The Square Peg in a Round Hole Phenomenon

A while back I wrote a post about feeling like you’re not enough.  This post is about the related topic of feeling like you don’t fit in.  We will all eventually encounter a situation where we feel like we just don’t fit.  We don’t belong.  Whatever the situation may be, the feeling is uncomfortable.  I’ve been there and I have found myself wishing at times that I could force myself to fit.  I’ve found myself wishing that I can achieve a sense of belonging in a place or in a relationship where I feel like I just don’t make the cut.

Recently, God has begun to speak to me alot about this topic.  He is reminding me of the fact that there is a reason that I’m a square peg.  He hasn’t designed me to be one size fits all.  I wasn’t made to be a perfect fit for every situation and every person.  There are things about me that make me better suited for certain things and not for others.  And that’s okay!

Instead of trying to force myself to fit or beating myself up because I don’t, I am going to use each opportunity, each square peg in a round hole situation, to learn more about myself and the unique way that God has designed me.  I am going to celebrate these opportunities to learn and to grow.  I am anticipating and seeking God for those coming adventures that He has crafted and molded me for.

One thing I’m not going to do is sit around wishing I was someone that I’m not.  God has made us the way that we are intentionally.  Our individual personalities and gift sets serve a purpose.  When I think about things in this light, being a square peg no longer seems like a such a bad thing.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  (Ps. 139:13-14)

Nothing is Wasted

I was listening to the song “Nothing is Wasted” one morning this week.  I love the message of this song: “Nothing is wasted.  You work all things for good.  Nothing is wasted.  Your promise remains.  Forever you reign.”  I need to be reminded of this often…and I’m sure you do to.

The truth is we all make mistakes…alot of them.  Some are bigger than others, and we deal with the consequences to varying degrees.  We have all experienced the lingering regret of time we felt was wasted.  Seasons where we invested so much energy and time to no avail.  I was talking to a friend of mine last week.  She has been through a long period of waiting and has invested a huge chunk of herself into a certain situation.  She has no idea what the outcome will be, but one fear that comes to mind is what if I just wasted all this time and energy?  What if at the end of all this, I regret all this time that I spent here that I can never get back?  Have you ever been through a situation like that before?  I have.

The truth of the matter is that when you live in relationship with Jesus, nothing is wasted.  Ever.  No matter how long the season, no matter how long the wait, no matter the result, it’s not wasted.  God uses each circumstance to shape you and to mold you.  He uses each experience to prepare you and equip you for what lies ahead.  Jesus uses all of your mistakes and every painful circumstance to take you one step closer to walking in fulfillment of the man or woman He has called you to be.  There is a lesson to be learned in each season.  The lesson is often unclear in the moment of confusion and chaos.  Train yourself to step aside for a moment and ask God what are you saying in all of this?  How can I grow from this?  How are you changing me through this?  When you train your mind to think along these lines, you will more readily see the “nothing is wasted” principle at work.

Later the same morning, I read this scripture: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalms 126:5).  There are certain situations in my own life that still bring me to tears, when I stop to think about them.  There are certain things that have caused me a great deal of pain and where I can be tricked into believing that I wasted my time.  However, looking back throughout the years, there are more situations than I can count that initially brought me pain, but then God came through.  He poured out His grace and shone His light into those dark circumstances and delivered me.  He restored me and He transformed me through the pain.  For this reason, I know that I can trust Him to do it again.  I anticipate it and I expect it.

Into what situations in your life, are you sowing your tears?  Put your trust in God.  He will carry you through.  And through your pain, He will birth songs of joy.

Nothing is wasted.

Jesus is My Homeboy

“Jesus is my Homeboy.”  You’ve probably heard this before, or seen it printed on a t-shirt somewhere.  It’s kind of a goofy saying.  I think the general idea is that I like Jesus.  Jesus is cool.  I’m a fan.  If He were to walk in the room, I would give Him a fist bump.  We need to be careful with how casually we approach our relationship with Jesus because while He is our closest friend and companion, He is also our Savior, our King, a just judge and the creator of the universe.

However, what I want to emphasize in this post is that you can have a relationship with Him.  In fact, He desires to have a relationship with you.  Although He is much more than your homeboy, He does want to be your closest confidant.  He is the only one who  truly never leaves your side.  Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Maybe you know the ins and outs of the Gospel message.  God gave His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, putting us in right standing with Him, so that we can escape Hell and one day enter Heaven.  But does this reality impact your daily life now?  It should.  The reality is that when you accept the gift of salvation, the creator of the universe glues Himself to your hip and never leaves your side.  Through joy and sorrow, He never leaves you alone.  He can be called upon for guidance and strength at any moment and He always comes to your aid.  He wants to share joyful moments with you and be the one to comfort you through tears of sadness.  He is the God that makes everything beautiful in it’s time.  He is the one that is constantly molding you and shaping you and equipping you for everything great and glorious that He has planned for your life.  His love for you is overwhelming.  It’s so vast that you can never begin to comprehend the depths of it.  There is nothing that can separate you from this love.  When this love becomes a reality to you, it should change your outlook on whatever season of life it is that you are walking through.

If you have never allowed the reality of a relationship with Jesus to permeate your life, I want to encourage you with some of the basic tools we have at our disposal to relate with God daily:

1.  Read the Word

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The truth of the matter is alot of Christians don’t actually read the Bible.  It’s a sad but true reality.  Think of the Bible as God’s love letter to you.  As you pore over it’s contents, you will be reminded over and over again that there is no length that God’s love wouldn’t go to for you.  You will begin to understand the heart of the Father towards you.  You will be awakened to the great plans that He has for you and you will start to grasp how important you are in His eyes.  As you read it, you will begin to discern His voice more readily and will get a sense of direction from Him.

2.  Live a Lifestyle of Worship

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

We often limit our idea of worship to the music portion of church on a Sunday morning.  Worship is so much more than that.  Worship is a lifestyle of celebrating who God is.   Worship is giving God everything that we have. We can live a life of worship by recognizing that God is great and good and that He can be trusted no matter where we are at in life and no matter what we are going through.  Although our circumstances may change, God doesn’t change.  His goodness towards you doesn’t change and His love for you never fails.  These are truths that we can hold onto.  In each moment of our lives, whether we are at school, at work, or hanging out with friends our lives, our lips and our thoughts should convey an attitude of mind and heart that is confident in the love and grace of our heavenly Father.

3.  Chat with God often


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

One of the most amazing aspects of having a relationship with Jesus is that you have constant unlimited access to Him.  We are able to approach God’s throne with boldness and confidence and we can have the full assurance that when we do we will find the mercy and grace that we need (Heb. 4:16).  God cares about all the details of your life, big and small.  There is nothing that you can’t tell Him.  He wants you to trust Him enough to let Him into the deepest recesses of your heart.  He tells us that when we open up our hearts to Him in prayer that He will cause His peace to guard our hearts and minds.

As you chat with God, make space to listen to what He has to say.  God is always speaking.  He speaks to us through His word and through the people that He has put in our lives.  He uses a variety of ways to get His message through to us.  We just need to have active ears and eyes that are looking out for His words in the circumstances of our lives.  As you process through each stage and season of your life, keep asking the Lord, “What are you saying to me through this?  How are you growing me through this?  What is the lesson you want me to learn?”  When we cultivate a mindset that is constantly seeking out God’s Word, we will recognize His voice more and more readily.

Salvation is more than a ticket to heaven.  It is the guarantee that we can have a relationship with God while we are here on Earth.  That relationship makes our lives worthwhile and puts us in touch with our true purpose and destiny.  You were created to be a friend of God.

Spring is (Finally) Here

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die.  A time to plant and a time to harvest.  A time to kill and a time to heal.  A time to tear down and a time to build up.  A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance.  A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.  A time to embrace and a time to run away.  A time to search and a time to quit searching.  A time to keep and a time to throw away.  A time to tear and a time to mend.  A time to be quiet and a time to speak.  A time to love and a time to hate.  A time for war and a time for peace. (Eccles. 3:1-8)

Spring is finally here….can I get an Amen???  As what’s left of the snow melts away and the flowers begin to bloom, Spring’s arrival is the perfect reminder that life happens in seasons.  I tell people all the time that I could make due with only Spring, Summer and Fall.  However, I know that Winter serves it’s purpose.  Winter allows the old to die away, so something new can be birthed.

It’s the same in our lives.  We go through hard seasons, difficult stretches of time where we feel like we are being torn apart.  It could be a relationship that’s dying.  It could be hardships in your home or at work.  It could be a time of grieving.  Whatever it is, God allows us to go through these seasons of feeling torn down, so that He can build something new in us, something greater.  He brings death to any part of our lives that it is not of benefit to us, so that He can breathe life into that which will produce growth and an increased sense of trust in Him.

After what has seemed like the longest season of waiting and hoping and trusting God for something new and better to take place in my own life, I can finally make out the buds of Spring beginning to blossom.  I can finally begin to see the results of growth beginning to take root.  But I recognize that I would have never gotten to this place without allowing some old things to die, without letting go and without experiencing some pain and hardship along the way.  Nobody likes the tough seasons, but I think we can all agree that it is in the fire that our character is forged.  As it says in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you have trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your fatih produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I don’t know where you’re at today or what you are going through.  But what I do know is this, every Winter brings with it the promise of Spring just up ahead.  Hang in there.

For when you aren’t sure anymore

Doubt.  We have all dealt with it at one time or another.  Suddenly, the things you were so sure about don’t seem so sure anymore.  You’re left with questions and you’re left feeling confused.  I have found this to be a huge area of struggle for people where it concerns their faith in Jesus.  Especially, for individuals in their mid to late twenties.  For the first time, they have begun asking themselves the hard questions concerning faith in God and they don’t know what to do with it.  In a post-modern society that doesn’t believe in absolute truth, the doubt factor is even more of an issue.

If this is where you’re at today reading this blog, I want to encourage you.  I’m sure you have heard it said that faith is believing in what we can’t see and trusting God with the unknowns.  This is true.  None of us are ever going to have all the answers.

What I want to say to you today is that God isn’t intimidated by your questions.  He’s not offended by your doubts.  Don’t ever use your doubts as an excuse to stop trying, an excuse to stop seeking Him out.  Keep looking for answers and as you do invite God to help you in your journey.  Even if you’re not sure if He’s listening (which I’m going to tell you He is) ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  God who are you?  What can I know about you?  Show me the truth.  Present yourself to Him with a heart that’s soft, open and ready to learn.

I want to speak to anyone who is in the place of doubt and near the point of giving up their faith, because they have been hurt by someone in the church.  I want to speak to those of you who put your trust in individuals who let you down and wounded you, causing you to wonder if anyone in the church is truly geniune and authentic.  As a Christian, I want to stand in the gap and say I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for all the times you’ve been broken and let down.  We all miss the mark.  We all make mistakes.  We act carelessly and in the process we hurt people along the way.

I want to assure you that there is a Father in Heaven that loves you with a love that is everlasting.  He has never abandoned you or forgotten about you.  Although His children sometimes are a poor reflection of His love, I assure you that His love is perfect.  His heart is for you and His desire is to reveal Himself to you.  Jesus has made a way for you to know Him.  Don’t make the mistake of basing your opinion of God on your experiences with faulty people.  Search out the scriptures for yourself.  Make your pursuit of God and truth personal.  Invite God in to help you through the process.

I guess what it all boils down to is even in the place of doubt never stop asking questions and seeking the truth.  Never throw in the towel.  As it says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

 

Be the Church: Make the Gospel the Priority

This is the conclusion of the “Be the Church” series.  I felt like it was appropriate to end things with this verse from Acts 20:24 “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

In order to be the church, we need to make the Gospel the priority.  In the early church, everything was set up and designed to make it easier for the gospel message of God’s love to go out.  This was the purpose of administration.  In Acts 6, we see that seven men were chosen to take care of the details, so that more attention could be paid to prayer and getting the message out.  Am I the only one that’s noticed that many times the procedures and policies we set in place are often more of a hindrance than they are a help?  Oftentimes, we create a bunch of red tape and hoops we need to jump through before we can start making a difference.  We need to use discernment.  It is important to have structure and to use wisdom in our approach.  However, if there are aspects of our administration that are more burdensome than helpful, it’s time to make adjustments.

The bottom line is sometimes things are only effective for a season.  What worked in the past isn’t necessarily what’s going to work today.  What worked with one group of people won’t necessarily work with the next group.  What worked in one place won’t necessarily work in another.  There’s a learning curve involved.  It’s trial and error.  But we would be foolish to hold so tightly to a particular way of doing things, just because it’s the way it has always been done.

Again I just love that verse referenced at the start of this post…”I consider my life worth nothing to me, my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given me.”  All that matters in this equation is God’s love and sharing that love with others.  My pride doesn’t matter.  My reputation doesn’t matter.  My traditions don’t matter.  It’s not about a competition or about saving face or about being in control or about looking like I have all the answers all of the time.  It is about Him.

We need to be willing to change, to bend and to flex to more effectively share the one message that never changes.  And that’s the message of this familiar verse:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall never perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Let’s start being the church.  Let’s go to the broken with the message of God’s love.  Let’s make room for the outcasts, the hurting and those that don’t look like us.  As we go, let’s be led by the Spirit and let’s go with one heart and one mind.  And in everything we do, let’s make the Gospel our priority.

 

Be the Church: Be Unified

One of the most amazing things about the first church was the remarkable level of unity they demonstrated.  It tells us in Acts 4:32 that the believers were one in heart and mind and that no one claimed any of his possessions as his own, but rather they shared everything they had.  A fellow brother or sister in Christ would never be in lack, because they were covered by their church family.  This unity wasn’t limited to one particular group of Christians, but rather was extended to nearby communities of Christians.  We see in Acts chapter 11 that when the church in Judea was struggling, Christians in other areas rise up to meet their need.

One huge problem I see with the church today is that we have lost this sense of unity.  I think that one of the biggest weapons used by the enemy to divide us is offense.  We forget that the church is filled with humans and humans are messy.  Somebody does something to hurt us and we harbor offense, which leads to a separation in relationship.  Our pride is wounded.  We need to be able to exercise grace with one another and to love one another despite our many shortcomings.

We need to stop competing with other churches and ministries.  This is not a competition to see who can get the most members and or the most people to come out to our events.  We are all working towards the same goal, to see neighborhoods and communities transformed by the love of Christ.  We need to partner together with other churches encouraging one another, equipping one another to see how we can pool our resources and best reach our communities.

I love what Paul says in Phil 2:1-4: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”  That pretty much sums it up.  As we pursue Christ and seek to look more and more like Him, we should have the same mind-set.  Our minds should be fixed on living a lifestyle of worship, sharing God’s love with others and making the name of Jesus famous.  After all, we are a family.  We share the same DNA.  We were all rescued by the same love.  We all have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.

In order to truly achieve unity, we must examine our own lives and get rid of any selfishness.  We need to examine our motives and where pride exists we need to make some adjustments.  We need to value the people around us above ourselves, making sure  that their needs are being taken care of.  Last year, I went on a missions trip to Colombia to work in a children’s home that my church supports.  One night we met with all the pastors of the city that we were staying in.  I was able to take part in a truly incredible prayer meeting, as we all jumped in our cars and traveled to the seven entrances of the city to pray.  I was amazed how the pastors interacted with each other.  There was so much humility present and it seemed like everyone’s only objective was to honor the other men and women of God around them.  It was evident that these pastors had a bond and the powerful prayer meeting we were all able to participate in was a result of their unity.  Unity breeds strategy.

It tells us in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  It’s time that we start loving one another within the church, so that that we can partner together in loving those outside of the church.

Be the Church: It’s not about the Building

Sometimes we can have a pretty limited understanding of what church is.  Most people view it in this context: Sunday mornings I go to a building and listen to the pastor talk about God.  I call this place church.  That is church, but church is also so much more.  Believe it or not, having a building or a pastor are ideas people added to church life, but they aren’t what church is about.  Now, don’t get me wrong those things are not bad.  They are in fact helpful and good, but we can’t allow them to get in the way of a true understanding of what church is really meant to be.  Here are some things I found in the book of Acts that will help us to develop a better picture of what being the church means.

1.  Being the church means you meet regularly  (Acts 2:46).

Whatever this looks like, whether it’s in someone’s home, at Starbucks, at the beach, you get together often.  Why?  We all need each other.  We all need encouragement and support.  We need to know that someone is in our corner, because following Jesus isn’t always a walk in the park.  It can be hard, but it’s much easier when we help carry each other’s burdens.

I hear alot of people say that they don’t need church to have a relationship with God.  I would say that even though some of my most powerful moments with the Lord have been in my times alone with Him, I know that for me it would be impossible to see real growth in my relationship with God in isolation.  I need the perspective of other Christians.  I need to be encouraged and motivated.  Sometimes I just need a hug, when it seems like I try so hard and everything is falling apart.  Without that, I think I would have given up a long time ago.

2.  Being the church means that you eat together, pray together and learn together (Acts 2:42).

As the church, we should be continuously learning about who God is and who we are in Him….together!  We should be sharing with others what we are learning in the Bible, what God is showing us and the lessons that He is teaching us.

We should be praying for each other and with each other.  Our prayers should be strategic and focused.  Where do you want to see God’s hand moving in your lives?  Lift up each other’s personal needs and pray for your communities!

Eat together.  Hang out.  Get deep in your relationships.  Build trust.  These relationships are pivotal.

3.  Being the church means taking the Great Commission seriously (Acts 8:38)

Like we talked about on Tuesday, being the church means that you go to other’s with the Gospel.  As we strive to “be the church,” we shouldn’t be too inward focused.  The desire of our heart’s should be to share the Gospel with as many people as possible and to show others the love of Christ.

4.  Being the church isn’t about the building (Acts 20:20)

Church isn’t about the building.  Over the years, the idea of church has become tied up in the location.  The place that we meet became known as church.  As a result of this, in our minds we drew a separation between what we do in church and outside of the church.  At church, we should be on our best behavior.  I’m sure you’ve heard people say things along the lines of I shouldn’t do this or that in church.  The church is seen as holy ground and everything outside of the church is fair game.

This is totally wrong.  You are the church.  In fact, God tells us that we are His temple.  The Holy Spirit dwells inside of you.  Therefore, everywhere you go is holy ground.  There is no where you can go to escape His presence.

5.  Being the church means that we all play a part (Acts 13:1, 14:23)

Lastly, being the church means that we all play an important role.  In the first church, there was no lead pastor.  They talked about having prophets, teachers and leaders, but their wasn’t one person that was responsible for everything.  Now, don’t get me wrong, having a lead pastor to cast vision and to bring together a team can be good and very beneficial.  However, if we are not careful, we can lose sight of our own role in the body of Christ.

True relationship with Christ is not about living your Christian life vicariously through your pastor or leader.  You can’t rely on one person to interpret the Bible for you.  A pastor’s role is to encourage you and to support you as your personal relationship with Jesus unfolds.  Each believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them.  It is the Holy Spirit that leads us into the truth.  Relying on one person’s interpretation or viewpoint, without ever seeking God for yourself, can be dangerous and result in a skewed view of God and who we are called to be in Him.

Additionally, as believers, we are all in ministry. Whether you work in the church or out in the world, you are called to share God’s love with others and to meet the needs you see in the people around you.  Being the church is not about sitting on the side lines and enjoying a good sermon.  It’s about getting involved and serving God with all the resources that He has put at your disposal.

 

 

 

 

Be the Church: Let the Holy Spirit Lead You

Being the church means that we are led by the Holy Spirit that lives within us.  As followers of Jesus, we live in the constant tension of following our natural inclination and what seems to be logical and following the leading of God.  As we grow in our journey with Jesus, seeking His face and reading His Word, we learn more and more to recognize what His voice sounds like.  We learn which of the things that we are feeling are coming from ourselves and which urges are actually promptings of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a growing process and we are bound to make mistakes, but it is also the most amazing adventure.  One thing is for sure, we cannot rely on our own understanding.  But if we are faithful to seek His direction and His guidance, He will be more than faithful to lead us (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The first church was spirit-led.  From the time when they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2, they were continuously led by the Spirit of God.  Throughout the book of Acts, Luke records times when the disciples made abrupt changes in their plans, because the Holy Spirit was leading them in the opposite direction.  We see this in Acts chapter 16.  As Paul and his companions are traveling through Phrygia and Galatia, the Holy Spirit keeps them from entering the province of Asia to speak.  Instead, Paul has a dream of a Macedonian man pleading with them, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  Paul recognizes this as the voice of the Lord and they change course.

Throughout the book of Acts, we see the fruit of following the Holy Spirit’s lead.  The Holy Spirit confirms the message of grace preached by the disciples with signs and wonders (Acts 14:3).  It also tells us that daily God was adding to them people that were being saved (Acts 2:47).  As we walk forward in the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will see that God will bring supernatural results.

In our churches, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading, even when it seems to be contrary to our own plans or understanding.  It is great to have structure and organization.  However, we cannot be so rigid in our structure that we make no room for the Holy Spirit to move.  It’s important that we are sensitive to God’s leading and that we are willing to let God switch up our plans.  I remember one time that I was scheduled to preach at the youth group I serve at.  I prayed all day, “Holy Spirit, move me out of the way tonight.  It’s not about me.  It’s about you.  Have your way this evening.”  What ended up happening was that the Holy Spirit fell heavy during worship.  The teens were being touched by God as we praised Him together.  We stayed in that place all night and I never had the opportunity to speak.  But it was one of the most powerful services we have had.

As we seek to be the church, it is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us even in our day-to-day interactions.  This is one that I am really working on.  I don’t want to be so busy or consumed with my own agenda that I miss out on the opportunities that God is presenting me with in any given day.

Let’s live with our eyes wide open to what God is wanting to do in our world through us.

 

Be the Church: Make Room for Everyone

Yesterday, I wrote about how being the church means that we go to the broken.  Today, I’m going to write about the importance of making room for everyone.  What do I mean by that?  Just outside the doors of our churches are communities of hurting people that have tried church before and have given up.  They felt like there was no room in our assemblies for someone who didn’t talk like us, dress like us, look like us, or think like us.  This is never our intention, but I understand at least in part why this happens.

The church has a reputation for being uppity and up-tight.  People on the outside get the impression that we can’t handle their tattoos, their piercings, their dirty mouths, their questions and their muddy pasts.  They don’t have everything all figured out. Do any of us?  They want the space to learn about God in an environment where they feel like they belong and are accepted for who they are.

I think it’s helpful for us to remember that our own relationship with Jesus has always been a process.  When we stop to think about our own journey with Christ, most of us can say that it took us a while to really get it.  It took us a while to get rid of the junk and to stop some of the destructive habits in our own lives.  So we need to be more understanding when people come in unpolished and unrefined.  We need to encourage others through the process, giving them the tools, encouragement and support that will help further them along in their understanding of God and who He has called them to be in Him.

We need to broaden our idea of what being the church looks like.  We need to encourage individuality and not squash it.  The brilliance of being part of the Body of Christ is that we all play a different role.  We all have a different function.  When we shine in who God has created us to be and encourage others in their own uniqueness, we will be able to reach more people with God’s love.  We should be able to express God’s love through different styles, different artistic forms, different styles of music, and with language that is appropriate for reaching different types of people.  The message of salvation doesn’t change, but we cannot be so rigid as to how we choose to express or share that message.  If we aren’t willing to ever change up our approach, we will lose some of our effectiveness.

The thing I love about the early church is that the forerunners of Christianity were the most unlikely candidates.  Paul was an ex-murderer.  Before He had his own encounter with Jesus, He was murdering Christians with zeal and enthusiasm.  When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied that He even knew Him.  He turned His back on Jesus in the moment that it counted the most.  Matthew was a tax-collector by profession, earning a living by taking money from the innocent.  I love this.  God doesn’t disqualify anyone.  He loves using the most unlikely people to do the biggest things for Him.  What if we adopted the same mindset?  What if we tapped into the heart of God, seeing the most messed up people as capable of being some of the greatest conduits of God’s love, mercy and strength?

As the first disciples sought to be the church, they made room for everyone.  They made room for the Jew, for the Gentile and even for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14). The Samaritans were equivalent to today’s outcasts. The Samaritans and the Jews had a long standing hatred for one another.  Samaritans were viewed by the Jews as being worthless, as if they were nothing more than junk worthy of being tossed to the side of the road.  Yet they were not excluded from being a part of the first church.  There was room even for them.

Paul preached the Gospel to people that served other Gods.  But He met the people where they were at and explained the Gospel to them in terms they would be able to understand.  I love how He delivers the Gospel while He is an Athens, to a people that served many gods, “People of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To An Unknown God.  So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship-and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).  He used their own altar as a connecting point to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The thing I love most about the early church is that the Gospel wasn’t seen as being equal to tradition.  They stood boldly on the truth of God, preaching the Gospel uncompromisingly and boldly.  However, they didn’t require people to take on their extra traditions to accept the message.  When some Jews in the church were getting all bent out of shape and telling Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised to be Christian, Peter says “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).  Or in other words, why do you put stipulations on people that make it hard for them to enter relationship with God, but have so little to do with true holiness?  As we strive to be the church, we must use the Bible as a standard of conduct and behavior, by which we measure true holiness.  Which of our standards and stipulations are Biblical and which are mere preferences and man-made tradition?  As we strive to be a family we must filter out the essentials from the non-essentials and allow room for freedom of expression and individuality.

I love how Jonathan Keck phrases it in his article, “How to Break the Cookie-Cutter, Carbon Copy Christian Cycle.”  He writes, “There is only one to whom we should conform our lives, minds, behaviors, and desires-Jesus Christ.  Be Christ-like as you live out who God made you to be.”  Let’s make room for people to do this in the church.