Learning a Reason to Be Thankful: Jesus Becomes Unclean to Make You Clean

ThanksJesus is new in ministry.  He is just getting started.

Significant experiences for him so far include:  overcoming the devil’s temptation, rejection from his hometown, exorcising a demon, healing a woman’s high fever, curing diseases, preaching in the synagogue, and recruiting three disciples.  Impressive, yet only getting his toes wet.

With this on his resume, he ventures into another city.  A man with leprosy approaches him.  Jesus should have been concerned.  If nothing else, the wise thing for him to do would be to keep a safe distance.

Leprosy was a formidable disease in Jesus’ day.  Society was extremely fearful of the contagion.  Even the Bible spoke openly about it.  Leviticus 13 and 14 declares it a disease that makes a person “unclean “until a priest walks the diseased through proper ritual cleansing and can confidently pronounce it gone.

Until a leper is healed and designated clean, they are relegated an outcast.  Unfit for society.  A threat to humanity.  Human contact was forbidden.

Jesus should have known better.  Certainly, he recognized the sores all of the man’s body. It had to be obvious.

The leprous man humbly, yet desperately, approaches Jesus like a servant to a king.  Head bowed and eyes down, he begs, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”

Bold move.  This is the type of scene you might expect body guards to step forward wielding swords.  “Back up.  Don’t take one step further,” they might say to the leper.  “Now, stand up straight.  Turn around.  Walk away slowly and never speak to anyone again.  Or else.”  

Not so with Jesus.  He explodes expectations.

Jesus defies culture and orthodoxy.  He stretches out his hand, touches the man and declares him clean.

That’s not in the priests’ ritual handbook.  You could call a foul on Jesus.  He isn’t playing by the rules.

He touched an “unclean” person.  As such, he is now also unclean.

Jesus is okay with it.  He shows no concern.  He is well aware of his actions and their repercussions.  To him, it’s worth it.

By touching this man (the first person to offer human contact for who knows how long), Jesus not only shows compassion; he makes himself part of the leper’s uncleanness.  Jesus becomes unclean so that the man may be cleansed.  Jesus enters into and suffers “uncleanness” in order to redeem it.  

For this, the man is thankful.

A miracle.  First, that Jesus has the power to heal.  Second, and maybe more importantly, that Jesus is willing to absorb our sickness in order to make us well again.

Speaking truthfully, we could all use a cleansing.  You (I) bear an ugliness that needs a cure.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful Jesus becomes unclean to make me clean.

Learning the Simplicity of Story

I grab any and every opportunity to learn about the nature and power and significance of story.  Today, I discovered a useful breakdown of the key story elements presented in a simple, accessible format.

The context is marketing.  I am not a marketer.  Still, I am intrigued by this unique perspective on story.

I am not sure how you might use it, or if you will.  If you discard it completely, that’s okay.  I didn’t want to pass an opportunity to share it with you.

Thank you Copyblogger for providing great content!

Here you go, enjoy:

The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story [Infographic]Like this infographic? Get content marketing training from Copyblogger Media that will give you an unfair business advantage.

Learning the Power of a Clear Vision

LOL 2015This December marks the 10th Anniversary of Highland Park Church’s Christmas event called Lights of Lakeland.  In a decade, it has grown to a point of attracting over 30,000 visitors.  A pretty big deal, if you ask anyone who’s put together a community event.

Why has it experienced such great success?  Clear vision.  From the beginning, the goal has been to create the city’s best family Christmas experience free of charge.  That’s right, I said free.  It is a gift to the community.

How is this possible?  Two necessities:  (1)  Team buy-in, and (2) Volunteer support.

The power of a clear vision is what brings these two groups together.  When people can imagine a specific, desirable future together, they will commit their energy to create something extraordinary.

It starts with team buy-in.

A leader with a clear vision inspires a team to buy-in to an idea.

Our team is bought in.  Our team starts working on building the set before Halloween.  Everyday for nearly two months they work hard painting, swinging hammers, climbing ladders, hanging lights, and organizing scenes.

The other part of our team goes to work recruiting volunteers at about the same time.  Close to three-hundred volunteers are recruited each night for six nights during two consecutive weekends.

Volunteers include:

  • Cast members (200 nightly)
  • Parking (40 nightly)
  • Electrician (4 nightly)
  • Food Service (20 nightly)
  • First Aid (2 nightly)
  • Shuttle Host (12 nightly)
  • Photographer (4 nightly)
  • Prayer station (12 nightly)
  • Overnight security (1 nightly)
  • General store (8 nightly)
  • Puppeteer (4 nightly)
  • Military scene (6 nightly)
  • Sound Engineer (4 nightly)
  • Greeter (40 nightly)
  • Security (2 nightly)
  • Photo orders (2 nightly)
  • Photo processing (10 nightly)
  • Costumes (8 nightly)
  • Sweet Shoppe (6 nightly)
  • Make-up Artist (6 nightly)

It rests on volunteers.

Without volunteers, the event would fall flat.  There is no way we could pull it off the live event with just our team.

A team who is bought into a clear vision will pass it on to their volunteers, who will then catch it for themselves.

This is true for us every year.  We have volunteers who donate their time all 6 nights.  That equates to be about 30 hours of service.

The power of a clear vision is the potential to accomplish more than the ordinary.  

Don’t believe me?  Visit Highland Park Church in Lakeland, FL on December 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 from 6:30-9pm.  It’s our gift to you. 


Learning the Root of Hypocrisy

Kirra's Pumpkin
On my desk at work sits a small, decorated pumpkin made by my 8 year old daughter.  Yes, it’s two weeks past Halloween.  And yes, it is decomposing.  It doesn’t have a rotten smell, yet.  It is a bit squishy on one side, though.

She picked it up from our front porch on the way to church.  We were already running late when my daughters stopped me with a shout at the end of our driveway.  “Daddy, we forgot our pumpkins,” they cried out.  “It’s our special “pumpkin decorating” event at kids church.  We have to get our pumpkins.”

The significance of running late for church on a Saturday night for our family is much greater than most.  I am the pastor for this service.  It’s not as appropriate for me to slip in the back of the sanctuary two songs into the worship set.  I need to be there.  And, I need to be there an hour early.

An hour early has already passed at this point.  I am hoping to make it thirty minutes before the hour.  We rushed out of the house.  I am speeding out of the garage and down the driveway.  Blood pressure is spiking for all three of us.  That’s when my daughters remember the pumpkins.

I stop in front of our house.  “Hurry.  Hop out and grab a pumpkin by the front door,” I say.  My oldest grabs the smaller, more convenient pumpkin.  My youngest does the same.  Halfway back to the car, she turns around.  She marches over to our patio like it’s a pumpkin patch.  She sets the small one down and starts sizing up the bigger ones.

It’s obvious what she’s thinking.  She wants a big pumpkin.  To be exact, she wants the biggest pumpkin.  The one too big for her to carry.  She makes an attempt to pick it up.  Not happening, though.

I shout from the car, “Let’s go.  Pick up the small one.  We’re going to be late.”  If you’re a parent, you know what comes next.  She bursts into tears like it’s the end of the world.  I don’t have time for a fit at the moment.  I put the car in park.  I get out, run over to her, pick up the big pumpkin, and throw it in the back.  Off we go.

It all worked out fine.  I wasn’t too late.  The kids decorated pumpkins.  I didn’t lose my mind.

I can laugh, now that we’re three weeks removed.  It’s hilarious to see again in my mind’s eye my youngest daughter struggle to pick up the big pumpkin.  She was determined.  There was just no way.  She couldn’t do it.  Pound for pound, it was beyond her capacity.  Had I let her struggle with it very long, the result would have been a complete melt down.  To her credit, she did give it a try.

You are probably thinking, “What does this have to do with hypocrisy?”

Well, the root of hypocrisy is asking someone to carry something that is bigger than anyone can handle.  It is imposing on others a requirement even you can’t fulfill.

In Acts 15, some Jewish believers held major concerns about the conversion of Gentiles.  The concern isn’t so much that Gentiles are becoming believers.  The issue is defining what is necessary for the faith of Gentiles to be legitimated.

Those most concerned interrupted a meeting with church leaders to say, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, NRSV).  It only seems fair to expect of Gentiles what has been expected of Jews, right?  Why make it any easier or discard ancient tradition?  Isn’t that dumbing it down and jeopardizing the integrity of God’s people?

The leaders meet to sort matters out.  Peter stands to plead his perspective.  He emphasizes God’s special call on him to share the good news of Jesus with the Gentiles.  He highlights God’s act of giving the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, just as God gave to the Jews.  “God does not make a distinction,” he submits.

Peter asks,

Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  Acts 15:10-11 (NRSV)

There it is.  The root of hypocrisy is placing a burden on others that you can’t bear.  

How can you avoid hypocrisy taking root in your life?

Regularly and honestly admit your own imperfections.

You will not get everything right all the time.  You will have moments when you make a mistake or fall short.  It’s okay, we all do.  Just admit it.

This eliminates the distinctions we make for ourselves.  It prevents you from elevating yourself to a status of moral superiority.

Avoid singling out certain sins.

Sin is sin.  There’s no scale.  One isn’t more depraved than the others.  God doesn’t spotlight one to the exclusion of others.

Singling out certain sins makes them seem more gross.  It is normally done to relieve a pressure you feel and displaces it onto others.

Give the same grace to others that God gives to you.

You can’t earn God’s love.  God forgives you despite your inability to get it all right.  Jesus didn’t patronize your imperfection from a position of perfection.

Giving grace to others acknowledges your common humanity with others.  We are in this together.  You need grace.  I need grace.

This eliminates the temptation to label sin.  Grace is less concerned about calling the sin out, and more interested in healing the wounds it has left.

Let’s all be honest.  I (You) can be a hypocrite.

The root runs deep.  You can dig it out and chop it up, but somehow it sprouts a new shoot again.

To minimize deep growth, regularly:

  • Admit your own imperfections.
  • Avoid singling out sins.
  • Give grace.  



Learning a Parent Fail Can Be Vindicated

My kids’ school strongly encourages students to participate in a half mile race.  It’s a weekend, city-wide event.  The motivation is an award given to the school with the most students represented.

It is a Saturday morning run starting at 8am.  Ugh.  I don’t want to do this thing.  I’ve tried all week to talk my daughters out of it.  I was unsuccessful.

On a weekend day when we should be sleeping in, we wake up at 7am.  We leave the house at 7:45am.  A feeling of urgency sweeps over all of us.  Did I mention the adults are running a Half-Marathon?  Well they were, and their route is blocking my every turn the whole way there.

I take several detours and eventually make it within the vicinity of the event.  I park in someone’s yard, halfway on the sidewalk one block away from the race.  We walk-run through wet grass toward the crowd of people.  I can’t find checkin.

It is now 8am.  We are redirected to a building at the top of a hill for checkin.  There are about 20 checkin lines all which are nearly 20 people deep.  Stress and anxiety levels are almost maxed out at this point.  My kids and I are positive the race will start without us.

Thankfully, the races are postponed. We make it.

Let me reiterate, the race is close to half a mile.  I’m wondering if grade school kids can handle this distance.  Now, my nerves shift to concern for my daughters ability to make it all the way around.

My Kindergartener runs first.  I spot her on the last turn. I recognize her pink hat.  She’s in 8th or 9th place at this point.  She is gaining on everyone.  She passes one, then another, then another.  When she makes it to me, which is about 50 yards from the finish, she is in third place.  I look at the guy next to me, who says, “Looks like she just placed.”

I am so excited.  She has no idea until I tell her.  Her eyes light up with an awareness that she gets a trophy.

Now, we have to wait until all the other grades finish their races.  11 races.  We wait.  The races are over and we still wait.  The MC announces awards will start in 15 minutes.  After what felt like an eternity, the awards begin.

The man with the microphone says, “third place for Kindergarten girls is _____________”  – Not my daughter!  He didn’t say my daughter’s name.  She has a devastated look on her face.  Immediately, I grab her hand to leave.  I am embarrassed.  I am sad.  I am mad at myself.  She’s in tears.  She wants an explanation. I tell her it could be my fault, “maybe I miscounted?”

Halfway to the car she says, “This is the worst day ever.  As a parent, I need to make this right, so I ask, “Do you want to get a donut?  You choose where?”  The donut proves effective in calming the emotions down a bit.

Finally we make it home around noon.  We’re climbing out of my jeep.  I remind the girls to grab everything out of the jeep to take into the house.  My youngest looks at her older sister and says,

“Yeah, get everything out of the car except a trophy😩”

In my book, I consider the whole experience a parent fail.  I told my daughter she won third place and would receive an award.  We walked away without a trophy and no explanation.

It took a couple days, but we put it behind us.  Then, a Facebook message surprised us all.  It was from an adult friend who completed the half-marathon that same day.  She was at the finish line just after Mya made her third place finish.  She was also there that night when I told others about my fail.

Her message said:  “Mya TOTALLY got 3rd place.”  Attached to the message is a screenshot of the online, digital results to the race.

Mya's 3rd Place

My fail was vindicated.  I wasn’t crazy.  I didn’t miscount.  Mya truly earned third place.  I can explain to her it wasn’t my fault.

That’s all I need.  I am not mad at the race officials.  I don’t expect an apology.  I am not looking for recompense.  I am satisfied with the opportunity to celebrate, once again, my daughters accomplishment without doubt.

My parents own an awards business in Ohio.  I called them right away to ask a favor.  “Could you guys make a trophy for Mya?”  Of course, they answered “Yes.”  They added, “We will make sure it’s the biggest one.”

I have been a parent for 8 years.  I have failed many times, and will continue to have other such moments.  I’m learning that there will be some times when the fail is vindicated.  You will find reasonable proof to absolve you from owning the blame.

I’m also learning what’s really important isn’t whether I fail or not, it is the example I show for how to respond.  My kids need to see in me what it means to recover from and work through difficult situations in a way that is healthy and transformative.

I pray for God’s grace to help me be a parent who provides a redeeming example.

Learning Different Ways the Church Can Be the Hope of the World

TurkeyCommunication with Brooklyn (my wife) two of the past three weeks have primarily taken the form of text or FaceTime.  Normally I bemoan the downfall of society thanks to these electronic devices we carry with us everywhere.  Seasons like these help realize the value of modern technology.  Without it, I would be waiting for physical handwritten mail (what’s that, right?) to slowly make its way home with news of her travels.

Brooklyn is fulfilling a calling she received from God as a teenager.  She is living the reality of a dream God gave to her when she was sixteen.  God told her, “You will travel the world to care for women, children, and orphans.”  Twenty-one years later, she is doing just that.

Her most recent assignments have taken her to parts of the world whose timezones are 11 hours and 8 hours ahead of Lakeland, FL.  Long flights (like over 24 hrs long) and sketchy shuttle rides have taken her to destinations most of us can’t imagine.  Meeting her there were hundreds of pastors and young leaders from countries all over the world.

Through her work, I am learning different ways the Church is being the hope of the world.  In one message she wrote, “I held a Syrian refugee today.  I held hands with a pastor who takes care of 5,000 refugees.  I am getting closer to the places where God cares for the orphan.”  Beautiful.  The Church is the hope of the world in places we only hear about in the news.

Over FaceTime, she told me stories of the way this pastor and his wife care for 5,000 refugees.  Knowing the refugees come from situations of scarcity, the pastors’ primary goal is to offer security for their most basic needs.  They want to give each person in their care 20% more resources than they need.  With God’s help, they are doing it.

In an email message, she sent me a video clip of a young leader singing a worship song in the style of his own native culture.  The message she typed explained the video.  He is a leader who created one of the most popular TV shows to air in his country.  It was picked up by a network equivalent to our MTV.  It ran for 40 consecutive days due to instant popularity.  The name of the show is “Ask Me Anything About Jesus.”  

She also told me about a young youth pastor who passionately serves the youth in her country while enduring less than ideal circumstances.  Her husband initially came to her country on a work visa.  It recently expired.  This forced him to move back to his home country for an indefinite period of time until he is granted permission to reenter.  For months now, she continues to faithfully serve her calling to youth in one country while her husband lives in another.

Most recently, she sent me message saying, “I was prayed over in Arabic Today.”  Below that, she attached a picture of a large group of young leaders from several different countries.  Next to it, she inserted a happy, smiley face emoji.

Brooklyn is helping me learning how the Church can be the hope of the world in different ways.  It doesn’t all look or sound the same.  God’s imagination for God’s people creates endless expressions of hope in our world.  I pray God uses this awareness to give others the courage to embody the hope of the world in their own unique way.


Learning What Prayer Could Change Our Nation

I often hear the same prayer request, “Can you pray for our nation, our government, and our leaders?”  It’s a valid request.  The underlying concern is the direction we are headed as a country.  The well-being of the future should be on our mind.

I am in favor of praying for the type of people who take office in our country at every level, both local and national.  I don’t imagine the wrong type of person can lead in the right direction.  As a follower of Christ, I believe the most qualified people able to fill these roles effectively are faithful, authentic, Spirit-filled Christians.

I am concerned, however, that we may be pouring our prayer energy into the wrong request.  I wonder if we are placing too much trust in the system of our government.  I worry that we are trusting politics to fix our nation.  I am starting to believe our faith is in a man-made system.

I think the Bible points us in a different direction.  An example is the story of Daniel.  God’s people, Israel, are living in unfortunate circumstances.  Due to their obstinance toward God, they find themselves captured by Babylon and cast into exile.  I assume it wasn’t the direction a nation would hope to be heading.  They are essentially powerless.  They are at the control of a pagan government.  If there was ever a time to pray for a leadership change, this is it.

Change came, but not in leadership.  It arose from the faithfulness of a follower of God.  Daniel.  God uses Daniel’s unwavering commitment and extreme faith to influence a nation to worship God (READ Daniel 6).  In the story we learn:  You don’t have to be in power to be used as an instrument of God’s power.  God uses people on the margin to change the people at the center.

I wonder what would happen if we became people whom God can use to change our nation, like Daniel?  A low estimate projects that 70% of the population in the US claims the Christian faith.  That averages out to be about 224 million people.  I’m not sure how many people work in our government.  I imagine it’s much less than 224 million people.  So, I wonder if our prayers are misguided?

What if we prayed for all 224 million people in the US who claim to be a Christian?  What if we prayed for each one to become a person whom God can use to change a nation?  Can you imagine the movement that would erupt on our soil?  Who could stop 224 million people from moving in the same direction?  Could a president or senate or house of representatives prevent change from happening?

Two presidents and one hundred twenty governors couldn’t stop Daniel who was only one person.

I’m learning what prayer could change our nation.  God, make every Christian in the US the kind of person whom you can use for your glory.  Amen.