Check your fly.

I’ve been accidentally leaving my zipper down more often recently, and that reminded me of a spiritual truth.  I think I may have lost some of you already.

For those of you still with me, look down at your zipper.  I know this seems weird, but go with it.  If you’re wearing a jacket, use that but if not–there’s really only one zipper left to look it.  If you’re one of those chic button-fly hipsters, then you can just leave now.

A zipper has basically 3 parts: the “teeth”, the “pull” and the “slider”.  They all work together to get the job done.  Take one of the three out the equation and none of it works.

When you pull up on that zipper pull and that slider moves along those teeth, the teeth do an amazing thing.  They mesh together.  I know this isn’t rocket science, but neither is the spiritual truth represented in this simple fastener.

Take a look at these verses in 2 Corinthians chapter 5:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

There’s a theme here, don’t you think?  The biblical concept of reconciliation is more than near and dear to the heart of God, it is the desire behind every decision God makes.  God’s desire is to be reconciled to you, His creation.  The passage starts out stating clearly what happens when reconciliation with God happens: “the new is here!”  That is, all things are new. Fresh start. New beginnings. A new day and a new you in every sense.

The word “reconciliation” is one that is repeated in different variations through that passage.  The Greek word is “katallasso” and its the combination of 2 words: “kata” = “down” and “allasso” = “change”.  In reconciling us to Himself, God brings about a “down-change” within us.  And I don’t have to convince anyone of the fact that in order for change to happen in our lives–any change–something has got to “come down”.  It may be our pride, our habits, our sinful nature, or anything else that might stand in the way of our forward motion toward God.

Have you ever zipped up a jacket zipper and gotten a piece of fabric stuck in it?  It seems the more you pull, the more fabric gets stuck in the zipper.  Things bind up and the zipper doesn’t work the way it was designed to work.  If I may, I’d like to draw a parallel here.  Reconciliation with God is the meshing of your heart to God’s heart, without any “fabric” getting in the way and jamming up our complete surrender to Him.

And once your heart is zipped and meshed with the heart of God, He then gives you the privilege and responsibility of sharing His message of reconciliation with the world.  This is our “ministry of reconciliation” handed to us by God Himself.  And we’re told clearly that God is not holding people’s sins against them, and He is making His loving appeal of reconciliation to the entire world through those who have already been reconciled to Him.

In essence, if I may take a risk here, we’re urging people to “check their fly” and see where they stand with God.  Are you reconciled to God?  If you are, let me celebrate and praise the Lord!  Now, go and allow God to make His appeal to humanity through you.  If you are not, let me encourage you to “be reconciled to God”!  He’s not holding your sins against you, but let me be gut-level honest: that offer will only stand for a certain time.  There will be a day of reckoning when those who have not been reconciled will have to pay their own price for their sins.  I beg and urge you if you have not done so already, be reconciled to God.

The Jesus-Driven Life

I saw something today that I’ve never seen before.  I was driving along and there it was just a few car lengths ahead of me.  I thought, “Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before.”  And I hadn’t.  So I was glad when we soon came to a red light and I was able to take my camera out of my pocket and snap a picture of it.

What is it?  Well, I don’t know the exact name of it, but I’ll call it a hoist truck.  It was clearly designed to lift and carry things on and off of its bed.  Sitting there on the back of this truck that was rumbling down the road, clear as day, was the unmistakable sight of a casket case.  What struck me was the normalness of it all.  It was very matter-of-fact, like the driver was running a casket errand or something.  No pomp, no processional, no long line of cars all with their hazards or headlights on.  Just a casket case sitting in traffic on the back of a truck.

As a pastor, I’ve been around an awful lot of death.  Just last month, I stood in a hospital room with a family weeping over the dead body of their father, grandfather, husband, and friend.  Death, as they say is a “fact of life”.   We’re all going to die physically.  Nobody argues that.  What gets people upset is when I say things like, “But none of us will die spiritually.”  Just as true as the first statement is, so is the second.  We’ll all live eternally in one of two places: heaven or hell.

That is precisely why the way I live must be marked indelibly by the centrality of Jesus.  Jesus is many things to many people.  To some He is a historic figure, to others a good teacher who lived long ago, to others Jesus is someone on a long list of options.  To others He is a crutch, to others He is a fairytale.  To still others He’s a nice idea that just doesn’t “work” for them.

As I said, I’ve been a pastor for a long time and I’ve been alive even longer.  And as long as I can remember, Jesus has been an issue in my life.  Even in my “rebellious” phase as a teenager, I still knew in my heart that while I lived contrary to His character and indulged in a completely selfish way of life, He was still there; waiting, watching, wanting me for His own.

We’re in the season of Lent.  That’s the 40 days preceding the celebration of Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father while I type these words.  He’s going to return in glory someday…anyday…maybe even while I’m typing these words.  And during this time I often find myself cogitating on the reality of who Jesus really is, because that question stands alone as the one question every person in all of history has had to and will have to answer.

Jesus asked that very question of Peter one day.  “Who do people say that I am?” and then a few minutes later, “Who do YOU say that I am?”  Make no mistake about it.  The answer to THAT question is THE defining issue in my life.  Either Jesus is the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the risen Son of God, the Redeemer of mankind, the sacrifice for my sins and yours, the One who has conquered death, hell and the grave, the Healer, the forgiver, the author and perfecter….or He’s not.  And if He’s  not, then He isn’t much of anything at all.  If He’s not, then He stands on equal footing with Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of other revolutionary “good” people.   If He’s not, then I might as well have spent the last 21 years of my life surrendered to Winnie the Pooh, environmentalism, Oprah or even (dare I say) “purpose”.

But  I didn’t.  I chose Jesus because Jesus chose me.  God has shown me love poured out on a cross, has convicted me of my sinful dead end, and invited me to receive grace heaped on top of forgiveness, with a hefty side of mercy. Not because I deserve it, but because of who He is.   God loved me, and so now I know what love is.

Studies show the 80% of Christian teens today do not believe in the centrality of Jesus as Lord.  Read that again.

That means that to the vast majority of teens who claim Christianity as their “religion”, they do so with a very loose grip on the hand of Christ, if any at all.  That means that while they claim Jesus as a way to heaven, He is by no means the way to anything.  That means that for 8 out of 10 teens today, Jesus is nothing more than one person on a long list of options; one of many roads that all end up in the same place.  And where that leads us is to Jesus being a bold-faced liar.  Jesus simply lied when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me.”

To that many say, “Haha, Jesus.  Good one.”

So when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do YOU say that I am?”, Peter actually got it right: “You are the Christ.”

May we never exalt Christ-like behavior over Christ.  May we never worship the worship more than the King.  May we never rise up in social activism apart from rising up in declaration of Jesus as Coming King.  May we never make good things, nice things, right things, or Godly things central to our lives.  May we take hold of the face of Jesus, stare into His eyes, and lose ourselves in that gaze.  May that be the center of each word, may that be the catalyst of each action, and may that permeate each thought.

More than you can bear

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of “God-isms”; statements that are born out of a need to understand things, be at peace with things, or even encourage others.  One such example is “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.”  I heard it again just the other day from a wonderful, Godly Christian person.

And when I heard it, I thought to myself, “Really?”

Now, I’m not trying to be a stickler or a legalist.  If you’re thinking I should “lighten up” then clearly we’ve never met face-to-face.  I’m about as “light” as you get.  But when I see something that seems to collide with Scripture and has the potential to rob us from a deeper understanding of the things of God and the rich truth of God’s Word, I really find myself desiring to dive in and wrestle.

Let’s start with an obvious truth: Nobody in the Bible or in all of human history had a problem-free life.  Everyone without exception had difficulties, trials, problems, and heart-breaking situations to face.  From Adam to Zephaniah, all people have had problems.

And all throughout Scripture we can see lots of different methods for dealing with our problems.  Some stand and fight, some go to prayer, some hide, some wrestle with unanswered questions, some live in denial, some sweep it under the rug, some surrender, and some run.

But does God really only give us what we can handle?  Did He give Moses what Moses could handle?  Did He give Abraham what only Abraham could handle?  Did He give Esther what Esther was able to handle?  Did He saddle David what David’s “fair share” and not an ounce more?  Did He give Paul what Paul was strong enough to deal with?  With John, did He reach John’s limit and not give John any more?  I believe that to all of these we can offer a resounding “No!”

The truth is, when we look at each of the examples of people in the Bible and when we look at our own lives honestly, we find that God doesn’t seem to use the same system of measurement that we do.  He doesn’t put only in your life that which you can handle.  He puts in your life that which will drive you to Him, and no less.

There are so many passages in God’s Word that tell of His enabling strength, but let me point out just three:

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

–Isaiah 41:10

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

–Ephesians 6:10

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

–Philippians 4:13
None of these verses say anything about what you can handle, what you can do, how much you can bear, how strong you are, or what your pain threshold is.  Every one of these verses and so many more focus our attention on GOD’s ability, GOD’s strength, and GOD’s power.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this is found in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  As you read these words, allow your spirit to echo Paul’s words and confession of who is who in your life…
But he [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It is not when we are at our best that God shines brightest, but when we are at our weakest.  Remember that even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane called out to His Father for compassion, truly sensing that the “cup” before Him was too much to humanly bear.  And the truth is, it was. Which is precisely why God the Father had Jesus drink from that cup of crucifixion.  Because it isn’t about our strength.  It isn’t about our ability or what we can handle.  It’s about allowing His strength–the endless supply of power and sustaining grace offered to us by our loving Heavenly Father–to be our portion.

God doesn’t give you only what you can handle.  He gives you what HE can handle.  He gives you whatever it takes to draw you to Him, and not an ounce less.  Because He knows that when you are with Him, resting in His presence, drawing on His strength, you are truly unstoppable.

4 seats away

I’m at the Simply Youth Workers Conference in Chicago.  The event started today and it has been a full day to say the least.  Let me share with you a true truth that I was reminded of while in the “general session” just a few hours away.

I was sitting in a veritable sea of youth workers from all across the country.  I knew only one person the row I was sitting in; my co-youth pastor and partner in student ministry crime, Steve.  And as I sat and listened to what was going on up on the stage, I heard a still, small voice.  But this time, it wasn’t God.

It was a guy 4 seats away who was talking to the person next to him.  He wasn’t talking all that loud, but he was talking loudly enough for me (4 seats away) to hear that he was talking.  I don’t know about you, but that just bugged me.  Certainly what was going on onstage was louder, better, more interesting, and more worth my attention.  Still, I just couldn’t help but be distracted by that stranger’s voice just 4 seats away.

As the session went on, I began to hope more and more that he’d stop talking.  And I found myself more and more disappointed and frustrated that he didn’t.  I was hoping someone closer to him would shush him, or at least give him an eye roll; something that would send a message to him to shut it.  I’d have done it, but remember–I was 4 seats away, clearly outside the circle of responsibility.

Jesus Christ wants my attention.  What Jesus is saying and doing and thinking is more worth my attention than anything else.  If I allow anything else to distract me from His rare voice, then I’ve got to face the reality that while that chatterbox 4 seats away has responsibility over his etiquette while in a crowd, I have responsibility over keeping my ear, mind, heart and life tuned to the One who is more interesting, more loving, and more worth my attention than anything or anyone else.

As I sat there stewing about this stranger’s incessant talking, I was reminded that where my attention lies is always up to me.  There will always be something just 4 seats away, something calling for me to look over here, give my heart over there, and spend my attention other than where it belongs.