Distractions Bug Me!

By his grace, Jesus wants to clear away the things which distract you from experiencing his fullness. He’s got the best wine waiting for you. Jesus isn’t going to settle for distractions. His passion is to remove the stuff that gets in the way of worship.

Solar Eclipse

Yes, distractions bug me.  When I’m interrupted it takes me a long time to get refocused and restarted.  Distractions are like an eclipse which blocks out my goals and purpose.

Jesus had some serious issues with distractions.  In John 2 Jesus unapologetically trashes the Temple courts because of distractions.  On the outside the distractions to worship seemed justifiable.  People needed to exchange their money to get the Temple coin to buy their sacrificial animals.  They needed the animals to worship God.  But they were getting extorted by fees and high prices.  The ability to worship was diminished.  Jesus, with zeal in his heart, dismantles the distractions so people could worship.

This is the same Jesus with the same passion for people that we saw in the wedding at Cana.  At Cana, Jesus offers a chance for people to see the grace of God in action.  At Cana, we see God who is for people.  Maybe in the Temple we see the same grace only in an unexpected form.  This grace is powerful, violent, and demanding.  The grace of the Temple courts is not cheap grace.  It is a grace that demands people have access to God.

When asked about his authority to clear the Temple Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Like the post-resurrection disciples, we know what Jesus meant.  But what if there is something more?  What if Jesus was also suggesting that he will renew the things which get confused by distractions?  What if he is always working to rebuild what we allow to be destroyed?

We easily let ourselves be distracted from worship.  We fill our calendars with so much that we don’t have time for daily or corporate worship.  The average American now only attends church little more than once each month.  Even when we do make it to church we are easily distracted by so much: styles, opinions, lunch plans…  These things, and many others, act like those money-changers and their marketplace which can keep us from experiencing the fullness of God in worship.

By his grace, Jesus wants to clear away the things which distract you from experiencing his fullness.  He’s got the best wine waiting for you.  Jesus isn’t going to settle for distractions.  His passion is to remove the stuff that gets in the way of worship.

I love what A.W. Tozer says about distractions.  He uses the image of a solar eclipse.

“Now you know that when a thing is eclipsed it doesn’t mean that its light has diminished any, that its glory has anywise diminished.  It merely means that there is something between us and that shining frame.  When the sun is eclipsed, the sun is not one degree cooler than it was before…It’s still as hot and as big and as powerful and as free as it was before it went into eclipse, because it’s not the sun that’s eclipsed.  It’s us that’s eclipsed!  And we ought to get that straight.”

For you, what sorts of things or activities are eclipsing God?  What is distracting your worship?  Is it outward or inward?  What do you need Jesus to cleanse for you to worship him more fully and faithfully?  By grace, Jesus wants to renew what we’ve allowed to be cluttered and distracted.

Excessive Grace

What kind of God do you and I worship?  Who is the God who reveals himself in Scripture?  Who is the one who created and sustains the very fabric of the cosmos?  Near the beginning of John’s gospel, there is one amazing story through which God reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus, the Son.

But before we get to that story, let’s remember what happened first.  In the beginning chapter of John, we witness the Word of God (the pre-existent Jesus) being incarnated and “pitching his tent” among humanity. The Word of God who created all that is becomes part of his creation.  And, as John writes, “out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16).

This grace God communicates through the second person of the Trinity is a pervasive theme in the opening chapters of John’s gospel.  It is apparent in the way Jesus invites people to follow him and it is an excessive grace in the wedding day miracle.

The wedding was so full of joy.  Jesus, his mom, and his disciples had been invited and most certainly engaged in the celebration.  Bride and groom were laughing, smiling, dancing, and full of hopefulness for a blessed future.  A new family was being birthed. Wine was flowing, food was enjoyed, and life was pleasant.

I’m not sure if Mary discovered it on her own or if she heard the whispers of the servants.  But all the joy was about to come to a screeching halt!  The wine that had helped create the atmosphere of joy was gone.  The party was literally and metaphorically, over.

Wine was a sign of God’s blessing.  Plenty of wine meant God was blessing the marriage and its future abundance.  Not only was it embarrassing to run out of wine, it also meant God’s blessing had been removed.  Not the best way to start life together.  That’s why I’m glad Jesus was there.

Jesus shows up and permeates the whole experience with grace.  Water is turned to wine.  The new couple avoids social embarrassment.  The future looks positive.  God is good!  But there is so much more below the surface.  Much more which reveals the heart and character of the God we worship.  Through this miracle, God shows us something about the relationship he is creating with us.

Weddings are a big deal to God.  The image of a wedding describes Jesus’ relationship with his church.  The groom and bride are united into a new relationship.  Jesus and his Church become a family.  It’s no wonder that Jesus uses a wedding to show off his promises.

 

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11)

 

Not only does Jesus bless the wedding at Cana, but he reveals the ways he will bless his wedding with the Church.  Jesus’ relationship with his people is always marked with grace.  Emptiness is filled with plenty.  Ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Faith is rewarded.  Blessing is common place. Trust is secured.

Our God can be trusted.  That’s one of the reasons we worship him.  God is always for you and me.  And he is always prepared to bless even in the midst of something hopeless.  Jesus reveals who he is through ordinary circumstances.  His grace is always excessive and it’s directed to you.  The grace of God is always enough.  It is never in short supply.

Authentic Relationships

Spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships.

During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples.  Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building.  Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet.  Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.

I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John.  I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context.  And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family.  In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6).  The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light.  Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).

Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.

How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another.  This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22).  The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
  • Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children.  There was a time when we did not belong to God.  In fact, we were under God’s wrath.  But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family.  In his grace, God has lavished us with his love.  So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community.  As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity.  When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
  • Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy.  The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble.  They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion.  Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5).  Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17).  Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate.  Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
  • Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16).  This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world.  And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)

Loving one another like this is not natural.  We are accustomed to individualism.  Love like this is also risky.  It pushes us to invest deeply in each other.  John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  If I love you, I am not afraid of you.  If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.

Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection.  It is also a season of growth.  As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?”  Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday?  Are you speaking well, even in disagreements?  Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates?  Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?

While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help.  We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church.  And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.

Ugly Expectations

What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?

Have you ever had one of those experiences where life is just going really good for a little while, only to get slapped in the face by cold, hard reality?  I have.  Many times.  In my case, I’m usually enjoying some deep, meaningful moments with God.  I’m wrapped up in worship, dreaming of what could be only to be interrupted from that dream like state by the blaring alarm clock-like, tyrannical voice of the urgent. The dreams and hopes of what could be are slain by stupid things which masquerade as urgently critical to the foundations of life.  (Spoiler: They never are!)

If you have, Jesus knows how you feel.

In a moment of sheer delight, as he watches his disciples finally seem to get it; when they feed 5000 people and Peter walks on water – Jesus is hopeful that he’s turned a corner and prepared his followers for their future (Matthew 14).  Then, within what appears to be a painfully short amount of time, this mountain top experience gives way and brings Jesus and the disciples crashing back down into the throes of negativity.

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem…” (Matthew 15).  The Pharisees and teachers of the law have an agenda and they’re seeking Jesus to let him know they do indeed have an agenda.  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They don’t they wash their hands before they eat.”

Why do I still hear my mother’s voice in that sentence?  “Go wash your hands.  Dinner’s ready.”

Nonetheless, the Pharisees meant something entirely different.  They didn’t really care about dirty hands.  They were, though, overwhelmingly concerned about doing things right.  And not just because washing your hands is right and polite.  Instead, they were invested in making sure that everyone was measuring up to their expectations.  They used expectations to control people.  “Follow all the rituals and religious expectations so you measure up to us!  Wash your hands so we know you belong with us.  Follow the rules.  Don’t diverge.  Don’t have your own ideas.  Don’t take risks.  Tow the line.”

Have you heard any of those statements before?  Words and attitudes like that can be devastating.  There is no room for possibility.  There is no room for faith.  With that kind of attitude 5000 people don’t get fed and Peter doesn’t walk on water.

I’m grateful Jesus handled this situation with expertise.  He sets the Pharisee straight about their misinformed worldview.  And in the end Jesus directs them and us to a heart issue.  “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart…” (Matthew 15:18).  What comes from the heart can either bring pain and suffering or can bring life and possibilities.

Compare what came from the heart of the Pharisees (measure up, tow the line) to what came from the heart of the disciples and Peter.  What came from the disciple’s hearts as they took their small resources, blessed by Jesus, and fed the crowd, was faith.  The disciples stepped beyond the boundaries of what seemed possible and into the place of anticipation.  Peter shows us what comes out of his heart when he steps out of the boat.  He’s counting on Jesus to do what only Jesus can do.  I’m pretty certain that in both of these experiences the disciples weren’t worried about following the rules.  I’ve never seen a rule book about walking on water!

Christian leaders, I really want you to hear this – our experience is often filled with an abundance of people and systems telling us to abide by the rules, tow the line, do what you’re supposed to do.  These words and attitudes are opposed to Jesus.  Instead of being free to risk, we are controlled into status quo; drugged into sleepiness.

What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?

This interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees is bookended.  On the front side is the story of Peter on the water.  On the backside is the story of a Canaanite woman.  The Pharisees had some rules about Canaanites, too.  They were defiled.  They didn’t belong.  They didn’t measure up either.

And this woman breaks some glass ceilings.  Out of her heart comes words of life and possibility: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:21-28).  She wasn’t about to be controlled by the unwarranted rules and rituals which kept her excluded from God’s life.  Out of her mouth comes faith, hope, and deep trust in what God could do.

Where do you want to live?  Do you want to live in the prison of other people’s expectations and control or do you want to live in the freedom to follow Jesus into miraculous experiences?

Surrendered Leadership

How bad do you need to be for history to classify you as a scoundrel?  Paul Martin, in a Huffington Post article, cites some of the worst historical scoundrels like Daniel Drew, the Fox sisters, and Hetty Green.  These folks, and others like them, lived unscrupulously at the expense of others.

Now, how bad do you need to be for the Bible to identify you as a scoundrel?  That’s a whole new level.  But that’s exactly how Phinehas and Hophni are described (1Samuel 2).  They consistently robbed people; slept with whoever they wanted; disregarded authority; and ignored God.  Their story may not raise many eyebrows until you know that these two men were leaders.  They were part of a family that had been committed to serving God and God’s people.  But nothing they did reflected their position as leaders.

Leadership is hard.  If you lead, you get this.  As a country we’re tough on our leaders – from the government to the church and everywhere in between.  We certainly expect our leaders to be people of character and integrity, and we should.  But we also have the propensity to knock leaders down.  We want them to be the best, but we quickly look for their flaws and cheer when those flaws are well known.  Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

And that’s precisely why those who are leaders – especially spiritual leaders – need to pay attention to the details.  While Hophni and Phinehas were disregarding their character and position, God was raising up another leader to replace them.  Samuel was still a young boy but God was shaping him into the kind of leader both God and the people needed.  God gives us a hint of the kind of leader Samuel could be – “those who honor me I will honor but those who despise me I will disdain…I will raise up a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1Samuel 2:30-35).

When it comes to spiritual leadership God looks for a particular kind of person – one that wants what God wants.  Wanting what God wants has a way of shaping our character and increasing our integrity. When temptations challenge our moral fiber, leaders after God’s heart trust God’s strength.  When moral failure happens, leaders after God’s own heart seek forgiveness and restoration.  Spiritual leaders don’t ignore or dismiss their actions they come to terms with the call and grace of God.  God raised up Samuel to do what was on God’s heart and mind.

Whether you are a Christian leader at work, in your home, with you kids, or at your church – God is inviting you to do what is on his heart and mind.  Phinehas and Hophni reveal the destruction unsurrendered leadership creates.  Don’t be a scoundrel!  Seek the heart and mind of God, surrender yourself to God’s purposes and lead well.

Abundant Life is Found Out on the Water

Bread and water are the often joked about references to the food of the incarcerated.  But bread and water are two elements Jesus uses to show Peter the secret to a full and abundant life.

The story begins in Matthew 14.  The crowds have followed Jesus into a remote place.  The sun’s going down and everyone’s getting hungry.  The disciples want to send the crowds into town for dinner.  Jesus has another idea – “you give them something to eat.”  The reaction of the disciples is one that we would share if we were in their shoes, “We don’t have enough…”

  When faced with obvious need, “we don’t have enough…” is our usual response.  I’ve been guilty of that.  We don’t have enough time, money, people, money, time…you get the idea.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all uttered the same thing.  But I love what Jesus does in light of their scarcity.  Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  Bring me your resources.  Bring me what you do have.  Then Jesus does what only he can do.  He takes our limits and stretches them to meet the need.

This story is immediately followed by Peter walking on the water.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat struggling against the storm and waves.  They’re trying to get the other side of the lake to meet Jesus, but they’re stuck.  So Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter sees Jesus and wants to be where he is – out on the water.  But Peter let his water walking certification lapse.  So he says, “Jesus, if that’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  If I were Peter, I’d want Jesus to respond with something like, “No. Don’t worry about it. Stay in the boat and I’ll come to you.  No need to get your feet wet.”  But he doesn’t.  Jesus’ response to Peter’s longing is simply – “Come.”

Now Peter has never walked on water but here’s what he has done: he has stepped out of a boat before.  He was a fisherman, after all.  He knows how to lift a leg over the side, set it down, and walk.  So Peter does what he knows how to do.  He gives Jesus what he already knows how to do.  And Jesus does, in those moments, what only Jesus can do.

I’m convinced that this is a life truth.  We give Jesus what we know how to do and Jesus takes it and does what only he can do!

Following Jesus is about being stretched.  Left to ourselves, we usually see what we can’t accomplish.  And that always limits the abundant life Jesus promises.  Jesus stretches our faith when he says, “Give me what you do have” and I’ll take it and do an amazing thing.  Abundant life is found out on the water – when we give Jesus what we know how to do and let him do with it what only he can do.

Last night I attended an event hosted by The Asservo Project (theasservoproject.org).  The Asservo Project, based out of Pittsburgh, exists to combat global human trafficking.  They are a David facing a Goliath.  Human trafficking is currently one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises.  There are 40 million victims globally.  At $150 billion annually, this criminal enterprise makes more money than Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Netflix combined.  Since 2010, human trafficking has grown 850%.  Trafficking and sexual slavery is real.  Open your eyes and it becomes so obvious.

This reality is so staggering I couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, we don’t have enough…”  That’s all I could think about on the way home.  How do you even make a dent?  And I kept going back to this story.  Jesus says, give me what you have/what you know how to do and I’ll do what only I can do.

So that’s my current next step.  But what about you?  You may not be passionate about ending human trafficking (I hope you will be) but there is something that you are passionate about.  There is something that God is calling you to and you’re first response is “I don’t have enough…time, education, money, fill in the blank.”

But here’s the spiritual truth.  The only way disciples grow is when they are stretched.  When they say, “Jesus, I hear you, and I don’t know how I will accomplish this but I will give you what I know how to do and I’ll let you do what only you can do.”

Abundant life is found out on the water…so get out of the boat.

Stand up!

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability. Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.

…Hannah stood up.

I’ve never really seen this phrase before.  It seems to come out of nowhere, yet Hannah’s action is a consequence of years of provocation.

Let’s remember the story.  Hannah was the wife of Elkanah.  But she wasn’t his only wife.  In a context unlike our own, Hannah was a product of polygamy.  She shared Elkanah with another woman – Peninnah.  Furthermore, in a culture that placed wealth, privilege, life, and success on a person’s number of children, Hannah was losing.  She had given Elkanah no children, while Peninnah seemed to be very fertile.

Not only was Hannah seeming to suffer from the depression and frustration of a “closed womb,” she was constantly provoked by Peninnah.  This troublesome relationship went on year after year until Hannah was so depressed and broken down that she couldn’t eat and constantly wept about her painful reality (1Samuel 1:1-20)

This was Hannah’s reality until she stood up.  She had enough and stood up.  She was tired of her pain and she stood up.  She was done being provoked and ridiculed.  She stood up!  She was done with the depression.  She was done feeling sorry for herself.  She stood up…and went straight to her knees. Hannah came to the end of herself and to the beginning of God.

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability.  Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.  I cannot…but God can.  Often these seasons arrive after long periods of frustration, pain, brokenness, and maybe even some ridicule.  The time before we come to a place of surrender may find us filled with self-doubt and devastated self-worth.

Hannah offers a beautiful portrait of strength.  She is tired of her present reality.  She wants change – not just for herself but for the people she loves.  I also suspect she wants God to be honored with her future.

Hannah comes to the end of herself and to the beginning of what God can do.  This is a remarkable picture of maturity.  Hannah speaks to me about moving from a life of brokenness into the full and abundant life of God.  And the one act that separates the two realities happens when Hannah stands up and say’s “enough is enough!”  I am tired of existing in my current status.  I want a better future.  So she stands up and goes straight to her knees believing that God is the one who changes our story.

Where do you need to stand up today?  What are you tired of living with?  What are you tired of permitting?  What are the habits or cycles that you’re done with for the last time?  Where have you reached the limits of your abilities?  Remember the definition of insanity – if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got.  Stand up!  And go straight to your knees.

In chapter 2, Hannah offers a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done to change her reality.  In that pray she pronounces a new path, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my [strength] is lifted high…there is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Stand up today and surrender your current reality to God’s best future for you.  Remember what Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy.  I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).