Courage

“But Moses told the people, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm'” (Exodus 14:13-14, New Living Translation).

I think that we live in a culture where we are programmed to fear. A lot of advertising is based off the notion that you need a particular product or program if you want to avoid a dreaded catastrophe and if you want to stay safe and secure.

We live in a society where many fear what they don’t understand. Much of the time, that fear expresses itself in anger and outrage and putting up a wall toward anyone who has a different viewpoint than us.

But Jesus says, “Take courage. It is I.”

The way I look at courage has changed over the years. I used to see courage as bravely charging into a fearful situation or boldly standing up for an unpopular cause.

Now, I see that sometimes courage can be that quiet voice that tells you to try again tomorrow. Courage can be as small as taking that next step when everything in you is crying out for you to quit.

Courage can be showing up every single day, regardless of how bad the day before was or how bleak the future looks. Courage knows that while I myself may be at my weakest, what lies ahead of me is no match to what dwells within me– namely, the indwelling Spirit of Jesus.

Courage may indeed sometimes be bold and decisive, but often it’s continuing to be obedient in the minutiae, knowing that every little step matters. Sometimes, courage looks a lot like perseverance and patience.

My prayer is for courage for all of us not just in the dramatic moments but in the ordinary minutes and hours of every day humdrum. May we heed that quiet voice to always try again tomorrow.

 

Good Stories

I’m drawn to a good story, whether it be in the form of a song or poem or novel or movie. I believe a good story is one in which I can identify myself and see part of my own story in the unfolding drama.

I’m reading through the Bible again, and I recognize myself all over the place. I can identify with the Israelites who are chosen as God’s people but often act as anything but God’s own possession.

I know what it’s like to want to go back to what’s comfortable and safe, even if that also happens to be bad for you and going backward rather than going forward.

I know what it’s like to be constantly tempted by idols and the surrounding culture bombarding you with images and messages that flatly contradict the message that God keeps trying to tell you.

I can fully relate to the many characters in the Bible whom God uses in spite of themselves, their weaknesses, their fears, their hang-ups. I had always been led to believe that people like Abraham and Isaac and Moses and Noah were the heroes in the stories.

That’s not true. God is always the hero of the biblical story. These are people who are only famous because God chose to use them. If God had never spoken to Moses from a burning bush, I doubt he’d be anything more than a very small footnote in the book of Exodus.

The Bible reminds me that what I need most is not to discover the inner warrior within me but rather to rely daily on the Warrior Savior who cherishes me and fights for me and never quits on me.

I’m beginning to understand the point of all the rules of the Old Testament. The point is that I’m supposed to look and act different as one of God’s people. I’m set apart. I’m not like everybody else and my story won’t play out like everybody else’s. That’s the point.

It’s not even really my story anymore. It’s God’s story that I get to be a part of.

I love that.

The end.

 

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

At Just the Right Time

When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Notice the first five words: when the right time arrived. That’s the key. It wasn’t a moment too early or a moment too late. You can always trust God’s perfect timing.

For so many of us, it’s hard to trust God when the circumstances seem to suggest His lack of involvement. That’s when you look back and remember all those times God has come through for you in the past.

That’s what thankfulness and gratitude are for– to help you remember that the God of the now is the same God of the past. As in the past of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The past of Moses and the Red Sea. The past of King David. The past of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The past of the apostles. And not to mention your past.

So let’s do a little math. God’s track record of keeping His promises + God is the same yesterday, today, and forever = God will keep His promises and do what’s best for you now. I like that kind of math. I don’t like word problems, but that’s another topic for another day.

What God said He will do, He will see it through. End of story.

Christmas is a reminder that God hasn’t forgotten His people who cry out to Him day and night. He remembers. And so should you.

 

 

Out of Control

outofcontrol

Has there ever been a moment in your life when you felt out of control? Like when you stopped and looked around and wondered how in the heck you got there and how you’d ever get out of the mess you’d made?

I think EVERYBODY has felt that way to some degree or other. Kinda like King David, who started out lusting after a neighbor’s wife and ended up with not only adultery but lying and mass murder thrown in. It took a bold prophet named Nathan to get David out of his downward spiral.

You will at some point get yourself into a hot mess. You will wonder how you could have been so STUPID. You may well wonder if escape is even a possibility.

I love what I heard someone say: it’s never too late on this side of heaven to become what you might have been. It’s never too late to become the dream God had when He thought you up and gave you a purpose before anything was made. That gives me hope.

That means that those days that seem wasted, those years that seem lost have really served a purpose– to get you to where you are, with all your life experiences, good and bad, all your successes and failures– to be the person God can use to do what NO ONE else can do, to the calling only YOU can fulfill.

Even if you’re an 80-year old backwoods shepherd like Moses. Or a nobody sitting in a prison like Joseph.

God can take nobodies and confound all those who think they’re somebodies. He uses the lowly and the nothings in the world to shame all those who think they’re hot stuff. That’s my take on 1 Corinthians 1:25-30. Or as one translation puts it:

You can count on this: God’s foolishness will always be wiser than mere human wisdom, and God’s weakness will always be stronger than mere human strength.

Look carefully at your call, brothers and sisters. By human standards, not many of you are deemed to be wise. Not many are considered powerful. Not many of you come from royalty, right? But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. God selected the common and the castoff, whatever lacks status, so He could invalidate the claims of those who think those things are significant. So it makes no sense for any person to boast in God’s presence. Instead, credit God with your new situation: you are united with Jesus the Anointed. He is God’s wisdom for us and more. He is our righteousness and holiness and redemption.”

 

An Essay I Wrote

image

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.”

Things I Love 9: This Series Is Getting Completely Redonkulous

island hammock

I apologize for those of you who were anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series. Both of you.

I got off track in more ways than one, but now I continue this seemingly neverending series with #192.

192) A cool breeze on a hot and humid summer day.

193) Any time I get free food, even if it’s just a free dreamcone from Chick-fil-A (one of the perks of having the app foursquare on my iPhone!)

194) Knowing that even if the worst case scenario actually comes to pass, God’s taking care of me and everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.

195) The absolute magic of Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers.

196) Homemade bread.

197) Sweet potato french fries (I recommend Pucketts or The Pharmacy).

198) Knowing my family and friends are praying for me as I write this.

199) Being able to pray the prayer that never fails– Your will be done– and sincerely mean it.

200) Being okay after having my heart broken in a very failed attempt to take a friendship to the next level.

201) That the best things in life really are free.

202) GPS for those like me who are directionally-impaired.

203) Ice cold water on a hot day.

204) Unexpectedly seeing old friends at Kairos.

205) Having peace even in the midst of spectacularly blowing a friendship to smithereens.

206) When technology works like its supposed to.

207) Getting all green lights on my way to church.

208) That I am an heir with Christ and no longer a slave to fear but now possess a spirit of adoption and can cry, “Abba, Daddy” to the God and Maker of the Universe.

209) That low sexy voice you get when ever you have a cold or hay fever.

210) Hearing a favorite song at just the right moment.

211) The effortless artistry of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice.

212) That God hears my feeble prayers– and even my sighs and groans when I don’t have the words.

213) That God can use messes like Moses, Abraham, David, Peter, and (most amazing of all) me.

Something Borrowed, Something Blogged

I got this out of a devotional called Streams in the Desert. It’s from July 26. I hope it speaks to you as loudly and profoundly as it did to me when I first read it.

Enjoy and thank me later.

“There are times when things look very dark to me–so dark that I have to wait even for hope. It is bad enough to wait in hope. A long-deferred fulfillment carries its own pain, but to wait for hope, to see no glimmer of a prospect and yet refuse to despair; to have nothing but night before the casement and yet to keep the casement open for possible stars; to have a vacant place in my heart and yet to allow that place to be filled by no inferior presence–that is the grandest patience in the universe. It is Job in the tempest; it is Abraham on the road to Moriah; it is Moses in the desert of Midian; it is the Son of man in the Garden of Gethsemane.

There is no patience so hard as that which endures, ‘as seeing him who is invisible’; it is the waiting for hope.

You have made waiting beautiful; You have made patience divine. You have taught us that the Father’s will may be received just because it is His will. You have revealed to us that a soul may see nothing but sorrow in the cup and yet may refuse to let it go, convinced that the eye of the Father sees further than its own.

Give me this Divine power of Yours, the power of Gethsemane. Give me the power to wait for hope itself, to look out from the casement where there are no stars. Give me the power, when the very joy that was set before me is gone, to stand unconquered amid the night, and say, “To the eye of my Father it is perhaps shining still.” I shall reach the climax of strength when I have learned to wait for hope. –George Matheson

Strive to be one of those–so few–who walk the earth with ever-present consciousness–all mornings, middays, star-times–that the unknown which men call Heaven is “close behind the visible scene of things.”

Dumb Mistakes

I remember vividly when I was a kid waiting for my sister. She took ballet and I would wait outside the building until her practice was over. One time, I had the genius idea and thought, “When she comes out, I’m racing her to the car.”

Lo and behold, she came out and I took off running. I didn’t stop until I sat down in the car. Then I looked up. I thought, “Hey, you’re not my sister. Hey, wait a minute, this isn’t our car.” It was probably one of the most awkward situations I’ve ever been in.

Maybe your mistake wan’t as funny. Maybe it was devastating or tragic. Maybe it ruined a friendship or even a marriage. Maybe you feel like you’re still paying for that mistake made so many years ago.

You’re not alone. Moses messed up royally. He got angry with God’s people and spoke as if he and not God were responsible for giving the Israelites water and helping them out of jams time and time again.

Then there’s David, who committed adultery with Bathsheeba, lied to and tried to deceive her husband, then finally had him killed. I think that qualifies as an epic fail.

The good news is that your story doesn’t have to end with failure. God offers forgiveness and a fresh start if you own up to what you did and are willing to change and go in a different direction.

I love what David wrote in Psalm 51 after he confessed to his own sin and repented of it:

“Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.

Scrub away my guilt,

soak out my sins in your laundry.

I know how bad I’ve been;

my sins are staring me down.

You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen

it all, seen the full extent of my evil.

You have all the facts before you;

whatever you decide about me is fair.

I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,

in the wrong since before I was born.

What you’re after is truth from the inside out.

Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,

scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.

Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,

set these once-broken bones to dancing.

Don’t look too close for blemishes,

give me a clean bill of health.

God, make a fresh start in me,

shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

Don’t throw me out with the trash,

or fail to breathe holiness in me.

Bring me back from gray exile,

put a fresh wind in my sails!

Give me a job teaching rebels your ways

so the lost can find their way home.

Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,

and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.

Unbutton my lips, dear God;

I’ll let loose with your praise.”

All I can add to that is

Amen.