Monthly Archives: September 2008

A Prophet Without Honor


When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed.

“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.  (Matthew 13:53-58)

“And they took offense at him.”  Why?  He had just amazed them with his wisdom and his power to do miracles.  What’s offensive about that?  Jesus was teaching them truth from God’s heart and healing the sick and the lame.  Their hearts should have been overflowing with gratitude.

But instead, they took offense.  Not because of what He did but because of who He was.  He was a “homegrown” celebrity who outshone His friends and neighbors.  “How dare He!”  “Jesus should have been content being ordinary like the rest of us.”  “He’s making us all look bad.” Like crabs in a bucket, they couldn’t be happy about someone else’s success, because it seemed to diminish their own.

Today, we have many examples of “prophets without honor:”

  • A high-school or college classmate who becomes a success.
  • A co-worker who gets the big promotion.
  • A team within the same organization that develops a recognized best practice.
  • A sister church or ministry that is experiencing incredible blessings.
  • A family member who follows God’s leading in their life down a different path.

We tend to discount these peoples’ success and fulfillment, because we “knew them when…” We don’t like it when people or groups break out of the image we had of them.  We feel that we had them locked up tight with our astute evaluation of their character, abilities and potential, and we expect them to stay put.  Rather than reconsider our assumptions, we prefer to come up with reasons that explain how what they have achieved cannot be genuine.

I’ve seen so many examples of this.  I’m too frequently guilty of it myself, so I think I can call it what it really is: PRIDE.  It’s the Sin of Compare-a-Son: judging our own worth in relation to our evaluation of the worth of others.  It’s One-Up; One-Down: believing that we can’t be good unless we are better than.  And it’s all a lie from the Pit.

Satan loves getting us tied up in these distractions.  Our comparisons keep us focused on others rather than on God.  They cause us to spend time in self-justification that we could be using to follow God’s unique path for each of us.  His will is not in the direction of the other person’s success; it’s on a path He has set out for us individually.  We should allow them to be them and us to be us.

God has abundance for us!  We don’t have to fear someone else’s success.  We should rejoice in it with them and then turn to God in confident expectation:

“Whatcha got for me, God?

I’m ready to be blessed in the specific way you have planned for me!”

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Filed under Abundance, christianity, expectations, Interpersonal, Life's Purpose, Pygmalion Effect, Relationships, Religion, Spiritual Growth

The Race


The runners are at the starting blocks.  The race is about to begin.

The starting gun fires!  The runners leap into action!

But something’s wrong.  Instead of speeding around the track, they clunk; they lumber; they stumble and fall.  These runners didn’t come prepared to race.  They are all bogged down with heavy clothes and boots, backpacks, and luggage with broken rollers.

Before they make even a dozen steps, those in the stands begin throwing things at them.  As they try to dodge the debris, the runners are assaulted by vendors on the sidelines hawking their wares.  Many leave the track to buy more stuff that they will have to carry to the finish line.  Some stop to have huge meals and then are too lethargic to continue the race until they’ve had a nap.

The spectators boo and yell out criticisms.  Some of the runners get so discouraged that they stop dead in their tracks, unable to do anything but focus on what they are hearing and seeing.  One is crumpled and weeping in the middle of the course.

But then a runner emerges from the crowd of athletes.  He’s shucking the baggage and the heavy clothing.  He’s ignoring the criticisms from the spectators and the vendors hawking their wares.  He picks up speed.  Within moments, he’s at a full sprint!

As he runs, the boos and the criticisms fade into the background and he begins to notice the sound of cheers.  Glancing to his right, he sees that the stands are filled not just with catcallers but also with enthusiastic supporters.  The harder he runs, the easier it is for him to tune out the negative voices.  By the time he crosses the finish line, all he can hear is the euphoric applause of his fans.

————–

In this story, the race represents our life as Christians.  We are the runners.  The starting blocks indicate the moment we accepted Christ.  The finish line is heaven.  The heavy clothes and baggage represent the burdens that we bring into the race – our sin, our emotional baggage, our hang-ups, our misunderstandings about God…

The spectators represent both the heavenly host of angels and the demons, who are watching God’s plan play out as we run the race.  The projectiles they throw are fears, worries and doubts.  The vendors represent Satan’s emissaries, doing whatever they can to distract us from our mission.  The heavy meals represent our materialism, that dulls our spiritual craving for godliness.

Most of us are ill-equipped to run this race.  We bring so much junk with us to the starting line, and we have no idea how to deal with Satan’s attacks.  But as odd as it may seem, we do our training while we round the track.  We carry our Bible with us as we run.  And it doesn’t slow us down; it helps us get rid of the junk and makes us faster.

So, start your race every day with your Bible and quit listening to the hecklers.  The heavenly host is cheering you on!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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When You Reap


“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

In God’s instructions to the Israelites, He made a provision for the poor.  In essence, He said, “Don’t be greedy.  Don’t keep everything I give you for yourself.  Leave some behind for those that come after you.”

For us today, there is certainly a monetary component to this admonition.  Since most of us don’t live in an agrarian culture, we should leave some gleanings of our cash “harvest” for the poor.  But I wonder if there isn’t also an application to Christians in their work.

When God blesses us with abundance, should we leave the extra for others to pick up?  When we do something worth sharing, should we let others without the same resources as us take it and use it for free? Should we teach others what God’s allowed us to learn?

Obviously, this would be a bad idea if you are in a competitive industry, but I think it’s a great idea for those in Christian ministry.  And what about for large churches?  If we’re successful in Christian ministry, we have knowledge and resources that we can share.  Those who are trying to get on their feet in ministry and struggling to make ends meet might really appreciate gleaning after those who have already found their way.

Here are some ideas for things we might be able to share with them:

  • Documented processes
  • Curriculum
  • Props and supplies from VBS, drama productions and closets that need to be cleaned out
  • Training
  • Leadership development
  • Leaders
  • Facilities to meet in, to do productions in, to baptize in…
  • Encouragement
  • Money
  • Volunteers
  • Hand-me-down equipment (computers, office supplies, furniture…)
  • IT support
  • Use of vans, buses or other vehicles

There are probably dozens of opportunities to share God’s blessings.  If we aren’t using these things to their fullest capacity, are we being good stewards of what God has given us?  Is putting all our stuff in storage or throwing it away anything like burying our “talents?”

Try putting an ad on Craigslist – “Free whatever to churches and/or ministries!”  You might be an answer to their prayers!

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Filed under Abundance, christianity, Church, Gleaning, helping, Interpersonal, leadership, mentoring, Relationships

Earn vs. Return – Part 2


In a previous post, I shared that we shouldn’t do good works to earn God’s love (we already have it!); we should do good works to return His love (out of gratitude).

This is key, because so many of us are trying to earn something that we already have.  God takes pleasure in us because of WHO we are even when what we DO is disobedient, sinful and evil.  When we try to earn His love, our heart is in the wrong place.  We are starting with the wrong motive.
Take a look at this model. When our heart starts from the wrong motive (i.e., trying to EARN God’s love), there is never a good outcome. If we succeed in our good works, we tend to get prideful and self-righteous. If we fail to accomplish our good works, we are filled with guilt and self-condemnation. (This is the “bad guilt” that keeps condemning us even after we have repented of our sins, and it is often the motivation for our works when we are doing them for the wrong reasons.)

However, if we start from the right motive in our hearts (i.e., trying to RETURN God’s love), both our successes and our failures are pleasing in God’s sight. If we succeed, we are grateful to God for allowing us to do the good works. We rightly understand that we could not have accomplished them without God’s provision and grace, and we commit to serving the Lord in even greater ways.

If we fail in our best intentions, though, it leads us to humility and repentance. These are pleasing to God, and He uses them as a tool to shape us more in His likeness. No Christian should expect to succeed in his good intentions all the time. Failure is an important part of the shaping process. There is an aspect of guilt here, but it is “good guilt” – the kind that leads us to recognize our sin and repent of it. “Good guilt” never continues after repentance.

When our good works are motivated by love, the outcome will always be that we draw closer to God. When they are motivated by guilt and a desire to earn His favor, they will always draw us away from Him – even when we think we must be getting closer. (Consider how far from God the Pharisees were despite their meticulous tithing and obedience to the letter of the Law.)

There is nothing left to earn. Christ paid that debt fully on the cross. We have His holiness and His righteousness. It’s 100% done! All we can do with our own efforts is show our appreciation.

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20, er….21


I just realized that I hit my 20 21-year sobriety date a few months ago.  21 years!  It’s hard to believe.  My counselor, Jeff, would have even a harder time believing it.  He told me at my one-year anniversary that he didn’t think i would ever make it to one year.

I got into drugs during my Freshman year in high school, got busted during the summer following my Sophomore year and went to drug rehab for 30 days in the hospital.  As far as I know, I was the only one of my peers who made it out.  I know that at least one is dead, but I didn’t keep up with the rest.

I’ve thought for some time that the reason why I made it when so many didn’t was because I never saw myself as a drug user.  I always thought I was a person who used drugs, but I didn’t believe I was a “druggie.”  Because of the training I received from my mom, I knew I was better than the way I was acting.  That was key. My WHO was greater than my DO.

I hope this is a word of encouragement to all you parents out there.  Make sure that your kids know exactly who they are and who they are not.  Their behaviors may deviate for a time, but they will eventually align with how they see themselves.

* This article was originally named, “20,” but my wife pointed out to me that I have poor math skills.  I actually hit 20 years LAST year!  Kinda anti-climactic now.

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Earn vs. Return – Part 1


Much of the world throughout history has been trying to earn its way into heaven (or nirvana, Shangri-La,  Moksha, Elysium, Jannah, Fiddler’s Green, Utopia, Valhalla, Goloka…), but it’s just not possible.  We can’t ever be good enough to earn our own way.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Isaiah 64:6)

Nothing we do goes toward eliminating our sin debt.  Jesus had to settle the debt for us.  He paid the price that we couldn’t pay in our spiritual poverty.

But even Christians who accept that they are going to heaven only by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus still try to earn God’s approval.  Many of us do good works so that God will be happy with us, so that He won’t be disappointed.  We imagine that God is like Santa Claus, with a long list of the naughty and nice things we do, and we really want our nice things to outweigh the naughty ones.

Here’s a difficult truth to swallow:

God is already happy with us.

More than happy, God is pleased with us!

Read it again.

Do you believe it?

It’s hard to accept, because we know about all the bad things we do.  We know we don’t deserve God’s pleasure, because we struggle every day with submitting our will under His authority. But God’s pleasure isn’t dependent on our behaviors.  He is pleased with WHO we are even when He’s not pleased with what we DO.

And our sin doesn’t make us less righteous or less justified or less holy in His sight, because it’s really not about us.  It’s about Jesus. No matter how far from perfection we are, Jesus makes up the difference.  When the Father looks at us, He sees the righteousness of His Son.

Isaiah can help here:

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Jesus did two things for us:

1) He clothed us with salvation (i.e., we get to go to heaven).

2) He dressed us up in a robe of righteousness (i.e., He covered our unrighteousness with His righteousness).

Just like we can’t earn our salvation, we can’t earn our righteousness.  It’s a gift.  That’s why Jesus could tell the disciples:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:48)

There’s no way they could have accomplished perfection on their own, but God’s plan is:

You do what you can; Jesus will make up the difference.

We still have our part to play.  We are to do what we can.  But even if we turn in a miserable performance, we are still righteous in God’s sight, because Jesus makes up the difference.  And when we are doing what we can, we aren’t earning; we are returning.

Through obedience and good works, we give back to God what He has given to us.  You see, we can only do good through God’s grace.  He gives us the heart to do good; He gives us the energy; He gives us the talent or the money or the time….  Anything good we do originates with God.  And truth be told, we are only returning a fraction of what He has given us.

For example, when we tithe, we give God ten percent of what we earn.  But where did the ability to earn the 100% come from?  Where did the job come from?  Where did the talent and skill and knowledge come from?  It all came from God.  It’s like He handed us one hundred dollars and asked for only ten back.  We are only returning a portion of what He gave us, and He’s okay with that because He enjoys giving good things to His children.

So we don’t do good to earn His love; we do it to return His love.  Out of gratitude.  Out of a joyful heart that recognizes that there’s nothing to earn – that we already have all the righteousness that we need and that we have God’s pleasure despite what we DO because of WHO we are (i.e., His children)!

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Filed under agape love, christianity, Covering, grace, guilt, Religion, righteousness, Salvation, Spirituality, Substitution

Trust Walk


At summer camp each year, we end our week with the kids with an activity called a “Trust Walk,” where we blindfold them and lead them by the hand around the camp, providing an example of how Jesus leads us through life when we put our trust in Him. My first year, I led my two campers in and out of trees, up a hill and finally to a place where they could sit. After removing their blindfolds, I pointed out the obstacles that we had come through. Then, it was their turn to lead me.

My entire face covered with handkerchiefs and a child holding each hand, I worried just a little bit about what I might have done to an unsuspecting adult guide had I been the eight-year-old boy in this situation on the last day of camp . . . I think they led me over about three-quarters of the camp before telling me that I could sit down. I felt around the ground until I found a rock to sit on, and then I pulled off my blindfold and looked around. My kids had led me to a six-foot, brown wooden cross in the wooded area of the camp.

My first thought was, “Yes! They got it!” Somehow, they had silently agreed that this was the spot where they would lead me. They recognized that the cross was important, even if they didn’t know exactly how important. I had decided earlier in the week to just let the Holy Spirit do His work in His time, and I felt incredibly blessed just to witness the planting of seeds in their hearts.

Immediately on top of that thought, the Holy Spirit showed me that all week, I had been spending time with these children, loving them and praying for them, hoping to lead them to the Cross. And although I didn’t realize it until just that moment, at the same time, God had been with me and loving me, and He was using these children to lead me closer to the Cross. As I sat on a rock at the bottom of that tall, wooden cross, I knew Jesus in a way that I had never know Him before. He touched my heart through two beautiful children and showed me the joy of joining God where He is working. That’s living!

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, faith, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality