Don’t Run.

I’m blessed to lead a life group on Tuesday mornings when I, with a group of other men, work through the book of 1 Timothy. We were discussing the greeting portion of Paul’s letter. Paul calls himself an apostle by command of God. The word “command” sparked another verse in my head: 1 John 5:3, which says:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

I got to thinking about the call of God on our lives, how sometimes it seems like a burden or a drag. That sometimes doing the thing He has called us to do seems inconvenient, impractical, or, quite frankly, like a burden. But it’s not – as John goes on to say, because whoever is born of God overcomes the world.

It’s far too easy to cop out of fulfilling the call of God on my life. It’s easier to spend my Saturday watching soccer matches instead of thinking about and preparing for my life group on Tuesday. It’s easier to kill time watching movies instead of preparing a lesson to teach kids at the church. It’s easier to not engage my brain in any fashion, especially not in spiritual things. But a revelation has begun to sink in – that the call of God, irrespective of how burdensome it may seem in comparison to other things, is not a burden, and that it can, in fact, be a source of incredible joy and fulfillment in life.

I write this to challenge myself as well as anyone who reads this and ask you: in what ways do you run from the call of God? Do you dread people? Dread your job? Dread engaging your mind? Dread giving up your free time?

I write also to encourage you that what God has called you to do is not a burden. If it seems impossible or like you’re unqualified, that’s a chance for Him to show His grace through you and to you.

 

Don’t run.

Enjoy.

I sit this morning with a cup of fresh coffee in my mug beside me. The cool air outside always makes me more deeply appreciate a good cup of brew – somehow the flavor becomes more vivid and takes on a whole new life as they gloss over my taste buds. In the aftermath of the things that have happened in the last two days (see my previous entry) I’ve been reflecting on pleasures. (for a good, more in-depth reading on pleasure, I recommend Gary Thomas’ book Pure Pleasure, I have a copy if such things interest the reader.)

What is it about the things I enjoy that makes me enjoy them? How is it that a simple thing like a cup of good coffee (even if it’s a mediocre roast like Folgers!,) an ice cold beer after an evening of work, and speaking of work – a good, hard day’s work in which you can see the fruits of your labor – what is it about those things that can make my soul sing? What makes me rise up to worship after that? It’s not the object itself – I don’t worship coffee, beer, or work – but somehow they make me want to worship God more. Why?

While I don’t know exactly, I have a pretty good idea.

In Colossians (one of my favorite letters) chapter 1, Paul is expressing his thankfulness to the saints of Colossae, telling them that he prays for them that they may be strengthened with might and increase in the knowledge of God, thanking the Father who qualified them to share in the saints’ inheritance, etc…and then in typical Paul fashion, he rants and rants about who Jesus is and what He’s done. What he says sticks out to me every time, though. He says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, and that all things in heaven and on earth, the things I can see and the things I can’t see, rulers, kings, etc. were made by Him and for Him.

All things.

The beans that make this amazing cup of coffee were made by Jesus and for Jesus.

The hops, barley, etc (I’m not a beer expert) that go into that incredible Sam Adams Octoberfest – Jesus made them, and they’re for Him.

The flour that makes a tortilla, the corn and tomatoes in the salsa, the rice and the beans, the chicken, the sour cream and the cheese in my unspeakably delicious burrito from Chipotle – Jesus made them, they’re for Jesus.

The lawn and the mower which provide such a good days work for me – for Jesus and by Jesus.

But does that mean I can’t have any of that? Why do I get to partake in them?

The New Testament talks of disciples of Jesus being children of God, and in being children, also being heirs with Christ. (See James 2:5, Romans 8:17, Titus 3:7, Ephesians 3:6.)

Granted, those are referring mostly to a spiritual inheritance in which, by the grace and mercy of God, believers in Jesus are no longer doomed to hell. But in the meantime, what’s to be done with our physical world? Are we not to still rule and subdue it, as was the original command in the garden?

I believe that the answer to that question is yes. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul talks about some people who will try to require others to abstain from certain kinds of food that God intended us to receive with thanksgiving, because everything He made is good. It’s another thing Paul addressed in Colossians, as well – that as believers under grace, we aren’t subject to judgment concerning what we eat or drink or touch. (contextually speaking, Paul also adds that abstaining from these things has an appearance of wisdom, but they’re of no value in stopping the ‘indulgence of the flesh’ – in other words, the issue is less in the partaking and more in the reason for partaking. IE. Gluttony is unhealthy, but enjoying a bar of chocolate to savor it and enjoy it is a good thing; drunkenness is wrong, but enjoying a good beer is harmless, etc.)

 

All that to say – enjoy the things you enjoy. Realize that it is by grace that God has given us the very things that were made by Jesus and belong to Jesus, and receive your food, drink, whatever other pleasures you enjoy with thanksgiving.

 

Enjoy.

update/musings: [because i don’t usually ramble this much]

As the title indicates, I don’t normally freehand like this or just randomly muse on my day, but today something was on point, and while I’m not of the mind that we should expect to have the same quality of day every day if we can figure out what that one thing is (did you keep up with that sentence?,) I’d like to see what all came together today. That’s to say that, for example, I mowed today, and I don’t expect that every day I mow to be a perfect day. It was a compilation of many things.

In the last 28 or so hours, I’ve seen so many good friends. I started with meeting my neighbor (who I haven’t seen in about three weeks) at my old workplace, and seeing her as well as the many customers I knew from my time there was perfect, not to mention our great conversation. I was able to share my heart about good things and bad things alike, and was able to listen and be listened to. Then this morning I went to meet with my pastor (pops) about our upcoming life group (which I’ll get to momentarily) again at Purdy’s, and again saw a TON of people I know from my time there. I had a guy comment that I just looked really happy, and I couldn’t disagree. Things are well right now – my new job is going better than I’d expected, and I’m relishing the opportunity to be part of a community up in Lexington where the culture is so unique. And as far as the logistics of work – like pay and scheduling – they’re perfect, because I get paid more than at my old job and work less days in the week.

That frees me up for things like life groups (which I promised I’d return to earlier.) I’ve not taken a life group (or small group if you prefer) in something like a year, because I made the choice to focus on school for the last year and sacrificed the community of a small group in the process. I’m itching, thirsting – or whatever figurative verb is appropriate – to be a part of a small group, and I am blessed not only to be leading one, but also to be able to participate in one in a non-leadership capacity. I miss getting involved with other people on a regular basis and a basis in which you don’t exactly have a choice (you kind of do, but at the same time, I’m of the mind that the Holy Spirit in you doesn’t really afford you much of one.) God desires community for His church, and I’m excited to be obeying the call to commune with other believers.

But speaking of leading a life group (this is turning into a ramble,) if you read my last blog post you saw that I was stretched to teach a kid’s class with my co-pastor (current head of children’s ministry) and while it made me uncomfortable, it was okay, and I was forced to rely on the Holy Spirit and not just my own preparation (I believe the two intersect for a successful class.) Well, I’m leading this life group with my spiritual father, who just so happens to be the pastor of the church. My tendency would be to “co-lead,” meaning shrink back, have my name on the contact as a “leader” and let him do all the talking, ask all the questions, and I’ll speak when spoken to. But not so this time around – God was really specific in telling me to take up some responsibility, and when I ran that by pops, he was more than okay with that. It’s a time of stretching for me, realizing that I can be confident in the Holy Spirit and that leading with confidence isn’t a pride thing, but actually quite the contrary: being humble enough to realize that I – despite how much or how little I prepare to lead, teach, preach, etc – have little to no effect on the outcome, and that it’s all about the Holy Spirit inspires and guides our group.

This is stretching for me emotionally as well as mentally, because to be honest, I’m beginning to think I lack empathy. That is, I don’t usually think of what other people will think of, especially not in groups like this. If we read a scripture, what are people going to think of? What’s going to bother people? In what ways will their experiences in life or church dictate their responses? But this is forcing me to prepare for almost anything, and that’s a stretching I need as well as, quite frankly, desire. I’m limited to my own experiences as far as how I think about things, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I think I’ll be able to anticipate what may come up.

Finally, and speaking of relying on the Holy Spirit (I guess this post has become thematic!) He’s said something to me lately that I’ve yet to figure out, but it goes something like this: there’s a song we’ve sung in worship that contains a line that says, “I know I’m filled to be emptied again, the seed I’ve received I will sow.” That’s a really good way of summing up what God said: Jeff, get ready to be poured out. Honestly, I used to dread hearing that kind of thing, but for some reason my heart is so stirred, and I can’t wait for that! I’m tired of being full, tired of sitting at the table being served while I could be the one filling other people’s glasses (metaphorically speaking, of course, but I suppose it may be literal as well.) I’m ready to see how God will open doors, and what doors He’ll open to let me share what I’ve learned with others, and ready to see how, by grace, He’ll help me do it (because Lord knows I have no idea!)

So if you, like my friend this morning, see me and you wonder why I’m happy, that’s why.

Who’s really sufficient around here?

“Oh, God,” I thought.

I’ve been teaching kids for over a year now, and there are good weeks and bad weeks. Sometimes I feel like I have enough to do while whoever is preaching preaches that will keep the kids occupied, and other times I feel like I’m treading water trying to keep the kids drawing and not tearing the room apart.

But when I found out that Anne Lawson—the best theologian I’ve ever known, a woman I call “mom” due to the spiritual role she plays in my life, the sweetest preacher I’ve ever heard, the woman whose words flow like honey, and the woman who never hesitates to tell it like it is—was going to be my helper, I had one thought in my mind:

What if everything isn’t perfect?!?!

What if the kids misbehave? What if I teach the lesson and don’t really extract Jesus from it? What if everything doesn’t go according to plan and the whole thing becomes chaotic?

Stop for a second. Did you ever think about what we’re referencing when we ask “what if?” In this instance, the “if” was about the lesson plan and the “what” was about me. Usually, when we ask “what if,” we are omitting something between the two words. So more appropriately, the question I was really asking was this: “What will my mom think of me if I don’t teach a perfect lesson?” Will she ‘disown’ me? Will she talk about how bad my lesson was? Worse off, will she confront me about it and correct me? (side note: she is incredibly affirming, and I am often more teachable than I think I am, so none of those were rational fears, only the irrational type planted in my mind by the enemy to stir up fear and shake my confidence. If you’re reading this, mom, I trust you.)

I was thinking about this the night before I taught and have been thinking about it since. Here’s the reality: there was only so much of the lesson that was in my control. I was given a story to teach, given the autonomy as to how to present that lesson and what to do, and that was about it. The response of the kids may have been different if circumstances in their lives had been different. But as I was preparing the lesson, the Holy Spirit said, “let Me help you.” That, I believe, was the big difference. No teaching style, no fancy way of saying things, nothing I did accounted for the success of the lesson except the ideas that the Holy Spirit inspired after spending time thinking about and praying about the lesson. And it went off without a hitch – there was no dead time, the kids participated, and when it came time to do coloring sheets, they were quiet as church mice (which, believe me, is not normal.)

This got me thinking about how heavily I rely on myself about things, and caused a verse to pop in my head today—2 Corinthians 12:9, when Paul shared what God told him concerning his infamous “thorn in the flesh,” that His grace was sufficient, and that His strength is made perfect in weakness. Being a wordy guy, I looked up what “weakness” meant in this context and the translation is weakness of the body or the soul, incapability of doing great and glorious things. Usually the word is translated as “infirmity,” synonymous with “flaw,” “defect,” or “fault.” Check, check, and check—I have plenty of those! I am plenty incapable of doing great and glorious things, especially when I teach, which is something that, outside of Sunday school, I’ve not done at all!

That’s the arena in which I am learning to trust the grace of God – the things in which I simply don’t have experience or expertise. Introducing myself and building relationships are two things I am poor at. I’ve had plenty of people extend themselves to me and initiate the building of a relationship, but as a son, I’m at a stage in my growth where this is the type of thing that God is calling me into – meeting people, getting to know them, know their stories, and give myself to them for whatever it is worth. And I have no experience, and I am unspeakably afraid, but mostly of what people think. “What if I’m awkward? What if I don’t know what to say?” Such are the questions that are in my mind, but the Bible tells me—through Paul’s experience—that God is sufficient where I am lacking and insufficient.

Hallelujah.