Do you ever wonder why you’re here? Not just here on this miraculously habitable chunk of space rock, but more specifically, why do you live where you live? Why do you work where you work?
Did you have a choice in the matter? Or are you just playing the hand you’ve been dealt, maybe even being stuck where you are without a way out?
When was the last time you stopped to take some time to consider the “Why’s” of your life? I’m not sure we contemplate this enough, but I love how John the Baptist seemed to have a pretty good grasp on this idea for his life.
The apostle John quoted John the Baptist like this:
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed…
I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him… He must increase, I must decrease.
He knew that he was not the main show. He was here to point people’s attention to Jesus.
Want to know something?
I think that’s why you and I are here, too! As I prepare for this Easter, I want to be pointing people’s attention to Jesus for two really big reasons.
People bring me problems that I can’t really solve.
He’s the only one I know who can defeat death in his own life and in ours.
Problems are going to come. As long as you remember why you’re here, they don’t have to suck the joy out of living, wherever ‘here’ is for you.
Do you remember that kid in class who was always asking “Will this be on the test?”
Look, teacher, I know you think this is all important, but I’m only in this class because I have to be, so I’m not really interested in anything beyond what it takes to get a passing grade, so…
I’m pretty sure this is what teachers actually hear when that question is asked. Maybe I’m embellishing a little. I don’t give tests, so what do I know!
A first century doctor named Luke wrote about a lawyer once, who was listening to Jesus teach. This law expert put a little bit of a spin on the above question. He wanted to know “What do I have to do to get eternal life?” Whoah, talk about ‘cut to the chase’ ~ This is the Big Test. Jesus, what do I have to know? Now, according to the law in which he was already an expert, this was already spelled out, so Jesus tells him to check his class notes and answer his own question. “It’s all on the test, so sit down, shut up, and take good notes.” (Ok, that’s not exactly how Jesus put it, but he did embarrass the questioner enough that the guy felt like he had to save face with another question about who his neighbor was.)
Imagine you’re a teacher, pouring your heart into the students in your class, and constantly being asked this question. How frustrating would that be?! But I wonder if we’re still bugging Jesus with the same question. He’s setting before us a rich and fulfilling life of meaning, a place at His table in His family, a position in His Kingdom endeavors. Are we missing out on a lot of that because we just keep asking what’s on the final exam? What about the day to day ‘homework’ of loving our neighbors? What about the special projects and works of art He could be creating with our lives today?
As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, what if we set aside our thoughts about “the final” for a minute and re-examine Jesus’ way of living all of life? Is our way of living helping our neighbor see His way of living? Is there anything in my life today that suggests Jesus’ resurrection to my neighbor? I’m not suggesting that eternity isn’t important. The very concept of the resurrection is meaningless without eternity in view. I just don’t want us to annoy Jesus by ignoring what He’s taught us about how to live here and now so that we can cram for the final and hopefully squeak out a passing grade…
In reading for this 40 day Lent Challenge, I noticed an invitation Jesus made to his disciples after a really busy time. In Mark 6, Jesus had sent them out in pairs to share the news of God’s Kingdom in area villages. When they came back and reported to Him how they’d exercised the authority He’d given them, Jesus could see that they were spent. They’d poured out everything He’d poured into them, but the crowds of people just kept coming. They couldn’t even get a minute to eat! So He invited them to get away with Him to a quiet place to rest.
I suck at rest.
No, really. I don’t rest well. Oh, I can vegetate in front of a TV for a while or lay around with a headache, but that’s not restful. I need to find make more desolate places in my life. Places where nothing is happening where I can just rest and be renewed by the only One who can find me there. It may not sound restful to you, but at times in my life writing has been a “desolate place” for me, as has running, or hiding out with a good book. But I’ve made far too little space in my days lately for this kind of rest. Rest gets crowded out with data collection and analysis regarding big decisions (which a more objective observer may call “worrying”), with meetings and to do lists, and with one event after another.
But when rest gets crowded out, my cup doesn’t ever get refilled. Once I’ve emptied myself into all the little villages, there’s nothing left. And the renewal that I need so desperately doesn’t happen.
One of the things that God’s been pressing into my heart (or maybe I should say pounding into my skull) during this Lent Challenge is that if I don’t meet Him in rest, then I’m done. There’s just not enough left of me to go around. The good news is that it’s not me that needs to go around anyway, it’s Him. And when we meet Him in His kind of rest, He fills us with exactly what we need to pour into others.
What are your “desolate places”? Are you visiting them enough?
Did you notice yesterday, at the end of Matthew 7, that the crowds were astonished because Jesus was “teaching them as one who had authority”? Now Matthew is showing us how that authority was evidenced in Jesus’ ministry. Later, Jesus will further explain that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” had been given to Him, but already, Matthew is putting His authority on full display. Healing deformities and disease, restoring sight, kicking out demons, restoring life to a dead girl… These all point to the authority of Christ to command even natural forces. If that wasn’t enough to convince people (it wasn’t, by the way), Jesus gets up out of the bottom of a boat in the middle of a storm, tells the wind and waves to knock it off ~ and they did!
What sort of man is this?!
Certainly, a man with this kind of power should be obeyed. Matthew seems to be saying “Look what Jesus can do. If He can do all that, we better side with Him. Don’t get in the way of what He’s doing, repent and follow this guy.” In the 1st Century Jewish setting, many in the crowds surrounding Jesus were hoping He’d put all that authority and power to work to get rid of the Romans and once again lead the nation of Israel to freedom. But Jesus was a different sort of man. He had something bigger than their national prosperity in mind. As he looked at the crowds, He wasn’t moved by a sense of national pride, but by compassion. His desire wasn’t to get rid of the nation that occupied Judea, but to get rid of the sin that separated His people from His Father.
And for that, there was no political solution. No diplomatic treaty that would return the hearts of the Jewish people to God. Not even their system of ritual and sacrifice would be sufficient. At this point in history, the Jewish system for dealing with sin had, for many, degenerated into little more than keeping lists and following a boat load of regulations. Then making some kind of sacrifice for each infraction. I wonder if much of our religious experience today is any different?
Is the heart missing, like it was for many in Jesus day?
Yes, Jesus has authority. Yes, we should do what He wants.
But what does He really want?
Twice in this section, Jesus aims the Pharisees (and us) at the words of God, delivered by the prophet Hosea.
I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God…
How often are we making our spiritual life all about what we’re sacrificing? What we’re giving up? What we don’t do? But Jesus was a different sort of man than all that. He compassionately wanted to move the people’s hearts back toward God ~ to stop their religious role playing, bring them into restful relationship with Him, and lead them to a real knowledge of the heart of their Father that would move them to compassion and mercy as well.
As we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, take some time to consider Jesus. What sort of man is He? Can people see that sort of man in us, too?
I started reading the first 7 chapters of Matthew this morning for the Lent Challenge that some friends and others are doing this year. We’ll read through the New Testament in the next 40 Days, and we’d love to have you join us. You can check out my post from yesterday for the basics or check out Margaret Feinberg’s site, where you can find all the details. I hope you’ll follow along and add to the discussion. What’s God want to show us together in these next few weeks?
It only took a couple verses this morning before God reminded me of something critical to his mission. He has always invited outsiders into His story.
Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ ministry with a look into Jesus’ past. As a tax collector, Matthew essentially made his living knowing which families to pilfer, so he probably had a pretty good handle on family lineages. As he gathered taxes to send to the hated Roman occupiers, it would have paid to know where the money was in order to extract a little more than necessary for his own profit. When Matthew connected with Jesus, however, his heart was turned from self interest to the interest of sharing the news of the Messiah’s arrival (and eventually, his death and resurrection).
In establishing Jesus as a descendent of both David and Abraham, Matthew mentions 4 women in addition to His mother, Mary. In their patriarchal culture, it’s a little unusual that women’s names would appear in the list in the first place, but there’s even more to this than that. These women were outsiders.
Tamar set up shop as a roadside prostitute in order to get her father-in-law to have sex with her.
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who hid a couple Israeli spies and helped them escape the city in exchange for their protection when they came back to destroy it.
Ruth is generally regarded with great honor, but she was from Moab, not Israel.
Bathsheba was the wife of a Hittite. While he was off at war, she entered into an illicit sexual relationship with her neighbor, who happened to be David the king, who then had her husband killed to cover up her resulting pregnancy.
It’s not exactly a pristine gene pool that the savior was coming from, right? Why would Matthew point out these apparent flaws in Jesus’ genealogy?
Maybe he wanted to establish from the beginning that Jesus invites the outsiders to jump into the story His Father is writing. Matthew has a lot to say later about the Kingdom that Jesus was establishing. The fact that outsiders like these women shared a place in His Kingdom story would have been a reminder to the insiders (the Jews who would have been among the first readers of Matthew’s gospel) that His blessing of their nation wasn’t just about their nation. It was about a blessing that was for all nations… The story of the Christ is a story for all the outsiders…
Outsiders like Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba…
Outsiders like Matthew and Zaccheus and their tax collecting turncoat friends…
Within our church tribe, we don’t make a very big deal of Lent (or really any other church holiday outside of Christmas and Easter). What the more liturgically minded churches have traditionally called for during the Lenten season (prayer, repentance, denial of self, etc.) are values that we feel should be evident throughout the year. So we basically ignore Lent and call it a man made tradition that we aren’t obliged to follow. We only follow the man made traditions that we really like! Mostly the ones that we’ve come up with in the last couple hundred years or the ones with really big meals. (Don’t get mad here, friends… I love our tribe and totally agree with not being tied down to traditions.)
But I wonder if we’re missing an opportunity in our dismissal of lent. At it’s heart, the lenten season should afford us a great extended moment to focus on how the resurrection of Jesus is being reflected in our lives. What would our Easter celebrations be like if they were preceded by 40 days of spiritual preparation? Make no mistake, this isn’t about giving up your twitter feed or getting a salad instead of a burger at lunch. It’s not about a bit of ash on your forehead or kicking that sugar dependency you don’t really have (wink, wink). It’s about de-cluttering our lives in preparation for the invasion of real Life.
Lent starts tomorrow, and I want to invite you to join me (and a bunch of people more awesome than me) in a 40 Day exercise that will cover the weeks leading up to Easter. We’ll be reading through the New Testament over the next 40 days and asking God to teach and shape us with His Truth. I hate bandwagons, but this is one worth being on. Jump on.
One of the convictions I’ve held for a long time is that leaders need to be growing. If they’re not, whatever they lead will be stifled by the lid on their own growth. It doesn’t matter if you’ve led the same thing for 50 years or you’re in your first month of ministry out of Bible college ~ you need to keep growing if you’re going to keep leading. One of the avenues of growth that I’ve found stretching my own leadership consistently over the past several years has been Catalyst.
Last Thursday, I got to take a group of leaders to Catalyst One Day in Denver, where the theme was Leadership Essentials. I’ve been to several of the regular Catalyst conferences in Dallas and Los Angeles over the past few years, but always wished they’d have something in Denver that some of our local leaders could get to. I still love to see leaders going to the full conference, but One Day was a great taste of what Catalyst is all about, and the format with Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel made a lot of really practical leadership teaching very accessible to our group. (Thanks for coming to Denver, Catalyst!) A few things from the day are still making their rounds through the synapses in my head that I thought I’d share:
You can’t have a spiritual ministry without a physical body. Obviously, this was not one of the deeper theological revelations of the day, but I know I haven’t cared for my physical health very well. I know a lot of other leaders in the same boat. I’m not way out of shape, but I’ve been way too sedentary lately and my diet has consisted of way too much stuff that can only marginally be considered food. That needs to change. When I’m too sedentary physically, I’ve noticed that I can get a little more sluggish emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, too.
The most important contribution I make to the Kingdom may not be something I do, but someone I raise. The opening session dug into family matters for leaders and reinforced the conviction that my responsibility is to build my family and let Jesus build His church. Certainly, I want to work toward Kingdom ends, but ultimately the first important thing I can do for His Kingdom is to lead my family to solid engagement in His mission. Lots of other people could fill my ministry position and do what I do in ministry work. No one else can be my kids’ dad.
Empower others as if your future depends on it. Because it does. We can be really good at delegating tasks to free up time in our busy lives. But delegating tasks only produces followers. That’s not necessarily a good use of our time and kingdom resources. (We aren’t called to produce people who can follow our rules, but to make disciples who are leading other disciples…) To produce leaders, we need to learn to delegate authority. In youth ministry, this can be a little tricky. Some students will handle having authority very well, but I’ve seen others flounder with it. We need to delegate authority wisely, while still supporting those we’re engaging in ministry (as opposed to handing them a clipboard and telling them “Good luck, Coach.”).
Spend time with people who can disorient you. We need to rethink things from time to time. We need to be shaken out of our well-traveled trails. But if we insulate ourselves from anyone who thinks or acts differently than we do, that’s not likely to happen. I think for some in our group, this One Day experience was this type of disorienting moment, where we’ve stepped back from what we’re doing and spent time with other leaders who’ve done some things very differently to accomplish many of the same things we’re trying to accomplish. Who do you spend time with that helps you re-think things?
The key to building a high performance team is to have clarity about what you’re doing, why you’re doing that, how you’re doing that, and encouraging “a strong disposition toward execution.” People, time, and resources need to be organized with this clarity in mind.
These are “a few of my favorite things” from One Day. If you were there, especially if you were in the group I took down, I’d love to hear what stood out to you from the conference. What did God say to you that you’re still mulling over a few days later? What patterns in your leadership do you think He’s shaking up? Leave a comment below or shoot me a message.