From Hostility to Hospitality

“He is the embodiment of our peace, sent once and for all to take down the great barrier of hatred and hostility that has divided us so that we can be one. He offered His body on the sacrificial altar to bring an end to the law’s ordinances and dictations that separated Jews from the outside nationsHis desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body” (Ephesians 2:14-16, The Voice).

Chris Brooks brought another fantastic message to Kairos tonight that I much needed to hear. It was rooted in Ephesians 2:11-21 about how we were once hostile to God and everything He stood for, but through Christ we have been reconciled and brought into right relationship with God.

His mantra throughout the last few weeks has been “And you . . . but God . . . all grace.” As in and you were lost and far from the promise, but God made you alive and redeemed a sinner into a son and now your life is all grace.

He said something again that struck me. He said that maybe those Muslims that we keep hearing about aren’t the greatest threat to Christianity, but it’s greatest prize. Maybe what they need to see is not our retaliation with further hostility but our hospitality in welcoming them with the gospel message the way God once welcomed us through that same message.

Only through Christ can an enemy truly be transformed into a friend and a stranger become a brother. Only through the grace and mercy of God can so many different kinds of people previously estranged from each other be invited to the same table to sit together and enjoy each other’s company.

So many times churches and communities of faith have looked like people encircled with arms locked, facing inward and more determined to keep the wrong people out than to let the right ones in.

The true gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to stand outward with arms not locked but outstretched in welcoming those who feel disenfranchised and alienated from every other group to come sit at the table of fellowship. We offer the same Christ to others who brought us along from citizenship to family to living stones in the temple of God.

I love that the gospel of grace is still for those who don’t quite fit in and don’t have their acts together. The message of hope is still for those who continually mess up socially and financially and in every other way possible. The truth that still sets us free is still for the outcast and downtrodden and used-up and for those who are still in bondage to the lies and addictions that were sold under the guise of liberation.

The gospel is still for you and me. The gospel is for everyone.


Constructive Criticism?

“Wounds inflicted by the correction of a friend prove he is faithful; the abundant kisses of an enemy show his lies” (Prov. 27:6).

I don’t like getting criticized. To be honest, it hurts my ego. It’s okay if I find fault with myself for doing dumb stuff but I’d prefer if other people didn’t. Still, if I’m honest I have to also admit that I need it. I need someone else who will keep me accountable for my words and my actions so that they line up with what I profess.

I see so many posts on various social media that basically say, “I do what I want and don’t you dare judge me”, i.e. say anything that might be construed as negative or critical in any way (or even someone who tells you the honest truth). While Jesus did speak against those who are judgmental or who are critical and mean-spirited, I do think it’s equally wrong and dangerous to live outside of any kind of accountability. After all, as a pastor once said, “The first person you lie to is yourself.”

You and I both need people who will get in our faces (in a loving manner) and call us out when we speak and act in ways contrary to our true selves. We need people who will say, “What you’re doing doesn’t match what you say you believe and that’s giving the faith you profess a bad name.”

True, the ability to speak that way has to be granted. Only true friends to whom I give the right can speak this way. And no, being a prophet doesn’t give you the right to trample over people’s feelings and be careless with your words. Prophets always spoke God’s truth in love and often spoke God’s judgment through heavy hearts and tears.

I’ve heard that for every rebuking/correctional word you speak you should always give two encouraging or complimentary words. And I do believe it’s never a good idea to try to rebuke or correct another person via any other forms of communication other than face-to-face. E-mails and texts and posts are good in their way, but they leave out facial expressions and tone of voice so vital to any kind of constructive criticism.

Most of all, remember this. The God who chases after you isn’t running you down to tell you what a no-good lowdown dirty dog you are. His words to you tonight are this: you are still My Beloved, the apple of My eye, and I thought you were worth dying for. I love you just as you are but I refuse to leave you that way. I won’t ever stop with you until you look just like My Son Jesus.”


Easter Sunday 2014


“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen”

It’s Easter.

I celebrated with about 130 or so others at the future location of The Church at Avenue South. Though the building has been gutted and won’t be ready for official use for another two months, still the real church got together to proclaim to anyone and everyone that this is Resurrection Day.

The resurrection DOES change everything. It means no more fear of death because Jesus overcame that last enemy when he walked out of the tomb with the sunrise on that first Easter Sunday. It means that whatever I’m afraid of has already been defeated and overcome by this same resurrection power that brought Jesus from death to life.

It means that there is no such thing as TOO LATE, that there’s always time for a do-over and a second chance and a fresh start, that as long as we’re alive we have a purpose and a God willing to bring out that purpose in us.

So I revisit an old Easter toast that I blogged about three years ago today: “We lift our glasses and drink to a Love that never gave up.”

I’ve posted a link so you can read the original post if you want.

Regardless, I’m glad that Easter has come. I’m glad that it isn’t just one day a year, but something that I can celebrate all 365 days (and 366 on those leap years). I’m thankful that just because the holiday ends doesn’t mean the power of that resurrection or its effects do.


A Good Weekend


As I stepped into my car to head home from a Sunday School class party, I could hear the hypnotic drone of cicadas and felt 10-years old again and ready for the next big adventure. That’s what life really is. At least for those who have their eyes open to appreciate the mystery and wonder in each gift God unwraps daily called life.

I still fondly remember running through the streets of downtown Nashville with my friend Katie to catch the next act at Live on the Green, Michael Franti. It was a moment I never imagined happening, yet if you were to ask what my all-time favorite moment was, this one would be climbing the charts. And no Gatorade ever tasted better than the ones from the Exxon convenience store on the way home.

How can I forget an impromptu Starbucks session of great conversation and good coffee drinks? I can’t remember two hours flying by that fast. It was yet another in a long line of unexpected treasures and blessings God has showered on me lately.

I remember Friday and Saturday in downtown Franklin, seeing some of my favorite McCreary’s people and savoring yet another beautiful summer night visiting my usual haunts and trekking my familiar path up and down Main Street. I especially recall how quiet it was in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as I sat silent and still and expectant, waiting on a Word from God.

I finally fell asleep at 4:30 this morning after another night of tossing and turning. I think I’ll sleep better tonight. At least I hope I do. But even that time awake gave me time to reflect on all the little gifts that eucharisteo had opened my eyes to see.

I remember something my Sunday School teacher Derek Webster said. He said, “God believes in you even more than you do.”

I have to write that down somewhere. Oh yeah, I guess I just did. But I need it in a place where I can find it and see it every morning, because I know some mornings I’ll wake up and not be as excited to be alive. Those old self-doubts will creep in. The enemy will whisper, “See? Nobody really cares about you. No one would notice if you weren’t around. You don’t make one bit of difference to anybody.”

That’s when this Truth of God comes in. God says differently. To me. To you. To anyone who heard and followed the voice of Jesus. God said you do matter because I made you. Jesus said you matter because I thought you were to die for. You have a gift and a purpose that no one else ever in the history of mankind has ever had. Only you can play the part God wrote for you in the Great Romance He’s written out in history.

You being you makes God smile. You being who God created you is what the world around you needs to see more than any Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. You coming alive to your gifts and talents will be the ripple in the ocean whose effects will last far beyond your own lifetime.

Yep. All that from four days in August.

All Those Voices and The Truth

Maybe you’re like me. Sometimes maybe you get so many voices in your head, it’s hard to tell which ones are genuine and which ones are not. It’s hard to discern your own thoughts from the legion running through your mind.

I firmly believe that one of the enemy’s tricks is to plant thoughts in your mind and make you believe that those are your thoughts. He can take a little bit of the truth, just enough to make it plausible, and mix it with a lie. Kinda like a fisherman baits a hook with enough of a tempting lure to make the fish bite.

I’ve been overwhelmed at times and not known what to believe or which voices to trust. But I’ve come to realize that in those times it’s better to not trust what I think or what I feel, but what I know. That is, what God has revealed to me about himself time and time again.

I know he’s good. I know he’s strong. I know he’s for me. I know he won’t give up on me.

Many times, I’ve fallen back on those truths when the lies seem so very easy to believe. When the old fears of abandonment seem to be coming true before my very eyes and I feel more alone than ever, I have to remember that God is with me.

You never know what you believe until it’s a matter of life or death, when your survival and your sanity depend on it. You never know how strong and good God is until you’re lost and he’s the only one who can find you, when you’re sinking in despair and he’s the only one who can rescue you.

Devils and lies die in the light. They can’t survive when confronted with the very truth of God’s word. So name the lies for what they are. Name where they came from. And declare out loud that Jesus has already defeated that enemy and those lies once and for all.

Most of all, let’s hold each other up in prayer and be strong for those when they can’t be strong for themselves, and believe for those when their faith is too weak. It just takes two or three.

Remember that the Truth as personified in Jesus isn’t just another voice in your head. It’s the Voice that bids all other voices be still the way it bidded the waves to be still. It’s the Voice that will always have the last word.


Not Alone

Have you ever looked at somebody else who seems to have it all together and been a little envious? Maybe it’s a guy with the classic good looks who has a successful career and always seems to have a beautiful girl on his arm. Or maybe a girl who never seems to have any problems and is the one that every guy wants to talk to.

Admit it. You’ve envied. You’ve coveted. You’ve probably wanted to trade places or, if you’re feeling really spiteful, you hope something bad happens to that person. Not tragically bad, but embarassingly bad.

But have you ever stopped and wondered what really goes on in that person’s life? Do you ever stop to think that maybe behind that perfect facade, that person is hurting. Maybe that person is looking at you and envying you for something he or she doesn’t have.

The point is that you never know the whole story. You only see the surface, not what’s underneath. You may never see the pain, the frustration, the unfulfilled longings, the pent-up anger, the quiet desperation.

Maybe that person is you. Maybe you’re the one who’s hanging by a thread to your faith, who has all but given up on believing that anything will really ever change. Maybe you just don’t feel anything anymore and don’t think God really knows or cares about you.

You’re not alone.

I know when I’ve been deeply discouraged, the words “I know what you’re going through” were more helpful to me than the person speaking them realized. I didn’t want to hear that everything was going to be fine. I didn’t need to hear what I needed to do to get over it. I just needed to know that I wasn’t alone in my struggle.

The biggest lie of the enemy is that you are the only one struggling and that you can never tell anyone, but most go on secretly bearing your pain and shame. The truth is that we are all broken in some way, dealing with a shameful past full of secrets and a pain that never seems to go away. Some are just better at hiding their brokenness than others.

So, even though you might not want to hear it at the moment, it will get better. It did for me. God does know where you are and what you’re going through and yes, he does care. He even loves you in spite of the dark bitter thoughts you carry in your mind.

And you are most definitely not alone.


Praying on the Armor of God

I had an epiphany recently. Well, more of a “duh” kind of moment. I realized that I had been neglecting to pray on the armor of God every morning and I could tell the difference.

I was vulnerable and easy prey for the enemy to attack, particularly in my mind. So I started back praying on the armor. I cannot urge you stronly enough to do this EVERY morning. Here’s how I pray the armor on:

“Lord, I take on the belt of truth today. May Your truth hold me together and tell me who I am, not what I’m feeling or thinking at the moment or what my circumstances or other people say.

Lord, I take on the breastplate of righteousness. May Your righteousness be my covering today. Protect my heart and my emotions and keep them centered in You, so that I am not swept away by every feeling or fear that comes my way.

Lord, I take on the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace. Help me always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope I have and may I be able to share Your Gospel with at least one person today.

Lord, I take on the helmet of salvation. Protect my thoughts today from the evil one and help me take every single thought captive and bring it under Your Lordship. Fill me with Your thoughts so that there is no room for thoughts that are not of You.

Lord, I take on the shield of faith. Protect me from the assaults of the enemy today, whether they be physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. Be my Fortress and Shield and Mighty Defender today, because without You, I will certainly fall.

Lord, last but not least, I take on the sword of the Spirit. Bring Your Word to my mind at every possible moment and help the Bible not to be words on a page or nice sentiments, but Words that transform and change me in a radical way. Help me not only to read them, but obey them.”

You may pray something different. You may physically act out putting on the armor as you pray (I do that sometimes when I feel especially under attack). The important thing is to pray these things on at least once a day if not more.

The battle is real and if you’re not ready, you will be overcome. Choose this day to live as an Overcomer and Conqueror in Christ.

Fighting From Victory

chariots of fire

I was reminded once again in a Bible study on Wednesday that we fight not for victory, but from victory. That may sound like semantics to some, but to me it is huge. Fighting for victory means it’s all up to me and that it will be an uphill all the way kind of battle with the ending very much in doubt. Fighting from victory means:

1) The battle has already been won. There is no  doubt Who the Victor is and which is the winning side. The only real question is: are you on it?

2) The enemy may scare us and threaten us, but he can never really touch us (1 John 5:18). As long as we are wearing the armor of God and standing firm in His finished work, we are protected from the enemy.

3) You don’t have to live defeated anymore. You can start living out of victory now. You are an overcomer now. Even in the midst of struggle and trial, you can know for sure the promises are true and they are for you!

4) You want to make it very clear which side you’re on. Don’t play both sides and be a follower of Jesus on Sundays and a player the rest of the week. The time has come to be hot or cold, not lukewarm. Those days are over.

5) You never give up on anyone else who is seeking after Jesus, because Jesus never gave up fighting for us until He secured our destiny. You never despair of anyone because if Jesus defeated death and hell, nothing else will ever be impossible for Him to overcome.

6) You don’t let the opinions and actions and attitudes of others dictate how you live. You live now for an audience of One, the One who won your heart forever!

7) You can finally cease striving and be still and rest in the love of Jesus, because that love is more powerful than any hate or power that ever came up against it or will ever face it. Period.

So live out of that victory and claim it every second of every day. Don’t let failure rob you of this truth. Victory is yours and mine– not later at some indistinct point in time, but NOW!

Amen and amen.

My two cents on spiritual warfare

A group of guys and I have been watching a DVD series on spiritual warfare by Chip Ingram called The Invisible War (and yes, that was a shameless plug). It got me thinking about the mindset of so many American believers (including me) regarding the whole topic of spiritual warfare. Plainly put, either most of us don’t believe there is an war going on with an enemy that is constantly seeking our destruction. If we believe, we sure don’t live like it much of the time. Again, me included.

The war is real. The enemy is real. In this world, we are not tourists on vacation, or passengers on some kind of luxury cruise, but soldiers engaged in battle. Our ignorance of the battle and our enemy can only do us harm. We need to wake up to realize that we are under attack. But here’s the best part.

The battle is already won. Chip Ingram said, “As believers in Christ, we don’t fight FOR victory. We fight FROM victory.” That’s the good news (which is why it’s called the gospel!). But there is still a battle.

We fight back by putting on the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. We should pray these on every morning and pray these for each other on a daily basis. We should pray with eyes wide open to the spiritual realm, asking God to give us eyes to see the battle around us like the Elijah prayed for his servant when they were surrounded by the Syrian army. We should pray for discernment and wisdom. Most of all, we should pray at all times to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled, taking every thought captive and submitting them to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

We must fight together. If you are fighting the enemy on your own, apart from other believers, you may succeed for a season, but you will ultimately grow weary and faint. You will stumble and fall. You need other believers praying God’s protection over you, encouraging you and keeping you honest.

We fight ultimately with one weapon– LOVE. Not as a feeling, but as a decisive act of the will. We fight by showing that Calvary’s love is stronger than hate and that love overcomes anything. Chip Ingram said, “Love is giving to another person what they need the most when they deserve it least.” Love is doing whatever you can, even to your own detriment, for the good of the beloved. It means dying to yourself and your rights and own ideas about how the world should work.

So live with eyes wide open, hands raised, side by side with your brothers and sisters in Christ. And remember that the battle is already won and that we have overcome!

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.