Our Stories Have Significance: Reaching One More, Part 3

Have you ever grown up thinking one thing only to realize later in life that you were utterly wrong? We all think we know the lyrics to that song that’s always on the radio only to be met with strange stares from our friends when we belt it out in the car! Or we think a place from our childhood is ginormous and wondrous, but upon visiting in our adult years, we realize that it was really us who had ginormous imaginations and an eye open to wonder.

And then there’s the sadder versions of this realization. Something happens at work and it finally clicks that we are unhappy with our careers and have been unhappy for as long as we remember. We get thrown in the cop car and realize that maybe we shouldn’t have had that last drink before leaving the bar. We wake up one morning and wonder how we grew so far apart from the one we used to love…

Some lessons we learn instantly and others we learn over time. We think that these “experiences” are what shape us into who we are. But in reality, it’s the conflict IN these experiences that shape us and mold us into the men and women we are today. And the Bible is painted with vivid pictures of people, both good and bad, whose lives have been molded by conflict.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Saul.

Saul grew up in a well-to-do family, and in a class-structured society, this not only helped him in the Temple, but it helped him even as a citizen of the state. He considered himself of the most “holy” line; he was a man of honor and deserving of status. He was not only intelligent and articulate, but he had the education to back it up, studying under the most revered teachers of his time. He was named after Israel’s first king, and the stately name was fitting. Saul was being pampered as possibly the next religious leader in a Jewish land longing for redemption from the Roman state that ruled over them.

Saul was the type who would argue with those who disagreed with him. He was NOT afraid of conflict. He was proud, and not just of himself, but of his god. In the midst of his religious revelry, however, he went from serving The Most High God to instead serving the System – what his people called “The Law.” And Saul was so distracted that he missed the fact that Jesus had come and fulfilled the Law and its requirements. Saul stayed his course, not just fighting against God’s people – the church – but actually taking part in the execution of one of its saints.

But luckily, that’s not the end of Saul’s story.

While on the way to further persecute God’s people, Saul was met with a burst of light and sound! And it was amidst that bewilderment and fear that Saul had a realization. He was not only outside of the people of God, but even worse, he was persecuting those who WERE the people of God! Jesus met Saul in a vision while on the road to a city called Damascus, and while it took Saul three days to receive Jesus, it was that moment on the road that changed Saul’s trajectory forever. He was physically and spiritually blinded by this Damascus moment, but once he accepted Jesus, the blindness left him and he could see clearer than he ever had before.

If you heard Saul’s story on the Damascus road without any context, without knowing him or what happened next, it would sound like a tragedy. The newspaper headline would read: “Beloved Scholar and Future High Priest Becomes Delusional, Left Blinded.” And Saul had three days where he was blinded, only left with his thoughts, thinking of how he had gone so far off course from what God intended. Saul didn’t know that from this one moment, Jesus would lead him into a life filled with floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and eventually his own beheading. But even more so, this one moment with Jesus led Saul to a life filled with grace and a life of new meaning.

It still amazes me to think of how I once thought I had it all together… or maybe even better, that at one point in my life I thought I knew everything. And it takes one wrong lyric now to remind me that maybe I still have a little bit more to learn on this green and blue rock. I’m not just amazed at my ignorance, but I’m still amazed by God’s grace and purpose as well.

Maybe you are in the place Saul was before his Damascus road experience, thinking that you have it all together. You’re so busy going with the flow that you haven’t taken the time to see that your stream is leading off a dangerous cliff. Maybe you are in the midst of your shaping moment right now, and you’re left blinded and confused with what the future holds. Maybe you’ve found your purpose, but the new life you’re living is filled with things you weren’t expecting. It’s not as easy as you thought, and you need to be reminded of the love, grace, and purpose you now have with Jesus. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the story, but you’ve forgotten that your story still has significance. Your story can speak into someone who’s still lost – to someone who can’t see how the conflict can be put back together. They’re blinded, and you’re there to lift the veil from their eyes.

Your story has significance. Some will look at your life and where you’ve come from, and they will KNOW that Jesus is the only way you could’ve gotten where you are today… Nothing else makes sense. Or they’ll see the journey you’ve been on, and all they can say is, “How?” That’s when you can point them to that Damascus moment, and they can encounter Jesus for themselves. Take time to remember where you’ve come from. Look and see how you’ve grown. And look to find others that are once where you were, and show them that there’s a greater purpose and a way out of the mess.

 

 

 

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A Miracle Not Meant For You: Reaching One More, Part 1

In chairs, the group sat in a circle in a living room. Some were on dining room chairs, some on couches, and some were on recliners. It was the common scene for a church connect group. There were appetizers lingering in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten. But first, the group was in the midst of a discussion. The question was simple, but it was a loaded one: “Who is your one?” Who is the one person whose life choices and circumstances breaks your heart? Who is the person who’s looking for answers in all the wrong places? At Sunday Service, when Pastor talks about “the lost” or those yet following Jesus, who is the first person who comes to mind? THAT is your “one.”

One of the individuals spoke up about his “one.” “There’s a lot of people that come to mind when I think of those who need Jesus. But if there’s a fire, I know who I’m going in to save first.” There might be many people who come to mind, but when push comes to shove, whose salvation is a priority? Whose eternal life is at the forefront of your mind?

Our church just began a small group series called “Reach One More.” It’s seven sessions of guided discussion geared to create conversation and action to evangelize – to reach the lost for Jesus. And while each session may only contain three questions, it stirs up something in people. It’d almost be easier to have more questions that tackle facts that invigorate the mind. But these questions nudge at the stirrings in the heart instead.

That’s why I love what that one group member said, “If there’s a fire.” It’s like saying, “If I knew I only had one opportunity, one chance at a miracle, I’d use up that chance – I’d put in all of my chips – on this one individual.” It’s powerful. And just like a house fire, it forces us to take priority off of ourselves. We have to be all in.

There’s a story in the Bible that this person’s story reminded me of. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas get disrobed and publically humiliated, beaten, and thrown in jail for casting a demonic spirit out of a young woman. As they are sitting naked in this jail cell, they start singing praises to God, which just BLOWS my mind. In the midst of one of the most humbling, humiliating, and horrifying moments of their lives, they take time to THANK GOD for what He’s done for them. And what does God do? He causes an earthquake to open the doors of the jail! They praised God and it led to a miracle! For most of us, it’s the opposite. We praise God after He answers our prayers.

But that’s not the crazy part. Most of us read this story, and we think that’s the miracle. It was Paul and Silas’ miracle and no one else’s. It’d be like being in a burning building and getting out alive. But the miracle of this story happened in the morning. When the guard of the jail wakes up, he sees that ALL the cell doors are opened, and knowing his future demise, is preparing to commit suicide. As he is about to fall on his own sword, Paul and Silas cry out from their cell that ALL of the prisoners are still in the jail.

Paul and Silas could have easily seen the doors open and think that the miracle was only for them. They could have said their thanks to Jesus and been on their way, not even knowing or caring of the future fate of this guard. But instead they stayed. Despite their circumstances, they stayed beaten, tired, hurting, and naked in a jail cell they were wrongly put in… for the sake of one person – that guard. This not only changed the life of the guard, but through this miracle, the guard AND his whole family were baptized.

Paul and Silas took the time to be aware of what God was doing around them. They knew the miracle wasn’t over yet. The doors might have been opened, but God was still at work.

In the midst of turmoil, as we feel like a burning wreckage is falling all around us, it’d be easy to see how getting out alive would be the miracle. Maybe it’s miraculously getting out of debt. Maybe finding out you’ve been mysteriously healed of cancer or set free from drug addiction has been your miracle moment. Maybe it’s that God mended back together a broken marriage that you once thought was irreconcilable. These miracles are good, but they aren’t just meant for us! These aren’t the miracles that have angels rejoicing in heaven!

Getting out of the burning building alive means you have the ability to go in and save one more.

It means that you can speak life into someone facing the very thing you just overcame.

Let us take time this week and remember to capitalize on the moments God has given us. Maybe it’s a window of seriousness for a friend who never gets vulnerable. Maybe you’ll have a random run-in with someone you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you get an opportunity to show love and inclusion in a situation filled with judgment and hate. Let us find those moments of signal fire and smoke and run into those burning buildings with reckless abandonment.

Because “our” miracle may be meant to save someone else.

Who Misses Out When You Miss Church?

Who misses out the most when you miss church?

It’s not the church. The church isn’t an institution; it’s a movement. The church knows that it is in people’s best interest to live sacrificially – giving their time to attend church, trusting in God by giving tithes and offerings, and serving in their church and in the community. But the church has existed for thousands of years. And while a church can’t function without people or volunteers, the church and its pastors are more pained that people aren’t living out their greatest potential more than being pained that people aren’t filling the seats. The church as a whole doesn’t miss out when you miss a church service.

It’s not your community. When you don’t come to church, that also means you aren’t bringing a neighbor or friend or coworker who needs to hear the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done for them. But there still might be next week or next month to invite them to church. With all of the different media sources out there, there are so many opportunities to hear about Jesus and the church. And, I’m sure there are other people who know them who could invite them to church or share the gospel with them. And… believe it or not, you can share the gospel with someone without necessarily inviting them to church. So the world isn’t missing out more than they already are when you miss church.

What do you miss out on when you miss church? You may miss out on being in community and worshiping with other believers, but most churches now have a completely interactive online campus, where you can worship and hear messages. Not only so, but just because someone doesn’t attend church, it doesn’t mean that a person is in spiritual decline. I can skip going to the gym but that doesn’t mean I’m not working out in my free time. A person might still read their bible and pray and be in community with Christians regardless of their Sunday attendance. So people don’t necessarily miss out themselves when they miss church.

What about your children though? Most children I know don’t have the means to get themselves to church. Most don’t have the discipline to know to read their bibles. They may not have the understanding of knowing the value of worshiping in a community. An adult might miss a Sunday and make up for it by listening to a podcast or watching online, but what is available for their children? There are no kid’s sermons that church’s post online. There’s no “online experience” for children. The biggest loser when families miss church are their kids – plain and simple.

Have you ever thought about what your kids or family miss out on whenever you miss church? Do your kids have a community of friends their age who are a positive example? What kind of priorities are you raising your kids to have? Who are the adults who you allow to speak into their lives – coaches, teachers, friends’ parents? There will be a day when your kids will give less value to your voice as their parent. Parents need to raise their kids around adults who will speak life and wisdom into them, so that when the time comes and these kids start to pull away, there are voices around them that speak the truth. We need to see who it really costs when we miss Sunday services. The next generation is at stake.

At The Feet of Jesus

I sat on the ground disheveled, bruised… petrified. There was so much yelling going on around me and there was a precipice before me. It was as if an explosion occurred with all of the surrounding calamity, and my ears began to ring. My life was on the line. And I couldn’t focus. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stay calm. And as I stayed on the ground, fearing to move, one of the men, the man they dragged me to, bent down next to me. It was there that a divide opened between time and space.

He drew a line in the sand.

I was dragged out of my house while in the act of committing adultery and was set at Jesus’ feet, though I didn’t know who he was at the time… But then again, did I really know myself at the time? In the heat of an argument, Jesus drew a line in the sand, a precipice, that divided me from my accusers. “The one who has never sinned should be the first to stone this girl,” he said. They knew at that moment that they all stood condemned. In a world where I was seen as a whore and they as God’s elect, Jesus put us on the same plane – we were sinners. And there, amidst the chaos and confusion is not just where I saw God, but it was where I met Him.

That was the first time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus always knew the right thing to say. That’s why I was always so enamored by his teachings. One time, he and the disciples came over to my house. As Jesus began to teach, I became so enraptured in his words that I completely forgot what I was doing. They were at my house, and I wasn’t doing what was expected of me as a woman or the host. I wasn’t helping my sister clean or tend to the house. But at that moment, I didn’t want to be the host – I wanted to be a student. I wanted to be a disciple. My sister tried to do everything herself but eventually her frustration spilled out, and she asked Jesus if I could be excused to help her. Jesus’ response was astounding.

He said that I chose the better thing by sitting at his feet.

As a woman, I was expected to tend to my male guests. The last thing I should have been doing was to sit while my sister did all the work. In a culture where I was expected to fit a certain role, Jesus included me with his Twelve. I was part of His own. I was a disciple.

That was the next time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

I was with Jesus even when the rest of the disciples fled. It was John who came to me and Jesus’ mother to tell us that Jesus was taken. It was then that we found out that Jesus was to be executed. I observed in horror as my mentor and my friend was beaten within an inch of his life. They dressed him up and paraded him around like an animal. They were making an example out of him, and there was nothing we could do but watch.

We followed him as he carried his cross through the winding city to the place where he would be made a spectacle. I had to look away when they hammered the nails into his fragile hands. What we thought was the end was soon approaching. Through everything Jesus was never hostile or angry. The religious leaders who were putting him to death were irritably standing next to us. Jesus looked at them with compassion and then looked up to the heavens. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” They weren’t his villains. They were merely victims of a sinful world – the world he came to save.

It was then that I realized what it truly meant to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus truly lived out what he said were the greatest commandments – he loved God with everything he had, and he loved others like their needs were his. He deserved more than any ruler or king to have others bow at his feet, but instead he washed the feet of those who followed him. At the feet of Jesus is a place where all sins are seen the same. It is where all people are equal regardless of the gender or race they were born with. It is a place of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Do you sit at the feet of Jesus?

 

A Beautiful Bouquet

I don’t know any kid who doesn’t love dandelions.

As a kid, I remember rubbing the pollen on my forehead. It would leave yellow oily smudges like it were cheap face paint. I remember having a contest with my friends to see who could blow the seeds off of the dead dandelions the fastest. It was a contest I would have with myself to see if I could blow all of the seeds off with one fatal gust of breath. I also remember getting off the bus after school and picking the biggest dandelions I could find to give to my mother. I would find a cheap cup, fill it with water, and place them on a windowsill as though they were flowers.

I think now as an adult, if I would pick dandelions for my girlfriend, I would soon be without one.

There is a popular story in the gospels where Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It is coupled together with a couple other stories in Mark explaining the expansion of the message of the gospel. At the root of his parable, Jesus was saying that though his message has started out small, it would soon grow a large following. It isn’t necessarily a parable of growth, but it is more of a parable of contrast – explaining how great things always start from things that are small.

A Tree and a Weed:

As far as dandelions are concerned, I think you understand. You can have one dandelion in your yard, and in a day there could be dozens. This is the focus of the parable, but like with the dandelions, there is one crucial aspect people are missing when they read this passage. And though this might not be the main idea of the text, it was still an intended illustration made by Jesus describing the Kingdom of God. Mustard plants, much like dandelions, were a nuisance to those whose gardens they overtook.

I don’t think any Jew at the time would describe the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Many Jews would describe the Kingdom of God or Israel like a mighty Cedar – a strong lavish tree with many uses. Cedar would be a sign of strength and a sign of stability. Jesus instead likens the Kingdom of God to a bush that overtook one’s garden. Once mustard was in one’s garden, it was most likely there to stay. To take out the plant would be troublesome, because the seeds alone germinate as soon as they hit the ground. Jesus knew the Old Testament. He could’ve equally used a parable describing the Kingdom as a Cedar, but his use of the mustard plant is important.

The Kingdom of God isn’t going to look like what the Jews were expecting.

Where many Jews thought they were God’s only people, Jesus made a way for ALL people of every tribe and every tongue to be part of the People of God. The mustard plant will grow so large that birds will perch in its branches. No one wants birds in their garden much like how many farmers put scarecrows in the cornfields. Yet Jesus makes this sound like a good thing.

Where many Jews and others thought they should revolt over Rome and rule the world, Jesus instead taught to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemy, and to put other’s in front of oneself. When many Jews and even the disciples thought the Messiah would come and deliver the people from their physical bondage, Jesus instead died at the hands of the very government they were trying to overthrow. Jesus came to deliver them from their spiritual bondage.

The Kingdom of God might not look like what we are expecting either.

While many churches spend their time looking to bring in young suburban families, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God is longing to see people in the slums and ghettos and cities. While American churches long that our government be right-wing conservative Capitalists, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God will welcome the Socialists who follow Christ as well. While many in church praise their pastors, I can’t help but think the people in the Kingdom will praise janitors and ushers, teachers and social workers, and the developmentally disabled as well.

Have we been looking at the Kingdom of God all wrong? What are our priorities as the body of Christ? How are we bringing heaven to earth? What are we doing to point those who are lost to Christ? How are we making the physical world a better place?

We need to learn how to stop saying we love people, and we actually need to start going out and loving people. We need to not get bitter at those who we don’t agree with. We need to love our enemies, and we need to encourage those who are going through difficult times instead of continually kicking them to the ground. We need to stop quoting the Ten Commandments, and we need to start following the One who perfected the Law. We are not only representatives of the Kingdom. We are representatives of Christ.

Embrace God like you’re holding a bouquet of beautiful dandelions.

Truth and The Bible

Sometimes I forget what Bible College has taught me.

Or maybe it’s that I forget that people haven’t been taught the same way.

I don’t mean it in a bad way. There are many good things and, crazily enough, bad things I learned while in school. When I was finished with my first semester of my sophomore year, I was confused as to how I went this long not being equipped with what I learned up to that point. Every new thing I learned was like another tool on a utility belt, and I was the Dark Knight of biblical exegesis, preparing myself for when I would go out into the world and defeat Falsehood with the Truth of the Gospel.

Then something happened.

The bible ended up becoming a textbook to me. It was hard to balance the scales of seeing the pages of my bible as inspired text while learning about textual criticism and the like. I became cynical of speakers and preachers and teachers and commentators. I started to only read the ESV, because it was more literal to the original text, and if ever I saw an ambiguous passage, I knew I could just look it up in the original Greek (or Hebrew… if you’re into that stuff).

The bible is a crazy thing. Some people see it as an inspirational text. Some people use it as a justification for war, sexism, racism, patriotism, and capitalism. And some people see it for what it is – the Word of God. The Bible was given to us to share with us the story of Salvation History and our place within it. It is a guideline for how we are to walk in the Spirit. And to mishandle or misrepresent what the bible says is to potentially misrepresent the God who orchestrated the words in its pages.

Just because it is true doesn’t mean it is biblical:

This is an interesting statement, but what I want to address is “exegesis.” Exegesis means, “to lead out” and has the idea of drawing an interpretation out from Scripture. Many bible college students know that the opposite of this is “eisegesis” – or “putting in” one’s own interpretation to a text.

What this means is that someone could be saying all the right things, but not using the right proofs to do so. A classic example of this (and one MANY of my professors used) would be when Jesus calms the storm. By reading this passage in context, the author isn’t trying to say: “Jesus will calm the storms of your life.” What the author is trying to say is clear at the end of the text: “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

Now, it is very well true that Jesus will bring peace to those who suffer. He says it in one of the Beatitudes. But to say that this is what Mark is trying to say in this passage takes away what Mark and God intended – that Jesus is divine. Not only does he cast out demons, and not only is he an incredible teacher, but even the weather is subject to him. For who else can control the weather but God himself?

By putting our own interpretation into a text, we run the risk of being able to justify anything with the use of smoke screens and poor context. Almost every text has one interpretation (for possible exceptions look at prophesies or the idea of sensus plenior). What makes a text different is how we apply that single interpretation to our lives.

Just because it isn’t biblical doesn’t mean it isn’t true:

This is something I find myself saying to my roommate a lot. He laughs at me, because we both know it really doesn’t make sense without an explanation. It honestly makes me feel like a heretic sometimes when I say it. But everyone knows that this is true. There are many ideas, and there are many things that are true that aren’t included in the bible. I know abortion is wrong. I believe that a fetus is actually a person, so it would be wrong to terminate a pregnancy. That isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Smoking isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Swearing isn’t anywhere in the bible.

The word “trinity” isn’t even in the bible.

If we believe that God is truth, then it must also be true that all truth is God’s truth… I’m sorry if you had to read that twice to get the full force of what I was trying to say. It’s scary to admit, because this leaves a big open gray area for a lot of things not mentioned in the bible. But God gave us the bible so that we can make godly judgments regarding these other things. The bible has nothing written against slavery, but we all hopefully know that it is wrong to own a person and to treat them like property.

The bible is the greatest guideline we could have on how to live life. It helps us to understand what God has brought humanity through. It shows us examples of the early church, so we know how to restore God’s kingdom to earth and know how to live Spirit led lives as well. The bible isn’t a tool used to bind people. It isn’t an instrument meant to control people. And it isn’t a book full of passages we can fill with our own “revelations.” This is the greatest physical tool we have for living out the Greatest Commandments. Let’s remember that it might not have all the answers, but it helps equip us to discover them for ourselves.

A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?