The “How” of It All

Six weeks ago we started a series I like to call Church is Not a Red-Carpet Event. I began by giving you my background and my past hangups with church as well as what I believe is missing in church based on my study of Acts. In the five weeks that followed we looked at engaging our culture with the message of Jesus, just another term for making disciples. Let’s review:

Embrace your identity. Though my beliefs are in stark contrast to that of a radical Islamist, the fervor with which followers of this religion live is noticeably missing from the average Christian. One of the reasons Islamists experience success in their endeavors is that they have completely embraced who they believe themselves to be-followers of Mohammed with the goal of eradicating the infidels. Until we live as if our existence depends on Jesus, we will be hard -pressed to persuade others of their need for Him.

No is always a choice. God is a God of freedom, freedom to follow Him and freedom to reject Him. He could have created a world full of robots but instead He gave us the freewill to choose Him or not choose Him. Upon coming to Him for salvation, we have opportunities everyday to say no to one thing so we can say yes to God, thereby enabling us to live the calling He has placed on our lives.

Gift of the Holy Spirit came next. Attempting to drive a car on fumes and no gas is senseless and will get you nowhere. The same holds true for a believer attempting to engage her culture without tapping into the power that is hers through the Holy Spirit. Why do we attempt to live out God’s purpose for our lives without His help?

Assess the damage and assess the need. We don’t have to look long and hard to see the damage sin has caused, nor do we have to wonder at the solution.

             “’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim                       freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:18-21, NIV)

Get up. This involves actually giving ourselves away-our time, our money, our attention. Getting up involves obedience, delayed gratification and total abandonment to the will of God no matter how we’re feeling at the moment. And finally, the last letter, “E.”

Eternal perspective. This is the nuts and bolts of it all, the nitty gritty, where the rubber meets the road. Perspective is what will free you from the distractions of the world and set your sights on the task at hand. Eternal perspective gives us the will to embrace our identity, the courage to say no to things that hinder the working of God in our lives, the ability to see who the Holy Spirit is in light of our calling, the eyes to see the urgent needs of  our culture, the ability to get up and give away with purpose beyond morals and ethics.

Eternal perspective is what I’m desperately trying to pass on to a friend of mine who is entrenched in feelings of hopelessness and questioning. It’s the one thing that her religion with all of its rules and regulations has failed to give her. Without it she is left wondering if God is really there and if He really cares and if all her work is meaningless.

Eternal perspective gives man a reason to live. It’s the natural mindset of a redeemed sinner, the hope of what’s to come, the knowledge that the worst experience we have on this earth is the worst experience we will ever have if we know Jesus.

Eternal perspective is the message of the Bible. It’s the meaning of “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” of the promise “I am going to prepare a place for you.” It’s the shadow cast over our lives, the sieve through which all we believe and do and say and are is filtered. It is this:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of thins has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Rev. 21:1-7).

Perspective is everything. I wonder how we would engage our world with the message of Jesus if we saw each person in light of what is waiting for them if they only believe?

Lose the Noodle Legs!

When my nearly perfect firstborn turned two, she was stricken with a rather worrisome condition. Though never officially diagnosed by a doctor, at our house it became known as “noodle legs.” Noodle legs occur when one person, usually a parent, attempts to coerce another person, typically a toddler, into moving in a direction they aren’t wanting to go.

This is both annoying and dangerous. It’s annoying because my toddler had spent the last year showing off her glorious appendages that afforded her newfound freedom outside the confines of her crib and my arms. Suddenly, she was rendered completely lame by virtue of her will turning her legs into a pile of limp pasta.

It’s dangerous because noodle legs happen in dangerous spots like parking lots and crosswalks. It’s not as if the parent can do much about it since the other hand is occupied with either bags of stuff or, more likely, a ten pound baby carrier with a ten pound baby in it.

This week we address the “G” in ENGAGE, a natural next step to last week’s assessment stage. I’ve titled it “Get up and move!” We see the damage, we see the need. Now it’s time to get up and do what it is that God is calling you to do. I will admit that getting up and obeying is scary. What will He ask me to do? What if it’s completely out of my comfort zone? What if I fail?

As I look back at the times in my life that God has called me to something specific, very often my initial reaction involved spiritual noodle legs-a plopping down in a pile of rebellion, if you will, refusing to move in the direction He was attempting to move me in. We all do this in one form or another. Jonah, rather than doing nothing,  ran the complete opposite direction and ended up in the belly of a whale. Some of us run, some of us sit and refuse to move. Either way, it’s rebellion.

Last year my husband and I were totally unhappy in our current state. We hated our city, the weather, the traffic, the politics, the taxes. We weren’t jumping for joy over our jobs either. Our kids hated school. We were generally unhappy so we did what any reasonable person would do and started readying our house to put it up for sale and sent out resumes all over the country. We dreamed of moving to a warmer climate like Texas where the grass is greener and you can still spank your kids in public and not have them taken away. It’s the Bible belt, for heaven’s sake. Surely God could use us there. We needed a fresh start.

But a fresh start is not what we got, not outside of our city limits, that is. Instead, every job that my husband seemed perfect for ended up being given to someone else. It didn’t take long, and we got the message. The doors were slammed shut. Not even a crack for air was left. We were here, and I was mad. What in the world was God thinking leaving us in this place? We’d spent 20 years here. Surely, that was enough.

At first I responded like the defiant toddler in the parking lot. I plopped myself down mentally and physically refusing to engage in the life that God had given me.  Initially, my “I’ll show you” attitude felt victorious. Fine. I’ll live here in this crime-infested city and go about my life, trying to carve out the most painless existence I can and hope for a future move. However, those feelings quickly caved into misery and guilt which in turn left me feeling far from God. It’s one thing to be a non-christian and know something isn’t right but not know what that something is. It’s quite another to know that your own defiance has caused a gaping hole in your relationship with the Lord. This is what I’ve learned about getting up and moving and sharing the gospel with other people:

1).  As pitiful as it is, sometimes you actually have to ask God for the desire to do His will. I remember finally waving the white flag of surrender and asking God if He was going to keep us here to please place a supernatural love for this city in our hearts. I can honestly say, He has more than done that. There is no place I’d rather be.

2).  Ask God for opportunities to share Him with others in unique ways. The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that His timetable couldn’t be any more different than ours. If you look back at where you’ve been spiritually to where you are now, I’m sure you will see a steady but slow progression. He moves us to the areas of ministry He wants us in, but slowly and with marked intention.

For example, I’ve mentioned before how much I disliked the semester in college that I had to be on the radio. So it will surprise most of you when I tell you that about a month ago I was a caller into a local radio program. They were discussing salvation, of all things and some idea that an Ohio politician had that revolved around helping the poor because someday we would answer to St. Peter. The radio hosts put out the question: “so how does one become saved?’ Without thinking, I dialed the number desperate to get the truth to anyone who was listening. It was only after the phone started ringing and the screener answered that panic set in. I had about a millisecond to freak out and then I heard the words, “Kathryn, you’re on the air. What are your thoughts?” I’ve been out of college for 20 years. My 60 second moment of engaging was a 20-year process!

3).  Getting up involves giving yourself away. It requires our time and sometimes our money. Sometimes it means mowing your neighbor’s lawn, paying for groceries for the person behind you that doesn’t have enough money, being a listening ear when your life is already filled to the brim.

In order to get up and give away our attitude is one of delayed gratification. Of everything I’ve learned about engaging my culture, sacrifice is the consistent requirement whether it’s a moment of ministering or a lifetime calling. But the sacrifice it takes to look different and be different is worth what is waiting for us in heaven. Delayed gratification is a tough sell in a culture where waiting for anything causes us physical pain. It requires supernatural strength, but it is so worth it.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9, NIV).

So what is God calling you to do? Are you giving Him noodle legs or getting up and moving?