Going Public

“God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness” Titus‬ ‭2‬:‭11-14‬ MSG).

I think that pretty much covers it.

Maybe My Favorite Line From a Song Ever

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“I can feel your love teaching me how
Your love is teaching me how to kneel, kneel” (U2, from the song Vertigo).

I discovered this line today. It’s odd that after listening to a song hundreds of times that one particular line that you’ve missed can suddenly catch your attention. This was Tthe line from the song Vertigo from the U2 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

This line makes a lot more sense if you see it as God’s love rather than human love. I can say from my own personal experience that the love of God has taught me to kneel, not just as a posture, but as an action reflecting an attitude adjustment in my own heart.

True love of any kind is ultimately about surrender. It’s not what I want but what you want that matters, especially when it comes to the love of God. True love says, “Not my will but Thine,” which is a lot easier to pray as a line from a rote prayer than as an actual declaration.

Only those who have experienced God’s love can truly surrender their wills and lives. Not those who have read about or know facts about God’s love but those who have seen and felt and touched and been transformed by it.

So, yes, God’s love is still teaching me to kneel. To let go of my own desires so I can receive God’s much grander and wilder desires for me. To let my own plans and dreams crumble into dust so that my life can be a blank slate where God can dream His dreams for me and in me.

I say all this like I’m actually good at it, but I’m not. I’m much too stubborn and I cling to my will far too often for my own good. But thankfully God is far more patient with me than I am with God (or with me for that matter).

I’m learning how to kneel.

 

My Social Media Break Update

You’re probably aware that I’m taking a break from social media for Lent. I found out today that Easter this year falls on April 5, meaning that I have roughly four more weeks to go. So far so good.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve been super spiritual and devoted all my newly-acquired spare time to prayer and Bible reading. I have managed to read more books and catch up on my Netflix queue. And read more of my Bible.

For me, it’s all about getting away from social media so that it doesn’t run my life. Too much time spent on Facebook and Instagram can feed into my perceived need for approval. It’s easy to feel good when lots of people comment on my posts and conversely, to feel isolated and ignored when they don’t. And I don’t just speak for me. I speak to most of you out there.

So I’m finding out that the wonderful world of social media didn’t fall apart without me. It kept right on going. I also found out that I didn’t go to pieces without my daily Facebook fix. So far, I’ve managed to keep most of my sanity (and hair).

One day, I’ll be really brave and disconnect from all things electronic. Maybe that will be for next Lent– give up television AND social media. Now that’d really be a challenge.

For now, I confess that I’m not as spiritual and disciplined and dedicated as I’d like to be. I also can state that I’ve gone three weeks without social media without falling off any wagons. I call that a win.

Most of all, I’m reminded again that God is faithful, even when I am faith-less. He is faithful to finish that good work He started in me and has even invited me to be a part of the great work He’s doing all around me.

Lent is the best reminder I know that it’s still not about me, no matter what I tell myself. And yes, I needed that reminder yet again.

 

 

The Best I Can Do

“I don’t want to live my life in such a way that the best I can do is the best I can do” (Mark Batterson, Wild Goose Chase).

I had to read that sentence three times before it registered. For those of you still scratching your head, here’s what it means:

I don’t want to live my life limited by my finite human potential.

I don’t want to live a life that can be explained in ordinary terms.

I want to live a life that can only be explained by the presence of the living Christ in me.

I want to be in a place way beyond my abilities so that no one can look at my deliverance and say that I had any part of it.

I want to be in situations where if God doesn’t come through I fail miserably.

I want to see what happens when I come to the end of me, because that is where miracles happen.

“But when I pray, the best I can do is no longer the best I can do. The best I can do is the best God can do. And He is able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine” (Mark Batterson).

When Helping Hurts: What’s In Your Hand?

“The Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff” (Exodus 4:2).

So far, this book is not light reading for when you can’t sleep at night. It’s deep and challenging and (on occasion) causes my head to hurt.

I have a couple of takeaways.

One is that when dealing with impoverished communities, the best way to look at the poor is not from a needs-based analysis, i.e. what do you lack in terms of material resources, finances, education, mindset, etc., but from an assets-based one which asks, “What is that in your hand?” In other words, what skills and talents do you bring to the table? What knowledge of your own community could you give us to help better serve you?

Another is instead of implementing a one size fits all blueprint approach to every crises or problem involving poor communities, the better way is a learning process, where instead of “doing to” and “doing for” the people we serve, we are “doing with,” involving these people in the process and actually empowering them to be a part of the solution to their problems.

Above all, the goal is to see the innate image of God in the people we serve, distorted as it may be from the effects of sin and the fall. It’s not us coming down from on high to serve those who aren’t as good as us, but broken people serving other broken people with the ideal scenario being that both parties learn and grow and change and find healing in the process.

Doing ministry in this way takes longer and goes against our microwave, fast-food, quick-fix mentality, but is by far the better way in the long run.

There will be more of these updates as I continue to make my way through this book. Seriously, it’s a very good book, but it’s like one of those books that I read in seminary. It makes me have to use muscles in my brain that I haven’t used in a while, so I may have to read parts more than once to really grasp it.

But that’s a good thing. Exercise is good, even if it gives me a sore brain in the morning, right?

PS I’ve included a link to the amazon webpage for this book if you’re interested in learning more about it or purchasing it. I recommend it for anyone who is even remotely interested in pursuing either short-term or long-term missions.

http://www.amazon.com/When-Helping-Hurts-Alleviate-Yourself/dp/0802409989/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1424978877&sr=1-1&keywords=when+helping+hurts

The Things Ahead

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I’ve had the privilege of knowing some really amazing people in my life. One of them, Derek Webster, is moving to Illinois to take a pastorship there. I’m happy for him but sad at the same time.

It seems that in this lifetime, I’m saying goodbye way more than I’d like. Too many friends and family have moved away or moved into new phases of their lives. Some have passed away.

I wish I could say that goodbyes get easier but they don’t. They still suck.

But what makes it easier for me each time is the knowledge is that the best truly is yet to come. This is not my best life now, but each little setback and disappointment and trial that I go through is preparation for a future that I can’t see yet, but one that will be better than I ever imagined.

I’ve learned (or truthfully, I’m still learning) the art of cultivating gratitude and thanksgiving. Learning to count my 1,000 gifts. Seeing life through the lens of how blessed I am instead of focusing on what I don’t currently have.

I still have days when I’m incredibly selfish and immature, days when I have a bad attitude and a quick temper. But thankfully, those days don’t define me anymore. Nor are they the end of my story.

I can see God at work in me, chipping away these rough edges and creating spaces where His colors can shine through. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but it’s always worth it.

So thanks, Derek, for being a part of my life and a good friend and a great inspiration. I can’t wait to see what amazing things God has in store for you next.

“But as the Scriptures say,No eye has ever seen and no ear has ever heardand it has never occurred to the human heartAll the things God prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9)

Revisiting the Shire

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I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve read this book (side note: there are not three books, but one book in three parts).

It’s like going back to a familiar vacation spot. I get to revisit places like Bag End, where Bilbo Baggins lives, and The Shire. I can go back to the Prancing Pony or even climb Weathertop again. I wish there really was a Rivendell or Lothlorien to visit for an extended period of time.

If you don’t know what any of these places are, I recommend reading Lord of the Rings. Start with The Hobbit. If you’re feeling really brave, pick up The Silmarillion.

I have so many books on my to-read list that I’ll have to live to be 200 to get them all read. And I keep adding more books to that list. I read one and buy three, which even according to my own math skills doesn’t add up. So why do I keep reading the same books over and over?

Because some are just that good. I get my Narnia fix and go back to Middle Earth to check out those wacky hobbits because those books stir up feelings and desires in me that make me want to be a better person.

Plus, every time I read them, I pick up something new that I’ve missed before. Plus, I get the thrill of anticipating what I know is about to happen next.

They do make pills for this.

If you re-read certain books every year, I’d like to know. It would be nice knowing I’m not the only one who does this.

Plus, I can add even MORE books to my to-read list. Yay.

PS I’ve seen the movies and it helps me visualize the characters and places in the book. Just thought I’d thrown that one in for free.

I like the movies, but I much prefer the books. You can’t really do justice to this book unless you make ridiculously long movies that almost no one would go see. Plus, who would they get to play the part of Tom Bombadil?

More Like Jesus?

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I’ve noticed that Christians sprinkle a lot of religion-isms into their conversation. I mean those phrases and terms that only us as believers know what they mean and sometimes we’re not even sure. At least not me.

Take for example when people talk about the goal of becoming like Jesus. What does that even mean? In my Life Group, a newbie asked that question and I was a bit taken aback at first, but then I thought, “What DOES that mean? I mean, really?”

I don’t think it means that we’re going to all be a bunch of clones of Jesus one day, like those stormtroopers in the Star Wars movies. Or when there were 7 exact replicas of Harry Potter in the last Harry Potter movie.

Here’s what I think it means.

It’s like that couple you know who’ve been married forever. The ones who can finish each other’s sentences. The ones who know what the other is thinking and feeling without having to use actual words.

Back in the ancient days, a disciple was someone who literally studied another. He or she followed this person around. When the teacher ate, a disciple ate. When the teacher slept, that disciple slept. The disciple was with the teacher 24/7.

Ultimately, the disciple picked up the mannerisms and behavior of the teacher just by being around him so much. He started even to think and speak like his teacher.

That’s what it looks like. If I become most like the people I spend the most time with, then if I spend the most time with Jesus, I start to look like Him. I don’t mean I start wearing a robe and sandals and sprouting a beard. I mean that I act like Jesus. I do what Jesus did.

Granted, I can never be completely like Jesus in the sense that He is divine and I am definitely not. But I can emulate His attitude (see Philippians 2:5-11) and His behavior and His attributes.

Here endeth the lesson.

An Essay I Wrote

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I may or may not have mentioned that I’m currently involved in an intensive discipleship training class at my church. Part of the class involved writing an essay.

I chose to write on the unique contributions that each of the four Gospels make to our overall understanding of Jesus and Christianity. It almost felt like a part of my brain got turned on that hadn’t seen much action since my seminary days of yore. Here is the result (with the reminder that it is an essay and reads like one):

“Each gospel has made its own unique contributions to the overall biblical canon and to our understanding of who Jesus is and what His purpose and mission were while He was here on earth. Although each of these is technically anonymous, there are enough clues and evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, to safely say that these were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Matthew writes primarily for a Hebrew audience, emphasizing how Jesus is truly the prophesied Messiah. He brings in the genealogy of Jesus and parallels him to Moses on several occasions. Matthew brings out Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and how it is both now and not yet. Many see Matthew as represented by a man, because he emphasized the humanity of Jesus.

Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written, focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, the true Messiah sent from God into the world. His Gospel is fast-paced, accentuated by his frequent use of the word “immediately.” He is represented by a lion, because he brought out the kingly nature of Jesus.

Luke writes to Theophilus, but likely his intended audience is both Jews and Gentiles. He gives a convincing defense of Jesus and the gospel for both evangelistic and discipling purposes. He is represented by an ox, the lowliest of animals, for his attention to the lowly and outcasts, such as the shepherds, and the Gentiles. His theme is the universality of salvation, how it’s not only for a specific race or region, but for all peoples everywhere.

All three of these Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share many similarities, such as miracles, parables, and teachings. Matthew and Luke probably borrow from Mark, who in turn uses a source of collected sayings and teachings, commonly referred to as “Q”, to build his own writings upon.

John writes to a primarily Gentile audience in Ephesus and is by far the most intentionally evangelical of the Gospels. He writes that His purpose is to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ that those who read may believe and have eternal life in His name. He is often represented by an eagle for his high Christology and his lyrical and poetic imagery, as well as his epic style of writing, as evidenced by the opening 18 verses of chapter one.

Each Gospel reflects the personality and background of the writers and brings out different aspects to the character, life, and teachings of Christ. Some emphasize his teachings, while others focus on His ministry. Yet all four together present a compelling portrait of Jesus as both God and man, Savior and Lord.”