Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Because it looks different

The world watches the Olympics for more than the gold medals.  It is not just the back stories of defying the odds to get there, the long hard road these athletes have chosen, but something that looks very different.   Every four years, a situation transcends the races, the games, and the competition.  It is often called the "Olympic spirit," that which reveals what God's grace looks like, that which is honorable and kind and simply the right thing to do.

And like night lights in the darkness:

So also good deeds are conspicuous, 
and even when they are not, 
they cannot remain hidden. 

                      1 Timothy 5. 25 

In a qualifying heat of the women's 5k race, runner Abbey D'Agostino of Team USA and New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin collided on the course.  Both women fell.  And as she rose, Abbey leaned over and helped Nikki get to her feet and encouraged her to finish the race.

You can view it by clicking here.

What would I do?  


Be imitators of me,
    as I am of Christ.

           1 Corinthians 11. 1

Seek out godly people whom to emulate.  Watch them carefully, not that they are perfect, but transformed.  And realize, it is not just that they are "nice people," but this is what the indwelling of the Holy Spirit does to a person.
 
How they follow Jesus into their day?  Into their difficulties? What do they do?  How do they respond to need?  They don't just do different. They don't just look different. They are different.

How do they live out the gospel?

It is never the platform that we imagine
that God uses us the most.
And it is usually times we never expect,
      and may never know.

And suddenly, as in this preliminary heat,
    someone is watching you
--indeed the world may be watching--
to see the transformation
Jesus makes in you.

For who sees anything different in you?

                     1 Corinthians 3. 7

Looks a lot like Jesus to me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat


I have been catching snatches of the Olympics on television this past week, the amazing accumulation of years of training for races and efforts that endure for even a few seconds or minutes. 

But it is not just the competition that I have been watching, but the reactions when these athletes both win and when they don't, the elation, the tears, and the pointing to God -- or pointing to self. 

It is one thing to glorify God in securing first place.  But a greater victory is revealed in glorifying God when an athlete misses the mark by one hundredth of a point or second, or coming in last place.  How do they respond to those around them?  Happy for you!  Good job!  Great race!  Winning or losing with a sincere heart, or with an arrogance that shuts out everyone else?  

It is not the bowing down or pointing upwards, but do they -- do we? -- even acknowledge those around them?  Hugging the victor when your own heart is breaking, or as the winner, embracing those with compassion and good will those who missed the mark.

Excuse me, but you are on an international screen, your arrogance is showing...or your grace.  The world may or may not remember that tight competition or even your name, but they will always remember how you treated others.  People are watching.

On a screen or not, those around you are watching if this God of yours really makes any difference in your life, not just in the major events or unexpected crises, but in the everyday details of your life. 

Outdo one another in showing honor.   Romans 12. 10 

Beyond one's carefully honed abilities, how one responds in victory or defeat, tells everyone about Who is at the core of who you are.  Your sport, your achievements, your medals or not, do not define you.  But your identity is who you are in God's eyes. Precious in His sight.  He is at work in you, in whatever you do, winning or losing, bringing glory to Him.

Yes, my friend,
even in this hard place
or impossible situation,
no race at all,
    scaling a mountain
or walking through that valley.

The real gold is
not hanging around your neck,
  but visibly radiating from within.

Therefore, since we are surrounded
by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight
and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us,
                looking to Jesus...

                    Hebrews 12. 1-2 

For each of us,
         a different course.


Monday, August 8, 2016

What happens doesn't just happen


I have had conversations with two different people this past week who are overwhelmed by the bizarre political situation facing this coming election.  One man started ranting about the candidates.  Another woman is not even watching the news anymore.  "Too depressing," she said.  "And what happens is just going to happen."

And what if we prayed about it?

What if we spent as much time praying for the political situation, for the candidates, for God's people to respond with grace and love, as we spend criticizing, analyzing, agonizing over the mess?

Satan loves to tell us, "You can't do anything about it.  You are already defeated!"

But God says:

"If My people,
who are called by My name,
will humble themselves
                     and pray
and seek My face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin
      and heal their land."

           2 Chronicles 7. 14

What can I do?
I can pray.
I can pray all I want.
And God promises victory
    in ways I cannot even imagine.

When we bring it before the LORD,
      change comes in another door.

And that is not just limited to the election.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A great and mighty chorus of voices

Just seven days ago, that which started as a normal week took us by surprise.  And as I have seen over and over, what is not on my schedule is always the most profound of all.

Our seventh and eighth grandchildren arrived unexpectedly last Tuesday, tiny little twin boys far too early for their own birthday party.  And far too small.

When we realized what was about to happen, I texted a few people to pray.

And God's people rose up like a mighty army with vast connections invisible to the eye.  Entire networks of people prayed.  Someone would hear the need and call another.  People who didn't even know us, or our daughter and son-in-law, prayed fervently for the lives of these two very small babies and for our daughter.  I heard about a church in Nebraska rallying to the cry to pray, knitting ladies in North Carolina, chains of people linked together in workplaces far and wide, and somehow even a prayer circle of elderly women in a Catholic Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, praying for the safe delivery of these tiny twins.  The faithful came to the plate.

It was as if people were ready and waiting to pray, taking great joy in laying this desperate need before our Heavenly Father, a great and mighty chorus of voices coming before His throne and bringing glory to God, even before His outcome, even as His power became manifest in ways we could not grasp.

When word spread out to pray, one of my dear prayer warriors who lives 500 miles away immediately texted me, "On this right now."  And later, even before we knew the outcome, she texted further, "It is a privilege to participate in what God is doing.  Thanks for including us!"

And as we all realized once again, the LORD is God.  He is neither a belief system nor a worldview.  God is alive and well and working supernaturally, far deeper than anyone of us can comprehend.  He never promised that life would be easy, but promised even better, "I am with you to the ends of the earth."  And that would be everywhere.

... even through the narrow squeaks and great crises.  Even through what appears is going to be an ordinary week.  With God, all things are extraordinary.

God's people sought Him.
And He answered their cries for help.

That is what I did last week.  I saw a mountain move.

The prayer of the righteous
has great power in its effects.

                       James 5. 16

Friday, July 29, 2016

Push Back

Violence has become not that which is rare, but that which is daily unfolding somewhere in the world. It is no longer that shocking violence has been committed, but where today.

It is far too easy to be overwhelmed by all that is going on. We often feel helpless. What can I do about it? God's purpose for each of our lives is to work His redemption and restoration into this fallen world.  But the darkness seems to be all around and growing like a big scary storm cloud coming upon us.

But God does not forsake us in this.  God tells us to push back against the darkness.  Wherever there is evil, God grants an antidote.  And He uses His Spirit to bring transformation and His people to bring about change.

That is what the gospel-- literally "the good news" -- is all about. That there is something drastically wrong with the world we would all agree.  That is why Jesus came -- to show us the way through to His incredible forgiveness and to live out what God's love looks like.

"Overwhelmed" is not a foreign word in the Bible, nor in our own lives today.  But when God's people seek Him and follow Him into the struggle -- and everyone struggles with something --God changes that familiar phrase of despair to "overcome," a word of victory.  God's way is always so much different than we expect. Because it is not by our doing, but aligning our hearts to His.

And that solution and resolution is His love and grace in it, that which is most impossible of all, that which we cannot do on our own, but only what He can do through us.

So, whatever the difficult situation you face, the crisis, the hatred, the violence and injustice, the oppression of many people, God has given you something to do about it.  As I heard the late Chuck Colson once say, "You can't just sit there."

First response
        not last resort
is to turn to God.
Have you sunk into dismay
          or onto your knees?
Pray, listen, heed His voice in this.

And then,
follow His manual for life,
               God's Word in this.

What can I do about the hatred and violence?

Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil
                      with good.

                        Romans 12. 21

Wherever He places me today,
however that looks today,
among all those whom
   God has strategically placed me.
God always works
     through personal relationships
     and divine appointments.

There are no insignificant acts
              of love and grace.
God changes the entire landscape
       by means of hearts
       transformed by Him.