Forgive, Roll Down all the Windows, and Crank Up the Music

Every week we get the Kleenex ready, put Hulu on our screen, and watch the latest episode of This is Us. I admit I’m usually the one who has a tear form first. I don’t even try to hide it. You can revoke my “man card” if you want. I’m one of those that gets into a well-written story. In this case, it’s like I’m somewhere in the room with these people as we walk with them through life.

You can only imagine the blubber fest when Randall is at his biological father’s hospital bed knowing it is his father’s final moments. Randall’s Bible is open. Already he’s lost a lifetime with this man. Now, after getting to know him in a rushed kind of way, he is about to lose him.

William took the oxygen mask off his face and began to speak. He gave Randall a collection of poems he had written for him. The aged cover page read, “Poems for my Son” by William Hill. Randall says he can get his wife and daughters to the hospital in a matter of hours but William responds: “I said goodbye when they were laying down. I want them to remember looking up at me, not down. Up.”

Then he repeats advice he had given him earlier. “Roll all your windows down Randall. Crank up the music.” His dying words were ones his son could live by.  [you can see a clip of this scene here]

Last moments are holy ones. You may have experienced some in your life. Truth is, someday we will be the ones uttering final words. Can you imagine what will they be? It seems as if our last words are words that reflect what our life was about.

At least that is true for Jesus. What he says in his dying words we see reflected in his life. The first words uttered from the cross were these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had preached forgiveness from the start of his ministry. “Pray then like this…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

But his final pulpit was his most powerful. On the cross he could ask for forgiveness because forgiveness was part of his being. Listen carefully to his words.

“Father.” The Greek word is “pater” but Jesus would have uttered an Aramaic word, “Abba.” It was a first word learned by young Jewish children, like our children learning to say “dada” or “mama.” But it was not just a word for young children. By Jesus’ day it was used by adult children to speak of their fathers. It was a term of intimacy and security and simplicity.

It was common to refer to your father in this way, but it was not common to refer to God with this word. And yet, Jesus did. There are seventeen unique prayers of Jesus in the Gospels and each one begins with “Father,” “Abba.” Jesus had a special relationship with God.

Because he had a special relationship he could ask his Father to act. He asks his Father to “forgive them.” The Greek word “aphiemi” can mean to “let go/send away” as with crowds. But here the meaning has the sense of “pardon” or “forgive.”

Jesus is able to ask for forgiveness of those who have wronged him because he sees them differently. “…for they don’t know what they are doing.”

And neither do we. And neither do the ones who wrong us. These dying words of Jesus are words to live by. He forgave us and expects his followers to learn to forgive others. In Matthew 18 he tells a story of a man who was forgiven much but turns around and refuses to forgive someone who owes him little. The point of his story? You will forgive in direct proportion to the amount of forgiveness you understood you have received.

So how do we become people who forgive?

  • We listen intently and let Jesus’ words become part of us.
  • We begin to see people as he did, people who don’t know what they are doing.
  • And we do as he did, we ask the Father to forgive them.

And when we can’t, we at least learn to “desire to have the desire” to forgive.  James Martin writes: “…wanting [to forgive] is a good start, because true forgiveness is a gift from God. It’s a grace. Moreover, to paraphrase St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, even if you don’t have the desire to forgive, if you have the desire for the desire, that’s enough. God can work with that.”

Jesus wants us to remember looking up at him. On the cross. Forgiveness frees us and the other person to roll down the windows and crank up the music.

Question: What do you want your final words to be? Will they be life-giving words?

 

 

How Your Work is One Way You Love Your Neighbor

The millennial generation aged 18-35 gets a lot of attention these days. We are told that more than anything they are searching for jobs where they can make a difference. And so we read about workplaces like Warby Parker—a popular startup where for every pair of glasses purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need. Think about the difference you would feel you were making working at Warby Parker.

But it turns out that millennials are not the only generation that desire their work to make a difference and have purpose. So do older generations. A recent global survey of all ages revealed 74% of candidates want a job where they feel like their work matters.

Did you know it matters to God? It does. When writing to the church in Thessalonica the apostle Paul wrote in the context of “brotherly love” to “aspire to live quietly…and to work with your hands.” Some in the church had stopped working. Some were out of work but were forming a habit of letting others take care of them. And others were finding patrons to support them which threw them into the business of promoting their patron’s name. The problem with that was they found themselves in compromising situations, like attending business deals at the pagan temple.

So Paul tells them to “work with your hands.” It all goes back to God. In Genesis 1 we find a repeated theme: “And God said…and there was evening and morning, the first day.” This goes on through the six days of creation until we turn the page to chapter two of Genesis where we read, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

Everything we read that God did in chapter one is called work in chapter two. And in case you think he stopped after creation, note these words of Jesus: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” God works.

It should be no surprise then that God gave humankind work. Before he gave Adam a wife or before he gave him children, God gave Adam work. In Genesis 1:26 we discover God’s plan for humankind was to have “dominion over…all the earth…” Then in Genesis 2 he “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” God works and, because we are made in his image, we work too.

That means when you get up in the mornings and you get dressed and you show up for whatever job you have, you are doing so because it is God’s image in you to work. You’re not working just because you have to in order to pay the bills. You’re working because it is in your DNA to work.

And so Paul will not allow people who are made in God’s image to freeload off of other people. That is one of the problems he encountered with the church in Thessalonica. He also believed laziness would be a bad witness to the unbelieving culture around them.

Your work makes a difference. And maybe you haven’t seen it quite this way, but your work is spiritual. How? First, if you are a follower of Jesus you work as if you are working for God and not man (Colossians 3:23). Your work may at times be difficult because of your employer, coworker, or the demands of the job. But you approach it differently because you go about your work as God would want you to. God is at work with you because God is at work in you.

Secondly, you view your skills differently. You acknowledge that what you have to offer is something from God. He has skilled you in ways to be utilized for the benefit of others. Like Bezalel in Exodus 35 who was given skills to construct the Tabernacle, God has given you gifts to be used for the benefit of society.

Paul says when you work in this way, you are loving your brothers and sisters. You are providing something for them without needing them to provide for you. So if you teach, teach as God would have you teach. If you drive a school bus, do it with the care he would give it. If you outfit construction projects with electricity, do it with the precision you would if God were watching over your work.

He is, you know. He is because God works. And he has given you work to do. So do it today with a different perspective. And know that your work makes a difference.

Question: How can you approach your work differently to where it makes a difference?

When You Come to a Fork in the Road Go Towards Your Calling

Maybe you remember an ancient TV show called Friends. (Can you believe the last season of Friends was in 2004?) There was an episode where Monica asked a friend with whom she had started having sex, “Can we still be friends and have sex?” His answer? “Sure. It’ll just be something we do together—like playing racquetball.”

That notion has morphed today to the phrase “friends with benefits.” Greg Boyd has stated that sex today in our culture is seen as a “morally neutral recreational activity, essentially no different from racquetball.” Our culture has deemed it perfectly okay for sex to be enjoyed recreationally and that best happens outside of marriage.

The idea of setting sex apart only for marriage is a strange idea in our culture today.

The idea of setting sex apart only for marriage was a strange idea in Paul’s first century Greco-Roman culture too. F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary of 1 and 2 Thessalonians:

“…various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged. A man might have a mistress who could provide him also with intellectual companionship; the institution of slavery made it easy for him to have a concubine, while casual gratification was readily available from a harlot. The function of his wife was to manage his household and be the mother of his legitimate children and heirs. There was no body of public opinion to discourage porneia [the Greek word for sexual immorality], although someone who indulged in it to excess might be satirized on the same level as a notorious glutton or drunkard. Certain forms of public religion, indeed, involved ritual porneia.”

There was a lot of sex in the city of Thessalonica. Many—if not most—of the Christians that Paul is writing to came out of a pagan background where sexual promiscuity was the norm and widely tolerated.  They had to learn a new way to walk.

To followers of Jesus’ way in that culture Paul writes: “abstain from sexual immorality.” What Paul is teaching to most people in America or Europe comes off sounding ancient and out of touch. But it is part of what he says is God’s will for them. It is part of their sanctification, the way God has set them apart for his purposes.

Then and now culture says, “Go wherever your body leads you.” Paul teaches to “go wherever your calling leads you.” Their calling was found in his words:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter…” (1 Thess. 4:3-5).

He is saying that marriage is to be based on something more than just sexual attraction, although sexual attraction plays a part in a marriage relationship. There is to be a sanctity about the relationship that honors the marriage and keeps the sexual act within that relationship.

This view of sex and marriage was new to the pagans coming to Christ in Thessalonica. We can guess that many would realize that they had sinned in regards to this teaching. They couldn’t go back and erase their steps.

That’s where the good news comes in. Paul greets them with these words: “Grace to you and peace.” It’s a reminder. It’s a reminder for anyone who hears God’s call and wants to meet him that his path is paved with grace.

And for those who desire to avoid sexual immorality, remember this: when you come to a fork in the road walk towards your calling, not your culture. Culture will often pull you away from God. But your calling will draw you towards him.

So follow God’s plan for marriage. And play racquetball with your friends all you want.

Question: How strong is culture’s pull on your life?

 

 

 

Review the Directions to Get to Your Destination

When my sons were young I decided they needed to learn how to read a map. We’d go through the basics: find your starting point, find your destination point, trace the options you could find between the two points, decide on your route, and drive. Usually these teaching lessons would be met with this reaction: “Why do we need to know this?”

Looking back now they had a point. Little did I know that by the time they would start driving and taking trips there would be such a thing as a smart phone and an app called Google maps. It does most of the work for you. I know. The boys had to teach me how to use the app. As long as you know where you want to go you don’t even have to log in your starting point. It already knows where you are.

When someone calls you and invites you to a destination spot that you are unfamiliar with, you can just use a map app to get there. And when God calls you to a destination, he will help you get there too. Your destination? Sanctification. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

“Sanctification” is a big word that you and I don’t use very often in day-to-day life. It can also be translated “holiness.” But we don’t use that word often either and even less when we think of ourselves. (Although sometimes, when I look in the mirror first thing, I exclaim “Holy Cow!”) We picture a holy person as someone in a robe living in the desert or somewhere no one else wants to be.

So let’s de-churchify the word for a minute. Sanctification, or “holiness,” simply means “set apart.” If something is holy, it is set apart from something else. Imagine some evening Karen is driving home from work. I’m at the house preparing a gourmet dinner. (I said “imagine.”) I’ve got her on speaker while I’m cutting up tomatoes when she tells me, “By the way, that new family from church is coming over. I invited them. We should all arrive in about five minutes.”

In my panic I twitch and slice my finger. At first I don’t notice the bleeding since I’m slicing tomatoes. But then I feel it. And when I look I see that I’ve sliced off the tip of my finger. I dig through the cutting board full of tomato slices and find it. I lift it up and I say, “This is sanctified. It is cut apart. It is holy.”

There you have it. That is what “sanctified” or “holy” means. God is holy because he is set apart from humans because he is set apart from sin. In just one of a multitude of examples, Leviticus 20:26 records God’s command to Israel: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

It’s a succinct passage that reminds us that God is holy and therefore, if we are following in his ways we are to be holy too. Paul is helping his readers know what direction they are walking in life. That direction is towards God’s holiness.

The problem is we sometimes forget where we are going, don’t we? Before we were taught Google maps Karen and I were walking in Rome on our 25th anniversary. We were enjoying the sights until we realized it was getting dark and we didn’t know where we were in relation to our apartment. We had to pull out our map and look like tourists which makes you feel a little more vulnerable to anyone that might want to take advantage of you. Now, you can just pull out your iPhone, stare at it, and look exactly like everyone else who is staring down at their phones when they could be looking at something like the Vatican or Coliseum.

We had to look at the map to remember our directions. Paul says the same, that when you need directions, remember. Paul reminds his first readers and us, “for you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus…” He is saying to go back to their roadmap, the instructions that told them how to walk. But they will need to remember they have those instructions to keep on walking toward God’s calling of them towards sanctification.

And we will too. Wherever you are right now you can journey towards God’s destination for you. Just pull out the instructions you’ve been given and remember your destination.

And start walking.

Question: When you are confused about your direction in life where do you go for help?

 

 

 

 

You Can Make a Quiet Difference in this World

Our world is one that wants to get noticed. You need only look on Facebook where it seems everyone has to comment on everything, stream live what they are doing, and make themselves look as witty and wonderful as possible.

Or go to Instagram. People leaving pictures of themselves in exotic places or on a beach in their best bikini. The women, not the men. Sometimes younger people who are trying to get noticed by someone somewhere upload selfies they’ll wish they could unload someday.

Or move on to Reality TV. People who don’t do much of anything getting filmed so we can watch them not doing much of anything. Like a crash that is about to happen many cannot resist watching them. Which is exactly what they want us to do.

It’s a loud day we live in. People clamoring to be noticed using our modern-day connectedness of social media, streaming TV, and the internet to make themselves heard. People work hard at getting noticed.

It’s the way of our world today. But it wasn’t the way for the early church in Thessalonica, a city that was home to Greek gods as well as the Roman imperial cult. An oath of loyalty to Caesar would be administered to its people. It was also home to Jews. By the time the Apostle Paul arrived we can be sure there were Jews in this city living under the threat of worshiping a God other than Caesar.

Paul entered their synagogues and preached that “Jesus is the Christ.” “Christ” means “anointed one.” That title belonged to Caesar. Preaching that “Jesus is the Christ” caused an uproar. The city got real noisy. Paul had to sneak out by night.

Later, Timothy reported to Paul that the Thessalonian Christians had undergone more persecution and suffering. They were just hanging onto their faith. So Paul writes, “…aspire to live quietly.”

“Aspire” originally had the sense of “the pursuit or love of honor or distinction.” A person would work hard at promoting the spread of their name. They would do this through acts of benefaction or by getting their name inscribed on columns or in pavements. It was the first-century form of Twitter.

Paul tells his friends to do just the opposite of the culture. “…aspire to live quietly…” has the paradoxical meaning of “to work hard at not working hard.” He is not telling them to not work. Just don’t work hard at being noticed.

That was a countercultural message then. And it’s a countercultural message now. We live in an age where the one that gets noticed is the loud one, the humorous one, or the extroverted one. Now you not only have to sell a product. You have to sell yourself.

Paul says not to. And that’s good news for people who don’t fit that mold. When you’re told to “do big things for God” but you struggle to juggle all the plates you’ve got going in the air and just get through the day, you may wonder if God can use you.

Turns out he can. We don’t have to be obsessed with pushing ourselves into the public eye. We can be content to be unknown and unnoticed if that is the Lord’s will. We can make it our ambition to not be ambitious about getting noticed. We can be quiet and affect our world.

Rosa did. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a public bus pulled up to its stop in the early evening and a woman in her forties, dressed nicely, walked up the steps, entered the bus, and sat in the front row of the “Colored” section. The bus filled with riders and the bus driver asked her to give her seat to a white passenger.

This quiet, introverted woman inadvertently started a civil rights movement with one word: “No.” When Rosa Parks died in 2005, obituaries called her “soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature.”

Want to make a difference in this world? Don’t start a riot. Just be quiet.

Question: What are some “quiet” ways in which you can make a difference?

 

 

How a Weighted Blanket Can Warm a Life

Johny is a new friend of mine. At least through email and Facebook. She wrote me to tell me about a great cause she is involved in. I thought it would be make for a great story for you to read.

Johny took an early retirement a year ago. (I had to ask for forgiveness right away as that line made me a bit jealous.) But she did not want to just sit. Instead, she wanted to give something back. But with many outstanding organizations to choose from where she could volunteer her time that decision was not easy. ­

At least not until she realized there was a specific group that tugged at her heart. Her youngest child is in Junior High and has had friends through the years with siblings who were autistic. Social interactions with these families created an awareness of the daily struggles these families encounter.

Knowing what to do when other opportunities to “give back” had presented themselves had been easier: making sandwiches to give to the homeless, gathering clothing for a women’s shelter, or assembling care packages for a teen crisis home. But how would she go about helping families with autistic children?

That’s when prayer can open your eyes to something right in front of your eyes. That’s what happened for Johny. She had been involved in her church’s prayer blanket ministry and at one point in time had made a blanket for a grandmother who was raising a grandchild who had Autism. That grandmother came to her and asked her if she could make a weighted blanket for her grandson.

What happened next is exciting. Johny conducted a lot of research to make him one. Along the way the process evolved, eventually finding a better way to make them than other options that were available. Word was sent out to organizations and families who could benefit from these special blankets as research shows that weighted lap blankets provide a calming pressure for those needing help with sensory processing.

After getting positive feedback and photos from families that were helped, she enlisted the prayer blanket ministry at her church to help produce the weighted blankets. Now, not only do families not have to pay to receive a blanket, they get one custom made for their child. Better yet, it’s been prayed over by many loving hands. Hands with a heart for these special children.

Imagine what it would be like to hear from a mother who tells you, “My child can finally sleep at night.” And imagine what it would be like to find yourself in the middle of this story.

You can, you know. Maybe you’ve wanted to do something too to give back but you didn’t fit traditional ministries at church or in the community. But you can sew. Johny says, “Anyone who can sew a straight line can learn how to do this and in turn, can start making these for their community.”

Or maybe you know a family that could benefit from these blankets. They may not see this article, but you have. You may be the “thread” that connects them to a resource that could have a warm effect on their lives.

And one last way this may help someone: Johny has received her first request for a blanket for an adult with PTSD. There is significant research that shows that weighted blankets put on soldiers who have PTSD is calming and helps them sleep.

So, if you can sew or you know anyone who could benefit from a weighted blanket, or if you would like more information, just write to weightedwonders@outlook.com. You’ll sleep better knowing you helped someone else sleep better. And that’s a good night for everyone.

Question: What can you do to give back today?

 

 

Open the Gift that is You

When you’re a young Jr. High kid and you realize there is something you want but you are unemployed and have no way to buy it you can only hope that someone will love you enough to gift you the desired object.

I was a budding tennis player wannabe who wanted to follow in Bjorn Borg’s footsteps. I grew my hair long. I watched every match I could find. I even tried to walk like him. The only problem was I did not have the tennis racket he had. And I just knew that it was the missing piece that would link me to future tennis stardom.

I don’t remember if it was a birthday or just a surprise, but one day I arrived home to find that my parents had found me the holy grail of my tennis world: a Bancroft Bjorn Borg signature racket. Complete with a cover and press.

It was high excitement. They handed it to me in its wrapping and the first thing I did was open it. I examined it. I ran my fingers in amazement at it. I gripped it with my hands—one on the forehand side and two on the backhand.

Maybe you remember a gift from when you were younger that made its mark on your memory. Or maybe it was as recent as the Christmas holidays. Regardless, if you enjoy receiving gifts, then read on. Because gift giving has been around longer than my childhood.

“…grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’”

Each person in the body of Christ has received a gift.  The first thing we do with gifts is open them.

How do you know what gift rests inside you? Read the gift lists in scripture. Look at individuals in your life you want to be like in ministry. Pay attention to where you enjoy and have the most fun serving. Make a list of your natural talents and skills. God can use all of them in ministry. Add your g-ifts, i-ndividuals, f-un, t-alents and s-kills together and you will find your “gifts.”

We open gifts. But then we use them. Peter writes: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” Your gifts that God has packaged inside you are not to be held onto tightly. They are to be developed and then used within the body of Christ. You have gifts that will help others grow into his likeness. And they have gifts you need too.

No one has all the gifts that Jesus has given to the church.  But each one has a gift to be used. We need to see ourselves and others in the church as Jesus does. That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 12: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…for as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . .”

“Sober judgment” means you understand your place in the body and you understand that others have their place. When functioning together, great things can happen. We can fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.

One thing my parents did not count on the day I opened their gift was that I also understood the intention of a gift. I wanted to use it. Right then. So they had to pack me and my brother up into the car and take us immediately to the tennis courts. I couldn’t wait for my first serve.

And you don’t need to wait for your first serve either. Open the gift that is you today. Then use it in service to the church and people. In the end, everybody wins.

Question: What is the thing you do best that when you do it you enjoy it and others seem to benefit from it?

 

Know Why You Do What You Do

Do you know why you do what you do? Many of us don’t. Simon Sinek says that many people and companies don’t know their “why” and yet it is crucial to their success.

Sinek is known for his TED talk where he describes The Golden Circle. Sinek says the great leaders and companies of the world all think, act, and speak the same. And it’s the complete opposite from everyone else. He says everyone knows “what” they do. Some know “how” they do it. But very few people or organizations know “why” they do what they do. “Why?” is the cause or purpose or belief behind “what” you do.

Apple is his example. If they did things like everyone else their marketing campaign would go something like this: “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

But they don’t approach their company that way. They begin with the “why?”

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

Sinek says people don’t buy what you do but why you do it. It’s an amazing insight. But it’s also a little scary since most of us don’t know why we do what we do. And yet the early believers knew the “why” behind the “how” and “what” they did. And “what” they did was community.

…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … And all who believed were together and had all things in common. … And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes… (Acts 2:42-47)

If we could travel back through time and sit down in their homes and ask them why they were meeting together they would answer: Everything we do we believe in following Jesus’ way of life.

Jesus is why they did anything they did. They were following the way of Jesus. And one of the things they did was devote themselves to the fellowship. “Devote” means to “adhere to.” If you’ve ever stepped on some gum and found your shoe stuck to the ground, you understand the word for “devote.” Your shoe and the pavement are “glued” or “stuck together.”

The early Christians were stuck together too. Why? Because they saw Jesus stick with them. When they were fun to be around, he stuck with them. When they irritated him, he stuck with them. When they were slow to understand, he stuck with them. Jesus is a model of devotion.

And he wants us to be too. In John 13:35 he says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” When the church loves those in the church, those outside the church will notice. Why? Because Jesus is love.

Jesus is our “why.” Devotion is our “how.” Loving each other is our “what.” And others notice how we love each other. Jesus said in John 13 that this is how people will know we are his disciple, i.e., how we “love one another.”

We do what he would do in the way he would do it. And Jesus would challenge the status quo of our isolated world and create community. Our Golden Circle might sound something like this:

Everything we do, we believe in following Jesus. The way we follow Jesus is by devoting ourselves. We devote ourselves to teaching and fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayers, to being together and having all things in common. We just happen to enjoy community too.

Know your “why” and you’ll know “how” to do your “what.” You might even change the world along the way.

Question: How aware are you of your “why” for the things you do?

 

 

 

 

How to Increase Your Love of God and People

You’ve seen art lovers. They go to museums on their time off. They buy paintings for their home and office.

You’ve seen sports lovers. They watch every college game on the weekend. They buy racquets and equipment and hit the courts three nights a week. They play hoops with other aging bodies even when it hurts.

You’ve seen food lovers. They take cooking classes. They purchase the best utensils for their kitchen. The art lover sees their presentation which resembles a masterpiece and asks to buy it for their home or office.

You know the principle even if you have never stated it: you are what you love. Each one of us becomes something that we love. And we are first what we want.

So says James Smith in his book, You are What You Love. Makes sense, doesn’t it? People know Jay Leno loves cars because Jay Leno owns around 286 vehicles. And people know you by what you love. And they know what you love because you have ordered your life around what you want.

That’s why Jesus asks the disciples who are following him, “What do you want?” He doesn’t ask “What do you believe?” or “What do you know?” Jesus wants to know “What do you want?” This is an important question—maybe “the” question—because as Smith writes, “You are what you love because you live toward what you want.”

The problem we face is that in following Jesus we often find we have wanted something other than him first. And so we have lived towards those things that occupy a higher place in our lives. We need our wants to be transformed.

It’s possible. One way we try to do this is by learning. We study. We attend Bible class, worship and hear sermons, we take online studies and read the Bible more and read more books. There’s nothing wrong with learning. At its basic definition a “learner” is what a “disciple” is: someone who learns to live the life Jesus would live if he were in our shoes.

What we often miss in our era is we think learning has to do with only the brain. So we try to cram more knowledge in it. And then we learn that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love” and we realize we have not become good at loving.

Biblical learning goes past head knowledge alone. Knowledge has a sidekick named Behavior. Classically, behavior can be formed in two ways. The first is imitation. Our culture values originality but the Bible values imitation. Jesus said “follow me.” Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

Want to learn to love? Find people who love God well and love people well and spend time with them. Watch them. Ask questions. Invite input. Imitate them as they imitate God.

Then practice. Move what you are learning to your behavior. We listen to a virtuoso violinist and we marvel at how fluidly and flawlessly she plays. But what we don’t see is that because she loves the sound a violin makes she has spent hours and hours practicing. The Apostle Paul says our practice takes place in Christian worship. It happens when the church assembles for worship of God. And it happens when the church assembled dismisses into the world.

Jesus asked those disciples “What do you want?” They didn’t really know so they followed him. And what they saw they imitated. What Jesus did they practiced. Things they thought they wanted most they learned they needed least. What they wanted most was God. And so they learned to love him first.

This year may you love God first. Imitate God lovers you can find. Practice.

Before long people will look at you and say “That person is a God lover.”

Question: How well are you known as a “God Lover?” Who will you imitate and how will you practice this year?

Make 2017 Your Year of Transformation

When my boys were young they loved to watch The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I’d watch it with them because I loved it…I mean…I wanted to be a good dad and spend quality time with them.

We watched each episode with anticipation because we knew the script. At some point these ordinary teenagers would be faced with an enemy. They would speak the words, “It’s morphin’ time!” and immediately transform into martial arts super heroes. We’d say the words along with them. But, other than in our imaginations, we did not change.

Wouldn’t it be nice if transformation were that easy? But you know as well as I from experience it seldom is. And yet, transformation is the crucial issue in your spiritual life today. We are to take it seriously because the New Testament writers took it seriously.

Paul uses the word “morphoo” in his writing. For example, Paul urges “…be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  Paul tells the churches of Galatia that he is in the pains of childbirth until “Christ is formed in you.”  He tells the Corinthian church that we are being “transformed” from one degree of glory to the next.  The word there is metamorphoo, from which we get our word metamorphosis.

When a person is following in the way of Jesus, transformation is expected to happen. John Ortberg has written in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted that when we follow Jesus but don’t change, two bad things can happen. One thing that can happen is that we just give up on change. A person settles for the idea that they have done the minimal requirement necessary for “getting into heaven” but has given up on the hope of “heaven getting into them.”

The second thing that can happen is a person settles for pseudo-transformation. This occurs when a person or group focuses on external markers to give them some assurance they are different than those who are not following Jesus. James Dunn talks about these boundary markers in his commentary on Romans where he says that the rabbinical writings of the day talked a lot about circumcision, the Sabbath, and dietary laws. He says that if you were to ask a rabbi in the first century what the core of the Law was, they would quickly recite the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Why then did they focus in their writings on circumcision, the Sabbath, and dietary laws? The answer is these were external boundary markers for who was in and who was out. It still happens today. Christians are often known for what they “don’t” do. Those are boundary markers. Even churches have them: “Spirit-filled, non-denominational, contemporary music vs. traditional music, a real discipling church, a real Bible-based church.” It happens whether we realize it or not. Those are boundary markers.  All groups have them.

But Jesus came along and had a different way of identifying.  “Love God.  Love people,” he said.  Paul said the same thing: “I might have a lot of boundary markers.  But if I don’t have love, I’m nothing.”  John agreed.  “Whoever loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God.”

If you go back and look at the conflicts Jesus had with the religious leaders, they mostly had to do with circumcision, dietary laws, or the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were concerned about the boundary markers.  But for Jesus the key question was their orientation. Were they moving in the direction of loving God and loving people?  That’s why he scandalized people by saying the tax collectors and prostitutes were in the kingdom ahead of the religious leaders.  His boundary marker was the heart, and it was a transformed heart.

Want real transformation this year? Then Paul says we need to go into training like athletes (1 Corinthians 9:24) because there is a huge difference between “trying” and “training.” If I “tried” to run a marathon tomorrow, I might make a few miles before having to stop. But if I “trained” for a marathon, there’s a good chance I would see the finish line.

Start training today. Find a spiritual gym, a church, who can help you train both spiritually and emotionally towards maturity. And see if by the end of the year you have moved further in the direction of loving God and people.

Go ahead and say it. I know you want to. “It’s morphin’ time!”

Question: What training do you need to begin to be the person you want to be?