Let your mission be as strong as your commitments.

“Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” -Judges 13:4,5

What motivates you and me to obey God’s Law? Does heaven? Or marriage? Or judgment?

Those aren’t necessarily bad motivations. But what do they all have in common?

They are all focused on a future reward.

There is something much, much more motivating than a future reward, and that is a mission. If you recognize how something negatively affects your purpose for today–if you recognize the effect of sin on accomplishing your mission–you will have much more motivation to move past it.

Samson wasn’t supposed to drink fermented things or eat unclean foods because he was called to a specific mission. Doing those things would prevent him from accomplishing it.

Many of us try to avoid the same things as Samson. But is our mission as clear as his?

The reason not to drink–the reason for any discipline–is to prepare ourselves so that we will not be prevented from accomplishing our mission: bringing Jesus back.

If that mission isn’t urgent, or we don’t think that’s our mission, why not drink?

It sounds fun.

Just let your mission be as strong as your commitments.

Do justly and love mercy, not the other way around.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8

The wording of Micah 6:8 is important. I mix it up sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I love justice and do mercy (or kindness), instead of the other way around.

But aren’t we supposed to be merciful?

Yes, I’m sure.

Then why is that a bad thing?

It’s bad because it poisons the doer. We are meant to live justly now, as far as possible. And we are meant to love mercy, and to let it inform our sense of justice. But when we start to love justice while doing mercy, instead of loving mercy while doing justice, it changes us from being an advocate to being a judge with evil thoughts. An advocate is a person that looks for a way to support a person through the law. A judge is a person that condemns (or vindicates) a person through the law. As the latter, instead of being committed to justice in the world and simultaneously hating the fact that we have to deal out consequences to maintain it, we turn into people that love the payback, and only withhold it when we have to to be seen as kind. It destroys our heart for the perpetrator and turns ourselves into an idol that cannot walk humbly with God.

The better way is to do what the law demands, all the while pitying the transgressor and looking for the best way to restore them, walking humbly with God the whole way.

The one thing that will help you start a deep conversation with anyone.

“People that make a difference in the world are not people who have mastered a lot of things. They are people who have been mastered by a very few things that are very, very great.” –John Piper

This morning I spent some time trying to focus on the few things that should direct my life. I’m thinking more evangelistically these days, which is scary because it means I need to have something to talk about with anyone I meet. But how many things do you need to know in order to relate to everyone? I don’t think I can handle that.

Unless, that is, you really do only need to be mastered by a few things. Unless there are just a few things that really matter, for everyone.

Yesterday I wrote that the one unbreakable tie between people is their place as people loved by God–all other ties are weak, man-made things. So that gives me a start at understanding how I might be able to relate to anybody, but it’s still pretty vague: sure, when we’re down, we realize that most of the things that connect us don’t actually matter–there’s some sort of deeper connection.

But why does that matter? Is it anything more than sentiment?

It is if there’s a way forward.

Jesus once said,

“I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” -John 14:3b,4

This means that whoever I meet I can encourage. I can say there is a way.

So we share a common place. We’re all people, we all find ourselves playing the ridiculous game of self-preservation sometimes, and we all end up messed up. But for all of us there is a way, as well.

There’s a way.

Further reading

If you want to think further about how this hope of a way can engage with almost any kind of person, check out the first 32 verses of Psalm 107.

Yes, it is you: Conflict in intimacy

I’ve noticed an unsettling fact about myself: when I need to justify a difficult decision about someone, whether in regard to employment, partnering, friendship, or something else, I usually start looking for character flaws in areas irrelevant to the decision. If I let myself, I turn confrontation into condemnation, to distance and justify myself for any pain that my decision might cause them.

It’s terrible, isn’t it?

Jesus did the opposite the night he was arrested. You can watch the scene from The Book of Matthew here.

He’s sitting at a table with his men; Judas Iscariot is sitting next to him. At one point in the meal Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me… The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.”

In the film, Jesus whispers the last part of that thought to Judas while both of their hands are in the bowl together.

After a fearful pause, Judas carries on with his charade by asking,

“Surely not I, Rabbi?”

And this is the key moment. Turning, visibly pained by the question, Jesus hugs Judas tightly. While together, Jesus, once again, whispers his message to Judas,

“Yes, it is you.”

He keeps hugging him.

Conflict is the best opportunity for experiencing intimacy, because in conflict all of our weak ties, our affinities and our attractions, get thrown out, and the only tie that remains is our unbreakable connection to each other as people loved by God. Intimacy in conflict is the only intimacy that consists entirely of more than the weak ties. It is the most honest intimacy.

The problem is when I see conflict as a threat, when I condemn and distance myself instead of engaging in that raw kind of intimacy that hugs while saying “Yes, it is you”, I simultaneously, and unnecessarily, damage the person I’m talking to and prevent myself from experiencing that most honest of all intimacies.

And Christianity cannot consist in less than the most honest of intimacies.

The great thing about the beautiful news is that freeing you from the fear of death is just the beginning. If belief frees you from the fear of death, it also makes life worth living.

Honestly.

No fear of death

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”

John 6:39

First, this verse is a picture of the love that God the Father has for us, because Jesus is here saying that it is the Father’s will that Jesus not lose anyone that the Father has given him. He says this right after stating that he has come not to do his own will, but the will of the Father who sent him. The entire life of Christ was a reflection of the Father’s will.

Second, this verse is an encouragement and a call to a congruent life. Jesus makes it clear that a key part of Christian belief is the resurrection. For emphasis, Jesus reiterates his words in the next verse, and prefixes them with “shall have eternal life”.

Yesterday I watched a few minutes of a film about the life of Jan Hus, a reformer martyred in 1415. As the movie tells it, in his cell, the day before going to the stake, a guard asks him how he is so brave. He responds:

“You have no fear of death, when you have faith in our Lord and Savior.”

According to Jesus’ words in John 6:39, that is a saying by which believers must live. When we believe, death is nothing to fear.

This realization will not only impart courage to your soul, but will feed your passion to share at any cost. Because when you realize that death is nothing to fear, you realize that you have good news, for anybody.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Hebrews 2:14-15

Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 61:1.

We can, too.

100 Days of Prayer for a More Awkward Church

Yesterday was the beginning of 100 Days of Prayer, a prayer initiative organized by the Adventist Church in preparation for the GC Session this July. I watched the accompanying short film “What Might Have Been” yesterday and decided that I would like to participate.

Why did the film grab my attention?

Besides my surprise at recognizing a few of the cast from my hometown (Willits!), I was totally caught by the practical application of humility that this film modeled.

I love watching people do awkward things for what they believe.

For years, ever since I had the capacity to think analytically, the idea of total surrender to God was always intimidating. But I could never quite put my finger on what, exactly, I was afraid of.

Now I know.

I was afraid of awkwardness.

In high school I hated drama. If there were love notes getting passed around, I disappeared. If people were angry, I just waited till things calmed down. The worst thing I could imagine was to say something someone else would disagree with.

In college, I realized disagreement could be constructive. But I was still afraid of hurting people’s feelings or doing something that my friends (brilliant friends each with wit out the wazoo and the charisma of presidents) might look down on. So I could disagree, as long as I had a semi-logical (or better yet, obscure and unheard-of) reason for it.

The thing is, God might cause drama, and He might not give reasons.

And that could be super awkward.

And so I have come to love seeing people do awkward things for their faith, because that seems to be one of the truest indicators of authentic obedience.

It can, also, be an indicator of off-base, ignorant delusion. I’ve seen that, too.

But often, and I think usually, when a person has the social intelligence to know that what they are doing is awkward but right, but good, and they move forward with it despite the awkwardness, they do beautiful things that make me fall in love.

One instance:

I played in the orchestra my sophomore year at Andrews. I was second-to-last chair in the violin section. I probably should have been last, but they needed someone better to play next to me and drown out some of my improvised screeches.

At the end of the concert, I was talking with an elderly couple out in the lobby, and the man told me I had done a fine job. I thanked him and we continued talking. A few moments later, though, he circled back to his earlier statement and confessed that, actually, he had been late and hadn’t heard us play. He had lied. He apologized.

I felt so great.

See, what he did was nothing. He could have moved on and forgotten about it, and no one, really, would have been hurt. And in fact it probably felt really awkward for him.

But he cared about presenting himself honestly, and he noticed this little thing. And he acted on it despite the awkwardness. (By the way, he didn’t make me feel awkward, and I only loved and respected him more for it afterward. That’s usually how good-awkward things turn out.)

And in this film introducing the 100 Days of Prayer, the characters (and maybe the cast?) do just this sort of thing. They humble themselves to the point of awkwardness. And that is glorious.

So I’m going to be praying these next one hundred days, and I hope you are also.

Because how great would it be if God really did come down and bring every one of us to that point of glorious awkward obedience that unites the church enough to show the world that God loves us.

Do you have any awkward experiences to share? Put them in the comments! I want to love you more.

 Psst! If you watch the video, I also suggest reading this article for some good historical background and another perspective on the issue (note Chudleigh’s conclusion!). And then maybe come back and read mine again. Comment if you have questions.