Sunday, July 26, 2009

God in Motion

If I were to go to a church today and heard a sermon about some supernatural occurrence, I almost wouldn't blink. Think about the things we believe almost without question...
Jesus walked across the water, defying the laws of gravity? I'll buy that.
Jesus made the dead come back to life? Sure, why not.
God divided the waters of the Red Sea and held a pursuing army at bay long enough for several hundred thousand people to walk across? I don't see why not.
God spoke through his word to predict events that we now see as historical fact? He's God! As if I doubt that.
At the word of Elijah, God withheld rain from the land for a period of years and as if by magic provided him and a widow's family with an unlimited supply of flour and oil? No problem.
Jesus was betrayed, tried , crucified, he died, was buried and then resurrected, bringing all who believe in him the gift of everlasting life? I serve a God who can do anything.

I'm not saying that these things aren't trustworthy and beyond belief. However, I think I need to examine what I mean when I say believe. I believe the accounts given to me in the Bible. I believe that one God rules over all of those events and is alive today. If it's so easy for me to believe that God has done all of those things, why is it so hard to trust God with the activities of my life today? I don't know why I gravitate toward a static God. Maybe the certainty and finality of all the things He has done makes me more comfortable. I really don't know, but I seem content to settle for a God that is powerful yet almost stationary. The fact is that God is alive and well and active on my behalf. Once the dust settles, I see where God's hand was at work and I rejoice at His faithfulness. Where was all of the faith when God was in motion? God has never given me a reason to do anything but trust him and the minute uncertainty comes, I crumble into a heap of "what if"s and "where is God"s. I need to trade in my static god for the God in motion, the God who is at work even in my failings.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Over the last several weeks, I've had some opportunities to be around different groups of people. The biggest events were the church build in South Dakota and being a counselor at youth camp. What really struck me was the wide range of people in both of these settings. What was even more noticeable was that the differences didn't seem to matter. Both events needed to accomplish a goal and in both places some of the people were experts in accomplishing our goal. In SD we had some carpenters and professional builders, but not everybody was. In fact, most people weren't. At camp there were people who work with kids for a living and a lot of people who don't. What was most impressive to me was how it all fit together.
We're using words like "community" and "unity" in church settings a lot lately, but I'm coming to understand unity differently than I did before. To be unified is not to have everybody doing the same thing, it is to have everyone moving toward a common goal. Singing in unison doesn't sound bad. It is, without a doubt, unified. But there is a dimension that we're missing out on. When a choir sings, there are a variety of different notes being sung by a various voices, but all of those notes and voices fit into the greater unity of a song. Let's face it, it's just better. It's not more unified, but the unity is broader than unison.
You wouldn't necessarily think that some carpenters, a couple of schoolteachers, a body shop guy, a truck driver, a mechanic, a pharmacist, an electrician, some retirees and some other odds and ends would be a work crew to build a church. But is was a thing of beauty to watch God take all of those various parts and weave them together into a unit. But God didn't gift all of us non-builders with a supernatural dose of carpentry skills right before we started. I was still a schoolteacher who didn't know a whole lot about building anything. But when it was over, I felt that I had been valuable to the overall purpose. Not invaluable, but someone who took part and helped bring the purpose to pass. There were even a couple of times that not being a carpenter was helpful. My questions were different and my perspective was different simply because I wasn't a carpenter. If God had turned me into a carpenter right before it started, I wouldn't have had that perspective and been able to do what I did. I had a role to play in the bigger scheme.
This is the same for all of us. God is orchestrating a symphony among his people. My goal is not to make the symphony happen, my purpose is to pick up my instrument and play. No matter how beautifully I play, it is no match for the sound of the symphony. In John 17:23, Jesus prays for us and lets us in on the purpose of the symphony: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them". When we join together and all play our parts, when we let our different notes and instruments blend together, the world around us gets a glimpse of Jesus and the love of our Father. With that in mind, let's make some music.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Identity Crisis

I have been listening and studying for a bit on this idea of identity. Specifically, what is our identity in Christ. I've come across a few things that have been a real revelation for me...
First, my identity is fixed. Circumstances cannot change even the smallest part of my identity. I heard it this way - "My identity is not determined by my activity." That is a powerful statement. I am who God says I am because he says that's who I am. God didn't whip up a fake ID and give me a disguise to trick Satan like they do in the movies when they are on the run. Through the death and resurrection of His son, God has established who I am and it cannot be undone by anyone or anything around me.
Second, I don't act on who I am. My actions reveal who I think I am. The Bible tells me that I am the righteousness of God. God said it to make it true. The reason it isn't more evident is that I forget or don't really believe it's true. God isn't dishonest, I'm forgetful. Even in my lack of faith, God speaks into my life, trying to shape me and remind me of who I really am.
Finally, God is our father. That sounds pretty vanilla, but it's profound when we understand what that really means. Think about how we view our own children. We beam with pride and joy when they make any kind of progress. We push them on to help them grow, but rejoice at every step. If my 9 yr old son kept crawling around the house, I'd be a little disappointed because he could do more. Let's be honest - I'm better than him at everything. He's 9, so I'm faster, stronger smarter, everything. But he's my son. He doesn't have to impress me to be my son. He doesn't have to wow me for me to be proud.
In the same way, we're God's children. We get a view of how He feels about his children when we see how he treated His son at his baptism. God spoke from heaven "this is my son, who I love. I'm pleased with him." At first, we think of course he's proud of him. It's Jesus. But think for a minute...what had Jesus done at this point? He hadn't performed a single miracle, hadn't preached a sermon, hadn't done any of the Jesus stuff. He'd been a carpenter that was obedient to his Father. That was enough for God to split the sky and announce that He loved him and was proud of him. God isn't waiting for me to cure cancer to be proud of me. He's not reserving judgement until I preach a sermon or heal the sick. He's not waiting for some event. He's proud of me and my next step and eager with anticipation for the one after that.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Identity Crisis

Too often, we spend so much time focused on doing the right thing or not doing the wrong thing. I'm not saying it isn't valuable to consider this. I think that we constantly need to evaluate our actions and consider our motives. It seems, though, that it's easy to get bogged down in a list of do's and don'ts and forget one of the most basic things.

According to Ephesians 2, I was dead. My sin and disobedience was a death sentence. I was an object of God's wrath. There is no hope for me until verse 4. "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions" This is the big deal. God made us over again. I was dead because of who I was, but now I am alive. I have been reborn. I am new again. I'm not an updated version of the old me. God in his mercy brought me to life. Now I can say that I'm not who I used to be.

This is the important distinction. I think I spend far to much time stressed about my sinful nature. That sounds like I'm going against what I've been taught, but I think it's true because my nature is that I am a child of God. I don't need to wait for certain things to happen. I am who I am. No event will make my status as a child in God's family more or less true. Instead of wondering about what my nature is, I should be living out who I am. I'm not saying that Christians never make mistakes. I think as long as I'm alive there will be some things that nag me and cause me to struggle. But even in those moments, the core of who I am is unchanged. God didn't update me - he made me new. He didn't improve my sinful nature to make it better. He got rid of who I was and made me who I am. The debate now is how to make my new nature come out. Not discovering who I am and can be, but acting like who I already am.

I didn't have to wait for something to happen with my son to become a father. The moment he was born, my identity changed. I was a father. I didn't have to wait for him to say "daddy" or play baseball or ask a girl out on a date. If he never speaks a word, I'm a father. No action or inaction can change this part of who I am. I am a father. And being a father changed my actions. Once I grabbed hold of my new nature, I became different. I didn't have to be instructed in how to want to protect and care for my son. The same holds true for me on the inside. Once I grab hold of my new nature, I am free. Jesus paid the price for my freedom and it can never be taken from me. No amount of opposition from any source will change this. I am free because of what I am becoming and what I have become. I'm not in God's family because of the do's and don'ts. All of the rule keeping in the world won't save me. I'm going to keep them though. Not for the sake of the rules, but because of who I am.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Lighter Load

I wonder how often I carry a load that is too heavy for me to bear. I also wonder how often someone around me carries a load that is too heavy for them to bear. I think I like the idea of a Christian community. It sounds like it's such a great idea - the way we share, we help and we bear each others burdens. I guess the real question is this: if it sounds so great, why isn't it happening? More to the point, why isn't it happening around me? I think it's because I like the idea of a Christian community. Once it gets past the concept, it gets a little rough around the edges. That's because, if we tell the truth, we're all a little rough around the edges. It takes work to smooth those rough edges out. Sometimes we'll put in the work to smooth them out and while we're working those edges cut us a little.
It's probably time to stop blaming society (my favorite nemesis) and stop looking around for excuses. If I'm carrying too much, whose fault is that? I'm carrying it, so it has to be mine. It doesn't have to be that way, but I choose that path over and over. If I would be honest and admit I need help, I know that I'm surrounded with people that would carry it with me. By the same token, I have to wonder why I'm not bearing anyone else's burdens. There are two explanations. The first is that I'm not making myself available to the people around me and the other is that the people around me don't see me as a burden bearer. This isn't intended to be a "woe is me" kind of post. This is more therapy. I need to put into words that I'm not being the man that God has called me to be.
God didn't send his Son to walk among us so that we could spend our lives isolated and insulated. I spend far too much time as a spirtual thermos. A thermos is great at what it does - it makes sure that whatever is on the inside doesn't affect and is unaffected by what is on the outside. Often I take what God has given me and keep it sealed up, preserved from everyone around me. Other times, I keep myself sealed away from what is around me. Jesus wasn't a thermos. Whatever was in came out. And time and again we see Jesus moved with a range of emotions be everything around him. He was compassionate, kind and forgiving. But at the same time he was uncompromising. He was continually filling himself with the words of His Father and turning around to pour them out all around him.
It's time to take the lid off. Will it make a mess? Probably. Will it be worth it? Definitely.

Friday, February 20, 2009


In Leviticus 11, God is giving instructions for clean and unclean food. In verse 44, God sums everything up..."consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy."
As Christians, we like to-do lists. It makes everything clear and easy to define. What God says is slightly different than what we want it to say. After giving a big list of what is and isn't clean, the next part doesn't say that this will make you holy. In essence, it is telling his people how to consecrate themselves so that they can be on their way to holiness. God gives two different commands, not different versions of the same command. The first step is to be consecrated, to set ourselves apart, to remove the things that keep us from him. Only then can we begin to become holy. Holy isn't something to do, it's something to be. It's much easier to do something that to be something. To do something just means I have to put forth some effort. To be something requires that I change who I am.
That doesn't mean that our Christian walk should be marked by inactivity since we're so busy "being" holy. There are two separate things here and we need to be careful to tend to both. Just as inactive holiness is useless, so is activity that isn't marked by holiness. Our activities do not make us holy, or else God would have told the Israelites to do those things and they would have achieved holiness. At the same time, God gave them instructions anyway. If holiness isn't something that can be "done", then what's with the list? He was showing them the necessary steps to prepare themselves.
Just as holiness isn't something that we can do, we can never reach that place without a cost. I keep hearing this idea over and over in different places and different formats. In a very real sense, my salvation is a free gift. But that doesn't mean that it is without cost. To be holy demands that a price be paid. If I am not becoming holy, I am ignoring God's explicit instruction. If I am one of his children, then verse 44 applies directly to me. I am mandated to consecrate myself so that I can become holy. Why should I consecrate myself? Because it is the path to holiness, a necessary path to take. Why should I become holy? Because my Father is and he wants me to be more like him.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who is the Prodigal?

This past week, I was asked to sing in a church service. The song that I ended up singing was called "Come As You Are". In it, the song refers to "prodigal daughters and sons". This isn't a revolutionary idea to put into a song, and it's a pretty familiar passage of Scripture so it wasn't a groundbreaking song. I spent the longest time misunderstanding something, though. I always thought that prodigal meant lost or wayward. It turns out that prodigal means something completely different. It actually means wasteful. I know that the Bible never actually uses the word prodigal, but it's worth noting because this word is tied closely to the parable of the lost son.
I've known what that word meant for quite some time, but as I was singing this song one morning to get ready God connected the dots in my brain in a way that I never had before. The fact is I had all of the information and was either unwilling or unable to put it all together. I always viewed this song as a call for sinners to come to repentance. I never applied this song to me. That's because I missed an important element of the lost son parable. I tend to focus on the aspect of the son being lost so much that I fail to apply it to my own life on a regular basis. At some level I understand and accept that my sin put me in a far country and that only the grace of God has allowed me to come home. But that's history - I mean, God had redeemed me and called me his own. I'm clearly not the prodigal son that this parable speaks about. Because of that, I quit listening to what the story (and the song) was speaking to me.
As I was driving in the car, God broke me. I understood what was being said to me. The son wasn't called prodigal because he went to a far country. He was prodigal simply for leaving the Father's house. The far country wasn't the problem. The problem was the son's reckless use of what was given to him by his father. I like to say things like "I haven't been a very good steward" because it minimizes and softens what I'm really doing. The plain truth is that I have been wasteful. God has poured into me and I have, in many cases, let it spill onto the floor. How many wasted blessings litter my life? Blessings God intended for my good, for my deliverance. There are too many to count. It's an embarrassment just to consider it.
Still, I serve a faithful God. In spite of my prodigal status, my Father still runs to me when I return home. Not for a moment have I deserved to be called his son. But that doesn't matter one bit. My standing in his family is unmerited. Because I didn't earn it, nobody can point out to the Father why I shouldn't have it. My membership in the family is based entirely on my Father's decision to adopt me. I'm in his family simply because he says I am. There is no depth I will find that will disqualify me. "How great is the love the father has lavished upon us, that we should be called sons of God" I love that word "lavished". In spite of all I've done, my Father's arms are open wide to me. His love for me is unmeasurable. It defies description or understanding.
And I love it.
This prodigal son has a prodigal father.