Avengers Specialize in Your Specialty

I just love the Avenger movies! But even more than the action and adventure of the movies, I love the concept of the Avenger structure!

Among the heroes of the Avengers, each possesses as very specific skill set. Not all can fly, but Iron Man can. Not all have a magic hammer, but Thor does. Not all can discern heart and motive of their enemy, but Natasha can. Only Captain America is a military strategist whose skills come in handy when deploying the heroes.

The reason I love them so much is that when I see the Avengers, I see the body of Christ! The Avengers mimic the analogy that God gives us for the body of Christ – the human body. In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul uses body parts and their specialized gifts to explain how the church is to work. He uses the functions of the foot, hand, ear and eye to explain that they don’t all do the same thing, but yet all are specifically designed to do one thing – making each one important.

The foot, hand, ear and eyes all have very specialized skill sets. The eye just sees – that’s it. No other job at all! A single-use organ! The same with the foot and hand – although similar in form, they are uniquely created to do their very specific jobs. The ear is fashioned to excel at hearing and to do no other thing. They are all just like the Avengers!

Our upbringing in the American school system has taught us to lessen the importance of specialized skill. In school, we are expected to be good at ALL of the subjects. We actually get in trouble if we excel in one area over the others. To be “well-rounded” is the goal of the school student. Not only that, but when an area of weakness is discovered in a student, his entire educational focus switches to that area, to the exclusion of any other area of learning. Focusing on weakness is modeled for us, and we assume that that’s how life is supposed to work.

Because we were brought up in it the “well-rounded” thinking has translated into our understanding of our place in the body of Christ. We wrongly focus on our weakness to strengthen that area, because well-roundedness is still our misplaced goal. The by-product of focusing on weakness is to undervalue our areas of specialty.

That’s not the way the Avengers work! They celebrate their special gifts! Iron Man doesn’t waste time strengthening is inability to throw a really big hammer because Thor can do that. Iron Man only concentrates on flying and inventing things – his area of specialty. When there’s a need for strategy, they all stop and look to Captain America because they recognize his area of specialty. They don’t bemoan that fact that they aren’t strategists because they don’t need to be – they have Captain America! And they know that they don’t need to possess the skills of Dr. Banner because “we have a Hulk!”

I believe that’s the way God wants the Body of Christ to function. He wants us to focus on our own area of expertise! We are to celebrate our abilities and focus all of our attention on strengthening our strengths! Once we do that, we look around the Body to see who possesses skills that I don’t? If I’m the Hulk, where are my Captain America and my Thor? With whom does God want me to partner to become a fitly joined body of Christ, able to fulfill God’s mission for us? Because like the Avengers, only together can we defeat the foe that no one of us could defeat alone.


Determining God’s Will for Your Life

I run into people every once in a while who are wondering about God’s will for their lives. I think that a desire to know God’s will for our lives is very admirable. I wish that there was a certain prayer to pray, or series of steps to go through that automatically identify God’s desire for each of our lives. There are effective strategies, but one really great way to find God’s will for your life is to be in God’s will for your life.

You may think that that’s not an answer at all, but it truly is. To find our specific place in God’s will, we need to be in God’s general will for all Christians. In general, it is God’s will that you talk to Him throughout the day – that you have a prayer life. In general, it is God’s will that you are in the Word and are studying it.

I know that life is busy – it’s summer time, the kids are home, the cabin needs you, and still there’s work. Plus, the TV won’t watch itself! The trick is for us to make our time with God a priority – especially if we’re wondering about God’s will for our lives.

The Word says that He wants us to pray, to be in the Word, to worship Him, not to neglect the assembling together of ourselves. He wants us to be generous and give to the poor. These are a few of the things on the lists of “God’s general will for all believers.” It’s by being and doing these general things that God’s specific will for our lives is seen.

Think about the deacons chosen in Acts 6. First they were just guys, without a special call, without a special ministry. They were pew-sitters and part of the first congregation. They were seven normal guys who, like you, were perhaps wondering about God’s specific will for their lives. We know that while they were regular guys, they were focused on being all that God had desired for them! They weren’t doing nothing, waiting for God’s will for their lives to drop in their laps! Instead, they were working on themselves, aligning their lives with God’s general will for all believers – so much so that they were described as “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom!” They’d spent their non-ministry lives in the general will of God, so that when it was time for their specific call THEY WERE READY!

So they were promoted from “regular guys” to waiters! God’s will for them was to wait on tables, making sure that the food was distributed fairly! They may have been frustrated at this menial ministry, but it enabled the Word of God to keep on spreading, and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem (Acts 6:7)! That had to have made them thankful for the specific will that God had for them.

In the very next verse we see that one of the waiters was performing great wonders and signs among the people! God moved him from being a regular guy to being a waiter, then to being the first of the Christian martyrs! His end was a glorious fulfillment of God’s will for him – and he started by being a normal guy who focused on God’s general will for all believers!

Instead of jumping from “regular guy” to “great signs and wonders” Stephen followed the process – and we can follow the process, too. Even if you feel like you’re just a regular guy or girl, start by doing the generals; the specifics will follow! If you want to know God’s will for you, be in God’s will for you!

Esther: A Series of “God-incidences”

The Book of Esther is a wonderful look at God and His use of circumstances. This is a book of the Bible that never once mentions His name – no one prays (although they fast) and not even the narrator acknowledges God’s working in their lives. Instead there is a funny chain of “coincidences” that come together to show God’s work.

    • Mordecai just happens to over-hear of a death plot aimed at King Ahasuerus. He does what needs to be done to thwart the threat.
    • It just so happens that King Ahasuerus can’t sleep on a particular night – the night that he’d been reminded of Esther’s beauty and worth.
    • It just so happens that the book that someone uses to relax him to sleep tells the account of Mordecai’s rescue of the king.
    • When the king wants to talk to someone about it, it just happens that Haman is in the outer court – in the middle of the night!
    • It just so happens that there is a gallows ready to be used when the king decides to rid himself of Haman.

As we read this story and see the string of coincidences, we can’t help but acknowledge that all of these things didn’t “just so happen,” but that God was orchestrating His will through the characters and events in this story! Even though this book doesn’t say “God,” it was God! Even though they didn’t see Him, feel Him, or hear Him, it was HIM!

I don’t think that God’s use of circumstances was limited to this one story in the Old Testament. I think that this book’s inclusion in the canon was to let us know that God does indeed work through circumstances. He’s orchestrating His will, creating opportunities, working through people’s choices, and guiding events to form His purpose! Sometimes we look for angels, miracles, or talking donkeys instead of understanding that His use of coincidence is as valid and miraculous as those manifestations!

The only character in the story that seemed to see God’s hand was Mordecai. When he presented the annihilation problem to Queen Esther, he suggested that God had been using circumstances to get her to a place where she could help. In Chapter 4 verse 14, Mordecai says to Esther: And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?

Mordecai’s question suggests that God had arranged circumstances so that Esther won the beauty contest to become queen. It suggests that God had planned for her to have access to the king. It suggests that God knew about trouble ahead of time, so placed His answer ahead of time.  Isn’t that awesome?!

As we go about our daily life, I think it would be good for us to look at our situations and wonder “What if I’m here right now for such a time as this? What if God’s been orchestrating my life and circumstances to come to this moment in order to further His plans for my life and the lives of those around me?” I think that it would make a difference in how we look at our coincidences! They are God’s hand! We are embarking on a study of Esther on June 17th at 6:30 at Beaudry Oil in Elk River. If you’re interested in seeing more of the irony and wonder in the Book of Esther, come join us!

Leadership Coaching

CoachingA few months ago I started getting a new burden for our students. There had been indication that the students were feeling extremely safe around us and had seen new reasons to trust the Training Center’s leadership. Now, that’s great, and many leaders would whoop with excitement at this kind of report, and I did, but it also made me feel even more alert. There is a hideous history of Christians being abused by people they trusted and around whom they felt safe. We’ve all heard stories, or sadly, have experienced it ourselves. My burden was that the students would truly be safe – that the human tendency to control others would be avoided by me and the leaders at our Training Center. The burden was to create safe guards to ensure that the students truly are safe and free.

The biggest protection that we have installed is to implement a coaching paradigm. Philippians 1: 6 says “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it (the good work) until the day of Christ Jesus,” and this concept is at the heart of the coaching paradigm. Coaching looks at all people as if God already has each one of them on a change path, because He does. A counseling, mentoring, or teaching model assumes that people need the counselor in order to make change. Coaches know that God is changing people, and the coach’s job is to help the person find where that change is happening and to emphasize it!

In order to implement this, all of us on the Training Center staff are reading books about the coaching paradigm, and some on the staff are in the process of becoming certified Life Coaches. Learning the coaching paradigm has already changed my life, my view of ministry, how I love people, and my knowledge of my place in people’s growth process. In the role of teacher, my assumption was “people need me and what I know.” My underlying belief was “I need to help them because they aren’t capable of getting victory without doing what I know they need to do.” Those are ungodly attitudes that could easily lead to my controlling someone! It’s so wonderful to instead be invited in to people’s lives and to look for God’s change plan, then to point them to those areas of victory – to work with God’s revealed change plan instead of assuming I know what is best for another person!

Our classroom setting won’t change because our primary role is as teachers in the Body of Christ. Where you’ll see the biggest difference in us is over coffee. Requests for advice will be met with questions, not statements. You’ll plan action steps to implement your change. You’ll be encouraged, supported and celebrated! You’ll see God at work in your life and follow His lead to bring about more change! And our goal will be met – you’ll be safe and free!

If you want to get together for coffee and experience our new paradigm for yourself, let me know!

One Another’s

LottieThere are so many wonderful things when you gather with friends around the Word of God! I always look forward to hearing my friends talk about what the Word is doing in them, about how God has been working in their lives, and to see the changes that have taken place in their lives as a result of study.

Sharing our lives is something that’s very biblical. At Equipped for Life we call it Exposed Christian Living, and those who join us are our “One Another’s”. The concept is that our Christian lives were meant to be lived in community. We work together to create an environment that encourages transparency and vulnerability, as opposed to a closed and solitary life. The reason we work toward that is that the Word is pretty clear that we were designed to live as part of a group, not as a lone Christian.

In the parable of the Lost Sheep, we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go get the one. When he does find that lamb, he returns it to the flock. In contrast to that parable, sometimes we try to live our Christians lives in seclusion. We have the attitude of “just me and Jesus – that’s all I need.” That attitude is not the one illustrated in this parable. The Good Shepherd did what was best for the lamb by taking it back to the group! Even better than a solitary life with Jesus is a life lived in community with other sheep and Jesus! If the Good Shepherd had built a little hut and chosen to stay with the lost lamb in their own hermitage, we’d have a very different picture of the church. But we’re a body – we’re part of a group, and it’s in our best interest to be part of that group! Living in the group is even better than being with Jesus! That’s powerful!

Paul talks about the Body of Christ being a group that has many members. Each member has a job and a skill set and is put in the body for a specific reason. That illustrates that we’re all small members of a big group that exists to show Jesus to the world! It’s in our best interest to be part of that group!

A couple of years ago when we’d first gotten our new puppy, we had some friends over for an evening. As we were sitting around chatting, the puppy lay on the footstool in the middle of the room, rolled on her back with all her undersides showing, and went to sleep. You may think I’m strange, but that had a powerful impact on me. I thought it was a great picture of how God wants me to live my life – totally comfortable and relaxed while being completely vulnerable and unprotected.

Since then I’ve carried that picture as a goal of my life. Not only do I want to feel that comfortable with vulnerability, but I want to create community of Christians who feel that comfortable with it. I want people to be able to expose all of their tender parts – their hurts and hopes and wishes – and feel no threat. I want them to feel safe whenever they are around their One Another’s as they choose to live a life of Exposed Christian Living!

photo by nleephotography.com

The Cost of Disobedience

Grumpy man sitting on the floorMost of the time, as we look through the Bible and study its characters, we look for the good in each. We learn leadership skills from Moses and Joshua, we see that God’s hand is in all that happened to Joseph so admire his lack of bitterness. And we can hardly believe the patience and perseverance of Noah, who worked on an ark for over 100 years. And that’s the right way to approach the Bible – we look for the good and seek to apply those characteristics to our lives.

There is an exception, though. In the book of Numbers, the children of Israel were wandering because of their disobedience – they couldn’t enter in to the Promised Land until all of the generation who disobeyed died. If we used our normal interpretive journey – finding their redeeming characteristics and working to apply those – we’d be doing it wrong. First Corinthians tells us how the Apostle Paul wanted us to look at this Old Testament time period. “For I (Paul) do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock with followed them; and the rock was Christ.”

These verses take the reader’s mind to the context of the wandering period in the books of Exodus and Numbers. The children of Israel were accompanied by a pillar of cloud during the day, they passed through the Red Sea, followed Moses, ate manna every day and, in the book of Numbers, God made water come from a rock for them when they were thirsty. So to get in context, our minds go to the wandering period and we automatically get ready to find the redeeming qualities of the wanderers. But First Corinthians goes on, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased, for they were laid low in the wilderness.” Oh! Well, if God was NOT well-pleased with them, then we have a clue that our interpretive approach is not to emulate them, but to learn from their mistakes: we’re to use them as examples of what not to do!

1 Corinthians 10: 6, “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (emphasis added).

The children of Israel of this period craved evil things, they were idolaters, they acted immorally, they tried the Lord, and they grumbled. We will be studying the book of Numbers this quarter, and we’ll see in detail the instances of these negative examples. Our focus will be to learn as much as we can from the wandering children of Israel, follow the instructions of 1 Corinthians 10 regarding them, and learn what not to do.

Bible Study Tools

One of the super things that God did that enables us to study is to provide us with study tools. The most basic of the tools is the Strong’s Concordance.

Mr. Strong and his committee cataloged every word in the Bible and every occurrence of that word. He put each word in alphabetical order and provided five or six words around each word so that you could be reminded of the context.

That’s a fabulous blessing to us who don’t have the whole Bible memorized J. If there’s a time when you’re thinking of a few words of a verse, but can’t remember its address (its book, chapter and verse), you can look that word up and instantly find all the places in the Bible that word was used. The surrounding context helps you identify which use you’re looking for, and the address is right there! That section of your Strong’s is called the “Concordance” and is invaluable.

Not only that handy dandy tool, but the Strong’s also includes two dictionaries: one in Hebrew for Old Testament words, and another in Greek for the New Testament words. Mr. Strong assigned a number to each entry in the concordance SO THAT we don’t need to learn Hebrew or Greek to find out the original meaning of the word! Both of the dictionaries are in numerical order, so you look up the word by the number.

There are many other word study tools, most of which make use of the Strong’s Number system – the number that links the original language word with a number. Because of that, it’s handy to have a Strong’s and to know how to use it.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a Strong’s Concordance, know that they now come in editions that match various translations of the Bible. There’s an NIV Strong’s, a NASB Strong’s, and a KJV Strong’s. It’s important to have one that matches the version from which you are studying.

There are even more “tricks” that a Strong’s will help you perform. It’s really a fabulous tool, and one that I’d be unwilling to do without. Also remember that, like any tool, it will take time to learn to use properly. Don’t feel discouraged when learning this new skill – it’s valuable to know how to use this tool skillfully.

When I get to heaven, I’ll find Jesus and give him a huge hug, then I’m going to find Mr. James Strong to thank him for the gift of his book. It’s enabled me to open the Bible and to study it with a depth that I didn’t know was possible!

Don’t Go Back

One of the things we learn in the New Testament is that humans have the tendency to go back to forms and rituals that are familiar and comfortable. When presented with something new and better , the pull of our habits over-ride the new and better, while further entrenching us in the ineffective familiar.

In Galatia, Paul’s newly-converted Gentiles were being taught that they needed to incorporate circumcision. “Evangelists” who didn’t have a full understanding of grace taught that the work of circumcision was necessary to salvation, which led the Galatians to wonder, “Can I continue in grace, or should I fall back to a works program?” Paul’s letter to the region loudly and forcefully explains that they do NOT need to incorporate ANYTHING into their grace, and that a works program is “falling from grace” (Galatians 5: 4). Don’t go back!

In Corinth, the new believers were trying to be “politically correct” in accepting sin and worldliness into their fellowship. They incorporated familiar cultural norms and ways of thinking, even in the way they treated their women. They thought that they were forward-thinkers, but Paul tells them that they were arrogant. Paul’s first letter to that church sets them straight: you should be mourning immorality and remove these people from your midst! (1 Cor 5) Don’t go back!

In the book of Hebrews, the Jewish Christians of the time were experiencing terrible persecution. They had been tempted to go back to the customs and rituals of Judaism, where there was less persecution. It was familiar, it was safe, and it had worked in the past, but the Author strongly warns them that what they have now, in the New Covenant, is BETTER! Better than angels, better than Moses, better sacrifices, and better priesthood! Why would you want to go back to something less-than? Don’t go back!

Even the parable of the Sower in Mark chapter 4 illustrates the human desire to “go back” into what is comfortable and familiar. One of the things that choke out the sown Word is thorns, which are worries of the world, deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things. Plain old “other things” make the Word unfruitful! Don’t go back to desires for other things!

As we being our push into a new year, let’s have one of our resolutions be to NOT GO BACK in any area! Our faith is in grace alone, not in any of our work – our influences are from the Bible, not from the world, and our relationship with God is based on the greatest covenant ever seen on the planet! We will not let the old and familiar things keep us from stretching to find new heights of relationship with God! We will learn from the Corinthians, the Galatians, and Hebrew Christians that we won’t go backwards, but further and further, deeper and deeper, closer and closer to God!

God’s Word is Constant

We all reflect on the year as we enter into a brand new one, and as I do so, I am reminded of the constant of God’s Word in my life.  He is always faithful, ever true, and so completely dependable in all circumstances. I love how the Word of God is both constant and new each time I step into it with Him.  The new, fresh rhema is awaiting me each time I open the Bible, and step into conversation with God. He speaks to me through His Word about the present matters that I walk through.  That is the beauty of God’s omnipresence and His desire for such deep intimacy with me…and each of us!  He knows my innermost thoughts, even before I do, and then meets me there, in them.

This year was full of much for me and my family, as we had highs and lows.  The biggest remembrance of this year is the passing of my beloved Daddy.  I was able to sit with him in ICU and pray with him and for him, constantly in my Father’s presence with my dad.  It was a memory I will take with me into eternity.  I got to watch my dad enter into God’s presence and it was such a glorious gift.  To see on his face the peace and joy that replaced the agony of what this temporal world gives us, was a blessing that will carry me through all things here on earth. As his body failed, his spirit soared and awakened to the life everlasting.  Although this was a sad year, and I miss my dad’s presence here with me, I rest in the knowledge that I will see him again, and soon.  Godly grief still visits me at times, and I let it wash over me, as I recall moments and memories to heal my heart.  These come less and less often as the months march by, and are replaced by memories that bring a smile.  Or answers come to questions I have long had, and I am grateful for the gift of extended family to share the memories and from whom answers come.  God is good…all the time…and His purpose and presence is constant in a world that offers nothing that comes close to abiding in Him, and with Him.  2013 provided opportunity for me to know God more intimately, and I pray that 2014 be that for all those that I know…deeper intimacy with the Father of all.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Champaigne_shepherdThe parable of the Lost Sheep is one of my favorites. You’re probably very familiar with it, too. In it, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to go find the one who got lost. That’s a lovely picture of Jesus’ concern for all of us when we’ve strayed off the path, but there’s a lot more to it, too.

The Good Shepherd finds the sheep. There’s nothing in the parable about Jesus scolding the sheep for getting lost, or chastising it for not keeping up. He simply picks it up and carries it home.

I run across people frequently who think that they don’t need other people to advance in their lives with Christ. They don’t participate in Bible studies, hardly gather for worship, and don’t pursue friendships. They have a belief that all they need is Jesus, so having people in their lives would just be a waste of time. That way of thinking can’t be validated in Scripture – in fact, the parable of the Lost Sheep directly contradicts that thinking.

In the parable, the Good Shepherd knows that the sheep is best off among the flock. If Jesus wanted to say that isolation is good, the Shepherd would have built a little hut, set up housekeeping with the lamb and begun their life of seclusion. But that’s not what He did! He picked the lamb up, carried him back to the group, and deposited him among the others. Jesus preferred that the lamb live in community forever – not in seclusion! Similarly, Jesus’ desire is that we live in community with other believers and not in seclusion! It’s amazing to think that anything could be better than an isolated hut with just me and Jesus, but He says that there is! I’m better off with Jesus and a whole flock of other sheep!

We need to remember this when we’re feeling the desire to retreat from fellowship. We need to schedule time for friends and get-togethers around the Word, and maybe a weekend get-away with other believers. God has created each of us to function as a member of his body, not as a lone Christian who believes that all he needs is Jesus! There’s more to be had and blessings to be found in the input and closeness of other believers! We are all sheep who live in a flock, and Jesus wants it that way.