Hands of Time

I haven’t always thought of time as my friend. People throughout history have called it a speeding train, a monster, a slave-driver, and a crocodile. The fact is, it has been a patient, albeit unbending, teacher even when I fought it for all I thought it should do for me. Through it all, what a kind companion it’s been.

Anyone who has known me for very long has heard me claim to have a certain degree of “Peter Pan syndrome” because I love the magic and energy that accompanies the perspective of a child. I’ve even posted blogs titled Why do we have to grow up? The real issue at work in this idea is innocence, not time. I’ve seen 15-year-olds with the bodies, minds, and experiences of 30-year-olds and 50-year-olds with the open expression and reckless love of a child. Our minds and hearts create the structure of the reality in which we live, not time. It begins with who we choose to be at our core of our being. Do we value innocence enough to protect it in ourselves and others?

I’ve told many friends, “My time does not belong to me.” It’s a thought that seems backwards to people in an era of “it’s all about me” and “my truth”… but it’s Biblical! “You are not your own; you were bought with a price!” (I Corinthians 6) That is to say, nothing I am or have is actually mine except my choice. And I have chosen: “to live is Christ and to die is gain”… therefore, time is on my side whether I live or die, stay young forever or grow to be 80 years old. God’s kids don’t lose because we have everything to gain if we give it all. And that’s just what we, as givers, do. It’s the only way to live!

“Time cools, time clarifies, no mood can go unaltered through the course of hours,” according to Mark Twain. Josh Turner’s song “Time is Love” is another reflection of the true value and the commitment it represents. Time is actually a friend of mine… with warm, amazing hands that hold my icy cold ones with steadiness and care. These hands have encouraged me over and over. They’ve helped me grow, heal, resolve conflicts, and create masterpieces. Their constancy has taught me to be measured; their consistent movement helps me maintain discipline while also keeping me from boredom; and their true value is as priceless as the life they sustain.  What’s more, they serve (without fail) the God I love and trust, the only man who can handle and channel everything I am and have to offer without compromising the freedom and innocence I cherish.

Who wants to fight an ally or waste a priceless gift? Once again, I’m struck by the loving, uncomplicated way time has resolved an important riddle and brought me to a place of so much peace and release. What a refreshing way to begin a new year. I can’t help but be awed by the power, the patience, and the ever-presence of Jesus Christ and His gentleness and steadiness exemplified in the hands of time.

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New Beginnings

Every new year feels like a blank sheet of paper without a scratch made on it yet. It’s beautiful, white, and clean but made to be written on. And we’re made to write it. The pages of the last several years are laid out next to me on my desk. I can’t help a long look of awe. Every inch of each one is covered in words, big and small (depending on how confident I was when I wrote them).  Some parts are smudgy and certainly not as pretty as I’d like them to be. Others are written with the flourish and flamboyant style of a girl that’s used to making a big impression in bright red. The names of a dozen countries and thousands of people are written there. Some people’s names are written in gold, like the treasure they became to me then. Every page before the most recent entries are less remarkable somehow; it’s as if life suddenly became more alive and full of the sweet presence of God’s glory these last few years. I wouldn’t change a thing.

So let’s talk about why it’s important to share your story of what God has done in your life. Often, in church people call it your “testimony.” When we use the term, testimony, in a court case, it’s clear to us that the idea is for a witness to simply give an account of what he or she experienced, defending it sometimes when cross-examined by the prosecuting attorney. However, when we use testimony in the context of a believer in Jesus Christ, the concept suddenly becomes confusing and ambiguous to us. Why? Do we remember how Jesus saved us? Are we afraid? Our eyes were opened to a life-changing reality and we can’t go back to life as usual, crawling back under the covers as if we’d never gotten up that morning. If we do, it’s even more dangerous for us than if we were to stand up and give testimony to the truth. It’s common knowledge that the prosecutor is going to cross-examine us.  He always does.  Are we scared of being questioned or hunted down by the bad guys for squealing?

As a class, we’re writing it all out this week. Through tears and cries of “Oh God wow!” we’re putting on paper the stories of what Jesus did to bring us to life, picking Bible verses that meant the most to us. It’s scary for some. A few years ago, a member of our church was literally beaten for talking about Jesus, one has been ridiculed by his family, another one is now the brunt of nasty comments from former friends who don’t understand the changes he’s making. Yet another still endures sex jokes and pressure to go back to her old life and fulfill physical cravings. It’s obvious, these guys have already been experiencing some cross-examination; the prosecuting attorney wears the face of people they know intimately and he knows a great deal too much about their past record. It’s a battle every morning to wake up anew like we did the first day we experienced new life. But Jesus said in Luke 21:12-19

“before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.”

Every person’s testimony has four parts: 1. Past life – what we looked like a few years ago, the story of our long-gone history B.C. (Before Christ).

2. Conviction – when the stirring of wakefulness started and we began to feel like something was missing or needed to change

3. Salvation – that pin-prick of light that suddenly burst into open sunlight on our face when we realized that Jesus was our savior

4. Transformation – the changes that have been taking place in our life now that we’ve received Jesus (our new outlook with Him at the center)

Isaiah 8 says “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Our testimony of Jesus Christ isn’t mystic mumbo-jumbo.  Listen intently to what we say and watch our lives when we say Jesus changed us.  If we aren’t lining every page of our lives with God’s word, we’re still just sleep talking.

In many ways, glancing back over our shoulder at what was gives us the opportunity to remember who we are. When you receive Jesus, it’s the most powerful, life-altering experience anyone can have. It’s your experience! Why wouldn’t you want to tell everyone about it and write it on every inch of your clean page this year?

As John 21:24 said, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”

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YOUR Ministry

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God,” Jesus said.

Peacemaker. Why is it that people who use that word tend to put it in a context that makes the peacemaker sound spineless? Are peacemakers people-pleasers who placate the unsettled soul by pandering to “whatever makes them happy?” This is obviously NOT what Jesus meant by the powerful title he made synonymous with God’s offspring in Matthew 5. Peacemakers actually MAKE peace… sometimes by getting into the middle of conflict, no matter how intense it is. Ironically, true peacemakers are the people who are willing to do the dirtiest work, even humbling and sacrificing themselves or their reputation to try to bring about restoration, forgiveness, and healing. Sound like anyone you know?

Jesus provided the perfect source for true, lasting reconciliation both vertically and horizontally (eg. with God and people). His authority in this ministry of reconciliation has been passed on TO US as He commissioned us to be His operatives in the world. In an article by Dr. David Turner of Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, the concept of reconciliation is carefully dissected. “God is the initiator and people are the receptors of reconciliation,” Turner tells us.[2] This is why Jesus told His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel…”[3] Under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit, we get to be His ambassadors and initiate the same reconciliation Jesus extended to us.

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What does it mean to be a minister (or Ambassador) of reconciliation? If you know what an Ambassador does, you will understand this concept to some degree. In a tale of two kingdoms, earthly and heavenly, we’ve become the bridge in between. Sometimes it means being walked over in the process of providing help. It’s very much the same as being a peacemaker. In a very real way, it means we’re now responsible to get in the middle of the broken relationships between God and people to become a catalyst for healing. We exist to help people move from the kingdom of death into God’s kingdom of eternal life.

The minute you accept Jesus, THIS IS YOUR MINISTRY, your full-time job for life. And by the way, it isn’t optional. You’re either a Disciple of Jesus or you’re not.

You might say “Hey, this isn’t what I signed up for.” Oh but it is! It’s not a comfortable idea but a true Jesus lifestyle never will be. As new members of the ministry of reconciliation, we are called to do some seemingly crazy acts of extroversion and love to accomplish our mission. We intentionally open ourselves up to opportunities to persuade people, build relationships, and demonstrate the love of Jesus. We faithfully exemplify and speak about the Gospel of Jesus with our friends and family in the hopes that we can one day initiate them even as we have been initiated. We’re not the same person we were before we were launched into this ministry. It becomes our new identity.

Can you recall a time in your personal experience when you approached someone you knew regarding harmful behavior in their life? What was your motive in speaking to them about what you saw? How did they respond? Often a hostile response precedes a humble one when we try to bring about reconciliation. We all have areas where we make mistakes. A recent insurance ad even capitalized on this fact with the tagline “We all do dumb things.” It is an unfortunate side-affect of the human condition that our pride causes us to either reject the existence of our issues or revel and indulge in them. It’s rare for a person to respond well when a weakness or blind spot is identified for them even by a loving, unselfishly-motivated, outside source. The defenses go up and the person either deflects responsibility or starts to cast critical aspersions on you. This is why Jesus warned that “in the same way you judge others, you will judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you… first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”[4]

This may discourage us from ever helping to correct what we see is wrong. You may say, “I’m not perfect either, so why would I speak to someone else about what they’re doing?”

It’s not about you.

Our membership in the Ministry of Reconciliation is not an ego trip. It can only be accomplished through the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Under submission to Him, we become the peacemakers (James 3:18), the nurturers of right choices (1 Thess. 5:14), the loving truth-tellers (Eph. 4:15), the encouragers (Col. 3:16), and the identifying agents of spiritual illness to prescribe forgiveness through Jesus Christ unto reconciliation with God and others. We have a mission. Unless issues of sin or blindness are pointed out, there will be no opportunity for correction and a person will continue to walk in death; their harmful practices will continue to inflict pain and hurt relationships. Your capacity to confront in a selfless, loving way, not seeking personal promotion but restoration of relationship is central to YOUR ministry and operation in the Body of Christ.

[1] Matthew 9:2, Matthew 9:5, Mark 2:5, Mark 2:9, Luke 5:20, Luke 5:23, Luke 7:48

[2] David L. Turner, Paul and the Ministry of Reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 (Criswell Theological Review 4.1, 1989), 77-95.

[3] Mark 16:15

[4] Matthew 7:1-5

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Jesus & Conflict

Conflict drives the world around us. Opposing views, violation, competition, and offense peppers every relationship with challenges in each stage of life from birth to the grave. It’s not uncommon for a new believer in Jesus Christ to have incorrect assumptions about their role in conflict. Interestingly enough, even men and women who have served Jesus for many years and have studied Scripture in-depth are not immune to the same quandary. It’s uncomfortable. If we have chosen to make Jesus our example, what do His actions demonstrate for us? Was Jesus a pacifist?

You may be of the belief that the follower of Jesus is always called to “turn the other cheek.”[1] We imagine a conciliatory savior that gathers all into the circle of His grace as we sing Kumbaya together in perfect harmony. While there are certainly situations that call for us to turn the other cheek (namely when encountering an “evil person” as the passage says), we are also required to take into account the many scenarios where Jesus INCITED conflict by publicly denouncing the christ-jesus-cleansing-temple-john-2-vv-13-22Pharisees (deeply entrenched, uncontested leaders of the Jewish people) and physically drove the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple. He even went so far as to tell His disciples, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”[2] Teachings of Jesus like this one, by their very nature, inspire conflict within us. They cause us to question our values, priorities, and loyalties. It’s no wonder we would live at odds sometimes with the people around us. Jesus was the single, most intense, anti-establishment agent in all of history. If we’re truly following His example, we won’t be able to avoid some extremely harsh opposition. Our savior was pursued unto death for all that He represented and inspired. There are only two ways to handle our inevitable embroilment in controversy: will we avoid or will we confront? Is either the right way to manage conflict?

The culture around us shouts a message of tolerance and appeasement, pushing back at those who claim Jesus as their Lord. Mockers goad us by twisting Scripture and abusing the image of a Jesus that heals, holds children, and forgives His murderers while He hangs from a cross. We have to remember that the same Jesus who brought sight to the blind also called the Pharisees “blind fools.”[3] The same Jesus who was quick to tell repentant mendicants “your sins are forgiven” was also quick to accuse the “hypocrites” and warn of pending judgment (so tolerant, right?). [4] The same Jesus who nurtured and blessed children also issued a stern warning to His disciples that “if anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”[5] We have to comprehend the idea that the meekness of Jesus does not equal weakness. Rather, He, as the greatest power in the universe, operated under the control of the Holy Spirit to right the wrongs in our world.

With Jesus as our example, it’s time to move forward into a Biblical understanding of conflict resolution. Starting with a heart of forgiveness that loves people beyond the problems they represent to us, we must remember that we’re called to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Lastly, when conflicts occur in the Body of Christ, we have to keep in mind that unity and love are not suggested values, they’re requirements. You may, on occasion, grit your teeth as you choose to love and work with your brothers and sisters in Christ but it’s our love for each other that sets us apart as Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35).

[1] Matthew 5:39

[2] Matthew 10:34-36

[3] Matthew 23:17

[4] Matthew 23:23

[5] Matthew 18:6

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You Are What You Say

If you are in the 1st Grace Bible Class, “Building the Kingdom Through Words & Relationships,” thank you for checking in at Fieryhalo.com! This is a place where we can go a little deeper and discuss thoughts about class in more detail midweek (please feel free to comment below). Our study of words this past weekend could have almost been a 12 week class all by itself! Some of the principles we’ve talked about will certainly be popping up again in future classes, so I hope you took a ton of good notes!

As we consider the importance of being conscientious in our communication, a response I often get is “I just don’t want to be fake” or “I want to always be honest.” No one wants you to be fake (obviously!) but I’ve discovered that those who are quick to say “I-don’t-want-to-be-fake-or-dishonest-about-how-I-feel” tend to be people who express a lot of negativity.  Does this build anything? If so, what? As you consider a logical approach to our spiritual responsibility, I think you may find the following examples and ideas somewhat helpful:

“Everyone else has to be better off than me…”

He stood next to his car, fishing keys out of his pocket, and eventually jammed one into the door with a sharp twist. “It’s classic nothingness, a massive stomach-ache of stupidity,” he said; “I hate my life.” Whoever was on the other end of that phone had either called at the wrong time or answered at the wrong time. I didn’t envy the poor listener one bit.

I wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping. I was just standing there. The guy’s rant was unusually eloquent for 8 o’clock in the morning. My memory isn’t perfect but the general gist of this particular conversation wasn’t lost on me. Something about the whole scenario seemed vaguely familiar.

Was it the tone or the words? Perhaps it was the mood of the speaker. Maybe it’s all of the above but one thing is for sure; I’ve been on the other end of that same phone call numerous times. The depressed mess of a message has been left on my voicemail in at least 20 different voices. “Meaningless, nothingness, life stinks, I never get what I need, I don’t know what to do…  call me back?”

It’s easy to wallow in self-pity if the physical world is all we see. We’re looking for something different but whatever we’re looking for, we’re not getting.  We’re desperate for fulfillment, craving a compassionate listener, and needing to unload. Or we’re simply ready to be the listener! A five minute glimpse at a television talk show in a waiting room confirms the sad fact. We’re all sick and losing it, right? Hey, at least those women who have 3 children by 4 different men are being honest about their lives. And we all appreciate truthfulness, don’t we?

We’ve heard it all before. “That’s life,” some people say.

That’s death actually. Even though sharing and accepting junk is normal, it’s killing us. Just like thosedisgusting-five-guys big, greasy burgers we like to eat at the local fast food joint. Swallowing a couple of them won’t put you in the hospital but eat a burger or two every day and you might want to call the ambulance while you’re at it.

How about swallowing the vein-clogging honesty of daily depression or bad habits?  Does anyone feel more trusting of that wonderfully honest person who is willing to shamelessly feed you their morbid feelings or slimy, dysfunctional lifestyle? If you don’t like it and have the gall to express your distaste, you’re considered judgmental. After all, they’re just being honest.

The unfortunate property of language is that a word commonly used has the tendency to change in perceived meaning over time. Case in point: Truth. People don’t know what the word “Truth” means anymore. In fact, Truth has been totally twisted to mean the opposite of what it actually is.

If I were to set the record straight in one line, it would be this: “Truth” doesn’t describe the way things ARE, Truth is a term describing the way things SHOULD BE. Furthermore, Truth is not a construct each individual develops by themselves within themselves. Truth is external, constant, and way bigger than we are.

“The Truth will set you free” is a quip you often hear repeated in movies, music, and even the news. Interestingly enough, it’s from John 8 and comes with a fantastic context. The context is rarely quoted but here it is in the words of Jesus: “If you hold to my teachings you are really my disciples. Then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.”

Jesus is His teaching. His teaching is the Truth. He is the Truth. He is the way things should be.  That’s what will set you free. So, who’s being honest here?  Jesus/Yahweh-God made the world. He made it to work perfectly. We helped to make it a mess. Our destructive words and habits put us where we are – and it’s not the way the world works; it’s the reason it doesn’t work. Therefore, unless we’re holding up the Truth, we’re the liars.

As we tie this into our topic from Sunday’s class… How many times do we hear God described as “The Word”?  This always sticks out to a language/communication guru like me.  There’s so much emphasis on reading your Bible (aka The Word) in Christianity, it almost feels like you should be ashamed if you don’t set aside your mandatory fifteen minutes a day.  If you truly received a God blessed “guiltless” life of total freedom in Jesus Christ, why does it matter whether we read a book or not?

There’s something to this. It’s a miraculous concept to think of someone limitless like God in terms of something so limited as language.  How do you define the Almighty Creator of… well… everything using limited sounds made by limited beings?  The idea blows our minds because we simply can’t think that big.

“The Word became flesh”… “and the Word WAS God”… “my Words will never pass away”

If the Word WAS God and the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ (not to mention the creation of the ENTIRE physical world <Gen. 1 “And God said…”>), how much importance should we place on our words and on studying His Word?  We were made in God’s image. He was and IS the Word. So, if “The Word” and “The Truth” are descriptors of Jesus, what does this say about how we can participate in building His kingdom?

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Time & Earthquakes

Source: Time & Earthquakes

Recalling today the challenges and changes of “post-collegiate learning” through international travel with my family. What. a. LIFE. Possible plans are presently being discussed with a Chinese leader (and family-friend) who wants us to share with students at Harbin University next month. Here’s to the adventure of living on the edge.

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Playing for Blood

This is a repost I felt to be highly appropriate as we watch the continued political war we’re witnessing this week as we get closer to the November elections.  I’ve also experienced a couple things that emphasized again to me the truly twisted nature of domination and competition on a personal level.  Our systems and mindsets are broken but there’s still hope… there’s always hope.

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Competition motivates us.

We have to run smarter, faster, better, healthier, and happier than anyone we know. It’s not a question of want; it’s an inbred need, a driving desire and a very natural one, I might add.

A girl gets a degree to earn the edge she uses to divide whatever comes between her and the pursuit of happiness. A guy fights his way up the ladder in his given field leaving some hung on the rungs behind. It’s not his fault, of course; it just the order and way of life.  He’s just better at what he does, that’s all.

A girl marries… maybe because she thinks she’s in-love but also to lose a stigma and gain a status. If the guy is fortunate in his choice, he’ll be further validated by his partner’s beauty, intellect, or adoration. Both of them want everyone to know they have what it takes to get what they want out of life.  This is only natural.

How appropriate that Darwin classified biological processes as “natural” selection. Life and all its rewards are just a matter of “survival of the fittest” right? Ecology, capitalism, socialism, and communism are all different levels of the same concept; from the lowest, most instinctual behaviors to the highest powers, humanity competes for the most and best of everything.

This was on my mind a great deal this week as I was watching the competition being waged over the U.S. presidency. My academic discipline is based on rhetoric and debate so politics still maintains a high degree of priority in my thoughts and attention. On a global scale, competition between the nations is rising as countries like Iran and Israel continue to face off in the Middle East and countries like Russia and North Korea acquire weaponry in the growing shadow of China.  The battling titans seem to eclipse any lesser rivalries but those everyday challenges still feel like a big deal to those of us living with them, don’t they?

A girl is often thought more beautiful or desirable if the guys are battling it out for her attention; a guy is usually considered more respectable if he’s better than other men in business, athletics, music, engineering, etc. You have to compete to get a job; you have to compete for scholarships; you have to compete for status or the symbols representing it; sometimes you have to compete for love from family, friends, or peers.  Even churches are competing against one another for higher attendance numbers and better overseas missions programs. Whether or not we’re cognizant of it all the time, contention, antagonism, and rivalry are a normal part of our day-to-day lives. Society is built on dissatisfaction, envy, and competition.

How does this fit with the verse in Philippians that says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves”?  I remember a professor telling me a couple years ago that competition wasn’t “in the nature of our Lord Jesus.” I hadn’t thought about that before.  I suppose I always considered competition a good thing.

Growing up, my family loved games. My grandpa and I would poke fun at each other over Risk or Scrabble as we tried to dominate the board. My brothers still love to play Super Mario Brawl matches. I’ve competed for jobs, scholarships, and awards; I run 10k races every year.  We have sometimes called it “playing for blood” when competition gets intense. My extended family values sports and team competition as character building exercises and become maniacs… literally exemplifying borderline insane obsession… during football season especially if it’s Ohio State football. Ultimately, I have to admit I understand. Who doesn’t love the feeling of taking first place or the pride of having supported the winners before they won?

Then I remember… my idea of winning is different from God’s. “The first will be last?!  Are you kidding?” Matthew 20 sounds like ridiculous, confusing, double talk if your spiritual eyes are closed but the Bible IS the ultimate knowledge foundation so… openness and a willingness to try is a start. When Jesus said “if anyone wants to be first, he must be… the servant of all” in Mark 9, even though it sounds foreign to a culture that values liberal dominance and selfish assertiveness, we realize culture obviously doesn’t have the answers; it’s always changing the standard (beauty, fashion, gender roles, food portions, movie rating criteria, etc.) You know what I’m talking about.  One thing hasn’t changed; according to any “normal” person fighting to live life in the 6th century B.C., death on a cross looked like the most painful, abysmal failure of all time. It would probably still look that way today. However, in reality, that event was the most incredible victory in history. One side was playing for blood, the other side paid in blood. Ironically, the side playing for blood lost.

Now, when I think about survival of the fittest I  think of the verse that says “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24) Our biggest challenge is in getting the FACT that our heads are a mess.  We only think we’re clever. The only way to fix us is to “give [our] bodies to God for all he’s done for [us]… don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world but let God transform into a new person by changing the way you think.”  (Rom. 12:1-3)

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