God Wants to Use Me?

use-me

God delights in taking the most unusual circumstances to choose the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things.

Don’t believe me? Try these on for size:

  • Abraham and Sarah are the beginning of a vast nation made up of their descendants, but they did not have a child of their own until Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100 years old!
  • Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers and then thrown into prison when falsely accused, ends up preserving his family and a host of people from other nations by becoming second in command to only Pharaoh.
  • Esther, who hid her racial identity and who had no power other than her beauty, preserves her people from mass genocide because of her courage and willingness to be known as a Jew.
  • Peter, who repeatedly fails in the clutch as Jesus’ disciple, blows it big time by denying the Lord three times even with cursing, but then is reclaimed by Jesus and leads 3,000 people to Christ on the day of Pentecost.
  • Saul, trained to be a Jewish Rabbi, was the lead persecutor of Jesus’ followers who felt that Jesus was a blasphemer and was responsible for Stephen’s death. Yet Saul meets the Lord on the road to Damascus and becomes the apostle Paul, God’s apostle to the Gentiles.

workjesus.jpgYes, God delights in taking the most unusual circumstances to choose the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things.

This is the case with Moses. Even though he had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses had to flee Egypt as a murderer and spent forty years herding sheep in the middle of nowhere — the deserts of Midian. Moses wasn’t good at public speaking before his 40 years of conversations with no one but his family, the endless sand, and the stinky sheep. Yet God calls him to speak for the people of Israel, and for God himself, before the most powerful ruler in the ancient world, Pharaoh.

Despite God’s call to Moses from the burning bush that wouldn’t burn up, Moses gave five reasons why he was the wrong choice:

  1. Who am I? — I’m not good enough (Exodus 3:11).
  2. Who are you? — People won’t know who sent me (Exodus 3:13).
  3. What if they don’t believe me? — They have no reason to believe in me(Exodus 4:1).
  4. Why me? — I can’t speak very well, so I’m not going to convince anybody (Exodus 4:10).
  5. Why not someone else? — I really don’t want to do it (Exodus 4:13).

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 9.51.51 PMWhile the LORD grows quite angry by the fifth excuse, he answers each of Moses’ doubts and then uses him mightily for the next 40 years to bring deliverance for God’s people. But, God has to first deliver Moses from his limited view of himself before he can bring deliverance to God’s people.

Satan has a way of beating us up with life, using our own negative self-talk to create doubt in our hearts, and reminding us of our past failures and broken dreams. Our adversary is a deceiver and a liar seeking to kill the dreams in our hearts and sucking the life out of our years (John 8:44).

Before long, we passively sit on the sidelines and begin to believe that others are more qualified than we are. We give up on our dreams and don’t look at other ways to see those dreams come true through others. We become accustomed to living in our own Midian desert — bored and yet comforted by the sameness and predictability of life in our desert, hidden away from the stresses and challenges of doing anything of significance for God.

The-Lords-Prayer-ExplainedThen one day we are praying the familiar words Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In the middle of saying this old, familiar prayer, the Holy Spirit stirs something in our hearts and reminds us of dreams we thought were long dead — dreams to do something great for God, dreams to be used by God, dreams to make a difference for God, dreams that bring a taste of God’s kingdom to a world caught in Satan’s grip. And then we have a choice. We have to choose which voice we will follow: the voice of the Liar or the voice of God. And we have to decide if we believe that what God once did, he still longs to do. Because…

God delights in taking the most unusual circumstances to choose the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things.

And underneath this truth, each of us needs to realize that one of those most “unlikely people” he wants to use is… me! He want to use you!

Building a Culture of Honor: Accountability

accountability

“Myself!”

“Me do it!”

“Do it myself!”

Parents often hear these words when their child is about twenty months old. These first stirrings of self-sufficiency are necessary to help a child mature into a responsibly independent person within the context of interconnected sets of relationships.

iphone5_textingToday, however, our sense of connectedness is being distorted despite living in a digitally connected world. We live in a world full of high-tech connections and low-touch loneliness. We live in a digitally connected world, but we often live most of our lives disconnected from genuine, caring, high-touch community. Because there is so much we can do, learn, purchase, and say on our own with a smart phone in our hands, we can easily lose the genuine touch of people who know the real person we are and not just our online personas. We lose touch with the people at our fingertips because our fingertips live in the world of digital independence.

God’s first words to describe our need for high-touch community occur in the beginning chapters of the Bible:

[Then God said,] “Now let Us conceive a new creation — humanity — made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:24 The Voice).The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…”(Genesis 2:18 NIV).

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9).

Reflecting the image of God — Father, Son, and Spirit — we were made to live connected to other people and to God.

The old wise preacher who calls himself Koheleth says it this way:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

three_kids_friendsGod created us to live interconnected lives with people who love us and care for us. This is why Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father and live in relationship to each other as brothers and sisters. So the two greatest commands focus on restoring the relationships, the connectedness that was lost with sin: we are to love God with all we are and love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).

Church is supposed to be about family, not about being entertained with other strangers in a big box experience. While big group worship and celebration can be a vital part of faith, to lose the intimacy of family and life together is to lose much of the essence of discipleship. Being a disciple is supposed to be about bringing God’s Kingdom with redeemed relationships and building a community of character and compassion — simply go back and read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 to be convicted of this truth.

Living as Jesus’ disciples means we are genuinely connected to others as family and connected to our neighbors by living with them in character and compassion. So for Jesus, this means we are accountable for how our choices, words, and actions impact others with whom we are connected. If we are going to build a culture of honor — whether it is in our family, church, organization, or business — then accountability is a necessary part of the culture.

Notice how Jesus defines five complementary areas of accountability in his discussion of the church, discipleship, and connectedness:

  • Including:
    I am accountable to God for how I include others, regardless of their apparent status, so I welcome everyone seeking Jesus (Matthew 18:1-5).
  • Influencing:
    I am accountable to God for how my behavior impacts the faith of those who are new followers of Jesus, so I exercise caution to make sure my freedom in Christ does not cause a younger brother or sister in Christ to stumble and fall into sin (Matthew 18:6-11).
  • Restoring:
    I am accountable to God to notice when someone wanders from the faith and needs to be reclaimed, so I lovingly pursue those who wander away from fellowship with Jesus and his followers (Matthew 18:12-14).
  • Redeeming:
    I am accountable to God in how I deal with someone who has sinned against me — my goal must be to reclaim him or her and redeem that person, so I do not try to “get even” with that person (Matthew 18:15-20).
  • Forgiving:
    I am accountable to God to forgive from the heart those who sin against me and then repent and come back to the way of God; so I make a commitment to forgive as I have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35).

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 11.10.00 AMYears ago, an older, eccentric, rough-around-the-edges member of our congregation came up and challenged me. “I wish you would never use the phrase ‘member of the church’! Did you know that phrase is never found in the Bible.”

I rarely used that phrase, but this was his soapbox. He was a war vet who had lost one arm and two fingers of his other hand in a land mine explosion. So when he explained what he meant, I understood his point.

“You see, Phil, we are members of Jesus’ body. So when someone wanders away or leaves or stumbles, we are not losing a club member, we are losing a part of our Body. We are not church members, but vital parts of Jesus’ Body!”

life_connectedWe are interconnected. We were all baptized in one Spirit into one Body(1 Corinthians 12:12-14). What each of us does in our interconnected world — family or Body of Christ — truly matters. It matters not just to me, but to all with whom I’m interconnected. I must not live like my choices are just about me. I must not ignore the struggles and failures of others with whom I’m connected. I must not think my behavior is “just between God and me and is no one else’s business.” Jesus made clear that I am accountable for including, influencing, restoring, redeeming, and forgiving those with whom I’m connected.

In a culture of honor, accountability is the lifeblood of interconnected lives. This accountability is built on the teaching of the Lord Jesus and the foundation we have put into place with affirmation, prayer, service, and trust.

Accountability means that we welcome others as we have been welcomed by Jesus into the family of God.

Accountability means that we do not exercise all of our freedoms because we know our influence can have eternal consequences on others we love and with whom we are eternally connected.

Accountability means that when we sin, wander away, or grow weary in our life for the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ should be there to help bring us back home. It means we notice when folks are slipping through the cracks and don’t rely on some church program to go reclaim people we know and with whom we are connected.

Accountability means that we accept the challenging words of a brother or sister who risks violating the niceties of our culture to confront us about our sin and the wounds we have caused them or others.

Accountability means that I lovingly confront a sinful sister or brother in Christ to restore the relationship and not to get even or ruin their reputation. Gossip, innuendo, and personal attacks are ruled out and restoration of the relationship becomes paramount.

Accountability means that we choose to live as authentic disciples of Jesus, people who are the family of God and fellow members of the Body of Christ, who treat each other and deal with each other with character and compassion. Where this kind of accountability exists, a culture of honor thrives.

Building a Culture of Honor: Trust

trustimagePhil Ware shares a time from his past as follows: A number of years ago, I came in from the garage into our house and was greeted by my daughter, then in high school. Megan hit me with a question: “Dad-dee, can I… ?” I cannot remember what the request was, but I remember my answer: “If your mom says it’s okay, it is fine with me.”

Megan turned around, faced her mom with a smile, and wiggled her left pinky finger in a circle, indicating that she had her daddy wrapped around her little finger. When she turned around and faced me, I smiled and said, “Yes you do, and you don’t want to ever do anything to destroy that trust I have in you!”

So where you live, worship, and work is it “Trust!” or “Trust?”

holy_pathBuilding a culture of honor depends on how you answer this question. Unfortunately, many of us live in religious or organizational systems where trust has to be earned. In fact, having to earn trust is the assumption that stands behind almost everything in many organizations and even families. Having to earn trust is considered a truism. However, let’s ask ourselves a couple of fundamental questions as followers of Jesus.

Did Jesus say we have to win his trust to be considered trustworthy?

In the way the Lord dealt with his disciples, did he show they had to win his trust before he would entrust them with responsibility and leadership?

He did say we needed to be faithful in little to be entrusted with much (Luke 16:10). But, he first trusted them with a little and placed them in situations of opportunity and responsibility. He gave them authority and sent them out under his guidance to do ministry long before they had proved themselves trustworthy of any responsibility (Mark 3:13-15).

So, does anything in the rest of the New Testament suggest that we must earn trust before we should be considered trustworthy?

We do know losing trust can cause a great deal of confusion and conflict. On the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, John Mark deserted the effort and returned home (Acts 13:13). When Barnabas wanted to include him in their second mission effort, Paul — as a driven apostle to the Gentiles — refused. He and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement about this that they parted company (Acts 15:36-40).

Barnabas, true to his nature as an encourager (Acts 4:32-37), chose to continue to invest in John Mark. Paul, on the other hand, didn’t want to spend more time rehabilitating his trust in John Mark because he felt the urgent need to reach the nations who had never heard. However, both Paul and Barnabas extended trust to their helpers and didn’t demand that that they earn it first. Paul did this with Silas and Timothy (Acts 15:39-40Acts 16:1-3). Barnabas did this with John Mark (Acts 15:39).

Yes, these young men came with good reputations, but none of them had proven themselves trustworthy in missionary outreach across cultures. Yet both Paul and Barnabas invested in these younger men like Jesus invested in his disciples. Their first step was to trust that these disciples would prove themselves trustworthy and so they gave them the opportunity and responsibility to serve.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.58.05 AMMaybe a modern example can clarify this principle a bit further. Some years ago, the director of a Christian school privately came and asked a youth minister how “his” high school kids at “her” school were so much more focused on living for Jesus, when the other church kids at “her” Christian school seemed far less interested in living for Jesus. He didn’t pause for a second in giving his answer:

You expect the kids to misbehave and try to get away with stuff. You don’t trust them to do what is right. You even have said this kind of thing publicly at parent’s meetings and defined your role as keeping in line. So you have to have all sorts of policies in place to explain the rules and deal with this lack of trust.

We, on the other hand, assume that our kids want to honor Jesus. We trust them to do just that. If they mess up, and a lot of them will, we will deal with that directly and lovingly to put them back on the right path. But the majority of the kids do great things because they love Jesus and they know we trust them to demonstrate that in the way they live.

Winning trust is remedialnever primary, in a culture of honor. Winning trust is a corrective for a breach of trust. In a culture of honor, trust is extended because we build our relationships on the basis that our brothers and sisters in Christ are trustworthy.

Trust is built on the foundation of affirmationprayer, and service. Trust is reinforced by accountability (which we will address next week). In a culture of honor, trust is given before it is earned.

helping_hand-climbersIn addition, in a culture of honor, trust can be reestablished by grace after holding someone accountable. That’s what Jesus did with Peter in both confronting him and restoring him to ministry (John 21:1-17).

Even more, in a culture of honor, trustworthiness can be reestablished by being given another opportunity with supervision, after being held accountable for a failure. This is what Barnabas did with John Mark so that John Mark was eventually seen as both trustworthy and useful to the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:9-11).

When we are a grace-filled family, church, organization, or business, we extend grace by trusting that those around us are trustworthy. Even when they blow it, we love them enough to lovingly confront to restore them and allow them to reestablish their trustworthiness.

A culture of honor will always be a culture of trust. When trust exists, people thrive. When trust is earned, people have to work hard to prove they are worthy of being a part of the system. So much energy is lost trying to prove trustworthiness. So much suspicion is built into the system that thriving becomes very difficult and morale is frequently damaged. There is little honor. At best there is personal achievement. There is little grace. At best there is approval.

A culture of honor will be marked by trust because we consider our brothers and sisters in Christ trustworthy. We do this because our Father saw something in us long before anyone else could see anything of value or any reason for trust and our Father chose to see “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:19-23 NIV).

Building a Culture of Honor: Serving

cultureservingGrowing up in his daddy’s house, he knew hard work. Long before he was a man, he knew what it was like to mash his fingers and have to get a thin piece of hot metal to relieve the pressure under the smashed nail. He had to clean up after his daddy had worked with wood, stone, and mortar — after all, he was the apprentice and his daddy was the master carpenter. He knew what it was like to sweat through his clothes on a hot summer job and finish the day with his arms covered in sawdust or sand and his feet a slimy mess of dirt and sweat.

So as the Master looked over the edge of history and saw three crosses on the cruel hill called Golgotha, he was determined to show his friends, his faithful followers, the full extent of how much he loved them — he was determined to show his love for them to the very end (John 13:1). So, he took off his outer garment, picked up a towel and water basin and began to wash their feet. Not just the feet of the faithful ones. There would be none. Not just the feet of the most important one. He would fail most miserably. Not just the feet of the beloved one. He would watch, but only from a distance. The Master would show his love to everyone. Yes, he would wash each of their feet, including the one who had already sold him out for 30 pieces of silver and would soon betray him with a kiss.

Yes, the Creator of the universe, on the night of his betrayal, stooped down and lovingly cleaned the toe jam from the feet of his betrayer… and the one who would deny him… and the other ten who would forsake him and run away. Even his closest friends, the inner three, would fall asleep when he needed them most. Yet knowing this, Jesus’ concern was not for himself, but for them. He spoke life to them in the face of his own death. He spoke hope into their hopelessness. He spoke promise into their broken promises.

Why?

Love! Yes, love did this. But, look deeper than the concept of love. Underneath was a commitment to love them completely — not just in words, but in action and truth (1 John 3:16-18). He served them to set them an example of how to create a culture of honor* out of a brotherhood of dishonor, betrayal, denial, rivalry, fear, weakness, and hopelessness. He demonstrated what he had so often spoken: “The greatest among you will be as one who… serves” (Luke 22:26 NIV).

Jesus makes clear that if we are going to build a culture of honor, we must follow his example:

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:12-17).

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.48.47 AMNotice that the Lord made clear, both by word and by example, that this band of brothers would not be blessed because they talked about serving, but only if they went about serving (John 13:17).

 

john13_17-smallThere is something about the unpretentious serving of another that changes hearts — both the heart of the loving servant and the hearts of the ones lovingly served. A family, a friendship, a group, an organization, a fellowship, or a business built on unpretentious sacrificial service creates a blessed people and opens hearts to see Jesus as he really lived. As Jesus himself said:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Jesus’ heroic work on the Cross and at the empty tomb would ransom this rag tag bunch of ordinaries. Before the passion of Christ, however, we see Jesus ransoming this bunch in hundreds of smaller ways, most largely going unnoticed by them. It is not in the seldom required grandiose sacrifice of ransom that we serve each other most frequently, but in the common and costly service most needed (1 John 3:16-18). These acts of service, both large and small, build a culture of honor — a place where flawed people are ransomed and broken people are reclaimed.

Want to know the greatest person around you?

Don’t look at the podium or on the list of official ministers. Don’t check the org chart to see who is at the top. Don’t look for the folks in the corner office with a view calling the shots. In a blessed place to worship or work or grow, you will find the greatest at the feet of others, unpretentiously serving them… regardless if it gets noticed… regardless if those served will be appreciative… regardless of the titles.

To build a culture of honor, we must see that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that the greatest gift we can give is our self, bent down to lovingly serve those we hold dear… regardless!

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them(John 13:17).

Building a Culture of Honor: Prayer

prayer-warrior“I wish I had three hours to sit around and do nothing but pray!”

This statement, given by a friend who was a successful business executive, dripped with sarcasm. He had important missions-related issues for our elders to consider. However, they let him know that he wouldn’t be on the agenda because they were committed to have one meeting per month where they prayed without any other interruptions, business, or distractions.

I was furious with him for his loud and publicly issued statement aimed at our shepherds in front of others. So angry, in fact, that I wisely kept my mouth shut and didn’t revisit the subject with him for several years. When I did visit with him about it, he remembered the comment and said that he deeply regretted this arrogant and ignorant outburst. We then talked about his spiritual hero’s favorite phrase: “I only get done what I pray for!” His heart had changed.

honorhelmetIf we are going to build a culture of honor in our family, our organization, our business, or our congregation, I firmly believe that we will only get this done if we pray!

Prayer is one of five characteristics that I believe helps us build a culture of honor whether we are a family, organization, business, or congregation:

  1. Affirmation
  2. Prayer
  3. Service
  4. Trust
  5. Accountability

This is not a recipe or color by numbers linear process, but a journey fashioning us to become the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18Ephesians 4:13-16).

Prayer is indispensable as both a great gift of grace and a gut-level commitment to self-surrender. When we pray, the Holy Spirit guarantees us the immediate and focused attention of the Creator of the universe (Ephesians 2:18Ephesians 3:12). The Spirit also intercedes for us, taking our groans and sighs too deep for words and presenting them to the Father so that they are heard and acceptable (Romans 8:26-27). Prayer is an incredible gift of grace.

romans6_13-smAt the same time, prayer is also a gut-level commitment to self-surrender. Jesus taught us(Matthew 6:10) and showed us (Mark 14:36)that prayer is the willing surrender of our lives to the will of God. Our Father wants this self-surrender to permeate every practical area of our lives. We recognize that we depend upon God for our daily food, the forgiveness of our sins, and our deliverance from the power of evil(Matthew 6:11-13). And even as we open our hearts to our own deep need, God also reminds that we are to share this grace with others or we forfeit the grace we so desperately need:

[Jesus said,] “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV).

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.42.09 AMJesus’ postscript reminder to the Lord’s Prayer is an echo of similar words spoken earlier in his Sermon on the Mount:

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:44-45 NIV).

Jesus will also say:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:26-27 NIV).

Prayer reminds us that we are God’s children and that we are called to share God’s redemptive grace with those around us — both those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ and also those who are outside our family of faith:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14NIV).

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable (Romans 12:17 NLT).

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21 NIV).

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9 NIV).

Prayer becomes this grace-driven vehicle of transformation for us because it gives us the avenue to invite God to enter our hearts, our lives, and our relationships to conform us to his will. We commit to pursue what matters most to our Father. We trust that he will provide us all we need physically and spiritually. We invite our Father’s power and presence into our most hurtful, dangerous, and worrisome relationships. We choose to not seek revenge, but to share grace!

When we begin to pray for God to forgive our enemies, our attackers, our nemeses, our opponents, our persecutors, our mockers… and to bless them with his blessing, something amazing happens to us. Our hearts are transformed! We reflect the nature of our Savior who prayed for his murderers forgiveness as he was berated and murdered (Luke 23:34). In the process of this prayerful grace, we begin to live out the call of God’s Kingdom. We get to participate in God’s counter-cultural revolution as a culture of honor takes hold in our own lives!

So I invite you to join me in pursuing the most challenging grace I know: the grace of praying for God to bless our enemies — just as Jesus did — even if it costs us as much as it cost Jesus. Such prayer honors God and brings salvation when everything seems lost. This kind of prayer shapes us into a culture of honor as we become people of honor — people sharing God’s grace with others through prayer.

Building a Culture of Honor: Affirmation

JesuspostaffirmationPeople were everywhere. They had crowded in to hear the voice of God thunder out from the wild man in the wilderness who spoke God’s truth with clarity unheard since the times of Elijah and Elisha. As his voice traveled down the lush twists and turns of the Jordan River, his message breathed into flame the ember of something holy and expectant in the hearts of men and women from all over Galilee, Judea, and Decapolis.

Soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes came, were convicted in their hearts of their sin, and were plunged beneath the water to begin life with a fresh commitment to God. Moms and dads, shopkeepers and leatherworkers, fisherman and zealots, people whose hopes were crushed and people whose hopes were on fire looking for the Messiah all came to hear God’s challenging message of repentance and to be baptized by John.

Suddenly, everything stopped. At this moment, it seemed as if everything stood still and heaven’s spotlight focused on this moment and place. Jesus stepped forward to be baptized. Mud squished between his toes as he stepped down into the river and all of heaven watched breathlessly as the Savior came to honor the Father and identify with the people he came to save.

“I can’t do this,” John the Baptizer told Jesus. “I am not worthy to do this. I need to be baptized by you, not me to baptize you!”

“It must be so to fulfill the righteous plan of God, my Father,” Jesus told his cousin.

So John placed his hand behind the neck of Jesus and placed his other hand on the chest of his cousin and plunged him under the waters of the Jordan. In a moment of apocalyptic grace, John raised Jesus up from the waters and the heavens were torn open. The Father’s voice from heaven thundered approval as the Holy Spirit, in the form like a dove, came and rested upon Jesus. The Bible describes the moment like this:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22 NIV).

This event is pivotal on many levels. Jesus’ baptism is the signal of the beginning of his ministry as well as his coronation as King of Israel and Son of God. The long wait for the Messiah to show himself is over. The Savior is ready to begin his work of redeeming the lost world by becoming a ransom for all those who would choose to follow him. But underneath the importance of the moment, often hidden in the great theological and messianic implications of this moment, is something precious and very human. Something we must not miss and we must also put into practice.

Notice how the Father affirms the Son! God does this for Jesus in three ways:

  1. The Father affirms his relationship with the Son: “You are my son!”
  2. The Father affirms his love for the Son: “Whom I love!” (Literally God calls Jesus his “Beloved Son”!)
  3. The Father affirms his pleasure with the Son: “With you I am well pleased!”

holy_spirit_doveThe mystery of Jesus’ identity is hard to cram into our human brains. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Jesus is divine and mortal. All at the same time in the same person. Sometimes, we let the divinity of Jesus hide the humanity of God’s Son. So we must not miss the powerful example that God gives us to show us what we all need most from those we love.

Jesus leaves his baptism to go face temptation for forty days in the desert as the Son prepares himself for the work of God that lies ahead of him. And what are the first words out of the mouth of the evil one, the father of lies? “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3).

Think about this a moment. Let the truth of this wash over you. “If you are the Son of God…” are the very first words out of the mouth of the deceiver. Do you really think it is an accident, simply a happy coincidence, what the Father had just told the Son?

“You are my Son. My beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Jesus goes to face his time of testing in the desert with the affirmation of the Father’s claim of relationship (“You are my Son.”) ringing in his ears and embedded in his heart. Jesus will do battle with the evil one and resist the temptations not just because he knows the Scriptures better than Satan, but also because he knows the Father loves him and is pleased with him.

So here is my point for us.

If God prepared his Son to face his battles with the devil by affirming his relationship with Jesus, his love for Jesus, and his pleasure in Jesus, don’t we need to do the same for each other in God’s family?

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.28.04 AMAs we look at building a culture of honor in our families, our organizations, our churches, and our communities, affirmation is the place to begin.

How do I know this is the place we must begin? Because this is where God begins with Jesus in his ministry.

Jesus began his move toward ministry with obedience to the Father, submission to the mission ahead, and identification with the people he would serve. He did this by being baptized. God immediately responded with the dramatic affirmation of the Son — the heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove.

If God began there with the Son, we must begin there with each other.

We live in a culture of cynicism and suspicion. We tear down others to bring them down to our level. We delight in the morsels of negative gossip about celebrities, politicians, and sports stars. Our desire for these juicy tidbits about others’ failure and flaws is insatiable. So we train ourselves to look for the negative in others. To look at the goodness in others with cynical suspicion, assuming there is also some dark and depraved other side to their personalities we haven’t discovered yet.

We carry these suspicions with us into God’s family, the church. We have been trained to be suspicious and look for flaws, so it is not hard for us to find them. The problem with our church families is simple: everyone there is a sinner with flaws and inconsistencies… just like us.

However, there is another truth we must not forget. Our church families are full of precious people who long to be more than we are now. We want help in being transformed into the character and compassion of Jesus that the Holy Spirit is working in us to become (2 Corinthians 3:18). What we need is an environment that encourages us toward that goal, not one that drags us back to our flaws, inconsistencies and failures.

We long for a culture of honor to help us grow, live, and flourish. The place to begin is where God began with Jesus: affirmation — affirmation of relationship, love, and pleasure.

If you don’t believe this is important, go look at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church — the poster church for congregational disaster. Now notice how Paul speaks of them:

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2-4 NLT).

Paul isn’t buttering them to bring the hammer down on them later. Paul is genuinely affirming who they are, what God is doing with them, and how precious they are to him. All this is given to a church that was as big a mess as we could ever discover. Affirmation is what we need before we receive correction and before we face the attacks of the evil one!

When we go to all of Paul’s letters, but one, we find this same kind of affirmation. The one that’s lacking the affirmation at the beginning? Galatians — the church caught up in “devouring one another” (Galatians 5:15). Why are they devouring each other? Because they were devoid of grace and had forgotten that affirmation is essential to building a culture that honors each other and God!

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.30.41 AMSo if we are going to build a culture of honor in our families, workplaces, organizations, churches, and communities, we’re going to have to start with affirmation. See the three links below to three related articles on affirmation to get you started. But I also want you to use the Facebook comments section to suggest ways that we learn to better affirm each other in the following three ways:

  1. Affirming our relationship.
  2. Affirming our love.
  3. Affirming our pleasure.

There are few gifts more important to give than the gift of affirmation. And if we are going to build a culture of honor, it’s the place we must begin!

Building a Culture of Honor: Introduction

honor-bowBe devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10 NIV).

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” the man said as he took in the implications of the verse he just read. His counselor was shocked that someone steeped in church-going would react so negatively to a passage of Scripture. But this guy didn’t hold back!

“So I’m supposed to think of someone else before I consider my own needs? Whoa! Don’t you know it’s the 21st century? Come on, that kind of thing is for losers… wimps… mamby pamby momma’s boys who don’t have the guts to stand up for themselves. Don’t you know that nice guys finish last!”

While few would be so brazen to actually say these critical words about Scripture, most of our world believes them — even those who give lip service to them in church. And believe it or not, I’ve actually had several people share sentiments similar to those quoted above. All around us is an insatiable need to get noticed, feel important, have my way, and be accommodated. Don’t believe me? Look at what passes today for “reality TV”! I’m not sure we have found anything that someone won’t do for their fifteen minutes of fame or to have their personal YouTube video go viral.

God’s call for us is to love and honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10), to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39), and in everything we are to do for others as we would want them to do for us (Matthew 7:12). Unfortunately, they can be little more than slogans to put on the walls of our homes if we don’t embrace the Lord’s challenge to make these principles true in our lives.

When you peak into our homes, workplaces, driving spaces, politics, and churches, we find great wastelands of self-interest, rivalry, bitterness, division, gossip, and spite. We seem to feed off of these kinds of things as consumers, looking for the latest tasty morsel about some celebrity meltdown at the checkout counters at the grocery store and celebrity gossip TV shows. We laugh as we see the quick-tongued attacking sarcasm that cuts down others — supposedly family and friends — in our favorite sitcoms. We catch ourselves dwelling on what “smart” thing we could have said in response to someone’s sarcastic comment about us. And to our dismay, we find ourselves gossipping about someone that is part of our church family.

honor_coupleSo in our secular culture of selfishness and cynicism let’s hear God’s call to create a culture of honor. Let’s build a culture of strong and determined people who reflect God’s righteous character and redemptive grace in the way that we love and honor others.

First, we passionately believe that building a culture of honor — in our homes, workplaces, organizations, politics, and churches — is not only possible, but also necessary. We believe that as followers of Jesus, we must be the salt and light in a world of decay and darkness.

Second, we commit to the work necessary to build a culture of honor in our homes, jobs, organizations, communities, and churches. Over the next five weeks, we will make five crucial moves to join God in his work of building a culture of honor in these places.

Second, we commit to the work necessary to build a culture of honor in our homes, jobs, organizations, communities, and churches. Over the next five weeks, we will make five crucial moves to join God in his work of building a culture of honor in these places.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.19.53 AMThird, as we take this five week journey, we’re going to do three things together:

  • We’re going to readRomans 12 each week at least three times each week — slowly, carefully, using different translations to hear the Holy Spirit calling us to be God’s culture of honor.
  • We’re going to pray that the Father will use the Holy Spirit to transform us to be more like Jesus as we offer ourselves to his work of being his people of righteous character and redemptive grace.
  • We are going to put into practice what we learn from the Scriptures that will help us begin this work of transformation.

Our world is starving for genuine, loving, relationships where human dignity is honored, spiritual development is encouraged, and life’s pain is comforted through the voices and hands of loving people. Nearly everyone with whom I speak yearns for a safe harbor from life’s combative environments, cutting words, and constant put downs. All of us need a place of encouragement and affirmation to propel us to become all God has creating us to be. So we will, by God’s grace, create a culture of honor in the places and with the people our lives touch!

romans12_10

This is what God says a culture of honor looks like:

Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others.


If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people. Again, my loved ones, do not seek revenge; instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” But consider this bit of wisdom: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; because if you treat him kindly, it will be like heaping hot coals on top of his head.” Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good
 (Romans 12:9-21 The Voice).

Time to Get out of the Boat

GetOut_cc

Jesus’ followers had first been afraid of the storm with its violent winds and threatening waves. The seasoned sailors were terrified. Their land-loving friends were frozen in fear. Then they were captured by a deeper fear… a reverential awe at the one they were following… the one in the boat with them who with just a word stilled the wind and calmed the waves (Luke 8:22-25) .

“Who is this man?”

We would ask the question if we had been with them. In fact, we are invited by Luke to ask that question now… in this moment… before we go a step further with Jesus.

“Who is this man?”

This question hangs in the air and burns in their hearts as the next few moments unfold with even greater intensity.

footprints_from_shorelineWhen their boat scrunched to a stop on the northeastern shoreline of Lake Galilee, the twelve friends and followers of Jesus still seem frozen with fear. Yet what greeted them on the shoreline of an old cemetery was no echo, it was real and immediate and terrifying!

This group was in a place no good Jewish follower of the LORD would ever go — a Gentile graveyard. What they encountered frightened them. It frightened them so much that we hear nothing about them in the events that follow. They disappear from the story and are only witnesses. Probably witnesses from the safe distance of their boat.

As Jesus meets a man whose life had been shredded apart by demonic power, there is no indication that Jesus’ band of fearful men ever got out of the boat!

When they get to the other side of the lake, in the Gerasene country opposite Galilee, a man from the city is waiting for Jesus when He steps out of the boat. The man is full of demonic spirits. He’s been running around for a long time stark naked, and he’s homeless, sleeping among the dead in a cemetery. This man has on many occasions been tied up and chained and kept under guard, but each time he has broken free and the demonic power has driven him back into remote places away from human contact. Jesus commands the demonic force to leave him. The man looks at Jesus and starts screaming. He falls down in front of Jesus… (Luke 8:26-29 The Voice).

Jesus’ work of setting the man in his right mind was not greeted with shouts of joy or tears of relief. Anyone who had power over a legion of demons was to be feared above the demons.

“Who is this man?”

They had to wonder among themselves. Who can do such a thing? Chains couldn’t bind him. Cells couldn’t hold him. Living in the wild couldn’t tame him. Now this Jesus guy, this Jewish teacher with all his followers still cowering in the boat, has power over the demons! Not only that, he’s driven our pigs into the sea. “Leave here, Jesus! Leave here. We don’t want you!”

“Who is this man?”

It will be awhile before we really hear from Jesus’ friends and followers again. They have to answer that question before they can really follow. By then, Jesus will confront them with an even more confusing truth once they realize that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He tells them, “I’m going to the cross, rejected by our religious leaders. I will die on a cross and I call you to follow me.”

“Who is this man?”

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 8.28.03 AMYes, this is our question. It will take a lifetime to fully learn the truth of the answer. The Holy Spirit will have to peel off layer after layer of misconception and misunderstanding and fear. And all along the way, we will keep asking the question.

“Who is this man?”

And the only way we are ever going to get an answer is to get out of the boat.

freedom_boat

I’m not sure what your boat is, but if you are honest, you will have to admit your feet are planted firmly in that boat. It could be your church or your church tradition. It could be you’ve always resisted reading the Gospel story of Jesus (told in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and asking Jesus to show himself to you — to make himself real in your life like he showed up in the lives of the people in the story.

To experience Jesus, to do more than believe in your head and tell a few Jesus’ stories from long ago, you have to get out of your boat. You have to take the risk and go where Jesus goes… care for people like Jesus demonstrates his care for them… and associate with people Jesus hung around with… and you are going to have to let Jesus do stuff with you and in you that what you learned at church-in-the-box never taught you…

Jesus wasn’t just resurrected… he lives. Jesus isn’t just alive… he longs to be present with us and among us and in us. Jesus isn’t just present, he can be experienced and known and followed. Yes, Jesus can be real to us…

We just have to get out of our boat and walk with him.

So grab your Bible, read the Gospels, and follow Jesus.

Let’s get out of our boxes and get out of our boats and find ourselves in the wild with Jesus!

Isn’t it time we got out of the boat and followed Jesus where he leads and join him in the places he goes and walk beside the people he serves?

Yeah, it’s time we got out of the boat!

Fear the BIG 4 No More!

Terror!

Terror is way more debilitating than just being afraid. Terror holds us in its icy cruel grip. Terror turns heroes into zeroes. Terror melts the mighty into helplessness. Terror leads us to hesitate in the moments we need to act decisively. Terror scrambles our thoughts when we need clarity. Terror shuts down our system and leads us to respond without control, without direction, and driven by panic.

Maybe you have been there. That place where life shifts from concern and fear into all out terror. You are not sure you can endure what you are about to face. And if you can survive it, you are not sure you want to endure what it takes to survive.
Terror can own us: every thought… every moment… every heartbeat.

We turned the corner of the river. What the canyon wall had hidden and what we feared ragin_riverwe would find were now revealed. The fury of an early spring storm. The river was now a terrifying run into a screaming gale with waves crashing over our low flat bow. The right side of the river, the high bank of rock not twenty yards away, was being blitzkrieged by loud cracks of lightning and blinding light — not something you want happening near you as you sit in an aluminum boat.

The left bank was barren except for a few old oaks and grass bent sideways by the wind. We had to make a run for the flat bank, but there would 15-20 minutes of wind, waves, lightning, and no place to hide before we made it. Terror fueled our frantic efforts. We prayed and sang as we rowed with all our might. The engine was as dead as we feared we might soon be. Neither of us spoke to the other, afraid our terror would melt our resolve if we acknowledged just how unsure we were that we would not make it through this moment alive.

“Man, that woman is crazy. No, no, that’s not the word. She is driven by some demonic power. Every elder in the room had the hair on the back of his neck stand up when she shifted into that strange and creepy voice. I’m not sure that most of them even believed this was possible until today. But they are all sure now. It was providential that you were not at the meeting tonight. We’ve got to protect you brother!

What’s inside that woman is out to get you and your family.” What had been a nightmare, what had been a fear, suddenly shifted into something more. The reality of the story is too much to tell, but for a time, absolute evil invaded our world and threatened everything. The ending of the story was tragic and shocking and terrifying.

“I’m sorry, but your baby boy has a blowout fracture of the eye orbital. We think he will be baby_icuokay, but there is a possibility he could be blind in one eye or even brain damaged.” Not the thing you want to learn from one doctor about your one day old son while another doctor uses an instrument much larger than your tiny little boy to try to look into the back of his eyeball.

Terror makes your lips thin, your patience thinner, and your fragile grip on control hanging by a fragile thread. How could this happen with my first child? How can this be fair when my dad has fought all this time to see his first grandchild before he died? How are we going to survive this? How am I going to tell my wife who does not know how bad it is?

“Oh my, those are three nodules near your thyroid gland and close to your vocal cords. We are going to have to put you through some tests to see if this is what… well, uh…” the doctor hesitated to try to find the right words without alarming me, “well, uh… to rule out a malignancy.” Terror. I am too young with little kids to face this possibility— a career-ending, possibly life-ending, set of tumors in my throat. What am I going to do? How will I take care of my family? Will I even be here to take care of my family?

These are not theoretical stories. These aren’t exaggerated stories. These aren’t someone else’s stories. I know them all too well. These are my stories… stories of terror. Terror is something deeper than fear. Something profoundly humiliating because terror mocked my faith, sapped my strength, and immobilized my resolve.

Yet here’s the deal: we all will face these at least one of these four terrors at some point in our lives. Many of us will face them all in one way or another. These big four realities of our mortality are the reminders of our human limitations. They lurk in our world to remind us of our inability to control what could claim us. These are the “Big Four” primal fears that go with mortality. We desperately need an answer for them.

If we do not have an answer for them, then we have no answer for life’s biggest and most certain challenges.

Thankfully for those of us who follow Jesus, our Lord faced down these same four primal fears. He faced them in the presence of his disciples. He faced the “Big Four” for them and with them. Luke presents these confrontations with the “Big Four” in a series of closely timed events (Luke 8:21-56).

Deep: uncontrollable nature (Luke 8:22-25).
Jesus is with his closest followers in a boat when they face a terrifying storm. At first, Jesus is asleep. Then, when his experienced sailors dissolve in panic, they cry out to him. Jesus awakens, and with just a few words he stills the waves and silences the storm. Jesus speaks and all nature obeys. So in their fear, he speaks to their faith hoping they will listen and trust.

Demonic: unmanageable evil (Luke 8:26-39).
Jesus comes to help a man who terrifies everyone else because of the raging demons that control him. Everyone else has abandoned him to the place of death, a cemetery in a foreign land. Here, in a place unclean in every way for a Jewish religious teacher, Jesus chooses to come and claim a man back from hell. The Lord faces the raging forces of the demons and commands them with his words. In this battle of good and evil, Jesus’ followers are silent and unseen as he steps in and defeats evil and restores life.

Disease: incurable illness (Luke 8:43-46).
Jesus is in a large crowd. He is accessible to everyone, even an ostracized and unclean woman who is not supposed to be out in public. She approaches Jesus from behind, hoping that he will not mind if she gets close enough to touch him. Her problems have been incurable… debilitating and isolating. She muscles up her courage and does the unconscionable: she touches the holy hem of his garment. When Jesus calls attention to her actions, her terror shifts from never being healed to being caught for what she had done — an unclean person contaminating the Teacher. So Jesus pauses, not to rebuke her, but to praise her faith and stand with her in the crowd as the Messiah is willing to come close enough for the desperate and hopeless to touch.

Death: undeniable mortality (Luke 8:40-56).
Jesus comes to the house of a man whose child had been dying and has just recently passed. Mourners do their thing: mourning the horrid circumstances that took this little girl from her important family. Hope has shifted to despair because Jesus arrives too late to heal her. The terror of losing a beloved child is now a reality. So Jesus simply puts everyone out of the room, except for a few followers and the parents, then tenderly talks to the young girl and rouses her out of the sleep of death, leaving everyone in the group stunned and amazed.

What we learn from the Lord’s battle with the “Big Four” is simple and clear:
While we may face these times of trial — these realities of our mortality — Jesus can handle them. And one day, when the Father says it is time, what is broken with our world will pass away and the Lord will bring us into a place of safety where these things cannot touch us.

Unlike the temporary solution Jesus gave to his disciples in the boat, the unnamed man in hebrews13_5-articlesthe cemetery, the woman in the crowd, and the father gripped with grief, Jesus has given us a final, permanent, and eternal solution to these problems because he faced them here.
Until that time, we need to realize that we do not have a God who is far away. We have a Savior who is near.

Jesus will not abandon us in these moments, but accompany us through them! Sometimes, he will deliver us out of these events — miraculously, inexplicably, and blessedly. Sometimes, he will deliver us through them — they will be used to establish our character, deepen our faith, and usher us into his presence. Either way, there will never be a time when he is not with us, near us, in us, and for us.

No matter how alone we feel, he meets us in those moments so that we can make it to our ultimate destination and find life indeed.

I do not know what you may be facing right now. I do not know what storms rage in your life, what terrors greet you in the night, what uncertainties face you at the doctor’s office, or what concerns mock your plans. But this I do know: Jesus cares about them.

He will never abandon you or forsake you. If you are a child of God, he will never abandon you or forsake you. Most of all, Jesus can calm your storms, put you in your right mind, bring peace in the middle of your pain and isolation, and bring life in the face of your worst losses. Jesus said it this way:

[Jesus said] “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 6:33 NIV).

Meeting God Outside the Box!

What was the moment in your life that you felt God was most present? What was the time and where was the place where Jesus’ presence was undeniably real and you were absolutely certain God was present?

In asking these questions, the vast majority of people who answered did NOT refer to an experience in a church building. Yes, a few have, but just a few. And while I have had some incredible moments of worship in a religious box, my most powerful encounters with the presence of God had nothing to do with a religious cubbyhole made for worship performance.

The real shame is that many folks can’t think of a time where God’s presence was undeniably real. Tragically, there are many religious folks who do not even expect to have an encounter with God’s presence. They go to church, but they don’t really expect to experience an encounter with glory — there, or anywhere else!

who_is_this_storm2For Jesus’ little band of followers, their expectations really didn’t include an encounter with God’s glory either. Moses had one on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. Elijah had one on Mount Carmel in his battle with the prophets and priests of Baal. Isaiah had one that rocked his world in the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel had his bizarre visions of God’s glory.
But they were just fishermen, tax collectors, normal folks who had normal expectations. They weren’t really expecting anything spectacular to happen to them.

So Jesus rocked their world in four consecutive events — and notice especially where they occurred:
A boat on the Sea of Galilee with a rag tag band of men no one but Jesus would have put together (Luke 8:22-25).

A cemetery in a non-Jewish region across the Sea of Galilee in the presence of a man whose life was out of control and at the mercy of the evil inside him (Luke 8:26-39).
A grieving set of parents and the death bed of their daughter as friends surrounded the house grieving with them (Luke 8:40-59).

A bunch of gawkers mobbing Jesus to see his latest miracle that was interrupted by the desperate interruptive touch of a woman who was socially outcast because of her physical condition (Luke 8:43-48).

In these four events, Jesus confronted his closest friends with the glory of God when he faced down the “Big 4″ primal fears we all face as humans.*

So what are we to make of this?
What is the Holy Spirit trying to show us in these powerful encounters in such strange places?

Our human minds want to put our life experiences into manageable boxes of expectations. They can be boxes on our calendars that fit our schedules. They can be the religious boxes in which we worship God. They can be limiting cubbyholes of our expectations about where and how God can and will show up. So our faith gets stuck in these boxes. We only expect God to show up in our nice and tidy spaces that won’t invade too much of our lives.

We try to keep God in cubbyholes to keep him from challenging our expectations and our nicely ordered view of reality. And then in the strangest places — like a raging storm, a scary cemetery, a hopeless moment of grief and despair, or an unruly crowd (Luke 8:22-39) — God shows up in Jesus and changes everything.

Truth be told, as much as we think we want life to be like a roll top desk with all its cubbyholes to put everything in, and with a lid to pull down to hide everything when it is a mess, life just won’t fit into neat little boxes.

Our lives, our places, our spaces, our experiences are all interconnected. A mess in one box confuses, distorts and disrupts all the others. What’s more, disaster can strike in one cubbyhole and brings all our other boxes crashing down so that no one can put a lid on our real life messes and cover them up. So we need a real God who is bigger than our cubbyholes. We need a true Savior, a living Jesus, who refuses to stay in our boxes. We need to see God’s glory in the strangest places, because that is where we most often need him.

2902cWhen one of life’s “Big 4″ confronts us, we don’t want God confined to a religious cubbyhole or a predetermined box on our Google Calendar. Facing the raging storms of life, we don’t want God locked in a box we call church. Dealing with raging addictive powers that rule us, we don’t need a God who is neat and tidy and tucked away in pristine religious environments.

When facing the death of someone we love, having God locked down to a certain day, week, or place does us no good on our long lonely nights. In dealing with the isolation and pain of illness, we don’t need a Savior who resides only with religious crowds. We need Jesus to be real, to be present, and to show us a glimpse of God’s glory.

So let’s not get locked in our own boxes of God-limiting expectations. Let’s not only expect God, but let’s also ask God, to show us his glory in the most unexpected places. When we face one of the “Big 4″ we need to already know that God is there and that he will keep his promise: “Never will I leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Like Jesus’ first followers, let’s expect to meet God outside the box!