more than what is being required by a person in authority over me? Do I really have to live this way?

That’s what’s amazing about the way of Jesus! It doesn’t make any sense from the perspective of self-preservation. But that’s just it. That’s the complete wrong perspective.

Jesus has invited us to follow him, which means that we live life like him. That we watch how he talked…how he interacted with people…how he touched the untouchable…how he loved the disgraced…how he accepted the prostitute…how he forgave those who were intent on killing him. We stand at the shadow of the cross and hear his words echoing, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves take up their cross and follow me.” And from that vantage point, all rebuttals that Jesus was just talking rhetorically disappear.

Here is a radical God that is recklessly demonstrating the depth of love he has for us. It’s a love that transforms us to the very core. So much so, that it becomes who we are. It becomes what we offer. And at this point, we stop asking, “Does he really want me to do this?” and we begin asking, “Who is the next person I can share this with?” And this sharing is so much less about what we say…it’s about who we are. It’s about being willing to die so someone else might live!

Yeah, this is crazy – but what a beautiful way to live!

 

Not So Dirty Laundry

The clothes line.

It’s a picture that has been almost completely erased in our contemporary world. We live in a microwavable society and we don’t have time to wait for the wind to dry our clothes. We have instant access to nearly everything. If you want to know how tall Dirk Nowitzki is or even how to spell his name, just Google it (he’s 7′ tall by the way). If you want to know exactly how much longer before your kids get home, just text them. If you want to get the seven-day forecast or find out the latest breaking news in the world or sports, just hit the “News & Weather” app on your phone. I don’t need to go on. You know how small our world has gotten and how instantly everything comes to us. Even this blog is an example of this.

I love much of this new era we are in. Staying connected to so many more people. Not having to watch the news but knowing what’s going on in the world. Not getting lost everytime I go somewhere new. But is there a price that we pay for this?

Sometimes I long for the simple and less convenient. For moments of walking around with a cup of coffee in my hand, knowing that it will be another hour before my next task can be attempted, much less completed. Time to breathe. Time to think. Time to connect one on one with someone – not through a computer or in a text message but face to face. Where I can see the light in their eyes and the smirk on their face. But too many times, this is missed.

We have so much opportunity for relationship in front of us and so often we settle for less. We share a polite, “How’s it going?” in passing or send someone a “poke” on facebook or add them as a friend but still find ourselves isolated and unknown. It is too easy for us to hurry from one important event to the next, forgetting the people the event is really about. And we accept surface relationships as normal.

But…we were made for more! We were created to love and be loved deeply. To be known at every level and loved anyway – even in spite of the stuff we wish wasn’t there. We are shown a picture of this from the Father, as he takes our dirty laundry and incredibly makes it fresh again. And as he hangs it up dry, our shame of what once covered our stuff is now gone!

I can look you in the eye and tell you of the old stains in my life with a smile on my face, having no thought of embarrassment because it’s not there anymore. When this is done, authentic relationship is developed, love is shared and the Father is made known. And when we hit a bump in the road and the coffee flies all over us, we can draw from this relationship and point back at the clothes line. A reminder of the newness given by the Father in the past and the promise of what’s available to us now.

So bring on the coffee and the conversation. Let’s share this life together. Don’t worry about the spills, I know a good cleaner!

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Reckless Pursuit

I have never enjoyed running, although I have done it in some form for most of my life. It is sort of required to play the sports I love. But I have never really understood running for the sake of running. My thought is, “Why go through the trouble if there is no greater reward waiting at the end?”

A year and a half ago, I led Journey Christian Community in Waco, TX through a teaching series entitled, “Yahweh’s Story.” It is an amazing story full of unbelievable love and indescribable heartache. It is the story that we all find ourselves in — but it is not our story. It’s the Father’s!

Since the very beginning of this story, our Father has been after us. He has been pursuing us with reckless abandon. And we run. We follow the pattern of so many who have come before us and we run. We run because we are afraid. We run because we are ashamed. We run because we believe that something out there will ease our hearts.

If only we would slow down long enough to take a look at the one chasing after us. We would see the face of a Father whose heart is breaking. We would hear the tenderness of his voice, pleading, “It’s OK! Come, let me hold you. You are my precious one.” You see, the Father is not in pursuit to accuse and destroy. In fact, quite the opposite! He pursues because he loves you radically and he will continue in his chase until the last chapter of his story is written.

I, like most of us, am a runner. But I have been caught by the Father and have been overcome by his love for me. I still run but most days it is toward him.

This blog and its posts are dedicated to discovering the Father’s pursuit of our hearts and the incredible life given to us as we live recklessly in his love.

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