Thursday, May 31, 2012


            When I was in college I took a couple of archeology classes. I found them fascinating. For a while I thought about pursuing that path. My professor spent his summers at archeological digs in the Middle East, seeking to gain new insights into the ancient world. He would regale us with stories about the discoveries that his team made.

            A couple of years ago I went to an archeological dig on Johnson’s Island, Ohio. It was the site of an American Civil War POW camp. Captured Confederate soldiers were brought there to wait out the war. The man who oversaw the project was trying to discover all he could about life in a Civil War POW camp. Ironically, one of the most fruitful places to dig was the latrines, where all the broken bits and pieces of life were discarded.

            One of the things that archeologists look for is pottery. Pottery can tell a person much about a society. The pottery from early societies is crude, primitive and functional. It may have little in the way of decoration on it. It will have large, functional handles for ease of use. The walls of the pottery will be thick and substantial. As the archeologist moves along the timeline of history the pottery changes. It becomes more and more ornate. At first, crude designs are cut into the pottery. Then, more elaborate pictures of people, animals and nature. As the decorations increase, the functionality of the pottery decreases. The pottery itself becomes more delicate and refined. Those large functional handles shrink to small decorative handles. An archeologist can measure the sophistication of the society by its pottery.

            The Bible likens us to clay pots. We are the pottery of God. Isaiah says that we are like clay on the potter’s wheel. God has the right to shape and mold us as He wills. He shapes us for particular purposes and the more we understand our purpose the more functional we become.

            Paul picks up this idea of being God’s pottery in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

            The treasure that Paul is talking about is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are the vessels that God has chosen to entrust this great treasure to. There are a couple of things that Paul teaches us through this passage.

            We are the containers and not the treasure. In ancient times it was not uncommon to display treasure in common vessels to show off the glory of the treasure. Jewelers do something similar today. They will place a diamond or a piece of expensive jewelry on a black cloth to show off the jewelry. The black cloth is just a contrast, a backdrop to the treasure. Paul wants us to see that what is most important is the treasure we carry and not the vessel. We are just clay pots.

            Paul doesn’t stop there. He tells us that, with the treasure inside of us, we are resilient. The ability of our clay pots to withstand the negative forces around us is a testament to the power of God within us. We may get beat up on the outside, but we will not be crushed. A good way to think about this is a two-liter bottle of soda. The bottle itself is flimsy and flexible. When it is empty, it is easily crushed. But, when the bottle is full with the cap on, it can withstand enormous pressure. The pressure on the inside gives it strength. Our lives are a living testimony to the power of Christ at work in our world.

            There is one more thing that Paul teaches us. These clay pots are being refined for the glory of God. As we go through the trials of life, our clay pots reflect more and more of the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

            When something is refined it often means removing impurities or rough edges. We begin as crude clay jars, which God refines into fine porcelain vessels. He smoothes the rough edges of our lives. He removes some of the unnecessary weigh. He adorns us with his glory. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

            An archeologist can tell much about a society by its pottery. The world can tell much about our faith by the pottery we are becoming. We are Christ’s clay jars, chosen to hold the most amazing treasure, to make known the glory of God in our world.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


            I have been studying the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. This is one of those stories that is a standard in Sunday School curriculum. It is the story of three brave, young men who stand up against an evil king and trust God. They are thrown into the fiery furnace, but God miraculously saves them. It is a great story of God’s power and his provision for his people.

            The most important part of the story, for me, is found in Daniel 3:17-18. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." The true depth of their faith is declared in that simple phrase, “But even if he does not…”

            That is the kind of faith that I want to have. I want to have and “even if” kind of faith that will remain strong and true in the face of difficulties. Unfortunately, we often fall into an “only if” kind of faith. We will serve God “only if” we feel it is reasonable. We will trust God “only if” he takes away our pain, illness, problem, etc. We will follow Christ “only if” He makes life easy for us.

            Many people with an “only if” faith have become discouraged and have given up. They are disappointed when God does not live up to all of their expectations. When their prayers are not answered the way they want them to be, they conclude that faith doesn’t work.

            At the heart of this issue is the question, “What is the object of our faith?” If the object of our faith is what we can get from God (pleasure, protection, power), then we will develop an “only if” faith. If the object of our faith is God himself (experiencing his love, grace and mercy), then we will develop an “even if” faith. Tim Keller, in his book The Prodigal God, pinpoints the real issue for us. Do we want a genuine relationship with the Father, or are we only interested in what we can get from the Father?

            Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were devoted to the Living God. They literally put their lives in His hands. They knew that, no matter what, they had to take their stand with God. The Apostle Paul lived the same kind of life. He faced all kinds of challenges and difficulties, yet he remained true to Christ. Paul summed up his passion for Christ in Philippians 3:7-11.
            But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

            In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul again talks about his “even if” faith. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
            Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18 (NIV)

            God has an “even if” love for us. He loves us “even if” we fail Him. He loves us so much that he willingly sent Jesus into the world to die for us.  
            This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10 (NIV)
            But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NIV)
            What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-32 (NIV)

            When it comes to the kind of “even if” faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had, I am not completely there yet. But that is my goal. I don’t know what challenges are ahead, but I want to take my stand with Christ, no matter what.

            Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


            Those who study human behavior tell us that we have a defense mechanism programmed into our brain that is called “fight or flight.” When we are faced with a threatening situation we will most often confront it with one of these options. We will either stand our ground and fight, or we will try to run away from the threat.
            There are many situations where this comes into play in our lives. All of the threats that we face are not physical. Many, if not most of them, are emotional. When we are confronted with a conflict our first response will be either to fight back or escape as quickly as we can. These are not the only responses, and not necessarily the best responses, but they tend to be our first responses.
            When the stresses of life build to a certain point we also experience a form of fight or flight. For some people, when the burden of stress gets overwhelming, they just check out. They may shut down emotionally, or they my literally run away. Others, faced with a similar situation, become aggressive and determine to battle through the challenges.
            Over the years I have experienced these feelings in my spiritual journey. I have also heard them expressed by sincere, but stressed out, followers of Jesus. Sometimes the burden of ministry gets so heavy that people pull away from doing anything. They stop going to their small group. They resign from their ministry responsibilities at church. They may even stop going to church all together. In extreme cases I have heard people longing for Jesus to just take them out of this world.
            Other people feel the weight of stress and become angry and aggressive. They “take charge” of whatever situation they are in. They double their efforts in order to force their way through the crisis and into hopefully calmer waters. Unfortunately, along the way, they may do damage to others who also respond in a fight or flight way.
            The Apostle Paul models for us a different approach to this internal struggle we all face. If anyone faced the stress of ministry, it was Paul. He was jailed repeatedly, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and driven out of towns and villages. Yet, Paul never gave up. He never ran away, nor did he get angry and fight back in inappropriate ways. Instead Paul persevered to the glory of God.
            There is a telling passage in Philippians 1. Paul is in prison in Rome. He can see the hand writing on the wall. He knows his time on earth is short. His stress level had to be at the top of the charts. Yet, instead of panicking, Paul submits to God’s plan for his life.
            I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:20-26 (NIV)
            Paul would have much rather departed this world and gone home to be with Christ. It would have saved him much grief. Instead, he committed to staying the course until the very end of the race. There are times that we would rather just give up the race of faith, but Paul challenges us to persevere. The race is not over.
            Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Philippians 3:12-16 (NIV)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stumbling in the Race of Life

            When I was running track in high school the coach would send the distance runners out on the back roads around school to get in some long runs. On one occasion I decided to wear my track spikes for such a run. I thought that it might give me better traction on the dirt roads. As usual, I struggled to keep up with the rest of the guys. I labored up a hill and as I crested my spikes caught in the gravel. I was thrust forward and tumbled down the hill. Because I was at the end of the line I don’t think any of the other guys saw me. At least no one stopped. As I picked myself up off the ground I found that my arms and legs were scraped up from the gravel. I limped back to the locker room, showered, dressed and walked home. I was discouraged and defeated.

            In some ways I have relived that experience many times throughout my life. It has not come in the form of a physical tumble; instead it has come in the form of a spiritual or emotional tumble. I have struggled to catch up to where I think I should be only to stumble and fall behind again. There have been many times that I wanted to turn around and go home.

            In Romans 7:15 Paul shared some of his struggle as he ran the spiritual race. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” There is debate over how this verse should be interpreted, but I can identify with it. I want to be compassionate, but I come across as critical. I want to be available, but I come across as aloof. I try to be focused on Christ, but I get distracted by the world.

            Peter understood what it feels like to take a major spiritual tumble. Before Jesus was arrested Peter boasted about how he would stand with Jesus no matter what happened. Jesus warned him to be careful, but Peter was confident he could face whatever was coming. When the heat was on, Peter tumbled. He denied Jesus, not once but three times. After the resurrection Jesus met with the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus invited Peter to take a walk and the following conversation ensued.
            When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.  (John 21:15-17)

            Peter was mired in personal disappointment. He was discouraged that he had failed Jesus so badly. He desperately wanted to make things right, but he didn’t know how. In the midst of Peter’s disappointment, Jesus came to him. 

            When we have stumbled in life, we assume that Jesus will keep his distance. We feel like we have to do something to make it up to Jesus; we feel like we have to make the first move. In reality, it is Jesus who comes to us. Jesus loves us so much that he does not want us to stay in our discouragement. We can expect him to initiate the conversation.

            Jesus gave Peter the chance to reaffirm their relationship. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Jesus. I don’t think Jesus was being cruel. I think Jesus was breaking down Peter’s resistance to accepting Jesus’ forgiveness.  Jesus challenged Peter to get up and move on. Peter was very tempted to quit. In fact, that was why he was at the sea. He was going back to fishing. Jesus called him back to his commitment to serve Christ.
            When we fall spiritually we are tempted to give up and go back to our old routines of life. Jesus comes to us and calls us back to Himself. The work is not over. The need is still great. There still is a place of meaningful service for us in the Kingdom.

            The day after my fall I woke up stiff and sore, but that afternoon I was back at practice. I knew that one fall doesn’t end a track season. I have fallen many times since. Each time Jesus has come, picked me up and challenged me with these words, “Dave, do you love me? Get back in the race.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of the Christian Life

            I recently purchased a treadmill. I had resisted this for a long time because I prefer to run outside. Also I saw a treadmill as a boring alternative to “really” running. As things go, my schedule kept me from getting outside to run, so my wife convinced me it was time to get a treadmill. At least I could run at night without fear of getting hit by a car. I have begun using the treadmill and I have to admit that it isn’t bad. I can turn on the TV and watch a baseball game or a movie while I run.

            The other day I was able to get outside for a long run. As I was running outside I realized a major difference between the treadmill and running free outside. On the treadmill I am forced to maintain a constant pace. The treadmill is unyielding. If I set the speed at five miles an hour, then I have to run at five miles an hour constantly. My goal when I am running outside is to run ten-minute miles or about six miles an hour. When I am running outside I don’t maintain a consistent pace. The truth is that I speed up and slow down multiple times during my run.

            Sometimes we are told that the Christian life should be like running on the treadmill. We make a commitment to follow Christ and from that point forward we maintain a consistent pace of spiritual growth. We get discouraged when we are unable to keep up the pace. The Christian life is really much more like free running on the trail. We indeed want to be making consistent forward progress, but our effort ebbs and flows along the way. There are times when we are full of strength and make enormous strides forward. There are other times when it takes all that we have to just keep moving forward.

            When we read the Gospels, it is easy to believe that life with Jesus was one spiritual adrenalin rush after another. This is especially true in the Gospel of Mark. Mark loved the word “immediately.” Eleven times Mark uses the word to introduce the action that was going on. He makes it seem like the whole of Jesus’ public ministry happened in a breathless rush to the cross. If we stop and examine the text, we discover that Mark, and the other gospel writers, condensed three years of life with Jesus into a spiritual highlight reel. There were many amazing things that happened during those three years, but every moment was not filled with unceasing activity.

            The Gospels do not tells us about the hours, days, and weeks of normal, mundane life. Because Jesus lived in a walking culture, there had to be long stretches of time when nothing of significance happened. Jesus and his disciples were simply making their way from one place to another. For example, to make the journey between Galilee and Jerusalem could have taken days.

            God did not design us to live non-stop, treadmill lives. He designed us to live with times of rest and times of activity. Jesus modeled this for us. He had intense times of meeting the needs of people and preaching the truths of God. He also had times of quiet reflection, away from the crowds. He taught large gatherings and he spent time with just his disciples. He was full of energy, yet he needed to stop and rest, just like us.

            God does not want us to be exhausted followers, desperately trying to keep up. He expects us to vary our speed according to our needs, as long as we keep moving forward. Isaiah understood that our spiritual journey is not always a full-speed-ahead affair. If we will wait on the Lord, He will give us the energy and the strength to keep moving forward, even if it is at a walk.

Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


            One of the questions that often plagues people is, “Can I really be sure about my salvation?” Most people who are serious about their faith have confronted this question at some point in their journey. Sometimes they have struggled with it more than once. Is it possible for us to really be sure that our faith in Christ is genuine? The Gospel of John says definitively yes! Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 (NIV)

            Struggling with our faith is not a negative thing. It can be a very positive part of the refining and maturing of our faith. Throughout my life I have had times of significant spiritual doubt and struggle. As I worked through those times God refined my faith and made it stronger. Here are a couple of things I have learned along the way.

            Trust God and take Him at His word. The beginning place of faith is trusting in the character of God. God has revealed his character to us through the Bible. It teaches us that God is faithful, compassionate, just, merciful and trustworthy. By nature God cannot lie or He would cease to be God. The Apostle Paul begins his letter to Titus with an affirmation of the trustworthiness of God. Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-- a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, Titus 1:1-2 (NIV) If indeed God does not lie, then we can trust what He tells us about our salvation.

            In the book of Romans Paul tells us that if we put our faith in Christ we are saved. That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:9-13 (NIV) He reminds us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that our salvation is not something we have to earn or be good enough to deserve. Our salvation is a free gift from God, which we receive freely by faith. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

            Don’t confuse doubt with unbelief. Everyone has doubts from time to time. We doubt our ability to accomplish certain tasks. We doubt our ability to love another person fully. And we doubt our faith. People get nervous when they begin to doubt because they think that doubt is the same of unbelief. We read James’ admonition to pray and not doubt and we think that our doubts mean we don’t have faith. James is referring to the kind of doubt that calls into question God’s character;  God’s ability and/or willingness to act on our part. True faith believes that God can and will act even when we struggle with the circumstances of life. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

            The difference between normal doubt and unbelief is the direction that it sends a person. Normal doubt leads to exploration and examination of our faith. It often causes us to rethink our understanding of God and how He works in the world. God uses doubt to refine our faith. Unbelief is a rejection of God and His truth. It is saying that I refuse to accept who God is or His claim on my life. Unbelief pushes us away from God and makes us calloused to spiritual things. If you are struggling with doubts and truly desire to know the truth about God you are headed in the right direction.
            John tells us that we don’t have to live in doubt about our relationship with God through Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we are secure in Him. We have passed from death to life. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:12-13 (NIV)

                Keep moving in the right direction. The greatest assurance that we can have of our faith is to see the transforming work of Christ in us. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we embark on a life-long journey of spiritual transformation. We begin to see our world through new eyes; eyes that see from God’s perspective. This is a process that continues throughout our lives. Often what causes us to begin to doubt our faith is our inability to see the progress we have made. At those times we need to stop and review where we have come from and where we are headed.

            Several years ago our family drove to California. As we approached the Rocky Mountains they looked right in from of us. “We will be there any minute,” we thought. But we continued to drive and the mountains didn’t seem any closer. We felt like we were making no progress at all. We made a stop and when we got out of the car we made an impressive discovery. We had indeed made progress. As we looked back the way we had come we could see the land dropping off back down to the plains below. Although it didn’t feel like it we had been climbing all along.

            On our spiritual journey the summit of life in Christ looms large in front of us. We begin the journey with great enthusiasm feeling like we will soon attain the heights. What we discover is that we are going up and down through the spiritual foothills. We get discouraged because we feel that we have made no real progress. But if we will take the time to stop and reflect we will see that we are indeed farther along than we thought.

            The struggles and challenges of life can cast a shadow of doubt over our life. The demands of life can cloud our vision and confuse our thinking. At those times it is good to go back to the basics. What do you know that is true? Examine the scriptures and see what God has to say to you there. Don’t take other people’s word for it; check it out for yourself. You may not have all the answers but you will discover a solid foundation. The old hymn said it well. “I don’t know about tomorrow. I can’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.”   

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Every Person Counts

            When my son was in High School he was a member of the swim team. One year our team qualified for True Team State. True Team State competition is an exciting event, even more so than the traditional State competition. In State competition swimmers compete as individuals. At True Team they compete as a team. Everybody scores, from top to bottom. Ten teams competed at the State meet. For each individual event there were 40 competitors. The person who finished first earned 40 points for his team and the person who finished last earned 1 point. What makes this competition different from all others is that the greater the depth you have on your team the better your team will do. The motto for the event was True Team: Where Every Athlete Counts.

            I think Paul would have liked the True Team idea. He wrote about something very similar to it in 1 Corinthians 12. The Corinthians were having an ego problem. They had become very competitive among themselves, vying for position in the church. Paul wrote to them and reminded them that they were the body of Christ and that every part of the body counts.
    The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ….
…But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
    Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. [1 Cor. 12:12, 24b-27]

            Paul emphasized that everyone has a place on the team. The body of Christ is not just for the elite. The church is not made up of a few stars and a bunch of spectators. Just like our human bodies are made up of many diverse parts so the body of Christ is as well. It takes all of the parts performing their particular function for the body to be healthy. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:16]

            Paul also emphasized that no one part of the body can stand alone. In our society we value individualism. We are taught to stand on our own two feet, and there is some merit in that. But when it comes to living as a part of the body of Christ we need to embrace the reality that we need each other. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" [1 Cor. 12:21] God has placed us in an interdependent relationship that keeps us connected to Him and to each other.

            Finally Paul made it clear that we should not devalue our place on the team. I was caught up by the excitement that surrounded the slower heats at the True Team competition. If a swimmer in a slower heat could post a time better than someone in a faster heat he could move up in the scoring. No one just swam their heat. They gave it everything they had. In the body of Christ we all count. Although our roles are different they all matter to the overall effectiveness of our work for the Kingdom of God. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. [1 Cor. 12:14-15]

            God has placed us together as a spiritual team. He has assigned each of us roles to play that will accomplish His purposes and advance His Kingdom. Not only do we need to discover our place on the team, we need to celebrate it! The True Team competition was designed so that every athlete would count. God has designed the church in the same way. Whether our contribution is small or great it matters. Maybe we should adapt the True Team motto: The Church: Where Every Member Counts.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Going Against the Flow

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

            Who really wants to stand out in our world? We talk about being our own person and not giving in to the influences around us, but at the end of the day we do exactly that. After all, as the rather sarcastic saying goes, the nail that sticks its head above all the others gets hammered.

            In the 60’s and 70’s young people wanted to break away from the norm of their parents. They called themselves counter-cultural and non-conformists. Yet they just substituted one form of conformity for another. Few of that generation were truly individuals and unique. The majority were just going with the flow in order to fit in with their peers.

            I know how difficult it is to truly live life against the flow. By nature I am a compliant. I desire to be liked and fit in so I will conform to the norms around me. This natural tendency has caused conflict within me because I am a follower of Jesus Christ and Jesus has called me to go against the flow.

            In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus calls us to be salt and light in our world. He calls us to stand in contrast to the world’s values and norms. He calls us to go against the flow. For some this very exciting and for others it is very frightening. For all of us it is very challenging.

            Jesus doesn’t call is to live counter-cultural lives just for the sake of being different or for the purpose of rebellion. Jesus calls us to be different for the purpose of transforming our world. God designed us to live in a positive relationship with Him and with one another. Because of sin our world is headed in the opposite direction. Jesus is calling us to be agents of change to restore what was lost.

            Salt has many purposes. Chief among them are two; salt adds flavor and it preserves. When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth he is implying at least these two things. We are to act as a preservative slowing the decay of sin. We should live in such a way that sin and evil is diminished in our world. We do this primarily by genuinely loving God and loving people. When we live out the love of God in our world we will stand out against the flow.

            Light serves many purposes as well. There are at least three that apply to what Jesus is telling us. Light guides. Jesus said that we are to be a light on a hill where everyone can see us. When everything around you is in darkness the appearance of light gives you hope and shows you where to go. We are to be that light in our spiritually dark world showing people the path to Christ. Light also illuminates. We are to expose the truth about sin and reveal the good news of the gospel. Light helps things to grow. Few things in our world grow without light. If we are going to grow as people we need to light of God in our lives. Without it we are stunted in our growth.

            To be a follower of Jesus is to go against the flow. All of the pressure is for us to conform to the world’s values. We need to courage to stand firm in the truth and not give in. We can expect to be buffeted around in the process. We can be expected to be misunderstood and even ridiculed for our stand. But in the end we will be rewarded by the only person that really matter, Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Struggling with Application

Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

            Right now I am struggling with embracing truth and applying truth. I know that it is not enough to acknowledge something as true; we have to act upon it. James tells us that we must practice our faith, not just study it.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25 (NIV)

            I just finished reading Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love.” It is a challenging book about living a life fully committed to Jesus Christ. What he has to say is both based on scripture and radical in its application. This is where my struggle emerges.

            All of my life I have struggled with guilt. I am not talking about honest guilt; the kind we feel when we have done something wrong. I am talking about misplaced guilt. When I was a young boy, adults could make me feel guilty about things that I didn’t do. It was not that they tried to do this; it was my response to their words. This may come from my high sense of responsibility, which is another issue. Let me give you an example.

            It was in 5th grade; Mr. Welsh’s class. The time came for music. Many of the boys balked at singing during music time because they didn’t think it was cool. I loved to sing. Singing has always been a part of my experience. We sang at church, in the car on trips and at home. I had no problem with singing. That day Mr. Welsh announced that if any of the boys did not sing he would make them come to the front and sing in front of the class. The music began and I sang heartily. When the music stopped Mr. Welsh slowly walked up and down the aisles. He paused at my desk and I looked up and said, “I was singing.” His response was, “A guilty conscience needs no accuser. Go to the front of the room.” I was devastated.

            I confess that I felt some of those same feelings as I read “Crazy Love”. God does not call all of us to do the same things or live the same way. He does call all of us to love Him and love others. The expression of that love is going to look different in different situations. The key is what direction are you headed. Are you intentionally moving toward loving God and loving others or are you moving toward loving self? The problem, which Chan masterfully raises, is that we are often blind to our own condition. We can convince ourselves that we are doing the right things without really doing them. We can be like the people that James wrote about who give lip service to the faith.

            When Jesus issued the Great Commission to His disciples He told them that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth. Let me draw a couple of practical applications to this command.

            Start where you are. When I was growing up I felt like if I wanted to really be committed to Christ I had to go someplace else; usually some remote jungle in some difficult part of the world. We cannot start there. If we are going to be serious about following Jesus we need to begin right where we are. So how can I love God and love others in the situation I am in?

            Gradually expand your influence. Jesus didn’t make the jump from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth in one step. As we grow in our faith we can expect God to give us new opportunities to do ministry. These will most likely stretch us, maybe even make us uncomfortable. Not only should we be willing, we should actually take these next steps.  

            Explore how far God would have you to go. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has given each of us gifts that we are to use for the common good. These gifts fit together to create the whole body of Christ. Some of these gifts are very visible and “up-front”. Some of these gifts are more behind the scenes. All of them are important. As each part does its job the whole functions in a healthy manner. The key is that God does not expect us all to do the same thing. In fact He wants us to do different things to reach a greater goal.

            When I was in high school I felt God’s call on my life to go into vocational ministry. I assumed that meant missions and so I worked toward that end. I put all of the pieces together to work on the mission field but I had no peace. I thought what was missing was some theological training so I went to Seminary. Within my first year at Seminary God made it clear that I was headed in the wrong direction. He had called into vocational ministry to be a pastor not a missionary overseas. I have seen God’s hand on the ministry He has given me. I have seen lives transformed by the power of God’s love. But there are times that I still feel guilty because I didn’t become a “missionary.”

            God wants to use all of us in ways that match up with the way He created us. He has called all of us to be His witnesses. We all need to actively live out our faith in practical ways. My call looks different than your call and vice versa. Let us fully embrace the journey that God has set before us and celebrate the different paths that others may be following for the glory of God.