Posts tagged God
In my previous post, I mentioned how we have already made some great friends here in Kenya and that they are doing some incredible work here. It seems everywhere you turn here, you run into somebody who is doing world-changing, life-altering work. I guess it’s a symptom of being in a place where there is obviously so much work to be done. One thing is for sure, there are huge numbers of people working hard to improve the lives of the people here.
One group that we have come to know over the past couple of visits is the team at Start With One. Bill, Chat, Len, Susan, Gina and their teams spend their days working to bring clean water, housing, churches, education and medical care to the very poorest here in Kenya. In addition to their own projects, they are very intentional about connecting with other people and organizations to maximize everyone’s efforts here.
They also have some amazing cooks in that house! I’m pretty sure Bill and Len view their meals as daily Iron Chef challenges. I’ve never eaten anything bad at their place and nearly everything I’ve had was indescribably good. The other night, it was bacon wrapped chicken, salad (thanks Gina!) and something called “spoon bread” which is some kind of cross between bread pudding and what the locals call ugali (kind of like grits). Whatever it was made from must have fallen from heaven because, holy smokes!
Keep in mind that all of this was cooked on a coal-fired grill/oven on the back patio. Cooking in Kenya requires a new level of ingenuity and these guys have it. I keep encouraging them to start a “How to Cook in Kenya” class, but Bill reasons that if they teach everybody how to cook, they won’t ever be able to open a restaurant and charge people to eat their food. I’m fine with that as long as they keep cooking and keep inviting me over!
There are so many other people that we know and are meeting here that it would be impossible to mention all of them. Suffice it to say that there is a large and growing community of people here who are in need of a church to call home and we are excited and humbled to be tasked with starting that kind of church.
I take comfort from the original apostles in the book of Acts. None of them knew how to start a church, let alone a worldwide movement. But through a lot of prayer and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they would eventually do both. Fortunately, changing the world has very little to do with what you know and whole lot to do with who you know. The Creator of the world also has an incredible ability to change it, if only we are willing to listen and follow.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about opposition. The genesis of this thought process came last week. I had given a passionate talk on Sunday about stepping up our game and really being all-in on loving our city. I was fired up. I know some other people were fired up. The idea of setting aside our personal agendas and pursuing God’s desires for our neighbors was one that we were ready to walk out.
But a funny thing happens sometimes when you decide to go all-in for God. You somehow find yourself in someone else’s cross-hairs. You see, God does protect us, but there is a very real enemy who wants to see us fail. The closer we get to God’s heart and plans, the more that enemy wants us to fail. Remember, this is the same guy who tried to get Jesus to base jump without a parachute just as he was beginning his public ministry.
In the days following my passionate plea to go all-in for God, I was hit left and right by unexpected problems. They weren’t life-altering problems. They were, in many ways, just everyday junk that all happened to hit me at the same time. They were mostly financial in nature – that is, they would cost me money I didn’t have.
One day, as all that junk mounted, I just kind of shut down. I completely ceased to be productive. I don’t even know if I was consciously thinking of anything. What happened next, though, got me thinking differently about my situation. You see, in the midst of my blank, mindless stare, I realized that I was coming up against opposition. This wasn’t just about bad stuff happening to me. I was being assaulted – an aggressive attempt to shut down what God had fired up in me. And when confronted with that reality, something in me rose up.
Suddenly, I no longer had a desire to shut down or to run from these issues. On the contrary, I was defiant! I wasn’t going to let the garbage of life drag me down. I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of what God had called me to. I was going to fight! And I was going to win! Come what may, I was going to push through this opposition and keep moving in the direction God had pointed me. I wasn’t going to back down. I was going to lean in!
Opposition has a way of causing us to do that, doesn’t it? The fastest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t. That’s why reverse psychology works – the more I try to keep you from doing something (or fraudulently appear to keep you from doing it) the more you want to do it. You lean in to opposition.
And that’s just what I did last week when faced with opposition and, in many ways, that opposition shrank when I leaned into it. Sure, it got a piece of me. My wallet is little lighter (and my disdain for certain companies and professions a little stronger) but there was no way it was going to keep me down. The opposition was fierce. It is fierce. But in the end, I’m going to lean into it and I’m going to break through.
You see, in my eyes, that’s what opposition is for. It is not there to stop us. It is there to strengthen us. When we lean in instead of running away, we will get through it. When we push and reach and scratch and claw our way through, we will get to where we’re headed. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Items of worth always come at a price. But when it comes to God’s kingdom, whatever price I pay is and always will be a bargain.
So, if you’re faced with opposition – especially opposition to the thing you know God desires of you – lean in. You might be surprised at how much stronger you are when you break through to the other side.
Last week, my friend Weldon was speaking at church and he said something that I have been thinking about ever since. Weldon was recalling a conversation that he and his wife Angelina had with a 90 year old woman named Elizabeth. The conversation was wide-ranging, but the bit that caught my attention was something that Elizabeth said to them.
She said that she found it so interesting that people don’t talk about the Holy Spirit more today. After all, she said, the people who spent 24/7 with Jesus for three years, sitting under his teaching and watching his example, still didn’t get it. They failed to grasp any true understanding of the Kingdom of God and, ultimately, deserted Jesus in his time of need. They didn’t really get it until after he had died, risen, ascended to heaven and then sent the Holy Spirit to empower them.
You see, spending time with Jesus was life-changing, but it took the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to pull the puzzle together, cause it to make sense and propel these world-changers forward with the good news of the Kingdom of God. I wonder, like Elizabeth, how it is that we have failed to understand this Biblical message. How is it that we try to understand our God while missing the crucial “Holy Spirit piece.”
So often we tell ourselves that if someone just knows enough, that they will “get it.” We’re determined that if others see a good life example – a mentor or a coach – that the switch will go on and they will change the way they live their life. We’re convinced that getting to know Jesus is enough. And then, we are disappointed when, in our own life and the lives of others, we don’t see that play out.
The truth is, knowing Jesus is enough, but only if we know all of him. The God that we worship exists, sometimes confusingly, in three “persons” – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Most of us recognize the Father part. Our earliest thoughts of God are probably mentally tied to our image either of our human father or of an idealized version of what a father should be. The Son, Jesus, is easy to grasp, too, in that there is much written about his life to which we can relate. But what about the third person of God, the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps the fact that we don’t even have a great analogy to describe the Holy Spirit – something like “Father” or “Son” that helps us understand this facet of God – is indication enough that we don’t really “get it.” But however you may think of the Holy Spirit, the words of that 90 year old woman ring true – they are true, straight from the Bible! Jesus’ closest followers were completely lost, disillusioned and confused until they were visited by the Holy Spirit. And yet, so often, we leave the Holy Spirit (33% of God) out of our life, out of our discussions and out of our understanding of God.
This year, let me encourage you to think about the Holy Spirit. If need be, set aside any notions you have of who the Holy Spirit is or does, especially if you have negative associations with the words “Holy Spirit.” Rather, pray that God will bring clarity to your idea of just who the Holy Spirit is and what the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is all about. Then, if you have the guts, pray directly to the Holy Spirit and ask to receive that power and presence.
If Jesus’ closest friends, allies and confidants required a visitation from the Holy Spirit before they could get it, why would we expect anything else for ourselves and our friends? In 2013, I pray that you and I will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to “get” things that we never “got” before, to see things we never saw before and to do things we’ve never done before. If we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, then, without a doubt, the best is yet to come!
In today’s reading, we begin to get a glance at the relativity of time in all of this. This revelation of John is at once about future events, current events and past events. In fact, much of it is about events that happen completely outside of our paradigm of “time”.
The dragon that was thrown to earth, the devil, was thrown to earth long ago and has been tormenting people since almost the beginning of time and yet, that story is part of this revelation.The woman giving birth to a man who is to be a great ruler is a recurring theme throughout the Bible, culminating with the birth of Jesus, but tracing back through the generations including King David, Moses, Isaac and others.
But this is how God’s realm works. He is not bound by time. He doesn’t have to live within the context of it. Likewise, there seem to be many things happening in the spiritual realm that are not tied to time as we know it. In many ways, everything that we know about God – including the creation of the earth and the recreation at the end of time – have already happened, are happening and will happen in the future.
All of this, of course, sounds like sci-fi, or at best, quantum physics, and it is! The thing to remember is that God is continually at work redeeming his people. Worrying about what signifies the “end times” or about the specific timeline of some spiritual event causes us to miss the point. God is hard at work, battling on our behalf.
As we come to the close of another year, let us be ever mindful that events like these are significant to us who live within the confines of time and space, but God has also called us to be a part of a larger story – one that is timeless, ageless and mysterious. Now that’s a story I want to be a part of!
1 John is an interesting read. So much of it is devoted, seemingly, to identifying who is truly a follower of God and who isn’t. It very much seems like some kind of litmus test for Christians. But if so, it is a confusing one.
In one sentence, John says that once you have become a child of God, you no longer sin. In another, he says that we all sin and need to ask forgiveness. So what’s going on here?
Well, I think we can find a clue when we look at the audience of John’s letter. John is writing, according to his own words, to believers who have already accepted the teaching about Jesus. These are people who would have been well aware that simply accepting Jesus does not make a person perfect. However, John is trying to encourage and challenge these believers by saying, in a sense, “Once you’ve been washed clean, you would never jump back into the filth, right?”
His words show how foolish and stubborn we all are – those of us who know the truth and have glimpsed the reality of God and yet continue to sin. Our actions are like a cheating spouse who, though his wife knows of his indiscretions and has forgiven him, continues to pile misery on misery, affair on top of affair. Now, you could certainly the sanity of the wife, continuing to forgive her husband, but the greater flaw is in the husband.
Likewise, if God had peers, they would probably call him a fool for continuing to stick with us – for persevering in his grace and forgiveness for us. But is is we who have the greater flaw. If we really loved him as we say we do, wouldn’t we just stop the cheating?