Hi friends! I’m moving this longterm beloved blog, Faith Activators, which I did for many years with my good friend Paul Richardson, to my new blog: mikeoquin.com. I’ve got a new book coming out, Unearthing Heaven, and I figured it was a good time for a blog refresh. Faith Activators will stay right here and you can still access all our old articles and podcasts, but it will be bit of a ghost town from here on out. Come join me over there to see all my new posts going forward!
He must have gotten out the night before, when Jordan came home after we had already gone to bed. Our Maine Coon cat Toby often lurks by the front door when someone enters or exits, looking for an easy escape and a chance for adventure. Jordan was distracted getting the keys to lock up the gate, and that is when Toby probably made his break for it.
He’s done that before, gone out on some night adventures, but he has always come back the next morning. Usually I find him hiding under a nearby car. His previous owners, who loved him dearly and had to move back to the U.S., had installed chicken wire around our fence when they gave him to us, fearing he might be able to slip through the fence bars. It worked for a few weeks, but clever Toby figured out the lowest point on the gate to jump right over.
As a result we tried to be diligent to keep him inside when we opened the door, not always easy for a busy family coming and going. But thankfully when there was an escape from “Cat Alcatraz,” as one of my friends called it, he could always be found the next day.
Not so this Thursday morning. I looked up and down the street for a few minutes but had to get to campus to teach my morning class. I came back in a break between classes and looked a little wider and asked a few neighbors. Still no luck.
By late afternoon still no sign, so Naomi and I went around the neighborhood and put missing cat fliers on the light posts. We asked more neighbors. Jordan took a tour on his motorcycle and looked under more cars farther away.
Our social and fluffy cat didn’t come back the next day. And the next.
We went to the local bird market, where people sell cats in some stalls, showed pictures and asked around. We were told by a bird seller to ask in a round-about way…not “Did someone steal my cat and you are trying to sell it?” But more of a “Hey, here’s a picture of a cat that we would love to buy…do you have any of these or no anyone who is selling them?” I practiced that indirect cultural deftness, but still no large grey Maine Coon cats were for sale at the bird market. We exchanged phone numbers with the sellers, went back a second time, but still no sightings. I made a suggestion that we get a new cat at the bird market, to fill that Toby-shaped hole in our hearts, but Naomi gave an adamant NO. How would Toby feel if he came back and there were a new cat in our house?? Good point. Keep hoping against hope.
We prayed of course. We felt a little silly, but we also asked friends to pray as well for a miracle in us being reunited with Toby.
Day 4. Day 5. Stephanie and Naomi took it the hardest…they love that cat so much. I’ve joked before with friends that if there were ever a fire in our house and I was in one end of a hallway and Toby was on the other, and Stephanie had enough time to save only one of us…she would eventually make the right decision but would have to think about it for a second (for the record she doesn’t like that joke).
Day 6. Day 7. Now we are moving into cat grieving stage. I told Naomi probably someone found him, a beautiful rare cat like that, and are either taking care of him and sold him to a family able to do that. Let’s pray that he will find a good home. Her little heart was broken and at the same time struggled with anger…how could someone take our cat like that and not even try to find the owner with fliers up around the neighborhood?
Day 8. Another sad day. Rainy season is in full force, with deluges of rain every day, and we figured there is no way he could make it in the wet and wild. Someone surely must have found him by now. We’ve got to move on…
Day 9, a Saturday. Stephanie, Jordan and I were watching a movie in our living room that evening and Stephanie got up to get a snack midway through. While she was in the kitchen she heard a faint meow, and Jordan joked maybe it was Toby. She opened the door and sure enough, it was! Dirty, thinner and with matted fur, but there he was. He meowed and meowed as she picked him up. Tears of joy in the reunion. Lots of petting and meowing and I-can’t-believe-it’s. Stephanie wanted to wake up Naomi and let her know right away, but I cautioned against it…she had already been in bed for an hour and it would be hard getting her back to sleep. But both Stephanie and Jordan overruled my protest. We went upstairs and put Toby next to Naomi, who woke up with a startle and then unimagined joy. The next morning she would tell us she thought she was dreaming!
Such a happy reunion. Still such shock that our spoiled cat survived in the wild that many days and found his way back home. To us it feel like a miracle.
And now we notice that Toby is not lurking by the door as much to go out on any more adventures…maybe he is convinced he has it pretty good here surrounded by all this love and free food.
I’ve been thinking how heartsick we were when our beloved Toby was lost, and how joyful we were when he returned. Just like that the sadness vanished and the celebration ensued.
It reminded me of parable of a good shepherd Jesus told us in Luke chapter 15:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15: 3-7
Even in our Case of the Missing Cat episode, I can understand more of the Shepherd’s heart. He is heartsick over that beloved lost sheep and searches diligently until He finds it. He doesn’t just wait for it to come back home (although in our case that’s exactly what happened). The good shepherd keeps searching “until he finds it.”
After Toby came back, we couldn’t wait to tell the people who knew about our missing kitty and who had even prayed for us. We had that same “rejoice with me” feeling.
That’s the way our Father in heaven feels about lost people, those far from experiencing His love. His heart always beats for those still out there, still lost somewhere out in the wild and trying to make their way back. His joy knows no bounds when they are found.
Let’s join Him in that heartfelt quest, not just waiting for them to return, but to go with Him searching…
The call came when I happened to be nearby the scene of the accident.
I was helping my oldest son with a dead car battery after his work shift had ended. As I put the jumper cables back into the car, my cell phone buzzed with a call from Harrison, a friend of my other son Jordan. I knew that they were hiking in the Austin Greenbelt on this Sunday afternoon, and it was strange that Harrison was calling me instead of Jordan.
“Hey, Harrison. Everything okay?”
“Uh…not really…Jordan’s been in an accident.”
Reeling, but trying to remain composed and get the facts.
“OK, what happened and where are you?”
“We’re at the Greenbelt and Jordan fell. The paramedics are here.”
Paramedics? How serious is this??
“Is he okay? What happened?”
“He slipped and fell from a cliff while we were hiking, but he is conscious and talking with the paramedics.”
A cliff? He fell from a cliff?
“Okay, I’m near the Greenbelt right now. Where exactly are you?”
Harrison gives the specific location as best as he can, and I keep him on the phone as I race toward the scene. While I’m waiting at a red light, the last one before the parking lot of the Greenbelt area, I see a Star-flight rescue helicopter circling overhead, looking like it’s trying to find a place to land. Because Jordan has fallen deep in the dense trails, the emergency helicopter appears to be having trouble finding a big enough clearing in which to land.
“Harrison, I’m literally five minutes away. Don’t let the paramedics take Jordan away. Tell them I’m coming right now.”
“Uh, okay, I’ll tell them, but it looks like they are about to take him away.”
I park. I run. Through the dense trail and down to the creek bed, I run as fast as I can, frantically looking for the cliffs that Harrison has described while the Star-flight helicopter still hovers overhead.
A friend of ours named Stephen, who had happened to be there with his family when Jordan fell, meets me at the creek bed to lead me to the exact spot where Jordan is being treated (click here to read his poignant Facebook post of the incident).
There are about a dozen first responders on the scene—firefighters and paramedics—and I can see that have just loaded Jordan into a wheel-barrow looking stretcher with one oversized wheel.
Jordan is talking. Not sure if anything is broken but at least he is talking. He is telling me that he is thirsty and asking me if he can have some water. It looks like at first glance he is going to be okay. It’s a good sign when the on-ground paramedics call off the Star-flight helicopter still circling overhead.
I look up at the height from which he has fallen and my heart sinks. As the paramedics continue to check on him and secure him in the big wheel stretcher, I get more details from Harrison and Stephen’s family on what exactly had happened. As I’m trying to get my questions out one-by-one, the adrenaline that has been flooding by body suddenly subsides and I turn into a crying dad. My friends comfort me. I am so deeply grateful they were there when he fell, giving him aid and not letting him move until the paramedics arrived.
As we make our way awkwardly through the trail on the big wheel stretcher, Jordan is full of questions for me and the paramedics (another good sign). Can I have some water? Why can’t I remember falling? Is it okay if I go to sleep for a little bit? We get to the parking area to find a waiting ambulance there along with a news crew. That is a gut punch to see them there with their TV camera, like an official pronouncement of how serious this is (click here to see their report which showed on the evening news…so surreal to watch that later).
Hospital ER. Stephanie is on the way. Bruises on his face. Mild concussion. Cuts and punctures. Bandaging wounds. CT scan reveals a fracture on his C5 vertebrae, but no other broken bones or damaged organs.
Jordan is embarrassed that he will be a neck brace for 6 weeks while his neck heals, but I am so deeply grateful that it is not way, way, worse. He could have been blind, paralyzed or even gone.
We try to piece together exactly how he slipped and fell. Apparently landing on a tree on his back on the way down with his backpack on helped break the fall. Doctors and nurses keep saying how lucky he is.
I feel that we are more blessed than lucky. I feel God’s hand all over this incident honestly.
I know it’s weird that when people are involved in a horrible accident they always say something afterwards like, “We were so lucky!” Well if you were so lucky, it stands to reason, wouldn’t you not even be in the accident in the first place?
But now I understand…when you brush that closely to mortality, and get a glimpse of how very fragile life is, news of just a C5 fracture is really good news. You’re comparing that current reality with the very real possibility of way, way worse. As calls come in from friends, we are reporting the terrible news of a C5 fracture with a deep sense of relief. “We were so lucky…it could have been so much worse!”
Life is fragile friends. The Meghan Trainor song, I’m Gonna Love You Like I’m Going To Lose You, got into my head the following week, with its profound lyrics:
In the blink of an eye
Just a whisper of smoke
You could lose everything
The truth is you never know….
….So I’m gonna love you like I’m gonna lose you
And I’m gonna hold you like I’m saying goodbye
Wherever we’re standing
I won’t take you for granted
‘Cause we’ll never know when, when we’ll run out of time.
That is a haunting truth, not one that makes us comfortable, but it can bring us to a higher place of perspective in life. We look over the edge of that 20-cliff at the rocks below with a rare sense of gratefulness. I don’t ever want to be there again, for sure, but I do want to keep that perspective—of what a gift life is—firmly and forever etched in my mind.
“Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalm 90:12
Praying with the Nevland brothers is always good for my soul. I’ve known these zealous brothers for many years, and I always get my faith stirred when I am with them in a prayer setting. A couple of weeks ago I asked if I could record one of our prayer times together…hope this feels like a multivitamin boost for your own prayer life, too. Dave plays on piano, Peter leads out, and I try to keep up. The sound quality is raw but I think the passion and the hunger for God’s presence comes through loud and clear. Jump in the flow with us…
I have some friends serving in Asia and their minds are getting blown by how much God is moving there right now. Mine too.
Back in September, one of their local teammates was dropping off some ministry interns for a week of outreach in a city a couple of hours away from where they all live. This guy, I’ll call him Andy, walked over to a café to get some lunch and struck up a conversation with a likeable fellow they now call Murray. Andy being Andy, with a passion for Jesus and a knack for evangelism, soon shared the Gospel with Murray who was quite open and prayed right on the spot to accept Christ.
Andy asked Murray if he had any friends who would like to hear this good news, too. He talked about a couple of friends at work. Andy explained that it was Murray’s privilege to share his newfound faith with his friends, and the two of them made their way across town to meet with them. When they got there, instead of the Andy the Expert sharing the Gospel with these two friends, Murray did so himself, using the same simple, culturally-understandable way that Andy had just used on him. Even though Andy had provided the coaching on that, the message was coming straight from Andy’s heart to these two friends.
That part is key and I’ll come back to it.
Andy came back a week later to check on these guys, not knowing what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised. Not only were these three guys eager to learn more, but they had been sharing their faith with several more friends and had led some of them to Christ. Andy then led them in a Bible study to deepen the foundation of their new faith, focusing on the next step of baptism. The small group made their way to some nearby water and Andy baptized Murray. Then in the same way he had modeled evangelism, instead of Andy the Expert baptizing Murray’s two friends, Murray did so himself with a little coaching from Andy.
That part is also key, and I’ll come back to it.
It gets pretty crazy after this. These three guys basically started several groups that have in turn multiplied to well over 100 groups and rapidly counting, made up of new followers of Jesus. It’s going down several generational lines, as in one person comes to Christ and shares with more people who start their own groups, and on and on it goes. They are practicing obedience-based discipleship, meaning they study the commands of Jesus and hold each other accountable to obey them. They have experienced miracles and persecution. The Gospel is spreading like wildfire. It’s jumped over to nearby unreached ethnic groups. Reading my friends’ reports is almost like reading accounts from the book of Acts in the New Testament. Hugely inspiring for me.
Before I get to my main point, I need to give a big caveat here first. It’s very hard to reverse engineer a move of God. There are too many factors involved and too much mystery in the sovereignty of God. Maybe it was just this people group’s time and God moved in a sovereign way? Maybe intercessors we don’t know about, and never will until heaven, paved the way? How much was due to the “best practices” of these practitioners? They can’t say for sure. They feel like they have jumped on a train that has left the station, and they are thrilled to be on the ride. They would not dare said that their ministry principles led to this move of God. It’s just not that simple.
I can’t say what caused this growing movement, but I can point to one principle they have purposely tried to lay into the DNA of every new believer. It’s simply this: a follower of Jesus is fisher of men. Following Jesus means fishing for people, as Jesus said in Matthew 4:18 to His new followers: “And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
Jesus told His disciples this when they were just a few seconds old in the faith. He didn’t wait until they had advanced training before he launched them into kingdom adventures. It was on-the-go and just-in-time training. Fishing was imprinted into their DNA right from the beginning.
Andy and his partners share the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) as often as they share the Gospel. They keep letting these new believers know that it’s a privilege and duty to share one’s faith with those who don’t yet know Christ, a value which is modeled and passed on down to the next generation.
I’m thinking now of my own North American context, where sharing your faith seems like a noble thing to do, for sure, but certainly not expected. Not something imprinted into our DNA as new believers typically. When I heard the Gospel, it was pretty much about me getting into heaven and having peace in my heart. I saw Jesus as the nice shepherd knocking on the door of my heart, but not the fisher of men beckoning me to come and follow Him on His mission to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That stuff, the evangelism stuff, felt like kind of green beret stuff. I got my ticket to heaven, thank you very much, and I’ll leave the spreading of this message to the experts.
Andy didn’t pitch it that way—didn’t separate Gospel receiving with Gospel sowing. Following Jesus means fishing for the people that He loves. It’s not an extra add-on, but a privilege and duty built right into the DNA of every knew believer. These Asian newbies started sharing and baptizing immediately, and that has been one of the keys to this burgeoning movement.
There’s been a lot of research and discussion about the church in the U.S. being on the decline. The stats are alarming indeed. 73% of churches are in decline or plateaued. The fastest growing religious segment in the U.S. are the “nones,” meaning none-of-the above, the non-religiously affiliated. One-fifth of the U.S. public—and a third of adults under 30 —are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling. Click here to read an insightful article by Ed Stetzer for more on this.
This decline is multi-faceted and complicated stuff and I’m not offering one simple solution. Just as I wouldn’t dare reverse engineer a move of God, I can’t say this one simple principle will do the trick to reverse the steep and rapid decline. But for people like me who love the Church and want to see it grow, recover and thrive, we do need to re-examine our Western experience of spectator sport Christianity. Maybe something we have forgotten along the way is so simple that we think, nah, surely that couldn’t be that important.
It may be simple, but it is profound, potent and powerful. A follower is a fisher.
How does your life taste to other people? Are you walking in step with the Holy Spirit, enough so that the “fruit of the Spirit” is evident in the ways you interact with others?[i] How about your “Emotional Intelligence,” which Daniel Goleman defines as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”? [ii]
Here are some stimulating conversations between Paul Richardson, author of A Certain Risk, and Mike O’Quin, author of Growing Desperate, blending together the themes of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter five, along with the five categories of Emotional Intelligence based on the research and writings of Daniel Goleman.
Our desire in these informal conversations, each one about 20 minutes, is to inspire you to grow in both the godly character and the EQ “soft skills” that will help you become the transformative leader that God has called you to be:
We hope you find these conversations helpful…if so, please share with your friends on social media and let us know!
[i] Galatians 5:22
[ii] Goleman, Daniel (2011-12-07). Working With Emotional Intelligence. Random House Publishing Group
There’s a popular television show in Indonesia called Minta Tolong!, which basically means “I need help!” Every week a hidden camera crew sends out a down-trodden person into the streets to ask for help from strangers. It’s sort of like the American TV show, What Would You Do?, with John Quiñones, but the Indonesian version has a twist of a reward at the end.
In the first episode of Minta Tolong! I watched, an actress playing a destitute beggar went from person to person, asking for a blanket for her child. She was holding a ratty newspaper and offered to trade it if they would give her a blanket. Person after person said no. She would plead with them, “Please, my child is cold and doesn’t have a blanket. Don’t you have an extra one at your house?” They would brush her off and she would then go on to the next person. After numerous rejections one kind soul finally said yes, giving the beggar lady a sling that was using for her own child. The beggar then gave her newspaper to the kind lady, and inside it was a very large sum of money. The crew came out and interviewed the kind hearted soul, who was overcome with emotion and didn’t want to accept the money at first. She finally did at the interviewer’s insistence as tears streamed down her shocked face.
How many of the people who said no would have said yes, if they knew that inside that dirty newspaper was a loot of cash? All of them of course! They would have gladly done a good deed if they knew they were going to be rewarded for it.
You are going to be rewarded for the way you live your life. It will happen at a point in time that the Bible calls the Judgment Seat of Christ:
So we make it our goal to please Him…For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.[i]
Paul explains what this “Day” will be like further in his first letter to the Corinthian believers:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.[ii]
The foundation of our relationship with God is His grace, revealed in Jesus Christ and manifested at the cross. Jesus Himself laid down the foundation of your house of faith when he laid down his life. He endured that cross, despising its shame, for the joy set before him of bringing you to the Father.[iii]
But this doesn’t mean believers aren’t going to be judged, and this is where many believers get a little fuzzy. We’re riding on the train bound for glory with a free ticket in hand, and we kind of think it doesn’t really matter how we live this life, because we’ve got that golden ticket and we’re guaranteed to get in.
I’ve heard this analogy before by Jamie Lash, a Bible teacher who co-wrote an excellent book on the subject entitled,This Was Your Life! (Chosen Books, 1998). Jamie asked would happen on the first day of a college class if the professor said, “Hey, I just want everyone to know that you all get an A. It doesn’t matter if you come to class or not, do the assignments, or take any of the tests. Everyone is guaranteed an A.”
What would that do to the morale of the class? How many students would show up the next day? How many of them would even be brave enough to exit right then? Most believers assume we’re all going to kind of get an A. I’ve got my ticket, I’ve been saved by grace, and now I’ll go pursue my own interests, thank you very much.
But Paul points out, even though that foundation is a totally free, paid-in-full gift, how we build on it is totally up to us. “Each one should be careful how he builds.” Our task is to choose the building materials, and His task on that Day will be to test the “quality” of our work. That’s quality, not quantity. It’s not how much we produce in terms of Kingdom Domestic Product, but the quality of our ministry in the lives of people we’ve impacted. Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” to the servant who received two talents and made two more, and to the one who received five talents and made five more.[iv]
The final exam of our lives sort of gives me a dry feeling in my throat, but keep in mind on that Day He will be looking for that which He can reward. I’s not pass/fail but rather an awards banquet. Every time we gave when no one else knew, every time we made a stand for righteousness when no one was looking, every small decision to follow Christ’s example because of our sheer love for Him. That little ministry deal you did so that those kids would be impacted? That was a big deal to Him and he wants all heaven to know. That’s the stuff that He intends to reward.
I remember as a boy cleaning up my room, or maybe an extra ordinary task like cleaning up the garage, the whole time imagining my parents’ faces when they got home from work. They would be so happy! They would be so proud of me! All this mucking around in this dirty garage was going to be worth it because they are going to appreciate and affirm me. We need to imagine our father’s face more when we are mucking out the garages of our busy lives. That smile on our Father’s face when He gets home will make all this work totally worth it.
The smile on the face of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ will make all your work for Him more than worth it.
John Eldredge says that we should pay attention to when art touches us so deeply that the tears peak out. That’s a big theme in his insightful book, Epic (Thomas Nelson, 2007), how we are wired for story. “There is a heart that God put within you and every story that you love,” he elaborated more on this theme in a Ransomed Heart Podcast, “and everything that stirs you to passion is reminding you of the life that you were meant to live, that you were created to live.”
This is slightly embarrassing to admit, but the show “Undercover Boss” gets me almost every time. If you’ve never watched it, it’s a reality TV show where the jet-setting CEO of a company discards his suit, disguises himself in blue collar working garb and mixes it up with the employees in the trenches to get a feel of what is really happening in the company he or she runs. At the end of the show the CEO’s true identity is revealed and the unsuspecting employees get rewarded for how they performed in the presence of their stealth boss. Great concept.
The first time I saw the show was on a long flight, and that’s when the first tears came, luckily hidden in the hum and darkness of an airplane at night. In that episode, the CEO and president of Directv, Mike White, pretends he is an out of work salesman named Tom Peters who is participating in a special company program where cameras will follow two job candidates around during their training phases in the large satellite TV company. Mike as Tom gets trained by different technicians and service representatives, all of whom evaluate his performance as a trainee.
Phil the service technician shows Tom the ropes and how important it is to go the extra mile with the customer. During a drive from a new customer’s house back to the warehouse, Phil shares about his own escape from drug addiction and his efforts now to serve troubled kids in a youth ministry he leads.
Tom is also coached by a customer service representative named Chloe who seems to always have a positive attitude with frustrated customers while troubleshooting with them on the phone. Over lunch she shares how her background of living in foster care inspired her to want to go into law or business in order help kids also from difficult backgrounds. She does her shifts at Directv to work her way through college.
The dramatic crescendo of the show comes at the end when Tom the trainee reveals that he is really Mike the CEO of their 23-billion-dollar company.
Mike praises a dumbfounded Phil for his excellent training and customer service and rewards him by offering to adopt some of his suggestions company-wide, and even more touching for Phil, gives a personal check of $5,000 toward Phil’s ministry which will enable his youth group to go on a mission trip.
During a follow-up interview Phil quotes from Proverbs: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).
“From the character of how you carry yourself one day you’ll sit among kings and here I am sitting among a CEO,” Phil said. “I feel real good about being rewarded right now for hard work, and the real work that I did, it was recognized.”
Mike also reveals his true identity to a shocked Chloe and raves about her positive spirit even with difficult customers. He announces that Directv is starting a scholarship program for employees and that she will be the first recipient. He also offers to meet with her regularly to help mentor her in her promising career.
Through tears she asks, “Can I give you a hug?”
Something moved me in how these simple people, struggling through their lives and trying to be decent human beings, were honored and rewarded by their bosses in a generous way.
Stories with spiritual undertones touch me the deepest, way more than a revenge motif in an action flick or over-the-tip CGI washes out of your system as quickly as caffeine. Stories with deep spiritual themes stay with us the longest because they are calling to us, as deep calls to deep. I really agree with Eldredge here.
That’s the deeper reason why the “Undercover Boss” episode gave me misty eyes. Believe it or not, you and I are living in a storyline in which our behavior and character will be rewarded by our boss at the end of the show. But he’s like no boss you’ve ever had. He has a true and noble heart, and He is looking for ways to reward you with heaven’s honor. In a previous blog post, The Final Smile, I try to unpack a little bit more the theology and inspiration of being rewarded at what the Bible calls the “Judgment Seat of Christ.”
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said that we will be rewarded in whatever way we served the hungry, thirsty, homeless, un-clothed, sick and imprisoned: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).
We have an Undercover Boss. He’s got a sneaky smile on His face and a twinkle in His eye. His name is Jesus and he is impersonating “the least of these” every day, all around us. He is looking for that which He can reward, as He promised: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).
Let this truth move you today, more than just to tears.
When our daughter Naomi was a toddler, and it was time for a family outing, I would often let her play on the front porch until it was time to go. The family would pile into the car and buckle up, while I went back and forth to gather up our stuff from inside the house.
My intent was for little Naomi to have some fun during that prep time. When it was just about time to go, she would look up from the pile of shoes she was playing with, and interpret the event very differently.
Her two-year-old brained processed the event this way: “Hmm…mommy and daddy are getting into the car with my brothers and sister which means they are about to go bye-bye. The car just made that noise again which means it is about to move. The doors just closed. I am still here on the porch by myself which means…I AM GOING TO BE LEFT BEHIND. I WILL BE ALL ALONE. AHHHHHHH! WAHHHHH!”
Crying and screaming would erupt, which was the appropriate response had we in fact planned to abandon her that morning. Her only help in a dark, empty house would be house pets without opposable thumbs.
I would rush to her, pick her up, and wipe her tear-stained face. As I strapped her in, the rest of the family would invariably chuckle about this together. I mean, Naomi, sweetie, did you really think mommy and daddy were going to leave you behind all by yourself? How many times have we done that to you?
The answer, of course, was not once.
I also process events differently than my Heavenly Father, and respond in the same, silly way. I fear that I have or will be abandoned. There I am on the front porch, trying to figure out how to put these shoes on all by myself, and I look up just in time to see God about to drive away. Then I’ll be all alone in the world to fend for myself. WAHHHHH!
How many times has He done that in my life?
The answer, of course, is not once.
So instead of the joy of looking forward to a great adventure with my Father and His family, a dark cloud of worry envelopes my mind until I can hardly think about anything else.
There is a dark basement of our lives, filled with stress and worry, and the foundation underneath that basement is the fear that we have been abandoned. That darkness has a way of creeping upstairs into the rest of the house, disrupting our own peace of mind and damaging all of our relationships.
If we said the lie we were believing out loud, we would realize how ridiculous it is: I am alone in the world. No one bigger than me is around. I now have to fend for myself.
Time for some foundation repair. I can say to you, no you silly, you have not been abandoned. But that’s not enough. You still wouldn’t get it. You need to let your Heavenly Father scoop you up into His arms and look into His loving eyes long enough for you to say, you’re right…I am being silly.
As God told a stressed-out, tear-stained face people through the prophet Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
He is with you.
I’m going to keep staring into His calm and loving face until I believe that deep down. Until the foundation is repaired and the darkness of doubt is cleared out. I want to strap into this next adventure with a tear-free face.
Alright Dad, you’re right, I was being silly. You got this…let’s go.
P.S. For more on this, how the reality of God’s nearness is even more powerful than self-affirmation, see my friend Clark’s recent blog post, The Greatest Weapon Against Self-Doubt.
They were on the side of the road with car trouble just ahead of me, obviously in distress, and I was running late. Sorry, no time to help. I didn’t think twice about leaving them stranded and un-helped, but I did make it to the church on time.
In his fascinating bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how social epidemics are created, developed and spread throughout societies. In a chapter on the power of context and culture to shape us and our behaviors, he focuses on a social experiment that two psychologists conducted at Princeton University based on the story of “The Good Samaritan” of Luke chapter ten.
In the experiment, a group of seminary students were asked to prepare a short talk on a biblical theme and then walk over to another building on campus to present it to a group of undergrads. In between the two buildings the researches placed an actor dressed as a derelict, slumped down in an alley, coughing and groaning. They then watched to see if the seminary students would stop and help the man or not on the way to giving their theological presentations.
Before the experiment a questionnaire was given to the seminarians as to why they were studying theology. The researches assumed that if their motivation to enter ministry was to help others they would more likely to stop and help the man. One group of seminarians was given the parable of the Good Samaritan to present during their theological talk. Surely that group would stop and help the groaning man.
The researches were wrong on both counts. It didn’t really matter if the seminarians were presenting a talk on the Good Samaritan or whether they went into ministry primarily to help out humanity or not. The only thing that mattered is whether or not they were in a hurry. To one group of students the experimenters would casually say, “It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.” To the other group they would look at their watches and say, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago.”
In the group that thought they had plenty of time, 63 percent stopped to help the man. In the hurried group, only 10 percent stopped to help.
Gladwell quotes from the experiment’s authors, John Darley and Daniel Batson: “It’s hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior. Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.”
What does this mean for us? I think it means we have to slow down our frantic souls a few gears. The ticking sound of the clock in our eardrums easily squeezes out the “still, small voice” of God (I Kings 19:12), who gently points out little opportunities to bring His love to bear on the world around us. I feel like that so much of the time, rushing through my day just like those seminarians stepping over the derelict on their way to accomplishing ministry goals. Not just ironic but sad.
Lord, set our frantic souls to the rhythm of heaven. Open our ears to hear Your voice. Open our eyes to see the world with Your eyes of compassion.