Heaven on Earth

When I sat down to write this post, my mind went to a scene in one of my favorite movies: Rush Hour 2 (I recommend this movie). It wasn’t anything pivotal, simply a part where Chris Tucker is looking for a massage parlor called “Heaven on Earth”.

Why is “Heaven on Earth” such an appropriate name for a massage parlor? Well, when I think of getting a massage, I think of relaxation. Forgetting my stresses and worries. Alleviating my aches and pains.

When I think of heaven, my mind goes to Revelation 21:4- “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Sounds like advertising a massage parlor as a bit of heaven here on earth is a pretty good marketing strategy. Who wouldn’t want that?

I recently read Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins (Don’t worry, that’s not where this post is going. If you want to read a review, look here). Aside from all the talk of “heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived”, I felt like he made one really convicting point (at least).

I wish I still had the book so I could quote him exactly, but he said something along the lines of, “It seems that the people most concerned with heaven and hell are doing the least about the world today, and the people who are doing the most for the world today are the least concerned with heaven and hell.” That seemed backwards to him. It seems backwards to me too.

Jesus was concerned with bringing the Kingdom of God here. Now. Today. He was concerned with “the age to come” but also with “this age”. Jesus wanted this place to look more and more like what His Father wanted it to look like. He healed the sick. He comforted the mourning. He raised the dead. Ringing any bells? Revelation 21:4?  Jesus was focused on bridging the gap between heaven and earth right now.

I say all this to set the stage for what happened yesterday. A day without shoes. Simple, yet effective. People took part in this all over the world; Jamie Curtis organized it on IPFW’s campus. The idea was simple: Go one day without shoes to raise awareness for those who have to go without shoes everyday.

The whole thing was done to support TOMS shoes. With TOMS, for every pair of shoes that are sold, a pair gets sent to a child who doesn’t have shoes. I was on campus for just 3 hours without shoes on. 6 different people asked me why I wasn’t wearing shoes. Several people were listening in on those conversations. I heard countless other whispers as I walked by..”There’s another person that doesn’t have shoes… What’s going on…?”

Maybe some of them will check out the website. Maybe just one of them will order a pair of shoes. That’s one less child that has to go without shoes. That’s one less child that has to endure that kind of suffering. One less child with pain in their feet. Heaven on earth.

It doesn’t always take a monumental effort. Sure, there’s a time and a place for that. But what about right now? What about the little things? I mean really… What’s one day without shoes?


Caution: Carries some risk of dependency

This warning against dependency is common when talking about your every day sleeping pill. They’re meant to be taken to help with poor sleeping habits… and they’re also meant to be taken short-term. While these pills can fix the problem if used correctly, they can make the problem worse if they’re abused. The fact of the matter is that we were meant to sleep without the aid of medication. If a person repeatedly and consistency turns to a pill to be able to sleep, they will eventually get to the point where they are unable to sleep without it.

I think we get into this habit when it comes to music and worship. We often use these words interchangeably. And while it’s true that music can be used as a form of worship, worship is not restricted to music.

Yet I’ll go to some form of Christian event, and if there isn’t somebody there with an acoustic guitar, I’ll usually hear people ask, “Why aren’t we having worship tonight?”

I think we’ve grown to be too dependent on music as our worship. The Hebrew word “shachah” is translated as worship over 150 times in the Bible. It’s used when Abraham is taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. And when Jesus talks about worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth. And in Revelation in reference to falling at the feet of Jesus. Roughly translated, shachah means to “bow down”. It involves sacrifice. It requires humility. It has nothing (explicitly) to do with music.

Now let me pause for a moment to remind you all that I’m a “worship leader”, meaning that I play guitar, and sing songs, and all things awesome that go along with it. I absolutely love music and worshiping God in that way. My point is that I think we’re approaching a dangerous mindset – one of dependency.

We’re beginning to slip into this mode where the only way we can worship is if somebody sings something written by Hillsong. Music is like a Christian’s sleeping pill. We were created to worship God with our lives. With everything we have, all the time. Music is a great way to help with that, sometimes. However, if we are repeatedly and consistently turning to music as our only form of worship, then I think we can become dependent on it. We become unable to engage God in other ways, or at least we don’t look to seek Him in other ways. God wants all of us, not just our voices.

Last night at 212, Kinsey Williams talked about resting (and did an awesome job). What she had to say really resonated with what I’ve been thinking about in my own personal life. Consider this passage:

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (1 Kings 19: 11-13)

I always loved these verses because it reminds me that God isn’t always the booming voice (not that He can’t be that). God is gentle. He can be in a whisper. If you think about it, anybody would notice a mountain-shattering wind, or a ground-breaking earthquake, or a blazing fire. A person needs to be listening to hear a whisper.

So I’m going to start setting some time aside during the day to just rest. Listen. Not nap. I just want to relax with Jesus. That might not be for all of you. However, I want to challenge all of you to find some way to engage God, other than through music. He is so much more than what we limit Him to in songs.

Never second place

Psalm 63:2-4 “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”

JE led a discussion yesterday with the middle school guys about what it means to be a man. I sat in the back and listened, offered my input when I had something to say. At one point, JE asked the question, “What does it look like to be a man?” (or something to that effect). After a few answers, one of my seventh grade guys raised his hand and said, “Well… Gary is a man.”

This morning marked yet another instance in which I suffered from uncontrollable laughter. I love those 7th graders. They are unspeakably encouraging without trying. They’re absolutely and effortlessly hilarious. They are one of the many reasons why my life is awesome right now.

Seriously. It’s like I’m walking in this perfect bubble where nothing can go wrong. Even when I screw up, everything seems to work out just fine. You’ll be hard-pressed these days to find me without a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Things are just that good.

That’s why I think God hit me with these verses the other day, specifically verse 3. You see, I’ve leaned on that verse in the past, and it’s usually been through some pretty crappy times. That passage reminds me of just how good God is, even in unpleasant circumstances.

But then again, it’s pretty easy to think that God’s love is better than life when life sucks, isn’t it? Imagine you’re eating the most disgusting food you’ve ever tried. Got it? Now imagine somebody comes up and asks you to try something you’ve never tried before. What would your response be? I’d probably take one look at whatever crap I was currently eating and say, “Sure, why not? Whatever that is, it’s gotta be better than this.”

Too often I have a skewed view of God. I see Him in the tough times, when I’m at the bottom of the deepest valley and I’m craning my neck up at Him, desperate for a way out and searching for something better than what’s surrounding me. And I always find that “something better” in Christ. Because He is far better than my crappy circumstances.

The thing is, He’s better than my awesome circumstances too. No matter how absolutely amazing my life seems right now, Jesus is still way better than anything else I’ll ever experience. His greatness isn’t dependent on what I’m going through, and His glory will never be second place.

A mile in my shoes

I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine about some church-type things. She made an interesting comment, and it was something like, “Ah, I hate it when I can’t go to MY church… It makes me feel like I’m wearing somebody else’s shoes.”

This might get a little confusing (because I’m going to share my thoughts, and those usually are confusing), but I had two reactions to this. The first was my initial reaction; the second didn’t happen until hours later. I’m going to try to share both.

First, I thought this made sooo much sense. I hear it said all the time – indeed, I say it myself a lot – that Church is more than a building and a Sunday morning service. We, as Christians, are the Church. So it comes as no surprise to me that she would feel that way. I feel that way too, and I’m guessing we aren’t the only ones.

Church is about community. It’s about fellowship. Of course it’s about Jesus (as I would hope most churches are), but if you look at the first church in Acts, we see that it’s really about a lot more than that, though Christ is certainly at the center. Look at this bit in Acts 2-

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”

These people praised Jesus, but there was more going on. They impacted their communities, and they just simply lived life together. I think we get a small taste of that in our churches. What we experience on Sundays isn’t about the building or anything like that, otherwise we would feel at home no matter what church we go to. It’s more about the people we worship with. Church is community.

So, that was my first thought, and I certainly think that’s true. But then this question came to my mind, “Should that really matter?”

The Church (Big “C”), after all, is the Body of Christ. So if our churches (little “c”) are truly just extensions of that Body, shouldn’t I feel at home no matter where I go on a Sunday?

Maybe not. The bigger the group of people, the more difficult it is to form meaningful relationships. But I still haven’t been able to shake that question. I look at just the city of Fort Wayne and I see so many people who call themselves Christians (me being one of them). I see a ton of churches. Why don’t I see a lot of unity?

What’s the answer? If we stick with the shoe analogy, my guess is most of us probably wouldn’t agree that church is a “one-size-fits-all” kind of deal (how ironic). So what do we do? Thoughts?

A new blog opportunity!

Hey everyone!! This is just a quick post to let you know about something pretty cool that’s in the works: churchwith.us.

Adam Lehman has a vision of a site with numerous contributors where we can have conversations about Jesus and church and all that comes with that. The site is up and running and already has a few posts. I’m really excited to be a part of this and I think it has the potential to be huge!!!

Please stop by and check out the site here. If you ever forget the link, just check out my blogroll and you’ll find the link there!

What Would 7th graders Do?

I spend my Sunday mornings with the coolest 7th grade guys in the world. We play basketball, talk about ridiculous things (mostly farting), and we get into some pretty interesting theological conversations. If I could name one thing I’m most proud of this school year, it would be the way these guys have grown. At the beginning of the year, we couldn’t focus on anything except eating the donuts that were provided every morning. Nobody talked. Now, it’s like a completely different group. Almost everyone contributes at least something productive. It has seriously been the biggest source of encouragement to me this year.

Like I said, we’ve gotten into some pretty intense discussions. We’ve talked about demon possession. We’ve talked about predestination. We’ve talked about war. Every week it’s something new, and every week I have to say the same thing, “I don’t have all the answers.” But still they want to talk. They ask questions. I ask more questions. They give answers. We talk some more. I ask more questions. It’s so amazing to watch them process everything I throw at them. They never disappoint.

At the end of each of these discussions I always try to drive home some sort of truth. I ask them every week, “What’s the takeaway?” By now they’ve learned (and I myself have learned too) that it’s ok to not come up with a definitive answer for every single question. However, just because we don’t have answers, doesn’t mean we’re completely in the dark. There’s still truth in the uncertainty.

This week we talked about baptism. We played a little game of “Agree or Disagree”. JE had given me a few verses (pulled out of context) that I was to read to the students, and then there were a few statements that I was to say to the students. Then, you guessed it, they had to tell me if they agreed or disagreed. Here’s an example of one of the verses and one of the statements:

Mark 16:16- “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Statement: A person must be baptized in order to be saved.

Now I’m not going to enter into a conversation on baptism, so I’m just going to skip to the end. I asked them what was 100% true. For a while, all we could get to was that the Bible tells us to do it. Which I thought was sooo good. Simple. True. Awesome.

Then, one of the students said, “Well, Jesus got baptized, so if we’re supposed to do what He does, then shouldn’t we get baptized too?” Explosions. Fireworks. Dancing pandas.

I honestly didn’t care what we talked about for the rest of the day; that was so amazing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again numerous other times I’m sure, too often we get tied up in all the details. We try to fit Christianity into something like a formula, where we know all the working parts. There’s certainly some value in those discussions, but we need to remember the core of it all is Jesus. Love. If we talk for hours on end, and all the further we get is that we should look more like Jesus, then I think those are hours well spent.

A bit of humorous perspective

Little background story: I like listening to my iPod while I drive. I’m guessing the majority of you are in the same boat I’m in. Who doesn’t like to listen to their own music? That was part one of my story. Part two? My iPod hookup broke yesterday. Devastation. Tears. Sadness.

So, I was forced to listen to some sort of radio station, or go silent. I decided on Star 88.3. This is not a decision I would normally make, but I just simply wasn’t in the mood for Pink to tell me to raise my glass, nor did I want to listen to Katy Perry tell me that I’m a firework. So, Star 88.3 for me.

I ended up being grateful for my decision, because I got to listen to this funny little song I had never heard before by Francesca Battistelli (believe it or not, I was only off by 2 letters when I guessed how to spell her name. I think I deserve an award). I’m not entirely sure I like the song, it’s kinda corny, but it certainly made me laugh, seeing as I encounter situations like this ALL the time. Listen, enjoy, and smile.

Hope you appreciated that second verse Mom… Watch that lead foot of yours…

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