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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Follow Those Who Lead You to God

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17

A Facebook meme grabbed my attention this week

I've thought about it all week. This is excellent advice to those dating but it goes way beyond that. How do I know a church is right for me? A friendship, mentor, or prayer partner? The answer is the same. Are they leading me to God?
I thought of all of the people God sent and still sends to lead me to Him. Family, church members, mentors, pastors, and friends. Those leading me to God are the only ones I want influencing my spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical life. Certainly, there are many in our lives who don't lead us towards God and I am not suggesting we leave them behind. My mentor Pastor Ron Fuller often references people who are his by "blood, adoption, or assignment." What I am suggesting is to only adopt people as spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical influencers if they lead us towards God. Pop psychology might call them the people we let "inside our head." The voices we allow to encourage or correct. Those with whom we ride emotional roller coasters or work beside until we are bone weary. Those whose words send us to the word of God and our prayer closets. Those who will go to the word of God and their prayer closets on our behalf.

Biblically, we have obligations to many people but obligations are different than following someone. For example, we are linked to our spouses for life, even when they aren't leading us towards God but even in marriage, God has exceptions for broken covenants. Our family is our family and as such are ours but we all know family situations that become so toxic that boundaries had to be set and relationships put on hold. God sends assignments on a regular basis and since "lost people act like lost people," often those assignments include dealing with bad behavior. However, we get to choose whom we adopt and give permission to influence our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical lives. Those privileged spots belong only to those who lead us towards God. Knowing that means we can fulfill family obligation and accept God's assignments without having expectations and being hurt when family and those God assigns let us down.

I haven't always understood that or the difference in those relationships - blood, adoption, and assignment and as such, was hurt because I gave the wrong people permission to impact my spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical life. Not everyone in my life has the goal of leading me to God. If I allow those with other motives a high level of influence, I'm hurting them and me by allowing them to lead me in the wrong direction. This can include both big life changing issues and something as small as an hour or even minutes of my time. I've lost count of the things I tried to do to "please" people, only to end up feeling sorry for myself because they demanded more without seeming to appreciate what I'd already given up to please them. That feeling of self righteous self pity was often my first clue that I'd given the wrong people permission to influence my spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical life. I've come to understand that when people I trust tell me I need to learn to say "no," they are really telling me that I need to get better at knowing to whom I need to say "no."

It isn't hard to know who God has assigned to us. We want to help. We make sacrifices joyfully and peacefully without expectations that they will give back to us. We also know those who are ours metaphorically by "blood" - our family. Family responsibilities like taking care of aging parents or caring for our children are instinctive and we can joyfully accept them, even when they are hard. I think that is what Daddy meant when he said he never resented anything he chose to do for people, which was a lot. Daddy also didn't let people push him into doing things he didn't want to do. We instinctively know who is leading us astray by that knot in our gut. What Daddy was a master at took me years to learn and sometimes only moments to forget. The combination of people demanding my time out of a sense of entitlement and me feeling "stuck" but doing it anyway was me choosing to follow people doing their best to lead me towards their desires instead of God's desires. I had to learn that the only "Well done!" I needed was God's.

If you've wondered why this ministry is called Pocket Full of Change, it is because we are called to help people make some kind of change, large or small, that leads them in the direction of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Having a pocket full of change is a metaphor for being prepared. We like to say that we help people prepare for life and eternity. The quarters we give out represent God's free gift and being prepared. On our travels, we often have just a moment with people and we want to make the most of that moment. Yes, if they aren't in a saving relationship with Jesus, we start there. Many we minister to have already met Jesus but for whatever reason, they have chosen to tiptoe, walk, or run in the opposite direction. Helping people "change" directions is the real call of this ministry. It is why we evangelize, blog, write books, use Social Media, coach, speak, train evangelists, and write this Moment. We think in terms of helping people make the wobbly baby steps towards the direction of God and see God as the beaming loving Father waiting with arms outstretched to catch the stumbling infant as he or she pitches forward into His arms. This line from the Moriah Peters song, "Well Done," is our constant prayer: "If they're following me, they're going to follow you."
Who steadies and guides you as you make those wobbly baby steps towards the loving arms of God? Who puts leading you towards God ahead of anything personally they might need or want from you? Put those people on your "adopt" list and celebrate them. If you can't name anyone, don't worry. Ask God to send you some. I know from experience that he'll say yes. When they arrive, test what they say against the word of God and if they pass the test, adopt them.

Check your relationships. Are they yours by blood, adoption, or assignment? Some will be on all 3 lists and a few might not be on any. Make sure you understand what list they belong on and adjust as the Holy Spirit leads. Choose who you adopt and make that group the only people you allow to lead you to Him. Again, to quote "Well Done," follow only those people who lead you straight into His arms. The only "Well Done" any of us need to hear is from God.

The Adoption Test 

  • Does the peace of God rule in your heart when you are with them?
  • Are you thankful for them?
  • Does the message of Christ dwell richly between you
  • Do you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit?
  • Do you sing to God about them with gratitude in your heart?
  • Is everything they ask of you in the name of the Lord Jesus?
If the answer is yes, adopt and give thanks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

We Can Be Washed White As Snow

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:18

It's snowing here. Fluffy white flakes are falling past my window on the 22nd floor. When I went to bed last night, the streets and rooftops were black. This morning, they were bright white. There is nothing like fresh snow to make everything feel like new.

I've thought about "white as snow" all week as Cathy Tubbs and I picked our way around the foul smelling litter left from late night Mardi Gras partying. White is one of the colors on the bracelets Cathy Tubbs and I used to share the good news of Jesus with Mardi Gras crowds drinking, puffing, partying, and trying to recover from such things. I thought about "white as snow" again when I used the same bracelets to share the Gospel with my innocent 5 and 7 year old cousins on Saturday afternoon . My tiny cousins already loved Jesus but the fresh snow on the ground brought the story to life as I pointed to the white bead and compared it to the newly fallen sparkling white snow these little people were so mesmerized by. I've learned that the wonder of being made as pure as newly fallen snow is the same for an innocent 5-year-old and an adult hardened by years of decadence.

Like us, many were in New Orleans sharing about Jesus during Mardi Gras. Hundreds were there to share the hope of being made as pure as snow. A few were there to shout threats and insults in a misguided attempt to scare people into turning away from sin. Because our messages were so different, I began thinking of the two groups as "Good News Christians" and "Bad News Christians." The "Good News Christians" far outnumbered the "Bad News Christians" but unfortunately, it was the "Bad News Christians" that many in the crowd associated Christianity with. The message of both groups brought to mind the scripture that says whatever we do to the least of His brothers and sisters, we do to Jesus. The "Good News Christians" reminded me of the man who carried Jesus' cross and the "Bad News Christians" reminded me of those shouting taunts at Jesus and crying for his crucifixion. As indignant as I wanted to be with the "Bad News Christians," I had to remember that Jesus died for the very people who cried for His crucifixion. You can probably make a guess about which approach helped those there to party hearty become pure as new snow.

Cathy and I had 72 people choose to be made as pure as new snow. Mardi Gras attendees love getting beads and they loved getting our "Mardi Gras Love Bead Bracelets." As we tied them on, we started with the gold bead and the hope of heaven. We used the dark bead to demonstrate that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that the wages of sin is death. The red bed shared the good news that God loved the world so much that He sent his only son Jesus so that all who believed could be saved. When we got to the white bead and gave the good news that the gift of God was eternal life and that all who called on the name of Jesus would be saved and washed white as snow, we often saw the light of hope enter the eyes of the listener. If they chose to invite Jesus into their lives as Lord and Savior, those same eyes lit with what we call the Holy Spirit Glow - where hope became reality. When we pointed to the green bead and explained how to grow closer to the one who had washed them white as snow, they listened.

We were not the only Good News Christians experiencing the joy of being with someone at the moment they were washed white as snow. Many were reporting salvations. I observed 2 college students lead a man to Jesus, hug him, and when the new Christian left, hug each other and jump up and down with glee.

I was particularly touched by Mardi Gras attendee Morgan's beautifully painted Mardi Gras face and haunted eyes. When we met her, she was suffering because the "Bad News Christians" had used their bull horns to mock her, call her nasty names, and tell her she was going to hell. We offered her one of our Mardi Gras love bead bracelets. She took it but when we told her we were Christians, she almost bolted in fear.

"Wait," I begged. "We're the good news Christians. I'm so sorry that just happened to you."

Morgan froze and listened warily as we explained the beads. When I got to the dark bead about sin, she took a step backwards and said, "I've made so many mistakes. I'm trying to make up for them but maybe I can't. It bothers me all the time."

"Please keep listening," I begged. "We've all sinned. Those people who just shouted at you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have." She stayed.

When we reached the hope of the white bead, a perfectly formed teardrop appeared in the corner of one eye. I reached up and gently used my thumb to catch her tear. As I looked at that wet teardrop still fully formed but now on my thumb, I was reminded of Jesus' anguished prayers as his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Jesus faced that anguish so people like Morgan and you and me no longer had to carry the burden of sin. Yes, Morgan met Jesus and was washed white as snow. She hugged us and thanked us for telling her the good news of Jesus.

Today, do you know what can wash away your sin? Like the old hymn says, nothing but the blood of Jesus. Do you truly believe that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? When you see sin, do you believe that enough to identify with the sinner? Instead of feeling superior, do you have hope for the sinner through the white washing blood of Jesus? The wages of sin is death and that is a back breaking burden for the sinner. Do you believe that enough to have compassion for the sinner without trying to add to that burden by judgment, anger, or taunts? Do you believe that the word of God is alive and sharper than a double edged sword? Do you believe that enough to offer the good news of the Gospel scriptures and trust that the word of God will convict hearts? Do you believe that the power of Jesus can wash anyone as white as snow no matter how crimson the stain? Do you believe it enough to sing: What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. (From What Can Wash Away My Sin by Robert Lowry)