You Can Know the Answers to the Mysteries

We are not invited to be good. We are not invited just to read, meet, sing and give. There is more. We are invited into more.

The depth of what is available to us by faith in Jesus is the difference between maintaining religion and living in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus died for the sins of man, He did so on  the heels of preaching of the Kingdom of God. The promise He brought was for eternity and eternity starts immediately. There is no waiting period between the time when you meet Jesus and the realization of His Kingdom.

Jesus was asked in Matthew 13 why He taught in parables. Why not just be crystal clear and make it easy for people? Why the riddles? Jesus responded in verse 11, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

When you are born again as a believer in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are invited into the mystery. Beyond the obvious and into the depth of knowing that exceeds knowledge. He will show you the “why” behind the “what.” He will give you new eyes to see things eternally, even now.

Unfortunately, most believers don’t look. The appetite to see more and to know the mysteries of the Kingdom are relegated to the super spiritual or the professional clergy. Jesus clarifies in the next verse that it is for “whoever” and He was speaking to tax collectors and fisherman. Not special people based on societies standards and not unique based on religious qualifications.

We are going to face trouble in the world, that is certain. What is left for us to decide is whether or not we want to face those troubles as confused and defeated orphans or empowered and enlightened royalty by adoption?

As you walk in your purpose today and as you encounter people and circumstances that require consideration, ask for eyes to see the mystery of the Kingdom of God in those situations. Ask for eyes to see so that you can agree with eternity in the middle of the temporal challenge. Go deeper; choose to live in the truth of Jesus’ promise. Be a mystery solver.

Safety Nets, Security and Source

There are only two choices; fear or love. One or the other is going to be the driver. Neither will be particularly overt most of the time, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in control. We are either operating from the security of love or the insecurity of fear.

As I’ve been writing previously the love that we know from our father can help us to know the love of the Father. In the absence of knowing His love, we’re left vulnerable where otherwise He willingly provides, protects and promotes us. When we know His unconditional love as our Source of love, then our supply is abundant. We can work from knowing that Source and tapping in when fears and insecurities creep up to attempt to hijack His purposes in our design.

The security of love is the fuel of greatness. Greatness is accompanied by selflessness and selflessness won’t breathe without security. True greatness is within what we do for others; it has an impact beyond us. Only those that experience that impact can declare greatness; it can’t be declared by the one that seeks the tag. It can be declared by another and the other is only like to declare it where they have benefited. That benefit comes from selflessness and that selflessness comes from love.

It’s not love that is conjured up, however. Love isn’t produced within us; it’s received to be distributed. We can’t work from an empty tank and we can’t give away what we don’t have.

Where we are not connected to the Father, we are left exposed. Exposed without a fall back. No safety net leaves us fearful, even if just a little bit. Even if just a hint. Even if just the absence of love.

Our dads could and should model the opportunity that the Father presents. They should provide, protect and promote us. They should, to some degree, be our safety net. No matter how good or bad they are, they are limited and are only a bridge or a barrier to the Father. He is the only legitimate Source.

Even a great dad, even my dad who was great, can’t be our Source. That’s OK, though, because truly great dads didn’t want to be our source in the first place because they were selfless. Because they loved. Because they were loved.

Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Connecting with the One in the Building by Connection to the Ones in the Building

My family and I took a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving. From Germany, we visited Luxembourg, England, France and Austria. Planes, trains and automobiles took us to various sites including a few different cathedrals. These magnificent structures were centuries old, ornate and large.

We took a taxi to Notre Dame in Paris and I enjoyed a conversation with the taxi driver along the way. He asked where I was from and reacted consistently with other Europeans when I told him, “Texas.” Apparently, there is a perception of Texas that leads people to smile with familiarity from cowboy movies. There are gestures of riding horses and references to John Wayne.

We enjoyed talking about Texas, family, Paris and other little connection points along the ride. He asked where I work and I told him that I was a pastor, which required some discussion for clarity. As we pulled up to the huge and impressive Notre Dame cathedral, he presented it to me with a grin, “your church.”

What I found within me as we looked at these large churches was a bit of apathy. In fact, almost disregard. It wasn’t that they weren’t fantastic but instead that I wanted more. More connection, more interaction, more life. Less looking and admiring and more experiencing. More relationship and less religion. More taxi conversations and fewer lines to see stained glass.

I don’t mean this in any way to be disparaging about the structures. Instead, what I found was a deeper appreciation for church. I found a greater clarity for the value of people and recognition that the institution is for the sake of relationship. It’s there, by its original design, to connect those that are looking to connect. It’s intended for people to know God differently and they (we) know God differently by knowing each other.

Strip away stained glass, bulletins, programs, pews, etc. and what’s left is an opportunity. The opportunity is for connection to other people with similar questions, thoughts and beliefs as well as dissimilar questions, thoughts and beliefs. There you are, together in a building; work it out. Work it out together.

What I found at Notre Dame and Westminster and others was an appreciation for grace. Grace is necessary to live with people. No grace is required to sit in a building and participate in a service, but great grace is needed when relating to the flaws we find in each other. That realization of grace was stirred me and connected me to the One that the building was about in the first place.

Seeing Past the Labels

We are more complex than the labels we depend on to try to quantify our qualities. We call ourselves things and we call other people things in an effort to package and control the human variable. Most of the time, we look at the obvious and immediate at the expense of the hidden and eternal.

When I was practicing criminal defense law, I would not have been an effective advocate if I had decided to label each client with the crime they were accused of. Even if the labels were attached following a conviction or confession, I would be missing the opportunity to see the person and agree with their design. They weren’t designed to be a criminal; their intention was hijacked somewhere along the way.

Seeing the person afforded the opportunity to speak about the person in agreement with who they are; not based on what they had done. That was true of the accused and it is true of the less obvious accusations more common to day-to-day  life. There are people every day who, on the surface, are “wrong” in various forms. Yet, even if accurate assessments of justice, grace calls us to look beyond the flaws and into the design.

There is a character in Scripture that we have labeled as “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus was resurrected, Thomas says he won’t believe the resurrection of Jesus unless he is able to touch the wounds of the resurrected body of Jesus. So Jesus presents Himself in John 20 and meets Thomas right where his lack of had him stalled. That’s grace.

Interestingly, in John 11 the same man operated with a different label. He was traveling with Jesus as they heard of the death of Lazarus and Jesus decided to go to where Lazarus was. It was pointed out that this was the same place where people had tried to stone Jesus and would likely try again. This was dangerous and anyone with Jesus could lose their life, too.

The reaction of Thomas, however, was different from the label he gets in chapter 20. Thomas says, “let’s go with Him, so we can die, too.”

Maybe figuring Thomas out isn’t so easy. Is he doubting or courageous? Yes. Depends on the day; just like it does for any of us.

There are things we do that we are working out. Sometimes we are doubting and sometimes we are courageous. Neither necessarily affords us a title; both reflect the working out of our identity through a soul that wrestles with the eternal nature of God’s Spirit. Both require grace.

Our Differences Are the Opportunities We Have to Connect

A friend asked me a while back if I considered myself a patriot. The question caused to me pause and consider my answer. I’ve served in the military and was more than willing to fight on behalf of the nation, although that call never came. I suppose that’s patriotic. My answer to him, however, was “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am appropriately submitted and loyal to my country. My ultimate allegiance, however, is to a Kingdom more than it is a country. I am aligned with Kingdom of God more than I am any manmade institutions, no matter how valid. I am more zealous for the Word of God than I am for the Constitution of man. All while being a loyal citizen under the governments He has placed in authority.

Last week, I had the privilege of serving some men in the United Kingdom. I got to walk them as they walked towards God. It was a magnificent week of encounter and freedom despite some cultural differences. At one point, those cultural differences were called out by one of the men. He confessed a bias against some stereotypes we, as Americans, carry. He did so to repent and connect, not to accuse.

The typical demeanor in the U.K. is different from it is from the U.S. The same can be said of Texas and any particular state in the Northeast United States, I suppose. In fact, we can find cultural differences between families living across the street if we choose. Then what? Stand on our preferences or find a place to agree?

Even in allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom, do we use that as a dividing line or compass to point us towards relationship? We are invited to invite and the invitations we extend must come with permission to be rejected. That means we get to value others no matter whether they agree with us or not.

I really enjoyed my time in the U.K. and look forward to going back. I look forward to seeing my new friends again and I eagerly anticipate new friends there, as well. There will be differences that we will laugh about because our allegiance isn’t primarily to our cultural differences, but it’s to the Truth. The Truth of God’s design within us that calls for reconciliation and connection, no matter what side of the pond or other distinguishing characteristics we hurdle to get to that place.