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What difference does your faith make?

Today I ran across to seemly opposite comments. First, Tim Keller:

“When I talk to my Hindu, Muslim or atheist neighbors I have every reason to believe that they could be better people than me.”

Scott McKnight in “A Community Called Atonement” says

“We need to think of the big picture: Are Christians—taken as a whole—more loving people? Are they more forgiving? Are they more just? Are they more peaceful? Are they really better? . . . I teach a generation of students that believes the credibility of the Christian faith is determined by claiming a confident (if humble) “Yes!” to each of those questions. This generation is tired of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not make a difference, of an old-fashioned atonement theology that is for individual spiritual formation but not for ecclesial re-formation, and of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not reconcile humans with humans.” (p. 2)

 

The real question both are asking is “What difference does my faith make when I walk through daily life?” Keller is making a point that we can’t assume we are better than others, and thus self-righteous because we know that our righteousness comes only from Jesus.

McKnight challenges us to not look for ways to keep ourselves safe inside our belief system but to instead challenge ourselves to see all of the gospel and to put action to that faith. “It is the story of God’s embracing grace that makes a person capable of embracing others with grace so that the atonement begins to work for others.’ (p. 3)

 

Both are right. When I look down on people who don’t know Jesus because they act like people who don’t know Jesus I am acting self-righteously and that is soooo wrong. If I can’t humbly see my need for Jesus through the dailiness of life, then I’ve missed the point. When I CAN see my need for Jesus, I think it also forms how I see others – I elevate them and value them just as I value myself.

Maybe this is what Jesus was talking about – Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (See Mark 12:30-31).

When are you tempted to pull away from others, to see yourself in some way better and not worth getting muddied by the ick of life?

Here is another question: When is the most loving response to remove yourself from a situation?

Jesus didn’t call us to an easy religion. He called us to a muddy relationship.

Our actions then, even the humility that Keller talks about comes not from our own actions or our own mental positioning, but from the Holy Spirit shaping us from the inside out. If we haven’t yet been shaped by time with Him, then it is time to back away and let Him shape us. Trying to do it on our own brings about attitudes if not actions that are contrary to the Good News.

Mark 12:30-31 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

When panic hits

Lately, I have a question rolling through my head way too regularly – sometimes several times a day:

“Do you really think God is that small?”

Here is how it started: I read (the first half) of a book that wrecked me Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. In the first chapter of this book, Jeff lays out a fact that has been a faith challenge to me all summer:

When I say we are all unbelievers, I mean we still have places in our lives where we don’t believe God. There are spaces where we don’t trust his word and don’t believe that what he accomplished in Jesus Christ is enough to deal with our past or what we are facing in this moment or the next. We don’t believe his word is true or his work is sufficient. We don’t believe. We are unbelievers. 1

This is so true!!! I start worrying about…well, you name it…and then I hear “do you really think God is that small?” This one little sentence is helping me to live what I technically believe. You see, many of us believe with our mind, but not with our heart. We believe God is real and rewards those who earnestly seek Him (See Heb 6), but then we get hit with something – bills, people, young adult children, our own futures – and we stop looking at God and start trying to figure out how to fix things.

That is when my heart whispers “Do you really think God is that small?”

Messy is Not a Sin

I’m in the middle of transitions. All three of my younger kids are on the cusp of adulthood, which means I have NO control, and really shouldn’t – but I still have the mommy-panic-button that goes off way too regularly.

I am about to finish my doctorate but have no idea of what God has for me next. I am in my early 50’s, which means I am starting on the most productive years of my life… and I want them to count. And if I start down the panicky trail of trying to make my life count, I will soon find myself disconnected from God and those who mean the most to me.

Then I hear the whisper:

“Do you really think God is that small?”

You see, God is in charge of the universe and He put me here for a reason. I won’t step out of His will unless I purposefully do so. He isn’t going to make my path so vague that I could accidentally step off a cliff. He also has a plan for my kids, and although I know the impact that bad decisions can have, let’s look at a couple bad situations in the bible – two caused by a bad decision and one caused by, well, God’s development.

Bad decisions:

Sarah and Abraham decided to make their future (that God had promised) through means that seemed reasonable to them.

Result: Ishmael and the battle in the middle east to this day. However, God’s results were not circumnavigated. Neither was his timing. God was no less in charge, and He still brought about Isaac and his progeny. God was not shocked, nor was he thwarted by Abraham and Sarah’s mistake.

Bad decision #2: Israelites chose not to go into Canaan when they had the chance. Result: That generation didn’t go in, but the next one did. God was not thwarted by Israel’s mistake. His plans still came about.

Result: That generation didn’t go in, but the next one did. God was not thwarted by Israel’s mistake. His plans still came about.

In both situations, the participants willingly went against what God told them. They chose to walk in unbelief.

PANIC: Even as I describe those situations part of me wants to panic. Afterall, there were bad results. I don’t like bad results and want to be good enough to avoid them. Yet, that still small voice whispers – “do you think God is not aware that humans are fallible? Could it be that He uses the bad situations to mold and shape people to be more like Him, and to have His wisdomr?” 

Bad situation: Joseph – first in slavery, then in prison. Anyone who reads this story needs to hear Joseph’s faith – he never stopped trusting God, even when the dream he had been given looked impossible. He still believed that God gives dreams (see his conversation with the cupbearer and cook). God used that very bad decade or more (12 years, I think) to develop Joseph into someone who could manage all the resources of Egypt and save millions (my guess) from famine.

Being in a middle space means that you are learning to maintain your balance in what feels like a precarious situation. You have memory of the past, and a hopeful eye on the horizon, looking for firm ground. It is normal to feel out of balance and a bit “off” during transitions. But, we can live in belief. We can choose to stop the panic and walk in the faith that God is in charge. He is bigger than other people, He is bigger than circumstances, He is really in control and will cover my inadvertent errors. Even when I purposefully go against His direction, He will bring about His will for my life. I can trust in that.

What about you? What pushes your panic buttons, and how do you maintain the perspective that God is in charge? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below.

1 Vanderstelt, Jeff (2017-02-14). Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life (p. 20). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

5Q- an excellent fivefold ministries handbook

This weekend I spent time reviewing Alan Hirsch’s new book 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ.

First, let me give you my review, and then I’ll tell you what I learned. This book is excellent. In it, Hirsch indicates he is working on his doctorate, and this is clearly a well-thought-out theology and practice of his topic that he has been working on for what seems like 15-20 years. (in 2009 The Forgotten Ways was in its 5th printing). Best of all, it is written so that the average pastor will be able to digest the information. This is the piece that we have been missing and is a must read for anyone interested in discipleship or ecclesiology (the study of the church).

This book is the piece that we have been missing in the five-fold ministry conversation and it is a must read for anyone interested in discipleship or ecclesiology (the study of the church).

Hirsch has written several books on this topic, but 5Q goes much deeper into the five-fold ministries, and looks at them through a systematic theology framework, and then gets deeply practical in how they work in a church and in an individual – followed by what “out of balance” might look like.

This is part of what I see as an emerging trend in Western Christianity. We have little tolerance for church-as-social-function and are looking for meaning and purpose – not only in our individual lives but for these organizations we call church. After all, the Church is Christ’s body, but we don’t seem to be healing people or transforming lives like He did. We need an understanding of Church that flows with the rest of life. Hirsch has provided this.

So, I highly recommend Hirsch’s new book. Now. Here is what I learned:

When you get an idea, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to start writing and then keep revising. Eventually, you will reach the “tipping point” where what you have written becomes normative instead of a novel idea. At that point, where theory and practice meet, you get to write something as incredible as 5Q – a handbook of why and how we should live into the 5-fold ministries both personally and corporately.

Full-time ministry

I caught myself thinking this morning.

I was contemplating my role in “ministry” and had to stop and shake myself a bit. For some reason, I had switched my definition of ministry to “that which I do for the church” instead of “that which I do for God.”

You see, I have specific things that I do because I am part of the Church. I think, mostly.

But that isn’t my ministry.

I have certain things that I do because I am a student and teacher. I think, mostly.

But that isn’t my ministry.

I have certain things that I do because I am a parent and wife.

But that isn’t my ministry.

I am a master organizer and earn my living as an operations manager.

But that isn’t my ministry.

In my work, while procuring the necessities of life, and even at leisure, I meet people who are fascinating. I have a knack for connecting people to the next step in their journey with Jesus, and connecting people with each other so they don’t have to walk alone.

This is the best part of my ministry, but it isn’t my ministry.

My ministry is how I serve God in all of the above pieces. My ministry is how I serve God and His mission on earth. The Church is His body, which is busy fulfilling His mission. I, as a piece of the body, am serving God when I am supporting His mission to draw all people to Himself – to bring hope to the hopeless and change out mourning for joy. When I think, when I parent, and wife (yes, I just used that as a verb), when I bring order to a work environment, AND when I see people as Jesus does and help them connect to themselves, others and Him  – in all these ways I am working at God’s mission.

(I think that last paragraph was getting close to rivaling Paul for run-on sentences)

What happens if I decide that only my work for the church is my ministry? Well, out of 168 hours in the week, I spend roughly 12 teaching, studying, thinking and attending church services. If we throw in another 5 for devotions and prayer then roughly 10% of my life is spent in ministry, while the other 90% lacks reason and focus.

If, however, I classify everything I do as ministry, then I start to recognize when God shows up in the little moments, when helping someone feel “real” brings them a step closer to Jesus – and I even begin to value my sleep as a resource for energy instead of a drain on my time. I take care of my body because every minute counts.

God is on the move – in my church, in my home, in my various work environments, and even on the commuter bus. When I am alert and focused, I get to join Him at His work everywhere I go – and that is my ministry.

 

 

Afraid? Here’s hope

Violence seems to be on an increase in the US. Not just violence, but random violence. There have been plenty of times in history where the world has been more unpredictable, but this new onslaught is surprising many. Riots, shootings, and now crazy clowns. Then a couple of friends have huge health events and another loses her job.

Then, there is the problem of leadership. It feels unstable – downright crazy actually – when both political candidates that are in the running have unfavorability ratings so high. For someone who likes stability, this feels we are at sea in a storm. Seasick anyone?

What if you could handle the storms like this:

You can. When you accept Jesus into your life, He lives inside of you. You are not alone!

Read Colossians 1:15-17

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus lives in you. He not only holds everything outside of you together, but He will hold you together as well. There is a reason that you are living in this time of insanity. Could it be because God wants to bring hope to the environment in which you spend your days? Wouldn’t you love it if He used you?

Here’s help:

  1. Spend time with God until you hear His voice. It might be a sense of peace or an actual sensing Him speaking to you, but seriously, get with God and don’t give up. Keep seeking Him until you sense/hear Him.
  2. Throughout the day, tap into that sense of presence. When pressure builds, ask yourself “does God care about this?” If your answer is ‘no’, then go back to the beginning. God cares about it all – He might just have a different perspective than you. He might be up to something much greater.
  3. Share your peace. Most of us live in a space where we will not be thanked for talking about God. However, we can share His peace easily. No preaching required.

The storms of life are inevitable. You can spend them with your head in a bucket, or you can jump on and go for the ride. Jesus really is in control. When the world goes crazy, He has an end game. You can trust that He isn’t dethroned, but instead is working a much deeper move that you haven’t figured out yet.

 

I want to make a difference!

This phrase jumped out at me:

Make an Impact While Making an Income

Many of us are on the edge of non-existence, just running from work to home, hoping for the gym in between. We want our life to matter, but that daily uphill battle to stay awake and stay engaged seems to sap all energy.

What if life could be different? Here are some thoughts on helping you make an impact while making an income:

  1. Take care of your body. Water, eating right, exercise – these are necessary. Don’t. Eat. Sugar – if you want your body to last. (Says the girl who has a daily fight over a frappe from Starbucks.)
  2. Use your strengths. You were designed to make a difference. If you don’t use the strengths you have, you will feel dead – like every day is a drudgery. Make space for your strengths even if it means adding something else. This will increase your overall strengths and help you see your work in a different light.

  3. Redefine impact. You can change the world – or you can sit and listen to someone who needs it. Both are making an impact. When you treat someone as God sees them, you give them hope and change the future for those around them.

  4. Contemplate the difference your job makes in the world. No matter your job, you are making a difference. You are helping fight back entropy (that force that causes your house to return to havoc-central every day or so); you are brightening someone’s day; you are providing excellent (food, resources, etc. actually ). What you do to make a living impacts the world. Your job matters – not just to the rest of us, but to God. After all, work was His idea – He told Adam and Eve to work the garden long before the Fall.

So, how are you making an impact while earning an income?

Mentors on the go

I have two books to recommend to you today, both of which were provided to me electronically for review by the publishers. Both books get five thumbs up from me, but for different reasons.

nullIngredients of Outliers: Women Game Changers is a fun, easy read that presents six women who have made significant contributions in their fields. In many ways, this book reminded me of the women church planter’s cohort that I developed last year, where a group of women who were considering church planting (or were in the beginning stages) got together each week for two hours, and we brought in guests – women church planters – who told us their stories and let us interview them. This is a powerful method for women to learn – and this book at least leans in that direction, as we learn the story of powerful women and listen to them as they answer questions.

In this book you will meet Sharon Guynup, a photographer, writer and journalist; Jane Hamilton, a novelist and short story writer; Christine Jones, CPA, Attorney and Gubernatorial Candidate (and the one I learned the most from); Jenny McClendon, a mother of 7 who works for home as a physician assistant on MeMD (yes, we can find innovative ways to support our families); Mildred M.G.Olivier, MD, Ophthalmologist who serves on many boards (also a great person to learn from); and Marsha Ternus, the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

Women have different obstacles than men, and we learn with both sides of our brains. Whereas we can receive the instruction that is handed down through the generations, there is something about listening to other women tell their stories that help us circumnavigate those internal barriers that we often barrel into.

nullDiscipleship that Fits by Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom is excellent and should be read by pastors and students of ministry. In short, the book talks about the 5 sociological structures (Public (large crowds), Social (20-70 people); Personal (4-12 people), Transparent (one or two other people); Divine (you and God)) that we gather in and outlines the simple truths that 

  1. “God disciples us
  2. God disciples us through relationships
  3. God disciples us through relationships differently in different relational contexts.” (l. 314)

consequently, leaders need to look at the 5 sociological structures (or relational contexts) and understand the unwritten agreements that are already inherent in each to best be part of what God is doing in that context. (Social agreements would be something like you don’t share your most personal information with complete strangers.)

I am a big believer in whole-life discipleship – that God is always at work and that He uses every situation to mature and form us to be more like Him. This book is a fantastic and fascinating look at this through a particular lens.

 

Are you curious?

curiousCurious people make great employees. They don’t just do what they are told, they push to improve, think outside the box, and find a new approach.

On a connected thought, I listened to this TEDTalk this morning by Adam Grant. It turns out that successful people leave space for creativity. After they get started on an idea, they wait (we call it procrastination), letting ideas gel and obstacles work themselves out.

These two thoughts connect with my morning contemplation of scripture. Here are the verses I’m thinking on:

“For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished.” (John 5:20 NLT)

 

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12 NLT)

There is no verse in the bible that convicts me quite like John 14:12. I wonder – will I ever, in my life, do works that are “even greater”?

The key might lie in John 5:19. Jesus is talking to the Jewish leaders who are pretty ticked off that Jesus is working on the Sabbath. Not only did he heal someone, but then he had the audacity to call God father. Just when they were reaching for rocks to throw at him (figuratively in this instance), he said, “I can’t do anything by myself.” Not very God-like. What is Jesus up to?

Jesus goes on to explain (referring to himself in the third person): “he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

So here is my thought: If I am not accomplishing “greater things,” is it possible that I’m not waiting to see what God is doing? Is it possible that I’ve tried to apply God’s power to my ideas instead of discovering what God is up to? What if, instead, I became curious. Instead of rushing ahead to accomplish things, I waited to see what God is up to.

In Matthew, we hear Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:2-4)

Are you curious?

 

What is your ministry?

ministryI started reading Scatter this morning and almost didn’t put it down. Seriously, I read 18% of the book before I left for work.  Andrew Scott gets ministry.

Here are a couple of quotes:

“A new paradigm is needed – one in which we recognize that all of life is where every believer gets to be a “full-time” follower of Jesus.”

 

“This generation has learned to worship in the church but seems unwilling to worship in the world.”

 

“A good measurement of true compassion is resulting action.”

For a while now, I’ve seen what many consider “ministries” – like greeting, ushering, etc., not as ministries, but as things you do because you belong – much like setting and clearing the table at a family gathering – not a chore or your purpose in the family, but something you do because you are part of a family.

Your ministry is how you make a difference in a world that doesn’t know Jesus. What is your ministry? Are you satisfied?

Messy is not sin

messy “Messy is not sin.” This is the quote from 40 Days of Decrease, my devotion for Lent.

The sentence keeps rolling around in my head today. I like clean lines. I like smooth emotions. I like life to not be messy – because messy hurts. Messy is a bit like pruning (or a destruction derby, depending on the day).

The question is – do I love the people around me enough to let them be messy?

In order to be better at letting people be messy, we have to be better at crucial conversations and creative problem solving. People are important. The growth we get from working through issues is worth the mess.

We all have different ways of dealing with stress – fight, flight or freeze. On my best days, I freeze. Most of the time, I flee – fast. On rare occasion, I have been known to step in front of the teenage freight train (I have several of them) and actually fight – because that is what the child needed.

While there are healthy ways to approach each of these tendencies, each approach has a downside. Freezing can miss critical moments. Fleeing might squash people’s emotions instead of helping them work through it. Fighting without boundaries can squash people and debilitate them. Embracing messy gives us the freedom to work through things slowly enough that freezing means listening, fleeing means regrouping to approach a situation with grace and wisdom, and fighting means having a critical conversation about what really matters.

I am very tempted right now to go back and make this a nice linear blog post that explains my conclusions – but messy is not sin, and messy can be helpful – so I will leave you with this:

What is messy about your life that you need to embrace?

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