Category Archives: scripture

Heights and Hooves

When I think of heights, I think of incredible views and vista points. I tend to forget the uphill climb, the exertion, the precipices, and the risks involved in scaling or climbing to such heights.

I like the view, but I often don’t like the voyage. After all, there is a reason most of us enjoy pictures from those who have summited Everest but have zero desire to ever accomplish such a feat.

The same is true when it comes to spiritual heights. Most of us want maturity and perspective, yet we refuse the risky and uncomfortable journeys which lead to those vistas.

This week, I have been studying Psalm 18. In it, David is on the run from a paranoid and jealous Saul (who happens to be the father of his best friend in the entire world… and we think our stories are complicated!). David is quite literally living on the edge of existence, hiding out in crags and caves in an incredibly harsh and unrelenting climate.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

Y’all. David is not in the Hilton on a comfortable vacation writing such sweet musings. He is literally running for his life from a madman. These are not soft words, but realities as solid as the rocks under which he is hiding for refuge. They are tested and proven words spoken out of tangible experiences of God’s faithfulness.

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? – the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights….You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great” (Psalm 18:31-35).

I wonder if David, while hiding out in the heights, had watched deer whose hooves are uniquely adapted for their life on the edge (quite literally)? I wonder if he saw their unthinkable ability to cling to crags and live off the sparse vegetation that grows at such altitudes?

He saw in God’s provision for them a picture of God’s provision for his survival on the heights. If He gives heights, He will give hooves.

Heights & Hooves 

If He assigns heights,
He’ll also give hooves. 
His thoughtful provision 
Fledgling fear removes. 

He sees the topography 
From His high ground. 
His planning is perfect.
His strategy is sound. 

If daunting and draining
The path might appear,
We trust our trainer-
His presence is near. 

For, carrying a cross, 
He climbed a hill-
To carry us home 
Back into His will. 

His jarring journey 
Our ways transform.
All He assigns us
To Him must conform. 

I don’t know what mountains you are called to climb right now. I don’t know what unstable and shifting ground the Lord has called you to stand firm upon. I don’t know the spiritual enemies that are pursuing with hatred for harm.

But I know the One who does. And He prepares His people for their paths, especially the grueling ones. His gentleness makes us great. Happy hooves to you, my friend!

Modern Problems & Ancient Solutions

The first Tim Keller sermon cassettes (that’s right, cassettes) I owned belonged to a series on the Psalms called “Modern Problems & Ancient Solutions.” Yes, I realize I sound ancient myself speaking of the yellow sports tape player upon which I played those tapes. At the time, most of the words ran in one ear and out the other as I ran around my small college town; however, as the Spirit is prone to do, He steadily brings them out of storage for practical use even today, some twenty years later.

Modern Problems

While the beginning of the series title might be changed to postmodern problems or even postChristian problems, the solution needs no tweaking. I say that to remind myself and others that, while the presenting issues may have changed, the biblical solutions to those issues remain rock steady.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed by the state of our world. I barely read the news, but when I do, I literally feel a burden in my throat and my tummy. Listening to our new Burmese friends speak of what their families in Myanmar are experiencing, seeing pictures of Gaza being blown to pieces by rocket fire, watching churches rip each other to shreds over modern solutions to racism. We don’t have to go looking for these things to find them in our faces.

As a mother, I tremble as I pray for our boys who are entering their teenage years. While those years are already fraught with identity struggles, our boys are literally being assaulted with worldly “wisdom” at the deepest levels of identity and sexuality. It all feels so impossibly upside-down. I feel paralyzed by postmodern problems.

This morning, as I sat down to study Psalm 18, I heard David singing a similar tune.

The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me (Psalm 18:4-5).

Listen to the imagery David uses here. Cords of death surrounding and suffocating him. Floods of destruction coming suddenly upon. Entangled by evil. In fact, the Hebrew word qadam translated “confronted me” might be translated into modern vernacular as “got all up in my face.”

David’s ancient phrases perfectly describe how I feel about our modern problems. Suffocating, sudden, and all up in our face.

Ancient Solutions

The verse immediately following David’s lament, while it sounds simple, struck me as deeply profound this morning.

In my distress, I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears (Psalm 18:6).

David’s solution to the stultifying and suffocating ancient problems which surrounded him was to cry out to God. The Ageless One who stands outside of time, readied Himself to come to the aid of His people.

He bowed the heavens and came down (Psalm 18:9)

David writes in imagery what we know as history though the Incarnation of Christ. Only, when our Christ bowed the heavens and came down, He came in gentleness and meekness. He allowed Himself to be encompassed by death. He did not need to be held by cords, as He willingly gave Himself to the ignoble death of a criminal. The flood of the consequences of our sin surrounded Him. God turned away from His cries so that He could turn to hear ours.

So we cry out to our God. When the sexual ethic shifts all around our children, we cry out to God. When people continue to turn against people, we cry out to God. When the evil within our own hearts leaves us shocked and paralyzed, we cry out to God.

And our cries fall upon open ears. And the One who enabled such cries to be heard prays for us (Hebrews 7:25).

Oh, that our Ancient Solution would be freshly brought to bear on our modern problems, beginning with a fresh reapplication to our own hearts and homes.

Mind the Gap: Leaving Gaps for God to Fill

In high school, I had the privilege of spending some time in London. Even though we saw Buckingham Palace and the changing of guards and nearly got mauled by the murder of crows in Trafalgar Square, what stuck with me most was the British recorded voice saying, “Mind the Gap!” every time we disembarked public forms of transit.

Lately, the same phrase has been running circuits in my mind as I seek to parent teenagers. After all, the teenage years are marked by gaps: age gaps and height gaps, as well as gaping needs for peer interactions and gaping needs for security, identity, and affirmation.

As it is graduation time, I keep seeing those precious side-by-side pictures. You know, the ones where a cute toddler picture is juxtaposed with a grown teenager and captioned with sappy words from sad but proud parents?! I am clearly not opposed to these modern forms of marking out, as I have often posted similar side-by-side pictures of my own crew. However, what you don’t see in all those pictures are the agonizing moments of parents stepping around, praying over, and minding the gaps.

Emotional and relational gaps between what is expected and what is real concerning friends and fun. Physical and mental gaps exposed at try-outs, losses, and moments of risk and failure. Spiritual gaps shown between what heads know and what hearts struggle to believe. The strange, suddenly-shrinking-then-suddenly growing-gap between childhood dependence and young adult independence.

The Temptation to “Mend the Gap”

It sounds so simple to “Mind the Gap.” After all, to mind gaps is merely to notice them, expect them, factor them in and readjust to them. However, when I hear the phrase, my fleshly momma heart hears it as, “Mend the Gap.”

When my children are experiencing the gaps that mark the teenage years, so often, I want to fix and fill them as quickly as humanly possible. I don’t want them to experience the confusion and loneliness of wondering where to sit at the lunch table in a huge high school. I don’t want them to be bored on a Saturday evening, feeling like there is something wrong with them or that they are missing out. I don’t want them to feel stigmatized for speaking up about their faith and not fitting into because they are standing on convictions. I don’t want them to feel like they don’t measure up physically or don’t have what it takes to be strong compared to friends who tower over them.

But God doesn’t call me to mend these gaps, at least not always. He calls me to notice them and acknowledge them, sometimes quietly and sometimes aloud in relationship with my boys. He invites me to have conversations about these gaps with my guys. He most assuredly asks me to bring them to Him in prayer.

For these are opportunities both for me and my boys to watch and wait on the Lord and eventually to wonder at His goodness, graciousness, and wisdom.

I have found myself praying Psalm 25:1-3 for my boys as they experience various gaps right now.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; O my God, in you I trust: let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous (Psalm 125:1-3).

It is so easy for me to want to offer up self-made, knee-jerk solutions when God is merely asking me to offer up the stories of my sons to Him as yet another fragrant offering.

When I mind the gaps, rather than seeking to mend them, I leave room for my children to wrestle and cry out the God who has sovereignly allowed such gaps. I leave room for His Spirit to do what I cannot and should not do. I leave space for disappointment and confusion that could be gifts to lead them closer to the God I so long that they will know.

A Terraced Heart: Digging Deeper into Knowing God

In South Carolina, lawns were typically flat and flourishing. San Diego yards, not so much.

What San Diego yards lack in size, they make up in depth and character. It is not uncommon to have a yard that backs up to a deep canyon. Resourceful homeowners with canyon-views learn to terrace their yards. Their hard, creative work results in beautiful, multi-level yards marked with nooks and crannies.

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Psalm 84
This past week, I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 84. This well-known psalm boasts three main, “Blessed are those” statements, each coupled an image. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, shown poetically by the sparrow nesting in the house of the Lord.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, pictured by  saints on pilgrimage to God’s Temple, and blessed is the one who trusts in you, imaged by the content doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

While in other seasons of life, my heart has grabbed on to the first and the third images, this week, my heart and attention were captured by the middle verses and accompanying imagery.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7. 

A Terraced Heart

The Hebrew word mesillah translated highways above comes from the root word salalSalal can also be translated as lifting or ladder. A heart full of pathways, a laddered heart, a heart set on pilgrimage to more of God by the strength of God.

In the past when I have thought about a heart full of highways, the image that came to mind was the Autobahn in Germany, a well-paved, smooth, clear highway to the Lord. However, the introduction of the imagery of climbing and ladders shifted my image to one that seems to more appropriately show what pilgrimage to the Lord looks like. A climb, a curvy, circuitous route.

While those on pilgrimage on to the actual house of God would have climbed upward, I often feel like my walk with the Lord looks more like a downward climb to the heart of God. After all, in the gospel, we learn that the way down is the way up.

While it takes great strength to climb upward, it takes equal or more strength to travel the path of downward mobility that leads to the heart of God.

As I thought about these verses, our dear friends’ stunning canyon-facing yard came to mind. The initial level is a beautiful patio. Many people would be content to stay there, leaving the rest of the steep yard uncultivated. However, our friends have slowly, over the course of a decade, begun to terrace their yard downward, level by level. The result is that every time you visit their home, you are shocked to find yet another terrace, cultivated, beautified and planted.  They are not even 3/4 of the way down their property, and their terraced yard is already a maze of hidden spaces.

I long to have a heart that resembles their terraced yard. One that refuses to settle with what I know of God and have experienced of His presence. I long to continually,  by His strength, descend deeper into the untamed and wild places of my heart and the world around me, and begin to experience Him there.

A Place of Springs

The pilgrimage pictured in Psalm 84 is one through the Valley of Baca which literally means weeping place.  Often the pathway to the presence of God leads us through pain, disappointment and suffering, our own proverbial valleys of weeping. However, the psalmists paints a portrait of the tears we shed in those valleys of weeping becoming pools of refreshment for those who will pass through the same valley after us.

What depths of hope and purpose we have in the midst of our downward pilgrimages to better know and be conformed to the heart of God.  Each downturn is a chance to cultivate gospel-terraced hearts; each  valley of weeping is a chance to create a refreshing pool for those who suffer similarly in the future.

May we know the happiness, the blessedness of those who move from strength to strength, deeper into the heart of God!

A Word to Weary Small Group Leaders

After a long day of drop-offs and pick-ups, meetings and meeting needs, opening up our home and our hearts to more people is usually the last thing I naturally want to do. Yet, every time we host a small group or Bible study, I go to bed both tired and satisfied.

I love quiet. I love calm. And these are nearly always on backorder in a household of three growing boys in the context of ministry. I feel like I can barely keep enough food in our pantry for our children. As such, thinking for snacks for weekly guests grows my task list, my grocery bill, and my already-overflowing shopping cart. Keeping up with basic cleaning is a challenge for me, so getting the boys’ shared bathroom in suitable condition for strangers feels like a Herculean task.

However, once the people are finally gathered in our backyard, at our table, or on our couch, all those concerns flee.

Once God has gathered saints and strangers in our home, I am reminded of the priority of persons in the economy of the kingdom. Sentient, living, breathing, burden-bearing souls come to our home each week to be received by other sentient, breathing, burden-bearing souls. We talk about the weather and the latest taco spot, but we also share tidbits of our stories. We multiply each other’s joys and divide each other’s sorrows. For some portion of an evening, we are reminded that there are cares outside the casing of our own hearts.

In the Church, small group leaders do a lot of heavy lifting. They faithfully accommodate their homes and hearts to others. They are tempted to grow weary in well-doing, especially when it does not seem like huge things are happening week in and week out.

This temptation to have drooping hands and hearts is not new to the church. In fact, the writer of Hebrews continually reminded the Jewish believers to keep going in the seemingly ordinary act of regularly meeting together.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Kingdom Hinges on Hospitality

For the past 6 months, I have been living in the book of Acts, studying it with multiple groups of people. This time through, a different cast of characters have been standing out to me. And it is not the likely crew of Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and others. It is people like Ananias, Mary, Priscilla and Aquila, Philip, and Jason.

I wonder if Mary was having a long day when the early church decided to gather in her home for a prayer meeting for the recently imprisoned Peter? We don’t get a glimpse into the whirling preparation she likely made to accommodate a group of prayer warriors who would stay through the night. We only know that, after the angel had released Peter, he knew where to find the believers. They would be gathered at Mary’s house. They were in the habit of doing so (Acts 12: 12).

When Jason opened his home in hospitality to Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, he had no idea that such a simple gesture would become so much more. Refusing to give them up a mob, he was dragged out of his own home, brought before authorities, and extorted for funds (Acts 17:1-9).

The kingdom hinges on seemingly small acts of faithfulness. The body of Christ must be housed, fed, and nurtured, both physically and spiritually.

Weary small group leader, don’t grow weary. Keep opening your home and feeding the flock of God placed under your care. Keep making room in your schedule and soul for the household of God.

Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not lost heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6: 9-10).

I must run now. I’ve snacks to purchase and bathrooms to clean.

When Furrows Fight Back: A Theology of Work

Complaining about work is the adult equivalent of college students complaining about mid-terms and finals. And let’s be real, we all have those days when work feels like a weight too heavy to carry and “Everybody’s working for the weekend” is our theme song.

We are wired for work. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a result of the fall. Challenges in work and struggles with identity around work were most assuredly a consequence of man’s rebellion against God’s created and careful order; however, work itself honors God and is a needed part of human flourishing.

In his pattern of the perfect world He had newly minted, God offered Adam and Eve significant freedom to do significant work on the fresh earth. There were animals to name and gardens to tame. Carl Linnaeus had nothing on them. Work was not a burden, but a particular privilege for those made uniquely in God’s image.

However, in Genesis 3, when God explained the natural consequences of rebellion against His good order, he included work in his description of the curse.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

But its not all thorns and thistles. He who wore a crown of thorns also had hands blistered from the beautiful work of carpentry. As such, both Christ’s active and passive righteousness inform our view of work. Our work is not in vain when done Coram Dei (before the face of God). As those who have been made right with God, we are freed to work under His favor. We don’t work to secure it, we work freely because it has been secured.

One day, in the New Heavens and the New Earth, we will experience meaningful, nuanced work that fits the way we were wired by God. We will roll up our sleeves happily and without stress, without sin, without the haunting need to provide security or provision. For our Christ will be all of those things and we will see Him face to face.

Furrows 

God intended faithful furrows,
The product of purposed labor,
The contented crown of creation
Working out of His full favor. 

Pushing against His protection, 
We sought power and control. 
Collapse and consequent curse 
Thoroughly took a terrible toll. 

Now the furrows fight back 
And enemies plow our backs,
Bruised bodies, furrowed brows,
Heavy plows on tired tracks. 

But the faithful, flawless Son
Gave His body for our flaws. 
His beautiful back was furrowed
To secure redemption’s cause. 

As the beloved, we labor in hope.
We dig furrows, He brings fruit. 
We faithfully cultivate our place,
As branches fed by the root.
 

If the proverbial furrows are fighting back as you work this week, know that the work story is not over yet. If your eyes are stinging from the sweat dropping from your brow, know that one day, those eyes will behold the One who sanctifies our work with His life, death, and resurrection.

Keep your hand on the plow and your eyes on the Pioneer and Perfecter of your faith.

An Amenable Arrow

Arrows are not in charge. They are tools at the disposal of the archer in whose possession they exist. They are to be content and amenable to the will of the archer. He who carries them constantly in his quiver decides when they are needed and the course they are to take. The arrow’s delight comes from being useful to the archer, ready for his bidding, slim and still in his directing hands.

I am often far from an amenable arrow in the quiver of the Lord. I tend to alternate between anxiously fretting in the quiver, questioning His decisions and trying to anticipate the archer’s next move.

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As I have been studying Psalm 25 this week, archery has been on the forefront of my mind. The Psalm smacks of guidance and direction, as David is continually talking about His ways, His courses and His paths.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long…Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Psalm 25: 4-5 & 8-9. 

Two Hebrew words particularly jumped out to me in my study: darek and yara. Darek, translated as lead in the above verses, can also be translated to aim or to conduct, to set a course. Yara, translated as direct in the verses, literally refers to an archer shooting an arrow.

As such, the Lord, who is both good and upright, is the ultimate archer. He will direct the course of action and send the appropriate arrow in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. Sounds simple, except that we, as his people, are not always amenable arrows.

The image that comes to mind is that of a handful of cartoonish and caricatured arrows and an infinitely wise and patient archer. The anxious arrow wears a constant face of worry, nervous that he has somehow missed his moment yet scared of the target. He constantly shouts queries from the quiver: “Have you forgotten me?”, “Are you sure I am ready?”, “What if I don’t fly straight?” and the likes.

The proud arrow wears a smug mug and tends to be a backseat driver. So certain of his readiness and wisdom, He tends to question the pace and position of the archer from whose hands he was fashioned and on whose back he rides: “Did you forget about that target over there?”,  “I think you are headed the wrong way.” and “Don’t you need an arrow like me to do that job?”

The anticipatory arrow nearly jumps out of the quiver at the slightest sound of trouble or any motion from the archer. He stands atop the quiver, ready to jump in an self-sufficient attempt to launch himself. The anxious arrow grabs his cock feathers, keeping him safe from his preemptive moves. Like the frustrating child on the long trip to Disneyland, he constantly asks the archer the same question on repeat: “Now?”.

In Psalm 25, David typifies an amenable arrow.  The entire psalm presupposes a posture of humility and teachability before the Lord. David beings by saying, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust” (verses 1-2) The word wait shows up three times the psalm and the words humble and fear show up twice.

An amenable arrow waits humbly in his quiver, with “eyes ever toward the Lord” (verse 15). He recognizes that he is a sinner, guilty before the Lord (verses 7, 8 and 11), and at the mercy of the archer; yet, he is confident in the character and the aim of the archer. He waits upon the archer’s initiative, ready to be aimed and shot in His prescribed ways. He seems content to be on the back of the archer, longing for “the friendship of the Lord” (verse 14).

While I long to be and to become an amenable arrow, I find my heart deeply grateful this morning that our Lord is both archer and arrow. He was willing to be an instrument in His own Father’s hands, shot from the safety, security and shalom of the Trinity. His task was to be sent to the cruel Cross. He did not resist, but in humility was directed that we might be restored to right relationship with God, returned to the quiver and transformed into amendable arrows, useful to the Master.

 

Peace is a Person

Peace, as a concept, is easy to proclaim, but hard to purchase. It makes a good buzzword, but it is a near impossible goal for humanity.

As I write this, rockets rip across the skies in the land where Jesus Himself once walked and two people groups threaten to annihilate each other. As I sip my coffee, churches and families are being ripped apart by political ideological battles, whether they be aggressive or passive aggressive, virtual or actual fronts.To say we need peace is an understatement. To say we cannot achieve it ourselves is also an understatement.

God’s people longed for peace, and understandably so. They knew too much of war, both within and without. They also knew that peace would not be cheap. They innately knew it had to be purchased.

As an anxious soul, I have always had an eye for verses promising peace. In fact, when I first came to Christ, there were two anchor-line verses from Isaiah 26 which I memorized and to which I clung.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-4).

O, Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works (Isaiah 26:12).

In both of these Scriptures, God’s people realize that any hope of obtaining or experiencing peace on earth would only come from focusing on the very nature of their God, Yahweh. In a sea of adversity and in waves of shifting regimes and kingdoms, their only anchoring point was in the Rock Everlasting, the One who did not change.

Where they stood in the story of the slowly unraveling history of redemption, God’s people could not see what we see clearly on the other side of the Cross of Christ. They knew that peace could not only come when one’s mind was fully set on God. They did not know that the only One who would ever have His heart fully fixed on God would set His face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). They knew God would ordain peace for them. They did not know that such peace would be purchased through the costly, sacrificial love of God-Himself-made-man (Ephesians 2:14; 1 Peter 1:17-19).

We have access to the life-transforming knowledge that peace is a person, the person of Christ.

Perfect Peace

The human record is wretched;
We’ve accomplished naught.  
All our most elevated efforts
Nothing but wind have wrought. 

Your peace will not be earned
By our ceaseless striving.
It is present and purchased,
While we await your arriving. 

Your long-promised peace
Is not to our performance tied.
It is wrapped up in the God-man
Who lives though once he died. 

All that our good God ordains 
He Himself will expertly fulfill. 
It is His to do and ours to trust,
As He accomplishes His will. 

You keep him in perfect peace
Whose mind is stayed on you. 
For all our God has purposed,
He’ll ultimately carry through. 

With such knowledge of the person of peace, we are invited to wage peace on this war-torn earth and to proclaim gospel hope to war-ravaged souls. But before we can properly proclaim His peace, we must let Him permeate our own lives.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:18).

Don’t Confuse Influence and Obedience

God is for influence. He gives it. He allows it. Think of Esther and her influence which was leveraged to save God’s people from imminent genocide. Think of Nebuchadnezzar and the way God humbled him and how God transformed his influence for the kingdom. Think of William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. 

In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus himself used the image of the idiocy of lighting a lantern and putting a bushel over it. He told his people to let their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their father in heaven (Matt. 5:15-16). 

Yet, Christ also knew the insidious danger of influence. He spoke harsh words to the religious leaders who were far more concerned with their influence than their obedience.  I have far more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.

The Pharisee in me loves to sit in a high seat and longs for the places of honor and titles of importance (Matthew 23:2 and 6–7). Yet the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who clings to the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with my tears of repentance and dependence (see Luke 7:36–50).

The Pharisee in me wants to be seen and celebrated by human eyes as I do good works or walk in obedience (Matthew 23:5). However, the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who is more comfortable with the prayer closet more than the crowds (see Matthew 6:16–18). The Pharisee in me wants to be called teacher, instructor, or mother (Matthew 23:7–12). Nonetheless, the Spirit continually puts in the place of a pupil and child. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides, but the Spirit would make us seeing servants (Matthew 23:16).

Jesus repeatedly reminded his disciples of the One who searched hearts and prodded them toward purity of heart and motivation. When they were floored and ecstatic about the influence and power they had over demons, he ushered them towards greater joy that their names were written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). 

Obviously influence itself is not a bad thing. But in a culture obsessed with the star-studded and celebrity, we are liable to conflate influence and obedience.

Large-scale influence, for most people, doesn’t last very long. Thus, the coining of the term “five minutes of fame.” Even famous professional athletes have their prime. Eventually, they must learn to adjust to being a role player or someone coming off the bench. I always respect players and pastors who can make this transition with humility and grace. It exposes what has motivated their playing all along. Do they love and respect the game or the fame?

God has given us each a sphere of influence, but that sphere will shrink and enlarge in turns throughout the course of a lifetime. As such, it seems that we would do well to focus on obedience to God and let him determine the size of our spheres. 

Obedience is for a lifetime. Influence is for a season. 

I fear in myself and around me an insatiable hunger for a widening sphere of influence, not for the sake of obedience and the lords glory, but for self-aggrandizement and a feast for the flesh. 

For every widely-scene Christian writer, artist, or teacher, there are scores of people living out extraordinarily ordinary faithfulness in their largely-unseen spheres. I fear that many of them feel less-than in the kingdom. I long that they would know and believe that their long obedience in the same direction deeply honors the Father. 

As always, the Father is far more concerned with the internals than the externals. He is the searcher of hearts and the knower of hearts (Acts 15). This means that He is most concerned with our prayerful obedience. Sometimes that will look like a lull on social media to have our motivations refined. Sometimes that will look like bravely and vulnerably sharing something on a larger platform. He seems to be more concerned that whatever we do, we do it in a manner that exudes humble, faithful obedience. 

Searching Questions:

  1. Do people whom I see regularly know about what I am about to post? Have I shared it with a neighbor, a friend, a disciple?
  2. Is there someone in my non-media life with whom the Lord might have me share these thoughts?
  3. Am I content to obey the Lord doing this, even if no one else ever knows? 
  4. Are there small acts of faithfulness I am neglecting in my hungering after a larger sphere? 
  5. Am I pointing those in my sphere of influence to myself or to the Savior?
  6. Will I gracefully receive the shrinking of my sphere if and when that happens? 
  7. How can I use the platform of influence I have been given in this season to champion the faithfulness of others? To show multiple paths of faithfulness rather than merely the large and loud? 

Whether your platform is the size of a pallet or Radio City Music Hall, the Lord intends you to walk in a faithful obedience that points to the Father in Heaven. 

May the words of our mouths and the mediations of our hearts (and the stewarding of our spheres of influence) be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). 

On Power Plays and a Peculiar Posture

Presently, churches all across the nation are splitting and splintering, being pulled quite literally left or right. Both sides are claiming their way to transform the culture and both sides are claiming the name of Christ. While both sides think they share little in common, they are both involved in a power play for positions of influence, assuming that God’s primary call on His people is to transform or better culture.

But God’s call on His people is that they become a peculiar people.

Like many of you, my mind has been spinning this past year trying to make sense of what is happening with Christian congregations. Recently, the Lord has used a book written in the 1990’s to help me see more clearly what is happening in the 2020s. In their joint book Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon address trends that were planted back in the days of Constantine and have been growing into full-fledged forests by now.

“That which makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean towards the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus (Resident Aliens, page 28).”

Both sides are equally likely to fall into worldly patterns of thinking that change comes through positions of power and political prowess. Believers in either camp can want the right things but go about trying to get them through means that God has not ordained.

The primary job of God’s people is to be the people of God, not to transform culture. Culture may and likely will be transformed, but such transformation will be a by-product, not a means in and of itself.

“For to us, the world ended. We may have thought that Jesus came to make nice people ever nicer, that Jesus hoped to make a democratic Caesar just a little more democratic, to make the world a bit better place for the poor. The Sermon, however, collides with such accommodationist thinking. It drives us back to a completely new conception of what it means for people to live with one another. That completely new conception is the church (Resident Aliens, page 92).”

If the church is to do the work of Christ, the church cannot seek to accomplish His means through the mechanisms of a dying world. God has given us the church as His means to accomplish His work. Practically speaking, this means that Supreme Court justice appointments or decisions, while important, are not our hope. This means that laws enacted by our government do not sideline us from doing the work of God and being the people of God. We do not to be propped up by the government to be His people. In fact, when the laws of the land go against our beliefs, we have an even greater opportunity to stand out.

My fear is that our churches are missing their moment to show the watching world the compelling and true story of the gospel. A pandemic got the world’s attention, but the church has been so engaged in fighting each other, they look no different than the political ads.

When Paul spoke to the Church that he loved and helped establish in Galatia, his heart was heavy over their interactions with one another. They were using their new-found freedom in Christ to further their own agendas and catching each other in the crosshairs of their disparate aims.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

We have been stuck in a brutal power play when we are called to be spending our time on being God’s peculiar people. We don’t need laws to be His peculiar people. We don’t need a sitting president who affirms our ideals. We have His Word and His Spirit, which is all the early church needed to be set apart.

The Church should be odd. We won’t fit neatly into a political system because God’s word wasn’t concerned with political systems. God’s Word was concerned with announcing an altogether different kingdom. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “We want to claim the church’s ‘oddness’ as essential to its faithfulness.”

Oddity 

Often the faithful seem foolish,
Their trust in Your Word naive. 
A world calculated and strategic
Estranges those who believe. 

For the story that grabbed them
Has sunk deep into their veins. 
The storyteller’s life-giving Word
Continues to guide their reins. 

Those who’ve heard such a story
Must see everything in its light. 
The One who’s seen through them 
Has Initiated them into His sight. 

Staking their lives on a Savior
Despised and rejected by men,
They are to reenact His story
Again and again and again. 

As they resist prevailing notions, 
The world calls the meek weak,
When power takes on the posture 
Of gently turning the other cheek. 

The odd way they try to trod
Is labeled limiting and narrow,
For they don’t know the One
Whose Spirit is their marrow. 

Lord, hold our fumbling feet
Fast to your glorious way. 
In your likeness let us live
Until that promised day