Go Away

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
                                                                                                Matthew 28:19-20

Most of us have heard at some time or another the simple yet profound definition of insanity: to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Yet we often find ourselves trapped in the system we’ve constructed that is familiar, comfortable and lacking results. The American Church at large finds itself here far too often. Over the past 40 years in America, we’ve concluded that the best way to influence culture and share the message of Christ is to create grand centers for life and existence in Christian community. There is little doubt of the purity of motivation behind this constructed system. Create large buildings with massive amenities; bring powerful speakers with powerful messages; organize music and environments to be comfortable and moving; and do it all to reach the world for Christ. However, the results have been disappointing.

The Church today continues to lose influence in the culture. Massive buildings with coffee shops and restaurants have resulted in a festering ground for Christian bacteria. Language begins to morph into Christian speak. Our shirts become billboards of cheesy slogans and even our picture frames display Scripture verses. We replicate all of culture’s best at a substandard par and separate ourselves from culture increasingly more. Wrigley’s mints just aren’t good enough, ours need to have a cross and Scripture reference. In essence, we’ve stopped going and those who are without Christ quit coming.

One of the final statements Jesus makes on earth is found at the end of Matthew 28. The first word of verse 19, “Go”, is best translated, “as you are going.” Jesus told His disciples to go about life and as you do, make disciples. There is so much to pick apart here but I really want to focus on the word “Go” or “as you are going”. We, the Church, have spent so much energy trying to get those far from God to draw close to us. Yet Scripture so clearly calls us to go. We spend so much time making our services friendly to those not following Christ yet often my car barely turns off before the garage door clangs shut.

Before the Scripture even reaches the words “make disciples”, it tells us to go. For our context, maybe the words should read, “go away” or “go home”. Speaking in broad general terms, I believe so much time is spent getting the dark to come toward the light. Yet it seems that influence means taking the light into darkness.

Discipleship begins by going away. It is time to leave the church premises and enter the neighborhoods, walk the streets, play in our front yards, and invite those distant people next door into our homes. The culture is looking for a message of hope, purpose and community. What are they seeing as we go?

Do I Cheat?

Because of what I do, I often hear the stories that shake families. Stories of husbands who never meant to, of wives who simply got carried away in the moment resound throughout the hallways and offices. Most began the journey innocently and after a series of subtle compromises discovered they were past the point of no return (or so they thought). It is one of the most difficult things to hear and even more challenging is watching the face of the one receiving the news. A faithful husband discovers his wife has been seeing a neighbor or co-worker. A loving wife’s heart breaks as her husband confesses news that will take years, if not a lifetime, to work through.

I have often heard and even studied the incredible parallels Scripture draws between marriage and Jesus’ relationship with the Church. We are called His Bride. Scripture even details a wedding ceremony and covenant of sorts dating back to the giving of the law to Moses and Israel. Upon becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, I became the bride of Christ and said yes to the covenant of “marriage”. Out of love and passion, God gave His Word, the Bible, to lead and guide every believer in relationship to Him. Living according to HIs ways leads to an amazing abundant life. It is a life build on God’s grace, love and mercy and the covenant necessitates my obedience.

I can’t imagine or comprehend ever sitting down with my wife and hearing her confession of unfaithfulness. Nor can I grasp the idea that she would one day tell me that she is bringing another person into our covenant with no regard for me. What is holy and sacred would become filthy and desecrated. Our covenant and my trust would be destroyed and my intense love for her would fuel a passion expressed in anger and tears.

After thinking so personally about this covenant that I share with my amazing wife, it hit me for the first time. Years of study and understanding of the bride of Christ symbolism hadn’t pierced my heart. Yet such a personal perspective brought a real lump to my throat. How can I treat sin so casually in my relationship with Christ? How can I make excuse for pride, discontentment, or any other “pet” sin I choose to keep and subtly feed? It is no wonder that God’s anger burned with Israel and the Church when they turned from Him! It is not simply wrath, rage, or purposeless anger but instead the heart of a Holy God who gave His Son to redeem mankind. It is the passion of a God who loves me like I love my wife, actually, much much more.

Today, I am thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ because my sin was dealt with there. I am thankful for the resurrection of Jesus Christ because my death was dealt with there. Today, I am also thankful for the righteous anger of God fueled by a love for me I cannot comprehend.

Oh how he loves you and me…

Forgetting What Lies Behind

Have you ever traveled the proverbial road down memory lane? Or possibly the physical road of past homes and lives? Our memory often plays games with reality and easily brings forward the good thoughts often shadowing challenges and difficulties. One stroll, without emotional checks in place, can lead us on a path of memory bliss and if not careful – will cloud the thoughts of the present. Current struggles become impassable mountains and reminiscent waterfalls and fields of flowers overtake the current hardship. But, it is an illusion.

I love cold weather. Well, I at least love the thought of cold weather. I live in Houston and have lived in the South most of my life. Other than the South, I’ve lived in Southern California. Cold weather brings refreshment and the crisp air sharpens the senses. An occasional snow fall every few years adds so much interest to an average “warm” winter. Recently when discussing the lack of cold weather with one who lived a more northern life, he informed me that any winter without snow was a good one. After years of shoveling endless white powder to clear a miniscule path by which to drive, coupled with months of dreary skies and layering clothes, his perspective accurately reflected life in cold weather. I had only imagined it with ski poles in hand.

In Philippians 3, Paul writes an encouragement to press on toward the goal of Christ Jesus. But before pressing on, he challenges us to forget what lies behind. I’ve typically read this passage and believed the intention is for me to forget the negative failures and struggles that can so easily guilt the mind to inaction. But likewise, I believe this verse also encourages us to forget the successes that might hinder action as well. Our mind has this peculiar way or reminding us of the good of the past without balance. My success then paves the road for pride, arrogance, and my inevitable fascination with me. We are also reminded of the perceived pleasure of greener grasses far off. In the quest to find heaven on earth, we quickly lose the battle of contentment. This passage encourages us to forget what lies behind, both good, bad, both could-be good, and could-be bad. We are challenged to strain toward God’s call.

It isn’t wrong to take an occasional stroll down memory lane or even gaze at the grass. We just have to be reminded that we live here and now and God has great things He wants to do here and now through us. After all, all of this is for His glory and not comfort or contentment. Learn from the past and strive for the goal of the upward call of Christ Jesus. Otherwise we will spend our days seeking illusive pastures and imaginative yesteryears.

Right

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2

Making decisions is undoubtedly one of the most stressful life experiences. Thousands of decisions are made each day ranging from the mundane of choosing shoes to wear to the life-altering. The more life-impacting, the more stressful the decision. I am thankful God gave us a brain and thought processes to evaluate each decision. Often times these procedures, however they look for each individual, lead to good choices resulting in positive life strides. Why then should we be concerned with decisions if we have such positive abilities and acumen on our side?

The statement Proverbs 21:2 makes centers on a simple little word, “right.” How does one define right? Is it the best for a person’s life? Does a right decision lead to more success, more wealth, more peace, more stability? Does a right decision lead to an easier, less complicated life? Is right the same for each person? I guess that is the point of Proverbs 21:2. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. I don’t believe this verse is necessarily condemning what is right in a person’s mind but instead challenging the idea that we have it all together and figured out. The verse preceding this one illustrates that even a King is like a stream in God’s hand – God controls the flow and sends it wherever He desires.

I believe God cares about each decision we make. All of them have consequences, some greater and some lesser, but consequences none the less. But how often even in the greater decisions do I perform do-diligence and make the best decision void of the One who sees the forest and the trees. Followers of Christ have this unique indwelling of the very God of the universe. The Holy Spirit equips, convicts, encourages and guides. He is faithful to guide through every decision and circumstance but how often do we ask?

God will often give wisdom through the use of our brains and wise counsel but not always. The Bible is filled with stories of crossing raging rivers and gulfs on dry land…filled with stories where armies of 300 defeat tens of thousands…filled with stories of the success of the unlikely, the unwise, and the outnumbered. The Text even tells the story of the very Son of God being born in a smelly cave with animals and being laid in a feeding trough.

It just doesn’t seems right.

In reality, right is defined by God. He is right. His Word is right. His direction is right. While there are checks and balances in following His leading, learning to ask and then listen is critical. God, who sees the unforeseen outcomes and knows the unknowable nuances in every decision, waits to hear our hearts and then patiently guide. One of the earlier verses God used in my life to give direction is a simple verse found in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

God may not lead us the places we think we should go but we can be sure He leads us down the right path.

Search Me

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me,  and lead me in the way everlasting!”  Psalm 139:23-24

Have you ever pondered the fact that God knows you better than you?  The infinite mind of God, intimate with the ways of a grand universe is equally concerned with you.  His desire for meaningful relationship with you never ceases.  Have you ever considered that God not only knows you better than you know yourself but He has greater dreams and aspirations than you could have on your own?

Recently, my 4 year old and I were having a conversation.  I was telling her something about herself that she hadn’t realized.  Thankfully, I spend a great amount of time with her – all that I can.  I know her very well.  I know when she is tired, I know when acting out is really pointing to a deeper issue, I know when she is lying, and I know when she is absolutely telling the truth.  There are times when I help her understand why she acts or reacts the way she does.  As an adult, I would hope that I’ve outgrown this phenomenon.  I would hope that I can see my faults and understand myself better than anyone else.  But, I often think “grown-ups” are more blind to our “grievous ways” because we have the wonderful ability to rationalize our short-comings.

Psalm 139 is a confession of God’s amazing intricate experience creating each person.  In this simple but amazing Psalm, God reveals His deep love for humanity and His desire for individual relationship.  The author concludes the Psalm with the verses above after being apparently floored because of God’s amazing love.  These compelling verses are a desperate cry for purity and holiness.  They are a response and desire to honor a great God.  If there is anything not right, God bring it clearly to mind that I might repent and then lead me down the right path.

The “way” (verse 24) was a term iterated long after this Psalm was written to describe the followers of Jesus after His resurrection.  In John 14:7, Jesus proclaims, “I am the Way, and the the Truth, and the Life.”  The “way” is a singular direction of obedience to God.  It is the person of Jesus Christ.  And the stark reality is, we need the Way to find and navigate our way through the detours of life.  Our hearts are so prone to leave the God who has laid our path before us that we must consistently depend on Him to reveal ways we are veering.  We just can’t see it ourselves.  It seems that Life in Christ is far more than doing the right things and not stepping off the yellow brick road.  Instead it walking step by step behind the Leader who actually knows the way.

My prayer is that none of us would simply “find our own way.”  What looks right in my eyes will more often than not, be a path to nowhere…or worse.  Instead, may we follow the One who leads well when we remain so close that the dust from his feet remain on our clothes.  Search me and lead me in the way everlasting.