The Phil Files

Musings & messages on everyday worship, Jesus, and the stuff of life.

Archive for March, 2008

A Heart for the City

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Ever since my heart was captured by the Gospel of Luke and the companion volume called Acts, I have been convicted that God had a special heart for the city.

“Which city?” you might ask.

My answer, “Any city, but especially the big cities!”

Jesus’ ministry was focused on the key cities — Capernaum and Jerusalem especially — and the book of Acts revolves around key cities — Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome.

I recently received a message in my inbox that spoke so powerfully about this focus and something that has been on my heart lately. This message came in a regular email update called The Bronx Prayer Letter. In it, Jared Looney powerfully speaks about a love for the city, especially the people in the city. As I preach on Jesus’ call for us to be an “ALL” focused people today — something I will discuss more with you in my article tomorrow — I can’t think of a more powerful way to demonstrate the love necessary to do this than Jared’s letter. Be blessed: but even more, be convicted. I have been!

Dear Friends,

Lying in bed last night, I kept thinking about the faces, the names, the situations, and dramas unfolding. It is easy to look at the city, calculate its toughness and spiritual despair, and decide that “it’s not for me.”

Like the rest of us, people in the Bronx are deeply flawed. While part of our society wrestles with the violent sins of neglect, places like the Bronx are flawed in more obvious ways. There is a rawness to life and to relationships, and life is desperate for many. For missionaries from the burbs, it is easy to appreciate the poor when they are new and their stories inspiring, when there is a certain admiration or intrigue,when we are entering an experience that stimulates our sense of adventure. That is, before the glit and glamour of urban messiness becomes actually… messy.

In theological discussions around the country, many are renewing conversations about Incarnational ministry. That is, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us as a (or THE) model for ministry. However, I wonder if short term missions has sometimes skewed our view of this practical doctrine. For all the discussions of incarnational ministry, they are only discussions until the glamour rubs off and we’re sharing life with other (and perhaps differently) flawed people. When Jesus repeatedly sat at the table with “sinners and tax collectors” or called fishermen who thought of children as an annoyance, Jesus shared life with them — and at the same time he was life for them. He sought their transformation, and when necesary he released them to their choices. And I’m sure with a sensitivity to sin that shadows even the holiest of consciences, he journeyed with them as their friend.

Early in this journey, the Lord impressed upon me to love the city. I knew what that meant more & more over time. The city is the people, and I love the city.

Jared Looney

Written by phil

March 29th, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Psalm 32: Deliverance Songs

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Confronting our hidden sins, our rebellion, and lies are never easy. But confession is the open door to God to step in and change our hearts and lives, and also redeem our relationships. Take comfort in such sweet reassurance. Take action when falsehoods fill your relationships.

Blessed are those
      whose transgressions are forgiven,
      whose sins are covered.
   Blessed are those
      whose sin the LORD does not count against them
      and in whose spirit is no deceit.

   When I kept silent,
      my bones wasted away
      through my groaning all day long.
   For day and night
      your hand was heavy on me;
   my strength was sapped
      as in the heat of summer.

   Then I acknowledged my sin to you
      and did not cover up my iniquity.
   I said, “I will confess
      my transgressions to the LORD.”
   And you forgave
      the guilt of my sin.

   Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
      while you may be found;
   surely the rising of the mighty waters
      will not reach them.
   You are my hiding place;
      you will protect me from trouble
      and surround me with songs of deliverance.

   I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
   I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
   Do not be like the horse or the mule,
      which have no understanding
   but must be controlled by bit and bridle
      or they will not come to you.
   Many are the woes of the wicked,
      but the LORD’s unfailing love
      surrounds those who trust in him.

   Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
      sing, all you who are upright in heart!

\o/ — Comments Psalm 32: Surround me with songs of deliverance! — \o/

Few things wilt a heart, undermine a relationship, and destroy a sensitive spirit quite like hidden sin. Our hidden, unconfessed sin poisons us. The longer we incubate it, the more dead and broken we become inside.

In relationships, there is no integrity, no genuine intimacy, when hidden sin separates a husband and wife or two close friends. A close friendship is rendered false and shallow because of secrets and sin. A person’s own heart is chewed up with real guilt and the toxic shame of unconfessed rebellion. Our hidden, unconfessed sins poison our relationship. The longer we incubate it, the more dead and broken the person we love becomes, poisoned of heart by our own hand.

The psalmist’s graphic description of sin’s power to rot a person physically as well as spiritually is powerfully described here.

“BUT GOD …!”

Ah, what sweet reversal the simple words “But God …” can bring. Confession, honesty, a genuine and thorough audit of our hearts opens the door to for hope to say, “But God can bring healing, health, hope, forgiveness, deliverance, righteousness, and songs of joy.

He can restore heart, soul, mind, and strength … and sometimes … in fact often times … He helps to restore the broken relationship.

As James said so long ago, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Written by phil

March 28th, 2008 at 8:21 am

The Jesus Deal

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You’ve probably heard of the old TV show Let’s Make a Deal and the new, Howie Mandel and banker driven Deal or No Deal. You may have even heard the often overused expression in sports, “the real deal.” But I want us to think for a minute about the Jesus Deal.

I find it heartbreaking that Jesus — who was beloved by non-religious folks and often in trouble with the religious ones —  gets buried underneath all our religious stuff. I guess I was convicted recently in listening to a friend speak. I didn’t exactly agree with a tiny part of what he was saying, but the heart and the passion underneath it all really convicted me — even the part he said about church that made me a little uncomfortable. One statement, however, really tore open the rusty-hinged door to my own heart’s passion: “If we are not sharing the gospel in our preaching or our teaching here, come get in our face about it.”

Yeah, that’s the Jesus deal. We’ve got to be all about sharing the message of God’s good headlines about the Jesus and the lifestyle of people whose hearts are captivated by Him.

Folks can be pretty turned off about the word “church” or us referring to church. I know, because I live in a place that is supposed to be this great religious mecca, but in fact, it is full of people who are quite turned off by the church deal. This is not so much because church is a bad idea, but because we’ve kinda forgotten what church is and buried Jesus under our religious stuff that’s covered up what it is supposed to be.

In the Bible the word “church” simply means a gathering of folks — it’s not even a particularly religious word. But when the folks getting together were people who followed Jesus, it was real church: a gathering of people whose hearts were captivated by Jesus. Yet I find so much of what we talk about, teach about, preach about, is never filtered through the Jesus deal.

I’m not so sure we check out what Jesus said or what He did or how He treated people to see if the stuff we are saying in church fits with the Jesus deal. We just see if … 1) we agree … 2) if it agrees with what we’ve heard before … 3) and if it fits our bend and color on the Christian rainbow. I wonder how much would change if we simply would ask the question: “Okay, based on how Jesus treated people and what He said, does what we are saying really fit?”

When Paul gave his famous memory verse on the Scripture being “inspired” and all, he pretty much tells us that Scripture helps us find deliverance from all our crud (“salvation”) if we run it through the Jesus deal — “the sacred writings that are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). John starts his message about Jesus by saying Jesus is God’s Message (John 1:1-18) — not part of it, but the whole of it. The unknown author of Hebrews, led the Spirit, said that Jesus is God’s complete message for these last times (Hebrews 1:1-3). So why don’t we listen to Jesus, just like God told Peter, James, and John to do on the mountain? (See Matthew 17:1-5!)

As I visited the other day with a friend who has struggled with what the Bible teaches on a certain subject — and trying to come to a clear decision about the subject  because her life was once blown apart by her own sinful choices — I challenged her to call her spiritual problems by the name of a different sin and then go read the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and decide what Jesus would say to her. She had gotten so hung up in the two thousand years of debate about her issue, that she had forgotten to look at the real issue: what Jesus taught and demonstrated about God’s grace, forgiveness, and cleansing. All I was asking her to do was quit focusing on the legalistic technicalities of an issue that religious leaders have fought about since before Jesus was born. Instead, I urged her to listen to the Jesus deal. Her answer became a whole lot clearer!

So with the help of the Holy Spirit, I’m going to do my best to make sure when I speak, the Gospel is there. I want my teaching to pass through the Jesus filter and folks to know that when I speak, they’re hearing the Jesus deal and not just some dry, academic dissection of a religious argument. That doesn’t mean I don’t study, or get sloppy, or resort to slogans. But it does mean I’ve got to go back to original, deepest convictions about my ministry: I’ve put here to call people back to knowing Jesus. He’s the real deal or there is no deal … at least not a deal worth taking.

Written by phil

March 27th, 2008 at 10:43 pm


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Despite all the appearances that I have dropped off the face of blogdom, I want everyone to know that I am alive and still kickin’ — at least for one more day. However, it feels like our family was asked by the DNC to be a volunteer poster family for the Hillary and Obama nationalized health care debate — we were the test family this week to see how health insurance works. (I think this also may be payback for my mom voting republican all these years.)

This is what I mean on the health care issue. My mom had knee replacement surgery on Tuesday … but hold on, that’s just the beginning! While I was waiting with Grady (mom’s husband) at the hospital for mom to come out of recovery, Donna (my wife) was with Megan (our daughter) at the doctor having an MRI read on the ankle she broke five years ago playing softball in high school — a plate and 7 screws was required then to patch it up. Megan did not receive a great report, so she is now referred on to an orthopedist — the same one who did mom’s knee surgery. Megan has been limping around and hurting pretty badly at the end of each day working as a tech at a physical therapy center. Meanwhile, I start my “day before colonoscopy” liquid diet today to get ready for my appointment tomorrow with the dreaded “long black snake” — be warned, I get a little cranky on water and Jello diets in anticipation of drinking concentrated saline so they can look at me where the sun doesn’t shine. While I am having my “procedure” tomorrow, Donna goes for blood work. Ah, can you say “insurance deductible” four times very quickly?

Of course it’s been a crazy and nutty work week for Donna at school and church is its normal insanity for me. Hopefully we all — mom, Megan, Donna, and myself — go home at the same time, in good health,. Of course I can’t be the one driving! They promise that they will dismiss me before I’m fully returned from “lala” land. But that’s what they said last time when I woke up during the beloved “procedure” — but that is a story for another day and time.

So if you ask me how the week has been, I would say, “We’ve paid our insurance deductible and are still standing.” But then, I haven’t survived the long black snake.

Nobody told me when I was 20 that falling apart when you are over 50 is “so much fun”!? Who needs TV when you can watch pictures of … well, let’s not go there.

As I have searched for spiritual application for my “procedure,” phrases from Genesis 3 keep popping into my mind:

“I was naked and hid myself.” (Yeah, that’s what I will want to do in the morning when they take my clothes, put me in that “gown” with no back door. I will want to hide.)
To the snake God said, “Because you have done this, curse are you among all the animals … upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” (Yeah, we all pretty much want to put a curse on the snake in moments like this.)
“I will put enmity between you and the offspring of the woman .” (Yeah, I’m going to hate this whole deal!)
“By the sweat of your brow …” (Yeah, I’m going to be doing this!)

On closer inspection, the only Scripture that seems to righteously apply right now is this:

[Jesus asked] “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” … And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles” (Matthew 7:19-20 NRS).

Which is, I guess, the Lord’s way of reminding me to not sweat the deductible, but work on the heart of the deductee — a heart that needs to be more patient, kind, gentle, appreciative, thankful, forgiving, empathetic, holy, and joyful. Amid all the whining, I’ve got a place to sleep, a family who loves me, food to eat, a church family to support me, friends to hold me accountable, resources to help provide health care for my family, and a million other blessings I don’t have time to name … and, by the Lord’s grace, I can pay my deductible.

So Lord, I ask that you take the whiny voice out of my heart and replace it with the heart of grace that Jesus had when he compassionately touched the lives of others. And LORD God, please be with all those we know who are truly wrestling with life and death health issues today, and help them to feel your presence and know that they are not alone in their struggles. Bless, especially O LORD, those who do not have access to health care or cannot afford it, and help us find ways to change that situation in our country and in our world, to Your honor and glory. Because of Jesus’ love for us, and in the name of the Great Physician, I pray. Amen.

Written by phil

March 27th, 2008 at 7:35 am

Not So Good Friday

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I should have done a spiritual “Good Friday.”

Yesterday, I did ponder and give thanks for the awful humiliation Jesus endured on the Cross. However, I was also in “catching up mode” having been gone the early part of the week to Austin to move our Heartlight servers to a new location. (See the “It is Crazy Here!” post from several days ago — and yes, all of us have been dealing with the aftermath of the move ever since.)

I groused and moaned to myself through most of the day about how everything was taking three times longer than it should and how everything I did led to something messed up that required more effort. By bed time, I was exhausted and a bit frustrated that I had frittered away such a beautiful day, such a special day, on a ton of simple but time-intensive tasks that I had not expected to be waiting for me. As I heard myself whine to my wife Donna, I was offended at my own pettiness! I was revolting “to my own self”!

I confessed to Donna, “Here I am whining about a hard day full of complications on the day when I should be thinking about all that Jesus endured for me on the cross.”

She replied calmly, “And yet think about how much you got done and how much was done for you!”

Hmm …

Thankfully we look at Friday — or Thursday or Wednesday, depending on how you reckon the day Jesus was actually crucified — as “Good Friday” because we see it through the lens of the resurrection. We live on the resurrection side of the Cross. Because of the awful night and day of trial, crucifixion, and burial, I know the love of God for me. And because of the resurrection, I know that Jesus’ awful day was not wasted, but accomplished so much for me — for all of us — even when it seems nothing else goes right.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain
(1 Corinthians 15:57-58 TNIV)

Written by phil

March 22nd, 2008 at 11:50 am

Psalm 29: The Blessing of Peace?

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Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
    worship the LORD in the splendor of his 1 holiness.

  The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
  The voice of the LORD is powerful;
    the voice of the LORD is majestic.
  The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
    the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
  He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
  Sirion like a young wild ox.
  The voice of the LORD strikes
    with flashes of lightning.
  The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
    the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
  The voice of the LORD twists the oaks 3
    and strips the forests bare.
  And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

  The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
    the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
  The LORD gives strength to his people;
    the LORD blesses his people with peace.

\o/ — Comments Psalm 29: The LORD blesses his people with peace! — \o/

Having spent the last week in a part of the country where floods have raged, lightning has sent it’s jagged crackles of electricity across the sky, thunder has rolled across the heavens, and torrential rains have caused flooding, this is a welcome and challenging psalm.

Like the psalmist, I’m reminded of the LORD’s indescribable power and my small place in the universe by such a massive display of natural power. Knowing God’s power if infinitely greater than these limited, but overwhelming displays of power, is both astounding and at the same time comforting. Clearly, I cannot control my own destiny. In the face of natural power, I am small and insignificant. Yet, the LORD chooses to know me and care about me and include me in His people. Because of this grace from the LORD, the LORD who sits enthroned above the flood, the LORD who is enthroned as King forever, I can trust that He will give me the strength I need and the peace I crave.

To this God, the only true and living God, belongs all glory, honor, and praise!

Written by phil

March 18th, 2008 at 11:09 pm