Monday, September 11, 2017

Close the Distance

As kids, we were taught to distance ourselves from bad company.  People who do bad things will corrupt us.  And there is always that threat of guilt by association.

Yet when I read the Bible, I see Jesus disrespecting the distance.  He loved to close gaps.  Instead of walking away, He would walk towards the company of so-called bad people.

Perhaps this is nowhere better illustrated than when a woman caught in adultery was brought to the church-house.  While Jesus was teaching, religious leaders interrupted him.  In an attempt to shame a sinning woman and, at the same time, put Jesus in a difficult situation, this woman was forced into a circle of shame.  She stood there alone, guilty, embarrassed, frightened, and ashamed.

Instead of joining the mob, Jesus embarrassed the mob.  He pointed out their own lack of perfection and challenged their authority to carry out her sentence.  After those who attempted to shame here were gone, Jesus closed the distance.  He stood near her and reminded her that she was created for more than that.  He literally told her to “go and sin no more.”

He was not afraid of her.  He did not run from her.  He closed the distance and stood up for her.

This was not the first time and it would not be the last time.  Jesus was always speaking to someone he was not expected to speak with.  He ate with the wrong people.  Walked with the wrong people.  Befriended the wrong people.  Even touched the wrong people.

While we have to be wise and hold tightly to our identity as followers of Jesus, we have no choice but to close the gap.  We cannot show mercy and give life from a distance.   We must draw close.

Our reputations may take hits.  Our limits may be tested.  But Jesus was accused.  And Jesus’ second chances were sometimes abused.

And…

Jesus said, “As I have been sent.  So I send you.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unreachable or Untouchable?



Year ago, when someone was stricken with Hansen's Disease, or what was then known as leprosy, they were deemed untouchable.  When they walked into a crowd, the people parted like Moses had just walked in.  They ate alone.  They sat alone.  They lived alone.

One day Jesus was approached by one of these untouchables.

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”  Matthew 8:1-4

It was an amazing day for sure.  An untouchable had been given a second chance at life.  The miracle itself is a beautiful picture of hope.

But the part that sticks to me is the touch.  

Jesus "reached out his hand" and touched him.  Then He healed him.  Those acts seemed to be independent of one another.  

In other words, Jesus didn't have to touch him.  He chose to touch him.  He chose to touch a man who had been declared untouchable.  Jesus could have simply spoken His healing into being.  Instead, while the disease was present, scary, repulsive, and horrific, Jesus put His own hand on the man's shoulder.

God's plan for us is to be healers.  We are to let Him work through us to embrace the world.  We can not be the people we were created to be, if we avoid contact with those who are considered untouchable.  How can we reach people if we are afraid to touch people?

Our cities are filled with people who appear to be unreachable only because we have labeled them untouchable.  

As it turned out, "leprosy" was not as contagious as everyone thought.  It just looked that way.

We live in a culture of protection.  We spend our lives trying to avoid contact with danger, fear, disappointment, and even dirt.  Jesus embraced it all.  

He embraced us.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Talented or Gifted?

Love is what turns your talent into a gift.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

There are many impressive things we can do.  Lofty goals we can accomplish.  Noble services we can provide.  But when our motivation is selfish, it is nothing but a talent.  

The world has enough talent shows.  

It needs more gift displays. 

A talent can draw attention, produce applause, and bring fame.

A gift will change a life.  

Talented people ask, "Who will notice and how can I build my brand?'

Gifted people ask, "How can I honor God and build up people?

Talented people are called performers.

Gifted people are called servants.

God has created us all with abilities.  What's in our hearts will determine whether these abilities turn into talents or grow into gifts.

Love is what turns talents into gifts.




Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Shark Week

Crashing waves create the most peaceful sound on earth.  The deep blue ocean is the most beautiful sight on earth.  And sharks are the most fascinating creatures on earth.

My dream is to spend time in a shark cage.  I want to know that adrenaline rush.  I wan to experience the adventure.  I want to take the risk.  It is a bit costly but one day, somehow, it is going to happen.

The irony is that I have yet to conquer the enemy of motion sickness.

The thought of sitting in a boat, rocking up and down, and up and down, and up and down, well makes me want to vomit.

So, as long as I am moving towards the goal, preparing to dive, or in the cage descending to the depths of a lifelong dream, I’ll be fine.

But the moment the boat stops moving, I’m in trouble.

Drifting makes me sick.  Floating makes me miserable.  Letting the wind determine direction turns me green.

God created us all to be on mission.  To move with purpose and direction.  To set our sights on risk and adventure.  To remain focused and take initiative.  When we neglect that purpose, it is as if we are floating in the middle of the ocean.

Our souls get sick.

We abandon our missions for a lot of reasons.

We get tired.  We get discouraged.  We get angry.  We get jealous.

Whatever the reasons are, we allow them to put an end to our quest.

When the mission ends, we drift.  And our souls get sick.

You were made for mission.

There is more to you than even you know.

So rediscover what moves you, where you are strong, and most importantly, what mission God has placed on your heart.

Stop drifting.  Start diving.

#SharkWeek

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

WHO'S YOUR BOO?

We fear what we don’t know.  What we can’t see.  What we can’t explain.  The great thing about a mystery is the freedom it gives us to speculate.  It gives us permission to hypothesize and imagine.  But our minds tend to wander away from us.

And lie to us.

Boo Radly is a fictional character.  His real first name is Arthur.  He was dreamed up by Harper Lee for the sake of her novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

But we all know a “Boo.”

The original Boo Radley was a young man who lived most of his life in the shadows.  He was different.  He was misunderstood.  He kept to himself.

But because he lived in the little town of Maycomb, everyone knew him.  Well, they knew of him.  No one really knew him.

He was rumored to have bitten off one of his mother’s fingers.  He supposedly ate squirrels and cats.  It was believed that Boo’s teeth were yellow and rotten, his eyes were bugged, and he drooled most of the day.

With each passing year that people chose not to know Boo, the tales grew taller and taller.

You know “Boo” don’t you?

Boo is that one to whom no one speaks, but about whom everyone talks.  Boo is rumored to support a particular political candidate, eat a certain kind of food, and listen to a unique style of music.  Boo is believed to lack compassion, hold grudges, and drink too much wine.  Boo must have some kind of past that follows him.  Boo must have perfected the filter function on his iPhone.  But no one really knows.  And, sadly, no one cares to know him.

The truth might damage the legend.  No one wants the facts to get in the way of a good story.    

So we stay away.  We whisper.  We gossip.  We fear.

In the novel, one of the children who perpetuated the myths of Boo eventually came face to face with him.  On a dark night, someone tried to hurt her.  In her time of need, out of the shadows, Boo appeared.  And he saved her life.  

There he was.  Their own boogeyman was standing in front of them.  And he wasn’t so bad.  He wasn’t so big.  He had his teeth.  He even had a grin.

It’s sad to think of all that wasted time.  They could have been friends.  They could have made memories.  She could have helped the people of the town see the real Boo.

There are scary people all around us.  They seem to live in the shadows.  Because we haven’t taken the time to know them, we fear them.  We criticize them.  Out of our own guilt, we marginalize them. We attack them from behind.

The truth is that often these hard to figure out mysterious individuals are good people.  Potential heroes.  “Boos.”

They just need someone to believe in them.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Story of God: Daniel

There is a story called "If You Give a Pig a Pancake."  I used to read it to my kids.  The premise is pretty simple.  If you give a pig a pancake, he'll want syrup.  This means he will get sticky and then need a bath.  If he takes a bath he will see the rubber duck in the tub and it will remind of life on the farm.  Then...well you get it.

If you pick up the story in the end and you see a house destroyed by a pig, you won't realize that it all began with a pancake.

Daniel was a young man when the Jewish people were taken away and exiled to Babylon.  Daniel lived his life as an outsider.  He lived in a place that did not recognize, much less worship his God.  This strange place did not honor his heritage or even speak his language.  But read this:


So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.  Daniel 6:28


Daniel had personal success in a time of collective disappointment.  The entire nation of Israel mourned its loss of identity.  Many gave up hope.  But Daniel thrived.

So maybe I should ask the question, "What’s my excuse?"  I may have all kinds of reasons that I'm not successful right now.  But when I look at Daniel's situation, it seems that my reasons are really just excuses.

In fact, Daniel became such an influential person that after one miraculous experience, the king actually turned his nation to God.


Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! 26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.  Daniel 6:25-26


Daniel changed a nation by being himself!  He simply took advantage of the opportunities in front of him and made a difference.  Could there possibly be areas of influence in my life that I'm neglecting?  I may be waiting to be crowned king but God is waiting on me to honor the influential moments He has already given me.  I don't have to be king to shake the kingdom.

So what happened that allowed Daniel to have this moment?

Daniel was given a choice. He could bow to His God or he could bow to the king.  A law had been issued that outlawed prayer to the God of Israel.  If anyone bowed to anyone or anything other than the king, he would be thrown into a pit filled with hungry lions.

Daniel chose faithfulness to God.  He was thrown into the pit.  But God was with him.  The morning after he was given over to the lions, the king looked into the pit and saw that Daniel was alive!  The king said, "What happened?"  Daniel responded.


"My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”  Daniel 6:22


Daniel experienced miracles because of his faithfulness.  It makes me wonder where I have given up. In what area of my life have I thrown in the towel.  The truth is that everything is possible.  There are no lost causes.  Maybe I will see a miracle if I can muster the strength to believe and to stand.

But how is this possible?  How does someone find the will to walk with God in the face of opposition like that?  It's not normal.  What was the secret to Daniel's success?

Daniel's "pancake" moment was at the beginning.  Back at the start, Daniel set things in motion.  He set himself up for success with a simple decision.  Back when the banning of prayer was first announced.


Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.   Daniel 6:10


The key is in the phrase "just as he had done before."  Daniel disciplined himself to pray and depend on God long before there was opposition or trouble.  He did not wait until the storm came to develop his shelter.  Strength is not developed on stage.  Strength is developed in the quiet private moments that no one else sees.  It is forged in small decisions to honor God and chase faithfulness.

My strength for tomorrow is being determined by the decisions I am making today.

Everybody gets religious in the lion’s den.  But if I wait until then to strengthen my faith, I miss the beauty of Daniel's story.  It all began on a boring Tuesday morning (perhaps) when he made the simple choice to fall on his face before God.  Not because of impending doom.  Not because his life was on the line.  But out of obedience and a desire to know God.

The result was that he changed the world.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Story of God: Jeremiah

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. 9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:4-10

IN 626 BC., JEREMIAH BEGAN PREACHING. JOSIAH WAS KING OF JUDAH.  ISRAEL HAD BEEN CONQUERED BY ASSYRIA.

During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. 8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. 9 Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.10 In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 3:6-10

WHEN JOSIAH DIED, SO DID MUCH OF THE PROGRESS.

Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp.11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  Jeremiah 25:8-11

The unthinkable had happened.  Israel was no more.  God had allowed Assyria to overtake her as a form of discipline.  Only 400 years after David was crowned king and the struggle appeared to be over, the dream was over.

Jeremiah preached to the southern kingdom of Judah.  It's king, Josiah, listened and led the people to change its ways.  He certainly didn't want the southern people to experience the same things their brothers in the north endured.  But after Josiah's death, things returned to form and the downward spiral continued.

But the people struggled to understand God's actions.  It didn't seem fair.  Why would God allow His own people to suffer that way?  And how could He use enemy armies in the process?  The punishment didn't seem to fit the crime.

It's here that one very important truth is revealed.

GOD WILL USE TROUBLE AS A TOOL TO TRANSFORM ME


This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  Jeremiah 18:1-6


GOD DID NOT NEED THE PEOPLES’ PERMISSION OR BLESSING.  Because, through the years, God had been patient and had always been quick to give mercy, the people got the wrong idea. They seemed to think God had relinquished control to them.  They felt free to determine their own destiny.  Free will can be confusing at times.  But GOD’S PATIENCE PLUS MY FREEDOM DOES NOT EQUAL AUTHORITY.


If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.  Jeremiah 18:7-10


Now that's good news.  God is willing to change the path.  His ultimate plan will remain.  He will see to it that we arrive at the planned destination.  But He has not set the path in stone.

GOD’S PATH CAN CHANGE.  GOD’S PLAN WILL REMAIN.

After Judah was taken captive and many of the people taken off to Babylon, Jeremiah sent a letter.


This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:4-7


GOD EXPECTS ME TO THRIVE IN TROUBLED TIMES; NOT JUST SURVIVE

It would have been easy for the people to give up.  To accept their place and quit trying.  To cry, moan, and mourn.  But God said, "Nope.  As difficult as things are, I expect you to choose joy.  Give honor to those around you.  Live with faith!  And untimely, believe that a blessing is on the way.


This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  Jeremiah 29:10-14


IF GOD ALLOWS LIFE TO WRECK YOU, IT’S BECAUSE HE HAS PLANS TO RESURRECT YOU

Be patient and trust His plan.