Intruder In My House

fear

I woke early this morning and decided to go for a walk. As I reached for my keys, I sensed something strange and suddenly realized I was not alone. 

Then I saw him. An intruder had entered my home.

He shook his long pointed finger in my face. Surprisingly, I recognized him. How could I possibly forget that face?

We first met when as a child a bully threatened to beat me up after school. Later, he sat beside me in college while I took my exams, causing me unfounded anxiety. He visited me as an adult, right before I made a bold career move.  Sometimes, he stops by and I don’t see him, but I see what he’s left behind: broken dreams, forsaken promises, hopelessness, and even despair.

He showed up again this morning in my home unannounced.

I looked him right in the eye and said, “Hello, Fear.”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “Just where do you think you are going?”

“For a walk.”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you right now, if you walk out that door, you’ll never come back alive.”

“What do you mean?”

“You step outside, you die. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It doesn’t matter if you believe me. I said it and that settles it. It’s going to happen.”

“You can’t frighten me.”

“I’ve been paralyzing people for thousands of years. You think you can avoid me?”

I looked down at the floor and held my keys tightly. For a moment, I thought I should just wait until tomorrow to walk.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve kept you in my power since you were a child. I made you lie to keep from getting in trouble. I’ve caused you to run from family and friends and opportunities and experiences. You have no choice but to do what I say.”

I paused. He had manipulated me in the past and even now I was frozen. 

He watched me suffer in silence.

“What did I tell you?” he said. “You’re my servant.”

“No,” I said faintly.

“Silly man, I have you under my control even now.”

“I’m not your slave,” I said in a stronger tone.

“You must serve me,” he said, “I will be like God to you.”

“No, you won’t,” I replied, suddenly defiant. “I already have a God and His grace is sufficient. He doesn’t give me a spirit of fear. He gives me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Fear raised an eyebrow.

“You are weak” he said. “You will fail and come running back to me.”

“I may be weak,” I answered. “But He is strong and He loves me. The Bible tells me so. Get out of my house and stay away from me. I’m going for a walk. You can’t stay here and you’re not welcome to join me.”

Bad Things Happen

alessio-lin-7HW7uX4ZbOo-unsplash

Bad things happen. 

Terrible, awful things that make your stomach turn and tears come to your eyes. Things that make us question God and His motives. 

Why does the Lord allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?

I don’t know. 

Oh, I’ve heard the pat answers from speakers and preachers and I’ve read what both Christian and secular authors have to say. Even though they’ve published books, some of them with their own picture on the front, most of their answers haven’t helped me so far. They’ve just brought more questions. I know they are good people and they mean well, but when the worst happens, I often feel like their answers are just trying to make me shut up.

But I have learned one thing for sure: Bad things happen.

They happen to Christians and non-Christians. 

No one is immune to bad things. Even those who love God and try to follow Him have to deal with bad things in life: Angry people, bad traffic, sickness, theft, natural disasters, car problems, unwanted children, cancer, broken homes, fatal accidents, infertility, drunk drivers, suicidal thoughts and actions, hurtful words, domestic violence, spoiled food, broken relationships, accidental death, scarred lives, and shattered dreams.

Bad things suck.

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote the following: Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

Honestly, I’m not sure I understand everything he’s trying to say in that quote or in his book, but I do agree that it often takes something terrible in our lives to remind of the reality of God and us.

God is God and I am not. 

And neither are you.

I love Him and I know that He’s good.

Bad things still happen.

I still don’t get it.

But I know that He does.

That’s all I know.

 

*Photo courtesy of Alessio Lin of Unsplash

Broken Zipper, Hidden Fly

awk-moment

There’s nothing quite so humbling, or humiliating, than to be in church with a broken zipper in your fly.

I had just finished my business in the bathroom and I must have gripped the pull tab of my zipper a little too hard. I zipped up but nothing came together. The glorious unity displayed in the joining together of the metal tangs in my zipper did not take place. My pants were undivided permanently, despite my begging and pleading in the moment.

So, I fastened the top of my pants, praising God there was a button that worked, untucked my shirt and pulled it down as far as possible in the front.

My wife was coming to pick me up on the other side of the church building from where I was, so I had to walk through the crowded common area. I tried my best to be inconspicuous, which is hard to do when you’re the campus pastor walking through a crowd in the church building. I noticed a couple of people looking at me strange and wondered if I was not sufficiently covered. That’s when I realized I was walking all hunched over, trying to give the front of my shirt the slack it needed. So I pulled on my jacket, even though it had turned warm, and zipped up the front to help my situation.

I had just made it to our meeting point when my wife sent me a text telling me she was going to be late.

Sigh.

I quickly found an out of the way chair to sit and wait for her to arrive. I placed my backpack in my lap as if it were a shield. I pulled out a book, and pretended to read, hoping people would catch the understanding that I wasn’t interested in conversation. Suddenly, I was surrounded by friends and church members who desperately needed to talk. One of them even needed prayer. I tried to act casual and asked them to sit across from me so we could informally talk.

Finally, everyone left, and my wife finally arrived.

“Hi,” she said. “Would you like to go out to eat?”

“Ah, no,” I replied.

We read in Proverbs 11:2 that Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

I can say that in the moments of my humility (or humiliation) I was very much aware of my every appearance and interaction with others. I considered every step I took and every word I said with precision and accuracy. I thought more about what the other person heard (and saw) and kept direct eye contact with them as much as possible.

I learned two valuable lessons that day.

  1. Wisdom does come from humility.
  2. I’m keeping an extra pair of pants in my office from now on.

Early On: A Response In Story Form

drew-patrick-miller-29382-unsplash

“Well,” he said, “You’re here early, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I am. I’m not really sure what happened, but here I am.”

The man smiled pleasantly.

“Is that ok?” I asked. “Can I still join you?”

He swallowed hard and looked into my eyes.

“Absolutely!” he stated. “We’re glad you’re here. Don’t ever doubt that.”

I stretched out my hand to shake his. He grabbed it tightly and pulled me in for a big bear hug. It took me by surprise, but in a good way. Something told me I could trust him.

“Thanks for having me,” I said, still caught in his embrace.

When he finally released me, I awkwardly said, “Again, I’m sorry I’m here so early.”

“You shouldn’t worry about it,” he replied. “We all know it wasn’t your fault.”

“Thanks for understanding,” I said. “I just hope it won’t ruin anything.”

He paused, then said, “Things here will be just fine. Now, let’s get you settled in, Michael. I think you’re going to like where we’ve put you.”

“Michael?” I asked. “Why are you calling me Michael?”

He patted my back and said, “Because that’s your name.”

“I’ve never heard it before.”

“What did your parents call you?”

“Well, they never really called me by name. They usually just referred to me as the kid. You know how parents are. They say things like ‘I don’t know what to do with this kid,’ ‘I wish that kid was coming at a different time,’ ‘That kid’s just not going to be worth the effort.’”

“You heard your parents say all of that?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m saddened that you heard that. I’m sure it really hurt your feelings.”

“It did, but I turned out ok, I guess.”

“You look fine to me now, Michael.”

“So I’m really Michael, huh?”

“Yeah, you are. You know, your grandma wanted to call you Michael if…”

“I know,” I said. “If I had been born.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“You know,” I said. “I thought I was being born. I saw a light and then, darkness again, and then I was here…”

He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Michael. I wish you could have lived the life I planned for you. You would have loved it.”

Tears streamed down my face and I hugged him once again. I could feel his heart beating in rhythm with mine.

“I love you, Michael,” he said. “I want you to live with me here forever.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you, Jesus. I love you, too.”

 

*photo courtesy of Drew Patrick Miller and Unsplash

The Anthropians: A Fun Missions/Community Interaction Learning Experience

re-zin-1073895-unsplash

Several years ago, I was a participant at the Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Virginia. While there, we participated in a large group experience where some of us were missionaries and others were members of an unreached people group. I don’t remember the details of the experience, but I do remember that I left feeling like I had a better understanding of relating cross-culturally.

Earlier this week, I was tasked with training the Celebration Church staff on community interaction. I put together a short learning experience based on what I remembered from my time at the Missionary Learning Center. It turned out good for us. I hope it blesses you as well.

The Anthropians 

STEP ONE:

Select six people from the group and send them into another room where they cannot hear what is happening in the large room.

STEP TWO:

Explain to both groups of people that they now have a new identity.

  • Those in the large group are members of the Anthropian Tribe.
    • The Anthropian tribe members only wear one shoe.
    • The Anthropians speak English but only in whispers.
    • The Anthropians applaud whenever anyone says “thank you” or “good-bye.”
    • It is considered polite in the Anthropian culture to hiss and look repulsed whenever someone greets them. ONLY if someone responds in a similar fashion, will they smile and whisper to them.
    • The Anthropian leaders wear funny hats. They only speak to non Anthropians when they are introduced to them by other Anthropians. If someone is introduced to a leader by an Anthropian, the leader hisses and looks repulsed. If the new person responds in kind, the Anthropian leader smiles and speaks to them in a whisper. Every so often the leader says “thank you” for no reason, causing those Anthropians around him to applaud.
    • There is an Anthropian Ruler who sits on the raised level who never speaks or acknowledges anyone, ever, no matter who they are or what the reason. 
  • Those now in the “small sent out group” are the missionaries.
    • They wear matching shirts
    • They speak English in a normal speaking volume
    • Their mission is to learn how to interact with the Anthropian Tribe so they can impact their community for the better.
    • The mission team consists of:
      • A leader who directs the team
      • Four team members who carry-out the directions of the leader
      • One scribe who takes notes on the what he sees and reports his findings to the group.

STEP THREE:

  • In the large group, have the Anthrops gather into circles of 10 with a leader for each group. Give each leader and hat then lead them to practice being Anthrops.
  • In the small group, have the missionary leader and team develop a strategy for interacting with the Anthropians.

 

STEP FOUR:

  • Bring the missionaries into the presence of the Anthropians and have them begin their missionary journey. The leader directs, the missionaries engage, and the scribe takes notes.

STEP FIVE:

  • The action ends. The missionaries de-brief for 2 minutes while the Anthropians return to their seats. Then, the scribe takes the stand and reports to the whole group the findings of the team.

Large Group Questions:

  • Do the Anthropians Need Jesus?
  • Why is doing a little anthropology on the Anthropians important to understand their culture if we’re trying to impact their community? 
  • How can understanding the culture of the communities surrounding our campus help us in impacting them?

*Photo courtesy of Re.zin of Unsplash

Steps to Improving Spoken Transitions

ben-white-292680

It was the early 90’s. I had big hair, a mustache, and huge shoulder pads in my sports jacket. In the midst of our worship set, I was verbally transitioning to the old praise song Behold the Lamb. I had planned to share about how John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

It was going well, so I took it further than I had planned.

Big. Mistake.

Here’s what I ended up saying:

“Jesus is the Lamb of God. He’s the only person who has ever lived who has lived a totally sinful life.”

And then, without realizing my mistake, I said it once again.

Spoken transitions, no matter where they fall, are extremely important for the flow of a worship service. If one goes badly, the worship leader or preaching pastor may never fully re-engage the people.

Here are 3 steps I believe can help us all improve our spoken transitions:

Think. Take time to think about what you are trying to accomplish. Think about the words you are going to say. Think about the people who will be hearing your words. Think about what is coming after the transition.

Script. Take time to script out what you are going to say. Then, tighten it up by shortening it as much as possible. Remove unnecessary or repeated words and phrases.

Practice. Take time to rehearse what you’ve scripted out. Start by reading your what you’ve written aloud. Chances are, you’ll make a small adjustment or two. Then, stand in front of a mirror and practice until what you are saying feels more natural to you.

These 3 steps all have two words in common.

Take Time.

If something is worth being said, it’s worth taking the necessary time to make it as good as possible. Hopefully, by doing so, you can avoid telling your congregation that Jesus lived a sinful life.

Mourning the Loss of a Giant

oskars-sylwan-692974-unsplash

I was sitting alone in a cafe, waiting for my friends to arrive, when I read the news for the first time. As I scanned the headlines on my phone, I read about further resignations of pastors, elders, and leaders from a ministry I once held dear (and still care about). Even though I continued with my day, I must admit that a haze clouded my day. In my own way, I suppose I was mourning for people I had never met personally, but who nevertheless had a deep impact on my life and ministry. I was also grieving the damage that has been done to the church of God.

I know it sounds weird to think of it, but many of those involved have, at one time or another, been my heroes in and of the faith. It reminds me the song Show Me The Way recorded by the group Styx recorded many years ago:

Every night I say a prayer in the hopes that there’s a heaven

But every day I’m more confused as the saints turn in to sinners.

All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay

And I feel this empty place inside, so afraid that I’ve lost my faith…

Now, I haven’t lost my faith in God, but my faith in others, especially Christian leaders, has been shaken a bit. I’m still going to follow the Lord, and serve Him with all that I am, but I am mourning. I do feel an empty place inside. So what do I do?

I’m going to pray. James wrote the following in James 1:5 – If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. I need wisdom and God is ready and willing to grant my request.

I’m going to forgive. In Mark 11:25, Jesus said, But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive your sins, too. The Styx song above makes many points, but it’s got the order wrong in the first verse. Granted, some saints are considered to be sinners, but as Christians we know that we’re all sinners that have been transformed into saints only by the grace of our Lord.

EI’m going to refuse to put people, even Christian leaders and teachers, on a pedestal. I read an article this morning suggesting several up and coming Christian leaders to follow in the wake of the latest fall. It’s probably a timely article, but it irritated me that it’s just suggesting new human replacements for hero gaps that should really be filled by the Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote the following in Colossians 3:1-4 – Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory.

I’ve learned from Ecclesiastes that there’s a time to mourn. I’m still doing that today. But I’m not going to let what’s happened destroy my relationship with the Lord or keep me from His people or from worship services or small groups. I’m pressing forward, holding tight to Jesus.

He is still God.

Jesus is still Lord.

And I will follow Him.

We can never be Superman, but we can be Iron Man

I meet with a group of guys every Thursday morning at 7. We joke a lot, eat breakfast, study the Bible, and pray for each other. We serve together feeding the homeless on a monthly basis. Our group is classified on the church database as Just For Men, but we don’t like that name because it reminds us of a hair coloring product. Instead, we just call it our Men’s Life Group.

This past week, we were looking at a passage of scripture in Ephesians which talks about putting on the full armor of God. During our discussion, we had a realization that could only come out of a men’s (or boy’s) group.

We can never be Superman, but we can be Iron Man.

Let me explain, in Ephesians 6:13-17 (NLT), Paul writes the following:

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of the truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Being guys, this led us to thinking about Iron Man’s body armor which covers his whole body and is connected to his shoes, belt, and helmet. We figured he would have to borrow Captain America’s shield.

The point is, people today like to think of themselves as Superman. We can do everything ourselves. We’re faster (or as fast as) the Flash, we can fly faster than Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, and we have the strength of the Hulk. But the real truth is, even with our gifts and talents, we are defenseless without the full armor of God. If we’re going to make it, we need the suit. To take it even further, the armor only works because of a renewed heart.

Kind of cool, huh?

Maybe we should call our group the Iron Man Life Group. What do you think?

What D.L. Moody realized at the end of his life

joshua-coleman-654602-unsplash
D.L. Moody was a shoe salesman turned preacher, evangelist, and publisher who often spoke to crowds from 10,000 to 20,000 people. It is said that in his lifetime, he presented the gospel, by voice or literature, to at least 100 million people.
This great evangelist spoke mainly to adults around the world, but neat the end of his life, D.L. Moody said:
“If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry
to reaching children for God!”
Wow. He understood what we should all understand.
If we reach children for Christ, they can live their entire lives knowing Jesus.
If we disciple children, we can impact an entire generation for Jesus.
If we help children grow closer to the Lord, they will seek after Him for a lifetime.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Then, Jesus “placed His hands on their heads and blessed them…”
It’s time we all remember how important it is that all children, red, yellow, black, brown, and white, are precious in the sight of the Lord. Jesus loves them. He knows what they need. He wants to bless them. He wants to know each of them in a personal way.
*photo courtesy of Joshua Coleman of Unsplash

What Makes Christianity Different

alina-strong-703811-unsplash

Once, during a British conference on comparative religions, experts were discussing if there was any belief truly unique to Christianity.  Creation, incarnation, and resurrection were quickly eliminated because of examples in other religions. C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and enquired as to the topic of conversation. When the debate was explained to him, without hesitation, Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Grace is so simple that it baffles the experts. Grace is what makes Christianity unique. Because of it, we have the opportunity to know Jesus as Savior and Friend. Grace helps us understand the difference between happiness and joy. It allows us to conquer all of our fears. There is nothing we can do to earn grace and there is no way that we can destroy it. In Ephesian 1:5-6, the Apostle Paul wrote: He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.  

Grace is free and yet it is also priceless. It truly is amazing.

Since such grace has been given to us, we should always strive to treat others with grace. In doing so, we are imitating our Heavenly Father.

*Photo courtesy of Alina Strong from Unsplash