It’s common language even today.
Read your Bible more. Pray more. Go to church more. DO more for the Lord!
Moving Out of Obligation
I grew up in a small, West Texas town. Church-going was the norm rather than the exception (at least that’s what I came to believe). My family attended a decent-sized Baptist church in the town where I grew up. My dad was the part-time music minister.
Growing up in that environment, I learned that God expected certain things from me:
- Reading my Bible
- Going to church
- Getting discipled
- Discipling others
And if I didn’t do those certain things, He would be disappointed in me at best, or discipline me, or even worse, withdraw Himself from me. And I really took those things to heart.
There’s nothing wrong with those things, but when we tie them to God’s blessing or love, that’s when it becomes an issue.
If I read my Bible, go to church, attend a small group because in doing so…
God will love me more or approve of me more.
God will bless me more greatly.
God’s favor will rest on me in a greater way or intensity.
That’s when we start to get it wrong. God’s love doesn’t increase because you study your Bible more. God’s favor doesn’t rest on you in a greater way because you made it all 4 Sundays to your local gathering and hit 3-4 of your weekly small group times. Our superior religious performance doesn’t equate to God’s greater love and affection for us (although you might feel that way.)
God’s favor rests on you because the work of Christ was completed through the Cross and resurrection. He loves you because you are His child and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
He may be disappointed in your actions, but He is never disappointed in you. This is where I’ve gotten in wrong as well. Not only have I believed these things, I even used to teach some of these as a pastor.
Moving into Invitation
Is there a key to moving from obligation to invitation? Really, it’s a shift in mindset. And it can take a while.Trust me. I’m still moving away from the obligation mindset. It can be very difficult; especially if you’ve been steeped in religious tradition as long as I was.
The key is to see God inviting us into what He is already doing. For a long time, I had the mindset that God’s desire was for me to find out what He wanted me to do, I’d go do it (whatever that was), and then He would join me in that and bless my efforts. How prideful was that?!
What I’ve grown to discover over the last decade or so (slowly – I’m stubborn, y’all) is that God is moving and working and constantly inviting me into what He is already doing in and around me and through those in my sphere. The adventure of His life isn’t necessarily drawing me into some grand adventure, but the small adventures He has for me in what I’m already doing: the people I already know and those He puts in front of me; the work I’m already doing and those who I interact with daily; the neighborhood where I already live.
One way (the path of obligation), I’m asking God, “What do I need to DO FOR you?” (As if God needs us to do anything for Him.)
The other way (the path of invitation), I’m asking God, “Okay, Lord – what are you doing? Where are you inviting me in to join you? What do you want me to see today?” And then waiting, resting, and relaxing. When we try to force these things, we can drive people away and we miss where God is moving because we’re too anxious and others around us can pick up on that.
The way of invitation is WAY more subtle than the path of obligation. It definitely takes an intentionality and patience. And, it also allows us to rest and relax. When we relax, others around us feel that too and we can naturally engage in work and conversation and just allow those things to happen naturally.
With obligation, I can (and often do) create work that has the appearance of ministry, religion, being holy, whatever, yet most of the time it’s about me (my unmet needs and wants) and what I THINK God wants me to do FOR him.
With the path of invitation, it really is a lot simpler, yet at first can seem more difficult. I must be patient and wait on God. It requires me to be constantly aware and watching for where God is moving. The hardest thing is being still (if you’re like me) and just relaxing into Father’s life.
As I’ve moved out of obligation and into invitation, I’ve experience better spiritual conversations and more natural ways to minister to people day in and day out. And I’m not perfect, and I’m sure I’ve missed opportunities and the nudges of Father, but it’s so freeing and humbling to see Father moving in and around me. And it really does feel way more natural than trying to “bring up God in a conversation” or trying to “witness to my coworkers or friends” or “sealing the deal.”
I just relax into how God is already moving and working and follow His lead. It’s really that simple.
A few weeks ago, I was perusing Facebook when I happened upon the comment section of a friend’s post. The post itself I barely remember. I believe it was about the current situation and differing opinions of what’s currently going on with society and our response to the coronavirus. What caught my attention was a comment that someone (who I don’t even know) made. The comment was short, but I thought about it for days and days. I was seriously taken with it. I’ve been praying about it and trying to unpack it. It was one of those instantaneously rich experiences, an “a-ha moment” for sure.
The comment made was not just referring to how to handle life at the moment, but for me, it broke beyond the veil and was an intimation of the life we are meant to live each day and within each moment.
“Maybe we are meant to live to the question. After all, isn’t that what it means to live by faith.”
That was the comment. Simple, yes? It struck a very deep chord in me. It’s one of those experiences that’s hard to put into words, much harder to explain. Call it a revelation. Call it what you will. It may not resonate as deeply with you, but I want to unpack what I believe it means. You may explore it as well and come up with a different interpretation and that’s great. I’d invite you to share it with others – even me if you feel so inclined.
Embrace the Unknown
We live in a season of uncertainty – now more than ever. We’e been in “shelter-in-place” orders, we’ve received conflicting information about COVID and how to handle it, we’re in a season of political and national turmoil.
As in our faith, we’re called to embrace the unknown. Abraham was called by God to leave everything he knew and travel to a place that God would show him. He had no idea his destination, but he had faith in the one who was traveling with him. He didn’t know much, only he did know what God had promised. And Abraham trusted the one who knew his ultimate destination.
Many years ago, God asked me to go to a place I had never been and I had no idea where I would end up. It was more of a spiritual and career move; nonetheless, it was scary and exciting all at the same time. I’m still in that process. I am more comfortable with it now, but there are still moments of doubt and fear and loneliness.
For me, part of the idea of “living into the question” is to also embrace mystery and the idea that the answer is seldom what we think it is. There are answers, and there is truth. But, I know in my own journey, many of my answers have changed over the years. I do not require firm answers to a lot of questions. I am getting better at being okay with not knowing the end result, or the answer to every question. I am comfortable with mystery. After all, we really only see dimly right now. But the day is coming when we will see more clearly.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Embrace the Question
The world wants answers. The world wants clarity. With COVID, with politics, with religion, with anything and everything. Except, when we begin to demand answers or go after results, we often lose God in the process. Answers become our idol.
I’m not sure of a time when God shows us the end result and gives us a roadmap on how to get there. It starts as an invitation…a nudge…and as we follow His leading, He lights a little more of the path so we can see a step or two ahead.
God may not be asking you to step out and go to an unknown place physically; however, I believe He is speaking to us and moving all the time. Do you hear Him? Can you see or sense where He is moving?
And it starts by living to the question, “Lord, what do you have for me today?”
“Where are you moving around me?”
“Who do you want me to love today?”
And then waiting and watching. It doesn’t have to be complicated (I’ve learned that the hard way.) It’s simple really. But not necessarily easy. ]
It’s not about finding answers.
It’s about continually living to the question.
And being okay with stepping into the unknown.
We are currently in uncharted waters. With the spread of COVID-19 world-wide (or nearing it), what’s happening is very unprecedented (at least in my lifetime and in many others). Given the warnings, the information that is out there (whether you believe it’s hype or not), and the suggestions from both state, federal, and local agencies, how are we to respond as those who believe in Jesus?
I believe there are some things that are helpful and unhelpful as we look at how we are willing to respond in this unique season in our history. I hesitate to use the words “should” and “should not” because I believe the Lord gives us freedom and guidance in how each of us is to respond. He also gives us guidance and nudges us towards things He wants us to participate in with Him. What I feel may be right or ok for me, may not be for you. (Not “right” in a moral sense but just right for what and how God is speaking to you.)
As you read this, listen to what Father may be saying to you. He may spark an idea that isn’t on this list (which would be amazing!) or He might bring something to your mind which you’ve thought about before but may have dismissed it as your own idea (God speaks through and within us – often thought of as a “gut feeling” or “random thought” but those are often the nudges of the Spirit.)
Do Not Be Afraid
Easier said than done, isn’t it? I am not one that is prone to hype or blowing things out of proportion, but I have even found myself being tempted to fear and be afraid of our current situation. I find myself worrying about my family and those I know who are in the at-risk population (my parents, in-laws, my wife’s extended family). At first, I thought a lot of what was being publicized was being sensationalized by the media (and I still think that to a degree), but I also think that the situation we are in is serious and we should take it seriously without being afraid.
God is always with us. He’s probably not going to swoop down and cure everyone (well He has done that in the most important way), but He promises to stay with us in the midst of trials…to not leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)…that we cannot be separated by His love under any circumstance.
There are some practical things we can do to continue to love each other and be helpful during the coming weeks (and months, depending).
Limit your personal freedom.
I know we’re American and love our freedom, and rightfully so; however, when MY freedom begins to impact and harm others (or even have the potential of doing so) I feel it is my personal responsibility to limit my freedom so that I don’t unintentionally harm or expose others to unnecessary risks.
I get it. I was on vacation in Colorado with my family and another family when they shut down all the ski resorts. We didn’t even get to ski one day. My kids were disappointed. I was disappointed. We even thought about staying; however, the Colorado governor encouraged visitors to leave the state and self-isolate for 14 days upon return. So that’s what we did.
I’m still a bit amazed by people who continue to ignore the warnings and are out and about in very public and crowded spaces (some even I know personally). Again, this is a choice you have to make, but I would encourage you to really consider what your personal freedom means (or might potentially mean) to someone else?
Spread the Cheer
I’ve seen some pretty cool things that people are doing, in some small part, to help alleviate fear and boredom as both kids and parents are finding themselves home for longer periods than expected.
My brother-in-law did an entertaining night of silliness on Facebook live that was fun and family-friendly – he told jokes, sang an original parody, and did a one-man-band thing where he sang, played 2 instruments and brought out the snaps (with his fingers).
What can you do to spread some cheer or hope during this time? You don’t have to go on Facebook or any kind of social media. Some of it could be to thank the people who are still working at the grocery stores, restaurants (that are still open), and public service jobs (nurses, doctors). Many are working tirelessly and thanklessly to help keep our cities and communities going.
How can you spread the cheer during this weird and scary time for many?
Love Your Neighbor
My wife, who is often more thoughtful than I am, is checking on our neighbors. Many of our neighbors (most, in fact) are retired and would be in the at-risk category for this virus. Do you know your neighbors? Is there anything they need or need help with? Now would be a great time to check on them and see if there are ways you can help while also maintaining that “social distance”.
One of our friends here locally started a Facebook group for our community where people can sign up to help deliver groceries (or the ever-elusive roll of toilet paper) or do errands for those who can’t or don’t want to get out at the moment (who can blame them?)
How is Father nudging you to love your neighbor during this time? Maybe it’s a literal neighbor. Maybe it’s a co-worker or friend. However you feel nudged, listen and respond. It’s probably going to look different for you than someone else. That’s okay – in fact, that’s how we respond as the Church – each in his or her own way as we learn to listen.
Learn to Listen
My other (very) strong encouragement during this time when things are uncertain and you may have *lots* of extra time on your hands is to use this time to learn how to listen for the nudges and direction I mentioned above.
Maybe you’ve never thought you had access to Father in this way. Maybe you’ve always depending on someone else (pastor, priest, minister) to listen for you. The whole reason Jesus came was to remove every obstacle, ever barrier, and every human institution between you and God. He loves you that much. We are not reliant on anyone to reveal God to us. His will, His purpose, His desire is for all of us to know and all of us to walk in and be confident in, for that matter.
How would you start something like that? First, ask. Scripture says we do not have because we do not ask. So, ask Father to reveal Himself to you. It’s that simple to begin. Then, watch and wait. It will come, but you can’t force it (believe me, I’ve tried). It often comes when you least expect it, and it’s not always the most convenient timing.
What does God speaking look like?
- Someone comes to mind – seemingly random. Call or text them. See how they are.
- A spiritual conversation emerges as you talk to friends or co-workers.
- An idea pops in your head about helping someone or encouraging someone.
- You feel a sense of peace in a tense or fearful situation and can’t explain why.
- A scripture verse comes out of nowhere that encourages you – or that and someone’s name comes to mind. This might be encouraging to them. Share it!
For me, it often looks like a blog post or something to write or a conversation with friends or co-workers. We’re all different and Father knows what we’re good at. So, it often looks like something you’re good at and would enjoy, as well as being encouraging to someone else. It’s the whole body metaphor in action.
What if you miss it?
Start with not beating yourself up, for one thing. I’m sure I’ve missed lots of things God was asking me to join in on, but He’s all about forgiveness and second (third, fourth, twenty-ninth, and umpteen-million) chances. You won’t always get it right. So, just know that you are loved and you are learning. When you do get it right, rest in the fact that you joined God on something He was asking. No need to brag about it or post it on social media. Learning to live in His reality means you don’t feel the need to display your goodness before others. You can rest in the fact that you listened and responded.
Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash
This Christmas, the best gift I can give is to point you to the best gift I’ve ever received.
I used to think I knew what the gift was. It turned out, I had only opened part of the gift. And some of the things I thought were the gift, were not part of the gift at all. It was as if I were the kid who thought the box was the gift, instead of the present inside.
I have come to know the gift more fully. And the more I know…the more I want to know. The more I see…the more I want to see and freedom becomes a greater and greater reality.
This season is more.
It’s more than lights on the tree and the gifts under it. But we know that, right? At least we say it.
It’s even more than celebrating the baby who was born over 2000 years ago.
Because that 13-inch baby Jesus (sorry, y’all, couldn’t resist!) grew into the 30 year-old man who gave the greatest gift anyone could ever give.
This season is more than what we THINK is the gift. It’s more than Him just coming to earth and living a It’s more than Him forgiving you of your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die.. That’s part of it. But that’s not even the half of it.
The gift is for right now. It’s for today. And tomorrow. And the next day.
Because the gift that He gives is the Gift that He is.
He is Light and Love.
He is Joy and Peace.
He is Righteousness and Truth.
He is Grace and Mercy.
He is our very Life.
The gift that He gives is the Gift that He is.
And all of who He is…dwells in us.
Because the Gift that He gives…is Himself.
Not JUST on the cross. When He died and was resurrected – that’s when true LIFE began.
What greater gift can you give than to give yourself away?
And that’s what He did. He gave Himself away so that we could be made new. New creations. New life.
Not old life made better. Not bad people turned good.
It is the dead risen to life.
It is darkness made light.
It is the lowly now united with the Divine.
Do you see the difference?
The difference is in a one-time transaction versus an every-moment-of-the-day reality.
Jesus didn’t just come to make us into good little Christians.
He came to make us NEW CREATURES and to infuse His very LIFE into us.
The gift that He gives is the gift that HE IS.
And if you don’t have the gift. Or know the gift like I do. All you have to do is ask.
And He gives it freely.
Just. Like. That.
No strings attached (regardless of what anyone says.)
No hidden agendas.
It’s not about what you do, it’s about what He’s done.
He loves you that much.
And I love you enough to share the gift.
p.s. There’s so much more, but I think that’s enough for now. I’m always willing to talk and share and do whatever I can to move you forward in your journey, or even help you start your journey. It’s not about perfection. It’s just about taking the next step. Questions and doubts are okay too.
If you want to talk more, please email me.
The Kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed. Luke 17:20b
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were looking for physical, tangible evidence of God’s Kingdom. They wanted proof. They wanted signs. They wanted a kingdom led by a king who would free them from Roman oppression and lead them into a palpable reality. They thought they wanted more, but in truth they wanted less – much less than what Jesus had to offer.
Jesus knew differently. God’s plans were so much more than that. It was better than they could have ever imagined. He wanted something more – more than what people could just touch or see, more than merely a physical reality. His kingdom was one that would touch both heaven and earth. It was a future kingdom that touched the here and now.
Yet, today, we still fall into the very same trap as the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. We want God’s Kingdom to be tangible. We look for ways that God will prove Himself to us. I know because I’ve been there.
As if God needs to prove Himself to us! The very idea sounds ridiculous, but this is what we do. I know I’ve done it. There’s times I still do it.. My faith is weak at times, so I look for proof. Only that’s the opposite of what faith is.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
Yet God is patient. He continues to draw you and I to a place of greater trust. – the reality of the unseen. It’s a place where I must listen to Him above the noise of the world. It’s a space where I have to press in to know Him deeper and trust that He knows best. A place that is often uncomfortable and stretches me beyond what I think I can bear at times. It’s a space where I must rest in Him, despite the outcome, despite the stillness. It’s a vast meadow with a beautiful spring where He draws me to deeper waters.
Than again, it’s not a place I can see with my eyes. It’s a place that’s felt more than seen and yet it’s so very real. It’s a reality God endears me to as I am captivated by His love and His grace. It’s a reality outside myself where His spirit connects with mine, moving me deeper still.
And this is only the beginning.
This is the intangible kingdom.
For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)