Month: June 2015

Of Sandals and Seeds

Luke 4:24, 28-30

“‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown’…. All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”

Matthew 10:14

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Do you ever feel like God has given you something worthwhile to say, but the only people who really hear it are total strangers? Or maybe you feel like no one hears you at all. Well, take heart, this phenomenon is nothing new. In fact, Jesus himself faced the same thing. He made the claim in Luke 4:24 that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” He then gave a couple of prominent examples before the town folk of Nazareth drove him out of town under the threat of death. And do you know what Jesus did? He “walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30).

Now, you and I won’t likely ever be prophets, per se, but we would still be wise to follow our Lord’s example. He advised as much when he sent his disciples out on mission, saying, “If anyone will not welcome you, or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14). It sounds harsh, I know. But any time the disciples were forced to leave in this manner, they were leaving something behind—the seeds of the Gospel, the seeds of faith.

And those seeds are invasive. Do you remember when Jesus talked about faith the size of a mustard seed? (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6) Why did he choose that illustration? Was it because a mustard seed is so small? Or could it have been because mustard was an invasive species—a WEED? Have you ever had to water a weed? Provide it with nutrients? Of course not. And while we always want to plant seeds of the Gospel in good soil, the seeds of faith tend to have a mind and trajectory of their own.

Need evidence? Look no further than the book of James. This James was, contrary to what some believe, NOT James, the disciple of Jesus. Rather, it was his BROTHER! The story told in Luke 4 would lead us to believe that this James remained in Nazareth when Jesus left. He may even have joined the rest of the town folk in scorning Jesus—although I like to believe he stopped shy of the death threats.

But we can safely assume that James was not a “follower” of his brother’s early on. Nonetheless, we see that he later came to his senses and came to his savior. And he went on to write one of the most poignant books in the Bible. So it would appear that, as Jesus “went on his way” that day, he left something behind in the dirt he brushed from his sandals—SEEDS, seeds of faith and seeds of the Gospel.

Believer, don’t give up. You are a sower of seeds. You won’t always see or know the eternal outcomes of the work you are doing now. And even when you need to walk away for a time, you can rest in the hope that you may one day return to witness a harvest that you could not have dreamed or imagined. So keep sowing good seeds, and whenever you dust off your sandals, be sure you leave some of those seeds behind.

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Father Figures

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.”

Here we are: Fathers’ Day. A day that we often celebrate fathers. We celebrate what they’ve done for us, what they’ve given us, what they’ve taught us, what they’ve sacrificed for us. But then, what about those who have never been fathers? What about those who have been fathers, but who aren’t anymore, either because their children are grown or are no longer with us? And what about those who have never had a father—or at least not a good one? Surely, there are many people out there for whom Fathers’ Day doesn’t feel even a little bit like a celebration. So what about them?

My answer? Father figures. Granted, I’ve been fortunate to have a dad who’s been around all my life. And I’m fortunate to have a husband who is a great dad to our kids. But I’ve also had several father figures during that time. And it’s interesting to think about how God has orchestrated my life and relationships in such a way as to bring these father figures at just the right time to meet a need or fill a gap. I can think of many:

  • If you’ve ever encouraged me to pursue my passions
  • If you’ve ever helped me identify my gifts
  • If you’ve ever made sure I had a job or a place to stay
  • If you’ve ever given me sound and needed advice
  • If you’ve ever surprised me with a thoughtful gesture
  • If you’ve ever loved my kids like they were your own grandkids
  • If you’ve ever called me out during a season of sin
  • If you’ve ever challenged me to love others more deeply, or to forgive

I’m sure I could think of many more, but you get the idea. So, whether you are technically a father or not, if you have done these things for someone, celebrate that today.

If you don’t have an earthly father who is present and active in your life, try to think of some people whom God has placed in your life to fill that void. I think it’s easy to fault the people in our lives for where they fall short. But really, isn’t it a lot to ask that mere humans might be able to fulfill every need that we have? If even the Creator and God of the universe bears with our weaknesses, and remembers that we are dust, maybe we could bear with others as well.

And ultimately, where all of these dusty creatures fail and fall short, God never will. He will supply all of our needs, for He cares for us.

So, whoever you are, Happy Fathers’ Day!

My Lord’s Ten

“I lost her and all my friends
Broke all but one of my Lord’s ten
But Jesus died for all my sins
That’s how I know I’m gettin’ in”

 –Love & Theft

Have you heard Love & Theft’s new song, “Whiskey on My Breath”? If not, you ought to check it out. It’s a soulful and poignant tale of a guy who wakes up realizing his need for grace—after all, he’s broken “all but one of my Lord’s ten.” Hmm. And here I was, thinking I’d coined that confession. And frankly, given the band’s inception date and the year of this song’s release, it’s entirely possible that I did. I just never had the foresight to copyright it. But really, if we want to get technical, the guys from the band and I are all equally guilty of plagiarism…call it the Lord’s eleventh, if you will.

Because, as I recall, there once was this jerk who wound up blinded on the road to Damascus—circa 33 A.D. or so—when Christ himself confronted the accused of his many sins. And while the Apostle Paul’s resume may have included a different set of nine sins than yours or mine, he’d been there and done that before any of us. And why? Why did he—or you, or I, or any of us—have to screw up so royally? Well, if Paul ever asked that question, he must have found his answer, because he shares it with us in 1 Timothy 1:14-16:

“and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus….Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life…”

So basically, the point was for us to ‘get’ grace. We were meant to understand it and to receive it, in large part so that we could also give it to others. When I come to grips and to terms with my own depravity, the depth of my own sins (plural), I find myself a lot better equipped to extend grace to those around me…that is, until I forget.

Then I start strapping on my phylacteries and allowing myself to feel superior to (or at least less inferior than) others. I reason that my sins hurt fewer innocent bystanders, or that they’re justified by my circumstances. I start filling my satchel with rocks I can use to stone the harlot. But then Jesus kneels down and writes something in the sand. I don’t know what He wrote to the Pharisees that day in John 8, but to me, He recites the Lord’s Prayer—“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

God,
Grant us the strength and mercy to show grace and compassion toward our fellow transgressors. Help us to forgive those who trespass against us, just as you have forgiven us. Amen.

A Companion of Fools

Proverbs 13:20

 “Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.”

One of the most powerful scriptures I’ve ever encountered is Proverbs 13:20. I was first confronted by its profound power in a well-timed message delivered by Andy Stanley (to give credit where it is due, of course), in which he went into much greater detail than I will here. But I will say that I haven’t been the same since that day.

Of course, when most of us read this passage, we see it as an admonition not to be a companion of fools, lest we suffer harm. But there is another way to look at it. If we instead consider our own actions and decisions with discernment regarding whether they are wise or foolish, we can see how those actions and decisions might affect our loved ones—our companions.

You see, the thing about fools is that they often lack a keen sense of self-preservation. That means that they will disregard the potential negative consequences that they may face as a result of their behavior. I remember Andy Stanley saying that many times, fools will not change until they have suffered the full extent of the consequences of their sin. And worse yet, many of them wear that fact like a badge of honor or simply laugh it off: “Yeah, I guess I’ll change once I’ve hit rock bottom and lost everything.”

But wait. The verse above doesn’t say that a FOOL suffers harm. It says that a COMPANION of fools suffers harm. So who are those companions? Our spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, coworkers—even our pets—can all be our companions. And even fools will usually claim to love at least some of these. So all of a sudden, when the consequences of our decisions affect not only us, but our loved ones as well, maybe that offers a deeper motivation to choose the right path, the godly way.

I know that, for myself, when I’m tempted to do something foolish, and I first imagine the full extent of the consequences of that choice—the fallout that could await those I care about—it gives me immense power to resist that temptation and to turn away from sin. I hope all who read this will find that same power from this awesome proverb.

Many blessings to you all.

How Then Shall We Love?

1 Peter 4:8
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

As the untrusting, pessimistic cynic that I tend to be, I often look around me and notice a multitude of sins. That is, I notice a horde, a mass, a swarm, an abundance…droves, heaps, piles, tons, dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions, gazillions, bajillions (at least, those are some synonyms for multitude offered by Google). I notice the sins of loved ones and strangers alike. I even notice my own sins with a keen sense of awareness that some might consider overkill.

And frankly, those sins—all of them—are difficult for me to overlook, to forgive. It’s especially difficult when they are repeated over, and over, and over again. They might not always be exactly the same. A new day, a new manifestation of the same root sin—you know how it is. But then again, Jesus did say that we should forgive one another “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:22). But how?

Peter gives us the answer: LOVE. And not just any love. In 1 Peter 4:8, he says to love each other deeply. And what does that look like? Well, according to Ephesians 5:2, we should love the way God does:

Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love.
Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant.
He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.
Love like that.”

Until a few months ago, I’d never read The Message version of Ephesians 5:2. But it really spoke to me. God’s love for us is not cautious, but extravagant. I thought of all of the words I could think of to use in place of cautious that would reflect the same idea. For example, God’s love is not reserved. It is also not tentative, hesitant, self-conscious, half-hearted, calculated, insecure, guarded, fearful, or timid. Wow. And God calls us to “love like that.” He calls ME to love like that. Love. Like. That. Word.