Thursday, April 28, 2016

God Has a Job For You

“‘Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” —Haggai 2:4 (NKJV)

“Hey, can you come out and play,” my buddy Mark from down the street came and asked me early one Saturday morning. “No, I gotta mow the lawn,” I told him. “Awe, man! I am SO glad I’m not you. I hate mowing the lawn,” Mark said. I told him I liked it and he replied with, “You’re weird.”

Maybe I am weird. But I like work. I like the smell of gas, oil, and exhaust. I felt privileged to use my dad’s lawn mower and gas-powered weed eater. I loved the way the yard looked when the grass had that manicured look by the fence and around the trees. I was proud when I took my dad outside and showed him how I mowed perfectly geometric lines across the yard. He was pleased with my work. That meant everything to me. He always gave me a few bucks to spend afterward. That was a great Saturday.

What my friend didn’t know was that I didn’t get to see my dad very often. My parents were divorced and my dad’s job moved him 1,000 miles away. Since I lived without a father, I was excited to be with him in his house. And he never hid that he was happy to have me with him. I didn’t have to mow the grass. I got to mow the grass. The work was all a bonus. It was one the benefits of being with my dad.

Because of your faith in Jesus, you don’t have to work to get God to accept you. But God has work He wants to share with you—a gospel project. He has a role made specifically for you and tasks to move His project forward. This is work you get to do.

God’s Spirit is at work in you as you do His work. Sometimes the beginning of the work is small and seemingly insignificant, but a bigger job is around the corner. According to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30, there’s a place God wants to promote you to. Be faithful, do the work well, and watch how God uses you in the future. Your participation in the work now holds a place of greater responsibility for you in the future. That’s both a hope and a promise.

Monday, April 25, 2016

God’s Words Get the Job Done

“Yet my friends laugh at me, for I call on God and expect an answer. I am a just and blameless man, yet they laugh at me.”—Job‬ 12‬:4‬ (NLT)

People who “hear from God” seem very unusual sometimes. When Joseph was a young man, he told his family about dreams he had in the night. His older brothers and doting father were absolutely offended. Not only did Joseph claim the dream was from God, Joseph was the hero in the story he narrated! The audacity! Joseph will surely get what’s coming to him, his brothers schemed.

Young King David developed a very unique relationship with God through the solitude of tending and protecting his father’s flock in the wilderness. It was there he trained to listen carefully and discern the voice of God.

When David met his older brothers on the battlefield, they were weary from daily humiliation, blasphemies, and taunts from their enemies including the giant Goliath. David answered their blaspheming with faith-filled words. David’s words offended the sensibilities of his cynical, overly sensitive brothers. To them, he appeared presumptuous and arrogant. David will surely get what’s coming to him, his brothers connived.

When Job was being laughed at, he actually had a reputation for being a “just and blameless man.” Yet calamity struck Job’s life and ramped up in frequency and intensity that shocked the entire community. So much so that it made his neighbors and friends—even his wife—scorn him despite his spotless reputation. Job is surely getting what’s coming to him, they all thought.

Jesus tells us, “Pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NLT). This private place is where Jesus transforms our lives so that His kingdom can break through and impact the kingdoms of this world.

Like David, John the Baptist learned to hear from God in the solitude of the wilderness. He, too, seemed unusual, counter-culture—always rubbing people the wrong way with God’s Word. It finally cost him his head.

When speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus said there wasn’t a greater prophet (Luke 7:28). The strange thing is Jesus never said that to John, He only said it about him. Personal satisfaction is never God’s goal for using you to deliver His message to people. God expresses Himself through you to bring His kingdom near.

So, rejoice if you’re treated like one of these heroes. Now you’re getting the job done.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Growth Happens

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word.”—Luke 8:11‬ (NLT‬‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When you read the beginning of Luke 8, where today’s verse is pulled from, you’ll find an eclectic group of people traveling the countryside with Jesus as He does ministry. In addition to the twelve disciples, part of the troupe includes some women—some of substantial means and some, at least one, with sordid backgrounds.

Here’s how Luke describes them: “Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases . . . contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples” (Luke 8:2-3 NLT). These were women from varied social rungs, all following and supporting Jesus.

They’d been cured, healed, and delivered. Something life-transforming had happened in this small band of supporters. But even within this group of converted believers, there’s maintenance that needs to take place. Fruit needs to grow. Jesus uses examples from farming to make His point.

The Greek word for seed is sporos. The word sperm shares this Greek origin. Here’s the point about the “seed of the Word”: it impregnates. Gestation takes place, and, after a specific period of time, birth. Conditions must be healthy for good fruit to come from the seed of the Word. Later in Luke 8, Jesus describes conditions that cause this process to abort; to miscarry.

The soil is your life. It’s funny what just happened as I’m typing this up with my fat fingers on my tiny phone keyboard. I meant to type soil, but typed soul. This little mishap makes me think a little differently. Soul and soil work interchangeably in this parable of Jesus. Dallas Willard says, “A person who is prepared and capable of responding to the situations of life in ways that are ‘good and right’ is a person whose soul is in order, under the direction of a well-kept heart, in turn under the direction of God.”

Opposition to growth and fruit is always present. Always, always, ALWAYS. You can count on temptations and distractions to damage your soil—your soul. They’re always there. But along with that is an expectation from Jesus that it is possible to overcome what damages your soil and maintain a healthy nourishing environment for the seed of God’s Word to grow and bear fruit. What can you do to prepare the field where seed is sown? Do rocks need to be cleared out? Do paths for irrigation need to be dug? Do some weeds need to be pulled? Let’s roll up our sleeves and plow.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Faith That Gets Things Done

“For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”—1 Corinthians 4:17 (NKJV)

Staff Sergeant Roundtree was a drill instructor I had in boot camp. I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from him. There were drill instructors who used fear and rank to drive, push, and threaten physical punishment. But that wasn’t Roundtree. When he gave orders, he modeled it first. He led from the front and we followed if we could keep up. He developed strength and identified skills in us we never knew we had.

Encouragement and strength were the tools he used to chisel us into combat trained Marines. He held a black belt in karate, was an expert marksman, and an elite infantryman, yet he modeled genuine faith in Jesus Christ—in or out of uniform—and encouraged everyone under his leadership to seek hard after God. His style of getting things done was one of the reasons I became a follower of Jesus.

This kind of leadership is different than you’d expect. In the New Testament, there’s a military leader that also breaks the clichéd mold. He was a Roman centurion, the leader and trainer of one hundred of the world’s most elite, disciplined, and feared soldiers in history.

This centurion wanted Jesus to come and heal his sick servant. He could have used his authority and resources to compel Jesus to do his bidding. But this is how he addressed Jesus, “I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you . . .” (Luke 7:7 NIV). Romans were known for brutality, not humility. Jesus commended this leader for a distinguishing kind of faith. This is the kind of faith that gets things done.

Paul taught Timothy to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV). Paul doesn’t brand himself with religious self-importance. He doesn’t wield his authority by driving Timothy from behind a desk. Paul positions himself shoulder-to-shoulder with Timothy and mentors through on-the-job training. Paul produced a faithful fidelity in Timothy that made Timothy dependable and send-able. Timothy would get the work of laying foundations of faith in the church at Corinth done. As Christians, that’s the kind of leaders you and I need to be, because how we serve Jesus impacts how others may or may not follow us to Heaven.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Love Equals Live

photo credit:

Book Review: Love Does
Author: Bob Goff
Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2012
240 pages

Love is the topic. “I’m not that great at spelling and thankfully my phone autocorrects the words I type for me,” writes speaker, author, and lawyer Bob Goff in his book Love Does. “What I’ve noticed, though, is that almost every time I type in the word love, it gets changed to the word live.”

Love is an action word. Love acts. Love is something you become familiar with through repetitive doing. Through loving. Loving actions are fully satisfying but you need to keep doing them because you build an appetite for what love produces. Love has a duplication effect that is exponential because it is contagious. Love changes. Love makes a difference. Love doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it because love isn’t thinking of its own image. Love doesn’t care who’s watching because love doesn’t look over its own shoulder. Love’s inertia keeps love moving forward. Love does. This is what the reader learns from Goff’s stories in this book.

In one story, Randy made a huge sacrifice in a personal relationship to care for a younger, naive version of Bob Goff before he was an author or lawyer or anything and didn’t know he’d be anything because he didn’t know how the world worked. As Randy mentored young master Goff, Randy never gave any indication to Bob what investing in someone at a crucial time in life could cost. Bob never even knew he was being schooled because Randy was such a humble mentor. That’s how love does it. Love doesn’t lord it.

Goff tells the story of the first time he heard about Jesus from a sniper named Doug. Bob learned that when you choose to follow Jesus and do what Jesus does, and take the words of Jesus at face value, typical stands in the shadow of radical. Normal isn’t even noticed. Love is not normal.

In another story, Goff tells us about the time he opens his front door to a young stranger in love. The smitten stranger wants to use Bob’s backyard to marry his girlfriend. The lengths this young stranger goes to in order to demonstrate his love for this girl redefines smitten. Love is extravagant.

You don’t have to read this book from front to back to enjoy it. Start in chapter ten, for example, where you’ll see what kind of a crazy, think-out-side-of-the-box parent Goff is. After he tells his young kids about what happened on September 11, 2001, he helps them process history in the making by giving the kids this assignment: “If you had five minutes in front of a group of world leaders, what would you ask them to help make sense of life, faith, hope, and the events unfolding around them?” In chapter ten you’ll read what happens when answers to the letters start rolling in.

Goff shamed me as I read and cried and was entertained. Most people don’t have the resources Goff has to do the globetrotting he does or play with the kind of toys he gets to play with. But does that mean my faith has to be smaller or that I have to love less? Can’t I love where I am with what I have? I think so. Jesus doesn’t need anything from me but me to love and work and impact the world through me.

At times, super extroverted Goff’s perspective seemed out of balance only because he loves so unusually. To the introverts among us, this is intimidating. But it should be inspiring. We might not do what Goff does, but that doesn’t mean that love doesn’t work through us. Introvert or extrovert, love doesn’t care and love can get done through you, too.

This book was written for you. It’s quite possible you may feel stuck and stale and ready for something to happen that will change everything. Here’s the rub: The chances that something is going to happen to you are low. You need to be intentional about love. You need to do love. As you do love, you’ll forget stuck and stale. Skeptical? Read the book. You have something stored up in you that hasn’t been seen in a while. Or maybe you didn’t know it was there at all. But love will be stirred up in you nonetheless. And you’ll have to do it. Read the book.

How to Stay Lost and Unfound

“But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are, just as with Jannes and Jambres.”—2 Timothy 3:9 (NLT)

“I think this is our exit,” she says. “If we don’t take this exit now, we’ll be late to dinner.” She is annoyed by tardiness of any kind.

“I got this,” I tell her. “The next exit will work. I know an old shortcut.” I hate being corrected. I like to be right. I turned up the radio.

It turned out that the road had been completely rerouted and my old shortcut didn’t exist anymore. We were completely lost, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and there was nothing I could do about it. My chance to make the smart choice has passed. My wife doesn’t say, “I told you so.” She doesn’t have to.

Self-deception is the worst kind of deception. Not while you’re actually going through it though. While you’re in the middle, believing your lie, you’re fat, dumb, and happy. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses with their lies. They were so caught up in the buzz they created with their magic that they didn’t know how close to the end their time had come. They were reading the wrong road map and didn’t realize it. Plagues were coming. They were clueless about the miraculous shock and awe that was coming from the Creator of the Universe.

Often, when you’re lost, you don’t know you need to be found. You’re not open to correction because that takes humility and admitting error. My friend, these are things you have very little experience with.

Ignorance is bliss? Ignorance leads to further lost-ness. We’re better off following the example of zealous young atheists. There is an interesting plot-twist in so many atheists’ stories; C.S. Lewis is one that comes to mind. In his zeal to prove the “falsity” of Christianity, he thoroughly investigated the facts; he processed truth. Truth brings the honest searcher to both the historic and metaphoric foot of the cross where real decisions must be made. Men like C.S. Lewis, and in our generation, Lee Strobel, embrace the One they set out to disprove. The wonderful irony is they themselves became found.

We should make it a life-rule to never prove our own right-ness, especially at the expense of the truth. If you don’t find a map and get back on course, you will stay lost and you may find out after it’s too late.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Secret Places

To the religious people among us: do not play-act. You (we) will be busted. That bit the Jesus says in a parable about the sin you do in secret being shouted from the roof tops, Don't think that that event is going to happen in the sweet by-and-by. That could happen today when your wife or kids find the port on your phone. It can happen when your neighbor who you invite to church every Christmas and Easter (that's the only time you talk to them, you know, when there's that big church program attendance push), catches you at Winn-Dixie or Applebee's raking store clerk or server over the coals because she got your order so horribly wrong (you know the one–you left her a Jesus tract that looks like a $100 bill instead of a tip). Your neighbor will tell her whole house and all the other parents down at the ball field about how you're "religious" but mean. That's happening already.

Who we are in secret is who we are. You want to know how to be religious? Don't tell anybody you're religious!

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matt 6:5-6 (NIV)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Anxiety of Being a Slave

"... a slave of Christ Jesus..." Romans 1:1

The thought of being a slave shoots my anxiety levels through the roof. As I write this, I'm remembering I haven't done my morning chores and that sense of leaving dirty dishes in the sink has me looking over my shoulder for Chef Nick, the first boss I ever had a teenage dishwasher. Nick ran a tight ship and everyone knew he was the boss. He made sure of it. Nick was a huge man with a furious temper. He was driven and demanded excellence. No. Nick demanded perfection.

My next job was the Marines. During the first few weeks of boot camp, I never missed a boss so much as I missed Nick. If I thought he was a terrorizing, exacting, humiliating, micro-managing boss, I hadn't seen nothing yet. No one's a tougher boss than your drill instructor. Nothing gives you more anxiety than having one of those muscle bound, government empowered, spitting-saliva-into-your-face-while-they-scream-at-you-from-an-inch-away United States Marine Corps drill instructors. 

Oh how I longed for Nick's standard of driving results. He was a teddy bear. That's how I remember Nick now.

You've had all kinds of bosses in your life. Some harsh and some are remembered fondly, even affectionately. It's the harsh ones that evoke the anxiety I'm talking about. You get that. You remember them most. That needs no explanation. Your boss humiliates you, undermines your work, and is demonstrably irritated by your presence. Or are you the boss and this is how people describe you? You probably don't know it.

Ultimately, my problem, the source of my anxiety when I read these words of Paul is that I hate – no, HATE! – being a slave. That's the bottom line. I even hate the idea of being the slave of Jesus when the title "slave" is attached to the description of me. But here's what I know about Him as a Master:
•The work he gives you is light.
•His work is only good.
•The provision He provides is nourishing.
•His assignments benefit others
•Slavery under Jesus is a supremely freeing way to work or live—certainly superior to any alternative offered by any other master.

When I'm in the role of a slave, I need to remember this about my Master. When I'm the boss, I need to represent the example of my Master. He only does good things.