Acting Out Our Faith: Influence That Matters

As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. – Acts 5:15 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the only thing of any use my shadow has ever done is keep the sun out of someone’s eyes.  Kind of disappointing in comparison to this passage.  What kind of life convinces people that your shadow can heal?  What past experience promotes that kind of faith in the intangible?  Peter did two things that answer these questions: he followed Jesus and did what Jesus did.

If I want my life to have influence for the kingdom it is good to see how others did so.  Peter may have had a rough start, but when Jesus got him moving in the right direction, not much got in his way.  He pursued the life of Jesus with passion and clear intent.  Peter belonged to Christ and therefore owed nothing to any man other than what Christ supplied.  If I want to influence the world, I can’t do it when other passions and pursuits own me.

It is not enough in this life to act Christian.  Acting Christian can influence others, but usually not in the right way.  It goes much farther to be like Christ and the only way to be like Christ is to follow Him through His spirit.  It is the difference between acting a part and being changed in such a way that you act differently than you did before.  I don’t want to act like anything.  It is tiring and fruitless.  I want to be transformed and be used to transform others to be more like Jesus.  That is the kind of influence that matters.

Lord, help me to be more like you every day so You can use me to influence the world around me.  Draw me further on as I follow Jesus and pursue His life passionately and intently.  Amen.


Pressing On: Keeping Christ in Sight

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! – Philippians 4:1 (NIV)

The sermon on Sunday was one of those gentle, but insistent nudges from God to redirect and refocus; an arm around the shoulders and a hand under the chin showing a child the right way forward. Pastor Bill was taking us through a passage in Matthew 5 about asking the right questions, about keeping our eyes in the right direction and living life for something instead of against something. While he was preaching, Philippians 4:1 kept coming to mind.

Chapter 3 of Philippians really is a new prescription for life that if applied will help us be more like Christ. Paul encourages us to keep our eyes on Christ, to put our past achievements behind us and to press on. He is clear that fulfillment of the law by outward action is rubbish compared to being transformed by the one who fulfills the law completely. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “that is how you stand firm in the Lord.” But this truth, this defining movement toward Christ, challenges me to rethink more than my relationship with Him and ask, “How does this change the way I am a husband, a father, a son or an employee?”

For example, as a father, I have a great deal of experience saying various words and phrases to my children: “No,” “Don’t touch that!” “Stop doing that to your sister.” They are boundary-setting statements, intent on controlling my girls so they will know how to act. While there are certainly times where boundaries are important, I am not so certain that they will have the results I am hoping for if they are used without consideration. I fear that I would only be teaching them how to act without showing them why or why not to act. Then, all I would have given them is a nice script for being well-behaved and never hearts or minds practiced in being the Christ-like children of God He designed them to be.

I don’t want my children to be actresses, performing their way through life, slowly becoming less and less real. I want them to be as real as they can possibly be and that means helping them move toward Christ. And that means that I must move toward Christ ahead of them, showing them the way. I want to be more about pointing them in the right direction than pointing out their indiscretion. I want to encourage their growth in Christ and not their blind adherence to rules and boundaries. I want them to look like Christ more every day not like the Pharisees He struggled with again and again.

Help me Lord to point others in the right direction.

Pressing On: A Little Bit More Like Jesus than Me

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. – Philippians 3:1-21 (NIV)

 I have experienced great joy and satisfaction watching my littlest girl imitate her older sister.  She has been doing it more and more, a little shadow following her object of fascination around with extreme dedication. The eldest usually handles it well, showing patience and maturity.  However, there are times that her patience wears thin and the shadow dissipates into tears and hurt feelings; then the cycle begins again.

Many times the younger misses the mark in emulating the older over an issue of timing – she is too small, too weak, and too immature.  It is no fault of hers, but the nature of growth and development.  As her coordination improves, her muscles gain strength and her mind absorbs knowledge, she will be able to imitate with great skill.  

Christ, our eldest brother, asks us to be like Him in every way; to love like Him, pray like Him, and extend grace and mercy like Him.  But Christ is gracious and compassionate and gave us the gifts of discipleship and fellowship to make the difficult process possible.  How blessed are we that others around us are a little more like Jesus than we?  How beautiful that we are surrounded by those with the same struggles and hopes and promises? 

Paul encourages the Philippians to help one another in this passage by following one another on the path toward Christ-likeness, a practice Paul followed himself.  To press on is to be more like Jesus tomorrow than you are today.  Do you have a brother or sister in Christ that you can imitate?  What example are you setting for those who are watching you?  I pray that as my daughters look to me that they will be led toward Christ.  I pray that I will watch after those who go ahead and take note of their example.  And I pray that all of us together will make the journey with our eyes on Christ and our prayers for one another.

Pressing On: Acting Our Age

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. – Philippians 3:15-16

My children are a wonder to me. It is indescribable what the depth, breadth, width and height of their love and trust in me has done to transform the way I think, speak and act. They can repair a broken day with a simple embrace, soothe the worries of modern life with laughter and recalibrate my perspective with the words “I love you, Daddy.” But in the midst of this incredible little universe dwells the horrid, unrelenting presence of sin. Disobedience, selfishness and anger rise up in little hearts and the beauty is tainted and warped just a little each time.

I could pretend that sin wasn’t there. I could just convince myself that my daughters are so special that whatever they do is righteousness. I could hold them to a different standard than the one God holds for all of us. Unfortunately I have met some of those children and it is never a pretty sight. God calls me to something better as a father. He asks me to look at them with His eyes to see them as they are and as they can be. He also has given me the privilege of helping each of them bridge the gap between what is and what can be with faith, hope and love. He asks that I help them grow in their knowledge of Him and His mighty power.

In the passage above, Paul is asking us to “live up to what we have already attained.” I expect my two year old to act like a two year old, I expect my ten year old to act like a ten year old and God expects me to act like a 42 year old man with a long life in God’s family. I am not sure why I should expect my children to act their age if I am not acting mine, and yet I fear that may be the case more often than I would like to admit.

My wife and I are working hard to lead our girls toward maturity step by step, trial by trial and lesson by lesson. We take time now and then to discuss what may be holding one of them back when they hit a bump in the road. We pray that they will have eyes to see, ears to hear and minds to understand. As we do so, God is doing the same work in us. I have had my fair share of bumps in the road over the years; times when I was content to not only sit in the middle of the road, but roll back, out of gear and out of gas. And every time my heavenly Father was there to lead me back to obedience and forward motion.

In this life of pressing on, God knows where we are and where we can be and what we need to get from the one to the other. How are you doing? Are there still areas in your life where you don’t act your age? Have you come to a bump in the road and lost your forward momentum? I pray that you will call on the mercy and grace of God to help you move forward toward maturity in Christ; and I will ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Pressing On: Not Quite Like Jesus

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

My two year old is becoming more independent every day. “My turn!” “Mine!” “No Daddy!”  She has a great desire to do things on her own, but more than that, she wants to do what she sees me or Mommy doing.  This has caused her numerous experiences of frustration and disappointment as she doesn’t have all she needs to do what I or Mommy can do.  To her credit, she does not give up, and just like other two year olds, she gets better with time and repetition.

My ten year old is a perfectionist.  She expects to get things right and can get to the point of tears over poor grades or simple mistakes.  She has improved in this area and is more forgiving of herself, but it will continue to be an area of growth.  She is learning there is a difference between doing her best and doing THE best.  One is what she can do and the other is what she working toward being able to do.

Paul, with all of his experience, education and heritage, realized he was not quite like Jesus yet.  He also realized that there were steps beyond salvation to get us to holiness.  If being saved was the sum total of Christian experience, why would Paul tell us to press on toward something more?  While salvation gets us out of hell, pressing on gets us closer to heaven. 

The challenge for us is to not get frustrated when holiness eludes us.  We must press on.  In the same way that I encourage my girls to try it again, overcoming frustration and difficulty, so God encourages us through Paul to just keep trying.  It is too easy to be like my two year old and want to do everything on my own.  It is too easy to expect perfection like my ten year old, and live with frustration and failure.  But God just wants His children to grow and mature in His time and His way; to learn patience and grace for the journey. 

We may not be quite like Jesus, but we keep pressing on because that is the only way to get there and God is willing to wait.

Pressing On: One Man’s Treasure is Another Man’s Rubbish

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Philippians 3:8-11 (NIV)

Have you ever been to a birthday party where the child being celebrated receives the newest “it” gift?  The other children swarm around with platter-sized eyes and mouths open, a stream of oohs and ahs washing over the room.  Parents look on, wondering how much the next birthday is going to cost them to get the newest “it” gift for their own child.  You can almost hear the chorus of “Did you see what Jane/Johnny got? I wish I had one of those?” as the children ride off in their parent’s cars.  Keeping up with the Joneses starts at a young age thanks to aggressive marketing.

Before anyone thinks that all I get my children for their birthdays are socks and pencils just to teach them a lesson, I freely admit to purchasing a few of the newest “it” gifts for both of my daughters.  I also don’t believe that there is anything inherently evil about Webkinz or Littlest PetShop stuffed animals.  My concern is that over time, my daughters might learn to define themselves by what they have rather than who created them.  It is a conversation that we will have more than once in the course of time.

This passage from Paul got me thinking about my own value system and whether I do the same thing with the newest “it” things in my life.  I was surprised to find in myself this little child pulling on God’s sleeve asking for one more blessing, one more sign or wonder.  I wondered when the “content in all circumstances” had changed to “Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee.” 

Paul gives us a new prescription for viewing the world. He places things in two categories: Rubbish and whatever will help him know Christ more fully.  He isn’t being severe in this assessment, but clarifying for  us that if we truly understand what it is to know Christ, nothing will ever come close in comparison.  I am looking forward to walking this road with my daughters, learning to find our contentment in the hands of a gracious God, rather than the shelves of stores or pictures on the screen.  We can also discover what it is to value Christ above everything else – not as an idea but an active attitude that changes the way we see the world and our place in it.  It should be an interesting journey as long as we press on.

Practical Theology: Excellence and the Work of Our Hands

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 (NIV)

My oldest daughter loves to make things for me and her mother – drawings and cards decorate our walls and both of our desks – but it is clear that she has moved from quantity to quality over the years.  Her drawings are more detailed and realistic, her cards are more thoughtful and legible and she expresses her feelings with clarity and meaning.

My youngest daughter has just begun her journey in this area, presenting pages full of scribbles and scratches, but containing just as much love.  I am just as pleased with the scribbled page as the drawing of a sunset over the mountains; because the desire to express pure love should be valued at the level it is presented.  This same value system applies to homework, chores, getting ready for bed and dozens of other areas where love is communicated by action rather than words.

I have been convicted lately that I just might be falling short in this regard in my relationship with God.  Am I giving Him scribbles on scrap paper when I could be producing works of art?  Is the quality of what I do consistent with who I am doing it for?  How well am I communicating my love to God through my actions and words?  I fear that sometimes I am operating at the toddler level when I could do far better.  Excellence is a funny thing because it isn’t just about doing your best, but striving to do better. 

I pray that God will continue to work on my heart and mind in such a way that works of my hands are excellent.  I want to possess the qualities of Christian living in “increasing measure.”  I want to pursue excellence instead of waiting for it to fall in my lap.  I want to let my Heavenly Father know how much I love Him with child-like purity without childish immaturity.  Lord help me to be your growing, maturing child of excellence.

Life in Community: It’s Unity, Not Uniformity

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)

Every day I realize two things: my daughters and I are very similar and very different.  It is an amazing thing to see pieces of your character and personality in the actions, words and expressions of your children, but it is even more amazing to see those unique creations reveal their individuality.  I am finding that it is more my job to help my daughters discover who it is God has designed them to be than telling them who to be.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that discipline is never employed on either of them, but much of that is regarding what she is doing or why she is doing it, not who she is.  I am humbled that God has entrusted this responsibility to me and my wife.  Our only hope in being successful is to do all of this together, in unity.  In fact, it is only through a strong unity that we will be able to guide our daughters into becoming strong and whole individuals. 

So it is with our church family.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in perfect unity and we have been adopted into that unity through Christ’s sacrifice.  However, it is only our participation in this unity that will bring us to maturity as individuals.  I will even go so far as to say that it is nearly impossible to be a mature Christian without practicing the “unity” in community. 

In the passage above, it is clear that Paul recognizes the uniqueness of each believer, while confirming the unity necessary to attain maturity.  We need to remember that He gave us to one another.  In this passage and others, Paul employs the illustration of the body to describe the greater community of Christians.  It is important to note that no single part of the body exists for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole body. 

If it is my desire to see my daughters become mature in Christ then I must live this model of community out in front of them and with them.  This requires a change of perspective from my younger days of personal goals and dream jobs and my wants being met.  My life is theirs (and my wife’s).  I am working toward Paul’s confession, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV) Isn’t it ironic that a community of strong, unique, and mature believers is rooted in selflessness?

Life in Community: Learning to Love Extravagantly

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,  a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.  When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”  Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  – Matthew 26:6-13 (NIV)

In October of 2001, I was privileged to work with others at Ground Zero during the recovery efforts.  I was careful during my time away to call my 1 ½-year-old daughter every day to stay in touch.  However, this plan did not end up working out so well. About day four, she had grown quite tired of talking to me on the phone and wanted to know when I was coming home.  By day five she was no longer speaking to me and Mommy was dealing with many tears at night about Daddy being gone. I returned home after my two-week tour and was met at the airport by my wife and little girl.  As soon as she saw me, any thoughts of anger vanished in tears and excited cries of “Daddy! Daddy!”

She ran through that airport completely unaware and certainly unashamed of her extravagant display of emotion.  We held each other and cried and laughed and hugged and kissed and didn’t care a whit about what anyone thought.  For a moment the rest of the world didn’t exist.  This is the beauty of life among believers.  This is the power of fellowship.  We learn to love God with such abandon and extravagance in the presence of our spiritual family that we grow more capable of expressing it where less understanding eyes will see. 

It is 9 years later and I have not yet reached that point in my relationship with that once little girl where she is embarrassed to be seen with me.  I hope that I never will, but it causes me to ask the question, “Am I ever ashamed to express my love for God?”  I read the passage above and wonder if I would have loved Jesus enough to overcome my fears and doubts.  I wonder if I am more driven by self-preservation than I am by compassion and devotion.  Fortunately my current spiritual family is more than willing to seek an extravagant love for God together.

I want to worship God with abandon.  I want to weep with tears of deliverance.  I want to laugh with heartfelt joy.  I want to kneel at the feet of my Father and worship Him as He sees fit.  While the thought of this sometimes causes me to fear, I am assured that “perfect love casts out fear.”  There are not words to express the comfort and courage that are gained by knowing I am surrounded by others who desire the same experience.  We want to love God more than we love our reputations, more than we love our possessions, more than we love anything that this world has to offer.

So what is your alabaster jar?  What is it that you need to give up in order to love God as He deserves to be loved?  Who is it that looks with mocking eyes on your faith?  What price are you willing to pay in order to worship without shame? To be honest, I’m still working on answering those questions myself, but I am sure that I want to know the answers.

Life in Community: The Way of Holiness

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV)

There is an assumption that to be holy, one must be alone or at least surrounded by other people who like to be alone. When we think of titles like “Holy man” or “Holy one,” images of quiet men in robes living on a mountain top come to mind. While I would never dismiss the discipline and dedication that is shown by that lifestyle, I am not sure that it is the pinnacle of holiness.

Jesus, The Holy One, was engaged and connected to those around Him. His moments of solitude and prayer are notable, but they were not where He stayed. His ministry is marked by movements from isolation to intervention; from stillness to action; from quietness to proclamation. It is obvious that Jesus did not need His time intervening, acting and proclaiming to spend time alone, but used His time of isolation, stillness and quietness to prepare for moments of engagement.

Our movements should follow the same pattern. Our solitude, silence and prayers with God inform and transform us to then move into the world. Holiness may be forged in the disciplines that set us apart to God, but it is expressed in the activities of community and fellowship. My daughter has been learning to pray regularly, read her devotions, seek God in quiet moments and learn what it is to be His child, but I want her to know that these are just doors to living a holy life with and among others. She needs to understand that to “Be still and know that I am God” needs to lead her to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV)