Who Gets to Determine Our Identity?

June 18, 2015

So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 1 Samuel 16:10

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

labelJesse does not get “Good Father” points for his handling of his youngest son, David, when it came time to anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. He did not even bother bringing David to the event. He left him in the fields to watch the sheep. After all, what were the odds that God’s agent, Samuel, would identify the youngest of all Jesse’s sons as the next king? The good news for David was this: his earthly father did not get to dictate who he was. Only his heavenly Father, his Creator, gets to do that. And David acknowledged as much in his 139th Psalm.

At a time when our culture has become obsessed with “identity” issues (gender identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc.) this 3,000-year-old story about a boy named David begs a critical question for each of us to ask ourselves: Who gets to determine our identity? Am I the person others say I am? Am I the person my family says I am? In matters of identity, who has the final word?

I think all of us have believed a lie or two over the course of our lifetimes when it comes to answering this question. Here are some of those lies:

1. Social Media gets to determine my identity. It is the lie at the very heart …

Healthy Relationships: That the World Might Believe

June 11, 2015

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21

No matter what kind of car I drive, no matter how expensive, how amazing, nor how reliable it is, if I cannot see out the windshield, it is worthless to me. It’s ironic. A $20 part (a windshield wiper blade) can make all the difference in whether an otherwise amazing vehicle is of any use at all. The windshield, you see, is the only lens through which we, as drivers, can see the road ahead.

windshieldJesus spoke of a similar concept in John 17. At a moment in time when Jesus was considering the global revolution He and his followers were about to start (we call it “the church”), he lifted his eyes toward heaven and prayed. Understanding the challenges the future church would face in bringing a lost and broken world to see and believe in Christ, he asked his Father for the one thing we would need most in order to accomplish our mission: relationships which point to Jesus.

Here is what Jesus understood and a truth we must grasp as well: if the key to a fruitful church is “Christ in us”, then the key to the world seeing Christ in us is relationships in our lives which point to Jesus. In short, our ability to show this …

The Lies of a Generation

June 04, 2015

…the devil… He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

At Christian Unity Ministries we are beginning to ask ourselves some hard questions about the Millennial generation (currently ages 15-35 according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors) and how it will receive the Biblical message of unity upon which our ministry is founded.  I had the privilege of spending last weekend in Dallas, Texas “retreating” with a group of church leaders from that generation and a handful of us “Baby Boomer” leaders from our ministry. We had the most wonderful time discussing differences between our generations and how we interpret the Biblical principles of unity.

There was interesting discussion around all of the principles, but some of the quickest and easiest observations came in answer to one question: What lies has the enemy told your generation? Just to make it easier for them, I shared some lies the enemy has told my (Baby Boomer) generation. Here are some of the results…

1. Lies About Community and Church 

The lie to Boomers: You need church, but you don’t need community.

My generation largely still respected the idea of church; so much so, in fact, that we invested quite a bit of our time totally reinventing it to mimic the “success” of the secular world around us (thus, the megachurch is born). Not only do we do church, but we do it really really big. But “church” for us has been a lot of big gatherings, like a concert or a sporting event, but not a lot of genuine community. In fact, we would view …

The Church in the Hands of Millennials

May 28, 2015

“See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer. Exodus 35:30-35

I’ve got Millennials on my mind this week. I will be spending this next weekend in Dallas at Christian Unity Ministries’ first annual “Five Principles of Unity” Retreat for the Next Church Generation…where I expect to sit and learn how Millennials interpret and apply some of the Biblical principles which form the core of our ministry’s message. So, I am thinking about Millennials and the church.

millennial crowd

First, I admit right up front that my only “expertise” when it comes to the Millennial generation (those who are now roughly ages 15-35) is that both my adult daughters are in that generation…and I have studied my kids for a while now. Therefore, “Millennials” are important to me. I am, nevertheless, as ignorant as the next Baby Boomer when it comes to understanding them. So, rather than hold myself out as an expert on that generation, I am going to rely on the “facts” about Millennials as presented by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors in October, and …

Patiently Waiting for God to Show Up

May 21, 2015

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1

patienceI am a fairly patient person. I actually think it is a gift of mine. Nevertheless, I have no problem at all understanding the restlessness of the Hebrew people waiting for Moses to return from 40 days on Mt. Sinai. At a time in their new chapter when there were precious few “routines” upon which they could rely, one routine had become Moses’ “felt presence” among them. Another had become God’s visible presence through the pillar of smoke (by day) and fire (by night). And now, they had neither. All they had was Aaron, who was pretty clearly a far cry from Moses’ dynamic leadership. So, with Moses’ disappearance up the stormy, thunderous Mt. Sinai for an unscheduled, undisclosed amount of time, the hours turned to days and the days turned to weeks. They had no idea IF or WHEN he might ever return. I have no problem understanding the immense pressure these people began to place on Aaron’s not-so-broad shoulders. “Don’t just stand there…DO SOMETHING,” became the mantra of a restless, fearful people waiting for their God to show up and really set them free. As a church leader, you are probably familiar with that refrain.

In my experience, patiently waiting for God to show up can be the most difficult assignment we are given as God’s people. There is nothing easy about it at all. In a world and a culture where we are taught to take responsibility …

Intensely Personal and Critically Communal

April 23, 2015

“You shall have no other gods before me…”  Exodus 20:3

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17

God’s plan for growing a people dedicated to Him and blessed by Him has been consistent from the beginning. He created us for relationship with Him, but also for relationship with one another. This is even evident in His bedrock principles, the Ten Commandments. But it may be less evident to those of us whose first language is English than for most others.

10 CommandmentsEnglish is a bit odd in many ways, with all it’s “rules” for grammar and then the thousands of exceptions to each of those rules. It makes it  a difficult language to learn. One of those oddities is that our word, “you” is both singular and plural (The New York version of “Yous” and the Southern version of “Y’all” notwithstanding). So, when we read the Ten Commandments in our English bibles and we see “You shall…”, and we read the context of God speaking from a mountain to some 600,000 Hebrew men (and lots more women and children), it is easy for us to read it as a plural “you”. If there were a Texas version of the Bible, we might be inclined to translate it, “Y’all will have no other gods before me.” But that would be an incorrect translation.

You see, we English speakers are accustomed to living with this ambiguity between the plural you and the singular you…we’re accustomed to just kind of figuring it out in context, leaving much accuracy to be desired. But most other languages (including the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament) treat …

Terms and Conditions for Worship

April 16, 2015

The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. Exodus 19:10-12

Do you remember the first time a “Terms and Conditions” window popped up on your computer screen, requiring you to agree to a long, long list of conditions before you were able to download that particular app? I do. The lawyer in me leaped into action and I read the entire, long, dry, boring agreement, only to conclude that I had just wasted several minutes of my life that I would never get back. I will confess this to you right here and now…this lawyer never reads those things any more, except possibly to scan them for dollar signs, just to make sure I’m not agreeing to pay something. I may be lazy, but I’m also cheap.

Terms and ConditionsWhen the Hebrew slaves were freed from Egypt in order to travel to Mt. Sinai to worship their God, they had their own “Terms and Conditions” experience. After three months of wondering through the wilderness, they landed at Mt. Sinai. Just as they clicked “Download” for the “Worship I Am” app, God’s pop-up window appeared to Moses with some pretty severe Terms and Conditions for Worshipping the great I Am. And all those harsh terms fall under one sobering category: REVERENCE. Any fair reading of Exodus (or pretty much any of the rest of scripture) renders the same …

Leaving the Oasis

April 09, 2015

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai…Exodus 15:27 – 16:1

Some time after they occurred, Moses sat down to chronicle the events of the Exodus. In his telling of the story, he included this obscure little detail in a single sentence in Exodus 15:27. It was very early in their journey, just about the time the reality of the wilderness would have set in (no water, no food, vast wastelands). They found an oasis, complete with shade and with natural spring water, and they stayed there for a short while…a very short while…so short, in fact, that nothing meaningful happened there. And then they left.

comfortIt seems important to note that nothing particular chased them from that place of comfort. They were no longer running from an Egyptian army. They were no longer frantically fleeing for their lives, running to any safe harbor at all. This oasis was a place of comfort and a place where all their physical needs were being met. Logic alone would have said to stay right there for a while, maybe even indefinitely. Couldn’t this have even been God’s answer to their prayers? Couldn’t this have been a “promised land” of sorts?

But Moses is quick to point out that they did not stay there long at all, that they left almost immediately, and who led them to leave this place of comfort was God Himself. The pillar of smoke and fire with which God led them was leaving this place and was beckoning them forward and outward into a vast wilderness …

The Divisiveness of the Cross

April 02, 2015

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea… Exodus 14:27-29

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Luke 12:49-51

cross of lightFor one entire race of people, the Red Sea will forever represent God’s provision and liberation. To another, it represents destruction and devastation. It is all a matter of perspective. With the events in Exodus 5-14, the most powerful empire of its time was brought to its knees and forever crippled. But those same events served as a new day dawning for another nation. Destruction and devastation on one side. Salvation and transformation on the other. That is the divisiveness of the Red Sea in Exodus 14.

In this holiest of weeks on the Christian calendar, our attention has a laser fix on an entirely different symbol: the cross. Like the Red Sea, it is a symbol forever engrained in a culture for thousands of years. Like the Red Sea, it represents an end of an era and the beginning of an era. But, unlike the Red Sea, the harsh division between the those two eras carries forward even to today, literally dividing all of …

The Now-ness of God

March 26, 2015

In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. Exodus 12:11

Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:21-22

sailsSpontaneity is not really a thing for me. I just don’t do well with it. But if you tell me that change is coming and that I need to “ready” myself to be able to respond quickly, I do pretty well with that. I always tend to think of it in terms of trimming the sails on a ship, being prepared for when the wind starts to blow. Because, you never know when it will start and you have no idea how long it will last when it blows, so you definitely want to be ready.

Walking with God is a lot like that. There is an urgency to the gospel message. He expects us to be ready to move so that, when we receive a clear word from Him about our next step, there is no delay whatsoever. In the kingdom of God, delayed obedience and disobedience are the same thing. God’ story is filled with references to this very notion.

I sometimes wonder if there were any Hebrew families who got the passover blood on the doorposts right (and were spared from the plague of the death of the firstborn) but who did not eat the passover meal all packed and ready to move out, like they were instructed. I wonder how many Hebrew slaves did not obtain their freedom because they delayed in making preparations to …

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