9 unintended benefits of small group life

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?

 

Your theology doesn’t matter

I have a Nike+ running watch that tracks distance, pace, calories, and GPS. I wear it while I run, and it gives me instant feedback. When I’m done running, I plug it into my computer, and it tracks my progress over time.

It’s really a great piece of equipment.

Nike-GPS-Watch

image via Nike.com

But mine started messing up.

And I began to get pretty frustrated. I’ve had the watch for a year-and-a-half or more, so I just knew that when I called customer service I was going to be told, “Sorry…you’re outside of the warranty period. There’s nothing we can do. We wish we could help.”

When I called, I was blown away by what I heard on the other end. (here’s the gist)

Hey Mr. Reed, I understand your problem. I’m so sorry that’s happening. I know how frustrating that must be. I’m a runner myself, and I use a watch just like yours. I want mine to work every time. Let’s try a few things. If they don’t work, we’ll work on getting you a replacement.

They were already promising something that most companies would only use in cases of extremely irate customers. They actually established a relationship in the first 30 seconds, and already offered customer service superior to 99% of other companies I’ve ever talked to over the phone.

You know what that translates into for me?

I’m a Nike customer for life.

I’m going to buy Nike shoes. Use Nike watches. Wear Nike socks. Eat Nike spaghetti.

Because I believe that they care about, and will take care of, me. I believe they’re passionate about their product…and that they’re going to stand behind and replace it if something happens. My customer experience with them has made me a customer for life. Even though other companies may make a better running shoe, come out with a cooler watch, or release a whole new line of socks designed for people just like me.

I just became a loyal Nike customer. Even though I may disagree with Nike’s core principles. May not support the same initiatives that they support. And if I were to sit down and have a conversation about morality with them, I’m sure I’d find myself on a different page than they are.

I’m loyal to them because of my customer service experience.

The Church’s message

The same thing is true in our churches.

If you want to make loyal “customers,” (people who don’t just show up once, but come back regularly) that doesn’t start in the pulpit. That doesn’t start with your theology.*

People could care less about where you stand on the authorship of the book of Hebrews or how long it took to create the Earth. They don’t even care what you believe about the Bible.

When…

  • life’s fallen apart
  • they don’t have any idea what their next step will be
  • they’re a wreck financially
  • their marriage isn’t fun anymore
  • they’ve been burned by the Church in the past
  • they’re coming because their spouse made them
  • they’re just looking for a little help
  • they don’t really want to be there anyway
  • they are skeptical of “church people”

…they could care less about your theology.** What you believe doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is their “customer service” experience:

  • how they were treated in the parking lot
  • how safe they feel dropping their children off
  • how warm and welcome they feel walking in the front door
  • how engaging the music was
  • whether the signage is clear enough to tell them where to go, so they don’t feel dumb walking around clueless
  • whether someone besides the “guy on stage” greets them
  • how they were publicly addressed as visitors

That’s scary, isn’t it? It means that a church with terrible theology, that doesn’t look to Jesus as the answer to hope, grace, mercy, and truth, could swoop in and convince people that their message is life-changing. Because they love people and help them feel cared for.

Your theology isn’t the reason that a visitor is going to stay. Or leave. At least not initially.

You want to fulfill the Great Commission, but you won’t get people to hang around long enough to soak it in unless you give an eye to people’s “customer service” experience.

Does your church have an eye for customer service? What do they do to show people they love them week in and week out?

 

*this is really a theological issue at heart, though. What you believe about our God who loves us despite our sin, who gives us His best (Jesus) to cover our worst drives this others-first behavior. But the specifics about what you believe theologically don’t matter as much to new folks.

**theology matters immensely. What you believe is of primary importance in the local church. And it drives what we do each and every week. But it doesn’t matter to people when they’re on the outside of faith, or when life has fallen apart. “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

Top books for people sensing a call to ministry

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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?

 

13 Reasons Why Small Groups are Vital to your Spiritual Growth

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I love Sunday morning corporate worship. It energizes me to worship with other believers, and be challenged by good, solid preaching.

But corporate gatherings alone will dry me up, spiritually. I need small group life.

You do, too.

Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Spiritual Growth

1. It’s too easy to hide in a large gathering.

It’s tougher to hide in a small group. 

2. It’s too easy to be passive during a sermon.

Wallflowers don’t last long in a small group.

3. There is little to no accountability.

Follow-through is much easier in a small group.

4. We’re prone to think we matter too little.

Small groups remind us that we are loved.

5. We’re prone to think we matter too much.

Small groups remind us that others have problems, too.

6. We’re prone to think, “they need to hear this.”

Small groups challenge us to personally apply Truth.

7. We’re prone to think, “this is only for me…”

Small groups keep us from cycling into destructive self-pity and loathing.

8. When we cry, there’s nobody to ask us, “What’s going on?”

Small groups don’t let tears go unchecked.

9. No food is allowed in most worship gatherings. #Lame.

We eat well in our small group.

10. “Be quiet while the pastor is preaching!”

Small group gives you time to have deep, life-stirring conversations with people.

11. Convictions go unchecked.

When the Spirit moves in small group, you’ve got time to slow down.

12. Specific needs go un-prayed for.

Small groups pray for the specific needs of their group members.

13. There’s no time for questions.

Small groups ask hard questions and allow for discovery.

Are you in a small group? Has it helped you grow spiritually?

 

Don’t forget…you’re my friend

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Just the other day, my son (Rex, 4) was playing with his uncle (Carson, 7). They’ve been playing together a lot recently. And like most boys their age, they play well together. Most of the time.

But there are moments where you think that the house is going to fall apart. That the carpet is going to roll up, the dry wall crack, and the bricks scream in agony because of the noise. Partly because they’re just boys and they play hard. And partly because…well…”He won’t give me back my Batman!”

Amidst the landscape of imaginary fire-breathing dragons, Rex and Carson had their swords, shields, and helmets, wielding each with very, very little precision. Instead of the dragons taking the brunt of their zeal, it was often the door frame, the couch, or our dog. In the middle of the battle, Rex turned to Carson, looked him directly in the eye, and said

‘Don’t forget. You’re my friend.’

As swords and arrows were whizzing by, it would’ve no doubt been easy to forget which team you were on and who the real enemy was, swinging your sword at the wrong person. Chopping off the wrong head. Creating enemies out of friends. This wasn’t a cry of desperation for a friend…it was a cry of “We set this out beforehand. We were clear before things went sideways with the Ogre in the corner. So don’t forget.”

This saying has a sense of camaraderie, rallying hearts, minds, and purposes. Refocusing energy and relationships, energizing what was once dead in the water. This awakens you to old, dusty covenants that need revisiting. Brightens dead corners of your heart.

We need this reminder today, too. And I bet there’s someone in your life that needs to hear this from you. Someone you’ve been treating more like an enemy than a friend. Someone who’s seen your dark side more than your bright side. Someone who really is your friend, but for all intents and purposes looks more like a fire-breathing dragon to you. Or you to them.

Maybe forgiveness needs to happen. Maybe humility needs to happen. Maybe “it’s you, not me.” But it can all start with a simple shift of heart.

4 people who need to hear this today

Your spouse

they are your friend, right? But when was the last time you reminded yourself of this? When was the last time you told them? When was the last time you treated them like the best friend you long to see at the end of the day? The one you tell your secrets, your hopes, and your dreams? Time to remind yourself, and them, of who they once were to you. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” – Proverbs 18:22

“Don’t forget, honey. You’re my friend.”

Your child

It’s hard, in the heat of the moment, to remember this. I’m not advocating that parents need to be friends first, and parents second. That’s a lousy way to parent. But in the moment when things get loud, and patiences are being tried, it’s easy to forget that your child is a gift from God to you. That, no matter how they’re acting, they’re looking to how you’ll respond. You represent God to them, whether you like it or not. Will you lose your temper? Will you disengage? Will you abandon them? Or will you show up when they need you, loving them even when it’s hard? “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” – Ephesians 6:4

“Don’t forget, son. You’re my friend.”

Your friend

You’ve got a friend in your life with whom you’re not as close anymore. Maybe it’s because of something they did to you. Maybe you did something to them. Maybe time and distance have taken their toll, and you’re just not close anymore. Friends are an incredible gift from God, though. “A friend loves at all times…” (Proverbs 17:17)

“Hey buddy, don’t forget. You’re my friend.”

Those you collaborate with

The people with whom you work can, and should, be your friends. If they’re not, you’ll be miserable, and your organization will suffer. Friends work well together, disagree passionately, and still head in the same direction. You’re all working towards a common goal. One may think that their way is quicker, but in the end you want the same thing. Remind yourself that you’re on the same team. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” – Colossians 3:14

“Hey man, don’t forget. You’re my friend.”

 And aren’t you glad we get this message of hope from our King? He is our “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Who do you need to speak this to today?

 

 

Roots, Fruits, & Getting it Right

I’ve made it no secret that I’m loving me some amateur gardening. My wife and I have tinkered with raised bed gardens now for a few years. We’ve moved the garden, planted different vegetables, started from seeds, started from plants, experimented with fertilizers, sprayed for deer, thrown oranges at deer (and hit them, thank you very much), and had a blast doing it.

But do you know one thing that’s never happened?

We’ve never had a plant that shot its roots towards the sky and its fruit down into the ground.

We’ve never had to say,

Aww shucks (because that’s what gardeners say…), this plant got it wrong…we need to dig it up and turn it over.

Wouldn’t it be weird to see roots growing towards the sky? To have to dig into the ground to get your fresh tomatoes? To wonder, when you planted your squash, whether the plants would guess, correctly or incorrectly, which direction was “up” and which was “down”?

Plants grow the “right” way because God intended them to grow that way. Science may have pinpointed the reason why this happens, but that doesn’t discount the hand of God to sovereignly direct things for His good and our benefit.

The crazy plant

I wonder how often a plant questions its Maker, though.

Wow, how great would it be for me to do things my way? I so hate growing towards the sun. If I could only sink my flowers down deep into this dark soil, things would be much better.

Ridiculous, no? We all know that that won’t work. Roots have to go into the soil. Fruit grows in the sun. (well…unless you’re a potato. But that’s another post for another day) It doesn’t work if this process is reversed. It’s not how plants are supposed to function.

We’re like a crazy plant

We do the same thing, though, in our lives, when we think we know better than God. We ignore the full life that God offers us. We go at life our own way, ignoring the wisdom God offers through others, through Scripture, and through life experiences. We think that we must know better. That our way must be the best. That roots don’t grow deep into the soil. That our roots need a bit of sunshine, and our fruit a bit of darkness.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

But life doesn’t always happen as we’d like it to, does it? What we thought would happen by the time we turn 25 hasn’t. We’re not married. Or we don’t have children. Or we’re not in our dream job yet. Or we don’t have a house. Or we don’t have much money. Or we haven’t finished our degree. Or our dad still doesn’t want a relationship with us. By 40, our kids don’t like us. We’re on our 3rd marriage. Still in debt. Still have a dead-end job. Maybe life has left us trashed.

And life itself has stopped making sense.

If God is who He’s claimed He is, our natural inclination would be to accuse, blame, and turn our backs on the One who has created it all.

But let me challenge you with a better way. I think it’s time to trust the Guy who knew us before He crafted us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). Who knew what He was doing before we were born.

Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when things are chaotic. Even when things are falling apart.

The One who created all of this knows what’s best. His perspective is bigger than ours. His ways are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:8-9) His love is deeper than ours. His joy is more full than ours. And He’s able to bring beauty out of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

Choose to scream and rail and throw your hands in the air if you’d like.

Or choose to let your roots sink deeper…and let your fruit grow upwards.

 

 

7 Truths about encouragement I learned from the gym

I started working out at the gym a couple of months ago. CrossFit is my deal. I find it much more enjoyable…ahem…as *enjoyable* as lifting weights can be.

It’s a combination of lifting weights, aerobic activities (running, rowing, etc.), jumping/climbing, and gymnastics-type moves. Whereas normal weight-lifting can get boring through repetitive movements, I’ve never once been bored.

I’ve also never once gone home not sore.

As I was finishing up one of my runs just the other day, rounding the last corner before the mile run was over, I was about to go into cruise control. The last 400 meters were going to be easy, I thought. I was a sizable distance behind the next runner, and…who cares? It’s just a run…I don’t have to win this.

image credit: Creative Commons, user ConvergingPhoto

Until one of the coaches barked a word of encouragement my way.

I didn’t see it coming. I had already pushed the cruise button. I had taken my foot off the gas and was ready to coast. But the coach jarred me back to the grind. When I was tempted to coast, I was reminded to work even harder.

There have been a number of times where I’ve been directly encouraged. Sometimes it’s been in a cheerleading-type, “Way to go!” way. Other times it’s been a more constructive, “If you’ll just change ____, things will be easier” way.

In the process, I’ve learned much about how encouragement works.

7 truths about encouragement

1. Encouragement speaks things into existence that are not yet.

Am I good at working out? I don’t know…ask my stick arms. But they won’t be stick arms forever. Encouragement sees things that will be, based on trajectory instead of current circumstances. It focuses on potential, not only current reality.

2. Encouragement breeds hope.

When I’m ready to quit, a word of encouragement gives me a burst of energy. It breathes a bit of life into my fatiguing body. Encouragement is the breeding ground for hope, where none currently exists.

3. Encouragement builds relationships.

I feel a closer connection with those that have given me a timely encouragement. I feel like they believe in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. And I’m convinced that relationships are an under-valued key in so many areas of life. Especially decision-making.

4. Encouragement propels you further, faster.

I felt a surge of adrenaline when I heard, “You can do it, Ben!” When you encourage someone, your words help carry someone a little further. Even when you’re trying to climb a couch.

5. Encouragement tells you what can be.

Encouragement tells me that I could be better than I am right now. That I could run a bit faster. Lift a bit more. And not give up. Encouragement helps close the gap between the deficiencies you see in yourself right now and the picture of who you could be in the future.

6. Encouragement communicates, “I believe in you.”

Everyone needs to hear this. You need to know that someone else sees the same vision you do. Someone else believes you can close that gap. Someone else believes you can produce more, and become the better version of you that God intended.

7. I don’t always want encouragement.

Strange and twisted, no? Sometimes, I just want to give up. My body’s tired and my mind is mush. I’d rather throw in the towel for the day. But when I press through, I find potential that I didn’t know existed. “When you feel like you’ve used every ounce of energy you possess, you’ve still got extra reserve you can draw on,” my friend told me. Turns out he was right. And I hated him for it. :)

You’re an influencer of someone. Maybe you’re a pastor. Or a banker. Or a small group leader. Or a dad. Or a coach.

Those you lead can’t continue to do what God’s called them to do without a timely word of encouragement. Daily.

You’re also influenced by someone. Maybe your pastor. Or your banker. Or your small group leader. Or your dad. Or your coach.

Those who lead you can’t continue to do what God’s called them to do without a timely word of encouragement. Daily.

Time to put this on your to-do list.

Genuine encouragement is a gift you can give.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. – Hebrews 3:13

Question:

Who needs your encouragement today?

 

 

This is awkward, but…how’s your present?

Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

It’s “sexy” to talk about your past. Where you’ve been. The grit you’ve experienced. The pain you’ve had to bear. The crazy life you used to live. When you talk about your past, you get looks that say

Wow. You’ve come so far!

OR

Wow. You’ve overcome so much!

OR

Wow. You had a lot of fun!

It’s “sexy” to talk about your future, too. Nobody gets upset when you’re talking about where you’re headed in life. Whether you’re talking about heaven (where there will be no tears or crying or pain) or something a little shorter in focus (your goals and aspirations), these are fun conversations. When you talk about where you’re headed, it’s cast in a bright, positive light. Nobody clams up talking about that!

But your “present”? It’s not so sexy to talk about where you are right now. In fact, it’s quite awkward. And I’m convinced awkward conversations need to be had.*

It’s not cool to say,

“Yeah, I still struggle with ____.”

OR

“I still need help with ______.”

OR

“That thing that we talked about last week…I messed up again.”

The awkward humiliation

It’s humiliating, really. It’s like saying, “I know I told you I was headed to Nashville, but somehow I ended up in St. Louis. You told me to turn left, but I just went right.” Silly, no? Turns out they didn’t listen to directions, look at their map, or heed the signs that said, “Nashville, turn left.” And they did this for 450 miles.

Talking about your present struggles is like swallowing a spoonful of medicine. You know it’s going to help, but it tastes rancid going down.

Talking about your present struggles admits, “I’m not where I need to be,” “I’m not who I appear,” and, “I don’t really know how to get where I want to go.”

The beeline to shame

Where we go wrong when someone begins “talking about their present” is that we make a beeline for shame. Instead of the Prodigal’s father, we play the role of the older brother (Luke 15:28-30). Our arms are crossed and our head swiveling back and forth in judgment. We say things like “How are they going to ever learn?” or “Someone’s got to give them the truth.” or “If they’d only followed God like me” We think it’s our job to convict their hearts with the truth.

When we’re quick to convict, we inadvertently shut down a potentially life-changing moment of confession.

The good news about grace is that grace doesn’t keep a record of how many times you’ve messed up. In fact, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Grace celebrates a step in the right direction. Even when it’s followed by two steps backwards.

Grace welcomes home

Grace doesn’t mean that you become a doormat that’s walked on. It means you welcome someone home when they “talk about their present.” More than likely, conviction’s already happened. (hint: that’s why they’re talking with you!) Your role isn’t to convict…you can let the Holy Spirit do that. He’s better at it than you are, anyway. What someone needs, in their moment of taking a step of faith by saying, “I’ve messed up…again” is a “welcome home!” embrace.

Next time someone opens up an awkward conversation by sharing something they’re counting to struggle with, try being full of grace. Try showing them that we serve a God who never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6), even when we’ve followed a stupid decision by a stupid decision. In those moments, you’ll find that truth acts more like a weapon.

Grace is what’s needed, because grace moves the ball forward. Shame throw it backwards.

* catch up with the “this is awkward” series HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

The powerful truth that defeats insecurities

photo credit: Creative Commons user Ingesting

Like that lonely thread all by itself that you pull on an old sweater, I found myself unraveling my calling recently.

It started off innocently enough, with someone pushing back on my theology. I didn’t get prickly or defensive. I went introspective. Let me try to get you in my mode of warped thinking.

Ever heard someone tell you how they hate they could only get to the gym twice this week and think, “Geez…quit saying I’m lazy!” Or maybe you’ve heard someone mention how they’ve switched to a new, healthy way of eating and all you hear is, “You’re so irresponsible with your diet!” Or maybe someone says, “I love getting up early to read my Bible” and all you hear is a heap of condemnation thrown your way.” They say one thing…you hear another.

The unraveling begins

That’s sort of what happened recently when I was questioned about my theology. Not “questioned” as in “What do you believe about ____.” Questioned as in, “Why would you ever say ____?!?”

The thread was hanging loose and I gave it a little tug, only to have more of the thread exposed. Another little pull left more thread in my hand. Another jerk and a hole appeared in the sleeve.

I started wondering, “Am I really a theologian? Do I even have any idea what I’m talking about?” I thought, “Has God really called me to ministry? Am I being effective? Have I ever been effective?” I let my mind wander: “Why would God call me into ministry? Why would He ever use me to lead people and communicate truth?”

I’m useless. I’m worthless. I have nothing to offer.

Feeding the lie

I stopped myself.

I was being fed a Lie. And I was tossing him more snacks. With every passing thought, that Lie was hastily burrowing itself into the fabric of my identity. My identity that is deeply rooted in Christ was being unraveled and dismantled, and I was watching it happen before my eyes.

If I didn’t do something quickly, the whole sweater was about to be a pile of thread in my hands.

So I did what you have to do if you want to stop the thread: I cut it off. I didn’t allow it to do more damage. I didn’t keep pondering the theological challenge. I didn’t keep feeding the Lie. I snipped it with a pair of scissors.

I can only think that if identity insecurities crop their nasty head up in my life, they do in yours, too. When we should find our identity in being called the King’s son, we often find it in

  • being a parent
  • our career
  • our church
  • our hobby
  • our insights
  • being right
  • our theology
  • our talents

Reorienting your identity

When someone questions one of those “identities,” the thread comes loose. You find yourself either lashing out in anger or turning inwards in deep introspection.

The answer to this spiral is to root your identity not in what you’ve earned, but in who God has declared you to be.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… – Ephesians 1:3-5 (emphasis mine)

You’re a child of the King

No longer are you outsiders and foreigners and weird cousins. You’re now a son, with all of the inheritance and blessings that a son should receive. And nobody can take that name from you. Not even you.

Let that truth fight the Lie of insecurity for you.

* photo credit: Creative Commons user Ingesting

 

 

 

The beauty of a new name

image credit: Creative Commons Kiss the Lava

The story of the Prodigal Son, from Luke 15, is one of those stories that you’ve probably heard so often that it goes in one ear and out the other.

It’s a story that’s easily taken for granted, filed away in the folder: “I’ve got that one figured out.”

Read it too quickly and you’ll miss its beauty and depth. Check this out:

There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need….But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:11-14; 17-20)

When the Prodigal son returned home, his father didn’t greet him with a new set of rules and regulations and expectations and guilt.

Because grace doesn’t heap burdens. It releases them. Grace doesn’t tighten restrictions. It frees prodigals to receive joy. Instead of chaining, it loosens bonds. In fact, “grace” says you were in bondage before, and that now it’s time to be free.

Even when you’ve squandered your life. Even when you’ve destroyed relationships. Even when you’ve walked away from those who love you. Even when you’ve done that thing again…and again. Even when you’ve held on to bitterness. Even when you’ve acted the fool. Even when you’ve spit in the face of those who love you the most.

When what you deserve is to be cut off from the family, left out in the cold, and shut out from all blessings. When what you think is coming your way includes condemnation and shame. When your stupidity has landed you in a heaping pile of your own mess, your Father smiles and says,

“You were dead, but now you’re alive. You were lost, but now you’re found. You. Are. My. Son.”

And there it is. God rewrites your story, changes the ending, and gives you a new name.

It’s easy to find ourselves broken by life, by the choices of others, and by our own poor decisions, stuck in a hole we dug ourselves into. No matter how deep you’ve gone, how far you’ve strayed, or how many broken lives you’ve left in your path of destruction, it’s not too late.

Turn back now, and your eyes will meet a Savior running towards you with arms open and full of Joy.

* photo credit: Creative Commons user Kiss the Lava