Posted by: amylamb | April 5, 2013

At Once, They Left

It was just an ordinary day in the little town by the seashore. A soft breeze occasionally blew through, rippling the water across the sea and providing welcome respite from the unrelenting Middle Eastern sun. Two fishermen stood on the shore, the sand drawn out from beneath their feet by the tide lapping between their toes.  One fisherman wiped the sweat from his brow while the other cast his net into the sea, anxiously hoping that this one, perhaps, will return full so they could rest their aching backs until the tide comes in once more.

They glanced down the shoreline and caught a glimpse of a man approaching, his image blurred by the distance between them. As he came nearer, his image enlarged and became clearer. The fishermen continued casting their nets, unaware that the normalcy of their daily routine was about to be interrupted — forever.

“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me, Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:16-17).

There wasn’t any pomp and circumstance, or even an elaborate interview — just a simple invitation to two ordinary men.

They didn’t know where he would lead them, but there wasn’t time to wait. Jesus was still walking — still moving into the purpose for which he came to earth. Thoughts of loved ones, responsibilities, and even fearful excuses flashed through the fishermen’s minds like sudden bursts of lightning. But yet, their eyes locked and they knew they were compelled.

“At once they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18).

The nets that represented their livelihood slipped off their calloused hands and onto the ground beneath. They turned, and with normalcy behind them and the unknown before them, they followed.

At once, they left. At once, they stepped away from the boats that embodied the comfort and predictability of home to them. At once, they stepped into a relationship with a man who would change their lives and even their eternity. At once, they became two of the first who would “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17).

Even while we cast our nets, he comes. He invites us to follow him to a place that he will show us … as we go. After all, the greatest adventures begin without a destination in mind, for that — like the image of the Messiah coming toward us along the seashore — becomes clearer as we grow closer.

As we follow, we grow closer to the journey’s reward. Though joys and sorrows alike are encountered along the way, the true reward is none else than knowing Jesus.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love” (Ephesians 5:1).

Posted by: amylamb | March 22, 2013

Not As Though They Were

Redemption is more than an idea. It is an active process that progressively works to “make all things new.” It does not finish and it does not relent – for that is the character of Christ at work within us.

Too often we forfeit the hope available to us by leaving redemption out of the equation. Though circumstances appear grim, we continue to expect the situation to remain unchanged or become worse, omitting the intercession of the One “who calls into being things that were not” (Romans 4:17).

We were chained to imperfection that left us hopeless beyond death . . . “but God.”
We wished only to satisfy ourselves . . .“but God.”
We had no hope of life beyond the grave . . . “but God.  
We wandered through life aimless and ineffective . . . “but God.”

That’s what redemption looks like. It leaves us not as though we were and calls us into a lifelong pursuit of He from whom redemption comes. Though the redeemed life is a state of being that was not before, it is available if only we leave behind everything that hinders our pursuit of Him.

Don’t underestimate the power of redemption – the power of Christ Himself– to change everything.

Posted by: amylamb | March 8, 2013

In the Midst of His Work

In the midst of all the “gloom and doom” of current events, hope can seem a little fickle. Every positive headline appears to be accompanied by two that are negative, thus perpetuating our chronic fear of bad news.

Sometimes I hesitate to offer hope in fear of sounding unrealistic. But then I remember where God tends to work: from within the “gloom and doom”, so to speak.

We tend to forget that redemption is more than idea, but an active change agent. It’s exactly what happens when Christ enters the picture, and nothing can remain the same in its wake.

Though redemption — the process of bad turning into good — seems unrealistic, followers of Christ bear witness to its power.

We have seen lives snatched from the brink of irreversibly destructive choices.
We have seen relationships restored when bitterness departs and grace takes up residence in its place.
We have seen the most vivid glimpses of God in the midst of our brokenness — not through our wholeness.
We have seen our own stubborn and prideful hearts humbled, transformed, and given a purpose far greater than we could manufacture for ourselves.
Because there, in the brokenness, conflict, and despair, is where He works.

So no matter where you are or how grim your circumstances may seem, the simple act of being there with a heart committed to the mission of Christ and and ears sensitive to His voice positions you in the midst of His work.

Followers of Christ, don’t shrink back from the “gloom and doom” today. Step into it honestly, not minimizing the severity of hardship but maximizing the message of hope you have to proclaim. We can be confident of this: that when all is said and done, the hope and redemption of Christ proves much bigger than our trials.

Posted by: amylamb | February 22, 2013

No Debt Outstanding

The transformation of a society is not a far-fetched proposition. In fact, it can occur with the adoption of one simple truth:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8).

Therein lies the key to a healthy society: citizens who bear one another’s burdens.

Followers of Christ, hear me clearly: we must lead the way. Bearing the weight of a nation’s depravity is not the government’s job, but Christ’s (and therefore, the church’s). Our role in society is not necessarily to abide by a list of things we should not do, but to carry the burdens of those alongside us.

Reciprocity is key. When everyone looks to the interests of others, no need remains unmet. If we are faithful to offer the little that we have, Christ is faithful with the rest.

We must shift our focus from the policies and procedures of our religious life and choose to carry the weight of each other’s suffering. We are told to rejoice in our suffering, not for the hardship itself but for the presence of Christ therein. When we share in the suffering of others, the load of hardship is divided and the joys found in the presence of Christ are multiplied.

It seems too simple, but we must not forget that the sacred is found in the simple.

Posted by: amylamb | February 15, 2013

The Spacious Place

“Responsibility” is a word we throw around a lot, but what exactly does it mean?

Responsibility is a result of redemption. Remember Genesis 3: Adam and Eve disobey God’s terms for living in his land — they were irresponsible with what they had been given. Consequently, they hid.

The shame of their irresponsibility drove them into the hidden place. But redemption “(brings us) out into a spacious place” (Psalm 18:19).

Though each of us carries the burden of human irresponsibility in a different way, our instinct to hide our shame prevents us from bringing our shortcomings into the spacious place, where it can be seen, defined, and ultimately, healed.

Irresponsibility hides. Responsibility is the boldness to acknowledge our sin and the humility required to accept God’s gracious intervention.

Now that we have been brought from darkness into light, we are responsible. For we have been given the inheritance of Christ not to hoard, but to invest.

As imitators of Christ, we are responsible to draw others out of their hiding and into the spacious place. We are responsible for providing the security, love, and grace that those around us need in order to be healed. Because even in the hidden place, the voice of the Healer is heard.

From the hidden place into the spacious place: that is the gospel. Responsibility is the response the gospel demands. It’s the response that chooses not to remain bound by the consequences of sin, but to become an agent of Christ’s redemption.

In other words: there is hope for whatever you’re hiding today.

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
— Psalm 18:19

Posted by: amylamb | February 8, 2013

Show Up

When I travel abroad, I take off my watch as soon as I board the plane. I do this because it helps me enter the cultural mindset of most of my international destinations: the mindset that time is not a commodity and that the busier you are, the less effective you are.

Living without a watch is freeing. It helps me focus on where I am and who I am with. Without a watch, I can focus my full attention on those I am with — not on the “tick tock” of the clock that implies impending responsibility to do … stuff.

Here in the West, the rampant glorification of “busy” is causing us to forget the power of physical presence. We tend to operate by the belief that the busier we are, the more valuable we are. So we fill our time with commitments and responsibilities that can often prevent us from being fully effective members of the body of Christ.

In no way am I advocating irresponsibility, but I am advocating for correctly ordered priorities. I am suggesting that we learn to value our relationships more than we value our time. Most essentially, I am advocating that we learn to take off our watches and treat the person in front of us as if they are the most important thing in our lives at that moment. We have to learn to hear the needs of others louder than the tick-tock of our watches.

Following Christ means we must give up the right to our time. Now we must operate on his schedule, his plans, and his timing.

That means we consider the needs of others more important than the needs of ourselves — and our to-do lists. We, when appropriate, set aside the deadlines and distractions that busy our lives to notice those around us and the unseen needs that can be met only by a little time and service. We turn off our phones for a while so we can focus our full attention on the person in front of us. There, in the unexpected opportunities to serve others, we encounter Christ.

Jesus calls us to show up. Though He could have completed his redemptive work with one word spoken from the lofty realm of heaven, He chose to show up and dwell among us for 33 years. He literally “moved into the neighborhood.” He came to endure what we endure, enjoy what we enjoy, mourn when we mourn, and rejoice when we rejoice. That is the model of following Christ: to go, to pursue, to disciple, to enjoy. To be among the suffering, the isolated, and even those unaware of their need.

When we choose to be available enough to be Christ to others, we find that Christ is there, too. And that is the Christ we seek to follow, and that is the Christ we seek to share. So wherever you go, be fully there, as Christ is. A single encounter with Him is worth the meager sacrifice our time, our resources, and our presence.

Posted by: amylamb | February 1, 2013

Back to the “Why”

Last week, I wrote about the life cycle of ideas. I wrote about how a single idea, when accurately and passionately represented, can spark a movement that changes the course of history. But what differentiates an idea that gains followers and an idea that lingers stagnant and ineffective?

I am convinced the answer lies in motivation. An idea motivated by an authentic desire to help others will win loyalty. An idea undercut by personal agendas and exclusive profit gains the loyalty of only one. One is not enough to launch a movement.

Beliefs are far more persuasive than actions. But actions, when properly motivated, serve as proof of the beliefs we profess. Ideas don’t gain traction because of what they have already accomplished. Ideas get going when they align with the beliefs of enough people who can build a bridge between “what is” and “what could be.”

Beliefs are the foundation of long-term sustainability. When things get hard and the “men” of the idea’s movement get discouraged, only the belief — the vision — can sustain them. Indeed, once the movement becomes a machine or a monument, only those who believe can resurrect it once more.

My point: If you don’t know why you do it, then it’s not worth doing. And if you can’t communicate why you do what you do, then you’re far less likely to win loyal, long-term followers.

Get back to the “why,” and the “what” will fall into place. As Simon Sinek put it, “start with the dream, not with the plan.”

Posted by: amylamb | January 25, 2013

The Men Who Start a Movement

Never underestimate the power of the idea. Though intangible and unseen, the force within is enough to propel the rise of nations. Yet, when overlooked, it can thrust once invincible nations into irreversible decline. The power of an idea is enough to change the course of history, and indeed, it has.

Have you ever noticed that ideas have life cycles? I am convinced that ideas – and nations – are born, reach an apex of influence, and save human and/or divine intervention, eventually fade into obscurity. This pattern has most poignantly been categorized into four stages: the man, the movement, the machine, and the monument.

The first stage begins when someone – the man – chooses to become the idea’s representative. This is how ideas gain influence: when an advocate steps in to build momentum on its behalf. These people are change agents because change happens when ideas get going.

These are people like Thomas Jefferson, one of the “men” behind the idea of a “government instituted among men” to secure the “unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. People like Jesus Christ, who was the “man” behind the idea of the new covenant. People like you and like me, who have our own ideas and dreams that we long to fulfill. These people infuse power into their ideas by being the sacrifice required to bridge the gap between “what is” and “what could be.” Many, in fact, give their lives to see their ideas fulfilled.

Then something even more remarkable happens: the first follower. The “man” successfully leads others to give their lives to fulfill the idea. This is the spark that lights a movement, and it causes quite a stir.

These movements make a difference. The Revolutionary War breaks out. Crowds gather on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, at the feet of a man who said the revered law was only fulfilled by love. Your idea finally starts to shift paradigms, gain attention … change lives.

But somewhere along the way, the movement becomes normalized. In an effort to regain control over the rapid expansion of the idea, the movement becomes a machine. For a while, it brings efficiency and organization to the movement, but eventually the machine forfeits the soul of the movement.

The veterans of the movement grow weary and even disdainful at the prospect of necessary change, while new entrants become frustrated and confused because the condition of the “machine” does not reflect the lore of the “movement”.

We see it happen every day. The idea of a nation governed primarily by its citizens takes a backseat to the citizens’ apathy and irresponsibility. The idea of a law fulfilled by love becomes lost in the church buildings, programs, and standards of behavior. Movements become machines, and machines become monuments. They are nothing more than something to be remembered, occasionally celebrated, and rarely, if ever, practiced.

But somewhere in between the machine and the monument lives a “man” with an idea. If he or she is courageous enough to take the risk and become the advocate, than the idea can be resurrected.

All is not lost. All we need are the men and women who are willing to launch a movement. May this generation not forfeit its responsibility to remember, revive, and relive the ideas that made a difference.

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” –Luke 12:48

Posted by: amylamb | January 2, 2013

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

“Faithfulness” is not the feel-good churchy term I thought it was.

Faithfulness is found when hope persists that this may be the last “no”  before the “yes.”

Faithfulness is found when the courage to endeavor toward the “not yet” defeats the fear of the “right now.”

Faithfulness is not merely waiting for redemption. Faithfulness is choosing to be a part of it.

Faithfulness is sacrifice. Faithfulness is discipline. Faithfulness is persistence.

Faithfulness is painful. Faithfulness is, perhaps, the greatest expression of love — for faithfulness requires the death of something.

Faithfulness is a pilgrimage endured only by the certainty that, though not yet, “all manner of thing shall be well.”

“Great is Thy faithfulness, LORD, unto me …”

Posted by: amylamb | December 14, 2012

‘The True Test of Civilization’

“The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops — no, but the kind of man the country turns out.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nations don’t change through politics. Nations change through people.

Though I am thankful for our system of governance, the current political stalemate over the impending fiscal cliff is a stark reminder that our hope does not — cannot — rest in the process of politics.

History tells a story worth repeating. Long before the birth of the United States, a small Middle Eastern nation stood divided. Religion and politics drew their lines and stood decidedly behind them. Citizens of faith longed to be free from the rule of foreign government. They waited for the promised Redeemer, one who would come to deliver them from the Roman occupation and into (what would later be called) the Kingdom of God.

Redemption didn’t come in the form they expected. It came in the form of a man whose concern was not with the Roman occupation, but with the hearts of those “occupied”.

His message was not “get your politics right.” His message was, “get your hearts right.” For the root of every political issue is a spiritual problem.

As he went, he brought truth, hope, and healing to each citizen he encountered. Those who encountered him imitated him. Thus began a movement that changed not only a nation, but the world as well.

It didn’t take a legislature to change the world. It took an unlikely carpenter and twelve ordinary men.

The condition of the world reflects the conditions of the nations within. The condition of a nation reflects the condition of its citizens. Thus, if we really want to change a nation, then we must start with changing ourselves. As the heart changes, the rest follows.

Christ’s message remains the most powerful change agent we could possibly employ. He replaces apathy with integrity, despair with hope, consequences with character, pride with humility, and entitlement with responsibility.

Though the political system is necessary for national progress, it is not sufficient. Citizens of faith should be involved in the political process, but not without primary emphasis on the heart condition of oneself and his fellow citizens.

Give to the government what is theirs, but don’t give them what is God’s. Though the first can change a nation for a short time, the second can change the world for eternity. After all, the true test of civilization is the character of its citizens.

This Christmas season, don’t despair over our national condition. It is not totally beyond our control. In fact, the message of Christ is if citizens of faith humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our corrupted attitudes and actions . . .

then He will respond.
He will come.
He will redeem.
He will make all things new.

In fact, I am convinced He already is. I pray it will be done through us rather than despite of us.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel … God with us.

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