Redefined


For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And 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. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NIV)

The distractions of today and yesterday too often skew the way we see God and His creation.  We rationalize, contextualize, scrutinize with faulty eyes the way we should act/think/feel in each situation that comes our way.  We use broken eyes, behind broken lenses to perceive a broken world to help define a perfect God and our relationship to him.  But love redefines everything.

Before God first breathed life into the dirt that would become Adam, to his son laying down his life for all, to the day he returns to judge the quick and the dead, one thing remains the same: God loves us.  He created us to love him.  He formed us with love in mind.  We long for it, search for it, try with epic effort to find it on our own, but it is not a love that can be reproduced or replicated.  It is a love that redefines us.

I was typing a note on a tablet and it asked me if I wanted to add “God” to the dictionary.  It seemed an odd question, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how this question reflects a reality in the human – we are far more comfortable defining God than letting God define us.  We add him to our dictionary instead of allowing him to write our dictionary for us.  We like to have our own dictionary because we can control how we see the world, but sooner or later we will be faced with the unchangeable truth that God cannot be controlled by our dictionary.  His love redefines everything.

So we have a choice – to continue in our dream world of self-referencing everything to fit into our broken view through broken lenses, or we can have our sight healed by the love of God and allow ourselves to be defined by his word and will.  Will we be Pharisees or mustard seeds?  Will we be children of God or childish about God?  Will we stamp our labels on people we meet (criminal, homeless, sinner, lost), or will we get close enough to read what God has written on them (hurting, suffering, broken, loved by God)?

Lord, help me to be defined by your dictionary each day.  May my vocabulary increase as my fear decreases and may I find the words to share your love with others.  Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to love without reservations.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Real Power


Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.”  They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. – Acts 8:9-13 (NIV)

There is a great scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America is standing on top of a taxi giving orders to some police officers.  When he is done, one of the officers asks, “Why should we listen to you?”  This pertinent question is followed by Captain America’s clear display of power against otherworldly warriors, after which the officer begins to relay the Captain’s orders.  Power can change people’s mind and earn respect, whether it is out of admiration, fear or gratitude.

Simon had followers because he had displayed power, but it was rooted in a limited source.  Simon could only do so much to impress his fans.  When Philip comes to town, the people are confronted with a different kind of power and are changed by it.  Instead of having to go to Simon whenever they want to see power, they are empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of being fans of Simon, they became followers of Christ.  This was such a startling show of power that even Simon believed.

That power is still at work in the world today through God’s people if they choose.  It is not a power that we use to rule over others or hold them in sway.  We are empowered to empower others.  We extend to others that same power that inspired the Psalmist to write, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  We get to take our place in the long line that leads others from brokenness to wholeness, from sorrow to joy and from apathy to gratitude.

Motivated by love, empowered by God, we are sent forth to change the world.  The problem for me and the rest of fallen humanity is that we have a long history of abusing power or being abused by it.  We have words of warning about how power corrupts, but the reality is that corrupt power corrupts.  God’s power heals, saves, resurrects and sustains.  It does not corrupt.  He does not corrupt.

I want to be that vessel of clay.  I want to hold the power of God so that it can be poured out into the world and the lives of others.  But I must watch out for the Simon in me; the one who wants power for himself and for his own fame and fortune.  I must watch out for the fawning member of the crowd that can lurk in my heart, waiting for the next magic trick to come along and fascinate me.  I want to be like Philip; a man empowered, but not worried about power.

Lord, empower me to extend Your love, grace, healing and hope.  Guard my heart from worldly powers that might draw me away from You.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Lead With Forgiveness


While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but forgiveness is not always the first thing on my mind when someone is hurting me. There are a number of other reactions I can think of and none of them are what you would call “saintly.”  Anger, indignation, revenge – they all come rising to the surface in a moment of confrontation.  So what would I do if my neighbors were trying to kill me for telling them the truth?  How would I react to hatred and violence from those I was trying to help?

Stephen leads with forgiveness.  He doesn’t have time to process and work toward forgiveness – his life is ebbing away with each painful throw.  He could have lashed out in anger or prayed to God to smite down his enemies, but he chose love, grace and mercy.  At some point Stephen made the choice that if Christ could forgive, so should he.  He had probably heard the story of Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and took them to heart.

Too often I have to find forgiveness when I have been wronged, but Stephen, following in the footsteps of Christ, doesn’t need to find it.  Stephen is forgiving.  It comes forth from him like cool water from a fresh spring.  That is acting out your faith.

Lord, help me to be forgiving.  Teach me how to lead with forgiveness.  Fill my heart with love, grace and mercy so that they overflow to others.  Amen.

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 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.

Good Friday Poem – Hammer and Nail


Hammer and Nail

 

Muscled hands, calloused and rough,

Work with care and a gentle touch.

Tree to timber with saw and stone;

Through patient skill a form has grown.

A stable manger of humble scale,

Put together by hammer and nail.

 

A babe is born inBethlehem;

A wooden manger a bed for him.

Babe becomes child, child becomes man;

The Carpenter’s skill flows through His hands.

Left His home on a long, hard trail.

Earning His keep by hammer and nail.

 

Love has led Him to a lonely hill;

The Cross His burden for doing God’s will.

The mockers taunt, the angry yell,

Those sinners He would save from hell.

A slaughtered Lamb to rend the veil.

Hung on the Cross by hammer and nail.

 

I strike a blow each time I fail;

Hand and foot, hammer and nail.

Broken and Beloved


Here we are, the broken,

Waiting while we praise

Praying for Your hand, oh God,

To heal, to help, to raise

Your people from their fallen ways

 

Here we are, the blessed,

Watching for Your grace

Praying for Your love to change

Our hearts, our heads, our hands

Your children need to learn Your ways

 

We are beloved and broken,

Children of the living God

Marked by grace, transformed by love

Your kingdom come today we pray

 

Here we are, beloved,

Washed in the blood of Christ

Praying for clean hearts and hands

To serve, to teach, to reach

Your lost sheep, Your broken lambs.

 

We are beloved and broken

Children of the living God

Saved from sin, changed within

Work Your will in us we pray

 

We are beloved and broken

Our God can make us whole

We are beloved and broken

He heals the wounded soul

We are beloved and broken

Your kingdom come

Your will be done

Make us whole

 

By Chris Yeager

We Are Not Made For Holes In The Ground


We are not made for holes in the ground

Not destined for earthen beds

We are not made to rest in the clay

Not numbered with the dead

 

We are made to live

We are made to last

We are made to praise

Forever and ever

 

We are not made for corruption

Not made to fade away

We are not marked for destruction

To languish in the grave

 

We are made to thrive

We are made to shine

We are made to sing

Forever and ever

 

We are made for glory above

To live among the saints

We are made to sing and dance

Before our God and Father

 

We are made for Him

We are made for love

We are made for joy

Forever and ever.

 

by Chris Yeager

Giving Thanks: Our Unchanging God


Since I will be on vacation for the next two weekends, I am reposting for this week and next week.  This week is a repost from November of 2010.  While some of the language is specific to that year, the thoughts behind it are still true.  I hope that this is a timely encouragement during the season of thanksgiving.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” – Lamentations 3:19-24

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’m not sure about you, but 2010 has been a rough year.  Not as rough for my family as some others I know, but it ranks up there as a lean year in many respects.  The surprise for me is that I have never been as thankful as I have been this year.  Not a stick-your-head-in-the-sand thankful; that is just avoiding reality with empty platitudes and heartless prayers.  Not dutiful gratitude born out of blind obedience to some Christian ethic that says, “There is always something to be thankful for in what you are going through.”  That just keeps our eyes off the true focus of our thanksgiving.

The reason I am more thankful this year is a deepening understanding of three words: God never changes.  If this doesn’t make sense, think about what has brought you the most comfort in difficult times.  I would lay odds that most would say family and friends; those we love anchor us and heal us and hold us when we are going through grief, pain and difficulty.  Many of us would also say that sometimes those we love have let us down when we needed them most.  This is where God’s unchanging character can step into our lives and fill the gaps to overflowing.

We live in a broken world where tragedy and trial come without warning or consideration.  We are broken people with limitations, weaknesses and flaws that severely hamper our ability to truly satisfy the needs of others.  Only one can give what is needed for each wound.  Only one meets the needs of Jeremiah when he laments, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.”  The God who never changes.  When everything else is falling apart, including ourselves, God remains merciful, kind, compassionate, faithful and loving.  He is our hope and comfort.  This is at the heart of living in an attitude of thanksgiving.

This isn’t a roadmap to living life without pain and suffering.  It is the compass that allows us to keep moving in the right direction in spite of our circumstances, both good and bad.  When Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “give thanks IN all circumstances” (emphasis mine), he means “in” not “for.”  God is not thankful for hurt or pain or tragedy and I don’t believe He would require his children to either.  Paul is reminding the Thessalonians, and us, that no matter what happens in this broken world, to broken people, God still loves and cares for us, still calls us onward to peace and joy, still holds us in his strong hands.

This Thanksgiving, hold this truth close to your heart and let it guide you to a gratitude that transforms and heals.  Ask God to reveal His heart for you in the midst of your circumstances.  Let God use you to be His compassion and mercy to those experiencing pain and suffering.  Be grateful not for what you have, but for who you belong to, because God never changes.

Gardening Tips: Tilling The Soil


Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. – Matthew 13:5-6

There is not much that I have eaten in this world the matches a tomato fresh from the vine.  Rich, sweet and tangy, tomatoes have a unique and satisfying flavor.  They are a reward for the hard work.  Growing tomatoes has a different flavor – tough, sour and dirty.  One of the difficulties we have faced growing tomatoes in our neck of the woods is the heat.  This has been a mild summer for us with only a few days reaching over 100 degrees, but it is normal for us to go a week or two of triple digits.  This is not good on tomatoes.

In the parable, the seeds are on rocky soil, but the real issue is that they can’t sink their roots deep enough to get to the water.  There are a lot of variations that can put a tomato plant at risk, but one of the most important is the moisture level in the soil.  No moisture = scorched and shriveled plants.  I wonder if the parable of the seeds is about the importance of discipleship.  I know that raising tomatoes takes a lot of intentional, purposeful and consistent work.  You can’t just drop some seeds on the ground and check in a few weeks later.

Evangelism is a beginning, but is certainly not the end.  In growing tomatoes, as much work goes into preparing the soil as tending the plant once it has sprouted.  The soil has to be the right mix, with nutrients, density and absorbency all coming into play.  If you aren’t going to prep the soil, you can’t expect the right results.  Maybe we need to spend more time preparing the soil than just scattering seed.  Maybe we need to invest intentionally, purposefully and consistently in the lives of those around us who need the Word of God.  Maybe love and grace will change their hearts from jagged rocks to fertile ground.

Lord, help me to be a tiller of soil in the hearts of those you bring my way.  Give me the words to
speak into their lives that will prepare their hearts for Your Word.  May I have a passion for evangelism and a will toward discipleship.  Amen.