Christian Living

Our Turn

Luke 12:35-36

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,
like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet,
so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.”

Well, Tijge’s first tee-ball season is in the books. I don’t know that it is a sport he will pursue any further, but the season certainly taught me something. All of these kids were playing for the first time. They knew little to nothing about the game, but some definitely had some pre-conceived notions. One little girl in particular comes to mind. She was all decked out at the first game, with her pink bat, pink helmet, and matching black and pink glove. And she was ready to play. I think in the end, she was disappointed with the slower tempo of the game. I remember one of the first games, while the team was in the field, when she asked the coach, “When will it be our turn?” You see, in her mind, their “turn” only came when they were up to bat. It didn’t even dawn on her that she might get more action in the field. After all, when a team is at bat, each player spends most of their time on the bench. And often, it’s players’ fielding performances that can win or lose the game. But on the surface, the field seems quiet, subdued—like a waiting game.

I wanted to somehow convey to her the idea that this time spent playing defense, and seemingly waiting, was equally as important as time spent on offense. It didn’t take but a hot second for me to see the parallels between being a 5-year old on a tee-ball team and being a Christian in today’s day and age. How so? I’m glad you asked.

For starters, don’t we always want to be where the “action” is? We want to be in the spotlight, at the plate, hitting home runs, getting noticed. We don’t realize that the real, hard work of the Christian life often happens in the quiet, slow, behind-the-scenes moments—when we don’t feel at all important. We beg for God to put us in the game—Come on, Coach, I can do it!

But in truth, God may (and probably is) doing something extremely powerful and valuable during the waiting. He may be doing something in you—culling sin, developing gifts, igniting passion. He might be doing something through you. He might have someone who needs to see you handle those times of waiting with grace, humility, and purpose. He may be preparing you for the world beyond the waiting or He may be preparing the world for YOU. Can you imagine?

As we wait though, in seeming limbo, we sometimes lose focus. Like 5-year old tee-ball players, we need constant reminders to get into ready position, to watch for the ball, to support our teammates, to stay vigilant—READY. When we aren’t ready, we can miss opportunities to make huge contributions to the team, to the Kingdom. We must stay present, focused, and engaged, even when it seems like our role is small.

Finally, when we do make the big plays, I think that there is a very real temptation to bask in the limelight, to take the credit, and accept the glory. Just as in tee-ball, where success is a team effort, we can’t accomplish much in this Christian walk without the help and support of God and our fellow sojourners.

So now, when I’m tempted to ask God, “When is it my turn?”, I try to hear Him reminding me that it is my turn, now and always. The question is, my turn to do what? And if I can find the answer, I can make the very most of this life. And so can you. So let’s get in ready position, because it’s our turn!

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Look Out!

Psalm 5:3

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

Have you ever gotten to the point in a situation where you thought, “Well, it’s out of my hands now—all that’s left to do is pray.” The tone always seems a little bit fatalistic, doesn’t it? And then, there may be other times when you pray, but you pray for small things, easy things…things you’re most likely to get or to be able to ensure on your own. But you pray, too, just in case. Or perhaps you pray big things, but not really believing that they will happen, or even that they could happen. It’s just too big, too much, to impossible. Except it’s not.

Luke 1:37 states very simply that “nothing will be impossible with God,” and the other Gospels echo this statement. In Jeremiah 32:27, God Himself says, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” And of course, the answer is NO! But I (and perhaps you) keep living and praying as though God is not all-powerful. But around the first of this year, I began occasionally and “coincidentally” coming across Psalm 5:3, in which the psalmist declares, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” The more times I read it, the more I really started to hear what it was saying…expectantly. So I looked a little deeper, past my NIV, and read some different translations of this word that had caught my attention, and I learned what a great word it is, in the Hebrew and in other translations, as well.

The word is translated as “eagerly watch,” in the New American Standard Bible. The King James Version translates it, “look up.” The International Standard Version states, “I will watch for your answer.” But my favorite I think is Young’s Literal Translation, according to which the psalmist states, “At morning I set in array for Thee, and I look out.” This says to me that when you set your requests before God, you’d better get out of the way and be ready for Him to do a mighty work.

I have definitely been guilty of praying little prayers, doubt-filled prayers, last-ditch prayers, lip service prayers, double-minded prayers…you get the picture. But I for one don’t want to do that anymore. So from now on, come hell or high water, when I fold my hands in prayer, I will see this reminder on my wrist to pray big, to pray expectantly, to pray believing…and when I open my eyes, I’ll be ready for Him to answer—and I’ll look out.

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Ice, Mice, and the Lessons They Teach Us

About nine months ago, we moved into a new house and inherited an ice machine. That was exciting in itself, but even more exciting is the kind of ice the machine produces. It’s soft and porous, a little crunchy but not too much so. You can actually bite a cube in half with your front teeth! It does wonders for my oral fixation, but it is much less suited to my TMJ. While this condition has laid dormant for some time, this newfound ice-chewing habit of mine has caused my symptoms to flare up. They extend beyond jaw pain at this point, causing horrible earaches as well as sharp headaches throughout the left side of my head (I’ve even begun to wonder if they aren’t migraines). And yet, I sit here munching away. I’ve even been known to delay my bedtime routine some nights just so that I can eat a few more pieces of this marvelous confection. All of this, even though I am likely driving myself to one day need a titanium jaw replacement—and that is not a good thing to have to have replaced!

The whole thing reminds me of a research study I once read about, involving a bunch of lab rats (or mice, I don’t recall). These rats were placed in cages containing buttons that, when pushed, would allow them to directly stimulate the pleasure centers in their brains. What the researchers found was that the mice would literally pleasure themselves TO DEATH! They wouldn’t eat, or sleep, or do anything else. It seemed so sad and pitiful.

But my ice fetish got me thinking, aren’t we all a bit like those lab rats? It seems that many of us could identify something that might compel us to pleasure ourselves to death—literally or figuratively. It might be something that in itself is relatively benign, or it might be something highly destructive. It might be something that affects only ourselves, or it might affect our friends, families, colleagues, and communities. It might not reach MOAS (Mother of All Sins) proportions, but it might.

In any event, recognizing our own weaknesses, temptations, and vulnerabilities should awaken us from our delusions of self-righteousness. It should give us a frame of reference from which to reach out to one another in our shared humanity. And from this place, we can reach out in grace, and compassion—and yes, in accountability, but first and foremost, in LOVE…because after all, didn’t God first love us? (1 John 4:19).

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His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms

Through the Glass

During our Spring Break Orlando trip, we spent a day at Animal Kingdom. I had never been, but had heard great things. But at the end of the day, it was just a zoo. True, one where you could see a Komodo dragon, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, but still. At this zoo, some of the animal habitats were pretty elaborate. Some were designed to look authentic and some were designed to look intentionally inauthentic. I mean, really, how many Bengal tigers really live on the palace grounds, lounging by a decorative fountain? But I noticed that even the “authentic” habitats fell short. Often, we were looking through glass that kept catching the reflection of the people and lights on the outside. When we weren’t looking through glass, our view seemed to always be marred by a water bowl, or a mesh fence, or some other manmade contraption.

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You know what I kept thinking of? 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)—

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

My understanding is that Paul was speaking here of a reflection in a mirror. But the verse loses something in our day, because a reflection in a mirror is pretty true to life. But it wasn’t so in Bible times. They hadn’t perfected the art of glass or reflection, so things were pretty cloudy—like seeing your reflection in a pair of sunglasses. It’s just not the same, is it?

To me, this verse foreshadows the greatness of heaven. We might notice here that it’s a beautiful day, but compared to heaven, it’s downright dingy. We can’t imagine it, because we don’t know any better. But we need faith and hope to believe that there’s something more, something amazing, waiting for us beyond this life. And then, we won’t have to hope or believe anymore. We’ll see and we’ll know—and not dimly, through the glass.

Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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31

Psalm 95:2 (GNT)
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs of praise.”

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You might guess this is a birthday post, but I am NOT 31. That ship set sail a while ago. It’s also not my waist size—that’s another ship that has long since sailed. What it is is the number of pairs of pants that Laredo has in her closet. It’s absurd, really. The only reason I know the number is because one day Laredo said to me (that is, screamed in the middle of a meltdown), “I don’t have ANY pants to wear!” So I counted them. And it dawned on me that she has a problem with discontentment, and a distorted discontentment, at that. It sets in early, doesn’t it?

And it seems to follow us throughout our lives if we’re not careful. Someone will always have more clothes than us, or better clothes, or a bigger house, or a fancier car… And. On. And. On. But what fund is that? What good does it do to constantly compare our lives with someone else’s? None, right?

So what’s the solution? Well, I know it sounds simple and cliché, but I believe the answer is GRATITUDE. When we focus on the good things in our lives, on our blessings, large and small, it really helps to brighten our perspectives. I know because I’ve tried it—and it works! The more you practice gratitude, the more natural it becomes, and the more it becomes your first response. I’m grateful that I get to begin this year from a place of gratitude and contentment, looking forward to whatever God has in store!

 

Burning Coals

Romans 12:18-20:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

I have to be honest, I’ve never liked this passage. I’ve always thought to myself, first of all, that we as believers shouldn’t be wishing God’s wrath or vengeance upon anyone, no matter their offense. We should hope, pray, and work for repentance, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. So revenge has never been my M.O. And I’ve never really seen it as God’s, either.

The second reason why I’ve always disliked this passage is the idea of doing good to your enemy in order to “heap burning coals on his head.” That has always struck me as incredibly spiteful. And God doesn’t call us to spite our enemies. No, He calls us to love and bless them. So in my cognitive dissonance, I’ve just glossed over the verses, vowing to ask God about it one day. Well, it turns out that now I don’t have to—thank you Jon Green!

You see, Jon taught from this passage in his Sunday sermon this week, and he shed SO much light on the context of this passage for me. Specifically, he pointed out that this refers to a common-ish practice of the day, and one undertaken when an enemy was attacking. From the top of the city’s wall, soldiers would heap burning coals on the heads of their attackers in order to keep them at bay. And Jon rightly described this as a defensive action, a response from a position of strength, but one respecting appropriate boundaries. So rather than going on the offensive, or being spiteful, this heaping of coals was simply a strategy for protection. And for me, that changes everything.

So then, what about God’s wrath and His vengeance? Well, when Jon suggested that we are to leave revenge to God, I got to thinking that one reason for this is that we do not know how to properly wield vengeance. But God does. And do you know how we know that? John 8. You remember, don’t you, when a woman was brought before Jesus after being caught in adultery? And the teachers of the law wanted to stone her, but Jesus quietly called each one out in his sin, and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:9-11).

So when we turn our enemies over to God—who is righteous, just, AND merciful—we can trust that He will do the right thing. We can certainly have no such faith in ourselves. What a relief, then, to let go and give it to God—not asking Him to avenge us, but pleading with Him for mercy and forgiveness, on behalf of our enemy. Jesus Himself did no less as He hung on the cross to die for our sins. Let us live by His example, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

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God & Me…and My M.O.A.S.

Luke 10:25-28

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

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In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the expert in the law went on to ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” I would argue that the more relevant question to ask would be, “How can I love my neighbor?” The answer to this question might have been different than the one Jesus gave. And I think the essence of the answer is GRACE. We receive grace, and we extend it to others. But the latter can be difficult and even impossible without the former. And what does it mean to receive grace? I believe that to do so fully requires us to be aware of our sin and the depths of our depravity. In Romans 7:18 (ESV), Paul states, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” He further added in 1 Timothy 1:15, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Of this, he argued, “The grace of our Lord overflowed to me.” Had it not done so—or had Paul not recognized the depth of his need—I question whether he would have been sufficiently equipped to offer God’s grace to other sinners.

You see, Paul knew his M.O.A.S.—his mother of all sins. He had persecuted and killed Christians in the name of God, and I think that qualifies. Like Paul before us, and so many others, each of us needs to identify our own M.O.A.S. This needs to be a sin for which you can honestly say, “Yes, Jesus needed to die for this. This sin is ‘worthy’ of His sacrifice.” We need to be able to say along with Paul that we are the worst of sinners, or at least that we are no better than the other sinners who comprise this broken human race.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as saying, “Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother.” Foster goes on to assert that this “forever delivers us from conveying any attitude of superiority. We know the deceptiveness of the human heart, and we know the grace and mercy of God’s acceptance. Once we see the awfulness of sin we know that, regardless of what others have done, we ourselves are the chief of sinners” (p. 154).

As a caveat, you do NOT need to go out and commit a M.O.A.S. in order to have one. You can most likely identify one, if you dig deeply enough into yourself, and examine all of the dimensions that comprise you. According to Dallas Willard, those dimensions include: the will, the mind, the body, the soul, and the social context. I’m excited that our church is going to be digging deeper into each of these dimensions in the coming weeks, because I think it will help us all to gain a greater level of self-awareness, in order that we may be deconstructed by and reconstructed in Christ. Oh that we would all become more like Him!

If you’d like to join in this process, or learn more about it, here’s a link to our most recent sermon:

http://www.harriscreek.org/resources/sermons/item/1830-2-2-who-am-i

 

Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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