The Bells of Heaven

This morning for family devotions, we read from Jesus Calling. Sarah Young wrote simply at first “I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.” These, she says, are heaven’s bells. And when we quiet our mind, we can hear it clearly. How often do we truly stop and listen for heaven’s bells? Have often are you just in the moment and listening in prayer?

Being still in our day and age is hard. The rock group Skillet calls it the American Noise. This American noise is the ringing of cell phones, the honking of cars, the constant chatter we hear of background static that’s always there. There’s always something going on. We’re always busy. We are always having something in the background making noise. There is no quiet with the American noise. They say to let love cut through this noise. The bells of heaven ring out the love of God. And when we are still and quiet, we can hear these bells.

We read about this in the Psalms

Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

We read about this in the Prophets

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands” Zephaniah 2:3

And later in Zephaniah

The LORD your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over  you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

And we read in Isaiah

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.” Isaiah 28:23

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:12-14

We read about this in the Gospels

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus in John 15:5

Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus in Luke 11:28

And on top of a mountain with Jesus, Peter, James, and John “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9:7

And in the Letters

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:8

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:26

In one way or another, all throughout Scripture, you can read about listening for heaven’s bells.

Are you listening for heaven’s bells? Are you quieting your mind for even a moment to listen for the simple words of Jesus “I am with you.” Jesus says in Matthew 28 that He will be with us, even to the end of the age. He will never leave us. In fact He will walk with us along life’s narrow way.

Take time today and quiet your mind. Let the love of heaven ring the bells and cut through the American noise we have all around us. We have busyness all around us. Look for the quiet to hear the bells of heaven.

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I had a Blog Idea

No, truly I did. I had a blog idea. I sat down and opened up WordPress and then just looked blankly at the screen. Seriously. My mind went numb and fumbled for words to even say. I felt like my mind was a receiver for the Chicago Bears or something where they just couldn’t hold on to the idea like a football thrown at them dead on (sorry for the sports illustration by the way). My mind has been like that as of late. I get great ideas…at like three in the morning or when I can’t write anything down…and by the time I get to a spot where I can write something down, I forget what the great earth shattering blow your mind idea went.

So, really, I had a blog idea to write. I’ve had a number of them to be honest. And then they just went poof, gone, never to be writ nor thought of again. And the times where I did jot down notes to come up with something later, I can’t understand what I wrote to begin with.

I’ve had this with my major dissertation project for my Doctor of Ministry as well. I had a great idea and then it dissipated into mind vapor even after I wrote it down. I didn’t like it after all. And then I had another great idea and so I used that to begin writing my proposal for the dissertation project. That didn’t pan out and then I sit here trying to figure out what I want to do. My mind don’t work. Why mind you no work?

Since this is Spiritual Musclehead, I’ve had many spiritual ideas as well. Ideas about talking to God, about prayer, about listening to God, about the church, about biblical justice, and when I get a chance to write it down, to type it out, to turn these ideas into written word, they just vaporize, and I’m at a loss. And then I just stare at the screen some more.

That’s it. Nothing more. No profound thoughts for today. Nothing that makes me go hmmm. Maybe I should go to social media for help on this one.

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Losing Her Religion

Losing-My-Religion rolling stone dot com

From rollingstone.com

“Pastor,” she said to me with a smile, “I’ve lost my religion.” It was if she was telling me she lost 10lbs. I was silent for a moment. “I was reading Thomas Paine again,” she continued, “and I realized that I wasn’t religious anymore.” I thought for a moment. Smiled. I didn’t know what to say. I could imagine me in the corner and it was if she was in the spotlight. What do you say at a moment such as that? I could imagine seeing Jesus. I think I thought I saw Him cry.

“Really,” was all I could sputter. Maybe I said too much. Maybe I didn’t say enough.

I’ve mulled over that encounter over the last few weeks. What is faith? Is it fleeting? Is it strong? Does one lose faith? Did they have it at all? Is it rational? Is it more than a feeling? Every whisper of faith, every waking hour of faith, what is it?

Faith is something that goes beyond us. It is something that can be rational but reason itself cannot fully comprehend what faith is. Can one rationally come to faith? Can one rationally lose their faith? Apparently she did. Or did she?

Faith itself is something that is human and yet supernatural. We all have a faith system of some kind or another. Even atheism is a faith of a sort. And within our own faith, we live within the stages of faith. In his book, Stages of Faith, James Fowler talks about how there are levels to one’s faith. And one can stay on that same level their whole lives, never moving up or down but plateaued on the plains of existentialism. One can make a lateral shift in faith, as I think this lady did. A lateral shift is moving from one faith system to another, same level of faith, just different system.

But what about a Christian faith? What about faith in Jesus?

That’s a whole ‘nother critter right there.

As human beings, we’re hard wired for faith. We want a belief system, something to believe in even if it’s a belief of nothingness, we still want to believe in it. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, moves in His people and establishes a true saving faith. A faith rooted in understanding and a deep rooted assurance. It is a faith that holds on to us rather than us holding on to it.

This faith develops at the hearing of the gospel message. Like a seed planted in soil, it develops and grows into the faith that God wants it to be in us.

But wait. How’d she lose her religion? How’d she see that there was something not there for her?

I think of the parable of the seeds found in the gospel of Mark (you can check out the whole parable/story here). Long and short of it is this: Seeds are sown on soil. Some seeds fall on the path and birds take them away. Some seeds fall on rocky soil they spring up by die quickly. Some among the thorns which grow but get chocked by the weeds and thorns. Some on good soil and these produce a crop of a 100 fold. The seeds are people who hear the gospel message. The birds are the devil who leads people astray. The rocky soil are those who spring up fast but just aren’t rooted right. The one’s who grow in the weeds and thorns are chocked by the things of this life and just don’t grow as they should. And the one’s on the fertile soil are the one’s that truly take the gospel of heart and it grows in them by faith.

There’s that word again: Faith.

So which one was she? The path? The rocky soil? The thorns? It’s not for me to judge. Some might say she never truly had faith at all. That’s mean to judge on such a level you don’t know.

In the end, I just don’t know. I do know that I know my faith. I know my faith in my faithful savior Jesus who died for my sins upon the cross, rescuing me from the tyranny of the devil. This gives me strong comfort.

I do wonder what would have happened if someone nurtured her faith as people have nurtured mine over the years. Was her faith, like some plants, left unattended and it just didn’t have the strength? I don’t know.

I do know that when faith is nurtured like a growing seed, it becomes part of the good soil and grows even stronger. Yet it needs to be constantly nurtured. It can’t be left unattended. It must be given room to grow and flourish. When it doesn’t. Well. Yeah. It doesn’t. And that’s not good.

And so I’m left to wonder and ponder this.

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The Movement of the Kinetic Church

IMG_3905

Photo by Josh Benton

There’s a pun there. But that’s okay.

Kinetic energy is energy in motion. It is the power of built up potential energy which then moves into kinetic energy when movement occurs. There is potential energy built up in the church today. It’s the missional energy to go forth and be passionate followers of Jesus making disciples who transform lives and communities. Yet this potential energy which is built up (and sometimes bursting at the seems) can’t be moved until the church empties itself with the love of Christ for one another and for those who are far from God. This movement from potential missional energy becomes the kinetic energy of love and moves forward by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is where things get interesting.

Let me back up a bit.

Much language today in church renewal and in church talk itself, there’s much to do about being an Acts 2 type of church. This Acts 2 kinda church is the missional church. This is the church where people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to breaking bread in each others’ homes, to prayer and to ministry. And God added to their number daily. Awesomesauce.

But there’s something missing in this missional language. That’s the language of Philippians 2. In Philippians 2 Paul writes that our attitude should be the same of Christ Jesus who emptied himself and humbled himself in love. And in an outpouring of love, died for all upon the cross so that we might have forgiveness of sins.

I want to be clear: Missional is important. Jesus says in John 21 that as the Father sent Him, so He sends us. David Bosch, a wonderful missiologist, once wrote in the tome Transforming Missions that as the Father sent the Son, and the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit, so the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sends the church forward on mission. This is key. This is so important.

Yet it is the divine love of God that holds the Trinity together as three in one. This divine love is what was poured out by Jesus when He humbled himself and made Himself a servant to others.

And as followers of Jesus, we are to do the same.

He tells His disciples

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Dude.

The movement of the love of Christ, the divine love that holds the Trinity together, is the same love that we as followers of Jesus are to show. This is the mark of being a disciple of Jesus. To show this love. We are built up with the potential energy to go forth into the world as Jesus commands in the Great Commission from Matthew 28. It is in our spiritual DNA. But if we don’t have love, the very act of what we do is like a bad drummer not hitting the beat. It’s just annoying and filled with the din of dystopia.

The movement of the kinetic church leads to the actions of the missional church. You can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. You need the love of Christ to move forward in mission. Without that love, it doesn’t make sense to go forth in mission.

Being the kinetic church means that we remain and abide in Jesus in order to move forward on mission. Jesus says later in John to his disciples

Remain in me, as I also remain in you…I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:4, 5, 8

This fruit that we bear is the love of Christ. God is a sending God. He is a God of Mission. He is the God who’s mission from the beginning was to have humanity in a loving relationship with Himself. And He literally moved heaven and earth to make it happen. And as His people, we are sent as His change agents into this world to help people become in that loving relationship with Him. But if we don’t have the love of Christ, how can we show that this God of Mission (who is also a God of Love) cares for them?

So, you who are part of the Church universal, need to step forward in mission by the power of the love of Christ in order to be used by God to redeem and restore all things.

But how?

That’s for a whole ‘nother post.

 

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The Kinetic Church

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Mission San Luis Obispo. Photo by Josh Benton

Last week I was having breakfast with a friend whom I greatly respect as wise and a deep thinker. Our conversation meandered around for a while until it got to the topic of the church. My friend gently said something akin to: “You know, we talk about being an Acts 2 kind of church, but I think what we really need is a Philippians 2 kind of church.” And this got me to thinking. Thinking a lot. So much I tweeted about it (so you know it’s important when you tweet about it). What would a Philippians 2 church look like in tandem with an Acts 2 kind of church.

For those who may not know what in the world I’m talking about, let me expand a bit here. When someone refers to an Acts 2 kind of church, it’s in reference to the book of Acts in the Bible. In fact, it’s Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

And this is some good stuff. This is how the church is supposed to be. In many ways, this is the basis of what is called the missional church. To be missional is to be a church on the mission of God. The idea comes from Darrel Guder’s book Missional Church. The church is supposed to be on the mission of God. God’s mission is to redeem and restore all of creation and He has sent the Church to do just that. The church’s job is to go forth and make disciples of all nations, of all people, helping them in their brokenness and move forth in their lives in a new wholeness found only in Jesus. Boom. Bang. That’s it in a nutshell. Kinda. It’s bigger than that really. But this is a blog post.

In many church circles, people are trying to move the church into becoming an Acts 2 kind of church. A church that reflects the church found in the Bible. A church that welcomes in all and a church that helps all; a church that moves and has its being in Jesus and a church that enjoys God’s favor. This is the church that many churches want to be like. This is a missional kind of church.

service2

From northwestchurch.com

But there’s something missing in the mission here. And this is what my friend was pointing out. As much as the church needs to be an Acts 2 kind of church (and don’t get me wrong, this is so important, the church needs to be as it is in the Bible) there is a need for Christlikeness riding in tandem. To be truly missional there is a need for the love of Christ to be our very mindset and actionset.

And this is where a Philippians 2 church comes in:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8

This is where the kinetic part comes in. Now, I was an English major in college and so I don’t know much about physics. What I do remember about kinetic energy is from my high school science class (when I paid attention…so I had to look it up on Wikipedia). According to Wikipedia, kinetic energy is ” the energy that it possesses due to its motion.[1] It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes. The same amount of work is done by the body in decelerating from its current speed to a state of rest.” That make sense, right? (and yes, I did just copy and paste it from Wikipedia).

When the church is in motion, taking on the same mindset of Christ Jesus, it builds up the energy needed to move the church forward into becoming an Acts 2 church. A kinetic church is a missional church on the move. And the energy it has is based on the motion of the love of Jesus Christ. When the church takes on the mindset and nature of Jesus from Philippians 2–humbling ourselves, loving others, being servants to one another–we move from rest as church as club to church on mission. When we stop humbling ourselves, stop serving others, stop loving, then we decelerate and can’t become an Acts 2 church. It just won’t work.

So how does the church become a kinetic missional church? How does a church become a Philippians 2 church in tandem with an Acts 2 type of church? That’s for a whole ‘nother post.

 

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Blessings of Manna

bread panerabread dot com

From panerabread.com

A little while back, I was guest preaching at a church. As was their custom, the elders met with the guest preacher before the worship service to pray. Which is always nice. It’s good to start off with prayer. As one of the elders was praying for the service, he prayed for blessings of manna to come down. That struck me as interesting. Blessings of manna. What exactly did that mean.

I’ve been pondering that for the last little while. What does it mean to pray for the blessings of manna?

First of all, what in the world is manna? That takes us to the Old Testament of the Bible. Back in the book of Exodus, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. God led them by His mighty hand, parted the Red Sea and had them travel to the Promised Land. While they were in the wilderness, God fed them each day with bread. The bread would appear each morning like dew on the grass. And the people would collect just enough of this manna each morning for the rest of the day (Save for the day before the Sabbath. They were allowed to collect enough for two days). Manna itself literally means “What is this stuff falling from the sky that tastes like bread, I mean seriously, what is it?” Well, that’s a bit much, but you get the gist.

When the people of Israel refused to enter into the Promised Land, God punished them for not trusting in Him. They wandered the wilderness for 40 years. During those 40 years, God provided them with manna each morning to have enough for that day. God blessed them with their daily bread.

This gets me to thinking about the New Testament. Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray by asking for their daily bread (Matthew 6:11). In other words, pray for the daily blessings of manna. But it’s a bit more than that. The Heidelberg Catechism says that we’re to come to God for each and every need that we have when we come to Him for our daily bread.

God’s provision. The blessing of manna. Daily bread. It all comes together. But Jesus takes it one step further in the Gospel of John. Jesus tells the disciples and the huge ginormous crowd following him:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” John 6:48-51

Not only does Jesus tell us to pray to God our Father for our daily bread, our daily manna, Jesus Himself is that daily bread. Jesus is the blessing of manna that came down so that we might live each day.

Manna. Daily bread. Jesus is the bread of life. It all fits together. It all comes together. Jesus himself is the one who came for us so that we might have life.

But how about receiving the blessing of manna. To bless, said Dallas Willard to John Ortberg in the book Soul Keeping, is to give life, life itself, to someone else. To bless is to offer the whole of oneself to someone else.

Too often we demand blessings from God and don’t understand the very nature of what it means to bless. We sometimes say we’re too blessed to complain. Yet even that isn’t true. In truth, we desperately need to be blessed. To be blessed by God. That he keeps us, that he looks upon us, that he turns towards us and gives us peace.

Blessing of manna.

God gives life through the daily bread of Jesus. And we receive it. Not passively like some want to, just sitting back and letting God do the work. But to actively receive it, to move forward and collect it as it appears on the ground. But what is it? What exactly is this stuff? That’s the same question the people of Israel asked about manna. That’s why they called it that.

What exactly is this blessing of manna? God give us life. True life. Eternal life. A life full of richness (note not riches but richness) a life full of love and completeness even when it doesn’t feel that way. But we must move forward in this divine/human partnership and collect the blessing of manna. Live for Jesus, actually live for him, don’t be passive but move forward in living for Him. He is the bread of life. He is the manna. He is the blessing of Manna that gives us a fullness and richness of life for ever and ever, world without end.

 

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Bearing the Fruit of Love

grapes frank fenema photography dot com

From frankfenemaphotography.com

Alright, already the title can be misconstrued. I want to be straight forward here. When I’m talking about Fruit, I’m talking about the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23:

The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (NIV 1984)

Notice that the Fruit of the Spirit IS these things. A pet peeve of mine is when people call it the “Fruits of the Spirit” as if they could have one piece of this and not the others. As if they’re allowed to have love but not self-control or goodness. Instead, the Fruit of the Spirit is like an orange. It’s one piece of fruit with many wedges. As a follower of Jesus, we are to bear this fruit in our lives. How often do we bear this fruit though?

The first wedge in the Fruit of the Spirit is love. And as a follower of Jesus, I am supposed to bear the fruit of love. To be honest, this can be tough to do too. To bear the fruit of love means I have to actually put myself out there and be willing to show love to others. Not just the pop-culture kinda love that we have out today. The just love one another and we’ll all be good type of love. That’s not the love that’s mentioned here. It’s not the type of love that I’m supposed to have. It’s a different kinda love. It’s a hard love to have but it makes all the difference as a follower of Jesus.

Jesus tells His disciples:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

Then just a bit later Jesus says:

This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

Jesus tells his disciples that the fruit that they are to bear is a fruit that will last (John 15:16). This fruit is the Fruit of the Spirit and part of this fruit is the aspect of love. This love is beyond what we think of love. As John and Paul said (The Beatles, not the apostles) “All you need is love.” That’s the fuzzy feeling love. The love that we’re talking about here is called agape (uh-gah-pay) love.

What is agape love? This is an all inclusive love that is like family love but greater. It’s the love of God for His people despite themselves. It’s the love that only a mother warthog can have for her ugly little kid and see the beauty in its face. That’s agape love. And this is the love that we as followers of Jesus are to show to prove to the world that we are followers of Jesus.

But this love can be hard. It can be taxing. It’s easier to like things. To like people. It’s easier sometimes to tolerate someone and call it love. To tolerate something is to put up with it even though you don’t like it. To love, to truly agape love, is to love someone despite themselves. It isn’t putting up with something, it’s looking past that something and loving them regardless of what irritates you.

As Christians, we fail at this type of agape love a lot. We fail to love as Jesus loved us. And we’ve paid the price. Our name has been smeared. The messengers have tainted the message. We’ve become evangelical gerbils (okay, that’s an old post you can check out here). Instead of going forth into the world in the agape love, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we’ve retreated into subgroups and attack those who aren’t like us. That isn’t showing agape love. That’s creating an us vs them mentality.

Church has become a club instead of a mission way station to help the hurting and the poor. Church has become a place where we come to be fed like toddlers who don’t like broccoli rather than learning how to feed ourselves in God’s word. We still require spiritual milk rather than the true substance of what God wants us to have and to be. All because we struggle with agape love.

Bearing the fruit of agape love is hard to do, but as a follower of Jesus (when we trust in Him by the Holy Spirit), we can overcome the obstacles and truly love that agape love.

But how? It begins with the conscious effort to love your neighbor, to agape love your neighbor as yourself. To love them as God loves them. And from there slowly move forward. It begins with acts of kindness, but that’s for a ‘nother post. But when we do, we will show the world that we belong to Jesus, when we love others with the agape love of Jesus.

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