In college I applied for and was accepted as a D.C (discipleship coordinator) in on my floor in my dorm and the next year promoted for the whole dorm. This role involved planning floor prayer gatherings, being available for counseling or spiritual guidance and working with other D.C's to plan spiritual events.
Unfortunately we were labeled with a different nickname around campus using the same acronym, designated Christians. People jokingly assumed that because we took on this role, we were more spiritual or superior to them. We weren't, we were just trying to help.
The same is true with Sunday School teachers, Youth Leaders, Worship Leaders and even Pastors. We aren't spiritual superheros...just people trying our best to help others grow in faith.
And yet, we are seen as people you delegate your spiritual growth to. Send your kids to Sunday School and their spiritual development is taken care of. Send them to youth camp and they will stay on the straight and narrow. Listen to Pastor Scott's sermon (even if it is just online) and you will be a good Christian.
But we can't outsource our spiritual growth. Classes and groups and sermons are tools, but they can't replace our own ownership of our spiritual health. Just like a personal trainer is helpful in physical fitness but the person is still responsible; so you are still the person in charge of your own soul.
There are no designated Christians...just Christians. We help each other, of course, but we also must own our own faith growth. Are you caring for your soul regularly? Are you taking ownership of your own spiritual health through daily study, prayer and time with God? You can't outsource it...you got to own it.
just keep running
Many of you have likely seen the hit movie "Finding Nemo" in which the forgetful character Dory has to repeat over and over to "just keep swimming" as her mantra to never give up.
It reminds me of Hebrews 12:1 where we are encouraged to "let us run with endurance the race marked out for us."
I am not a runner. Unless a big dog is chasing me I try not to run; but years ago my wife ran in the Mini Marathon and trained hard for the 13 mile race. She ran almost every day, helping to work her way up so that when race day came in May she would be ready. And she did great. I was there as moral support, of course, but she did all the hard work...pushing through to the finish line ahead of her goal time. It was hard, she was sore and tired but she didn't quit. She endured.
That's what the author of Hebrews tells us to do. Keep going. Life will be hard. You will be tested. Don't quit. Keep going. Just keep running. One step at a time. One day at a time. One moment at a time. Keep praying. Keep believing. Keep going. Just keep running.
One day this race will be over, and that will be a good day; but for now we run.
There is an old saying that bears repeating. "God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines." What does this mean?
Well, it means that God uses us (flawed people) to do his perfect will. There has only ever been one perfect person and that was Jesus. Every other person in history who has been used by God has been flawed and sinful. The people in the Bible were flawed. Abraham was flawed. Moses was flawed. David was flawed. Peter, Paul and James were flawed. And the people since the Bible have been flawed too. Martin Luther, John Welsley, Mother Teresa...all flawed. And yet each of these people has been used to do God's will in their own way....and God can take their efforts and use it for his perfect will.
My family recently took a trip to St Louis and went to the City Museum. It's not really a museum at all, but a playground of slides, tunnels and caves made of old stuff taken from around the city and put together by artists who want to reuse "junk" and make it new again. With great creativity and effort they took trash and made it amazing.
That's what God does. He takes our crooked sticks and makes straight lines. He takes our junk and makes treasure.
So what can God do with you today?
out of alignment
Have you ever had a car that pulls one direction or the other? Often it's subtle, so subtle that you barely notice or don't think much of it. Your car just slightly drifts one direction, so you turn the wheel back the other way just a bit to make up for it...to go straight. This is called being "out of alignment" and you can get it fixed at any repair shop or tire place. If you don't fix it, it wears your tires unevenly and can cause you to get a flat more quickly. But even more dangerous is the chance that you accidentally overcorrect while driving and crash...all because your tires aren't quite going in the same direction.
Churches can be the same. One person may love missions (and missions are good). Another might love Bible study (and Bible study is good). Yet another might love music (also good). More might love fellowship (still good)...and on and on it goes. Each person may have different preferences about what good thing they love most in church; and that's ok. But what causes problems is when they start to argue or fight or try to control the others over what is most important or should get the most funding or the most announcements or the most attention of the Pastor...this is where the danger lies. Each person, trying to go their own direction, causes the church to go flat or even worse to crash. A church must have a unified mission in order to work together or it will end up out of alignment. That church can still have music and fellowship and Bible study and all those other things, so long as they understand that each of those things only serves the larger mission; that keeps us aligned and moving together.
We have a mission "to make disciples." Not to make a better choir or to make more events...those are fine, but they are not the mission; so don't get confused. We make disciples or we die. The mission moves us. The mission is our destination and the Holy Spirit is our fuel. So let's get moving. We need the music people to work with the mission people and the Bible study people too...all working together to make disciples who make disciples till Jesus returns.
fruit free zone?
Galatians 5 includes an amazing verse that tells us about the fruit of the spirit which it tells us are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
My hope is that I will see in my own life evidence of these fruit growing in my actions daily. That I will find I am naturally growing in my ability to love, growing in my capacity for finding joy, growing in my desire for peace, growing in my love for peace, growing in my desire to show kindness, growing in my care for goodness, growing in my passion for faithfulness to God, growing in my ability to show gentleness and growing in my ability to have self-control. But the reality is that those things are not something I can grit and force, they come from God's growth in my heart and are an outpouring of his life growing within me.
But, strangely, while most Christians desire to see these fruit grow in most parts of their lives...we sometimes see them resist the fruit in certain zones and call them off limits?
For example, a normally kind Christian might turn into a cursing maniac at a sporting event who yells obscenities at the ref who makes a "bad" call. Or a normally peaceful Christian might flip a switch and flip the bird at another driver who cuts them off in traffic. Or a normally self controlled follower might forget all about the teachings of Jesus on loving their enemies when they encounter a person from the other political party and start shouting at them in un-Christlike ways online.
Why do we think that a sporting event, the steering wheel or the keyboard are fruit free zones? There is no place where the Spirit of God does not seek to dwell with us! To be a follower of Jesus means to follow Him always...even in the places where we would rather go alone, do our own thing or say what we want to say.
So I encourage you to do a Heart Check. Not a literal one with a stethoscope, but an emotional and spiritual one. Dig deep into your heart and see if there are places where you have tried to tell the Holy Spirit they cannot go. Have you told God there are places or times or things that He cannot change...that are off limits? If so, you need to submit those to Him and his transforming power too!
My wife and I plant a small garden each year. They are just a few small beds with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, strawberries and a few other things; but we enjoy the fresh produce it brings and the joy of seeing it grow.
But, I don't enjoy the weeding and the watering it requires if we have a dry spell. I'd rather the Lord provide rain (at night if possible) so that I can skip the watering (and save money too).
In my devotional today I read from Jeremiah 17 which says, "Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
If we are constantly having to seek nourishment from ourselves (self help books, meditation, yoga, darkness retreats like the one that Aaron Rogers just went on...), we will always be thirsty; but if we can plant ourselves near the stream of living water...then we will never thirst and never run dry.
embrace the mess
Marie Kondo became famous several years ago as a Japanese home organizational consultant who encouraged people to minimize their possessions and keep their homes very tidy by only keeping things that "sparked joy" in their lives. Her ideas swept America as people got rid of items trying to find order in their homes.
Recently, Marie made the news again in an interview when she admitted that as a parent she had basically given up on those same ideas. She said after the birth of her third child, "my home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this stage of my life."
Like many of us, Marie has had to embrace the mess of parenthood. Kids are a blessing, but they make messes. They spill, they track in mud, they play with toys...and it creates chaos in what might be an otherwise clean home. And that is ok. Life is better with a bit of mess. It means that your life is well loved.
The same is true in church. People are messy, but they are worth the mess. If you create a church where people can be real and honest about their lives, they will bring in their mess (sin, struggles, temptations, emotions, frustrations, conflicts...) and that will be messy sometimes; but that is what it takes to create a real community of faith. I suppose we could pretend we have it all together and that our church is just a perfect place made of perfect people...but it wouldn't be real and no real life change would ever happen; plus the people who really need Jesus would stay away.
Remember, Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. It was messy. But, their lives were transformed as a result.
So, embrace the mess. The Church shouldn't be a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Now, hospitals don't leave people the way they are...we seek to heal people; but we do accept the sick and help to make them whole.
So bring on the mess. Be honest. Be real. We will have the broom ready because Jesus calls us to embrace the mess.
if it ain't broke
I admit I am stubborn. I like things how I like them. If I know how to do something one way, I will likely do it that way forever. So, they might invent a new way, but I'll be slow to adopt it because the old way still works. For example, I still like to preach from paper while many of my peers use an Ipad. If I go to a restaurant, I am likely to order the same thing I always get rather than try something new. I see this as wisdom, the whole "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind of wisdom...but some call me stubborn; which is also true.
But some things don't change and we shouldn't try to change them. One of those is God's word. While styles come and go (bell bottoms aren't popular much anymore, but hey, they could always make a comeback), the Bible is unchanging. Some will try to argue that if we open our minds and try to see it in a new way or through a certain lens, we can adapt our understanding to allow for new ways of thinking...but often this is just an excuse to conform to society rather than to be transformed by God.
No, the word of God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:8 says, "the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever."
It is not up to us to say what is good or bad, right or wrong; that is up to God and found in his word; and his word is unchanging. Society will change, culture will change; but God doesn't change and his word doesn't change.
We must stand strong on his truth, while speaking it with love, but never bending our convictions to the world.
missing the mission
Jesus trained his disciples intentionally and well for over three years in a variety of ways. He taught them, showed them, gave them hands on experience in the field and then commissioned them with clear instructions to take this message to "all nations"...and yet they almost missed the mission because of one fatal flaw in their bias. They thought the good news was just for their kind.
You see, the Jewish people (children of Abraham) were "God's chosen people" and while this is clearly true, it didn't mean what they thought it meant. If you go all the way back to Genesis 12, God told Abraham that he was blessed to "be a blessing". He wasn't supposed to keep the blessing for himself or his family or even his descendants alone; but for all people. He was supposed to share his knowledge of God with the whole world; but alas, they did not. They hid their light under a bushel basket.
But now, Jesus is restating the mission once more, take it to all the world. But the disciples are Jewish and they still see the world through this same bias. It is hard for them to let go of this way of thinking that people would need to become "like us" in order to be saved. In fact, they almost miss the mission of God because of their stubborn persistence that people conform first and be saved second...but that's not how God works. We don't get to tell God who is in or who is out, His spirit moves where it pleases and in who it pleases. We can't draw lines on a map and keep God in.
I urge you not to make the same mistake. Don't miss the mission that God is calling you to because you try to limit God. Nobody is ever too far for God to reach. God's love can overcome any barrier or line we might draw. So never give up. Be open to any move of God's spirit. If He moves, even in unlikely places or with unlikely people, be ready.
ashes and dust
Adam was made from the dirt, in fact his name means dirt. We are all made from dirt and when we die, we all eventually turn back into it again as our bodies decompose. That is why, at a funeral, you might hear the pastor say "we are but dust, and to dust we shall return."
But dirt and dust isn't just what we are made of, throughout the Bible they were seen as a sign of repentance and grief. When Job lost his home, his health and his children, he sat in the dirt and covered himself with ashes as a sign of his grief. He was grieving loss of life; but we can also be in grief over our sin.
The season of Lent is an ancient Christian tradition, a time leading up to Easter where we consider the weight of our sinfulness and repent (turn) from it in mourning. Traditionally this has been done by taking the sign of ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross. This shows, that like Job, you are in grief and mourning, but for your sin. You realize you are a sinner and wish to turn away from your sin and toward the life of God.
Like the prophet Isaiah you might cry "I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips" but like Isaiah we hope in a God who can make us clean again and use us for His glory and in His Kingdom!
Join us tonight at 7:00pm for an interactive time of prayer, scripture and repentance where you can experience Ash Wednesday in a new way. I pray it will be a powerful reminder that we are sinners, but we serve a great and loving God!