Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Grow Up!

Today Warren reminds us that we are called to grow in our faith. Unfortunately a lot of people simply grow older, but not so much in maturity, especially not spiritual maturity. Warren asserts that is most likely due to the fact then never really ever intended to grow. He goes on to say, "Spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing... Jesus calls us, and we respond: 'Come, be my disciple,' Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.'"

For those who are concerned about this notion of having to do something, or decision theology, Warren goes on to refer to Philippians 2:12-13 saying, "This verse, written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. It does not say "work for" your salvation, because you can't add anything to what Jesus already did. During a physical 'workout,' you exercise to develop your body, not to get a body."

The chapter ends reminding us that we need to change our auto pilot, the way we think. By sheer will power we can effect change, for a little while. However, if we don't change our base way of thinking we will be back to way were. We can willpower ourselves to follow a diet or start an exercise program. We might even last for a while, but unless we change the way we think we will eventually drop the diet and return to the couch. I can see that now with my running. I've got some really strong willpower and have used it to complete a number of marathons. I still need to adjust my mindset if running is going to continue as a consistent part of my life. The same is true if I intend to grow as a Christian. I need to repent and change my mindset so that I'm "programmed" to grow.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Created to Become Like Christ

Today, Warren talks about being created to become like Christ. He reminds us that we were created in God's image. What does it mean to you that you were created in God's image?

He brings us back to the old expression, "Like Father like Son." It speaks to how Christ is so very like God. As God's children it speaks to us as well, I think. Still, Warren reminds that we were not created to be gods or to become gods. Put those two thoughts together and I got to thinking about how we try and become like gods, feeling entitled to create our own destiny. Our desire to become gods, I think, is most often manifested today in our worship of our children. It is good to love our children, to give them what they need, but I think we go beyond that. The way we traipse around to their games and tournaments, rearranging our life for the sake of kids (even if it means giving up worship time or serving God through the church). It is scary. None of us, really, are immune to it. We were guilty just this past weekend. We allowed Mother's Day to be usurped by Senior Recognition.

For those who want to be critical of "The Purpose Driven Life" they often attack at it being some sort of Christian self-help book. Yet, I don't think it can be characterized with the kind of superficiality that is implied by such critiques. In a number of places Warren has warned against that sort of behavior. Today's chapter especially reminds us that life is hard. And he leaves us with this thought, "Sadly, a quick review of many popular Christian books reveals that many believers have abandoned living for God's great purposes and settled for personal fulfillment and emotional stability. That is narcissism, not discipleship. Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives."


Has anybody else been dreaming of fish lately?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Protecting Your Church

Today Rick Warren talks about unity in the church, but I think the best word he used was "harmony." I think that is more fitting of what he is going after. In music the best music has different notes all playing together at the same time. They are different, but moving together, in some ways moving towards the same goal. That is the image I have of the church.

The problem seems to be that we so naturally focus on the negatives, focus on our differences, instead of focusing on what we have in common and what is going well. It is easy for us to look and see that we are little behind financially here at church, but why not celebrate that our attendance and giving is up (quite significantly) from last year and years past. We worry more about how other congregations worship and run their congregation and less time celebrating the number of people worshiping Jesus on a given Sunday. Perhaps it is unrealistic expectations of the church. Perhaps we forget there is no perfect church.

In talking about being realistic Warren says:
"People become disillusioned with the church for many understandable reasons. The list could be quite long: conflict, hurt, hypocrisy, neglect, pettiness, legalism, and other sins. Rather than being shocked and surprised, we must remember that the church is made up of real sinners, including ourselves. Because we're sinners, we hurt each other, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally....Reconciliation, not running away, is the road to stronger character and deeper fellowship...
...Groucho Marx was famous for saying he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would let him in. If a church must be perfect to satisfy you, that same perfection will exclude you from membership, because you're not perfect!"

There is no perfect church, but we can most certainly strive to work together, to live in harmony.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Restoring Broken Fellowship

Maybe this chapter could have been alternately titled, "Peace Making 101". We all like peace, the idea at least. However, very few actively seek it or work for it. God calls us to seek peace, to restore broken relationships. You need to be tough. When I think of peace makers the first name I usually think of is Martin Luther King, Jr. He was one tough son of a gun. He didn't back down. He fought for what was right. He didn't avoid conflict, he entered into it. We are called to do the same. It takes listening, empathizing, confession, cooperation, and being proactive. It means reconciling, seeking healing, and not simply trying to find a resolution, something to simply calm the waters. We all have broken relationships. We all can see brokenness around us in our lives. Where are you called to bring peace?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cultivating Community

Being part of community, genuine community, is tough stuff. It is not easy. It takes honesty, saying the hard thing. Often community remains shallow because we're not willing to challenge people when they start wandering astray. We do all we can to avoid conflict, to not rock the boat. Yet sometimes, out of love, we need to rock the boat a little...for the betterment of the person, not just to attack.

Another challenge is the humility that community requires. I like how Warren says it, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others." This is really hard stuff in our "me first" society. For community to work we need to think about others, how our actions and words effect them.

The last challenge I want to think about today is that building community, building genuine and deep relationships, takes time and frequency of getting together. As Warren puts it, "You have to spend time with people -- a lot of time -- to build deep relationships. This is why fellowship is so shallow in many churches; we don't spend enough time together, and the time we do spend is usually listening to one person speak. Community is built not on convenience ('we'll get together when I feel like it') but on the conviction that I need it for spiritual will mean meeting together even when you don't feel like it, because you believe it is important." It is great that you are coming on Sunday morning, that worship time is important. However, if that is all you are coming for you are selling yourself short, robbing yourself of an opportunity, because you are not spending enough time to build the kind of relationships that you need for community.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Experiencing Life Together

"Life is meant to be shared." Amen to that. Today, Warren talks about our need for fellowship. We often pay lip service to fellowship. We have a fellowship hall. He have "fellowship" after worship, which basically means socializing over a cooking and maybe some coffee.

Today, however, Warren reminds us of our need for real fellowship. Real fellowship is a group of people where you experience mutual support, mercy, and are able to be genuine and real. So often around church we put on a mask, a good face, smile and tell people we're okay. Within authentic fellowship we can admit to our weaknesses, our struggles, our hurts, and our ugly warts. We so often want to hide those things in the darkness so others can't see them. However, we are called to live in the light where all of our faults are visible.

So I ask you, where do you find real, true fellowship?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Place to Belong

So far I think this has been the best chapter. I wish every Christian I've encountered who has uttered something like, "I don't need to go to church, I can pray on my own" would read this chapter. Being a part of community, a part of the fellowship, is critical to our spiritual health. Of course the cynical side of me says, "We as a nation don't really take care of our health in any other way, why should I expect that people would want to take care of their spiritual health?"... Since I'm afraid I won't really do this subject justice I would like to simply pass along some of the quotes/lines that struck me and let Rick Warren do the sharing for today...

  • You are called to belong, not believe.
  • While your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private.
  • To Paul, being a "member" of the church meant being a vital organ of a living body, an indispensable, interconnected part of the Body of Christ. We need to recover and practice the biblical meaning of membership.
  • If an organ is somehow severed from its body, it will shrivel and die. It cannot exist on its own, and neither can you. Disconnected and cut off from the lifeblood of a local body, your spiritual life will wither and eventually cease to exist.
  • Sadly, many Christians use the church but don't love it.
  • God expects us to give our lives for each other. (1 John 3:16)
  • You will never grow to maturity just by attending worship services and being a passive spectator. Only participation in the full life of a local church builds spiritual muscle.
  • It may seem easier to be holy when no one else is around to frustrate your preferences, but that is a false, untested holiness. Isolation breeds deceitfulness; it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are mature if there is no one to challenge us. Real maturity shows up in relationships.
  • The difference between being a church attender and a church member is commitment. Attenders are spectators from the sidelines; members get involved in the ministry. Attenders are consumer; members are contributors. Attenders want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility. They are like couples who want to live together without committing to a marriage.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What Matters Most

"Life is all about love."... I suppose I should have been reading this about Feb. 14, but today is a good day to think about love. It is so important, because God first loved us we love one another. After living as a single person for a number of years, this new marriage has taught me a bit about love...or maybe it just reminded me of things like how Warren says, "Love cannot be learned in isolation. You have to be around people -- irritating, imperfect, frustrating people." Holy cow, have I learned that in abundance. How often does my lovely new bride drive me nuts? Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty certain that I am far worse to try and live with, but she can be absolutely crazy sometimes. Yet here is the weird thing, those nutty things she does and those strange quirks of hers actually make me love her more. I wonder, if I spent more time with other people who challenge me might I start loving them more?

I also think that Warren gives us a good reminder today about time spent. Life, loving others, is best spent by spending time with them. Yet how often are people and relationships just something else to squeeze in the schedule. We spend so much time doing things, working, running around, etc. We strive to accomplish and acquire "stuff." Yet how many people do you see on their death bead wanting to snuggle up with their awards or wishing they had worked more? Isn't always the case that they want to snuggle up with family and dear friends? If they have a regret, isn't it usually that they spent too much time at work and not enough time with family and friends? Maybe we can learn this valuable lesson from these dear ones that have gone before us.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Formed for God's Family

I'm back, and I'm ready to get at it... I hope. I am returning to "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren in hopes of finally finishing it as a devotional. It is a book that has often been critiqued by Lutheran's in fear of its theology, but I can see that it has touched thousands and millions of lives and I want to see why. I think we all want a purpose in life. I think God gives us a purpose. It is a beautiful blend and I am shocked that both nobody has written like this before and that we as a church have neglected this so that a book was needed to be written. So far, I've like what Warren has had to share and in most chapters I've found a wonderful nugget or two to cling to for the day. Like some of the critical Lutheran's out there I have disagreed with some of his theology. Although I'm not surprised because I find that I disagree with a lot of people's theologies. I think theology can be a rather personal thing and we are not all going to line up exactly on all issues theologically. So like many in this generation I am grateful for our common love of Jesus and that is enough.

As for today I read Chapter 15 "Formed for God's Family". The two things I most enjoyed today, that struck me the most, were about family and about baptism. I like that picture of us being a part of God's family. That we are all brothers and sisters as we are all children of God. I was struck as well by the challenge that God's family is more important than our earthly family. Don't hear that wrong because I think Warren was clear that our earthly family is a wonderful gift from God, but they are temporary. God's family is for eternity.

I also was struck by Warren's comparrison of baptism to marriage. "Like a wedding ring, (baptism) is a visible reminder of an inward commitment made in your heart." I struggle a little with Warren's understanding of baptism as something you have to decide to do, but that connection to marriage I like. I like that connection of them both being an outward physical sign of an inward love that is happening. I like that...