Tag Archives: Following Jesus

The Island of Misfit Toys

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When I look back over our years of ministry sometimes I feel like I’m leading a band of Misfit Toys.  I have endured the annoying people that others shun, and I am repaid with their undying loyalty and faithfulness.  OK, that’s just a nice way of saying that they cling to me.

As much as I would love to shed my “shadow” sometimes,  I DO have great compassion for the Misfits, so I continue to tolerate them with as much kindness as I can muster.  I whole-heartedly believe that everyone has a place and a purpose, no matter how annoying they may be to me personally.  As a church, we often attract the social outcasts and the awkward people that are rejected by society.  They come, drawn by an attraction to the acceptance and tolerance of Jesus.  Sometimes they are disappointed in what they find in US though.  I know the Church has often been accused of intolerance in the extreme, but that is just the opposite of what we SHOULD be.  We fall short.  If ANYONE should be tolerant, it should be God’s people.

Look at the motley crew that followed Jesus around 24/7 during the 3 years of his ministry on earth. He did not surround himself with big name, super star preachers.  He did not seek out the connections that would lead to juicy name dropping later.  He did not cultivate connections in high places.  No, he had the sick, the unclean, the tax collectors, the adulterers, the demon possessed, the uneducated, the weak, and the indiscreet following him around.  They were attracted to him.

So if you will be like Jesus, take note of the company you are keeping.  Are the Misfit Toys attracted to your kindness and acceptance?  Does your compassion for the awkward people lead you to great tolerance?  Are you known for your patience with people?  If you would be like Jesus, you will find yourself in the company of the outcasts.  Are you ready for that kind of notoriety?

“It is not the heathy that need a doctor- it is the sick,” said Jesus. 

Baptism by Fire

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I’ve been thinking about this phrase “Baptism by Fire” these last few months and wondering where it came from.  I asked a few Costa Rican friends if they had anything in Spanish that was similar, but they said No.  (Maybe if there’s someone out there who knows of one, you could add it to the comments here.)  So of course, I Googled it.  Basically it comes from taking some scripture verses out of context and applying them to a really hard situation.  Once upon a time it was used in France to talk about a soldier’s first real combat experience.  And the Mormons have added it to their rituals, again taking the scriptures out of context, to confer a higher authority (“priesthood”) on someone.

But the more I think about this phrase, and about the imagery of fire, the more I feel like it’s a gross exaggeration of a temporary rough spot in life.  It’s an exaggeration along the lines of “you’re killing me” or “we’re flat broke” or “that was the last straw.”  When we use such over the top words to describe a fleeting trial, we start to feel hopeless and victimized by life.  We start to imagine that we are some kind of martyr in  unusual circumstances.

But the Bible tells me that there is no trial or temptation which is new to mankind, nothing new under the sun, nothing that hasn’t been tried and conquered before.  This gives me great hope.  Rather than stripping me of my uniqueness, it bolsters me with good company.  Others have gone this way before me… and survived.  Sure some have fallen into the gorge on the side of the trail, but the survivors have left their torches along the path to illuminate my steps.  Their baptism by fire lights my way.  I can do this!

In the flames of my trial, I find the essence of my being.  I know what I am made of.  The dross, the flaws, the impure is burned away and the gold and silver bubble to the surface.  It’s the way God designed me.  As I pass through the trials, this old world burns away.  The straw and wooden crutches that have supported me go up in a flash and I have to stand on my faith- really owning it, really trusting it.  Is it strong enough to hold me up?  Or am I going down in flames too?

God does not preserve us from the flames.  They serve a purpose.  The martyrs of old met their end in the flames, being burned alive for their confession of faith and seeing this faith materialize into the face of Jesus right in the midst of their trial.  And it was in the very midst of the fiery furnace that the Son of Man met those three Hebrew teenagers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (in the Bible, Daniel chapter 3).  They were not rescued from the fire- they met God IN the fire.  I bet if you asked any one of them if they would have liked to skip over this episode in their lives, not one of them would choose to miss out on their closest encounter with God.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of epic proportions that has encouraged Jesus Followers for centuries thereafter.  The fire is not our enemy- the fire is our opportunity to meet God face to face.

Embrace your trial by fire and seek for Jesus’s face amidst the flickering flames.  Let everything else go up in flames.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O kind.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  Daniel 3:17-18

Pure and Holy Passion

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Give me one pure and holy passion,

Give me one magnificent obsession.

Give me one glorious ambition for my life, to know and follow hard after you.

To know and follow hard after you,

To grow as your disciple in the truth

This world is empty, pale, and poor

Compared to knowing you, my Lord.

Lead me on and I will run after you,

Lead me on and I will run after you.

Second Guesses Don’t Count

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Every once in a while I second guess myself.  Most of the time I am totally sure of my impulsive self (get it?).  Most of the time my actions are completely congruent with my vision for my life, where I think I should be going and the kind of person that I’m trying to become.  But every once in a blue moon the stars align and I’m hamstrung with self-doubt, paralyzed with indecision.

This cosmic even usually occurs in a Walmart within the first week of arriving back in the United States.  We have Walmarts here where I live, but they aren’t the same.  They are purely functional.  If you want a plastic spatula, a laundry basket or a bag of Kitty Litter then a Costa Rican Walmart is your place.  All the basics are here.  Walmart is just a grocery store on steroids.  For example, they have an entire aisle of yogurt and another complete aisle of coffee products and milk in unrefrigerated boxes.  Here I never feel paralyzed with indecision because my choices are quite limited.

I’m still so frustrated with my reaction to shopping when I go home.  The minute I set foot in a big store like Target or Walmart I feel the count down to a migraine beginning.  It’s a race against the clock.  I better go in there with a list or else I’m doomed.  This star-crossed shopper has been known to leave the store without buying a single thing simply because I couldn’t make a decision.  I know it’s time to leave when I hear my decision-making brain cells start to sizzle with the over load of information.  Sensing fear, Self Doubt sees its opportunity and pounces on the weakest of the herd.  It takes me down like a predator to its prey.

I found the Emergency Exit… in the middle of a forest.

This happens in my Spiritual Life too.  I don’t know how many times I’ve prayed, “Lord, you have to make your will SUPER clear to me, ’cause I’m not hearing you so well right now.”  I make a move in one direction and doors start to open.  I usually take this as a sign that I’m on the right path and keep moving along that route until I hit a wall or come across a fork in the road.  Usually I live by the philosophy that if you don’t hear anything new from the Lord then you just keep doing the last thing he told you to do.  No new instructions mean “keep on keeping on.”  Stay the course.

But sometimes I’m pushing on doors and they are opening smoothly when suddenly I’m griped by that old self doubt.  I second guess my decisions.  “Oh my word, this might actually happen!”  I gasp.  “Am I ready for this?  Is this really what I want?  Is it too late to back out of this commitment?”  I get cold feet.  This thing takes on a life of it’s own!

That’s when my prayer switches from “God lead me” to “God give me courage!”  Of course I want him to stop me if I’m wrong, correct me if I’m off course, and keep me from making a bad decision.  But when self doubt and fear come knocking on my door, I need courage to stay the course and not go running back to what is familiar and safe.  I commit my way to the Lord again and pull out his promises to strengthen my resolve.

“The steps of a Righteous Man (Woman) are ordered by God.”

“Direct my footsteps according to your word, let no sin rule over me.”

“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.  How then can anyone understand his own way?” 

Then I breathe deeply and resolve to Keep on Keeping on until I hear differently from the one who orders my steps.

Jesus Lite vs. the Jesus that Pissed Everyone Off and Made Demons Tremble

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Were you raised in Sunday School, like me?  If you were, you might know this little song:  This Little Light of Mine.  From the very beginning we are taught that Jesus in our hearts is like a little candle, barely holding it’s own in the dark world.  But as I get older, I want the Jesus I serve to be a huge, roaring forest fire inside me!  I want an out of control blaze that consumes everything around me.  Don’t give me Jesus Lite.  I want the Powerful Jesus who I read about in the Gospels.

Pick up the Bible (I’m loving The Message Version lately) and start reading in Matthew.  Seems like, in EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER Jesus is offending someone.  No wonder they crucified him!  He was not the meek and mild Jesus who went around petting sheep and holding children on his lap.  He was the strong and powerful Jesus who controlled the wind and waves.  He made demons tremble and cry out when he walked by them.  I want the Jesus that evoked AWE in his followers and FEAR in the hypocritical religious leaders.

This week, I was listening to this sermon by Francis Chan.  In this sermon Francis just thumbs through the Gospel of Matthew and summarizes each chapter to illustrate that Jesus said some pretty hard things.  Here’s just a sampling from this sermon.

Some of the hard things that Jesus said:

*  If you love your family, mother or children more than me, you aren’t worthy of me.

*  If you’re rich it’s going to be really hard for you to get into heaven because you love your stuff so much.

*  Living by the letter of the law will not get you into heaven.  No matter how careful you are- every one of you sins.

*  Being a in a religious family will not automatically guarantee you a place in heaven.

*  If you hate your brother and refuse to forgive, God won’t forgive you either.

*  On the Day of Judgement, some of you are going to beg for mercy and call me “Lord” but I’m going to say, “I never knew you- get away from me.” and I’ll cast you into outer darkness.

*  Jesus made a whip and drove out the vendors and sellers in the temple and threw the money tables over- He trashed the Temple because they were robbing the people who came to the temple to pray.  He said, “My Father’s House is to be a House of Prayer for all nations.  But you have made it into a den of thieves!”

*  Jesus described himself as the Rock.  He basically said, “If you try to fall on me and attack me, I will break you to pieces like a fragile piece of pottery.  And if I fall on you, I will crush you.  Because I AM The Rock.  You can’t break me.”  Bring it on Jesus!

*  Many are called, but few are chosen.  Wide is the road that leads to destruction and many will follow it.  But narrow is the road that leads to Eternal Life and few will find it.

*  Religious leaders who are fake and hypocrites are like white washed tombs- pretty and neat on the outside but full of dead bones and foul decay on the inside.  Jesus hated hypocrisy.  He called those guys a brood of vipers.  He made a point to provoke the religious leaders.

*  The World HATES me, so if you follow me they are going to HATE you too.  Don’t be surprised.

*  I willingly give my life for you.  I have the authority to lay my life down AND TO PICK IT UP AGAIN.  Yeah, I’m that powerful.  You’ll see, just wait and see.  You’re going to kill me because you hate me- but in 3 days I’m going to rise again.  Just wait, you’ll see.  I do this for you, to pay for your sins.  This blood is for you.

*  ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME… AND I AM WITH YOU EVEN UNTIL THE END OF THE AGE.

YES!  That gives me the chills.  That’s my Jesus!  That’s my Rock.  And he’s promised to be with me.  He’s on my side.  This is the Powerful Jesus who is on my side!  I have no fear.  Bullies can’t scare me.  Death doesn’t scare me.  Financial crisis can’t shake me.  Nothing can separate me from my Jesus!  So what if you don’t like the message?  I didn’t write it, this is what Jesus said.  So what are you going to do?  Email me?

You may be offended by this.  You may think that I didn’t have the right to write these things or that Jesus shouldn’t have said these things.  But I like what  J. Vernon McGee, once said, “This is God’s Universe and He does things His way.  You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.”