Monday, June 25, 2012

summer of serving

We've been given the challenge at my church this summer to spend our time trying to find ways to be Jesus and to share the love of Jesus with the people in our lives.  I'm excited to see and hear how the Spirit leads the people in my community to do this.  But I want to offer one additional suggestion...

One of the best ways to build relationships with people is to engage in acts of service with them.  And there are so many people out there who don't follow Jesus but who still have values of service and giving back to the community.

There are some great things that happen when we love and extend grace and service to those around us.  But sometimes this doesn't actually help us to get to know them better.  In fact, it can put us in a position of power in these relationships and make it difficult to take the next step in sharing our faith when the time is appropriate.

But when we ask for help and we invite people to come alongside us in doing the great works of reconciliation and restoration, we are actually inviting them to experience God with us.  When we are chasing after the values of God and asking him to work through us, his Spirit is with us in powerful ways. Whenever the followers of Jesus are seeking the restoration and reconciliation of the broken places in the world, God is there.  And it is a powerful thing to invite people into the presence of God.

Inviting someone along in your acts of service has some other benefits.  First, it shows them that your faith actually affects your life, particularly if you have a natural opportunity to share with them why you're doing this at all.  Second, it demonstrates that for you, faith is causing positive habits and activities to grow in your life.  Many of the barriers people have to faith come from seeing religious people acting in ways that hurt others.  When you are serving alongside someone, they can experience the benefit that your faith has in your life, and can also see how it's bringing something positive to the world.  Finally, you'll have a lot more time for meaningful conversation.  When you're doing something meaningful with someone, it's easier to have deeper and more meaningful conversations with them than it is when you're meeting casually for coffee or something--at least that's the way it's been in my own life.

So my challenge for this week is really a challenge for the whole summer--during your summer of service, I'd challenge you to invite one person along to do at least one act of service with you.  And I'll be praying that you and your friends meet God powerfully through serving.

Monday, June 18, 2012

handcrafted with purpose

For the last couple of weeks, we've been talking about how mankind's rebellion caused brokenness in the world.  Essentially, it harmed all the relationships of mankind--between mankind and God, mankind and the earth, individual relationships, and our relationship with and understanding of ourselves.  But we've also been talking about how God has plans to redeem and restore all those relationships, and even now is working toward that and inviting all his people to help him in that.

But what would it really look like for us to get involved?  What would it mean for us to truly become ministers of the reconciliation and restoration that God wants to bring?

That's the question I've been asking myself since I first started to follow Jesus.  And what it looks like for me these past few years has been following Jesus into the prisons and into serving the poorest criminals so that they have exceptional legal representation.  It means that I ask God every day to give me his eyes to see my clients as the precious human beings they are, so that I can treat them with the dignity, kindness, and grace that God gives me.  It means that instead of working with money as a primary motive, I pray about the cases I'm to take and I'm able to give time and services away to those who can't pay.  And it means that I use my choices to live simply and with these strange values as an opportunity to share with other lawyers how the great story of God has motivated me to live in this way.  And I've gotten to watch as God has softened and then transformed many people who did not know him when I met them.

As one who is made in the image of God and who has chosen to follow Jesus, I get to prayerfully approach each day.  I get to invite God to come with me where I go and work through me to bring justice and peace to the world around me.  And I get to see glimpses of how God is doing that in the lives of my friends and those around me.

For example, when I pray for justice and I see that something is not right, and I go out there and fight for the right thing to be done, I have great satisfaction in knowing that justice prevailed and some small wrong was made right in that moment.  When I see someone soften to the point that she is finally able to follow Jesus, I find such joy and inspiration that I know I am right where I'm called to be, doing exactly what I'm called to do.  And it's been to my great delight to know that God equipped and prepared me to do and to be exactly what I am right now.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul said that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  The word workmanship here makes me think of a finely carved piece of furniture or a masterpiece that someone spent hours crafting until it was just right for what it was supposed to accomplish.

So what part has God invited you to play in his great plan to rescue and redeem the world?  What broken relationships do you see in the world, and how can you, out of exactly the person God has created you to be, contribute to bringing restoration and reconciliation?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bubble Creek Canyon

So what do you think of this video?

What do you think motivates Christians to want to live on a compound?  Do you think that's good or bad?

Monday, June 11, 2012

ambassadors of reconciliation

Last week I talked a little bit about how I see the great story that we're all invited to be a part of.  I ended the post asking what you think it is that we're invited into.  I thought this week I'd share what I've come to understand the invitation being.  It comes from 2 Corinthians 5, and I've paraphrased here and mixed the NIV and the Message and some of my own words interpreting and expanding on the ideas there:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: Jesus died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life begins! Look at it!

Instead of selfishness, we now can be selfless.  Instead of greed, we now can give generously what we have.  Instead of being filled with lust, we now can love people who are ugly.  Instead of being prideful, we know that everything that we have and are comes from God.  Instead of seeking the approval of others, we now know that we have God’s approval. 

All this comes from the God who healed our broken relationship with him, with ourselves, and with each other.  He now asks us to spend our lives working to help other people heal their broken relationships.  If we choose to walk with God, then our job is to also walk with others and bear their burdens and help men and women drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right.

But how is this possible?  It’s possible because God made Jesus, who had no brokenness, to be broken for our sakes, so that through his body and blood, we could become the children of God.

So what do you think?  What would it look like for you to be an ambassador of Christ in your world?  How have you seen God transforming you from selfishness and greed and lust and pride into someone better?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

building a boat

Have you ever thought about what it was actually like for Noah?  I mean--all those years when he was building that boat, before it rained--before it had ever rained.  Have you thought about how many trees he had to chop down?  Or about how long it would've taken to make them into boards and let them season?  Or about how he'd have to wake up each day with this renewed commitment to do what he was called to do, even though the progress he was seeing was minimal?  Or about how much faith he had to have in the One who had called him to be so committed to such a colossal project?

Noah's been coming to mind for me a lot this week.  I learned a few days ago that Da[w]bar House (my publishing company) will be a ministry partner at the Big Ticket Festival.  Last year the Big Ticket Festival had 30,000 attenders.  We'll have a tent where we'll be running hourly trainings on storytelling and recognizing and responding to emotional barriers to faith.

This is a colossal project, which, if I had 6 months to prepare for, would not be quite so overwhelming.  But the opportunity to teach and interact with such a large number of people, sharing all the things I've been learning about evangelism and storytelling is a huge opportunity--one that I can't pass up and one that I am so thankful for. 

But it is so. much. work.

2 Thessalonians 3:13 says, "And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right."    And I think there's a reason that Paul felt he needed to encourage the Thessalonians in this way.  Because Paul knew, as anyone who is truly committed to following Jesus wherever he leads knows, that from a human perspective, what God calls us to do is always too big for us to do in our own strength.  It's too much. 

But faith does not jump from calling to execution.  Faith requires someone to be on the ground between the calling and the goal.  And that someone is stretched and challenged to live out faith one day at a time, one small project at a time, until the end is reached and you can look back and see that somehow, God has turned all those tiny little steps into an ark that's big enough to house 2 of every kind of animal and feed them for a year.  Somehow, with God, the sum of all the parts you add is greater than it should be.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Great Invitation

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.  At first, there was nothing, and then at the word of God, light came into being.  Sun, moon and stars, land, water.  Then God filled the earth with plants and creatures, and finally man.  And this creation was perfect.  There was no blemish.  There was no brokenness.  It was idyllic. 

Relationships were right.  God came and walked with mankind, talking and relating without barrier.  Adam and Eve related perfectly–every vulnerability exposed, they walked and worked together in harmony.  The earth was lush and ripe and provided everything that mankind needed to survive.  Adam and Eve worked, but their work was fulfilling and life-giving.

And then one day, it all fell apart.  There was a tree, you see.  A tree in the middle of the garden - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The one negative command that God had given was challenged and then disobeyed.  And everything changed.       

When God came to walk in the garden that day, Adam and Eve were hiding.  No longer could they walk without fear or shame - no... instead they hid.  The relationship between Adam and Eve was now doomed to be one of conflict and fighting for dominance.  The land was no longer so giving and forgiving, but would require toil and backbreaking labor to produce what they needed to survive.  Mankind’s relationships were a mess.  Relationship with God, relationship with one another, relationship with the land, even relationship with self - now all were full of self-delusion, shame, and fear.

But the rebellion of mankind did not hold God back.  No, he immediately made plans for a daring rescue of the world.  It would be years in coming, it would take many generations, but he would see the world transformed and restored.  He would see mankind reconciled to himself and one another.

So God called a man named Abram to leave his father and mother and go to a land he would be shown.  God promised Abram that his offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, that he would be given land, and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him.  So Abram went, and God put into motion his plan of rescue.

Eventually, Abram’s offspring became a great nation - a nation called and set apart by God to bless the world and to walk in the world as representatives of the living God, Yahweh.  Every action, every law, every human relationship was to be lived according to the commands of Yahweh so that people would see and remember who God is and how much he loves the world.

 But Abram’s offspring often forgot about Yahweh, and they were so busy protecting themselves, their property, and their desires, that the world around them had no idea who God really is and what he cares about.

So God sent Jesus, as the perfect picture of who God is and how much he loves the world.  Jesus lived and loved and ministered and died.  And through his death, he calls and invites each one of us to remember who we are and who God is, and to become a part of his great plan to rescue and redeem all the world.

What is God's great plan to rescue and redeem all the world?  What part is he calling you to play in that plan?  When he calls you, will you go?