Archives For Theology

We all have an opinion on small group life. Some of us lean towards “small groups are amazing.” Some of lean towards “small groups are just plain difficult. And awkward.” Rarely is someone neutral when it comes to intentionally building spiritually-formative relationships with others.

I’ve been a part of life-giving small groups that I long to gather with week in and week out. Ones where I leave with more of Jesus than when I came. I’ve also been a part of groups that seem to suck the life right out of me. Ones where I give, but get nothing in return. (I think that has to do most prominently with small group dominators, but that’s another post for another day)

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself.

9 unintended benefits of small group life

1. Not everybody thinks like you do, and that’s ok. (Tweet that)

Sometimes, our pride needs a swift body check. We need to run after a fly ball in center field and crash into the wall. We think we’re the only ones with a corner on the “right” answers, and we need subtle, and not-so-subtle, reminders that there are other ways to think.

2. Not everybody thinks like you do, and you can still love them them. 

Loving those who can, and will, love us back is barely love. Loving those who think and act differently than we do is more challenging, and takes more faith. It’s more risky and more difficult. Just because someone thinks differently doesn’t mean you can’t go out of your way to love them. Hanging around people that think like you do is more dangerous than living life with different people that stretch you.

3. Jesus followers can have fun. (Tweet that)

Maybe this post was written just so you’d read this benefit. If you’re a Jesus follower, please don’t check your humor and love of laughter, fun, and general frivolity at the door. After all, a cheerful heart is good medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)

4. People desperately need you.

You have gifts. You have a story. You have experiences. You have a living, breathing, active relationship with Jesus. And other people need you. God has created us to work interdependently, and though you may not have been valued for your contribution to the Church in the past, small group highlights the value you bring to the table. (1 Corinthians 4:12-31)

5. You desperately need people.

You may have gifts, but you don’t have them all. It becomes quickly and readily apparent in group life that others are wired and strengthened differently than you. Which is beautiful! No longer do you have to be all things to all people. You can be the you God created you to be, and lean in on others as they’re being who God created them to be.

6. Prayer works

Don’t believe me? Try it. Try asking for prayer. Try praying for someone else. God uses the prayers of the righteous to accomplish His work. (James 5:16)

7. The bible is living and active.

As you’re discussing the Scriptures week in and week out, you’ll find God speaking right into your story, as if the Bible were written just for you, where you’re at in life. He’ll speak through others in your group, using the Scriptures as the Truth you need to think, and live, differently. (Hebrews 4:12)

8. Confession brings healing. (Tweet that)

The more comfortable you grow with your group, the more you’ll be willing to be open and honest with your faults. As you confess, you’ll find healing. (James 5:16)

9. Dirty hands clean your heart. (Tweet that)

The more you love people, the dirtier your hands get. The more deeply you love others, the more likely it is you’ll get burned. Serving people well necessitates getting messy. Because people are messy. And the more you love, serve, and give generously of yourself, the more you begin to look like Jesus.

Are you in a group? Any other unintended benefits you’ve found?

 

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A tale of 2 pastors

Ben Reed —  November 21, 2013 — 4 Comments

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I rode in the front seat while he leaned forward in the back of a cab one night in Dallas on our way back to the hotel. We were speaking at a conference together. I was leading a tiny breakout. He was a main-stage ‘rock star’ preacher.

As we talked, he expressed a genuine interest in the ministry I was a part of. About my family. He was concerned for what concerned me. Genuinely interested in being a small part of the solution. Genuinely interested in encouraging me. In listening, learning, and growing.

Someone at some point in some city at some conference told him he was awesome. Gifted. That he was a once-in-a-generation leader. In that moment, and in a thousand moments since, he reminded himself of his utter dependency on God.

__________________________________

Passing him in the hallway of the church he led, I stole a moment to say hey, and build a relationship.

He was insistent that I know how many speaking gigs he had coming up. About his blog. His book. His endorsers. His mentors. The mega churches he has influenced. The conferences he’s led. The people he’s gathered. The miles he’s traveled. The way I could help him.

Someone at some point in some city at some conference told him he was awesome. Gifted. That he was a once-in-a-generation leader. In that moment, and in a thousand moments since, he reminded himself…that they were right.

Which one do you want to be?

 

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Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 8.51.16 AM

image credit: CreationSwap user David Sunnock

I’d finished getting ready for work one early morning, ready to walk out the door, when I heard a little cry from my newborn. So I set my bag down and walked back into the room to make sure she was okay. She seemed fine, so I gave her one last hug and kiss. I was ready to put her back in her crib when it happened.

Vomit.

Not just a little dribble of a spit-up. I mean full-on, projectile vomit all over me. Which, if you were wondering, is a great way to start your day. It’s delightful, really.

Then the whole situation get even better.

Because she didn’t just throw up on me. She threw up on herself.

She started wailing, crying big ole alligator tears while simultaneously pushing out her bottom lip, which started shaking in frustration and sadness and discomfort. You’d have felt sorry for her, like I did. I’m sure of it.

As I was working to clean her up, her crying woke up the rest of the house. Lovely.

I finally got her cleaned up, snuggled back in her sleeper, and nestled back in her crib.

At which point I realized that the vomit all over me was unnaturally cold.

I love my baby girl, but that was disgusting. Warm vomit is bad enough. But to have it on you so long that it actually gets cold? That’s another level gross. If you haven’t experienced it, just trust me. I won’t wish it on you.

Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s realized in the vomit.

The hook

We are the vomit-y little newborn. Our lives are a mess. We have broken marriages, broken relationships, and a streak of pride we’re embarrassed to admit because we’re too prideful.

We’ve got a past we want to hide. A present we try to sensationalize. And a future we’re entirely uncertain of.

We’re addicted to attention. To positive reinforcement. To the “perfect” image of ourselves we think we have to live up to.

We are too lazy. Too disciplined. Too hidden. Too open.

We eat too much. Too little.

We enjoy life too much. Or not enough.

Even on our good days, our righteousness is sprinkled with, “What’s in this for me?” or “I wonder what others will think of me?” or “Will I get paid for this?” or “These people need me because I’m so awesome.”

Our generosity has an edge of hesitating, momentary greed at best. At worst it’s mixed with a self-serving, looking-down-your-nose pride.

We’re not perfect. Not at all.

And Love acknowledges that. It doesn’t look at the vomit and say, “Mmmm…yummy.” Love acknowledges our nastiness and loves anyway.

Love recognizes the nasty and dives in.

Love doesn’t act like you’re perfect. It acknowledges how gross you are, yet loves you still.

Love doesn’t act like it’s not hurt. Like it doesn’t smell the stink. It sees the vomit on you. On it. On the floor. And in the fibers of the carpet.

And whispers hope as it wipes our dirty face.

God is Love. (1 John 4:8)

We look at our lives and wonder why, if God truly does see all of our junk, He’d still love us. We’re sitting in our own filth. Helpless. Hopeless. And afraid. It’s as if God looks at us in that moment and says,

Go to work now? And miss out on an opportunity to show you love once again? To let you see your dirt, and show you that I still love you? Miss out on an opportunity to wipe your face clean, put new clothes on you, and tuck you back in? Not. A. Chance. I’m your dad, and I love you no matter what.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – The Apostle Paul, Romans 5:6-8

Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s also found in the vomit.

 

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I was driving down the interstate the other day, just cruising along minding my own business. Creeping to the top of a hill, two lanes merged into one as I passed the “merge ahead” sign. I turned my left signal on, checked my driver’s side mirror, and drifted before the right lane ended. Courteously, I might add.

merge1

image credit: Blog.GetVero.com

Then out of nowhere, a little sports car whipped around me, from the left lane into the right, then barely getting back into the left lane in front of me, before the lane he was in morphed to a gravel-y shoulder.

I gave him a polite, yet ‘I-know-what-you-did-and-I-want-you-to-know-that-I’m-angry-but-not-angry-enough-to-go-road-rage-on-you’ honk of my horn, and shook my head in disgust.

‘That guy was crazy,’ I mumbled through clenched jaws.

But I cooled off.

About .5 mile ahead, I approached a car driving a little slower than I. Quite a bit slower than I, in fact. The speed limit was 65 mph, and he (I tend to assign gender to cars when I get frustrated) was poking along at a measly 52 mph.

The nerve!

Didn’t he know the speed limit? Didn’t he know I was in a hurry? Does he not have any sort of a life, that he has so much time on his hands he can go 13 mph under the speed limit?

I fumed until he turned right, and I could resume my speed of choice.

The hypocrisy of it all

I am, of course, a prototypical hypocrite. I judge people on things I don’t want to be judged on. I hold others responsible for things I don’t hold myself responsible for. I curse you, then turn around and do exactly what I cursed you for.

I’m a big dummy.

Although it’s kind of silly, I think we do this same sort of thing in a lot of areas of life.

Driving

* If someone drives faster than we do, they’re a crazy driver.

* If someone drives slower than we do, they’re wasting our time.

Working out

* If someone works out (and we don’t), they’re a crazy workout-aholic.

* If someone doesn’t work out (and we do), they’re a lazy bum.

Dieting

* If someone eats healthy (and we don’t), then they’re a health nut fanatic.

* If someone eats whatever they want (and we eat healthy), then they probably don’t care about their body.

Finances

* If someone drives a nice vehicle (and we don’t), then they are probably unwise with their money.

* If someone drives a junker of a vehicle (and we drive something newer), then they probably don’t take care of their stuff. They’re not good stewards of God’s gifts.

Church attendance

* If someone goes to church regularly (and we don’t), then they’re a crazy religious zealot.

* If someone doesn’t go to church regularly (and we do), then they’re a dirty rotten sinner who doesn’t think about God or others.

TV

* If someone watches TV (and you don’t), they probably love to waste their life away.

* If someone doesn’t (and you do), they are just a prude.

Social media

* If someone posts consistently on social media (and you don’t), they have no idea how to manage their time.

* If someone doesn’t post (and you do), they don’t understand how people in this generation connect.

We are quick to judge others and slow to judge ourselves. We judge others in hard lines and cut-and-dry terms.

But when we judge ourselves, we judge with grace. We give allowance for busy schedules. For having kids around the house. For having an extra stressful season at work.

We give ourselves a little slack when it comes to the way we handle our money (things are tight right now). The patience, or lack thereof, we have with our kids (they were being overly difficult). Our eating habits (I traveled a lot this month). Our driving habits (we were in a hurry to go to…church).

We’re modern-day Pharisees, casting stones at others and dodging the ones thrown at us. We feel justified in our path as we spit and jeer at others.

Next time you’re tempted to judge, lead with grace. That’s what you do with yourself, isn’t it?

It’s like what Paul hinted at in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love believes the best, hopes the best, and is able to endure because it chooses love first. It chooses to believe right motives until it hears otherwise. It chooses to position itself like it wants to be positioned, in the seat of grace.

Isn’t that how you want to be judged?

And the crazy part is that God knows us. Fully. Yet still gives us grace. And then more grace. (Re: James 4:6)

Let’s lead like that in our relationships.

See ya on the road. You crazy driver.

 

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This is a guest post from my friend Pete Wilson (Twitter, Facebook, Blog). Pete’s just released his latest book, Let Hope In. You can pick up a copy HERE.

If you’ve not read anything of Pete’s, please do yourself a favor and pick this book up. His writing is fresh and pointed. It’s easy to understand and apply…but the principles are difficult to live because Pete pulls no punches.

And a book about hope? Good grief, pick this book up now.

Let Hope In

____________________________

There are two very different types of hope in this world. One is hoping for something, and the other is hoping in someone.

Eventually everything we hope for will disappoint us. Every circumstance, every situation that we’re hoping for is going to wear out, fall apart, melt down, and go away. When that happens, the question then is about your deeper hope, your foundational hope, your fallback hope when all your other hopes have disappointed.

All of Scripture points to one man, one God, not because he gives us everything we’re hoping for but because he is the One we put our hope in.

For the past year I’ve been working on a new book I just released entitled “Let Hope In“. I knew from the beginning that this book would fall short of helping people find life-changing transformation if all we do is identify the problems, challenges, and painful moments of your past. Identifying these memories from your past alone doesn’t help you. If all you do is remember the source of your pain, then something has gone horribly wrong. Why drudge up the past if you can’t find healing from the pain?

And for there to be real healing, for your past to really become your past, what needs to happen here is that you discover or discern the lie that your memory contains. This is fundamental to your healing.

It is important to understand that your past is not really the problem. The real problem is the lie you believed when an event happened in your past.

The truth is that memories don’t hurt us. It is what we believe about those memories that hurts us.

Trusting in the loving care of God regardless of what has happened in my past has been an ongoing process in my journey. And it’s only when we trust his loving care that we’re able to really begin to allow the hope of Christ to shine through us. Yes, hurt people do hurt people. But what’s equally true is that free people free people. And becoming free starts with being able to fully trust the loving care of God despite what we’ve possibly been through in our past.

 

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Comfort is the opposite of faith

Ben Reed —  September 18, 2013 — 2 Comments
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image credit: Creation Swap user Shane Cappelle

Without an oncoming wave. In the middle of the calm. In an open field with no breeze.

Without a wall to climb. A hill to take. Or a gate to storm.

Without a battle to fight. An onslaught to defend. A war to wage.

Without the need for tenacity. Bite. And digging in my heels.

Without a sprint. A hurdle. Or one more lap to swim.

Without naysayers. Without doubters.

Without chaos. Without a bit of confusion.

Without “but it’s too hard.” Without “but we’ve never done it like that.” Without “there’s no way.”

Without faith.

 

I rely on myself. I trust in me. I make much of Ben.

I move too quickly. I wait too long. I shuffle my feet.

I lax in prayer. I lax in study. I drop in growth.

I grow weary. Get bored. Meddle where I shouldn’t.

I doubt. Blame others. I shift responsibility.

I grow frustrated. Apathetic. Listless.

I am fidgety. Nervous. I can’t sink in my toes.

I scratch. Scrape. But my heart grows cold.

I wither.

 

Give me a challenge and I thrive.

Give me “comfortable” and I waste away.

 

Am I the only one?

 

 

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Feigning exhaustion

Ben Reed —  September 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

I love to run. That’s no secret. I’m among the <.03% of people that actually looks forward to long runs in oppressingly hot, humid weather. I look forward to my feet pounding the pavement, the the breeze (or lack thereof) whipping through the low spots, and the feeling at the end that, though I’m lying on the ground in a pool of my own sweat, I’ve done something significant. Though, in ultimate irony, I arrive at the same place I started.

My son’s developing this love as well. When he sees me getting ready for a run, he gets ready, too. He ties his shoes on extra tightly. Gets his bottle of water squared away. And queues up the songs he wants to hear as we run.

It’s simultaneously cute and manly.

He runs in ~.5 mile stretches. He’ll run ahead of me for a bit, taunting me as he looks back. Or he’ll run right beside me, talking about how much he loves being outside.

Then .5 mile hits, and he gets bored.

So he starts feigning exhaustion. Breathing hard. Retching his shoulders. Slowing down his words as if to catch his breath.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 9.27.54 AM

Rex’s “I’m tired, but not really…” face

“I think…*big inhale, big exhale*…I want to ride in the stroller a while. I’m…*big inhale, big exhale*…getting…*pause for dramatic effect*…a little tired.”

So I strap him in the stroller as we trudge out a few more miles as he jabbers on about monsters, soccer practice, and one of his new-found friends at church.

He wasn’t tired at all! He wasn’t gassed. Wasn’t sore. Wasn’t out of energy.

He just wanted to quit for a while, and he knew what it looked like when daddy was tired. So he did that.

I wonder if we do the same thing in life?

We give up because we get bored. We want something new. Different. Shiny. And what we’ve been doing…well, we’re going to feign exhaustion so we can jump back in the jogging stroller.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. – Paul, Galatians 6:9-10

You see what God’s called you to do. You’ve see it more clearly than you ever have.

  • The ministry he’s called you to start.
  • The small group he’s called you to launch.
  • The book He’s led you to write.
  • The person He’s called you to love.
  • The place He’s called you to go.
  • The job He’s told you to take.

Your “personal best” is way, way better than your perceived “best.” What you can do, who you can become, and the potential that you can accomplish is massively bigger than the expectations culture places on you. Or what your boss thinks you can do. Or who your spouse thinks you can become.

Because you serve a God that’s bigger than others’ expectations.

You have caught a vision for who God wants you to be. You’ve seen where that idea could lead. You’ve realized who it could impact.

But it’s not shiny anymore. It’s actually kind of boring, and the new smell has worn off. It used to give us energy, but now it feels more like a job.

Don’t. Quit. Now.

You’ll reap nothing if you quit now. They’ll reap nothing if you quit now.

Obedience is found in doing the right thing, even when it doesn’t feel right. Even when it feels boring, mundane, and work-like.

It’s time to keep running.

No jogging strollers allowed.

 

 

 

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image credit CreationSwap user Ales Cerin

Our church will never grow.

Those were the words I heard over the phone from a pastor. “Because of the town where we’re at, and with it being pretty rural, our church isn’t ever really going to grow.”

It felt like the punchline to a joke that wasn’t funny. I unintentionally let an awkward silence hang over the airways while I caught my breath, hoping he’d fill the silence with, “Oh, you know I’m kidding.” He didn’t.

We were in the middle of a conversation about small groups, and how small groups can be a growth engine for your church as they help connect people into life-giving, discipleship-making relationships. I was trying to help him see how small groups can be an environment for people not just inside of the church building to connect and grow, but for those still on the outside. A chance for skeptics to “kick the tires,” if you will, not in an argumentative you-better-convince-me-intellectually kind of way, but in a way where they see the church in action. Where they watch love. Watch grace. Watch forgiveness. Watch confession. Watch growth.

Small groups are the Church. Alive. (Tweet that)

Small groups are ideal environments to invite your friends.

But he wasn’t buying it. And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Our church will never grow.

Basically I was being told, “Evangelism won’t work for us. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is for everyone else. Because of where we live, we’re off the hook. Jesus couldn’t have meant us when he commanded us them to make disciples of all nations. No way. No how.” (Tweet that)

If you get to the point where you feel like the Gospel isn’t

  • powerful enough
  • big enough
  • life-changing enough
  • culture-shaping enough
  • hope-giving enough 
  • marriage-saving enough
  • addiction-breaking enough (Tweet that)
  • grace-infusing enough
  • slate-cleaning enough

to shape your community and grow your congregation, get out of the ministry. (Tweet that) Do something else. Anything else. The Gospel is too important to waste. Too powerful to keep confined to a small box.

Pastors, your community needs you. (Tweet that) It needs you to believe that there’s hope in the Gospel. There’s healing to be found in surrender. That marriages can be reconciled. That change is possible.

The Gospel is not small.

 

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image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa

Sensing a call to ministry?

Then it’s time to start getting prepped now. Nothing can substitute for doing the work of ministry. But picking up and working through a handful (or two) of good books will help you more than you could ever know.

These are some of my favorites. Some I read in seminary. Others I’ve read since I’ve been working full-time in the local church.

I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.

 

Ministry

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen (e-book)

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley (e-book)

Sticky Church by Larry Osborne (e-book)

Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne (e-book)

Lectures to my Students by CH Spurgeon (e-book)

Creating Community by Andy Stanley (e-book)

UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (e-book)

 

Leadership

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell (e-book)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (e-book)

Tribes: We Need you to Lead us by Seth Godin (e-book)

Good to Great by Jim Collins (e-book)

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (e-book)

 

Theology/Spiritual Growth

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (e-book)

Knowing God by JI Packer (e-book)

Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem (e-book)

ESV Study Bible

The Attributes of God by AW Pink (e-book)

Desiring God by John Piper (e-book)

Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (e-book)

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper (e-book)

The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg (e-book)

 

Anything you’d add?

 

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image credit: ParkerLineStriping.com

It was a balmy Saturday afternoon, bits of pavement sticking to the bottom of my flip flops as I picked up my 4 year old to carry him through the parking lot. Sweat beading across each of our foreheads instantly, he asked me to pick him up. This also gave me a better vantage point to hear what he was going to tell me amidst the throng of moving vehicles and people.

We were walking in to one of our favorite restaurants, Chuy’s, a Tex-Mex chain that’s opened up in Nashville. He always gets Mac-n-cheese, and he’d already started telling me how that’s what he wanted this time, too. It was hard for me to think about warm, gooey cheese, when that’s about what the black pavement beneath my feet felt like.

There were cars everywhere. Some with their blinkers on, waiting for a spot soon to be vacated. Some whipping through ready to leave. Others frustratedly circling the lot for a better vacancy closer to the air-conditioned indoors. I was glad I was holding Rex.

An old beater car pulled up beside us, turning left back towards the sea of parked, sun-baked cars. The paint was chipping a little. It made grinding noises when it stopped, and screeching noises when it began to turn. The cloth on the inside roof was sagging, held up by a few staples not part of the original design. Smoke billowed from the back end, blending in with the black of the pavement it was blanketing.

Rex noticed something. One of the wheels had evidently been damaged, replaced by a cheaper replacement that barely seemed to keep the axle from falling to the ground. Instead of a new polished, chrome rim with a deep black tire, it was just an old tire with a dusty, dirty rim. It served its purpose, but not well.

It stood out like a…dirty, dusty wheel.

“Ooh dad, did you see that? That car?”

“Which one?”

The one with the different wheel?”

“Yeah, buddy, I sure do. What about it?”

“We should get one like that.”

I chuckled. I told him that something was wrong with the car. That it was kinda broken. He responded:

“Dad. Did you see it?!? It was cool! That wheel!”

I reminded him, again, that this car was broken, and that we didn’t really want a car like this. We’re blessed to have a car that isn’t broken right now. But he was having none of that, as he continued to gush about the cool wheel that we needed to get.

What I saw was a broken-down car at the end of its vehicular rope, hanging on by a thread. It needed work, needed love, and more than anything else, it really just needed a junk yard.

What Rex saw was completely different. He saw something that was out of the ordinary. Something that was cool, and useful, and that we needed. He saw a car that wasn’t done, but that still had life and value.

I wish I saw the world like that.

I wish I saw people like that.

We see weaknesses. 

God says, “I can use that.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We see crippling failures.

God says, “I’ve still got something for you.” (Judges 16:28-30)

We see an old washed up life.

God says, “Moses was 80 when he led my people out of Israel.”

We see insecurities.

God says, “Be courageous. I’ve got your back.” (Joshua 1:9)

We see someone so young they can’t do anything.

God says, “Don’t let ‘em look down on you because you’re young.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

We see pain.

God says, “I’ll rescue you. Then turn you into a rescuer.”(Galatians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

We see unloved and alone.

God says, “I’ll never leave you.”(Deuteronomy 31:6)

We see useless.

God says,“I am your hope.” (Psalm 62:5)

It’s time we stopped seeing the world for what it is. And started seeing it through the eyes of a God that longs to redeem.

We can start by learning from a 4 year old.

 

 

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