Godawful!

17 Dec

My heart is heavy (as I know is many of yours) at the godawful tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and at the home of the dead assassin whose own mother was his first murder. Shock, anger and a profound sadness all do battle with the gospel of Jesus in me. The shock is due to the overwhelming sickness and cowardice of the act, including the killer killing himself. Where is blame to be put? You won’t find me pointing any fingers. I find that an exercise in futility-an after the fact attempt to deflect the horror away from my heart and mind and soul-a way to quickly remove myself from the equation. That would be deceitful, and I loathe what happens to me when I attempt to deceive myself. The anger too is natural and unavoidable if we want to maintain mental health, but impotent as it has no viable focus that promises satisfaction or real change. And all the gospel offers is Jesus.

Will I again take him to heart and live him out in this dark dark hour? When Jesus told a crowd of fair weather followers that to follow him they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, many turned away from him in disgust. He turned to those he had most counted on-the twelve-and said, will you go too? Peter, who was always the quickest to speak for the twelve, said to Jesus, “To whom shall we go? You are the one who has the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) It was Peter’s way of saying, you sometimes make it hard to stick with you, Jesus, with your “my way of the highway”, love at all costs with everyone in every situation ways. Every situation? Even this one? Every one? Even that one? At all costs? Can you really ask us to stay with you on the love path at this heavy heavy cost? But then, where else would we go? Who else but you is more trustworthy? Who else but you knows what it takes to make life work?”

So easy or not, we cannot give into the darkness and even in our hearts or minds join it-take up it’s hatred-give in to it’s hopelessness-take the place of God by taking matters into our own hands. Well, of course we can-but then we would have to leave Jesus behind to do it. For today-right now-in me-it’s hard, but not as hard as hell. For today-right now-the gospel wins. I’m sticking with Jesus. And damn, it hurts.

The Lord’s Prayer (not the one you think)

19 Nov

Yesterday as the Heartsong tribe gathered for celebration, we spent time and heart hearing the Lord pray for us (John 17). What an amazing concept-that the Lord of the universe, to whom prayer of just pure praise is due from us with every word we ever speak, would pray for us-for you. And what a prayer! The most humbling and awe inspiring parts of it are when we get to overhear what he says to our Daddy about us. He says we bring him glory. How can that be possible? He says he sends us out into the world just as our Daddy sent him into the world. Just as? He prays that we would be one just as he and our Daddy are one. Just as? Jesus says he wants us to “see”, that is know to the depths of our being that our Daddy loves us as much as our Daddy loves him. As much as?

I don’t know about you, but what Jesus says about me and prays for me is too much for my feeble mind and dark heart and tainted soul to take in. It overwhelms me, dwarfs me, humbles me utterly and inspires me fiercely! I can’t take it in. What I do take in staggers me. I can’t take it in. The only hope I have is to by God live it out-to fake it until I make it-to keep at it until there is nothing left to me. My singular allegiance is to Jesus; any other allegiance is ancillary to that. Yes, I take it personally; I take Jesus personally. To take him any other way is not to really take him at all. It is only to be merely taken with him.

What the heck about tithing?

29 Oct

Misunderstandings and questions usually arise when the topic turns to tithing. “Is it tithing whenever I put anything in the offering plate?” I’ve seen a commitment card filed out where a couple checked they were tithing, and said they gave $25 per week. If they genuinely were tithing that would mean their combined annual income (both of them were employed) was $13,000. One was a plant manager and the other a school administrator. They were either being extremely poorly underpaid, or they misunderstood just what tithing is. Tithing is a certain amount; 10% of whatever we receive invested in the cause of Jesus through the church with whom he has led you to serve. “Is it 10% of gross income or net?” For me, its net-which is what I actually receive. Others tithe their gross, but I see no reason to argue about it. Tithing net or gross will show your love for the Lord, your dedication to his cause and your faith in him to provide for all your needs.
“Isn’t tithing just an Old Testament thing?” Tithing did start in the Old Testament-way back in the beginning. And throughout the Old Testament it is taught as the standard for what the Lord wants from us to invest together on his cause.
“But Jesus never said anything about tithing.” Three things about Jesus and tithing: 1. He was there when the idea of tithing was first shared with the people of God-way back in the Old Testament. Jesus was on earth in flesh and blood for 30+ years, but he eternally existed in the unity of God-Father, Son & Holy Spirit. 2. He didn’t say a lot about anything that had been clearly communicated by God-things like not killing people, and not having affairs and not wanting what other people have or not worshiping idols. Tithing was one of those things clearly communicated by God. 3. Actually he did say something about tithing. He said you do well to do it (Luke 2:42).
“Should I tithe savings or just whatever I receive going forward?” If you feel led to tithe what you have saved, then by all means do so, but I believe the Lord is fine with us beginning the practice with our very next paycheck and keeping at it. Those living a Jesus centered life understand that we get a fresh start at following Jesus anytime we need it. To me, tithing is one of those fresh start things.
“Is it OK if I give some of my tithe to the church and some to other charitable organizations?” For my money no other organization spends 100% on the cause of Jesus, or is specifically empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. I feel led to give the full 10% to the church with whom I serve and then give beyond that to other causes as led by the Lord to do so.
“Am I a bad person if I don’t tithe?” There are many reasons why people decide not to tithe, but being bad probably isn’t one of them. Tithing is not a matter of being good or bad (Jesus said only God is good). It is a matter of showing our love and trust to God.
“What if I just don’t have the faith to jump in for the full 10%?” Tithing as a component of our entire faith is a journey. Some have the faith to leap right in, others may feel led to first learn how to make room for it in their finances, for still others what seems to work best is to choose a percentage (1%,3%, 5%) and give that every time they get paid. And then when nudged by the Lord to do so, move up a percentage.
You don’t have to agree with me on this (or anything else) but I believe everyone can tithe-right now-no matter what. I believe that because I don’t believe the Lord would ask that of us if we were unable to do it. It’s not that we are unable to do it; it’s that we are unwilling to do it. If you want to try that principle on I encourage you to take Heartsong’s 3 Month Try Tithing Money Back Guarantee.
Here’s how it works: you check on the response card at one of celebrations that you want to take on the 3 Month Try Tithing thing (or you can call or email Jathaniel or me about it). We will take the difference between what you have been giving and your tithe and bank it for 3 months. We will not touch it. Jathaniel and I will pray for you everyday of the 3 months. If at the end of that time you do not feel you have been blessed for having done it, the tribe will refund your money. Just contact me or Jathaniel to let us know you want to take on that challenge. This is no joke; I mean it. I’m convinced that if you try tithing for 3 months you will grow deeper in your love for God, grow deeper as a Jesus follower, open your heart and mind to receive more from your relationship with God than you have previously known and experience deep down soul satisfaction in funding the cause of Jesus on this earth. And if I’m wrong about that I am more than willing to refund your money. OK, now that I’ve laid out some stuff about tithing I would love to hear your questions and comments. Holler back.

Holiness

15 Oct

Boy that title really grabbed you, didn’t it? Yawn. I read a post by a preacher last week pondering how difficult it is to preach on holiness without sounding self-righteous. What I immediately knew is that he suffered from a misunderstanding of just what holiness is. The message from yesterday at Heartsong (about being adventure capitalists instead of being self-centered venture capitalists) was based in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. In that Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament in the Bible after the four stories of the life and teaching of Jesus) talked about holiness. In writing to Jesus followers he said God “made you holy by means of Jesus Christ.” You see, holiness is not some accomplishment we can attain; it’s not being less of a sinner than our spouse-insert smiley face here). If the word “holiness” reminds you of the word, “wholeness” it should. The only being who is whole in themselves is God. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty-God in three persons-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For you and I holiness is a matter of being rightly related. What makes us holy (whole) is not being less of a sinner than our spouse, but being rightly related to Jesus. When we enter into and stay at our own personal relationship of love and trust with him we are whole (holy). It’s not hard at all to talk about holiness without being self-righteous. My self being right or doing the right things has nothing to do with my (or your) holiness. It has everything to do with only being whole when we are connected in love and trust with the Lord.

The Give and Take of Worship

3 Oct

Worship is not something only for Sundays, or when first getting up or lying down, or before you eat, or when you managed to dodge that deer.  In Romans 12:1 Paul says, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.”  It’s hardly possible to hear someone plead with us to give our bodies without remembering how the Lord gave his, however, Paul is not saying that you and I need to die a horrible death in order to worship God.  What he is saying is that worship is an ongoing lifestyle of give and take with Jesus.  

In recent weeks we’ve been experiencing that give and take in the celebrations.  We focus on the Lord’s presence together-through the act of assembling, through song and prayer, and in the midst of all that the Spirit stirs in us-calling us to places of comfort and joy, change and growth.  We sing some more and pray and the Lord responds within our hearts and minds.  We open our lives to the bible and hear a message brought by one of our tribe that the Lord uses to speak into our lives specifically.  We respond with offerings of our financial support and decisions to take on specific acts in order to grow deeper and wider in our relationship with God and each other.  That pattern we engage in our weekly celebrations is the way we continue to live with God as we go onto our specific mission fields with the friends, relatives, associates, neighbors and strangers whose paths we cross-those to whom the Lord will send us specifically.

The way we do that is to stay ever true to why we exist (which is to reach out to the unreached and grow Jesus followers, what we do (help others sing the song God has planted in their hearts) and how we do it (Get it-download Jesus, Got it-embrace your heartsong, Go-sing it out loud), using the aspects of the Jesus centered life as the check list for how closely we are following Jesus.  That is our worship; that is what the Lord “will find acceptable”.

By the way, no one came to me on Sunday and asked “why do I need to fill out a response card with my name and email address every Sunday?”  But just in case you are wondering, here’s why: One reason is because it is a moment in which your heart and mind open up to hearing what response the Lord will want from you that day.  The other reason is that when you do it, everyone around you (especially newcomers) sees you do it, and feels more comfortable doing it themselves.  It is a way to reach out to the unreached (them) and grow Jesus followers (them-and you).  

Making the world bigger

13 Sep

Wednesday morning I, along with my good friend Yasir Qadhi, were interviewed on the Eye on Memphis radio show hosted by Lexie Carter and Cheri DelBrocco on KWAM, 990 in Memphis. Of course, we shared a lot with them about the loving relationship between Heartsong and the Memphis Islamic Center. I didn’t know Yasir was part of the interview until he walked in the door. What a joy! Our time on the program was scheduled weeks ago, and it was only on the drive to the station that I learned what had happened at the embassy in Libya. We both shared our views about everything asked, and while I was thinking of my answers and waiting my turn to speak I was also struck by the vast wealth of knowledge, deep understanding and creative way of expression possessed by Sheik Qadhi. I was both teacher and student, and as a student I was fascinated by what Yasir was saying and how he was saying it. And I found myself being deeply grateful to God for nudging me out of my comfort zone-really out of being paralyzed by fear and ignorance to reach out a hand of neighborly love to our Muslim neighbors next door at MIC. Had I not, my experience of this life would have been much poorer, much more narrow in understanding, and I would have missed knowing so many wonderful generous kind and loving people. My world would have been much more provincial; much more parochial; much smaller. My world will never be as vast and wonderful and deep and wide as the actual world. But never do I, nor you, have to settle for keeping our world the size it already is. God is ever ready to introduce us to new people with new ways and new ideas that will expand our world. All we have to do is smile, say a word of greeting, reach out a hand-and watch and listen, learn and grow.

Welcome to the table

6 Sep

Hey All you Heartsong faithful! I guess if there is going to be a “Steve’s blog” button on the table I need to blog something more often than once a year. Honestly, I set out to be a frequent blogger, but find myself getting caught up in so much “tyranny of the urgent” that I don’t get to it as much as I want to. And then there is the issue of me (occasionally) saying something provocative and before you know it folks are taking off on what I’ve (innocently-ha!) said and I totally lose control of the discussion. But actually I do like to stir things up. What I like to stir are ideas and “facts” that are taken for granted as central to the “Christian” life when in fact they have no biblical basis-no grounding in the life and teaching of Jesus. I’m his man. Though I find other purposes in life, none of them are as important as following him and all of the other purposes I have are not worth having unless they are a subset of following him. That goes for parenting, grandparenting, being a good life partner to Mary or anything else. That’s enough for now. I’ll try to check in more than once a year. :>)