Tattoo Stories

I don’t have any tattoos.

But every time I see one I have this compulsive need to ask for details. Every tattoo tells a story. Some are funny, some sad, some just pointless. My dad used to have a t-shirt that said, “Marry a fat, tattooed woman. Have heat in the winter, shade in the summer and moving pictures all year!” It was illustrated with the woman described. I’m not sure where he got it and I only remember seeing it once. My mom made it vanish after it’s first appearance.

Whatever the case, tattoos are distinguishing marks that tell a story. They uniquely identify the person who wears them.

I’m reading through the Gospel of John. John writes for a singular purpose. He wants to persuade you to believe that Jesus is God. In the other gospels Jesus works miracles. Matthew, Mark and Luke want to demonstrate the power of Jesus. Not John. In the Gospel of John every miraculous thing Jesus does is called a ‘sign’. It’s ‘semeionin the greek. It means, “distinguishing mark“.

John doesn’t show us miracles to demonstrate the power of Jesus, but to prove that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John records 7 different miraculous signs. Each is a distinguishing mark that tells a story designed to convince you that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.

The evidence is convincing.

What are the distinguishing marks of your faith? What story does your life tell? Will your life paint a picture of Jesus that compels people to want to know Him?

John 20:30-31 says, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

I don’t have any tattoos – and you may not either, but we are the distinguishing marks of the story of Christ. What do people believe about Jesus because of you?

Pruning

John 15:2 says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Churches – and people – go through times of pruning. During the pruning dead branches are removed while healthy wood is reshaped. Both acts of pruning are God’s way to make room for new growth.

Pruning is rarely easy but necessary.

Unlike a real vine people have a voice. We aren’t content to sit idly by while God does the pruning, but feel compelled to comment on His work. At best our comments reveal our ignorance of His plan, at worst they reveal our self-righteousness.

I have been in and walked alongside churches and friends who have gone through times of pruning. No one was able to accurately predict God’s intended outcome. Those who tried revealed their foolishness.

My encouragement for when you face a time of pruning – remain faithful to God. Focus on the mission and ministry He has entrusted to you. Follow Him, wherever He leads and get ready – “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Finding Your Way

It’s entirely possible GPS was invented for me. I’m quick to confess, I’m geographically challenged. I’m not one of those masculine wonders who can tell you which direction is north while standing in the bottom of a cave. I’m lucky to get it right if I’m next to I-35 & I-40 in Oklahoma City – they follow the compass rose.

While geolocation may not come naturally for me I’m not prone to get lost either. When driving I’ve made it my habit to follow a car that looks like it knows where it’s going. I may not always end up where I intend to be, but I almost always end up where I need to be. Finding my way is always an adventure.

Finding direction is one of three big frustrations people manage every day. Should I take/leave that job, date/dump that person, join/leave that group, Buy/sell that thing? People are lost and almost every decision they make reflects a desperate struggle to find their way.

We all make the best decisions we can based on the information we have available at the time. Good information usually leads to good decisions. Bad information usually leads to bad decisions. The way is easier to find when you know the truth. That’s why GPS is helpful. That random car I follow may not be so clever after all. The GPS knows precisely where the next turn is and guides me to it straight away.

John 14:6 says Jesus is, “…the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.”

According to this verse, look at what Jesus is NOT:

  • He’s not a guide with good direction – He is the way.
  • He’s not a teller of truth – He is the truth.
  • He’s not a way of living – He is the life.

Jesus didn’t come to set up a new system of belief or to organize a new religion. He came to build a relationship with you. The reason His wisdom is sound, His counsel is good and His direction always right isn’t simply because He knows – it’s because He is. When you interact with Jesus you experience direction, truth and life.

“What would Jesus do,” is an inadequate cliche. When faced with another decision, don’t settle for trying to puzzle out what He would do. Instead, interact with who Jesus is.

  • When you lack direction. Jesus is the way.
  • When you’re surrounded by lies. Jesus is the truth.
  • When your way of living seems to be crashing down all around you. Jesus is the life.

Know the truth, follow the way, find life – This is Jesus.

He Who Must Not be Named

John 1:1, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”

In the wildly popular Harry Potter series Lord Voldemort is the name of the ultimate bad guy. He’s a vile and dark wizard who’s evil has ripped apart his own soul and devastated many lives. He’s so wicked that people fear even to speak his name. Throughout the series he’s referred to as, “He who must not be named,” or simply, “You know who”. It’s an interesting story telling device that adds excitement to the audience as they anticipate Harry’s inevitable face-to-face confrontation with his arch-nemesis.

The Jewish culture has a name they wouldn’t speak. It wasn’t the name of someone vile and wicked, but awesome and righteous. It was a name handed down to them from Moses, a word so important they considered it holy and unspeakable. It was the name YHWH (Yahweh).

Standing in front of the burning bush Moses is told by God to return to Egypt to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Moses asks, “Who should I tell them sent me.” God responds, “YHWH” – “I AM“. It became a word so holy that Jewish people wouldn’t speak or write it. They found other ways to express it. They would use other names for God or simply refer to “the word“. Just like, “You know who” clearly identifies the bad guy in the Potter series, “The word”, for any Jew was easily understood to identify the great I AM, Yahweh, God.

Understanding this makes reading John 1:1 even more interesting.

John’s gospel is different from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John is not trying to lay out a biography of the life of Jesus. Instead, the sayings of Jesus highlighted by John are designed to convince you that Jesus is Messiah and Savior of the world. In Matthew, Mark and Luke the miracles of Jesus are used to demonstrate His power. Not in John. In John they are called signs – semeion in the greek – or distinguishing marks. The miracles reported by John are the signs, the distinguishing marks, that prove Jesus is Messiah, the Savior. John doesn’t simply want to tell you who Jesus is or what He did. He wants to convince you to believe Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

So he begins with something every Jew would understand. “In the beginning was the word.” You know, the word. (wink, wink) The word we don’t speak or write. The word that in your head means God. The word YHWH, the one who is I AM. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”

John begins his gospel painting a picture. The Word we’re not supposed to speak or write, The Word made holy by the law, set apart from us, an impersonal reflection of the Most High God – this word has become flesh and now lives with us. That which once we couldn’t even speak we can now see, touch and experience. The Word, I AM, walks with us. Then in John 1:17 he reveals who this Word is, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

What do you believe about Jesus? Do you see him as a good teacher, an influential figure of history? Do you think of Him as an interesting idea of the past? What do your words and actions cause others to believe about Him? John makes the case. Jesus is more. He is not the impersonal word that can never be spoken. He is the great I AM, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is Messiah and Savior. He is not a distant, unspeakable idea but God in the flesh whose life, death and resurrection insured He could have an intimate relationship with His people.

Do you believe it and will your words and actions cause others to believe it today?

Mischief managed.

Every Win a Sooner Win

Missouri is known as the ‘Show Me’ State. California is the ‘Golden’ State. Florida is the ‘Sunshine’ State. You get the idea. Every state has a nickname that describes what the people of that state are known for.

In Oklahoma, we’re the Sooner State. I graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University. We’re the Bison. Students at Tulsa University are the Hurricanes and there’s a little school up in Stillwater where everyone calls themselves a Cowboy.  Regardless of your school allegiance we all represent Oklahoma. It made me think…

Every win is a Sooner win.

I’ve said this a couple of times to Cowboy fans since their big win in the Fiesta Bowl. Their knee jerk reaction is to mock and ridicule me with a little resentment thrown in! Imagine that. Regardless of our reaction, the statement is true. The Cowboys of Stillwater, the Hurricanes of Tulsa, and yes, the Sooners of OU all represent something bigger than they’re school. There’s nothing wrong with our allegiances. It’s fun to poke at each other. You may think orange is beautiful. I may bleed crimson and cream, but there’s a bigger tribe we all represent.

You’re involved in other tribes too. There’s your kid’s baseball team and the High School that gave you a diploma. Your wife’s book club, the church you attend, or that weird group you joined on Facebook, Fans of Lou Ferrigno. You know, the guy who played the Incredible Hulk on TV.

Every where you go you represent the tribes you’re in and those tribes represent you.  The words you say, the things you do, your victories and defeats all affect how the world sees your tribe. Many of us claim to belong to Christ. We call ourselves Christians. We attend church regularly. It’s one of the tribes we represent. I wonder how you will represent this tribe today? Will the words you say and the things you do make people want to know more about Christ or will they push them further away? Can you celebrate the victories of the church down the street? Will you represent Jesus and His church well or will your words and actions cause others to cringe?

I Corinthians 11:1 says, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” No matter what tribes you’re part of, as a Believer in Jesus Christ there is one tribe that matters most. Represent.

 

 

 

Purpose

John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was…”

Why do you what you do? What got you out of bed this morning? Are you up and ready because you want to be or because you have to be? Will you put in 10 hours today doing a job you love in a career that matters or will you endure another lovely day at the insane asylum?

Work has a purpose.

Somewhere along the way we’ve bought into the idea that the job we do is about the income we earn. The ultimate goal of the career we choose has less to do with the significance of the task and more to do with what we’re willing to endure until we reach our ultimate goal – retirement.

I know a lot of retired people. The happiest may have retired, but they never really stopped working. The nature of their work has changed. They have more control over their schedule or the projects they choose to pursue, but for them, retirement is far from leisurely inactivity. They now participate in activity with a purpose. They won’t get out of bed today for the 8 – 5 grind, the paycheck or the promise of a restful retirement. Instead they will fulfill a significant task. They will add value to themselves and others. They will poor themselves out and end the day spent, yet energized by the work they do.

And that’s what work should be – activity with a purpose.

God’s designed you with a purpose in mind. The job you have is simply an expression of the purpose created for you. While paychecks, benefits and retirement are important, they’re not the point. John 1:6 says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was…”

Fill in that blank with your name. Retire from the daily grind. The work you do is activity with a purpose.

The ‘-er’ Question

2012. The beginning of a new year. A time for new beginnings. There’s nothing particularly magical about one calendar date rolling on to the next, yet many people find themselves asking the ‘-er’ questions.

  • How will this year be bett-‘er’?
  • Will my job get hard-‘er’ or easi-‘er’?
  • Will the money I make be great-‘er’?
  • Will my lifestyle be healthi-‘er’?
  • Will my relationships be deep-‘er’?

We’re fixated on ‘-er’ questions. They aren’t bad questions to consider. Life will move forward. Where you are right now is the result of answers to last year’s ‘-er’ questions. The choices you make today set the direction for the path you walk tomorrow.

James 4:14 and 17 say, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away…therefore, to him who knows to do good, but does not do it, to him it is sin.”

Take inventory. This will be the year that changes everything. The quality of the change is up to you.

Words

The words we know are like a programming language. We may feel. We may imagine. But words give clarity, definition and direction to our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Political candidates and marketing experts look for just the right words to persuade your purchase. Preachers craft their message to inspire, convict and convince. The words we dwell on set a course for our future. The words we speak affect relationships and determine the depths of our influence.

Consider the following:

  • The words we know determine the thoughts we think.
  • The thoughts we think determine the attitudes of our heart.
  • The attitudes of our heart determine the choices we make.
  • The choices we make define the quality of our character.
  • The quality of our character becomes the legacy of our lives.

It sounds like a ‘successories’ poster, but just because it’s cliche’ doesn’t mean it’s not true. It begs a question.

What kind of words do you know?

Imagine what might happen if you took the time to get to know better words. I’m not talking about increasing your vocabulary – the world already has too many pompously loquacious voices rambling their insubstantial verbosity without end. I mean better words. Words that bring life. Words full of wisdom. Words that cause us to see the world more clearly. Words that help us understand people and circumstances in ways like we’ve never before imagined.

The Bible is often called ‘God’s Word’. What if the words we knew were God’s Words? Would our thinking become more godly? Would attitudes become more grateful? Would we make better choices? I believe so.

Peter said to Jesus, “Where else would we go? You have the words of life.” (John 6:68) Open up the Bible. Learn some new words and put them to good use.

A Comfortable Scandal – Transitions

The world loves a good scandal. “You’ve gotta see this! They’re some of the funniest pictures I’ve seen. Of course you know them. That’s what makes the pics so funny! Can you believe they would do that in front of a camera!?” One ‘friend’s’ quick moves with a camera-phone turns into another friend’s most embarrassing moment captured for all time and digitally duplicated all over the internet for the world to see. What will mom think!?

Scandalous new travels fast!

There’s a comfortable scandal that takes place everyday in the hearts of Believers. There’s a subtle line of obedience we simply aren’t willing to cross. We hear what Jesus has to say. We agree in spirit and nod our heads in affirmation until we realize He’s talking about us. That’s where the scandal lies. We follow Jesus until He asks us to do something seemingly difficult, counter-cultural, or just plain inconvenient. This isn’t new. John 6:66 tells us it happened during Jesus time as well. “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with him no more.” They came to the line they simply weren’t willing to cross. Scandalous…

There are 4 reasons why we walk away. And 4 ways to take the leap of faith Jesus asks us to make when He challenges us to do the difficult, impractical or inconvenient. Most everyone has drawn a line that says, “Jesus, I’m willing to follow you this far, but no farther.” I wonder, as you consider these 4 things how you might redraw the limits of your life.

4 Scandalous Distractions that Set the Limits of Our Faith

  1. Introduction – read more >
  2. Temptation – read more >
  3. Trials – read more >
  4. Teaching – read more >
  5. Transitions

Today – let’s focus on Transitions.

TRANSITIONS – Our church is going through a time of transition. Last year our pastor moved to another church. This year three more Associate Pastors and two Support Team Leaders stepped into ministries in other places. A few short years ago we had a ministerial staff of ten. Today, it’s four.

Changes like these in a church, a business or in your personal life produce natural, on-going effects. Transitions change momentum. Transitions create questions and instigate evaluation. Transitions are God’s way of putting all the right people in all the right places to accomplish His purpose here and around the world.

But let’s be honest, transitions are tough. Of all the things that trip us up in our walk of faith, nothing is quite so difficult to navigate as transitions. With temptation, there’s a definite wrong to overcome. With trials, there’s a clear pressure to endure. With teaching, there’s a well defined principle to obey. But that’s not how transitions work. You can do everything right and still find yourself in the middle of a difficult transition.

That’s how I would characterize what’s taking place right now in the church I serve. Those who are moving on are going where God leads to fulfill the ministry He’s entrusted to them. It’s good for them and will ultimately be good for the church – but in the middle of the transition sometimes the ‘goodness’ of things can be hard to see. With all these changes in staff we’ve said, “God moves the troops around. He’s putting all the right people in all the right places to accomplish His purpose here and around the world.” It’s true, but knowing this doesn’t make facing the transition any easier.

What does Scripture say?

John 15:1-2 says God prunes every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. That makes sense – get rid of the dead wood to make room for something that can bring life – but those leaders who have left our church are certainly not dead wood. Everyone of them were friends who have had a significant influence in my life. These transitions aren’t exactly what I had in mind or part of my ‘plan’ for ministry. Then I take a closer look at John 15:1-2. It also says, “…every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Did you catch that? Because the tree bears fruit God prunes it back so that it will be ready to bear even more fruit than ever before.

The key to following God through times of transition is FAITHFULNESS.

Like a car slowing down to turn a corner, transitions in our life or organization always change momentum. It’s a necessary change. Accelerate through the turn too much and the car flips over. Take your foot off the gas and once the turn is complete you’ll slow down even more. Faithfulness is remaining true to your calling. It’s finishing what you’ve started. It’s letting your ‘yes’, be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. It’s following God, wherever He may lead, in the integrity of your heart. It’s about applying the right amount of pressure as you keep your foot on the gas through the turn.

Momentum is an interesting thing. While on Earth you may have to slow down to turn a corner NASA has discovered that in the heavens you can use a change in direction along with the gravity from something like the moon to slingshot a satellite to it’s destination. For NASA, turning the corner of transition doesn’t always slow things down – it accelerates their plans and allows them to accomplish their mission.

Every transition you face can be just like this. It can be the transition that slows your walk to a crawl. It can be the transition that derails the direction of your plans. Or it can be the transition that accelerates you into the next exciting chapter of your life.

Don’t let transitions keep you from following God. Instead, remain faithful. Transitions are God’s way of placing you and those around you in just the right place to accomplish His mission. They are His way of preparing you for the road ahead.

Basket Case

 

Psalm 13:1-6.

Do you ever feel like you’re living Psalm 13. It starts with an impatient plea to God, “How long will you forget me, God?” Yet ends with a confident cry of trust and praise. In-between, the Psalmist declares His desire to overcome His enemies, to not be put to shame before them, and to bring glory and honor to God.

I believe God has called me to fulfill a specific purpose. I often ask God to give me the job no one else can do. If someone else can do it, then let them and let them receive the blessings of obedience that come from following Him. I want those blessings, but not for doing your job for you. I believe God has given us each a significant task and mine is different from yours.

God had a significant task for David. David would become the King of Israel and a blessing to future generations. Yet so much of David’s early life was spent running from enemies. So much of his early life looked less like a blessing and more like a curse. It’s in these moments that David would write a Psalm like this. “God, please don’t forget me.” I have to confess, that while no one is trying to kill me, there are times I feel exactly like David. “God, you’ve called me to a specific purpose, a significant task, when will you allow me to fulfill it? Don’t let my opponents get the last laugh, don’t let the naysayers be proven right, for the sake of your glory and your name do your work in me. I don’t understand your timing or your ways, I’m impatient for your answers, but I trust that it’s all under your control. So today, I give myself to you.”

Sometimes I’m a basket case. I’m up. I’m down. I’m confident. I’m confused. But like David, I pray that my faith will never waver. In all the confusion, as depression begins to set in, I pray I will always turn to God, tell Him what’s on my heart and be reminded of His great faithfulness to me and my family.

I wonder if you’re up or down today. I wonder if you’re confident or confused. God wants to hear from you. He’s not afraid of your cries for help or your fragile and ever-changing emotional states. Tell him what’s on your heart and mind and be reminded of His faithfulness.

God has a significant task for you. He is working it out right now. Turn to Him when you’re up. Trust Him when you’re down. He will lead you through the confusion.

As David would say, “I have trusted in your mercy. My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”