Navigating Change

All of life is change and involves change. Consider:

• the daily journey of the sun across the sky;

• the rhythms of the seasons;

• the steady progress of growth, maturing, and aging;

• the parade of people through our lives – births and deaths; transfers and moves; new neighbors and co-workers;

• the constant development of technological and medical advances;

and the list could go on and on.

But change is difficult. Even when we see the need for habit; even when we are part of the change and desire change; even when we are planning the change; even when we know change is necessary…the truth is that we are creatures of habit. We want others to change; ourselves, not so much.

So how do we navigate change? How do we handle ourselves when we find ourselves in transition? How do we maintain our peace and joy when the transition isn’t what we truly want?

Here are a few thoughts:

Pray. We all know this one. But sometimes we need to be reminded. God answers prayer. God is moved by the prayers of His people. When we are in transition, we need to be in prayer for God to move, to prepare the way, to give us wisdom, and to work in and through our circumstances. And when we have prayed, we need to…

Trust God. As my friend Rob Reimer often says, God is smarter than we are, and He knows things we don’t know. He holds us, and He also holds the future in HIs hands. He can and will take care of us. He will work all things together for our good. Even when we cannot see how that will happen, He does it. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is too good to be unkind, and He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” And as we are trusting God, we need to…

Be patient. God’s perfect timing doesn’t always seem like it to us. We are stuck in the moment, often thinking of what we are dealing with right now. But God’s perspective is eternal. It can often seem like He isn’t coming through when we need Him to (think Daniel being arrested and put in the lions’ den; Joseph in prison; Abraham living decades with no son, for example). But God knows the what’s, why’s, and when’s better than we could ever hope to. So we need to wait patiently for His moment, the right moment. But in being patient, we also need to listen to God, and when the moment is right, we need to…

Act. God still does His work through His people. Trusting, praying, and being patient don’t relieve us of the responsibility to take action, to do what we can do. We need to hear from Him on the timing; we need to be careful not to rush ahead of Him, and not to lag behind. But we need to act. Carefully, wisely, deliberately – but we need to act.

Psalm 25:9 (NIV) says, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” May we pray, trust God, wait patiently, and then act – all with humble hearts, that we may hear from Him and receive His guidance.

The Power of Waiting

Waiting is hard.  It is a rare person who actually enjoys waiting.  (The lone exception I can think of is Brad Paisley, according to his song “Waitin’ On A Woman.”)

Waiting seems to be especially hard when we have received a word or calling from the Lord, giving us some direction and vision for our lives.  We tend to want to just dive in and begin.  But what we often miss is that God reveals something to us so that we will begin to pray and journey towards it.  He is giving us what some call a “preferred prophetic future” – but that’s no guarantee that we will arrive there.  There is effort required on our part, and change and growth that we need to experience.  Almost always, when God calls us to something, it requires a journey of transformation on our part, and often, that journey can take us years.

waiting

This is where impatience can get us into trouble.  In our excitement, we can jump the gun on God.  We can try to force something to happen – something that we’re not spiritually or emotionally ready for yet.

Joseph is a great example of this in Scripture, as is Moses.  Joseph received dreams from God of being a leader, but he unwisely shared those dreams and tried to lord it over his brothers.  He wasn’t ready to lead, and it took years of humbling experiences for him to get to the place where he was ready to actually lead.  God had work to do in him.  In Moses’ case, he wanted to see his people set free from Egypt, but instead of waiting on God’s plan, he took matters into his own hands and murdered an Egyptian.  It took 40 years in the desert for him to be prepared to be the leader that he needed to be.

There are some positive examples in Scripture of the power of patience.  Consider these two:

  • David was anointed to be the future king of Israel, and spent years serving Saul and then running from Saul for his life before he actually walked into God’s calling as king.
  • Jesus spent 29 years of His life in obscurity before He stepped into public ministry.  He then spent 3 years in the public eye before His death and resurrection.

In Anonymous…Jesus’ Hidden Years…And Yours, Alicia Britt Chole points out that most of Jesus’s life was unseen – anonymous to us.  Only 4 of the gospels’ 89 chapters offer any details on Jesus’ childhood and life before ministry, and those details are scant.

She puts it this way:  “Our enthusiastic declarations that we want to ‘be like Jesus’ reference Jesus’ visible years . . . with a few notable exceptions. In these statements we are not saying, ‘I want to subject my body, spirit, and mind to an extended wilderness experience,’ or, ‘I want to be brutally beaten, suffer excruciating pain, and be murdered at the hands of mocking sinners.’ No. Our desire to ‘be like Jesus’ contains several exemption clauses, not the least of which are Jesus’ hidden years, desert experiences, temptations, tortures, and crucifixion. We will pass on those, thank you. What we are most definitely interested in, however, is Jesus’ character and authority. How we long to see his character and authority transform this broken world through our lives! But Jesus’ character and authority are not isolated entities. They are not disconnected commodities we can purchase at a discount. Jesus’ character and authority come with Jesus’ life, 90 percent of which was lived in quiet anonymity. ‘What would Jesus do?’ we ask sincerely (in word and song, on T-shirts and in bracelets). Well, for starters, he embraced a life of hiddenness. As we will soon see, Jesus’ hidden years empowered him to live an eternally fruitful life.” (- Chole, Alicia Britt. Anonymous: Jesus’ hidden years…and yours (Kindle Locations 239-241). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.)

Waiting is so difficult.  And yet…God can use our times of waiting to do deep work in us, to prepare us, to transform us.  As I go through this season of waiting myself, I am reminded that my past seasons of waiting prepared me for life and ministry opportunities in ways that I had never imagined.

Are you waiting?  If so, be patient.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Don’t try to force God’s hand.  Trust Him, and while you’re waiting, pursue Him with all that you are.

You will be amazed one day at what He has accomplished in you while you were patient.

The Potter and the Clay

I grew up in churches that sang hymns, with an occasional “chorus” sprinkled in.  One of the old hymns that we often sang, usually as an “invitation hymn” at the end of the service, was “Have Thine Own Way”:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

It comes from a passage in Isaiah 64 – “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The hymn and the verse clearly carry the message that God is sovereign and that we cannot tell Him what to do or even what He should do for us.  Like the clay, we can do nothing but allow Him to shape us.

hands of potter do a clay pot

Throughout my life, that verse and the hymn have both comforted me and discomforted me.  The comfort was in the fact that God had a plan and a unique destiny for me, and that He was shaping and forming me for His purposes.  The discomfort?  While I knew that God loved me, it just sounded…cold.  Like God would have His will and His way with me, no matter what I wanted.  Like what I wanted didn’t really matter.  I knew that wasn’t true, but that was the message I received.

But today, I actually read the verse.  It turns out that there is more to the verse than the potter and clay scenario.  Here’s what the verse actually says:  “Yet you, LORD, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Wow!  What a difference a few words make.  “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.”  What a compelling image that is.  How different a picture it presents – as opposed to a (perhaps) cold and calculating potter, one whose only aim is to shape the clay to his will; instead, a loving Father, gently and compassionately molding each one of us into the person He created us to be.  As opposed to a craftsman trying to get the best out of the material which he has at hand, instead, a loving Father who shapes us into the image of His Son, but who loves us completely despite any imperfections that we have.

It’s all about how we view God.  In times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, if we see Him as distant and aloof, it’s easy to take offense at Him.  It’s easy to let offense grow into anger, which can become bitterness and can motivate us to cut ourselves off from the One who is our Strength and our Hope.

But if we view God as our Abba – our Father – our Daddy – then in times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, we will choose to trust Him for what we cannot understand.  We will choose to lean into Him rather than run away from Him.

If we view the Potter as the Father Potter, then we understand that He doesn’t cause the evil that enters our lives, but instead, He takes what was intended for evil and works it out for our good.

Each of us are facing different challenges today – different problems; different struggles; different disappointments; different pain.  That’s part of life, and we cannot change it. 

One thing we can change, however, is how we view God as we go through difficulties.  And how we view Him will determine whether we trust Him.

So…how do you see God today?  Is He the Potter?  Or is He the Father and Potter?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

“God Told Me…”

One of the issues that will always come up when people talk about hearing God’s voice is, “how do I know that it’s God’s voice that I’m really hearing?”  That’s a valid question.  Sometimes, behind that question are other considerations, such as “would God really speak to ME?”; “how do I know I’m not just imagining this or making it up”; or even, “I don’t want everyone to think I’m crazy!”  Most of us have had the experience at some time or another in our lives of someone we know claiming, “God told me…” and using it to justify something unreasonable or even selfish.  Most of us can identify with Lily Tomlin, who once wondered, “Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying but when God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic?”  (And I don’t quote that to minimize mental illness in any way.  Obviously, mental health is a serious issue.)

god-told-me

My personal experience has been that when someone is quick to say, “God told me to…” then often, they are justifying something that they shouldn’t do.  But when someone is convinced deeply but reluctant to admit “I think this is what God wants me to do” then for the most part, they are humbly actually doing something that God has spoken to them.  It’s not a hard and fast rule; just my observation.

As I was growing up, I saw this demonstrated to me time and time again by my parents.  My brother Dave and I grew up as “PK’s” – preacher’s kids – a wonderful and horrible thing!  It meant that there were times when we ended up moving to a different church in a new community because our parents sensed God’s directing and calling to do that.  Dave and I weren’t always excited about leaving friends and familiar places, but looking back, I can see from the fruit in the churches that my parents served as well as the fruit in our own lives, that my parents WERE hearing from God.

If you’re reading this, you probably want to hear God; you probably don’t want to be deceived or misled; you really do want to hear God and you don’t want to be crazy about it; you want to be sure it’s actually God you’re hearing, and not just your own thoughts; and you’ve probably struggled with this issue of hearing God.  So let’s go for it this week.  Today, let me share with you a few foundational facts that I’ve learned over the years that have helped me to grow in hearing God’s voice.  Then on Wednesday and Friday, I’m going to walk you through two very simple but powerful ways of hearing God.

Some important truths:

  • God loves you
  • God is smarter than you – He knows things you don’t know – and He wants to share them with you.
  • God wants you to grow, God wants the best for you, and God doesn’t want you to be deceived.
  • God is God, and He can speak in any way He wants – including through donkeys.  (Remember Balaam in the Old Testament????)  But most of the time, God speaks through two primary sources – His Word, and His Holy Spirit.
  • You can absolutely hear God speak to you.  He created you with that capacity!  In fact, the primary thing you were created for was to have a relationship with Him, with everything else – your roles, your gifts, your talents and abilities, your relationships, your dreams and goals – flowing out of that relationship!

Now let me re-phrase those and personalize them for you:

  • God loves me!
  • God is smarter than me – He knows things I don’t know – and He wants to share them with me!
  • God wants me to grow, God wants the best for me, and God doesn’t want me to be deceived.
  • God is God, and He can speak to me in any way that He wants.  Most of the time, God will speak to me through two primary sources – His Word, and His Holy Spirit.
  • I can absolutely hear God speak to me.  He created me with that capacity!  In fact, the primary thing for which I was created was to have a relationship with Him!

My suggestion is that you take five minutes, go somewhere where you can be uninterrupted, and read the five statements above out loud to yourself five times.

Do the same tomorrow, and then again Wednesday morning when you first get up.  Then on Wednesday, we’ll talk about the first simple but powerful tool that all of us can use to help us hear God.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

The Problem With – and Power of – Worship

Few things seem to stir religious people up to anger and to conflict as much as does worship.

When I think back over my many years in ministry, I can see that by far the one thing that most causes conflict is worship.

Many churches in the past 20 years have gone through the “worship wars” – the battle between staying traditional (choosing a worship style that is more liturgical, formal, hymn-based, and employs pianos, organs, and choirs), and shifting to contemporary (drums, guitars, informal, more based on current worship songs.)

(Personally, although I grew up in the church singing hymns, I’ve always wanted more freedom in worship.  I figured nobody I knew drove around listening to organ music on their car radios, so why do that kind of music in church.  I love drums and screaming guitars and a driving bass line.  And you see – there, I did it.  That comment just offended some of you!)

Over the years, I’ve heard and observed people not just comment, not just complain, but actually become very angry, even sometimes nasty over the issue of worship.  Worship gets characterized as:

  • Too long, or too short;
  • Too loud, or too quiet;
  • Too hard to sing with, or too repetitive;
  • Too old, or too new;
  • Too fast, or too slow;

And the list goes on and on.

Why is that?  I think there are a number of reasons, but I think one reason that we often don’t recognize but that is extremely important is this – there is great power in worship.  And since there is great power in worship, our enemy often attacks the worship ministry, often tries to cause dissension around the worship ministry.

Now, I could write a book on the power of worship.  But I don’t need to – many great books have been written about just that.  But let me point out a few important things about worship:

  • Worship is one way in which we can help answer the prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  What do I mean by that?  Simple.  The atmosphere in heaven is constant worship.  That’s pretty clear in Revelation 4 & 5.  So when we worship here on earth, we draw heaven’s presence.  We imitate what is taking place in heaven.  We participate in what is taking place in heaven.  In heaven, there is joy, peace, health, freedom, and God’s Manifest Presence, among other wonderful things.  So when we worship, we create a similar atmosphere to all of that.  It’s powerful!
  • Worship drives the enemy away.  For example, in 1 Samuel 15, there’s this amazing story of how King Saul was sometimes tormented by evil spirits.  But when David would come and worship in his presence, the evil spirits departed and King Saul found relief!  2 Chronicles 20 shares another story of how King Jehoshaphat defeated an enemy army by sending out the worshipers.  Worship frustrates the enemy and brings freedom for God’s people!
  • Worship gets our eyes off of our circumstances and onto God, thereby changing our attitude and building our faith.  In Acts 16, a story we’re going to look at more closely on Friday and then on Sunday, Paul and Silas were imprisoned, having been beaten and locked into stocks.  But they began to worship despite their circumstances – and God delivered them.  They got their eyes and their focus off of their suffering and onto God, and the very atmosphere were they were shifted because of it.  That’s powerful!

The focus on worship this week comes because of the incredible expressions of worship that were poured out for Jesus on Palm Sunday.  As we celebrate Palm Sunday every year, it’s a reminder of how expressive, how free, how physical, how emotional, how celebratory, how inviting, how sacrificial, and how holistic worship can be.  But as we celebrate this year, in the midst of our series on living Naturally Supernatural, we’re going to focus in on how powerful worship can be.  That’s where we are heading on Sunday morning.

Palm-Sunday

In the meantime, I encourage you to experience the power of worship for yourself over the next few days.  I doubt that there is anyone reading this who doesn’t have some kind of problems in your life.  So I want to suggest that you try this each day from now until Sunday:

Set aside 15 minutes.  Take 2 minutes at the beginning to pray about whatever problem is most consuming to you right now – a relationship issue, a concern for a family member, a problem at work, an illness, an emotional problem, an addiction issue – whatever it may be.  Then once you have prayed about it for 2 quick minutes, spend the next 10 minutes simply worshiping God.  Don’t ask Him for anything; just focus on Who He is and worship Him.  Do whatever you need to do to help you worship – read a couple of Psalms slowly, praying them out loud to Him; listen to some worship music (hymns, if you like!); play or sing some worship music; read Revelation 4 & 5 and imagine yourself in that scene, worshiping with myriads of others; whatever helps you to worship God, declaring His goodness and glory for 10 minutes.  Finally, for the last 3 minutes, give thanks to Him that He is greater than your problems and that He hears your prayers.

If you do that for the next several days, you will be amazed at how your view of God begins to shift and at how your problems, while still important, will seem much smaller compared to the greatness of God.

Will you give it a try?  Will you start today?

Paul’s “Thorn In The Flesh”

One of the basic, foundational truths that I strongly believe and preach and do my best to live out is the belief that God is good and that He always gives good gifts.

It’s amazing to me how many people struggle with that basic idea, and how many people will argue that “God is good, but He sometimes causes very bad things to happen.”  In other words, sometimes God causes us to be sick because “it’s for our own good.”

(This always reminds me of one of Bill Johnson’s powerful illustrations – none of us would give cancer to our children to “teach them a lesson.”  Yet we attribute that kind of cruelty to God all the time, not understanding that He does not cause sickness, but that He can redeem it.  There is a huge difference.)

Since this is a blog and not a textbook or scholarly article, let me deal with just one example that people use to try to prove that God sometimes causes bad things to happen to His people – Paul’s infamous “thorn in the flesh.”

Here’s the passage:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:6-10 (NIV)

Let me point out a few important things from this passage:

  • Paul was an unusual man who had undergone an amazing transformation – from one who hated Jesus and persecuted Christians to one who personally saw the resurrected Jesus, experienced a vision in which he visited the third heaven, and was called as an apostle to the Gentiles.  I mention that only because the greater our responsibility and the higher our leadership, the more we tend to experience and the greater our burdens can become.
  • Paul says that he was given a thorn in his flesh “to keep me from being conceited.”  So the assumption could be that this came from God to keep Paul humble.  However, in the same sentence, he points out that this “thorn in the flesh” was a “messenger of Satan” – in other words, God was not the source.  It was a messenger of Satan.  It came from Satan, the father of lies, the one who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy.  The same one, by the way, who wants to steal, kill, and destroy in your life and in my life.  God does not want to steal, kill, or destroy.  In fact, the opposite is true – God sent Jesus so that we could experience abundant life.
  • Paul doesn’t tell us what his “thorn in the flesh” was.  Many assume it was a sickness, possibly poor eyesight or some other physical affliction.  But Paul just doesn’t say.  It could have been a particular person, a relationship, or some other stressor in Paul’s life other than a physical malady.  We just don’t know.  But we do know that it tormented Paul, and that he prayed for deliverance from whatever or whoever it was.
photo

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh may not have been an illness…

  • Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove this issue.  God’s response was to remind Paul that God’s grace was sufficient to get him through.  This is an incredible promise that we often misunderstand.  Here’s what I mean by this – even though God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul, God DID NOT TELL PAUL THAT HE WOULD DELIVER HIM, AND GOD DID NOT TELL PAUL TO QUIT ASKING HIM TO DELIVER PAUL.  Go back and read that last sentence again, especially the capitalized part.  You see, we read this passage and assume God says “no” to Paul – but He doesn’t.  He basically says, “Not yet, but I am with you in this and I will get you through it.”  GOD DOESN’T TELL PAUL “NO.”
  • Finally, the obvious – God promises grace in trials, and His strength in our weaknesses.  I don’t know about you, but for me, there is incredible comfort in that.  There is peace in knowing that whatever I may go through, God is with me, God will give me His strength, and God’s grace will carry me through whatever I am facing.

So the bottom line – what does this say to you and I today, 2000 year later?

God is a good Father.  He loves you.  He gives good gifts.  Sometimes, because we live in a broken world that will one day be restored, we experience pain and suffering.  Sometimes that pain and suffering is more than we can bear.  Sometimes we cry out and cry out and cry out for God to rescue us, and it doesn’t happen immediately.

But when we cry out, He always hears our cries.  He knows what we are going through; He is with us as we go through it; and His Presence and His grace is more than what we need.  His grace and His strength will shine through our weaknesses.

And it will be okay.

God’s got this, and God’s got you.

The Problem With Suffering

One of the paradoxes of the Kingdom that is difficult to understand and to live with is the fact that:

  • On the one hand, the Lord is our Healer and Provider, Who is able and willing to to heal and provide, Who promises us divine life and health and rewards not only in the age to come but also in this age, and Who is good and gives good gifts;
  • But on the other hand, we have been promised that we will face trials and tribulations in this world, we know that not everyone gets healed, we experience loss and need, we struggle with problems in this life, and we know that some of God’s choice servants – Paul, for example, in our reading today, David as a young man and later as a father of a rebellious young man, and even Jesus Himself – suffered terribly in this life.

Why?  How do we even reconcile those two divergent ideas in our minds?  How can God be good and omnipotent, and yet allow His people to suffer?

The truth is that theologians and philosophers and men and women who are far wiser than I am have struggled with the same question for millennia – have written volumes filled with their opinions and thoughts and discoveries.  So I guess if I’m going to try to answer the issue well, I need to write a book, and not a blog.  But that’s not going to happen today.  The point of this is to give you – and me – something to consider as we go through our day.

So let me point us back to Jesus.

There’s an interesting passage about Jesus and His suffering and His relationship to the Father, found in Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV):

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

Let me summarize:

  • While living on earth, Jesus prayed to His Father, the One who could save Him from death;
  • Jesus’ prayers to His Father were heard;
  • Even though Jesus’ prayers were heard, He still suffered and died; and
  • His Father brought great good out of Jesus’ suffering and death both for Jesus (who obeyed) and for all who obey Him.

Jesus-on-Cross

In Jesus’ life and example, then, we see some pretty important truths about our Father, our prayers, and our suffering.

  • For one thing, it becomes obvious that God hears and answers prayer, even though it doesn’t always look like what we request.  Jesus asked, and God answered.  God DID save Jesus from death; but He didn’t save Jesus from experiencing death.  Instead, He allowed Jesus to experience death so that we could live; and then He gave Jesus complete victory over death, thereby saving Jesus from death and defeating death by providing eternal salvation through Jesus.
  • Another thing that becomes obvious here is that while God doesn’t cause the suffering, He redeems it for both the one experiencing it and for others.  He can do that for each one of us.  Jesus, who was already reverently submissive to His Father, learned further obedience from the cross.  God took what was intended for evil and brought a greater good out of it.  During the Passion, Jesus suffered greatly; but when the Passion had ended, Jesus was victorious, His suffering had ended, and both He and those who obey Him would experience greater blessing.
  • Finally, this reminds us that while God wants us to be happy, healthy, joyful, blessed, provided for (He is a good Father, after all), we also must remember that He sees the greater picture.  He wants us not just to be happy in the moment, but in eternity.  And so, just like father who won’t allow a toddler to have everything that they want or think they need, our Heavenly Father, who sees everything and knows everything, is willing to allow us to navigate difficult things and to suffer for a season in this life so that we will be better equipped for the next life, and so that we can (as Jesus did) be a blessing for others through what we endure.

So both sides of the paradox are true – God loves us, provides for us, heals us, and promises blessings; and in this world, we will have trials and problems and will suffer.  But that paradox doesn’t change the fact that God is a good and loving Father.

What do we do with that?  What can we do with that?

I’m learning this – in the good times and in the bad, in the blessings and in our sufferings – look to Jesus, trust our Father, and receive comfort from the Holy Spirit.

What do you think?

Following Jesus Throughout Your Day

As the end of our final walk of “Walking With Jesus” approaches, let me review just for a quick moment what we’ve covered so far this week.

We have been reminded that walking with Jesus is an ongoing, life-long journey for all of us.

We have discovered that an important part of following Jesus is living our lives centered around Him.

Yesterday, we discovered that another important part of following Jesus is doing in community – connected with supportive friends.

Today, we add one final piece to the puzzle.  Following Jesus also means being Committed to God’s mission in this world.

Jesus described God’s mission in this world in very simple terms in Luke 19:10 – “to seek and to save the lost.”

That’s God’s mission – to connect with His sons and daughters in this world who don’t realize that they are sons and daughters, and to love them by word, deed, or example into the Kingdom of God.  That’s what Jesus did throughout His ministry – proclaim that the Kingdom had arrived, that it was accessible to everyone, and to demonstrate its reality by acts of love and acts of power.

Here is today’s Scripture passage, in which Jesus commissions us to do what He did:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.   “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Acts 1:1-11 (NIV)

That’s what we are to be about as we follow Jesus in this world.

It’s far simpler than we make it out to be.

We are to:

  • Live our lives centered around Jesus, so that we are constantly being empowered by the Presence of the Holy Spirit;
  • Do our lives together in community – in the Presence of Jesus and alongside one another (the uses of “you” in this passage are plural – for a group of people, not just the individuals in the group);
  • Live our lives as witnesses to Jesus, wherever our lives may take us – and life takes us many places.  Into our workplaces, into family gatherings, into community events, into different geographical locations.

Today, wherever you will be, God will be at work around you – in your life, and in the lives of people around you.  Your commission is simple – watch for clues as to what God is doing, and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  He may prompt you to demonstrate God’s love and Father-heart by simply doing an act of kindness for someone.  He may prompt you to hug someone who is having a bad day.  He may prompt you to ask someone if you can pray for them because of what they’re going through or some news they receive.  He may prompt you to share a brief story with someone that points to how Jesus has changed your life.  Or, He may simply prompt you today to watch and wait, and be like Jesus in whatever you are doing.

I don’t know.  And as your day begins, you don’t know either.

But He knows!

And cooperating with His mission is as simple as paying attention, listening to Him, and obeying when He directs.

Why not pause for just a moment right now and tell Him you’re excited about whatever He may bring your way today, and ask Him to help you hear His voice clearly as He speaks to you today?

You may be amazed at how your day ends up!

Now What?

Last night, over 100 million people watched Super Bowl 50 and saw the Denver Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10.

So what do we know now?

  • The post-game reviews, analysis, and second-guesses will continue for the next week or so.
  • For hardcore NFL fans and for NFL organizations, coaches, and players, the work has already begun to prepare for the chance to play in next year’s Super Bowl.
  • And the number one question on the mind of most NFL fans today is “Will Peyton Manning retire now?”

In other words, as far as Peyton Manning, now what?

The same question could be asked for us in our little part of this world.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been on a journey together – Walking With Jesus.  Today begins our final week in this particular journey/series.  So the obvious question for us is, after looking at Jesus’ life, at His relationships, at His actions and words, at where He went and who He hung out with, considering His teachings and the impact that following Him can have on us – the obvious question is, now what?  What’s next?  In light of what we’ve discovered, where do we go from here?

We’re not the first people in history to ask that question.  That question was one of the main issues that Jesus’ original disciples struggled with following His death and resurrection.  Our readings this week will walk us through some of those discussions and some of their experiences with Jesus between His resurrection and His ascension back to His Father.

The short answer to the question “now what” for them was “The Holy Spirit” – He was about to be poured out upon them on the Day of Pentecost, and that experience of His Presence turned their world upside down.

But what’s the answer for you and for me?  What difference does a church’s “40 Days” campaign of any kind make, once it’s all over?  Where do you and I go from here?  What difference does what we’ve learned over the past several weeks make in our lives?

Instead of pointing you towards an answer at the beginning of this week, I want to leave you with that question.

Now what?

I encourage you to take that question seriously.  Take half an hour sometime today.  Put your phone on “do not disturb” and turn off the music and TV and other background noise, and sit in silence with that question.

Ask yourself, “now what?”

Ask Jesus, “now what?”

Wait.

Listen.

Ponder.

Then begin to write what you hear.  Take a little time to journal and to process.  Or, if you lean in a more artistic direction, instead of journaling, paint.  Draw.  Sketch.

You may be amazed at what your mind comes up with, and at what Jesus suggests to you.

But it will be worth the time investment to hear.

So go ahead.  Set aside what I’ve written here.  And right now, make time for silence; or if you cannot possibly do it right now, put it on your schedule somewhere later in the day.  But don’t put it off beyond today.

And you know what?  I’d love to hear what you come up with, and what Jesus tells you!

“I Don’t Want to…”

Some days, I just don’t feel like dealing with stuff.  Big, scary stuff, like confrontations, difficult people, stressful issues, major projects.

To be honest, some days (not many, and not often) I just don’t feel like dealing with little stuff.  Like basic life in general.  Let alone handling tough stuff, or pressing on.

But sometimes in life, you have to do things that you don’t want to do.  Sometimes, life is hard, and you just have to deal.  Sometimes you just put on your big-boy pants (or big-girl pants, as the case may be!) and do what needs to be done even though you don’t want to.  Even though it’s tough.  Because that’s life, and that’s what adults do.

That’s what mature people do.

And that’s what followers of Jesus do.

The words from our reading today always challenge me – and always encourage me:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1b-3 (NIV)

Let us run our race with perseverance – let’s stick with it, even in adversity.  Never give up.

As we run our race, let’s keep our fixed on Jesus – He’s our goal, the center of our lives.  He is our motivation, our prize that we keep our eyes on.

And as we run, let’s remember how Jesus ran – for the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, He endured shame, and He endured the opposition of sinners.  Let’s remember how He ran His race, because that will keep us from growing weary and losing heart.

Jesus ran the race “for the joy set before Him.”  He knew the rewards.  He knew that the outcome was worth the price that had to paid.

I think sometimes that’s why we become weary, why we have days where we don’t want to face life – we forget the end result.  We get our eyes off of Jesus.  We forget Who waits for us at the finish line.

And we forget that joy comes from obedience.

If Jesus had not obeyed, He would not have experienced the “joy set before Him.”

You see, when we think of joy, obedience is probably one of the last words that come to mind.

When we think of obedience, we tend to think of words like “difficult.”

“Duty.”

“Work.”

“Serious.”

“Not fun.”  (Okay, that was two words.  But you get my point.)

But when Jesus speaks of obedience, different words come out.

Words like “joy.”

And “fruit.”

And “reward.”

And “abiding.”

And “whatever you ask for.”  (Way more than a word.  But you get the idea.)

So all that to say this – as the week draws to a close, as you try to just get through Friday so you breathe a little – get your eyes off of what you have to do, or what you don’t want to do, or what you dread doing.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Run your race – or your day – like Jesus did.

Remember that the price you pay today will be worth, because Jesus rose.  Jesus conquered.

Remember that obedience doesn’t lead to drudgery – it leads to joy.

Whatever comes your way today; whatever is on your to-do list (and I don’t know about yours, but mine’s pretty long); whatever you’ve got coming up that you wish you could just put off or delegate or ignore or just not deal with – remember!

Jesus endured all that He did for the joy set before Him.

And you and I can, too.

One last thing – the joy set before Jesus?

You.

For God so loved that world that He gave His one and only son…why?  So that you could have eternal life.  So that Jesus could get to enjoy your presence with Him in heaven.  You are part of His joy – part of His reward.

Wow.

Amazing grace.