I’m Special, You’re Not

One of the verses we often use to ‘comfort’ each other is the famous line from 1 Corinthians 10 that says ‘he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability’.  Further if tempted… ‘he will also provide the way of escape’. 

I put the word comfort in quotes because it’s rarely accomplished.  When the devil is beating you down, does this ancient quotation make you feel any better?

I call this verse a Just-Them verse.  It never really helps to hear it but we can’t stop saying it to them.  It’s almost like it makes us feel better… like we are really in there helping someone in need.  But what I think happens most often is our judgemental side starts to show.

Here is the condensed version:  “I’m tempted to steal while times are tough”.  “If you steal, its a sin because God gave you the ability to resist AND a way out!”.  Please understand that even if you don’t mean it that way, there is a high probability it still gets received that way.

The problem with temptation is that it appeals to each of us differently.  In the shortest terms, the devil is epic good at tuning his whispers directly to our situations and personalities.  So we develop this sense of understanding towards our own needs…. but we don’t forget that scripture for Just-Them.  They have a way out.  They have a God given ability to resist.

But for me… They don’t understand what I’m going through.  My pain is different.  My struggle is real.  My situation is worse.  I had no way out.  I had no option.  We may even claim abandonment in our struggles.  These verses of ‘comfort’ are just for them.  They could do better, but I have no choice.

We can fall into this trap for at least two different reasons.  The first is something we need to work on as a society.  This is the result of handing out trophies and certifications and helping everyone to feel special.  While we all are, especially in God’s eyes, we aren’t encouraging unique self appreciation in healthy ways.

If we only teach that everyone is special we set up future generations for this type of self pity and outward judgement.  A healthy, God’s-eye-view, mixed with reality will go a long way.  Which brings me to the second thing we can do.

We can stop skipping the verse that comes right before the ones I pointed out above.  Verse 13.  “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”  That hurt, that massive pain, that thing that no one could possibly understand or even begin to imagine… yeah, we are all going through it.  The names may change, the details may skew over time, but temptation… all of it, is common.  

Not only should that help us put ourselves in the correct perspective between God and us and the rest of us and us… but it shows how diligent the devil really is.  He works so hard at ruining and condemning your life, that every single soul in the world has experienced the same level of torment.

What if instead of judging each other, we were there for each other, helping each other overcome the many schemes that are dealt out to ALL of us?  We may have resisted one sin someone else didn’t, but we neglected to find the way out on others that they did.  We can’t pick and choose which passages are for which people.  If the judgement is just for them, so is the reward.  I’m beginning to think of ‘them’ as a bad word.

Only God can use it accurately.  He is the only one without sin.  When we use it, we use it selectively to divide.  Them that failed.  Them that look different.  Them who speak different.  Them who score lower.  From our point of view, it should be about us.  The Bible is for us.  Jesus came to save us.  This passage of hope is about and for us.  We are God’s creation.  And, in two things, we are certainly equal.  God’s love for us and Satan’s desire to drag us kicking and screaming to hell.

That is another ‘us’.  The enemy wants us.  All of us.  Equally.  His attempts to drive us away from the love of God is common.  It is something we have all experienced.  And it is something that we can all help each other with based on first hand experience.

 


Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash
Advertisements

Splish Splash Peter’s Taking a Bath

In John 13: 1-17 we find the account of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  When He got to Peter, Peter protested.  No!  “You shall never wash my feet”.  I used to read this with an appreciation for Peter.  Good for him!  Know your place.  Of course I missed the same point Peter did.  The short conversation fascinates me.  Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”  To which Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

I love that response.  Don’t we all desire this level of yearning for the Savior?  The very thought of not being with Jesus caused Peter to not only turn a 180, but to double down as well.  It’s not comfortable having someone you admire and respect serving you, but Peter would allow it if it meant more of that relationship.

I’ve always aspired to be more like Peter.  To love Jesus the way he did, to be bold like he was… and then I realized… I’m just like Peter.  If that sounds pompous, you may not know the whole story.

Consider another context.  What if your boss walked in and said, “I want you to take my office”.  Well this would just be weird.  The boss would still be there.  You would still be working for him.  As nice as it may sound you just don’t like the thought of the social structure and hierarchy breaking down that way… what would your co-workers think?  So you politely decline.  You respect this boss and want to honor him.  He deserves the nicest and biggest office.  He follows up with, “if you don’t take my office, you can’t work here anymore”.

You depend on that salary, you love your job, and you have great relationships with all of your coworkers.  Losing this job is about the last thing you could ever want.  So with great jubilation you accept the bosses office and offer to take his car and salary too if that will help smooth things over.

I used to see this as a great relenting by Peter.  He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, but He would offer up his whole body if that meant getting to stay near the Savior.  But I fear his response may have been more like the analogy I put above.  When threatened to lose everything, wouldn’t we back pedal?

Think about what Peter was in position to lose if he didn’t allow Jesus to wash his feet.  They were still a little confused about who Jesus was.  Jesus was still potential king and ruler to them.  Even in this passage He told Peter he didn’t understand what was going on now.  The crowds loved Jesus, to the point that those against Him were scared.  He performed miracles, he had a mission, there was great hope and promise.  It’s not exactly a sacrifice to say, well in lieu of losing all of that, I’ll take your offer… and then some more as well.

Why is this worth writing about?  Because the same Peter that said, “You shall never wash my feet” also said, “I will not deny you!”.

But he relented there as well.  I can say that I am just like Peter because my mouth often works faster than my heart does.  My words are one step ahead.  I can promise and proclaim and take stands… with my words.  But when the time comes to back them up, the rooster crows.

I’ve grown less impressed with Peter as I see the same failures in my own faith.  I promise God I will listen and obey… and then the rooster crows again.  I am certain I will never sin that way again… and the crowd starts to ask if I wasn’t with that man.

Strong words.  Strong, heart felt, inspired words mean very little no matter how amazing they may sound.  We can accept Jesus serving us, we can promise to stand with him in death, we can even offer to walk out on the water to join with Him… but if we can’t even acknowledge Him when it matters most, we are nothing but an ill-tuned instrument blowing noise in the wind.

I’m embarrassingly like Peter.  I love Jesus.  I speak boldly.  But when it’s time to pick up my cross and follow in his footsteps, my actions can’t seem to match my words.  My faith is not sustained.

It’s important to remember that Peter was never intended to be our role model.  If we try to be like Peter, we may well be exactly that… and I wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s a hard and fruitless life.  Peter’s failures are meant to inspire, not his empty promises.  Where he fell short is meant to be our spring board into faith.  It was intended for us to follow Jesus.  Our example is much higher than where we often set our sights.

Maybe Peter wasn’t being selfish when he asked Jesus to wash his head and hands too.  But that doesn’t change that only seconds after proclaiming that Jesus would never wash him, water was splashing around his ankles.  The enemy loves it when we make promises because they are so easy to wreck.  God loves it when we act from the heart because that is where He tends to operate.

 


Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

Smite My Enemies… But Forgive Me

We can’t properly understand God’s mercy until we grasp that we, whose lives directly act in contradiction to God, go to Him to ask that He fix all of the contradictions in our own lives. We are jailers seeking freedom. We are liars expecting truth. We are sinners that demand perfection. If we can turn, ‘why me?’ into ‘send me!’ we begin to step out of hypocrisy and into grace. If someone sins against us and we can discern that our own sin breaks the heart of Jesus before we judge others, then we are beginning to accept that gift.

 


Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

Let’s Pray for the Jerks

Driving to work this morning I managed to make someone very angry.  I honestly can’t tell you what I did, though I can guess.  I was getting on an interstate using the on-ramp.  I was safely following the car in front of me.  We weren’t speeding and we weren’t going unbearably slow either.  But I think I have already described the problem… we weren’t speeding.  I was in… ‘his way’.

A car that wasn’t even in my mirror the last time I looked was swerving back and forth behind me while driving painfully close to my rear bumper.  He swerved so widely, I thought he might pass on either side on the shoulder.  I looked around a little confused and realized I was already driving as fast as the car in front allowed and couldn’t see anything that I could have done differently.

I looked up in the mirror again and the man behind proceeded to gesture that I was number 1 in his book.  A pose that he held for several seconds before trying to swerve again and shake both hands at me.  This was raw, pure, rage.  As soon as the pavement allowed he zoomed passed, driving over the crosshatch section (meaning no cars should use that space) and very promptly disappeared over the horizon.  I was driving about 70 (The speed limit), and as quickly as he moved passed he had to have exceeded triple digits.

I’m tempted in several ways.  I was tempted to return some gestures of my own.  I was not doing anything conceivably or inherently wrong.  Not only was I obeying the law, there was a physical barrier preventing me from doing otherwise.  This person’s expectations were completely unreasonable AND he misunderstood a basic principle my 5 year old understands… there are cars in front of other people… and only one car can occupy that space at any given time.

I was tempted to be livid.  I wanted to speed up and not let him pass.  I wanted to take a picture and call the police.  Not only was he dangerous on the road, he was a lunatic!  Yet another person that thinks hes better than everyone else, rules don’t apply to him, and he expects me to get out of his way and let him trample all over my life…

Two thoughts slowly entered my mind:

  1.  I have no idea what this person is going through.  On the way to the hospital?  Just got fired?  Wife just left him?  Kids in jail?  Perhaps, its a combination of multiple things.  Maybe life just added up on him?  Maybe he doesn’t know God?  Can we even imagine what it must be like to live in THIS world… without any hope?
  2. If his actions have ANY impact on me, I’m not as deeply rooted in Christ as I need to be.  (and they did impact me). If anyone has the ability to alter my behavior or my choices or my personality, then I am not what I have been called to be.  I am not about the Father’s business if some stranger’s temper tantrum can deter me.

One of God’s characteristics is to be immovable.  He is unchanging.  He is our Rock.  Steadfast.  I wanted to be immovable too… and not let that driver be so reckless.  I wanted to teach him some patience.  I wanted to put him in his place.  I wanted to dig in… in this world.  I wanted to stand my earthly ground.  God is immovable for us.  He is constant and unchanging.  I need to be that for Him.  But I choose to only be that when it benefits my many moods and constantly changing desires.

I did something today that I’ve never done before.  I prayed for that guy.  When it set in that he could be having the worst day of his life, and I’ll never know what he is feeling in the pit of his soul, I just wanted to pray for him.  And this isn’t to brag, I could go on endlessly about the horrible ways I usually react to this type of person (and I’m being kind to even give them people status… they are definitely my hot button).

This isn’t a brag because I realized how desperately I need to do this for everyone.  For every jerk, for every greedy person, for every misunderstood individual, for every person having a bad day… for everyone.  I need to love them the way I want God to love me.  If I need forgiveness… and I need a lot, I need to pray for them to have it too.  To find peace in their life.  To meet the master.  To gain perspective.  To have some hope.

If anyone needs prayer, its those that don’t know they have a Father to help with their struggles.  They don’t need self professed Christians like myself making their lives worse.  They don’t need judgement from other sinners, they don’t need retaliation, they don’t need worldly justice (as much as I have truly desired exactly that!).

What they need is to be treated like children.  The ones that were ushered through the disciples, who tried to shew them away, and led safely to the Lord who sees them for who they truly are.  We may not always have a ministry opportunity with people filled with hate, depression or despair.  But we can choose to not pile on more.  We could, maybe, be the first kind person they have met.

Jesus constantly found people in the middle of their mess.  Prostitutes, tax collectors, murderers, thieves… and yet they saw compassion and love when they deserved nothing but a taste of their own medicine.  Forever longing to be more like Jesus, I think prayer is the first thing we can do when we run across these people.  Prayer followed by a firm understanding of where we come from and who we serve.

I want to pray for the jerks… because I can be one of them.  And I can be down in my moments of discouragement.  And, its not my place to judge them.  I don’t have to reinforce their decisions, or appreciate their methods, or condone their behavior… I just have to love them and bring them to the Father as children that need Him.  And if I can do this honestly and repeatedly, perhaps I can climb off my pedestal and realize that we are all sinners in search of a King willing to save us.

If we have found that Savior, how much MORE should we love and have compassion for those still searching?  Tragedy is when souls seek forgiveness and find judgement from others who have found grace for themselves.


Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash

He Did Not Give Up. Why Do We?

♥  Jesus was a working class carpenter. He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus was not accepted. He was mocked and called out publically. He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus asked his most trusted friends to pray.  They slept.  He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus heard both Peter’s promise of camaraderie and his denial of relationship.  He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus asked God to rethink the painful plan.  Upon hearing no confirmation, He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus was tortured and publicly disgraced by men claiming to be godly.  He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus was prepped for death while Barabbas walked away.  He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus watched His mother weep, His friends disperse, and mankind scheme.  He did not give up on us.

♥  Jesus felt forsaken by God and Father.  He did not give up on us.

♥  The tomb door sealed tightly.  Jesus came to save, the saved abandoned Him.  He did not give up on us.

We believe that we can create a rift between God that we cannot ever make our way back from.  When we start down this thought pattern it would be wise to think through what it means to give up.  It means to quit.  To stop.  To move forward no longer.  To cease having the ability to succeed.  To forfeit.  Jesus did NOT do this.  Simply, He is still pursuing us.  He still loves us.  He still desires us.  He still forgives.  He still saves.  He still redeems.

God is love.  Penned in the Bible’s definition of love… it keeps no record of wrongs.  If you are sinner like me, you have a gift from the cross of Jesus… hope.  If you are a great sinner like me, you have a gift from the blood of Christ… freedom from the bondage of evil.  If you are an unbelievable and shameful sinner like me, you have a gift from the tomb of our Lord… A new life.

Embrace your new life with Jesus by doing what He does so well… forgetting your sins and making a new covenant with Him.  Jesus destroyed the term, “Can’t”.  In Him, that word no longer exists.  Through Him, you absolutely CAN.  Even you!  Praise God, even me!  You either will or you won’t.  He is pursuing you and awaiting your response.

 


‘No!’… Because I Love You

Things my 4 to 5 year old has seriously wished for:

“I want to walk home from daycare today” (20 miles)

“I want a blue house” (it’s green).

“I wish you were dead”  (yup, that hurt a bit).

“I wish I could eat ice cream for every meal” (Amen!)

“I wish I could never have to sleep”  (Then he sleeps for 12 hours before waking up on his own)

“I wish I owned every toy ever… except baby toys” (and he has far too many already)

“I wish I could destroy all the cars in the world so we could get home faster”  (I’m almost on board with this one)

“I don’t ever want to eat another vegetable again!”

“I want to be a garbage truck”


I haven’t wasted one second… not even a fraction of one second… legitimately pondering any one of these requests.  Not even a little.  To say that they are absurd is an understatement.  And to the 5 year old, he would actually attempt these because he lacks wisdom and life lessons to understand how little he has thought out and prepared for such ludicrous considerations.

If I had let him, he would have actually opened the car door and attempted to walk home… for about 5 minutes until he realized he didn’t know the direction, he didn’t understand the distance, and he didn’t calculate the danger.  All things I could warn him about, but he would ignore because his mind can’t process them.  Not yet.  Some day he will be able to, but right now his cognitive processes are growing and maturing to get him to that point.

For now, I get a laugh.  And, sometimes a tear at the things he will claim he wants.  I wonder how God feels when we ask for things?  Spouses that we aren’t ready for… oh, but we just ‘KNOW’ that we are!  Promotions we haven’t thought through… but we are convinced we deserve!  Relationships that aren’t healthy, money that we can’t manage, possessions that have no meaning, healing that hasn’t taught us anything yet… Do you think God laughs?  Or is it just tears?

We are mere children in terms of understanding God and His will for us.  How could we possibly understand how our desires intersect with the whole of everything else in the world?  It hurts to tell those cute little angels that they can’t have a third desert… but we love them enough to be the ‘bad guy’ sometimes.  Can we even comprehend how much God loves us?

It’s hard, but I’m trying to work on my appreciation for all things… even the things I don’t like.  When God says, ‘yes’, I’m very thankful.  When He says, ‘No’, I try to be even more thankful.  What did He prevent?  What did He just save me from?  What would have happened if I ran out into that street blindly expecting happiness and fun?

Thank you, God, for ‘No’s’.  Thank you for boundaries.  Thank you for what seems like pain but turns out to be growth.  Thank you for loneliness that shapes and lacking that produces abundance later.  Thank you for your forsaken Son, who ‘lost’ for an eternal victory.

 


Stop Wasting Time and Play Skee-Ball!

We held our child’s Fifth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. This is the place where you buy tokens to play games and some of the games reward your talents with tickets.  Those tickets can then be turned into prizes that you can take home with you.  You should note that I’m using finger quotes when I say the word, ‘prizes’ as they are underwhelming at best, and cost far more tickets than can be healthily earned in a reasonable amount of time.

I noticed two distinct tendencies from the children as they made their way through the arcade.  Especially from the youngest of kids.  The first thing is that they often chose to play the game that had no ticket payout.  These were often “rides” (again, finger quotes).  You burned a token and got to move about 6 inches in a couple of directions for a few seconds before the ride was complete.  Want to ride some more?  Another token.

These gimmicks were insulting.  They weren’t fast, they weren’t fun, and they didn’t pay out those precious tickets.  But the kids didn’t care.  They flocked to the airplanes, cars, and dinosaurs with seats on their backs, swiped their tokens away and laughed endlessly.  I kept prompting, play the games that payout!!!!! But they just kept going back to the rides.

And they laughed.  They would pile in, too.  Sitting in laps, hanging off the sides.  The whole currency exchange was completely foreign to them.  They saw someone having fun and they wanted in on it.  It never crossed their minds to wait their turn, pay with their own token, or sit in their own designated space.

car

Another trend that frustrated me, was the way the kids would simply leave the game the second it ended.  They would just turn and run.  I can’t count how many times I had to call out and remind them to come back and get their tickets.  They would just leave them dangling from the machine.  At first, I thought it was just our boy.  He had never been to this type of place before.

But he had.  Several times.  And all the kids were doing it.  When the game over screen flashed before their eyes, they knew one thing for certain… time to play another game.  And those chubby little legs pumped as quick as they knew how to head directly toward that goal.  Having fun.  That was all it was about.

Collectively the parents had to interrupt the fun and teach those bright eyed cherubs a new lesson in life.  “You forgot your tickets.”  “Those are yours!”  “You earned those”… “Don’t let someone else get your tickets!”.  The words started turning sour as I kept speaking them.  I was teaching him a form of greed.  Perhaps it was smart thinking.  Maybe it was a minor adjustment in strategy… but it felt wrong.

By default these kids had one goal.  Have fun.  And the adults kept interjecting… “its all about the prize”, “Its all about the stuff”, “Its all about winning”.  Inadvertently or not, we were teaching that behavior.  And the older kids knew it all too well.  They camped out at the high payout games and gathered reams of tickets.  They kept eyes out for abandoned tickets left by their younger, smaller versions, and were more than happy to pocket any dropped tickets as well.

tickets

Jesus’ encouragement to be more like children burned painfully in my gut.  (It wasn’t the pizza, I’m certain of that).

I felt like the kids were living out the intended Christian life.  Just living in God’s love and grace.  Happily moving freely from game to game.  Freedom from guilt, obligation, and captivity.  And the whispers came in (sadly from us older folks).

“Don’t play that game… try this one over here.”

“Don’t share that ride… you paid with your token, make them use theirs”

“You want the one that makes you feel better… and you feel better with more tickets.”

I was so proud of our boy.  They don’t actually sell tokens anymore for the games, they charge up debit cards.  The kids swipe those at each game to get credit and begin playing.  They all struggled at first, but I was able to show him how it works.  His friend sat next to him and wasn’t swiping it correctly so he couldn’t play.  Without giving it a single thought, our boy said, “here” and swiped his own card for the other child.

He thought of it in simple terms.  Your card wasn’t working and mine was.  So I’ll just use mine.  Welling up with pride, my protective side kicked in.  I had to take him aside and the lesson began again.  You have your own tokens and that boy has his own.  It’s awesome to share, but you won’t get to play much if you give all of your tokens away… and they will get to keep playing after using yours.

I felt dirty.  I felt cheap.  More whispering.

“Don’t give to others, they can get their own”

“Watch out for your own self and don’t worry about others”.

It’s hard to be like children.  They throw out the playbook.  They throw out all the books.  They don’t care about the tickets, or the time to leave, or the costs… they just want to ride the rides.

I think God set us up to ride the rides.  In this world’s arcade we are meant to have fun and just live in God’s protective grace.  We are genuinely meant to live in contentment as Paul learned to do.  But somewhere along the way, someone whispers.  What about these tickets?  And some of us will spend the rest of our lives chasing things that have no value.

And I literally mean, ‘no value’.  Have you seen the prizes from Chuck E. Cheese?

prizes

125 tickets for a plastic spider ring?!!!?  200 tickets for a bouncy ball?!?!?! The same size and quality that comes from a .25 cent bubble gum machine????  Cheap colorful plastic and candy.  ALL of it will melt, break, or be consumed, most likely, on the ride home.  But we still learn to ‘grow up’.

We learn that these items have meaning.  We hear the whispers and strive for more plastic, more colors, more brightly lit games that promise payout.  God says, I just want you to relax and ride this gentle motion and we say, “No!  I need this spider ring.  I must have this kazoo!”.  And we work endlessly for stuff.  Junk.  Garbage.

He wants us sharing and taking on each others burdens, but we have learned that its better to look out for ourselves.  We need that new car, that promotion, that nicer neighborhood, those other friends, or we want to shake that reputation… and we chase the whispers of a deceitful enemy.  All the while, contentment and safety rested in our Savior’s arms.

We may mean well, but we can’t sacrifice for others because we need that stuff.  If I give to this guy, then I won’t get what I want.  If I let him go first, then I’ll have to wait.  We use words like I earned, I deserve, and mine.  oh mine.  Mine, mine, mine.  What an ugly word all by itself.  Jesus said to give to Caesar, the things that belong to Caesar and to give to God, the things that belong to God.  Can you see who He didn’t include in that verse?  Me.  Us.  You.  When we think of things in terms of ownership… we really miss out on a basic biblical principle.  It’s all Gods, or it burns up in the end.  You can neatly place every single thing in your life into one of those two buckets.  There is no mine.  Mine is an illusion.  A lie.

Which one are you striving for?  Which one gets your attention?  Which one motivates and gets prioritized in your life?  Do you yearn for safety provided by the God that made you… or do you gotta have more tickets?

Don’t Be A Goose

There are a few often misunderstood scriptures that actually don’t exist in the Bible.  Many Christians operate as though God commanded us to stay clear away from sinners.  There are others that think that getting dirty and being active in the world is also a big no-no.  Even though we have examples of Jesus doing the exact opposite, we have these theories that being near sin is a ghastly offense.

On the other hand, we have folks that love the world a little too much.  These people are ready and willing to jump right in, and possibly partake a little along the way.  Some don’t love the world at all and some love it, perhaps, in excess.  They feel its hurtful or too difficult to stick to the word of God, so they adjust as needed.

What Jesus did was love people.  He got near.  He was involved.  He showed compassion.  And here is the wonder of it all… He didn’t change who He was in the process.  He was a light to the world.  A light isn’t effective if it simply becomes yet another shadow.  He designed us to carry His light into the dark places of the world.  It is there He is desperately needed.  Another shadow in the darkness is not only useless, its unnoticed and insignificant.

Jesus didn’t condemn the sinner, He loved them.  And His love compelled them to follow Him.  The odd part is that each of us has this same story to tell.  We were sinners plain and simple.  Lost.  And then we received the unbelievable love of Jesus and developed a relationship with Him.  Now we walk with Him and bask in His forgiveness, grace, and salvation.  Why do we get so mixed up about others on a different part of the journey than we are?  Why can’t we see others that are simply a step or two earlier than we are on the journey?  Didn’t we need grace?  Don’t we need mercy?  So does everyone else!

We can’t share Jesus through judgement.  We can’t share Jesus through our own sin.  We share Jesus by shining His light and never adjusting the brightness.  I believe people adopted to Jesus so quickly because they weren’t used to people who rolled up their sleeves without changing their mission.  Jesus did both.  He climbed into the pit with them, but never stepped away from the Father.  He subjected Himself to their sorrows but never lost hope and never once compromised His mission.

Mission is important.  Therein lies a few other misunderstandings.  When I was growing up, missionaries were highly revered.  People believed God’s call to go into all the world meant hopping on a plane and learning a new language and adopting a whole new culture.  This is scary business and, quite honestly, most of us aren’t equipped for this.

So we did what we always do… we made the scripture mean what we wanted it to.  Instead of becoming missionaries, we donated money.  This way, we supported God’s command without actually having to deal with any of the messy or complex bits of it all.  You go do missions and I’ll write a check.  Now we are both obeying God.

False!  On both fronts, really.  First of all, missionary work is not an elective.  It is a command to all of us.  Where we usually get it wrong is where missions happen.  “Go into all the world…”.  Where is all the world?  Is your county included in all of the world?  Yes.  Is your town?  Is your village?  Is your neighborhood?  Is your school?  Is your job?  Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.  You don’t have to step on a plane to advance the gospel.

The second issue is the notion that our checks carry more weight than our personal relationship with Jesus and the testimony He provides to share with others.  We can’t minister by proxy. The gospel isn’t promoted by outsourcing.  While missionary work in the global sense is a fantastic ministry for some, it isn’t for everyone.  Some of us are meant to travel the world and adopt to rigorous schedules, conditions, and stress.  Some of us, were built from the ground up, by a perfect God, to stay right where we are and preach the good news to our hometown.

Right there in black and white the scriptures tell us we can’t all be eyes, or ears, or noses.  The body of Christ is made from multiple unique gifts and responsibilities.  If we all get up and flock to the borders, no one will be left to share God’s love in our home towns.

Check out the photo above.  I own the image. I took it myself (It’s not fancy, and barely in focus, but I used my own phone while on a walk and the copyright belongs to me).  If I didn’t, I’d have to track down the owner. I’d need to get their permission. I’d likely have to pay money and obtain usage rights. I’d have to give credit somewhere on the page and follow usage policies.

What a pain.  I don’t have to do any of that when it’s my image.  I can just use it whenever, wherever and however I want.  When it’s your story… when it’s your conviction… when it’s your Savior you are sharing, all of that changes.

When you own the image, God gets the credit, God gives the permission, and He paid the price.  We can’t share the gospel with someone else’s story.  We can’t just support missionaries.  We are the missionary… and we have a job to do.  We have to be Jesus, just like Jesus was, in every situation and location we encounter.  We are a duck among geese and we are meant to forever keep our duckness.

Do We Worship in HD?

I just returned from a trip to New York where I was privileged to attend a Hillsong conference.  Upon return, the questions are very similar:

“Wasn’t the worship just amazing?”

“That was a completely different experience, wasn’t it?”

“It’s hard to go back to ‘normal’ church after that, isn’t it?”

They aren’t necessarily bad questions.  I understand the intent.  I would ask the same.  But I think it tends to mask an inherent misunderstanding of how worship works.

First of all, I should mention the obvious, and the reason for the questions.  It was amazing.  It was in the Brooklyn Barclays Center.  So several thousand voices were lifted in unison to our God.  How could that not be awesome?  With such an arena comes logistical niceties.  The sound was impressive.

Each time the drums kicked I could feel it in my chest.  With a steady beat, it felt like I had an involuntary pacemaker keeping me going.  I wondered if, when the next song ended, would my heart continue on its own, or would it just give up and let the sound system do the work for it?

Seeing people throw off man-made divisions in both humanity and in the scriptures and rally behind the name of Jesus alone was something I wont soon forget.

But there is a temptation to think that worship, actual worship… was better, or different, or deeper than it was at any other location in the world at that given time.

The Spirit of God was there.  But He didn’t ride on the subway all by Himself.  He didn’t hail a taxi.  He didn’t descend through the rafters into the midst of a special venue.  He wasn’t there waiting on believers to show up.

He walked in through the doors wearing bluejeans, leather jackets, baseball caps, and monogrammed t shirts.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)

All over the world the Spirit entered sanctuaries, synagogues, churches, living rooms, coffee shops, and with the voice of man praised God the Father and Jesus Christ, our victorious sacrifice.  Did it mean more in one location?  Was the price of salvation less in Texas?  Did the Prince of Peace suffer less for Canadians?  Do Egyptians have less to be thankful for?

There is one God.  There is one King.  There is one Savior.  There is one Christ.

He is worthy of honor, glory and praise.  It might sound different.  It might look different.  But the power behind the worship…  The impact of the lowering of ourselves while lifting Him up… That happens on another level, and everyone, everywhere has access to that.

Crying out, “God I need you!” means the same in Brooklyn, Nashville, Albuquerque, or on your knees in the closet of your home.  It involves the heart.  It includes the soul.  It’s communication to God bypassing all third parties.  The power behind prayer… The awe of worship… the humility of self reflection… the honoring of God… those are tied to the cross.

The cross happened once.  It is finished.  It does not happen again in Detroit on a Tuesday because someone planned for it to.  It’s eternal.  It’s all reaching.  It’s for everyone.  And it means the same everyday.  It’s power is not diminishing, nor is it enhanced by the works of man.  And how that affects you, is not based on your location or your event, or your titles.  It’s only impact is a direct result of your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Was the conference amazing?  Yes it was.  Will worship be any less next Sunday?  Not a chance.  The same God, made the same sacrifice with the same Son, and even though I’m a sinful and unworthy person, I will call on that same trinity to accept the gift of forgiveness, adoption, and eternal life with a living God.

It was awesome to see thousands of believers singing to God.  In truth, millions do it every day.  I love to imagine the angels roaring in cheers over baptisms and souls gained.  What I can’t wait for is the worship with all believers united in song.  All of us.  Together.  The whole world over.  We don’t need to travel to a sports arena to make this happen.  It happens every moment when we reject the flesh and tune in to the Spirit.

It’s nice to have New York experiences.  It’s nice to have mega churches.  It’s nice to have thumping sound systems.  It’s nice to have tons of space for lots of seats.  But none of that changes worship.  The Spirit doesn’t change with your budget.  The Spirit doesn’t change with location.  The Spirit doesn’t change to be what we want.  The Spirit is ready for worship.  Any time you are ready.  And the magic… the miracle… the awesome… That already happened.  Our thankfulness for it, our praise, it should reflect the gifts received the same every morning day and evening.

The enemy wants you to wait for the right song.  He will tell you the building isn’t ready.  He is known to whisper about quality, volume, people sitting near you, leadership issues, tittles, and all manor of reasons to not worship.  Excuses.  Delays.  Lies.  We have a direct connection to God and a life changing eternal experience awaits our choice to properly use it.  Bluntly put, if coming before the Lord and worshiping is a ‘downer’, or it isn’t ‘fun’, or it’s not quite ‘awesome’ enough… you haven’t been worshiping.

Thinking of worship in terms of quality is like thinking of God in terms of quality.  It’s our direct praise to Him.  It’s our level of appreciation for Him.  It’s positioning ourselves in the correct place in direct relation to His place.  So can He waver in terms of God-likeness?  Is God in HD one day and SD the next?  Does God sour?  Was the cross an 8 out of 10 because it was cloudy and too many people showed up?  Very, very bluntly put… worship is either everything we have from us to God all of the time… or its sacrilege.

You want a New York experience?  Do you want a Jordan River experience?  Do you long for something powerful and life-changing?  For most of us, its about 3 feet lower than we stand.  Those things happen on our knees… and nothing challenges their ‘amazing’.

War, What is it Good For… if You Run?

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.”  But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.  – Exodus 13:17-18

If they face war, they might return to Egypt.  You might be tempted to think something like this:  Why would a mighty God lead people around difficulty… especially when most of the Bible is filled with God taking people straight through the middle of difficulty and providing them a way to make it through?  (Much like He had just done by leading them out of Egypt).  In other words, doesn’t this approach seem weak?  Doesn’t it feel timid?  Doesn’t it sound un-God-like?

God can lead the 300 to defeat the hundred thousand. (Judges 7)

He can bring down walls and deliver cities to those marching in circles. (Joshua 6)

He can bring down a giant with a sling shot toting boy. (I Samuel 17)

So why would God fail when the Israelites saw war? I’m glad you asked. God would not have. They would not have fought. They would not have stood their ground. They would not have prayed and trusted God.

They would have fled. Ran. Tucked their collective tails and scurried away. This is easily identified as their M.O. Miracle after miracle they consistently complained when things didn’t go their way, often blaming God for their freedom while claiming oppression, prison, and slavery would have been better.

God, being the intelligent Creator that He is, knew exactly what their response to war would have been.  They would have gotten completely out of Dodge.  Promptly.

The bottom line is that God won’t use people that aren’t willing to be put into usable situations.  You can’t start a prison ministry if you aren’t willing to step through that barred gate.  You can’t go on an overseas mission trip if you won’t walk on a plane.  You can’t witness miracles if you aren’t in over your head trusting God and following His commands.  And you certainly can’t defeat an enemy while running in the opposite direction.

It’s not really that God can’t… it’s more that He won’t.  God loves us so much that His plan fully includes us.  We are a part of the plan… we are the plan.  It’s operation ‘rescue people’.  And He was willing to let His Son go in order to pull it off.  We have a part too.  We have to accept.  We have to listen.  We must obey.

In Matthew 15:21-28 a woman confronts Jesus and He turns her away.  While there is likely a bigger story here, she still played her part.  She reasoned with Him and pleaded with Him.  And He changed His answer allowing her daughter to be healed.  The opposite happened in Matthew 14:22-33 when Peter walked on water.  He played his part and stood with Jesus on the waves in the storm.  But when he was distracted, he began to sink, losing the favor His Savior had previously given him.

I’ll stop with those and just claim there are a plethora of stories where Jesus acted in response of us.  Humans.  People.  Even in the old testament when man talked directly with God they would reason and ask Him to reconsider.  He did.  Moses got his brother Aaron on the payroll of the Egyptian exodus after arguing his inexperience to God.  Abraham convinces God to spare Sodom if only 10 righteous are found in it.  Lot convinced the angels to allow him to flee to a small town after they commanded he run to the mountains.

The point is… we have something God gave us.  A choice.  We can accept His commands.  We can speak with Him and lift our concerns to Him.  Or, we can simply deny Him.  The Egyptians made a habit of ignoring God.  And He knew it.  Still loving them in spite of their disobedience, He gave in to their contempt and took them the long way around, knowing all too well that if he blessed them with the shortcut, they would have bolted before looking to see if God was still with them… or even bothering to recall the countless situations He had already delivered them from.

God can, if you can.  He doesn’t require us, but history shows He won’t empower us if we aren’t willing and trusting.  If we won’t equip the full armor of God, you can safely bet He isn’t going to be toppling armies before us.  David beat Goliath because he was willing to sling the stone.  The walls of Jericho fell because the horns blew after the march was complete.  When commands are followed, miracles are witnessed.  When obedience is observed, God provides.

I have tried eating triple cheeseburgers and praying for weight-loss.  It just doesn’t work that way.  God gave me the ability to make my own choices.  If I can’t give my own life some effort, why should He?  When I stop yelling “Supersize!” at every drive through window I pass, God becomes more attentive.  When I start exercising and tossing out late night snacks, I feel burdens lifted.  God cares.  And He works in our lives.

He does not need us to do anything and we cannot earn anything from God.  But we still have our work to do anyway.  Most often, that work is bending a knee.  Sometimes its bending an ear and following instructions.  But the ones that had the best relationship with God… the ones who favored the most through trying times and impending danger… they were the ones who dropped everything and lived in a constant relationship with Jesus Christ.  Listening, sacrificing, following, obeying.

God didn’t strike down the enemies of the Egyptians in this passage because they wouldn’t lift up the sword.  They complained about the conditions of their freedom, they complained about the travel, they complained about the food, they blamed God and Moses for every inconvenience.  Their alternative was slavery, torture, and most likely an early death.  Yet they just expected to live posh lives while God delivered every nicety unto them.

What we often forget is that the story of the Egyptians isn’t just a lineage narrative.  It’s a parallel to what God has also done for us.  We are facing an eternal life of unimaginable negativity.  (grossly understated, of course)  And Jesus has delivered us from that as well.  But while on our journey, we will face the enemy along the way.  Just like the Egyptians, we can either run, endure more, and fully risk losing our path… or we can fight with God on our side.  Better put, we can fight on God’s side.

I can’t help but wonder why God isn’t more active in my life.  And then I remember the Israelites and I can plainly see when I’ve chosen to pick up the sword and where I’ve simply complained to God while doing nothing.  How embarrassing when I find out God is leading me the long way around.  It shows my lack of faith, my unwillingness to obey, my fear, and my inability to see the concrete past where God has kept His promises and provided.  It’s not a testament to what God can’t do… its about what I didn’t do.  Its a mirror image of my failure and a reminder that life is easier in the trenches with God than it is on the outskirts without Him.