The Word: Halfway

The Word: Halfway

Thirteen days ago turned to page 855 in the book I’ve carried for thousands of miles. It’s been on almost every trip I’ve taken in the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve used it to prepare and preach from pulpits in both Brazil and the US. The words of Isaiah 35 brought profound insight and encouragement last December when I was in Houston. As I opened to page 855–chapter one of the Gospel According to Luke–a new and unexpected journey began.

In the Christian circles I tend to run it we frequently open our Bibles together. Usually it is because someone is teaching and asks us to open to a specific verse. Honestly, this has confused me a bit from time to time…the teacher always reads the verse, so why do we turn to it? We’re don’t read entire chapters together, and certainly don’t have the time to read entire books. Sure, it can be helpful to mark a passage or scribble some notes in the margins, but how many of us really do that during a sermon?

Still…the Word beckons.

On January 1 as I read the first word in Luke 1 (“inasmuch”), a bunch of friends did the same. We aren’t physically together and we’re not reading at the exact same time…but folks said “I’m in” and began the two month journey through Luke and Acts. Everyone is going at their own pace, which is wonderful. I’m reading 6 chapters per week in Luke, but grace is abundant. This week, Wednesday was simply too busy and I was too exhausted. So I didn’t. I shared that I didn’t. As expected, people responded with grace, not condemnation. That’s what life together is supposed to look like. That’s what we do.

Having just finished chapter 12, I am now halfway through the book of Luke. Just a few small steps every day and here I am. Halfway. Most days it takes longer for me to write a few thoughts about the chapter than it does to actually read it. This two weeks of reading has taken me to page 872. Seventeen pages in twelve days of reading. On one hand, it doesn’t sound like a lot. On the other, there has been so much ground covered. Remember…we’re reading text that was written almost two thousand years ago. It’s not necessarily all going to be straightforward and easy. It was originally written to a different people in a different culture living at a different time. Some of it seems quite foreign.

As I pause today in the journey through Luke that we’re on, I have a couple of areas I’ve personally noticed change.

Community

The last two weeks something really cool has happened. People are sending me messages letting me know they’re with me on this journey. I’m getting insightful takeaways from my friend Tamarah. I got a message from Mike letting me know he’s reading with us while he’s traveling. Some people tell me they’re behind but still with us. Dear friends are engaging with Scripture at a level they never have before. Because we are doing it together. I’m learning that we all get more out of God’s word when we go through it together. We have a longing for community because God designed us to do life together. It makes sense that His Word is experienced better together.

I’m afraid most of us carry around a lot of baggage about God’s word. Many Christians carry an unnecessary burden of guilt…perhaps because they think they don’t read their Bible enough. Or perhaps it’s because they have tried and just don’t understand it. We want to love God’s Word, but find it intimidating or unapproachable. We look around us and see Bible verses printed floating around everywhere…sometimes used like fortune cookies or horoscopes, bringing brief feelings of hope and encouragement…but sometimes used as daggers, thrown at others with the intention of drawing blood. But there has to be more, right? Surely God’s Word is more profound than a fortune cookie. Surely it has some other purpose than to wound and condemn. Unfortunately, guilt and pride keep us from opening those pages and even more, it keeps us from asking the questions we find embarrassing.

We’ve all been there. Nobody was born understanding Scripture. Way back in the early chapters of Luke it says that Jesus grew “in wisdom and stature.” It was even a process for Him. Personally, I remember sitting in Mike’s class and asking if John the Baptist was the same dude who was one of the disciples. Was he the one who wrote John, or was John just about him? Was Luke a disciple? Are Christians supposed to take every word of the Bible literally? Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it? Why do people think Jesus was God? How can there be one God if the Father and Son both claim to be God? What’s up with this Holy Ghost thing…is that like Christian Gatorade or something? Do we even need the Old Testament anymore? What’s up with all those lists of names? Why don’t all Christians read the Bible?

I asked all of those questions at some time in the past 10 years or so. I’m not embarrassed in the slightest about any of them. That’s how I learned who God is. That’s how both my faith and knowledge deepened. And now that’s happening around us…as we read together, we can learn from each other. We’re all travelers on a journey and all have something to contribute. We’re a community.

Our community is a bit disorganized, but it’s beautiful. I cherish every interaction. Nothing’s off the table or out-of-bounds.

Personally

Knowing others are also reading changes my own perspective. I’m not only reacting to what resonates with me, but I’m anticipating what others will respond to as well. It broadens my view and allows the Word to challenge me in unanticipated ways.

In the first twelve chapters, I have found myself comforted by the narrative. The story of Jesus’ life and ministry is familiar. When the disciples feed the crowds, I’m delighted. As the people lean in to listen to the incredible teachings of Jesus, I’m amazed. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds…it’s like visiting old friends.

But there’s more that has been happening. In addition to the life and events, there is conflict. There are teachings that are hard. As I read Luke, I see Jesus continually warning us to stop focusing on things of this world. He tells us to seek the Kingdom of God, which seems to be a stark contrast to the kingdoms we build for ourselves. He tells us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) That brings my mind back to the woman with the alabaster flask in Luke 7, who out of gratitude washes the feet of our Savior with her tears and anoints His head with oil. This woman who had nothing pours out everything she has for Him, simply as a worshipful response to the forgiveness she has found through Him…the new life she has found. She knows Jesus and has been transformed. She is no longer who she was…she has walked away from her old life completely. Her future is completely unknown except for this…that she is trusting Jesus with it. There is deep meaning in the anointing of Jesus here, but for her it represents letting go of her “before” to step fulling into “next.”

As I read I wonder what pieces of my past am I still clinging to that are keeping me from fully following Him? I often think of emotional baggage like the tattered and worn suitcases we bring back from Brazil. Rio is really hard on luggage. But what if the weight I’m carrying around is an alabaster flask, beautiful and full of a substance of great value? Do I trust Jesus enough to break that flask and pour its contents out for Him? Do I trust Him with my future, even if it is uncertain and difficult? At the end of chapter 9, Jesus seems to be telling us that we can’t look both back at our old lives and continue forward with Him. As He said in chapter 11, “a divided household falls.” And so I look at my heart and pray the end of Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The reality is, trusting Jesus with eternity often seems much easier than trusting Him with tomorrow.

Even so…among all these teaching that challenge me so greatly, Jesus never gives up on anyone. Sure, He rebukes Pharisees and Scribes. We see plenty of people leave His side when the teaching gets difficult or the cost of following Him grows too high. But He never turns His back on anyone. This is where I find hope. In these chapters it is abundantly clear that following Jesus is not an easy life. He never guarantees that…in fact, He repeatedly tells us the opposite. When we follow Him, though, He remains with us. He does not abandon us, even in the middle of our messes and failures, even in our deepest hurt and darkest places. When friends abandon us or tragedy strikes, He is there with us…lifting our face and pointing it toward eternity…toward a time when there will be no more tears or pain. These chapters remind me that we don’t get there by breaking our jars and unloading our baggage. Those things bring us closer to Him in the journey, but ultimately all of our hope is in Him. We get a beautiful glimpse of Him on the pages of the Gospel According to Luke.

 


On December 31 I posted an open invitation to join me in reading Luke and Acts. There are no checklists and no discussion questions, just a ragged band of misfits wandering through the Word together. I’m reading 6 chapters of Luke each week and plan to read 7 chapters of Acts per week when I get there. I set that pace because it seems achievable and I’m just dorky enough to need that kind of symmetry. Four weeks through Luke and four weeks through Acts. But if you want to take this journey, do it at your pace, not mine. Read 30 minutes a day if you want…perhaps that will be 2 or 3 chapters. Read more or less…just keep reading. I’ve been posting a few thoughts and my progress on my personal Facebook page because that’s where this all started, but I’m happy to interact with anyone anywhere. Reach out to me and let me know how it’s going. And if you’d like me to reach out to you a couple of times a week to see how you’re doing, I’d be happy to.

Here I Stand

Here I Stand

A Gideon handed out Bibles in my second grade class. Back then I thought it was a holy book, filled with mysteries and wonder. Not that I read it, of course. The little orange book was the entire New Testament preserved on unimaginably thin pages. King James version, of course. Although I thumbed through it quite a few times, for some reason the only verse I remember reading was John 3:16. I memorized that one. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

I took a different path, and decades of skepticism and atheism followed. Occasionally I’d skim through the Bible looking for a verse or two that could demonstrate how full of nonsense it really was. I approached the book arrogantly, holding tight to my preconceptions. I found in it exactly what I wanted to find, as long as I didn’t dig too deep.

Somehow, against all expectation and probability, I found Christ at 32. The most dramatic piece of the story is that it didn’t conform to any stereotype I always claimed brought people to faith. I wasn’t at rock bottom. There was no personal crisis. Life made sense and I wasn’t looking for a crutch. I didn’t do it for the kids. I just stumbled into the presence of God and couldn’t look away. Not long after, I returned to the Word with determination and intentionality. And now, here I stand.

Hundreds of years ago, many brave men and women did the same. Opening Bibles, they dropped presuppositions and allowed themselves to be transformed by the Word of God. Countless brave souls gave their lives for the truth they discovered. Once touched by the Word, they simply could not turn back. Many echoed the words of Polycarp, who when threatened with death replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, nor has He ever done me any harm. How, then, could I blaspheme my King who saved Me?”

Today we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Before there were hammers and theses, there was an opening of the Word. Although a trained Augustinian monk, reading the book of Romans transformed his world. Like many before (Waldo, Hus, Wycliffe, and so many more) and many since, humbly seeking God through His inerrant and preserved Word changed the trajectory of that young monk’s life. It changed the course of history as well.

I’ve been reading, studying, meditating on, and teaching the Bible for about a decade now. I don’t claim that it’s easy or obvious, but this book and this pursuit has been nothing less than transformational. I don’t claim to have changed history, but my time in the Word has transformed my marriage, family, community, and myself. It has lead me into experiences more deep, rich, and joyful than any from my first 32 years of life. It has sustained me during unspeakable hurt and tragedy. Here I stand. I can do no other. I long for everyone to experience this as well.

Today, while many around the world commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation, join me in spending time in the Word. Whatever your belief system or worldview, grab a Bible (or Bible app) and turn to Luke. The first couple of chapters are familiar and will go quickly. You can read the entire book in a couple of hours, or break it up over a couple of days. But read it. Let go of assumptions and read it with fresh eyes. And please, ask me questions. I love questions.

The world isn’t ending today

The world isn’t ending today

Today will be spectacular. For the first time in decades, a total solar eclipse will be visible for a substantial portion of the United States. My family is among the thousands who have made road trips to get a better view. For astronomy enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, this is a special day. For many it’s a once in a lifetime event, and it is a much-needed opportunity to gather together in unity and celebrate a shared experience.

But I have a bold prediction. The world will not end today. This solar eclipse is not a sign of the beginning of the end. I realize this doesn’t conform to the expectations of what an evangelical Christian is supposed to say on days like today. Truth be told, I’ve seen the posts and read the articles about how eclipses and earthquakes will lead to tribulation and second coming, and it all begins today…August 21, 2017.

The truth is, I do believe God has a purpose in this. The alarmists have it wrong, though. Instead of turning to the book of Revelation, today is a Psalm 19 and Romans 1 moment.

As we stand in awe of the moment when Day becomes night, reflect on the fact that the sun is approximately 400 times the size of the moon, but is also approximately 400 times the distance from the earth. Those ratios are the only reason the teeny tiny moon can occasionally block the massive ball of nuclear energy we call the sun. While contemplating those ratios, think about the fact that our planet is the only planet in the known universe where a solar eclipse can be seen from the surface. Why could that be? Psalm 19 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.

Think about the history of man made religions. How many have worship the sun? Countless. But these enormous orbs flying through space bring us more than life. They move us to a states of awe, wonder, and even occasionally fear. Even so, the unique design of the heavens is such that our planet receives regular reminders that even the sun can disappear. Every object in the universe is moving in an ordered way, and it all is submitting to and singing the praises of something more majestic and powerful than anything within creation. It all points to the uncreated One, who designed and created it all.

I’ve heard it said countless times, “if God is real, why does He remain so hidden?” For decades that was my go-to objection to theism. But today, as we stare to the sky and marvel at the unlikely and spectacular convergence of heavenly bodies above us, pause a moment to contemplate Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Paul goes on to warn that people “have exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.

No excuses

So yes, I believe that today’s eclipse is Biblical. I believe it’s a sign. But it isn’t the end. For many who look to the sky in amazement and for the first time comprehend that this isn’t simply random chance but is instead our Creator once again reaching out to us, putting on a glorious display for us in yet another effort to call us to Him… today is a glorious beginning.

Endings

Endings

As I stood worshipping during the final chapel at Moriah Christian Academy, one single, simple quote came to mind. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Quickly grabbing my phone, I took a pic to capture this moment. Both my boys were up on stage, one strumming and singing, the other pounding the keys. This bittersweet moment was fleeting and would never come again.

“I want to hear voices of angels above singing as one, ‘hallelujah, holy, holy.’” As those words echoed through the sanctuary, gratitude overwhelmed me. Smile because it happened, indeed. Our eight years at MCA have been miraculous. We were told on our first visit the school was named for the biblical Mount Moriah, which means “the Lord will provide.” He has.

The music fades. The last reverberation of this fleeting moment slowly becomes silent. Through the years I have often stood outside with my back to doors that God has closed. Jobs, ministries, and even friendships. “What’s next” is a question I face with uncanny frequency. The experience is familiar but never easy. Each ending is a reminder that life is a journey and each season is only for a time. Smile because it happened.

But oh, these precious times and memories go deep. Tears carve a canyon in our soul. The heart longs to return to treasures of the past. Remembering first days, first friends, and first adventures….Science fairs and talent shows. Yes, we smile because it happened. We thank God for the incredible times we have had. Letting go is oh, so hard, though. The smiles we now share are through tears. Even as we rejoice for all God has in front of us, we grieve for those times that will never come again. We mourn that these halls will soon be empty and “what’s next” for each of us lie down different paths.

Our oldest son is graduating, which is a beautiful thing. At last week’s chapel I mentioned that He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20) certainly did so with my sons. Each are unique, but each is immeasurably more than I could have ever dared to ask or imagine. I’m often humbly driven to my knees, wondering what I ever did to deserve this kind of blessing. These young men are like “arrows in the hands of a warrior,” (Ps 127:4) ready to be launched into the world, guided by divine providence to make an impact on the world. Now is their time. First one, followed quickly by the other. My role is quickly transforming from coach to cheerleader to spectator as they step fully into manhood.

Tears meander toward the earth as I turn for one last look at that closed door. I smile. Unlike that famous quote, though, I believe it’s okay to cry because it’s over while you smile because it happened. We carry both grief and joy on our travels down the road to where He is leading us next. Denying one or the other is an injustice to our past and undermines our future. We trust that it will be as profound, impactful, and significant as the roads we have traveled so far.

Finding Life: Fight For It

Finding Life: Fight For It

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but …against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12

As a kid one of our favorite games was to have breath-holding competitions. It was generally a battle of wills. We learned the human body can go longer without breathing than one would think. Somebody always won, nobody ever passed out, and we didn’t have any fatalities. Oh, but that first victorious deep breath after the contest ended was sweet.

In the journey of life, there will be moments that take our breath away. There will also be moments that find us frantically gasping for air. I have exercised induced asthma that is triggered by cold. So, while it only happens rarely, I am intimately familiar with the feeling of my body betraying me, closing down my airways as I gasp to take in the oxygen that so abundantly surrounds me. What happens when life is that way?

There is fuel for our soul…just out of reach. We are gasping for breath but disconnected from the source.

When running, the most effective response is to slow down. Open the airways. Rest. When it’s time to return to the fight, work into it slowly. Our battle is not the road or the race, it’s our airways.

In our life, too, our battle is often not what it seems. When we find ourselves gasping, our gut reaction is to try fight harder. We pull back from relationships and positive habits to focus on regaining our footing. But our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood. We easily forget the battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our struggle blinds us. 

Let’s draw a lesson from my asthma…

Plodding Onward!

Slow down, but keep moving forward. Don’t wander from the path.

Open the airways. “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.” (1 John 4:15)  God is never far from you. Recenter on Him. Breathe in grace. Breathe out praise. Pray.

Rest. Even God rested. Not because He had to, but as an example to us. Trust Him.

Plod forward. God has called you to something. But He didn’t say you had to get there today. Small steps are still forward progress. Forward progress is better than quitting the race. Trust His guidance and strength.

Find a running partner. When we can’t find God, our trusted companions can point us to Him. Speaking the truth in love can challenge us, but reorients us.

The moments of panicked gasping never last. We can learn to navigate them. God has called us to boldly step into His plan. Keep. Moving. Forward.


This post is the fourth entry of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.”  You can visit part one here, part two here, and part three on my Facebook page here.

Finding Life: Look Up

Finding Life: Look Up

 

They tell me life’s a journey.

 

Pause.

Breathe.

 

 

Journeys have twists and turns, hills and valleys. Moments are spent basking in the warmth of the sun after a spring rain. Others are moments of panic, desperately grasping for an anchor…something…anything…in the blackest night. Most of the journey is somewhere in between. We move forward one small, inconsequential step at a time, our eyes on our feet and the path immediately in front of us.

Most people I encounter believe God has a plan for their lives. The journey is leading somewhere. Their eyes get serious as they contemplate the mystery, “sure, God has a plan for me. I just don’t know what it is yet.” We tend to think God has big but elusive things in store, perhaps just around the next bend in the road. Meanwhile, we plod along trusting God with our tomorrow while we focus on our daily tasks. What if we’ve got it backwards? Could our perspective be upside down?

 

“I look up to the mountains–does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.” Ps 121:1-3 NLT

 

Stop. Right there. Breathe. Lift your eyes to the mountains. Their creator is your creator. God’s plan is not a someday endeavor, it is an everyday infusion. Instead of concentrating on our steps and hoping for the future, look to the future and trust Him with each step. Focusing on the eternal makes today’s obstacles insignificant.

We don’t find God’s plan by waiting. We find it by stepping into it with Him, learning that someday is merely an accumulation of todays. The big plan is accomplished by stitching together a tapestry of countless small plans. Invite Him into your everything. Surrender each moment and each breath to Him. Enjoy the beauty. Treasure the journey.

Come alive.

 


This post is the second of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.”  You can visit part one here.

Finding Life: Breathe In

Finding Life: Breathe In

“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen 2:7

The words of a fictional scientist decades ago stuck with me. Long before Jeff Goldblum brought the character of Ian Malcolm to the silver screen, the phrase “life will find a way” leapt from the pages of a borrowed book and lodged in my cranium. Life will find a way. It doesn’t just apply to dinosaurs, but to you and I.

As life finds its way, how do we find it? How does this general inevitability become personal and passionate?

Let’s take a step back. For those of us who are radical enough to believe that in the beginning God created, every object in this universe exists for a purpose. That purpose has more depth and richness than our textbooks present. For example, rain is much more than the arrows drawn in an Earth Science textbook can convey. Sunset is more than masses in motion and energy interfering with molecules in the atmosphere. You and I both know it at a level ingrained deep in whatever make us “us.”  Afternoon summer showers and quiet evenings watching the sun fade can be profound. We experience a touch of the divine. That’s where we find life…In our creator, the source of it all.

Let’s step forward now. Like the clouds at sunset, you and I are also much more than simply molecules in motion. To think we are merely a complex set of chemical reactions responding to stimuli is to miss the profound purpose  our lives are and can be. It diminishes our significance and misses our own intersection with the divine and the possibility of knowing Him. Just like the earth, birds, and the trees, our lives were created to point to the one who made us all.

In the beginning, God breathed life into mankind. Man knew the creator personally and intimately. We knew our purpose and delighted in it. Then we turned from it. Now we seek purpose and fulfillment everywhere but Him. Jobs, relationships, art, entertainment, diversions, education, and a myriad of other pursuits. All fall short of fully filling us, because all fall short of what we were created to be filled by.

Let that sink in. Breathe in deeply. Exhale slowly. Whatever you’ve thought about God in the past, consider this now…He created you. Lovingly. He cherishes you. The One who splattered the Milky Way across the night sky also knit you together. His creativity shines through you when you are grounded in Him. His plans for us are always more incredible than our plans for ourselves. He sees in full what we only see in part, and He is the architect, artist, and engine for it all. When we return to Him, we learn that He freely gives. We find purpose, creativity, and meaning. We find life.

Breathe in. Breathe in and live.


This post is the first of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.”  

 

Reentry

Reentry

Reentry hurts.image

Picture the Space Shuttle returning to earth. The friction of the life-giving atmosphere creates enough heat to kill. The wrong speed or attitude can bring disaster.

In my mind, a drawback of modern travel is the pace. It is a wonderful luxury to be able to wake up one morning in Brazil and fall asleep the following evening in Oklahoma. It all happens so fast it’s impossible to process, though. Upon returning, we find our head and heart still remain in Brazil while our duties and obligations are in front of us in the States. 

Spiritual journeys will not leave us unchanged. Even the decision to spend a few weeks overseas alters perspective. It impacts the trajectory of life. Walking foreign streets and witnessing the power of the Good News that can transcend all barriers and obstacles will stretch our faith to unexpected capacities.

My soul yearns for a gradual return from this experience. Two weeks overseas can’t be unpacked quickly. Like a good Brazilian meal, it all takes a bit of time to digest.

It  seems like just a few hours ago I was walking the streets of Jardinopolis, praying as an old Catholic woman’s eyes filled with tears as imagefor the first time she began to comprehend God’s love for her. She might spend the rest of her life unpacking this truth. Minutes later I was praying with the family of a young man who had been afflicted with a degenerative disease since birth. All eyes were swollen with tears as mom, aunt, and son all accepted Jesus as their savior, knowing we would all be dancing together in the next life.

Today, my eyes open to controversies about passwords and processes. Antivirus software and divestitures. Firewalls and F-bombs. I can feel it…reentry burns.

Like the atmosphere welcoming back the Shuttle, there is nothing inherently wrong with the environment to which I return. It’s life-giving, meaningful, and necessary. Transitioning so quickly from there to here causes the unease. My soul is split in two. I appear fully here but I’m frequently still there.

Reentry is all about speed and attitude.

So I pray. I silently pray for those who so frequently come to mind. The man we visited who was home with his two children. He chose Jesus and learned about the source of hope. The pastor working so hard to shepherd his people in a town battling darkness. The little boy with the feeding tube and his loving mom who wanted us to tell his story. The man who turned down living water and instead poured himself a glass of wine at 9 AM. Our interpreters. Our missionaries. All those who sent life-sustaining messages of hope, encouragement, and prayer from back home.

As I pray, the disparate worlds begin to align. The mission field isn’t there. It isn’t here either. It’s everywhere. The heat is a reminder that things are not as they should be here or there. The life-giving message of grace and hope is desperately needed by every person. Even here, in the middle of my normal life.

Mission is something we do, not someplace we go. Because of this, I press into the pain rather than seeking relief. I allow that yearning for where I’ve been draw me closer to our Creator who sent me. I allow the longing to draw me deeper into the trust in Him…the One who has never let me down.

I don’t have a choice about the speed. Attitude is a choice. Through prayer, trust, and perspective, the heat from reentry fuels the continuing mission.image

Perfect Moments

Perfect Moments

#mytulsasky
An unexpected sunrise.

Perfect Moments

 

Could it be… those cherished perfect moments you stumble upon are determined by perspective instead of circumstance? It isn’t what happens that matters, it’s how you view what happens to you. For some these moments are fleeting and elusive. For others…they are everywhere, all the time. They are found in the in-betweens…between the cracks obligations and expectations, pressure and responsibility. When life is interrupted and off-schedule, glory suddenly shines through.

You pause unexpectedly to catch up with a friend. You get lost watching a sunrise slowly unfold. Suddenly…there it is.

Tension releases as you slowly exhale. What really matters in life? The people we know, how we love, and how we express it. Our relationship with the Creator.

Those treasured moments of stillness and peace that speak more loudly than the cacophony of the races we run. Honestly, stillness scares us. But stillness fuels us. Don’t hide from it.wp-1453825492772.jpg

Pause. Breathe. Connect.

Yes, I understand some days can be pretty rough. I get laser-focused on the fire in front of me and chaos around me and forget about the peace within me that comes from the Creator above. Quiet time? Who has time for it these days? There are computers to reboot, data to move, homework to write, and dishes to wash!

And then suddenly something happens that kills the noise. An unexpected phone call. Road construction that forces an alternate commute. A sunset so gorgeous you have to pull over. Interruption followed by peace. A new perspective gained through the unexpected. It is in these moments life is found. These moments bring clarity. These are the moments we share with our friends around a bonfire. Perfect moments aren’t crafted, they are encountered. They are experienced. They are treasured.

Go treasure hunting today.

 

Obrigada, Pastor

Obrigada, Pastor

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God’s handiwork over the beach of Aracaju, Brazil early one morning.

She pushed right past my outstretched hand, ignoring my North American custom expressing openness at a distance. She placed her hand on my shoulder, her wise old eyes looking through mine into the hidden recesses of my soul. Her seasoned voice didn’t falter as she firmly said “obrigada, pastor.” After a quick embrace and kiss on the cheek, she slipped off into the crowd. Those words lingered briefly in my mind before settling into my soul.

“Who am I?” This question shapes our journey. Maybe that is our journey. Like a handshake, I’ve attempted to be open to it while also keeping a safe distance. Our circumstance and choices shape who we are. Even more, at our core we each have a unique design driving our direction. In our desire to fit in, it’s easy to hide from this design. It’s tempting to step into the crowd instead of into our destiny. .

This journey I’ve been on has been unique, to say the least. Not many computer security guys with existential tendencies fall headlong into a relationship with Christ at 32 after a lifetime of adamant atheism. When the relationship first took off I stepped fearlessly into it, letting God lead me anywhere He would like. My answer became, “Yes, God” before hearing the question.

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Bringing the thunder. Aracaju, Brazil. 2015

This led to community-building, worship-leading, and mission trips. A few of these yesses also led to heartbreak and loss. They were worth it. The earth shook. We saw a glimpse of the Kingdom right here on earth. God was there through it all, sustaining me.

And now…God’s turning a new page. In this chapter, I’ve been reluctant to say yes. The calling doesn’t fit my qualifications.

Our first night in Aracaju, my pastor pulled me aside and asked, “would you rather preach the first service or last while we’re here?”

This hit me out of the blue. What? Me? But… don’t they usually get qualified people to do that?  

That one question forced an internal confrontation I had been avoiding.

One of my “Yes, God” moments led me to seminary. I don’t know what He has planned, but I’ve trusted Him. Last January, the church licensed me. I can officially perform weddings now. So does that make me a…pastor? I wrestled with this for months. There is a weird mixture of high standards and heavy baggage associated with the title “pastor.”

I took the first service. I knew it would be smaller. Less pressure.

As I frantically prepared a sermon for an international congregation , I couldn’t help but reflect. From our hotel in Aracaju, my mind drifted back to Gravatai.

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Prayers before preaching. Gravatai, Brazil 2013.

Two years earlier I had delivered my first sermon. I preached a lesson from Gideon from the pulpit of a chapel I helped build in 2011. This was before seminary. It was before chaplaincy. I taught about the purpose God had for Gideon. I explained that God built a potential into Gideon, which God would use. I told everyone that God had a plan, even if Gideon himself thought too little of himself to see it. How could I have forgotten? In His own way, God was providing a glimpse…foreshadowing things to come.

“Be the church.” That’s what our shirts said. That was the message of my sermon. To “be the church” is much more than showing kindness to others and helping the poor, widows, and orphans. Matthew 16 tells us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. Gates are defensive, not offensive. Evil is on the run. Jesus didn’t intend for us to sit within the safety of our walls in the comfort of our pews. He intended for us to engage in warfare, taking on evil wherever we find it. Our weapons are not swords or guns, though. We are to fight using grace, compassion, self-sacrifice, and love. These weapons tear down gates, break chains, and set people free.

It went well. The band played “How He Loves” in English and Portuguese. It wrecked me. My own gates fell. My inner turmoil over my identity was far from my mind. And then the service was over. Everyone celebrated, hugged, and greeted each other.

I turned. That was when she spoke those words. “Obrigada, Pastor.” Thank you. Pastor.

God’s design for us is to stand out, not to fit in. Through us, He brings His kingdom to earth. The message to Gideon was “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). He told Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you…” (Jer 1:5) Our God-given purpose sits in the sweet spot that happens to be right outside our comfort zone.

Sometimes God calls us to step into an uncomfortable truth…one we didn’t expect. Maybe it’s even one we’ve avoided.

God seems to speak to me most clearly when I’m in Brazil. This year He affirmed a piece of my identity I had been denying, and He used a sweet old lady speaking in a foreign tongue to do it.

The truth is…I am a pastor.