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.
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)
This time of year, you hear a lot about goals, self-improvement plans and similar objectives and resolutions to get the new year started off right. No matter how you fared last year, or what things that were in your list of achievements that never got accomplished, we view the new year as a clean slate, a chance to start over and try again (or trying something different or new.)
As I’ve tried different programs and reflected on some things that have worked in my life and didn’t work (including some real doozies of failure), I have to wonder, “Is this what Jesus has in mind for us?” To continually try to improve ourselves? Or is there something else that He wants from us? Is there a different way to go about this whole “following Jesus” thing?
Having not only done the planner/calendar approach, the goal-setting program (I even came up with my own goal-setting challenge a couple of years ago I sheepishly admit), and others, I can say that seldom does this approach work when you’re talking about spiritual growth. There are things like spiritual disciplines that can be helpful, but only as you approach it from a relational perspective.
There are no spiritual principles that will be 100% effective. There isn’t a 4 step plan that will help you become a better Christian. I don’t believe these things even work very well when we’re talking about day-to-day self-improvement. The industries that are “built” to help you succeed (all the self-improvement programs, the goal setting workshops, diet and exercise programs) are really banking on your failure. Very few of the people who start programs like these end up with their desired results, even of the few who finish.
So does that mean Jesus wants you to step it up? Does he want you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and try harder, learn more, and (as one of my friends say), “suck it up, buttercup?”
Hardly. Jesus doesn’t offer just another self-improvement program. What he offers is new life. The two couldn’t be more opposite. Whereas a self-improvement program depends on, well, you and your self-discipline to make things different. What Jesus offers is really more of a self-crucifixion program. There needs to be less of you so that there can be more of Him.
More of His life.
More of His Spirit.
More of Him. In. You.
A number of years ago, this verse hit me smack in my spirit:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)
Do you see what’s going on? I read that verse for two or three decades before it really sank in. I finally understood what was going on here.
First, think about the power that is required to raise someone from the dead. That is no natural power. If they are close to life, then CPR or a jolt of electricity (“Clear!”) might do it. But, for those (like Lazarus) who are beyond hope physically, think about the kind of power that it must take to raise someone from the dead. Jesus was like Lazarus in that it wasn’t just a near-death experience. They were both in the grave for 3 days.
Meditate on this for a few minutes: the supernatural power of God that dwells in the Spirit.
Now, what else does this verse say? “…is living in you…” So, this same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead; this same Spirit who brought Lazarus back to life; this same Spirit who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see; He lives in you! Isn’t that amazing?
All of the power.
All of the wisdom.
“…is living in You…”
The Spirit who “hovered over the waters” at the beginning of creation. The Spirit who breathed life into Adam. The Spirit who was there at Pentecost that fell on thousands of people and made them speak in other languages.
That’s the Spirit we’re talking about. This Spirit resides within every believer. And He is there to comfort, to guide, and to help.
Are you beginning to see the difference in what we think our spiritual life should be versus what God offers us? And that’s not even scratching the surface of all the gloriousness (did I just make up a word?) that Father wants for us.
When I visit with others about this – even when I just ponder and think about it – or write about it, there is something that wells up within me that wants to shout this from the rooftops.
This isn’t something that any man taught me. It’s something that God revealed to me as I read the Scriptures. It’s another reason this truth is so special to me – Father Himself was my teacher.
I know you want to do better, to be better, to have the abundant life that He offers. The trick is, you can’t earn your way or work your way into it. It’s something that comes as a result of the Life that lives in you by the Spirit. It’s part of the self-crucifixion program that Jesus beckons you to. It’s not something that comes by effort. It’s something that comes by rest, believe it or not.
So the next time your tempted to buy that self-improvement program, ask Father what He wants of you and where He wants you to invest your time, energy, and resources. Chances are, it isn’t to plan out your next 5 or even next year.
Chance are, He will invite you to a one-step-at-a-time plan that Has you trusting in Him and leaning into Him each step of the way.
This is really a follow-up post to Can You Have Church Without an Agenda? If you haven’t read that, I’d encourage you to read it first before continuing.
I can’t tell you how it happened or why it happened in the timing that it did. I can only tell you that it did happen. The events that have taken place over the last couple of weeks have been more than mere coincidence. I consider them to be divine encounters.
Maybe the Lord has opened my eyes to see more clearly the way He moves. Why now? This is a prayer I’ve been praying for years. What has changed and what has happened these last few weeks? As far as i can tell, nothing special. I haven’t changed jobs or received some kind of special revelation. Only, I’m beginning to see things differently. What I might have chalked up to happenstance encounters, I am beginning to see with new eyes.
Shortly after the men’s retreat I talked about in a previous post, I was tempted to “start something.” You might know that urge that I’m referring to. The need to start a Bible study, a home group or home church, or something else. Yet, I resisted. I did not feel that I was resisting Father, but my own flesh that felt the need to “help God out” and make something happen.
There were three words the Lord gave me for this year towards the end of last year. Release, relax, and rest. Little did I know what those meant at the time. But it’s those three words that have been the focus of my year when it comes to both my relationship with Father and learning to live by His rhythms.
- Connecting with a couple who we have been trying to get together with for over 2 years on Halloween night simply by popping in (and staying for 2 hours!) since we were already on their street for Trick or Treating.
- Getting to eat lunch with a friend on the same journey when he was at my work for a workshop and luncheon.
- Having the freedom to go to a baptism where my friend (who I baptized a few years ago) got to baptize his daughter – it just so happened to be one of the weekends I was free in October.
- Hearing from a couple of brothers who are dear friends and on this Jesus adventure together in the same week.
I am so encouraged by what Father is doing in my life right now. I know there are some who might read this and are struggling to understand or connect to how He’s working in your life, or feel that He is silent or withdrawn.
I went through a period of feeling like that, too. I’m not sure why it feels that way or why He seems to be quiet sometimes. Yet, I always believed that God was speaking. It wasn’t necessarily His fault that I had trouble listening. There are times I believe we look for the wrong things and assume God is speaking in certain ways when He wants us to tune in to a different frequency, so to speak.
I believe that God is always speaking and speaks to us every day. Whether or not we hear Him is a different matter. It’s worth learning to recognize His voice. In fact, His sheep know His voice and know how to follow.
This happens based on a relationship. There’s no principle to follow or “how-to program” to go by. It’s a daily recognition that He is speaking and learning to discern what is His voice, what is yours, and what is noise and distraction. The only way to do it is by a daily focus on Him and a continual quieting of both internal and external disruptions. As soon as we feel or sense that we are getting off track, it’s simply a matter of refocusing our attention on Him.
It can take a while. It’s not a striving to hear Him perfectly. It’s a step by step journey to discovering which voice is His, which one is mine, and the ones that are trying to lead me off the path and into the ditch. When you discover His voice, it’s not a raging cacophony, but a quiet whisper, a gentle nudge, or a sense or urge that says, “Come this way. Walk over here for a while.”
Learn to trust yourself and the nudges that you sense are from Father. You’ll make mistakes. It’s okay. I’ve made plenty. But when you learn His voice, and you know it’s Him and you obey and follow, it opens up a whole new world.