Easter Egg

God loves the thrill of discovery. It’s not that anything is hidden from Him, but that He enjoys watching those He loves more than anything else experience joy when something new is revealed to them. Have you ever considered: God hides things for us, not from us? The secrets of God are for our benefit and the revelation of God is for our amazement.

I love the mystery of Easter. Every year I’m reminded ever so clearly that God is for us not against us. What is concealed in darkness on Friday is revealed with radiance on Sunday. On Friday we mourn, on Saturday we reflect, on Sunday we rejoice. We stand amazed at the discovery of an empty tomb. The mystery of Easter never loses its wonder.

I remember when Amaya was little and we took her to her first Easter Egg hunt. She wasn’t much more than a toddler. She walked around finding eggs that weren’t hidden all that well. In fact, the eggs were hidden according age groups; each group looked for eggs in their own area. In other words, the eggs were hidden so they could be found.

She waddled around stepping over the brightly colored eggs without even noticing them at first. We kept cheering her own and pointing, and finally she caught on. Then the thrill of seeking and finding set in. Each time she found an egg she would turn to Heather and I with a really big smile. Then we would then cheer her on to find another. The Easter Egg hunt was a process of uncovering something amazing in her eyes. There is great joy in discovery: “Seek and you shall find…”

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). There have been times in my life when I wish God had spoken audibly. Times when I wish He had made Himself so clear that I wouldn’t have needed to do any searching. Yet the Bible teaches that God receives glory when He conceals Himself to some degree.

Rather than making things obvious to us all the time God takes delight in our quest to discover. He’s like the parents cheering from the sideline for us to find an Easter Egg. We’re walking around with the blessings of God in plain view, yet sometimes we need a little extra help in understanding what we’re looking for. When we find what we’re searching for we celebrate. Thus, it is more glorious for Him to hide, and for us to seek. It’s a learning process in which everyone can celebrate.

From Good Friday to Easter Sunday our hearts always yearn for the greatest mystery of all to be revealed. On Friday Jesus was concealed in a grave, but on Sunday the greatest revelation the world has ever known is revealed. The story never gets old.

On Easter we are responsible for acknowledging, proclaiming, and celebrating what God has made clear: Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Like Amaya finding those beautifully colored eggs and being amazed every time she picked one up, may we stand in amazement of what we have found: an empty tomb. The grave remains empty so that we can be filled, and that my friends, is the greatest discovery of all.

holy-spirit

In the late 90s on our way home from visiting Washington DC in mid-July, Heather, Jake, and myself were traveling I-95 southbound headed back to North Carolina. Lunchtime had passed and we were all hungry. Jake was around seven years old and he wanted to eat at McDonald’s. However, for some reason I was set on eating at Denny’s. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the “Grand Slam.”

When traveling our nation’s highways one doesn’t have to look far to find a Denny’s; sure enough, a few miles down I-95 and we spotted the big yellow sign. We exited the highway, parked the car, and went inside. When they brought our beverages to the table the first thing I noticed was a long, black, crusty hair hanging out of my drink and flowing down the side of the glass. Then we noticed what appeared to be a couple of eyelashes (we hoped they weren’t nose hairs) floating with the ice cubes in Heather’s beverage. We decided to pay for our drinks and leave. Jake said, “Dad, can we just go to McDonald’s?” “No,” I said, “We will find another Denny’s.”

A few exits down, and sure enough there was another Denny’s. No sooner than we had walked through the door a very loud, brassy, gruff voice yelled out, “We’re short-staffed and out of ice. So, if you want a cold drink you’d better go somewhere else!” Without a word, we walked back to the car. Jake again asked, “Dad, can we please go to McDonald’s?” Most people would’ve given up on Denny’s at this point, however we’re pretty resilient. “No Jake,” I said, “We will find another Denny’s.”

Another ten miles or so and what do you know, there was another Denny’s. The sign in the lobby said “Seat Yourself.” This Denny’s appeared to be abandoned; we didn’t see anyone. We sat at the first booth we came to and within a few minutes I noticed someone walking toward us with a slow swagger and a long, blonde, badly styled wig that was so bright that it glowed in the dimly lit room. It was our waiter.

His fingernails were so long that they curled under a few times; he was actually having trouble holding the pen to write down our order. Finally, we noticed the massive amounts of cat hair matted to his apron, which made me wonder what they were cooking in the back. Beyond that, he smelled and sounded like he’d been chain-smoking stale cigars. I ask him to give us a minute. As soon as he walked away I looked at Jake and said, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

I’ve never been to Denny’s again. Whatever it was I was craving, I’ve since forgotten. It was so bad that the memories of this incident will forever be branded in my mind. It wasn’t a food issue; we never made it that far. So what was it? Our problem with Denny’s had everything to do with hospitality. Plain and simple, Denny’s was a bad host. This occasion has caused me to think a lot about the importance of being a “good host.”

Have you ever been to a gathering that wasn’t hosted very well? Ever been in someone’s home who wasn’t very welcoming? Maybe they were rude, or messy, or obnoxious, or a bad cook? One thing is certain: hospitality plays a significant role in our relationship with others.

No doubt, there are many churches that need a lesson in hospitality. Beyond that, as Christians, we should strive to be good hosts in every situation. And while all of that is important I think the most important thing for us to realize is that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be “hosts” of the Holy Spirit. Think about it: the Sovereign Lord, the Most-High King, the Creator and Sustainer of all things dwells in you. Walking in the fullness of God requires living with a sacred awareness that He’s always present.

Inattention to the Holy Spirit is a sure sign of misplaced affection. Without realizing it we tend to compartmentalize our lives. In doing so, we put God in a box and only take Him out when we need Him. Far too many people’s relationship with Jesus remains out of sight and out of mind. They go about their lives never giving a second thought to the fact that God is with them, every second of every day, He is present.

We like our faith to be categorized instead of personalized. We enjoy buying stuff, taking it out of the box, plugging it in, and using it. We like three-point outlines, PowerPoint presentations, and systematic theology. While these things may inform our faith, they lack the power to transform us into His image. Transformation comes in the form of continually encountering a Person.

While Scripture offers a standard for practicing faith, and Christian tradition certainly informs our faith, and reason helps us make sense of our faith, experiencing the Person of the Holy Spirit offers something the above mentioned do not: an intimate encounter with a Person. We would all agree that nothing impacts our lives like our experiences. My experience at Denny’s has forever altered my perspective.

Experiential faith worries some people because of its expressive nature. While I share their concern for the televangelist types that manipulate the masses and stir up emotional frenzies, we must not write off experience as an important part of our spiritual journey. We need to look no further than the Book of Acts to identify how the Holy Spirit came upon people and radically transformed their lives. This happened before the New Testament was complete, before the traditions of the Church had been established, and couldn’t be reasonably explained by those caught up in the movement.

If one examines what’s happening in the southern hemisphere today he or she will identify people encountering God in supernatural ways. There are reports of supernatural healing, intercessory prayer that’s changing entire cities, and revival that’s stirring the hearts of multitudes of people. Beyond the southern hemisphere, there is also a growing unrest among congregations in the United States that are experiencing authentic glimpses of revival. In fact, there is a grassroots remnant that believes the church needs revival more than anything else.

We are a church that believes in the infilling, overflowing, sanctifying power of God at work in and through us for the benefit of the world. He dwells in us for our sake, but He flows through us for the sake of others. When the Holy Spirit rests upon a person, a congregation, or an entire denomination, it’s because He’s been made welcome.

Sadly, it seems fewer and fewer people live consciously aware of their responsibility to be a good host. In fact, today the Holy Spirit seems largely forgotten, which grieves the heart of God and quenches His ability to flow through our lives. I believe the church’s greatest days will come when she rediscovers the power of hosting His Presence. We must realize that there is an experience that goes beyond emotions. It’s the atmosphere that is created by the manifest Presence of God. When He shows up it changes everything.

stench

Well, it’s that time of year again. I’ll never forget my first February in Kentucky; then last February I noticed the same thing, and now this year. Let’s just say some things never change. What am I talking about you ask? The early spring invasion of SKUNKS!

In their efforts to cross the road these poor animals get hit by passing cars and inevitably leave a smell that, as the old southern expression goes, would knock a buzzard off a gut wagon. I actually have a skunk living in my backyard. When I take the trash out at night I’m always fearful that she’s going to be standing by the garbage can cocked and loaded.

The potency of skunk stench travels a great distance. When I ride over their carcasses on the highway the odor oozes into my car and remains for several miles. The power of a skunk’s particular smell has the capacity to linger in your nostrils for an uncanny amount of time.

My friend, Eddie, once had a pet skunk named, “Pierre” (although it was a girl). He tells me that Pierre was one of the best pets he ever owned. He found her when she was 6-8 weeks old and had the scent glands removed. Pierre was housebroken and trained to walk on a leash. He kept her for two years before getting married. However, his wife-to-be put great pressure on him to find Pierre a new home. Pierre spent the rest of her days entertaining children at elementary schools as part of a traveling zoo.

If you’ve ever viewed a skunk up close (preferably in pictures), you’ll likely agree that they’re adorable little animals. I’ve pondered recently why God would create something that appears so sweet yet give it a scent that will scar you for life. A few days ago that familiar smell seeped into my car once again; as the odor lingered God reminded me of a few things.

Scripture speaks a lot about “smells” and “aromas.” When dealing with unfaithfulness among His people God says, “These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5, NLT). The Bible suggests a similar idea in 2 Peter chapter two when the Apostle writes about Believers who turn back to sin as “A dog that returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

All of us are wonderfully made in the likeness of a loving Creator. Every one of us is a much-loved child of the most caring Father in the entire universe. Yet many of us are like the prodigal son before he realizes his need to return home: We smell like a pigsty. We are beautiful in God’s eyes, yet all of us have the capacity to stink. When we willfully choose to live in sin we produce an aroma that reeks in the nostrils of God.

For many, the smelly aroma comes from their efforts of self-preservation. We’ve learned to function in ongoing protection mode. Like a skunk, we let off an odor when we try to defend ourselves against what we perceive as a threat. Something presses in on our lives and we lash out, lie, cheat, attack another person, think we deserve something we actually don’t, justify our bad behaviors and habits, and the list goes on. In these moments we produce a scent that not only distances us from the Father, it also separates us from the people we love.

My friends, sin is a serious problem. When it goes unchecked it has the capacity to derail our lives in a way that leaves us dead on the inside. Without God, the aroma of death lingers. We’ve all been affected, which means we’ve all smelled like a dead skunk in God’s nostrils at one time or another.

Like Isaiah, our very best efforts are like filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. In other words, we don’t deserve the goodness and mercy of God because of our stench. We often live in denial of the fact that we have the potential to smell like a skunk carcass lying on the side of the road. Denying the potential to smell like sin means one likely thinks more highly of themselves than they should. This is a dangerous way to live.

At the end of the day we all smell like road kill without Jesus. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:14-16, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…”

Wow! In Christ, we are called to manifest His sweet fragrance everywhere we go. That means the Kingdom of God is touching down everywhere we stand. Now, when I smell a dead skunk I think about the fact that I’m dead to myself, yet alive in Christ. Without Jesus we stink in the nostrils of God, but IN HIM we’re a sweet savor unto the Lord. Let people smell the aroma of Christ being manifested through your life everyday.


(Sources: Eddie Estep)

Mirrors

We use them everyday. They help us evaluate ourselves. We use them to fix our hair, shave, brush our teeth, make sure our clothes match, put on makeup, and make funny faces. We use them to back out of the driveway, watch for traffic on the interstate, and make sure we still look okay after driving to work. Nowadays people use them to take selfies while puckering up their lips. They call it ‘duck lips,’ although ducks don’t have lips. Anyway… let’s talk about mirrors.

When we look into a mirror we’re use to seeing a clear reflection. However, that’s not what the folks of Jesus’ day would have been accustomed to. Mirrors were not crystal clear reflections. They weren’t even made of reflective glass. They were made of polished copper or brass. The image in a copper mirror would have been extremely vague and distorted.

Because the image wasn’t as clear as ours is today people had to stare at themselves intently for long periods of time to make out their reflection. They looked carefully so that they would know exactly what needed to be done with their hair, their make-up, their clothes, etc. With a better understanding of what a mirror would’ve been like in the 1st Century, let’s read from James chapter one.


“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)


Let’s read a few verses again…

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

This passage has a lot of implications if we understand what mirrors were like in the 1st Century. James is comparing scripture to a mirror. He’s teaching us that God’s instruction for our life doesn’t only need to be seen and heard, it needs to be obeyed. In other words, don’t be hearers only, be doers.

James is saying that anyone who listens to the Word of God, knows it, learns it, and doesn’t live it, is like someone who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what they look like. He’s comparing that kind of person to someone who spends a lot of time studying what needs to be done, but doesn’t do anything. They see their spiritual reflection, then walk away and forget what needs to be fixed.

These people get distracted and neglect what they saw needed to be improved. They did it all for nothing. Their hair is still a mess, their shirt needs ironing, their tie needs straightening, and their makeup is smudged all over their face. Why in the world did they spend all that time trying to see and then walk away and do nothing? Excuse me, but that’s not very smart. In fact, it’s pretty stupid.

James is saying that God’s Word is the ultimate mirror. He’s teaching that if there’s a separation in our life between belief and behavior, between knowing and doing, between hearing and growing, then we may just be spending time in front the mirror then walking away and doing nothing.

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we practice what we believe more often? I think it’s because we’ve bought into a warped opinion of life-change. We’ve accepted a messed up view of discipleship. We believe that spiritual growth is something that happens “to us,” or is done “for us.”

That’s not the church’s job…

Never has been and never will be.

People say, “Make me close to Jesus.” It’s not the church’s job to make you close to Jesus; it’s your job. “Save my marriage.” It’s not the church’s job to save your marriage; it’s your job. “Raise my kids.” It’s not the church’s job to raise your kids; it’s your job. “Give me friends.” It’s not the church’s job to help you make friends; it’s your job. “Feed me” (that’s my favorite). It’s not the church’s job to feed you; it’s your job to feed yourself.

It is not the church’s job to give you the life you want. It’s the church’s job to connect you with Jesus by offering opportunities to grow. Whether you do it or not is up to you. The church can’t change you; only God can do that. The church exists to enrich, inspire, challenge, equip, and provide spiritual leadership. In other words, the church offers you opportunities for discipleship, but the church can’t make you become a disciple.

Yes, the church serves the family trying to raise a child. It seeks to provide healing for those who are broken. It provides community to establish authentic relationships. It offers the necessary resources for a vibrant relationship with Christ. However, the church cannot circumvent your choices and responsibilities.

Your job is to be a disciple: a follower of Jesus. So, stop looking in the mirror then walking away and forgetting what you look like. Listen to the Word, examine yourself, and do what it says. Remember, the church cannot live your life for you. You’re the only one who can live your life for you. So do it.


(Sources: Rick Warren, James Emery White, NIV Application Commentary)

Failure Success

There was a time in my life when I was terrified of failure. I was afraid of failing at things that really mattered to me, but not anymore. Now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter. I’ve learned that being a disciple isn’t about doing everything right. Discipleship is as much about failure as it is success. It’s actually about being willing to do whatever God calls us to do with courage and enthusiasm. Failure is success if we learn to be better in the process.

The world wants you to think that ‘success’ is the hallmark of life. They tell us we need to make a lot of money, buy a lot of things, live in a big house, drive a nice car, etc. When you do these things, then you are successful. That’s the world’s message and it’s never-ending. However, the kind of life God calls us to is one of sacrifice. In the world’s eyes that looks more like failure than success.

It’s important to remember that God cannot fill you up until he empties you out. With God down is up. Failure is the path to victory. Defeat is the road to triumph. Death is the way to life. The last will be first. This is the essence of the gospel. It’s the message of the cross. Coming to the end of self is the only way to truly discover oneself.

The world’s motto is “Get.” Get, get, get, and get some more. It reminds me of the old expression, “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.” In other words, accumulate everything you can. Preserve everything you amass. Finally, guard your assets so no one else can get them from you. The kingdom’s motto is the opposite: “Give.” Give, give, give, and give some more. Give until it hurts and keep on giving, trusting God as the source.

God allows seasons of failure to help us grow. He wants us to learn to give more than we get because he knows if we get more than we give that we’ll become consumed by what we get and not focus on what we need to give. That’s a tongue-twitter, but it’s true. It’s also difficult to swallow, especially for Americans. We are winners; we don’t fail, ever. At least that’s what we’re told.

Remember, the kingdom doesn’t play by the world’s rules. God knows what we’re holding on to. He knows the areas of our lives that need to be purged. Failure is simply part of the process. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of deal. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so that we can swing for the fences again.

A life motto for me has been… “If you don’t quit, you can’t lose.” Say that out loud, “If you don’t quit, you can’t lose.” With God, this is spot-on. You may feel like a failure sometimes, but as long as you keep the faith, you’re still in the game. No matter how many times you swing and miss, you’re never out with God.

You don’t get to shape all the circumstances of your life. But have you ever thought that maybe Jesus is using the circumstances to shape you? The master sculptor is constantly chiseling away the rough spots. Like any great artist, he never stops working until the sculpture becomes a masterpiece. It’s a painstaking process, but the end result is out of this world, literally.

Satan will never stop calling you out. It is like a baseball game and the Devil’s the umpire. Life decides to throw you a curveball. Ever had that happen? When you swing and miss the Devil says, “Strike one.” Life throws you a fastball. You swing and miss and Satan says, “Strike two.” Then life throws you a changeup. You swing and miss the Devil says, “Strike three, you’re out!”

Now if you believe that you will drop your bat, hang your head, slump your shoulders, go to the dugout, and sit on the bench for the rest of your life. You will spend a lot of time thinking about what might’ve been, what could’ve been, and what should’ve been. You’ll spend the rest of your life living with a sense of failure if you buy into the rules of the world.

However, you’d be forgetting that the kingdom plays by a different set of rules. So, when the Devil yells, “Strike three, you’re out!” Turn around, with your bat in hand, and say, “Satan, it’s my bat, my ball, my Dad owns the field, and I’m not out, not now, and not ever.” Step back up to the plate and keep swinging and believing, and believing and swinging, until you get a hit and get on base.

“Success is going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm” ~Winston Churchill. So, never let success get to your head and never let failure infect your heart. Stay focused on Jesus and never, never, never give up. Reach for the sky every single day. If you don’t quit you can’t lose.


(Sources: Bob Goff, Brian Zahnd, Winston Churchill)