Thursday, February 27, 2014

Stand Out

Have you ever stood out? You know you were visiting a foreign place, whether it is a country, city, new school, new church, new job or whatever. What feelings did you have?

What thoughts were going through your mind? Were you scared or excited?

I know when I was in Kenya I was all of the above and more. This was new territory for me, and man did I stand out. I mean everywhere I went I felt the eyes of people who had just as many questions for me as I had for them.

Eyes that were at times piercing, and at other times wondering…who is this guy, what’s he all about, where’s he from?

It’s interesting how we make observations and assumptions about people before we even know them, and many times our observations turn into judgment statements before those judgments have been tested.

I know I often find myself doing that with people from time to time, and that’s why on this particular trip to Kenya, I was so moved by the overwhelming welcome and encouragement from a group of people who knew nothing about me, except that I was a Giant Mazoongu (white dude in Swahili).

In fact I had the kids laughing at one point when I told them in Mexico the kids called me gigante in Spanish because I’m so much bigger than them. It wasn’t long and I heard shouts of “Gigante Mazoongu, Gigante Mazoongu”, and we all laughed and laughed.

In processing my thoughts, feelings and experiences from that trip, I remember feeling like everywhere I went I stood out, people were locked in on my every move, and focusing on every little thing I said and did. It was pretty incredible in some ways, and pretty intimidating in others, but the bottom line for me was that people were curious to find out more.

You know, I wondered if that is how people view me back home. Watching to see what I say and what I do, not because I’m some great person but because I’m a Christ follower, and I stand out from the crowd...or do I?

In Kenya I stood out for sure because of my ethnicity and skin color, but it made me pause and ask myself if my lifestyle matches up with what I claim to be true or if I just blend in with the crowd.

Standing out is a tough thing, because wherever the spotlight is shining it gets hot, and when we step up and stand out for our faith, it’s as if a bulls-eye is painted right on our chest. Everyone is watching and waiting for you to do one of several things. Maybe they're waiting for you to trip up and show yourself a hypocrite or maybe they’re waiting for you to do something amazing for God and give Him all the glory.

Whatever their motives are, whenever we stand out the paparazzi are out in force, with cameras ready to snap away.

I’ve never been a big fan of standing out in sports, or music or anything in pop-culture because I've seen so many one-hit wonders in my day, but I’m learning more and more that that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do...Not be a one hit wonder, but be a faithful, steady testimony of God's love and grace to others. When we live that way, we're bound to stand out!

He doesn’t want a bunch of chameleons that blend in with every fad and trend that the world offers. No He wants us to step up, and stand out for Him. It’s a tough deal, but is exactly what He called His disciples to do, and is what He is calling us to do as well. The only problem is that many times we stand out in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons.

It’s not about earning some magical brownie points with God if we’re “martyred” for our faith, it’s more about learning to be so much like Christ that the counter-cultural nature of His plan in our lives shows us for who we really are in Him…aliens and strangers in a peculiar place. A place that is not our home, but a place that we’ve been called to live life to it’s fullest in all of God’s power and strength.

When I was in Kenya, I definitely stood out, and it is my prayer that In the US, and everywhere I go, I would stand out because God’s way really is the best way, and His way isn’t about comfort, convenience or even camouflage. No it’s about showing the world the difference that the difference maker has made in our lives, and amplifying that truth wherever we go, and to whoever we meet.

Jesus is calling us to stand out, because he stood out, and is drawing all people to Himself, it’s amazing to me that He wants us involved in that process.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Religion or Relationship

Recently I was thinking about how many times in life our assumptions, traditions and even things we've grown up believing can sidetrack us from embracing the truths of why Jesus came to this earth.

I know for me there have been times in my life where I said the right things, did the right actions, prayed the right prayers and went to the right church service but my heart was far from what my actions were conveying.

One of the things that Jesus came to do was replace rules with relationship, and if I'm honest sometimes keeping the rules is much easier than being in relationship.

With rules it's straightforward and cut & dry. With relationship though, true sacrifice and devotion for my Savior who is my number one priority is what I want to bring because of what He did for me. Not in a robotic "must repay to earn Savior's love" kind of way but in a "He did that for me? No Way! Wow! You gotta be kidding me! How could I not worship Him and live my life for Him?" Kind of way.

So, as I'm thinking and praying about how many times our assumptions and beliefs shape and ultimately drive our actions, I was reminded of a time when I entered a 10 mile road race and then on race day didn’t show up.

Yep, you heard me right, it was 1989, and I was 21 years old, serving as a Youth Pastor intern in Flint, Michigan.

It had been a great summer of ministry and it was beginning to wind down. All summer long I had heard about how some people from the church were training to run in the 10 Mile Crim Road Race that was sponsored by Buick.

Apparently it was a big deal, and in my zeal to belong, be liked and be respected I foolishly shelled out the dough to purchase the number that registered me in the big race.

The only problem though is that I'm about as far from a runner as you can be. In fact, I hate running, I'm terrible at it and I get tired very easily!

 When I was in junior high I tried out for the school soccer team and literally asked the coach "what position can I play where I don't have to run much?" He said..."goalie" Guess what position I played until I graduated?

 So, the day came to run the race, I was registered but didn't show, I paid my money, got my number but didn't even though when I got back to college that following fall and told all my buddies about my great intern experience when it came time to show them my Crim road race number I could only tell the story from an observer's point of view, not a participant's point of view.

 I think sometimes an assumption that causes us to miss what Jesus came to do is one that says; "as long as I go to church, pay my tithe, say the right things and be good" I'll be all set.

 I've seen that mindset many times over the years, and as I look at this road race number that I paid my hard earned cash to get, it's about like that assumption for a person who thinks they can just obey the rules and God is good with that.

In order to be a runner in the Crim road race I needed to show up and order to be a follower of Jesus I need to accept the free gift that Jesus gives (my analogy breaks down here for sure, because I had to purchase my road race number on a summer intern's salary at that...what was I thinking?) and start the race with my Savior leading the way.

I believe that Jesus was very purposeful in what He did on this earth, and I'm so glad that because of what He did I can finally be a runner (at least in the Christian life.)