Unity, Diversity, and the Mixing Bowl

God’s heart soars with satisfaction when unity arises out of diversity. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that God loves diversity because it reflects his infinite complexities and his amazing attributes. He did not create a uniform planet filled with identical flora, fauna, or folks. No, he loosed unimaginable diversity in myriads of ways at every level in every aspect of creation. God’s creativity is beyond imagination, off the charts, and anything but cookie cutter.

How do I know? Simply look around. Take yourself as an example. You are unlike anyone else on this planet—past, present, or future. You are unique because God is unique and he made you in his image and his likeness. He is not looking for you to think like someone else, act like someone else, or look like someone else. He made you so you would be you! God loves the differences that each of us bring to the table—the richness of our differing makeups, backgrounds, and talents.

Yet nothing excites him more than when unity rules our diversity. This is not a political thing, a religious thing, a racial thing, or even a “love” thing. This is a Holy Spirit thing! You see, only the Holy Spirit can create unity through diversity and he does it by taking our differences and blending them smoothly into one body (a.k.a. the church—that’s the community made up of people not the building in which they meet).

The Spirit’s method is similar to making a cake with a mixer. As a child, I helped my mom make cakes by operating the mixer for her. I confess my motive was a little less than noble and thoroughly selfish—I secretly coveted the opportunity to lick the cake batter off the blades once the batter was complete.

The mixer is designed to blend different ingredients into one mix. The individual and diverse flavors of the flour, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, milk, and the other ingredients are not lost when blended together. Instead, together they produce an enhanced flavor.

But for this to happen, you need one missing element—a bowl. Without the bowl, the ingredients are spun out and away from one another in every direction. The centrifugal forces of the mixer blades throw out, but the bowl captures the blended components and maintains the unity of the diversity of whatever batter you choose to make. The mixing bowl is the key to the success of the blending process.

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Likewise, God uses the mixer blades of life’s circumstances to force our differences through the mixer. He is intent on building a better batter—one that is diverse, yet unified. A body made up of differing parts that functions as a whole, instead of independently and individually. And he uses the Holy Spirit as the bowl to capture our individualism, our differences, our gifts, and our talents together until we become unified through the blending. In reality—the Holy Spirit is the unifier.

The devil wants the blender to magnify our differences and then separate us based on those differences, but the Holy Spirit desires to blend our differences—to unite our diversity into one compelling force.

Unity is not uniformity. And uniformity never celebrates our diversity.

Yet God does. He celebrates diversity’s sweet batter in unity’s mixing bowl.

The Fallacy of Fear

thWhat exposes your fears? What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid?

Each of these questions reveals where you are in your journey with God. To grasp this post you will first need to answer the above questions—truthfully and completely. Otherwise, what you read will not make much of a difference anyway/

Fear (the kind that paralyzes us) reveals the black holes of unbelief in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Fear is unbelief, yet all of us struggle with it at some level. It may be apparent, or it may be hidden under layers of self-righteous gobble-dee-gook and a pseudo holiness camouflage. Fear is an emotion that creates a feeling of being out of control. Let’s be honest, none of us likes that. But the reality is, none of us are really in control—are we?

Fear causes us to act or react rather than to think and respond. It causes us to fall back on a survive-at-all-costs mentality or it insures that we seize and freeze up in our emotions, thoughts, and faith. No matter which of these options overwhelm us, we don’t respond to the situation or the circumstance with faith. Instead, we revert back to the B.C. (before Christ) mentality where life or death, failure or success, or heaven or hell, are in the power of our own hands. It is amazing, under stress, how quickly we forget the real truth about who is really in control.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7a) is not just a great verse to encourage us—it is a declaration of truth from the very lips of God to set us free. Fear (a feeling of dread that paralyzes) was not one of the emotions God hard-wired in human beings in the beginning. A reverent awe of God (sometimes translated “fear” in Scripture) yes, but not a suffocating paralysis that reduces a person to a quivering mass of protoplasm. Fear is a direct result of original sin and the fall. Fear when boiled down to its genesis is the dread of punishment for our sin. But through Christ, God replaced sin’s punishment with forgiveness and unconditional love

Fear has no real place in your life—at least not the kind that infects us with paralysis. Fear severs our ability to hear the Holy Spirit much like a muscle with a damaged nerve is unable to receive instructions from the brain. In the moment of crisis—you can’t hear anything but crickets chirping. And in a panic, your wounded soul chimes in with, “Where’s God? Why has he forgotten me?”—questions that reveal our underlying mindset of unbelief.

Fear and faith cannot reside at the same address. Fear is the absence of faith, but faith is an absolute aversion to fear. Fear empowers what we think—faith empowers what God says. Our partnership with one or the other determines our pathway.

Here’s a simple truth. When you were born again—born of the Spirit, Jesus Christ took full and eternal responsibility for you spirit, soul, and body. In that transaction called salvation, he, by covenant, agreed to take care of you lock, stock, and barrel. That was his promise to you!

Faith rests in that promise. Fear wrestles against it. That is the fallacy of fear.

Gone…without Explanation

thPlease!!!! No more bad news this week. My heart can’t bear another tragedy right now.

A promising young pop star cut down in the genesis of her fledgling career. Forty-nine bright-eyed young men and women (sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends…human beings) in full bloom, executed by the blind rage and hate of sheer evil personified. The essence of innocence, a two year-old toddler dipping his tiny feet in the cool water of a world class resort, snatched in the jaws of a primeval alligator, dragged from the arms of loving parents, and drowned. Each a different scenario but all with the same haunting result: gone…without explanation. Simply gone!

Why? That’s the answer to the million dollar question my heart and soul longs to hear. If I can answer this burning question, I can explain the darkness, accept it, and move on.

Deep down inside, a part of me wants to simply turn away and not look, as if that feigned ignorance would make the horror of these events evaporate like the morning mist off the mountains. But even when I close my eyes, the visual reminders hang on the craggy peaks of my mind like scarlet banners. Though I want to, I cannot ignore these horrific moments. Yet, I cannot explain them away either.

In that vacuum, that religious part of me charges to the forefront to give a viable, even believable explanation—to justify, rationalize, and defend a system of cherished beliefs. But the shields and spears of sovereignty, justice, and judgement, of cause and effect, and of choice and reciprocity, create more questions without answering why. And, it makes it easier to rationalize away my revulsion at the utter distress our nation’s shared experience. I will not rationalize these moments away—the people involved are far too precious…and real.

Ultimately, from the depths of my spirit—my faith part of me cries out in despair, “Why, O God, why?” In the tumult of those moments, every answer ever given in human history shoves its way to the forefront of my mind and jockeys for position—loud, obnoxious voices with nothing to say. Finally it all becomes quiet—graveyard silent. And a reflection occurs—perhaps I’m seeking the answer to the wrong question. Yes, they are gone…and perhaps there is no explanation—at least not one I can understand.

And then it bursts forth—a thought, as it pushes its way into my shattered sanctuary of tortured solitude, echoing with intensity. A still, small voice—not a mortal one and certainly not my own. Then, this voice answers with the real answer instead of a question: “Why will not be the solution, but rather what are you going to do in the midst of it? What are you going to do because of it?

 

Compassion: The Missing Link in the Church

Jesus-Cristo-e-os-judeus-1As an American society, we have allowed our fears to take control of how we think, act, and who we will elect to leadership in this country. We are so afraid we will lose our jobs and our socio-economic standard of living if we don’t  stop illegal immigration that we no longer see the desperate plight of men, women, and children willing to die for a chance to improve their living conditions in this country. We so are terrified by the terrorist that we are willing to turn our backs on those who are helpless and hopeless in their flight from war, persecution, and famine. We are attempting to insulate ourselves from these real situations by ignoring the faces of those people, demonizing them, and then despising them because they don’t act, think, or worship like we supposedly do. Add to this, the outrageous promises of the politicians and it only reveals what the majority seem to believe anyway.

So—what about the church? Does she think the same way? The church is the thermostat. As the church goes—so goes our nation. What about individual Christians? As individual Christians go—so goes the church. By the way, unless you are 100% Native American, you are an immigrant—no matter how long your family has been in this country. Somewhere in your family tree is an ancestor who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande.

Something is missing that once made this country different and once made the church a champion of the downtrodden. That missing link is compassion. We seem to have become a compassionless people who are willing to govern themselves with compassionless governments that make and enforce compassionless laws. Our hearts seem all of a sudden to have grown cold and callous.

What is compassion anyway? Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune and accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate suffering. Compassion is different from pity. Pity feels but does not act—compassion does both.

It seems that the church has reverted back to the old fears, prejudices, and intolerances of the lost world and now lives guided only by fear and self-survival. Or—has the world simply picked up its attitude and its actions from the church and started living them out. There seems to be little difference when it comes to the subject of compassion. Both groups seem indistinguishable from the other.

Jesus never acted out of fear. Survival never found a place on his daily “to-do” list. No, Jesus acted out of compassion. His entrance into the world was the act of a compassionate God. He came to seek and to save those who were helpless and hopeless. He was driven by compassion and his actions resulted in him dying for our sins. But his resurrection insured that we could live with the same compassionate intensity he displayed every day as he ministered. His compassion set the demonized free, gave new legs to the cripples, new eyes to the blind, healed the lepers and the diseased, and raised the dead. Read your Bible, it was compassion that focused his love and grace to meet human needs and suffering. His compassion produced an atmosphere pregnant with the possibilities for miracles. Genuine miracles by God are always fueled by compassion.

Where’s yours? Are you willing to see past the politics, the angry rhetoric, the spewing froth of fear, and the overwhelming needs—to see the people? Jesus saw the person! He looked in their eyes and did not turn his head.

Will you?

Or will you look away, close your eyes, or change the channel when the pictures of lifeless Syrian refugees wash up on the shores of Greece or the dead bodies of illegal Hispanic immigrants who lie scattered in the mesquite thickets of Texas and Arizona, clutching empty plastic water bottles in one hand and a plastic sack containing all their worldly possessions in the other. Jesus looked and he acted.

Will you?

Pity is not enough. Compassion demands the church respond. If she does not—this nation will not. But if she does—God will empower her with what she needs to do what he would do. But first we must once again regain what we have lost—our compassion, the missing link that makes us like Christ.

Storm Kits for Life

The word “storm” is an adequate metaphor for those moments of chaos we all encounter from time to time as we walk out life. Rough and tough times, unforeseen pitfalls, and uncontrollable situations are common to us all. Trouble is an equal opportunity employer that never discriminates regardless of race, creed, social standing, or sex. At this moment in your life, you have just exited a storm, are experiencing a storm, or should be expecting a storm. It is not if but when.

Natural storms follow weather patterns so we learn to expect them. And so does trouble and tribulation, but our belief system is oddly different. We somehow believe “it will never happen to me.” Therefore it always seems to catch us unaware and unprepared. And boom—the storm hits and life gets turned upside down and inside out. Huddled in piles of anxiety and fear, we put our head in our hands and cry, “Why me!”

Job put it this way: “Man who is born of woman, is short of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).Trouble is on its way. The only question is—will it stop at my house today? Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with the inevitability of that trouble tornado or thunderstorm of trials than cringing in dread and despair. Perhaps we should all put together a simple storm readiness survival kit.

First, we need to be weather aware. Good times don’t last forever. The stock market that goes up will come down. You will not be 100% healthy all of the time. And people will disappoint you, disagree with you, disappear on you, and even die on you. There is some kind of storm on your horizon. So—be alert!

When the trouble hits and the winds seem like they will rip you apart, dig your feet in and stand firm. Storms are temporary even if they come in multiple waves. They do not last forever. Hunker down—God loves you and he is bigger than any storm that rages around you. You don’t have to hang on to him, because he has you by your hand and he will not let go. Even though you feel like the wind is tearing you apart—relax. God will not forsake you.Tuscaloosa, Alabama Tornado 2011

Next, find the eye of the hurricane—by that I mean find a quiet place in the midst of the storm and have a genuine conversation with God. For heaven’s sake talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Be totally honest and voice the fear, the despair, the discouragement, or the feelings of destruction or doom you are experiencing. Ignoring those feelings will not lessen their destructive impact. Release them before they have an opportunity to raze your faith. Then use what little faith you have left to thank God for his protection and his provision. Being thankful in the midst of the storm is a sure sign you will be standing when the gale ceases and the sun breaks out once again.

0512-0705-3017-2448Finally, once the wind subsides and the sun pops out, assess the damage, clean up the debris, and get on with your life. Don’t allow trouble to deter you from your purpose or freeze frame you in a place of less than or self-pity. Move forward—don’t live looking back. Find others who have survived similar storms and share your stories together. Learn from their experience, as well as yours. Experience is actually a good teacher if we learn from it. If we don’t learn from past experience, rest assured—history will repeat itself at some point in the futuTrouble is a part of life, regardless of the depth of your faith, the demeanor of your influence, the development of your pocketbook, or the discernment of your wisdom. You can’t avoid it, no matter how well your storm shelter is constructed. But—you can survive it and even thrive from it, if you strive in your preparation for the next one. Just check the radar—at some point another storm will blow in. Prepare now, you will be ready!

Wanted: Dreamers

Of the human experience, one of the saddest realities is the adult who never achieves his or her dreams. Statistics reveal this description fits eight out of ten of us. Perhaps even sadder is the fact that most of this eighty percent won’t even remember as adults the dreams they imagined as children. That’s a disheartening stat for a dreamer.

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Our childhood dreams are clues to the destiny God has for each of us. Yes, I believe those dreams are given to us by God in seed form. He plants them in the cracks and crevices of our soul and spirit, and over time, they sprout in our heart and mind. If we partner with God, those dreams begin to produce fruit and move from the realm of imagination into the realm of reality.

As children, we are all fitted with an aptitude for imagination—the ability to perceive something before it has become a reality. Imagination can be the stuff of far-fetched fantasy or the genesis of a reality yet to be discovered or created. Both find their residence in the heart and the mind of a child. And this imagination fertilizes and irrigates the dream God has planted in us.

But sadly, most of those dreams are stolen. We accept the limitations of others, their crushing words, our insatiable appetite for acceptance, or we bow to the altars of reason, intellect, and cynicism. Those dreams entrusted to us by God are eventually lost under the debris of unbelief somewhere deep within in the dusty, cobwebbed corridors of a no longer needed childhood imagination.

Our world desperately cries out for a handful of dreamers who will once again entertain those God-sized dreams. We long for a few visionaries, who glimpse through their imagination what God’s reality for this world looks like. We crave some romantics who will lead us out of this malaise of skepticism and back into the authenticity of a society marked by genuine love. Without the ability to transact in the currency of the imagination, the hearts of those who profess to be Christ-followers will calcify and eventually petrify, leaving the world to its own hopeless, apocalyptic implosion.

We must reclaim our God-given capacity to dream. Dreaming is not a waste of time, it is a necessity to rescue and redeem our limited time. I challenge you to ask God to awaken the dreams he’s sown into your soul and spirit so long ago. Stop gorging yourself on what culture, society, intellectualism, or business says is equitable, acceptable, and financially feasible. Stop listening to the naysayers and the doomsdayers. Blow off the dust, take it in your hands, hold it close to your heart, and nurture that dream until it becomes all that God says it will be.

Let the dreamers arise and ascend until these divine aspirations move from the fertile fields of imagination into the fruitful place of realization.

Finding Intimacy with God

photoThe difference between finding intimacy with God and talking about intimacy with God is as different as day and night. Human beings are notorious for talking about things but never experiencing them. All of us were hard-wired by God to experience intimacy with him, but few people ever do. We talk, write, teach, and preach about our relationship with God, but without a genuine intimate experience the best we can hope for is a casual acquaintance. Intimacy is the game-changer. It’s what transforms an acquaintance into an authentic relationship.

Jesus didn’t die to restore a casual acquaintance; he died to restore authentic relationship with God. He hung on the cross and suffered unbearable pain so that we could have true intimacy—a heart-to-heart connection with God, one that could be experienced.

This intimacy I’m talking about is one you must find for yourself and on your own. It’s one you must pursue with the passion God implanted in your heart. Your hunger must drive you. My hunger and passion for God is not enough for you because when things get tough (and they will) you may discover you have little or no hunger or passion of your own and give up. I can paint some pictures, describe some experiences, and point out various pitfalls, but you can’t find intimacy with God based on my own personal encounters. Those you must pursue on you own.

All I can tell you with certainty is that if you pursue God with all your heart you will most certainly find him. That’s a promise straight out of Jeremiah 29:13 and God cannot lie. I can point, but the pathway you’re on and the speed at which you are traveling are likely not the same as mine. Besides that, I can only lead you to the places I’ve visited.

Pursuing intimacy is first a choice you must make and second, a step of faith you must take. Included in the backpack you will need for that journey is a copy of God’s Word that you can understand, a journal and pen for writing down what God shows you (as well as the pitfalls you encounter), a desperate desire to carry on a conversation with God (some call this prayer), an appointed time and location for meeting God, and likely some worship music of your particular persuasion. You may choose to pack more and that’s up to you. Take what you can carry comfortably.

A word of caution and encouragement—find a time and a place where you can quiet your self and not be interrupted. Intimacy is something you have with one person—not a crowd. Don’t become mechanical and check your religious list at the door. Be spontaneous (that may take a while), experiment (keep what works and discard what doesn’t), and be adventurous in your pursuit. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid—whatever happens in the secret place stays in the secret place. God certainly won’t tell and no one will know unless you do.

There are countless ways to find intimacy with God. You can do it quietly, with shouts of praise and proclamation, with hands uplifted or on your face in the floor. You can sit, kneel, stand, jump, spin, or dance. You can sing, shout, or run about. God won’t be offended by how you pursue him as long as you do it with all your heart in a genuine manner. Find out what works for you—but don’t be afraid to take a step past the artificially installed boundaries of your denomination or your teachers, preachers, and mentors. Push the boundaries—veryoften God eagerly awaits only a step passed where your comfort level ends and his grace begins.

So pick up your backpack and begin to pursue. If you pursue God’s presence with all your heart you will find him.

Now it’s your turn to share something from your journey for others who will follow?

1) What is an artificial boundary that your hunger for God has demolished?

2)What kind of location harbors your secret place? A closet—a porch—a quiet place in your yard—a walk in the woods?

3) How has time in God’s presence changed the ways in which you worship?