Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wake Up

This week I am starting a message series called “The Jesus I Want to Know,” focusing on the person of Jesus and drawing from passages in Luke’s gospel. For this reason our WHCC daily Bible readings come from Luke/Acts for the next five weeks. Recently as I did my devotional reading I prayed that God would raise a scripture out of the text on which to focus. I follow a method of devotional reading that uses the acronym S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) which lends itself to honing in on one passage or verse. The reading for the day was Luke 8-9, and this is the scripture that captured my attention: “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory…” (9:32, TNIV).

In this passage Jesus has taken James, John and Peter up onto a mountain to pray. While Jesus is praying he is transfigured. Luke tells us that “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (v. 29). Then Moses and Elijah appear, also in glorious splendor, and talk to Jesus about his impending Passion. This other-worldly spectacle evidently snaps the three disciples to attention. Peter makes an excited suggestion that they all stay up on the mountain permanently! Luke, like an exasperated big brother, tells us “Peter did not know what he was saying” (v. 33).

I find Luke’s description poignant (Matthew and Mark’s accounts do not mention sleepiness). A spiritual director with whom I spoke last year told me that for most of his adult life he had been spiritually “sleepwalking” (his words). Finally, through a fortuitous set of life events, he “woke up” to God. It seems to me that one of the things God wants to help us do through Jesus is to wake up. Wake up to his love for us. Wake up to his presence in our lives. Wake up to his purpose for us.

God wants us to experience the security of living in his love and consequently the adventure of living, even amidst life’s pain and pathos. Indeed, it is often in the crucible of pain that we experience the “wake up” call to God and the wonders of life. With luck, it doesn’t come too late in life.

“You fool!” God says to the man in Luke 12:18-21, who has run out of space to store his good crops, and having so little imagination, considers only how he can build bigger barns in order to relax and take life easy. “This very day your life will be demanded of you.” The man is on remote control. He is anesthetized. His senses are dead. He is shuffling through his life with no greater aim than to be able to sit on his behind and take it easy.

The early church father and apologist, Irenaeus, memorably declared that “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Alive and awake to joy and despair, gain and loss, reward and penalty, pleasure and pain, loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, satisfaction and regret. It’s all part of the tapestry of the fully awake life that God wants to walk with us through (Psalm 23).

That’s not what most biblical commentators will tell you Luke 9:23 is about, and they are right. But that’s what the scripture put on my heart for that day, and by God’s grace, for every day.

How about you, are you awake? … Hello?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hand to the Plow

This week at West Houston we are unveiling a five-year strategic vision called Faith Challenge 2013 that will call us to new levels of commitment, service, and faith imagination. Our elders are united in their strong conviction that WHCC is ready for a fresh call to God’s kingdom work, for new challenges and a renewed focus. We are a fine church and we are making a reasonable impact in our area. But we serve a great God, follow a mighty Lord, and walk in the conviction of a Holy Spirit who “by the power at work within us is able to do abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). “Fine” and “reasonable” are not satisfactory.

Why a “strategic” vision? Because this is a strategy for living out our identity as the Body of Christ at West Houston, striving to join God in his kingdom work in a powerful way by “preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Why a “vision”? Because we do not have every detail mapped out. This is a vision, not a plan. We are going to consecrate ourselves for the next thirty days in prayer, fasting and spiritual reflection to seek God’s leading in how to develop specific plans to fulfill this vision.

Why five years? Because the vision is too large and bold to view it in a one or two-year time frame. At the same time, it is too URGENT to cast it beyond five years. This is not a “someday, Lord willing” vision. This is about what we can do, become and experience in the next five years as we step out in faith to attempt great things with and for God. The clock starts ticking this week.

Over the course of five years, God will certainly lead us to refine some points of the vision, redirect others, perhaps even jettison one (or perhaps not!), and possibly adopt additional plans or initiatives. The strategic vision is not in charge, God is. We serve a living Lord, not a vision. But as we have labored, prayed, reflected, discussed, and dreamed to develop this vision, the elders, vision task force and I are completely confident that the Holy Spirit has led us to this point. This strategic vision is very different (but much better) than what I had in mind when we began! I am filled with a sense of wonder at what it means to submit to God’s leading in partnership with a group of dedicated servants who all want the best for the church. It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of formulating this strategic vision, but I am confident that it pales in comparison to what the experience will be like to live it out with the Christ-followers at West Houston!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s be done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals. Are you ready to put your hand to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62)? The fields are ripe for the harvest and the Lord calls his people into the fields with plows in hand. There is a place for everyone in our field, working side by side, sweating together and singing together and helping God bring in his harvest.