Tuesday, August 30, 2016

While we're assessing....

The change we long for in our country and our homes and our churches and our families and our work places starts with our personal assessment.  We can't skip to any of those outside of us, hoping that when those things change, it will be time for me to change.

Nope.  It doesn't work that way.

Change starts with one person and one person only.

You.  Me.

How can we expect others to change and make our world better if we're not putting the same expectation on our own hearts?

Is that really fair?

So, here I go, getting in your business again, but taking it to another level.  A  level that doesn't include you alone, but what you alone participate in collectively.  Clear as mud?  Great!  Hang in there!

It's going to take a little bit of an objective imagination, and you may get a little uncomfortable in the process, but I think if you're brave enough to at least try to look at this objectively you may be able to set aside your defensiveness or shame (Please, please, please - don't feel shame or guilt from these few posts!). 

Let's look at our circumstances and our places of living life as objectively as we can, shall we?  Let's remember, if you're a believer, God is the one with the greatest assessment skills and used those assessment skills to see the need for a Savior.  Let's take a deep breath.-really, take a deep breath .....................and ask some questions about our living spaces, shall we?  Those places we spend our time, not just our homes, but where we do life, our spiritual life, that is.  

If we start with our churches things that are happening in our country might make more sense.

(It is this writer's personal opinion that as goes the church, so goes the country.  If one is hemorrhaging so might the other.  We can debate another timewhich is bleeding out more.  Just bear with me.  You can swirl these words around, chew them up, or just spit them out, that's your right.  But I think if we really want to see change, we have to ask some hard questions in all areas of our lives).

Still with me?  Great!

Here we go.

Take a look around your towns and cities on a weekday.  Which parking lots are fullest?  Which parking lots are empty?

I noticed a few months ago, as I was visiting in the south, the buckle of the Bible belt, as I passed church after church on my way to the store that all the parking lots were empty.  But as I passed a hospital, the parking lot was packed!

Does anyone find that as interesting as I do?

You do!  Oh thank goodness, I thought I was the only one!

Remember those personal assessment questions I asked you in the previous post?  Ask them in relation to your church?  I know your parking lot is always busy, not just on Sunday, I'm asking the other people reading this.  Humor me, would you?

Is your church growing, not in numbers but in the sense of community amongst its members.  Is there anyone in your church or small group (taking into account the larger churches) that would tell their disgruntled ex church member neighbor that there is a plan in place for meeting the spiritual needs of each and every person who walks through the door, from the smallest in faith to the greatest pillar?

If someone were to ask you what steps of faith your church group has taken collectively in the last year, what could you tell them?  Have they paid off a huge debt?  Have they started a ministry for orphans and unwed mothers?  Are they in the process of taking in refugees? (These are examples, people, not tell tale must be done or we're ground hamburger!)

Would you say that you have expanded your circles to include people you didn't know a year ago, but have made it a point to meet someone new each week and have met that goal?

Have you bristled at first at the changes your church has tried, and now a few months or years later, you see the benefit of stepping out of your spiritual comfort zone for the sake of reaching others in your community?

(I know these are tough uncomfortable questions, and I wish I could just skip them, but I think they are important to ask).

What about your parking lot?  Is it empty during the week?  Does the pastor's car sit there sporadically along with the janitor's?  Or are your church's doors swinging day and night?

See, people go where they can get attention.  Where they can be heard, where concern is shown.  That's why hospital parking lots are overflowing during the week and doctor's appointments are so hard to get.  

It's why bars stay open during the day and into the wee hours of the morning.

The church doors are closed.

When the church doors stay closed, people take their worries and fears where they can express them. Where they can be fed and nourished and acknowledged.

There's a lot of expressing going on in the United States right now, wouldn't you agree?

I left the church 16 years ago, because the practices many held did not seem to mirror how I saw Jesus behave when I read his word.  (Taking into account my own issues besides, it's been a battle I wouldn't wish on anyone).  I've been standing in the hall way, looking in the rooms, trying to find the place where I really see him, not just a cheap imitation of him.  (That's painful to write, so it's got to be hitting a nerve for you too, maybe.  I'm sorry, if there was a different way I could get what I think God has shown me without causing pain, I would).

I grieve for our country and where it's headed, but I grieve for God's people even more.  We all have gotten caught up in taking sides, whether by choice or just by birth.  We have taken sides spiritually, politically and sooner or later, there are going to be no sides left to pick.  

How do we get those parking lots full everyday?  What are we willing to do cause a traffic jam at a church's driveway on a Tuesday afternoon, like the ones on the expressway on a Friday afternoon?

There's no perfect church, but there is a perfect God.

The church's ways aren't perfect, but God's are.

If we're brave enough to assess ourselves personally, I hope we're brave enough to take it to the next level.

If my faith is weaker than it was five years ago, wouldn't it make sense that same weak faith would effect those who I live life with?

If my bravery was diminished the moment I saw, as a teenager what happened to someone wanting to sing a new song in place of an old hymn, why should I care about being brave if it's only going to get shot down by those afraid to step out of their comfort zone?

If we're afraid to rock the boat as a leader, why do we expect those we lead to stand up for injustice outside of our circles and on the political stage?  

My heart longs to go where God's people are thriving.  I do so much better with people who spur one another on to bravery and greater faith than being with Debby Downers never willing to try anything new.

(I'm laying my heart out here, friends, please be kind.  If we could meet for lunch I'd share my struggle, I would tell you my whys and show you my journals as God has led me to find my way back into his visible family.  

C. S. Lewis wrote, in Mere Christianity:  

"I hope no reader will suppose that 'Mere Christianity' is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.  It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at.  I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.  When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise.  But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping.  You must keep on praying for light; and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.  And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling.  In plain language, the question should never be:  'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true:  Is holiness here?  Does my conscience move me towards this?  Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door keeper?'
    "When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more, and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.   That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

So, what does your room look like?  Is it warm, with cozy chairs and nourishing meals or is the fire only started once a week, and the chairs stacked after use and paper plates used for baloney sandwiches on stale bread?

The world is ready for a warm fire, a delicious array of food on their plate as they sit in a cozy chair, getting warmed by the fire of common faith and fellowship around a great and beautiful Savior.  They just don't know it yet.

They've been standing in the hall a long time, peering in, finding their excuses not to come in, but longing for someone to invite them with a sincere and humble heart.  Someone who is not uncomfortable not having all the answers, who can keep the fire burning and the plates full when they don't.  Who brings an ottoman to rest their feet on and throws a shawl around their shoulders to snuggle into.  Where there is no fear of a fire going out if they come in, but instead the fire will burn more brightly, it's sparks moving upward and and resting on the others in the hall longing to come in.



Assessment of the heart

If there's one word a nurse learns in nursing school and lives by on the job it is the word


Assess, assess, assess....assess again.

For example, the patient says they are short of breath.  A prudent nurse would then get an oxygen level to determine the oxygen saturation, a set of vital signs, and also note whether the patient has complaints of pain and where.

He or she would then determine a host of other minute details, including, but not limited to checking their medication record for respiratory treatments, the positioning (are they laying flat on their back?) If they are on oxygen, is their tubing crimped?)

A nurse looks at as many details as quickly as he or she is able before calling the doctor for orders that go beyond what is in her scope of practice or already ordered.  A nurse is constantly assessing the people under her care.

Is this drug working?  Are the right precautions in place for a confused patient?  Does a patient need something to calm their nerves when they can't smoke?

Assessing is the number one role as a patient advocate.  If a nurse's assessment skills are weak then those patients may not get the best care available.

It takes practice to develop good assessment skills.  It doesn't take a lot of knowledge to take vital signs, but it does take a critical eye to assess whether a low or high blood pressure is critical for a patient who has just had surgery, versus a patient who has chronic high blood pressure but is taking their prescribed medications to keep their numbers within normal limits.

Assessment is something that all nurses are trained to do from day one of nursing school, and their skills are constantly being perfected throughout their career.  I have only been a nurse for six years.  My assessment skills are better then they were six years ago, but they are not on the same level as a nurse who has been assessing for thirty years.

Assessment skills come with practice, with making mistakes, and with studying the differences in your patients.  A good nursing assessment is what the doctor is waiting for when they are called in the middle of the night to make a decision for a patient whose health is deteriorating.

So what does that have to do with anything?

I'm so glad you asked!

Pretend you are a nurse.  If you were to take a moment or two and assess your spiritual well being, what would you find?  (Be honest, no one will ever know what you're thinking).

Are you closer to God today then you were last week?  Last month?  Last year?  Five years ago?  If not, why not?  Where or when did you sense you were drifting away?

What about your fears?  Has maturity taught you that much of what you worried about five years ago never came to pass or are you still worrying about the same scenarios that have yet to happen, but you're sure they will?

What about your courage?  Are you braver than you were last year or do you still find it difficult to speak up when you disagree with someone, risking the loss of the friendship or the respect you are afraid you'll lose if you do?

What about your faith?  Is it stronger, weaker, or about the same as it was when you took your confirmation vows thirty years ago?

Do you have more peace with the way your life has turned out or do you wish you could redo the last twenty years and start over?

What is your best honest assessment of.....you?

See, if a nurse were taking care of a patient who had an infection and the only antibiotic available were amoxicillin, he or she would be forced to take a wait and see attitude when it appeared the infection was not getting better, even when the lab work showed that the white blood cells were not decreasing but rather increasing.

But when there are better antibiotics available specifically designed to attack a specific bacteria, he or she may quickly call up the doctor and say, "Maybe we need to try a different antibiotic.  The lab results say this is the bug that is causing the problem."

Maybe things are great in your life and you are making baby steps each and every day and you are nodding your head thinking, I am better off than I was a year ago.  I do have better control of my emotions.  I am braver!  I do believe my faith is stronger than it was last year.

Great!  Praise the LORD!

But then again, maybe you're telling yourself things are good, you're taking the amoxicillin  just like the doctor ordered, but you can honestly say you are stagnant, nothing is better, in fact, things are getting worse.

See, if we don't assess ourselves, how do we know if we're taking the right antibiotic for our infection?

If we only take amoxicillin by mouth once a day, when what we need is vancomycin IV every eight hours, and we wonder why we're so anxious or afraid or depressed or worried, then maybe it's time for an honest assessment.

Maybe it's time to do some spiritual vital signs.

Is your spiritual blood pressure pumping the right amount of oxygenated blood to your spiritual heart?

Are your respirations calm and even, or are they shallow and fast?

Does your spiritual pulse race too fast because you're always going here, there, and everywhere for the LORD, or is it bordering on needing resuscitation because you are too depressed to do anything and what could I do for God when I'm such a mess?

Are you getting enough oxygen to your spiritual cells?  Does the oxygen go to every corner of your spirit and breathe new life into the smallest of faith?

Only you and God know these answers.  Maybe you've been hiding from them, but God hasn't.  Maybe it's time to talk to him about them.

I don't know.

But God does.

When a medical team gets all the vital signs, and the lab work, and the other test results, they then can see the big picture of what exactly is wrong with a patient, and a treatment plan can be made.  The right medicine can be given, the wrong medicine can be stopped.  Maybe medicine won't help, but sunshine and singing or playing with children is what will cure the soul.

But, until it is assessed, the plan can't be made and it won't ever be implemented.

So.....how about it?  Give it a try.  No one has to know the results except you.

God already knows what you need, he's just waiting for you to ask him to search.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

Who knows?  Maybe once a good assessment is done, you'll be able to find a better treatment for what is making you____________________________________.

But any good treatment starts with a good assessment.



Psalm 139

Sunday, August 28, 2016

When it takes a miracle

One of my favorite movies is the movie Miracle.  Have you seen it?  Kurt Russell plays the 1980 US Olympic Hockey coach, Herb Brooks.  Awesome movie.  I can't help but think of that movie since it was recently summer olympics season.

My favorite scene of the movie, the one that puts chills up and down my spine every time is the scene where, after the players find what's going on off the ice during a game more interesting than winning the game they are playing, Coach Brooks makes them stay on the ice after the congratulatory hand shakes.

They run the same drill, over and over and over again.  The other coach becomes more and more hesitant to blow the whistle after seeing the players puking and practically collapsing after the end of each drill.

But Coach Brooks, says, "Again."

And they do the drill, again.

Until finally, finally, one of the players finally gets it.  He finally gets the point of the coach's crazy behavior.

As his teammates lean over puking and barely able to stand, the one voice shouts his name above the retching.

Coach Brooks stops and says, "Who do you play for?"

To which the exhausted and out of breath player responds, "The United States of America!"

The practice ends with that proclamation.

See, up until that moment, it was all about the player and the college he played for.  If they were asked to introduce themselves at a practice, each one answered proudly their alma mater.  Coach Herb wasn't looking for that.

He was looking for a more refined answer.  The collective answer.  The team answer.  No one knew it though, the players or the audience watching.

Until that scene.

I've thought about that scene throughout the years since it was made.

Usually I think about it in relation to my own struggle in finding my place among other Christians.  I look for the place that sees the big team, not the players, or the members of the conference or the other teams that make up the conference under the umbrella word "Christian."

I've been in lots of churches with lots of names, and usually the second or third name of the church is "Christian," but the first is most often a denominational name - like Baptist or Lutheran or Orthodox or Methodist or Presbyterian.

I wonder, in religion's quest to perfect the regulations of Christianity, might we American Christians find it more exciting to say our name and what denomination we represent than it is to say simply, "I play for the Christian team?"

I know for a long while, I did.  I took pride in my understanding of a denominational view and felt more enlightened than another's denominational practice.  I felt holier somehow, more enlightened, more.....right.

But more and more, as I see what is happening in the world, from BLM to ISIS and all the initials in between, who do we really play for?  Who really is the enemy?

Deep and uncomfortable thoughts for a Sunday, I know.

If God knows how it all works out and who the real enemy is, then why do I let myself go down a rabbit hole of pointing out the falsehood of those who, from my viewpoint don't see truth from my viewpoint?  Wouldn't I and others be better off by searching more seriously for Truth for our own lives?

So let's take it a step further, since we are in the political season.  And the violence is erupting once again by those whose anger cannot be calmed with normal tools.

Are we Americans first or are we Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or whatever else comes first and American second?

Are we black or white or hispanic or asian first or are we humans first?

It's going to take a Miracle to put out the fires burning around us.  I'm not sure if it's the Baptists or Lutherans or the Methodists who are in charge of the miracle department.  Which ones are ISIS intent on killing more?

I think it's the job of the Christians to believe in miracles, to pray for the miracles, to lay hope and wait for the miracles, to beg for the miracles.  If we can't see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ than there really is no point to our calling.  We are all the children of God, placed where we are by Him, for Him, to glorify Him.

Do we want it to be said of us that we found it more important to be of the "right" brand or flavor of Christianity or more important to live in Truth?  In a broken upside down world, right doesn't always look like Truth.  Only Truth looks right when it looks like Jesus.



It's starts with us


It starts with us.

By us I mean, Christians.

By us I mean, followers of Christ.

It's time church.  The world is waiting.  The world is watching.  The world wants to believe there is "more" to the story that's been told thus far.

The enemy knows there is more to the story, that's why he's gaining ground.

The King of Kings has written the more to the story, it's time for us to start the next chapter.

History has debated and fought and argued and killed and wrote dissertations and creeds and built churches and tore down churches and called names and accused of heresy long enough.

It's time.

It's time for the true followers of Christ to unite.

The time for the work of the church of our parents and grandparents is dying.  Their practices were useful for its time, for their time, but it is not what will work for our time.

The evidence is all around us.  The "visible" church looks like the world.  In debt, breaking up, apart, divorcing from each other because each one has their own idea of what "right" looks like, what sin is or isn't.

Right looks and acts like Jesus.

He was kind and gentle.

And he was a badass.

He didn't mince words but he knew how to use words to get to the heart of the heart's deception.

It's time, Church.

The enemy's of Christ's church don't see our divisions at all.  All the years and tears and sweat and wars over creeds and thesis about words so few had the privilege to read and understand is now needed to be set aside, not thrown out, set aside, to make way for what God is doing for our generation and the generations to follow.

Our enemy doesn't care if we follow Apollo or Paul or Peter.  What offends our enemy is that we follow Christ.

That's what grinds his craw.  That's what makes his blood boil.

His anger is played out all over the world, yet we here in America think our enemy is the "other" denomination or the "other" color or nationality or political party.

Maybe it is.

But then again, maybe it isn't.  And if it isn't, are you ready for what the enemy can do?

Maybe the enemy will come looking for your group only, if you're the true followers and everyone else is "wrong."  I'm sure they've studied all the statements of faith that fill the atmosphere of cyberspace, sorting out the "true" believers from the untrue.  We've all made it perfectly clear, haven't we?

We are right because we do x, y, and z.

They are wrong because they do a, b, and c without doing x, y, and z first.

The enemy of Christ and his people does not care what Apollo or Peter or Paul or Calvin or Luther or Keller or anyone else says.  They get really ticked off by what Christ says.

So if you're of the mindset that everyone who doesn't belong to X denomination or political party probably is not a true believer, then I hope you're ready to stand on that when the enemy is at your door.  The rest of us will probably be safe if you are right.

(I am being very sarcastic and harsh for a Sunday, I know.)

Friends, the world is waiting for believers to act like believers, not spoiled children who don't like how the game is being played so they go home and start playing their own game.


Either a follower of Christ believes in his heart that he is saved and confesses it with his mouth and that is the only mark he needs to be identified with Christ or he believes that AND....I must be a member of this denomination to seal the deal.

Which is it, Pharisee?

The world has seen enough division and disagreement and hatred and violence to last for eternity.

Which side are you really on?

The world knows deep down inside that there is Someone BIGGER and STRONGER and MIGHTIER then anything religion can throw at falsehood.  The world is LONGING for the bright light to shine and point the way to the truth that God has already placed in their hearts.

It is not too late.


The world needs Christ.  Not the flavor of the month or the century or the millennium.

If we have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then be like-minded, having the same love and spirit and purpose.  Let us not do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility...HUMILITY, not pride, consider others better than we are.

We only have this life, this day to live this life.  This day to be light.

Tomorrow is not promised.

If God divides, God can unite, but it won't be because we continue to divide and splinter.

If we have any hint of any comfort, or encouragement or compassion, then don't wait any longer to be an agent of unity.

We are the children of Christ.  He calls us his brothers and sisters.  He doesn't look at us as our color or denomination or gender.

He sees His child.

The broken, hurting, sin tainted child he reaches down to pick up and comfort and set free.

If not us, then who?

If not now, when?