“A”: Apply Scripture to Your Life

A Daily Rhythm Encouragement

Originally published by Church on Morgan

 

This week in our S.O.A.P-y series we’re focusing on A, Application.

What would be the point of reading and observing truths in Scripture if we didn’t do anything with them? When God speaks to our hearts we are called to act, using what we’re learning to bring light and hope to a dark and needy world.

Reading the Bible as part of the rhythm of your days, weeks or months, creates a place where you can go to hear God, learn about His character, discover how much He loves you, experience His amazing grace and be reminded that “as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

As you uncover truths that speak to your heart, be intentional to apply them to your life and in the world:

Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. (Mark 4:21-22)

With each step forward that you take, standing on His truth, God will likewise be faithful to invite to take yet another step…and another…and another. One of the beautiful things about our God is that we can never exhaust the joy of discovering him, nor grow complacent in our praise as long as we are moving toward Him.

And the really great news is that even when we falter and turn away, he uses his Word to call us back to him:

God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. (Romans 4:12)

What truth is God teaching you as you adopt a rhythm of reading His Word?

Read this series from the beginning: Today’s Post Sponsored by the Letter “S”: Scripture

Copyright © 2017 Church on Morgan, All rights reserved.

Finding Eternal Life in the Trees

Still blogging about the many things God showed me during my half-day Silence and Solitude retreat…definitely think I need more of both in my life as I continue distilling all of this.

As I opened my Bible I was drawn to John 5:39-40 where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for missing the forest for the trees.

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees.

These Scriptures are all about me!

here I am, standing right before you, and you aren_t willing to receive from me the life you say you want. (2)

Lesson #3: Receiving

That passage got me thinking. I love God’s Word; my passion for it is what fuels this blog. My heart’s desire is to lead others to discover and revel in the Truth that I have found in its pages.

Yet Jesus is not just speaking to the Pharisees here…whether I like it or not He also is speaking to me. Jesus has been revealed in fullness on this side–our side–of the cross, but do we fully receive the life that the resurrected Jesus offers?

I turned back to scripture to explore how others received Jesus. The litany of people the Spirit brought to my mind was wide ranging: the woman at the well, the man blind from birth, Nicodemus, the apostles, Zaccheus, the woman who bled for 12 years, the adulteress about to be stoned, the people standing at the foot of the cross.

What did they have in common in how they approached and were changed by their encounter with Jesus?

  • It came at a cost. Each was asked (or seeking) to leave something behind; an area of habitual sin, spiritual and/or physical blindness, even a comfortable, sustainable physical existence in the case of the apostles.
  • They found their worth in His eyes. The world either did not see them as significant or condemned them as unworthy, but Jesus saw something more.
  • The encounter led to new, radically changed lives. Knowing Jesus gave them all a fresh start, a new life, shifting their perspective and purpose from this physical world to God’s eternal one.

What is Eternal Life?

A common criticism of Christians by the world is that we are trading in futures, ignoring the calamities and the tangible pleasures of this life for some intangible future promise of heaven.

But that’s not consistent with what Jesus taught or His prayer for us:

And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

John 17:3 (MSG)

What then is Jesus inviting us to receive and how do we know when have it? In a word:

Joy

Joy comes as we are released from fear and anxiety; it’s the byproduct of a deep and abiding trust in God. This is what Jesus modeled for us, even as He approached the suffering and death of the cross:

…Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Hebrews 12:2

The Message powerfully paraphrases this teaching to shed more light:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.

Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever.

And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Do You Live Like You’re Saved?

So what does it look like to live eternal life now?

This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain….When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You’ll no longer be so full of questions.

Wow. “When I see YOU again.” The way I heard that on this reading was the Lord saying, “As you embrace more fully who I created you to be I will see that YOU again. And this is what it will look like: you will be full of joy, the lasting kind. And as a result all those questions you wrestle with will dissolve because you will be living in the only answer you need: Me. JESUS. I am the answer to your heart’s desire.”

Living eternal life looks like Emil Farag, a grocery store employee in the town where I live, who for the joy set before him braves the suffering and pain of pancreatic cancer, the burden of funding his treatment and an uncertain future by abiding in Jesus. (Read Emil’s inspiring story in the News & Observer.)

What can we do today to move closer to Jesus, closer to Emil’s example, and closer to eternal life?

“This is what I want you to do:

  1. Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you.
  2. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you.

Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks! (John 16:22-24)

This is my focus, my homework as I departed the retreat. I was reluctant to leave the silence and solitude with Jesus to re-enter a world full of chaos, brokenness, pain, and distraction.

But thanks to some great time walking with God, I do so with joy, cresting if not quite overflowing its banks!

You never saw Him, yet you love Him. You still don’t see Him, yet you trust Him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

1 Peter 1:8-9

The Rock and the Hard Places

 

God has been teaching me about hard places lately. I say this while acknowledging that I am very blessed. What do these hard places look like then?

  • They look like discord and stress in my most important relationships.
  • They look like brokenness and hurt in the lives of people I hold dear.
  • They look like opposition to my core beliefs. 
  • And they look like a firestorm because they’ve all been happening at once.

Brave

I’d like to blame my sister-in-law. She gave me a necklace for Christmas with one word stamped on it: Brave.Brave I knew immediately this was to be my one word for 2017.

And I understood in the same moment why God, in His wisdom, gifted it to me: Who would be silly enough to choose a word like “brave,” since developing bravery requires facing scary things?

Rather than the word drawing fearful experiences my way, however, I believe it was instead a sign of God’s loving provision; He saw those storm clouds gathering on the horizon while I was distracted by the daisies.

As the storms broke, I leaned in to God’s Word and He led me through three lessons in scripture about what it looks like to be brave in His Kingdom. I’d like to share them with you here.

Lesson 1: Stand

The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hard place is to ensure you’re properly protected. Just as you wouldn’t wear high heels to go rock climbing, in spiritual terms we are to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). While the armor itself is amazing and worth reading about, what stood out to me in this season was God’s instruction; three times he says to stand:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…

Every struggle we face in this world is just a whitecap to a spiritual battle happening beneath the surface. As we have the courage to stand the Lord will go before us, come behind us and fight for us. (Deuteronomy 20:4, Deuteronomy 31:6-8, Isaiah 45:2, James 4:7)

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

2 Chronicles 20:15

Lesson 2: Be Bold

I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away!….For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.

On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (1 Corinthians 10: 1-6)

What this passage showed me is that these battles matter to God…a lot. God is waging war against the schemes of the devil, demolishing the lies, the pride and the things of this world that deceive people into believing there is no God, that they don’t need God or that they are sufficient to be their own gods.

Like the in-flight warning to put on your own oxygen mask before helping another, Paul directs us to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. As we do that first in our own thought and prayer lives we become open vessels for Him to use in saving the lives of others.

Knowing what’s at stake God calls us to step out boldly. Consider the example of the Israelites, as they fled bondage in Egypt and moved toward freedom. Stuck between two hard places–the Egyptians closing in behind them and the Red Sea before them.

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Exodus 14:13-14

Our pastor recently highlighted a detail in this passage that I had overlooked: God did not clear the path until the Israelites took that first step into the water, trusting in Him to be their rock and their salvation.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Only then does He follow with:

Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. Exodus 14:15-16

Lesson 3: Be Gentle

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

This is what I love about Jesus and His unexpected, upside-down, implausible and seemingly impossible Kingdom. After powerful lessons filled with spiritual armor, standing in the battle and demolishing spiritual strongholds He adds in a mighty whisper:

And most of all, follow the example I gave you….Do all of this in complete humility and gentleness, with patience and love toward one another. Remember that Satan may use others to oppose us, but they are brothers and sisters all the same. We are called to act with the end in mind, holding onto the vision that we are united by peace through our love of God.

Brave Warriors

I close with examples of a few great warriors I’ve discovered in this journey who braved hard places for God’s glory.

In my Bible study notes I encountered C.T. Studd,”a missionary who served God faithfully and fruitfully in hard places, Studd (I believe the Lord intended the pun) was born to great wealth, but felt called to give his possessions away. A couplet from one of his poems answers those who questioned his sacrificial lifestyle”:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

The others I discovered in a podcast from Passion City Church,”Don’t Waste Your Pain.”: Katherine and Jay Wolf. Unlike today’s all-too-typical mommas, who work hard to ensure that no pain or suffering comes their child’s way, Katherine teaches her son,

“God made you to do the hard things. God has equipped you with what you need.”

 

Their shared journey is well worth the half-hour to view or to read in their book, Hope Heals, which I just purchased this week after the messages in their podcast reverberated into my life for several weeks.

After suffering a massive stroke that left her with a disabled, broken body, Katherine learned to trust God’s purpose in her suffering through Ephesians 4:1, whichWolf God used to speak clearly to her heart: “I called you to this. Live a life worthy of the special calling you have received.”

With wet feet, yet standing firmly on the Rock, Katherine encourages those of us still shivering on the shore to jump into the hard places in our lives with both feet:

Here in the Western world we have bought into the lie that to be good means it cannot be hard….that’s a deep lie. [We deceive ourselves into believing] that the blessings will flow when we get back to that old life that we had. No, this is the blessing. 

Good and hard mutually exist. They are that bittersweet thing in life that makes it beautiful.

Life is not what happens to us. it’s what we think about what happened to us.

Here are some questions I’ve been wrestling with as I seek to apply these lessons to my life right now:

  1. Have I surrendered my selfish motives and prideful defenses to trust fully in God’s will in each circumstance?
  2. Is what I’m pursuing intended bring freedom to others?
  3. Have I invited Jesus into the situation or the conversation?
  4. Am I standing firm in prayer for those who oppose me, and trusting in God to fight the battle for their hearts and minds?
  5. Do I believe in my heart that God is sufficient? When all is said and done, do I want God or what I think He can do for me?

Want more on this topic? Try reading Perseverance in Suffering.

 

What’s the Point?

The other day one of my kids, in the throes of adolescent angst, spit out these words:

“Life seems pointless; no matter what you dream of being or doing, everyone ends up average. What’s the point?”

Ouch. That was my first reaction. Is this really the fruit produced from years of sharing God’s love and teaching His word to our children? But then I gave the question more serious consideration and realized it is simply an adolescent expression of the ultimate existential question:

What is the meaning  of life?

Do our individual lives matter? If so, where do we find that meaning, and how do we live lives of significance?

Pointless?

“Nihilism” is the term for the philosophical perspective that rejects all religious and moral principles in favor of “meaninglessness.” It asserts that there is no universal truth or universal moral law governing right from wrong. Here’s how that looks as inspiration:

meaning-of-life
Source: Quora.com

Congratulations! You’re now god of your own universe. Sure, it’s only as vast as the span between your shoulder blades, and yes, lots of other micro-universes are likely to collide with yours in uncomfortable and even painful ways. But you’re in charge of you.

While it may sound exciting for a moment, it doesn’t take long to recognize that despair is just around the corner, as close as the next tragedy. Now there is no why that helps in times of suffering, no hope for justice against wrongdoing (since wrong itself is now a matter of opinion), and absolutely no reason to act in another’s best interest or to love self-sacrificially.

Pointed Upward

Fortunately, there is an alternative, a way to live that is full of meaning and purpose:

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

John 14:6

What does it look like to live God’s way?

one-another-as-i-have-loved-you-1

When Jesus said this He had just taken off his robe and performed the lowliest task possible as a sign of His love for His apostles; He washed their dirty, grimy feet. He did this with the cross in sight. How many of us–knowing that we were about to die an excruciating death–would seek to serve and comfort rather than to be served and comforted?

Love changes everything. If we accept Jesus’ love for us, He calls us to pay it forward by loving one another in that same self-sacrificial way.

Average living happens when our love does not extend beyond our front doorsteps. Jesus reminds us that even those who are evil know how to love and bless their own children. (Matthew 7:11)

He is calling us into something more radical–a deep, abiding love for the least lovable among us, a life-giving, life-saving love made possible only when we live in the Spirit and see others through God’s eyes.

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:15

As we, in humility, value others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3), we enjoy the greatest blessing of all: serving as an instrument in God’s plan to save the world. Our love can be one seed among many that wins souls for the Kingdom.

And then, when our days here on earth are fulfilled, our outwardly “average” lives will be radiant with the lives drawn into the light, and we will hear the ultimate affirmation that our lives had meaning–that they served a powerful and eternal purpose:

well-done-good-and-faithful-servant-you-have-been-faithful-with-a-few-things-i-will-put-you-in-charge-of-many-things-come-and-share-your-masters-happiness

 

In 2017: Love is the New Black

Editor’s note: In reading Peter’s second letter it occurred to me how timely and relevant his advice is as we seek to make resolutions for 2017 that stick and help us to follow Jesus more closely and faithfully. And so, I’ve endeavored to imagine his letter as a blog post.

(Throughout the post the scripture passages appear in italics.)


Guest post by: Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (excerpted from The Message, 2 Peter 1-11)

I write this to you whose experience with God is as life-changing as ours, all due to our God’s straight dealing and the intervention of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master, and begin a new year, committed to pursing a deeper and more fully surrendered life with Him.

In fact, everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!

We also were given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

No matter where you are in your faith walk in these early days of 2017, each of us has far to grow in our love of Him, our daily submission and obedience to His will, and our effectiveness as His hands and feet in the world.

As you plan for resolutions that you already know you will break, let me offer an alternative approach. I’m about to outline a proven, seven-step method to a stronger faith in 2017.

Like nesting dolls, these steps fit neatly inside each other, the second being slightly larger than the first and so on, so that by the time you get to the seventh step you can be sure it is the greatest of all, for of course, it is love.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with these building blocks of our faith. Commit to get started on Step One today:

1. Good Character — Those who do not yet know Jesus are watching you. As my friend Matt Maher wrote, “You may be the only Bible someone reads. Are you legible?

As you come to know and love our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, His Spirit, which indwells you, will draw you persistently toward a more virtuous life. Begin by being vigilant about your thought life, taking each and every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) to the good things that my dear brother, Paul, so eloquently outlined:

…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Virtuous thoughts beget virtuous feelings, which beget virtuous living.

2. Spiritual Understanding –As you endeavor to live a life of good character, God’s Word will come alive in a new way. This understanding is not knowledge of the letter of the law like Nathanael possessed, rather it is the spiritual wisdom that blossoms when you allow God’s Living Word to saturate your mind and overflow into your heart. It is the kind of wisdom Philip showed, who with little knowledge in comparison to Nathanael, immediately recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and evangelized Nathanael with three simple words:

Come and see!

John 1:46

3. Alert Discipline — Of course as you begin to make these changes in how you live, others will inevitably be drawn to you, seeking to understand the joy that is in you. This is the best evangelism going, so know that you will be making yourself a target for the enemy; may as well paint a big red bull’s eye on your back.

For this reason I implore you to remain alert; exercise self-control over your desires and passions, particularly your sensual appetites. I’ll reiterate the message from my last letter (1 Peter 3): Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. 

Don’t be like Felix (Acts 24), who when Paul exhorted him to follow the Way and lead a life of “alert discipline” became so discomfited by the prospect of leaving behind his worldly indulgences that he allowed Paul to remain in prison, dragging him out now and then to be regaled by his messages, but not embracing their saving power for himself.

4. Passionate Patience — I just know you hate to hear that patience, let alone “passionate patience” is a goal for this year. I know you’ve tried and failed so many times before, victims of an oh-so-busy, overly connected generation.

In my native tongue the word I use is hypomone. It is different from what you mean when you say “patience.” Hypomone refers to steadfastness, constancy, endurance. When I say this I mean “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” (Source: Blue Letter Bible)

And the good news is that you do not have to worry too much about striving to achieve this; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, an attribute He will engender in you in the face of opposition, as you are faithful to embrace Steps One through Three.

5. Reverent Wonder — I must admit that this is one of my favorites! What a glorious day it was the first time I experienced eusebeia — an acute awareness of the magnificence of our God. Perhaps you’ve glimpsed a slice of it when you last took time to contemplate the vastness of the night sky and recognize that the God who made it is even bigger, more brilliant than its brightest stars…and yet He knows you by name!

We won’t live in full awareness until we are joined with Him in eternal life, but what inspiration and strength, power and courage are available to us from these tiny shards of His glorious light!

Commit this year to invite more wonder into your life, and allow that to empower your witness to His grace, love, mercy and pure awesomeness!

6. Warm Friendliness — This is philadelphia my dear friends, not the city, but the brotherly love after which it is named. You will experience it as you begin to consistently view others as more valuable than yourself (Philippians 2:3) and cultivate a servant’s heart in how you live, work and have your being.

How many weeks last year did you worship on Sunday and then enter your workplace looking indistinguishable from the atheist in the cube beside you?

Perhaps the question to help you fulfill Step Six is this: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Living as a servant of the Lord has nothing to do with earning your salvation; that work was accomplished by Jesus, and He declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). This is about living a life in response to the gift of grace and salvation you received freely by His death and resurrection. It is about living with the urgency that Jesus expressed when He sent us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), baptizing them into the same living water in which you yourself were saved.

How do we ever dupe ourselves into believing that keeping this quiet is the polite thing to do? As Ravi Zacharias likes to say, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good; he came to make dead people alive.” How many of your family and friends are living as the walking dead? Allow your kindness this year to lead them to repentance.

7. And the greatest of these is Love, Generous Love — 

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:4

Eugene Peterson put it this way: “Regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” (Colossians 3: 14-17

 

Here’s the well-kept secret to success with Step 7: Love is not a feeling, it’s a decision. You may not like some folks at all; they may be the most arrogant, annoying people on earth, but you can love them. “How in the world do I do that,” you ask:

  • Serve them.
  • Do random acts of kindness for them.
  • Pray for them.
  • Listen to them.
  • Remind yourself that they too are children of God and are precious in His sight.

I know it sounds impossible, but as you change your thinking, your feelings will follow and you will want to treat them in loving ways. The reverse also is true; as you are of service to others, your feelings will warm and your thoughts will become more loving too.

The weak link, believe it or not, is your feelings; don’t trust them for a second (Jeremiah 29:17) and do not listen to them when making the decision to love.

Each dimension I’ve outlined here [fits] into and develop[s] the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, His choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Finding Pearls Among Swine

Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet.

Matthew 7:6

I started to draft a post on a different topic this morning,  but then I went to the N.C. State Fair with my daughters…and that changed everything.

We’ve lived in North Carolina for six years now, and every year that I’ve been to the fair I’ve failed in my quest to experience the pig races…but not today!

I was completely captivated. Seriously. I did not know that such good, clean fun still existed anywhere on the planet, let alone as close by as the State Fairgrounds.

Dennis Cook and his “honey of 45 years” (adorned in a pig nose) travel from Newton, N.C., to bring their self-proclaimed redneck entertainment to the masses, which as it turns out includes five races of back-to-back excitement: the little pigs, the rookie pigs, goats, ducks, and last but not least, the potbelly pigs!

If ever there was a dubious light-bearer’s assignment it would have to be this one. Yet Mr. Cook sticks a metal cross with “Grace” spelled out across the center into hay bales in the middle of his race track. Then he blesses children in the stands by naming them honorary captains, complimenting each sweetly and sincerely as he makes his selections. Ray Price, the event sponsor, is raffling a Harley-Davidson, with all proceeds to benefit the state’s hurricane victims. But best of all,  Cook and his wife use their unique brand of entertainment to spread pure, simple, unadulterated (but in short supply in this crazy world): JOY!

Outside of the pig races I discovered others answering the call to be salt and light in ways as varied and abundant as the Fair’s fried novelties. In the exhibits section a man sat in a tiny booth with leaflets about the Bible and salvation. I watched him smile as a woman picked one up and then handed it back to him. Someone else had placed cards, printed with the words “Eternal Life,” on the shelf above each of the bathroom stalls. And as we left the fairgrounds a man stood on a milk crate at a busy intersection, offering the good news over a tinny microphone to those weary from the best the state had to offer.

Not long ago I would have dismissed these folks as “crazies” and judged their efforts as futile at best and a degradation of the faith at worst. But today, perhaps in the afterglow of the Cooks and their pig races, I see it differently. Each of these people is obeying Jesus’ instruction in his own unique way:

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

Mark 16:15

Whether anyone responds to their ministries is a work of the Holy Spirit; they have done their parts.

Rockin’ Rollen

rollen-stewart

In the 1970s Rollen Stewart provided a similarly oddball form of witness. When he became a Christian he felt called to leverage the powerful medium of television to share the good news. He determined the best approach would be to show up at sporting events wearing a rainbow-colored wig and the words “John 3:16.”

He debuted at the 1977 NBA Finals and eventually became a fixture at a wide variety of high-profile events, strategically positioning himself to ensure camera coverage, much to the chagrin of broadcasters. Stewart appeared behind NFL goal posts, at the Augusta National Golf Club and near Olympic medal stands. In fact, he was detained by Moscow police at the 1980 Summer Olympics.

Stewart was a failed man in many regards, as we all are, but he played a key role in elevating John 3:16 to prime-time ubiquity.

Seeing Things Clearly

Before Jesus instructed his apostles not to throw pearls of truth “to swine,” he cautioned them about their own hearts, saying:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7: 1-5)

Perhaps Jesus knew that we needed clear eyes in order to spot those heavenly gems wherever they may found, even in the least likely of places…like among pigs.

Running on Empty

Thursday was a busy day. I was going to stop for gas on my way to Bible study, but I had to run home and get a couple of emails out so I was running late. I left Bible study early to make it to weight training. On my way the needle on my gas gauge bounced back to a quarter tank; the low fuel indicator light even turned off. I decided the gauge was malfunctioning and I had more gas left than I thought.

The rest of the day was a blur of trying to cram a full day of work into the half-day that remained. I ran to FedEx and drove right past a gas station on my way to pick up my girls because I didn’t want to be late. Just one more trip, I promised, and then I would refuel.

As I eased onto the exit ramp for Capital Blvd my dashboard lit up as my engine gasped its last. I coasted part way up the hill before gliding to a stop on the shoulder of the road. I was out of gas.

First I tried bargaining with God: If He would give me a miraculous infusion of gasoline I would go straight up the hill to that station on the corner and never let this happen again. And I’d tell everyone about what He did. Silence and a failed attempt to restart my engine were the only response.

I watched the rain pouring down my windshield and wondered if perhaps some good Samaritan would stop to help. None of the passersby so much as slowed down, leaving me lamenting the good old days when people would never ignore a damsel so clearly in distress.

I considered briefly if there might be a metaphorical lesson in all of this, good for a blog post at least; “Running on Empty” I thought sardonically.

I texted my girls to let them know I’d be late. They said they felt “so bad” for me. I responded not to, that “it was my own fault,” and fought the frustration percolating beneath the surface.

My husband was at a meeting in town. My son was at lacrosse practice. I tried to think of someone who could rescue me. Nobody came to mind. The rain showed no sign of relenting, so I either was going to sit here all day or get moving.

I looked up the nearest gas stations on my phone GPS: BJ’s warehouse club was 1.5 miles south on a treacherously busy stretch of Capital Blvd. As I resolved to being wet and miserable for the next hour I was suddenly grateful that I had chosen sneakers over my usual flip flops and at the last moment had even grabbed a jacket. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for those small, now precious comforts, and opened the door to begin my penance.

My feet were drenched and cold in the first 10 minutes. Cars and trucks flew by me, hurling their insults in the form of wet road muck. When I finally reached BJ’s I discovered that they didn’t carry gas containers and even worse, no one seemed moved by my plight. Instead the clerk suggested I continue walking over to Wal-Mart. (I maybe didn’t receive his suggestion with gratitude.)

The customer in front of me was having trouble getting his gas pump to work. He told me in heavily accented English that if I didn’t mind waiting until he got his own issue resolved he would help with mine.

“Here,” he said, finding a near-empty water bottle in the back of his car. He poured out the remaining contents and filled it with gasoline. “This should be enough to get you up the hill. Get in. I’ll take you back to your car.” I complied, hoping he was indeed my good Samaritan and not a serial killer; but at the moment I was just grateful to be dry.

The music in his car confirmed what his accent suggested — he was far from home. I asked where he was from and he told me Kuwait. “I escaped during the unrest in ’96. I was working there as a civil engineer. I’m originally from Greece.” As we talked on the short ride back to my car he told me his daughter was graduating from pharmacy school the next day, but he would be unable to attend because he could not trust his car to make it through the mountains. I felt sad for him having to miss such a milestone and was reminded that this was someone who had known hardship well beyond the thresholds of my flimsy constitution.

“I will wait to see if your car starts,” he offered. “And then I’ll follow you to the gas station to make sure you make it.” I thanked him and told him I was sure it would be fine. I poured the water bottle of gasoline into my tank hoping it would be enough to bring my car back to life. As I turned the key in the ignition the dash barely fluttered. The battery was dead.

My Samaritan was in for more than he bargained for, and I jokingly told him as much. “Do you have jumper cables?” he responded patiently. I did, thank goodness. He pulled his car beside mine and jumped my engine. At last it sprang back to life.

When I reached the gas station, now an hour late to pick up my daughters, my Samaritan and I parted ways. I wanted to offer him money, but since I knew now that he was a DOD engineer I thought he’d be insulted, so I settled for profuse gratitude instead.

Clearly there at least was a valuable lesson in all this. What did God use this experience to teach me?

  1. As my car depends on me to fill its tank so I depend on Christ to fill mine. When I neglect to take time out of my day to replenish my spiritual reserves I inevitably and quickly run out of gas.

    If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

    John 15:5

  2. Many of my calamities are of my own making, and my pain is often a direct result of my own actions (or inactions). And yet when the consequences roll in I look heavenward and dare to expect a miracle.
  3. Despite my foolishness God still was faithful to move through that very sweet man to help me. And because where God is there is abundance, the gentleman not only gave me a container of gas, but kindly and cheerfully drove me to my car, jumped my battery and shepherded me to safety.

God is a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 46:1

Best of all God never scorns us in our foolishness. He never says, “I told you so.” And even if he declines to provide a miracle He is always faithful.

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.

Genesis 28:5

Can You Hear Me Now?

As a marketer one of the questions I explore and help answer with my clients is, “What are your listening posts to your customers?” Listening posts create a two-way dialogue and foster a relationship between company and customer; think of the last time you tweeted about a product and received a reply from the brand or maybe even the CEO.

Get Your Hearing Aids Here

The same question is worth considering in our relationship with God. The rest of this post offers some personal and practical tips for building your own listening posts to God.

Let’s face it; God can feel big, remote and inaccessible sometimes. Yet scripture teaches that His heart’s desire is to live in intimate fellowship with us. And Jesus taught that the most important commandment is this one (make note of how he starts off):

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Mark 12:29

But as in any relationship, we can’t hope to know God — let alone love him with everything we are — unless we can learn to hear His voice. We need to learn about how He sees the world and how He sees us. We want to be able to hear about His love for us. Otherwise all our talk of Him, all our prayers to Him, are just empty echoes in an unknowable universe that may amount to something…but not love:

If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13: 1-2

John Eldredge’s book, Walking with God, is a great guide for tuning your heart to hear God’s voice more clearly, more often. He writes, “If you’ve been taught that God doesn’t speak to you then you’re probably not going to be listening for His voice. This all comes down to what kind of relationship you think God offers. ‘It takes time. It’s something we learn. Name one thing in your life that you really enjoy doing that didn’t require practice to get there.’

It’s called “The Living Word” for a Reason.

The first and most important way God communicates with us is through scripture. I did not grow up reading, studying or memorizing verses from the Bible. It was not until I began Bible Study Fellowship at age 40 that I discovered how daily reading and study with other believers brings “the living Word” to life.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,

a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

When I read scripture I learn about the character of God. As I study His word I find passages that apply to the problems and questions that I have. And when I memorize scripture God’s spirit is faithful to call them to mind in times of need, either for myself or to encourage and comfort others.

Get on Your Knees.

Prayer is probably the most neglected and misunderstood part of our spiritual lives. Prayer is more than a “help line” when our problems feel bigger than we are.

So how do we learn to pray? Begin with the Lord’s Prayer, his response to the apostles’ same question.

Ask any prayer warrior you know and he or she will tell you that effective prayer begins on your knees. I don’t know why this is so, but simply adopting this prayer posture consistently will make a difference.

Another secret to success I’ve learned from others is to begin your day with prayer. One of my favorite BSF teachers convicted me with this question:

What is the first thing you think about when you wake in the morning? If it’s not God you’ll know what your idol is.

Starting your day with prayer places God in His rightful place in your life: first. A great way to do this is to download Proverbs 31’s “First 5” app onto your smart phone and spend five minutes reading their devotions before checking your text messages or emails.

Here is a three-step process to try:

  1. Praise. Begin your prayers with praise. This may be listening to praise music or it can be as simple as contemplating who God is and recognizing Him with the names that come to your heart: Father, Healer, Master, Creator, King of Kings, etc.
  2. Thanks. Again let your heart take the lead. Thank God for whatever comes to mind, but allow the time to become fully aware of all of your many blessings.
  3. Petition. Now you’re ready to converse with God and present to Him your petitions and your pleas, your heartaches and your dilemmas. (Inevitably I find this list is shorter when I am faithful to follow steps one and two.) Rather than asking for an outcome try asking for the fruits of the Spirit to know and follow God’s will in each situation: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

Another framework is ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication/ intercession). I also learned some great practical tips from the sweet little movie, The War Room (just $4.99 on iTunes).

At the end of the day don’t worry about your form or formality…just do it!  Paul reminds us that we can’t fail because our Father knows our hearts:

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

Faithful Fellowship.

Surround yourself with followers of Jesus who can support, guide and challenge you in your walk with God:

  • And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  • For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12: 4-5)
  • “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

This is a delicate balance because we are called to support and strengthen one another so that we may go out into the world to love and serve and witness to non-believers.

“So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

Isaiah 55:11

Praise.

The easiest way I have found to regularly lift up my praise (to my children’s chagrin) is to listen to K-Love when I drive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a song that speaks directly into what’s on my mind that day. And if you listen often enough (try their 30-day challenge) you’ll hear countless stories of people whose lives have been similarly impacted.

For me that’s what Christian music is about; it is not to insulate yourself from the world, because there is a lot of beauty to be found across all genres of music; rather, a regular dose of Christian music keeps the praise of the Lord ever on my lips and occasionally offers yet another channel through which God speaks directly to my heart.

Silence.

This is last not because it is least important, but because it’s probably the most scarce in my own walk with the Lord. Just as you would never think to undertake a crucial conversation with your best friend while making dinner or driving a carful of kids around, pursuing an intimate relationship with God demands that we create space in our lives and in our frazzled minds to simply be with Him. I do this best in nature, and Umstead State Park is one of my favorite places to commune with God (Read Trailmarkers to Heaven), but whether you choose nature or inside a church just make a point to go there regularly and listen for the still small voice of the Almighty:

Then [Elijah the prophet] was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire

a gentle and quiet whisper.

When Elijah heard the quiet voice he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”

1 Kings 9:11-13

What are your listenings posts to God?

Feel free to share them or share a story of a specific time you heard God as an encouragement to others.

 

Time for a Little Soul Cleaning?

Did you ever notice how clutter has a way of sneaking into your house, crouching in corners, hoping you won’t notice (or muster the energy to do anything about it if you do)?

Last week I declared war on clutter. I was doing my best to straighten up when I suddenly felt overwhelmed:  There wasn’t a room in our house where I could enjoy a peaceable sense of order anymore. All I could see was clutter. How had I let this go for so long?!

Saturday morning I lay in bed delaying the inevitable grind ahead of me. As I procrastinated, planning and dreading my day, God gave me this blog post; grace sprinkled over my mess.

Your Heart is My Home

Junk has a way of piling up in your heart just like it does in your home…especially if you’re not vigilant. For awhile you can keep your eyes on the clean spaces. But eventually there is nowhere else to look; that’s when it’s time for a little soul cleaning.

And there’s no better catalyst to such an awakening than having a friend or neighbor over — one you know keeps a beautiful home — to make you see your house through their eyes.

Isaiah had just such an experience when confronted with the clean, pure presence of a holy God in Isaiah 6: “…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim…calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the

Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of His glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

In another example Peter encounters Jesus for the first time after a frustratingly unproductive night of fishing. Jesus instructs Peter to cast his nets one more time, and they immediately fill to the point of breaking.

 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord;

I am a sinful man!”

Luke 5:8

It’s no coincidence that God exposed the junk in Isaiah’s and Peter’s lives just before sending them out into the world to draw others to Himself.

Rewarding Work

Clean garageThe good news is this:

  1. While soul cleaning can be laborious — especially if you haven’t done it in awhile — God doesn’t ask us to work alone. My daughter helped me clean up our outdoor space. As we worked side by side we remarked on how the work can be almost fun when you’re doing it with someone else. God is happy to come alongside us, we need only to ask.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

2. He focuses our energy. Cleaning frenzies can be exhausting. If we try to do too much at once we become discouraged, and when the effort is too great we are reluctant to tackle it the next time. God makes sure that the tasks He gives us do not overwhelm us.

For my yoke is easy

and my burden light.

Matthew 11:30

3. God never shames us for making a mess in the first place; He is happy to remove the junk for us. My last task of the day was to drive my truckload of junk to the dump. When we confront the messes we’ve made in our spiritual lives, Jesus takes the wheel and removes it for us.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

Becoming More Tidy

Cleaning house has a spiritual term, it’s called repentance. Yet repentance comes with its own junk. As modern Christians we prefer to focus on spirituality and growing our relationship with God. But just as weeds choke healthy plants, our junk clutters our ability to experience God fully, and certainly makes us hesitant to invite him into the messy inner sanctums of our hearts.

In his book, “The Secret Life of a Fool,” Andrew Palau (@AndrewPalau) shares his Isaiah 6 moment, when he prayed for the Lord to reveal whatever junk was standing in the way of a closer relationship. God laid open to him his sinfulness in the same devastating, life-changing way that He did for Isaiah.

I modeled that prayer after reading Andrew’s story, not believing I had any blindspots; God likewise opened my eyes. I invite you to consider praying a similar prayer, but first, put on your apron and get out your dustpan, because cleanup will ensue.

Another tool for shining God’s light on the cobwebs of your heart is One Word. This great little book encourages you to prayerfully ask God for one word to guide your year, ideal timing as New Year’s approaches. This process allows God to expose your blindspots while also redirecting your focus. (Read about my first experience with one word here.)

While the labor of this past weekend lingers in my bones, this morning it is accompanied by a lightness and peace that make it all worthwhile. I am pleased that I did the hard work to restore order and simplicity in my life. I look forward to having friends over this holiday without needing to push them past the trouble spots or apologize for my neglect. And I enjoyed rest, a good, deep satisfying rest, when I finished my work.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened

and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28