Mother

We are drawn to stories.  The heroes.  The villains.  The supporting characters.  The conflict.  The hurt.  The pain.  The bitterness.  The comfort.  The grace.  The mercy.  The forgiveness.  The climax.  The resolution.  The triumph and celebration.

I believe we are drawn to stories…because we always try to find ourselves in them.

Who am I?  What part do I play?  What is my role?  Am I the one causing hurt…or the one comforting?  Do I inflict pain…or do I grant mercy?  Have I become bitter…or do I forgive?  Do I continue to hate…or do I choose to love?

Of course there are choices throughout the story.

A character can be molded and shaped by situations and circumstances, or by the lessons learned as the story twists and turns.

But woven into the fabric of every situation, circumstance, and lesson learned, we find a supporting cast with their own unique stories that have, and will continue to, influence and shape our own stories.

While it is true that some of these individuals carve valleys into the landscape of our story, others work the fertile soil of our lives to show us heights we would have never seen otherwise.

They pass along their heart and sense of selflessness to their sons and daughters… and the sons and daughters of future generations.

But it is not by word alone…but by word and flesh.

This perfectly describes my mother.

For her daily example in word and flesh… I am eternally grateful.

Her uniqueness

Her influence

Her tender and gentle shaping

Her undying love for her children

Made me who I am today.

And she continues to work the fertile soil of my life so I might see greater heights.

It is because of her that I stand tall and see more clearly.

But my mom does more than simply nourish the soil of my life.

She is also a seed sower.

The school bus pulled up early on a cool fall morning.  A little man stood with his red satchel beside his mom in anticipation.  The doors opened wide.  The little man took the gifts from his mom and stepped onto the bus.  He handed a box of handkerchiefs and a Snickers bar to the bus driver.

I gave because my mother always gave selflessly.

She has always been a giver.

A giver to her family and to others.

Time, gifts, money, and instruction, she has never failed to give.

Even when we did not have much.  Even when she battled cancer.

She continued to give.

Not begrudgingly.  She did it without complaint.  She did not expect anything in return.

She gave of herself to others.

The seed of selfless giving was planted in me.  This seed took root in the fertile soil of my life.  This seed was watered by the Spirit.  And the shoot broke forth from the fertile ground.

The tree extended branches and produced an abundance of fruit.  The fruit fell to the ground and scattered more seeds.  The seeds of giving and selflessness were planted in me by my mom.

They grew to produce in me the fruit of giving and selflessness to others.

And that cycle continues.

From person to person.

From generation to generation.

My mother made me a fruit bearer and a seed sower.

A part of her will always live and carry on with me… as I continue to pass along what was given to me.

In and through my own children.

To my friends.

And even among my enemies.

I know who I am today and I know what role I play in this life because of my mother.

Happy Mother’s Day mom.  My words are insufficient… but it is the best I have.

I love you.

Brandon

 

This is My Body Given For You (Kind of)

This Good Friday I would like to offer some thoughts and a challenge to you about the death of Christ.

The typical Christian thought of Christ’s Passion is that it was something done “for us.”

And that is the foundation of Christianity: that Christ was given sacrificially over to death so as to atone for the sins of humanity and bridge the divide between God and man.

It was in that sacrificial act that God moved decisively in history and did something “for us.”

We didn’t reach this conclusion by happenstance, for Jesus himself asserted that he was giving his broken body for each one of us.

In fact, we can still hear the echo of Jesus’ pronouncement during his final meal just moments before he would be arrested, beaten, and crucified, “This is my body, given for you.”

So while we, as Christians, have been on solid footing in our understanding that the death of Christ was something done on our behalf, I would propose that the pronouncement of Jesus is something more than any of us have ever imagined- not just something done “for us,” but also as something being done through us by God as well.

“This my body, given for you,” is not simply a statement continually reminding us of who Jesus was and what he did.  It is also a declaration of what his Body (the Church) will continue to do.

And the implications of this larger understanding have the potential to breathe fresh life into the Church, but more importantly- to change the world.

It is a step forward from a position of being perpetual recipients and into a position of being recipients and then extenders.

This is captured nicely in the parable of the servants.

Three servants were each given something.

Two of the servants extended what they had been given.

One servant held onto what was generously given and extended nothing.

It was this foolish servant who was reprimanded for not extending what had been given.

The lesson for each of us is: what we have been freely given… we ought to freely extend.

As Christ’s body was given for us… we have become his Body in order to give ourselves for others.

As was the pattern and shape of Christ being broken and poured out for us, so we become the Body of Christ by allowing ourselves to be broken open and our blood poured out for the world.

And becoming his Body means that we take on the exact pattern and shape of his life, with a willingness and determination to even go to our death in order to demonstrate God’s radical love.

But doing this confronts every way we have fought against truly being his body, broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not stand up and fight… his body would lie down in surrender.

Christ’s body would not break people down… his body would allow itself to be broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not seek to be exalted… his body would be ridiculed among the sinners.

Christ’s body would not be self-righteous… his body would be meek and humble.

Christ’s body would not be accusing or condemning… his body would be gentle and empathetic.

Christ’s body would not be legislating morality… his body would be teaching and demonstrating a higher way and extending grace.

Christ’s body would not be shunning sinners… his body would be washing their feet.

Christ’s body would not be casting people aside… his body would be joining them where they are at.

Christ’s body would not be pronouncing judgment… his body would be defending the cause of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.

Christ’s body would not be casting stones… his body would be making peace.

Christ’s body would not be sitting at the exclusive table for the religious… his body would be sitting among the outcasts and sinners.

Christ’s body would not be despising and hating… his body would be loving.

In the same way that Christ embodied the beauty, richness, and fullness of God’s generous mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace by becoming the least of these… so ought his Body on earth right now.

But the truth is that we are all too eager to unconditionally receive God’s love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and all-consuming love… but painfully conditional or absent in extending it.

But guess what?

It’s not ours to give.  It’s God’s.

And we have been generously entrusted with what God has given us so as to further extend it.

God’s full expression was on display in the body of Jesus Christ… and nothing short of that ought to be on display through the Body of Christ in the world today.

What we have been lavished in and showered with… flows freely.

And that’s where real Life is found- giving ourselves, our lives, our bodies for others.

While it is true that we, as Christians, would rather die than to ever stop living in God’s all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

It can not stop there.

This all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love is not simply meant to be received.

It is meant to be given as well.

And here is what that means.

It means that we would rather die than to ever stop giving that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Again, what is received… is meant to be given.

On this Good Friday as we join our Savior at his table… let us join him in his proclamation to all of the world, “This is my body, given for you.”

Peace…

Brandon

Spiritual Transformation

Words on pages are not enough to transform you.

Inspirational and motivational words are energizing, but they are not enough to sustain your fleeting emotions and not powerful enough to completely change you at the core of your being. Sure they may lift you up and get you excited for a bit, but those feelings will soon fade and you will remain untransformed in your life.

We, as Christians, too many times have this belief that our lives will necessarily begin changing when “we say the right words” or “take on a new label” or “hang with a different group” or “read the Bible more.”

Transformation is not that simple. It is not a flipping of the light switch or “getting dunked” and then becoming magically new.

In fact, there are those who have verbally professed to give Christ their lives…but yet remain untransformed, and likely even painfully empty, in their lives- day by day, week by week, or year by year.

Spiritual transformation… being made new… is a process. It is a daily walk of letting go and receiving, of dying and coming to life, of the edges being knocked off and refined into something new… something glorious. It is not for those seeking quick fixes, instant gratification, or a new life without sacrifice.

It is only in a life centered on Jesus Christ and the moment by moment sacrifice of your will and your way to the Spirit of God that you begin to change inwardly. When this happens, the Kingdom begins to break out through your life in power. It is only through your continual and perpetual worship that the Kingdom begins to reign inwardly then outwardly in your life.

The Kingdom seed is planted. It takes root. It grows wildly. It bears fruit.

We must understand from the beginning that it is not about what you can do in your own power, but rather what the power of God can do to transform you. It is not about what you can do outwardly to be a better Christian; rather it is coming face to face with Jesus Christ and His in-breaking Kingdom that begins to change you inwardly. It is allowing Christ to come so close that your heart, your mind, your desires, and your feelings begin to change. It is the easiest (and hardest thing) you will ever do, but it is essential to understand that you do not have the capacity to live a righteous and holy life in your own power, rather it is only when you are reborn from the inside that God’s ways become your own.

You must pray for the Spirit to come into your heart and your life, for that is the only place where transformation can begin and the only place where the Kingdom can take root and reign. It is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual solution and it can only be cured by the Spirit of God. When the Spirit comes close and begins to work intimately in your life, you begin changing. You are able to see the world as God sees the world. You hunger for those things which God hungers. You pursue those things which God pursues. You desire those things which God desires. You cannot get enough of Jesus and His way and His Kingdom. You change so radically from the inside that the power of the Spirit cannot help but work its way out into your life in everything you do. But sacrifice and surrender to God the Holy Spirit is essential.

The way of Jesus always means sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in which you become so hidden in the fullness of Christ that it is no longer you, only Him. It is never what you can do; it is only what can be done through you when you get out of the way. It is essential for each of us to pray and plead to God for a transformation from the inside and for a deep hunger for His Kingdom to come into our lives and work through each of us.

Seven years ago I did not know much about the Bible. I did not have any passion or excitement to read it. My guess is that I was a lot like many Christians today; the thought of reading my Bible seemed more like a chore than anything life-giving. One day I began to pray that God would change my heart and that I would have a passion and a hunger for Him and His Word. In ways that I can only explain as miraculous, my heart and my life began to change. I began to have a hunger for anything and everything of God.

I wanted to pray without ceasing. I wanted to give up my own pursuits and desires. I wanted to read and understand more about God. I wanted to know what God was doing in and through my life for others. The changes in my life didn’t come from guilting myself to death. It didn’t come from arm-twisting or beating myself into submission. My inner passion, desire, and hunger came from God emptying me of me and filling me with His Spirit. That is when I began to find Life and began to understand the words of Jesus, “I came that [you] might have Life and have it abundantly.” I wholly believe that for any one of us to change, it has to begin in humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice of our own ways coupled with an insatiable hunger and desire for God to come close and change our hearts and minds. It is then that the Spirit is invited to begin the transformative work of raising you to new Life.

But how deeply inside our lives do we allow the Spirit to work? How much of ourselves do we really fully sacrifice? Are there certain places within you that are off limits? Are there certain areas that have been purposefully blocked off? Are there areas of darkness that you keep hidden because it is just too difficult or too embarrassing to go there? You have to admit, we rarely ask questions like these in our churches. It is as if we are all completely cool with a superficial scrub of the house, but we are reluctant to open up all of the windows and doors to the house and even more reluctant to open the closets inside. The truth is that the entire house needs cleaning, but we have to be willing to open all the windows and doors and every single closet for the work to begin.

For me, words like humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice had always been these abstract words that really didn’t mean anything for my life. I knew that a Christian ought to exhibit those qualities, but it was just a mental thing, not a real way of living. In essence, I was comfortable opening a couple of windows and doors for the Spirit to come into, but I kept the shades drawn and other doors securely locked deep inside. Not only was there no possibility of cleaning the restricted areas, I would not even allow the Light to break in.

One evening I gathered with a handful of my Christian brothers from my church. I told them how important it is that we come together as sinners at the foot of the cross to confess our sins to God and to each other in repentance. The truth is that it was my way of finally opening up every window, door, and closet that had remained closed and off limits. It was my way of finally exposing every bit of darkness within me to the Light of Christ.

In the presence of God and my Christian brothers, I began to verbally confess every sin I could remember in my life. All of the windows were opening and every door to the house invited in my dear Friend. Humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice became a real part of my life as I began carrying the cross of Christ. I went through every room, kicked down every closet door, and asked my Friend to do the work I was completely incapable of doing. The pockets of darkness that had been hidden deep in my life and that kept the Light of Christ from penetrating my heart had now been opened up. The cleaning of the entire house could now begin. There was no longer a place for the darkness to hide. The Light of Christ broke into my heart and began to transform me into a new man.

The man who had been the cheater, the liar, the adulterer, the perverse, the foul-mouthed, the self-centered, and the verbal abuser had been exposed, put to death, and forgiven by Christ and my brothers. It was evident that there was absolutely nothing spectacular about me, only Christ in me. I had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for Christ and His love for me. I also had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for the Spirit that began to do the work in my life that I could never do and to teach me new and higher ways. Life completely changed for me that night.

Are you willing to open not just the windows and doors, but also the closets that you have kept hidden deep within your life? Are you willing to let the Light break into those hidden places so that the Light of Christ will begin to shine through you? Are you willing to let the “old man” be exposed so that the new man might come to life? Are you willing to lead by example the way of humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice by being confessional with your other brothers and sisters in Christ so that they may see you not as someone who is perfect, but as a sinner who is forgiven and who is being made new? For the Spirit to begin the deepest cleaning, you must be willing to walk the sacrificial pathway of Christ for transformation to begin. It is only on this pathway where Christ and His Kingdom together are glorified in and through your entire life.

peace…

brandon