Not as Outdated as You Think

shutterstock56901646Sometimes God’s Word sounds outdated.

My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. They were scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them. (Ezekiel 34:6)

Yeah, yeah, whatever. So some sheep were lost. Personally, I don’t see a lot of sheep roaming around on unfenced hills. But maybe we can relate more than it seems at first glance. We can probably all agree that “my flock went astray” indicates a problem, and we’ve all had problems. We’ve all felt out of sorts, missing something that we wanted to recover. Sometimes we can put a name on it, and other times, it’s something we sense. We’re just disoriented and dissatisfied and a bit empty. We feel a bit like those astray sheep – scattered and left by ourselves without anyone searching for us.

We want help. We need help.

I Myself will search for My flock and look for them. As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for My flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a cloudy and dark day. I will bring them out from the peoples, gather them from the countries, and bring them into their own land. I will shepherd them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will tend them with good pasture, and their grazing place will be on Israel’s lofty mountains. There they will lie down in a good grazing place; they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will tend My flock and let them lie down. This is the declaration of the Lord God. I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice. (Ezekiel 24:11a-16)

Found feels better than lost. Fed is better than hungry. Tended feels better than overlooked. Strengthened feels better than weakened. Sought after is better than forgotten.

Maybe we can relate to Scripture more than we think at times.

Thankfulness

_1752188Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16:34)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:15-16)

Living the Good News

We boil it down to the basics: Love Jesus. Help others love him, too. But we have different approaches:

  • Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.
  • Help people. And if you can’t help, at least, don’t hurt them.
  • Give what you can, and you will receive more. Helping others achieve their dreams will help you achieve yours.

Ocean-Water-Background-Tumblr-3We like to boil things down to the simplest form. We like quips that affirm and encourage us. If it sounds good, we think it is good. If we can’t readily see how something contradicts Scripture, we assume it’s consistent with Scripture. That’s not always the case. We have to know Scripture well in order to find what is consistent and what isn’t. In many cases, we can find or recall a verse that supports just about any perspective we want. That approach only affirms us; it’s not a reliable approach to a faith-filled life. That kind of life requires humility, which we don’t always like because it makes us feel vulnerable and gets us out of our comfort zone.

Vulnerability and discomfort often describe living out the gospel, too. We prefer living out and sharing the gospel in more comfortable and convenient ways. Lifestyle evangelism—living out the good news in our everyday lives—is an excellent approach to sharing Jesus with others, because we have established influence on those in our immediate circles and regular routines. However, we can sometimes fall back on a distortion of lifestyle evangelism as if we’re falling into a comfortable couch. It feels good. We don’t have to do much more than what would be doing otherwise. We just continue living our lives and let God use everything we do and say. He’s powerful enough to do that. We can trust Him to work in our and others’ lives.

But our motives matter. If we simply want to boil down how we share faith in the simplest approach, how humble can we possibly be? Evangelism becomes more about us than others, and that’s not true evangelism. God won’t always have us go out of our way, but he will always have us set aside our way for his. The two sometimes coincide, but we should never settle for starting with our own way and trying to rationalize God’s support for it. Instead, we get to know him well and check with him every step of the way so that there is less of us and more of him.

Living the good news doesn’t always have to be difficult, but when it becomes chronically easy, we need to question our efforts. If we’re never outside our comfort zones, it’s as if we recline on the couch and expect God to use us where we are, bringing people to us. Instead, we have a responsibility to GO, to get off the couch and move about the neighborhood and engage the world. It’s not just want we do for others but how we live life with others.

Consider the words we often use in front of “church”: at church, in church, my church. Is it your church or God’s church? If it’s truly God’s, you’ll spend as much or more effort to “go” than to convince people to “come.” The church’s reputation outside the walls will be more radical and relevant than what happens inside. You’ll invite God to clear out any hypocrisy or self-centeredness as an individual and church family by living faith-filled lives outside the walls of a building. The good news is simple in truth but takes intentional, humble, authentic, sacrificial effort every moment of every day.

  • It requires patience with the person who opposes you.
  • It requires kindness for the person who offends you.
  • It requires gentleness when you confront someone.
  • It requires love when you’d rather retaliate.
  • It requires faithfulness when you’d rather give up.
  • It requires self-control when you’d rather do things your own way.

Intentional Breadcrumbs

breadcrumbsWe need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs…ahead of time.

It doesn’t seem to make much sense. After all, how can we leave breadcrumbs where we haven’t yet been? Isn’t the trail of breadcrumbs supposed to be for our return trip?

But how often do we come back to the exact same spot, using the exact same path?

On the other hand, how often do we circle, meander, intersect, repeat, backtrack, and so on?

We rarely experience something just once. We might claim something is “once-in-a-lifetime” and, honestly, we can’t ever completely duplicate the experience, because we can’t repeat the same time and moment. Yet there are themes. We relearn similar lessons. Our lives are filled with patterns, many of which we might not even notice.

What we do in one experience impacts future experiences. When we’re intentional, we lay breadcrumbs for the future.

When I read something in Scripture at different points of my life, even different times in a day, I absorb it differently. It challenges me in a variety of ways. What I skim over in one reading, leaps off the page in another. The same words can encourage, convict, challenge, equip, excite, or confuse me. The best I can do is process them the best I can in that moment, plant the seed, and trust God to do the growing.

Breadcrumbs.

I don’t rediscover every breadcrumb I drop along the path. Sometimes, I’m just too preoccupied to notice the patterns. Other times, I find great joy in rediscovering something familiar.

I don’t want to miss out. I want to learn and relearn, discover and rediscover. But I can only do that with intention and attention…and a good supply of breadcrumbs.

 

Early Morning Word

I woke up early just outside Tiberias. The sun was about to rise over the Sea of Galilee. It had been a late night, but my heart needed more rest than my body, so I pulled out my notes to look up the Scriptures we’d focus on during the day ahead.

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I began in Matthew 5, pausing at each people or characteristic Jesus declares as blessed: poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. I continued to read verse 13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.”

Because of a situation just a few hours before, my eyes and heart were opened wide to a message God wanted to make very clear to me. We can’t demand or even expect respect. And when we give it, we need to be mindful of our motives. We need to keep our expectations in check. We respect others because of who God is, not because of who they are and not because of who we are. We don’t know others’ hearts, experiences, or needs. God does. We sometimes conditionally extend respect, assuming if we respect them, they will (or should) respect us. I don’t know that we always know that’s the attitude we have, but it’s something we must be vigilant against.

I had tried to help someone else grow, but the morning light opened my eyes to apply the lesson to myself, too. “Never lose your saltiness. Never waste your influence. Love abundantly. Serve generously. Humble yourself continually. Never decide and define where you are. Let God.”

I’m glad He woke me up early and set my heart right before my feet hit the floor.

Absolutes of Everyday Life

youarehereWe all choose to follow some absolutes. Take an honest look at your life. What absolutes do you not only believe in and stand firmly on but expect others to abide by as well?

Maybe you don’t believe in God’s absolutes–or even in God Himself–yet you accept, live by, and project other rules, such as grammar, spelling, etiquette, traffic and other laws, and so on. Or maybe you even separate some of those categories out so that some laws (the ones you don’t want broken because you have a personal investment in them) are irrefutable but other laws (the ones you feel infringe on your rights or comfort) are negotiable, even unwarranted or ridiculous. Grammar and spelling? Well, it’s not okay to break some of the rules but others aren’t quite as important to keep. Etiquette? You better show some manners in a particular situation, but it’s okay to toss manners out the window in another situation.

I noticed this phenomena recently on social media. I saw some posts and comments pointing out others’ failures in “living by the rules set for intelligent civilization.” The offense? Poor grammar. I agree poor grammar is unprofessional and annoying, but to make it a requirement for meaningful life?

The only things that can be absolutes are things that are not location-specific, gender-specific, ethnic-specific, language-specific, or any other specific. Absolutes apply to everyone. They aren’t projected onto people. They are foundational. People can refuse to acknowledge the foundation. They can cover the foundation with other things that they then identify their foundation. They can make a small circle around themselves on the foundation and only claim a piece of it as absolute. But absolute is absolute. We each have a choice to find out more or refuse to do so.

Our choices don’t change the absolute. Our choices simply change us.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Encouragement for Today

Yet I call this to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for His mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21-23)

lamentations 3 21-23