26 July 2010

What would make St Columba happy?

Last week, we were in Edinburgh, Scotland just sight seeing. 

Coming out of the train station, we walked over to the park on Princes Street.  I looked up at the statue of David Livingston and grinning at Phyllis I said, "Dr. Livingston, I presume." 

Silly. But David Livingston is kind of a hero for all missionaries, isn't he?  He went to Africa and in his very 19th Century way took the Gospel to the "Dark Continent."  He forsook all to take Good News to the heart of a continent. Most folks don't remember him - probably not even Scots - by he was led by his convictions to be a world changer.

But I think the most  St Columba's Free Churchfun I had in Edinburgh was a conversation with an older Scottish gent at St Columba's Free Church on Victoria Street in the very heart of Edinburgh.  The building was built in 1845 in the middle of The Great Disruption that saw congregations break away from the Church of Scotland. But the congregation still exists and according to my friend has about 140 people present each Sunday for the worship service.

But here's the inside success story:  most of the congregants are students from all over the world who have come to Edinburgh to study.  Although churches around the corner - older and with a longer history - have closed and are now tourist information centers and pubs, St Columba's continues filled with noisy enthusiastic students mingling with old bright-eyed Scots.  And in the beautiful sanctuary flanking an ornate (and I mean ornate!) carved pulpit, there are video screens for songs and Scripture.

"The problem with having so many students," my friend continued, "Is that we have a new congregation every three years.  But we hope they take something they get from us with them."

My tour-guide friend, who has been attending this church for over 40 years following his move from Lewis Island up North, says they are beginning discussion about planting another congregation in another part of the city.

St Columba would be proud. I'm just saying.

21 July 2010

Feeling God's Pleasure...

We are still in Scotland...

Saturday we attended the Loch Lomand Highland Games at Balloch, Scotland.  It was a great day of fun and real Scottish cross-cultural experience. Highland Games2 10These were real Scots participating in Scottish heritage not Scottish-wanna-bes.  (Although a friend of mine says: There are two kinds of people in the world - Scots and those who wish they were)

There were lots of people, a lot of mud (it rains a lot in Scotland) and bagpipe music filled the air as multiple bands played and practiced in all directions.

The games were mostly held in a relatively flat area called The Arena. It was an elliptical area cordoned off from the general area by sectional metal barriers.  The Arena itself was then divided into sections: to the left was an area where numerous Pipe Bands (bagpipes and drums) were judged in competition. They all sounded great to me!  They marched into the Arena playing; they circled around the bass drum and played a selection or two and then they marched out playing. 

To the right of the Arena there was an athletic competition area where kilted big-muscled men tossed the caber, threw the hammer, put the shot and wrestled.  There was an international championship being decided in some sort of heavyweight division. Around it all was a track where competitions of bicycle races alternated with foot races. 

As I stood leaning on the rail, the astonishing sounds of bagpipes and drums filling the air, a light muck of Scottish mud beneath my feet and an oatmeal biscuit (cookie) in my pocket left from lunch, I heard the loudspeaker say in a thick Scottish brogue, "Ready, set..." and then the crack of the starter's pistol shot!  In my mind I was taken back to a scene in the movie Chariots of Fire.

Chariots3It was at Highland Games like the one we were attending, where Eric Liddle, wrestling with his call to cross-cultural missions says, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." 

And I'm concerned that many people never actually feel God's pleasure in anything they do.  I'm concerned that for many church is a drudgery, their job a dulling necessity, their family a boring reality and feeling God's pleasure something for others.  Perhaps something of a religious mythology, but not for them.

Many Believers feel only that "falling short" kinda feeling and miss out on the pleasure side.  And I'm pretty sure that it's because they've never known how to feel God's pleasure.  They've never known how because they were never told that they should and could expect to please God.

And I know it's only a movie and a sanitized rendition of history, but the best line in the movie is when Eric says, "When I run I feel His pleasure."  What a powerful testimony of grace.  Now, I've never run far enough or well enough to feel His pleasure in running. But I can say that often when I speak and often when I challenge others to greatness and when I engage others in worldview-shifting conversation, I feel His pleasure.  It's that deep, deep sense that God is pleased with me.  And of course, when I feel that pleasure, I am humbled.  I sense that somehow, what I've done has pleased God. 

But it also feels good.  Really really good to sense His pleasure.

Anyway, while I stood there in Balloch amid all the grandeur of Scottish culture, I was reminded of a Scotsman who felt God's pleasure and was challenged to make sure that others felt and understood it too.

So go ahead, indulge yourself.  Do something that pleases God.  Enjoy.

09 July 2010

Conversation about the family business...

I'm grieved when I hear people talk about God as if He were some distant immovable object to be assaulted by our prayers until He somehow, yet unwillingly, changes His position.  Sort of some celestial rock/blob that must be moved.

I'm pretty sure that prayer is supposed to be an intimate conversation among shareholders in the family business.  The Father's business - as it's been explained to me - is the expansion of His influence of blessings and reconciliation in the world.  We call it The Kingdom, since that is the space where what God the Father wants done is actually done.  The "bottom line" of the Kingdom business ledger is in several columns: People Blessed, Lives Changed, People Healed, Dreams Revived, New Partnerships Floated, etc. 

We spend time chatting in our daily quiet time. I drink coffee and read from The Book - The Family Story. Reading The Book helps me understand how the family related to their world and circumstances in the past.  I read how my ancestor David sang songs to the Father.  I read how my spiritual relative Isaiah listened to the the Father and knew how Jesus was coming to suffer as a servant both for The Family and also for those who were not family-members.

My elder brother, whom I love and admire paid a big price for the business to open up a new market in the earth.  He flung open the doors!  He is my example.  He listened to what Father said and watched what Father did and followed Father's instruction to a "T." Great results, but at a great price.

Because of what Jesus did, I am part of the family today.  I was born of the Spirit and adopted in all at the same time.

And when Father and I chat, as the son responsible for a small part of the business/Kingdom, I make requests that are useful to the part for which I have responsibility.  I express needs.  I express hopes.  I express aspirations.  I ask The Father show me where he wants me to go.  I ask Him to assist me in getting there and ask Him to talk to those I'm going to be with before hand so that we're on the same page.

Often He reminds me of places, people and ideas we have previously discussed.  (I forget things He says!  And things written in The Book!  Yikes!  Why is that?  How dumb...)  I ask Him to open doors - that only He can open - so that I might walk through them.  I ask Him to help me network with the people He's chatting with already.  I ask Him to guide me with His Father-presence wherever I am and whatever I'm doing.  And I remind Him that I'm working to do this for Him and not for me.

Because He is my Father and we work together and because I love Him, I serve Him.  I want to be useful to Him and His personal desires as well as the business goals we have.  I do labor, I do work, but not as some employee or servant.  I labor as a son with a vested interest in the business.  When I succeed, the business succeeds; when the business succeeds, I am successful.

I attempt to anticipate His wants and desires in advance.  Not because I'm afraid of His wrath, but because I my only real fear is that I might displease Him with an attitude, motive or action.

Prayer is about a chat, an on-going conversation about  the things that are on my heart and the things that are on His heart.

06 July 2010

How to walk on the edge and not fall over…

A friend of mine recently grieved over the falling away of several prime leaders who had chosen – in his words – to walk “too close to the edge”. Therefore, he lamented, we must walk safely and not get “too close to the edge.”

He knows that when we fall we take a lot of people with us.

True. So true. So how do we walk on the edge safely? But first, should we actually “walk on the edge?”

Jesus walked on the edge. We are called to follow Jesus. So if we’re following Jesus – at least in theory – we should be on the edge.

And Jesus was out among sinners. And sinners sin and often congregate to sin with other sinners. So if we follow Jesus, we will find ourselves among sinners sinning. And of course unless we are very strong and intentional, we will find that we are tempted to sin as well.

Since we all have a heritage of sinning, it’s hard to break the habits, mind-set and frustrations that sin has produced. And for most of us we have specific areas where sin is easiest and most prevalent. Some things are tempting for some and other things are tempting for others. But we’re all tempted. And we are weak and vulnerable.

Actually, we need edge-walkers. A lot of edge-walkers! We in the church need some people to take a new perspective and get on the edge. But so often we require edge-walkers to be loners and self-supported. They lack relational safety nets and consequently fall over the edge.

So how do we walk on the edge safely? Here are some ideas:

  • Maintain a core of quality relationships.
    • We all know that it’s all about relationships, but maintaining them requires intentionality. Real relationships of quality and trust don’t just happen. Even those relationships we consider “born in heaven” require care and feeding. (Someone should write a book – “The Care and feeding of Relationships”)
    • Many people feel that they have quality relationships, but really they have relationships of convenience.
      • A relationship of convenience is one that requires little and cost nothing.
      • A relationship of convenience is about fun and not about growth. (Quality relationships can have an element of fun, but they at their core are about growth.)
    • A quality relationship is one of mutual respect that requires escalating transparency and honesty.
    • A quality relationship says, "Show me and I will follow. Ask me and I will tell you. Confide in me and I will listen. Expect of me and I will deliver."
    • The core of quality relationships most often contain some the strategic outsiders who can speak into our lives for correction and adjustment.
  • Make yourself accountable.
    • Accountability relationships are ones you make yourself. No one can actually make you accountable to them. By saying “I’d like you to question my motives and actions” you open yourself up for true change.
    • Accountability is a nasty word for some. They see it as “jot and tittle” bean-counting of actions. They have a bad history of “accountability” and accountability groups. But accountability means allowing others accessibility to our actions and our hearts. And in our hearts are our motives and attitudes. To be accountable is to be vulnerable on a level that is often uncomfortable.
  • Know your limitations.
    • Few people are willing to acknowledge that they even have limitations, much less have a genuine knowledge of what they are.
    • If greed is a problem, then stay away from it. If drunkenness is a temptation, then avoid drinking. If glamour and “spotlight” are temptations, then don’t go there emotionally, physically or mentally. When one says, “I’m not strong enough to go into a strip club to evangelize” they’re not displaying weakness, they’re displaying wisdom. They’re displaying a self-knowledge that allows them to give of themselves without compromising themselves.
    • Knowledge and acknowledgement of limitations helps set vision and give focus.
  • Know your strengths and use them to manage your weaknesses.
    • While weaknesses are often glaring, strengths are often subtle.
    • Most people spend eons and tons of energy attempting to turn weakness into strengths. Mostly can’t be done. But when we recognize our strengths and our weaknesses, we are able to use the things we are strong in to manage the things we are weak in.
    • Use your strengths to manage your weaknesses.

We as God’s church need to find ways to support those who walk on the edge so that they don’t fall over. And we need to acknowledge that their particular brand of edge-walking might be God’s best for them – even if it’s not for us.

And walking on the edge is not really an option. But a mandate.

04 July 2010

Travel in the 21st century is always a trip...

So I woke up this morning in Scotland...

Travel in the 21st century is always a trip.  We started in Pensacola on a flight filled (to overflowing) with young Marines and Sailors.  A noisy boisterous bunch on weekend liberty and headed to connections in Atlanta.  And, the plane gets grounded.  It had flow in from Atlanta with warning lights because of some engine problems. So after an hour delay they grounded it. 

Unhappy Marines.  Unhappy Sailors.  But light at the end of the tunnel! A spend-the-night-in-Pensacola-Delta flight arrived and they decided to put us on it.  The Marines and Sailors are happy, but still a little up set that they will miss the connections taking them home - as one guy said - to where "mama has dinner on the table."

But the pilot comes out and says, "Guys, I'm the pilot of this craft and I feel your pain.  I'm 21 years in the Marines and I want you guys to get where you need to be.  So I'm authorizing my copilot to fly 'at the speed of heat." I'm telling him as soon as the tower gives us the okay, that he's gonna fly it like he stole it and get us into Atlanta! Semper fi!" 

So we took off with the echoing Hoo-Ha's and cheers hanging in the air!  And made it to Atlanta in less than half and hour.

Travel in the 21st century is always a trip.