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.

Absolutely Positively Definitely Maybe

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“That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans 8:18-21, The Message).

Such a great moment in the movie. I’ve actually owned Definitely, Maybe for a while and just now got around to watching it (one of the few perks of being without a job).

I love that line because it reminds me so much of God and the Story He is writing. And I do so love stories, especially when they’re well-told and have happy endings.

I know that ultimately God’s Story is about God, as it should be, but one of the very happy side effects is you and me finding redemption and freedom and abundant life. Because of God’s Story, you and I have a Story that we get to share. Because of God’s Story, we know that our Story will always have a happy ending because God has written it already. I read the last page of the book and I know that it’s good.

It’s hard to remember that when the Story seems headed for tragedy or when the current chapter seems like it will never end and circumstances will never change or get better. It’s hard to see that happy ending when you’re wondering how you’ll pay the bills or make your struggling marriage work or find that job that makes you come alive.

As I’ve learned in reading books, you don’t put down the book when the characters run into hard times. You keep going with the hope that those struggles will lead to something better. As Corrie Ten Boom says, you don’t jump off the train when it goes through a dark tunnel. You trust the Engineer to get you through.

I don’t want to be that guy who says things like, “Hold on, it will get better” or “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or discouragement, bumper sticker quotes don’t really do the trick.

You need to know that God is still faithful to His promises. You need to know that the same Jesus who conquered death and the grave can conquer your circumstances. You need to know that He will finish what He started in you because He said He would.

That’s a happy ending.

 

The Cut-Out Bin

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“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, The Message).

As I mentioned a few posts ago, one of my favorite things to do back in the day, i.e. the 80’s, was to browse the cutout bins at the local record store. For me, that primarily was Camelot Music in the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis, Tennessee.

You could always pick out those CDs earmarked for discount by the telltale slash on near the CD label. My understanding is that record labels designated albums that didn’t sell very well to be moved to the cutout bin. Usually, you’d find a lot of unknown artists or the “sophomore slump” albums by those one-hit wonder bands or a failed comeback attempt. Every now and then, you might find a diamond in the rough that deserved better than being relegated to the cutout bin.

I discovered a section in McKay’s today that I will probably need to investigate further. It’s the “very scratched” section. It’s a good deal because 1) you can fix most CD scratches with 70% or stronger rubbing alcohol and/or toothpaste, 2) most of the CDs in that section are barely scratched, and 3) even if you wind up with a dud, you still haven’t lost much more than $1.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 1:26, God didn’t choose the top 40s of the world. He chose those of us stuck in the cutout bin. He selected those overlooked by everybody else, those whose best days seemed behind them, those who don’t look like much or don’t seem to possess anything special. He chose you and me.

That’s something worth celebrating. That’s something worth remembering on those days when you don’t feel like your life means much or that you don’t matter.

That also begs a question. If that’s who God chose, who am I to treat people any differently? Who am I to be elitist and snobbish when God condescended Himself and met the lowest of us at our most desperate point of need? Who am I to ever denigrate anybody else (or even me) when God proved His love by sending Jesus to die for all of us?

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

 

Looking for the Pause Button

Sometimes, I wish life had a remote control, like in that Adam Sandler movie where he fast-forwards through the boring parts of his life.

Only I wouldn’t be looking for the fast-forward button. I’d want to pause my life.

Today, I went to the funeral of a friend’s dad. I hadn’t seen or talked to him in a long time, but I remember him as being a quiet, gentle man who loved his God and his family and who also happened to own the first PC that I had ever seen.

I saw him lying in the coffin, looking like a perfect wax replica of a person. Then I remembered that I was looking not at the man, but at the shell. The moment he breathed his last he was instantly in the presence of Jesus, fully alive and healthy and happy.

I heard where two Briarcrest students who were set to embark on their senior year of high school died Friday at the hands of a drunk driver who had four DUIs in the last five years.

There’s too much sadness and loss in the world. Too many people had to say goodbye to the ones they loved, while more than that never got the chance.

I sense more than ever how precious and fleeting this life is. I understand more how important it is never to take anyone in your life for granted.

I’m thinking about the quote from the movie The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel– “There’s no present like the time.”

I recall a pastor who said that at best this life is like a clean bus station. You don’t set up a bedroom suite and move all your belongings into a Greyhound terminal, because it’s only a stop along the way toward your final destination.

This life is so brief because this is not our final destination. Heaven is. As much as I keep forgetting, as much as I want that pause button to work, I know that I can’t stop that second hand from racing clockwise toward another tomorrow.

I can only choose to live each moment fully and to be fully present to every person in every place at every moment that I’m given. I can know that in God’s economy nothing is ever wasted and the good a person does follows after them. Your legacy will far outlive you and in the end, it won’t be what you did for a living or who you knew, but who you were and what you did with what God gave you.

 

Compassion and Broken Hearts

“Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” (Matt. 9:35-38).

Jesus looked at the crowd and was moved with compassion. I heard a pastor say that the word carries the idea of being kicked in the gut. In other words, it wasn’t a shallow “I feel sorry for you” sentiment, but a real gut-wrenching pain over the people who were “confused and aimless.”

When was the last time my heart broke over something like that? When ever did my heart break like that?

Then I think that Jesus’ heart broke over me. In those times when I feel like I don’t have a clue, I think maybe it still does. I believe Jesus is moved with compassion over those of us who lose our way and feel like we or what we do don’t matter.

I truly believe that Jesus knows more than anyone what it’s like to have a broken heart. Not just figuratively, but literally. When the spear pierced His side, blood and water rushed out. That meant that Jesus’ heart had exploded. So yes, Jesus knows the pain of a broken heart.

My prayer is for a heart like His. My prayer is for a heart that really and truly breaks over those around me who are confused and aimless and without hope. I want a broken heart that leads me to my knees in prayer for the people in my immediate circle who are lost and hopeless and completely discouraged.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Words of Wisdom

Today, I learned something new. That applies to just about every day that I’ve been alive, since there is so much out there yet to learn (or in my case, to learn and to forget and to re-learn).

Matthew Page preached today instead of Aaron Bryant at The Church at Avenue South and that’s where I picked up this new knowledge. Although, I’d like it not to be just something else that I know intellectually, but something that profoundly affects how I live toward others from here on out.

Mr. Page said that not all of us will be accomplished preachers or evangelists. Not all of us will draw crowds Billy Graham-style or present a compelling defense of the faith a la C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell.

But all of us can learn to love well. All of us can show the same love for those around us that Jesus showed us. In fact, that’s the most compelling argument for the faith.

People can argue all day long over the finer points of theology and politics, but no one can ever argue over the evidence of a changed life. No one can ever refute a testimony that’s not only spoken out loud but lived out loud as well.

Most of all, people can never deny those who love the unlovable, who go against human nature to forgive and release instead of harboring resentment and seeking revenge.

Those who were drawn into the early Church pointed to that kind of love as the reason. “See how they love one another,” they said of the early believers. They might have added, “See how they love those around them,” to the Christians who risked their own lives to care for lepers, who left the familiarity and comforts of home to take this new gospel around the world.

That’s my prayer both for me and for you: to love others as well as Jesus has loved us. I know it’s not possible unless it’s Jesus doing the loving both in us and through us. Even then, we will still get in the way most of the time. But I’m convinced that if the world saw a fraction of that agape love lived out and not just talked about, it would make a big difference.

 

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

When Helping Hurts: My Take So Far

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My church life group recently started a new study on the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. So far, I give it two enthusiastic thumbs way up.

The premise of the book is that poverty around the world can be traced back to four broken relationships: relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. The book then goes on to say that where most people go wrong is to treat poverty solely as a lack of resources with the solution being to give money, food, etc., and treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying ailment.

One of the most convicting parts for me was reading about how in this American middle-class mentality there is an almost subliminal “health and wealth gospel” belief that God rewards faith with prosperity, therefore these people are poor because they are sinful, much like the disciples questioning Jesus about the man born blind and how it must have been either him or his parents who sinned for him to be like that.

There is a sense sometimes where Americans have an implicit “god-complex” about serving the poor, as if I am condescending to serve the poor out of my benevolence from my lofty spiritual position, like the Pharisee who praised God that he was not like those other sinners. Sometimes, I personally need to be more like the tax collector who acknowledged his own sin and deep need for God.

The reality is that both those in need and those in position to meet that need are equally broken, just in different ways. One may have a better coping mechanisms for hiding his brokenness than the other, but they are both equally flawed and both need Jesus.

For me, the biggest revelation is that poverty brings about a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and the solution is to help people see their innate worth as those created, redeemed and loved by God as those who with God’s help don’t have to remain trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

I suppose at the end of the day, we are all poor in one sense or another. Jesus says that it is blessed to be poor in spirit, realizing that we have nothing in ourselves to offer God but ourselves, for to those belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

Trust me. The book words all this far better than I have. I recommend it to anyone who has a heart for the poor or the least of these.

PS Here’s a link if you want to buy the book. The cover is different than mine, but the content is the same. I’d go so far as to say this is a must-read for any individuals or organizations who want to work toward alleviating poverty in the most effective manner.

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

 

Being on the Ground Floor

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Today at my church, there were few–if any– empty chairs. That might not sound like much until you consider that this church has only officially been in existence since July of last year (with the official launch in September).

I’ve always said that I wanted to be on the ground floor of a church plant and here I am.

My role may not be a big one, but I am playing a small part. I am a greeter on most Sunday mornings and once every month or so I run the graphics, which includes song lyrics and other slides related to the Sunday morning service.

I enjoy it. I really love the fact that we as the local body of Christ are making an impact on the neighborhood in which God has placed us. People driving by can’t help but notice the sign that reads “The Church at Avenue South– a regional campus of Brentwood Baptist Church.” Jesus has moved into the neighborhood and we are His visible body here on earth.

I can’t wait to see what happens in the year ahead. I pray that we won’t be content to maintain status quo but instead seek ways to think outside that proverbial box and truly become all things to all people, just as Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 9:22.

In fact, my prayer is for all the churches in Nashville to do the same. I really do hope that we can get away from the competitive spirit and learn to work together as the Church. After all, Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and His Father are one.

More than that, I pray the churches in Nashville will stick to the Gospel that Paul preached, no matter what. That’s what saves people and that’s what people are dying to hear, both figuratively and literally.

 

The Kingdom Of God

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“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both with in ourselves and with in the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it” (Frederick Buechner).

I think that says it way better than I ever could.

I posted this on Facebook two years ago today and it still has an impact on me. I still long for this Kingdom of God and for all the wrongs of this world to be made right.

I still think heaven will look a lot like Narnia with a little Middle Earth thrown it. Hobbits in heaven? I’d like to think so.