C.S. Lewis writes, “In Christianity God is not a static thing…but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” If we press out this metaphor of dance a bit further, we can understand Father, Son, and Spirit as each dancing, orbiting, around the others. They each give unconditional, infinite agape love to the others. They each give glory to the others. There is an eternal dance of glorifying love going on within the Trinity.

Tim Keller writes, “Because the Father, Son, and Spirit are giving glorifying love to one another, God is infinitely, profoundly happy. …The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are pouring love and joy and adoration into the other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another’s glory, and so God is infinitely happy. And if it’s true that this world has been created by this triune God, then ultimate reality is a dance.”

Ultimate reality is a dance. We are meant to dance and move and orbit around the Trinity, our triune Creator God. We are not meant to be still, meaning we are not meant to be the center of the universe. Hell is stasis. Hell is ordering your life around yourself, and demanding that others, even God, dance around you.

But God himself, within his internal dynamics, does not even do this. God is three-personal, and each person of the Trinity orbits around the others in a dance of glorifying agape love.

Have you ever wondered why God created humans? Was he lonely? No, he wasn’t lonely, because he is three-in-one. He didn’t lack for relationships or love. Did he have needs? Like, was he hungry? No, he had no needs. He wasn’t hungry, and he didn’t need to create humans to bring him food. Some ancient religions taught that. But not ours.

What compelled God to create humanity was desire, his desire to extend the divine dance from 3 to infinity. God’s desire was to spread the other-glorifying dance of self-giving love within himself to an infinite number of beings created in his image. As Tim Keller says, “You were made to enter into a divine dance with the Trinity.” This does not mean that you or I will ever become divine. We will not. But we will become the closest thing possible: The Bride of Christ.

There is a wedding at the end of Scripture, the marriage between Christ and the Church. We, the Church, will become Christ’s everlasting companion; and so the dance will grow. We will be invited in. As the prophets so often put it from God’s perspective: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Your destiny is to join the dance of the Trinity as a full member of the Church, Christ’s Bride.

But this, of course, is not a dance that we must wait for. You are invited to participate now, today. If all of life is a dance, if ultimate reality is a divine dance, then you need, more than anything, to join the dance today. What bride would show up to her wedding not knowing how to dance?

So the onus is on you to learn how to dance. You must learn humility. You must learn agape love. You must commit yourself to seeing the Gospel happen in your heart, in your relationships, and in your community. You must learn to dance with Jesus as a part of a community of faith. You must learn to live within the agape love of the Trinity.

Last year, for the first time in my life, I started a Bible reading plan that I actually finished. It was the M’Cheyne reading plan, and it takes you through the Old Testament once, and the New Testament + Psalms twice in a year. I started the plan on January 1 last year, and, by the grace of God, finished it on December 31. I got behind a lot, especially after Bexley was born, so there were many days of no reading and many days of lots of reading. I had to make up over 20 missed days at the end of the year!

Despite my inconsistencies, it was a very rewarding experience. Though it’s indiscernable to me, Breena has noticed a difference in my character. She could always tell, with a fair amount of accuracy, the days I had done my reading and the days I hadn’t. (Apparently I’m crankier when I don’t read the Bible.) But beyond what this discipline has done to my character is what it has done to my mind and my spirit. I sense deep internal change going on. Fewer impure thoughts. Shorter bouts of despair. Greater attention to the things of God. More passion for Jesus. Order where there was chaos. Clarity where there was fog.

There were many times I wanted to quit. I felt it becoming routine. Mundane. Obligatory. But instead of giving it up so that I could be wholly authentic and not hypocritical at all, I pressed through those emotions and came out the other side. And you know what? There really is a far side of mundane and religious obligation. At first I wanted to do it, then I felt like I had to do it. But instead of giving up at that point, I persevered through it and came to a place where I both wanted to do it and knew that I had to do it. And that was okay.

If you’ve tried to start a Bible reading before and failed, don’t give up. I tried many times and failed. I failed many times in 2011. Just don’t give up. Get back on track. Use one of the many plans on YouVersion to keep yourself on pace in 2012. They even have plans as short as one week, so that you can ease your way into the discipline of daily Scripture reading. Just 10 minutes a day in the Word really can change your life!

A lot of folks at Ember are also involved with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), which just had their annual Christmas Conference in Indianapolis. It was, as usual, awesome. I can’t wait to hear about it from more of my friends!

I also attended a lot of conferences and retreats as a college student. These were, what I called, “Mountain Top Experiences”. They are spiritual highs. You come away from these events highly-motivated, deeply-passionate, and just overall on fire for God.

Typically, however, the fire would die down and the passion would fade, and I would return to “normal”, which basically meant I became a shy, timid, cynical person again. I would berate myself for not being able to sustain the spiritual high I got at the conferences and retreats. I thought this was a mark of my being immature and weak. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things about myself and about life with God since then, so I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve learned here.

First of all, The spiritual high is designed to fade. The mountain top experience is emotionally and spiritually unsustainable. And that’s okay. What’s most important is not what you do or believe on top of the mountain, but what you do and believe in the valleys. You are far more dangerous to the devil in the valleys, if you persist through them with faith, courage, and obedience, than you are on the mountain tops. Anybody can get excited about God for a weekend, but one of the distinguishing marks of a true disciple is that he or she remains faithful to God within their times of spiritual and emotional discouragement.

Secondly, Follow through on whatever commitment you made. Keeping your promises to God is vital to fostering a good relationship with him. You might have been in the heat of passion and fire for Jesus when you committed to him a year of overseas ministry (or whatever), but you still made the promise. Keep it. The devil will do whatever he can to get you to break your promises to God. Remember that when you start rationalize your way out of keeping your commitments.

Lastly, Focus on keeping your trajectory upward. If you could graph your spiritual life, how excited and passionate you are about Jesus, what it would look like? Yes, you will have peaks and valleys. But is it moving in a general, upward (meaning more encouraged and more passionate) trend? To accomplish this, you’re going to have to participate in spiritual disciplines. You have to get the things of God firmly rooted into the soil of your heart. So I say, start a prayer journal. Use youversion.com (or their smart phone app) to start a Bible reading program. Spend 10 minutes today completely disconnected from all media, in total silence. Raise your hands in worship even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. Force yourself to engage with God beyond how you’re feeling in the particular moment. Push yourself. If you do that, you’ll look back on your spiritual high in ten years and think, “Wow. That’s my normal, now.”

I hope this helps. If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments section.

This is a story I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. It’s the story of how God used a blog (not mine) to make Ember Church a reality. Enjoy!

One of the best experiences I had while working at Heritage happened the weekend before Lent, 2010. We usually brought in a big-time guest speaker the weekend before Lent, and this year was no different, because we invited Scot McKnight to come speak to us about Mary. The responsibility fell to me to pick Scot and his wife Kris up from the airport, escort them to the hotel, and to and from church for the weekend. They could not have been nicer, more down-to-earth people; and Breena and I got to share lunch and dinner with them! (Thanks, Heritage!)

Scot has a very popular blog called the Jesus Creed, on which he (and others) makes many thought provoking posts every day. There is usually good, civil discussion in the comment threads. I enjoyed taking part in the discussions for the better part of 2010, and Scot was even gracious enough to post several of my book reviews there.

When I moved into full time church planting in early 2011, I stopped commenting at the Jesus Creed, but was still an active reader. One day, in the Spring if I remember correctly, Scot posted about a book he recommended to me over dinner, Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. It is an excellent book and, as an introvert, I resonated with so much of what he wrote. (You can read my review of the book here.) I left a brief comment on Scot’s post about the book, saying something to the effect of, “You recommended this book to me when you were in Columbus, and I really enjoyed it!”

Later that day I got a comment on my own blog from someone going by the handle Pastor Mark. My first thought was, “Is Mark Driscoll commenting on my blog? Does he want to fight me?” As it turns out, it was Mark Farmer, a pastor in Columbus and fellow frequenter of the Jesus Creed blog. He contacted me because he had read my mention of Scot’s trip to Columbus, and thought it would be great to get together to chat. I happily agreed, thinking this was a great chance to meet another pastor in the area. I am, after all, the world’s worst networker, so whenever I get an opportunity to network with other pastors, I jump at it.

This is where things get God-level interesting. Mark and I both live in Westerville. In fact, we live in the same neighborhood. What is more, he pastors the church that is about a 2 minute drive from my house! We met up at Panera and had a wonderful conversation. He was a missionary and church-planter in France for a long time, and I was eager to hear his stories of ministry in what I perceived to be a difficult environment.

Meanwhile, Ember was still in the planning stages, but the summer was fast approaching, and that meant the fall, and our launch, was right around the corner. I had been looking into renting the local elementary school for our Sunday morning services, but the cost, along with the cost of storage, audio/visual equipment, and time to set-up and tear-down seemed prohibitive. We had some money, but not enough to get us off the ground in an elementary gymnasium.

So we turned our attention to renting space at a local church. But who would let us rent part of their building to hold a church service while they were having their own church service? It seemed like we would have to look into the possibility of meeting on Sunday nights.

I had been against that from the beginning because I thought people would then perceive us as Junior Church, or Extra Church. In our culture, you go to church on Sunday morning, and everything else is extra credit. Fighting the culture over Jesus would be hard enough; I didn’t want to have to fight the culture over what time you go to church, too.

But it didn’t seem like we had many options. As we brainstormed the various churches we could contact, Mark popped into my head. I said to the team, “I just met the pastor of a church right down the road. I don’t think they have anything in their building on Sunday nights. I’ll talk to him.” The following Monday I spoke with Mark, and he presented it to his deacons that night, and they approved it! So we drew up a rental agreement, and we found a home! And it’s so much better than an elementary school gymnasium. The building is beautiful. We get to store our stuff on site. They even gave me an office! All for much less than it would have cost us to rent a public school facility.

God is full of surprises. You never know how he’s going to provide for you, or make his mission possible. For Ember Church, it was a popular author, his blog, and a local pastor with a wide vision of the kingdom of God.

 

My wife wrote a post on her blog yesterday about a conversation we had with our kids at breakfast. The kids were talking about living to be 100 years old, and Breena told them that she would be dead when they were 100. That kind of freaked them out, so she reassured them that we would all be together in heaven if we love Jesus. Then she turned to me and asked, “Is that right?”

One of the things we value in our family is telling our kids the truth. That’s why we don’t do Santa Claus in our house at Christmas. Sure, he’s a fun story, but he’s portrayed as though he’s real, and he most certainly overshadows Jesus during the Christmas season. It’s not that we’re opposed to fiction or fun stories, it’s that we’re opposed to fiction portrayed as truth to the point that the real truth is suppressed beneath the fiction. So what does that have to do with going to heaven?

I believe that the truth about heaven gets obscured by the fiction. The popular image is that we become angels when we die, playing harps on clouds and looking out for our loved ones who are still alive on the earth. This is not the biblical image.

So when Breena asked me, “Is that right?”, I said, “Well, actually Jesus is going to come back here and reign on the earth.” Of course, my little ones don’t know what the word reign means, so Breena had me explain it.

“That means Jesus is going to come back and be the king over all the earth. And do you know what else, we are all going to be kings and queens with him!”

I have never seen my kids eyes light up so bright in my life. They could not have been more excited about becoming kings and queens with Jesus. This led into a much longer conversation about how we live on earth, but it was that spark in their eyes and voices that hit me with this epiphany: The truth is life-giving. We tell our kids the truth, not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because it breathes life into their souls. The truth is always better than fiction.

Jesus is better than Santa Claus.

Reigning with Jesus is better than the popular, saccharin picture of heaven.

The truth is better than fiction. Trust your kids. Tell them the truth. They can understand more than you probably realize.