Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Can we just be real?

By Tim A. Michael

I’m an advocate for the authentic. I hate plastic or polyester. Give me substance over symbolism every stinkin time. I hate “artificial sweeteners.” I once picked the wrong pie slice at Luby’s and literally thought I was going to cry. Synthetics suck – period. Even the best plastic surgeon on the planet is going to have a hard time convincing me those silicone augmented appendages (aka chin-rests) are attractive. I prefer boobs that have a little “bounce” to ‘em.

I’m pretty sure I’m on solid ground here from a spiritual sense. Matthew 6 is littered with censures against insincerity. Spiritual puffiness is simply hot air. I mean really – who disfigures themselves to bring attention to their “good deed” of sacrifice?

“Oh man – you look terrible!”

“I know. I’m suffering for the poor today – I’m fasting and praying.”

“Is that mascara you’re wearing under your eyes?”

“Uh…no. Dark circles. I’ve been up all night in prayer beseeching God for the poor.”

“You’re rich. Why don’t you just give them some money?”

“You know what they say about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish.”

“You have the biggest fishing business in all of Israel, give them a job.”

“Then they wouldn’t appreciate my prayers and righteousness, or God’s goodness.”

If there is one thing the church STILL struggles with, it’s self-righteousness. Just about any street preacher will tell you you’re going to hell without even knowing you. All the while screaming their judgment of the world, they fail to see their own sin of pride – you know – the one that got Lucifer thrown out of heaven.

Today’s spiritual climate requires the wisdom that can only come from the Holy Spirit Himself. Too many people are leaving the church because of the perception of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Frustration abounds.

I love the 8th Chapter of Romans, but especially this part:

V. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God

V 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed..

There is this unspoken tension in the world but we just can't seem to put our finger on it; it’s like a haze or morning fog; you can see it from a distance, but when you're in the middle of it, it just clouds your vision. It’s frustrating because you want the path clear and the journey without obstacles, yet we find our own earthen vessels to be our greatest obstacle of all.

V 20-21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Planet earth wants to be liberated from planet “me” and planet “you.” It desires planet “us” where we all matter. There is not one single individual from the Adamic race that doesn’t know and fight rejection on a daily basis. Every – last – one – of – us. It is why infidelity is rampant, abuse in abundant supply, and the performance mentality so prevalent in the workplace and unfortunately in the church.

The antidote is authenticity. Just be real people. Be real about who you are, what makes you tick, and what you want in life. If you screw up – own it. In fact – advertise it sometimes. It can be a healthy thing to laugh at yourself and your humanity. People are more likely to engage with you about their own struggles when you do. THAT is ministry. THAT is LIFE. THAT is what the church is called to do – engage.

V 22 – 25 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Sons and daughters – Daddy wants us to get it right by being real, but we can’t be real with others if we can’t be real with ourselves. We must look in the mirror and surrender what we see there. I can assure you so much more freedom is found in carrying a cross than the burdens of your wounds. Some of these are self-inflicted – repeat offenders we are. Woof! "Oh – there’s a puddle of vomit that I can lap up, I believe I’ll have that for dinner in lieu of a feast with the King!" Why does that make sense to us? Crazy clay pots.

I have some wonderful friends from churches past and present, and that incredible social medium known as Facebook. I see petty arguments there and inspirational stories of life and love. The common thread of the Church of Facebook is that crying out of creation. We want acceptance not rejection. I’ve seen people “throw down” just to see if others will accept or reject them. I’ve seen still others wear their feelings on their sleeves and post some of the most personal things of which we all screamed in unison “TMI!” I’m conflicted at the cries for attention and yet I want to encourage authenticity.

I guess my encouragement to you all is this: Pray naked. (Do this in your prayer closet please!)

Strip away the pretense of the public fa├žade and “be who you be.” God has gifted each and every one of you with talents, words of encouragement, wit, or even the quality of just being real. The people we often refer to as “salt of the earth” typically don’t care what others think about them (or their lifestyles) but they balance that with a genuine love for their fellowman. Ah – the cry from the Father’s heart – “My children – love each other.”

Functional families do this unconditionally. We don’t necessarily “accept” bad behavior, but we don’t reject the person displaying it. My friend Barry Garrett has a quote on his facebook page that says “God doesn’t define people by their worst moments…neither will I.” THAT, my friends, is the heart of the father and should be the pulse of the church. Thank God for His grace. I’m sure Barry has employed this principle toward me over the years, and no doubt some of you have as well, so thanks.

I trust that as you all look to 2012, God will challenge you too to be “real.”

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” He defined Himself as TRUTH. Authentic. REAL. The antonym of synthetic. The next time you crawl into bed and enjoy “the touch, the feel of cotton” sheets be inspired to touch another life with the organic substantive love of Christ without expectation that muddies water. Give them a drink of fresh water and breathe into them a breath of fresh air – we all need both to live.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Heavy Lifting

John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Some Lyrics from Hillsong's "Savior King"

"We love you Lord, we worship you; You are our God, you alone are good. You asked your Son to carry this; The heavy cross our weight of sin. I love you Lord, I worship you; Hope which was lost, now stands renewed. I give my life to honor this,The love of Christ, the savior king"

I often struggle with the word “why?” when it comes to my journey or even the journey of others. I’m in the process of trying to revise my thinking and change the word from “journey” to “adventure.” I was watching a comic recently tell the crowd that he makes decisions now based on one simple criterion: What makes the best “story”? That cracked me up. It also challenged me.

Why shouldn’t our journey be more like an adventure? Why shouldn’t our walk be something special? I think it should. Unfortunately, “adventure” and “special” don’t always have a positive connotation. Also, our journey is not always determined by us. Sometimes it is touched by others, sometimes happenstance gets in the way, and then sometimes God the Father just has other plans that don’t match our own. I know this can be an unpopular view, but often true nonetheless: He even allows hardships our way. See “
Resistance Training.”

Often our walk is just a
grind; simply mundane. Sometimes it is just painful. I have a friend whom I write of often here – Fredy. He is my brother, my sounding board, and a great barometer of what grace under fire looks like. Without going into a lot of detail, Fredy’s journey of late has been painful and the load he currently carries is heavy.

Fredy lost his mom back in August, and his dad took it really hard. Also, his sister who had beaten breast cancer recently, was just diagnosed in December with Leukemia. Merry Freakin Christmas! So, Fredy has had many travels back and forth to Switzerland which is where he’s from, and where his Dad and sister still live. The travels alone are enough to wear most of us down. He’s there now helping his dad and sister deal with this latest fight. They are no doubt discouraged and battle weary.

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

So as I was praying about Fredy's load and my frustration, the Lord dropped two words in my spirit – “heavy lifting.” The week before Christmas, I shared this at Railhead Church with the guys as we sipped frosty schooners and ate ribs, but I was still working it all out in my head even with Fredy sitting right there. It’s frustrating to see the ones we love go through a series of trials and painful events.

In the following days I feel like the Lord continued to shed light on the terms “heavy lifting.” I know there are seasons of struggle. There are times when people carry more than others. To whom much is given much is required right?

Take my job for example. I was chosen to be a “point man” on a project that lasted from August until the end of the year. It was hard. It was frustrating. It made demands and took a toll on every part of me. It was a season of me carrying a load that wasn’t required of others. It was “heavy lifting.”

In the middle of one of those really $h!++y days, one of my brothers in Christ at work sent an email to me. The subject line was CIAJ. That's it CIAJ. When I opened the email it simply had one line: "Consider it all joy." He had no idea what I had been going through as we hadn't talked with each other for about 3 weeks, but there it was in all of it's glory - "consider it all joy." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or let expetives fly, but I knew it was truth. I replied with a hearty thank you.

There are people that are asked by the Father to endure things that others just are not. For some it is a season, but for some it is a life-long cross to bear. I know some who have affliction. I know some who have children with special-needs, or aging parents for whom they must care. I know some who have lost loved ones to sickness or tragedy and yet they journey on in faithful service to the One and Only. Yet some are still looking for that relief from the beat-down or for some glimmer of hope.

There is hope. There is a Day coming. There is portion. The Deliverer is coming – He is Faithful and True. The season of struggle, of “heavy lifting” is indeed a season even if it is life-long for this life is but a vapor. And there is this promise:

Romans 8:28-39 NIV
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So when don’t be discouraged when the cross seems a little extra heavy, His grace is sufficient for you. I used to hate that passage until Father God revealed it’s unique and personal application to me. Maybe next blog I’ll share about my thorn(s) of frustration and how God is untangling the knots. For now if you see someone who is doing some heavy lifting on their own, give ‘em a hand and remember – He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.