You Don’t Know Jesus

I first remember meeting Jesus in preschool Sunday School, where my Aunt Faye showed us a picture of a kind man, with beautiful hair and brown eyes.  She told us the most amazing stories: how he walked on water, healed a blind man, and rose from the dead.  Aunt Faye made sure we knew that Jesus loved us.  This was the Jesus I gave my heart to when I was eight years old.

When I was in Middle School, I met Jesus again.  One of the periodic “He’s coming soon” panics was sweeping our corner of the world.  I was told Jesus would come like a thief in the night.  This was hard to integrate; thieves, in my world, were not nice people.  But I remember what Aunt Faye said: “Jesus loves you, Clay.”  I wasn’t sure how to wrap all this into one picture.  Was Jesus the kind man who loved me, or the coming King who would judge the world and wipe out the wicked?  Just to be on the safe side, every night I would ask Jesus to save me, just in case I wasn’t saved and just in case he came back during the night, broke in like a thief, took my Momma and left me (I was pretty sure my brother would be left with me).

In college, I was introduced to Jesus as the radical.  Someone put a copy of the Cotton Patch Gospel in my hand, and for the first time I realized Jesus cared about things like racial division and injustice.  This was new to me.  I had grown up in the South with a mild strain of prejudice, but thought I was okay, because, after all, Jesus was white.  At least he was in the picture in Aunt Faye’s classroom.   Somehow, my brain made the connection that Jesus was a Jew, probably with olive skin, and often mistreated because of his racial background.  I never knew that.

In seminary, I was exposed to all kinds of thinking about Jesus.  Some scholars said he wasn’t really God’s son, just a really good teacher.  Other scholars said we couldn’t really know much about Jesus because he lived so long ago.  There were other voices, each with an opinion about Jesus.

It was about this time, in a counselor’s office, that I was introduced to the deep grace of Jesus.  While I was surrounded by theories about Jesus, I began to experience at a soul level the grace of Jesus, pouring over the wounds of my soul, healing the cuts, and transforming the pain of my own mistakes and sins.  It was coming full circle; I was back to Jesus as first knew Him.  But He was beyond Aunt Faye’s simple picture.  He was the gracious, living Savior who knew me by name.

I had begun to serve Jesus as a pastor and a teacher by this time.  People would come to me, telling me what Jesus would do; or telling me what Jesus would say; or remonstrating me because Jesus would make a different choice that wouldn’t make anyone mad.  By this time, I knew Jesus well enough to know Jesus couldn’t be fit into a box.  Whenever we try to bend Jesus to be who we want Him to be, we end up with a picture that tells only part of the story.

In the years I have served and followed Jesus what I’ve come to know is this:  Jesus is a real person.  You can’t caricature Him with a sentence or a few paragraphs.  He is more than can be captured by words.  He is even more than that picture Aunt Faye showed me when I was three.   You only really get to know Jesus when you do life with Him, when you follow Him.

Make sure the Jesus you know isn’t just a picture; make sure He is the one you are following.  Only then will you know the real Jesus.

Is Your Church Beautiful?

I remember walking into a First Baptist Church in a small southern city, and being awestruck at the beauty of the building.  The stain glass, the white pews, and the way the colors worked – they were inspiring.

The building was beautiful – but was the church beautiful?

Scripture tells us about the glory of God.  Glory is a word which has the idea of weight, honor, abundance, and something that is lovely.  It holds the idea of being overwhelmed.  What is beautiful about God is His grace, His love, His compassion, and His mercy.  When you think about who we are and who He is, His beauty carries weight.

If the church is truly the movement of Jesus, it carries His beauty, His glory.  People should point to Jesus’ church and say, “What a good God there must be for a group of people to come together and act like that.”  Churches are beautiful when they are people of grace, love, compassion, and mercy.

My prayer is for ever church to be beautiful.  I especially pray for the church I’m a part of to be beautiful.

If the building is nice, that’s okay too.

 

 

Wisdom Nuggets from the Global Leadership Summit

 

Last week, ADBC hosted the Global Leadership Summit, a simulcast event encouraging leaders.  We were one of 1,300 sites around the world.  Over 300 people registered here, making us the largest viewing site in South Carolina.  The great value of the Summit is gaining wisdom from seasoned leaders from around the world.  These were some of my “keepers:”

  • Bill Hybels:
    • “Passion comes from mountain tops of beautiful dreams or valleys of pain and struggle that create a desire to do something about it.”
    • “The whole pulse rate of an organization accelerates because it feeds off the passion of a leader.”
    • “Leadership is not about time; it is about energy.”
  • Jossey Chacko:
    • “Who is missing blessing if you don’t take risks?”
  • Patrick Lencioni:
    • “Three marks of the ideal team player:  They are humble, hungry, and smart.”
    • “True humility is to accept the truth about yourself.”
  • John Maxwell:
    • “Before you lead a person, you have to find the person.”
    • “Everything worthwhile is uphill all the way.”
    • “People have uphill hopes but have downhill habits.”
    • “Most people don’t lead their lives; they accept their lives.”
    • “Selfishness and significance are incompatible.”
  • T.D. Jakes:
    • “From one seed comes a forest.”
    • “Burnout is the frustration of not being challenged.”
    • “You must endure success to have success.”
    • “Let the haters educate you, but do not let them seduce you.”
    • “What will you leave behind to get where you need to go?”
    • “You must be intentional about love.”
  • Danielle Strickland:
    • “True peace is not the absence of peace but the presence of justice” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Horst Schultze:
    • “Leading people implies we are going somewhere.  So show them the destination.”

 

Ever so often, you need to pull aside, and think wisely about your life.  So be wise, and mark your calendars for the Global Leadership Summit for 2017, August 10-11.

Ten Types of Teachers:

In honor of the first day of school, ten types of teachers I have known:

  1. The Mumbler: heaven help you if you have him or her for Trigonometry.  Especially if Trig is first period.
  2. The General: We will take this hill of knowledge!
  3. The Intellectual: I should be writing a book, you know.
  4. Mrs. “They don’t pay enough for bus duty and to grade your homework: Here’s your test back from last year.”
  5. Mr. Monotone: So sleepy…
  6. The Stand-up: I wanted to be a standup comedian, see, but I’m not that funny, so I became a teacher so everyone would have to give me a courtesy laugh.
  7. Mrs. Powerpoint: I want you to see my brilliant slides, so not only will you have to see them in class, I will email them to you.
  8. Mrs. Sugar: “You are so adorable!  We’re going to have so much fun today!”
  9. The Drill Sergeant: “You think this course is tough?  Wait till you are in the real world solider!  Now drop and give me 20.”
  10. The Hipster: I have an piercings, tattoos, and a ponytail.  I really should be living in Brooklyn, but even it’s not cool enough.  So I am here, blessing you with my coolness.
  11. Mr. “I should have retired five years ago.” I hate being here.  I hate the administration.  I hate this subject.  I hate you.  I hate your mother and father for having you.  I hate everything.

And to all the teachers out there – I know none of you fit these stereotypes!  Praying for you to have a great year! (and did you catch my mistake?)

What’s Right?

In an election year, there is a flood of voices telling us what is wrong with our community, our country, and our world.  Those running for office make us feel anxious about the problems then tell us they alone have the solution.  If we vote for them the problems go away.  Here’s what I observe:  every two years I vote for someone who promises to solve my problems and the world’s problems, yet we still have problems.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

This is why we need to pause, and discover the hidden stories, the stories of what is right in the world.  These are the stories of God’s good grace.  They are all around us, if we slow down, notice and think.

So what’s right in this world?

  • Debbie, a follower of Jesus and a teacher, praying over the chairs in her classroom every day before school.
  • Warm pimento cheese dip with hot, homemade potato chips.
  • Dan driving a friend to pick up his truck from the shop.
  • The movie, “The Secret Life of Pets.”
  • Allen collecting school supplies at his business so teachers can have one less thing to be stressed about.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Jody coaching girls softball, though his own children are grown and gone.
  • Watching the mallards land on the pond.
  • Jackie bringing her new neighbors some fresh okra.
  • Black-eyed Susans in bloom.
  • Zach, who asks the deep, uncomfortable questions everyone else is thinking, but no one else is courageous enough to ask.
  • Two people who went through painful divorces finding each other at church, falling in love, and waiting for marriage before becoming intimate.
  • Dogs that want to be scratched behind the ears.
  • Rhett, fresh out of college, barely making ends meet, bringing an Ozark Mountain Cup to a friend because it has the logo of his favorite college team on it.
  • A ninety year-old man who is reading through the Bible because he wants to do it before he dies.
  • Seeing a child who used to do sleepovers at your house answer God’s call to ministry.
  • Jessica and Aaron who patiently wait while Mom and Dad have an adult conversation with another grown up.
  • The couple that’s been married 60 years holding hands.
  • Kate, sixteen, asking her small group to pray for her to find her purpose.
  • Kisses from a two year old.
  • Field peas, simmered in fatback for two hours.
  • The random text from your 20 something daughter telling you she loves you.

There are two kinds of grace:  Saving grace, the gift of God through Jesus that saves us from our sins; and common grace, grace given to everyone in the world, given simply because God is good.  He blesses us with people who make us smile and grace signs that He made the world to be good, and good can still be found.

Keep your eyes open for what is right.

How Many People Does It Take to Change the Pastor’s Tire?

We had just wrapped up a great meeting of the Vision Council out at Ed Bynum’s cabin this past Sunday.  A couple of people had already left, and some people were standing around chatting.  I said my good-byes, got in my truck, cranked it, and started to drive off.  I noticed it was pulling to the right, and I instantly knew what that meant: a flat tire.

It had been a long day, and changing a flat was the last thing I wanted to do.  I did have the sense to back up into the cone of light provided by the yard lamp.  Kevin, one of the Vision Council members, asked if I needed help.

Then I entered the stupid zone.  Like every stubborn male, my response was, “No, I got this.”  The truth was it had been a long day – three sermons, a deacon meeting, and a three hour Vision Council meeting.  I had worked all weekend in the yard and was “whupped,” to use a phrase from my childhood.  Still, my pride took over and I denied I needed any help.

 

Thankfully, my friend Kevin did not let my pride stop his help.  We loosened the lug nuts, which had been put on by King Kong himself.  My already overworked back was grateful for the assistance.  Meanwhile, my pride keep surfacing, telling Kevin he didn’t have to stay.  Kevin, a male himself, recognized stubborn male pride and kept helping.

Laurie and her daughter stayed too.  Laurie had an air pump, in case we needed it.  Cyndi stayed for a while, but we assured her we had it taken care of, so she left.  We got the jack out, and got the truck jacked up, when we discovered we couldn’t get it high enough.

Just as we were puzzled about what do next, Cyndi returned with the cavalry: her husband Ricky and son Carson.  They had brought more tools and another jack.

I will spare you the engineering details, but let me simply say it took two jacks, a block of wood we found at the barn, and some intense prayer to get the truck high enough to get the flat off and the spare on.  Then we hooked up Laurie’s air pump, to pump up the spare.

We all witnessed something we had never seen before:  the spare was so flat, the air compressor was losing ground blowing it up.  Ricky then left to go home and get his contractor grade air compressor.  Kevin still insisted on staying with me; Laurie and Brittany wouldn’t leave either.

It’s amazing how fast something can be done when you have the right tools.  Ricky returned with his air compressor and we got the spare inflated in a couple of minutes.  We did have to drive the truck off the jack (not recommended by the manufacturer).  Kevin then followed me home to make sure the spare held.

It took six people, two jacks, two air compressors, and an hour and a half to change the tire on my truck.  Think I could have done it by myself?

Everyone who stayed was so kind and gracious.  My pride kept telling me, “You should do this by yourself.”  The truth is, I couldn’t have done it by myself.  I didn’t have the strength or the tools.

I wonder how often our pride keeps us from asking for the help we need?  Many of us like the role of servant; we also need to learn to be served.  God designed us to need each other – even for something as simple as changing tires.

Don’t let your pride lead you into the stupid zone.

When Churches Should Fight

In my days, I’ve seen too many church fights.  I’ve even been the cause of two or three.

Most church fights are not about the issue people are fighting about.  People feel powerless at home or work so they come to church and have a deep need to be validated.  This feeling gets attached to some issue and suddenly there is tremendous emotional energy infused to something that in the great scheme of things, really doesn’t matter.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons, and given more than a few about how churches can avoid fighting.  Those sermons are correct when they focus on being united in Jesus.

I’ve heard very few sermons on when a church should fight.  There is, however, a great deal of warrior language in scripture.  The stories of battles in the Old Testament and the calls to action by Jesus tell us there are fights that need to be fought, because they are God’s fight.

When should God’s church fight?

  • When justice is bought and sold.
  • When might makes right.
  • When the poor are exploited.
  • When the hungry are neglected.
  • When the enemy is depersonalized (remember “love your enemies?”).
  • When the prisoner is mistreated.
  • When the sick are abandoned.
  • When race is used to categorize and dehumanize.
  • When the orphan is cast out.
  • When the people are trafficked as commodities.
  • When children are enslaved.
  • When violence is tolerated as “normal.”
  • When those without voice are ignored.
  • When a group claims great privilege over another.
  • When those who are commissioned to speak truth instead sell their words and pull their punches.

Maybe if we fought the fights that needed to be fought, instead of fighting each other, people would think we take Jesus seriously.

Courage to Ask for the Tough

I’ve always liked Caleb in the Old Testament.  In the language of my people, he was a “character.”

He was courageous enough to stand with Joshua and against the ten cowardly spies to say “God is with us, let’s go to the Promised Land.”  He was validated by God and allowed to enter the Promised land, even though he had to wander in the desert for 40 years because of someone else’s bad choice.

After the big pieces of the land are conquered, its time for everyone to claim there spot.  Caleb goes to Joshua, his old companion, and he asks for a tough place, where the enemy is still active and has not yet been conquered.

You have to love this guy.  He is 85, but he isn’t ready to hang it up.  Give me Hebron, he said.  Give me the place where the sons of the giants live.  God is with me.  Give me the tough place.

Have  you built enough trust in God to ask for the tough place, knowing that He will be with you?  Will you claim the promise of God that it is possible to drive out the enemy?

Something you may not know about Caleb – his son-in law, Othniel, became the first leader of Israel after the conquest, when they needed someone to remind them to follow the Lord.  Judges 3 tells us that the Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he conquered a tough enemy.

I wonder where he learned that from?

Maybe when you fight the tough battle, you set a legacy others will follow.

What Jesus Would Say to Donald and Hillary…

Imagine Jesus sitting down with Donald and Hillary.

First, I can imagine that Donald would be quiet.  I can imagine Hillary would be humble.  Jesus sitting down to talk to you makes you realize you are not as important or as qualified as you think you are.

I can imagine Jesus smiling at both of them.  He might start by saying “I want you to know I love you.  I know both of you are imperfect and have sinned.  Some of your sins are well known.  I know the secret sins of your soul.  I know the lies you tell to yourself.   I know the lies you believe because other people tell them to you.

“Your sins don’t frighten me.  I died for your sins.  I rose again so you both could be changed.  Your soul is more important to me than this election.  I want both of you to consider, what would it profit you to gain the whole world, to gain all the power, prestige, and validation of the presidency, and lose your soul?  I tell you the truth, it will not be worth it.  Not for you, and not for this country.

“Now both of you claim to be my followers.  So let’s be clear what I expect:  I expect my followers to love each other.  I said this, remember?  John wrote it down: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have love you.’  I am serious about this.  So stop with the name-calling and the lies.  Love each other.  Want good for each other and do good for each other.”

At this point, shocked looks appear on the faces of Donald and Hillary.  Love each other?  Doesn’t Jesus understand how the game of politics is played?

Jesus sees their skeptical glances at each other.  Undaunted, he resumes his teaching: “Now, let me get real specific.  I blessed you both.  Donald, you started with a fortune, and you made more.  Don’t forget who gave you that opportunity.  I’d like you to praise me a bit more, give me credit.  I blessed you for a reason.  The reason I blessed you wasn’t so you could brag about it.  Hillary, I gave you a great intellect and drive.  You’ve done a lot with it.  But remember to give me credit.  All I gave you is grace; you’ve done nothing to deserve it, you aren’t entitled to it.  Both of you need to learn to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with me.”

Donald can’t stand it anymore.  He blurts out, “Jesus, I can’t do that!  I’ll lose the election!”  Hillary, before she can stop herself, nods in agreement.  Jesus has finally brought them to agree on something – the way of Jesus won’t win an election.

Jesus grins at both of them, and says, “Whoever said winning an election was the point of this?  For my followers, the only thing that matters is that they follow me.”

Maybe this isn’t really about a conversation with Jesus, Donald and Hillary.  Maybe this is Jesus’ conversation with you.

 

Race and Jesus…

I had a taste of being judged by the color of my skin.  Just a small one.

I was a summer missionary in Mexico.  My partner, Tom Nash, and I were catching on a bus to take us from one mission outpost to another.  We boarded, and scanned for empty seats.  The only pair of empty seats was in the back of the bus.  Conversational buzz was replaced by energized whispers.

As we made our way down the crowded aisle, it seemed like every pair of eyes stared with the unspoken message, “Who are you and what are you doing on our bus?”  We obviously stood out, our skin and our hair being much lighter than the rest of the travelers.

We were still making our way down the aisle, when the bus lurched forward. My momentum disturbed, I almost fell into a woman’s lap.  Forgetting I was in a country where English was not the first language, I quickly said, “I’m sorry,” only to be met with a puzzled look.

We finally sat down on the back row of the bus, squeezing in with six other men on a bench built for five.  There was no open hostility, but there were no smiles or friendly expressions.  We were more than outsiders; we were “other.”

The man next to me shifted to position his back toward me, and spoke to his neighbor.  “Norteamericanos,” he said.  I was majoring in Spanish, but my classroom knowledge wasn’t required for me to hear the contempt in his voice.  I was walled out, shut out.  This man did not know me.  He did not know why I was in his country nor why I was in his space. He was judging me based on my race, on the color of my skin.  He already decided who I was, and what place I held in his esteem.

The next fifteen minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. The whole rattling bus seemed enveloped by a blanket of silence.  Mercifully, we reached our stop, again making our way back down the crowded aisle.  I’m sure it was my imagination, but as the bus doors closed behind us, the voices on the bus resumed an animated chatter.

That day, I was racially profiled.  I was not a person, I was a category.  This happens everyday.  Neurons race through our brains, pulling together memories and words, and we assess people before we blink our eyes twice.  I do this.  You do this.

In our country, police officers have to make snap judgments about life and death.  They don’t always get it right.  Old threats, old fears whip through the brain.  A trigger is pulled and innocent people die.

In our country, people with certain skin tones live with a fear that others do not know.  It is the fear that simply because of a thought in someone else’s brain (a thought that could be incorrect), they could lose their lives.  That kind of fear, over time, will cause you to react, even to overreact.

All of us – all of us – need a rewiring of our brains, our memories, our fears.  This requires more than therapy; this requires God changing our broken brains, our broken souls.

This is why we are told to meditate on scripture, on the words of Jesus.  We let his words, his thoughts, absorb our words, our thoughts.

So let me leave you with three sentences from Jesus:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

Jesus really does have the answer.