Don’t Give Up In The Process!

Have you watched the classic movie “The Mask of Zorro?” I sure have! More than once…

The story opens as Alejando’s brother, Joaquin is murdered by Captain Love, giving his life so his little brother can escape. Days later, Captain Love rides up to the tavern where Alejandro is  drinking away his grief and anger. Our hero stumbles up, sword in hand, determined to fight.

An old man in a poncho quickly disarms him with a walking stick and tells him to be quiet and sit down. “But I would have fought and killed him to avenge my brother,” Alejandro angrily objects.

“No my friend” the old man replies softly. “You would have fought very bravely and died very quickly.”

The old man, of course, is Zorro and he offers to train the young and reckless Alejandro. Alejandro agrees and thus begins the gruelling months of intense training.

We see Alejandro doing push ups over lit candles with Zorro’s feet on his back, stick in hand to ensure proper form.

We hear Zorro repeatedly tell his young protege he is pushing too fast. “Slow.” He repeats over and over until finally, Alejandro’s form and skill begin to match his passion.

But the most important lesson is the hardest.  The one that will mean either success or failure of Alejandro’s mission.  Internal self control.  Although growing to be a skilled swordsman, his emotions still control him.  This is where he nearly gives up and exits Zorro’s tutelage.

This is the lesson Jesus is teaching me.  Emotions are a wonderful gift, but they can control us if we allow them to.  We are to be led by the Spirit of God in self control, not led by our emotions.

When we swim in seas of emotion, we end up in shark infested waters.  We live in a society driven by emotion and we are diving deeper into confusion and chaos as we reject the Teacher’s Truth.  In the midst of this emotional chaos, we followers of Jesus must choose a different path.

Alejandro had no idea Zorro had far bigger plans than simply avenging his brother.  Had he refused Zorro’s training offer, and not stuck with the long painful training, he would never have fulfilled his mission to become the next Zorro, and the people of California would not have been saved.

The process of becoming equipped is as important as it is uncomfortable.  We can give up and exit Jesus’ training program to be comfortable and safe, but in doing so, we also give up our destiny.  When we are blindsided with difficult things, do we see it as learning to overcome through the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, or do we allow emotion to take us down?

Will we commit to stick out the training process no matter how long it lasts or how difficult it becomes knowing we see only a small part of the broader mission God has for us, trusting His careful teaching?

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. 1 Corinthians 9:25

Take Back Your Joy!

I am beginning to wonder about the missing fruit of the Spirit called JOY.  Why does it seem for many believers, joy is largely absent from our lives?

We should be overflowing with joy, and a holy contentedness that is the birthright of all children of the King.  I myself find the absence of joy to be disconcerting and I am unwilling to settle for less that what God wants to give me in the joy department.

The Psalms tell us taking refuge in God brings joy, and praising and giving thanksgiving to God produces joy.  This means actually coming into His presence with intentionality.

Isaiah 35:10 says: Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

When times get tough and joy is fleeting, we tend to shrink back from extravagant displays of worship and thanksgiving to our Saviour – at least I do. But it is in these hard, dry seasons when praising and bringing thanksgiving into the refuge of God is most important.

Somehow, when praise and singing are brought to God, Joy becomes a crown, and sorrow and sighing have no ground to put down roots.

Isaiah 12:13 says: With JOY you will draw water from the wells of salvation! 

What a promise!  When everything else goes wrong, we can step back, and worship because of the unshakeable salvation we have already received along with the promise of God to graciously give us, along with Jesus, all things. (Romans 8:32)

Praising is like dancing on the grave of an enemy who steals joy like a kleptomaniac.  Worship is like entering the banquet anyway when you feel you have no business at a celebration.  It is a rebel act in a negative culture that takes back the rights of royalty we so easily relinquish.

The well of salvation is there, full of water and rightfully ours.  The Devil and his cohorts, like a band of desert robbers seek to keep us from drawing water from the well.  Our own propensity to complain and whine stands like a wall around the well, but when we press in, we find the water is as sweet and refreshing as ever, and joy is a byproduct.

So if you are feeling depressed, hard pressed, morose, or persecuted, bring the offering of praise into the house of God.  Pretend there is no one watching.  Lift your hands up.  Lift your head up.  Lift your heart up, and with abandon, praise the One who saves us!  Dance on disappointments knowing God can take them and remake them into triumphs beyond recognition.

And then drink with joy, life giving water from the Well of Salvation.

What things have you allowed to steal your joy today?  If you’re ready to reclaim it, put your praise on!  (Dancing is always a great addition)!

 

Grow Up!

What happens if babies never grow up? Imagine a whole society of babies with few adults to teach and train them?

Friends have told me life would be so much better if their child would learn how to use the toilet.

I wonder if the Father and the Holy Spirit sometimes sit in the throne room dialoguing  about the Western church.

“You know, if those kids would learn to use the toilet, their dirty diapers wouldn’t be dragging them down.” The father says shaking His head.

“Yes, and I keep trying to mix some solid food with their pablum, but they spit it out and start wailing that we don’t love them.” The Spirit say with a mix of exasperation and incredulity.

This may seem ridiculous, but seriously – isn’t the purpose of life to grow up, mature, become stronger and more proficient in everything?

Paul continually talks of enduring hardship, training, gaining strength and maturity, growing in authority and identity and relationship with God, until we proficiently vanquish forces of evil and establish the Kingdom of Heaven in our territory.

Here we are. We know little about spiritual authority, we allow petty differences to divide and conquer us and we don’t walk in the power and rule of God in life, bowled over by things designed for us to overcome and grow.

If the Spirit of God is allowed rule our lives, we followers of Jesus should be the best, most inspired in every arena, yet we, the church, look to the world’s patterns and copy them. Even church itself is based on a concoction of corporate structure and performance culture.

I am speaking to myself too, pleading for us to decide we want to grow up. We should be giants in faith. We have freedom, resources, and strength in numbers, yet we are more concerned with our own crap and poking other denomination’s diapers than breathing Life into our world together.

At 12, I decided to stay 12 the rest of my life.  I had relative freedom to do things I enjoyed but was still able to evade much of the responsibility I saw delegated to my older brother. I figured life was pretty much as good as it could get – why change it!

I didn’t stay 12.  Things I prided myself on as a pre-teen now seem ridiculous and small, and my usefulness to others and to the world continually expands as God has allowed sometimes brutal circumstances to shape and stretch my understanding of Him and His power at work in those of us who believe to overcome.

I can say with utmost confidence there are things God designed for you that you have yet to grow into.  Incredible things that would astound you if you knew!  But you can’t stay where you are if you want to walk into them!

I have decided to grow up.  I will press in under the tutelage of the Spirit and take hold of the massive dreams God has in mind for me.  I will learn to use the toilet and eat solid food that fuels exploits yet to be imagined.  How about you?  You wanna come?

Therefore let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us! Hebrews 12:1

Check Your Pulse!

If you are on any kind of media, likely you have seen post after post on the responses to the mass shooting at the Pulse Club last week.

My heart hurts for the families and lives of those shot down and wounded. My heart breaks for the brokenness and darkness that drove the shooter. My heart is deeply angered by the response of the Westboro Baptist Church and others who claim to follow Jesus, to the shooting.

I read Luke 11 today and the words Jesus had for experts of the law echo in my mind along with the callous, demeaning response of people who say they follow Him: “Woe to you who have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

Jesus condemned them for placing heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and not lifting a finger to help bear them.

I wonder what led these people so far away from the God they claim to follow? If Jesus is truly our leader, we should be sitting down to eat with the fringes of society because we genuinely care about their lives.  We should be washing the feet of the oppressed and wounded, seeing beauty and unlimited potential in them because of the image they bear.  Jesus saw people “like sheep without a shepherd”  and had compassion on them.  Do we?

We are created to multiply. I have heard it said that when you multiply with something that is not whole, you get division.  What are we multiplying as the Body of Jesus?  Wholeness or wounds?

What does my mind conjure when I look at a person who believes and lives differently than me?  Do I respond out of fear and awkward discomfort?  Judgement and suspicion?  Fear? Do I see them merely as they appear in my eyes, or do I see them as precious people that Jesus is crazy about.  Jesus died for each one of those slain last week.  He gave His life to have relationship with them.  Would I?

I wonder if I am missing the footsteps of Jesus as I navigate my life around people who make me uncomfortable and I simply don’t engage.   I wonder if I reject the riches and treasure Jesus talks about in His Kingdom – so different to worldly wealth – on a regular basis?  What if my identity in Christ and my intimacy with the Holy Spirit was security enough to make me unshakeable in my faith, and unwavering in my love?

Whose feet am I washing?  Whose lives am I touching?  Will the new Kingdom be fuller, richer  because I lived on earth for a while?  Or am I simply hoarding keys while I block people from entering in?

The Great Paradox

I don’t think God minds when we have no flipping clue how to go about this “Christian Life”  thing.

We walk out a gospel of paradoxes.  Doctrine that pulls us both directions at once.  I believe it is God’s way of ensuring we will always need His Holy Spirit.  If we try to work out the the paradoxes on our own, we shrivel into dead religion.  It is only when we allow the Spirit of God to lead us that we can navigate the paradoxes with balance and harmony.

Grace alone saves us – not works.  But without works, faith is dead.

Come to me and find healing and rest – Pick up your cross and follow me, undeterred by suffering.

I give my beloved ones sleep.  The watchmen take no rest.  (What if I am a beloved watchman?)

Suffering with Christ is a privilege that produces glory.  Life abundant is there for those who follow Jesus.

It is God who fights for us.  Take up the Sword of the Spirit; the Word of God and stand firm.

I sit this morning, passing paradoxes back and forth in my mind like a penny from one hand to the other.  I know I need some serious wisdom.   Discernment is not easy at the best of times, but exhaustion causes hope to hunker down a little farther to the back and numbs the desire to be brave.

I desire to walk in victory and power, yet the limitations of this season keep me coming back in weakness, asking for more grace. I hear God’s call, yet know I am unable to meet Him in it without more of His strength.

There is something about resting in the goodness of God that releases the frustration of walking out the paradox.  If I remain steadfast that God is good, and God is for me, I don’t have to understand the two sides fully. I can let the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear the next step on the paradox without needing to know the entire journey.

Come to me you weary and heavy laden – I will give you rest.  Regardless of where the Spirit is leading you in the paradoxes of today, His promises remain.  No matter what your circumstance, the invitation to come is unwavering, and when we come, we do not leave the same.

I pray you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit today, inviting you to step into the paradox with Him.  It is the only way to do the “Christian Life” and not either go crazy or religious!

 

The Dune Buggy

I have been doing a lot of listening lately. When God gives you an impossible assignment (real life is much more exciting than James Bond), you need to get your directions from the One who will be contributing the power! So I sat in the sand by the water waiting for the first step.

I know God is pretty much set on His end, but with limited energy and strength, I am realizing without detailed instructions and God’s power of multiplication, I will go hopelessly amuck and run out of strength.

Faithfulness is not doing things for God. Faithfulness is doing what God asks. I have often mixed the two up, asking God to bless something I was doing “for Him” that was not His design for me.

As I waited, I had a picture of a dune buggy travelling across the sand. If you don’t know what a dune buggy is, its a stripped down vehicle on an open chassis with big sand tires.

The picture was a clear analogy of how I am to travel. Strip down the unnecessary things. Things that take energy but are not in line with the calling for this season. Get my dune buggy light so it doesn’t get bogged down and stall out. (I have a lot of experience with running out of gas and stalling out with this body of mine).

I need big soft tires that can speed over the hard beaches, but can gear down and crawl through the soft deep patches without getting stuck. A dune buggy doesn’t worry so much about speed, it is intent on covering the terrain successfully.  I don’t need all the accessories, just 4 Wheel drive and good engine and tires.

The most important part of this dune buggy is the navigator.  I need a navigator who knows what places to avoid, and when to slow down and when to push through. Without the navigator, quicksand is a problem!  Without the navigator, successfully covering terrain in the wrong direction is a problem.  The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us; He is our Guide, our Teacher, and the one who empowers us to obey!  He’s the best Navigator.  Period.

In life we get one go round to know Jesus as fully as we are able and to allow Him complete access to our life for His Kingdom.  If I am headed in the wrong direction, common sense tells me I have to backtrack before I can get back on track.  I want to do the least amount of backtracking as possible in the go round I am given, and so I am committing today again, to listen intently to my Navigator!

What are some things you can pare down in your life to give you more energy for God led adventures?  Are you able to rest and gear down when you hit deep sand, or do you stall out?

 

The Rag Trader

It was a typical Sunday morning when the Rag Trader walked into town. Letting down his bag, he settled by the large willow tree on the river bank. The church doors were just opening and people began trickling in as pastors shook hands and people with name tags handed out bulletins.

Little Sam Persons ambled up to the Rag Trader with his funny stilted gate.  Ever since the “incident” he limped and rarely spoke.  His mother called after him, and when he didn’t return to the line at the church door, she followed him to the river.  By then the two were in animated conversation.

“Why don’t you bring your bag to the church?” Sam queried.

“When there is no room in a church, you can find us Rag Traders by the river.  We follow Jesus, and there wasn’t much room for Him there either” The Rag Trader said with a funny grin.

The Rag Trader asked if Sam wanted to trade his limp for a new leg?  “I trade rags of sorrow for clothes of joy,” he said cheerfully.  Little Sam nodded emphatically and the exchange was made.

Little Sam wasn’t the only one who visited the Rag Trader.  Some crept in under the cover of darkness to the blanket by the river, others sauntered in on their lunch break. Some lingered for days before venturing in to sit on the blanket, talk to the Trader and make an exchange.

No one who underwent an exchange with the Rag Trader went away unchanged.  Those who received his exchange were clothed in beautiful silk and radiated light.  Still, there were many who couldn’t bear the thought of parting with their familiar rags and cloaks of comfort.  The thought of admitting their self-made wardrobes were lacking was offensive, terrifying, and so they called the Trader a fraud. Some said he was dangerous and would divide the church.

The church began to hold meetings.  Suspicions roiled through the elder board with every recounting of the Rag Trader’s deeds.

Some people became dissatisfied with sermons that encouraged with no conviction and prayers to heal that never seemed to be God’s will.  They gathered around the Rag Trader as he worked his exchanges and spoke of overcoming with the Spirit of God in this life rather than merely enduring till the next.

It was a typical Friday morning when pastors, deacons and concerned  parishioners congregated at the corner store and made their way down to the river.   It was clear, to carry on in the traditions they cherished, they had to get rid of the Rag Trader and they marched with that purpose in mind.

I didn’t see what happened, but rumours said the Rag Trader hadn’t resisted, but had packed up his blanket and moved on.  All I know is last week, I saw little Sam Persons and his Mom with a bag that shone from the silks inside.  They spread a blanket down by the willow tree beside the river, sat down, and waited.

Does your church have room for Rag Traders?  If not, love your church radically and go to the river often.

Would You Know Me by My Love?

David and I spent the weekend being challenged and encouraged at a personal development conference for entrepreneurs.

I was deeply encouraged by the acceptance and love lavished on every person who attended. Millionaires sat next to and joked around with truck drivers, and hugs were liberally given as people from all walks of life and social statuses reconnected.

We were challenged to radically love everyone we come across regardless of what they have done or who they are today. Love them because they have value and potential. Love them because their story is worth hearing. Love them because love unlocks beauty and growth.  The statement that personal growth must include growing love and understanding for people was spoken of all weekend.

I was challenged to think the business world I am part of is doing a better job of lavishly loving people than the church in general.

Jesus tells us “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

One of the questions I took away is this:

“Do you have a deliberate plan for personal growth?”

I am realizing while I do many things that help me grow,  I don’t actually have a deliberate plan for personal growth.  What a powerful tool to change the trajectory of your life and affect others for good!

I wonder why we as churches don’t ask this question?

At times I am overwhelmed by life and circumstances and months can go by without realizing I haven’t really actively grown as a person or as a follower of Jesus.

Peter says this: “Make every effort to add to your faith, goodness, and to goodness, knowledge.  This sounds like a deliberate plan for growth!”  (2 Peter 1:5-15)  

As I ponder this, I ask myself. If people were to describe me, would they see genuine compassion and love?  Do people feel embraced and welcomed around me?  Do I see everyone’s potential, not their present place of being?  I have a lot of room to love better and grow more!

Today I am putting together a plan for personal growth.   Now for the deliberate part!  Day by day, deliberately adding goodness and knowledge to faith in love by reading great books, spending time with Jesus, and consistently getting well outside my comfort zone.

What is one thing you can do deliberately to grow? Who is one person you can love more deeply?

Exploring the Devine Conspiracy

In his book “The Devine Conspiracy” Dallas Willard lays out five dimensions of an “Eternal Kind of Life.” I was inspired and had to share! The italics are my thought, the standard letters, Willard’s.

1. Confidence in and reliance upon Jesus as the Son of Man, appointed to save us.

Whoa!  Here’s the first hang up!  We place our confidence in our medical plans, our house insurance, our pay check… I made a diary of my day, and realized I relied on Jesus very little throughout the day… I’ve got work to do already!

2. Deep desire to be His apprentice!

I hunger for this, but often am not consciously aware of in the moment by moment of life.  We are called to become like Christ. This process is rarely comfortable!  In a society that worships comfort, this one sure goes against the grain.

3. Obedience to the Word and the Spirit.

To surrender heart and mind and soul until every decision is submitted to the “yes” or “no” of the Holy Spirit and we have crucified the selfish desires of the flesh.  I’m definitely still working on that one.

4. The abiding that leads to pervasive inner transformation of the heart, mind and soul.

When a person is a committed apprentice of Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit abides in them in startling ways. (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, and Self-Control).  I have seen God at work in my life relentlessly weeding and growing character, but toxic attitudes still sometimes pop up!

5. Power to the works of the Kingdom!

We reach the end of the 5 and find the power of God comes with the diligent work of the first 4.  I long to see the lost found, the broken healed, and the dead raised, but I must first long even more for the presence and transformation that comes from the apprenticeship to Christ and the obedience of a grateful slave.  Then the friendship becomes legitimate.  It is when there is deep friendship, undergirded with character and humility that we can bear the power of a legitimate son or daughter of God.

Dallas Willard proceeds his 5 dimensions with this quote:

‘Yet is it God’s intent that in His Kingdom we should have as much power  as we can bear for good.  Indeed, His ultimate objective in the development of human character is to empower us to do what we want.  And when we are fully developed in the likeness of Jesus, fully have the “mind of Christ” that this will happen – to His great joy and relief, no doubt!’

In Acts, miracles were a daily occurrence.   I want to be a disciple who has been trained to hear clearly, and conditioned to obey immediately through an intimate relationship with the Spirit of God!

What do you think of Willard’s thoughts?  Do you agree?  Where would you say you are in the process?