Posts Tagged ‘God’

Re-Framing Your Life

May 31, 2017

In their book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans tell a story about a woman named Janine.  In her mid-30s, she was starting to reap the benefits of decades of dedication.  Her willpower and hard work had gained her a number of accomplishments.  She was the picture of success and achievement.  But, she had a secret.  Some nights, after driving home from work, she would sit out on her deck and cry.  She had everything she thought she should have, but she was profoundly unhappy.  Who wakes up every morning as the picture of success and goes to bed every night with a knot in her stomach, feeling as if she is missing something, and that she has lost her way?  In America, 66% of workers are unhappy with their jobs, and 15% actually hate their work.  Janine had a dysfunctional belief.  She believed if you are successful, you will be happy.  She needed to re-frame her thinking:  happiness comes from designing your life with God.

In their book, Bill and Dave also tell a story about a man named Donald.  He had worked for more than 30 years at the same job and had made a lot of money.  His home was almost paid off.  His kids had all graduated from college.  He had money for retirement.  He had a solid career and a solid life.  Get up, go to work, pay the bills, go home, go to bed.  Wake up the next day and do it all over again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But, for years he had carried the same question around inside of him as he went to coffee shops, dinner tables, church, and the bar.  The question would wake him up at 2:00 am.  He would look at himself in the bathroom mirror and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  Not once had the guy in the mirror had a good answer for him.  He had a dysfunctional belief.  He believed that a life of responsible and successful work should make him happy.  He felt stuck.  He thought he didn’t have any other options that to continue to struggle through an unfulfilling life.  He believed it was too late to change his life’s work.  But, he was wrong.

Many people today operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about.  They think that once they know their passion, everything else will just magically fall into place.  But, most people don’t know their passion.  Only 20% of people between the ages of 12-26 have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish in life.  80% of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.  In the United States alone, there are more than 31 million people between the ages of 44-70 who want an “encore” career – work that combines personal meaning, continued income, and social impact.

Many people today struggle with dysfunctional beliefs and don’t know how to change them.  This is why we go to church.  This is why we read the Bible.  We all grow up with beliefs and ideas that we think are true, but really aren’t.  They shape who we are, what we do, and how we live.  But, we don’t realize they aren’t true.  And if we do discover they aren’t true, then we don’t know how to change them and how to re-frame them.  This is why we need Jesus in our lives.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit leading us through life:  because all of us need to re-frame our thinking in our major ways.  But, we don’t know how to do it.  And we can’t do it alone.

Your life cannot be perfectly planned.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes.  There is no one single solution to your life.  If you keep looking for the one right answer, you’ll never find it.  Our God is a much more creative God than we realize.  When we surrender our lives to Him, He doesn’t just open one door of possibility for us.  He opens many doors for us.  He gives us choices we never had before.  The Holy Spirit leads us to design a life that makes sense.  Life is all about growth and change.  It’s not static.  It’s not about answering the big life question once and for all and then it’s done, never having to be re-visited ever again.  It’s about going on a journey with Jesus, with a Christian community, for the life of the world.  There will always be twists and turns, sunshine and rain, cold and heat.  There will always be signs and wonders, plants and animals, unexpected guests and new friends.

We need God’s help to think differently.  We need Jesus’ help to live differently.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to dream differently.  We need the church’s help to focus our attention on the right things, to develop disciplines and practices that will pay off, and to help us get out of the rut we are stuck in.  We need to take off the blinders that keep us from seeing the possibilities God has waiting for us.  We need to understand where happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction really come from.  We carry around too many dysfunctional beliefs.  And we need the Bible and the church to re-frame our thinking and our lives.

God doesn’t want us to waste our lives.  God doesn’t want us to feel miserable or stuck.  God wants us to soar like eagles as we discover how He designed us, and how the Holy Spirit can help us design a life that makes sense.  But, we have to be willing to let go of our dysfunctional beliefs.  We need to let the Bible re-frame how we think and how we live.  And we need to be willing to follow Jesus down some life paths that we never thought we would walk down.

 

The Easter Ragman

March 31, 2017

A number of years ago, Walter Wangerin wrote a story called “The Ragman” to help us understand the message of Easter.  The Ragman is a picture of Jesus and what He has done for us on Good Friday and Easter.  Here’s the story:

“One Friday morning, I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking in the alleys of the

city. He was pulling an old cart, filled with clothes; and he was calling in a clear,

resonant voice, “Rags! New rags for old, I’ll take your tired, old rags. Rags!” Now

this is a wonder, I thought, for the man stood six feet-four, with arms like tree limbs,

hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed with brightness. Could he find no better job

than this, to be a ragman in one of the rougher areas of the city?

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into her

handkerchief, shedding thousands of tears. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was

breaking. The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly he walked to the woman and asked,

“Will you give me your rag; I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from

her eyes, and laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. Then

as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing. He put her tear-

stained handkerchief to his own face; and began to weep, to sob as grievously as she

had done. Yet she was left behind without a tear. “Rags! Rags! New rags for old!”

 

In a little while the Ragman came across a little girl whose head was wrapped in a

bandage. Her eyes were blank and empty. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now that tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely bonnet

from his cart. “Give me your rag, and I’ll give you mine.” He loosened the bandage,

removed it and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. I gasped at what I

saw, for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow ran a darker, richer

flow of his own blood! “Rags, rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding

Ragman.

The sun was at its height by now, and the Ragman seemed more and more in a hurry.

“Do you have a job?” the Ragman inquired of a man leaning against a telephone

pole. “Are you crazy?” the man sneered, pulling away from the pole and revealing

that the right sleeve of his jacket was empty. “So give me your jacket, and I’ll give

you mine.” The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman. I trembled at

what I saw. For the Ragman’s arm stayed in his jacket, and when the other put it on,

he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

 

By now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping

uncontrollably and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling the cart with one arm,

stumbling with exhaustion, he still ran on ahead faster. I wept to see the change in

this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such

a hurry, perhaps to discover what drove him so. The little old Ragman came upon a

landfill, a garbage dump. He climbed the hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little

space on the hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a

handkerchief. He covered his bones with a jacket; and he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness his death! I slumped in a car and wailed and mourned,

because I had come to love that Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of

this man. When I saw that he was dead, I couldn’t keep from crying. I cried myself to

sleep. I slept all the way through Saturday to Sunday. But then on Sunday morning, I

was awakened by a violent light, a pure, hard, demanding light shining against my

face. I looked up, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the

Ragman, folding his clothes, a scar on his face, but alive! And besides that, healthy!

 

There was no sign of sorrow, nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined

with a clean sheen! I was in awe of the transformation, but humbled by the sorry

state of my own ordinary sameness. I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I

had seen, I walked into the Ragman’s presence. I told him my name, and that I felt

like a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes, and I said with dear

yearning in my voice, “Dress me. Dress me with your rags.” He dressed me. My Lord

dressed me. He dressed my feet, my body; he dressed all of me. He put new rags on and

now I glow in the sight of the Ragman, this Ragman, my Christ.”

 

You Get What You Are

January 31, 2017

Sometimes we think “You are what you do”.  But, the Bible says, “Do what you are”.  The things that we do, flow out who we are.  Our actions emerge out of our inner thoughts and feelings.  The condition of our hearts can be seen in the actions that we take.  When we see words and actions that don’t match who people are, we call them hypocrites.  We look for people whose lives are consistent.  These are people who don’t pretend to be someone they are not.  What you see is what you get.  Teenagers and young people seem to be really good at spotting people who are fake – people who are trying to pass themselves off as something they are not.  So, if we want to pass on our faith to our children, or share our faith in Christ with our family and friends, we will get what we are.

People watch how we live.  People will listen to what we say.  People are looking to see if we are authentic.  Does how we live and what we say actually match who we are.  Are we living a practical faith?  Does our faith make sense in the way we live?  Does it flow naturally from our hearts or does it seem fake and forced?

When we think about passing on our faith to our kids, we want to have a sticky faith.  We want who we are and what we believe to “stick” to other people.  One of the findings of the Sticky Faith research (www.stickyfaith.org) is that you get what you are.  After studying the faith development of more than 3000 young people nationwide from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Mormon families, they discovered that “the best general rule of thumb that parents might use to reckon their children’s most likely religious outcomes is this: ‘We’ll get what we are.’”  In general, the primary influence in a child’s faith trajectory is his or her parents.

There is no magic formula for developing sticky faith in our kids.  There is no money back guarantee that always works for every single person in every single situation.  But, the more that parents live who they really are, the more we are genuine and real and authentic, the more our kids will see that, and the more our faith will “stick” in their lives.

As important as our faith lives are in influencing our kids, multiple studies of teenagers indicate that more important than what parents believe is what teenagers perceive they believe.  If there is a difference between what we believe and what teenagers think we believe, they will be more influenced by what they think we believe.  So, it’s important to verbalize our faith and find ways to clarify what we believe, so that our kids get a clear picture of where we are coming from and why we do what we do.

The quality of our marriages also affects our family’s faith trajectories.  A nationwide study of more than 1,100 adults examining the effects of family of origin on church involvement found a modest association between the marital happiness of a person’s parents and that person’ religious involvement.  In other words, people whose parents had marriages that were more life-giving were also more likely to attend and be involved with a faith community.  But, even when our marriages are struggling, the relational glue of your extended family and the church can help compensate for what’s missing at home.

Some people think that Christianity focuses on a bunch of “do’s” and “don’ts”.  It doesn’t.  It focuses on shaping who you are at the core of your being.  It focuses on your soul, your spirit, your heart, and your mind.  The Holy Spirit is re-shaping who we are.  As this happens, it will eventually change how we live, what we do, and what we don’t do.  But, the re-shaping of our hearts comes first.

This reminds us to do what we are.  If we want our faith to “stick” to our kids, we will get what we are.  People will look at who we are more than what we say or what we do.  If we want to influence our kids towards Jesus, we will get what we are.

 

New Habits for a New Year

January 2, 2017

We have flipped the calendar.  We have celebrated the end of 2016.  We have celebrated the beginning of 2017.  We get a fresh start.  We get a chance to start over, to try again.  So, now, what will we do?  Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but half of those people give up on their resolutions by the end of January.  The key is to develop good habits.  The key is to break bad habits.  We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to try to think our way into a new way of acting.  So, where do we begin acting differently?  As we start this New Year, I want to encourage us to begin 3 new habits:

1.This year, I will grow spiritually by ________________.

If you do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then look into this.  Read about Who Jesus is, what He said, and what He did.  Talk to people who believe in Jesus.  Explore it and check it out.

If you are already following Jesus, how can you grow spiritually this year?

Here are some habits to consider:

This year, I will read at least one chapter in the Bible every day.

This year, I will pray at least 5 minutes every day.

This year, I will attend church worship services 3-4 times a month.  (Research shows a significant difference in the strength of people’s faith who attend worship 3-4 times a month over those who only attend 1-2 times a month.)

This year, I will give ____% of my money to the church/missions/charity.

This year, I will take a Sabbath day every week.

These are called spiritual habits or spiritual practices.  If these become regular patterns in your life, you will grow stronger spiritually.

This is about Believing.

 

2.This year, I will grow relationally by ______________________.

Who are one or two people that you want to become better friends with this year?

This year, I will have coffee/lunch with someone once a week.

This year, I will invite someone over to my house to visit once a month.

This year, I will invite at least one unchurched person to come to church with me.  (The average Methodist invites a person to church once every 42 years.  What if all of us invited one person to church every year?)

This year, I will regularly attend a small group or a Sunday School class.

This year, I will call one person on the phone each week to ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them.

This year, I will reconcile with one person I am estranged from.

This is about Belonging.

 

3.This year, I will grow missionally by __________________________.

How can you serve God in our community?

Where can you serve God in our community?

This year, I will share my faith with one person who does not yet believe in Jesus.

This year, I will talk to one neighbor a month.

This year, I will have a block party to get to know my neighbors.

This year, I will find a need in our community where I can help.

This year, I will participate in one mission effort with our church.

This year, I will donate clothes or food to a local school or mission.

This is about Blessing.

 

As we begin this New Year, I want you to think about 3 things you can do differently this year.  Think about 3 new habits you can start, or 3 current habits you can enhance and expand.  We are more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to think our way into a new way of acting.  The quality of our lives has a lot to do with our habits – breaking old bad habits and starting new good habits.  If you become consistent in doing what God wants you to do, and consistent in living in healthy ways, you can live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

 

The Advent Conspiracy

November 30, 2016

A lot of people look forward to the Christmas season each year.  And each year, a lot of people are let down.  Instead of being the enjoyable season we see on TV, it has become a time of the year that is hurried, rushed, busy and stressed.  What happened?  How did it get to be this way?  In order to change this, a number of people and churches are discovering a movement called the Advent Conspiracy.  The Advent Conspiracy asks the questions, “Can Christmas still change the world?”  The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption, and relationship.  So, what happened?  How did it turn into stuff, stress, and debt?  Somehow, we’ve traded the best story in the world for the story of what’s on sale.

How did the Advent Conspiracy get started?  It started in 2006 with five pastors who started to imagine a better Christmas practice for their own communities.  Today, the Advent Conspiracy is a global movement of people and churches resisting the cultural Christmas narrative of consumption.  These churches are choosing to celebrate Christmas differently by Worshiping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All.

1)Worship Fully.  It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift up a song to God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

2)Spend Less.  Quick question for you: What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: What about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don’t because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed. Spending Less isn’t a call to stop giving gifts; it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. America spends at least $500 billion dollars during the Christmas season, and much of that is joyless and goes right onto a credit card. By spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.

3)Give More.  I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t you just say I should spend less, and now you are telling me to give more? What gives?” The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you? Tickets to a ball game or the theater? A movie night? The main point is simple: When it comes to spending time with those you love, quantity might be important, but quality is what’s really important.

4)Love All.  It all boils down to love. Love from a savior. Love to a neighbor in need. By spending just a little less on gifts, we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who really need help. This is the conspiracy a few churches began ten years ago, and has since grown to an international movement where thousands of churches have raised millions of dollars to love others in life-changing ways. It’s not that there’s something wrong with the shopping mall—it’s that the better story is about loving all.

So, what do you think?  Can we conspire together?  Can we get together and come up with a more significant, more meaningful way to celebrate Christmas?  It’s not enough to say “no” to the way Christmas is celebrated by many.  We need to say “yes” to a better way to celebrate Christmas.  If we intentionally devote more time and energy to Worshiping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All, we can make a difference in our own lives, in our families, and in our communities.  And if we make a difference there, it will begin to spread all over the world.  Today, thousands of churches are conspiring to celebrate Advent differently.  With each new person, and each new church, we end up making a far bigger difference than we ever thought was possible.  This year, let’s celebrate Christmas by joining the Advent Conspiracy.

(For more information, check out www.adventconspiracy.org)

 

 

Leadership

September 28, 2016

Five months ago, Thomas Friedman wrote a column in the New York Times where he was talking about the state of politics in Washington DC and the nature of the presidential election we are in now.  He said that the nonstop fighting between our two political parties has left many Americans feeling like the children of two permanently divorcing parents. He said that the country is starved to see its two major parties do big hard things together again.

As a nation, we are in a time of transition.  We are facing big issues.  And we are in need of strong, capable, effective leadership.  Many people have expressed their frustration at the lack of leadership we are receiving.  We seem to be missing big opportunities to change, to address complex issues, and to discover desperately needed answers.

What is leadership?  Leadership is making things happen.  Effective leadership is making the right things happen.  Effective Christian leadership is being used by the Holy Spirit to help make God’s thing happen.  Many people fail to see themselves as leaders when they really are.  Sometimes we think that we have to be in an official leadership position in order to be a leader.  This is not true.  There are many people in official leadership positions who do not provide leadership.  And there are many people who are not in official leadership positions who actually provide a great deal of leadership.  Leadership is not about a position.  It is about influence.  If you are in a relationship, a marriage, a family, a school, a church, a business, or a non-profit – if you are in any group of people, you can provide leadership.  Even if you don’t have an official position or title.

In The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, they state that “missional leadership is about cultivating an environment within which the people of God in a particular location may thrive.”  They write that “leadership is about cultivating an environment that innovates and releases the missional imagination present among a community of God’s people.”  This picture is the leader as gardener.  A leader is someone who plants seeds, waters them, puts fertilizer in the soil, and makes sure the young plants get the sun and nutrients they need in order to grow.  A gardener cannot force a seed to grow, but a gardener to do many things to create the right soil or the right environment so that the seed has the best chance to grow.

A leader is someone who encourages growth.  A leader is someone who seeks to inspire a new imagination – encouraging people to dream, to think outside the box, and to take wise risks.  A leader does not seek to control people, hold them down, or hold them back.  A leader is not someone who shames people, puts them down, or makes fun of them in front of their colleagues.  A Christian leader is someone who seeks to create a culture and a climate where people feel the unconditional love of God, where people are supported through their struggles, and where people are encouraged to fail as they develop their spiritual gifts and talents.

This is what we do when we seek to provide leadership in the church.  No human being can force a church to grow.  What we can do is lead like gardeners – planting and watering and nurturing and trying to create the right conditions, the right soil, and the right environment so those seeds can grow.

One of the great leaders we see in the Bible is Moses.  For Israel, Abraham was like their George Washington.  He was the father of their country.  Moses was like their Abraham Lincoln.  He ended their slavery and led them to freedom.  He led during one of the most challenging seasons in their nation’s history.  He led them through a very tenuous forty year exodus through the wilderness until they were finally ready to enter into the Promised Land.  When we read the book of Exodus, we can see the important leadership skills that were exhibited by Moses.  Moses is one of the key models we have for what a great leader looks like.  When we study his life, we can see how we can become better leaders.  We can see how we can vote for better leaders.

The leadership skills we are looking for in our world today can be found in the Bible.  Every one of us can be a person of influence.  Every one of us can have a positive impact on the people around us.  Every one of us can be a leader.

 

The Importance of Looking Foolish

August 31, 2016

If you want to grow spiritually in your relationship with God, it is important that you look foolish.

Noah looked foolish building an ark in a place with no water where there had not been any rain.  Sarah looked foolish preparing to have a baby when she was 90 years old.  The Israelites looked foolish blowing trumpets and marching around the city of Jericho.  Benaiah looked foolish when he went into a pit, with a lion, on a snowy day.  Gideon looked foolish when he reduced his army from 32,000 soldiers down to 300.  People probably thought Jesus was foolish when he told the man who hadn’t walked for 38 years to get up and start walking.   David looked foolish when he went up against Goliath.  Part of following Jesus is the willingness to look foolish.

Some people have never killed a giant, or walked on water, or seen walls come tumbling down because they weren’t willing to look foolish.  Some of the greatest breakthroughs in the world were accomplished by people who were willing to look foolish.  Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump at the 1968 Summer Olympics with a new style people called the Fosbury Flop.  This flop was one of the greatest successes in sports.  Today, every high jumper uses the Fosbury Flop.  In 1 Corinthians 1:27 it says “God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.”  It’s important that we look foolish.

Our society keeps trying to make us conform.  It uses peer pressure to get all of us to act alike.  But, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  God wants us to stand out from the world.  He wants us to be different.  That means, sometimes we will look foolish.  The world doesn’t understand how we can have Republicans and Democrats in the same church and all get along, but it happens all the time.  The world doesn’t understand how we can have black and white and brown and yellow in the same church and all get along, but it happens all the time.  The world doesn’t understand how we can have rich and poor, and the highly educated and the lowly educated (I love the lowly educated by the way – LOL) in the same church and all get along, but it happens all the time.

When you get excited about Jesus, don’t expect everybody else to get excited too.  When the Holy Spirit turns up the heat underneath you, it disrupts the status quo.  Some people will be inspired by what God is doing in your life.  Others will be convicted.  And they will mask their personal conviction by finding something to criticize.  9 times out of 10, criticism is a defense mechanism.  We criticize in others what we don’t like about ourselves.

Part of spiritual maturity is caring less and less about what people think about you and more and more about what God thinks about you.  Jesus was criticized by the religious leaders of his day for spending so much time with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.  It bothered them.  It didn’t bother Jesus.  They thought Jesus looked foolish.  Jesus didn’t care.  He knew the people needed him.  They were open to him.  They listened to him.  And some of their lives were changed.

Part of being a follower of Jesus is the importance of looking foolish.  We don’t expect the world to understand everything we do and why we do it.  But, that’s OK.  The Bible tells us that God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.  Doing the will of God is never foolish.  But faith is the willingness to look foolish, and when you step out in faith, some people will think you are foolish.  God keeps turning our world upside down and inside out.  When we don’t care how we look, and when we don’t care who gets the credit, the stage is set for God to do some amazing things.  I wonder what amazing things God is planning on doing in our lives this month?  If we are following Jesus, we will look foolish.

 

 

 

 

The “Good Ol’ Days” Are Not Coming Back

June 30, 2016

As I look at what is going on in our world today, I hear a lot of people voicing a deep sense of frustration.  Many people sense that the world is stuck and isn’t getting any better.  Since 2000, most people’s wages have not increased much, if at all.  Since the collapse of the housing market in 2008, many people have not seen a financial recovery in their own lives.  The job market does not seem to be getting better.  Our economy does not seem to be getting better.  Our educational system does not seem to be getting better.  Washington DC does not seem to be getting any better.  We feel stuck.  We feel frustrated.  And we feel angry.

In Yuval Levin’s best-selling book The Fractured Republic, he says that this has led many Americans to look back at the “Good Ol’ Days” and try to figure out how we can go back in time.  Many of our imaginations were shaped by the post-World War II years, where our economy was growing, jobs were plentiful, America dominated the world stage, and life seemed to get better every year.  Levin says that the Democrats keep looking back to the Great Society years of Lyndon Johnson and want to go back to that period in our history.  He says that Republicans keep looking back to the 1980 years of the Reagan Revolution and want to go back to that time.  But, the problem is, those “Good Ol’ Days” are not coming back.  We can’t go back in time and nobody seems to be looking forward.

We see this with the Brexit vote that was taken last week.  The United Kingdom voted to pull out of the European Union (EU).  Many people were expressing their frustration with the current realities of globalization and immigration and free trade and wanted to take their country back.  They wanted to become more British.  However, after the vote to leave the EU, the most asked question from England on Google was “What is the EU?” implying that people didn’t really know what they were voting for.  It seems as if they didn’t realize their vote would crash their financial markets, weaken the value of the pound, and put their economy in the tank.  Many wanted to go back to the Good Ol’ Days, but they are not coming back.

We see this in our country as well.  One presidential candidate wants to “Make America Great Again”, which is slogan that is looking to bring the “Good Ol’ Days” back again – something which cannot be done.  The other presidential candidate talks about bringing back the financial heyday of her husband’s presidency, which is looking to bring the “Good Ol’ Days” back again – something which cannot be done.  Nobody is looking forward, and people are frustrated with their leaders.

We see this in the Bible as well.  In the Old Testament, after living in Egypt for 400 years, the Israelites were finally set free by Moses, and crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness.  After two years in the wilderness, they were on the edge of the Promised Land.  But, in Numbers 13-14, it tells us that they became anxious and scared, and wanted to go back to Egypt.  They wanted to bring the “Good Ol’ Days” back again – something which could not be done.  They were frustrated with their leaders – Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.  They wanted to vote them out of office and pick new leaders.  Sound familiar?

Today, in the United Kingdom, here in the United States, and around the world, we are still making the same mistakes the Israelites made in the wilderness some 4000 years ago.  We can’t go back to the past.  The “Good Ol’ Days” are not coming back.  If we keep pining for yesterday, we will never find the path to tomorrow.

Because the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, they ended up having to stay in the wilderness for another 38 years.  They remained stuck and frustrated until the whole generation who were in leadership had died off.  They had to wait for the next generation to grow up, with fresh ideas, new perspectives, and a new imagination.  They needed people who were not afraid to take wise risks, to launch new experiments, and discover a new way to live in a world that had shifted significantly.  Our God is a creative God, and we need to encourage people to be more creative.  Jesus was a provocative and disturbing Bible teacher, and we need to encourage people to teach like him.  The Holy Spirit leads people through visions and dreams, and we need to encourage people to dream.  The seven last words of the church are “we’ve never done it that way before.”  Our past should never inhibit our future.  It should always provide the foundation to build new steps to a different future.

The Israelites in the Old Testament learned a hard lesson.  They learned that they couldn’t go back to the “Good Ol’ Days” and that they were never coming back.  Because of their stubbornness, they got stuck in the wilderness for a generation, before people were open to God’s new imagination.  We don’t want to make the same mistakes today.  Whether we are looking at our nation, our world, or our church, we don’t want to keep looking to the past when God wants to prepare us for a new future.  What will it look like?  We don’t know.  But, we have to keep looking forward, not backward. We have to learn to adapt to new situations and not be afraid to start new ministries.  We have to grow deeper in the scriptures to understand fresh ways to engage the new missionary context in our world.

We don’t know what the future holds.  We are faced with a lot of uncertainty.  But, we know that God holds our future.  We know that Jesus is leading us forward.  We know that the Holy Spirit will guide us on our journey.  We know that we don’t need to be afraid.  And we know that the “Good Ol’ Days” are not coming back.

 

 

Already But Not Yet

May 3, 2016

My friend, Rich Hansen, who pastors a church in Chicago, has just published a book called Paradox Lost.  In one of the chapters, he describes how the church he grew up in paid little attention to the Kingdom of God.  For some reason, a lot of American churches haven’t paid a lot of attention to the teachings in the Bible about the Kingdom of God, but it was the main thing Jesus talked about when he walked on earth.  The Kingdom of God is mentioned 122 times in the four gospels including 99 times from Jesus’ own lips.  In the Gospel of Mark, the very first words that Jesus speaks are about the Kingdom of God: ”The Kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)  The good news that Jesus brings into our world is about the Kingdom of God.

Rich writes in his book that the Jewish people had been expecting the Kingdom of God for a very long time, just as the Old Testament prophets had predicted.  All creation started off very good (Genesis 1:31).  But God’s good creation came under the brutal tyranny of Satan.  Now Jesus is leading a counterattack, recapturing the territory Satan has held.  Whenever Jesus heals someone, the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever he casts out a demon, the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever Jesus reaches out to love people no one else loves – like lepers or tax collectors or prostitutes or sinners – the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever truth and justice defeat injustice, the Kingdom of God has come.  Person by person, piece by piece, Jesus is reclaiming the territory that has been under the dominion of Satan.

Rich points out that the reframing nature of Jesus’ parables presses home the paradoxical, unexpected nature of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom will not arrive in overpowering might, as the Jews expected, but is already quietly at work, as insignificant to human eyes as a mustard seed or bit of yeast in some dough.  Jesus’ kingdom looks embarrassingly small and weak against powerful world systems that seem to have the upper hand in every quarter.  Yet he tells us it will expand to penetrate every corner of God’s creation.  As the nineteenth-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Rich reminds us that other parables continue the beat of the Kingdom’s mystery.  The Kingdom of God will not be joyously received everywhere, as the Jews expected.  As we learn in the parable of the sower, it will never take root in some lives, it will be superficially received in others, and it will be choked out in still others (Matthew 13:1-9).  One of the hardest truths for Jesus’ audience, and for many of us today, to swallow is how many people ultimately reject the Kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).  Also contrary to Jewish expectation, the Kingdom will not vanquish evil all at once, but comingles with an evil world, like wheat and weeds growing together until the final judgment (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

New Testament scholar George Ladd has written: “The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the Kingdom that is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen in Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men.”  Hence the classic phrase describing the Kingdom of God:  “already but not yet”.  It is already here, but it is not yet reaching its fullness until Jesus returns.  The future has already invaded the present, but not yet completely.

This is the tension that we live in today.  This is the challenge that we face.  How do we live in a world as people who have already been changed by God, but who have not yet been completely changed by God?  How do we live in a world that is in the process of being changed by God, but which has not yet been completely changed by God?  How can we be used by God to help advance His love and truth, to a world and to people who don’t always want to hear it?  It can be hard to live in a world with so many problems, but it can also be meaningful and rewarding to know that what we do matters, what we do counts, and what we do is important.  Every little thing that we do has the potential to make a difference in the world.  Even the smallest of words and the tiniest of actions can lodge in a person’s heart or mind and cause them to re-think what they believe and how they act.  Life can be hard, but life can be good at the same time.  Our labor is not in vain.  God can multiply what we do in ways we may not realize.  Life can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time.  This is the paradox of living between the now and the not yet.

 

A More Colorful Opportunity

April 28, 2016

Back in 1965, white people made up about 88% of the population in the United States, and the nonwhite population was about 12%.  Today, people of color make up 37% of the population in the United States.  In 1965, there were fewer than 9 million Hispanics in the U.S.  By 2013, there were 54 million Hispanics in the U.S.  In 1965, there were about 16 million Asian Americans in the U.S.  By 2013, there were more than 18 million.  We are becoming a more colorful country.

The demographics of our country are changing every minute of every day.  Each day, the size of the U.S. population increases by more than 8,000 people, and nearly 90% of that growth comes from people of color.  In 2011, the majority of babies born in America (50.4%) were not white.  A baby is born every seven seconds in our country, resulting in 12,343 births per day.  At the other end of the age spectrum, the racial composition of the over-65 segment of the population is 78% white.  So, while a majority of the births in our country are from babies of color, the vast majority of deaths are people who are white.

There are about 6,048 white babies born in America every day.  There are 5,204 white deaths in America every day, meaning that our white population increases by 844 people every day.  There are about 6,295 babies of color born in America each day.  There are 1,442 deaths of people of color, meaning that our nonwhite population increases by 4,853 every day.  Do you see a trend here?

More than 90% of all immigrants to America are people of color.  In terms of legal immigration, 2,618 people are added to the U.S. population each day.  When these are added to the net increase from births and deaths for people of color, 7,471 people of color are added to the U.S. population each day, in contrast to 1,053 white people who are added to our population each day.  Clearly, we are becoming a more colorful country.

Some who have been a part of the majority, who see their numbers declining, seem to be reacting with nervousness, anxiety, and fear.  But, perhaps God is giving us a unique opportunity.  As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, what is God up to here?  Why is God causing this to happen or allowing this to happen?  Perhaps the challenges that come from our changing demographics are actually opportunities. Maybe God is strengthening us rather than weakening us.  Can we rise above the negativity and the fear of our culture and model a healthier response?

In Matthew 8:11, Jesus says that “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven.” The picture Jesus gives us is that people will come from all over the world, from many countries, and many racial ethnic groups to be a part of the coming Kingdom of God.  It could be that God is preparing us for that future time by helping us get to know people from different backgrounds to understand the vast creativity and imagination of God.  We used to have to go into the world to share the good news of Jesus with people from other colorful backgrounds, but now they are coming to us.  We can now share our faith with many different kinds of people without having to leave the communities where we live.

Some people of color have a strong faith in Jesus that can encourage our relationship with God.  Some immigrants who come here are bringing about a revival in our nation as they share their faith in Christ with us.  Some people are coming here as missionaries since the United States is now the third largest mission field in the world.  What if people from other countries were not coming here to steal our jobs, but to inspire a deeper faith in God?  Why do some Christians respond with such fear, when the command found most often in the Bible is “do not fear”?  When I lived in California, I had many friends who were from Hispanic or Asian backgrounds.  I learned a lot from them, from their faith, and from how they viewed the world.

Maybe what some think is a curse is actually a blessing.  Maybe what some think is a problem is actually a solution.  Maybe what some think is a crisis is actually an opportunity.  Maybe God is surprising us again and teaching us something we need to learn.  Maybe we need to take off our cultural glasses and put on our Biblical glasses to see our world through different lenses.  Maybe we could learn to respond in faith instead of in fear.  Different is not always bad.  Change is not always bad.  Variety is not always bad.  Maybe God is leading us to a new level of trusting Him, where we realize He is still in control, and we are going to be OK.  Maybe we can all learn something new from each other.

(These statistics come from the book Brown is the New White by Steve Phillips.)