Conviction

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

 

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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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Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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Step Out in Faith

It’s not easy being a girl.

I know what you men are thinking…that this post isn’t for you. But don’t let my opening statement scare you away. This message is especially and specifically for you. But it bears sharing a bit of background, as in, it’s not easy being a girl. You’ve heard and even perpetuated the stereotypes, you’ve encountered the Bridezillas and the other crazies. To be honest, there aren’t that many areas on which I personally identify or connect with the traditional “female” experience. But there are a few—and there is one that especially stands out to me.

FAITH.

I know what you guys are thinking—women don’t have the corner on faith. And you’re right. As with any generalization, there are exceptions. But those exceptions belie the rule. Case in point: the cross. Think back, where were the disciples? Nowhere to be found. They were off hiding in the bushes somewhere. Who remained? The women. Now, I don’t know if they were 50 feet from the cross, but I can tell you how I picture the scene at Calvary. I see the Marys, all three of them, kneeling beneath the cross, worshiping Jesus in spite of what seemed a hopeless defeat. They’d been at His feet before, hanging on every word of His teaching…anointing His feet with the finest of perfumes and even their own precious tears. But this time, it was different. This time, it was He who was anointing THEM, with His own precious blood. And they believed Him and His promises. Still.

Need more proof? How about the tomb? Where were the disciples then? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off, that’s where. Why? Because they had finally met with a set of circumstances that defied their sense of reason, circumstances that they couldn’t understand or explain, or FIX. You can relate, can’t you? In a society where you’re expected to be self-sufficient, strong, successful. In a world where you’re expected to perform and provide, and to be right. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’re tired—exhausted. You’re weighed down with burdens that God never meant for you to carry. What He wants from you is FAITH. And I feel God telling me to tell you today, Step out in faith. Step out in faith. Don’t step out in the calculated risk that YOU can accept and manage. Don’t step out in your own resources—your wealth, your intellect, your spatial reasoning skills. Don’t step out only in what makes perfect logical sense. When you rely on these worldly “wisdoms” and competencies, you are stifling your God. You’re making Him small, weak, impotent—not in reality, but in your MIND, and your HEART.

Consider David, when he faced Goliath. Did he step out in his own strength, or experience, or prowess? No, in his own words, he stepped out “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45). God never said to be strong and courageous in your own abilities. In Joshua 1:9, we see that God commands us to be strong and courageous, and to not be afraid or discouraged, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit inside you. Don’t put false limits on a God who is limitless. Have faith. Deepen your faith. And then STEP OUT IN FAITH!

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God, I pray that you would raise up not just one generation of faithful men, but an army. I pray that these godly men would allow themselves to trust you, and to not rely on their own strength and understanding. Instead, let them pursue you BOLDLY, recognizing that you are a BIG God, and that you have in store for them BIG, GOD-SIZED dreams and possibilities. Give them courage to rest in you, and to step out in faith for your glory and your kingdom. A thousand times, Amen. In your matchless and limitless power, let it be so today.

 

Silver

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Given the title of this entry, on the heels of the recent Rio Olympics, you might guess that I plan to talk about one or more of the athletes or events comprising those games. But you would be incorrect. The title here actually refers to silverware. Silverware that has, for the past six years, been gathering dust in our attic. Silverware that, in spite of each piece being in a plastic sleeve (a few of which have actually melted), somehow retains the smell of said dust and the other elements one finds in a Texas attic. I’m talking about 15 tablespoons, 5 large serving spoons, 6 malt spoons, 6 dinner forks, 13 salad forks, 2 butter knives, 2 serving forks, 2 pickled watermelon forks (yes, that’s a thing), 8 teaspoons, 2 slotted tablespoons, 12 personalized teaspoons, 1 pie spatula, and 2 ladles.

However, having recently moved to a new house and added about a thousand square feet to our domicile, I’ve been trying to get some of that stuff out of the attic and into the kitchen. The problem is, we were already overrun with silverware (except for the malt spoons, which actually would have been useful for us over the years).

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And surely someone must need all of this silverware and have a use for it. And here I am, saving it for a rainy day that may never come. Going through it all, I felt a lot like that guy in the Bible, who hoarded his stash of grain, and built an extra “attic” (okay, it was a barn) just to hoard all of his stuff.

Well, in my conviction, I have so far gathered up about 7 big boxes of not just silverware, but also other things that we just plain don’t need—and that might truly be a blessing to someone else. I have to confess, I still have a long way to go. But I’m making progress. Because, at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And if we let our stuff own us, we’ve lost a very important battle.

So, would you join me in changing your focus? In pursuing the riches of heaven? In giving to those in need? In trusting God to provide for you in your own time of need? In being a good and faithful servant and steward of the resources God has entrusted to your care? In properly recognizing the fleeting nature of not only our stuff, but our days on this earth as well (Psalm 90:12)? In adopting a spirit of generosity? In resisting the pressure that society places on us to always be striving for more and better? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I can say for certain that I do. And I pray that God would help us all to learn to value the right things, and to store up our treasures in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

Life Wish

John 10:10b
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

You know those people who seem to always be living on the edge? They scale the most treacherous cliffs. They summit the highest mountains. They run the wildest rivers. They jump out of perfectly good airplanes, or off of perfectly good bridges. They donate their kidneys to people in need—sometimes perfect strangers. I came across a guy like this recently. He mentioned first descents on wild rivers and how friends always asked if he had a death wish. They asked the same question when he became a nondirected kidney donor—meaning he donated to a stranger.

His answer to the question, in both instances, was, “No, I don’t have a death wish. I have a life wish.”* He craved excitement and adventure, and challenge, but also PURPOSE and MEANING. He wanted to GIVE life as much as he wanted to experience it himself. So when he learned that he could save someone’s life by donating one of his kidneys, of course he said, “Sure, sign me up.”

How about you? Do you have a life wish? Yours may not involve donating an organ, or climbing Mt. Everest. But there are a lot of ways to experience and to give life:

  • Is there a skill you’ve always wanted to learn or an activity you’ve always wanted to try?
  • Is there a gift you can give that would brighten someone’s day?
  • Is there a relationship that needs mending, or forgiveness that needs to be given?
  • Is there a blessing in your life that you need to show gratitude for?

I’d bet you could think of some others, too. Feel free to share them via social media using #LifeWish. Best wishes on your adventure!

*I should mention that life wishes often come with risks, and perhaps even sacrifices. But isn’t that most often the case with the very best of gifts?

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Vantage Point

Romans 12:15-16a

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another…”

The other night, I re-watched the movie, “Vantage Point.” The movie portrays a terrorist attack, but from about nine different points of view. There’s a Secret Service member, a local police officer, a spectator, members of the media, and even a couple of terrorists. What’s interesting is that we, as the audience, had no real idea what was going on until the end—after all of the vantage points had been pieced together. Granted, by the end of the film, there were still a couple of questions remaining, but for the most part, the plot was resolved.

I think this film actually provides a relevant comparison for some of the major discussions and events going on in our country and our world today. I think we are experiencing a lot of uncertainty, confusion, separation, division, self-righteousness, anger, resentment, disparity—and the list goes on.

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But I believe that much of it stems from (or is at least aggravated by) our limited vantage points, our myopic perspectives, and our self-righteous agendas. We have refused to acknowledge and empathize with the positions and perspectives of others around us, in particular those who are not like us. We have elevated our own needs, desires, and comforts above those of others. We have denied or ignored disparities and injustices. And Romans (among other passages in the Bible) makes it clear that this should not be.

Instead, we should rejoice with those who rejoice AND mourn with those who mourn. A huge step in that direction is for us to actively and intentionally adopt—even momentarily—the perspectives and the vantage points of those with whom we are at odds. It may be that we would find ourselves in greater awareness, understanding, and even agreement with one another. This might well allow us to feel greater empathy, express greater compassion, and extend greater assistance to our fellow human beings. In short, we would be that much closer to living in the harmony that Paul calls us to in Romans. What do you say? Shall we give it a try?

 

Who I Am–Part IV

Psalm 37:23
“The steps of the righteous man are ordered by the Lord.”

I’m kind of addicted to tattoos. Have you figured that out yet? I actually have a “tattoo guy.” He’s done all but the first three of my tattoos. He solidified his position when he custom-designed the frog on my foot. You see, I had a necklace that had a decorative tree frog hanging from it. I loved the design and wanted to use it for a tattoo, but three or four different tattoo parlors were unable to convert that frog into a two-dimensional image. So I walked into one more tattoo parlor and that’s where I met Garrett. He looked at the necklace, excused himself for about five minutes, and came back with exactly what I had envisioned.

There was just one problem. The only way to make the details crisp and clear, he told me, was to make the frog about FOUR TIMES the size I’d imagined! I hesitated briefly, but I’d been wanting this tattoo for years. I trusted his professional instinct, and he was right about the colors and the design. But I have to be honest, there are some days when I still think the frog is a little big, a little much, a little too conspicuous. But then, every now and then, I’ll run into a stranger or an acquaintance, and they’ll comment, “Hey, cool frog!” It reminds me that there are very few people who see that tattoo day after day. Most only get a glimpse in passing.

And that reminds me that it isn’t just about my tattoo. It’s about how many people that I pass by on any given day, and how many people only get a glimpse of me. And I think to myself, What do I want them to see? And the answer, of course, is, Jesus. I want them to see Jesus. So maybe that looks like a smile for a cashier at the grocery store, holding a door open for someone whose hands are full, giving up a seat for someone who needs it more than I do. Maybe it looks like grace for someone who makes a mistake, forgiveness for someone who has let me down, sympathy for someone who is suffering, peace in the midst of turmoil, joy in the midst of grief, or patience with my kids. I want to make the most of the glimpses that people get of me, and that means seeing every moment for its full potential. It means watching for opportunities to love, give, and serve.

My frog tattoo is the only tattoo I have that, to be honest, had no meaning or symbolism when I chose it. I can’t tie it to a Bible verse, or an adventure, or a dream. But even so, if it reminds me to embrace those opportunities to give people glimpses of Jesus, that’s meaning enough for me.

Compassion for Humanity

Psalm 103: 13-14

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

I may have mentioned before how I feel like our testimonies should be living, changing, and growing. God should be moving in us each day—what He’s doing in and through us should never be stagnant, it should never be only in the past. I’m thankful that God challenges and convicts me each week, and that I have the privilege of sharing that journey with all 12 of you. Does my testimony include falls and failures? Absolutely. But just as surely, His continued work in my heart is evidence to me that I am not living surrendered to my sins. It gives me faith that God is not through with me yet. And I praise Him for it.

It is against this backdrop that I confess that this week, I lost hope in humanity. I felt disappointed, and to some extent betrayed, by the words and thoughts expressed by some within my circle of friends and family. I felt like we couldn’t find a common ground—and of course, I was in the right. My first instinct was to—well—judge. I quickly convinced myself that these people lacked compassion. To some degree, they were heartless. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)? So there I was, peering into hearts that looked to me a lot like tar pits. But then I felt the disquiet that often accompanies the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I heard a still, small, slow voice speaking to my heart, No.

No. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t my place to judge. I can’t see people’s hearts. But I could see their actions, and I could tell that these people (and frankly most others) were not to be counted upon. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that GOD will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19)? God, not people. So the best course of action was clearly just to rely solely on God for every need and to ask for nothing from others, expect nothing from others. But again, there was that still small voice, No.

How about bearing with one another (Colossians 3:13), and accepting those of weaker faith (Romans 14:1)? No. I don’t know about you, but in my flesh, I end up applying these verses from a place of pious self-righteousness, which was never the author’s intent. It wasn’t Paul’s intent, and it wasn’t God’s.

My heart finally started coming around to a right place once I started thinking about what Jesus would do, what Jesus in fact did. I know it sounds trite, but it’s so right. Jesus encountered an adulterous woman at a well, and another in the street, and He forgave both. He chose Peter, knowing full well that this guy’s fear of man and his temper would lead him to sin. Then later, He asked if Peter loved Him with a sacrificial love. Peter’s answer was essentially, “No. I mean, come on Jesus. You know I love you like a brother and you’re one of my closest friends. Isn’t that enough?” The answer was basically, “No. But that’s okay, you’ll get there.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

But this seems to always be Christ’s sentiment. So even though I may occasionally struggle with my fellow humans, even though I may not be able to reconcile their perspectives with my own, I know what Jesus would do. Or rather, I know what He wouldn’t do: He wouldn’t give up on them. So if I want to be like Him, then I can’t give up either.

Jesus Said, “Love.”

There, but by the grace of God, go I.

I don’t know a lot about world news. Let’s be honest, I don’t know much about national or local news either. Ever since I switched to Outlook as my e-mail platform, and no longer regularly see the Yahoo! News postings, I’m pretty much in the dark. And yet, it didn’t escape my attention that last Friday, Paris fell victim to multiple terrorist attacks. I knew because the media coverage of events was nonstop. I knew because Facebook friends near and far changed their profile pictures in solidarity, and posted prayer requests and sympathy notes. My first inkling that something had happened was actually a status update from a friend in Paris, letting us all know that she and her family were safe. Praise God!

But then, a bit later, I saw a post that convicted me (https://newmatilda.com/2015/11/14/paris-attacks-highlight-western-vulnerability-and-our-selective-grief-and-outrage/). In this post, Chris Graham accused the Western world of selective outrage, stating that, “Meanwhile, in a brown part of the world, as the attacks began in Paris, Lebanon was just emerging from a National Day of Mourning, after 43 people were killed and 200 more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Beirut.” He also highlighted an attack 11 months ago, in which “Boko Haram razed the town of Baja in Nigeria, killing more than 2,000 people.” He went on to tell about several other heinous crimes against humanity that received very little popular or media attention. And then he asked a poignant question: “How do we explain our indifference to the suffering of people we perceive as different, Lebanese, African, Hazara, Muslim…. Brown people?”

The sober answer is, “I don’t know.” But I know it’s wrong. Sure, France is an ally—a friend. Sure some of us have visited there, or have friends who live there. But are we justified in dismissing suffering just because it happens in a place we’ve never been before? Or in a war-torn country where it “happens every day”? You know, many of the people killed in these terrorist attacks in the non-Western world are innocent civilians, casualties of war. But even those who are not, even those whose hearts and actions are bent on malice, even those are among the fallen humanity that Jesus died to save. We should pray for redemption and salvation for ALL. And we should see and be heartbroken over ALL suffering. Period.

After all, “God so loved the WORLD, that He gave his only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him shall not parish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).