We Smell Wrong

While any semblance of “Christian culture” is fading fast, Christian-Judeo belief systems and traditions have heavily influenced the United States. Our laws and norms were shaped in large part by religion and faith, despite a mounting rejection and attack on those same moral and spiritual precepts. If you believe the things that have influenced the present from the past, it’s easy to feel superior, threatened and/or victimized in planning the counter-assault against society, the legal system, political opponents, etc. What if we’ve gotten it backwards, in some ways? Consider the following passage:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

As Christianity fights for it’s previously enjoyed relative favor in American culture, we can’t forget the Truth of the Gospel in defense of a lesser gospel. The call of Jesus is to follow Him and, as Paul writes to the church in Corinth above, His procession spreads His smell.

If we are saved by His grace, we should know His path by the smell of death (“we are an aroma that brings death”). Our relationship with Him is affirmed in our sacrifice of us. There has to be a sacrifice of superiority, privilege, entitlement or other related perceptions commonly fostered in a society where the heritage affirms your beliefs.

Yet, to those that are not familiar with His grace and the invitation into His salvation, we should smell like “an aroma that brings life.” We should be the most encouraging, selfless, humble witness of the resurrection of Jesus that is imaginable. People from outside of that same system of beliefs should be attracted to the hope that comes from Christ through us; not us at them. Our judgements, condemnations, Facebook debates and accusations against “them” don’t smell like and offer of life; they smell like the imposition of death.

Here’s the thing . . . none us can really smell like life unless we are willing to smell like death. Until and unless we give up our political positions, arrogant arguments, insecure self-promotions and other affirmations of us, we won’t smell like Him. Only in dying to the need to be heard, right, protected or promoted will we actually smell the way that we are intended to smell.

 

The Grace of Submission

Something being good for us doesn’t automatically equate to our embracing or practice of it as a habit or belief. One of the most neglected dynamics afforded us for our benefit is the posture of submission. While many of us are entirely comfortable with the thought of submitting our lives to God, many of us are “out” when asked to submit to people. Here is the problem; God often works through delegated authority and that delegated authority is man (or woman).

Authority is intended to be sacrificial. That means that those in authority should primarily filter their choices through the evaluation of whether or not they are for the benefit of others. Their responsibility is to make a way for others so that they (the others) are benefitted from their place of submission.

Submission, then, seeks a benefit. While we all too often view submission as a place that is inferior with the authority lording over it, that perspective is not the intended correlation of authority and submission. It is intended by design to be in the wake of the path that has been made. The benefit from that place is that the submitted party doesn’t have to clear the path and isn’t the first one to take the hits when trouble comes. The authority, from out front, clears the way and takes the hits for the benefit of those that are submitted.

Submission requires a lens of grace. First, for how we see ourselves and then for how we see others (in this case others that might be in positions of authority). Here is what I know; there is no perfect person other than Jesus so whoever is “in charge” has flaws. That doesn’t invalidate their potential benefit to those that submit.

Without grace, the potentially submitted will be too insecure to trust those that might otherwise choose to sacrifice for their benefit from a place of authority. They (the potentially submitted) will be afraid of the potential negative outcomes or exposure of their own flaws and will control or manipulate imaginations and fears to leave only a shadow of submission in the reality of rebellion.

In the absence of grace to affirm the potentially submitted party’s identity beyond their own flaws, they won’t be willing to look past the flaws of even well intended sacrificial authority. Their fears and imaginations will direct their judgement at every turn and the fits and spurts of peace they know in the wake of benefit will be hijacked.

Jesus sacrificed for our benefit. Belief in His authority, sacrifice and benefit results in lives that are turned over to Him. Submission to Him goes beyond our knowledge of Him and demands that our choices reflect a will willing to release control to Him. An inability to submit to His legitimate delegated authority in all of its flaws likely indicates a lack of true submission to and trust in Him in the first place.

 

The Glory of Shutting Up

Somewhere along the way, we have largely embraced a cultural value and belief that we need to be heard. We need to have a voice to proclaim our perspective. We need to be afforded a seat at the table to weigh in on whatever subject we deem ourselves interested and opinionated.

It’s not true. We don’t need to be heard. Often times, it’s actually to our advantage to not be heard. The position of no position is peaceful compared to the contentious places of preference.

In Matthew 16, Jesus begins to teach His guys this lesson. He begins to teach them the Kingdom. Verse 21 says that Jesus “began to show” His disciples that He “must” suffer, be killed and be raised.

Peter actually starts to argue with Him. Peter needed to be heard, with what most of us would have concluded to be a noble position, but we would see in the reaction of Jesus that it was anything but noble. Peter said that he wouldn’t allow Jesus to suffer and be killed and Jesus shut him down; actually called him Satan.

Jesus tells Peter that his perspective is wrong; he’s looking at things from man’s perspective, not God’s perspective. Jesus goes on to say that to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, which actually means to forget about ourselves. It means to not focus on us or the opinions we foster within us. Those opinions don’t need to be heard.

We are invited to die to the preferences of our soul (vs. 25-26) just like Jesus was. We get to not have an opinion. We get to enjoy the benefits of sacrifice, if we will reject the apparent satisfaction of being heard or considered or preferred. If we’ll allow ourselves to lose, we will win.

Glory comes on the other side of crucifixion. Where we willingly allow ourselves not to matter and deny our desire to advance the preferences of our soul, the glory of God can come through us. Where we will sacrifice our mind, will and emotions, His Spirit will be put on display through us.

Jesus didn’t come to provide a history lesson or abstract idea; He came to unleash His Kingdom and His plan for multiplication of that Kingdom is us. We are invited to follow Him in His ways; the ways of His Kingdom. Not our ways and our need to be heard. His ways are better, but they come at the cost of our preferences.

The Glorious Paradox of Life and Death

I do the stuff for a living and, as a result, the life can get sucked right out of me. When you are expected to know things, say things, write things related to God, the expectation is that you are at least a pretty good guy. After all, the God stuff you are presenting is good stuff and you are an avenue for that eternal good, so you should be temporally good. It’s a trap.

I’m not a good guy and when I think that I am, the disconnect begins. When I think that I’m basically moral, religious and that I do good stuff, my self-righteousness is being fed. I am forced to consider my good stuff to justify the good guy label. That is a road with no end that gets tiresome and it leaves open a flank susceptible to attack. The flip side of my goodness is my humanness and if I’m caught in the trap of being good, then I’m insecure related to my imperfections.

Taken a step further, when I’m tending to my self-righteousness, I’m completely disconnected from the righteousness of Christ. When I’m reinforcing my own goodness, I don’t need His grace. I’ve got it covered, after all, as I should since I’m a professional at His stuff. Ugh.

It’s only when I can embrace my depravity that I value His grace. When I value His grace, I can connect with Him. When I connect with Him, I receive His identity. When I receive His identity, I receive His righteousness. When I receive His righteousness, I am secure. My security, then, is rooted in recognition of my depravity; it’s a glorious paradox.

My soul is sick. Always has been and always will be. Jeremiah 17:9 says my heart (soul) is desperately wicked. It literally says by definition that it is incurable. There is no hope for it; it is terminal. It has to die.

It is only when I can recognize my incurable sickness that I can decide to go ahead and die. It’s only when I quit gasping for breath related to my goodness and give up that there is hope for me. The hope is not from me, but from Christ Jesus. He is my only hope. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; only Him through the dead me provides life through me, whether I do this for a living or not.

Are You Fasting or Feasting on Your Gifts and Service?

I was leaving for a Quest last week and my wife, Julie, told me “it’s OK for us not to talk until you get home; you don’t need to call me.” She went on to say, “you don’t need to call me . . . as long as you are pursuing God. If you aren’t pursuing God, then call me.”

I do Quest events frequently and Julie encourages me to receive as well as give. She encourages me that if it’s just a job and there is no refreshing for refilling, then I’ll have to find another way to fill my tank. Her wisdom and support are incredible.

As I took her advice and began to pray and seek the Lord at the beginning of the week, I was quickened to consider a fast. As I asked God if I was being invited to fast, I was reminded of Isaiah 58, which asks, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

I took that as a call to minister; that is, to simply offer up to God my service through ministry. From that, He was going to set men free. So that’s what I did, and would have likely done anyway. I continued to seek Him along the way and spent time without distraction when afforded the opportunity through the week.

We went through the week and God set men free. He saved them, He freed them, He redeemed them and He unleashed them. He moved in power, compassion, revelation and Truth. I agreed with Him and He was, as always, faithful.

At the end of the week, He and I had some time while the guys were eating breakfast. We had time where I was reminded of His love for me in a way that was refreshing and life-giving. My tank was filled.

We all have gifts and we are all invited into His purposes. He’ll get His stuff done and we’re invited to participate. Along the way, He will fill us, heal us and restore us, too. The way in, however, is to fast your gifts, not to feast on them.

We can’t serve to be seen or to be satisfied in the accomplishment. We fast our gifts by giving them over; not needing anything in return. It’s a fine line and it’s all heart. It can look the same two different times and one time it’s for Him and the other it’s to scratch an itch you have. Only you and Him can tell, more than likely. Here is the promise He gives for our offering of the agreement with Him and sacrificing the “us” in “our” ministry:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

When Grace and Life Flow Through They Get In Us

There was a time when I was representing a young man who had gotten himself into some legal trouble. I saw him at the courthouse with a local pastor who had taken the young man into his family home and was mentoring him through a transition. I commended the pastor on his willingness to take another person who needed assistance into his home and life to the degree that he has. The pastor said to me that it was mutually beneficial because while he is helping the young man walk from one season of life into another, there are benefits to the experience that he and his wife are enjoying through knowing the man in need.

Similarly, when I was leading a group of volunteers at a youth prison, we would welcome a prospective new volunteer mentor from time to time. Invariably, he would be blown away by how much he was effected by the time spent with the incarcerated youth. He would go on and on about how he got more out of the mentoring time than the kids did and how they wanted to come back. There is something about serving others that serves us at least as much.

When we reach out of our comfort zone to step into someone else’s trouble it will often be a little risky and uncomfortable. The interaction at a raw and real level which evades us so often in our suburban environments is refreshing in it’s authenticity. For the time that we are serving, we are allowing our inherent desire for true significance room to manifest. The resulting satisfaction is often surprising and practically always encouraging.

The lie that most of us fall for is that we don’t have much to offer. That’s just not true; nor is it true that we can fix all the problems of those that we serve. We are simply funnels to allow grace to flow through us. The payback isn’t that we are recognized or that there is a fix to every problem the person(s) we seek to help has, but that we shared life and therefore lived that day a little more than if we had chosen not to choose.

When grace or anything else flows through us, then it is in us and part of us as least to the extent that we are the avenue of travel. Think of a garden hose; water flows through the hose, so the inside of the hose gets wet, too.