Play Nice

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

 – Rom 12.18

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

 – Rom 14.19

Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

 – 2 Cor 13.11

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 – Eph 4.1-3

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

 – Col 3.15

 

Being bullied by a 7th grader.

microphone

Everytime I am mid-conversation and the opportunity arises to share the Gospel, I get nervous.  I have been a Christian for years, I have spoken in public arenas, to audiences of 8,000+, I have talked about Jesus most of my life and now share the Gospel every day as part of my job, but for some reason when it comes telling Jesus’ story and offer of salvation I still get nervous.

Christians often ponder what it is exactly that makes us nervous to share the Gospel and and typically the answer is the fear of offending someone (because no one wants to tell someone else or be told that they are sinful and deserve damnation because of it), or the fear of being rejected.

I work for a Christian non-profit, and my job is to manage volunteers.  I get up to 100 volunteers a day and as part of daily orientation I get to share the Gospel with them.  Well more than half of my volunteers are not from church groups, and I have been opposed many times – both in private and publicly.  I tend to find that my level of nerves ebbs and flows with my audience.  For some reason I am comfortable to speak to the elderly and to the younger, but when my peers who are professionals walk in, I get nervous.  Weird.

Yesterday I had a group of twenty five eleven to thirteen year olds with chaperons.  My nerves were not bothered.  I got halfway into the story of Jesus and a young man interrupted me to ask about something from earlier in the orientation.  I thought nothing of it, responded and went back to Jesus’ story.  At the end, some of the girls were quite vocal that they were uncomfortable that I was talking about Jesus because they are Jewish.  I found it strange that they were attempting to play 7th grade peer pressure and intimidation on me.  As I contemplated their endeavor a young man walked up to me and said, “You handled yourself very well, I respect that” and walked away.

Knowing my legal rights and my company’s identity, I have lost the fear of being politically incorrect to speak about Jesus, and speaking to a group of young people simply did not cause me reservation.  But this young man noticed their social games.  He struck me as a very mature middle school kid, in his verbiage and observation of what was happening.

Why then do I have timidity when it comes to my peers?  Why would those social games of intimidation work on me if I were looking someone eye to eye?  Or would they?

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

– John 15.18-19

We are not of this world and the world is not going to understand us.  In fact, if we are living like Christ did, they are going to hate us.  We are aliens in this world:  we do not and should not fit in (1 Peter 2.11).  We should not be comfortable because we know our Savior and home is awaiting us.   We are looking forward to another world. Therefore we should not be affected by what people think or say.  We should be so confident that if someone attempts social “bullying” we do not even realize it because it does not impact us.  

We should, however, be driven by the fact that they do not yet know.  Our love for God should lead us to true and genuine compassion for the lost soul headed to Hell.  Let’s approach the judgment throne smelling like smoke for trying to pull people back from Hell’s gates.  Jesus died for us, we can make an effort for others.

But most of us are impacted because are still dying to our flesh.  So when you open your mouth to speak, ask the Lord to give you the words – He promises that He will:

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.  For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

– Matt 10.19-20

And trust Him that only He changes hearts.  Try and see if you don’t feel a wonderful sense of joy in your obedience after sharing, regardless of the response!  Just let Jesus shine through you, because He does – after all – live in you!

Body Image?

self image

I am a woman.  I have heard the conversations about body image, eating disorders, diet and exercise all of my life, just like you.  Some companies have attempted to push back against pop culture’s position on beauty by advertising to “normal people” using women who have shape.  Celebrities speak out often to affirm that they themselves do not have perfect bodies and encourage women to be confident that they are beautiful just the way that they are.  “Believe in yourself” and “You are beautiful” is the mantra we preach to our preteen girls, hoping to release them from the cycle of self-loathing and comparison.

But that’s not the answer, is it?  

I studied performance piano in college.  Having started classical lessons when I was very small, I learned to play by ear around the age of thirteen and enjoyed it immensely.  I would sit for hours at the piano, figuring out songs, playing old favorites, memorizing classical pieces and preparing to play at church most Sundays.  I never compared myself much to others, as I simply did not have many friends who played.  I simply loved it.  But when I went to college, I was surrounded by the best in the world.  The practice building was round, with two rings of rooms (one inside of the other) five+ stories high.  The rooms themselves were insulated so you could not hear the surrounding rooms from within, but the doors let sound seep through to the hallway.  For the most part, I loved the music that I played.  But as I would walk those long halls to my practice room I could hear hundreds of other pianists perfecting their art on much more intricate and beautiful pieces than I would ever dream of playing.

There is always someone better.

There is always someone more beautiful.

There is always someone smarter.

There is always someone more talented.

Is the answer to just make peace with yourself and say, “It is how it is.”?  Is the answer to find self confidence in who you are and your abilities and appearance and scream from the rooftops, “Stop judging me!”?  I once heard a mother say that she would never speak to her daughter any affirmation or condescension about her appearance.  She thought that if appearance was never a conversation the girl would never think about it.

Ignoring reality, trying to redefine reality, being self-confident in reality are all shots in the dark and leave unanswered the root problem:  sin.

Self absorption is a sin.  It is called pride.  Self-loathing is pride expressing itself negatively and arrogance is pride expressing itself affirmingly.  Both are wrong.  Why?  Because ultimately it’s not about me and it’s not about you.

God has given us bodies and abilities to be used unto His glory.  Our physical bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we have been charged to be good stewards of them (1 Cor 6.9).  That means we must take care of them!  Exercise and thoughtful eating are important, but must be done unto the glory of God.  To thank Him and praise Him for the life that He has given us and to care for the temple which He has entrusted to us.  If we diet and exercise for vanity’s sake, that is pride.  If we refuse to diet and exercise and take care of ourselves, that is sinful too.  We do not have to be in perfect, swim-suit ready shape, but we do need to make an effort to be healthy, for His sake.

He has also given us talents and abilities to serve His Church and Him.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

– 1 Peter 4.10

We should refine those gifts and skills unto God’s glory.  We serve the creator of the universe.  The very one who invented and dreamed up music, art, preaching, teaching, cleaning, encouraging, etc.  So to do something not unto the best of our ability shows the value we place on Him.  If we are too busy to be prepared for service (in music, in teaching, whatever) then we show the priority that He takes in our lives.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

– Col 3.17

What does the mean practically?  Some might say, “I can’t just stop thinking about how I look” or constantly be comparing themselves in ability.  We must fight it like any other sin:  It starts in the mind.  The moment these thoughts come up, take them captive by Scripture and prayer.  Instead of praying, “God help be me confident in how you have made me” we pray, “God I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I want to honor you with how I care for my body.  Help me represent you well in my habits and appearance.”  Attack the thoughts.  Set a plan.  Pray.  Turn to God and focus on Him.  Because there will always be someone prettier, smarter, funnier or more talented.  So let us give unto God the best of our abilities and do it all for His glory, rather than our own.

The problem with our prayer.

I have a problem with my prayer life.  Way more often than not my prayer is,

“Lord, bless me as I  [fill in the blank] .”

or

“Lord, be with me as I  [fill in the blank] .

Help me to honor you while I  [fill in the blank] .

Am I wrong to ask God’s blessing on my endeavors?  It is the desire of my heart that those things in which I choose to invest my time and energy to be blessed of God.

However.

When was the last time you stopped before an event, activity or endeavor for which you are asking blessing and simply asked God, “Lord, is this what you want me to do?”  Or better yet, when was the last time you thought about the future and just asked, “God what do you want me to do?”

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”  

 – James 4.13-15

Everything that we do is only that which God permits.  He is in control and he knows our steps, our hours and every intimate detail of our lives.

The mind of man plans his way, 
But the Lord directs his steps.

 – Prov 16.9

And while it is true that God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, He has given us instructions and He has expectations of us for how we live our lives.  So, for the sake of making a point, we know that God will not bless us or condone us – even if we ask Him to – if our prayer is,

“God, bless me while I murder these people.”

or

“God, be with me while I rob this bank.”

God will not eternally bless or join with us in spirit in our sin.  Unfortunately, what we often fail to recognize is that the Bible teaches us that whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  Therefore we can do morally neutral or even good deeds, but apart from faith they are sinful.  And asking God’s blessing over our plans that have been established without His input is as ludicrous as asking Him to bless us while we rob a bank!

If we attempt to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard without the leadership of God and His prompting, it will fail.  Perhaps you will convince the person in his mind, but it is only God who gives life, and it will not be a genuine conversion.  If you share the Gospel under the compulsion of the Spirit, you may see no immediate fruit, but it is under His authority that we can remember,

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; 
It will not return to Me empty, 
Without accomplishing what I desire, 
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

 – Is 55.11

If we set off on a road trip and ask God to bless our travels, we might have a blast and no hitches along the way.  But if God was not sought in the preparation and if He was given no thought other than a request for safety, it was not of Him.  If we plan a trip through prayer and thoughtfulness, we might break down, have an accident or get robbed – but we know it was His plan and that He has a greater purpose in it.

God’s blessing does not necessarily mean our comfort.  God’s presence does not always mean our success.  Sometimes He blows our minds with his kindness, and sometimes He allows us to go through persecution and trials for our Spiritual growth and well being.  We know that to be like Christ, we will be hated and persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).  Why then do we not expect it?

But what we can be sure of, if we do anything apart from faith, it is sin.  And even if our activities go how we want and according to plan, God is not in them and is consequently not honored.

In much the same way we exemplify our lack of faithfulness in planning or preparation when we approach God and pray,

“We welcome you here today.”

or

“God, we invite you into this place today.”

At face value, this prayer exemplifies our lack of understanding of the nature of God.  He is everyone.  At all times.  We cannot escape His presence, power or authority (Ps 139).  We will not walk into a void church building, home or office complex and bring God with us, or invite Him to follow us.  But on a deeper and more serious level, it portrays the extent of our individualism and arrogance to assume that we have anything to offer Him.  We approach the throne of grace, we do not invite God to enter into our presence.  We get on our knees and recognize the fact that we deserve nothing, but his loving kindness reaches out and welcomes us and forgives us.  He is God.  He is perfect.  He is sovereign.  We are not.

So let’s stop making our own path.  Let’s stop writing our own plan.  Let’s ask God what He wants for our lives.  Let’s examine the Scriptures to understand what Jesus taught about how we should live our lives and then test our pleasures, our activities, our work, our free time, our everything against that infallible word!  And let’s trust Him that when we have examined His Word, when we have surrendered our desires, when we have sought His guidance and wisdom, that whatever happens is for His glory and our good (Rom 8.28).

worship leader

Do you have a mentor?

The Christian life is intended to be life-on-life discipleship, accountability, growth and maturation.  Jesus came and spent three years solid with twelve guys, teaching them Scripture, application, obedience, discipleship and simply how to love God and one another.  Then he sent them out to do exactly what He had modeled for them:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.19-20

Jesus instructed the disciples to go and make disciples – and the way that they were supposed to make disciples was to 1) baptize them, and 2) teach them to obey Jesus’ commandments.  I am from a denomination that historically has been very numbers driven:  how many baptisms have we had?  How many new members can we draw?  Once someone has joined the church, he is never removed from the roster unless he asks to be and our attendance is maybe one third of our listed membership.

And while there are some denominations that have the strength of relationship and discipleship, this is an overall trend of our society and culture:  to never get real.  Our egos are so sensitive that we cannot hear instruction.  Consequently, the moment we realize we are wrong or someone else points out our failures, we move on.  There are always new friends.  And if not,we prefer to be alone anyway!  We hold grudges, we form opinions about people and never invest to see someone grow in the Lord.

I am the most guilty of it.  I have a tendency to see people the way that they are, and to believe the words of old, “People never change”.  I do not see people for how they could be, how God could redeem or transform a situation or attitude.  But Godly love sees God’s [potential] redemption in another’s life.  It believes that God is ready and willing to intervene and we need to be learning and teaching.

So I ask, do you have a mentor?  Do you have a mentee?

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

– 2 Tim 2.2

Paul was miraculously saved from a life of persecuting the Church.  He then went and spent three years alone with God, being taught by the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament.  Then he came back and caught up with Peter and some of the disciples to compare notes.  Then he got busy about being one of the greatest missionaries of all time.  He learned directly from God.  He taught Timothy, and he instructed Timothy to teach those things to other men who could teach even more men.  Four generations are noted in this one instruction, the very foundation for genuine and deep transformation and multiplication.

While there is a comfort in peer accountability, there is also a danger.  If I ask a friend who has the same struggles as me and the same knowledge and experience as me to keep me in check, there is a temptation to let it slip and there is an ease to justify the sin when it occurs.  We both know we both are going to screw up, so we comfort one another in our failures.  But when we submit ourselves to someone who has achieved maturity and has defeated that sin in their lives, we feel guilty to confess our sin to that person.  Not because they will judge us, but because we know that we will not get away with it.

Likewise, we need to be concerned about people coming in behind us.  If we do not entrust the things that are being taught to us to the younger people behind us, the next generation will be lost.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Paul taught Titus to have the older women teach the younger women how to love their children, among other things.  Peer mothers cannot really teach one another that, it is learned through experience.  And young mothers can teach youth and teenage girls how to handle temptations and life.

So who is pouring into your life and teaching you?  Who are you teaching and mentoring?  Let’s not let the cycle stop with us.  Let’s get real with one another, open up our hearts and our experiences, and invest in those ahead of us on the road and those behind.  Do you need a mentor?  Look around and find a person who has lived the kind of life you want to live, and just ask them.  If they can’t do it, ask them for a suggestion!  Let’s get real.

mentor

Because I’m happy!

What is truth?

 – John 18.38

A few weeks ago I was home and my mom introduced me to a song that apparently the entire world already knew except for me, “Happy” by Pharrell.  Ironically, the pastor at their church spoke to the theology and cultural tendencies revealed in just one short sentence of the chorus the very next morning.

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Happiness is the truth.

What does that even mean?  The next two phrases characterize beautifully the prevalent values in our culture:  individualism and tolerance.  “Clap along if you know what happiness is to you” and “clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”.  I am not going to make you clap along, but you are welcome to join in if you want to.  It’s totally up to you.  And we all have our own definition of happiness and consequently truth, so clap along if you have figured it out for yourself!

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

 – John 8.31-32

When Jesus spoke of the truth, He spoke of an absolute truth.  It is not different for me than it is for you.  It is how He defines it and it only sets us free if we know it as He teaches it.  When we know Him, and the truth that He teaches – only then can we hear His voice:

“For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

 – John 18.37

Does Jesus’ truth of the Gospel make us happy?  Absolutely.  There is no greater pleasure on this Earth or in eternity than knowing and experiencing God.  But happiness is most certainly not the truth.  Happiness is a temporary consequence of knowing the truth.  But happiness ebbs and flows, and even though it is written in our declaration of independence that we are all free unto life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, happiness in and of itself provides us with nothing.  And life is not completed or defined by happiness.

Otherwise, how do we reconcile believers who remained joyful and strong during the Holocaust like Corrie Ten Boom?  What about the church for her first 380 years who existed as persecuted, hated, murdered and scattered – but went from a handful of people to the predominant religion of the world?  What about the faithful generation through both of the World Wars or the Great Depression?

What about this brave Sudanese woman who has been sentenced to death by hanging because she will not renounce her faith and turn to Islam:

Christian-woman

Do you think she is happy right now?  Perhaps she has the joy of the apostles who were “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5.41), but I doubt that she has a happiness that will clap along with this very catchy tune.  

There is only one truth, and it is not happiness.  In fact, it is centered in grasping reality and understanding our own sinfulness and the consequence of that sinfulness.  That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, and “those who mourn” (Matt 5.3-4).  Not because Jesus wants us to be gloomy and depressed, but because we can never truly be happy or joyful until we realize the depth of our wickedness, the height of His goodness, the breadth of His mercy and the weight of our forgiveness.  When we understand our sinfulness, we will mourn.  When we sin after having been forgiven, we realize that we are indeed poor in Spirit.  It is only then that we can rely on and trust in God through Jesus.

Jesus is the Truth.  He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6)!  And when we know Him, He sets us free.

So go ahead.  Clap along.  If you know that Jesus Christ has set you free from the bondage of sin and death.  He has forgiven you of your sins by paying your punishment and raising again.  But please remember.  Happiness is not the truth.  And Truth is not relative.  Truth is Jesus Christ.  And there will be times that you and I are not happy, but there is joy unspeakable and full of glory even through the trials and tribulations (1 Peter 1.8).

Amazing Love, How Can it Be?

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

 – Charles Wesley

and can it be