Keeping My Distance

14 11 2007

I was just reading and praying through Lk 17:11-19 where 10 lepers approach Jesus for healing and only one returns to say ‘thank you’ after having been healed.

The phrase which stood out to me was “They stood at a distance and called out...” Why would I linger over this phrase?

Of course, the lepers didn’t get close Jesus, they knew not to get close to anyone. Otherwise, they’d spread their disease.

So, they didn’t want to get Jesus (and his followers) sick, right? Or was there something else? What about me? How do I approach the Master for healing?

How often do I “keep my distance” – only getting close enough to shout out a request and (hopefully) get what I’m looking for? All too often.

Why? Am I afraid – as perhaps the lepers were – that I’ll pass my sickness on to the Lord? Or am I more afraid of the transformation that will happen to me?

Or – on an even more shallow and common level – am I just looking for blessing and not the One who gives it? Yeah, that’s probably closer to the truth.

Based upon the actions of the 9 who did not return thanks, my guess is they are a lot like me. They got close enough to Jesus to ask for what they wanted – healing from leprosy- and then went on with their lives. They weren’t looking for anything more.  Certainly, not a close relationship with Christ.  The classic “hit and run” request.

On the other hand, I think the one who returned thanks saw healing as a means to an end – not the end in and of itself. Maybe not at first, but it certainly didn’t take him long to realize there was more benefit to being clean than just being clean.

His healing allowed him to “throw himself at Jesus’ feet”. To be as close to the Master as possible. That’s the attitude I need to have.

When I look for healing grace so that I might draw closer to God, keeping my distance will no longer be a concern. It will become a fading habit.

Then, instead of keeping myself ‘safely’ away from Christ, I’ll be free to lose myself in Christ.


Hitting the Book

7 09 2007

Now that Tracey and the boys are back to school this week ”hitting the books,” I will have the home office all to myself at least 3 mornings a week. Today I decided that this new-found peace and quiet left with me no more excuses to not avoid hitting THE Book in personal Bible study. (As if I had any real excuses before hand!)

I’m planning to memorize a part of scripture each week using this list of “Fighter Verses”, meditate on that Scripture and pray over constant, long-term and short-term prayer requests.

This week’s verse is just what I need to hear.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest on me. — 2 Cor. 12-9

I’m excited about this new start and wanted to blog about it so as to help keep myself accountable. Feel free to ask me how it is going. It’ll help keep me on my toes.

U2: Worship

23 08 2007

If you ask me what my favorite band is, I’ll tell you that it is U2.

If you ask me what my favorite Christian band is, I’ll give you the same answer – U2.


Now, I know you won’t see U2 performing at the Dove Awards. And you definately won’t find them on tour with Stephen Curtis Chapman or Third Day. But, if you listen to their songs, you will find spiritual insights, professions of faith and unabashed quotes from Scripture. More importantly, you’ll hear conversations with God (and sometimes from the perspective of God) which express the raw emotions of a believer — joy, wonder, fear, doubt, love, anguish, intrigue, shame and surrender (to mention a few).

A few years ago, while doing survey work in Burkina Faso, some interns and I were passing the hours of travel in the truck by asking each other a bunch of hypothetical questions. One question went something like this: “If you could only listen to 2 musical artists, who would they be?” My answer was: U2 and Crosby, Stills & Nash. At this, one of the interns asked me, “How would you get fed (spiritually, I assumed)?”

The following playlist is my answer to that question.

It is a collection of U2 songs which feed me (and my family) spiritually and it is listed as U2: Worship on my iPod. Now, this playlist doesn’t include all of the U2 songs which contain references to faith, love, hope or even biblical scripture but each song moves me to worship God in its own unique way. Enjoy.

1. GraceAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

— Tracey loves this song and so do I. It sums up the bottom line of the Christian faith in poetic imagery. We should sing this song at church.

2. Mysterious WaysAchtung Baby

“To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal.
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!”

— Towards the end of the song is the lyric, “The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.” Very true.

3. All Because of You How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

“I’m alive
I’m being born
I just arrived, I’m at the door
Of the place I started out from
And I want back inside”

— This could be my absolute favorite U2 song for two reasons. 1) It flat out rocks and 2) it is a confessional worship song to the One who makes us who we are.

4. The Three SunrisesB-sides 1980-1990

“Spirit of the rising sun lift me up
Hold me there and never let me fall
Love me till I die, my heart won’t wait
Soon I will be loved…”

— An up-beat song with great harmony. I guess it could be considered a ‘stealth’ worship song as you need to listen to it a few times to catch the meaning. That okay though. It was, after all, on a B-side.

5. GloriaUnder A Blood Red Sky

In te domine
Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
I’d give it to you.”

— Hard to add anything to that. So much energy in this live version of the song.

6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking ForRattle and Hum

“You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

— U2 state that this was written as a gospel song and in the Rattle and Hum version it is sung like one. I used to struggle with the chorus line (and title)– does it express hope, disappointment, doubt – what? In the end, I think it is pretty honest expression of what most believers feel from time to time. “I’m searching, I believe but…I’m just not satisfied.” And I don’t believe we will be satisfied — or even should be — until we are glorified by Christ, in complete union with Him for eternity. (That doesn’t mean we should quit searching though!)

7. When I Look At The WorldAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“I can’t wait any longer
I can’t wait till I’m stronger
Can’t wait any longer
To see what you see
When I look at the world”

— I hear this song as psalm of lament. A prayer to God for the ability to see the good in the world. Amid all the brokenness, idolatry, pain and hurt – what is redeemable? We need God to help us see the world with his eyes.

8. The First TimeZooropa

“For the first time, I feel love”

— If you don’t know this song, look up the lyrics. (It was just too long for me to put them here.) From the Spirit (”lover”) to Christ (“brother”) to God (“father”), the song describes the relationship the believer has with the Trinity. It wraps up in ambiguity, with the believer “throwing away the key” to the keys of the heavenly mansion. But then the singer sings the line quoted above. More honest struggle with belief, rebellion and grace.  I’ve read that some church used this song was during its communion service.

9. Drowning ManWar

“Take my hand
You know I’ll be there
If you can
I’ll cross the sky for your love.”

— A love song from God. “Hold on,” he says to the drowning man (us). “My love lasts forever.” The imagery of God “crossing the sky” for our love — the incarnation — is stunning. Isaiah 40:31 is quoted at the end of the song.

10. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)Zooropa

“If I could stay, then the night would give you up.
Stay, and the day would keep its trust.
Stay, and the night would be enough.”

— Another love song from God. This time God is pursing us as the prostitute stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. If we would only listen, only call to him, only let him stay… My friend Paul Casner first introduced this interpretation of the song to me. Thanks, Paul. I can always use the reminder that God’s heart aches to be with me, if I will only let him.

11. Until The End Of The WorldAchtung Baby

“Waves of regret and waves of joy.
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you’d wait till the end of the world.”

— I loved the music of this song from the first listen. But, it blew my mind when I heard that it was sung from the perspective of Judas. Some may be uncomfortable with the open door left for even Judas return but that is how our God is. He waits and waits and waits, until the very last moment. Amazing.

12. YahwehHow To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

“Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart…
And make it break”

— Another song we should be singing in church! (It wouldn’t surprise me if some people already were.) A great song about surrender, repentance and anticipation of redemption. Plus Edge’s chiming guitar gives the song a classic U2 sound.

13. Window In The SkiesU218 Singles (Deluxe Version)

“The rule has been disproved
The stone it has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed”

— Amen! What has love done? Love has opened up heaven to us. That should make us smile and sing. If this song doesn’t do that for you, I don’t know what will.

14. Walk OnAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong”

— Whenever this song plays, I hear it as if the Lord is singing it to me. “Stay strong. Walk on. I know it is hard. Believe me, I know. But, you’ll make it home. Remember that love is the only thing that matters in this life.” The emotions this song evokes in me usually bring me to tears. It’s that meaningful.

15. 40Under A Blood Red Sky

“I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay.”

— U2 has joked that this song is titled “40” because it took only 40 minutes to write, rehearse and record. That may or may not be true. What I do know is that King David originally wrote these lyrics in Psalm 40.

“All the best songs are co-written by God, y’know!” — Bono



A Reminder on Worship

7 08 2007

For about a year now, I’ve been reading through Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy. It usually doesn’t take me that long to get through a book, but this isn’t the kind of book you can read in bed or while sitting on the toilet (the two places where I get the bulk of my reading done nowadays).

The Divine Conspiracy is a rich, challenging, spiritually deep volume, full of truths which have made me think long and hard about how I view the Kingdom of God. Willard uses Matthew 5-7, “The Sermon on the Mount”, as the scriptural foundation for the book and he does an outstanding job walking the reader through Jesus’ gospel of the Kingdom. Since I’ve started reading this book – and teaching Matt. 5-7 out in the villages – much of Willard’s arguments, explanations and points have found their way into my spiritual consciousness (as well as those lessons).

Suffice it to say, I highly recommend this book.

So what does this have to do with worship? Well, I’m finally into the last couple of chapters of the book which try to give readers a framework for actually living their lives within the Kingdom and what Willard says about worship really struck me. Here it is (emphases are mine):

To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them.

In worship we are ascribing greatness, goodness, and glory to God. It is typical of worship that we put every possible aspect of our being into it, all of our sensuous, conceptual, active, and creative capacities.

In worship we strive for adequate expression of God’s greatness. But only for a moment, if ever do, do we achieve what seems like adequacy. We cannot do justice to God or his Son or his kingdom or his goodness to us.

Worship nevertheless imprints on our whole being the reality that we study. The effect is a radical disruption of the powers of evil in us and around us. Often an enduring and substantial change is brought about. And the renewal of worship keeps the glow and power of our true homeland an active agent in all parts of our being. To “hear and do” in the atmosphere of worship is the clearest, most obvious and natural thing imaginable. (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 363)

Wow. Did I ever need to hear that!

For a good while now, worship has been routine, rote and even stale to me. How did this come to be? Maybe, somewhere along the line, the feeling of inadequacy caused me to give up the pursuit of expressing God’s greatness in worship. Maybe I’ve allowed my focus to wander from seeking His face. Or maybe I’ve just grown lazy and complacent. Whatever the true reason is, it is probably a combination of “all-the-above” and then some.

How I need to allow a “renewal of worship” in my life! How I need to the “glow and power of the Homeland” as “an active agent” in my life! May God grant me the grace and humility to be brought back to that place. The place where I worship Him with every aspect of my being, seeking to tell Him in any and every way possible how great He really is.

With this little reminder, at least He’s got me looking in the right direction.

The Parable of the Naked Cyclist

16 11 2006

I don’t think anyone will complain about there being no pictures with this post…

And the teacher told them this story: “One day a man was visited by his neighbor who had come to see if he could borrow the man’s bicycle. The neighbor had an important purchase to make in the market of a larger village that was some miles away and was hoping to cut the time of the trip from 3 hours to 1 hour.

“After greeting the man, the neighbor said to him, ‘Friend, I would like to ask to borrow your bicycle. I have an important errand to run in town and would like to get back before dark. May I use your bike?’

“The man was more than willing to lend his bicycle to his neighbor, but he couldn’t help but notice that his visitor had absolutely no clothing on. So he said to the neighbor, ‘Of course you can borrow my bicycle. But, tell me, you do plan to put some clothes on before you head to the market, don’t you?’

“The neighbor shook his head and replied, ‘Well, I don’t have any clothes to put on. I’m going to market just as you see me.’”

Then the teacher asked them, “What would you do if you were this man? Would you lend your neighbor your bicycle and let him go his way, naked?”

“No,” many of them replied. “We would give him some clothes first.”

“But he did not ask for clothes, he asked to borrow the bike,” said the teacher. “Why would you give him clothes instead?”

And they answered, “We would give him the clothes because the clothes are more important.”

Then the teacher asked them another question, “Is this neighbor wise or foolish?”

“He is foolish,” they replied, almost in unison.

“You are correct,” the teacher said. “He is foolish because did not ask for what he needed the most and instead set out to something that would bring shame to himself, his family and his village.”

“But, you see,” the teacher continued. “This is exactly what most of us do when we come to before God to ask Him for help. We stand there and ask Him for all kinds of things which are good and legitimate needs (like the bicycle), but they are not what we are most desperately in need of!

“We ask God to heal the sick. We ask Him to help us evangelize our friends and family. We ask Him spread His Kingdom throughout the world. We ask Him to help us start up new ministries which will bless the poor. We even ask Him to make us better people.

“But if we seek to do these things without that which is most important, we are like the man who planned to ride his bicycle to the market, naked.”

“What we really should be asking for, what we really need more than anything, what we need to have before we can think about doing anything else is this…

“a living, intimate knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.”

And this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent – John 17:3

Lord, help us to truly know you before all other things.. Amen.

Prayer Walk

1 05 2006

A few weeks ago, during the Kabiye “All-Church Retreat”, I had what is to date, the most exciting and inspiring experience of my short missionary career. It came during the time we split up into small groups and went on a prayer walk. The group I was in consisted of three men, 2 women and 2 teenage girls.

During the prayer walk, we moved between different stations and were led in prayer at each station by a different Kabiye church leader. We prayed prayers of praise to God, out loud, one by one. We also prayed quietly together for the spread of God’s Kingdom in Kabiyeland.

At one station, the leader gave us a great word of encouragement followed by a short prayer. At another, we shared personal prayer requests which were then prayed over. We prayed for spiritual strength and protection, for the defeat of Satan and for the healing of the sick. We also prayed for unity. We prayed.

It struck me during this prayer walk, as I prayed with these Kabiye brothers and sisters, that each of them was from a different Kabiye church. What’s more, none of the churches represented had been planted solely by any of the missionaries. (Each work involved other Kabiye Christians and at least two of the churches were planted by the Kabiye Christians themselves.)

I was amazed, humbled and greatly encouraged all at the same time. The amazement came from the fact that it was even possible to put together such a relatively large and diversified group of Christians at this stage in the Kabiye work. (The 7 other prayer walk groups were just as big and varied.) I could hardly believe it was true. It seemed more like a dream.

(It is a little embarrassing to confess that while I’ve talked and dreamed of ‘bringing the Kabiye to Christ’, I don’t think I ever had a true vision – or idea – of what that would actually look like. Finally, I had caught a glimpse. It was awesome!)

How humbling it is to think that God was using imperfect, fragile beings like myself and my teammates to help this movement grow! Every day, I realize a bit more how little I know and how much bigger this work is than ourselves. Yet, God is really moving and working; turning our baby steps of faith into leaps and bounds of glory. Amazing!

Overall, I couldn’t help be encouraged to see these brothers and sisters – complete strangers to each other, and Christ, a few short years or months before – united in prayer before the One Lord and Savior. They have come so far in so little time. Imagine what all of this will look like 5, 10, 50, 100 years from now!

Who knows if you’ll ever be able to participate in something like this in Kabiyeland yourself. I hope so. But if not, don’t be too disappointed, I’m guessing you’ll get to share plenty of amazing, humbling and exciting times such as these (and many, many more) with our Kabiye brothers and sisters in heaven.

Amazing How It All Fits Together!

3 01 2006

Over the past few months, I’ve been praying through various scriptures to help focus my thoughts. Recently, I discovered that three of the passages I’d been praying separately – Psalm 119:36-7, 133, 41; 1 John 2:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-4 – fit together amazingly well.

Having been blessed by praying these passages together as one piece, I’d like to share them with you in that form. Maybe you’ll find some blessing in them as well!

Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, the boast of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.

Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.

May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Psalm 119:36-7, 133, 41 – text in italics
1 John 2:14 – normal text
1 Thessalonians 5:23-4 – bold text