Conversion and the spiritual life

This week I’ve been working on a Sunday message focusing on the conversion of Paul in Acts 9.  I’m taking time out to be a little reflective with you.  I’ve been thinking about the church formula many grew up with: (1) before Christ my life was a mess, (2) I met Jesus, and (3) now life is great!  If that is your story, God bless ya.  One thing I have learned from my recovery friends is that even after we deal with our coping mechanisms, life is still in session.  Now we have to feel and deal with emotions.  No wonder so many of us go back to what used to work, even if it doesn’t work any more.

I spend my vocational life these days with people whose spiritual life doesn’t fit into our church formulas.  Oh, if it was that simple.  Life in God’s grace is not always predictable.  The bondage of sin does not cease to exist after one accepts Jesus.  Through the glass of the visitation booth in the jail I meet very repentant hearts.  When released there is that tug to go back to what is familiar.  When I sought recovery I lived that tension.  I had known Jesus my whole life and yet Jesus didn’t take away the desires or temptations.  Honestly, I still feel that tension every time my heart judges or my words cut into others. Someone tell me you know what I mean.  Sin is always “crouching at the door.”  (see Genesis 4:7).

“The sinful  nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.  And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”  Galatians 5:17 NLT.  Funny, we don’t often quote this verse.  Somehow it  doesn’t seem to fit on an inspirational plaque.  It helps me remember that often the call and conversion to faith might be as messy as life itself.  Two steps forward, and sometimes one, or two, or even more steps back.

I don’t have anything brilliant to share.  Just an observation.  Oh…and this.  Thank you God for your unconditional grace and patience with me.  With my friends.  And to my church friends; let’s stop trying to fit everyone else into our church box.  God’s grace, forgiveness and love has captured my heart and changed me.  Sometimes a lot.  Sometimes a little.  And often I go backwards.  But not God.  He is always there to pick me… and you up.  To dust us off and say “My grace is sufficient.”  In others words, its enough for today.  It is God’s grace and love, often demonstrated by Jesus’ followers, that changes a life.  It continues to change mine.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

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Easter Saturday

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 NLT.

Sometimes is hard, but I try and look at the bright side of things. I look our my window this morning, the last day of March, the day before Easter and I see a fresh blanket of snow. Its not the springtime that I hope for on Easter weekend. But it is what it is. God has not yet put me in charge of the weather. But I am in charge of how I look at things. So today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, I choose to see a message of grace and forgiveness in the somewhat disappointing weather of this Saturday morning.

I often wonder what this day was like for Jesus’ disciples and followers. The day in between Good Friday and Easter had to be cold, lonely, depressing, full of fear. Not for me. All I have to deal with is a little snow. And today the snow reminds me of a cross and empty tomb, and the grace and forgiveness that I know in Jesus. My sins which seem to weigh me down and color my life are as white as snow because of what Jesus has done for me. And for you.

I am so excited to share an Easter message tomorrow with my Lighthouse family. I hope you can join us at 9:00 or 10:45. It will be a special day. Invite a friend. Tomorrow I plan to share a message on the heart of what Easter is about. I can’t wait.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Sowing Seeds

My mind is fixed on a question facing my Lighthouse family.  It’s a tough question.  For some months now we have been shuttling men and women  from Centre to Celebrate Recovery (CR) and Sunday morning worship.  Centre is a transitional housing unit between jail or prison and our community.  It is incarceration with a growing freedom to get life back on track.  On Thursday evenings we could have as many as 30-40 people.  On Sundays 20-30.  In many ways our new friends have brought change to the Lighthouse family.

Some of our new friends see Lighthouse as an opportunity to grow spiritually and to find a “life community” of support, acceptance and fellowship.  For others, it’s a night or morning out of Centre.  Some participate fully.  Many are in and out, up and down; and frankly a little distracting to others.  There are those who hang on the fringe.  They stay just outside of the sanctuary.  It’s all foreign to them.  A little awkward.  Uncomfortable.

I meet some who have never been to church before.  For many they have, but long ago.  Sometimes their last experiences in church were not so good.  Often, I suspect, the “light” is unfamiliar and a little blinding when you have been traveling in “darkness” for a while.  I can tell they aren’t used to being welcomed.  No judgement is weird to those who have stood before judges and jailers.  I’ve wondered how Jesus would engage and interact at the Lighthouse on Thursday night or Sunday morning?  Would He sit in the sanctuary or be on a couch in the entryway?  Would he sit to respectfully  hear the end of my message or get up with others when they sneak out early for a smoke?

It’s a tough thing.  Part of getting life back on track is learning things like respect, manners and proper behavior in a community of others.  Part of ministering in the trenches and on the front lines of the mission field is to learn to be uncomfortable and to take the time to come alongside others and teach them.  I always tell people, if you’re not comfortable with “messy,” Lighthouse may not be the place for you.

I’ve begun to think about Jesus’ parable of the sower in different ways.  You remember.  “A farmer went out to plant some seed.”  (Mark 4:3 and following).  Some fell on a path, some on shallow soil and rocks, some amongst thorns and finally some on good soil.  Sowing seed itself, I have come to understand, can be messy.  Jesus says, “keep sowing!  Just keep sowing!!!  I will take care of the rest.”

It takes a special people and a special community to sow in the darkness and the messes of life.  I think the Lighthouse, this faith community experiment I started and I love is such a place.

If you are from Centre and are reading this, thank you for stretching and challenging us.  Be patient with us. There are few roadmaps for this territory.  We are moving forward by faith.

If the Lighthouse is your family, thank you for stretching and striving to love people like Jesus did.  It gives me a sense of awe and wonder for His amazing grace.  “God, how did You ever put up with me in my darkness and in my messes of life?”

So the sower?  (I love that sentence!)  So the sower, he just keeps sowing seed.  God makes it grow.  That’s His business.  The hope and the promise?  If you keep sowing, some will grow and “produce a crop thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.”  Wow.  “Then Jesus said, ‘Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.'”  (Mark 4:9 NLT).

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

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Earthly Politics and the King

So it comes to an end.  In a few short hours, if we are lucky, this year’s election will be over.  None too soon for me.  Not that I don’t get a kick out of it.  I’ve seen House of Cards.  This would have been even more entertaining if it wasn’t real life.

I’ve watched the news these last months more than I would like to admit.  I’m a political junky.  I tell myself to turn away.  Don’t watch!  It doesn’t work.  It’s like driving by a car wreck and telling yourself not to look.  I can’t help it.

I do not take public positions on political issues or candidates, though I will at times speak on what are moral issues.  My voice on who to vote for isn’t helpful and rarely furthers the gospel, to which I have devoted my life to sharing.  Frankly, God gave you reason, common sense, and the ability to think for yourself.  He has placed in your hands His word.  Let your faith and prayer guide you.  I trust you can make your own judgement.

What we forget as followers of Jesus is no matter who is elected president, we have a King who is in charge!  We should care deeply about our country and who is leading it.  Whoever wins, we should pray for him or her.   Paul himself wrote, “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” Romans 13:1 NLT.  But even if this election ushers in the end times (which I suspect it will not), we can be assured of who is ultimately in charge.  God is God.  He’s got this.  He’s got our back.  And if it is His judgement that the direction of our country should not be what I want or you want…well, I suspect He knows best.  I know He has listened to and heard my prayers.  But the last I’ve checked my cel phone and email, He still has not asked for my advice.  What He does ask is that I strive today to love Him and love others.  To do so is to engage in the earthly politics, no matter how unseemly.  And, though I’m in this world, to remember that the one we worship is the King.  The King of kings (and presidents) and the Lord of lords.

All this said, let’s pray for our country and world tonight.  Things are unsettled. Then, let’s get up tomorrow morning and work to make it a little bit of a better place.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

 

 

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Transparency

If you attend the Lighthouse you know that we are amazingly transparent about the fact that we all have struggles in life.  So you will hear phrases like, “we are all in recovery for something.”  “Everyone makes mistakes.” “Your identity is not your past or the sum of your mistakes!”

I have been pondering this reality of transparency lately as I go through my interactions with people.  I spend a lot of time with people.  Usually it is in the midst of their struggles.  At Lighthouse we specialize in this!  I have come to realize that people are often open with me in ways that surprise me.  Why?  I could speculate.  I’m a pretty good listener.  I generally like people.  That helps.  But I have concluded that the primary reason is my own transparency.

Now that is a very interesting thing because most pastors are not honest about their issues.  We are taught not to be.  If people knew that we are human and struggle like they do, would they respect us?  Listen to us?

The church today struggles with this notion that to be a follower of Jesus and go to church we have to have life all put together.  Every aspect of our lives are transformed, so we suggest, which means we no longer struggle.  Recently in an interview I called our churches “cocoons of righteousness.”  One might say self-righteousness, because it’s a lie.

Authenticity, empathy, compassion…they all follow transparency.  I tell pastors that if you want to understand what we are doing and learn how to reach those who are struggling with life, come and see.  The Lighthouse is a special but messy, very messy place.  People are welcomed to share their stuff when appropriate and offered hope that life can and will be better.  Jesus does offer a transformed life.  He relishes redeeming our struggles.  In recovery language that many will understand, it is sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.  Usually slowly.

Yet that is where God is at His best.  The message of the incarnation and the cross is that instead of simply removing our issues and struggles, God has joined with us in them.  He walks us through them, and in that journey brings new life.  So, if you are a pastor, I challenge you to stretch a little.  Maybe share a little of your own stuff and how God is working in it.  Be a little more transparent.  And if you are a church goer, don’t buy into the lie.  Sin and pain still crouches at the door.  Admit it, and you will see God use your struggles in redeeming ways as He also  begins to bring you healing through your confession.

I will never forget the young lady I met at the Lighthouse one evening at Narcotics anonymous.  I asked her story.  She shared a little.  I said I understand and share a bit of my own struggles with my addiction to alcohol.  “Wait,” she said.  “You mean you are one of us?”  “Yes,” I said.  I’m one of you.”  Aren’t we all?

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Isolation

If you’ve hung around the Lighthouse for a period of time you have heard me remind you, “Isolation is your enemy!” Its true for pretty much everybody, not just people in recovery. In Genesis 2, after creating Adam, God says, “Its not good for man to be alone.” Now that doesn’t mean that we should avoid alone time. Time alone can be a time of growth, rest, meditation, etc… But generally, we have been created to be in relationship.

I’m at my office at Caribou Coffee as I write these words. Somehow I work better when there are people around. As I sit here, I am looking at a table of 12, no 13 women having coffee and conversation. They are loud! 🙂 But that’s okay. I’ve learned to work in such an environment.

And then there are the regular interruptions. One friend just stopped by to tell me he has been reading in John 18. He thinks I need to look at it. He also suggests I look at it in the King James. “Thanks,” I said.

Now you might think I’m crazy to spend my days like this. Let me tell you what I believe is crazy. Pastors shutting themselves up in an office away from the world and humans going through life. Any follower of Jesus, for that matter. I learn a lot from my conversations at Caribou. I have new friends and my life is more rich because of it.

Here’s the deal! God works through community and groups and interaction with other people. I see God’s face and grace on daily a basis. I even pray that someone may see it now and then in me.

I was at a meeting yesterday of people who work in recovery. I was asked to describe the Lighthouse. I said, “the Lighthouse is a life community centered around faith in Jesus Christ.” Its an amazing community. Daily I see God working through the love, acceptance and encouragement of one another. God indeed works through community. Its core to who we are as a people who are following Jesus and loving people as Jesus did.

Well, time to fill my cup. Its starting to thin out around here. The table of 13 is now 3. Still loud though. I think I’ll take a look at John 18. I hope you have a blessed day…and remember, “Isolation is your enemy!”

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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The Big Game

Okay, before you send me nasty messages you should know that I am a huge college football fan. Go Blue!!! (Michigan)

I live in a community where all the talk for the last week has been about the big game. NDSU vs UND. I won’t go into the “bigness” of this game or its history. Most of you already know, and the rest of you don’t care. Hey, I care! I’ll be watching.

What I’m wondering today as the game fast approaches is why don’t those of us who follow Jesus get just as excited about the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? Why doesn’t the transforming power of God get us talking like this? Why don’t people flock to our churches like they do to the Saturday games? Why can we spend so much money on a game but find it so difficult to offer it to God in the offering plate? Why is it easy to spend a whole day devoted to a football game but we complain when church goes over 10 minutes?

Now, don’t call me a spoiled sport. Let me take some responsibility. Perhaps we in the church haven’t always shared the good news of what God has done in Christ Jesus in such a way as it moved people’s hearts. Maybe our churches tend to bore people more than excite them about what God is doing. I wonder if we haven’t communicated in such a way so as the cause of Christ is one that people feel challenged to give their lives to.

Okay, now I will hear from all my pastor and church friends 🙂

As I reflect during the pregame show, I wonder what would happen if we, churches and Christ followers met halfway tomorrow. What if we who lead worship and share the gospel brought the very power and love of God to our people in a clear and compelling way with a bit of the “big game’s” energy? And what if our “church people” brought a touch of the energy of today’s game, threw at least the same in the plate as was spent today, and then this week demonstrated the same passion in following Jesus as we did in the big game? Frankly, tomorrow could be a cool Sunday!

So, my thoughts for what they are worth. I know, its easy to ask questions. I’ll work on a few answers too. I will also do my best to bring a bit more tomorrow. But first the game. I’m not going to tell you who I’m cheering for, but I will tell you what color I’m wearing. God Blue!!!

And finally, for those of you who don’t get the church thing but who are still reading this. Join us tomorrow at the Lighthouse. No judgement, just a lot of love for Jesus and for one another.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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