Tag Archives: Calling

Outside of the Lines

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
Acts 9:10 (NIV)

I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak in me. Working inside of large institutions typically brings it out though I don’t have a lot of examples to share because I’ve never been able to work well inside of large institutions. I’m allergic to bureaucracy. I believe God made me to work best from the outside in.

I was a few months shy of my 15th birthday when God first called me. “You will proclaim my word,” was the simple message I received. I was just naive enough, and just maverick enough not to ask questions about how. I just figured I was meant to start immediately. I delivered my first message just two months later, and within a year I was part of a team of young people traveling the state each week and speaking about Jesus wherever I was given opportunity.

As I read through the book of Acts, I’m continually struck by how the body of Christ expanded. My maverick heart immediately recognizes that it didn’t happen institutionally. In today’s chapter Jesus dramatically calls Saul, a man eager to be Jesus’ greatest enemy. Remember when Jesus said, “love your enemies and bless those who persecute you?” Yeah, Jesus did that with Saul.

Then Jesus calls on a man named Ananias. We don’t know anything about Ananias. We don’t know his background, where he came from,  or how he became a follower of Jesus. His name was quite common in that day. It’s like God choosing a guy named John Smith. Ananias was just a guy in Damascus sitting at home praying. He wasn’t one of “The Twelve.” He wasn’t in Jerusalem where the leaders of Jesus’ movement were headquartered and deciding things. Out of the blue this nobody in Damascus gets tapped by Jesus to heal the man who was His self-proclaimed worst enemy. His name only comes up one more time in the Great Story.

From a leadership perspective, I love what Jesus is doing. He isn’t confining the work of His movement to be channeled only through his chosen leader, Peter, and the other eleven proteges. Jesus is expanding the work through everyone who believes and follows. Holy Spirit is filling everyone. Spiritual gifts are being distributed to everyone; Even an unsuspecting, common man named Ananias sitting at home in Damascus praying.

Jesus isn’t creating an institution. He’s creating an organism just like He did back in the opening chapters of Genesis. He’s creating a complex living body made up of millions of individual cells each called on to do their individual part for the whole, that it may accomplish its purpose of love and salvation.

This morning I’m sitting in my hotel room getting ready to go work with a client, who happens to be a large, global corporation. Like I said, I work best from the outside in. It’s how God made me. I’m sitting here thinking about the stories of an angry man named Saul and a common man named Ananias. I love that Jesus works outside the lines. I love that He’s not a God of bureaucracy but a God of living, breathing, creative power and beauty. That’s the Jesus I know. That’s the Jesus who called to me when I was 14 and still inspires me almost 40 years later. That’s the Jesus this maverick will follow each day of this earthly life (and then into eternity).

 

Spiritually There are No Age Limits

The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
Jeremiah 1:1-3; 6-7 (NIV)

While in high school I was part of an incredible church youth group. I almost typed the adjective “unique,” but to this day I don’t think there was anything “unique” about me and my peers. We were typical high schoolers with all the angst, foolishness, idealism, drama and absentmindedness of any group of teens. Our youth pastor for most of my high school years was a man named Andy Bales whose journey has taken him to do amazing things for the homeless in Los Angeles. Our church’s worship leader was a gentleman named Mike Mars.

The thing about Andy and Mike was that they believed that God could accomplish far more through us than anyone else believed or expected (even ourselves). Andy didn’t just disciple us, he taught us how to disciple others including our parents. Mike didn’t just assemble a “youth choir” to sing in front of our parents once or twice a year. Mike taught us how to put together an entire program, how to work together as a team, and then sent us on the road almost every Sunday of the school year to minister to other churches all over our state. Mike didn’t travel with us. He trusted us to do everything ourselves from making a first impression to set up, rehearsal, performance, giving the message, tearing down and loading out for the trip home. A couple of parents or adults chaperones rode along to watch, but they never had to do a thing.

Many of the “kids” in my youth group have gone on to continue in vocational ministries as missionaries, pastors, ministry directors and youth workers. I observed that most others have approached their life journeys as ministry opportunities to serve God as educators, doctors, and professionals in the business community.

This personal experience has colored my own world view. When our daughters were young people I tried to instill in them that they could be used by God’s Spirit and have an impact for God’s Kingdom right now. I’m proud of what they attempted, accomplished, and learned.

I am fond of reminding my local gathering of Jesus’ followers that no where in God’s Message is there an age requirement for being a believer, being called by God, being filled by the Spirit, having spiritual gifts, or exercising those gifts for God’s Kingdom. In fact, the list of Biblical characters who were called by God as young people (without education, without training, without official institutional certification of any kind) is impressive: Timothy, Mary, David, Samuel, Joseph, Esther, and Mark.

In today’s opening chapter of Jeremiah’s anthology of prophetic messages he shares that he was called by God as a boy. As typical of young people, Jeremiah responded to God, “but I’m just a kid!” But age is not a qualification for being called by God or doing God’s work. And when young people are called by God they tend to have spiritually productive life journeys. Jeremiah himself was a prophet for 40 years during a period of time when life expectancy itself was around 30 years (if you were one of the lucky few to survive infancy).

Forgive me for sounding like an old curmudgeon, but along my life journey I’ve observed that our culture seems to expect less and less of our young people. We protect them. We shelter them from life’s natural pains. We entertain them endlessly and hover over them to ensure that they experience minimal discomfort. We build up their egos while minimizing their opportunities to experience the lessons of accomplishing things on their own and learning the invaluable lessons of failure. We keep extending childhood to the point that becoming a capable, responsible adult is a post-graduate crisis experience with its own word: adulting.

This morning I’m thanking God for teaching me as a boy that I had a role to play in the Kingdom of God and that role began immediately. I’m saying a prayer of gratitude for Andy and for Mike who believed in me and my peers more than we believed in ourselves. I’m praying for a generation of young people who will rebel against being treated like snowflakes and who will lead a spiritual storm of revival and culture change that no one expects.

The old curmudgeon rant is over. Have a great day.


Faith, Following, and Fairness

Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’
Matthew 20:15 (NASB)

During my lifetime I have observed that fairness and equality have increasingly become societal expectations. There are certainly worthwhile issues to be addressed and ills to be confronted, but I have observed that expectations of fairness and equality can easily expand to encompass almost every area of life. It seems at time as though we want same-ness. Everyone should have the same, make the same, look the same, enjoy the same.

On my spiritual journey I have come to accept that the overarching fairness I observe us striving for does not exist in God’s economy. Everyone has access to the Life, love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness which Jesus purchased through His death and resurrection. Once on the path of following Jesus, however, I discover that God never promised that all followers would all enjoy the same lot in life, be called to the same path, or have the same purpose. In fact, God’s self-revelation gives evidence to infinite and creative diversity in being, calling, giftedness, purpose, and experience. The Trinity itself reveals unity in diversity; Three distinct persons – One God.

In today’s chapter Jesus tells a simple parable that addresses this very issue. A vineyard owner hires workers throughout the day. Some in early morning, late morning, noon, afternoon, and some more for the last hour of the work day. The owners agreed to pay them each the same wage. At the end of the day the laborers who worked all day are indignant that the workers who only worked one-hour received the same amount of money.

Hire a lawyer! Call the Labor Board! Organize a union!

That’s not fair!

But, Jesus points out that each laborer readily agreed to the wage when they began. The issue, then, was not the fairness of the employer but the envy of the workers.

In find it ironic that Matthew follows this parable with the story of Jesus’ own disciples having conflict over who among them were Jesus’ favorites and who would get positions of honor in God’s Kingdom. Jesus response matched the parable He’d just told: “Don’t worry about each other’s rewards; Focus on the job you’ve each been called to do.” 

This morning I am reminded once again that my job is not to concern myself with comparisons to everyone else. My focus is to be on my personal relationship with God, existing in the flow of God’s Spirit, faithfully walking the path God places before me, and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability. When I embrace and embody my unique person and purpose, I contribute to the unity of God’s Kingdom.

“Then, Get on With It”

[Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:18 (NRSV)

In the final chapter of John’s biography of Jesus, he wraps up a few loose ends. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, we’d left Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest as the cock was crowing. Peter, as Jesus predicted, denied he was associated with Jesus three times.

One can only imagine the shame that Peter felt. He had not only been one of the twelve followers Jesus called to be disciples, but he had also been part of Jesus’ inner circle along with James and John. Peter was a recognized leader of the group and even Jesus had indicated that Peter was to play a crucial role in Jesus’ plan.

How fascinating to find Peter back home, back in his boat, and back to his old trade. I can imagine the conversation among Jesus’ followers. “What do we do now?” they ask behind locked doors of Jerusalem. Peter is supposed to be leading. Peter is supposed to be taking of the keys of God’s kingdom and unlocking hearts. But shame hovers over Peter’s own heart and mind like a black wall cloud.

“I’m a failure,” I hear Peter whispering to himself. “I blew it,” he mutters, “Just like Jesus knew I would. Some leader I am. I disqualified myself. ” Peter looks at the others. They’ll never follow him now, anyway, he muses. “Pick another leader from among yourselves,” he says to them. “I’m going home. Back to Galilee. Back to my boat and my nets.” Peter throws in the towel.

But Jesus wasn’t finished with Peter. The risen Jesus follows to Galilee and meets Peter right where he is. This is also right where it all started. This is the same place Jesus first encountered the brash fisherman and called him to follow.

Three times Jesus asks Peter the same question, “Do you love me?”

Three times Peter answers, “Yes.”

Three affirmations of love trump three denials. Love conquers. Love beats shame. Love wins.

This morning I’m thinking about my own shame and feelings of failure and inadequacy. I’m thinking about my own feelings of being disqualified from what Jesus has called me to do. When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” I hear the question in my own heart.

“Yes,” my heart whispers in response. “You know I do.”

“Then, get on with it,” I hear God’s Spirit answer back.

Time to start my day.

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The Appeal of a Cloistered Life

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one….As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
John 17:15, 18 (NRSV)

There has always been something about monastic life that has secretly appealed to me. I like the idea of leaving everything behind to live simply and humbly in quiet devotion. Whenever I hear or read about a monastery or convent, there’s a piece of my heart that envies the brothers and sisters who lead a cloistered life.

Along my journey I have recognized that there are different types of cloistered lives. In the Roman Catholic tradition it is a very specific separation from the world as the monks or nuns live in community with one another in a sequestered space. In the Evangelical tradition I have grown up in, we also have a version of the cloistered life. Our version of it is more subtle. We separate ourselves from the world while still appearing to live in it.

Our social lives revolve around our church or Christian school. We attend Christian concerts, frequent Christian bookstores, and hang out with others in Christian coffee shops. We read Christian fiction and listen to Christian music on Christian radio stations. We decorate our homes with Christian decor and watch Christian movies and Christian television programs.  We put Christian bumper stickers on our cars. We may appear to live in the world, but the reality is that our lives are carefully, surgically separated and cloistered from it.

I cannot, however, escape the simple and direct statements Jesus made in today’s chapter. He is sending His followers into the world. He is not sending them to live in insulated, cloistered community where they will be safe, secure, and insulated. He is sending them into the world where there is darkness, danger and the threat of harm. That is why the Father’s protection is necessary.

Today, I am thinking about the cloistered life. It will likely never cease to appeal to me. It is not, however, the path to which I am called. Jesus calls me, not out of the world, but into the world where I am often thought strange, where I am regularly misunderstood, and where I routinely feel awkward and out of place. That’s the mission, however. It was the mission for Jesus, and it’s the mission that He gave to those of us who follow.

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Overwhelmed, and Short on Confidence

[Gideon] responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Judges 6:15 (NRSV)

History is, by and large, filled with stories of privileged people. Kings, rulers, nobles, and generals were typically people born into the right families. They had the means to the best educations, were connected to the right people, and leveraged the opportunities at their disposal to become “great.”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to appreciate one of the meta-themes of God’s Message which is summarized in His words to the prophet Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Throughout the Great Story, God time and time again goes to the youngest, the least, and the weakest to use for His purposes. Today’s story of the calling of Gideon is a great example. You can feel the shame that exists at the core of Gideon’s soul. He is a nothing, a nobody, a person with no privilege, no means, and no connections. That is, until he received a visit from a very peculiar guest.

On this Monday morning, with a pile on my desk and a task list long enough to rival a child’s wish list to St. Nick, I can identify with Gideon’s attitude of being largely overwhelmed and a little short on confidence. Yet today’s chapter reminds me, once again, that God delights in calling unlikely individuals to particular tasks, and then graciously providing what is needed for the task to which one is called.

The Southpaw Savior

But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.
Judges 3:15 (NRSV)

When it comes to a good novel, I have always loved espionage thrillers. So, it comes as no surprise that I find the story of Ehud, the southpaw who saved the nation, most fascinating. Three things stood out to me this morning as I read the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king, Eglon, and Israel’s subsequent military victory.

The first thing that struck me this morning was simply how brutal life in the time of the judges really was. Get ready, because we’re just getting started and there’s a lot of brutality to wade through in the coming weeks. I have said it before as we’ve journeyed through the ancient texts of God’s Message, and I’m reminded again: I have to try and take myself out of my 21st century, American cultural mindset to imagine the realities of tribal culture in Canaan 3300 years ago.

The second thing is that Ehud was a lefty, and lefties have always had a pretty bad rap throughout history. We humans are lemmings by nature and history reveals that we are continually suspect of social outliers. Lefties in history were thought to be anything from evil omens to downright evil themselves. As a lefty, I can remember my elementary teachers at least making an attempt to have me write with my right hand because they believed being right handed would be better for me. How silly of us to be afraid of that which is natural, if only different. Ehud’s south-paw sword hand came in handy.

Finally, Ehud hatched a brilliant plan, and he seems to have understood several key pieces of strategy. The fact that Eglon trusted himself to be alone with Ehud tells me that there was trust built between the two. He seems to have known what Don Corleone learned thousands of years later: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Then you can strike when the time is right. Ehud also understood that if you strike the shepherd the sheep will be scattered. He started buy killing the King and then the Moabite subjects were easier to defeat. Ehud was also perceptive about human nature. By speaking privately to Eglon, then shutting & locking the door behind him, he anticipated the servants’ reluctance to barge in on the king. He bought himself more time to get out.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that God uses our unique differences for specific purpose. Ehud the southpaw was the right guy at the right time in the right place. Our natural strengths and corollary struggles mean that we are uniquely suited to play our part in the Great Story. It’s our job to respect that part we play, and the parts played by others – rather than judging them as better, worse, greater, or lesser.