Archive for April, 2010

Have you lost your sense of wonder? Then maybe your should try…

… a trip to the art museum;
… a trip to the zoo;
… really listening to music;
… picking up a book;
… reading a poem;
… taking a walk with no particular place to go;
… not wearing a watch;
… planting a vegetable garden;
… having a conversation;
… picking a flower;
… creating something;
… reading from the Psalms;
… leaving the beaten path;
… going camping;
… praying without asking God for something;
… giving something anonymously;
… watching a sunset;
… better yet, try watching a sunrise;
… watching the weather (literally, not the weather report);
… going to a library;
… going to a play or musical;
… building a flower bed;
… cooking without a recipe;
… sitting by a lake or river;
… a new cuisine;
… taking a class;
… attending a lecture;
… keeping a journal;
… spending time with an elderly person;
… spending time with preschool aged children.

I’m sure you have more to add to this list. The point is that if suffer from a lack of wonder, you can do something about it! If you’d like to post your suggestion on how you are working to recover a sense of wonder in your life, click on the blog title to access the comment response.

Categories : Enough, Wonder, Worship
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Wonder in Worship

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I have a pet peeve. It’s probably not that big of deal considering all of the things that I could complain about, but I’ve had it with people who refer to everything as “amazing!” As in “that song is amazing,” or “that sandwich was amazing,” or “those new socks are amazing.” Really? Is everything amazing? I think not. The real issue is not that insignificant stuff is amazing. I think the real issue at stake is that we live in a culture where nothing is amazing. We’ve lost our sense of wonder.

When I was a kid, my parents took me on Sunday afternoon drives in the country. As we drove they would point out how healthy particular livestock appeared or how the crops had grown. My dad would take me on walks in the woods hunting mushrooms, or take me fishing where we would sit quietly and observe creation. My mother always planted a large garden. I can still hear her marvel at the miracle of seed and soil, tempered with sunshine and rain and how they came together to produce the food that would eventually grace our simple kitchen table.

We only took two vacations during my years at home, but they were both purposeful. One year we spent a week in Colorado driving through the mountains. We didn’t stop much, except to pull over and take a occassional snapshot. But I can remember the breathtaking beauty of the mountains surpassing all that I had seen in books or on television. The other vacation was to the ocean. We only spent one day at the beach, but I remember feeling how vast the ocean looked as I waded chest high into the crashing waves.

I flew for the first time when I was in high school. It was a brief flight in a single prop plane. I can still recall the sensation of take off, and how I spent the entire flight pressing my nose against the window pointing out cars and houses and people that looked so very small because I was so very high.

I remember the marvelous beauty of my bride on our wedding day. I remember thinking that she had never been more beautiful, and wondered how she would ever be able to remain beautiful. But everytime she walks into the room I find she still catches my eye…more beautiful today than ever before.

I remember the sacred moments of watching my children be born then holding their tiny bodies in my arms praying for the grace to be able to provide for them. First tears and first steps and first words soon follow. I recall first presents and first prayers and first day of school. Their baptisms. These are the events that can truly be described as amazing.

But time goes on. The miles pile on to the odometer of life and the new car smell fades. There are door dings and scratches and a little rust around the fender. Yet God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is still the same amazing God.

I wonder if ingratitude isn’t the culprit. Take my cell phone, for example. I have a cell phone that makes telephone calls, provides email, text messaging and access to the internet. Yet for all that it does, all I seem to do is complain about how slow it downloads apps or how I have limited coverage in certain geographical regions. As another example, I grew up with three television stations. My satellite provider brings me scores of channels with High Definition clarity to my plasma television. But, wouldn’t you know, there’s never anything on worth watching. And when is the last time you talked to a business traveller who didn’t have some criticism of the airline that just carried them across two time zones in a couple of hours?

Why do we lack a sense of wonder? Where did it go? When did we stop being amazed at those things that are truly amazing? I’m not sure if its ingratitude or some other systemic problem. But I do know this. When we lose our sense of wonder, we lose our sense of worship. One of the reasons that our worship seems lifeless and inanimate is that we have lost our sense of wonder. Everything in life now has an explanation. Like it or not, there’s a little bit of Cliff Claven in each of us. We are know-it-alls. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But now what?

David never lost sight of the wonder of God. Consider Psalm 8 for example.

“O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you. When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars that you have set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!” (Psalm 8:1-9, NLT)

Tomorrow I’ll blog about some practical ways we can restore wonder in life.
Categories : Enough, Wonder, Worship
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Thoughts on Worship

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Last week I wrote about the challenge of idols and why idolatry diminishes our ability to connect with God. It goes without saying that idols have to be ruthlessly eradicated from our lives. But it’s not enough to eradicate the idols from our lives. We have to take the next step and enthrone God as the pre-eminent object of our worship. As I’ve stated before, worship is our appropriate response to the self revelation of God. As God reveals himself to us, we respond appropriately. That response is our worship to God. Here are some thoughts that I think about worship.

1. Worship is a Lifestyle. It’s not limited to scheduled times or corporate gatherings in facilities dedicated to that expressed purpose. It’s the way I live life day by day and moment by moment.
2. Worship is a Verb. It involves action. One of the reasons our worship feels lifeless and inanimate is because we’ve taken a verb and made it a noun.
3. My daily practice of worship as a lifestyle is an investment I reap in corporate worship. Too many times Christians walk into church with unrealistic expectations. They make no preparation for worship during the week. They make no investment of heart and soul Monday through Saturday and expect the music and the message to cover them for another week. If you’re not getting anything out of corporate worship, it’s because you’ve invested little if anything throughout the week.
4. Worship is the ultimate priority of the Christian life. You’ve been created with the capacity and will to worship, and you’ve been saved to worship God. Worship energizes the Christian mission. Furthermore, worship informs the Christian mission. In his book Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper writes, “Missions exists where worship does not.” There will be a day when we will no longer have mission. But there will never be a day when we no longer have worship.

Categories : Enough, Worship
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Summer of Love

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This summer we’re going to do something unique. We’ve cancelled all of our Wednesday night activities beginning June 2 in order to go into our community and serve some of the agencies and ministries that our church partner’s with. We are presently preparing for this summer of missions and ministry by having leaders from the agencies and ministries come on Wednesday nights to make presentations about their work. On Wednesday, May 26, we’re going to conclude our equipping time with a night of worship. We will be on the streets from June through August and will conclude our summer of love with a neighborhood block party on our campus.

If you live in the 515, you’re invited to come along and participate in this missional endeavor. If you don’t live here in Central Iowa, I covet your prayers as we engage our community as the presence of Christ.


Eliminating the Competition

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Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that properly is your God.” During the preparation of this sermon last week my mind turned to the infamous church of Laodicea found in Revelation chapter 3. God put a thermometer in their heart and discovered they were “lukewarm.” Not quite dead, but not fully alive. That’s an great illustration of how idols impact our ability to connect with God.

If you’re feeling a little lukewarm, there are some ways to detect the presence of idols in our hearts. I believe one of the functions of the classic spiritual disciplines is to help us to identify impediments in our relationship with God. Let me share what I mean. For example, the discipline of solitude helps identify people we have placed before God. The discipline of silence helps identify thoughts we have placed before God. The discipline of simplicity helps identify possessions we have placed before God. And the discipline of serving helps identify times when we place ourselves before God. Another way to look at this is to think about the discipline of fasting. In fasting, the heart may be tested for areas of dependency revealing any objects of worship. Still another way to go about it is to simply evaluate your checkbook and your calendar. How you spend your time and your money may be as informative and revealing as any reagent you apply. Finally, you could simply ask a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth concerning any idols they may observe in your life.

So what if you do the inventory and you don’t like what you see? What should you do? The biblical response is to ruthlessly eradicate the idols from your life. 1 Corinthians 10:14 says we are to “flee from idols.” 1 John 5:21 adds to “keep yourselves from idols.” This is important for us to catch, because God doesn’t demand prominence. He demands pre-eminence. In Isaiah 42:8, God says plainly, “I will not share my glory with another.” Unplug from the idols in your life. You may be able to multi-task, but you cannot multi-worship. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.”

During World War II, Martin Niemoller was arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp for refusing to bow to Adolf Hitler. He wrote a book describing his experience titled, “God is my Fuhrer.” In the book, Niemoller makes the following observation: “It is not enough to say ‘there is a God.’ You have to say, ‘You are my God’.” When we unplug from the idols that promise much and deliver nothing, the result is freedom. Freedom to connect with God and to relate to him as he intended.

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The Problem with Idols

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There are multiple (and I mean multiple!) texts within Scripture that discuss the dangers and problems that idols create in life. For brevity sake, I want to take a moment and point out two of the more obvious ones.

The first is based on Psalm 115:8, which reads, “And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them” (NLT). The point is obvious: you become like the object of your worship. That’s either really good news or really bad news. If God is the exclusive object of our worship, we will increase in our likeness of him. Good news, right? But if God is not the object of our worship, then we spiral downward and get stuck in a pattern of reductionism. Idols don’t elevate anyone to reach their potential, which is fulfilling the image of God that lies within.

A second problem with idols is that God views it as spiritual adultery. The Old Testament prophets, for example, used adultery to describe Israel’s spiritual condition resulting from years of idolatry. One cannot help but read the book of Hosea and draw a word of warning from the metaphor of adultery that he presented to the people of God.

The first and second commandments (Exodus 20:3-5) remind the faithful that God is a jealous God. In my ministry I’ve spent more time than I’d care to think about talking with Christians who struggle with jealousy. Sometimes there is jealousy over a friendship. Other times its over a spouse’s friend or co-worker who happens to be a member of the opposite sex. I’ve even had a few conversations with husbands who struggle to adapt to the new baby in the household that shifts marital dynamics. As I reflect on those talks, it seems that there are two major reasons people are afflicted with jealousy. One is simply insecurity. When a person is insecure within himself or herself, jealousy is usually not far away. A second reason, however, that people are jealous is that they have just cause. In other words, the other person in the relationship, whether it be spouse or friend, acts in a manner that creates jealousy.

I don’t think God is jealous because he’s insecure. To think about an “insecure God” is frankly preposterous! Yet God is provoked to jealousy when we seek fulfillment, satisfaction and gratification from other sources. When we change direction and focus our worship on other objects, God’s jealousy is aroused. He demands exclusivity in his worship.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason that connecting with God feels like so much work is an indication that we have set up idols in our lives. Remember, God doesn’t enter bidding wars for our affection and devotion. As in Romans 1, when we give in to idols and give ourselves up to them, God will give us over to them.

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On Idols and Idolatry

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Ecclesiastes 3:10 says that “God has planted eternity in the human heart.” One of the things I think this communicates to us is that we have been created to worship. Within us lies the capacity to worship and the will to worship. So why do we struggle to connect with God? Why is it so hard for us to seek God and find God? We will worship. The question then is, “Who are we worshipping?” “What are we worshipping?”

I believe that one of the reasons we struggle in our attempts to connect with God is that we have allowed idols to creep into our lives. Without going into a lengthy definition, idolatry is giving our allegiance and affection to someone or something in order to gratify and satisfy our desires and fill the longings in our souls.

Idolatry was a problem throughout the Bible. From Genesis and the tower of Babel to Babylon the Great in Revelation, idolatry is a recurring theme. Those who read the Bible can see it clearly illustrated in the Kings of the Old Testament. There were good kings like David who wholeheartedly worshipped God. Don’t get me wrong, at times David was a rascal. But he never departed from his singular worship of God. Then there were kings like Solomon who tried to balance the worship of God with the worship of idols. By the end of his life he is duplicitous and jaded about life and God. Other kings were like Rehoboam, who abandoned God completely and exclusively worshipped idols. For hundreds of years, the people of God ebbed and flowed according to their worship practices. In fact, Israel struggled with idolatry until the inter-testamental period and their return from exile. Only then did Israel become truly monotheistic.

About now, you may be feeling the need to call a time-out. After all, who among us has an altar erected in their home or an asherah pole in the back yard? While we may not possess graven images complete with altars of sacrifice, the subtle temptation to possess idols is just as real today as it was for our Old Testament counterparts. The only difference is that our idols are far more sophisticated.

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Happy Anniversary!

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I suppose I’m the only one who kept track of the start date, but as hard as it is to believe, April 17 marks the one year anniversary of When I began this blog a year ago, my greatest concern was whether or not I’d stick with it. Interestingly enough, I’ve averaged a post every other day, which exceeded my original self imposed goal.

Beyond that, I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. In the past year I’ve had 2,255 visits from 827 unique visitors, who hail from 22 countries representing all seven continents. It’s a small world afterall!

For those of you who have visited, I appreciate you looking over my shoulder these past 12 months. I hope that you’ve been encouraged and inspired from my theological meanderings. May God bless you!

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The Goal of Simplicity (part 2)

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Simplicity is not to be pursued for the sake of simplicity. It is to be pursued for the sake of obtaining freedom for in life. What kind of freedom am I talking about?

First, there is the freedom that comes from having margin that can be used to help, bless and build others. The goal of simplicity is to set you free to live a missional Christian life in a world where you can make a difference for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Never forget that God blesses us to be a blessing to others. If you don’t have time or resources to invest in helping others, that is a sign something is amiss.

Second, simplicity is designed to set you free to enjoy the Shalom of God. The Old Testament concept of Shalom is more than a Hebrew greeting meaning “peace.” Shalom speaks of completeness, wholeness, and harmony. There are over 250 uses of Shalom in the Old Testament. More than 2/3 of those references directly link Shalom to the presence of God in one’s life. Shalom is a state of being that is fully at peace with God, others, and circumstances. Rather than live a life filled with duplicity, there is a unity and an integrity to one’s character and being. Wholeness does not come from spending all of your time working so that you can acquire more stuff to impress your friends and family. Wholeness comes when one is free. If you’ve had “enough,” maybe its time to think through how much is enough.

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The Goal of Simplicity

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The book, Simple Life, describes four areas where Americans struggle most. Those areas as I have previously mentioned are time, money, relationships, and connecting with God. As I thought about Rainer’s research and the list that was discovered, it occurred to me that the Ten Commandments cover the same essential content. The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20:3-17, and deal with
1. The exclusive worship of God and the rejection of idols;
2. The provision of rest through the declaration of Sabbath;
3. Prioritization of family established through honoring parents and spouse;
4. Material possessions are put into perspective as appropriate value is described.

So then, why were the Ten Commandments given in the first place? I believe the answer is found in the preamble to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.” (Exodus 20:2, NLT)

The Law was not given to be an end unto itself. The Law is not a set of rules established to restrict you or bind you. The Law was given to set you free, not to make you legalistic. Like the Law, simplicity can become a dangerous thing. Richard Foster calls simplicity the most public and outward of all spiritual disciplines. He adds that simplicity can be dangerous because it can easily become an end unto itself.

In my new series titled Enough, I want to examine what the Scriptures say about simplicity. Here’s the disclaimer: if we seek simplicity for the sake of simplicity, we’ll land in deep legalism. Simplicity cannot become an end unto itself. The end game cannot be for any other purpose than for the purpose of freedom. If simplicity becomes a point of pride, or if it’s used to elevate one’s self, or if it’s used to become a standard of judgment that is wielded against other people, then it has diminished into legalism. The goal of simplicity is not simplicity. The goal is freedom.

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