Even in our times alone with God, we are not alone -- we are part of that greater worshipping community that follows after Jesus -- past, present and future.

The Holy Spirit was poured out upon a group, and it is in and through the group that He works. The individual cannot function apart from the group anymore than he or she can function apart from Jesus. Abiding in Jesus will result in full connection to His church.

We were created for intimate connection focused on learning from Jesus and walking out His agenda as it is revealed to the group. We learn intimacy from Jesus and from those whom He has taught, and then we teach that intimacy to those who need to be taught -- by loving them with that AGAPE love lived out.

There is nothing more satisfying than living in that place where we are fully connected to Him and to each other, and seeing the result of His agenda revealed and lived out, here and now.

That is the kingdom among us, and we see it unfold daily -- in our private times of solitude, in our relationships, and in our community as we abide together and impact our world.


The Difference Between AGAPE and Being Liked

I once heard Glenn Kaiser -- an elder in the JPUSA community in Chicago -- talk about what it was like to live in close community with disciples who are also sinners. The intimacy and growth and power were amazing, but there was no glamour, just the reality of living with crazy sinners.

But it is in community that the Holy Spirit transforms us and uses us -- and He puts the people He wants in here with us, and tells us to walk with those people, and not pick and choose. That's pretty different than our 21st century American culture that tells us to pick healthy companions, cut the unhealthy ones out of our lives, and make personal comfort and health our goal. (My husband even talks about a "Mother Theresa complex" as something healthy people avoid.)

I do think we choose our most intimate companions -- just as Jesus did. We can only cultivate and honor so much intimacy; so one of our areas of stewardship is in which relationships we focus upon, and which we let go for later, if "later" ever comes. And I am blessed to have a full plate of both that most-intimate kind of friendship (meaning my mentors and friends who know virtually anything they want to know about me and some things they would just as soon not know, and who regularly share the same with me) and of those second-tier friendships where there is a real affection and much in common, but not without reserve.

But in addition to those chosen friends, we have many in our communities of faith that are further out in our circles. We have those who are friends with our friends, and might be with us if the opportunity came about. We have those who are at odds with our friends -- or simply in a different clique -- and who therefore see us as "not a part". We have those who dislike us, or who we dislike, or with whom we have a more active conflict than simple dislike. And then we have those who are invisible -- that just never really come into focus for us. And we are called to show AGAPE to all of those circles -- maybe even sometimes by letting people from those "outer circles" take time, energy, and money away from those in our inner circles, and maybe even sometimes by inviting some of them in, even though they aren't as attractive to us as the people we have to choose to neglect in the process of that choice.

Jesus told us that we were to show we were His disciples by loving each other -- not by "loving each other" as an emotion, but by actively showing appropriate AGAPE to all the people who encircle us in the different parts of our faith communities. And we were instructed by Paul that -- as much as it lies with me -- I am to be at peace with everyone in my community. Now, that's AGAPE!

I love my church community -- which means I love the people in the community with me. There really aren't any people there -- women or men -- who seem to be people that are difficult to like, or even really all that difficult to get along with. That's not to say that there aren't the normal cliques and conflicts and "characters" -- but just to say that it is a good fit for me, because the culture and individuals make sense to me.

However, I do have people that I watch get along well with others -- and who even have mutual friends with me -- that are not friendly to me, but really are just the opposite. Some of those relationships are ones that I've tried to "fix", and some of them aren't -- and I've had varying degrees of success in "fixing" things when I've attempted that. (I suppose my definition of "fix" here lands somewhere between "making them be as friendly to me as they are to everyone else" and "making the relationship line up with God's requirement of Agape from me to them" -- and exactly where it lands on that spectrum depends upon the degree to which my focus is truly on the One who sustains me rather than on how comfortable I am.)

One of my attempts to fix a problem relationship ended in real success, and I have a comfortable, active friendship. One of my attempts ended in apparent success, with the woman saying and doing everything necessary toward a mutual understanding and friendship, and even now acting in a way that is outwardly warm -- but the underlying reality of being actively excluded from her ministry activities and personal friendships did not change, and was even more painful because I knew there was nothing more I could do about it. One of my attempts grew a fast and warm friendship quickly, but ended in that friend even more cold and distant than before. Another situation ended in apparent disaster and a lot of fallout with a lot of people who thought I did the wrong thing, and created more negativity than it solved. And then there is the woman who has always been friendly on the surface, so that it would be uncomfortable to address my sense that she really really dislikes me -- but who shows in many ways her dislike and competitive spirit, even though we seem to share the same passions and goals.

But then, my goal can't be to make everyone like me, can it? That's not AGAPE! (But my goal can be to not let someone's dislike for me get in the way of what God wants to do in or though either one of us.)

AGAPE needs to flow out of my intimacy with God and out of conversation and accountability with my chosen inner circle -- and needs to have the goal of accomplishing God's loving purposes for that person, for me, and for our shared community.

So when I reach the point of having said all I can say, written all I can write, and having done all I can do to make right a relationship that is not right -- not just "all" by my own calculation, but "all" by the estimate of those to whom I am accountable -- then I need to just wait and pray and grieve.

I am grateful for my friends who are as willing to grieve with me over negative fallout from an attempt to do what is right as they are willing to rejoice with me! Even though we know the goal isn't "to be liked", we also know how painful it can be to be disliked! And we also know that a community of real AGAPE sees an eventual transformation of emotions and cliques, if the action of the Holy Spirit is real -- so we grieve the evidence that there are many areas not yet yielded to His influence.

But it is in the pains of real life in community that the Holy Spirit does His greatest miracles of grace and transformation; so we trust that the pain and tears will eventually produce great fruit, and we will see forgiveness and acceptance and unity -- in on-going waves to cover the new daily evidence of the fact that we're still a community of forgiven sinners, even when most yielded to the One who heals our sin.

Meanwhile, though, we cry out and wait. "Lord, show me anything more I should do or say. Change me -- my character, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions -- wherever you want me to change. Change the situation in the ways You want to change it to bring Your kingdom here. And change their understanding of community and of You and of me -- so that they won't be okay with continued conflict (even in the form of deliberately ignoring anyone or deliberately ignoring a painful situation), but will do anything You want them to do on their side toward healing and peace."

And our God will show Himself to be the God of our Bible -- a real God, right here, right now, expressed not in creeds nor in organizational efforts to be "missional", but expressed in His ability to give you love even for that woman that you really wish would just go worship someplace else.



I have been using the "Lord's Prayer" (really the Disciple's Prayer) as my template for daily prayer for a while, and it seems to work much better than the old templates I've used (Like "ACTS" -- adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).

I have been realizing -- as I pray each piece in my own words, with the specifics of my life -- how completely dependent and completely bankrupt I am -- and that we all are.

I get up each day with a full set of obligations and a full set of resources to steward -- my time, energy, and money, and also all that I've taken on in life -- from this marriage commitment to my commitment to my 4 sons and 2 stepsons to my commitment to all my friends and the daily tasks and goals. And certainly I am called to responsible stewardship and to a good work ethic and to character development and to simple basic obedience. Certainly I am called to fulfill the obligations I have to the people I love and to my community and to society as a whole.

But I am personally bankrupt. Every morning I get up and my obligations far exceed my resources and character development.

I used to think the Christian life meant changing that! I should be able to limit my obligations and increase my resources and character strength, and become consistently strong and effective in doing whatever was on my plate for that day and that month and that year, and move deliberately toward a future of increased effectiveness and stewardship. I should be able to grow to a healthy Christian adulthood.

Now I know that growing toward that full effectiveness and best stewardship are dependent upon a knowledge of reality that acknowledges my daily bankruptcy. All my resources really are not mine, and I cannot command them or control them. And my obligations -- no matter how I try to focus them on a few essentials -- always exceed my ability to fulfill them in the way God intends me to fulfill them.

"Abiding" as Jesus talks about abiding in Him in John 14 and 15 is becoming more and more a reality for me. I am getting over the idea that He wants me to "grow up" and do this life on my own, and starting to not only accept but relish the idea that He wants such intimacy that I truly do nothing on my own.

The God of the Universe loves me enough to fill me and teach me and use me! And He is doing amazing things in me and around me and even through me!

Recognizing my bankruptcy each day allows me to draw on the riches of the One whose agenda matters. It also requires me to abandon my own agenda as undo-able, and to ignore the agendas of those around me with an "unholy disregard" except as they emerge as His agenda shown in the community of faith to which I submit in Him.

This life in the Kingdom is truly an "upside-down" life!


Link, Rich Mullins, and Life as My 6-y-o Son

My 6-year-old son Noah has been drawing "Link" from "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" -- a game that he doesn't own, but has apparently gotten to play at a friend's house. I have been presented with at least a dozen drawings, and seen him draw Link in such places as the dry-erase board at his tutor's office.

I am always amazed at Noah's art work, and always complementary -- but I don't know that he's ever been on the same theme for so long. So, a week or so ago, as he handed me one more picture of Link, I said it was amazing and thanks, but then commented, under my breath, "You're a little obsessed with him, aren't you?"

He did not ask me to define "obsessed", but he didn't answer me, either, and we moved on.

Last night he got in my car to go somewhere with me, and the DVD that was playing was not one of his kid DVDs -- which is our norm. It was the live DVD of Rich Mullins I've been watching. Noah and Brooks politely watched it -- after me telling them that I wouldn't change it to one of theirs because I wanted them to see Rich. Noah asked me questions about Rich, and carried on a polite conversation that showed respect for my interest. (Despite his reading and behavioral issues, he is a very bright little boy!)

The conversation ended with my laughter when he asked me "You're a little obsessed with him, aren't you?"

I am obsessed with many things, I suppose -- and I think Jesus is my greatest obsession. But Noah and his brothers make life sweet and full and real -- and so, even though Noah doesn't understand it or need to understand it, my primary desire was to cultivate an interest in Noah and Brooks for the values and passion of Rich Mullins.

I think part of love is sharing our passions and hoping they catch the heart of the people we love -- but then another part is watching the people we love and being amazed at what they say and what they love and how they grow, even when that doesn't match our preferences.

I am amazed at Noah.


A Surreal Week -- and Abraham offering Isaac

I am climbing out of a very strange week! My husband's dad's death, the orientation for the Bethel class I am teaching, some things I've been concerned about in the lives of my friends and in the life of my church, a couple of days of being sick-with-a-fever again (which I went through a couple of weekends ago, but haven't been through much these last few years), immersing myself in a biography about Rich Mullins and live DVD of him, and "smooshing" my middle toe on my right foot accidentally on Friday night --- those things and others have warped my internal world to a place where I suspect it will never return to quite the same configuration as it was in a week ago.

Today I have been meditating on these verses:

Genesis 22:
1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. 9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place "The Lord will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided."
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

And then these verses from Hebrews 11:
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and "he was not found, because God had taken him." For it was attested before he was taken away that "he had pleased God." 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." 19 He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

And, as the passage from Hebrews 11 says, in faith we believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him . . .

And what I've been thinking about amounts to this: God Himself is our reward!

The God who created out of nothing, and then created me in my mother's uterus, and has kept me and molded me these years . . . He is wild about me, and is giving me time and reason to be wild about Him. And all the other things that I hold onto -- the things I know I'm passionate about, like my children, and the things I don't know until they're challenged, like my health and freedom from pain -- are not things I sacrifice at great price to show my loyalty to Him, nor are they things I hold onto as idols at the expense of my loyalty to Him. They are just second things. And, in the end -- whether I hold onto these second things when I know I should let go of them, or are allowed to just keep them and take them for granted, or are instructed to keep them and cherish them and enjoy them and provide for them -- they show up as less than the One Thing that created me and cherishes me, even when I'm still worshipping idols.

I have had fun watching the DVD of Rich Mullin's talks, and reading the "devotional biography" formed around his writings. I had the privilege of seeing him perform many times when he was still alive, and have always been a fan -- but found his writings and talks amazing to me. He was a plain midwestern guy who was truly focused on Jesus to the exclusion of a lot of the things our wider culture values highly. I think he really got the idea that it was the triune God who satisfies -- and not any of the other stuff. And I don't think that's something we can teach effectively with words. I think it's "catching", and that seeing someone else live out that knowledge is life-changing.

May my life be life-changing like that, and may I have that experience of knowing the God who satisfies my deepest longings.