Messy but Magnificent

One of the pastors that I work with at Grace recently shared with me a theme for one of her upcoming ministry areas in 2019 and it was so good that I have to share it with you. Her inspired ministry theme is messy but magnificent.

Don’t you love it? That is both who and what we are. We are messy but magnificent, broken but beautiful, vessels of clay but possessing the brilliance of heaven. When God’s grace reached us and we responded to the Holy Spirit’s work in our life, He began sculpting a masterpiece out of the mess and the murkiness of our personal histories.

As a pastor, I have witnessed this more times than I can count. I have seen wounded people begin to heal people. I have seen fragile people become unshakably strong, and I have seen extremely gifted people add humility and grace to the strength and power of their gifts. It has been an amazing thing to behold, and I am sure I will see it again in 2019.

The Apostle Paul described it this way: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

Let’s swap prayers for each other in 2019. Let’s pray that wherever our lives feel messy or out of control, God’s magnificence would shine through, bringing life, hope, brilliance, and love to the world around us.

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A ‘storied’ people

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” (Psalm 107:2)

In your readings through the Old and New Testaments, do you ever marvel at the constant, even redundant, telling of Israel’s story? Doesn’t it seem like the biblical writers are always rehearsing Israel’s formation, bondage, rescue, decline, and promised renewal?

It is sort of like shampoo instructions on an endless loop: wash, rinse, repeat.

Why is that? Why is the rehearsal of a story–a history–so important? And do you think it might be equally important for us?

There is power in story, in remembering where we have been and where God has brought us. Although it might get tedious to constantly be reminded how God parted a Red Sea for Israel on their way out of Egypt, that story never loses its potency. It is a constant, real-time reminder that God can still split chaos and lead us safely through to the other side.

We are a ‘storied’ people. We have a history and a life with God. And when we remember what God did back then, it can bolster our confidence for today. Remembering yesterday’s rescues, prepares us for glorious victories in tomorrow’s looming battles.

The old hymn, Blessed Assurance, declares, “This is my story, this is my song…” and it is powerful. We have a story to tell, a song to sing. We are a storied people, and perhaps we should follow Scripture’s lead and spend more time remembering it. It will bolster our courage and vivify our souls when we do.

Let’s do it this week as we pause for our Thanksgiving celebrations; let’s let our expressions of thanks become a re-telling of stories that become predictors of better futures.

Love built this

There are two things happening in and through your life, whether you realize it or not: you are becoming what you love, and you are building what you love.

It is an undeniable fact of life that we humans begin to resemble what we love. If we love kindness and honor and courage, we begin to resemble those things. Conversely, if we love ego gratification or winning at all costs, those things begin to shape us too.

We look like our gaze. We look like our passions. Counselors and coaches tell us that in five years we will look the composite of our closest current relationships. For better or worse, love sculpts, shapes, and defines us.

Additionally, love determines what we build. Regardless of who or what we say we love, the reality of our love will be found in what we spend time building. I might say that I love certain people, but if I never invest or build into their lives, my words of love ring hollow. I might say I love my loved ones, but if they routinely get my emotional leftovers while everyone else in my life gets my best efforts, then I might not love them as much as I say I do.

It is fascinating to consider what the Scriptures say about what Jesus loved. He loved the rich, young ruler (Mark 10:21). He loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:5). He loved His followers (John 13:1). He even loved the whole world (John 3:16). Consequently, when it came time for building, His words were to be expected, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus loves people, so He builds a church with the intention to serve them.

What do we look like? What are we building? And whom do we really love? At the end of my life, I want to be proud of the things I have built. I want to honestly and gratefully say, “Love built this.” What about you?

Your defiant statement

I wish you could see the larger statement that your life is making today.

And by the way, I am not talking about the statement that your life is making to your loved ones and coworkers who relate closely with you. Certainly, your life is making a statement to them, and hopefully they will take time to affirm some of that with you. I’m talking about something different, something bigger, something on a cosmic level.

The New Testament tells us that God uses the lives of His followers to make a statement to the supernatural world around us. Ephesians 3:10 says that “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”

There is something about the church—in all of our glory and ruin—that makes a defiant statement to the supernatural realm around us.

Our world is bursting with competing ideologies, bitter hostilities, military armaments, sociological complexities, and overwhelming fears and insecurities, and yet those things are never the final word. God still has something to say and one of the ways He says it is through the lives of followers who live in a different kingdom, follow a different creed, relate from a different perspective, and work for a different cause.

When you do that—when you respond to God’s work in your life—a message gets sent into the spirit realm: “There is more going on than meets the eye. There is something greater than our small, exhausting pursuits. God’s quickening, illuminating wisdom is still at play.”

This defiant message of God’s wisdom displayed through His followers’ surrendered lives, reminds me of a scene from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan tells Susan and Lucy that the White Witch had been deficient in her education. He said:

“It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”[1]

There is a deeper wisdom and a greater power at work in our world today, and your surrendered life is a human megaphone that speaks it into the cosmos.

[1] The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 15.

Chance vs. Opportunity

Make the most of every opportunity.” That’s what the Bible tells us to do in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5, but what if we don’t? What happens if we don’t make the most of an opportunity? Or worse, what if we miss an opportunity altogether? Are we out of luck, doomed to never get that particular opportunity again?

Sort of.

Second chances are plentiful in life and Scripture. Indeed, thorough readings of God’s interactions with people in the Bible have dubbed Him the unofficial name “the God of the second chance.” However, even though second chances occur quite often, lost opportunities are a different matter. Once we miss out on an opportunity it is gone, never to present itself in exactly the same way again. This does not mean that our second chances can’t be as good as our first chances—sometimes they can be even better—but the uniqueness of an opportunity only presents itself once.

I have a friend who says it this way. Imagine you are waiting for a bus to pick you up, but when it arrives you decide not to board. Certainly that wasn’t your only chance in life to board a bus and catch a ride across town. You will have other chances to take the bus. However, once that opportunity passes it is gone forever—you will never be able to ride that particular bus at that particular moment again. Additionally, second chances often prove more difficult than original opportunities. If I miss the bus today, it will show up again tomorrow, but it might be raining and there might be a huge puddle for me to cross before I can board the bus. If I miss that opportunity, the next day there might be both a mud puddle and a pit bull guarding the door to the bus.

Granted, this example is both simplistic and a bit pessimistic, but there is truth to it. We have to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves to us because their specialness and uniqueness will never present in exactly the same way again. Also, if we fail to move when opportunities present, future chances might prove more difficult than they needed to be.

In closing, consider a thought from missionary Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” If we followed Mr. Elliot’s advice we would live with less regret and we would indeed fulfill Scripture’s admonition to “make the most of every opportunity”.

Ten minutes before the bad times end

I received some good news recently, and it was great! It made me so happy; my emotions began soaring, and the whole landscape of my world seemed brighter. I felt inspired and alive, so naturally, I did what you probably would have done in that moment—I threw up a quick prayer of thanks.

I said something like, “God, thank you for this moment. Thank you for answering prayer, and thank you for being so good.”

A little while later though, I started thinking about that prayer and I realized something. God hadn’t suddenly become good just because my bad news finally came to an end. He wasn’t an aloof, indifferent God who suddenly turned good once my good news finally arrived.

God was already good ten minutes earlier, before the good news finally found me.

It might be helpful for us to ponder this. In the middle of bad news everything seems bad, including God. And then when good news breaks through the gloom we suddenly feel like God is good again.

It’s not true. Ten minutes before the bad time ends He is still good.

At this very moment—whether you are buckling under bad news or soaring because of good news—God is at work. He is working goodness and an eternal purpose in and through your situation. Or course you probably can’t see it when everything looks bad, but it’s there. God’s purposes are still being done, and they will eventually be seen.

Romans 8:28 is a verse that often gets applied too quickly to painful situations. It is the famous passage where the Apostle Paul declares, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

We have to be careful with this passage, because it is almost impossible to see or believe in an overarching cosmic goodness when we face news of shootings, abuse, or personal loss or breakdown.

Paul wasn’t telling us that all things are good or that all things become good. They don’t. Some things are ferociously and appallingly bad. However, even amid the bad God works for the good, and if we hold steady during the bad we will eventually be reuinted with the good.

Let’s just remember when we do, that the goodness we sense from God during the good times was still there ten minutes before the bad times came to an end.

Fear of bad news versus actual bad news

You have no doubt heard Mark Twain’s oft repeated quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

There is profound truth inside Mr. Twain’s witty remark, and when you and I reach our own old age, we will undoubtedly say the same thing: we will have worried about countless things that never actually happened.

The Scriptures speak to this dynamic in Psalm 112:7. It says that the righteous “will have no fear of bad news.” I love that! It doesn’t say they won’t experience bad news (we all know that everyone does); it says that they won’t fear it—they won’t worry, fret, and live out their anxieties in advance.

Yes, you and I will experience bad news in life, but we don’t need to be afraid of it in advance. First of all, if the bad news strikes, God will still be with us. And second, most of it probably won’t strike anyway.

God has delivered us…and He will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)