Switching the flip

Switch flip

A month ago, I moved my wife and daughter … along with the last vestiges of our personal effects … to the great state of Texas. Our son and I had been here already, our son for two years and me for eight months after starting my new job in late-2018, but we wanted our daughter to have the opportunity to graduate from the high school she chose in Orange County.  For my wife, she was born and raised in Southern California and had never lived anywhere else.  I’d lived in Texas during a couple of my earlier years but grew up in SoCal and the bottom line is that we were making an enormous life change.

As we were preparing to leave, the bittersweet time with so many wonderful friends and family was a highlight of a time marked with both excitement and apprehension.  To be sure, we felt convinced of God’s call for us to Texas, but in practical terms it was really hard to leave relationships with people we love dearly, with whom we have done life, and who have left us better off in innumerable ways.

One of the sweetest times of fellowship we had before we left was with the parents of a couple of my friends from high school. This couple were in more ways than I can express a safe haven for me in tough times in high school (which of us got through high school without tough times?).  Their love of a goofy teenager at that time, and ever since, has changed our family’s lives for the good in so many ways.  While high school for me is almost 35 years in the rearview mirror, we have remained in close contact with this couple and have continued to invest love and friendship in one another along the way.

And that’s where I’d like to take this message … into the reflection of the importance of relationship, of friendship, of “chance” encounters with people that become life-changing and glorious.  Bottom line, I want to take us to a place … through our family’s transition, sadness and joy, excitement and apprehension, faith and hesitation … where we can together take stock of the blessings of other people in our lives.  A place where, imperfect though we all are, we can ask God to increase our intentionality with others, to lean into the “chance” encounters with people He brings to us.  I want to encourage all of us to not be flippant with relationships, forgetful of their bilateral value, in way that God alone can make mutually-beneficial.  I want to remind us about “Switching the Flip.”

There’s a great admonition in Galatians 6:9-10

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Paul, in writing to the Galatians, is talking about the importance of actively investing in the welfare of other people.  Of taking the time to relate to others, to help others, to encourage others, to bear others’ burdens.  He’s reminding us of the importance, in my parlance for this message, of “Switching the Flip.”

In addition to the hour or so that we spent with our friends, the couple that were my high school safe haven, we also spent some really sweet time with a number of our other friends before we departed on the road for Waco.  In another especially sweet time, a bunch of our friends from our church in SoCal gathered to wish us farewell.  During that time, our senior pastor called the group together for a time of prayer over us.  His words were Spirit-led, loving, and encouraging, reminding us of the call we have felt “away” from SoCal and to central Texas.  Our time with those friends was such a sweet reminder. Many of those friendships were borne out of encounters that were unexpected.  Meaning, the friendships had grown out of situations we may not have expected at the time.

Had we been flippant about those at those times, we would have missed out on countless beautiful hours together with friends who have changed our lives.  Had we been flippant about letting someone know that we were praying for them, had we been flippant about actually praying for them when we said we were going to, had we been flippant about calling them when we felt led of the Spirit or when God brought them to mind, had we been flippant in allowing the relationship to grow, we would have missed out on some of the most valuable jewels God entrusts to us in our lives.

“Switching the Flip,” to me, means not being flippant or careless in relationship.  It’s taking seriously the notion that in God’s economy, people are put in our lives for a reason.  It is being intentional about what Proverbs 27:17 describes as “iron sharpening iron,” the notion that as we have relational, emotional, and friendship-oriented actual contact with one another, we grow.  But it must be demonstratively intentional.  We can’t be flippant about the impact we have on others.  Relationships are created in unforeseen circumstances and are used by God in unforeseen ways.

Flippancy robs us of greater and grander purposes God wants to bring to us through others.  What chances did we miss today to leave someone better off?  Is there a chance that someone you could have started a conversation with might have needed to know that they were worth you stopping to chat?  What chances did we miss today to let God leave us better off? Is there a chance that someone we bumped into but didn’t go beyond, “how are you?” might be someone God could use to teach or encourage us somehow?  I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the people I mentioned above are those with whom we began friendship in ways like those.  Seemingly innocuous introductions who because one or both of us decided not to be indifferent, became monuments to God’s love in our lives.

“Switching the Flip,” choosing not to be flippant in meeting, talking with, and caring for others is one of God’s greatest gifts. It is one of the ways we can see Him at work in multiple lives, in multiple ways, with geometric blessings as the result. I want to encourage … really, challenge … us to be mindful and purposeful in the “chance” encounters God brings us to.  It can be in just calling a family member who comes to mind, visiting a friend you haven’t seen in years, reaching out to someone who needs to know that they gave you encouraging words 30 years ago, asking the checkout person at the supermarket how they’re really doing and listening intently to their answer, talking to someone after church that you’ve seen a thousand times but have never shown interest in, whatever.  It’s intentionality, it’s time-consuming, it’s fearsome to a degree. But maybe as a result of us paying more attention now, to “Switching the Flip,” we’ll look back 20 years from now and be able to marvel, once again, about the ways God put just the right people in our lives at just the right time for just the right reasons.  After all, that the business He’s in.  And He can blow our minds, if we’re just not flippant about it … if we just choose more often, “Switching the Flip.”

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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Finish or start?

Finish or Start

Running my first half-marathon at the end of April was a blast.  Not just because my wife, son, and mom all met me at the finish line (though that was a huge thing), but just for the fact that I was able to accomplish something I hadn’t previously done.  The training was hard and the discipline to fulfill the training significant.  Most of the time the training was fun and doable, but as it ramped up to longer and longer distances, it was definitely challenging.  There were both physical as well as mental challenges involved, and the combination was perhaps the hardest part.

The same was true during the run, though because of the training I’d been through, I felt comfortable during most of the 13.1 miles.  There were clearly portions of the race where I struggled to keep going but I could think back to my training and remember I had been there before.  Because of what I had done previously, I realized I could keep going forward now.

When it was all said and done and I finished, there was an enormous sense of accomplishment and relief.  And yet … there was a part of me that felt a longing to do another half. Don’t get me wrong, I realized that there were a bunch of other people who had already run 13.1 miles that day and were in the process of running another 13.1 because they were running the fullmarathon.  That’s NOT me.  But nevertheless, though I had just finished the half, I could also sense that the beginning of something … another half or whatever … was bubbling up.  In that sense, it was hard to discern whether I was at the finish or start.  Perhaps it was both.

A good example of how this works in our lives is King David.  We’re all familiar with how King David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath, and perhaps many of us are acquainted with his reign over Israel as God’s anointed thereafter, but it’s key to look at what equipped David to take down Goliath in the first place.  By doing so, we’ll see how a finish of sorts for David led to a start, and then a finish, and a start, etc.  We see in 1 Samuel 17:32-36 

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”  “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”  But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death.  I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God!

Let’s not skirt past what led David to feel not just equipped, but confident that he would succeed in taking down this fearsome beast of a giant in Goliath.  (That is, other than God Himself, obviously).  For quite a long time (say, the equivalent of running 13.1 miles), David tended to sheep and goats.  This is not a small, menial, safe task.  It’s taxing, tedious, intense, and as we note, fraught with frequent peril.  “When a lion or a bear comes,” doesn’t suggest “if,” as in, it could happen.  It suggests that it happens with regularity … ongoing danger against scary, fearsome animals that – let’s face it – posed danger not just to the sheep and goats, but to David.

As he “finished” that race … having completed (in a manner of speaking) tending to sheep and goats against lions and bears, he “started” a new race as someone who would not only slay Goliath, but then “finish” that battle having now become prepared to “start” as King over God’s people.  As he “finished” becoming King over God’s chosen, he “started” as a warrior / leader to secure the nation for God’s chosen. The finish equipped the start, which resulted in a finish, which facilitated a start, and on it goes.

Such is life.  If we get particularly retrospective, we can see how one race prepared us for another and but for the precedent training, we may not have survived (let alone thrived through) the current challenge.  Just this week, as I was talking through a business challenge with a colleague, he noted, “you don’t get particularly stressed or rattled by this stuff, do you?”  I thought about it for a second, and realized, 1) if we follow Christ, what do we have to fear (answer: nothing), but also, 2) because of what I have gone through in business over the past 25 years, I feel as though I’ve largely “seen it all” and as a result, I feel equipped to deal with whatever comes.  I’d completed the training and run and bunch of the business version of half marathons, so I had been prepared for this one. My prior “finishes” led to prior “starts” which became “finishes” and helped me “start” this present situation.

Maybe you’re in the middle of a start that hasn’t yet become a finish.  My encouragement to you is to see yourself as working toward a finish.  I don’t know if you’re at mile 2 or mile 12, but I assure you that you are in process of a “finish” somewhere down the road.  Keep going!  I know it may be a really hard 13.1 you’re on, but there is a “finish” ahead of you. And yeah, the concept of a “finish” leading to a “start” might sound scary, but in life those aren’t always strung together (though sometimes are, in fairness).  Regardless, the “finish” you’re about to reach will prepare you to take on the “start” to come with – like King David – equipping and confidence.

Most important of all … if we, like King David, realize that in the end it’s God that is the Victor on our behalf, our progressing from “start” to “finish” will be far easier.  When we don’t feel like going on, He can carry us.  The primary reason is because of a “Finish” that really was a “Start.”

Jesus, our Savior and King … “finished” on the cross of Calvary.  Many at that time, including His closest friends, felt that the “finish” was all there was.  And yet, the best and most important “start” ever was when, overcoming and overpowering death, He rose, buying us not just forgiveness of our sins, but freedom for the races of life that we run.  He paid our penalty so that our eventual “finish” could be a “start” of eternal life with Him.

All the more … He doesn’t leave us to just battle and struggle it out in life, a sort of cosmic, “hey, good luck, and see you in heaven.”  No!  If we have a relationship with Him, He runs EVERY SINGLE STEP of our “starts” and “finishes” with us.  When we can’t go on, we can trust that He will help us.  All we have to do is ask.

No matter who you are, no matter what race you’re running … there’s a “finish” ahead.  But it’s also a “start.”  A good start, which will lead to a good “finish.”  Run alongside your Savior … He’s longing to join you through to the very last “finish.”  I assure you it’ll be worth it!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

One … more … step

One step at a time

For some crazy reason, a few months ago I thought it would be a good idea to sign up for a half-marathon in late-April that my company puts on.  I’ve never run that distance before but given that the proceeds benefit cancer research and treatment – one of my passion areas – and in an effort to support the company, I signed up.  That, of course, was the easy part.

Over the past few months I have been training, meaning running five times a week, starting off with smaller distances and gradually moving into longer distances.  Generally, Saturdays have been reserved for the longest runs of the week, as building up distances over time is important to be able to run 13.1 miles eventually during the race.

While I have enjoyed running over the past 20 years or so, I haven’t ever run any more than 10 miles at a time.  Even when I have, it was longer ago and never since turning 50 a couple years ago.  If you would have asked me six months ago if I’d be able to run a half-marathon I would have politely declined … essentially, those days are behind me.  Or at least, so I thought.  Even running four miles, just a few months ago, felt like a stretch. Since then, for the past five Saturdays I’ve run 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 miles, and yesterday I got through 12 1/2. That made it the second week in a row that ran a distance I’ve never run before.

I say all this not to toot my horn, but to set up a pretty powerful lesson I’ve learned along the way.  You might assume, rightly, that when you’re out running for a couple hours you have lots of time to think.  Most of the time, I am thinking about how I don’t want to be out running for a couple hours.  😎  As I have pressed on, however, my thoughts have centered around those who are serving as my inspiration for this race … folks in my life or sphere who have, had or died from, cancer.  Their journeys serve as the fuel in my tank.  The “one day at a time” mentality that they employ through a horrific voyage with an angry disease reminds me that I can cover a long distance.  How? The same way as they do, by taking one … more … step.  One at a time.

One of my favorite Bible verses affirms this perspective.  Matthew 6:33-34

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

This instruction is so powerful and helps us focus on the here and the now.  On just accomplishing today … achieving this moment … getting over this hurdle.  I literally think about this to myself as I run, and I literally repeat to myself when I’ve been running these long distances, “One more step.  One more step.”  Rhythmically. Because I need to think about nothing other than just taking the next step.  If I get overly focused on how far I’ve run, or how far I have left to run, I reorient my mental state in a way that debilitates me.  It makes me feel fatigued.  I think about the pain I’ll feel when I get ahead further.

And so it is in life in a lot of ways.  Things happen … we get a lot of situations thrown in our paths, we go through challenging circumstances, we get sick, people around us get sick.  We struggle with family or relationship woes.  To say it’s difficult doesn’t do justice to the reality.  It’s one of the things that moves me most about my friends that have or had cancer and why they inspire me so deeply.  I watched my mom go through it.  Day by day, dealing with a disease that could kill her.  She, like so many others, got up every day, went through their treatment and, often worse, the side effects of their treatment.  Every day, they dealt with today no matter how tough today was.

In the portion of Matthew 6 above, Jesus is teaching about faithfulness with money and possessions.  But in a broader sense, He is teaching us to focus on what truly matters … not what we have or what we own, but how we live.  Of course, Jesus was well aware of the brevity of life, since He created it.  Indeed, before long He was going to experience the brevity of it as He sacrificially laid down His life for us on the cross.  And even while He was teaching about the tangible considerations of life, He emphasized that we should take our lives in smaller increments.  One moment at a time.  One more day.  One … more … step.

I don’t know what you’re going through, what you’re facing, what’s facing you.  Some of us are dealing with things that are so big … too big to think we have a chance at overcoming.  I can only imagine.  Seriously can only imagine the burdens some of you bear.  A friend of ours is just finishing chemo and gets to look forward to surgery as a follow up.  It just sounds daunting and heavy.  But somehow, she faces her plight confidently but with imperfect knowledge about what is to come.  How?  She deals with today.  She deals with the here and now.  One … more … step.  Not focused on tomorrow, next week, next month.  Just focused on getting through today.

My goal is not to minimize the reality you might be facing and it’s not to sound trite.  My hope is to encourage us what the Bible tells us in Luke 12:25-26

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

My point is this … whatever you face, whatever battle you’re waging, take it one day at a time.  Win today.  Ask God to give you the power to wake up today, to give you strength to move through today, through this moment.  Doing so will help us rely on Him more frequently, more completely.  It will remind us that He is running right alongside us, that He is there every moment, that the way we can not worry about tomorrow is by relying on Him every moment of today.  First Peter 5:7 sums it up best …

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Let’s ask Him to help us focus on the here and now, on today rather than yesterday or tomorrow, on one … more … step.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

 

Mistaken identity?

flag-poland-polish-5611

This past Christmas, in celebrating Helen’s 50th birthday, she and the kids and I spent a little more than two weeks in Europe, visiting Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Poland.  All were places we had never spent much time. It was a wonderful family time together, at the Christmas markets, eating great food, meeting people from some new cultures, enjoying a truly white Christmas, and just having good family time together.  I was so glad Helen had suggested that as our way of celebrating her special milestone birthday.

The main reason we included Poland on the itinerary is that we had always wanted to visit Auschwitz.  Perhaps it is because of our love of history, and especially for Jared and me World War II history though I’d hardly call us connoisseurs of knowledge.  Without question, part of the attraction to Auschwitz is our family’s love of Jewish history and culture, not because we’re Jewish, but because of the indelible connection of Jewish history to Christian history (really, to ALL history) and Jewish culture to our Christian heritage.  And if you’re going to delve into Jewish history and culture you truly can’t neglect the impact of the Holocaust.

But one aspect of the draw to Poland that I did not anticipate in large part until we got there was my own heritage.  My dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is Italian and Polish.  I emphasize that because, my sense is the Polish portion of our heritage has received less emphasis over my lifetime. That’s not to say that anyone has denigrated or disregarded it, but the Italian portion on my mom’s side was just less of the focus.  Perhaps that’s why the visit to Poland felt somewhat cathartic but also empowering. It opened up some windows of awareness into my full heritage and identity, and certainly did that for our kids. In a way, it’s almost as though I had a bit of mistaken identity of my background, or at least an incomplete identity.

I think the same thing can happen to all of us in a spiritual sense.  That is, just as I had a less-full perspective on the entirety of my heritage and identity (the Polish part), I think we can tend to have a less-full perspective of who we are in God’s eyes.  If we’re honest with ourselves, a less-full perspective is … by definition … an erroneous one.

As a younger guy I struggled with an attitude of essentially, “I don’t need God.  Pretty much everything I set my mind to, I can do.”  Perhaps many of us are familiar with this belief.  It’s one that has corollaries that say such things as, “I’m a good person.  I don’t need to be saved,” and “the whole God thing is good for people who need to believe in a crutch like that.”  Like my attitude, these beliefs – while common – give us a dangerously inaccurate portrayal of ourselves.  A case of mistaken identity.  Romans 3:10-12 

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one.  No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God.  All have turned away; all have become useless.  No one does good, not a single one.”

Now it should go without saying, me pointing this out is not intended to denigrate anyone, but to give a full perspective of our identity as humans.  Bottom line, we might be good people, but on the authority of the Bible we are not good enough.  Compared to the standard of sinless holiness that God possesses and therefore which is required for us to be in His presence, our best actions are like “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6).  Recognizing this truth is necessary to have a clear picture of our true spiritual identity.

And there are some of us who realize that truth … perhaps to an unhealthy extent.  That is, we have done things in the past of which we’re understandably ashamed.  In a way, all of us have backgrounds that we are glad are in the background.  There are things we’ve done that no one knows about, or that are so bad that God could never forgive us, so we think.  We could never right the wrongs we’ve done.  When you weigh things out, there are so many errors of judgment, mistakes, hurt that we’ve created for others or ourselves, etc., that we could never atone for it. Well, it’s true.  We can’t repay any of it.  But God knows that too, and out of the immensity of His love for us, He wants us to not have a mistaken identity.  Romans 5:8-9

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.

First John 1:9

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Second Peter 3:9

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

And, of course, John 3:16-17

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

The great thing is, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter that we could never make up for it, never repay God, and never do enough good stuff to outweigh the bad, God our Father, our Creator, our Savior knew that in advance and still sent His Son to die for us and to pay the price.  Literally, it doesn’t matter what you or I have done in the past, if we bring God a repentant heart, an earnest desire to turn the other way, and a commitment to follow Him, He promises us that He will wipe the slate clean.  That is our identity.

Finally, there are some of us who sadly have been led to believe that we are nothing, will never amount to anything, are unloved, are unlovable.  It’s so unfortunate that anyone would be told those things, and I don’t have any knowledge or expertise to even fathom what would warrant someone saying that to a child or letting another human believe those things.  All are lies.  All are mistaken identities, and it pains me – and no doubt pains our God that those lies would cause one of His creation the very understandable hurt such things portend. Psalm 139:14 (NKJV) …

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

John 15:13

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

No matter what someone has told you before, no matter how they may have berated and belittled you, no matter how they tried to make themselves bigger by making you smaller, God … the Creator of the universe and of all things on Earth … says YOU ARE FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE. The Almighty, all-powerful, all-loving Lord, says YOU WERE AND ARE WORTH DYING FOR.  I have said it before, and I have to admit it might not be theologically solid, but I believe if YOU were the only person on earth that Jesus would still have gone to the cross.  For YOU … for me … for us.  That is our true … unmistaken … identity!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

 

Raid!

Raid

Having just moved to the great state of Texas, I can already attest to the existence of a variety of critters and pests around the area.  Our very first night in our house, we were introduced to the tree roach, or what some here call water bugs.  All I know is that they’re huge and even though harmless, I can assure you they harm the heck out of me.  With fear. I knew once we moved here I would need to get accustomed to bugs and assorted other critters but I’m not quite sure I was ready just yet.

Other than run away, of course, there are a variety of ways to deal with household pests like bugs.  While it’s never been my strong suit, fortunately there are common products that we can use to eradicate the unwanted creepy crawlies. One product that made an impression on me as a kid was Raid.  It’s nothing major, just a common insecticide spray.  The reason it had made a mark on me is that there were some funny, cartoon-ized commercials that played often when I was a kid.  I’ve mentioned before, but my childhood was pretty-well shaped by tv. So this shouldn’t be a surprise. 😎

Raid’s function?  Well, you pretty much aim and shoot.  The spray contains chemicals that repel or kill pests on contact.  Catch that?  When it makes contact, it repels the target it hits.  It may even kill it.  A lot of times, the spray just makes the critters scatter … it doesn’t even need to hit them.

I have to say, this principle really strikes me as it relates to my faith.  That is, my faith’s impact on others.  When people come in contact with me, what is the impact?  Do I repel others or even kill the faith or potential faith of others by my behaviors?  Or maybe by made up preferences or rules?  Perhaps by my insistence about the things of God being a particular way?  Worst of all, in the extreme, how many people won’t know Jesus because of me?

My point is not self-flagellation.  It’s mutual encouragement.  How?  Glad you asked!

Interestingly enough, it’s pretty common knowledge that bugs are attracted to light.  Matthew 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

You don’t have to live in Texas too long in the summertime, or many other places in the US to be honest, to note that bugs are for the most part attracted to light.  Watch a baseball game closely enough and take a look at the stadium lights and you’re bound to see moths and assorted other critters flying around and even hitting in flight against the lights.

In a way, light – or at least the right kind of light – attracts people as well.  The kind of light that attracts is the light Jesus described to His listeners of the Sermon on the Mount.  The type of light that can signify the absence of danger that can be brought on by darkness.  The type of light that can also connote warmth.  This is the type of light that Jesus admonishes us to have, be, and show. Our lights – as they “shine out for all to see” – can be lights of safety, of warmth, of life itself.

But lights shone in the wrong circumstances or in the wrong way can cause repulsion.  Certain insects and animals will scurry when lights turn on because of the rapid change from darkness.  Ever have a flashlight shone in your eyes in the darkness (if by a police officer, you probably don’t want to answer this question haha)?  It’s a radical, overbearing, and difficult contrast that we are near-predisposed to turn away from because of the harsh impact to our eyes.

And so … back to our point … what type of light do we shine?  Is it a Raid-type repellant?  Is it overbearing and harsh?  Is it so strong and sudden that others scurry away to run for cover?  If so, then we risk our faith and witness being of the type I mention above, and that I fear might someday be my impact.

Or is our light one of warmth and attraction? Does it illuminate what might otherwise be dangerous or fearsome?  Is it a light of safety and security, of life and rejuvenation?  Is our light something that draws people in and helps us engage them in a loving, selfless way.  That’s the kind of light about which Jesus is speaking in Matthew 5 and it’s the kind of light that will give glory to God and help guide others to a loving relationship with a Savior who longs to commune with them.

As Christians, all too often we spend time sharing with others all the things we’re against.  In a sense, that’s okay since there are many injustices in our world, and we as followers of Christ should speak into that.  Those are things that ache the heart of God.  But so too does a destructive light, a Raid-like repulsion that drives others away from a possible relationship with the Lord, almost as though a relationship with Jesus is some exclusive club that we Christians have a right to oversee membership.  God alone determines that membership, and as 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”

Salvation is an exclusive club, but it’s a club that God wants full of as many of his created people as possible.  Our responsibility in that is not to repulse, not to destroy the opportunity for others to share in what we have.  The lingering questions we should ask ourselves remain, “who will know Jesus because of us,” and “who will not know Jesus because of us.”  Are we Raid, or are we warmth and light?  What could be more important?

Soli Deo gloria!

 

MR

Expect the unexpected!

rollercoaster

I love roller coasters.  At least I did before I got older and could only tolerate a maximum of three rides in succession before I needed to take a bit of a break.  But my age is a different topic!

Anyhow, the great thing about roller coasters is that they start off slow and low, but then they click, click, click up to the top of a hill and then they fly through loops and corkscrews and dips and heights and falls!  They’re exhilarating, they’re exciting, and most times they’re unexpected.  In fact, the unexpected element of them is what makes them so great!

The same is true of life.  Life is unexpected.  Life doesn’t go the way we want it to.  In fact, the unexpected element of life is what makes it so great!

So by now you may be shaking your head.  You may be in silent disagreement.  You may be in not-so-silent disagreement.  You may even have stopped reading.  But … please hang with me, because I want to encourage you to look at life as unexpected.  I want to charge you to be comfortable with the unexpected.  I want to motivate you to expect the unexpected!

There are numerous examples of the unexpected in the Bible.  Perhaps none are as vivid as the story of Joseph.  From Genesis 37:18-20, 26-28, we read a little of the lead-in to Joseph’s unexpected journey.

When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him.  “Here comes the dreamer!” they said.  “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.  Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed.  So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty piecesof silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

It’s probably not surprising that being nearly killed and instead sold into slavery was rather unexpected to Joseph.  One day he’s out tending his father’s flocks in Shechem and the next … he’s a slave, being carted off to Egypt and sold.  Admittedly, Joseph instigated his brothers with a haughty spirit and was the favorite of the father, Jacob, and flaunted it.  This had very unexpected consequences.  But that isn’t where the unexpected ended in Joseph’s life.  It was just the beginning.  Perhaps many of you already know the story, but Joseph becomes quite important in the house of Potiphar the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard.  Unexpected!  He then is falsely accused of trying to rape Potiphar’s wife and is sentenced to imprisonment. Unexpected!  He becomes the right-hand guy to the warden in the prison. Unexpected!  Next, he has the good fortune to be used of God to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and chief baker.  Unexpected!  But he gets double-crossed by the cup-bearer and left in prison.  Unexpected.  Finally, he is asked to interpret Pharaoh’s own dreams, leading to Joseph predicting and helping prepare Egypt for an oncoming seven-year famine.  Un … ex … pected!

And even that is not where the unexpected ends in Joseph’s life.  As he ascends to the second-highest position of power in Egypt, the famine God foretold to Joseph began to spread to the land where Joseph’s family was.  In order to save the family, Jacob’s other sons depart for Egypt to obtain food, in the process unwittingly encountering their brother Joseph, who recognized his brothers though they don’t recognize him. Unexpected!

No doubt for those of us who read the story of Joseph the first time, we would say his life was a reflection of all things unexpected.  At various points of his life I suspect it is safe to say that Joseph lamented, pouted, cried, pitched a fit, yelled out to God.  All of that.  We’re probably accurate in that assessment (though scripture is silent as to those things) simply because Joseph, like you and me, was human.  Those responses would be very appropriate for a human going through such unexpected times and struggles.  Had that been you and me, I suspect we would have had all those responses.  Heck, for me, I would likely have packed it up and given up long before we read the end of Joseph’s saga.  But not Joseph.  He leaned into the unexpected, prepared for it, expected it, and made the most of it. We see this when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, and after all the bad they’d intended to do to him, when he has ALL the authority and power in Egypt to exact chilling revenge on them, we see something quite unexpected! (Genesis 50:19-20)

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

Did you catch that?  Joseph, after all he’d been through, at the hands of his brothers in many ways, expresses probably one of the most important truths that you and I can grab from the unexpected.  It’s pretty much captured in two words in the above … “God intended.”  When we go through the unexpected, it’s pivotal for us to remember that it’s unexpected only to us.  It is NOT unexpected to God.  So, you say, God sure sounds mean and frivolous.  Well, not so much.  For that, it’s captured in the two words later in that same line, “for good.”  God intended it all for good.

What was unexpected for Joseph, Jacob, and all of Jacob’s other sons, was fully expected by God.  And it was fully expected by God to use it for good.  Was it for Jacob’s good?  Maybe.  Was it for Joseph’s good?  That’s debatable.  Was it for Joseph’s brothers’ good.  Perhaps. But it was for good.  Why?  So that he could, “save the lives of many people.”

You’re probably hoping I’ll get to the point as it pertains to you and me.  Well, it’s just this.

I have gone through unbelievable “unexpecteds” in my life.  I bet you have too.  For me, being born in the Bronx in NY and living for the first part of my childhood in the projects, only to move to Huntington Beach, CA and to grow up in Surf City, USA.  Unexpected! To be the beneficiary of enormous sacrifices of my parents who imbued me with a spirit of confidence to do things no one else had done previously in our family, like go to college.  Unexpected!  To have incredible work experiences that I never predicted or asked for, which richly prepared me for growth professionally and into a new season and new job and my wife and kids moving to Texas in realization of a long-time goal. Unexpected!  To be diagnosed with diabetes at age 30 and a tumor at age 31, both of which were wakeup calls to physical health and spiritual salvation. Unexpected!  To use an unexpected professional journey into cancer diagnostics to help guide the horrible diagnoses of beloved friends in ways I couldn’t have done otherwise.  Unexpected! And yet, every one of those things was expected for God.  Because, “God intended it all for good.”

Not every unexpected in my life, or likely your lives, feels good.  No more than it felt good for Joseph to be sold into slavery.  But like Joseph at the time of being sold off, he couldn’t see what had yet to happen.  Even when he made his revelation to his brothers, God wasn’t done using the “unexpecteds” in Joseph’s life.  In fact, it wasn’t for several hundred years before one of the benefits of the unexpected in Joseph’s life came to fruition in the freeing of the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  And even then, that wasn’t the true fulfillment of the unexpected in Joseph’s life. The freedom from the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt was a preview of the freedom Jesus would win for all mankind from the slavery of sin.  And yet, Joseph, through all of his unexpected, would never have seen that.  And yet it had to be.  Why?  Because, “God intended it all for good.”

None of this is meant to minimize any painful, heart-wrenching, challenging unexpected in your life.  That is real, and the hurt is too.  I guess my point is to encourage all of us to expect the unexpected.  Life is hard. Life doesn’t go the way we want to. It can often be like a roller coaster, and frequently can be a super scary roller coaster for those of us who may not like roller coasters or worse yet, may be petrified of them.  I hear you.  Yes, the unexpected can be petrifying.  There is no way around that at times.  Joseph had to be horrified and terrorized as he was being transported away into slavery.

But the unexpected is preparatory … as I look back on my experiences, the unexpected has given me skills I would have never otherwise acquired and knowledge I could not otherwise have gained. It gave me the will to look at my situation and believe God was at work and would pull me through.

The unexpected is progressive … not in a political sense of course … but by that I mean that with every unexpected step in my life, it allowed for later steps that would not have been able to be reached.  The unexpected would take me to a place which was the only place I could find the steps into the next season.

The unexpected is providential … these things don’t happen randomly through some cosmic mix of good luck and bad luck or through the balancing of blind forces.  “God intended it all for good.”  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  God has an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent way of allowing our free will to work together for our good and His glory.  Don’t ask me to explain how … I can’t.  It’s a mystery, but it’s also a fact.

The unexpected is also praiseworthy … Joseph saw God’s hand in the circumstances he went through and praised God for the good He would bring … the salvation of many lives.  In the desert where Jacob and his family lived?  Yup.  In Egypt 400 years later when Moses was sent by God to free the captive Israelites?  Absolutely. Through Jesus’s sacrificial death on Calvary for you and me and the whole world?  Yes, and amen!  So too I can see in retrospect how God’s hand has been in every situation in my life, graciously blessing me through the unexpected.

And so is my hope that you will look and see it too.  That even if your unexpected is horrifying presently that you will expect the unexpected blessing that God is yet to bestow through and perhaps on you as a result. God intended the unexpected for good! So let’s expect the unexpected!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Once you see it, you can’t not see it

winnie the pooh cloud

When I was a kid, we did a lot of road trips. In fact, we drove across the country from the Bronx in New York City where I am originally from, to Southern California a couple times back-and-forth when I was really young.  Back in those days (GASP!) there were no cell phones, no handheld devices, no GameBoys, and most times the radio didn’t even work when you were out in the middle of nowhere.  Think about it … we were driving 2,800 miles in an old station wagon with my sister and me having NO access to technology of any kind.  It was 1975 for Pete’s sake.  What was an eight-year-old and six-year-old to do?

We did what we did much of the time when we weren’t driving across country.  We invented and played games.  We played “punch buggy” (technically you could still play it today, but unfortunately, it’s not an app so that renders it completely unlikely you will haha).  We also played a game where you deciphered what the clouds looked like.  It didn’t really have a name, but basically, we looked at the clouds and tried to imagine what she shape of the clouds represented.  It could be a crab, a pumpkin, or any number of other things. The limit was our imagination, which made it unlimited.  But the cool thing was, once you saw something in the cloud, you couldn’t look at the cloud in any other way.  No matter how you looked at it, you saw it.  I used to think, “sheesh, once you see it, you can’t not see it.”

I don’t know much, if anything, about neuroscience so trying to explain the way the images of clouds as interpreted by our brains become seared into our minds essentially for good is beyond me.  But something tells me it’s as simple as that … that the images are cataloged in our brains in some way that when we recall the cloud or whatever, the memory location in our brain brings forth the interpretation of the image too.  Who knows. But regardless, I think there is a cool parallel as it relates to our faith journeys and the events of life.  Psalm 3:1-6 is instructive …

O Lord, I have so many enemies; so many are against me. So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!” Interlude But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude  I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.  I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side.

Every one of us goes through times of challenge and struggle in life.  You know, those times when the clouds begin to amass over us, darkening the skies as we look above and posing ominous possibilities.  As we see with King David however, when we look at the clouds of our circumstances, we have a choice about how we interpret what we see.

David went through many seasons of trial.  He was anointed king while Saul was still reigning and although Saul had embraced David as a member of Saul’s court, Saul began to hate David and hunt David.  Even beyond Saul, David at many times had to flee enemies committed to his demise, whether the Philistines or other peoples throughout Israel.  King David also had some self-inflicted wounds that brought upon him the clouds of consequence.  So one way or the other, David understood bumpy, cloudy journeys. Judging from the way he pours out his heart amidst these circumstances in Psalm 3, despite the challenges he faced, David knew that God was his rescue.  He declares, “I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me,” which is not a statement resolving David’s present troubles, it’s a reflection upon prior events through which God delivered David.  David had seen it (God’s protection and deliverance before) and is telling us through Psalm 3 that, “once you see it, you can’t not see it.”

How does that work?  We actually have an interesting look under the hood of David’s familiarity with God’s protection.  It’s reflected in David’s historic battle with the Philistine, Goliath … David was called to the front line of the threat by the giant Philistine, not because David was a warrior, but to deliver food to his brothers when asked by his dad, Jesse.  We see David’s line of reasoning in 1 Samuel 17:32-37a:

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”  “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”  But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death.  I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God!  The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

I love this!  David says, “I’ve seen this before!  God has prepared me for this before and has shown me how He will deliver this victory because He’s delivered other victories in the past.”  David had peered right into the cloud of danger and doubt and in that He saw God, and let that image burn into his mind and soul. So, every time David saw that cloud of danger and doubt thereafter, He again saw God.  In fact, once he saw God, he couldn’t not see God.  That’s power!  We need that kind of power in our lives, in our clouds of danger and doubt!

How do we see this like David did?  Think back to the times when you have looked up at the clouds of hazard and harm and saw God’s provision overcome the cloud. Stare at that cloud, and in it see God … His victory, His rescue, His restoration … let that burn into both your mind and soul and trust that when you look at that cloud again, by His grace and ability He will once again show you the other side.  And then you will know, once you see it, you can’t not see it.

Imagine going into battle against sketchy, scary giants and having the confidence of KNOWING that God will deliver you. Why?  Because He did before.  Because when you look at the cloud of fear, you will see the visual of favor.  When you see the cloud of doubt, you will see the visual of delivery.  When you see the cloud of brokenness, you will see the visual of breakthrough. Train your eyes and allow the image to burn through into your mind and soul, and once you see it, you can’t not see it.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR