To be a Jonathan

The Bible is filled with incredible narratives. There are stories of true heroes trusting in God to deliver them from giants to sickness to invading armies. Often the hero, once delivered, takes on a role of new prominence. Joseph finds himself in a pit, in prison, and unjustly treated. But a few years later he is ruling Egypt. Daniel was carried away to Babylon as boy yet quickly finds himself in the favor of kings. Certainly not all stories end with such drastic contrasts. Some record the person simply walking back to a normal life changed deeply by the mercy shown from God.

But there are other stories; those of heroes who sacrifice everything including their lives. There are heroes who follow their God-given convictions to their end in this life. Tertullian once stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We encounter one such hero in an unlikely place. His name was Jonathan.

As the son of a King, Jonathan was in line for the throne. His father, Saul, was the first King of Israel. A head taller than his kinsmen, Saul seemed the perfect choice. His tribe, the Benjamites were accomplished warriors. Who better to lead this nation to victory against the Philistines and others hoping to provide the security and rest God promised. To shorten the story, it didn’t work out that way. Saul fell short in both character and faith. David was anointed and a new hero was in the making. But the son of the king, the heir apparent, was still in the picture. How would Jonathan handle this abrupt change of plan and the loss of his future kingship?

Throughout the latter half of 1 Samuel, we watch the friendship of Jonathan and David grow. On more than one occasion, Jonathan challenges his own father defending his friend who consequently would take his place as king. Jonathan submitted to God’s plan and remained faithful though it would cost him his life. Jonathan died in battle, as necessary, for David to become the king God intended him to be.

Jonathan lived with the bigger picture in mind. He lived with God’s story as the primary narrative of life. He played a critical role courageously and sacrificially. He willingly gave up the crown to be faithful. If honest, the thought of Joseph’s or Daniel’s outcome is much more appealing. A time of trials followed by a long life of leadership and blessing seems more appropriate. But am I willing to joyfully live the life of Jonathan? Are we content to play the role God has for us faithfully without any expectation of the mountain top? We could easily ask the question, why David? With such faith present in Jonathan, why not let him take the reigns from his own father? It would seem to make more sense. And frankly, Scripture doesn’t give us that answer. Instead, God chose to do something quite amazing. He took the seventh son of Jesse from the unimportant town of Bethlehem to begin a line of kings eventually leading to Messiah.

There are so many Jonathans we will never read of, hear of, or personally appreciate. But we can be thankful for the faith of the spiritual giants who’ve gone before us. We rest on their shoulders and the foundation of their faithfulness. And some of us may be called to lay our very lives down knowing the plan isn’t moving our direction. Come to think of it, we all are.

Spiritual Openness

Recently, several conversations have centered around unique and interesting occurrences.  I have had the opportunity to participate in some of these and others, simply listen (some might call it eavesdropping but I prefer passive listening).  Some of these conversations have revolved around a particular experience with Christ and the Holy Spirit while others are void of any Christian influence altogether.  I am probably late to the game in this conclusion but it is interesting to note the spiritual openness of the coming generation.

It should come as no surprise.  the Post-Modern world values experience and feeling above all else.  Modern thinking relied almost exclusively on reason.  The modern influence of the 20th century on the American church often unknowingly sought to rationalize every supernatural work of the Holy Spirit of God.  Often churches were left void of power and dependent upon their own ingenuity and creativity to fuel church growth.  These are certainly broad generalizations and exceptions are not rare.  However, a new day is coming…

The post-modern way of thinking (in regards to spiritual openness) is having a tremendous influence on the church, both in positive and negative ways.  Positively, the church at large seems to be more aware of the need of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 6 clearly explains that the battle is not against flesh and blood, whether warring with the body or with the mind.  The battle is spiritual and in a realm that we cannot control nor explain.  We are dependent (as we have always been) on the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work God has called the Church to take on.  Negatively, the next generation appears to welcome this experiential faith with less regard for doctrine and Truth.  Experience trumps reason.  It is the battle cry of the post-modern era.  But this opens a dangerous door to heresy in the Christian Church.  And it is a heresy that will deeply divide.

So what do we do?  We return to the Truth of the Gospel. We become Berean (Acts 17).  We embrace the next generation and encourage their faith through discipleship and mentoring.  Whenever God has moved powerfully throughout history, the enemy usually acted to confuse and distort the genuine work.  We can expect the same.  For those raised in the age of reason, may we wake up to the reality of the spiritual realm and be moved to pray asking God to work, dependent upon His Spirit.  For those embracing a post-modern world, may we remember the foundational truths of Scripture.  They must interpret our experience and not the other way around.  Experiences cannot create beliefs.  Otherwise, we will give in to the greatest post-modern heresy believing that everyone determines what is right in his or her own eyes.  Let us learn from one another in all humility, examining the Scriptures to see exactly what God has said on the issues.  Finally, may we pray that this time of spiritual openness would lead others to embrace the Truth of the Gospel.

The Body of Christ

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16

We often rightly talk about the church as the body of Christ. Scripture clearly teaches about this concept and it is an amazing illustration of the believer’s relationship with Christ. Corporately, we are the body, and He alone is the head.  All of us have a tendency to either want to be the head or be able to influence it. It is a foreign concept to follow One we cannot see nor completely understand. The Israelites shared this same struggle to which they cried for a King, like all of the other nations (1 Samuel 8). The body must have a head, but it cannot be a man. Only One is qualified to lead the body. Only One has the wisdom, foresight, understanding, patience, love, and righteousness to lead perfectly. Understanding this then, leads to an amazing realization. Jesus chooses to use His body to accomplish His work.

The Head, who is Jesus Christ, perfect in every way, chooses to work though hands and feet that will spend their entire lives here struggling with their flesh. It is astounding to meditate on the simple reality that God not only loved us so much to send His Son to die on the Cross, but that He now chooses, in His patient love, to draw humanity to Himself through you and I. With our imperfect voices and lives, He speaks boldly and courageously. In our scattered priorities and busyness, He works to accomplish His purposes. Though I fail, He succeeds, and yet still uses me. The body of Christ is an intricate tapestry of believers gifted to live to the glory of God. Each hand, finger, leg, foot, and even toe is designed for balance to accomplish the work of the Head, who is Jesus Christ.

Thinking on these two truths, we can apply Ephesians 4:15-16. May we grow up into Jesus, who is the head of the body. May we align our lives to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). May we walk in such a way that we represent the Head well, whatever part of the body we are called to be (Ephesians 4:1). We are to be built on love and truth we are held together in Christ. Praise God that He chooses to work through His body. He has written us in to the great story of life. Let us play our role well, to His glory.

Smile

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Flipping through the PBS channel of late has brought to mind one of the best, in my opinion, documentaries ever compiled on the Civil War. Ken Burns masterfully walks through the bloodiest and most important war in American history. His documentary style has created what is known as the “Ken Burns effect” when viewing photographs. Still photos have never made great live shots until he invented the art of zooming in or out, bringing action to black and white photos taken 150 years ago. But it isn’t the artistry of the documentary that caught my attention. Instead, it was the photos themselves. Interestingly, very few of captured individuals are smiling.

I realize that war is certainly not a motivating factor to smile, but looking at a variety of pictures from that time reveals the same intriguing phenomenon. Exploring other photos of other cultures often portray the same sentiment, even modern photos. There are no smiles to be found. I am not sure when culture in America began insisting on our happiness in photographs. It is possibly the prosperity of the 1950’s or maybe just the evolution of culture across decades. However the process developed, and the result is, “Smile!”

Perusing family photos of weddings, vacations, birthdays and gatherings, one could conclude that life is always good and we are always happy. It is positive and reassuring to fondly remember the good times. But it has also created a mask. We see it every Sunday morning. Masses of smiling faces pile into Kingsland. Some just finished heated arguments, yelling at uncooperative kids, and rotating outfits because of the toddler’s need to throw breakfast across the kitchen. But we are smiling! Worse, some marriages are crumbling, relationships with sons and daughters straining, and the pain of lost love ones wells just beneath the surface. But we are smiling…

Colossians 1:11 states, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”. Displaying joy, when living by the power of Christ, is right and always appropriate. Demonstrating joy, however, is often not smiling at all. Attempting to look Christian, we can miss the source of much joy in the difficult journey of life. We miss His overcoming power because we rob the community of believers of our present reality. The Church, or body of Christ, is designed to love one another and support each other. Wearing the mask is only the illusion of strength. True strength in Christ is found in vulnerability with other believers. Joy then becomes a deep enduring foundation, held in the power of Christ, surrounded by His very body, the Church.

So the next time you feel the pressure to smile, make sure the mask is off first. The world looks on and knows our lives are not perfect, so let’s stop pretending they are. Who knows, we might discover real joy surrounded by the prayers and love of other Christians and the world might find our raw honesty refreshing.

Wisdom at Luby’s

Luby’s and I have a definitive love-hate relationship. My wife and I began eating there even before we were married. Dining in Waco always felt eclectic, even at chain restaurants. In other words, eating out was like a box of chocolates. Luby’s, however, was consistent. The food tasted the same, the process never changed, and the cliental, predictable. A few college students and young couples adorned the tables looking for their one taste of vegetables for the month but largely, the restaurant was filled with life’s seasoned veterans.

Looking back now, I wish we had taken the opportunity to simply pull up a chair at each table and listen to the amazing life stories embodied in those seniors. Instead, we observed from our table. We watched some couples struggle to find the right table while carrying a tray full of Luby’s delights. Others quickly nodded to one another when the “right” table appeared, often the last communication that would take place until the meal was finished. Many couples appeared to have a disconnected relationship. It was almost as though they had discussed everything life had to offer and now, marriage was speechless. Others just seemed sad, and even lonely, sitting across the table from the “one” of so long ago.

Every once in a while, the scene would change. As if a new wind blew through the dining hall, we would notice a couple that still gazed into one another’s eyes. After decades of marriage, they were still affectionate, attentive and loving. Those couples brightly defined an amazing word, intimacy.

In the middle of our youth, Jessie and I recognized that two paths stood before our marriage. Only one would continually require our very best. Only one would require focused intentionality and constant attention. And only one would lead to intimacy.

Our walk with Christ is the same. Going on a date (church) with Jesus once a week only reveals a shallow depth to our love and commitment. Paul wrote in Philippians that his life mission is to know Jesus – to foster intimacy with the creator of his very life.

Decades later, will the intimacy I have with Jesus Christ reveal the intentionality and commitment to grow today? Will I look more like Him as the sun sets each evening? My salvation is clear, but the depth of our intimacy requires my very best. He has already given His.

Autumn Breeze

The first cool front pummeled through Houston during the past 24 hours. Experiencing unrelenting heat and humidity for four months brings great appreciation to seasonal change. A cool breeze simply doesn’t happen during the summer this far South. But these later months ignite visions of northerly winds and light jackets. A certain brightness magnifies the clear blue sky and the dryness of the air invites a refreshingly deep breath. For a moment, the cares of the world fade and one can simply appreciate the moment.

The complications of life often mar the simplicity of living. Living is really taking a breath, eating a bite, hearing a song, laughing out loud and looking deeply into the eyes of one you love. I am beginning to appreciate that Life in Christ is the same. I complicate it often times with schedules, legalistic tendencies, self-imposed pressure and guilt. Living in Christ is simply reading His breath, tasting His goodness, worshipping the one who created songs, laughing at trials, and looking deeply into the eyes of the One who loves me more than I can understand.

Don’t misunderstand, suffering takes place throughout the world and injustice exists. Many people throughout the world won’t have the privilege of appreciating an autumn breeze. Those burdens are one’s I care about but they are not one’s I can carry. Today, the breeze reminds of me to pause doing and just “be” for a moment. It reminds me to cast off everything that entangles my heart and mind and live simply. It reminds me to joy and pleasure in His presence and at His hand (Psalm 16). So much competes for our attention and so much promises pleasure and fulfillment. Yet, with Iphone in pocket, and Starbucks in hand, my delight is in the Lord. There is no worthy joy or pleasure outside of His presence.

Thank you God for an autumn breeze.

Follow-through

Bowling is one of the most popular sports in America, though some struggle to label it a sport. I would conclude it is a sport because of its competitive nature, score-keeping, some athletic ability is required and it has aired on ESPN (at least ESPN2). While bowling is certainly available to the masses and requires little training to play, a definite chasm exists between casual bowlers and competitive masters. Aside from their designer wrist-guards, highly-personalized bowling balls and shoes reminding all of an era gone by, these men and women truly have talent for hurling a weighted ball at 10 unsuspecting odd-shaped targets.

I remember learning to bowl in 4th grade. Rosedell Elementary began an after-school program and I was enrolled. My grandpa was an avid bowler and my parents still had their bowling paraphernalia of a decade earlier. I thought I might have the gene. After a great deal of time and practice, I learned to hold my own but it never amounted the career I dreamed (ok, not really dreamed). However, the most important lesson I learned from a true expert was to follow-through. You could step the right steps, release the ball well, and even look great doing it, but without follow-though, the ball would likely miss most of the abused ten pins. What I believed about the ball and its trajectory mattered little without good follow-through. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a bowler. But without good follow-through, I was utterly ineffective.

James 2 begins painting a picture of follow-through. He opens the chapter with a challenge to treat everyone equally with love and a heart to serve. The church was no place for partiality. Brothers and sisters in Christ are equal no matter their upbringing, race, socio-economic status or appearance. He then follows this discussion by writing a difficult passage about Faith and Works. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) Remember that taken in context, James isn’t discussing salvation but instead refuting ineffective and apathetic Christianity. These Christians were still lacing up their shoes, pulling out their colorful ball, and displayed their league and team colors. But they lacked follow-through.

Scripture is full of mandates to effectively follow-through your beliefs. If we say we really believe something, like Scripture, why do we not live like it? Why do I not? My kids, my neighbors, my co-workers and my friends are watching my follow-through every day. Frankly, they don’t care what I look like or if my ball curves brilliantly down the lane. They are watching to see if the pins fall. They are watching to see if I am faithful to live what I say I believe. Only then will I attract them to this amazing game. Only then will they see that it isn’t a game at all. How’s your follow-through?

Banner

Presidential elections seem to bring out the best and worst in each of us. They are polarizing. Voters choose sides and often vehemently defend their candidate. Yet, inevitably, only months later, disappointment sets it. Historically, the political affiliation the new president holds matters little. Lofty promises and lack of delivery send approval ratings spiraling downward. The speeches made, debates fought and strong campaign posture rallied the candidates troops under the banner of his name. But as reality set in, we recognize again that this is American politics.

However, there is another name by which men and women have rallied. It is a banner which has stood firm through the test of time and pain. This banner has been proven faithful and just even in the darkest times of humanity. From its first flight in Exodus 17 to the victory waved at the cross, the banner still flies today with unfailing faithfulness and the promise of life, real life.

King David, in Psalm 20:7, penned a simple verse, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Imagine a time when military might was measured in cavalry and chariots. They were far superior to the Israelite foot soldiers. The technology of the day rested on the mighty nations such as Egypt and the Philistines. Yet David laid aside the things so easy to place trust in. He acknowledged the appearance of power found in military might and technology could not stand against the name of the Lord. For the name of the Lord was their banner. He was the rallying cry that stood against any enemy. Under that banner, any foe could be vanquished no matter how obscene the odds. He is sovereign!

So it begs the question, what do I trust in? Under what banner do I regularly reside? When circumstances take difficult turns, which banner do I rally to? Which name do I trust? It is certainly easy to proclaim allegiance to Christ. It is far more difficult to live that allegiance practically. I can see the chariots and horses and they carry the appearance of power. But in the end, they will fail to deliver on their promise of security, wealth and power.

His name is the only one worthy of trust. He is the only One who keeps every promise. He is true, always. The Lord is our banner.

Law

A couple of months ago during the early evening, three of the five of our family piled in the car to escape our house for a moment. Adventurously, we traveled less than five miles to a family favorite drive-up institution affectionally called “Sonic.” After ordering our small apple juices and a large diet coke with cherry, we ventured home. While approaching home, my 2 year old accidentally inverted her beverage. Some spilled on her lap. One of the greatest things about Sonic drinks is the ice which keeps the drink very cold. Spilling a sonic drink in your lap often transfers that cold feeling to an uncomfortable level. She cried out and I decided that coming to a complete stop at the approaching stop sign simply wasn’t necessary. Fifteen minutes later, holding a small pink piece of paper, I realized the officer didn’t see things the same way. Alas, I had broken the law and my sin was ever before me, spelled c-i-t-a-t-i-o-n.

The laws we live by are designed with certain purposes and functions in mind. Whether I agree with those purposes and functions matter little. The law simply tells me when I am wrong. It doesn’t affirm the hours of driving well nor does it take into consideration circumstances. The law simply tells me when I am wrong. Growing up in small churches across our country, I developed a sense of God’s law in my life. When I behave well, God is pleased and I am treated with peace, love, and some level of comfort. Sin, breaking God’s law, is punished with guilt, pain, and a feeling of lost favor with God. My actions determine God’s level of love for me and his favor is dependent on how well I am following the law. By law, I don’t mean the Mosaic law or the laws of the Old Testament though that might be part of it. Law indicates this internal code by which I make God happy with me.

Two major issues surface here. One, God’s love, favor and blessing become dependent on me. I essentially begin to earn His love. Two, the law becomes void of a relationship with Jesus. While it may sound so churchy, rules void of a relationship will only lead to bitterness, frustration, and rebellion. Many parents have seen this in their grown kids. Both of these issues create incredible problems in light of Scripture. The law challenges me to be a good moral person. Often, this seems a noble goal! But God doesn’t want good moral people who don’t relate to Him. For whatever reason, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to repair a torn relationship. Sin severed the ties between God and His beautiful creation known as humanity. For thousands of years, creation anticipated the restoration of God with His people.

Jesus was crucified to defeat sin and sin’s result, death. The reality is, I can’t do it. I can’t stop sin in my own life. I long to but I don’t have the ability. Only through a relationship, and adoption, can I find reprieve. So what does this mean?

Instead of trying hard not to sin, I need to talk to and hear from God. Instead of making every effort to eliminate sinful influence, I need to draw near to the influence of my Father. I have spent much of my life trying not to mess up, to fail. Instead, God desires me to rest in Him. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds of the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) The connection is a relationship with the Spirit, the God of the Universe who lives inside me. Choosing to take off the nature of sin is then replaced with putting on life in Christ. My sin has been taken care of, but not because I am a moral good person. I am wretched and my flesh runs from God. But only in receiving His grace, extended to all mankind, did I become free. Peace fills my heart because my sin is dealt with and the law (which shows me when I have sinned) has been fulfilled.

Still Wobbly…

I have a confession to make. It is difficult to admit but true nonetheless. I like quiche. I am addicted to eggs, cheese and that amazing pastry pie crust. Together, they make a mouthwatering combination with a feminine name. About a month ago, my wife Jessie decided to use a quiche recipe she discovered. Considering the booming preschool population at our home, times arise where I must learn to check to the food in the oven for completeness. The litmus test for quiche – is it still wobbly?

Paul, sensing the end of his life, penned a powerful epitaph in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These inspiring words have launched many sermons and emboldened those facing persecution or death. This verse paints a vivid picture of a man completely devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ now laying down after a long journey running full speed. Yet it is not the finish that makes Paul’s marathon meaningful but every step along the way. At another time, we read these words, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

Accomplishment and success can easily lead to complacency. In our walk with Christ, complacency often results in a comfortable feeling of arrival. Or in quiche terms, we become “set”. I have been in the oven of Christendom more that seventeen years and I find it easy to “set” living a comfortable life with my wife and 2.3 (really 3) children in suburban America. However, the words of Scripture draw me to a place of wobbliness. I must recognize that I am far from complete and will only reach that moment when my fight is complete as well. But for now, I have to keep fighting, keep running, keep the faith real and life-changing. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the strength, courage and prodding to live wobbly lives. No matter how many years the oven browns us on the surface, may our hearts remain flesh, moldable and movable by an unpredictable and untamable God.

Are you still wobbly?